Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Golden "Or" in the Book of Mormon

One popular anti-Mormon site cites Alma 24:19 as an example of a really strange blunder in the Book of Mormon. It has this confusing passage: "...they buried their weapons of peace, or they buried the weapons of war for peace." The authors point out that "weapon of peace" just seems crazy. They think it's a mistake. And I suspect they are right.

What, a mistake? Sure - there are plenty. Any text that passes through human hands is going to have mistakes introduced somewhere. But in this case, I suspect the mistake may have been Mormon's, not Joseph's, Oliver Cowdery's, or a printer's. Remember, Mormon was writing on golden plates. Once you engraved a word, it wasn't easy to erase. So if you're working on the phrase "weapons of war, for peace" and make the error, "weapons of peace," without an eraser you might just have to continue writing to add the correction, using "or" to introduce it. A few LDS writers have pointed to a variety of passages that are consistent with this "no eraser" theory. I think the primary online reference on the topic is "No Erasers" by Mary Lee Treat. Mary lists a number of passages where an engraving error may have been corrected by restating what was meant, just the way we do it when speaking, but not like what you would expect for a book being composed by someone working on paper where it's easy to strike out a passage and revise it on the spot. I believe later authors noted the significance of the word "or" in such passages, and pointed out a variety of interesting passages that Mary missed.

One passage not listed in Mary's article is Mosiah 7:8 [correction: it's mislabeled in that article as Mosiah 5:11], which my family encountered recently as we were reading through Mosiah. Here we read about a man named Ammon and some other Nephites from Zarahemla who came down to search for the people that went back to Lamanite territory to settle the original land of Nephi. Ammon and some others are seized by King Limhi's guards, who mistook them for some other trouble makers. Mosiah 7:8 tells us that "when they had been in prison two days they were again brought before the king, and their bands were loosed; and they stood before the king, and were permitted, or rather commanded, that they should answer the questions which he should ask them." Why use "permitted, or rather commanded"? If they were commanded, just say so.

If Mormon were preparing gold plates reciting this story and wrote "permitted" first by mistake, not having an eraser, he could have corrected it by adding "or rather, commanded" after the error. But why would there be such an error in the first place? Read the rest of Mosiah 7 for a clue. In verse , the king concludes some remarks with, "Ye are permitted to speak." And in verse 12, Ammon rejoices that he is yet alive and that he is "permitted to speak." So I think that Mormon, being familiar with the text that he was about to copy, had "permitted to speak" on his mind from the later conversation, and very naturally engraved "permitted" in Mosiah 7:8, when the record actually had "commanded." The mistake is perfectly natural given the text that follows, and the use of the "or" to correct the scribal error makes sense for someone engraving on gold. But for someone crafting and revising a text on paper, "permitted, or rather commanded" seems out of place.

One of many interesting little textual issues in the Book of Mormon that seem strange or awkward until the context is considered - in this case, the context of an authentic, ancient document engraved on golden plates.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Hope for the World: Noble Youth

On my way back from an intense trip to California this week, I had the privilege of sitting next to a young man from Boston. After a few brief words, I knew this was somebody unusual, incredibly promising, and wholesome. His father is a doctor and a faithful Catholic who has been very active with missionary work, running mission efforts in a variety of countries and getting his whole family involved. The young man spoke glowingly of his father's work, and of his own positive experiences helping out. He also spoke lovingly and highly of his mother, who had sacrificed much to raise a family of seven children. The respect this young man had for his parents was inspiring.

He was preparing to start college on the east coast. We talked about some of the moral challenges that college life presents, and I was pleased to see that this young man was prepared and alert. He said he was glad he was living off-campus with family rather than being in the co-ed dorms, and that his parents were very involved in kindly helping the children stay out of trouble even after they had left home.

He is planning to become a foreign ambassador one day and seeks to make a big difference in the world. I bet he will.

There are many fine young people like this one, men and women with great foundations in life, a burning faith, a desire to do great things, and high moral standards. They are there! And some are making changes that will bring them to that path. These noble young people can be found among many faiths. I like to think that there are a lot among the Latter-day Saints, but we have plenty of our own challenges, to be sure. But wherever they are, of whatever faith, it inspires me and gives me hope for the future to meet noble youth and talk with them and realize how much goodness there is out there - tools in the Lord's hands to do much good.

May we enable the way and help the gems of the rising generation to grow and be strong for the burdens ahead - or at least stay out of their way.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

LDS Idolatry?

