Are Mormons Heretics?

Article by Jared C. Wilson (source: https://ftc.co//resource-library/1/4274)

The young man shifted nervously on my doorstep, his cheerful face belying his anxiety. He wore the customary white short-sleeved shirt and black tie and carried a backpack. He had just knocked on my door and just discovered that I was a pastor.

“Oh good!” he said. “It’s always great to meet fellow Christians.”

He was a young man on his requisite mission, the rite of passage of sorts for the LDS Church.

This is new, I thought. I had not heard Mormons call themselves Christians before.

“Why do you call yourself a Christian?” I asked.

“Because we follow Jesus Christ, the son of the heavenly Father.”

“Have any of the Mormon beliefs changed in the last several years?”

“No,” he said, “not really.”

“Then I don’t think you’re any more Christian than you used to be.”

“Well, we believe the same things other Christians believe.”

He began to list out some bullet points of the Christian faith, things nearly every evangelical would agree with—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are all real persons, for instance. That Jesus died on the cross to atone for sins and rose again and ascended to heaven.

For a moment, I was sort of shocked. Maybe things actually were changing in the Mormon church. The desire to be considered evangelical seemed new, but maybe it brought with it some theological reforms, as in the apparent turnaround in the formerly heterodox Worldwide Church of God.

You may be inclined to think so too. Today in the evangelical marketplace, Mormon figures sometimes play subtle yet significant roles. Christians share videos of Mormon singers and teaching on social media. Mormon families participate in local Christian organizations (there are several Mormon kids in the “Christian youth theater” with which my daughter used to perform shows). And many Mormons, of course, stand side by side with Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants in opposing many social ills like abortion and pornography, etc.

The push to be considered evangelical is a real push. But it comes at the cost of some doctrinal obfuscation. So are Mormons becoming evangelical Christians? What do we make of those sweet folks across the street with the awesome kids and neighborly spirit? If anybody is a Christian, wouldn’t they be?

I decided to go deeper with my LDS visitor, asking him pointed questions about distinct beliefs that have historically defined evangelical Christianity. Here are significant things Mormons have always and still believe:

1. Jesus isn’t God.

Mormons call Jesus the Son of God and say lots of things about him that the Bible says – that he was born of a virgin, that he died to atone for sins and rose again, etc. – but they also say he is a created being, directly contradicting biblical orthodoxy. They also say that he “inherited divine powers” from the Father. Mormons deny the historically Christian teaching that Jesus Christ is equal with the Father in essence and substance. On that note . . .

2. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit aren’t equally one God.

Mormons affirm a conception of the Trinity – what they typically call the Godhead, interestingly enough – but deny the traditional understanding of God’s triune nature. They say that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share one purpose or will but do not share the same essence or substance. They say the three persons of the trinity are “separate personages” that share divine attributes, but deny that they are co-equally and simultaneously distinct persons who are together one God. Mormons believe God literally birthed the “spirit-children” Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

3. God was created.

You have to dig a bit deeper into their doctrine to get to some of the stuff they don’t widely publicize, like this key teaching for instance: the God we worship as our heavenly Father is not an eternal, uncreated being. Mormons believe God was once a man of flesh and blood, a created being, who ascended to divinity. Joseph Smith taught that there was even a “God” above the God we know as God the Father, who created the man who eventually became the God we know as Father. This is obviously in direct opposition to historical Christian orthodoxy, which affirms the Bible’s claim that there is no God but God and that before anything else ever existed, the great I AM existed.

4. Christ’s atonement redeems everyone and grace is a reward for those who obey him.

In a kind of strange two-part confusion about Christ’s atoning work on the cross, Mormons believe in a kind of universalism in which everyone who dies will be “saved” by Christ’s work, although they do teach that there are also four different eternal destinies for resurrected persons—godhood for faithful Mormons, a kind of lower heaven for unfaithful Mormons and people who only accept God after they die, a temporary place of suffering for wicked people who reject Mormonism, and an eternal place of suffering for the devil and people who received the Holy Spirit but then denied it. If you find that difficult to follow, you should consider what they teach about salvation. Mormons superficially affirm salvation by grace but how they define grace (and faith) muddles the biblical and evangelical understanding. 2 Nephi 25 (in the Book of Mormon) says that “we are saved by grace, after all we can do.”

