Trouble at the Tabernacle

On November 14, 2004, there was an “historic” occasion when four professed evangelicals, the Pastor General of the Worldwide Church of God, a Mormon author and BYU professor, and a contemporary Christian music singer spoke, preached, and sang with thousands of Mormons and evangelicals in the Mormon Tabernacle at Salt Lake City, Utah. This occasion was called “An Evening of Friendship.”The event was organized by a group of churches called Striving Together, represented by its director, Greg Johnson. Ravi Zacharias, a popular evangelical Christian apologist, preached for an hour. Before he spoke, however, President Richard Mouw of Fuller Theological Seminary provided the opening remarks, beginning with a forthright “apology” and admission of evangelicals’ “sinning” against Mormons through the last century and a half. He described the recent opportunities evangelicals and Mormons have engaged in: “important matters of public morality;” “dialogues” that are “frank but friendly exchanges about important faith topics;” and now their meeting together this night, evangelicals “experiencing the gracious hospitality of the LDS leadership, who have welcomed us all into this meeting place.”

Many evangelicals have responded to this “Evening of Friendship” by comparing it to Paul’s preaching of the gospel to the Athenians at the Areopagus in Acts 17. Such a comparison seems to give a biblical basis for evangelicals participating in this both ecumenical and inter-faith “event.” But is this a true comparison? Were Mouw and Zacharias really preaching the gospel in the same way Paul did? Are Mormons Christians after all? Can Christians work together with Mormons?

Is Mormonism Christian?
Recently, in an effort to lose their status as a “cult,” Mormons have claimed that they are Christian. What does this religion teach about the fundamentals of Christianity, namely the Bible, God, Jesus Christ, man, and salvation? It believes that the Bible is not the sole authority for faith and practice but only one authority in a continuing stream of authoritative revelation. Its beliefs about God and man are summarized in their statement, “As man now is, God once was: as God now is, man may be.” Mormonism denies God’s eternality, exclusivity, immutability (unchangeableness), and makes the only difference between God and man a matter of time and personal development. Mormonism thus believes that Jesus Christ is “God” but only in the sense that any man may become “God.” “Salvation” is merely human beings’ faithful obedience on their road to becoming gods themselves.

Christians can have difficulty with the Mormons’ use of Christian terms and the Bible. On the surface Mormonism can seem to have much of the “look and feel” of Christianity. But behind the façade of words are corrupted and corrupting doctrines that are not rooted in Scripture and consequently do not teach about the one true and living God and salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (2 Tim 3:5).

Sometimes individual Mormons will make statements that seem to either modify or deny Mormon teaching. Christians can come to the conclusion that Mormons are “coming along,” but such is not the case, for in the end such statements by individuals do not change established Mormon doctrine. Individual Mormons (or representatives of any other heretical group) who “make changes” or “disagree” with their established doctrine ultimately do not count. They are “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ” (2 Cor 11:13).

Any likeness Mormonism has with Christianity is neither incidental nor accidental but by design to deceive. Satan clothes himself with the togs of righteousness in order to deceive the souls of men. Followers of Mormonism may be genuinely convinced of the truthfulness of their religion, but the biblical truth is that such have been genuinely deceived. Mormonism is a cult; it is not Christianity but paganism in Christian dress. This cult uses the words of Christianity but gives them entirely different meanings. From Mormonism’s beginning it has repudiated any connection with Christianity, and it is only during the last twenty years that it has sought to be recognized as such in order to drop its “cult” status.

No Strings Attached?
Over fifty years ago the evangelist Billy Graham declared that he would go anywhere and preach with anyone as long as there were no strings attached to his message. For decades, fundamentalists have pointed out this blatant disobedience to the biblical commands of separation from the liberals, neo-orthodox, and Roman Catholics that Billy yoked up with in a working relationship in spiritual matters. Now, Ravi Zacharias has come along and done something Graham has not been able to—preach in the very hearth and home of the largest cult in the world.

Ravi Zacharias is an intellectual Billy Graham who also justifies “going anywhere and speaking anywhere” so long as there are no strings attached to his message. But both Graham and Zacharias have deceived themselves, as there certainly are strings attached to their “messages.” Was Zacharias free to declare to the Mormons that their god is not the God of the Bible but (as they believe) one of many gods? Were there strings attached in pointing out that their Jesus is not the virgin-conceived Christ of the Bible, the eternal Son co-equal with God the Father but a mere man who became a god? Did Zacharias show Mormons that the Bible describes man as sinful and depraved, unable and unwilling to do anything worthy of salvation when they teach that everyone has something of God in them and need only to live a good life to become a god? How ready was Zacharias to declare that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone contrary to the Mormon teaching of works and obedience? How free was Zacharias to preach that the Mormon gospel leads not to heaven but hell?

There were strings attached to the evangelicals’ words at the Mormon Tabernacle that November evening, but they were never tied by the Mormons—these evangelicals put the strings on themselves for they were more concerned about having “An Evening of Friendship” than faithful obedience to God.

