Part five Beyond Mormonism: An Elder's Story (abridged)
TO UNDERSTAND Mormonism I knew I first had to understand Joseph Smith. The Church teaches that Mormonism stands or falls with Joseph Smith. For Mormons he was the innocent 14-year-old boy praying about which church to join, who was suddenly confronted by God and directed to "restore the True Church."
Joseph Smith claimed to be a prophet. I soon discovered that his claim was not unique. In America, prophets are numerous. And of the many American religions they have started in the last 200 years, some remain sizable, like Smith's Mormonism, Mary Baker Eddy's Christian Science, and Charles Taze Russell's Jehovah's Witnesses.
The Presbyterian evangelist Charles Finney referred to Joseph Smith's upper New York State as the "burned-over district" because of the variety and intensity of religious fervor there. The area was called a "psychic highway" and looked upon by orthodox churchmen as a hotbed of "ultraism" where settlers brought with them an experimental approach to religious and social ideas. Contemporaries of Smith germinated such movements as Shakerism, spiritualism and the sexual communism of the Oneida community.
How, I asked myself, could one judge a man who claimed to be a prophet? When someone like Joseph Smith claimed to be sent from God, how did one determine if he was acting on his own or on God's behalf?'
When presented with a choice between Joseph Smith and the apostle Paul, I had chosen instinctively to believe the Bible. But why? Were there reasonable grounds for my doing that?
I knew, of course, that the Mor-mon Church undermined the authority of the Bible. Our Eighth Article of Faith red:
"We believe the Bible to be the Word of God insofar as it is translated correctly. We also believe the Book of Mormon to be the Word of God."
Joseph Smith was fond of saying, when he came across something in the Bible he didn't like, that "an old Jew without any authority" changed the Scripture (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 6, pg. 4). And Mormon apostle Orson Pratt published a pamphlet in the 1850s called The Bible Alone: An Insufficient Guide, in which he wrote:
"What evidence have they [Protestants] that the Book of Matthew was inspired of God, or any of the books of the New Testament?"
The Mormon Church maintained that the Bible was unreliable, and that we needed a prophet to straighten out the confusion. Such a prophet would disregard previous revelation and speak whatever he would as Scripture. Brigham Young had stated:
"I have never preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they cannot call Scripture. Let me have a privilege of correcting a sermon, and it's as good a Scripture as they deserve."
In addition to discrediting the Bible, Joseph proposed the concept of plurality of gods (Documented History of the Church, Vol. 6, pg. 474). The idea that men could become gods had bothered me from the first time I heard it in priesthood class shortly after I joined the Church. Polytheism-the belief in the existence of more than one God-was the bedrock issue of Mormonism. The more I studied, the more I concluded that polytheism was Mormonism's basic error.
Joseph Smith not only believed and taught polytheism; he even boasted about it. He claimed to have always preached plurality of gods, and he told his congregation, "You have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves... the same as all Gods have done before you... until you are able to dwell in everlasting burnings and to sit in glory" (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 6, pg. 4).
The Bible taught from cover to cover, on the other hand, that there was only one God. This belief in monotheism was the cornerstone of all Judeo-Christian thought.
As I cried out to God for knowledge and understanding, I came to see that all occult "revelation" ultimately produced polytheism. Every false religion attempted to de-deify God and to deify man. Christian Science told us to discover our own "Christ-consciousness." Jehovah's Witnesses told us that Jesus was "another god."
The more I studied-sometimes late into the night-the more I discovered that Mormonism was a contradictory maze from beginning to end. Mormon prophets contradicted each other as well as the Book of Mormon and other Latter-day "revelation." Mormon revelation was not, as the Church claimed, a clear stream of truth re-vealing God's will for man, but a sinuous river of dark backwaters and bottomless whirlpools.
Apparently nothing in Mormonism was too sacred to change. The Fourteen Articles of Faith had been changed to the Thirteen Articles of Faith. Polygamy was introduced, defended, then set aside. Entire sections of the Doctrine and Covenants had been rewritten. And the Book of Mormon, called the most perfect and error-free book ever produced, had been altered in nearly 4,000 places since the 1830 edition. The Church had even "re-edited" Joseph Smith's mother's biography of the prophet.