In other words, for the Mormon, grace is a reward for faithful effort. For the biblical Christian, however, grace that is deserved is not grace at all. Grace is given to the undeserving, those who could never earn God’s favor or rewards. Grace empowers faithful obedience, yes, but grace also precedes it. Mormons get the gospel/law distinction wrong.

There are other interesting departures from orthodoxy to be found in LDS teaching—what they believe about the Bible and ongoing revelation, what they believe about pre-existing human beings, about Jesus coming to North America to minister to the Native Americans, etc.—and lots of questions to suss out about Mormonism’s prophetic and historiographical claims. (The historical record is not kind to the former, when you begin to honestly appraise the character of Joseph  Smith in particular, and the archaeological record is not kind to the latter.) But the bottom line is that on four very key points of Christian orthodoxy, Mormonism utterly fails the test.

After I quizzed my new missionary friend on these key tenets and finding that we believed some very, very different things about them, he still wasn’t willing to admit Mormonism should not be considered Christianity in any theologically meaningful sense of the word. He wanted to call his companion (who was stationed at the front porch of the house next door) for backup. I encouraged him to do so. Because I knew if these Mormons were to be considered Christian, they’d need to believe the biblical gospel, and I was eager to share it with them both.

I know too many Christians are prone to throwing around the “heresy” word in a willy-nilly fashion at anyone who disagrees with them. Preachers who talk about social justice or have rock-and-roll worship on stage are called “heretics.” But the word has an historical legitimacy. It does apply to some beliefs that depart from the faith once delivered. And the historical record of creeds and councils of the Christian church is clear, as is the word of God from which they are deriving their theological guardrails: if you deny the traditional doctrines of the deity of Christ and of the triune Godhead and mess with salvation by grace, you are indeed a heretic.

Accustomed to Grace

R.C. Sproul: From Chapter 10: In Holy, Holy, Holy: Proclaiming the Perfections of God (pp. 133–145). Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing.

An Inalienable Right to Grace?

My favorite illustration of how callous we have become with respect to the mercy, love, and grace of God comes from the second year of my teaching career, when I was given the assignment of teaching two hundred and fifty college freshman an introductory course on the Old Testament. On the first day of the class, I gave the students a syllabus and I said: “You have to write three short term papers, five pages each. The first one is due September 30 when you come to class, the second one October 30, and the third one November 30. Make sure that you have them done by the due date, because if you don’t, unless you are physically confined to the infirmary or in the hospital, or unless there is a death in the immediate family, you will get an F on that assignment. Does everybody understand that?” They all said, “Yes.”

On September 30, two hundred and twenty-five of my students came in with their term papers. There were twenty-five terrified freshmen who came in trembling. They said: “Oh, Professor Sproul, we didn’t budget our time properly. We haven’t made the transition from high school to college the way we should have. Please don’t flunk us. Please give us a few more days to get our papers finished.”

I said: “OK, this once I will give you a break. I will let you have three more days to get your papers in, but don’t you let that happen again.”

“Oh, no, we won’t let it happen again,” they said. “Thank you so, so, so much.”

Then came October 30. This time, two hundred students came with their term papers, but fifty students didn’t have them. I asked, “Where are your papers?”

They said: “Well, you know how it is, Prof. We’re having midterms, and we had all kinds of assignments for other classes. Plus, it’s homecoming week. We’re just running a little behind. Please give us just one more chance.”

I asked: “You don’t have your papers? Do you remember what I said the last time? I said, ‘Don’t even think about not having this one in on time.’ And now, fifty of you don’t have them done.”

“Oh, yes,” they said, “we know.”

I said: “OK. I will give you three days to turn in your papers. But this is the last time I extend the due date.”

Do you know what happened? They started singing spontaneously, “We love you, Prof Sproul, oh, yes, we do.” I was the most popular professor on that campus.

But then came November 30. This time one hundred of them came with their term papers, but a hundred and fifty of them did not. I watched them walk in as cool and as casual as they could be. So I said, “Johnson!”

“What?” he replied.

