Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Reading Between the Clean Cut Lines, Part 1

Last week I came across a blog authored by “Clean Cut” dated September 27, 2008 (http://latterdayspence.blogspot.com) that was titled "Witnessing to Mormons." Clean Cut is apparently an active Mormon (a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and writes apologetics, in an unofficial capacity, for the LDS church/religion. His blog’s title is a reference to "an evangelical blog that had a list of suggestions for witnessing to Mormons" that he had read and wished to comment on.

Clean Cut states: "Christians who want to witness to...Mormons - make sure you understand Mormon doctrine as Mormons understand it." Certainly, Clean Cut is correct in his admonition. In fact, it is a wise practice to ask each Mormon one encounters to explain his own understanding of Mormonism's teachings. Mormons are more diverse in their thinking than one might think. You will find a variety of answers. Clean Cut acknowledges this with his statement that "19 year old [Mormon] missionaries are not the most informed in Mormon theology." I have had two Mormon missionaries in my home tell me mutually exclusive things about key LDS doctrines in the same conversation.

Before I address Clean Cut's blog, let me introduce myself. Like Clean Cut, I completed a 2-year mission for the LDS church (Germany), attended BYU (I graduated in 1979.), have a great interest in LDS history, teachings, and practices, and I grew up in the West (Boise, Idaho area.)

However, unlike Clean Cut, I am a conservative evangelical Christian. I left Mormonism on my own accord and was not excommunicated for any cause. In early 1982, I formally resigned due to the many changes I had discovered in LDS history and doctrines while at BYU, on my mission, and after I graduated from BYU - and because I came to believe in the salvation through faith alone by grace alone of orthodox Christianity. Since then, now more than 26 years I have continued to be an observer of the LDS church's teachings and dealings. I lived for 18 years in Utah as a former Mormon, where I had almost daily interactions with Mormons, before moving back to Idaho in 2000. In addition, since the Boise, Idaho area is about 25% Mormon, I have had many conversations and dealings with Mormons here, too.

Because most Evangelicals, and perhaps many Mormons, will likely be confused or even feel purposefully mislead by Clean Cut's statements, I deemed it helpful and necessary to address his statements. Because I was an active, studious Mormon for the first 25 years of my life and then have continued to study Mormonism from a broader perspective for another 26 years, I believe I have some legitimate and accurate observations that will be of help. Now, I am not so naive to think that most Mormons will like it that I, a former Mormon, describe official LDS doctrine. Nevertheless, I will proceed with the goal of helping even just a few Evangelicals and Mormons.

In his second paragraph, Clean Cut states, "Mormon doctrine holds that there is one eternal God... and that there are many gods." As students of Mormonism know, Mormonism has held over the years that there are many gods. So, how can Clean Cut state in the year 2008 that there is both only "one eternal God" and "many gods"? The answer has to do with the LDS meaning of the word "eternal." It also lies in Clean Cut’s use of the capital letter G in reference to the "one eternal God" and his use of lower case g in reference to the "many gods." At this point, it should be clearly stated that LDS definitions of virtually all theological terms are very different from the definitions of Evangelicals and other Christians.

Because Mormon leaders, including LDS founder Joseph Smith in his 1844 "King Follet Discourse” taught that God became God by advancing from manhood unto Godhood, it would seem first that there could not have ever been any "eternal God." For if God were anything at all before He was God, then he cannot, by definition be "eternal God." For biblical Evangelicals, eternal means literally forever, with no beginning in time, and indicates an existence before the universe was created.

Mormonism's founder was not alone in plainly teaching that God the Father had been a mere man before he became God. In 1945, George F. Richards, under his authority as President of the Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Mormon church, published the book, The Gospel Through the Ages. The book’s author was Milton R. Hunter, himself a Mormon general authority in the Council of Seventy. The book was published for use by holders of the higher LDS priesthood, the Melchizedek Priesthood. That this book had this purpose and was an official LDS church publication is very clear. Richards states on page V, “Hunter was assigned the task by the general authorities.” Hunter himself, on pages VII and VIII, “expresses sincere gratitude to Elder John A. Widstoe, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, Elder Ezra Taft Benson, and Elder Charles A. Callis for their careful perusal of the manuscript and for their kind and helpful suggestions throughout the entire time that this volume was being written and published.” Note that two of the men who carefully advised Hunter “the entire time” served as Prophet and President of the Mormon Church. This book is no accident or statement of aberrant doctrine. This official manual (This author has a Fourth Edition of March 20, 1946.) of the LDS church plainly teaches on page 104: "Mormon prophets have continuously taught...that God the Eternal Father was once a mortal man..." Note that a variety of Mormon general authorites agreed in this book that the doctrine that God was once a man was “continuously taught” by Mormon prophets.

This official LDS book, page 113, quotes LDS Prophet and Church President Lorenzo Snow's teaching" "As man now is, or God once was; As God is, so man may be." Thus, when recent LDS Prophet Hinckley indicated in a television interview that the LDS doctrine of man becoming God was not a sure teaching, he was either grossly ignorant of the LDS church’s own doctrinal manual and that “Mormon prophets continuously taught” such doctrines, or he was purposefully obfuscating.

