Ask an Anglican: The Book of Mormon

417px-Mormon-bookDavid writes:

My family believes in the book of mormon and is very disappointed and, sometimes, furious with me for believing only in the holy bible. It has lead me into religious confusion because it looks and sounds just like the Bible but the Christian church seems to have universally rejected it on the grounds of nit picks and certain contradictions – - as opposed to having large, indisputable proof that it is false doctrine. How do Anglicans see the “gospel restoration” the book of mormon claims to be and how did the church come to reject it? My family has seriously driven me nuts over of this book. They don’t want me to only believe in the Bible.

The relationship between orthodox Christians and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) is rocky and complex for a variety of reasons, not all of them theological. There was certainly a history of Mormons being ill treated by Christians, which is part of what led to the Mormon movement west in the nineteenth century. But today Mormons and orthodox Christians usually are able to get along, to live together in the same communities, and even to work together for the betterment of society. I consider that a blessing. Most of the Mormons I have known in my life have been very decent, loving people who cared deeply for their families and friends.

Nevertheless, what David has asked here is a theological question, a question about what is true. And because it is a very serious, straight forward question, it deserves an equally serious and straight forward answer. David wants to know why Anglicans, along with other orthodox Christians, accept the authority and legitimacy of the Bible while rejecting the authority and legitimacy of the Book of Mormon. The answer is that the Bible is true and the Book of Mormon is not.

History is a Mystery

The historical problems with the Book of Mormon are myriad. For starters, it does not appear on the scene until 1830. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, claimed that it was a record from a much earlier time, approximately 2200 BC to 421 AD, that had been previously lost but was revealed to him on golden plates by the angel Moroni (who in and of himself presents a theological problem, but we will get to that in a minute). That is all well and good. Legitimate ancient texts are occasionally rediscovered. All we would need to do to verify Smith’s claim is to take a look at the original documents and do a standard historical, anthropological investigation. Except, we cannot do that because the plates mysteriously disappeared. Several people swore that Smith had shown them the plates, although they were all friends, family, and financial backers of Smith (and their stories do not always line up with one another). Bottom line, while we have lots of very ancient manuscripts of the Bible that allow us to verify them as ancient documents, we have no such way of verifying the Book of Mormon.

The same historical problems exist within the narrative of the book as well. The Book of Mormon makes a variety of claims about things that supposedly happened in the ancient world, especially in the Americas. The Bible makes many historical claims as well. Archeologists have verified some of the Bible’s claims while as yet being unable to verify others. But there is not a single shred of archeological evidence for any of the Book of Mormon’s claims.

The Once and Future Church

So, at best, the historical reliability of the Book of Mormon is questionable, requiring us to place a great deal of faith in the personal testimony of Joseph Smith if we want to believe it is true. But what is much more problematic for orthodox Christians than the historical inconsistencies in the Book of Mormon is the way in which the Book of Mormon, and Mormon beliefs in general, contradict the teachings of Holy Scripture and of the ancient Catholic Church.

As David mentioned, Mormonism is a “restorationist” faith. What this means is that Mormons believe that some time shortly after the founding of the Christian Church, there was a great apostasy in which true Christianity was tossed aside in favor of a lie and the true Christian Church was replaced by an impostor Church. The founding of the LDS Church in the nineteenth century was God’s way of restoring the true Church on earth after a long absence. This means that for almost two millennia, all the people who thought they were really Christians were wrong. They were following a false Church with false teachings. Only those who have received the Mormon revelation have received the fullness of Christian truth. There were a number of restorationist groups that emerged in nineteenth century America, but Mormonism is the most prominent and enduring.

Sometimes Mormons get upset that so many Christians are unwilling to accept their movement as a legitimate expression of the Christian faith, but the reality is that to accept the Mormon story is by definition to say that anything and everything else is a lie.

In many ways, the Anglican principle is the direct opposite of the Mormon principle. While Mormons start from the presumption that Christian history is useless between the end of the apostolic age and the nineteenth century, Anglicans begin from the presumption that the early Church held a clear and cogent understanding of the faith as it had been handed down by the apostles. Rather than declaring everything prior to be apostasy, the Reformation English Church sought to safeguard the legacy it had received and to pass it on to future generations. Early Mormons sought to restore the Church by accepting a new revelation which contradicted what had come before. Anglicans sought to reform the Church by going back to what they had already received in the Holy Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers.