“Do you have your paper?”

“Don’t worry about it, Prof,” he responded. “I’ll have it for you in a couple of days.”

I picked up the most dreadful object in a freshman’s experience, my little black grade book. I opened it up and I asked, “Johnson, you don’t have your term paper?”

He said, “No”

I said, “F,” and I wrote that in the grade book. Then I asked, “Nicholson, do you have your term paper?”

“No, I don’t have it.”

“F. Jenkins, where is your term paper?”

“I don’t have it.”

“F.”

Then, out of the midst of this crowd, someone shouted, “That’s not fair.” I turned around and asked, “Fitzgerald, was that you who said that?”

He said, “Yeah, it’s not fair.”

I asked, “Weren’t you late with your paper last month?”

“Yeah,” he responded.

“OK, Fitzgerald, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. If it’s justice you want, it’s justice you will get.” So I changed his grade from October to an F. When I did that, there was a gasp in the room. I asked, “Who else wants justice?” I didn’t get any takers.

There was a song in the musical My Fair Lady titled “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” Well, those students had grown accustomed to my grace. The first time they were late with their papers, they were amazed by grace. The second time, they were no longer surprised; they basically assumed it. By the third time, they demanded it. They had come to believe that grace was an inalienable right, an entitlement they all deserved.

I took that occasion to explain to my students: “Do you know what you did when you said, ‘That’s not fair’? You confused justice and grace.” The minute we think that anybody owes us grace, a bell should go off in our heads to alert us that we are no longer thinking about grace, because grace, by definition, is something we don’t deserve. It is something we cannot possibly deserve. We have no merit before God, only demerit. If God should ever, ever treat us justly outside of Christ, we would perish. Our feet would surely slip.

Among those now reading this book, there are many who are assuming they are not going to go to hell. But if there is a God (and there is), and if He is holy (and He is), and if He is just (and He is), He could not possibly be without wrath. If you have not been reconciled to Him through the blood of His Son, the only thing you have to look forward to is His wrath, which is a divine wrath, a furious wrath, and an eternal wrath. God must be regarded as holy by anyone who comes near Him. So if you would come into the presence of God, consider the nature of the God whom you are approaching, that you may come covered by the righteousness of Christ.

Saving Faith

Chapter 17 of my book “Twelve What Abouts”

The Apostle Paul’s main theme in the book of Romans is that of the Gospel itself, as he answers the question, “How can an unjust person ever be acceptable to a just and holy God?” In passages such as Chapter 3:20 to 4:8, he makes it abundantly clear that we are justified (God declaring us right with Him) on the basis of faith alone and not by anything that we do. Other passages where Paul states this are Titus 3:5; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8,9; Phil 3:9; to name just a few. 

Romans 3:28; 4:3-8 declares, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law… For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.’ Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.’”

Having established the case biblically that we are justified by faith apart from works, we then need to ask the question, “What kind of faith is it that justifies?” In other words, what does genuine, saving faith look like?

A CLAIM IS NOT ENOUGH

This is precisely the issue that James is addressing in chapter 2 of his epistle. He writes in verse 14, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?”

The obvious answer to James’ rhetorical question is “No, that is not the kind of faith that saves. True faith will produce works.” It is never enough to merely make a claim to have faith. No one is ever saved by a mere empty profession of faith. What is professed, must actually be possessed for justification to exist.

James teaches us clearly that if genuine faith is present, it necessarily produces the fruit of works. That’s the nature of true faith. In fact, if works do not follow from “faith,” then it is proof positive that the “faith” is not in fact genuine, but a mere claim to it.

There is no discord between what James writes and what we find in Romans and the rest of Paul’s writings. Faith without works is dead, and a dead faith never saved anyone. True faith is a living faith, and will inevitably show itself with accompanying action or works. Yet even if all these good works do come from genuine faith, these works still have no part in the ground of our justification. Our works add no merit to us, removing all grounds for boasting. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph 2:8, 9)

The only work that contributes to our justification is the work of Jesus; not the work of Jesus in us, but the work of Jesus for us. His merit is the only merit that counts for us. Paul tells us that it we are justified by faith apart from works, and James tells us that that kind of faith that actually saves is a faith that will of necessity produce works.