Idolatry is one of the great sins of this generation, according to LDS prophets such as Spencer W. Kimball (for details, see his comments in "Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me"). Interestingly, Latter-day Saints have been accused of idolatry by a few of our critics. After all, some of our temples have a statue of the Angel Moroni on top. To us, the statue is symbol of angelic proclamation to the world of the Restoration of the Gospel, in possible fulfillment of Rev. 14:6. The idea that we would worship the statue is ridiculous. But, as one commenter has charged, the word of God forbids making graven images, and so by using statues or any other images associated with our temples or churches, we are in clear violation of the word of God.

I've run into only a few other Christians that had such strenuous objections to any kind of images being associated with places of worship, mistaking use of an image for idolatry or basic violation of the Ten Commandments.

So are we idolatrous violators of the Second Commandment for having a statue reminding us of an angel proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world with the sound of a trumpet?

Let me pose some hypothetical questions to those few of you with hangups in this area. Would it be better if we replaced our hollow, gold-plated statue of an angel with a solid gold statue having much higher precious metals content? Oh, a step in the wrong direction - just adding to the value and glitz factor, making it all the more appealing to the idolatrous LDS mind.

OK, would it be better if then had two angels on each temple? No? Perhaps twice as bad, eh?

OK, how about if we dress up the proposed solid gold angel duos by adding some flashy wings to make them more supernatural? No improvement, perhaps even worse?

OK, what if we go beyond just using it as a symbol and instead say that our winged golden angels are holy, sacred objects, or part of a complex of sacred objects? What if we put those images in the holiest part of our temple, only to be taken out and paraded to awe the people in religious ceremonies and to work mysterious miracles? What if we say that our angels and associated holy relics are so sacred that to even touch them would bring divine wrath and perhaps even instant death upon the sinner?

Would that be an improvement and gain your approval for valid, biblical use of angelic statues? No? You say it would confirm that we're a crazed blasphemous idolatrous cult in direct violation of the sacred principles God gave to Moses? Ouch.

Would it make any difference to you if we told you that these deviant practices are OK in our opinion because they were revealed to us from God through a true prophet of God? Not a chance, huh?

Well, would it help if that prophet were Moses? Would it help if Moses were simply carrying instructions from God relative to the sacred Ark of the Covenant, associated with the Tabernacle and later the Temple of Solomon, an Ark that was adorned with two golden cherubim statues as directed in Exodus 37:7-9? Would it help open your mind if you realized that these instructions were given by the same God who earlier gave the same prophet the commandment to not make graven images? Is it possible that the meaning of the Second Commandment was not to forbid religious images and even golden angel statues per se, but to prevent worshipping of idols?

Maybe you'll argue that the cherubim on the Ark were too small to be a problem, or somehow don't quality as "graven." If so, it might help to consider the later construction of Solomon's Temple in 2 Chronicles 3 and 4. There we read of huge cherubim being constructed with a wingspan of about 20 cubits (about 60 feet), as described in 2 Chronicles 3:11 - dwarfing any LDS statue on or near a temple. And the giant cherubim statues overlooking the smaller statues on the Ark of the Covenants were not enough: the Lord also directed that there be "graved cherubims on the walls" in 2 Chron. 3:6, in addition to cherubim on the curtains (v. 14). And they are specifically called "graved" - surely that can't be considered as anything but graven images. And the images in the temple weren't just limited to cherubim, but also included statues of oxen (twelve of them, in fact - see 2 Chron. 4:2-4), not to mention four hundred pomegranates (2 Chron. 4: 13) and a variety of other objects including flowers of pure gold (2 Chron. 4:21). A graven situation, indeed.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Innovation Hotspots in Utah?

What are the coolest innovations coming out of Utah - especially in the areas of healthcare and consumer products? My question doesn't relate to LDS issues per se, but involves something almost as interesting as religion: my new job.

On Monday I began an exciting new stage in my career. I have resigned from Kimberly-Clark Corporation, a tremendous company where I spent 13 wonderful years (the last six as Corporate Patent Strategist and Senior Research Fellow) working with some of the finest people anywhere. I really enjoyed the diversity of experiences there, working with fields such as RFID, business method patents for software systems and numerous other areas, many new product concepts, marketing research, and good ol' chemistry and even a bit of chemical engineering (where I have my degrees). But now I've left the relative security of a big corporation for an action-packed career with an entrepreneurial new company, Innovation Edge, recently founded by Cheryl Perkins, the former Chief Innovation Officer of Kimberly-Clark who was named by BusinessWeek as one of the "World's Top 25 Champions of Innovation" in 2006. Really an amazing leader with incredible ties to major corporations, professors, and innovators around the world. My first four days have been a delightful, intense learning experience working with some exciting clients, inventors, and thought-leaders. And eventually, I'd like to add some more Utah coverage to the scope of people I work with. Yes, I guess I still have a bias in favor of Utah (but am happy to learn of hot innovation anywhere).