Angel Hair Impostor

How does Mormonism contradict historical and scriptural Christian teaching? Many, many ways. A simple example can be found even in the story of Mormonism’s founding. The plates that Joseph Smith supposedly found were revealed to him by the angel Moroni whom Mormons believe was the last prophet to have written in the plates before their disappearance more than a thousand years before. Upon Moroni’s death, he became an angel. Many people today would not blink at this since there is a widely held misconception that angels are what we become when we die, but the Bible teaches that angels are spiritual beings created by God prior to the fall. Angels do not have bodies, unlike human beings. We will never become angels, and they will never become human. Rather, the choirs of angels and the choirs of human saints join together in worshipping God.

However, Mormonism’s teaching on angels is hardly the most consequential way in which its teaching departs from historic and biblical Christianity. Mormons do not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. Mormons also have a completely different way of understanding salvation that is largely built on personal moral triumph. In fact, Mormonism teaches that human beings have the potential to become gods themselves (though there is some dispute as to exactly how this claim is to be interpreted). The bottom line is that while Mormons use a lot of the same language as Christians to describe their beliefs, what they believe in is not Christianity. The God of Mormonism is not the God of the Bible.

Tough Love

Again, none of this is to cast aspersion on Mormons as people. Mormons are often pillars of the community, and most of the Mormons I have known have been far better people than I am. I understand completely why Mormons find it frustrating that so many Christians are unwilling to call Mormonism a Christian faith. But the fact remains, if we are to treat each other with respect and love, part of that love requires speaking uncomfortable truths. Paul says, “Even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). Mormons have been given a false gospel by a false angel. The only antidote to that is the true gospel that comes in the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. Archbishop Runcie once famously called Christianity “one beggar showing another beggar where to find bread.” In this case, it is also one beggar telling another that the bread they think they have is actually poisonous.

Of course, in a situation like David describes, where there is a lot of pressure coming from family, all of this can be tough. Sometimes the only thing that you can say, once everything is out in the open, is just, “You have your beliefs and I have mine, but I love you, even if I don’t agree with you.”

About these ads

About Fr. Jonathan

Your average traditional crunchy Christ follower with a penchant for pop culture, politics, and puns.
This entry was posted in Ask an Anglican and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Ask an Anglican: The Book of Mormon

  1. Joshua says:

    Very well written post Fr. Jonathan. I believe you could probably replace the word Mormon with Islam and Joseph Smith with Muhammad and you got your post on Islam done also.

  2. David says:

    This is David. Thank you so much for this very enlightening article! I know i am not the only one out there who is struggling with a situation like this and i know your information here can help many!

  3. David says:

    Here is a useful link that will answer all your questions
    http://www.carolinamessenger.com/images/079803.pdf

  4. Matthew Taylor says:

    Yes Fr. Jonathan,
    I would love your take on Islam.

  5. Will Mebane says:

    Actually, you can’t simply “replace the word Mormon with Islam and Joseph Smith with Muhammad” and come to the same position about Islam. For starters, the Qu’ran contains many of the stories we cherish in Hebrew Scripture that appear in the Christian Bible.

  6. Bob B says:

    “In fact, Mormonism teaches that human beings have the potential to become gods themselves”
    I have a question about how the church views this. Doesn’t Romans 8:17 teach something similar? How is this different from the Orthodox view of Theosis? I’m all for difference, but what is the distinction here?

    Are we not Christ’s brothers, heirs of God, co-Heirs of Christ. If all things are to be put under his feet, are not all things to be put under our feed? – or is our inheritance something different / inferior to Christ’s inheritance? St. Athanasius even said “For He was made Man so that we might be made God” – this seems like Orthodoxy to me. How is this different from the Mormon teaching?

    Don’t get me wrong, I think your article on Mormonism is spot on, but on this particular issue I could use some clarification. Thanks!

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Bob,

      Without getting into too much detail, the difference would be in the conception of what God is. Or, more aptly, in the understanding of who we are in relation to God. What the Orthodox (and some Anglicans like Lancelot Andrewes) argue for is a kind of participation in God. We don’t become “gods” in our own right, but rather we are filled with God, to the point that in salvation one will see nothing in us but the light of God reflected. But even in that, we will not be God in His essence.

      Of course, as I said, there’s a lot of division about this among Mormons and among different Mormon groups about how to understand this. The older “adam-god” doctrine, which was championed by Brigham Young, says that Adam was like us but later himself became the god of this world. The LDS Church firmly rejects that view today, but there are still fundamentalist Mormon groups that hold to it. Some articulations of the doctrine of salvation by Mormons quote from Athanasius as you do, but as with so much else in Mormonism, the words are used to a very different end. Still, I think it’s good to recognize that there is variety in how this doctrine is interpreted. I don’t believe it does us any good to battle against straw men.

