Thomas S. Monson (President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints):
The main themes of this opening talk by president Monson consisted of an historical announcement concerning the lowering of the age of missionaries. Monson states that worthy Mormon men will now be able to go on a mission for the Church beginning at the age of 18, rather than 19. For the females of the Church Monson announces that they can now serve a mission at the age of 19, rather than 21. The last change was in 1960, where the age for young men serving mission was reduced from 20 to 19.
Monson reminds that the women missionaries (though valued by the church) are not under the same mandate to serve as are the men.
There was also some news on some new temples. Since the last conference (six months ago) Monson announces that three temples had been dedicated (one being re-dedicated after some refurbishment). Monson declares that “No Church built facility is more important than a temple” and goes on to say that the Mormon Church now has 139 temples operating throughout the world, with another 29 currently planned or under construction.
The importance of the temple in Mormonism cannot be underestimated. It is in the temple that Mormons receive their endowments and gain their authority and priesthood. Other activities also include equally important works such as celestial marriage and baptism for the dead. As an evangelical Christian, I certainly do not believe that any of the things that occur in these buildings which Mormons place such importance on is necessary, scriptural, or Christian. Many articles have been written along these lines so I will not repeat my reasons for saying that here.
I can recall going to the Mormon temple in Chorley, here in the UK, when the Mormon church opened it up to visitors prior to it’s dedication. As my family and I walked around the stunning building one couldn’t help but wonder if the money could have been better spent. I cannot help but feel that all of this intense building of highly elaborate and expensive buildings is simply an unnecessary waste of money, especially when we take into account the current worldwide financial crisis.
Elder Quentin L. Cook (Quorum of the Twelve Apostles)
Cook mentions the concerns that some dedicated LDS members have of with regards to the many apathetic members of the Church. This reminds me of the reality behind the sleek PR machine that most people see when they tend to come across the Mormon Church. Most people are faced with two gleaming squeaky clean suited and booted Mormon missionaries on their doorstep. I can recall visiting a friend who had the missionaries around and his mother was impressed with their mere appearance and manners. Even many Christians will conclude that they are indeed Christians simply based on their smart appearance and general impression of righteousness and dedication. However, the reality is that most of the members are not in the same league as the LDS missionaries that most people so often encounter. There are many chapel going Mormons, who have not been deemed worthy enough to go through the Mormon temple, who tend to struggle with commitment and are sometimes nicknamed “Jack Mormons” by the more faithful. I have personally met a number of individuals like this over the years.
The reality is though that Mormonism, with it’s emphasis on perfection, worthiness, and goal of becoming gods, places a burden so heavy on the average Mormon that these expectations simply can’t be met by anybody. The “Jack Mormons” are struggling more than the missionaries but even the missionaries themselves struggle underneath the highly polished exterior. Trying to be perfect and depending on one’s own righteousness simply can’t be maintained as we are all sinners by nature (Rom. 5:12). This is one of the reasons why Christ came, so that we can be made righteous not by our own efforts but by depending on His righteousness and atonement (2 Cor. 5:21).
Cook talks about the importance of repentance and reassures those who feel that they have sinned that they can be forgiven and that this is what the saviour’s atonement is all about. Though this may sound good on the surface, for those hearing a mere conference talk, in reality the atonement of Christ in Mormonism only opens the way for people to gain the most basic of salvation within Mormonism. In Mormon theology Christ’s atonement enables people to be resurrected and is open to all. It makes the way for salvation but for the Mormon who is aiming at exaltation, the highest salvation within Mormonism (also called “eternal life” and “godhood” in LDS theology) works are required.
Ann M. Dibb (Second Counsellor Young Women General Presidency)
Following on from Cook’s talk, Ann Dibb continues the theme of repentance and how we can be forgiven if we fail and fall. On the surface level this sounds biblical and reassuring. However, as with Mormonism’s view on the atonement, the concept of repentance and forgiveness also differs greatly from that of historic Christianity. Former president of the LDS church, Spencer W. Kimball, taught that a person who sins should repent and then never fall into that sin again (This teaching appears throughout Kimball’s Miracle of Forgiveness but is also quoted in the very popular and accessable LDS manual Gospel Principles, pp 252-253).
Dibbs ends her presentation with the familiar Mormon “testimony” (which again, is so different from the way Christians understand the word) by stating that she knows that God has a prophet on the earth today, Thomas S. Monson.
Elder Craig C. Christensen (of the Seventy)
More talk of the temple. Elder Craig speaks about an experience his son had in the temple, who, for the first time in the building, asked his father what was going on. Elder Craig goes on to stress that it was what his son felt rather than what he saw (though we never really get to hear whether his son was troubled or comforted by what he felt or saw). Though many Mormons certainly express that they felt that their experience in the temple was a good thing, others have reported negative feelings and experiences.
This introduction then opens the way for Craig to discuss the very common theme of the value of experiences in Mormonism. Mormons often talk about ‘feeling’ or ‘sensing’ the presence of the Holy Ghost (and again, the ‘Holy Ghost‘ in Mormonism is different from the way Christians understand). When confronted with difficulties with Mormon history most Mormons will fall back on the experiences, or their testimony (and often both) by saying something like, “Well, despite what you say, I bear witness of the Holy Ghost that this Church is true and I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet.”