A big part of my job includes networking with innovators, staying close to trends, finding opportunities where small companies or lone inventors might find success through partnerships with major companies in our network, etc. (And yes, part of what I do still involves helping people with intellectual asset strategy, including patents, aggressive publication strategy, trademarks, digital intellectual assets, and business method patents.) Anyway, I'm coming out to Utah for a couple days at the end of August (helping my son get started at BYU) and while there, would like to learn more about innovation hotspots. I'll be meeting with some amazing university folks already, but would like to get some tips on other innovation sources, cool start-ups, etc.

Please send your thoughts to jeff at jefflindsay-dot-com.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

See No, Hear No, Speak No Good


Our prejudices about religion or other topics can keep us from hearing, seeing, or speaking good. Sometimes what others have - Mormon, Catholics, Evangelicals, whoever - might be remarkably praiseworthy, but it's hard to admit that, hard to see that there is any logical reason to support any of the views that we don't like. It's a problem that affects us as much as anybody, and we need to constantly examine our assumptions and prejudices.

One little pet peeve of mine in this area deals with Book of Mormon evidences. Discussions of the details of the Book of Mormon, the witnesses, internal or external evidences, finding from the Arabian Peninsula and Mesoamerica, etc., are often dismissed as simply irrelevant and a waste of time, because Joseph Smith, so they say, was clearly a fraud because of polygamy or other issues and the Book of Mormon thus can't possibly be true. When you refuse to consider evidence, when your mind is made up, nothing can get through the eyes or ears into the head. That burning spiritual indigestion in the heart closes all channels to the mind.

That doesn't mean anyone has to pay any attention to the Book of Mormon or LDS claims. But those who are seeking to understand the Church, as well as all those step up to have conversations with us, to pose questions and make arguments, would do well, in my opinion, to move past their anti-testimony and open their mind. What if there really were gold plates and honest witnesses who saw and held them? What if Joseph really did translate the plates through the power of God - whether that involved looking into a Urim and Thummim in broad daylight or covering a seerstone in a hat and looking into it? What if there really was no way for Joseph Smith to have fabricated, say, First Nephi, with its accurate descriptions of travel through the Arabian Peninsula? What if, in spite of all the human flaws and failings of our modern prophets and other leaders, they really were part of a divine process of restoration? What if some of the creeds of modern Christianity really were influenced by Greek philosophy in ways that departed from the true understanding of God and Christ as understood by the earliest Christians, and what if there really was a loss of authority and some truth that required a restoration?

For those investigating the Church, I think it would be healthy to start by allowing for the possibility that it might be true, and begin with putting the Book of Mormon to the test.

The critics will naturally challenge us to return the favor and allow for the possibility that Joseph Smith was a fraud and that the Church is not true. Well, that's where I began in seeking my own personal testimony. I was resolve not to stick with the Church if it was a fraud, no matter how wholesome the youth programs were and how seemingly good its teachings, because I didn't want to waste my time (and money) here in mortality. I absolutely allowed for that possibility, and have many times since. A study of the Book of Mormon is what gave me my own personal witness of the reality of the Church, and there has been much that has happened since then that has helped me to see the hand of the Lord in the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ (along with a lot of mortal smudge marks, to be sure).

Meanwhile, as we deal with other Christians and those of any other faith, including those who don't believe in God, common assumptions we may make will frequently need updating when we look past our prejudices and see what they really have. We do not have a monopoly on truth, nor do we own the patent on goodness, family love, caring for the poor, or Christian living. There is so much to learn from others, if we'll just give them a chance to share.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Romans 10: Confess with Your Mouth and Be Saved - Insights from the Greek

An intriguing chapter in Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy (available online) is John Gee's "The Corruption of Scripture in Early Christianity" (pp. 163–204). Dr. Gee shows how early Christians were concerned about changes that were already occurring in their texts, and provides extensive information pointing to potential loss or change in scriptural writings in the period predating the earliest manuscripts we now have. Some of this provides support for the prophecy in the Book of Mormon that some plain and precious things in the Old World scriptures would be lost.

