I am sure the first question most reading this is, what is epistemology? Sounds like it could be a swear word in some countries.
Epistemology is how you come to believe the things that you believe. Or how do you know the things you know? It can be as simple as how do you know you love your family? You would know this maybe from the strong emotion you get when you see them or think about them, or how do you know you are married to your spouse? This could be again the emotional link but also as simple as the certificate you have which declares it to be so.
One of the big errors that can go on when it comes to religious discussion between any faiths, but I would say particularly between Born again Christians and Latter-day Saint members is the natural desire to discuss beliefs, but not how you come to this belief as there is a very significant difference in this between the two.
This is something the Mormon Missionaries will raise quite quickly when they ask you to
“Pray with all sincerity to see if the book of Mormon is true”.
This sounds very reasonable as what is wrong with praying, however this question goes very deep in showing how different we are in how we evaluate what is true.
Members of the Mormon church use as their main authority for the truthfulness of the Mormon church a personal internal witness, they refer to this as their testimony. This comes from Mormon church history stating that Joseph Smith was wondering which of the Christian churches were true, in reading the bible he came across James 1:5 which says:
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
Joseph took this as to mean pray and ask which church is true, this led him to pray and thus came a vision of God saying all of the churches are wrong, dont join any of them, this paved the way for the restoration through the Latter-Day saint church.
This is also spelt out more clearly in the book of Mormon, Moroni 10:3-5 says this:
3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
Mormons today state that going on the direction of this verse they pray and ask if the Mormon church is true and most if not all members claim to have had a spiritual experience when doing this. For some it is a warm sensation in their heart known as “the burning in the bosom”, for some it is just a sense of being awakened to the truthfulness of the Mormon church but all claim this is the moment that they realized the church is true.
This is what LDS member Mark Alan says about it.
All of my ancestors for several generations back were Mormons, so I was raised a Mormon. But there came a time in my life (as there is in all peoples lives) when they start to question the things taught be their parents. I was a teenager and I enjoyed going to church, and doing all the activities that went along with that, but I wasn’t sure if everything I had been taught was true. Specifically, I wanted to know if the Book of Mormon really was from God, or if the book was made up by Joseph Smith. I knew it had to be one or the other. I decided I would read the book and pray about it. I had learned that the Book of Mormon has a promise in the last pages. In Moroni 10:3-5 I learned that if I read with real intent, and prayed about the book, I could learn the truth through the power of the Holy Ghost. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. As I read the book, I started to feel a burning sensation in my heart. I felt peaceful and happy, and suddenly it all started to make sense. Later I realized that the Holy Ghost was testifying to my that what I was reading was true. (http://www.mormon.org/me/17HV-eng/MarkAlan)
So as we can see this is a very personal and very significant thing for Mormon church members, once a month they have a testimony meeting on a sunday morning where many will in turn and often emotionally bear their testimony, which is a declaration that they “know the church is true”.
What I want to look at is, is this thinking biblical, where does it come from, and what is the best Christian response?
Is the concept of the Mormon Testimony Biblical? And if not how should you respond when asked to pray about it?
To look at this I have to explore what is Christian Epistemology? Christians when they come to faith in Christ, giving themselves to Him in a prayer of faith are putting their trust in Him, this trust might have come from reading the bible, it might have come from hearing a preacher, hearing a life story, or it could even come from evidence for Christianity, and there are many many more things it could come from.
I was a 17 year old teenager living the same life as many other teenagers, hating college through the week, getting drunk at the weekend and just living a normal enough life for people around me(not that all teenagers do this). I had no interest or belief in God that I could speak of and was quite happy that way. For me personally I got invited along to an event called the Alpha course and I went just because it was something different with free food in a nice place. I expected to be told I waesn’t good enough and I would have to shape up to go to heaven.
In reality week by week I was presented with stories of lives changed by a living, active and loving God, week by week this got more of my interest but I still wasn’t ready to act on it. Then we looked at sin, of all the weeks I would have expected to feel bad on this one, but instead I was shown that as someone separate from God I was lost in my sin, and in my own strength by my own good works I was powerless to change that. Then the message of Christs sacrificial amazing grace filled love struck my heart more than ever before. Then at that weekend, rather than getting drunk I was reading a booklet in my bedroom that talked about putting your faith in Christ, so I did it, I simply prayed a prayer of commitment. This didn’t lead to lightening bolts from the sky however I simply became aware of God and His love for me and I saw the world from then on in a different way. My attitudes changed and church and the bible and prayer all became privileges rather than things I felt I should do, in a way that was my internal witness that God loved and accepted me.
It is important to note that the actual internal witness for me came after conversion, yes my heart was struck by the words that were said however it was the words of the gospel that I responded to, and not any emotion or feeling inside me. This ties in with the bible which does absolutely teach there there is an internal change or witness, however this occurs after we give ourselves to God.
