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

Friday, March 30, 2012

"Having Done All, To Stand": Exposing a Self-Proclaimed "Christian"

Have you ever been fooled by someone who claimed to be Christian, only to find out later that they were part of a non-Christian cult which, because of a horrifically flawed theology, meant that they actually believed in a different Jesus? This just happened to me with a dear Christian friend, or so I thought, one whose words about Jesus seemed so Christian, whose deeds and works seemed so Christian--ah, and that was the problem. Turns out this self-proclaimed Christian was a man who, in spite of using some of the right language about grace and Christ, actually had a flawed theology focused on human works and commandment keeping, making him no more Christian than, say, that cult of self-proclaimed Christians, the Mormons. The man I'm exposing today is named Paul.

For years I, like many of my friends, thought Paul was a real Christian. Then I was jarred by reading this sentence from one of his letters: "Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand." Wait, he's saying that humans must be diligent and do things, doing all they can, in order to stand, as if Christians could fall from grace if they didn't do all that stuff involved with the "whole armor of God." Can that be a Christian doctrine? That sounded suspiciously like one of the most controversial, grace-denying passages of the infamous Book of Mormon: "For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." (2 Nephi 25:23) There it is, that jarring combination of human works with grace and salvation, as if our works played a role in determining whether we stand or fall, or receive salvation or not.

When I read Paul's words in Ephesians 6:13 objectively for the first time, I began to see that I might be dealing with with a proto-Mormon non-Christian cultist instead of a true Christian. This was the beginning of a careful study of Paul's writings that show, in case after case, the Paul of the Bible doesn't believe in the Jesus of the Bible, but in a different Jesus, one who requires us to "do all," to be diligent, and even to wear "the whole armor of God" (including strange under-armor, perhaps?).

Paul certainly used some of the right language: "By grace are ye saved," etc. A few times, yes, he uses acceptable terminology to seem Christian. But it's a thin veneer, a light dusting of makeup over the decomposing corpse of works whose stench fills so much of his writings. How have we been blind to this for so long?

Look at the chapter where Paul's "having done all" statement comes from. Ephesians 6 begins with a call to obedience--obey is the second word--quoting some of the 10 commandments. Commandments, really? Then is a promise of blessings for obedience : "With good will doing service, ... Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord" (vs. 7-8). Verses 11-17 then deal with more impossible demands of Paul's flock, requiring them to put on the whole armor of God, spelled out in many details. These requirements for the believer point to impossibly high standards, such as those of verse 18: "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints." Horrific. Simply horrific. Paul is all works, all prayer, all perseverence, all obedience, and precious little grace in this passage. It is one of many dark passages where Paul's real agenda of works is evident, in spite of a few nice-sounding passages about grace and Christ. But even when Paul talks about grace, a closer look shows that his agenda of works is often still there. That's the case in his closing verse: "Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen." Grace--not for anyone, but just to those who love the Lord in sincerity: that's Paul's code language for people who engage in the works of trying to follow Christ, of obeying commandments, of persevering, praying, and even wearing funny armor. Paul, I'm afraid, is pretty much a proto-Mormon.