In addition to accidental or deliberate changes introduced in the text, Dr. Gee also raises the issue of the change in the language itself, which can result in the introduction of unintended meanings in the text. He gives an example from Romans 10, where the original meaning in Greek may surprise some of those who often use this passage. Here is an excerpt from Dr. Gee's chapter:
Lexical reinterpretation is the changing of the meanings of words, such as occurred during the second sophistic period.47 Between the time of writing the New Testament and the end of the second century, the meanings of several of the words changed. Examples include the change of the principle meanings of pistis from "collateral, guarantee" to "belief;"48 of pisteuein from "to trust, rely on; entrust, commit, put up collateral" to "to believe;"49 of homologein from "to agree to terms, accept an agreement, enter into a legal contract, promise" to "to confess;"50 of mysterion from "(initiation) rite" to "secret."51 Such changes in language are common in all languages and in all periods, some deliberate and some not. The Christians, like the Jews before them, used the Greek language in an idiosyncratic way that seemed strange to non-Christians around them. For example, both Christians and Jews used the term ouranoi "heavens", the plural of ouranos "sky", as a term for the dwelling place of God, even though Greeks never used the term in the plural.52 In the second century, however, various sects of Christianity began to redefine terminology to mean something different.53 Irenaeus claims that the Valentinians adopted pagan fables "changing . . . the names of the things referred to" to fit into Christian scripture.54 Because the New Testament is usually read with meanings of the second sophistic period and later—meanings which have often changed—the understanding of the text has sometimes been drastically changed. This can be seen in the interpretation of a passage from Paul's epistle to the Romans:




The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not

"The word is next to you through your mouth and through your heart." That is the word of collateral that we announce, that if you will make an agreement by means of your mouth that Jesus is Lord and put up collateral by means of your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved; for by means of the heart is collateral put up toward righteousness, and by means of the mouth are terms agreed upon toward

be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

salvation; for the scripture says: "Every one who relies on him will not be disgraced;" because there is no discrimination of Jew or of Greek, for he himself is the Lord of all, generous towards all who invoke him; for "whosoever shall invoke the name of the Lord shall be rescued."

How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? (Romans 10:8–15, KJV, emphasis added)

How therefore shall they invoke him with whom they have no agreement? How shall they make an agreement with him whom they have not obeyed? How shall they obey without one proclaiming? How shall they proclaim if they have not been commissioned? (Romans 10:8–15, author's translation, emphasis added)

Citations:

47.  In general, this topic has not received adequate treatment. Preliminary steps in this direction are Hugh Nibley, "Evangelium Quadraginta Dierum," in When the Lights Went Out (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2001), 75–76 n 61; Welch, The Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount, 88. For analysis of some of the dynamics involved, see Hugh Nibley, "Victoriosa Loquacitas: The Rise of Rhetoric and the Decline of Everything Else," in The Ancient State (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1991), 243–86.

48.  H. G. Liddell, R. Scott, H. S. Jones, A Greek-English Lexicon, 9th ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1940; hereafter  LSJ), 1408.

49.  LSJ 407–8.

50.  LSJ 1226.

51.  LSJ 1156.

52.  LSJ 1273. The distinction between singular and plural in the Greek does not usually appear in the King James Version.

53.  James Allen provides an interesting argument that the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten did the same thing, and that his Amarna revolution was not so much monotheistic as naturalistic and ultimately atheistic. See James P. Allen, "The Natural Philosophy of Akhenaten," in Religion and Philosophy in Ancient Egypt, ed. William Kelly Simpson (New Haven: Yale Egyptological Seminar, 1989), 89–101.

54.  Irenaeus, Contra Haereses 2.14.1 (ANF 1:376).

Sounds like some covenant themes in Paul's writings may have been diluted with a change in the meaning of some Greek terms. The LDS nuance, as I understand it, is that we gain access to the grace of Christ in a covenant relationship with Christ, in which there are agreed-upon terms that we keep in order to receive (not earn!) the full blessings of the Atonement. And naturally, the covenant relationship - as taught so frequently and plainly in the Old and New Testaments - involves the concept of obedience. We covenant to follow Christ and, yes, strive to obey him - as sinister or incomprehensible as that sounds to some of our detractors. It is an original early Christian concept, straight from the lips of Christ Himself (Matthew 19:17: "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments," for example), the preaching of which can get you branded as a non-Christian cultist these days. In our local newspaper, for example, a letter-to-the-editor a number of years ago from a minister explained why we are non-Christian, citing as prima facie evidence our Third Article of Faith: "We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel." It was the word "obedience" that proved we didn't really accept Christ as our Savior, and thus weren't Christian. Ouch.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Mission in You Future? Get Your Passport Now - Don't Wait Until You Get Your Call

If there's even a remote chance that you'll be going on a foreign mission in the next year or two, go ahead and get your passport application in now. There is a huge backlog of passports in the US passport system. At the beginning of April, we applied for a passport for our youngest son, but now, about 19 weeks later, it still hasn't come - and that was after calling and getting it put on "expedited" status. Normally it takes six to eight weeks to get a passport, but due to changes in US law requiring a passport for re-entry from Mexico or Canada, the backlog has increased greatly. Many news stories have discussed how the backlog has increased to ten to twelve weeks, but I think it's much worse than that.

