President Boyd K. Packer
Mr Packer began his message with his quest for what he calls ‘a personal testimony of the gospel’. He is after religious certainty. The question he raised was a good one: how do we know, of all the competing religious claims in this world, which is true? Is there a certain word from God by which to evaluate the true from the false? Can we know with confidence the path that leads to eternal life?
What happened for Mr Packer? He had a religious experience in prayer. He felt something which he described as ‘personal’, ‘intimate’, leaving him with a sense of ‘joy and awe’. We presume that this experience dispelled his personal doubts. Later on he continued his religious quest believing he was hearing the whisperings of the Holy Spirit.
The Problem of Subjectivism
Mr Packer exemplifies one of the great problems in Mormonism. As the Mormon retreats to his personal experience the more it lies beyond the realm of criticism. The Mormon thinks this is an advantage as he feels safe. After all, you cannot argue with an experience.
But what applicability has Mr Packer’s experience for anyone else? This is the problem for the Mormon: he may say, ‘I have had an experience’, but haven’t we all?
When I was an atheist I had a conversion experience to atheism. I had struggled with the problem of how there could be a good God who allows evil. In one of those moments of ‘insight’ (so I believed at the time) I saw a resolution to this problem. If there is no God there is no ‘problem of evil’. A Mormon, understandably, won’t allow my experience to be of universal application. I can’t imagine I would convert a Mormon by my ‘testimony’. But why not? Well, the Mormon will figure, it’s just an experience you had.
The counter argument could be that Mr Packer experienced God and didn’t just have an ‘insight’. Well then, I have some religious experiences of my own. I have experienced God is ways, I would imagine, every bit as profound as Mr Packer’s. I won’t go into them, but let’s just say I had experiences that gave me great certainty that God exists, even that Jesus has risen from the dead.
Do his experiences prove his distinctly Mormon beliefs? Hardly. Why should they? I know a Hindu who had a powerful experience (a miracle) to confirm his belief in a certain guru). Will Mr Packer change his beliefs on the basis of this man’s experience? No. Does his experience prove his Hindu beliefs. Mr Packer can hardly accept that. If he wouldn’t allow someone else’s experiences to contradict his beliefs why should he expect his experiences to carry any weight with anyone else?
What of his hearing the ‘whisperings of the Holy Spirit’? Here another, related problem emerges. How confused is God the Holy Spirit? Why are his ‘whisperings’ to Mormons contradicted by his whisperings to mainstream Christians? Why does the mainstream Christian experience the Spirit testifying to the uniqueness of the 66 books of the Bible as breathed out by God but experiences nothing of the sort when reading other religious literature such as the Book of Mormon? When the orthodox Christian experiences the confirmation of the truth of the Spirit-inspired Scripture in his spirit that the whole apparatus of the temple, its sacrifices, priesthood etc has been fulfilled in Christ (and that the LDS priesthood is neither necessary nor efficacious), what criterion adjudicates these competing claims?
Mr Walker likes church history and has found his faith to be ‘fortified’ by those who have gone before and lived true to the faith. I presume by ‘the faith’ he means ‘the Mormon faith’, for it is church history that provides one of the strongest challenges to Mormon claims. Far from fortifying the Mormon faith, the pages of (universal) church history bear testimony to the novelty and heterodoxy of Mormonism.
In essence he told his audience that the Mormon story of faith and sacrifice is their heritage. No one will deny that Mormon pioneers may have made sacrifices. And we can indeed be inspired by the heroic examples of those who have gone before us.
Wilford Woodruff was working in the Liverpool and Preston areas in the early days of Mormonism. He then went south and came to Herefordshire. A group of the United Brethren (former Primitive Methodists) were there who had been praying for light and guidance (shy had they abandoned the gospel of Wesley and Whitefield? Why wasn’t the gospel itself light and guidance?). They believed Woodruff was the answer to their prayers. They converted en mass to Mormonism.
The Problem of Displaced Authority
One of these men, a forebear of Harris’, joined the Mormon Battalion in the American-Mexican War. Why did he join at great person cost? Because the man believed that Brigham Young spoke as a prophet, as if God himself were speaking.
So what is to stop the current governing authorities from teaching falsehood? The believing Mormon will say that the authorities are led by the Holy Ghost and so will lead into truth and give certainty. But weren’t Smith and Young led by this same ‘Holy Ghost’? Did the Holy Ghost inspire those parts of the Doctrines and Covenants that teach polygamy? Did the Holy Ghost direct Young to strenuously deny the priesthood to blacks and teach the Adam-God doctrine? If Young erred on the latter point can’t today’s authorities be found to err in years to come?
