Archive for August, 2008


Judging a Prophet’s Words

      This is a continuation of my last post.  There I talked about how the fruit of a prophet – the fruit by which we recognize whether a prophet is true or false – is not his character or even his success, but his words.  But how do we go about looking at his words?

     The LDS church cites James 1:5 and tells people to pray about it.  But nowhere in the context does James apply this to judging a prophet’s words.  No, when the subject is judging whether or not a prophet is true the Bible is consistent in its approach.  You judge his words by comparing them with the Bible. 

      Isaiah 8:19-20: “And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead?  20To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”  The law and the testimony were terms for Old Testament Scripture.  That was the standard to be used.  They were not told to pray about it.

     We see the same thing in the New Testament.  In Acts 16 Paul comes to the Greek city of Berea.  In regard to his visit we read:  “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether these things were so.” (v.11)  They examined Paul’s word in light of scripture to determine the truthfulness of them.  Searching the Scriptures rather than praying about it was their method of discerning truth.  For a fuller discussion of this see

     When one compares Joseph Smith’s teachings and subsequent LDS teaching to the Bible, there are major conflicts.  The Bible says we are saved without works, the Book of Mormon says we are saved by grace after all we can do.  Mormonism teaches that God was once a man – the Bible teaches that God has always been God.  The Bible says that there is only one God – Mormonism teaches that there are countless gods.  On and on it goes.

     One can’t help but think that Joseph Smith saw these conflicts and that is why he taught that many plain and precious things were taken from the Bible.  Or why Mormonism teaches that “we believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” 

     When his teachings are compared with the teachings of the Bible, Joseph Smith is revealed as a false prophet.


Recognizing False Prophets

     A question that naturally arises when discussing Mormonism is:  was Joseph Smith a true prophet of God?  When answering this question, many Mormons point to his accomplishments and ask how a young teen could do such things if he wasn’t a true prophet.  Others point to the growth of the LDS Church and say that such growth proves its truthfulness.  On the other hand, many critics of Mormonism focus on problems they see in Joseph Smith’s history in an attempt to prove that he wasn’t. 

     But there’s an even more preliminary question that needs to be asked, namely, how should one go about determining if someone is a true or false prophet?  Is that determined by their character. . .by their success?  If, for example, successful growth is the evidence than we would have to say that Mohammed was a great prophet – a statement I don’t think many Christians or Mormons would endorse.

     Jesus talks about false prophets in Matthew 7.  There he gives some vital information.  First of all, he says that they come in sheep’s clothing.  In other words, they will appear harmless and good.  Many false prophets will have exemplary characters.  They will be “good” people.  We see that in Jesus’ day.  The Pharisees were the conservative, moral people of the day.  But Jesus spoke very sternly to and about them.

     A few verses later Jesus gives us more pertinent information.  “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”  (Matthew 7: 22-23)  Note how these false prophets spoke and acted in Jesus’ name.  They even did miracles in Jesus’ name – casting out devils and the like!  In spite of that, however, Jesus didn’t accept them.  Rather he angrily casts them away.  Therefore using Jesus’ name and even doing spectacular works in Jesus name isn’t the mark of a true prophet.

    In verse 20 Jesus tells us what to look for.  “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”  I didn’t begin with this verse because people often hear that and immediately identify fruit with a person’s character, work, or outward success.  But it’s obvious from the context those things aren’t “fruit”.  What then is a prophet’s fruit?  To answer this question, let me ask a couple of other questions first.  What is a plumber’s fruit?  What is a teacher’s fruit?  Isn’t a plumber’s fruit his plumbing and how well he does it?  Isn’t a teacher’s fruit her teaching and how well she does it?  A prophet’s fruit is what he says!  To determine if someone is a true or false prophet, what need to be examined are his words.  That is why when evaluating Joseph Smith, what needs to be put under the microscope is not so much his character or work, but his words – his teachings.  And it’s his teachings that have convinced me that he was a false prophet.

      To be continued.


Contending or Contentious

The LDS church commonly warns its members about being contentious.  LDS missionaries sometimes will leave a house because they say its inhabitants have a spirit of contention.  And the Bible indeed warns against being contentious.