A passport is good for ten years and is something that nearly everybody should have, just in case.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

It's Fair to Be Skeptical

It's fair to be skeptical about anything your read on the Internet or anywhere else, my writings included. But today, I'd like to encourage a healthy dose of skepticism when it comes to anti-Mormon sites. When you encounter sites with genuinely hostile, smarmy, mocking attitudes about another's faith, there's a chance that they won't be applying the most rigorous standards in the information they share. Fairness and accuracy may be out the window. So don't be too quick to get all shaken up.

There are some anti-sites that try to be fair and accurate. But I've encountered some very popular ones where the end of attacking Mormons seems to justify the means, in the minds of the site owners. A recent experience in peeking behind the curtains of anti-Mormon sites cames when an anti-Mormon approached me with a nasty and somewhat obscene email (three references to sexual activity), the point of which was to tell me how much he laughed about my stupidity as presented on a popular anti-Mormon Website.

From the crudeness and rudeness of his language, I made the unkind stereotypical assumption that he was an atheist -- I apologize to my atheist readers who really tend to be very civil and intelligent, for my prejudices made it hard for me to realize I was dealing with a "Christian" who is some kind of evangelist just reaching out to Mormons in love. He explained all that in our subsequent exchange (yes, he really loves Mormons and is serving the Lord - it was just that all the lies on my Web site made him so angry that he had a need to use crude language). So this angry, nasty soul out to mock me and my faith was no atheist after all - I should have known better.

Interestingly, the anti-Mormon Website that he and many others so enjoy actually devotes a whole Web page to me. Me? Turns out that's one of the few areas where I actually do have some expertise, so it didn't take me long to recognize the use of some improper techniques. Apart from the copyright violation of swiping a photo of me from my Website, they had a more serious violation of putting words in my mouth. They claim to be quoting me from a post here at Mormanity, where I discussed a recent article from National Geographic indicating that "Aha" is actually an authentic ancient name of a king from Egypt. Since "Aha" is a Book of Mormon name that critics have long mocked as being obviously plagiarized from an English interjection, its occurrence in ancient Egypt adds plausibility to the use of that name.

But the anti-Mormon page dedicated to criticizing me puts words in my mouth. In the section that purports to be a quote from my post, they add one important line at the end: "So there you have it. Aha proves the BoM." Ladies and gentleman, I can't imagine even thinking such a statement, much less writing it. For years I have been repeatedly clear that no evidence, no matter how impressive, actually "proves" the Book of Mormon or the Bible to be true. Evidence may challenge arguments against it, may strengthen the case for plausibility or authenticity of the text as an ancient document, may strengthen the case for considering the text, etc., but "prove"? No way. And I rarely use abbreviations for the Book of Mormon - perhaps "BOM" a time or two, probably when quoting others, but I don't think I've ever used "BoM". I just can't imagine ever saying, writing, or thinking something like that, yet there's a major anti-Mormon site putting those words in my mouth. Kind of bothers me. Anyway, be careful about what you read - again, that includes anything here as well.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

My Sojourn in Google Hell

I have another secular blog that I don't care about all that much, but occasionally post investment tips, political thoughts, and other ideas. But the name of the blog, "Sanity Defense," used to come up as the #1 Google hit when searching for that term, and still does at the moment. But there was a period of several months last year where it suddenly vanished. The site was still indexed, and I could pull up pages from it if I restricted Google to searching within the URL sanity.blog-city.com, but otherwise it was almost impossible to get pages from the site to show up within the first hundred or so hits, even when I typed in lengthy exact phrases from the posts there. The blog, small as it is, has had some significant links to it, so it should have reasonable visibility. I was experiencing what others have called "Google hell" - the mysterious exile that some sites experience when they are given a bottom priority by that all-important engine. It can destroy the value of a site - a true frustration for some Webmasters and bloggers.

After reading about some of the connections between Google and a certain prominent foreign power and source of awesome cuisine, I wondered if a couple of my political comments about the nation might have been misinterpreted by someone or something at Google as being unfriendly. (Silly me - I didn't like those missiles pointed at us, or the military support given to some apparent enemies.) So, being the ambassador of international goodwill that I am (and, frankly, having some very good friends from that country that I didn't want to irritate), I shined up my best chopsticks and plucked out the three or four blog posts that might have been viewed as critical. After correcting my site to a higher level of international political correctness, it was soon redeemed from Google hell. Maybe that was just a coincidence, since the transgressions that cast sites into Google hell are not actually known outside of Google. But now, those searching for sanity defense will find me at the top of the list, ironic as that may seem.

