Thursday, 24 May 2007

Aberystwyth seafront , Mid Wales, from a Carriage of the Cliff Railway

The Christian Pragmatist

I broadly consider myself an Evangelical Protestant with sympathies toward the more intelligent, theological Charismatic (if that isn’t a tautology) end of the church. We have been through a time of great upheaval in the Christian circles in which I have moved and I have sensed and seen a good deal of disillusion. In reflecting on these things I have begun to recognise a real need in my own life and surely in the life of the ordinary Christian for a true biblical Christian pragmatism.

There has been a good deal of hullabaloo about the dramatic and the immanent in the working of God in our lives and I am aware of a dangerous romanticism surrounding the experiences we are supposed to be having in these days. We have lost sight of the sound biblical need to simply persevere. Christians still suffer disappointments, struggle with temptations, and suffer the normal sometimes-dreadful consequences of being human in the 21st Century. Christians can struggle with guilt because they are not overcoming and triumphing when what is required is perseverance.

When I became a Christian I was thrilled to learn that my salvation has three elements, i.e. I am saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved, indicating clearly a process of sanctification and offering ‘more to come’. The emphasis these days seems to be on the first part of the process and the immanence of God to the exclusion of the process through which we are going and the goal to which we press. As Paul put it, "Not that I have already obtained all this, or are already been made perfect but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view" (Philippians 3:12-15)

There is a call here for a Christian pragmatism that has been obscured by the excitement of event-based and phenomenon-driven Christianity. After many years my heart goes especially to those who find themselves struggling with the frustrations of every day life, disappointments and loss, temptations to sin and the all-too-prevalent feeling of guilt at living all-too-ordinary lives when everything tells them that they ought to be ‘overcomers’, ‘more than conquerors’, ‘soaring’, etc. etc.

Now I am not one to discourage the overcomers amongst us and I praise God for those who inspire us with their lives and triumphs. But I do feel that we ought also to praise God for those who persevere, those who ‘press on’ but are all-too-aware that they have not yet obtained these things. There are times when we know triumphs and times when we know discouragement and disappointment. My concern is that in those times we should be people who don’t give in to giving in, that we persevere and take comfort in the simple fact of our perseverance.

"Do not judge me by the heights I have attained but by the depths from which I have climbed"

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Royalty Greets Subjects, Port Meirion, N Wales

The New Mind is a Challenge

I have been thinking recently about the idea that the earth might be flat. I mean it isn’t that long ago that it was a commonly believed that if you sailed far enough you would fall off the edge. "Thank goodness," think the people who propagate this fiction, "that we have come so far since those dark days of religious superstition and ignorance." Of course, this is all nonsense.

There was a time when people believed the earth was flat but, given the dearth of information in earliest times, that might be forgiven. However, by around 600BC, Pythagoras had come up with the idea of a spherical shape for the earth. By 240 BC Eratosthenes had measured the earth’s circumference. By the time of Jesus it was a commonly accepted view of the world. Soon Ptolemy was to work out the system of longitude and latitude. Knowledge continues to grow and inform as we now see pictures of the earth from space and we continue to learn.

Despite this we regularly hear people trot out the argument that, just the day before last week, people thought the world was flat. It is a useful, if lazy, way to dismiss anything religious as simply a vestige of those dark days when the world was flat, the sun orbited the earth - and God was in his heaven. It is an excuse for dismissing the challenge of faith and caricaturing ‘believers’ of every stamp, but especially Christians, as superstitious throwbacks.

The Bible begs to differ:

"So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, you must live no longer as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of their ignorance…" (Ephesians 4:17-18)

In God’s scheme of things futile thinking is out, understanding and enlightenment is a much-sought-after commodity, and ignorance robs us of life. Christians are not to give in to corrupt thinking and deceitful desires:

"You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds;" (Eph. 4:22-23)

It is the mind that is renewed, as Paul pointed out to believers in Rome:

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (Romans 12:2)

In this process we become more like our creator as we, put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph.4:24 c.f. Col 3:10).

"Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour, for we are all members of one body." (Eph.4:25)

The problem I see is that some Christians can give the impression that becoming a Christian means never having to think again. Like the popular flat earth fable propagated by sinners trying to avoid God, we can come up with our own myths, legends and misrepresentations of simple facts as well as profound truths. Some I have heard over the years include:
  • Being told on many occasions by Mormons that the Church of England started because Henry VIII wanted a divorce. This is a gross misrepresentation of complex and profound historical and political facts.
  • Hearing that Galileo was "thrown into a prison" by the Pope of the day for daring to suggest that the earth wasn’t the centre of the universe and man at the pinnacle of creation. Some people need to research their history.
  • The suggestion, still popular in some circles, that Jesus was not even an historical figure, let alone the Son of God. Such claims are more to do with wishful thinking than historical data.
  • You can prove anything from the Bible! Come on give me a break!

As Christians, with new minds, we dare not show ignorance before a world that watches us for excuses to reject God on the basis that Christianity is irrational and unreasonable. Some would have us believe otherwise but Paul wrote about renewed minds, putting off ignorance, enlightened thinking and speaking truth. This makes us like the God who made us and surely this is our hope and desire, that we should be like him. May we be found to be like him and grow more to be like him as we review and renew our understanding and knowledge of him and the world he made and died to save.

Love Among the Butterflys in Port Meirion, N Wales

What Good is Faith?

(James 2:14-20)

I have spent the best part of the past twenty years trying to equip the church to deal with the cults. I have come to the conclusion that my time might have been better spent equipping the cults to deal with the church. I have found much to be thankful for in the counter-cult community and have had dealings and formed friendships with many caring, patient and truly Christian people.

That being said it seems that there are two extremes of behaviour and attitude that are ubiquitous and depressing. The first is the one in which the cult member is regarded as having no intrinsic worth unless and until they convert. Before that happens they are fair prey for anyone who fancies chancing their arm at a bit of witnessing, that witnessing usually involving a lot of shouting, finger pointing, denouncing, ridiculing and ‘casting out’. It is the sort of conduct that, I understand, can be witnessed at Temple Square in Salt Lake City around conference time and I deplore it. It is something I see myself from time-to-time and it always embarrasses and angers me.

The other extreme is as bad, if not worse, however. It is that liberal attitude that ‘respects’ other faiths, new religions etc. such that there are no meaningful differences between them. There is no objective truth, no way to be lost, no way to be saved, no faith for which to contend. In short no light in the darkness just a bunch of people scrambling around in the failing light politely repeating, ‘after you’, ‘no, after you’ as they defer to one another all the way down to hell.

What is the answer? Surely it is in the words of Peter:

In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (1 Peter 3:15-16)

Christians have a hope and it is uniquely founded upon Jesus Christ. There is one hope and one reason for that hope. We are to tell of that hope and that reason. There is a clear injunction to evangelise those who don't have this hope. But it is to be done with gentleness and respect for others and care for the good name of the One on whom that hope is founded.

My experience of the two extremes has seen some so bent on telling the reason that they fail to model hope and forget their responsibility for the reputation of Christ. They turn nasty and vindictive and cherish the idea of Mormons vilified, embarrassed and burning in an especially hot part of hell.

Others, however, are so determined to nurture a good reputation (usually their own is uppermost in their thinking, "see how enlightened I am?") that they dare not risk offence even though the Bible makes clear that the Cross is an offence to those that are dying. These take every opportunity to find the good in Mormonism, downplay differences as experimental rather than fundamental, and reinforce in Mormons the false notion that they really are part of the wider Christian community and have something positive to offer. Such an approach would have robbed me of my salvation and I do not appreciate it.

Personally, I despair not so much of the counter-cult community, that at least makes every effort to reach those lost in deceptive and destructive cults, as I do of the church in general that fails consummately to understand its responsibilities for those lost in false religions. Allow me to illustrate.

Get out of My Light

The story goes that when a colleague asked Isaac Newton what he might do to help the great man Newton replied, "Get out of my light." Christians, it seems to me, are often the greatest obstacles to the cult member seeing Christ and coming to faith and if I was asked that same question I would reply, "get out of their light!"

I don’t wish to be rude and certainly don’t want to discourage Christians from witnessing to people from other faiths. I am concerned about what kind of witnesses Christians so often are. I am all-too-aware of Christians that preach victory on a Sunday singing, "The Battle belongs to the Lord", then hide in the bathroom on a Monday when Jehovah’s Witnesses come to call. We preach grace on a Sunday singing, "Just as I am, with not one single plea", and on Monday stand at the door berating the Mormon for not being fit for human company let alone the company of Christians, much less the company of God, haranguing him as we might the devil himself.

Why do we do it? This attitude to the cultist is a learned behaviour - we learn it from other Christians when we become Christians and would not have dared behave so crassly before we came to Christ. Indeed, we would fear to behave so badly in any other social setting because we know that such conduct might deservedly find us conducted to the nearest accident and emergency unit.