  7. Brad says:

    Very nicely written! I, myself, am Mormon, but no longer active. Next week, I will be baptized in the Episcopal Church, where I have been attending services for nearly a year. Thank you Father Jonathan for your fair and very well written essay on this matter. It nearly sums up all the reasons why I came back to Christianity from Mormonism.

  8. Matthew Taylor says:

    Welcome to the Episcopal / Anglican church!!! I will also be praying for you. Fr. Jonathan,thankyou for all you do and helping those of us searching for classical Anglicanism.
    Matthew Taylor

  9. Melissa says:

    My questions concern the concept of “trinity”. I have not found this clearly addressed in the Bible, and I know that the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD is where the creed came about that stated that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost were con-substantial. But in Matt 3:16-17 when Jesus was baptized by John, when He came out of the water, it says “He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him” and then He heard a voice from heaven saying “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” So how can we reconcile these verses showing the three separate entities with the Nicene creed’s concept of trinity? And how to explain the many times Jesus references “My Father” or “My Father who sent me”? Jesus is also recorded as praying to the Father on several occasions, not in the least being in the Garden of Gethsemane when He asked the Father that if possible, the cup would pass Him but then said “Thy will be done”. Was God the Son talking to himself or referring to himself in the third person all these times?

    Also if one could define earthly death theologically, one could say it is the temporary separation of the immortal spirit and the mortal body. And it follows that resurrection would be the permanent reunion of the spirit and body. So Jesus was born and given a mortal body. He was crucified and His spirit left his body and ascended to heaven, but after three days, on that glorious Easter morning, His body and spirit came back together in the Resurrection which fulfilled all righteousness. So my question is – what became of Jesus’ mortal body? It stands to reason – at least to me – that Jesus stills has that mortal body, although it is now glorified and perfected. Had He laid that body aside, then He would have experienced another physical death – that is, the separation of His body and spirit. And that event would mock the glory of the Resurrection. So how could Christ be con-substantial with God the Father if He possesses a glorified body of flesh and bones? I am sincere in wanting to know how churches address this issue. What is the Catholics’ take on this?

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Melissa,

      Those are some good, heavy, important questions you’re asking, and I don’t want to do them a disservice by giving a poor answer within a comments thread. But I will try to revisit this in a future post (unless any other readers want to take a stab at it).

      I am curious, are you coming from a Mormon perspective? If that is the case, I can understand why you’d find these concepts particularly difficult. Of course, they are a struggle to understand for anyone, but that is compounded by Mormon doctrine, which teaches a very different conceptual framework for elucidating God’s self revelation.

      • Melissa says:

        I am coming from the perspective of a believer who is seeking answers for contradictions and inconsistencies I have found in my scriptural studies. I am not trying to trip you up. I just have questions that I ask of members of various denominations. The church that provides me with answers that I find satisfying is the one I will embrace.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        Fair enough. I’m happy to address them as best I can. My apologies though because it will likely take some time. I have a back log of submitted questions that is quite deep. Please don’t mistake that for a lack of interest though. I’m glad you’re asking good questions and I look forward to further discussion.

    • Michael Frost says:

      Melissa, As regards the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the death, resurrection & ascension of Jesus, there is no substantive difference between historic confessing Christians. Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Reformed, Anglican, and Methodist accept the Trinity, Incarnation, and Ascension. For example, see the relevant sections of the Lutheran Augsburg Confession or Anglican 39 Articles. Study a good history of Christian dogmatics. The Trinity is discussed well before the first Council of Nicea. Take J.N.D. Kelly’s classic work, Early Christian Doctrines. “…the lineaments of a Trinitarian doctrine are clearly discernable in the Apologists.” Here he is talking about the 2nd century Apologists like Justin Martyr. And he also points out that the doctrine is seen in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, those late 1st century/early 2nd century Christians who knew some of the Apostles (e.g., John) or immediately followed them in their footsteps (e.g., Clement of Rome). And what they received, they received from the Apostles and Christ, as also shown in the New Testament (e.g., esp. John’s Gospel: 8: 12-58). The Jews knew what Jesus was saying when he said “I Am.”

      • Melissa says:

        Michael – I appreciate your vast knowledge of religious commentaries and historical studies, but I am looking for BIBLICAL references. I find it interesting that this thread is about The Book of Mormon and how it shouldn’t be considered scripture. But when I ask for scriptural references you tell me to read all these other non-scripture books. So could you tell me where – in the BIBLE – I can find where it says The Father, Son and Holy Ghost are all aspects of a single being?

