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DISCERNING THE MORMON CHURCH
APPLYING GOD’S WISDOM
By Cal Fullerton, 2011
You cannot draw conclusions
as long as there is missing information.
This post continues to answer the question, “What’s the biblical way to determine if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of Salt Lake City, Utah (LDS), is a Christian organization?”
We will benefit from knowing the answer to that question. How effective a soldier would you be if you couldn’t tell an enemy from a friend?
When we arrive in heaven, we’ll see some people we didn’t expect to see there. Maria Woodworth-Etter (1844-1924) was used by God tremendously in healing the sick, forcing out demons, and winning the lost. Even the dead were raised. During her crusades, the Holy Spirit would fall. Trances, dreams, and visions became common.
Her book Signs and Wonders tells of one woman who laid unconscious for about four hours. After returning to consciousness, this woman said she “was carried away and was with Jesus in heaven.” She said some “who were thought to have died innocent, I did not see,” and, “some I had never thought to meet in heaven, I saw”!(i)
When we enter the land filled with God’s glory, there will be surprises:
1 Corinthians 13:12
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
One Mormon stated that LDS teachings have been cropped, flipped, tossed about, and spun around so many times that there’s little chance of seeing any Christianity in them. Distortions are rampant. Myths are meandering everywhere.
Widespread distortion of the LDS is not surprising when you consider the marred view Christian denominations usually have of each other. Almost without fail, when Helen and I visit a church, we find it more spiritual than the gossip we had heard made it out to be.
This link has a clever and humorous chart of pictures depicting the distorted view various denominations have of one another—or themselves.
One of the first discoveries that led me to God’s view of Mormonism was that you can’t trust non-Mormons to tell you the whole truth about the Mormon Church. Their report provides only secondhand information. You don’t know what the LDS teaches until you see for yourself.
Proverbs 14:15 LB
Only a simpleton believes everything he’s told! A prudent man understands the need for proof.
Proverbs 18:13 LB
What a shame—yes, how stupid!—to decide before knowing the facts!
Isaiah 11:3 GNT
He [Jesus] will not judge by appearance or hearsay.
Proverbs 14:15 NEW CENTURY VERSION
Fools will believe anything.
Books and leaflets circulated by non-Mormons about Mormons may appear scholarly, but don’t you dare let them have the last word. Gossip can appear in scholarly print.
Our old natures love gossip and are quick to believe negative reports about others. Scandal feeds our competitiveness.
A great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.
Gossip has led to murder: Stephen Robinson wrote that during the Middle Ages “no matter what Jews said to the contrary, no matter what the evidence indicated, many Christians insisted that Jews secretly practiced the ritual mutilation and murder of Christian children. Over the centuries thousands of Jews have been killed as a result of this and other . . . fabrications.” (ii)
In a court of law hearsay is not normally admissible testimony. As representatives of the God who always judges uprightly, we are called to be at least as upright as our courts of law.
Learning from LDS publications what the LDS teaches is a good start but may not be enough. I had gained some firsthand knowledge of LDS beliefs during my first years as a Christian, but I severely misunderstood them at key points.
The prestigious Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements says that in the 1920s misunderstanding contributed to the creation of white and black denominations. (iii)
During the first years of my marriage to Helen we had major ups and downs. Sometimes we were on different wavelengths. I was very surprised when a marriage counselor said we needed to communicate better.
Lack of mutual understanding has contributed to the rift between Catholics and Protestants. Pope John Paul II once wrote, “I will never forget the statement I heard during an ecumenical gathering with representatives of the Protestant community in Cameroon: ‘We know we are divided, but we do not know why’”!(iv)
A sign on the wall of a former dentist's office said, “I believe you understand what you think you heard me say, but I don't think you realize that what you think you heard me say is not what I meant.”
One reason Mormons and evangelicals misunderstand each other is that we have different dictionaries in our minds. Differing nuances of definitions are a common culprit of division throughout the body of Christ.
Charisma magazine tells of a revival during which renewed understanding was generated between Baptists and oneness believers of the United Pentecostal Church. The pastor of the Baptist church said, “We discovered most of the differences we had on major issues, such as salvation and the oneness of God, had to do with the words we use rather than the meaning of those doctrines.”(v)
The increased mutual understanding between those Baptists and oneness Pentecostals came about through simple interdenominational fellowship. Accurate understanding of Mormonism is also increased not only by the Holy Spirit, but also by intercommunication with them.
To understand LDS teachings you almost have to learn a new language. It’s like landing on a remote island of Christians who haven't had any contact with the outside world for one hundred years. They’ve never heard of Billy Graham or Benny Hinn. John 3:16 is an obscure verse to them; instead, they all know 2 Peter 3:18 by heart—“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” (That would also be a good verse to memorize.)
