Thursday, January 24, 2008

Mormonism And Polygamy

The Mormon church is well known for its equivocations. The new and everlasting covenant of plural marriage is perhaps the best example of Mormon equivocation. Under threat of exile to Mexico the Mormon church officially abolished polygamy in the earthly realm in 1890. However, by virtue of secret temple ceremonies Mormon males like Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, as well as contemporary Mormon leaders remain sealed to multiple wives in the heavenly realm. Thus, the practice of polygamy promoted by Smith - who, by the way, had 27 plural wives, and Young, who had 55 wives and 57 children - was merely transferred to the Celestial Kingdom.

By relegating polygamy to the eternal realm Mormon leaders managed to comply externally with societal norms while still maintaining an eschatological basis for the subjugation of women. Such spiritual sanctioning of polygamy was not only an affront to the value and dignity of women, but stands in direct opposition to Jesus' teaching that at the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage.

The Mormon practice of polygamy finds its genesis in the teachings and practices of Joseph Smith who, in 1843, received an eternally binding revelation. According to Smith, apart from the practice of polygamy there was no hope of attaining to godhood. The everlasting commandment of polygamy revealed to Smith was considered so binding that Brigham Young ominously declared "If any deny the plurality of wives and continue to do so, I promise you that you will be damned."

And, of course, the Old Testament clearly reveals the strife and temptations that accompany the practice. Solomon, of course, is the quintessential example of one whose legacy of faithfulness was compromised because of his polygamous behavior. Despite world-renowned wisdom Solomon's peaceful and prosperous rule ended in idolatrous strife, scandal and in civil strife as well because the Bible tells us his wives turned his heart after other gods. There is, therefore, absolutely no biblical support for the Mormon practice of polygamy either in this life or the next.

How Wide Is the Mormon Divide?

One of the questions I get over and over again is "How wide is the divide between Mormonism and Christianity? Is it really substantive?"

Well, in 1997 Stephen Robinson, a professor at a Mormon university, BYU, and Craig Blomberg, a professor at a Christian seminary, attempted to answer that question in a book that was titled "How Wide the Divide?" In the end the book, released by a major Christian publishing house, concluded that the divide might not really be as wide as we had thought it was.

With respect to the central doctrine of the nature of God, for instance, the authors concurred that both evangelicals and Latter-Day Saints believe in an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, infinite, eternal and unchangeable God. Blomberg and Robinson forward this claim despite the words of Mormonism founder Joseph Smith who emphatically declared that the first principle of the gospel was to know that God has not been God for all eternity.

Now Smith put it like this: "I'm going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea and take away the veil so that you may see. It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God. He was once a man like us, yea that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth."

Sounds like there's a wide divide between the God of Christianity and the god of Mormonism. Well today, a full decade after the release of "How Wide the Divide?" presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, like Blomberg and Robinson, has made a concerted effort to minimize the differences between Mormonism and Christianity. His references to Jesus Christ as Son of God and Savior of mankind might sound orthodox, but in reality, as a temple Mormon who has served as a bishop and a stake president, Romney knows full well that the Jesus of Mormonism is clearly not the Christ of Christianity, and as such he's obscured the face of Mormonism through the manufacture of a Mormon mirage.

Again, our goal isn't to tell you who to vote for or even to say that he wouldn't be good president. Our goal is simply to say this: We should not be fooled by those who say that the divide between orthodox Christianity and Mormonism is a bridgeable chasm. It's not. It is clearly an unbridgeable chasm.

The Word Faith Movement and The Secret

There are a lot of similarities between the Word Faith movement and The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. In The Secret you have a law of attraction and that law of attraction is an impersonal force by which you can create your own reality. For example, you can attract thinness to yourself by thinking thin thoughts. Here's how Rhonda Byrne puts it. She says to transform herself from fat to thin she thought thin thoughts and she didn't so much as look at fat people. Here's a direct quote:

"If you see people who are overweight, do not observe them, but immediately switch your mind to the picture of you in your perfect body and feel it. As a result" she says, "I now maintain my perfect weight of 116 pounds and I can eat whatever I want."

