Classic Cults are cults of long standing that deny the basics of the faith
and which can be easily traced back to early heresies of the Church. Such cults
include the Jehovah's Witnesses, Unitarians, Mormons etc. This article is in
two parts firstly Rod Cook's article "Who Said Jesus Is God" that
looks at the deity of Jesus which is contested by many cults. Then an article
from the Christian Research Institute on the Mormon "high Christology"
and why it just doesn't fit with Scripture. Between these two articles you should
be able to refute most arguments by traditional cults.
Past One: WHO SAID JESUS IS GOD?
(Originally prepared by Rod Cook, Townsville)
In the beginning was the Word; the Word was with God; the Word was God"
"Thomas answered Him, (Jesus) 'My Lord and my God!' Jesus said to him, 'Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.'" (John 20:28)
1 John 5:20
"Simeon Peter, servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have been given a faith like ours in the justifying power of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ:" (2 Peter 1:1 The New American Bible)
"awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us." (Titus 2:13)
"See, the days are coming--it is Yahweh who speaks--when I will raise a virtuous Branch for David, who will reign as true King and be wise, practicing honesty and integrity in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel dwell in confidence. And this is the name he will be called: Yahweh-our- integrity." (Jer. 23:5 The Jerusalem Bible)
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isa. 9:6)
JUSTIN MARTYR (110-165AD)...
"For Christ is King, and Priest, and God and Lord, and angel and man, and captain, and stone, and a son born and first made subject to suffering, then returning to heaven, and again coming with glory, and He is preached as having the everlasting kingdom; so I prove from all the Scriptures." (DIALOGUE WITH TRYPHO Chapter 34)
"In order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Savior, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, 'every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess to Him,'" (IRENAEUS AGAINST HERESIES P. 330)
"For our God Jesus Christ, was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost." (EPISTLE OF IGNATIUS TO THE EPHESIANS Chapter 18)
< "Our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, first did and the taught, as Luke testifies, 'whose praise is in the Gospel through all the Churches.'" (Chapter 15)
"ABSTAIN FROM THE POISON OF HERETICS...They are ashamed of His cross; they deny His passion; and they do not believe His resurrection. They introduce God as being unknown; they suppose Christ to be unbegotten, and as to the Spirit, they do not admit that He exists. Some of them say that the Son is a mere man, and that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are but the same person, and that the creation is the work of God, not by Christ, but by some other strange power. Be on your guard, therefore, against such persons, that ye admit not of a snare for your own souls. And act so that your life shall be without offense to all men, lest ye become as 'a snare upon a watch-tower, and as a net which is spread out.'" (EPISTLE OF IGNATIUS TO THE TRALLIANS Chapter 6&7)
Part Two - The Mormon High Christology
and a Christian Research paper by Gordon R Lewis.
Copyright 1993 by the Christian Research Institute.
"Are Mormons Christians?" by Stephen E. Robinson (Bookcraft, 1991) (a book review from the Christian Research Journal, Fall 1992, page 33, by Gordon R. Lewis). The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.
*A Summary Critique*
Although a god allegedly told Joseph Smith in his first vision that
he should join none of the Christian denominations, Stephen Robinson now
wants "to show that the arguments used to exclude Latter-day Saints
from the 'Christian' world are flawed" (p. vii). Robinson, chairman
of the Department of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University, has
taught religion at Presbyterian and Methodist-related schools. He may be
the only Latter-day Saint (LDS) to earn tenure in a non-LDS college. Among
a host of recent efforts by Mormons to gain acceptance for their church
as Christian, Robinson's book is surely the most important and sophisticated.
What is a Christian?
Crucial to Robinson's argument is his understanding of the nature of
Christianity and what a Christian is. In chapter 1 he proposes a gen eric
definition of Christianity that fits all who are usually classed as "Christian":
Protestants -- from liberal to evangelical, Roman Catholics, and Eastern
Orthodox. With such an inclusive definition, Robinson succeeds in showing
that LDS may be regarded Christian.