Ten Reasons Paul is Not a Christian
  1. Paul teaches teaches a Gospel of works in which humans must keep commandments, obey (2 Cor. 10:5), and labor (2 Cor. 5:9; Romans 2) and in which God rewards us for our deeds, not our correct beliefs (Phil. 2:12). Paul teaches another Jesus who gives "glory, honor and peace, to every man that worketh good" (Heb. 2:10, and see the whole chapter for even more shocking statements)--in total opposition to true Christianity, where glory is only for God, and human works have no bearing on our salvation.
  2. Paul teaches us to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12), while true Christians know that God does all the work and have nothing to fear because they know that their salvation is assured.
  3. The other Jesus that Paul follows "commandeth all men every where to repent" (Acts 17:30), echoing the Mormon doctrine of repentance, but the Jesus of the Bible simply teaches us to believe in Him.
  4. Paul claims that humans are literal offspring of God, a troubling doctrine identical to that of Mormonism. (Acts 17:28-29; Romans 8:14-16; Heb. 12:9).
  5. Paul denies or fails to endorse core doctrines of the Trinity. Nowhere does he speak of the one substance of God and Christ or other key metaphysical elements of the Trinity, nor does he acknowledge and endorse any of the official creeds that define true Christian theology. Instead he teaches that Christ and God are separate Beings, always speaking of them as if they are two beings, with Christ at the right hand of God. The Jesus of Paul has a physical anthropomorphic image--he claimed to have seen him, after all--with a body, a face (2 Cor. 4:6), hands, feet, etc. Paul's other Jesus is not the same incorporeal Being as the Father, but is a distinct anthropomorphic being that can be seen, and indeed is said to be "the express image of [God's] person" who "sat down" (yes, with the bogus body that Paul's false Jesus has, one can actually sit!) on the "right hand" of God (Heb. 1: 1-4).
  6. Paul teaches that man can become like God (Phil. 3:21; 2 Cor. 3:18) by obtaining a glorious, powerful, tangible body like God's. Horrific!
  7. In Paul's false Gospel of Fear, Christians can fall from grace. Thus, men should be worried (see the "fear and trembling" problem above) because they can fall from grace if they quit obeying. (1 Cor. 10:12-13; Heb. 3:12-14; Heb. 4: 11). The solution, in addition to all that fear and trembling and human works, is keeping Paul's impossible commandments to "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God" (Heb. 12:14-15). Christians, of course, know that God's grace can never fail, and that's all we need. In contrast, Paul urges believers to endure in running to the end of the race and to "strive for the mastery" (I Cor. 9:24-25) rather than merely receiving grace. In Paul's warped theology, humans must endure to the end, for God's full goodness is only for those who "continue in goodness" (Romans 11:22) and remain "stedfast until the end" (Heb. 3:13-14). Frankly, he seems even more extreme and works-oriented than the Mormons!
  8. Paul claims to have had visions, and in his First Vision, claims to have seen Christ. He also claims to have seen angels (and he even peered into heaven where he, like the Mormons, claims that there are multiple kingdoms or heavens!). Christians, of course, will recognize the occult and Satanic origins of such claims. Regarding the ridiculous claim of seeing Christ, Paul compounds his error by suggesting that his followers can also see God if they achieve the impossible goal of holiness. (Hebrews 12:14) Christians know that no man can see God. Further, Paul gives several contradicting versions of his First Vision with confusion in some of the details, but real Christians know that words from God will always be perfect and never cause confusion or uncertainty. In case after case, one can see common roots to Paul's heresies and Mormonism.
  9. Paul attempted to add new revelations and new scripture. It is troubling enough that he had the gall to claim to have had visions and seen Christ, but to then go and pretend to be writing scripture--well, it's just too much to stomach. As Moses explained in Deut. 4:2-4, no man can add or subtract to scripture. How are so many people being fooled by this stuff? Think, people!
  10. Paul speaks positively of the strange Mormon-like ritual of vicarious baptism for the dead (1 Corinthians 15:29)--a perfect example of relying on dead works instead of grace alone.
Christians can be so gullible. We may like to be nice and accepting of others, so if a friend claims to be Christian and sincerely believes in Christ, we may be tempted to believe them. But just because someone claims to believe in Christ, strives to follow and worship Christ, prays and worships in the name of Christ, and even writes a few best-selling epistles about Christ, doesn't make that person a Christian. One's status as a Christian is not determined by what's in one's heart or even by a lifetime of seemingly Christian service, worship, faith, and prayer. Rather, it is determined by application of strict theological standards applied by true Christians as they carry out their responsibility of determining who is part of the exclusive circle of Christianity. These standards are based on the norms of Historic Christianity, meaning the standard and accurate form of Christianity that was developed in a portion of northern Europe beginning in the sixteenth century and in modern times perfected by and entrusted to select evangelical circles in the United States. To disagree with even one of their pure and standard doctrines is, of course, to believe in a different Jesus. And those standards, when applied to Paul, clearly and objectively require us to see past his alleged Christianity and condemn him as a cultist, as no more Christian than any other proto-Mormon or modern Mormon could be for his Jesus is, of course, a different Jesus.