One way Clean Cut and other Mormons can assert that there is “one eternal God and many gods” is that in Mormonism, eternal can mean not just "forever with no beginning in time before the universe was created," but simply "that which pertains to God." Therefore, when a Mormon says there is only "one eternal God," he can mean "one God who has what pertains to God," or "one God with God's attributes." Of course, this is really just a meaningless statement. It is like saying that one's car is a car because it has what makes it a car. In this case, Clean Cut is not adequately defining his terms. He is, albeit perhaps unwittingly, misleading Evangelicals. On the other hand, one can ask, is he misleading on purpose? An appropriate admonition to Clean Cut would be that he should explain LDS doctrines and his own statements, so that Orthodox Christians sufficiently understand official LDS doctrines.

Here is another way that allows Clean Cut to state, "Mormon doctrine holds that there is one eternal God... and that there are many gods."
At some point, some Mormon leaders realized that some god or God could not have been a mere man prior to becoming God, because God or a god had to first create that man. In essence, they realized that the traditional, normal, biblical definition of eternal must be held to. The original God the Father could not have become God by arising out of manhood. For, who created the God who created this man who became God? At some point the nonsense of Gods making Gods making Gods, etc. has to come to a stop - there needed to have been an original, or first, God the Father. This "original God" was not a man before he became God. He became God by virtue of this own inherent characteristics and power. This idea of a superior, original God and other gods is taught in LDS scripture, the Pearl of Great Price, in Abraham 3:16-24. This author was taught such a concept of an original first God, the one with a capital G, while at BYU in the mid through late 1970's.

Perhaps this truly eternal, original God of Mormonism is similar to the God of traditional, orthodox Christianity. Perhaps, to some Mormons, this is the God Whom traditional Christians worship in ignorance. In fact, I have been told by several Mormons that both Mormons and traditional Christians really worship the same God. The problem with this kind of thinking, for the Mormon, is that Mormons are told by their leaders to worship the god who once was a man. This god who was once a man would, by definition, not be the original, truly eternal God of us Evangelicals, but only one of His underling gods. Thus, if you follow the logic, it is the Evangelicals who worship the real, never-been-man, original God, while Mormons are content to worship only a lesser god. In Mormonism, this original, truly eternal in the normal sense of the word, God then made the rules, described in Mormonism, of how men, whom He later created, become gods. In other words, the original God the Father is the only eternal God who deserves a capital G. The other gods, with a small case g, are under God in hierarchy and authority. Such reasoning allows Clean Cut and other Mormons to “have their cake and eat it, too." It allows them to appear as orthodox Christians and to be Mormons at the same time.

All this is, of course, a big mess. For Mormons will interchange "God" with a capital G, and "god" with a small g. This just confuses things even more. It would be helpful if the Mormon prophet/president would make some official pronouncement or declaration of just who their God, or god, is.

For sure, Clean Cut, and all Mormons for that matter, have a serious problem on their hands when it comes to LDS scripture and the idea of more than "one eternal God" and other "gods." For, also in the Pearl of Great Price,
in the book of Moses, the idea of more that one God and god is refuted: Moses 2:1 states that God is the "Beginning and the End," which indicates in plain English that He alone is God. Chapters 1-5 of Moses state over 75 times that "I God" made the universe, not that Gods or gods (plural) did it! What has more force of meaning, the 75 statements of only one "I God" in Moses, or the only 46 statements of the various "Gods" in Abraham? 75 is 63% larger than 46. Is there only one who deserves the capital G, or are there many that deserve the capital G? Which part of the Pearl of Great Price is the correct part that the Mormon is to take seriously as the real doctrine? If Mormonism was revealed to clarify truth and bring the "fullness of the gospel" as the angel Moroni supposedly told Joseph Smith in the 1820s, why does later-written Mormon scripture confuse things? This fact alone should show the discerning person that Mormonism is not self-consistent, but is self-contradictory.

The Evangelical will recognize that any way that any Mormon, such as Clean Cut, defines the "consistently taught" Mormon concept of "one eternal God" and the "many gods," the clear teaching of the Bible is still violated. In clear passages, over and over again, such as are found in Isaiah chapters 37 through 48, we see that God is the only God (see Isaiah 37:16, 40:28; 41:4, 41:14, 42:5, 42:8, 43:11, 43:13, 44:6, 44:8, 44:24, 45:5-7, 45:14, 45:18-23, 46:5, 46:9, 48:11-12). The Pearl of Great Price cannot at the same time be true when it states that there are "Gods." And Clean Cut cannot at the same time be accurate when he says there are "many gods." The Mormon will be wise to search for the truth in this matter of God. If one has a false knowledge of God, it will result in not having eternal life! "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent" (John 17:3).

In a subsequent posting, I will address Clean Cut’s statement that the "many gods" are "gods by grace" and other of his statements.