A Few Reasons Why I Choose To Be Mormon
Instead of Protestant or Catholic
January 24, 2008
"How can fallen and fallible men restore the things of God on their own?"
I appreciate people of any religion (or lack of) who are sincere in their beliefs, and can articulate their beliefs in a clear, positive and respectful manner - even if I disagree. I don't even mind when people disagree with me, so long as they're not belligerent. That said, I hope my respect is conveyed as explain why I opt not to be a Catholic or Protestant and choose to believe in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This explanation will cover six topics: Apostasy, Restoration, Priesthood, Revelation, Nature of God, and Joseph Smith.
I believe there was an apostasy in Christianity, involving a loss of priesthood authority and some gospel truths, following the deaths of the biblical apostles. Thomas Jefferson wrote, "The genuine and simple religion of Jesus will one day be restored: such as it was preached and practised [sic] by himself," (Letter To Van der Kemp, 1820). Like Jefferson, most people recognize that the Catholic and Protestant churches differ significantly from the church Jesus organized in the New Testament.
The basis for this "falling away" (2 Thessalonians 2: 3) is evident when observing the corrupt practices within the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches during the Dark and Middle Ages. If all had been well, then schisms and Reformations would have been unnecessary and all Christians would be Catholic.
Tyndale, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Knox and other reformers labored to correct Christianity and did an admirable job - but they could only go so far. The problem was that the Christian church needed a restoration, not just a reformation. If my computer is missing parts I can rearrange the leftover parts all I want; but parts will still be missing and my computer still won't be fixed until the missing parts are restored.
During Old Testament times when the Israelites fell into religious disrepair it always took a prophet to bring them back. When it was just left up to men, they got the Pharisees and Sadducees. How can fallen and fallible men restore the things of God on their own? Obviously they can't, considering what men left to their own devices have done in the name of God.
A true restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ had to be directed by The Lord, Himself, through a prophet. The missing pieces of priesthood authority and some gospel truths would be restored and the apostasy ended. I believe Joseph Smith was that prophet. If he wasn't then it really doesn't matter what I, or any other Christian believe, because we're still in spiritual darkness making do with what's available. Traditional Christians reject the LDS Church because of Joseph's prophetic claims. It's ironic that had Joseph started a creedal church as the result of a bar bet instead, he and The Church would receive more respect from mainstream Christians.
Jesus, Himself, taught against the efficacy of a reformation. "Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved." (Matthew. 9: 17) AND "Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit." (Matthew 7: 17-18) Protestantism is respectively new wine in an old bottle. And if Catholicism is as corrupt as my Southern Baptist friends tell me, then Protestantism is also corrupt because it's the offshoot, or fruit, of Catholicism.
An issue I have with Protestantism is their violation of Jesus' prohibition of a paid priesthood ministry. The Lord taught in John chapter 10 that, "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep." Peter reiterated this when he taught, "Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;" (1 Peter 5:2).
I'm sure most people graduate from Theological Seminaries and Bible Schools because of an earnest desire to serve God and help their flocks, and the numerous pastors I've met are great. Nonetheless, they are still hirelings. The contemporary mainstream Christian priesthood has become a career path tantamount to becoming a doctor, lawyer or other paid professional. This is the antithesis of the priesthood Jesus ordained and organized during His Mortal ministry. I don't think New Testament bishops, evangelists, deacons or seventies ever earned tips for conducting grave side services or that Timotheus earned extra money performing weddings.
The spiritual perils in "feeding the flock for filthy lucre", as Peter put it, is evident when looking at mega-churches, bible-theme parks, televangelists and faithless pastors who preach only because it's their job. Then there are exploitative ministers like the Reverends Oral Roberts, Paula and Randy White, Creflo Dollar, Eddie Long, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Jim Bakker, Ted Haggard, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland or the "prosperity gospel" preachers. These people are those Jesus warned of when He said, "This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me." (Matthew 15: 8)
The LDS Church does not hire professional clergy. As in the New Testament, Local wards (congregations) and stakes (like a diocese) operate using a lay ministry composed of local members who are asked to volunteer in different priesthood leadership capacities for a few years. LDS Church General Authorities work in private vocations with no intentions of being a seventy or apostle until they're unexpectedly asked to serve. No one pursues or campaigns for a career as a priesthood leader in the LDS church.