But the Bible also tells us to contend for the faith.  See, for example, Jude 3.  My dictionary defines contend with words like strive, debate, assert, struggle and even argue.  The root of the Greek word that Jude used is one from which our English word “agonize” is derived.  Obviously contend involves more than having a pleasant, light conversation.  It involves vigor and passion.


How then can one contend for the faith without being contentious?  It’s all in the attitude.  A contentious person is belligerent (my dictionary) – he is looking for a fight and enjoys the fight.  On the other hand, a person who is contending for the faith doesn’t really enjoy the battle but engages in it because he is passionate about his beliefs and thinks they are worth fighting for.


I will be the first to admit that I have often seen a contentious spirit exhibited by Christians as they talk with Mormons.  It is painfully obvious that they have no concern for the Mormons or even, at times, the faith.  They just want to win the battle.  But this has not been limited to Christians.  Over the years I have received numerous letters, emails, and even pictures from LDS members that are blatantly contentious. 


Why do I bring this up?  Because I feel the need to regularly state why I am doing this blog.  My goal is to contend for the faith without being contentious.  I want the differences between Mormonism and historic Christianity to be clearly seen.  My prayer is that many Mormons see the wonderful truth that we are saved without any works on our part.


The other reason why I am writing this today is because in the next series of posts I am planning on examining Mormonism’s claims that Joseph Smith and his successors are true prophets of God.  Obviously that is something that I don’t believe.  But up front I want to say that I state that not just to be contentious and get Mormons’ blood boiling but because I think this is a serious issue that needs discussing – that here too we need to contend for the faith.


Repaying a Forgiven Debt?


 As I talked about in my last post, one of the problems I and many others have with Mormonism is that it talks about repaying a debt that the Bible describes as having been forgiven.  I would like to expand on that a little bit more.  Where is the idea of forgiveness and repayment ever combined?  The two ideas just don’t fit together.


I just got done googling “debt forgiven”.  The first sites listed all dealt with either mortgage or credit cards debt being forgiven.  I copied just a couple of paragraphs from one site.  It said:


“All may be forgiven when a debtor reduces the amount you owe, but that doesn’t mean you’ve gotten a free ride.  Your windfall may be taxable. . .


Here’s how it works.  You negotiate with your credit card company to get your bill reduced from $10,000 to $5,000.  You only have to pay Visa $5,000, but the Internal Revenue Service is likely to tax you on the $5,000 you didn’t have to pay back.  That amount is known as discharge of indebtedness, or DOI, income.


That’s right.  A debt forgiven won’t be forgotten by the IRS.  The agency considers it earned or taxable income.”


Notice how it is described as a windfall.  No longer does the person have to pay Visa the $5.000.  But what I found so interesting is that the IRS sees that forgiven debt as taxable income!  They don’t do that with loans that need to be repaid.  They view it as if Visa actually gave the person the $5,000.


That is what the word forgiven means.  When I tell my grown son I forgive the loan he had with me, he will naturally think that he doesn’t need to repay me.  In fact, if in the next month he sends me a payment, I will be puzzled and wonder if he really understood me.  So I talk to him and make it clear that I had forgiven the loan.  Then the next month another payment arrives.  No longer am I puzzled.  Then I will be irritated.  Why isn’t he accepting my gift to him?  Doesn’t he believe that I was serious?


When I forgive somebody his debt to me, I do not remain his creditor.  When God forgives our debt of sin, he does not remain our creditor.  If I continue to try and pay my debt to him, I irritate him and call his word into question.  The proper response to a gift is graciously and gratefully accepting it.


Is Seeing Jesus As Our Creditor No Big Deal?


One of the LDS basic manuals is a book entitled “Gospel Principles”.  Starting on p. 75 it quotes a parable given by Elder Boyd K . Packer, an LDS apostle.   It’s quite lengthy so I will summarize much of it here.  Heavenly Father is the creditor.  We are the debtors.  After awhile we realize that we can’t pay back the debt. After a discussion about justice and mercy, Jesus, the mediator, steps in. He asks the creditor if he will free the debtor from the contract, if he, the mediator, pays the entire debt. The creditor agrees. Let me pick it up there by quoting a few sentences:

“The mediator turned then to the debtor. ‘If I pay your debt, will you accept me as your creditor?’

“‘Oh yes, yes,’ cried the debtor. ‘You saved me from prison and show mercy to me.’