The loss of visibility in other search engines can occur for other reasons. For example, there is a LDS-oriented search engine, LDSSearch.com, which searches a variety of known LDS-related Websites. Some users have observed that nothing from Mormanity or from my LDS-related Web pages (LDSFAQ, etc.) shows up on that engine, while a variety of harder-to-find-in-Google (lower page rank) sites show up. They have no obligation to include every Tom, Dick and Jeff in their search engine and it's OK to be fussy about who's in and who's out. But I will admit I was curious about what transgressions on my site resulted in the exclusion. Could it be something I said about China? ;) The point is that those using the site should understand that some pro-LDS sites may not be included for editorial reasons, so be sure to also check Google and other search engines as well.

Any search tips on how to find the best LDS-related material would be welcome. Some LDS sites have inadequate search functions, while others are great.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Those Non-Christian Early Christians . . .

Among the many books available online at the Maxwell Institute (FARMS), I am pleased to see that one of the most useful books on the Apostasy is included: Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy by Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 2005, 397 pages).

For those of you convinced that faithful, "saved" Christians lose their eternal souls the moment they accept LDS teachings in conflict with the post-biblical creeds and related traditions, it might be helpful to better understand how some of these traditions and creeds were developed and how they may differ from what was believed in New Testament times. One essay in the book that I'd like to recommend today is David Paulsen's "Divine Embodiment: The Earliest Christian Understanding of God" (pp. 239–293).

Here are some of his opening remarks, which are followed by a wealth of scholarship and documentation to substantiate his points:
Though God's self-disclosures to Joseph radically contradicted the established Christian creeds, it is critical to note that Joseph never claimed that what he learned about God's nature was "new" truth, hidden by God until the nineteenth century. To the contrary, Joseph testified that his view was a restoration of the biblical and primitive Judeo-Christian understanding of God, an understanding that was lost because of a "falling away"--an apostasy—from the truths once held by the earliest Christians.

My study of the relevant evidence convinces me that Joseph is correct: biblical writings and the documents of formative Judaism and primitive Christianity consistently portray God as an embodied person, humanlike in form. In this paper, I detail this evidence, showing that the later Christian loss of the knowledge that God is embodied resulted from the attempt of early Christian apologists to reconcile their beliefs with their dominantly Greek culture.
Dig into this - it's well worth the effort. Some important nuances are found in the footnotes, so please read them - especially in the section dealing with Tertullian's views on the corporeal nature of God.

After reading this, you might realize that the differences in LDS beliefs regarding the nature of God are not prima facie reasons to classify us as a cult, but might actually be evidence of a genuine restoration of key doctrines from early Christianity.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Exactly When Do Saved Christians Lose Their Souls?

I've known a number of people who joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints years after they considered themselves to be "saved Christians." Now that they are Latter-day Saints, many of their fellow "saved Christians" may believe that they are destined for hell. I'd like to explore the steps leading to their eternal doom to understand when it is that these saved Christians lost their souls.

First, from my perspective, the phrase "I've been saved" always seems so premature because I believe that salvation includes being resurrected and brought back into the presence of the Father, and those who are still mortal just don't look completely "saved" yet, especially with all those wrinkles around the eyes. Plus I believe there there is the possibility that Christians can fall from grace (see I Cor. 10:12, Rom. 11:22, Heb. 3:12-14, etc.), so we need to endure to the end to make the hope of our salvation sure (Matt. 24:13, 2 Pet. 1:10). But when I hear someone say that, I just mentally translate it to mean "I've accepted the Savior, have been forgiven for my sins, have tasted of His love and goodness, and now seek to follow Him." And that's wonderful.

So back to my inquiry. Let's consider the life of "John" - based on real people I've known. I'll go through several stages of John's life. For those of you saved Christians who think Mormons are headed to hell, please help me understand when John became doomed and gave up his salvation. I'll number the stages to make things easier.

  1. John grows up in a Christian home and is taught to believe in the Bible and to believe in Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation.

  2. John goes to college and hears many challenging doctrines. He has a crisis of faith.

  3. While pondering, praying, and reading the scriptures, John has a powerful spiritual experience and realizes that Jesus Christ truly is Lord, no matter what scholars and mockers may say.