But this approach to legitimizing Mormonism can only succeed if a Christian does not need to believe in one personal,transcendent God, one incarnate Christ, the completed atonement, and one gospel of grace through faith alone. For mere descriptive purposes, historians may classify every group that calls itself Christian as Christian. Jesus Christ, however, did not do this. Jesus taught that "the way" was narrow and that we should not assume that all who call Jesus "Lord" are really Christians (Matt.5:20; 7:13-23).
In defining the one true church, would Robinson be satisfied with a generic definition that includes all churches calling themselves Christian? Not if the LDS is the one true church -- with baptism accompanied with the laying on of hands by those in authority in the "restored priesthood." Robinson's generic pattern of defining terms like "church" or "Christian" is too broad to be useful for purposes of normative Christian doctrine.
Robinson's generic definition of a Christian from Webster's Third New International Dictionary is: "One who believes or professes or is assumed to believe in Jesus Christ and the truth as taught by him; an adherent of Christianity; one who has accepted the Christian religious and moral principles of life; one who has faith in and has pledged allegiance to God thought of as revealed in Christ; one whose life is conformed to the doctrines of Christ" (1). The second most common meaning of "Christian" in Robinson's book is: "A member of a church or group professing Christian doctrine or belief" (1).
Having raised the issue of the nature of Christianity, Robinson fails to interact with the relevant literature. For example, he does not deal with evangelical literature such as J. Gresham Ache's What Is Christianity? (Eerdmans, 1950), What Is Faith? (Eerdmans, 1948), and Christianity and Liberalism (Eerdmans, 1946). Nor does he consider Samuel J. Craig's Christianity Rightly So Called (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1957). These writers show why liberalism -- as represented in Ludwig Feuerbach's The Essence of Christianity (Harper & Brothers, 1957), Adolph Harnack's What Is Christianity? (Harper & Brothers, 1957), and William Hamilton's The New Essence of Christianity (Association Press, 1961) -- cannot be regarded as genuine Christianity.
Robinson's chapter on "The Exclusion by Name-Calling" correctly shows the difficulty of defining a "cult" on psychological and sociological criteria, and points to the need for objective doctrinal criteria for determining what a cult is. He wrongly concludes, however, that "there are simply no objective criteria for distinguishing religions from 'cults"' (29). Such a sweeping generalization is uncharacteristic of responsible scholarship and fails to take account of my proposal in a 1966 publication, Confronting the Cults: "The term cult here designates a religious group which claims authorization by Christ and the Bible but neglects or distorts the gospel, the central message of the Savior and the Scriptures." In this same book,I list seven questions drawn from explicit New Testament statements -- all dealing with what one must believe to be saved -- that enable one to distinguish authentic Christian faith from inauthentic faiths. Several of these questions are concerned with the person of Christ.
An Issue That's Really Matters - "One's View of Christ"
After attempting to answer many charges and alleged misrepresentations,
Robinson thinks he gets down to the core issue in his "Conclusions"
(111-14): "Surely by now it will have dawned on the discerning reader
that of all the various arguments against Latter-day Saints being considered
Christians, not one -- not a single one -- claims that Latter-day Saints
don't acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord. Consider the enormous implications
of this fact. The only issue that really matters is the only issue that
is carefully avoided!" (111)
The error in this sweeping statement becomes evident upon examining what Mormons mean when they say "Jesus is Lord." In 1966 my chapter on "The Bible, the Christian and Latter-day Saints" asked: "Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ (the anointed Messiah) who was God (John 1:1) and became flesh (1:14)?" All of these beliefs are entailed in the biblical affirmation that Jesus is Lord. Mormons holding official church doctrine do not exclaim with Thomas, "My Lord and my God" (John 20:28).