        I am also still wanting to know the church’s views on Christ’s resurrected body, and how it figures into the concept of the Trinity, as well.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Melissa, I was responding to multiple issues you raised. For example, you state the doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t appear until the First Council of Nicea. That is incorrect, as any good history of dogmatics will show. Also, when you ask about “the church’s view” or the church, you then are talking about the specific beliefs of various faith groups. So for Lutherans, read the Augsburg Confession and Apology to same. For Anglicans, the 39 Articles. Roman Catholics have their huge Catechism of the [Roman] Catholic Church. For Reformed, try Bullinger’s detailed 2nd Helvetic Confession. I pointed out that these all agree on the Trinity. As for scripture, just read John’s Gospel. In the beginning (Jn 1: 1-5)… John is clearly teaching the Trinity with Jesus as the 2nd Person. He is the Creator and only God is the Creator. I am (Jn 8:58)… Jesus was telling the Jews that He was the Eternal God whom they had interacted with in their hisotry. That scandalized them. Take the Great Commission. Matthew 28:18-20. Jesus’ command to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Is there any salvation outside of God? Jesus said he was God and said to baptize in God, a Triune God. Scripture teaches the Trinity, as did Jesus, His Church, the Apostles, and the Apostolic & Patristic Fathers.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Melissa, You’ve indicated the following: “I am coming from the perspective of a believer who is seeking answers for contradictions and inconsistencies I have found in my scriptural studies.” But that is pretty vague. Are you a member of any specific faith group or local church (Mormon or Christian)? And what do you believe about God? Do you believe Jesus is God? John clearly did and Jesus said so publicly. I think for most Christians that is the starting point for understanding the awesome mystery of the Trinity. And that seemed to be the case for the Apostles and the early Church. Once they knew Jesus was God, and it took them a while to know this, and interpreted all he’d done and said in this light, then what he said about the Father and the Holy Spirit made sense. Now they understood the reality of God, a Triune God. I think the key is the divinity of Jesus and the awesome mystery of His Incarnation.

  10. Will Bishop says:

    Apologies for commenting on the wrong post. I actually have a question about the series of predestination articles, but those are so old it will not allow me to comment I guess.

    I have always found the Calvinist version of predestination repulsive because it implies that God creates some human beings solely to be damned. But you say the elect are the same as the baptized and that God has chosen them from before the beginning of the world. If God knows beforehand who will be baptized and therefore saved – and who will not be baptized and therefore not saved – doesn’t that amount to the same as the Calvinist position?

    And how can this doctrine be a source of comfort, when

  11. Will Bishop says:

    …sorry, when even people who are baptized are sure to have friends and/or relatives who are not, and therefore appear predestined not to be saved?

    • Derrick says:

      Will

      Although Pelagianism, a view that denies original sin and promotes the idea that salvation can be earned, went against the Augustinian view of grace through Christ, it did encourage Augustine to focus his thinking on the doctrine of predestination.

      Augustine promoted predestination based upon God’s autonomous and inscrutable choice. This position holds that God chooses to extend His saving grace to some (the elect), but not to all (bypassing the reprobate). Thus, God predestines some to eternal life via irresistible—though not coercive—grace, but leaves others in their sin to be justly condemned through their own choice and deeds.

      Augustine reasoned that sinners have no claim whatsoever to the grace of God. The choice as to whom God extends His grace is totally within His sovereign discretion and prerogative. Most importantly, Augustine believed his thinking on the subject was simply reflecting the clear teaching of Scripture, especially the writings of the Apostle Paul (Romans 8–9; Ephesians 1).

      Nothing can prevent or frustrate God’s decree. God has a decretive will (His secret or sovereign will) which cannot be resisted and surely accomplishes all its purposes.
      God only permits in history what He has already decreed before history should certainly come to pass. Nothing conditions God’s decree. The concept of permission assumes a competing will. There was no competing will present when God decreed what would come to pass. God’s decree is not permissive because it is not conditional or conditioned.

      Can God foresee that something will happen before He decrees that it shall happen?
      NO! Only what is certain to happen may be foreseen or foreknown. It is God’s decree that makes certain all that will occur. Nothing can be foreseen or foreknown as certain to happen until God decrees that it shall.

      God’s decree->
      Certain to happen->
      Can be foreseen or foreknown

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        Hi Derrick,

        Since Election is not at all related to the topic of this thread, we’ll have to leave off until another time debating the topic. As you may have noticed, I allowed the comment above but did not allow your further comment. I would kindly ask you to read our “comment policy” above before making further comments.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Will,

      I appreciate the question. As it is not connected at all with the topic of this post, I would ask that you email it to me at conciliaranglican[at]gmail.com. I’m happy to revisit the topic of election as needed, if that is a discussion that people would like to have. Again, many thanks for your engagement.

Comments are closed.