“‘Then’ said the benefactor, ‘you will pay the debt to me and I will set the terms. It will not be easy, but it will be posssible. I will provide a way. You need not go to prison.’”

For many Christians, this illustrates quite sharply the difference between the teachings of Mormonism and biblical Christianity.  Many Christians are genuinely horrified to hear Jesus being described as a creditor.  This goes against every grain of their being.

This horror on the part of Christians is mystifying to many Mormons.  They don’t see the problem.  They wonder what the big deal is.  To them seeing Jesus as their creditor is no big deal – it’s even natural.

For me, not only the parable itself, but then also the two differing and drastic reactions to it clearly illustrate the differences between Mormonism and Christianity.  The parable illustrates the different teaching; the differing reacttions illustrate the different mindsets. As Christians talk with their LDS friends, they need to not only remember that many times words will be defined differently between the two, but also that their mindsets will be different from that of their LDS friends. 


Little Orphan Andy


     I like to tell the story of little orphan Andy.  Andy lived in an orphanage.  His greatest desire was to be adopted and become part of a family.  This is what he thought about every night before he went to sleep.

     One day a couple came to the orphanage and told Andy that they were thinking of adopting him but. . .    But they wanted to take him home for a month to see how it would work out.  After the month was up they would decide if they would adopt him.

     Andy went home with them and tried to be on his best behavior.  But every night he couldn’t help but wonder if he was good enough.  Talk about a stress-filled month!

     Let’s say, however, that this couple, instead of waiting for a month to make a decision, had come to the orphanage and told Andy that they had already adopted him. The papers were signed.  He was their son.

     Imagine the joy Andy felt.  Imagine how he would show his gratitude by trying to be the best he could be.  He would act even better than in the first scenario because he wouldn’t have the pressure of having to work to be accepted.

     By bringing obedience into the discussion of salvation, Mormonism puts people into the position of Andy in the first scenario.  Many Mormons feel tremendous stress as they work at becoming acceptable to God.  Just this past week, a former LDS member was sharing how pressured she felt by Mormonism.

     By his perfect sacrifice, Jesus took all the pressure off.  We now can be like Andy in the second scenario.  We too try to please God – not however to become accepted, but because God has already accepted us through Jesus.  That difference in motivation makes all the difference in the world.




An important point in any discussion between Mormons and Christians is seeing the differing role good works play to each party. Are they part of the root system from which the tree (ie.salvation) grows? In other words, are they one of the causes of salvation as Mormonism teaches? Or are they the fruit on the tree, are they the result of being saved, not contribituing to salvation, as historic Christianity has always taught?   These are not trivial questions.  That is apparent from the intensity of the discussion.  How one views good works makes all the difference – for time and for eternity.

The Bible clearly sees them as a result of salvation.  It makes this point in a number of different ways.  It pointedly excludes them as a cause of salvation.  “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested.”  (Romans 3:21)  “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righeousness.  Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works.”  (Romans 4:5-6)  Many other passages make that same point.

How then does it describe good works?  As something only believers can do.  “without faith it is impossible to please him.”  (Hebrews 11:6)  Good works are fruits of faith.  For example, in John 15 Jesus tells his disciples that they are clean through the word – v. 3.  By abiding in him they will bring forth much fruit – v. 5.  Notice that the fruit doesn’t make them clean.  Because they are clean they can bear much fruit.

In a previous comment I referred to the following illustration.  I am going to repeat it here.  In ancient times a man was passing by a slave market when a girl was up for sale. He stopped and after spirited bidding, bought her. As she was brought to him, he told her: “I hate slavery. I bought you in order to release you. You are free.” In gratitude, she fell to her knees and said, “I will now use my freedom to serve you for the rest of your life.” According to the Bible, good works spring out after a person is brought to saving faith. They are expressions of gratitude for what God has done. I do good works not because I think they are a requirement that I need to do in order to be accepted by God, but freely and joyfully because God has already accepted me in Jesus.

Probably no place says it better than Ephesians 2:8-10.  “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, Not of works, lest any man should boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

We are not saved by works but we are saved to do good works.  Keeping that straight is vitally important.  Mixing that up is tragic.  There is a tremendous difference between a root and fruit – between cause and effect.  Don’t make the fruit the root.

August 2008

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