For Robinson, the fact that Mormons have an exalted view of Christ is sufficient for classifying them as Christians:
In fact, to use the terminology of biblical scholars, the Latter-day Saints have a very high Christology. That is, for the Latter-day Saints Jesus is not merely a good man, a teacher, or even a prophet; he is not merely a human being; he is not the son of Joseph and Mary who later became God's Son. In common with other Bible-oriented Christians, the Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus is the pre-existent Word of the Father who became the literal, physical, genetic Son of God. As the pre-existent Word he was the agent of the Father in the creation of all things. As the glorified Son he is the agent of the Father in the salvation of all humanity. We believe he was conceived of a virgin by the power of the Holy Ghost. We believe he led a sinless life, that he was morally and ethically perfect, that he healed the sick and raised the dead, that he walked on the water and multiplied the loaves and the fishes. We believe he set a perfect example for human beings to imitate and that humans have an obligation to follow his example in all things. Most important of all, we believe that he suffered and died on the cross as a volunteer sacrifice for humanity in order to bring about an atonement through the shedding of his blood. We believe that he was physically resurrected and that he ascended into the heavens, from which he will come at the end of this world to establish his kingdom upon the earth and eventually to judge both the living and the dead (113).
This "high Christology" may be impressive, but it is more like that of the ancient Arians who believed there was a time when the Word was not (a view similar to that of contemporary Jehovah's Witnesses), than the view espoused by historic Christianity. Robinson's Jesus remains a creature with a beginning in time and not the Creator who is worthy of worship as God. Jesus' oneness with God the Father and His distinctness from the Father are best accounted for by the Trinitarian teaching of oneness in essence and distinctness in persons. It is true, as Robinson points out, that affirmations of Jesus' oneness in purpose with God (as opposed to oneness in nature with God) account for some passages on the functional unity of Father and Son (e.g., John 17:11). But this is not the case with other passages, such as John 1:1: "The Word was with God and the Word was God." Only if Jesus was of the same nature and being as God could the same divine attributes apply. Jesus said, "No one can snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:27), and "No one can snatch them out of my Father's hand" (v. 30). When Jesus explains that "I and the Father are one" in this context, He teaches more than mere agreement of purpose; He makes clear their oneness in sovereign power. The later creeds did not "invent" the concepts of Christ's divine and human natures, as Robinson argues (86); they found the Bible teaching His human and divine characteristics and integrated that teaching coherently.
If the Christ of a Mormon is not the one true God (John 17:3) who is eternal (John 1:1; Heb. 1:8-12; 5:6; 13:8), the object of worship is a creature and worship itself becomes idolatry. If the Christ of a Mormon is a spirit-child who has been procreated -- like countless other spirit children by the flesh-and-bone Father and one of his wives -- then he is not uniquely of the same nature as the Father, as the Bible and the historic church teach. If the LDS Christ is our finite brother, not different in kind from us, he is therefore not uniquely Immanuel -- "God with us" (Matt. 1:23). The Christ of the Bible is the unique God-man -- incarnate, crucified, and risen once-for-all. Only if He was infinite God in human flesh could His blood have infinite value for the justification of all the billions of people who have ever sinned.
The first Christians believed that Jesus was Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).
They also believed in one God, and Jesus was included in the Godhead. A
"high Christology" is not necessarily enough to fit the evidence
that He was far more than the first or highest being in creation; He is
Robinson claims that the Nicene Creed "not only differs from, but adds new concepts to, the biblical view" (73). He admits that the Bible teaches oneness and threeness, but maintains that "the scriptures themselves do not offer any explanation of how the threeness and the oneness are related" (72).
Here Robinson fails to appreciate the careful reasoning behind the creed. Certainly the Scriptures do not explain how God can be three persons in one being, but they do lead us to the conclusion that He is. Both the Old and New Testaments deny polytheism (the belief in many gods) and teach that there is one God. Thus the Bible's teaching forbids a view of the threeness that leads to more than one God. However, a word study of "one" in Scripture shows that in any one family, nation, or church, we may expect a plurality of persons. Husband and wife are "one" flesh; Israel is "one" nation with many people; the church is "one" body with many personal members. The Bible's teaching on God's oneness excludes polytheism but includes the possibility of diversity in unity. The Bible also makes clear that within the unity of the Godhead are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It further teaches that each of the three is God and each thinks, feels, wills, and relates in personal ways.