I found that the study of change and false prophecy in the Church was boundless, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. In one statement, for example, Joseph Smith said that the inhabitants of the moon were tall, about six feet, dressed in the style of Quakers and lived to be about a thousand years old.
Brigham Young said that men in-habited not only the moon, but also the sun.
Joseph prophesied that Jesus would return by 1891.
Brigham declared that the Civil War would not free the slaves.
Pushing back my chair one night and laying aside my glasses, the rest of the house dark and quiet, I got up from the kitchen table where I had been studying and went to the living room window. Outside the March night was crisp and cold. I had finally worked my way free from the hold of Mormonism. I had a solid hold on the God of the Bible.
I only wished Margaretta could see what I saw. But she was not receptive. 0 God, I prayed, it's so clear to those who see, yet impossible to see unless you give vision. 0 God, my wife and my daughter .... My prayer trailed off as I gave them over into his hands.
GOD IS Faithful,
ONE DAY I found Margaretta reading the Book of Mormon. Beside her book was a tract pointing out the errors in Mormonism. She didn't say anything to me, but as I looked at her, I could see hurt and confusion in her eyes. 1 had mixed emotions. Part of me rejoiced as I saw her begin to become aware of the truth; part of me empathized with the pain that truth brought.
Margaretta's diary from January 7, 1976, reads:
"I have come to the conclusion that the LDS Church is not true. I don't know whether to be mad or glad; I finally figured it out with the help of the Lord. I am confused as to what to do now, though."
She was ready to listen. She began to talk freely with Pastor Mike Shaw at the Community Church. She realized she was a sinner. She knew that if she died she would go to hell. She began to open her heart to God.
On January 19, 1976, an evangelistic team I had earlier helped sponsor returned for a second engagement. The main evangelist preached a hard sermon that evening. He talked about stubborn hearts that resisted the grace of God.
I was a counselor. At the end of the sermon, I stood up and walked forward with those who wanted to receive Jesus as personal Savior.
As we stood around the foot of the stage, 1 closed my eyes and prayed. Within moments I felt a nudge at my side. Margaretta was standing beside me with head bowed, tears streaming down her cheeks. Beside her was eight-year-old Erin, also weeping, also accepting the simple message of the gospel. That night, after two years of waiting, God gave me back my wife and my daughter.
Margaretta and I looked at each other through tears. We looked at our little blonde angel staring seri-ously at the preacher on the stage. Margaretta reached over and took my hand. "I've come home, Jim," she said.
It seems difficult to censure an organization that preaches qualities like family closeness, morality, and patriotism. How can a religion that strives to develop the Christian characteristics of patience, decency, and self-sacrifice be bad?
The answer is that only a relationship with Jesus Christ produces Christian character, and religion is a poor substitute for relationship. No social system, regardless of how orderly a citizenry it produces, is ul-timately good that does not restore people to fellowship with, and bold access to, God. Our Mormon friends have been deceived into accepting a system of religion in place of redemption.
Bible Christianity is charged to contend for an irreducible minimum confession of faith "The faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). That faith, simply stated, is this:
God himself took on real flesh and entered human history, died as the full price for man's sin, declared his full divinity in his resurrection, and now redeems all who come to him in simple faith and accept his finished work.
Mormonism, on the other hand, sets itself outside the Christian Church by declaration as well as doctrine. It reduces the divinity of Christ to mere exalted humanity; it robs the atoning blood of Christ of its power to save fully from the penalty of sin; and it replaces grace with a treadmill of self-perfection.
Since Margaretta and I left the Mormon Church, God has blessed us. For nine years I pastored Shiloh Foursquare Church in Idaho Falls, I served as Eastern Idaho Divisional Superintendent for my denomination, and we were part of establishing ten other churches. In 1989, I left the pastorate to devote myself to writing and lecturing on the cults, the occult, and secularism. I now have seven books in print.
God has given Margaretta and me a special love and understanding for Mormons. We have led many into a relationship with Jesus Christ. We believe that a blend of truth and love-toughness coupled with tenderness-is the formula needed to reach our Mormon friends. The watchword of our ministry has become, "Truth without love is too hard; love without truth is too soft.
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