And in The Secret itself, if you read the book, she says that the error is to think that food is responsible for weight gain and she points out it's not food, it's thoughts. In fact, here's how she puts it:

"The most common thought that people hold, and I held it too, is that food was responsible for my weight gain. That is a belief that does not serve you, and in my mind now, it is complete balderdash! Food is not responsible for putting on weight. It is your thought that food is responsible for putting on weight that actually has food put on weight. Remember, thoughts are the primary cause of everything, and the rest is effects from those thoughts. Think perfect thoughts and the result must be perfect weight."

Now if you look at Joel Osteen - and you can find her book sandwiched in between his two mega-bestsellers in most bookstores today - he says essentially the same thing. For Rhonda Byrne the genie is the law of attraction; for Joel Osteen it's the word of faith, and so he's committed to the notion that faith is a force, that words are the containers of the force and through the force of faith you can create your own reality.

If you look at his bestseller Your Best Life Now he says "You have to begin speaking words of faith over your life. Your words have enormous creative power. The moment you speak something out you give birth to it. This is a spiritual principle and it works whether you are saying something good or bad, positive or negative." In other words, if you say negative things, negative things will happen to you. If you speak words of fear, bad things are going to happen to you. Speak words of faith, good things are going to happen to you.

In fact, he goes so far as to say - and he uses this as an illustration - that there's a guy named Joe and had he changed his name to Joseph he could have prevented five deaths in his family. He didn't realize until a long time afterward that Joseph was what he should go by and by using Joe he was calling all kinds of bad things into his life.

Martin Luther King Vs. The Prosperity Gospel

There was an Op-Ed piece in the January 21, 2008 USA Today titled "Why Christians Should Seek Martin Luther King's Dream" by Tom Krattenmaker. He says "Despite gains, African-Americans as a whole have yet to attain King's vision. Christians could be this country's greatest force by rejecting the temptation of complacency -- and a me-first prosperity gospel," and if they do that they can "lead the way to racial justice." Krattenmaker points out that "An African-American woman is secretary of State. A black man is a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. African-Americans coached both teams in last year's Super Bowl." However, these are not enough.

Part of the reason they're not enough is that the church itself is communicating a prosperity gospel that has shackled the African-American community. Says Krattenmaker, "as one who has studied black church history and followed the more recent ascendancy of the prosperity gospel, I cannot help but wonder whether this blame-it-on-yourself pessimism among black Americans is not at least partially the result of a troubling message delivered from many popular pulpits....those who follow black church trends today will tell you that this prophetic" message of Marin Luther King "is giving way to something decidedly less idealistic: a prosperity gospel holding that God blesses individual believers with economic advancement."

He quotes here Dyson, a black ordained minister and Georgetown University professor who said "insufficient faith and poor standing with God are to blame for individual blacks who are missing out on the American dream. He put it this way in a PBS interview: 'The civil rights movement said you are responsible for your brother and sister; you ought to bring them along. The prosperity gospel says your brother or sister is responsible for him or herself, and what they should be doing is praying right so God can bless them, too.'"

In other words, according to this article, and I think correctly so, the African-American community is being placed back in shackles by a prosperity message that is communicating that faith is a force, words are the containers of the force, and through the force of faith one can create their own reality. Therefore, if you do not have prosperity there is nowhere else to look but yourself and the fact that you are not communicating faith-filled words. Which is to say, if you have sickness in your life it's because you called that sickness into your life by speaking words of fear, and if you have want instead of wealth, you created that as well by speaking words of faith rather than words of fear.

The prosperity gospel, unfortunately, is as popular anywhere as it is in the African-American community. In other words, it is probably predominant in that community today, at least in America. I think, as a result of that, we should be teaching that this is mythology. It is the skin of the truth stuffed with a great big lie. It either compromises, confuses or outright contradicts the Gospel. To that end I wrote a book called Christianity in Crisis as well as an audiotape series in which you can hear prosperity teachers from Kenneth Copeland to Benny Hinn to Frederick Price and many others teaching doctrines that come right out of the kingdom of the cults, and in the process they are enslaving people.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Mormonism Discussion

Just a quick note… all next week, January 14th-18th, on the Bible Answer Man broadcast we will be discussing Mormonism. I will have special guests Sandra Tanner and Bill McKeever on to aid in the discussion. I would like to welcome anyone who wants to join us, including Mormons, to call in. You can call into the show at 1-888-275-4265 between 5:30pm and 8pm Eastern. If you would like to listen to the show and are not in an area in which we broadcast, you can listen online.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

How Do I Find A Good Church?