Mormons claim God has always had a prophet on earth except in times of apostasy and the church is led by the Spirit. A church truly led by the Spirit would have unchanging doctrine. What do we see in Mormonism – constantly changing doctrine and constantly revised Scriptures.
Mr Perry recounted his grandfather and a story he heard as a boy. He asked his grandfather how to know right from wrong. His grandfather explained with an illustration. A team of horses must always know who is in charge. If a member of a team does not need a driver it will not work as a team.
The story has a spiritual application. Who is the driver? The Lord. He knows best. The team member must be obedient. The harness and bit represent the promptings of the Spirit. All that is needed is the ‘small, still voice’ that the Lord speaks to us. Out of respect for our agency it is never a strong or forceful tug’
The problem of making the Bible say anything you like
Apart from the fact that the small, still voice is not, in context, the whisperings of the Spirit in the conscience of the believer, Mr Perry demonstrates the error of eisegesis – that is the opposite of exegesis. Eisegesis means to read into the Bible what you want it to mean, rather than to take out of it the meaning given by the author.
Mr Perry quoted James 3 which mentions putting a bit in a horse’s mouth as if in confirmation of his spiritual analogy. But James 3 is not talking about the promptings of the Spirit. It reads:
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. (James 3:3-6, NIV)
It is evident that James is talking about how our words can cause trouble even though the tongue is a small object. But seemingly the meaning of James’ words is irrelevant to Elder Perry. I presume he remembered his grandfather with fondness, wanted to tell a good story, found a reference to bits in horses’ mouths and was determined to force-feed it down his hearers’ throats. I am familiar with the temptation – but it must be resisted. A failure to resist is to rob the Bible of its message. It is to gag God. When this happens the Bible becomes a piece of play-dough fashioned according to the shape the speaker desires. The message reflects the speaker’s opinions, the Bible is quoted supposedly buttressing the speaker’s opinions with divine authority and the hearers are unaware that they have been as effectively conned as by a magician’s sleight of hand.
Now people routinely take Scriptures out of context, but isn’t this man a leading figure in the restored church? If this man is willing to twist Scripture against the intention of the Holy Spirit who inspired it, what’s to stop the rank and file of Mormons from doing the same? But more, if the Bible can mean anything you want it to mean then it is meaningless. If context is irrelevant to determining the meaning of a text then all interpretations are valid. This is because the true intention of an author is found by looking at the context. If all interpretations are valid then that text is no more worth studying than reading your spaghetti soup for inspiration.
Were any of his hearers familiar with James 3? Did any of them check the reference? Or did they take his word for it since he is an ‘authority’ in the church? Shouldn’t we expect a leading figure in the ‘true church on earth’ to not abuse the meaning of a text like this?
Lawrence E. Corbridge
Mr Corbridge recounted the story of the First Vision of Joseph Smith. There has always been opposition to the true faith. Just as Christ was crucified so the dirt will fly in the restored church. Smith was opposed because he brought the truth.
The problem of invalid reasoning
Now it may be that those who bring the truth face opposition and hostility but it does not follow that those who face hostility bring the truth. A drunkard may be obnoxious and generate hostility but he is not thereby a man sent from God. This is not to imply anything about Joseph Smith’s character – it is merely a fact of logic. To state it more exactly:
If situation A always brings about consequence B we are not justified to say that because situation B exists A must have brought it about.
Why? Because B may have multiple causes. If I drive my car off a cliff (situation A) I damage my car (B). Now if one day I see a damaged car (B) am I bound to conclude the car has been driven off a cliff (A)? Of course not. The car could have been vandalised or hit by a truck etc.
Now a person may not care for this line of reasoning. Mr Corbridge’s hearers may have been persuaded. But he is wrong. They are wrongly persuaded. Now I know that to say anybody else is wrong is a heresy against the orthodoxy of postmodernism, but I don’t care for that. Logic is still logic and if you see a damaged car and always conclude it was driven off a cliff don’t expect me to follow you.