Three types of passages need to be accounted for in one's Christology. (1) Some passages speak of the limitations Christ assumed when He took on a human nature in order to purchase man's redemption. From this human perspective Christ could say, "the Father is greater than I" (John 14:28). (2) Some passages refer to His eternal personal distinctness from the Father as Son (John 3:16), Word (John 1:1), radiance (Heb. 1:3), and so forth. (3) Some passages speak of His essential oneness with the Father in being and attributes (John 10:30). The conclusion that the three persons are one in both purpose and in essence best accounts for the Bible's teaching that there is one divine Being and that the fellowshiping Father, Son, and Spirit subsist as distinguishable personal consciousnesses within that oneness.
A Trinitarian statement such as we have in the Nicene Creed on oneness of being and threeness of co-equal persons is not something foreign to Scripture, but derived from it. The Trinitarian doctrine most coherently integrates the varied lines of teaching about God's oneness and threeness in Scripture. We ask Mormons to believe the doctrine on scriptural authority alone. As B. B. Warfield said, "The formulation of the doctrine, although not made in Scripture, is not opposed to Scripture. When we assemble the...[separate parts of Scripture] into their organic unity, we are not passing from Scripture, but entering more thoroughly into the meaning of Scripture." These "separate parts" of Scripture include the New Testament teaching that (1) there is but one God; (2) the personality of Jesus Christ is God manifested in the flesh at Bethlehem, and the personality of the Holy Spirit is God manifested at Pentecost. "What we mean by the doctrine of the Trinity is nothing but the formulation in exact language of the conception of God presupposed in the religion of the incarnate Son and outpoured Spirit."
The doctrine that Jesus Christ is one person with two natures -- one truly divine and the other truly human -- is a more coherent account of the biblical data than a Mormon formulation in which he is not essentially God. Similarly, the doctrine that God is one in essence and subsists in three persons -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- is more coherent with the teaching on the oneness and threeness of God than a committee of two separate flesh-and-bone gods. (Although Mormons argue that to be persons the first two needed flesh-and-bone bodies, the third "personage" in this triumvirate, the Holy Ghost, is not flesh and bone.)
New concepts are added to Scripture, not by the creeds of Nicea and Chalcedon, but by Joseph Smith's doctrine of a flesh-and-bone God (see, for example, Doctrine and Covenants 130:22). Robinson's uncritical acceptance of Joseph Smith's interpretation of an alleged vision makes it impossible for him to accept the Trinitarian teaching of the Bible. Is one young man's interpretation of a poorly substantiated vision a reliable base on which to challenge the Bible's consistent refutation of polytheism and support of one God who is spirit? If God's eternal being includes a flesh-and-bone body, Solomon could not have said, "The heaven, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!" (1 Kings 8:27). The eternal Word added a human nature (made up of a human body and spirit) for purposes of incarnation and redemption in space and time; but remained truly divine. The body is the material aspect of His human nature, the divine nature forever remains spirit. So long as Mormons contradict Scripture by affirming more than one God they are not worshiping the one God whom Christians worship and serve.
It is not anti-Mormon argumentation that excludes the LDS from the Christian faith, but their own disbelief of the biblical teaching about Jesus. The Scriptures grant the right to be called "Christian" to all who receive Jesus (John 1:12) as the eternal (not just pre-existent) Word who was continuously and personally with the one true God (v. 1) and was the one true God (v. 1) who became flesh (v. 14).
Generally speaking, Robinson accurately says, "No two denominations,
and few individual Christians agree on every detail of Christian doctrine"
(57). Given the freedom people have in Christ, diversity of beliefs often
appears in details. Robinson correctly reports that Christians "do
not agree among themselves upon exactly what the standard is" (58)
-- that is, there is no single, complete standard of Christian doctrine
for all Christian denominations. Admittedly, "the doctrine of Christians
is not always true" (59). Christians affirm inerrancy only of Scripture.
In chapters 6 and 8, Robinson would appear to be arguing that since Christians can believe in doctrines that are neither biblical nor true, Mormons can be Christians! But it is not believing false, unbiblical doctrines that gives a person the right to be called a redeemed child of God.