Romans 8:16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
This happened to me, however as I said this feeling did not cause me to become a Christian it came after. Why is that important? Because we respond to the word of God not an internal feeling for true conversion.
Romans 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
The bible does not say you can “know” anything is true from an internal witness it says that you respond by faith towards Christ and He then steps towards you.
Going on to what the bible says about how to measure what is true, the bible says that God’s word is the measure of what is true.
In the book of Act’s we see a story of Paul preaching to the berean’s, when presented with a message that was clearly different to what they believed they did what Christians should do to measure what is true.
Acts 17:11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
They searched the Scriptures, and the bible here even calls them noble also, they did not pray about it to maybe see how they felt about it, they searched the scriptures to see of what they were hearing measured up to that.
2 Timothy 3:16 says All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.
Scripture is where you go as it is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and righteousness that is where you go, I have always said to Mormon Missionaries that if they can show me in the bible that what they believe is true then I will seriously consider my position. In the end time and time again when it has been clearly shown this is not the case then I get told “Well Bobby I know the church is true”. This is in the face of biblical as well as other evidences and is sadly not biblical, the bible never says pray to see what is true as the reality is these good feelings you feel are not necessarily of God.
As a side note James 1:5 is actually misquoted when used as a way to measure truth. Firstly it is wrote to Christians so therefore it is wrote to people who have already found faith anyway and I heavily doubt James was trying to move them on to other beliefs. Secondly wisdom is not truth, wisdom is asking God in your day to day live to help you live in a Godly way, it is not asking God in your day to day life what is true.
So when you have a Mormon Missionary in your living room asking you to pray about these things there are two reasons why you should not do it.
1. The bible clearly shows the measure of truth is the scripture you already have, so what Mormonism says should be measured against the bible. Missionaries have said to me in the past that what they believe is biblical. After a few challenges to this one missionary said to me “Well bobby your destroying my faith in the bible”. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with that.
2. This is in reality a psychological trap. This may sound a bit harsh but lets take away all this bible talk for a minute, think about this. A Mormon missionary says to you “pray with all sincerity this is true”. What happens if you pray that the book of Mormon is true and actually feel nothing, that must mean its not true right? Or depending how post modern you are it might mean its not true for you. So you may do this and think that’s a relief don’t need to change my faith, its not true anyway. So you go back to the Mormon missionaries and say sorry guys I felt nothing so I guess this isn’t for me.
Hey wait a second they will say, you just haven’t prayed with enough sincerity you need to pray again! And thats where the circular reasoning comes in as what they are saying is this is true! You just need to keep praying until you feel it is! And sometimes people will meet up with the Missionaries for weeks or months, they will like them, like their church and want to be part of a community like that, however they will be told you have to have your own testimony, so they will pray week after week waiting for that feeling, and the reality is, they will get a feeling. Or imagine someone brought up in a Mormon family, maybe a male expected to go on a mission and their whole culture is surrounded by Mormonism, maybe a male expected to go on a mission, however it is expected they have to have a testimony as that is the basis they are expected to have, I can’t imagine after 18 years of Mormonism they are not going to get a feeling its true.
Proverbs 8:26 says: He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered.
Many may understandably quote Luke 24:32 this says: And 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?
This verse underlines the danger of my post, which is simply saying that emotions and feelings are never useful, they are! However they have to be alined with scripture, it cannot work the other way around.
You cannot trust your feelings to determine what is true, there has to be something external. The sad reality is that many LDS scholars have admitted that the book of Mormon has no external archaeological evidence, and the gospel the Mormon church teaches is contrary to the bible this sadly means its members are left alone with an internal feeling and sadly not the gift of righteousness by faith alone in Christ.
So as a born again Christian meeting up with Mormon Missionaries please do not agree to pray about the book of Mormon but rather ask them to show you if what they are saying is biblical and see if the Jesus and salvation that they are talking about even remotely resembles the one you know.
Where does the concept of Mormon Testimony come from?
Many LDS may or may not know this but Joseph Smith’s religious background is Methodist, history records that Smith applied for membership in the Methodist church in 1828, interestingly 8 years after the revelation that all other churches were false. (http://utlm.org/newsletters/no95.htm#Smith%20and%20the%20Methodists)
However why this is relevant is that the founder of the Methodist church John Wesley said this in his journal about his conversion:
‘In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation: and an assurance was given me, that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.’ (http://www.e-n.org.uk/p-2194-%27Strangely-warmed%27.htm)
This is now a very key part of Methodist thinking, on the official methodist website under the heading of assurance of salvation Wesley is quoted here as this being his assurance. (http://www.methodist.org.uk/index.cfm?fuseaction=opentogod.content&cmid=1496)
Interestingly both the Methodist and the Mormon witness have both had the title “Burning in the bosom” used to describe them. In the very least it is an interesting comparison and could account for where Joseph Smith got this thinking from.
So thank you for reading please leave a comment with any of your thoughts or comments.