Their theology could be a mix of Pentecostalism, Catholicism, and a new “island” brand.
Mormons have been on an island. They are shockingly uninformed about evangelical beliefs.
If we’re going to live by and be blessed by the unseen kingdom God has given us, we can’t judge by physical appearances.
Outward appearances can be misleading, especially when we have preconceived ideas about what we’re looking at. Once at an Assembly of God church my attention was drawn to a woman about three or four rows in front of me. Whenever the pastor told everyone to stand, she would remain seated. During the entire meeting I tried to figure out what her problem
was. (Satan doesn’t like us to concentrate on our pastor’s message.) I concluded she likely was angry with the pastor about something, or maybe she was not a Christian and had a cavalier attitude toward God.
At the end of the meeting I watched her stand up and move into the aisle. She hobbled. One of her legs was significantly shorter than the other. Maybe standing up was painful for her. I learned a lesson—don’t jump to judgments so fast.
Speculations and suppositions like those I made about that woman infest worldly Christians like overspending and greed infest America. Compulsive false judgmentalism eats us like a disease. We do it like our heart beats—naturally, and without noticing that our spirits are suffering from risky palpitations!
John 7:24 (Jesus speaking)
Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.
A classic case of faulty perception based on physical appearance happened when a man noted that Mormon temples never display the cross.
The Mormon Church doesn’t display the cross for the same reason Protestants don’t have Jesus hanging on their crosses—they fear they will emphasize the death of Christ at the expense of his resurrection! The LDS does believe Jesus died for our sins.
View the uncut picture
A man scans an apple orchard, picking rotten apples. He tells his friend, “That orchard’s no good—look at all these rotten apples.” Then the friend went to the apple orchard himself and found that seventy percent of the apples were good. Most Christians, whether they are evangelical, charismatic, fundamental, or Catholic, are much more aware of the thirty percent of Mormon beliefs that are false.
As Mike Murdock said, “You cannot draw conclusions as long as there is missing information.”
An irresponsible customer says, “That car repair place is crooked. They charged me two hundred dollars just to replace a timing belt!” But the complainer may not realize what’s involved in changing a timing belt nor consider all the expenses of owning and operating an auto repair shop.
The gossiper says, “You know what Mrs. So and So did this morning at church? I tell you she is so mean.” But the gossiper may not know that Mrs. So and So was under a lot of stress that day. What if just the night before, the police showed up at her front door and arrested her son for illegal drug possession? We must see both the runner and the first baseman catching the ball before we’re qualified to make the call.
One night when I got home from work, I must have opened the door of my car to get out, but remained in the driver’s seat for a few minutes to listen to the radio or write a note. Without my being aware, Ben, who was our eldest cat, crawled into the car behind my seat. A bit later I got out, closed the door, entered our house, ate dinner, talked to God awhile, and went to bed for a long night’s sleep.
The next morning Ben didn’t show up for his breakfast! This was unusual because Ben loved the soft food Helen fed him at breakfast time. I’m sure my wife was beginning to worry as she always does when one of our beloved little darlings doesn’t show up for their sunrise feeding. While we ate at the kitchen table our gaze wandered out the windows. To our great relief and bewilderment, Ben was calmly peering at us from inside my car!
(Ben is a calm, secure cat who never seems to worry. When he accidentally gets himself locked in a closet, he simply lays down for a nap. When we open the door sometime later, he saunters out as if we were right on time!)
When Ben strode into the car, he lacked foresight; his viewpoint was limited. If we don’t see an uncut picture of LDS activities and a complete portfolio of their proclamations, we are bound to misconstrue them.
A demonstration of how the accusers work
To make the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints look as if it is not founded on the real Lord Jesus, well-meaning critics break God’s rules for discernment, and use Satan’s rules instead.
Here’s a list of Satan’s instructions on how to make the typical American house of worship look unchristian:
- Dig up sins the pastor committed long ago.
- Talk to ex-members with bitter feelings.
- Take current members out of context. Quote them saying, “We are all sinners.” Compare it to 1 John 3:6: “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.”
- Note the church’s belief that all people have an immortal soul. Compare it to 1 Timothy 6:16 which says God alone is immortal. Announce, “Since God alone is immortal, they believe they are God!”
- Draw attention to the church’s belief that the spirit of Jesus lived on while his body was in the tomb. Then proclaim, “The church denies that Jesus completely died, and since salvation depends on Jesus' death, members of the church cannot be saved.”
- Note the church’s belief that in his suffering, Jesus was separated from God. Then announce, “Since God cannot be separated from himself, they deny Jesus is God.”
- Then declare, “The evidence is overwhelming and plain for all to see. This church is a non-Christian cult!”