Whether true or false, Robinson says, Christians have believed in self-deification. So Mormons should not be excluded from Christianity because of this doctrine. Robinson writes:
Early Christian saints and theologians, later Greek Orthodoxy, modern Protestant evangelists, and even C. S. Lewis have all professed their belief in a doctrine of deification. The scriptures themselves talk of many "gods" and use the term god in a limited sense for beings other than the Father, the Son, or the Holy Ghost . . . . If scripture can use the term gods for non-ultimate beings; if the early Church could, if Christ himself could, then Latter-day Saints cannot conceivably be accused of being outside the Christian tradition for using the same term in the same way (70).
For Robinson's argument to hold, Mormons must use the term "gods" in the same way as the Christians mentioned. But this is not the case. Robinson states the assumption behind the Mormon concept: "It is indisputable that Latter-day Saints believe....the famous couplet of Lorenzo Snow, fifth President of the LDS church, [which] states: 'As man now is, God once was; As God now is, man may be'" (60). Mormon apostle and theologian Bruce R. McConkie explains the frame of reference for this affirmation -- the Mormon doctrine of eternal progression:
In the full sense, eternal progression is enjoyed only by those who receive exaltation. Exalted persons gain the fullness of the Father; they have all power, all knowledge, and all wisdom; they gain a fullness of truth, becoming one with the Father. . . . Those who gain exaltation, having thus enjoyed the fullness of eternal progression, become like God.
Both Mormon and Christian writers seem sometimes to confuse being like
God in some respects with becoming god. Christians may compare a person
with God in holiness, mercy, or love, but they should never affirm that
a person is God, or even a god.
If Mormons were using the word "gods" to mean beings with power over others in a non-ultimate sense, as of Satan, the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4), or of judges, as Jesus (John 10:34) and the Psalmist did (Ps. 82:6), there would be little difficulty. But the couplet of President Snow and the LDS doctrine of eternal progression have God evolving in the past as we are now. This is different than the Bible's references to non-ultimate gods.
Nor is anything comparable to the Mormon doctrine of eternal progression found in the church fathers. A statement from Irenaeus is typical -- it may sound like it supports the Mormon view on the surface, but in reality it does not: "If the Word became a man, it was so men may become gods." In context, Irenaeus (like other church fathers) meant that regenerate sinners can become like God in some respects. We can become holy and loving as God is holy and loving. Irenaeus did not affirm that we can become gods through an eternal progression or evolution. He did not affirm that God was once as we are now.
Athanasius wrote, "He, indeed, assumed humanity that we might become God." The Mormon view makes Christ a man who became divine; Athanasius teaches that Christ was God who became man once-for-all. "For this reason, therefore, He assumed a body capable of death, in order that it, though belonging to The Word Who is above all might become in dying a sufficient exchange for all" (emphasis added). For Athanasius all else is temporary, but "He Who remains is God and very Son of God, the sole-begotten Word." We must conclude that the Western church fathers are misunderstood if they are alleged to teach an eternal progression to literal godhood.
If Mormons want to teach early Christian doctrine they will follow Augustine in making a radical distinction between the Creator and the creation. They will affirm with Paul in Romans 1:25 that worship and service of the creature is sin.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church a greater emphasis is placed on deification, but it remains distinct from the Mormon doctrine. The Eastern Orthodox emphasize renewal in the image and likeness of God in sharing His communicable attributes such as knowledge (Col.3:10), righteousness, and true holiness (Eph. 4:24). But an Orthodox writer explains: "This does not mean that human beings are able to become God in his essence. But it does mean that they can become 'gods' by grace even as they remain creatures of a human nature." Thus, Eastern writers deny that humans can become equal with God as He is now. And there is no suggestion that God was ever as we are. There is a difference between being like God in some respects (communicable attributes) and being God by nature.
The Westminster Dictionary of Christianity says that deification is an Eastern Orthodox doctrine that we become like God by participation in divine virtues such as mercy and love or by sharing in divine energies. But we do not participate in God's very essence, which remains totally mysterious and inaccessible. Mormons who claim that we become gods in essence find no support for this in the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of deification.
Robinson also claims that televangelists Paul Crouch, Robert Tilton, and Kenneth Copeland affirm deification. While it is true that these Word-Faith proponents speak of believers being "in the God class," they do not teach that "as man now is, God once was." In any case, Robinson does not strengthen his case by citing teachers who themselves are considered aberrant or heretical by many Christians.