The problem of claiming continuity with the church Jesus founded
Mr Corbridge claimed:
The Church of Jesus Christ today is fundamentally the same church he organised during his mortal ministry with prophets and apostles, Melchizedek and Levitical priests and elders, high priests, deacons, teachers, bishops and the seventy – al is described in the Bible’
But it isn’t. There is only one high priest – Jesus himself (Hebrews 8:1). There is no priestly cast but rather all believers are priests (1 Peter 2:5, 9). There are to be no temples on earth because the one in Jerusalem was merely a copy of the heavenly reality. Now that Jesus has entered into the Holy of Holies on behalf of His people no imperfect sacrifices on earth by a sinful person can do anyone any good. Jesus declared the time of worship in a temple has passed away (John 4:21).
The last apostle was Paul (1 Cor.15:8)and none of those claiming the title today has seen the risen Lord or been with him the whole time of his earthly ministry. And the ‘seventy’ was not an enduring office but a temporary witness amongst certain of the Jews before the gospel went to the gentiles (Luke 10).
He goes on:
“After the death of the apostles, priesthood authority was withheld from the earth”
This claim, which lies at the heart of the LDS Church’s legitimacy as a distinct religion, is easily and often asserted. But it has no basis in the teaching of the Bible, Jesus, his apostles and those who came immediately after them.
The apostasy mentioned in the New Testament is never described as total or universal (1 Tim.4:1 says ‘some’ not all will depart from the faith). Jesus certainly warned of false prophets to come, but why does He never speak of a universal falling away? How can He promise to be with His church ‘always’ to the end of the age if there was a falling away of nearly 1800 years? Was Christ ‘with’ an apostate church?
Why do the early fathers say there was a continuity with the teaching of the apostles? Was Polycarp not a true disciple of John? Why was no warning of a total falling away recorded anywhere in the church fathers? Why is no mention made of a coming restorer? Why did the Lord not warn the churches in Asia (Rev.1-3) that they would all be entering a time of apostasy?
The problem for the LDS church is this: they need a total apostasy to give their organisation a reason to be. But in searching for it in Scripture they must take verses out of context (Amos 8 is about the northern kingdom of Israel) and read into them things that are not there. A final example: the ‘apostasy’ of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is resolved not by a restored church but by ‘the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (2 Thess. 2:1) which will inaugurate ‘the day of the Lord’ (2 Thess. 2:2). This speaks of the revealing of ‘the lawless one’ whom ‘the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming’ (2 Thess.2:8). Like the other Scriptures, none of them fit a scenario dreamt up by Joseph Smith or any leaders of the LDS church.
Mr Corbridge asked a good question:
Which is more likely: that he (Smith) dreamed it all up or that he had the help of heaven?…Do the Scriptures he produced sound like the words of man or the words of God? …He was either pretender or prophet. Look at all of the evidence.
Well I have looked at the evidence and conclude that the Book of Mormon contains a lot of plagiarism from the King James Bible. The commands given to Emma Smith to give in to the polygamous wishes of her husband have all the marks of ‘revelations of convenience’ (D&C 132:51-54). If you don’t believe that just tell your wife tonight that God told you to get another wife. Accept it or you will be ‘destroyed’.’
After all is said and done…
In summation, though there were a few valid points made here and there, when it came to a proclamation of the true gospel, what was presented was a works-based message. In effect, that message said that the atonement of Christ was a starting point that was to be received but it was not sufficient to save. What man must do is add his good works to it: baptism, tithing etc.
The Judaisers added to the gospel. When Paul came across the message of the Judaisers in Galatia he did not spend time commending them for their good morals – though they were likely very moral. He said they had abandoned the gospel and deserted God (Galatians 1:6). They had turned to a different gospel because they added works to faith so as to be justified before God. They had abandoned the true faith which the apostle taught by inspiration of the Holy Spirit and which we all must learn to be saved:
…a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:16, NIV)
The abandonment of the gospel is the consequence of the problems I have highlighted. Subjectivism replaces the objective truths of the Word of God for man-made teachings. A displaced authority makes erring humans with fallible ideas the source of truth instead of the Word of God. Making the Bible say what you wish robs God of His speech and hearers to access to the mind of God and His message. Relying on faulty logic can persuade people of falsehoods. And claiming continuity with Jesus’ church is refuted by the evidence.
Dear Mormon reader: please consider it possible that you are in error. Search the Scriptures. They have not been corrupted as you have been taught but contain the true message that will deliver you from eternal death into the kingdom of God’s Son.
I bear witness that Jesus Christ is the uncreated, eternal, second person of the Triune God and that by faith in Him alone without the addition of any meritorious works we are justified in God’s sight as the Scriptures teach.
(Sunday Morning session review coming soon!)