For this review I am going to focus on the part of the chapter entitled Teachings of Lorenzo Snow and not look at the beginning of the chapter entitled From the Life of Lorenzo Snow. I have chosen to do this for two reasons: firstly, I feel that my role in writing this post is to address the differences between LDS teaching, belief and doctrine and Biblically-based Christian teaching, and secondly, I found that I had so much I wanted to deal with in the ‘teachings’ section that it seemed unnecessary to dwell on the other areas.
I would first like to look at this bold claim: “That Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and other ancient worthies had this religion successively, in a series of dispensations, we, as a people, verily believe. … Mormonism, in short, is the primitive Christian faith restored, the ancient Gospel brought back again.” I would like to know what evidence the LDS church has to substantiate such a claim. Their religion is based heavily on the idea of eternal families being sealed together in exclusive temple ceremonies. Through these ceremonies, people can progress along a path that can ultimately lead to godhood. These principles are not found in the accounts we have of Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Moses and they certainly do not resonate with the teachings, actions, life, death and resurrection of Jesus as contained in the New Testament. Neither do the epistles addressed to the early churches contain anything that can be described as Mormonism. No path to godhood, no salvation by “grace after all we can do”, no belief in one Prophet, seer and revelator overseeing and running one all-encompassing organisation, no Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods, no exclusive temple ceremonies, no obligation to pay ten per cent of all income to the prophet’s organisation. A claim such as the one above really ought to be backed up with evidence to support it.
In the paragraph following the one quoted above, we read of a kingdom being established where “light and intelligence shall be so generally diffused that it shall no longer be necessary for any man to say to his fellows, “Know ye the Lord, but all shall know him, from the least unto the greatest;” [see Jeremiah 31:34]”. Yet the Lord of this Kingdom, who should be so easy to identify, is in fact rather difficult to get a grasp of when we actually look in detail at LDS sources:
“Jesus, our elder brother, was begotten in the flesh by the same character that was in the garden of Eden, and who is our Father in Heaven” (Brigham Young in ‘Journal of Discourses’, 1:50-51)
“And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.” (Alma 7:10) Please note that this verse not only incorrectly states the birthplace of Jesus, but also contradicts the previous quote.
Therefore, it does not appear clear that the teaching of ‘the Kingdom’ in relation to ‘the Lord’ is clear or consistent even with itself or with the Bible. So it would seem that the ‘light and intelligence’ brought about by the LDS church has not been helpful in aiding people to ‘know the Lord’.
This section of the chapter also refers to the prophecy made in Joel which states that “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy”. This is included to build a picture of what the ‘Kingdom’ that the LDS church is establishing is like. Old Testament scripture is being used here to try and legitimise LDS claims, yet to say that women in the LDS version of God’s kingdom can authoritatively ‘prophesy’ is ridiculous. That is the domain of a select few. That select few certainly contains no women!
Continuing the description of this kingdom, we read that “God has set up His Church and Kingdom on the earth for the benefit and blessing of the human family”. Yet, if that is the case, one has to wonder why God would let this kingdom fail so badly in Mormon eyes from the end of the era of the first apostles to Joseph Smith’s ‘first vision’ (a period of around 1700 years) if it were his intention to benefit and bless the human family. The words of Jesus in Matthew 16:18 (I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it) and 24:35 (Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away) should be enough to make it clear that God’s intentions were that his truth and church would not fall away or be removed from the earth and therefore the notion of a restoration is not something that God would ever have deemed necessary. The chapter goes on to say: “Now talk about this kingdom being destroyed! … Why, you might as well try to pluck the stars from the firmament or the moon or the sun from its orbit! It never can be accomplished, for it is the work of the Almighty.” Mormon teaching would suggest that the church established by Jesus did not even last as long as the LDS church has currently lasted, so how could any Mormon have confidence in the durability of their own organisation when it makes such a claim about the New Testament church established by Jesus himself? The Kingdom of God seems to be a pretty flimsy concept in the LDS understanding.
A little further on is a statement that clears up any doubts about what the LDS church teaches about the Bible: “This Church will stand, because it is upon a firm basis. It is not from man; it is not from the study of the New Testament or the Old Testament”. It would appear that for Mormons there is nothing secure about God’s revealing of his nature, identity and personality in either the Old or New Testament. For an organisation that claims to be Christian, and the only 100% authentic version of Christianity at that, this is quite a bold claim regarding the importance of using the New Testament to understand and come to know the person of Jesus! The chapter continues to explain that the LDS church has, “come directly from the Lord. The Lord has shown it to us by the revealing principle of the Holy Spirit of light”. Really? So you can ignore anything the New Testament has to say about Jesus and instead trust in a religion:
based upon a book written by a man using a rock in a hat to tell him what words should be written,
which contains a book that is built upon a provable lie (the claim that the papyrus used for the translation of the Book of Abraham had writings on it which were written by Abraham himself),
which has contradictory teachings on the nature of God: “How much unbelief exists in the minds of the Latter-day Saints in regard to one particular doctrine which is revealed to them, and which God revealed to me — namely that Adam is our father and God” – Brigham Young, and then: “We warn you against the dissemination of doctrines which are not according to the scriptures and which are alleged to have been taught by some General Authorities of past generations, such, for instance is the Adam-God theory. We denounce that theory and hope that everyone will be cautioned against this and other kinds of false doctrine” – Spencer Kimball. Contradictory positions could also be provided here for the LDS position of polygamy and the rights of black people to hold ‘the priesthood’.