Did C. S. Lewis support an LDS concept of deification? In The Weight of Glory, the imaginative writer uses figurative language to express the radical change in believers from the dullest and most uninteresting persons in this life to "gods" and "goddesses" in glory. He must be understood metaphorically in view of his general defense of theism. Similarly, when in Mere Christianity he says we turn permanently into new little Christ's sharing God's power, joy, knowledge, and eternity, he is speaking in terms of our likeness to God being renewed. And in The Screwtape Letters his claim that God intends to fill heaven with "little replicas of himself" refers to replicas in certain qualities,not to becoming literal gods. When writing with less literary license Lewis refers to "the immeasurable difference not only between what He [God] is and what all other things are but between the very mode of His existence and theirs."
The "eternal progression" doctrine of Snow and his fellow Mormon prophets is part and parcel of the evolutionary view of human stages and opportunities in eternal life -- from pre- existence through the spirit world, mortal life on earth, and into the heavenly telestial, terrestrial, and celestial kingdoms. At its highest level, the latter involves godhood for those loyal to the church in this life. None of the listed sources in their proper contexts support the doctrine as Mormons hold it. Hence, these sources are not examples of people called "Christian" who affirm self-deification in the Mormon sense.
THE GOOD NEWS OF JUSTIFICATION BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH
Robinson claims that Mormons teach salvation by grace and not works,
and so are well within the spectrum of views that are generally accepted
as Christian. How can Mormons claim to teach salvation by grace alone?
Robinson answers: "It is impossible to earn or deserve any of
the blessings of God in any sense that leaves the individual unindebted
to God's grace" (105). "We participate in our salvation as we
attempt to keep the commandments of God, but we can never earn it ourselves
or bring it to pass on our own merits, no matter how well we may think
we are doing" (106). Robinson also holds that redemption is not of
individual effort; one must be born again and so grace is an essential
condition for salvation (106-7). As good as these statements sound, they
do not uphold salvation by grace alone.
Bruce R. McConkie explains: "All men are saved by grace alone without any act on their part, meaning that they are resurrected and become immortal because of the atoning sacrifice of Christ." In Mormon theology, all people are raised from the dead and become immortal through grace alone. But not many will be exalted. How can one achieve exaltation? "This is called salvation by grace coupled with obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel." Then, after ridiculing the idea of Christ's shed blood as the sole ground of forgiveness, McConkie adds: "Salvation in the kingdom of God is available because of the atoning blood of Christ. But it is received only on the condition of faith, repentance, baptism, and enduring to the end in keeping the commandments of God."
Differences may be acknowledged among Christians on the general issue of grace and works, but there is little excuse for confusion regarding one's legal status before God's law. Justification, an essential element of the Good News, is only mentioned twice by Robinson and is neither defined nor affirmed.
Both grace and works are involved in the Christian experience, it is true, but they are exclusive of each other in relation to a sinner's moral and spiritual standing before God's law. Mormons tend to confuse the forensic (legal) and experiential categories. The divine Judge has found all people who depend on merit for their own acceptance with God falling short. In God's sight, a score of ninety-nine is not a passing grade.
Even the best Mormons are guilty before God, who knows their hearts. All Mormons trusting in their own works are now under the verdict of condemnation (Rom. 3:10-23). The only basis on which God can be just and accept any Mormon as righteous is the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice of Christ (Rom. 3:25-26). By adding works to faith, Mormons make justification a matter of merit, not grace. The principles of works and grace are mutually exclusive for acceptance before the moral Judge of the universe. "And if by grace, then it is no longer works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace" (Rom. 11:6). The four laws of the Mormon gospel (faith, repentance, baptism, and commandment-keeping) involve works from beginning to end.
Justification pardons from the guilt and penalty of one's past and present sins, not just from Adamic guilt. "Whoever believes in him is not condemned" (John 3:18). "I tell you the truth," Jesus said, "whoever hears my word and believes him who has sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned" (John 5:24). "I want you to know," Paul wrote, "that through [Jesus] the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified . . . " (Acts 13:38-39). "Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God" (Rom. 5:1). "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1).