This situation has been likened as a 21st century version of Paul’s preaching to the intellectual Athenians in Acts 17, as the Mormons allegedly desired to hear the gospel for themselves. Is this accurate? Hardly. Mormons have heard the truth of the gospel throughout their history, but the Athenians desired to “hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21). Zacharias did not openly denounce the Mormons’ religion as Paul did the Athenians’ (17:22-23). He did not condemn the Mormons’ idolatry as Paul did (17:24-25, 29). He did not openly call the Mormons to repent of their idolatry and sin as Paul did (17:30). He did not openly declare that Mormons would be judged for their sins in light of the resurrected God-man Jesus Christ as Paul did (17:31). This was not like Paul in Athens, for the Mormons did not respond to Zacharias’ preaching with either rejection or acceptance as the Athenians did (17:32-34) but with happy nodding of the heads and soothed consciences that they all believe in the same God and Jesus and can worship together in peace and harmony.

“Critical Give and Take”
Richard Mouw advocates evangelicals sitting down with Mormons in an attempt to “honestly” discuss their differences. This is called dialogue, and Mouw wants evangelicals to engage in this “critical give and take” with their “Mormon counterparts.” The result of dialogue is that the Bible believer cannot look at his “counterpart” across the table and describe his beliefs as the Bible does; the enemy of the gospel is now a “friend,” “counterpart,” or “liberal brother.” True believers are then confused as they hear their pastors teach one thing and see evangelical leaders meeting with those who teach the opposite! This in turn leads to evangelicals meeting with enemies of the gospel for “An Evening of Friendship.”

In the Bible the early church did not respond to doctrinal deviancy and heresy with “critical give and take.” The first Christians did not list “points of agreement” in order to be able to have something to work from in the future. Paul did not “dialogue” with the Corinthian idolaters, the Galatian Judaizers, or the Colossian heretics in an effort to find common ground. Paul said to the Corinthians “what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” (2 Cor 6:16) To the Galatians he said, “if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:9). To the Colossians he warned, “beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Col 2:8).

Giving Up The Gospel
Evangelicals hear the siren song that Mormons have been singing in the last twenty or so years—“we’re Christians,” “we believe in the same God as you,” and “salvation is by grace.” Why is this? How is this even possible? Because current day evangelicalism is more concerned about good experiences, not good doctrine, and it refuses to not only point out error but also separate from it and those who compromise with it.

Evangelicals went into the Mormon Tabernacle with the hope and expectation that they would establish some common ground, preach the gospel, and make amends for past “sins.” They failed in their attempt at making closer ties with Mormons and greater unity among believers. The cause of Christ will be greatly weakened, and Mormons will not hear the true gospel but a watered down, truncated version designed not to offend them of their sin and apostasy. Mormons will not hear the message of good news but will continue confirmed and comfortable in their lost and blind condition. Evangelicals will not see greater results and greater harmony. The result will be greater division and a greater weakening of biblical Christianity just as there has been from the Billy Graham type of ecumenical evangelism.

Ironically, the “winners” of this event are the Mormons. They have made hay with their success at getting evangelicals to publicly identify with them in a positive way. Mormons are telling Christians “Look, we had an evening of friendship; we’re not different from you after all.” Disobedience to the Scripture’s commands of ecclesiastical separation from false teachers such as Mormons ironically brings evangelicals more into the tent of Mormonism than Mormonism to Christianity.

In Mouw’s opening remarks at the “Evening of Friendship,” he gushed at evangelicals “experiencing the gracious hospitality of the LDS leadership, who have welcomed us all into this meeting place.” There was a cartoon published during the fundamentalist-modernist controversy that gives a good warning about this recent situation. A hunter came upon a bear in the woods one day with the hope of getting a fur coat. The bear was also looking for something that day, a dinner for himself. Seeing the rifle in the hunter’s hands, the bear said to him, “Put down your weapon and come into my comfortable den and let’s talk this over.” The hunter left his gun at the door of the den and the two walked in, arms around each other. The final panel showed the bear leaving the den alone, toothpick at work: he got his dinner, and the hunter got his fur coat! How did this happen? The hunter gave up his weapon and tried to talk things out on the enemy’s terms.

What will happen to the evangelical who desires to “talk things over” with his Mormon “friend” in an effort to get along and work together? He will eventually end up losing everything precious to him. The Mormon won’t give up a thing, but the Bible-believer will lose everything. In order for the Christian to be “accepted” and “friends” with the apostate denomination or, as in this case, a religion that historically has eschewed Christianity, the Christian preacher puts strings on his own message. As the fundamentalist Robert T. Ketcham said, “Whenever truth compromises with error it is always truth which has to give up something for error has nothing to give up to begin with.”

Conclusion
What then is the Christian’s response to Mormons and Mormonism? Christians must seek to call the individual Mormon to salvation in Jesus Christ like any other sinner caught in the web of demonically-inspired deceiving doctrine, taking care not to allow himself not to also be ensnared (Jude 23). There must be absolutely no working relationship in any spiritual endeavor with Mormons or the Mormon church (2 Cor 6:14-7:1). Present day Christians must respond to idolatry the same way that God expected the church during biblical times to respond to idolatry: “come out from among them…” The Corinthian church was “yoking up” with idolatry and God commanded them to separate themselves from such entangling alliances. This recent infatuation evangelicals have with the Mormon Church is the same situation as the Corinthians’, just a different time, but the expectation and command from our eternal and holy God is the same: “come out from among them…”

November/December 2004

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