We then read that the Lord “opens to us the secrets of the celestial kingdom” yet neither Jesus nor the early church leaders teach anything about the celestial kingdom or mention anything that would even support the notion of meriting the right to live with God in heaven after we die on the basis of our own actions. In fact the exclusivity of access to the celestial kingdom being through temple attendance, participation and worthiness is in direct contradiction with the Bible. Consider these verses:
“Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom” Matthew 27:50-51
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” 1 Timothy 2:3-6
“For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:14-22
These verses demonstrate clearly that the notion of ‘secrets of the celestial kingdom’ flies directly in the face of the New Testament understanding, and therefore original Christianity’s understanding, of what the teachings, suffering, life, death and resurrection of Jesus mean for us.
The chapter continues: “Our work is … to become more and more perfect as we advance in years”. This is a nonsense. One cannot become ‘more perfect’. Perfection ultimately means a state that can not be improved upon. So to suggest that people can become more and more perfect is impossible. It is also unbiblical to say that any improvement in our condition is down to ‘our work’. Our work is as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) and the good work that goes on in the heart of a believer is not attributable to the believer, but rather to God: “he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” (Philippians 1:6)
A little later on, the chapter discusses the commitment and sacrifices expected of LDS members to the cause of their faith or the building up of their ‘kingdom’. Doctrine and Covenants section 98 is quoted here: “I will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in my covenant, even unto death, that you may be found worthy; for if ye will not abide in my covenant, ye are not worthy of me.” Again, we have here an example of the God of Mormonism telling his people that by sticking to the rules, they will then be worthy of him, and that if they fail to do this, they are not worthy of him. Yet we know from the Bible that none is worthy of God (Romans 3:23) and that one is only ‘made worthy’ or justified by the free gift of grace (Romans 3:24) rather than by trying to earn worthiness.
Continuing on in the chapter, LDS believers are reminded that they “are engaged in the work of God. The prospects before us are glorious” and they are then told that they “may increase in knowledge and power”. I am saddened that these appeals to glory of the self and the acquisition of power for one’s self are being made. Is all the effort that this chapter is asking LDS members to make being done for such purposes? Again I turn to Romans to demonstrate the Bible’s view of whose glory we should be concerned with, “if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:17-18) Therefore, believers inherit God’s righteousness and glory, it is not about a path of progression to our own state of godhood where the power and glory are our own. As that famous prayer makes clear: “thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever”.
The conclusion of the chapter builds on this theme of sacrifice in the cause of the LDS church: “I would not give the ashes of a rye straw for any religion that was not worth living for and that was not worth dying for; and I would not give much for the man that was not willing to sacrifice his all for the sake of his religion.” I find this statement problematic since there are a great many people, from a wide variety of religions, who have suffered and died due to their commitment to a sincerely held faith. Such events reveal the depth of that person’s faith and not the veracity of their religion. The theme of persecution is a recurrent one in LDS teaching materials and most LDS are well versed in the notion of being a ‘peculiar people’ and suffering for standing out in this way. It is certain that the early LDS church members underwent some terrible ordeals at certain times and I would not want to make light of that, however, it is worth pointing out that often the people were suffering for their leaders’ practice of polygamy, or in response to a perception that the communal, close-knit Mormon way of life at that time represented a threat in terms of the LDS potentially being a political bloc, or a closed-off unit of industry, productivity and cultural isolation. Let’s not forget why Joseph Smith was even in Carthage Jail in the first place. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the treatment meted out to the early LDS, I think it would be a misrepresentation to suggest that they were suffering for their faith in Christ. Christians this very day are being persecuted around the world for following Jesus and for refusing to renounce their faith. Their struggles are well-documented here: http://www.releaseinternational.org/ Someone who truly suffered for Christ, and whose book I would recommend as probably the most inspirational thing I have ever read outside of scripture, is Richard Wurmbrand. He was a Christian pastor in Romania during the era of communism. He was imprisoned and horrifically abused for many years but never lost his faith. His actions and life speak of a true devotion to Christ and his actions were imbued with total trust in the loving role of Jesus in his life. To conclude my review I will leave you with his words:
“I have seen Christians in Communist prisons with fifty pounds of chains on their feet, tortured with red-hot iron pokers, in whose throats spoonfuls of salt had been forced, being kept afterward without water, starving, whipped, suffering from cold–and praying with fervor for the Communists. This is humanly inexplicable! It is the love of Christ, which was poured out in our hearts.”