So long as Latter-day Saints ignore or ridicule justification, it is impossible to assure them that they have the perfect righteousness of Christ that comes from God as a gift (Rom. 10:3- 4). Like Paul, Mormons need to consider their own law-keeping as rubbish in contrast to the perfect righteousness that comes from God through faith in Christ (Phil. 3:8-9).
Being a Christian begins as sinners repent of their self-justification and trust the atonement of Christ alone for acquittal and a righteous moral status. Belief in Christ's Incarnation, death on the cross for our sins, and resurrection from the dead directs repentant believers personally to trust the living and exalted Christ of whom the gospel speaks.
Individual Mormons and Baptists are Christians if they believe Christianity's central message, the gospel; neither Mormons nor Baptists are Christians if they do not trust the Christ of the biblical gospel. With all this, an LDS leader, recently addressing my class, brought everything down to the test of a religion's fruit. The LDS faith has produced an impressive worldwide movement, but the question of the reliability of the one it trusts remains. In his classic book, Christianity and Liberalism, Machen summarizes the heart of the problem:
If the object is not really trustworthy then the faith is a false faith. It is perfectly true that such a false faith will often help a man. Things that are false will accomplish a great many useful things in the world. If I take a counterfeit coin and buy a dinner with it, the dinner is every bit as good as if the coin were a product of the mint. And what a very useful thing a dinner is! But just as I am on my way downtown to buy a dinner for a poor man, an expert tells me that my coin is a counterfeit. The miserable, heartless theorizer! While he is going into his uninteresting, learned details about the primitive history of that coin, a poor man is dying for want of bread. So it is with faith. Faith is so very useful, they tell us, that we must not scrutinize its basis in truth. But the great trouble is, such an avoidance of scrutiny itself involves the destruction of faith. For faith is essentially dogmatic. Despite all you can do, you cannot remove the element of faith from it. Faith is the opinion that some person will do something for you. If that person really will do that thing for you, then the faith is true. If he will not do it, then the faith is false. In the latter case, not all the benefits in the world will make the faith true. Though it has transformed the world from darkness to light, though it has produced thousands of glorious healthy lives, it remains a pathological phenomena. It is false, and sooner or later it is sure to be found out.
*Gordon R. Lewis*, Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Philosophy
at Denver Seminary, chairs the Philosophy of Religion department. (In its
two-year MA degree one may concentrate electives on ministry to new religions
1 Gordon R. Lewis, Confronting the Cults (Phillipsburg, NJ:
Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1966), 3.
2 I bid., 60; chapter 3 in booklet form, "The Bible, the
Christian and the Latter-day Saints," 22.
3 The scriptural documentation is given in Gordon R. Lewis,
Decide for Yourself: A Theological Work book (Downers Grove,
IL: InterVarsity Press, 1970), 41-45; and in Gordon Lewis and
Bruce Demarest, Integrative Theology, vol. l (Grand Rapids:
Zondervan, 1987): 251-89.
4 B. B. Warfield, "Trinity," International Standard Bible
Encyclopedia_ (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), 5:3012.
5 Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City:
Brookcraft, 1966), 239.
6 Athanasius, The Incarnation of the Word of God (New York:
MacMillan, 1946), 35.
7 Ibid., 95.
8 Vigen Guroian, "The Shape of Orthodox Ethics" Epiphany
Journal, Fall 1991, 9.
9 C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, rev. ed. (New York:
Macmillan, 1980), 18.
10 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1960),
153, cf. 164.
11 C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, rev. ed. (New York:
Macmillan, 1982), 38.
12 C. S. Lewis, Miracles (New York: Macmillan, 1948), 107.
13 Bruce R. McConkie, What the Mormons Think of Christ (n.p.:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, n.d.), 24.
15 Ibid. 9, 28.
16 J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1946), 142-43.
End of document, CRJ003A.TXT (original CRI file name),
"Are Mormons Christians?"
release A, April 26, 1993
R. Poll, CRI
(A special note of thanks to Bob and Pat Hunter for their help in
the preparation of this ASCII file for BBS circulation.)
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