When the Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness does come to Christ we find it nigh on impossible to change our attitude toward him, treating him with caution as though we never fully accept that he is truly converted. We don’t fully trust that he has left "all that" behind entirely. And anyway how can you fully trust anyone who could have fallen for that stuff in the first place?

Disgust and disapproval are so reassuring. They anchor our moral sentiments and feel instinctively like a moral proof. To abandon our sense of disapproval seems to have the effect of cutting at the very foundations that support our innate sense of right and wrong. Yet, if we are to be effective witnesses for Christ then grace demands that we overcome our instincts and look at the world aright, not according to our feelings but according to what is truly in front of us.

What the former cultist needs

The new believer coming out of a cult faces challenges of his own. He has made a huge decision, the magnitude of which the Christian surely fails to appreciate. He has left behind friends, often relations, changed loyalties, lost status perhaps, reputation and standing in the community that, until recently, was his world. He comes with a mixture of excitement about the Good News of Jesus Christ, questions and understandable doubts about his decisions and hope that they have been right.

The best advice the new believer can have is to spend the next few years establishing firm Christian foundations in his life. This is so vital and yet the new believer, perhaps flattered by invitations to ‘share your testimony’, is often tempted to throw Himself into "ministry" and help others come out. He doesn’t need this right now and it won’t help Him become a fully born again Christian, with a knowledge of Christ that will take Him through life. Much needs to be unlearned and much to be learned and the best place to learn and grow is not the public platform. There is also often a subconscious agenda behind this eagerness to minister and help others ‘come out’, i.e. it reinforces the decision he has made and proves Him right. If others agree with you it is so affirming.

The Christian attitude to the former cultist so often re-enforces this ill-advised ambition as the former Mormon/JW finds he has to prove his bona fides to everyone he meets by taking every opportunity to tell his story, publicly reject his past and work against his former friends. He is cast into the role of an "ex-Mormon/JW" and is forever known by what he was and not by what he has become or what he is becoming in Christ.

To put his roots down and establish a firm Christian foundation he needs to be welcomed and encouraged as would any other convert. His views and contributions need not be constantly treated with suspicion. When he struggles with issues, disagrees with people, questions things, or otherwise proves increasingly confident in his new found freedom it shouldn’t automatically be attributed to his background for which Christians, all-too-often, and all-too-often inappropriately "make allowances".

If he speaks warmly of his old friends and associates he need not be treated with suspicion, as though he were an un-rehabilitated cultist. His old friends were probably very nice human beings and, in light of the role his new Christian friends have thrust on him, he might be missing just a tad his old friends who simply accepted him for who he was.

What good is it if a man claims to have faith?

The bottom line is that it takes joined up church and grown up Christianity to make it possible for a former JW/Mormon to find a home amongst Christians and too many Christians, leaders included, seem to just play at it. We ‘believe’ in the doctrine and sing with gusto the songs but need to realise that ‘faith without works is dead’. With James, I say, ‘show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do’.

  • If you truly believe in victory don’t go to the door in fear.
  • If you believe in grace don’t go to the door in judgement.
  • If you truly trust God then go to the door trusting that he has given you an opportunity to demonstrate assurance and share grace.
  • If they come to faith encourage them to come all the way and not simply the safe distance that gives you comfort and assurance.

Otherwise don’t open the door because you will only make things worse.

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Tenby, SW Wales

Speaking the Truth in Love

Ours is a time of compromise and accommodation. We see it often as we take our message to people who are pleased that you should have your beliefs as long as you leave them alone with theirs. We witness it in the attempts of political and social movers and shakers to find a middle ground, on which all faiths can stand and create a global religion to serve our global society. We hear it in the cries of protest that go up at our claim to exclusivity for the Christian faith. And our faith is uncompromising. Take the words of Jesus who declared:

"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (Jn.14:6)

There is nothing remotely compromising about the message of the cross.

Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to a cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him…
God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear…Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ….
Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.
(Acts 2:22-39)

With our "Great Commission" clearly spelled out, "Go and make disciples of all nations" (Matt.28:19-20), we cannot, we dare not compromise.

Winning Friends and Influencing Sheep

Dale Carnegie, the author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, astutely observed that "If you want to make an enemy, tell a man he is wrong". But if we are going to that man with the Christian message, the message of Acts 2, how can we possibly avoid the risk of making an enemy? When dealing with the errors we encounter, and applying the corrective of Scripture, how can we make a friend and still "tell a man he is wrong"?

Isaiah, in describing the work of the cross and the desperate needs of a rebellious world, wrote:

"We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way"

And this describes perfectly the people to whom we are to take this uncompromising Christian message. All are following a way that seems right to them, their own way. But Isaiah goes on to describe God’s response to this straying world:

"And the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6)

In Matthew’s gospel we read these words of Jesus:

"What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander." (Matt.18:12-13)

The apostle Peter’s familiar instruction to believers helps us here as he encourages us:

"In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." (1Peter 3:15).

Surely the answer to our question - "how can we make a friend and still "tell a man he is wrong"?" - is, in telling him he is wrong, we should also show him he is valued.

Christ in your Heart – and in your Witnessing

Sometimes, in our evangelistic efforts, we can lay such great store on correcting people that we can forget to value them. It is as though the person to whom we are speaking has no value until they come around to our way of thinking. It is well to remember that "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Ro.5:8).

God’s response to our sinfulness and rebellion is a demonstration of love. Setting apart Christ in your heart means more than telling the woman at the well that she is wrong in her beliefs and lifestyle. It means demonstrating that she is valued by speaking to her with gentleness and respect.

In "witnessing to the cults" it is very easy to become combative when we mean to be challenging, condemnatory when we should be caring, judgmental when we should be gentle and respectful. As we approach our evangelism perhaps it would help to bear in mind the following:

Apologetics isn’t there to make us look clever, but to make the message clear and more convincing. Remember that Jesus could have commanded angelic legions and looked mighty and triumphant if that had been God’s purpose (Matt.26:52-54). How often have I heard tales of Christians sending off a Jehovah’s Witness "with their tail between their legs", the argument won but the Witness lost? As we marshal our legion of arguments we must ask whether we are serving the purpose of God in winning souls or serving ourselves in gaining a reputation for winning arguments. Are we sharing the good news that Christ died for sinners, the just for the unjust, or are we breaking the bad news that our visitor is in a cult and doomed unless they get out? There is a world of difference.

Apologetics isn’t there primarily to pull down the Mormon Church or the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society but to win the Mormon or Witness at your door. Long after Jesus had returned to glory both the temple and the establishment that crucified him still stood – for a time. But already, during his ministry and following Pentecost, people were responding to the call to repent and be baptised. Individuals were being saved into the kingdom even as the kingdom of Satan seemed indestructible.

Apologetics is an essential tool in our armoury, but we should remember that we do not struggle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm (Eph.6:12). This is particularly difficult for those who have been victims of deception but it is well to remember that the Mormon at your door is not the Mormon Church, the Witness is not the WTBTS. You are not tearing down strongholds but building a bridge. If we have put on Christ then, though we may burn with anger at the injustice and deception perpetrated by these organisations, we will look with love and compassion on those who are deceived just as we once were. Ask yourself, am I getting back at the organisation that hurt me, or am I valuing the person in front of me by sharing the truth with gentleness and respect?

Apologetics isn’t enough and no one can be reasoned into becoming a Christian. Apologetics can, however, remove obstacles to faith by showing that the Christian faith is not irrational. We can, with God’s help, "convince" people of so much, but more important than being convinced is being convicted. Conviction of sin is something brought by the Holy Spirit. That is why we need to pray for those to whom we witness. If we do not value them we will be less inclined to pray for them. If we value them we will speak the truth with gentleness and respect and pray that they may come to know him even as we have. Because they, like sheep, have gone astray, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of them all - if someone would but tell them the truth, in love.

Learning from Job

I was asked recently to write my testimony around Ezekiel 14:6 and the theme of God’s mercy in that if we repent we can be delivered. It stretched me and, I am glad to say, helped me find new insights into my relationship with God. This is what I wrote.

Turning from Idols

My parents weren’t Christians, nor were theirs before them so far as I know. But that is no excuse. Somewhere back then someone deserted God for idols. I guess I was at the end of an assembly line. Every time the world turned, out popped a sinner and I was the latest, the latest God-deserter, the latest idolater.

It seems strange to claim to have deserted a God you have never known, but God made us for Himself and that was not reflected in my life. Like a family leaving a newly born at the doors of an orphanage, my family deserted God at some point and walked away. And no matter how much they deny it, or how ignorant are future generations, the family connection is there. It sounds like desertion to me.

God made us for Himself and, in an attempt to renew that connection perhaps, my idol became quite sophisticated. I became a Mormon. No one blows their own trumpet like Mormons. Just ask Moroni. It’s like being wrong at the top of your voice.

But I didn’t know. I didn’t know it was detestable to worship a man as though he were God; or to view God as an exalted man; to doubt Christ’s promise to keep His own no matter what; to add to Scripture; to denigrate "God’s called out people" as abominable; to enter into secret practices and covenants; to deny grace and to want to be god. That I didn't know doesn’t make it less detestable, or me any less culpable—just detestable in my ignorance.

