Cults/JW’s & Mormons

Conversing with a Jehovah’s Witness

Jehovah’s Witness: Have you ever read the Bible?
Me: I enjoy reading it.
JW: Well, Hurricane Michael destroyed so much. We live in a chaotic world, don’t we?
Me: Yes, we do. And my only hope in this chaotic world is that God is sovereign over Hurricane Michael and all evil. Don’t you agree?
JW: Well, I believe he is very powerful but that Hurricane Michael was outside his control.
Me: Did Hurricane Michael catch God by surprise?
JW: Of course, it did. Think about Adam. Do you believe God thought Adam was going to be deceived?
Me: I actually fully believe God knew all things from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22 which means every part of history is carefully orchestrated to give God the greatest amount of glory in heaven above and earth below. Even Adam’s fall was not a cosmic oops to God, but occurred exactly as he planned.
JW: But don’t you believe that Adam was a free agent?
Me: Yes, I do.
JW: So, we are all free agents.
Me: No. Our ability to choose divine things ended in Genesis 3.
JW: Well, that can’t be because in Matthew 4 Jesus chose to reject the devil’s offer and he used his free will to do so.
Me: Precisely, Jesus is the greater Adam who conquered freely what Adam failed to conquer.
JW: OK. Thanks for chatting.
Me: I actually appreciated how your tone

This is a pretty accurate summary of my 10 minute conversation with a JW this morning. It’s not very coherent (it jumped to other related topics without resolving the previous one) and I am sure I could have done a better job communicating my thoughts. Still, these conversations help chrystallize the Christian message. We all need our cozy convictions challenged.

It’s Worth Defending

Evangelicals overall do a fine job at defending the trivial but struggle to defend the hard things. Machen observed long ago in his monumental Christianity and Liberalism that “it appears that the things that are sometimes thought to be hardest to defend are also the things that are most worth defending (8).”

Machen was deeply concerned about where the lines were being drawn. He was sure that if we abandoned this battle, we would be swallowed up by heresy and forsake the tremendous work of our godly forefathers. He saw liberalism as another religion altogether; a totally different class of religious expression than Christianity (7). He saw the resurrection, virgin birth, and the divinity of Jesus being threatened on a consistent basis. But, he argued, these are the battles worth fighting; they are the hard battles of the faith. Once we lose the creedal ground, we will sink into oblivion. For Machen, this was not an option.

Mormonism and Politics

With a plethora of Romney apologists in the internet, Mormonism couldn’t be happier. The distinctly American religion has found its way to the American audience. Mormonism continues to grow in America.CBN reports “that if present trends continue there could be 265 million members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) worldwide by 2080.” That is a staggering number!

Evangelicals find Mormonism largely non-threatening. After all, what is threatening about well-dressed young men handing tracts at your door on a Saturday morning? Make no mistake. Mormonism is a threat to the well-being of this country. It may even be a greater threat than Islam. I say that because the majority of Americans are vaccinated against Islamic talking points. Most Americans view Islam for what it is: a religion shaped by Sharia Law whose purposes are dominion-oriented. Further, Americans are– by and large–incapable of distinguishing between between different branches and schools of thought within Islam. In their mind, Islam is Islam. They blow up things, and that is the core of their philosophy. Sometimes ignorance can be good.

On the other hand, Americans are hardly able to differentiate between a cult and Orthodox Christianity. This is seen in religious polling, when pollsters include Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons and non-affirming Trinitarians under the “Christian” category.

Very few have considered the claims of Mormonism. Apart from the polygamy aspect–which is no longer practiced in mainstream Mormonism in the 21st century, evangelicals can offer no sound apologetic against it. Hank Hanegraaff summarizes the absurdity and confusion of the Book of Mormon:

How millions can take the Book of Mormon seriously is almost beyond comprehension. While Smith referred to it as “the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion,” its flaws run the gamut from the serious to the silly. In the category of serious we find that Ether 3:14 (“Behold, I am Jesus Christ, I am the Father and the Son”) ismodalistic and militates against Trinitarian theology, while Alma 11:44 (“Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God”) is basi­cally consistent with the biblical doc­trine of the Trinity.

In the category of silly is the account in Alma 44 of a man who becomes irate after being scalped and stirs up his soldiers to fight “more powerfully.” And in Ether 15 we read of a man who struggles to catch his breath after having his head cut off. The Book of Mormon has now been altered over 4,000 times to compensate for Smith’s poor command of English, as well as for the numerous errors and incon­sistencies it presented.