The LDS Church believes that Jesus directs the Church through living prophets, just like Moses, Jeremiah or Peter. Protestants and Catholics reject continuing revelation despite Christ teaching that His church would have to be based on revelation. That's why He "gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine,..."( Ephesians 4: 11-14). And why did He warn of false prophets (Matthew 24: 11, 24) if there wouldn't be true prophets.
The mainstream Christian world looks like it is being blown by every wind of doctrine. There are over 100 different sects in Protestantism because someone felt he understood a doctrine or Bible verse more than the last guy. Talk of schism within denominations over doctrinal matters is occurring. The current trend in Protestantism, in an attempt to increase declining church attendance, is downplaying denominational affiliations or blurring the doctrinal differences that delineate traditional Protestant sects. As a result, more people are pastor shopping for an independent custom-fit "McChurch" - salvation, have it your way. Which makes me wonder, If only believing in Jesus matters, and not doctrine like they claim, then why have so many churches in the first place? Because IT DOES matter.
NATURE OF GOD
I accept Joseph Smith's concept of the Godhead being three distinct and separate beings. The Catholic/Protestant incarnation of The Trinity, 3 Gods being of one substance was not officially taught in the Christian church until the Nicene Council drafted this compromise on the nature of God in 325A.D. Some people find it offensive that Joseph Smith would claim to be a prophet and redefine the nature of God, yet those people don't find it offensive that their concept of God was defined by a debate between scholars, intellectuals, philosophers, politicians and theologians. It's analogous to the current debate over homosexual priests in the Anglican and Presbyterian churches. These different factions can barely agree on what the truth should be, yet we're expected to believe their counterparts 1600 years ago could and then base our salvation on it?
If we go by what God has said, as some say, you won't find one reference to Father and Son being of one substance in the Bible (or Book of Mormon for that matter). The concept of The Father and Son being separate but of one substance is a completely extra-biblical conjecture of Nicea. The closest bible reference supporting the Trinitarian view is in the Great Intercessory Prayer in the Book of John, where Jesus refers to The Father and Himself being "one". But then Jesus follows that with His plea for the Apostles that "they may be one, even as We are one." (John 17:22). Peter, James and John aren't becoming three beings in one substance, so to be one must mean being unified in work, belief, purpose and intent.
I have read a lot of the sermons of Joseph Smith, including the controversial King Follett Sermon where he introduces the concept of God The Father being an Exalted Man with flesh and bone. To me, this falls in harmony with the Bible. Genesis tells us that we were created in God's likeness and image, and yet we are not one in substance. From a Catholic/Protestant perspective Jesus is God; He was born, had a physical Body, lived on Earth, died and was resurrected into that physical body. So if Jesus and the Father are one in the same then God must have a body, unless there wasn't really a resurrection - but I believe there was. The only difference between that and Mormon theology is that God The Father received His Body previous to Earth time, rather than at the meridian of Earth time when Jesus Did.
The primary reason I believe in the LDS Church is more personal. I feel that I have had a confirmation from the Holy Ghost that Joseph Smith, despite his faults and imperfections (which were many) was a prophet.
For me, what really separates Joseph Smith from others purporting to be prophets was that other people experienced some of the same revelations Joseph did. I believe that Mary Whitmer held the gold plates and saw Moroni just like other witnesses did. I believe the journal accounts of rank and file Mormons who wrote their experiences of speaking in tongues and seeing angels during the Kirtland Temple dedication. I believe Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith were visited by John the Baptist, Peter, James, John and later Moses, Elijah, Elias and even Jesus Christ in the Kirtland Temple. I believe that both Joseph and Sydney Rigdon simultaneously shared the vision revealing the Celestial Kingdom while 12 others sat silent and watched.
Also, unlike other prophets the revelations continued after Joseph was murdered. I believe Lorenzo Snow when he wrote in his diary about Jesus appearing to him in the Salt Lake temple. I believe Joseph F. Smith saw the spirit world in a vision and was shown more details about the missionary work being performed there, as was taught in 1 Peter chapter 3. I believe Elders Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde's journal accounts of being attacked by devils as they began their mission in England. The same thing happened to my grandfather when he served his mission in Hawaii in 1919. I don't think the devil would have put forth the effort had they been serving him. I believe that Gordon B. Hinckley's plan for the Perpetual Education Fund was very inspired by revelation.
I also believe in the experiences of my relatives and in my own personal experiences. I don't expect other people to believe just because some awesome things have happened for me, but I'd really deserve God's wrath if I insulted Him by denying or explaining away those miracles. I write this in Jesus' name, amen.