Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What Mormons believe: Part 1

I had lunch with a friend of mine the other day. Some of her new friends are Mormons and want her to be baptized into the Mormon Church. She asked me about what Mormons believe and how it is different from what I believe. I told her some basics about their theology and she shared with me some areas where she didn't agree with them.

After that lunch, I decided I needed to study the beliefs of Mormons a little more. I wanted to be fair toward the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. So as I researched their beliefs, I made sure that I read their own sources rather than sources that were prejudice against them. My desire in the next few posts is to cover some of their beliefs using quotes from their own books and writings.

I also want to make it clear that I do not desire to say anything that would belittle Mormons. Most Mormons that I have met were kind, moral people who cared deeply about their family and their church. My hope in these posts is not to foster a prejudice toward Mormon people. My hope, instead, is to make clear the distinctions between orthodox Christian beliefs and Mormon beliefs.

First things first: Their belief about The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon tells of two ancient civilizations, which lived in the Americas in ancient times. A supposed group called the “Jaredites” left Babylon around 2,250 B.C. and emigrated to the Western hemisphere. Their civilization was destroyed as a result of corruption and apostasy.

The other group came to the Americas by crossing the Pacific Ocean about 600 B.C. and were composed of “righteous Jews” from the Promised Land. They were led by Lehi and later his son Nephi. This group also was destroyed for corruption and was divided into two warring camps. The Nephites fought with the Lamanites (who were believed to be the ancestors to the Native American people). The Book of Mormon reports that the Lamanites were cursed because of their evil deeds with the curse of “dark skin.”

Mormons believe that Christ visited the American continent and revealed himself to the Nephites, giving them their version of the gospel, baptism and communion. The Nephites were, however, annihilated by the Lamanites in a great battle near the hill Cumorah around 421 A.D. Some Mormon teachers believe this hill of Cumorah is located in Central America. Others believe this hill is in Palmyra, New York near Joseph Smith’s hometown.

The traditional belief is that The Book of Mormon is the condensation of the high points of these two civilizations. The original author was a prophet named Mormon with some help from his son Moroni. The belief is that Joseph Smith Jr., some 1400 years later, dug up the “golden plates” which contained this abridged record near Palmyra, N.Y. He translated the “reformed Egyptian” which were on these golden plates and that is what is recorded in The Book of Mormon.

Joseph Smith is said to have received the plates from Moroni, a “resurrected personage,” in the year 1827. He also received with the plates something called the “Urim and Thummim.” These were sort of clear stones, which acted like magical glasses to help Smith translate the “reformed Egyptian” writing into Elizabethan English.

One of the problems with this belief:
If we take this story seriously then science should give evidence of the truth of these civilizations. The Book of Mormon claims that the Lamanites were of Jewish descent and were the ancestors of the Native Americans. Geneticists and anthropologists have refuted this story.

Native Americans are considered to be Mongoloid. They share phenotypical characteristics with people from eastern, central, and northeastern Asia. They do not share phenotypical characteristics with Jews. Mediterranean races, such as the Jewish or Semitic race, are considered to be Mediterranean Caucasoid type, not Mongoloid. Therefore, it is genetically impossible for the Native Americans to be the descendents of the supposed Lamanites.

With this truth firmly established scientifically, it calls into question the entire Book of Mormon. It also calls into question the validity of the "prophet" Joseph Smith and his claims that this book was a revelation from God. If a person claims to be a prophet and delivers a "word from God" and that "revelation" is proven false, then we are left with one conclusion. The man who claimed to be a "prophet" is actually a "false prophet." Scripture is clear about "false prophets" (Deut. 13:1-5; Matthew 7:15-23; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 2 Cor. 11:13-14; Gal. 1:6-9).

Friday, October 26, 2007

God in the post-season

I found this prayer on a Red Sox fan's blog:

Our Father, who art at Fenway…Baseball be thy game. Thy Kingdom come, Playoffs need to be won, On Earth, then on to the Cask ‘n’ Flagon. Give us this day, a perfect Papi, And forgive us our losses, As we forgive those, Like Bill Buckner. And lead us not, into desperation, But deliver us from any losses. For thine is the Power, And the Glory, to beat the Indians, Forever and ever…. Yankees suck!

And here is a quote from the movie "Bull Durham" that I found on another blog:
"I believe in the Church of Baseball. I've tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I've worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it didn't work out between us." 'Baseball Annie' Savoy, Bull Durham

Sports always seem to bring out a pseudo-faith in people. As Boston College was marching down the field in their attempt to pull out a "come-from-behind" victory against Virginia Tech, you could see people in the stands with their fingers crossed praying to the god of "come-from-behind" wins.

You could see the same in the World Series game in Boston. As the Red Sox neared their final "out", you could see fans in the stands with their rally caps on and their eyes toward the sky. They too were praying to the god of "come-from-behind" wins. Only, they were praying that the Rockies would not come from behind and win. They were praying that the "god of all sports" would protect their lead and help them win Game 2 of the Series.