With Satan’s perverted logic we could “prove” that every Christian denomination on the globe is not Christian. Without realizing it, these are the type of tactics non-Mormon Christians have used on the LDS (and, incidentally, what the LDS has used on us). Mormon condemners have published professionally-written books with verbatim quotes of LDS authorities, and with endless lists of endnotes showing their extensive research. But this is no guarantee their conclusions are correct.
Some of today’s finest Christian leaders have been trapped by the writings of non-prophetic scholars. We must follow the anointing of God, not human beings following the idol of their natural rationale.
Revivalist John Crowder said, “We become what we judge. If we are always judging the ‘hopeless hypocrites,’ . . . instead of looking for their potential as the beautiful Bride of Christ, then we are bound to. . . . imitate their hypocrisy in the end.”vi John Crowder wasn’t writing about Mormon critics but his words unfortunately ring true with them as well.
Watch the “watchdogs”
When Mormons explain their views, we tend to go beyond legitimate caution to undo suspicion. However, when we listen to critics of the Mormon Church, we put the discernment God gave us away in a drawer. Our exercise of caution ought to be consistent.
I remember listening to Mormon missionaries and thinking, Do you really think I’m going to take anything you say seriously when I know about your fanciful extra-biblical beliefs?
However, we tend to go to the other extreme when listening to critics of the Mormon Church. It never occurs to us to be suspicious of them. We swallow everything they say like a fish swallowing a worm on a hook. We’re like a man seduced by an adulteress:
With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk. All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life.
Size-up the seducers; critique the critics; watch the watchdogs! If even prophecies are not to be accepted without being carefully weighed (1 Cor. 14:29), how much more should we carefully weigh criticism of the LDS when the critiquers aren't even claiming to be prophetic? Ultimately you can’t trust a prophet, a scholar, a cult expert, a denomination, me, or any other human being.
Jesus said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). Don’t let yourself be tricked, either by someone’s “educated” opinion of Latter-day Saints or by the Latter-day Saints themselves.
Trust God. He has never let you down. “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe” (Prov. 29:25).
First John 2:27 says, “[Jesus’] anointing teaches you about all things” and “you do not need anyone to teach you.”
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to people through whom Jesus may speak. But because Jesus died for us, every believer has a hotline directly to the Father's desk! This hotline is the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
Don’t trust even the Christian majority
A majority of the twelve spies Moses sent to explore Canaan came back with doubt rather than the faith necessary to conquer the land (Num. 13:26-33). Then the vast majority of the camp of Israelites believed the doubters and never saw the promised land (Num. 14:1-4, 23).
Proverbs 11:14 (KJV) does say, “In the multitude of counsellors there is safety,” but Romans 3:4 balances that out with “Let God be true and every
man a liar”! Putting these verses together, we can say that you should give careful consideration to the majority viewpoint. But in the end go with what Jesus says.
Oral Roberts once wrote, “While we hear these men and women [God’s instruments] and value them, yet we listen primarily and in finality to God himself through His Holy Word, and by His Spirit.”vii
Some people imagine that if they just hold on to the traditions of the church their ancestors attended, they’ll be safe. However, many denominations that began in revival fire centuries ago have now slipped into liberalism.
An excuse for braking the speed limit heard by trooper Roger Betsill, Jr., was “I was traveling with the flow of traffic.” (viii) Many Christians are just drifting with the flow of traffic and they’re headed for trouble.
Sapphira traveled with her husband’s flow and got herself killed (Acts 5:1-10)!
Cult may not be an insult
If they call your church a cult, you may be in good company. Many of God’s revival movements through the centuries were labeled cults or sects—and usually by beloved fellow Christians! John Crowder stated in his book Miracle Workers, Reformers, and the New Mystics that
Prophetic movements in Scripture and throughout church history have a very high rate of being rejected by God’s people. It’s par for the course. If God has called you to a prophetic office, you’ve been issued a ticket to your own crucifixion. Enjoy it. (ix)
Ananias was a high priest who brought charges against Paul in Acts 24. He apparently was not a Christian but he was seated in God’s post for the religious leader of the time. The lawyer representing Ananias referred to the early church as a sect:
Acts 24:5 [emphasis added]
"We have found this man [Paul] to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect.”
Let’s move a few centuries forward.* * * * * * * * *
John Crowder also wrote that “church leaders who would not sign the Nicene Creed [of the fourth century A.D.] were persecuted—for the first time, Christians were persecuting their brothers.” (x)
Fast-forwarding now to the 1500s, the great Protestant reformer Martin Luther received revelation about the authority of the Bible and about salvation by grace and faith. These truths had been diminished for centuries by false beliefs and corruption in the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Church was not very pleased with Martin. After being slandered and excommunicated from the Church as a "heretic," Martin Luther barely missed an opportunity to promote his revelations with his blood.