Though feelings and experiences are certainly important, and many Christians have them, they should never be a criteria for measuring what is true or false. Our feelings will change and come and go like shifting sand with no real firm foundation. The Bible tells us that we are to examine things carefully and compare them with the Word of God. The Bereans did this and Paul called them “more noble” than those of Thessalonica for doing so (Acts 17:10-11). If feelings accompany our Christian lives then that’s a bonus but we cannot depend on such things as a criteria for truth.
We also need to remember that other people in other religions of the world (and even some secular people) also have experiences and sense spiritual things. Occultists, neo-pagans, and new ager’s also regularly speak about things they have felt during meditation, connecting with the gods, a guru, or a spirit guide. Mormons themselves would not conclude that this was evidence of the truthfulness of any of these of these faiths or practices, indeed, just the opposite. LDS apostle, Bruce McConkie had the following to say about the occult:
‘Practice of occultism in any form is contrary to revealed truth and should be avoided.’ (Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 542).
Shayne M. Bowen (of the Seventy)
Most of this presentation consisted of Bowen sharing a very tragic personal story of the death of his baby, Tyson, and how he and his wife endured through this difficult time.
“Tyson has remained a very integral part of our family. Through the years it has been wonderful to see the mercy and kindness of a loving father in heaven who has allowed our family to feel in very tangible ways the influence of Tyson. I testify that the veil is thin.” The same feeling of loyalty love and family unity don’t end as our loved one’s pass to the other side. Instead those feelings are intensified.”
Bill McKeever of Mormonism Research Ministry notes how, prior to the dedication of the San Diego temple in 1993 local Mormon families were given an information pack titled ‘Family Temple Preparation Material. This material included seven pages of alleged real life experiences of temple patrons who had encounters with the dead.
This is nothing new as early Mormon leaders spoke of close encounters with the dead. The second president of the Mormon Church, Brigham Young, stated:
‘When the spirits leave their bodies,…they are prepared then to see, hear and understand spiritual things…Can you see the spirits in this room? No. Suppose the Lord should touch your eyes that you might see, could you then see the spirits? Yes, as plainly as you now see bodies, as did the servant of [Elisha] [see 2 Kings 6:16-17]. If the Lord would permit it, and it was his will that it should be done, you could see the spirits that have departed from this world, as plainly as you now see bodies with your natural eyes (DBY, 376-77).’ (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 1997, p. 279)
Also, in the same book, on page 345, there is a painting of Brigham Young holding a conversation with a dead Joseph Smith.
In 1887 early Mormon President, Wilford Woodruff, said: “The dead will be after you, they will seek after you as they have after us in St. George [temple] (Journal of Discourses 19:229).
Elder Russell L. Nelson
(Quorum of the Twelve Apostles)
Nelson picks up on what Monson said in the opening presentation by reiterating the importance of missionaries to the LDS Church.
He talks about the Mormon conviction that LDS Church is “the re-established original Church of Jesus Christ” with the organisational structure of apostles, seventies and other leaders giving priesthood authority to act in His name. Nelson then goes on to speak of the period in history that Mormons refer to as “the great apostasy” (though he doesn’t give it this title) when it is alleged that after the death of the apostles “men changed the ordinances and doctrine. The original Church and the priesthood were lost.” He then explains how the Church was later restored again (in the 19th century) in the form of the Mormon Church.
From my experience, it never ceases to amaze me how oblivious most Mormons are to the plain fact of how offensive this is to the average Christian who truly grasps what they are saying here. What is being said is that after the death of the original believers in the first century, Christianity fell into utter darkness and apostasy and did not emerge from the hopeless mire until 1830 when a young man called Joseph Smith, with a highly questionable and controversial family background, claimed to have restored it. Out goes nearly 2,000 years of Church history. Forget about the Church Fathers, the Reformation, William Tyndale, The Lollards, or the wonderful revivals headed by the likes of John and Charles Wesley or Jonathan Edwards. All of them go down the spout on the word of a young man called Joseph Smith.
Nelson also recounts a story of a Protestant man called Jerry, who’s father was a Baptist minister, who prayed for guidance and heard a voice saying, “Stop the boys on the bikes!” When he went out he (of course) sees two Mormon missionaries on bicycles. Eventually, after some study, Jerry (and a family he was originally trying to help) is baptised into “Christ’s restored Church.”
Nelson urges non-Mormons to “Ask the Mormon missionaries” for a variety of things lacking in your life, such as help in your family situation, and better knowledge, etc. Forgive me for saying, but I often find it a little patronising that young missionaries (who have just got younger since the announcement by Monson in this conference) should feel that they are equipped to teach families anything about life. Such young men and women have little life experience and most are brought up in the Mormon Church anyway so don’t have a rounded view of much outside their religion.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf (Second Counselor in the First Presidency)
Ending on a positive note, out of all the presentations I watched from this conference Saturday morning, I definitely enjoyed this one the most. In my opinion, Uchtdorf was by far the most charismatic, humorous, and interesting, speaker to take the podium that morning and I found myself agreeing with him more than those who preceded him.
Uchtdorf rightly reminds us of the mortality of this life and the few precious years we have on earth. He describes how many people suffer regrets at the end of their lives by wasting time with trivial things rather than the important things like spending time with friends and family and how we should reverse this trend now before our time passes. No one can disagree with this as it is a valuable and wise reminder to all of us, whether we are Mormon, Christian, or neither.