I am thankful for two things:

  1. For those Christians who saw past the wrong in my faith to the man who had such need and didn’t know it;
  2. For God’s mercy in that, as ignorant and detestable as my ways were, He made a way for me to repent.

God did something "to recapture the hearts of my people Israel, who have deserted me for their idols." (Ezekiel 14:5) It astonishes me that, no matter where you come in the assembly line, be it the first to desert (Adam) or the latest to do so in ignorance (Mike), God is prepared to do something to win you back.

"Repent and turn away from your idols," the merciful Lord says. "Thus [you] will be [Mine], and I shall be [your] God." (Ezekiel 14:6 and 11)

In the beginning God…

I began to ponder how we approach this whole area of thinking about our faith. As we develop an apologetic, a reasoned defence or explanation of what we believe, where do we start? The world starts with ‘me’; how I view things; the way it seems to me, as a man, or as a woman, or as a Welshman, or…put in your own nationality. And, even as Christians, we can easily give precedence to our own views, or the views of the particular group to which we belong.

In doing this we can feel disengaged from what God has been doing in the past, and might be doing elsewhere, as though my life is a clean slate on which God and I can make our own marks. It is this approach that gives birth to the idea that your faith is determined by where you are born, what your parents were, your temperament. Out of this come the extenuating circumstances we feel excuse us before God. We say, "I can’t help it", or, as the former Welsh Secretary, Ron Davies, said when explaining his strange and infamous behaviour on a certain London Heath, "We are what we are."

In reading Job I began to see a different approach. Although he regards himself as blameless (9:21 He does not mean sinless perfection here) and, unbeknownst to him, God himself takes the same view (1:8), Job nevertheless says:

How can a mortal be righteous before God? Though one wished to dispute with him, he could not answer him one time out of a thousand. His wisdom is profound, his power is vast. Who has resisted him and come out unscathed?…He alone stretches out the heavens and treads the waves of the sea. He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the south.
He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted…How can I dispute with him? How can I find words to argue with him? Though I were innocent, I could not answer him; I could only plead with my Judge for mercy.
(Job 9:2-4, 8-10, 14 & 15)

As we present our "reasons to believe" we should remember Job, and the fact that this is the God to whom we are bringing people. While our theology is vital to our witnessing, we should remember that Job’s ‘comforters’ were the ones with all the theology, the tidy theories that explain how it all works.

"Job, God punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous. Repent of your secret sin and, ‘life will be brighter than noonday’." (Job 11)

They it was who claimed special insight and secret visions:

"I had a vision Job and learned that all men are sinful and you should take it like a man." (Job 4)
They it was who claimed to understand perfectly the justice of God:

"The lamp of the wicked is snuffed out…such is the dwelling of an evil man, such is the place of one who knows not God." (Job 18)

But it was Job who knew God and his place before him, "I could only plead with my Judge for mercy." As we witness we do use reason but there is a better reason than reason itself to come to God. He is there, and we are his, and our apologetic simply helps people to see clearly that, "Though I were innocent (‘we are what we are’), I could not answer him; I could only plead with my judge for mercy." This is the way of salvation. If our apologetic does not lead people to cry, "Brothers, what shall we do?" our "reasons to believe" are no reasons at all.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Pembrey Country Park, S Wales - a Kite

Pembrey Country Park, S Wales. A Man, a Boy and - a Kite?

The Fulness of the Gospel - Agency

The Fullness of the Gospel

In 2006 the official Mormon Ensign magazine launched "A series of articles explaining basic beliefs of the restored gospel…unique to the Church of Jesus Christ of [LDS]" entitled The Fullness of the Gospel. Although they cover a lot of big ideas the articles are brief and there is precious little explanation. They assume the reader will accept uncritically what is written. We will look in more detail at these ideas, compare them with the Bible, and investigate for ourselves. The series begins with the following quote:

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has many beliefs in common with other Christian churches," said Elder Dallin H Oaks of the quorum of the Twelve Apostles. "But we have differences, and those differences explain why we send missionaries to other Christians, why we build temple in addition to churches, and why our beliefs bring us such happiness and strength to deal with the challenges of life and death." (Ensign, January 2006, p.50)

Mormonism then does not bring what might be recognised as the traditional Christian gospel, but a very different message. This third article (February 2006) addresses the Mormon concept of ‘Agency’.


To a Mormon ‘agency’, or free will, means ‘an unfettered power of choice’. Everything in our lives is contingent upon the choices we make, even the decisions and activities of God are a response to those choice.

Building on the teaching of our premortal existence, the article says that we, like God, are eternal beings, and that we enjoy the same freedom of choice as God himself, "Agency is an eternal attribute of all intelligent beings". They define four conditions required for agency:

  1. Laws we can either obey or disobey.
  2. There must be opposites – good and evil, right and wrong.
  3. Knowledge of good and evil;
  4. We must possess an unfettered power of choice. (McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. (1966), p.26)

"We must also be accountable for our choices if we are to enjoy agency fully. The laws that exist must bring consequences…[bringing] blessings from God if we obey them and punishments if we do not."

Satan is portrayed as attacking this agency by, among other things, encouraging disobedience that can blind and enslave us and teaching us the popular message of ‘saved by grace’ which denies consequences to our actions and accountability. When we use our agency to choose righteousness then God rewards us with more freedoms and responsibilities. They describe a meritocracy in which rewards and punishments follow swiftly on obedience or sinfulness.

On this issue it is easy to fall into the trap of following what you instinctively feel must be true. These ideas would feel right to many people with a homespun philosophy and approach to justice. We must, however, approach these things scripturally not intuitively. It is not about what philosophy appeals to my limited reason but what God says in the Bible.


"Most Christian churches believe God created his children ex nihilo – out of nothing", they say and this would make God responsible for our sins because he "created us with flaws and weaknesses." They then assert that God did not create out of nothing, we already pre-existed and God placed us in a world he made out of pre-existing matter. There are several problems here.

Firstly, if anything coexisted with God, matter, spirit or ‘intelligence’ it would be eternal like God and would challenge God’s independence and sovereignty. This is a form of dualism in which God and the material universe eternally exist side-by-side. This would mean that there were two ultimate forces in the universe, God and matter, that something existed apart from God of whom Scripture declares, "In him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…" (Col.1:16) "For you created all things, and by your will they existed" (Rev.4:11).

How could God be omnipotent if something existed apart from his will? This challenges his lordship over creation, his ultimate will for creation and his glory in creation. How could we know that God, and not another eternal force, is ultimately in control? But this is exactly what Mormonism presents us with, i.e. a ‘Plan of Salvation’ to which even God is subject.

Secondly, God did not create us with flaws and weaknesses. When God finished his creation he declared everything he had made, "very good". The fall of man, not the God who created man, brought sin into the world.

Finally, and most importantly, the Bible clearly shows in many places that God created everything out of nothing and that nothing in creation pre-existed or was fashioned from pre-existing materials. Before God created the universe nothing else existed except God.

For in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities – all things were created through him and for him (Col.1:16, c.f. Ge.1:1; Ps.33:6,9; John 1:3; Acts 17:24; Heb.11:3; Rev.4:11)

Purpose in Creation

To Mormons God’s purpose in creation is that his children should progress to become like him. This progress is dependent on their adherence to the ‘Plan’ that God has for them and that God himself followed in order to become God. How they use their agency is key to their progress. The emphasis is very much on the creature.

The Bible emphasis is on God’s glory and makes clear that God’s purpose in creation is for his own glory. He speaks of his sons and daughters, "whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made" (Isaiah 43:7 c.f. Ps.19:1). We are further told that God, "created all things, and by your will they existed and were created" (Rev.4:11). God did not create according to some foreordained ‘Plan of Salvation’ to which he himself was bound. He created us because it was his will and pleasure.

Eternal Principle?

Agency is one of many ‘eternal principles’ in Mormonism. The idea of eternal principles is itself problematic. The reason has already been stated, i.e. if anything coexisted with God it would be eternal like God and would challenge God’s independence and sovereignty. The problem is compounded by the fact that in Mormonism not only do principles coexist eternally with God but also the God of Mormonism is himself subject to these principles. Indeed, the Mormon God has not always been God but these eternal principles have always been eternal principles. In this God’s sovereignty is compromised since he is a changing being (man become God) subject to unchanging principles!

The article insists that without this principle of agency God is "a deterministic God – that is, one who determines in advance the eventual fate of his children." The Mormon God acts in accordance with the Plan (a form of determinism surely?) and acts towards his children according to his perfect foreknowledge. "[God] may use this foreknowledge to guide us or even to warn us, but He does not use it to pre-empt our agency."