After having read several classic books on cults over the years, after listening to dozens of debates, after having taken two classes on cults in college, and after interacting extensively with the average American evangelical, I can say that Mormonism will only continue to rise.

What does this mean?

This means that with a Romney victory on November 6th evangelical pastors will need to do a lot more homework. They will need to instruct their flocks with greater precision, and perhaps Trinitarian theology will need to be more foundational than a systematic category. Trinitarianismwill need to be the source of life and worship; the very pattern of existence and human relationships.

With Obama at least we knew that liberal christianity is just that: liberal. At least we knew that he was going to always misuse the Sermon on the Mount. At least we knew that he was going to open his wings to religious diversity and ecumenicism. At least we knew that he was a fulfillment of Machen’s dire warnings about liberalism. At least we knew his social and moral agenda. But with Romney, what do we know? Will a moderate appoint other moderates to the Supreme Court? Will he appoint someone like Roberts who stabbed the conservative heart through legislative technicalities? Will he fill the White House with General Authorities of the Mormon Church?

And when that happens will evangelicals separate religion from policy? Do we truly believe evangelicals have been discipled under Kuyperianism long enough to discern right from wrong? Truth from error?Trinitarianism from Non?

The Mormon thing is actually an important thing to discuss. There is more at stake than the economy in this election. There is the future of the Church, her members, and the responsibility to present a God who is One and Three.

Romney and Mormonism

With the almost inevitable status of Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee, the American public will be getting a good dose of Mormon theology from all sorts of quarters. Some will likely misrepresent Mormonism, while others will present a more realistic version of Latter-Day-Saints’ theology. National Review has a sneak peak of their latest piece on American attitudes towards Mormonism:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is, you may be surprised to learn, the largest religious organization in the United States after the Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the United Methodist Church. The Baptists and the Methodists are in decline, while the number of Catholics and Mormons is growing, with Mormons adding to their numbers at 2.5 times the Roman rate of redemption. It is likely that Joseph Smith soon will have more followers in the United States than does John Wesley; already the words “Salt Lake City” carry a religious resonance no longer detectable in place names such as “Aldersgate” — or “Boston” or “Philadelphia” for that matter. (If it weren’t for E. Digby Baltzell’s Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia, the religious flavor of those places would be not only gone but also forgotten.)

Mormons and Catholics are alike in that they matter. Everybody knows who the pope is, and when there’s a papal vacancy the drama of the election leads practically every newspaper in the world, and all of Europe holds its breath. Very few Americans could pick Bryant Wright out of a police lineup or tell you that he is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention. What the Catholic Magisterium teaches influences public policy — and life — around the world. Mormons, likewise, have a kind of cultural electricity about them: There is no Broadway musical assembled to lampoon the beliefs of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, but The Book of Mormon keeps selling out. There are few if any websites dedicated to “unmasking” the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., but there are dozens dedicated to Mormons. The Catholic Church matters in part because it is global, and in some quarters it is still held in suspicion for that reason. The Mormons represent precisely the opposite condition: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only major worldwide religion bearing a “Made in the U.S.A.” label. Forget apple pie: With its buttoned-down aesthetic, entrepreneurial structure, bland goodwill, and polished professionalism, it is as American as IBM.

Also, it drives people crazy.

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Jehovah’s Witnesses spend much of their time making clear how God only has one name, Jehovah. How can they limit the names of God to only one name? This is foolish, since God reveals himself by different names throughout the Bible. Perhaps the reason for this comes from a brief note my friend Jim Jordan wrote in his commentary on Judges:

The reason Jehovah’s Witnesses are so insistent on the name of “Jehovah” is precisely because they think they can control God by using that name.

This may not exhaust the reason behind it, but at least it offers a psychological component of JW theology. JW’s have institutionalized God. God/Jehovah speaks only through an institution. In this way, it is quite accurate to say that by avoiding the other names–which are really other ways in which God manifests himself in creation–JW’s have found a way to control God.

Yahweh and Jehovah’s Witnesses

A quick argument against Jehovah’s Witnesses is offered by Peter Leithart:

Jesus is called “Savior.” Yet, Isaiah insists that only Yahweh is Savior (43:3, 11, 15). Therefore, Jesus is Yahweh. (This might be especially effective since Isaiah 43:10 is one of the JW’s most beloved texts.)