Adios, Paul. You fooled me for a while, but now you've been exposed.

17 comments:

Connor Carpenter said...

Wait, Jeff, why is "satire" under the tags for this post, is that a mistake?

I realize this isn't much coming from a fellow believer, but I really enjoyed this post. Very well done. I especially liked points 8-10. :)

Unfortunately if you keep up these kinds of posts I fear you'll drive away a large percent of your traffic here: that of traditional evangelic nay-sayers. Perhaps you might leave some holes in your defenses to keep 'em coming back? ;)

Steve Ohlsen said...

But wait! "True Christians" believe in Paul. What could be the answer? Certainly it must be he's fooled us all. It couldn't be that "Christianity" has lost some plain and precious truths along the way, say by an "apostasy", and that a "restoration" was needed, as supported by scripture by the way, and that Mormons aren't just believers of the B of M, but true followers of Jesus Christ, having received a fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not just his doctrines but his power and authority, through his direct intervention and revelations, to Prophets, also scriptural? No, it couldn't be the latter! Certainly not! Better to believe the Apostle Paul a fraud! Yes. Unfortuantely many would prefer to believe that than the truth restored. But more probably, most will just ignore the whole argument and blissfully live their ignorant and self-assured lives, knowing that they are saved no matter what they say or do, no matter how dead their faith may be.

Steve Ohlsen said...

@Connor Carpenter Satire? What satire? :)

Jeff, I did really enjoy your piece. Very well done! I think the satirical slant made a very good and poignant point. Could really be food for serious thought for any open to it.

Erin Isenberg said...

Very well written! I've been thinking about the same topic. http://ocdhousewife.blogspot.com/2011/10/faith-works-and-are-mormons-christian.html

Openminded said...

Haha, well. It's good to know that after nearly 2,000 years and hundreds of different offshoots of Christianity, the Mormons have come in and found the proper historical interpretation of the works of Paul.

Anonymous said...

When asked how to gain eternal life, Christ said "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." I think this makes Him non-Christian as well. Christ, Paul, Peter, the Mormons - all total non-Christians. Thank goodness we have the evangelical Protestants to show us the one true way.

jackg said...

Another really good post. There are a few misconceptions, however, and it always boils down to one group wanting to be "right," which naturally makes the other group "wrong." As I have stated, my new passion is breaking down those barriers that make us different groups. In the past, I stood firmly in the "Christian" camp, proclaiming that Mormons were wrong and on a path destined for hell. But, over the course of the past year, I have come to believe that God looks at our hearts more than our theology. I still believe Mormonism has a lot of things I would never hold as my own theology, but I now firmly believe that Mormons and Christians follow after the same God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Naturally, we differ in a lot of areas.

My main concern with this post is the assumption that the gift of eternal life based on justification by faith is the same as a reward. Salvation is not a reward, because there is nothing we could ever do by our works to garner salvation. This is why this same Paul of which you speak also said: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--for this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast" (Eph. 2:9).

I am merely trying to keep things fair and balanced (I've been watching too much Bill O'Reilly). Our problem is that we look at things from either/or propositions: salvation is either the result of God's grace or our works. The both/and proposition is realized when we understand that salvation is indeed a gift, but that our works are evidence of a new birth--not just a verbal confession that someone might have said in a typical "salvation prayer."

To be honest, there IS INDEED a need for non-LDS followers of Jesus Christ to be taught that behavior matters. Obedience matters. Everything Jeff pointed out is valid when one wants to claim membership in God's Kingdom. Rewards will be handed out as a result of our works--that is absolutely true. What's not true is that salvation is a reward. That is my argument against the premise Jeff puts forth in his satirical exercise that was quite clever.

I pray this explanation makes sense and helps to bring us closer to the truth and unity regarding this topic.

Peace and blessings...

Anonymous said...