“They [followers of Christ] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42 NIV). One of the questions I am most frequently asked is, “How do I find a good church?” This question has taken on added significance in recent years because of the massive impact televangelism has had on our culture. In all too many cases, worship has been replaced with entertainment, and fellowship has been transformed into individualism. In view of these cultural developments, it is critical that Christians have a handle on the ingredients of a healthy well-balanced church.
The first sign of a healthy, well-balanced church is a pastor who is committed to leading the community of faith in the worship of God through prayer, praise, and proclamation. Prayer is so inextricably woven into the fabric of worship that it would be unthinkable to have a church service without it. From the very inception of the early Christian church, prayer has been a primary means of worshiping God. Through prayer, we have the privilege of expressing adoration and thanksgiving to the One who saved us, sanctifies us, and one day will glorify us. In fact, our Lord Himself set the pattern by teaching His disciples the Prayer of Jesus (Matt. 6:9–13).

Praise is another key ingredient of worship. Scripture urges us to “speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19). Singing psalms is a magnificent means for intercession, instruction, and the internalization of Scripture. In addition, the great hymns of the faith have stood the test of time and are rich in theological tradition and truth. Spiritual songs, in turn, communicate the freshness of our faith. Thus, it is crucial that we preserve both a respect for our spiritual heritage and a regard for contemporary compositions.

Along with prayer and praise, proclamation is axiomatic to experiencing vibrant worship. Paul urged his protégé Timothy to “preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim. 4:2–3). Church leaders must once again produce in their people a holy hunger for the Word of God; for it is through the proclamation of God’s Word that believers are edified, exhorted, encouraged, and equipped.

Furthermore, a healthy, well-balanced church is evidenced through its oneness. Christ breaks the barriers of gender, race, and background and unites us as one under the banner of His love. Such oneness is tangibly manifested through community, confession, and contribution.
Community is visible in baptism, which symbolizes our entrance into a body of believers who are one in Christ. It is a sign and a seal that we have been buried to our old life and raised to newness of life through His resurrection power. In like fashion, Holy Communion is an expression of oneness. As we all partake of the same elements, we partake of that which the elements symbolize—Christ, through whom we are one. Our fellowship on earth, celebrated through communion, is a foretaste of the heavenly fellowship we will share when symbol gives way to substance.

A further expression of our oneness in Christ is our common confession of faith—a core set of beliefs, which have been rightly referred to as “essential Christianity.” These beliefs, which have been codified in the creeds of the Christian church, form the basis of our unity as the body of Christ. The well-known maxim bears repeating: “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.”

As with community and confession, we experience oneness through the contribution of our time, talent, and treasure. The question we should be asking is not “What can the church do for me?” but, “What can I do for the church?” The tragedy of modern Christianity is that when members of the body hurt, too often we relegate them to finding resources outside the walls of the church. That is precisely why the apostle Paul exhorts us to “share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:13).

Finally, a healthy, well-balanced church is one that is committed to equipping believers to be effective witnesses to what they believe, why they believe, and Who they believe. In the Great Commission, Christ called believers not to make mere converts but to make disciples (Matt. 28:19). A disciple is a learner or follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, we must be prepared to communicate what we believe. In other words, we must be equipped to communicate the evangel (good news). If Christians do not know how to share their faith, they have never been through basic training. The gospel of Christ should become such a part of our vocabulary that presenting it becomes second nature.

We also must be equipped to share why we believe what we believe. As Peter put it, we must “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15). Too many today believe that the task of apologetics is the exclusive domain of scholars and theologians. Not so! The defense of the faith is not optional; it is basic training for every Christian.