"[God] knows what each will do under given conditions, and sees the end from the beginning…He sees the future as a state which will naturally and surely will be; not as one which must be because He has arbitrarily willed that it shall be" (James E Talmage)

There are several problems with this view. One is that it doesn’t free us from determinism altogether or create the ‘unfettered power of choice’ so beloved of Mormons. Rather it turns the tables and causes God’s choices to be determined by our actions, again robbing God of his sovereignty. Another problem is that foreknowledge does not make our choices any more free, it still pre-empts them. If God knows now what we will choose in the future that choice is already fixed and determined, otherwise God could not foreknow it.

As I sit here writing I might consider the question of what I might do with the rest of my day once this article is completed. Does God know what I will do? Let us say that God ‘knows’ that I will visit a friend but then I change my mind and stay at home. God’s ‘knowledge’ in that case is wrong. But God cannot be wrong because he is – God. And it is not in his nature to be wrong about anything. In which case, if I am to truly to have the unfettered freedom Mormons speak of, God cannot know until I decide. In which case God would not be omniscient; i.e. he wouldn’t know everything. But omniscience is part of God’s nature and Scripture declares that he does know the end from the beginning (Isa.46:10) and Mormons agree. If he knows what I will do am I then robbed of my freedom to choose? Are my choices predetermined?


We have seen that God is the all-powerful creator and that all else exists at the word of his command (Col.1:16 c.f.) All that he has created the Bible says he preserves and governs according to his perfect will. God is said to "uphold all things by his word of power" in Christ, and "He is before all things and in him all things hold together" (Col.1:17)

This is called God’s providence; i.e. God’s continued provision of life and order in the universe. If anything existed apart from God then God could not be said to be "before all things" nor that all things hold together in him. Some things would be self-sustaining. The Bible makes clear that if Christ ceased for a moment to uphold all things then all things except God would cease to exist.

We enter into a world created, ordered and sustained according to God’s perfect will and purpose. Our decisions, then, are already contingent upon the sovereign will of God for his world and for the people in it. It is not a question of whether God "pre-empts our agency", nor does God "arbitrarily" will our future. This is a gross misrepresentation of the biblical message. God has a purpose in creation, does nothing arbitrarily, and we are not in a position to pre-empt and frustrate that purpose.

Free Will

The Bible tells us that God "accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will" (Eph.1:11 c.f. Ps.139:16;Jer.10:23). This does not mean, however, that we are robbed of choices. Nor are we absolved of responsibility for our actions.

God is said to "cause the grass to grow" (Ps.104:14); to direct the stars in the heavens (Job:38:32); "makes his sun rise…and sends rain" (Matt.5:45) and yet that does not mean that there are not also natural explanations for these phenomena. God is said to direct - "accomplish all things according to the counsel of his will" - and work through the distinctive properties of created things so that it can be said these things bring about the results we see. God is sovereign and nature is ‘natural’.

In the same way God achieves his perfect ends through the choices and actions of men who make choices for which they are rightly accountable and which can be said to have real effects on the world God made. This is no better illustrated than in the account of the crucifixion. In his speech at Pentecost Peter declared:

"This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men" (Acts 2:23)

God decreed that Christ would die but men killed him and are accountable for their actions. There is a tension between the sovereign will of God and the genuinely free choices of men that we see in Scripture and that we must recognise. Both sovereignty and a degree of free choice are compatible in God’s plan but God alone can understand and perfectly reconcile them.

We must not misunderstand ‘free will’ however. Our freedom to choose is restricted by natural circumstances, where and when we are born and in what circumstances, as well as by God’s ultimate sovereignty. No one enjoys "unfettered power of choice". But we are free to choose and remain accountable for our choices. We might distinguish between free will in the sense of being able to do good in one’s own strength and the ability we have to voluntarily co-operate with God’s purposes – or not. But we cannot frustrate or change those purposes.

Further reading:

Systematic Theology, Creation, God’s Providence, Wayne Grudem, IVP 1996
Know the Truth, Bruce Milne, IVP 1993
Look out for more on this subject and further subjects from the Ensign ‘Fulness of the Gospel’ series on the Reachout web site

The Real Chess Club and the Mormons

An article in the unofficial Mormon Meridian magazine illustrates the Mormon preoccupation with critics. Entitled The Parable of the Chess Club and anti-Mormons it portrays the typical ‘anti-Mormon’ as someone who has become disaffected with and left the Mormon Church and gone on to live a parody of ‘the true church’ and insisting that what he has is the real truth. The article can be read at

Typically it begins with the assumption that Mormonism is the truth. I was quite taken by the idea and the format and wondered how it would work out if we assumed that the traditional Christian message is the truth and wrote my own version. It was good fun and this is it.

There once was a highly successful chess club. Over a period of 2,000 years the club became popular across the world and gained countless millions of members. Clubs were set up in most countries, each doing things a little differently reflecting the different cultures, times and circumstances of its members. Some were quite formal while others were less so. Some met in great numbers in large buildings, while others met in small groups in local halls, or member’s homes. Some club meetings were grand affairs with a good deal of pomp and ceremony, while others were simple gatherings with the least fuss and formality. But each adhered to the basic rules of the game of chess.

One of the members, let’s call him Joseph, didn’t really understand the game and grew bored with playing chess according to someone else’s rules. He decided he wanted to play by his own rules. In fact, he was so determined that he wanted all of the other members to play by his rules too. He spent all of his time haranguing them to stop playing by the established rules and start playing his way. He began to claim that he had a special gift for the game, and an insight on how the founder had originally intended it to be played. And when he didn’t get his way, he left in a huff.

The chess club didn’t mind too much. Joseph was still the only guy who wanted to play by his rules. Time passed, and the chess club went through a rough patch, as all clubs do from time to time. It had happened before and would, no doubt, happen again. Some of the people couldn’t deal with the tough times, and Joseph noticed this. He convinced them that now was really the time to start playing by his rules. A small group, a total of six, of the chess club’s members said they felt that there was something in what Joseph was saying and wanted to play Joseph’s way.

Soon they became bored with just playing among themselves, and they decided to try to get everybody else in the chess club to play Joseph’s way. But nobody else wanted to play with Joseph besides the original six. Club leaders and members became concerned that Joseph and his friends were claiming that they were the real chess club, that members of the club they had left were not true to the rules, and that he had a book containing the original rules of the game.

"Look guys, this is the chess club. If you want to play by different rules that you’ve made up yourselves, go start a club of your own, but don’t pretend your us" the original club members said. But of course this is not what the dissident chess club members wanted. Simply going off and doing their own thing was not very challenging; they wanted to convince everybody else to play by their rules.

Soon it became a rule of Joseph’s club that members give some of their time, say two years, to going around telling as many people as they could that what they had come to regard as the chess club over 2,000 years had moved away from the club founder’s original vision. That they should look around for another club to join, say Joseph’s. They gave away copies of the book Joseph claimed contained the original rules as well as supplementary books containing more and more and more rules.

Members of the original club were now quite alarmed and began to study these books and compare them with the real original rules contained in the book they had been given by the earliest club members, friends of the founder. Joseph had changed so many rules they hardly knew where to begin. For instance, while there was only one white king in the original game, Joseph had lots of white kings. Furthermore, Joseph kept adding rules, changing rules, and ignoring rules. In fact this last point bothered a lot of people since he seemed to play by different rules to everyone else in the club.

Where the book he started off with seemed to have some resemblance to the original game, his later books moved further and further away until it was hard to recognise that they were playing chess at all. He jumped over so many heads in an attempt to have his own way that some say he was playing checkers. And this was a problem because people who didn’t know the rules of chess took a game played on 64 black and white squares with "pieces" that moved back and forth across the board "taking" each other was actually chess. Some people played checkers for years thinking they were playing chess.

Soon some of the original members of Joseph’s club decided to leave for various reasons. Some left because they noticed that Joseph was not true even to the original rules under which these earliest members joined. Some left because, following Joseph’s example, they saw an opportunity to be at the head of a club of their own. Some even left because they began to suspect that Joseph was using the club as an opportunity to have improper relations with other club member’s wives. Following this scandal Joseph’s wife, lets call her Emma, eventually got involved in another club that claimed to have stuck to Joseph’s original rules.

This was all getting very messy, and Joseph and his friends were creating chaos. They spent all of their time bothering the chess players so no one could simply enjoy the game as it had been played for 2,000 years. Finally, the members of the original club decided it prudent and wise to publish what they had found so that people would have a clearer picture of what Joseph’s club was really all about. To broadcast to the world of chess what had been going on and warn them that this dissident group could cause all sorts of problems.

Some, who had played checkers for years, thinking it to be chess, refused to believe at first what they were told by original club members. When they finally realised, however, that they had been mistaken in taking checkers for chess they were grateful and left Joseph’s club. Many joined the original chess club, although it has to be said others stayed away from the game altogether, refusing to risk being duped a second time. Joseph had spoiled the game of chess for a lot of good people. Some simply refused to believe anything members of the original club told them. They accused those who left Joseph’s club of betrayal and said that those who went on to tell the truth about Joseph were just bitter and spiteful people. This was sad because these people felt that in the original game they had found the challenge, companionship and fulfilment they had always been seeking and simply wished to share it with others.