  4. John commits himself to serving the Lord, and fully accepts Jesus Christ as His Savior.

  5. John continues in college as a science major. In pondering the discrepancies between what he learned in Sunday School and what science teaches, John concludes that there must be ways to reconcile science and true religion. Recognizing that the Hebrew word for "day" can refer to lengthy periods of time, John suspects that the Genesis account of the Creation may describe the stages of Creation in general terms, but need not require a young earth made in six 24-hour days. Perhaps God even took advantage of evolutionary mechanisms to prepare the earth for its present state.

  6. John attends evangelical services, but grows uncomfortable with some of the positions and attitudes. He loves the Lord, but feels he is missing something in his understanding. He wishes to strengthen his personal relationship with the Lord and better understand his mission on earth.

  7. John takes a dance class. He finds he has a flare for dancing. He even enjoys doing the cha-cha.

  8. John meets a Mormon girl, Elaine. He is surprised at how non-evil she seems.

  9. John is disappointed to find that Elaine is waiting for a missionary, but they are still friends. John asks a few polite questions about Elaine's faith, and becomes intensely curious. How can he learn more?

  10. He accepts Elaine's challenge to read the Book of Mormon. John has many questions, but the teachings about the Savior resonate with his beliefs. The insights about the power of the Atonement and the love of the Savior stir him. Is it possible that a fraudulent book could be such a moving witness for the divinity of the Savior?

  11. John meets with the missionaries and learns details about the Restoration that help him make sense of many puzzling issues in Christian history. The idea that the Church of Jesus Christ has been restored sounds so exciting - too good to be true?

  12. John earnestly wishes to follow the Savior, and wonders if this Church and the Book of Mormon truly come from Him. As he learns more and experiences more, he senses that he is finding those things that he felt were missing in his understanding and faith before.

  13. John spends a weekend fasting, praying, studying, pondering, and pouring out his soul to the Lord to understand if he should join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is not sure, but as he explores the Book of Mormon in more depth, he has a powerful spiritual experience that gives him knowledge and faith that the Book of Mormon is scripture, like the Bible, and that it stands as a second witness for Christ.

  14. John concludes that his commitment to love and serve the Lord can more fully be realized by joining what he believes to be the Church of Jesus Christ, entering into a formal covenant through baptism to follow Jesus Christ, a covenant that he has already had in his heart for years.

  15. John horrifies his parents when he announces that he has decided to be baptized as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He explains his decision as best he can, and they try to be understanding, but there is a painful divide as the parents fear their son is lost. They try to point him to some helpful Websites to help him reconsider his faith. One of them, a site providing powerful evidence for Book of Mormon plagiarism, backfires on them - a tragic mistake, they feel. John's intellectual appreciation of the Book of Mormon is only strengthened. He sees it as a Christ-centric scriptural account that profoundly strengthens his understanding and appreciation for His Savior, Jesus Christ.

  16. John is baptized and receives the Gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.

  17. John is ordained as a priest in the Church, and takes delight in helping to bless the sacrament - the communion - in Church services, and marvels at the opportunity he has to break and bless the bread in remembrance of the Savior.

  18. Three weeks later, in a testimony meeting, John gladly bears witness of the Savior, of the love and mercy of the Savior, and his gratitude for having learned about the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

  19. Elaine can't get over John, and they begin dating. Elaine writes something of a "dear John" letter to her missionary.

  20. John spends significant amounts of his free time seeking to serve the Lord through service to others. He gladly pays tithing on his small income, and attends meetings each Sunday at Church. John is puzzled about the indifference some Mormons seem to have about their faith, not taking it as seriously as they should, and prefers to associate with the Latter-day Saints that sincerely seek to live their religion. There are some disappointments in Zion, but John feels closer to the Savior than ever, and feels that he is following Him, though there are plenty of things he doesn't understand about the Church and life in general. He will always seeks to learn and understand more.

  21. Some friends share anti-Mormon literature with John. He is shaken but does online research and finds plausible answers. He is not prepared to deny his faith and the powerful experiences he has had on the basis of some bitter critics ranting, anymore than he was prepared to abandon his faith in Christ and the Bible on the basis of evolutionary theory and other attacks he experienced in his early college days. He recognizes that his understanding may need to be adjusted on some issues, but he has no doubt that the Savior lives, that God is real, and that the scriptures - including the Book of Mormon - are inspired of God.

  22. John is asked if he would be willing to serve on a mission. He has already given that serious thought, and accepts the challenge.

  23. John spends two years in France bearing witness of the Savior and the Restoration to people who mostly don't want to hear what he has to say. It is the most difficult and painful experience of his life, but he later learns that two of the people he taught later joined the Church, and that one of them stayed active. Not a huge harvest of souls, but he knows he made a difference - not to mention the companions he helped strengthen. Regardless of the size of the harvest, the experience of sacrificing for the Lord for two years brought him closer than ever to the Savior, and he feels that the experience was worth the pain.