These, of course, are the same people who say they "don't believe in God." They are the same people who mock faith and describe themselves as "intellectual" rather than "religious." New England is notorious for their colleges and universities. They pride themselves on being "well-read" and culturally progressive. Faith in God is not in-style up there unless, it seems, you are watching "the game."

Why does this happen in sport? What is it about competitive athletics that makes people flip-flop between atheist before the game and pseudo-believer during the 9th inning or 4th quarter? It's a fascinating phenomenon to me.

The theology hidden under this kind of action is interesting. It's sort of a "Santa Claus" view of God. This kind of understanding of God breeds prayers like: "God, though I haven't acknowledged your existence either with my actions or my words, just this once, would you help my team win. P.S. If you do, I promise to be good this next year." Translation: "Santa, please give me this toy and I promise not to be on the "naughty" list again next year."

This theology also reveals a secret knowledge of God's presence. Sometimes even the most devout atheist will find himself/herself shooting up desperate prayers to a God which they have outright rejected most of their life. They don't want to admit that they secretly hope that He is there and listening.

The irony is that these folks default back to "unbelief" as soon as the game is over. If "God" came through for them and helped their team "come-from-behind", then they simply deny God's involvement and chalk up the win to the skill of their team. If "God" doesn't come through for them and their team loses, then they put it down on their running list of proofs that God is not real and does not exist.

To me, this phenomena is evidence of two things: 1) that the heart of humanity is selfish when it comes to who we want God to be 2) that God is indeed so real and present, that even atheists can't help but cry out to Him in their time of need*.

*[by "time of need" I mean things like the Red Sox in the World Series or B.C. going undefeated]

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Finally, the cool temperatures of autumn have arrived. There is just nothing like the Fall season in the Northeast. Apples can be found in a variety of baked goods. Pumpkins can been seen around the neighborhood as lawn decoration. But the most noticeable changes are, of course, the trees. The trees become a delight to the eyes. Greens turn to yellows and reds.

Driving down a scenic road feels like a trip through a Bob Ross painting. As autumn continues, the colors heighten. Red leaves become what looks like a tree on fire. Yellow leaves turn to gold. And the beauty of the season delights not only the eyes but also the nose. Fallen leaves begin to decompose on the damp ground. Like a natural potpourri, these dead leaves fill the air with the smell of Fall.

Maybe that is why autumn is such a wonderful time. It's a full sensory experience. The cool air on your skin, the brilliant colors before your eyes, the smell of old leaves in your nose, the taste of apple and pumpkin on your tongue, and the sound of crunching leaves beneath your feet all work together to gently fill the senses. I love this time of year.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Paul's co-ministers

It's fascinating that Paul would have so many co-ministers of the gospel and leaders in the church in Rome who were women. In the first century, women were not always highly regarded. Their society was still set up in a male dominated hierarchy. But when Paul said in Galatians 3, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female...," he really meant it.

Romans 16 gives us a glimpse into just how many women were active leaders in the church helping Paul do his work of spreading the gospel. The first person mentioned in his personal greeting at the end of the letter is Phoebe. By "commending" her to the church in Rome, it was likely that Paul sent his letter with her. One of the most important letters of the New Testament was not given to man for delivery. I was put in the hands of a faithful woman of God. And Paul calls her a "diakonon." This is the Greek word that means "deacon."

Some translations of the bible try to cover over this by translating the word "servant." And you can translate "diakonos" as "servant" sometimes. But in other places in scripture that refer to a person's role in the church, this Greek word is always translated "deacon." The reason translators change it to "servant" in this case is because Phoebe is a woman. They don't want to admit that Paul considered women deacons of his church. Women took on significant leadership roles in the church, even in the first century. Paul also lets the people in Rome know that Phoebe wasn't just a help to the church, but was a specific help to him in his ministry.

And the list goes on. Priscilla and Aquila made up the husband and wife team who taught Apollos the deeper truths of the gospel. Paul could have just mentioned Aquila as the husband and teacher. But he knew better. He worked with both Aquila and Priscilla in ministry (Acts 18). And he knows that it took both of them to disciple the great teacher Apollos.

In fact, out of the 27 people mentioned in this section of the letter to the Romans, 10 of them were women. Six of the ten get a special mention for their "work in the Lord": Phoebe, Priscilla, Junia (sometimes translated Junias), Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis.

We get a picture here of the house churches in Rome. More than a third of the people worth mentioning were women. A third of the key people that Paul wanted to specifically greet by name were women. And out if those mentioned, six women seemed to be prominent servants and/or "deacons" in their church community.

The importance of this becomes even more evident when we realize that Rome was the capitol city of the ancient world. It was the center of power and the center of culture. It was New York City, Washington D.C., London, Paris, and Tokyo all rolled into one. And in this kind of city, Paul is acknowledging and admiring both men AND women as leaders and servants of the church.