As time passed and new presidents of Joseph’s club came and went the rules continued to change. Eventually new generations of club members knew only the "Joseph’s rules" with which they had grown up and knew nothing of the changes that had taken place over the years. They believed that this was how the game had always been played, not just 2,000 years ago, but by Joseph himself. They didn’t realise how far from the original game their club had travelled. Nor how far even from Joseph’s game.

Original club members continued to share the original rules with those who cared to know, and especially with members of Joseph’s club, because they felt an empathy with those who thought they were playing the game but were only paying a pale imitation. Meanwhile, members of Joseph’s club whined and complained continuously about the original club, claiming it was "persecuting" them. The leaders of Joseph’s club realised how far they had moved from the original club rules and began to "forget" some of the rules Joseph and other early presidents had insisted upon. They tried harder and harder to sound like chess players. They used chess terms, even though they were playing checkers. Finally, they thought that they had enough people convinced they were really playing chess that they demanded to be recognised as just another chess club.

Original club members, while recognising the different "flavours" of chess clubs around the world, felt this was asking too much. It didn’t seem right somehow that people should go around playing checkers all the while claiming it was chess. They, therefore, continued to publish information about Joseph’s club, and members of that club continued to whine and complain. They insisted that members of the original club were not playing chess, only the checkers players were playing chess. When members of the original club aimed that charge back, claiming that you can hardly call checkers chess, Joseph’s club members insisted that they had every right to call their game chess, and said they were being persecuted. They said it was not fair that, just because the original club had the original rules, they should decide on how chess should be played. "We’ll play by Joseph’s rules ‘til we die", they exclaimed as they jumped over several of the opposing player’s pieces and demanded to be made king.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Rhossili, Gower, S Wales

The Christian, the Witness, the Presbyter and the Pope

The facts won’t set you free but, as we show here, getting them wrong doesn’t help.

A Christian rang me about Jehovah’s Witnesses at her door. She had answered their challenge of the Trinity using the popular ‘trinity text’ from 1 John:

""There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one" (1 John 5:7, KJV)

They told her that this verse was a later addition to the Bible and she wanted to know what to do. I confirmed their report, explaining that these words were not found in any Greek text before the sixteenth century. "But I have used this verse in witnessing for over twenty years", she said, "what should I do?" The simple answer, of course, is stop using it. It’s not as if the Bible is short of sound arguments for the Trinity.

I have reflected since on how the JWs were right but unsaved, while she was wrong and saved. The Witnesses had the facts, but the Christian had the truth. What lesson are we to draw from this?

We are all familiar with the wonderful promise of Scripture:

"If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" John 8:13)

But if you don’t have your facts right how can you be said to have the truth?

The Presbyter

In a letter to Corinth dating to the end of the first century Clement of Rome wrote about the futility of doubting the resurrection (reminiscent of 1 Corinthians 15). Like Paul before him he used illustrations from nature - day and night, seed that ‘decays’ in the soil only to produce new life – the phoenix. That’s right, Clement of Rome used the mythical African bird, the phoenix, to illustrate the resurrection. Furthermore, he wrote as though the phoenix was anything but mythical, rehearsing details of the story as though presenting ‘facts’:

"There is a bird which is called the phoenix. This is the only one of its kind, and it lives five hundred years; and when the time of it’s dissolution in death is at hand, it makes itself a sepulchre…and when the time is fulfilled it enters into it and dies. Now, from the corruption of its flesh there springs a worm…which puts forth wings."

Now, we might well laugh at such ‘ignorance and superstition’ but Clement did not have the National Geographic Channel to help him know the facts of the matter. What he did have was the truth that the resurrection was a reality and nature itself can be useful in illustrating the truth.

The Pope

It is popularly believed that when Galileo presented his view of the solar system Pope Urban VIII punished and silenced him because Galileo’s views were too revolutionary (no pun intended). The story goes that, in the old, Aristotelian, view, the earth was at the centre of the universe, putting man at the centre of creation. Galileo’s findings removed man from the centre, effectively demoting him.

The opposite, however, is the truth. Aristotle taught that the earth’s position at the centre, far from making it most important, emphasised the earth’s corrupt nature compared with the heavens. This was not an especially Christian view but arrived at by observing the celestial bodies as ‘perfect’ in their orb-like appearance and in their movement in concentric circles compared with the earth, which was self-evidently lumpy, scarred, unmoving and, therefore, ‘imperfect’. The centre was seen as the lowest place in the universe and Galileo’s theories were thought to elevate it to a position that failed to reflect it’s true corrupt nature. It is also not true that the church of the day was Galileo’s enemy. Rather, it was the scientific community that questioned and denounced his findings and the church that sponsored and encouraged him (Urban was once a friend of Galileo).

Two questions arose from Galileo’s findings:

1) do they truly reflect the nature of creation? This was far from a settled argument in his day and many scientists rejected his findings.

2) What effect would this new teaching have on how we interpret Scripture and our understanding of the ‘fallen’ nature of man? The church argued that ‘changeable’ science should not interpret ‘unchangeable’ Scripture and if our understanding was to change it was a matter for the church, which has not been as averse to change as popular myth would have us believe.

The Facts won’t set you Free

We learn valuable lessons from these three examples in relation to apologetics.

In the first example it is clearly important to get the facts right simply because it makes our witnessing more credible and because it improves our understanding and makes us better disciples and teachers. But the facts, in themselves, don’t save us. The Witnesses had the facts but remained unsaved. The Christian had the truth, was saved, but was ignorant of some facts relating to the truth.

In the second example Clement had the truth about the resurrection and illustrated it with the ‘facts’, as they were understood in his day. We know today that the phoenix was a mythical creature and would look for a better illustration of the truth. However, Clement still had the truth and his ignorance of the facts did not change that. God accommodates the message to the time, as Calvin pointed out when he said, "As it became a good theologian, [Moses] had respect to us rather than to the stars" when he wrote his account of creation. Jesus did not come to correct our general misconceptions but to save us by faith in his truth.

In the third example, contrary to popular myth, the church was very interested in the facts but also aware of the nature of facts that can be clearly seen to change over time. Their concern was that, while facts change, often to enlighten and educate us, God’s truth should be guarded and not easily surrendered to the sometimes-fickle nature of man’s scientific speculations. We rightly seek the facts but know how they can be interpreted in ways that jeopardise the truth (witness Darwinism).

The implications of all this for us are that we should:

Be humble in our presentation of ‘facts’, knowing that, like the lady with the Witnesses, we might one day find our understanding of the facts less solid than we thought. The facts are our helper so long as they remain true, the gospel is our anchor because it always remains true.

Distinguish between analogies, which always break down eventually, and the truth they illustrate, so that, like Clement, we are passionate about the truth, and not about our clever arguments. The phoenix illustration made sense in his day but is quaint to us, but the gospel makes sense in all ages.

When facts are established and great change is inevitable, we should be prepared to embrace change in our understanding, like Urban VIII, but, like Urban, be careful to guard that it is our understanding that changes by way of increasing and correcting and not the gospel, which is unchangeable.

Port Meirion, N Wales

Problems Facing Apologists

As a former Mormon involved in apologetics and evangelism I am aware of how many former cult members approach the business of reaching out to the lost. There are three problems I have identified that can become real obstacles to effective witnessing in this area.

Confirming yourself by converting others

When I became a Christian I was given the best advice ever. "Don’t go on the circuit, giving your testimony as an "ex-Mormon", it will ruin you. Settle down in your Christian faith for a few years and if God wants you in that ministry he will call you in due course." Unfortunately, most people simply don’t do this. Instead they throw themselves into ‘ministry’ before they have a chance to put down roots. They try and get confirmation by making converts, using apologetics to convince themselves all over again rather than resting in the sure knowledge that comes from Jesus.

I am reminded of Paul’s Apologia for his ministry, "I want you to know, brothers that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:11-12). He also wrote, "We speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age…but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit" (1 Cor.2:6-10).

Spurgeon once said, "You can sin in company, you can go to hell in company, but you come to Christ alone." Have you a revelation of Jesus Christ and do you stand on the sure promises of Scripture – no matter whether others come or not?

Confirming yourself by condemning others

Others take great comfort from comparing themselves favourably to others – the Pharisee and tax collector syndrome (Luke 18:10-14). Apologetics is all about winning arguments to them. They boast of sending the JW packing "with his tail between his legs". It is not simply about ‘being right’ but about being right with God – and for that you can take no credit. It is easy to look back at what we were and feel superior. It is more challenging to share the good news patiently, lovingly and without judging. Peter writes that we should witness "with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15), and Paul reminds believers that we once were "dead in our transgressions and sins,,,like the rest" and only know the truth "because of his great love for us" (Ephesians 2:1-4). In light of this we should be humble and patient not haughty and strident in our witnessing.