  24. John returns from France and soon marries Elaine in the temple.

  25. John starts a pro-LDS blog to share his faith promoting experiences and insights, and becomes an amateur LDS apologist. And believe it or not, he sincerely thinks he's serving the Savior in doing this, and in his heart, firmly believes that He has accepted Jesus Christ as His personal Savior, and seeks to be a witness of Jesus Christ throughout his life. He feels he has never departed from his early faith in Christ, have only accepted more of the gifts and blessings that Jesus Christ offers as he has progressed on his journey through life.

So now John, once an acceptable saved Christian, has become a "true blue Mormon" destined for eternal roasting. I'm just curious to know at which point join abandoned Jesus Christ and lost his soul. I ask this question in all seriousness for it points to a very fundamental puzzle that I encounter in dealing with so many angry Christians trying to tell me and other Mormons why we are going to hell for not believing in the Bible or in Jesus, when in fact we do. By considering the case of someone who at least initially met acceptable criteria for salvation, pinpointing the loss of the Mormon soul in the above list of events will help me understand where some of our critics are coming from.

It's hard for me to see at what point our saved Christian friends could say that John truly denied Jesus Christ and became a child of hell. Could it be step 7 - something to do with the cha-cha?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Looking Past Disabilities

A great article in the Wall Street Journal tells of some employers' efforts to look past disabilities to find valuable work for people. I love what can happen when we see beyond our blinders and look for ways to give opportunities such as honest work to good people who have been overlooked by others. We need to do this, not just for employment, but for Church callings and other opportunities in life. Some amazing people in my life have had very visible disabilities, yet were capable of far more than others assumed.

I am grateful for the Gospel perspective that all human beings are our brothers and sisters, children of our Heavenly Father, and that whatever limitations their current physical shell may provide, the soul within is every bit as magnificent and precious as any of us, with incredible potential waiting to be realized. Love others, no matter who they are, treat them well, and look forward to the day of Resurrection when all our physical limitations will be corrected and we will stand equally before the Lord.

Here's an excerpt from the story:
Erasing 'Un' From 'Unemployable'
Walgreen Program Trains the Disabled
To Take on Regular Wage-Paying Jobs
By AMY MERRICK
August 2, 2007; Page B1

ANDERSON, S.C. -- Like many people with autism, Harrison Mullinax, a pale, redheaded 18-year-old with a serious expression, speaks in a monotonous, halting voice and sometimes struggles to concentrate on tasks. Unlike most who are autistic, he now has a real job.

Mr. Mullinax works eight hours a day at a new Walgreen Co. distribution center, where he wields a bar-code scanner, checking in boxes of merchandise bound for the company's drugstores. From his paycheck, he tithes to his church and sometimes treats his mother to dinner at Kenny's, a local buffet restaurant.
[Harrison Mullinax]
Eighteen-year-old Harrison Mullinax, above, scans an item at the Walgreen's distribution center in Anderson, S.C.; inset, Mr. Mullinax enters data into a special computer.

An innovative program at the distribution center is offering jobs to people with mental and physical disabilities of a nature that has frequently deemed them "unemployable," while saving Walgreen money through automation.

"It answered a prayer," says Mr. Mullinax's mother, Vikki, who gets him up for work at 5 each morning, before sending him off to the bus for work. "It's given us the hope that at some point Harrison can live with minimal assistance."

A number of large employers, such as McDonald's Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., recruit people with disabilities to be cashiers, maintenance workers or store greeters. At Home Depot Inc., developmentally disabled workers stock shelves, clean displays and help customers find items. Home Depot has been working with a nonprofit organization called Ken's Kids, which was formed a decade ago by a group of parents seeking employment opportunities for their young-adult children, and has placed more than 100 people in 54 stores. In addition, smaller businesses around the nation have made a goal of employing workers passed over by other companies. . . .

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Health Tip for Missionaries: Use Sunblock!

Missionaries are often out in the sun. How many think to use sunblock to reduce UV damage to their skin? Encourage your local missionaries or your son or daughter on a mission to use sunblock and come back with healthy skin - skin that will stay healthy as they age. Consider sunblock as a gift. Consider a little nagging to get them to use it.

Young people rarely understand how much harm excess sun can do their skin when they are older. I don't think many mission presidents think about the risk of excess exposure to the sun, but it's an important factor. Let's increase awareness and improve the skin health of our missionaries and others.

And you can probably guess that one of my ultimate pet peeves are youth activities, such as Scout camps or water activities, where the kids come back heavily burned. Adult leaders need to be more conscious of protecting the skin health of our youth.