The Reformers of the 16th Century were very clear about all this. They described true, saving faith as having three components, which were described by three Latin words: notitia, assensus and fiducia.

1. CONTENT OR INFORMATION (notitia) – Like our modern day word “notice”, notitia concerns information or knowledge of the truth of the gospel. We need to understand the facts of the Gospel.

What exactly must be believed?

Certainly, a person does not need to be a highly trained theologian to be saved. The Holy Spirit draws both adults and young children to a saving knowledge of Christ. Yet when children are converted to Christ, they may not know every nuance of the faith, or even a detailed understanding of the atonement – merely that Christ died for our sins. However, I believe it would be true to say that a truly saved person, although they may not be able to articulate the content of the Gospel at length, will not reject it when they do hear it. I believe that’s a very important point to make. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.” (John 10: 27, 28) Christ’s true sheep instinctively know the Shepherd’s voice and follow Him. The regenerate person humbly submits to the faithful teaching of Scripture when hearing it (Scripture being the Shepherd’s voice), unlike those who are still in the flesh who remain completely incapable of doing so (Romans 8:7, 8).

This noticia includes belief in one God, in the full humanity (1 John 4:3) and deity of Christ (John 8:24), and His death for sinners on the cross (1 Cor. 15:3), as well as His physical resurrection from the dead. Romans 10:9 tells us, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

I believe the noticia would also include some understanding of God’s grace in salvation – that is, God saves us because of Christ’s work on behalf of sinners, not the sinner’s work on behalf of God. Dr. James White writes: God’s grace is powerful, and it brings full salvation to the soul of the person who despairs of anything other than free, unmerited grace. Grace cannot clasp the hand that carries within it ideas of merit, or good works, or any other kind of human addition to grace. “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Romans 11:6). God’s wondrous grace cannot be mixed with human merit. The hand that holds onto its own alleged goodness, or attempts to sneak in a merit here, a good work there, will not find the open hand of God’s grace. Only the empty hand fits into the powerful hand of grace. Only the person who finds in Christ his all-in-all will, in so finding, be made right with God. This is why the Scriptures say it is by faith so that it might be in accordance with grace: in God’s wisdom, he excludes man’s boasting by making salvation all of grace. (The Empty Hand of Faith, tract)

2. BELIEF (assensus) – It is entirely possible to understand something (the notitia) and yet not believe it personally (assensus). Therefore, we need to be able to say, “I both understand and believe the content of the gospel.”

3. COMMITMENT (fiducia) – The third component of saving faith is a full trust in and commitment to the One who loved us and died for us. This is of critical importance because it is possible to understand these truths, believe they are true, and yet pull back from the necessary personal commitment that will actually enlist us as one of Christ’s followers. To possess only the first two parts (notitia and assensus), without the third part (fiducia), merely qualifies us to be demons! James 2:19 declares, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” Even demons understand and believe, but that does not mean that they have any share in redemption.

True saving faith will always produce the fruit of good works. That is its nature. Though our works play no part at all in justifying us before God, they justify or vindicate our claim to faith before a watching world. Our lives should demonstrate that the faith professed was, and is, also possessed.

As you consider your own standing before God, would you say that yours is based completely upon what the Lord Jesus Christ has done in your place (rather than what you do for Him)? Can you honestly say you trust Him with your eternal destiny, and fully believe He carried your sins on the cross, that He rose again from the dead, and that He indeed is your personal Savior and Lord? Do you believe He has forgiven your sins and given His righteousness to you, so that you can stand justified (declared right in His sight) both now and on the Day of Judgment?

If at the present time you are not able to answer these questions in the affirmative, I pray that God will indeed give you the gift of true repentance and faith, turning away from all attempts at self-righteousness and self-justification and instead transfer all your personal trust to the perfect Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Call upon the Name of the Lord and be saved.

Profitable Bible Reading

by Dennis Gundersen

Recently, I read a book about profitable Bible reading in which the author suggested, when you read the Scriptures, “Endeavor to learn something new from every verse before you leave it.”

Really? 
Ok. 
In other words, make it my aim to discover something new from every verse I read? And stay right there in my reading until I can find something new?