Confusing the issue by condoning others – the world’s view

There is a world-view that sees religion developing, beginning with nature spirits, through polytheism to the monotheism of the world’s great religions. Man is seen to have ascended from the simple to the complex, the primitive to the sophisticated. This puts man generally in a good light as he struggles to ascend spiritually and creates problems for us as we look at our non-Christian friends whose false religion nevertheless seems to lead them to do much good.

We are tempted to see good as relative to growth and say things like, "We admire the family-centred nature of Mormonism", or, "You must admire the JWs for faithfully knocking doors." This may be true and there may be lessons in such values, but we must realise that good is relative to God not to growth. People’s hearts have no redeeming features and nothing to commend them to God and we must face the fact that such hearts, the hearts of the unsaved, are capable of every type of depravity. There is no such thing as a respectable error, an excusable falsehood, or acceptable version of a false religion.

The Bible does not see man ascending. There we discover a monotheistic beginning for man’s religion, deteriorating into nature worship as man rejects God. Man descends from truth into error. Paul describes this process very clearly:

"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the creator – who is forever praised, Amen."

It is this fallen man that Christ came to save and we need to see false religion for what it is, i.e. the outworking of man’s fallen state. We need to see our former ways, and those still following them through God’s eyes. That "every inclination of man’s heart is only evil all the time" (Gen.6:;8:21)

Common Grace for Sinful Man

Having seen fallen mankind through God’s eyes of judgement we must also see him through God's’ eyes of grace. Christ sat and ate with sinners and publicans, and we must too. He had compassion for the lost and brought mercy to those who most needed it, and we must bring those same gifts to sinners. He did not, however, excuse their sin.

The Mormon prophet has said that his church’s mission is "to make bad men good and good men better." This not how God sees mankind, it is a message that mocks the Cross. It is not people who need self-improvement he came to help. "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Matt.9:13). There is no one, however good they may seem in man’s eyes, who "would make a good Christian". God makes good Christians, but man makes more wickedness.

Seeing this we begin to understand that false religion has the same root – rebellion against God, that we bring a message of salvation, not commendation or consolation. Men are capable of great good, even in their sins, because of common grace. But man is still an object of wrath until he comes to the foot of the Cross- because he is "by nature" sinful and rebellious.

Grace and Salt

"Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone."(Col.4:6)

As Christians we bring the message of grace. But, if grace is to have its full effect, we must season the message with salt so that people discover their great need of a gracious Saviour. Salt in a wound stings, but any attempt to compromise its properties, or avoid its application, only deprives our lost friends of its healing properties. Here is the balance we must achieve – grace and salt, love and truth.

Borth, N Wales

Premortal Life

In 2006 the official Mormon Ensign magazine launched "A series of articles explaining basic beliefs of the restored gospel" entitled The Fullness of the Gospel. Although they cover a lot of big ideas these ideas are contained in the briefest of articles and there is precious little explanation, more description than explanation in fact, and the author assumes the reader will accept uncritically what is written. We will look in more detail at the claims being made, compare them with the Bible, and investigate these things for ourselves. The series begins in the January issue with the following quote:

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has many beliefs in common with other Christian churches," said Elder Dallin H Oaks of the quorum of the Twelve Apostles. "But we have differences, and those differences explain why we send missionaries to other Christians, why we build temple in addition to churches, and why our beliefs bring us such happiness and strength to deal with the challenges of life and death." (Ensign, January 2006, p.50)

We should remember then that, by their own admission, Mormonism does not bring what might be readily recognised as the traditional Christian gospel, but a very different message. This second article (February 2006) illustrates this very well as it addresses the Mormon concept of life before birth.

Life Before Birth

The article begins with the assertion that, without an understanding of the Mormon teaching on premortal existence, life makes precious little sense:

"There is no way to make sense out of life without a knowledge of the doctrine of premortal life…When we understand the doctrine of premortal life, then things fit together and make sense." (Boyd K Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles)

Building on this quote the article goes on to assert that only this doctrine makes sense of our relationship with God, the purpose of life and our ‘divine destiny’. It does raise the question, if the Bible can tell us nothing about these things why then do Mormons trust it at all? If things so fundamental as our relationship with God, God’s purpose for us and our ultimate destiny are not clearly explained in the Bible what is anyone doing with a book that demonstrates such fatal deficiencies? We will look at what the Bible has to say about these things.

Boyd Packer is also quoted as saying that this teaching, "was known to ancient Christians. For nearly five hundred years the doctrine was taught, but it was rejected as a heresy by a clergy that had slipped into the Dark Ages of apostasy…Once they rejected this doctrine…they could never unravel the mystery of life."

The quote is taken from the November 1983 Ensign magazine, a conference address, and the article can be read online at the official LDS web site, I looked it up, curious to know how he backed up such a statement only to discover that the talk is yet another collection of assertions backed by nothing more than anecdotes and homiletic sentiment. These things appear to be an endless collection of anecdotes and assertions built upon even more anecdotes and assertions.

The Dark Ages

Something ought to be said at this stage about the so-called ‘Dark Ages’. It is a term that was coined by the Victorians to describe the period from around the fifth century to around the tenth century, from the fall of the Roman Empire to the beginning of a new millennium. It is more correctly known as the Early Medieval Period (Early Middle Ages) and marks a time of great migration, hence the German name Volkervonderung (wandering peoples).

The term ‘Dark Ages’ was coined to describe what was then perceived as a period of great social and economic backwardness; a time of moral, cultural and social decay precipitated by the fall of the Roman Empire. However, although it was a time of great change and social decline this is a comparative value and it was not totally devoid of spiritual enlightenment, social structure and significant culture. There is another, more correct way to understand the term, i.e. a time in which there were precious few written records to illuminate the period compared with those before and after. The term ‘Dark Ages’ then is an historical term that more properly describes what we don’t know rather than what they didn’t know.

Why is this important? Because, just as the Victorians found the phrase useful to explain their own ignorance of the period, so many cults, groups and individuals press it into service to erroneously describe a period of heresy, apostasy, and spiritual decay. Every ‘restoration’ claim it seems is explained as a teaching lost in the Dark Ages and we must treat with deep suspicion such arguments from silence.

What we know?

Under this heading the article goes on to describe the familiar Mormon teaching on premortal life:

  • "Intelligence" is eternal and has always existed (we are all "intelligences")
  • God, at some point in our premortal past, created for us spirit bodies making us his "spirit children"
  • We came to earth to gain a physical body and become more like God
    "God himself…because he was more intelligent, saw proper to instigate laws whereby [His children] could have a privilege to advance like himself" (History of the Church, 6:312, quoted in article)

These points sum up the "purpose of life" as Mormons see it and the quote is interesting in that it raises at least two issues:

Firstly, there is a clear inference we can draw that God is merely a more advanced "intelligence" than we are, i.e. "more intelligent". An interesting idea in light of the teaching of Psalm 90:1-6, which we discuss in the first in this series of articles "The Godhead".

Secondly if, as we can safely infer, this is an endless process by which God himself became God "the same as all gods have done before" (Joseph Smith) the laws would already have been in place so how could God "instigate" (start, begin, initiate, bring about) those laws? Surely God is locked into a priori systems and laws making him, of course, less than "Almighty"?

In any event "what we know" is exclusively what Joseph Smith has told us. Contrary to Boyd Packer’s claim, there is no evidence presented that this is a restoration of early church doctrine, or that the church ever believed or taught it. Building on this article we will look more closely at what Mormonism teaches and compare it with the Bible.

The Purpose of Life

The Mormon Church usually introduces the idea of a premortal existence by talking about the three great questions: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?

Where Did I come from?

The Mormon book The Pearl of Great Price paints a clearer picture of this "pre-mortal existence":

"Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;
And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.
And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;
And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;"
(PofGP, Abraham 3:22-25)

This, in a nutshell, is what the Mormons call "the Plan of Salvation", or "the eternal plan of happiness".

If challenged to show biblical proofs for this teaching they might quote:

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you a prophet to the nation" (Jeremiah 1:4-5)

They might then quote from Acts, "We are the offspring of God" (17:29) and will reason that we lived before we were born (Jeremiah) and were literally children of God (Acts).

Premortal or Foreordained?

It is totally unnecessary to postulate a premortal existence to explain these texts as though, as Mormons would have us believe, they are otherwise inexplicable. Indeed, to do so one would have to ignore substantial, sound and clear biblical explanations and, by so doing, deny the purposes and sovereignty of God.

While the Mormon would argue, "how could God have known Jeremiah if he did not have a premortal existence?" the Bible clearly teaches ordination according to the foreknowledge of God and not according to the premortal existence of man. God declares:

"I am God and there is no other;
I am God and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times what is to come
(Isaiah 46:9)

Note the words highlighted in Italics, "there is none like me". Far from being a more intelligent version of us God is unique in his nature and there is none like him. One unique characteristic of God, and that is shown in the Isaiah text, is his omniscience, or all-knowing nature.