In addition to being prepared to communicate the what and why of our faith, we must be empowered to communicate the Who of our faith. Virtually every theological heresy begins with a misconception of the nature of God. Thus, in a healthy well-balanced church believers are equipped to communicate such glorious doctrines of the faith as the Trinity and the deity of Jesus Christ. It is crucial that we, like the early Christian church, come to understand more fully the biblical concept of the priesthood of all believers. Clearly, it is not the pastor’s calling to do the work of ministry single-handedly. Rather, the pastor is called “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature” (Eph. 4:12–13).

In short, we know we have discovered a good church if God is worshiped in Spirit and in truth through prayer, praise and the proclamation of the Word; if the oneness we share in Christ is tangibly manifested through community, confession, and contribution; and if the church is equipping members as witnesses who can communicate what they believe, why they believe, and Who they believe. Worship, Oneness, and Witness equal WOW!

Does the Bible Claim Jesus Is God?

“We wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13 NIV).

Many biblical texts can be used to demonstrate that Jesus is God. Three, however, stand out above the rest. Not only are they clear and convincing, but their “addresses” are easy to remember as well—John 1, Colossians 1, and Hebrews 1.
First, is John 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (v. 1). Here Jesus is not only in existence before the world began, but is differentiated from the Father and explicitly called God, indicating that He shares the same nature as His Father.

Furthermore, Colossians 1 informs us that “all things were created by him” (v. 16); He is “before all things” (v. 17); and “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him” (v. 19). Only deity has the prerogative of creation, preexists all things, and personifies the full essence and nature of God.

Finally, Hebrews 1 overtly tells us that according to God the Father Himself—Jesus is God: “But about the Son he [the Father] says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever’” (v. 8). Not only is the entirety of Hebrews 1 devoted to demonstrating the absolute deity of Jesus, but in verses 10–12 the inspired writer quotes a passage in Psalm 102 referring to Yahweh and directly applies it to Christ. In doing so, the Scripture specifically declares Jesus ontologically equal with Israel’s God.

Many similar texts could be adduced. For example, in Revelation 1 the Lord God says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (v. 8). In the last chapter of Revelation, Jesus applies these self same words—“Alpha and Omega”—to Himself! Additionally, in 2 Peter 1 Jesus is referred to as “our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (v. 1). In these passages and a host of others, the Bible explicitly claims that Jesus is God.
What Credentials Back Up Jesus’ Claim to Deity?

“When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’ Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see; the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor’” (Matt. 11:2–5).

Not only does the Bible explicitly teach that Jesus is God, but Jesus Himself also has provided many convincing proofs that He indeed is divine.

First, Jesus demonstrated that He was God in human flesh by manifesting the credential of sinlessness. While the Qur’an exhorts Muhammad to seek forgiveness for his sins, the Bible exonerates Messiah, saying Jesus “had no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21); and this is not a singular statement. John declares that “in him is no sin” (1 John 3:5), and Peter says Jesus “committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” (1 Pet. 2:22). Jesus Himself went so far as to challenge His antagonists, asking, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?” (John 8:46).

Furthermore, Jesus demonstrated supernatural authority over sickness, the forces of nature, fallen angels, and even death itself. Matthew 4 records that Jesus went throughout Galilee teaching, preaching, “and healing every disease and sickness among the people” (v. 23). Mark 4 documents Jesus rebuking the wind and the waves, saying, “Quiet! Be still!” (v. 39). In Luke 4 Jesus encounters a man possessed by an evil spirit and commands the demon: “Come out of him!” (v. 35). And in John 4, Jesus tells a royal official whose son was close to death, “Your son will live” (v. 50). In fact, the four Gospels record how Jesus demonstrated ultimate power over death through the immutable fact of His resurrection.

Finally, the credentials of Christ’s deity are seen in the lives of countless men, women, and children. Each day, people of every tongue and tribe and nation experience the resurrected Christ by repenting of their sins and receiving Jesus as Lord and Savior of their lives. Thus, they not only come to know about Christ evidentially, but experientially Christ becomes more real to them than the very flesh upon their bones.