Hieronymus Aleander, a high-ranking representative of the Roman Catholic Church, said of the new Protestant movement, “It is necessary and crucial to see to it that his [Martin Luther’s] subversive sect be wiped out forthwith, and without any further postponement”!xi Notice he called the Protestant Reformation a sect.
Another great Reformer, William Tyndale, was also condemned for heresy. He was strangled for the “crime” of translating the Bible into English.
In America pioneers like the great evangelist Charles Finney (1792-1875) and TBN President Paul Crouch—were frequently opposed by fellow ministers. One preacher threatened to oppose Finney with cannon if he dared venture into his parish.(xii) Jesus said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you” (Luke 6:26).
The Pentecostal movement, which historians often say began in 1901, helped to bring about a still deeper understanding and experience of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. So, of course, many mainline Catholic and Protestant churches dismissed the movement’s revelation as another heresy. In the early years of the movement Pentecostals were mocked, disfellowshipped, and had their houses and church buildings burnt. Theologians considered them “as a false cult.” (xiii)
Since then, the persecution has gradually decreased, but gaps between fundamentalists and charismatics still continue. One pastor of a fundamental church told me his relatives had once urged him to visit their Pentecostal church. He did. He said he walked out during the service with no intention of ever going back. He was so unacquainted with the Pentecostal/charismatic slant and style that it seemed foreign to him, even devilish.
I said all that to say that the persecution and condemnation leveled at the Mormon Church by the church at large is no evidence the Mormon Church is unchristian. You can’t trust the majority.
Just google a well-known Christian minister, and websites designed to discredit the minister line up for your attention. And sadly, many if not most of these detractors are our precious brothers and sisters in Christ. Oral Roberts wrote,
"I know that in the moments and in the periods when I have been the closest to God from the standpoint of obedience and delivering people by His power, there has been more opposition from fellow believers than from the secular world."(xiv)
The problem is not with Jesus. The problem is that as we begin our new life in Christ, we usually pick up some of the false traditions in the church as well. Unfortunately, hypocritical judgmentalism is alive and well among sincere followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
When healing evangelists such as Benny Hinn are called heretics, the label becomes a compliment. To be labeled a cult is no longer an insult.
Probably ninety-nine percent of those who say the Mormon Church serves a false Jesus have good intentions. However, for various reasons they've missed God’s bird’s-eye view. Maybe they’re relying on incomplete or secondhand information. Maybe they’re misunderstanding LDS doctrine. Maybe they’re adding requirements for salvation to those God has already set up for the new covenant. Maybe they’re neglecting the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Most likely it’s a combination of several of the above.
Whatever the reason, the time to question them has begun!
The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.
(i) Maria Woodworth-Etter, Signs and Wonders (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker, 1997), 133-34.
(ii) Stephen E. Robinson, Are Mormons Christians? (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991), 12.
(iii) J. L. Hall, “United Pentecostal Church, International.” Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. ed. Stanley M. Burgess, Gary B. McGee and Patrick H. Alexander (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993), 863.
(iv) John Paul II, Crossing The Threshold of Hope (New York: Knopf, 1994), 148.
(v) Ken Walker, “Oneness Pentecostals, Southern Baptists Unite for Unusual Revival,” Charisma, Oct. 2001, 30.
(vi) John Crowder, Miracle Workers, Reformers, and the New Mystics (Shippensburg, Pa.: Destiny Image, 2006), 163.
(vii) Oral Roberts, The New Testament Comes Alive, Vol. Two, Acts-Philemon (Nashville: Parthenon, 1984), 243.
(viii) Irving Wallace, David Wallechinsky, Amy Wallace, Sylvia Wallace, The Book of Lists 2 (New York: Bantam, 1981), 495, cited in Rusty Wright and Linda Raney Wright, 500 Clean Jokes and Humorous Stories and How to Tell Them (Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour 1985), 87.
(ix) John Crowder, Miracle Workers, Reformers, and the New Mystics (Shippensburg, Pa.: Destiny Image, 2006), 112.
(x) John Crowder, Miracle Workers, Reformers, and the New Mystics (Shippensburg, Pa.: Destiny Image, 2006), 207-8.
(xi) Heiko A. Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, trans. Eileen Walliser-Schwarzbart (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 36. Published by Yale University Press in 2006.
(xii) Charles Finney, Finney’s Systematic Theology, ed. J. H. Fairchild, abr. (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1976), back cover of bicentennial ed.
(xiii) C. P. Wagner, “Church Growth.” Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. ed. Stanley M. Burgess, Gary B. McGee and Patrick H. Alexander. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993. 190.
(xiv) Oral Roberts, The New Testament Comes Alive, Vol. Two, Acts-Philemon (Nashville: Parthenon, 1984), 282.
Copyright © 2012 Cal Fullerton. Permission is granted, and you are encouraged, to
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All Scripture quotations above, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE,
NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society.
Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.