Didn't Jesus also say that he would return in the clouds with great power and glory to redeem mankind, and that he would do so within the lifetimes of the people he was speaking to? And didn't he fail to thus return? And didn't that failure precipitate a variety of strenuous efforts to somehow re-interpret the scriptures in some figurative manner that might explain away the painful and embarrassing fact that Jesus did not deliver on his most fundamental promise? And doesn't all continued belief in Jesus as the savior depend on such creative re-interpretations of what Jesus is reputed to have said? That is, doesn't Christianity itself depend on such creative scriptural re-interpretations?

I don't want to come off as arrogant here, so I won't go so far as to suggest that those who disagree with me are living "ignorant and self-assured lives" and I will refrain from passing judgement on "how dead their faith may be." But I really do think that the people who best understand the scriptures, and Jesus, and Paul, and all the rest are the atheists like me.

-- Eveningsun

Unknown said...

Jackg,

Salvation per mainstream Christianity typically means going to heaven and being "saved" from hell. In the LDS world view, salvation of this nature, being "saved" from hell, is indeed also a gift, but it has been given to all on earth already as a consequence of Christ's resurrection. LDS salvation more often means exaltation, to be perfected, made to be like Christ and the Father through the constant process of faith, obedience, and repentance and by way of Christ's atonement and grace; this is where our efforts and works do apply (free will), albeit only possible again by God's grace. We are commanded by God to be perfect, to be changed from this natural man through the grace of Christ.

Denton Romans said...

Although I agree with the message, and to a certain extent identify with the exasperation of being labeled "not Christian" by others, I'm finding it hard to get past the tone of this post.

Like jackg said, shouldn't we be trying to break down barriers?

Also, it seems to me that we as Mormons have a tendency to focus too much on works and not enough on grace. I'd be interested in your thoughts on that.

Rich said...

Hi Jackg,
I applaud your efforts to break down barriers, sincerely I do. I think one barrier is laid out in this post, being consistently labeled as non-Christians for theology differences. For sure there are, and even among different Christian sects, but the rest of the teachings and the life lived, or fruits if you prefer, ought to be more importantly looked at then differing points of theology. You've been able to do it, and I think more could also. I doubt this post is meant for someone, who like you, has been able to break through those barriers and recognize that the LDS church follows that same God as Christianity. There are still too many who can't see passed some theological barriers, works is a big one, to allow those of us who love and follow the Christ of the bible into the category of Christian. And as a plug for Eveningsun, I have had better luck showing atheists that we are in fact a Christian religion then Christians.

jackg said...

I really appreciate the kind comments. Thank you.

Peace and blessings...

mkprr said...

Eveningsun,
I thought the questions you presented were really good but partly because I don’t want to hijack this thread, and mostly because I don’t know much at all about scholarly exegesis of ancient Jewish texts, I took the liberty of calling the radio show of a reasonable Christian guy who seems to have a fair knowledge of Jewish idioms and texts. I hope you don’t mind, I read your comment almost in entirety to him. He isn’t LDS (most of us would turn to the Book of Mormon or JS Matthew to answer this question but I know that from your standpoint, using any of JS’s translations to clear up the matter won’t help much)

His radio show can be listened to online for free but usually takes a few days before it is available for download. If It’s ok with Jeff I’ll post the link as soon as it is up online or if you email me I’ll send you the the link directly. (if you click on my name you should be able to get my email address).

I think he had pretty good answers to your concerns. It’s worth considering at least. I tried to do a fair job scrutinizing his answer, and brought up most of the difficult verses in an attempt to make sure he didn’t weasel out of a real answer but he invited you to call him up to discuss it in more detail if you aren’t satisfied or if you have other disagreements. If you call let me know so I can listen later.

Scott said...

Might want to check some of your references (1 Cor 5:9 vs 2 Cor 5:9).

Stephen said...

I thought this was an excellent post, Jeff. What great points and I agree wholeheartedly. Fundamentalists tend to forget that Paul didn't entirely discount our own efforts nor did he in any way downplay both our ability and responsibility to obey God. All excellent points!

Jeff Lindsay: said...

Thanks, Scott. Fixed that reference: it is 2 Cor. 5:9 that I meant.

mkprr said...

Eveningsun,

The episode uploaded. If you call this guy to grill him on his answer you'll have to let me know

http://www.thenarrowpath.com/archive/TNP120403H.mp3