Well, that sounds like a sure-fire way to get stuck. With that approach, I’ll be at a lasting standstill for most of my Bible reading from now on. I know the author means well and wants us to get maximum profit from our Bible reading, and not read casually or inattentively. But I think this suggestion is quite a bit over the top.

I must say, let’s get real here. For one, after you’ve been a believer for a few years, most days it’s going to be rare that you discover something new even in each chapter you read. You may wear yourself out making the effort, but the fact is, you’ve become pretty familiar with a lot of the Scriptures and may not be at all able to spot something new.

I’ll even go so far as to say, if you do find something fresh in every verse you read, well … I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you’re not reading it right. With that approach, chances are, you’ll be making stuff up. If you can find something new in every verse, your imagination is getting carried away and you’ll be seeing what really isn’t there.

May I suggest a few sounder, more realistic goals about what to aim for in Bible reading? A lot more could be said, of course, but my purpose is to state a few goals that are in contrast with the idea that somehow a Bible reader needs to find something new or fresh in every verse he reads. Or that it’s even of benefit to your soul to try. No — how about these goals instead:

1) Ask the Lord to show you what you need for today
That’s really more of your need than to see something fresh or new. Why, even if you do find something fresh in a verse that you didn’t see before, how long is that going to stay with you anyway? You know. It’ll slip out of your head in no time. Probably before the day is done.

But the Spirit of God is probably not really interested in enlarging your storehouse of Bible knowledge. He is interested in equipping you for a holy walk with God – today. Ask Him to show you how to walk with Him today. After all, as Jesus said in another context, “each day has enough trouble of its own.” Each of your days has needs of its own, that the Lord knows are coming. Ask Him to prepare you by your reading.

2) Ask the Lord to feed you 
If a man’s wife cooks him a meal with healthy, nutritious, and tasty foods, is it really important to him whether anything in the meal is new? Isn’t he glad and thankful to have this food again, even if it’s something he’s eaten a hundred times before? And he enjoys it. Again. It may even be a favorite. Much like singing a hymn that you’ve sung a hundred times before, and you love it every time. You need not concern yourself with newness in what you digest from the Word – look to the Lord to feed and nourish you. That’s more of what you need.

3) Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal Christ to you — again
If you’re a saved individual, the Spirit of God has already revealed Jesus to you. But what do you need more than to keep seeing Christ? Even if it’s features about Him that you have seen before. So what? You need to see Jesus again and worship Him again. The Spirit seeks to glorify Christ, we’re told in the gospel of John. Even the things you know about Jesus, you haven’t seen sufficient glory in those beautiful, wondrous features of Him. Ask Him to show you Jesus, again and again.

4) Ask the Lord to show you something in the Scriptures that you can serve others with today
Something that will help you be a blessing to others. Some light with which you can encourage other believers today. Or something that will provoke you to pray for people in need today. Or something that will help you be more effective in bringing the gospel to unconverted people you will meet, today. Again, this is a much more worthwhile goal than “show me something new I’ve never seen before.” How about, make me a useful instrument of love to others? As Jesus said, to love our neighbor, “This is the Law and the prophets.”

We all know that you’ll have occasions that you read the Word and none of the above will happen. You won’t experience any noticeable, felt edification at the moment. But you know that it’s still been worth your while to read and meditate on the Word. Often the effects and use of a reading are only consciously realized later.

When you’re reading and none of these benefits seem to be coming, you know what? Wait on the Lord to shape your life with His Word at the time of His choosing. And if you have time, keep reading until you have been fed. Years ago, I heard a young, new disciple say “I overcame this idea of getting my Bible reading done and then being satisfied that I did it, by taking a different approach. Now I keep reading until I don’t want to stop.” Not limiting yourself to the chapter numbers on a Bible reading plan or schedule. How about not quitting until you get something nourishing? Be like Jacob, refusing to go away until He blesses you.

Sure, there will be days that won’t work. You won’t have time to keep on reading. You have to get to work. The duties of the day press in on you. In that case, give thanks that you’ve been able to read the Word and know that God will produce fruit from the Word in your life, according to His will and in His time.

So, while more could be said, this is probably enough … for today.