Our knowledge is of things that are already history or that we come to know as events unfold in our little part of creation. God, however, "knows himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act" (Grudem). The Bible describes God as "perfect in his knowledge" (Job 37:16) and John tells us that God "knows everything" (1 John 3:20). Perfect knowledge is complete knowledge and this includes our future, "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matt.6:8); "Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD" (Psalm 139:4); "Your eyes beheld my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" (Psalm 139:16).

These, and numerous other passages, make clear that Jeremiah need not have existed in a pre-mortal life for God to choose him before he was born and the text points not to premortal existence but to foreordination according to the foreknowledge of God. Indeed, Jeremiah himself clearly understood that all things had their beginning with God and not in an eternal premortal life (Jeremiah 10:10-16)


The verse in Acts is even more easily explained from the context of the passage as well as from the wider biblical context. Paul is speaking to Greek philosophers in Athens and teaching them about the true God. Beginning at verse 24 we read:

"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth…he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men… ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring’" (Acts 17:24-28).

This chimes perfectly with Malachi 2:10 which clearly links creation and the Fatherhood of God "Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us?" God is the Father of humanity in the sense that he created us and it is in him that we have life and being. The statement that "we are his offspring" is clearly set in the context of creation. Romans 8:16, another verse pressed into service of this Mormon teaching, is again dealt with properly in context for from verse 15 we read "For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the spirit of adoption. And by him we cry Abba, Father. Now if we are children, then we are heirs…" (vv 15-16)

It is interesting that the Greek in Acts gives us genos, which has a similar root to genesis and means origin, source, beginning, creation and is used here in the context of God as our Creator. The Romans text, on the other hand, gives us the Greek teknos, meaning child, daughter, son and is used in the context of God becoming our Father by adoption. In the first God is the one in whom all mankind "live and move and have our being", while in the latter God is the Father (Abba) of all those who are given the Spirit of Sonship and who are led by the Spirit of God. All mankind are included in the first while a contrast is drawn in the latter between "those who live according to the sinful nature" (Ro.8:5) and those "controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit of God" (Ro.8:9).


In Acts, then, we have a reference to God as our Creator/Father, while in Romans we have a reference to God as our Father by adoption, through faith in the saving work of his Son and the leading of the Spirit.

It is not true that Christianity is confused about the foreordination of Jeremiah and the Fatherhood of God. The Bible has always had clear and definitive answers to these important questions and, far from being a restoration of lost truth, the Mormon message of a premortal life for all mankind flies in the face of biblical truth.


God is not a man. The God of the Bible is eternally God. "From everlasting to everlasting you are God" (Psalm 90:2). He is called "the Eternal God" (Genesis 21:33; Deut.33:27). The psalmist declares, "Your throne was established long ago; you are from eternity" (Psalm 93:2). This is not a God who has progressed but one who is constant in his nature and character.
We are not gods in embryo. God declares, "You are my witnesses. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me " (Isaiah 43:10). Our relationship with God is twofold:

First he is our Creator and our Father in the sense of being our origin, source, life giver (genos);

Secondly, to those who are being saved he is our Father by adoption and by the indwelling of his Spirit, the Spirit that leads us to call him Abba, Father. We are his children (teknos) by the new birth described in John 3.


What, then, does it mean to be "in the image of God" if we cannot "progress" to be gods? The purpose of our redemption is, "to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:24). To be made in the image of God is to enjoy his "communicable attributes", i.e. his character and personality, righteousness, holiness, wisdom, justice, love (c.f. James 3:13-18).

The purpose of this is also made plain in the Bible, i.e. "In order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:7). It is for the greater glory of God that these things are brought about.


After this life Mormons expect to be "judged, by the Lord, according to our faithfulness in following the course he has laid out for us". That by keeping to the plan they merit rewards. The greater their faithfulness the greater their reward, the greatest reward being godhood.

However the Bible tells us that "God does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities" (Psalm 103:10). Our "rewards" can by no means be commensurate with our efforts just as our punishments are not commensurate with our sins since "he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5); "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor.5:21).

"Is this a charter for sinning?" the Mormon might ask, or as Paul wrote, "Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?" (Romans 6:15). "By no means!" is Paul’s reply. It is as a result of God’s grace that, "we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10). "We…are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18). It is a sovereign work of God, not what we make of ourselves but what God makes of us.

In Romans 5 Paul describes a miraculous transaction in which, just as we inherited sin from Adam so, through faith, we inherit righteousness from Christ the new Adam. We are born "in Adam" but are born again "in Christ". "Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of one man many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous" (Romans 5:18-19).

In the old Adam we are "slaves to sin" but in the new Adam "slaves to righteousness" (Romans 6). "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew (Jeremiah) he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn of many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified" (Romans 8:28-30).

Since "We…are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18) the life of the Christian is not one of sinless perfection. It is characterised by repentance, righteousness and a following after God, as well as an assurance of eternal life with God (1 John 5:13), which life is our destiny.

For further reading:

New Bible Dictionary, IVP, 1996 ed.
Systematic Theology, IVP, 1994, Wayne Grudem
Knowing God, J I Packer, Hodder & Staughton
According to Plan, Goldsworthy, IVP
At The Heart of the Universe, Peter Jensen, IVP
Mormon Teaching Notes, a systematic critique of the Mormon Missionary Discussions, Reachout Trust.

Port Meirion, N Wales

The Godhead

In 2006 the official Mormon Ensign magazine launched "A series of articles explaining basic beliefs of the restored gospel" entitled The Fullness of the Gospel. The series begins in the January issue with the following quote:

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has many beliefs in common with other Christian churches," said Elder Dallin H Oaks of the quorum of the Twelve Apostles. "But we have differences, and those differences explain why we send missionaries to other Christians, why we build temple in addition to churches, and why our beliefs bring us such happiness and strength to deal with the challenges of life and death." (Ensign, January 2006, p.50)

The first article (January 2006) addresses the nature of the godhead and the first thing to note is that this huge subject is covered in a page and a half. In a little over nine hundred words the article purports to explain this fundamental of Mormonism, key to the ‘Restoration’ story of Joseph Smith.

There is no substantial theology in the article in the sense of reasoning from the Scriptures. No attempt to show what God has revealed about himself in the past, and no effort to show how and why Mormon theology fits better than Evangelical Christian theology into the Bible account of God. Indeed, you might say that the writer takes these things as read. The article might be summed up thus:
  1. The Mormon Church ‘has many beliefs in common with other Christian Churches. But we have differences…"
  2. The Mormon Godhead has three beings while other churches ‘reject the idea of three separate beings.’
  3. Thanks to Joseph Smith centuries of speculation have ended and the true nature of God is known.
  4. The true purpose of life is now revealed as we realise man’s literal potential to become a god like the other gods of Mormonism.

No reason is given why we should believe these things. They are simply asserted and the reader expected to accept their self-evident truth. This confirms what we have believed for some time, i.e. that the flagship Ensign magazine has become little more than an elaborate brochure for the Mormon Church.

The Nature of the Godhead

  • Is the Christian Church ‘confused’ about the Godhead and have the centuries truly been marked by endless speculation?
  • Has Mormonism ‘Restored’ true knowledge of God?
  • What does the Bible reveal about God’s nature?
  • Which picture is closest to the Bible account, the Christian Trinity or the Mormon plurality of gods?

If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, "Let us follow other gods" (gods you have not known) "and let us worship them," you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deut. 13:1-3)

The Bible makes clear that it is what prophets teach, not they’re winsome nature, urbane character, or apparent success, that is the clue to they’re status as guides.

Mormons claim to follow latter-day prophets who lead people to believe those things that the Mormon Church itself admits are ‘different’. These differences, they claim, fill the considerable gaps in our understanding, darkened by apostasy, and are their motivation and apologetic for sending missionaries. We should remember that Mormonism does not bring what might be readily recognised as the traditional Christian message, but a very different gospel. Nothing illustrates this better than their view on the nature of the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit:

"In common with the rest of Christianity we believe in a Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. However, we testify that these three members of the Godhead are three separate and distinct beings. We also testify that God the Father is not just a spirit but is a glorified person with a tangible body, as is the resurrected Son, Jesus Christ…In contrast, many Christians reject the idea of a tangible, personal God and a Godhead of three separate beings. They believe that God is a spirit and that the Godhead is only one God. In our view, these concepts are evidence of what we call the Great Apostasy." (Dallin Oaks)

This is a misrepresentation of the Christian God. The mistake the Mormons have made is in assuming that any conception of the Infinite, Eternal God must be fully comprehensible to finite man. In doing this they have made the fundamental error of creating God in the image of man, making him physical, finite and limited to time and space. Joseph Smith stated:

"It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God…and that He was once a man like us." (History of the Church, 6:305)

What is the Mormon theology behind this conclusion? It is so far removed from traditional Christian belief it is hardly credible that they should get these ideas from the Bible and yet they claim to do that very thing. Have Christians had it wrong for almost two thousand years and has Mormonism restored the truth about God’s nature? Using these articles as a starting point we want to build a picture of what Mormons typically believe to be true and fundamental to their faith and compare it with the Bible.

The ‘Parts’ of God

The Mormon will reason that in Genesis 32:30 Jacob declares "I saw God face to face". Also in Exodus 33:11 we read "the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend". However, the Christian who knows the Bible will know that in Exodus 33:20 God declares that "you cannot see my face, for no-one may see me and live". So what is the Bible talking about when it refers to men seeing God "face to face"? In Numbers 12:6-8 we read:

"When a prophet of the Lord is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles;"

When prophets hear from God it is in visions and dreams and the prophet may not always fully understand at the time the nature and purpose of the message. Not so with Moses with whom God speaks "face to face", or directly, "clearly and not in riddles". The term "face to face" is an indication of the special relationship Moses had with God.

The ‘Image’ of God

The Mormon will further reason from Genesis 1:26-27 that God has a body by saying that if we are made "in the image of God", and we have bodies, then he must have a body. They will further reason that the Bible speaks of God's physical attributes such as his eyes (Psalm 139:16); his hand and arm (Psalm 44:3); his mouth (Deuteronomy 8:3).

The Christian might point out from Scripture that in John 4:24 Jesus declared "God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth". The resurrected Jesus said, "a spirit does not have flesh and bones" Luke 24:39. If God is spirit and a spirit does not have a body then what does Genesis 1:26-27 mean? In Ephesians 4:24 we read of the purpose of our redemption:

"To put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."

To be made in the image of God, then, is to enjoy his "communicable attributes", i.e. his character and personality, righteousness, holiness, wisdom, justice, love. To strengthen their argument, the Mormon will reason from Matthew 5:48 that we are to "be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect". In the correct context this is not, as they claim, a call to achieve godlike perfection, but to achieve right thinking in our attitude to others, i.e.
"Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous".

Impartial love, a God-like attribute imputed to man, making man to be in the image of God.

References to God's eyes, mouth, hand and arm, etc. describe not God's body but the activity of God, his eyes ever watchful; his arm, ever reaching out to save; his mouth, communicating with us. We can point out Psalm 91:4 "he will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge". The Mormon will readily understand that God does not have wings and that the Bible is speaking metaphorically. This is true of every such reference.

The Fatherhood of God

The Mormon will reason, in his attempt to establish the man-like nature of God, that "we are the children of God" Romans 8:16, meaning that we are literally his offspring Acts 17:24-29, and that he is our "Father in heaven" Matthew 5:48. This forms the basis of the Mormon Plan of Salvation, i.e. "We are the children of our Father in Heaven. We are created in his image. Because he is the Father of all people, we are brothers and sisters" and "God has a plan" for his children.

However, Malachi 2:10 clearly links creation and the fatherhood of God "Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us?" God is the father of humanity in the sense that he created humanity. Acts 17:24-26 speaks of God "giving all men life and breath" teaching that "From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live". The statement that "we are his offspring" is clearly set in the context of creation.

Romans 8:16 is again dealt with properly in context for in verse 15 we read "For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the spirit of adoption. And by him we cry Abba, Father".

In Acts, then, we have a reference to God as our Creator/Father, while in Romans we have a reference to God as our Father by adoption, through faith in the saving work of his Son and the leading of the Spirit. Matthew 5:48 takes on a wholly different meaning as we consider our creation and subsequent adoption into God's family, i.e. "even as your Father (who made you and adopted you into his family) is perfect".

The True ‘Otherness’ of God

The contrast between the nature of God and the nature of man could not be more clearly stated than in Psalm 90:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You turn men back to dust, saying, "Return to dust, O sons of men."
For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.
You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning – though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered

God is eternal, "from everlasting to everlasting", while man is mortal, springing up in the morning but by evening dry and withered. He is our Creator and we are creatures.

While Christians see man being made in the image of God the Mormons have quickly taken us to a god who is in the image of man. They start with reference to a Supreme Being but end up worshipping a Superior Being, i.e. an exalted man.


In his Confessions Augustine of Hippo reflected on the incomprehensible nature of God:

"Who then are you, my God? What, I ask, but God who is Lord? For, ‘Who is the Lord but the Lord’, or ‘who is God but our God?’ (Ps.17:32). Most high, utterly good, utterly powerful, most omnipotent, most merciful and most just, deeply hidden yet most intimately present, perfection of both beauty and strength, Stable and incomprehensible, immutable and yet changing all things, never new, never old, making everything new and ‘leading’ the proud ‘to be old without their knowledge’ (Job 9:5); always active, always in repose, gathering to yourself but not in need, supporting and filling and protecting, creating and nurturing and bringing to maturity, searching even though to you nothing is lacking: you love without burning, you are jealous in a way that is free of anxiety, you ‘repent’ (Gen.6:6) without the pain of regret, you are wrathful and remain tranquil. You will a change without any change in your design. You recover what you find, yet have never lost. Never in any need, you rejoice in your gains (Lk.15:7); you are never avaricious, yet you require interest (Matt.25:27). We pay you more than you require so as to make you our debtor, yet who has anything which does not belong to you? (1 Cor.4:7). You pay off debts, though owing nothing to anyone; you cancel debts and incur no loss." (St Augustine, Confessions, Chadwick, 1991)

The best minds in Christian history have struggled with these ideas and, in the final analysis, such knowledge as we have of God is beyond our natural comprehension and must come by revelation, i.e. what we know of God is limited to what God reveals about himself. For the rest we can only stand in wonder with Augustine at the utter ‘otherness’ of God.

The Mormon comprehension of God, in contrast, is limited only by man’s imagination as Mormons conceive God as an exalted man. The Mormon God is far from the incomprehensible being described by Augustine and revealed in the Bible. His ways are very much our ways, his thoughts just like our own, his life an extension of finite existence once lived out on an earth, just as will be ours.

The Mormon claim that revelation alone can reveal the true nature of God, but what has God already revealed of himself, how have Christians understood this, and how does it compare with Mormon claims?

The Christian God

Three things might be said about the traditional Christian view of the Godhead:

  1. There is but one God
  2. The Father, the Son and the Spirit is each fully and eternally God
  3. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit is each a distinct person
  4. The Bible makes it clear there is one God, and only one God:

Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me (Is.43:10b)
I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God (Is.44:6)
I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God (Is.45:5)
I am the LORD, and there is no other (Is. 45:18b)
And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Saviour; there is none but me. Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other (Is. 45:21b-22)

The Bible also shows a plurality in God’s being:

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some teachers of the law…[thought], ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (Mk.2:7-10)

‘For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it’ (Jn.5:21)

Jesus forgives sin as only God can and gives life, as only God can, because he has life in himself (Jn.1:4). Yet Jesus is not the Father, as is made clear from Jn.5:21 (c.f. Mk.1:11).

Jesus speaks of the Spirit as being of the same kind or nature with himself:

‘If you love me you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth’ (Jn.14:15-17)

‘Another Counsellor’ here means ‘Another like me’, another of the same kind. He is ‘the Counsellor’ or ‘Advocate’ and ‘Intercessor’, words applied to Jesus. We read in the Bible that ‘the Spirit gives life’ (1 Cor.3:6) even as the Father gives life and the Son has life in himself and gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.

The Bible reveals, then, that there is one God, but there are three persons who are God. There is one God but this one God has a plural nature. This one God is called the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Christians do not reject a Godhead of three separate persons, rather we believe in what the Bible tells us.

The God of Christianity is an eternal being, plural in nature, comprising Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This God created all things ex nihilo – out of nothing. He became man in the person of the Son, Immanuel, God with us, in order to save fallen and lost humanity from their sin by the sacrifice of the Cross. He dwells in us by his Spirit (Eph.2:22) and by his indwelling we have Christ ‘in us’ and fellowship with the Father (Ro.8:9-10; 1 John 1:3).


The god of Mormonism is a man, who became a god through repentance and obedience to his god, formed a world from materials already in existence, and peopled it with his already pre-existing spirit children. He sent another god, the Mormon Jesus, to save his children by showing them an example of obedience. He then sent a third god to guide his church, though not very successfully since it apostatised, and finally sent Joseph Smith to achieve what neither the Christ nor the Spirit of Mormonism were able to do at first.

It is not true that the church has been confused over the centuries until Joseph came along. Rather, the church has wrestled with these things, seeking God in his Word and by prayer, and determined to accept only what the Bible reveals to us.

"… you thought I was altogether like you. But I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face" (Ps. 50:21)

For further reading:
Saint Augustine, Confessions, OUP, 1991, trans. Chadwick
Should Christians Apologise? Reachout Trust, 2004, Harris, Hayward, Thomas
New Bible Dictionary, Trinity, IVP, 1996 ed.
Systematic Theology, God: The Trinity, IVP, 1994, Wayne Grudem
Knowing God, J I Packer, Hodder & Staughton
According to Plan, Goldsworthy, IVP
At The Heart of the Universe, Peter Jensen, IVP
Mormon Teaching Notes, a systematic critique of the Mormon Missionary Discussions, Reachout Trust.