current, religion

ISIS and the Growth of Early Islam

early_islam

Day after day we are bombarded with terrible accounts of “Christian genocide” in Iraq, a term that virulent Christian skeptic Richard Dawkins felt appropriate to describe the systematic beheading of Christian children in Iraq by ISIS, or the Islamic State.

Christian homes are being marked with the Arabic letter ن (nun) for Nazarene, reminiscent of the Jewish Star of David in the early days of Nazism in Germany. Thousands are fleeing, dying, or being left for dead by having food and water sources cut off from them.

The question may people are asking is, why? What terrible organization would commit such atrocities that even Al-Qaeda would distance themselves from it? To understand why, we must roll the clock back on Islam to the very beginning when the religion was rapidly expanding.

The early (and phenomenal) growth of Islam went hand-in-hand with military and economic conquest. The Muslim expansion, or Fatah (opening), of the Middle East occurred for roughly one hundred years. During this time, Islam spread as far west as the Iberian Peninsula, as far south as modern–day Yemen, as far east as modern–day Pakistan, and as far north as modern–day France from one location in Mecca.

Anyone interested in the exponential growth of early Islam need look no further than to ISIS.

Much ink has been spilled on exactly how Islam experience such incredible growth. The general consensus is that Muhammad’s earliest followers, influenced by his teaching, spread the religion by sword.

Consequently, the Fatah paints a violent picture of Islam’s beginnings. Some Muslim apologists fearing such an image maintain that the Fatah was a spiritual conquest in an attempt to downplay Islam’s violent birth. They argue that the Fatah was done through extremely persuasive Islamic missions work; however, this is highly improbable.

Not only does archeological evidence suggest otherwise, but the Qur’ān itself seems to imply a combination of Islamic missions work and military conquest; “Slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent and take to prayer and render the alms levy, allow them to go their way. Allah is forgiving and merciful (Sūra At-Tawbah 9:5).”

When an invading force entered a non-Muslim land, individuals had three choices: convert to Islam, pay a tax (jizya), or die. Fast-forward to today and this is the very same thing that is happening to Christians in Iraq by the Islamic State.

Whether or not Islam is a religion that promotes violence has been hotly debated ever since its beginnings. One thing is clear, however; Islam may easily and readily be used by evil men as justification for violence. We are seeing just that with the Islamic State, men reenacting the Fatah. Anyone interested in the exponential growth of early Islam need look no further than to ISIS.

The question remains – how long and how far will these men go? Better question – when will we wake up to the needs of our brothers and sisters in peril?

Follow the Vicar of Baghdad for an on-the-ground perspective of Christians in Iraq. Follow Open Doors for updates on the worldwide persecuted church.

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The Book of Abraham: Sacred Translation?

 

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In 1835, a man by the name of Michael H. Chandler would have a chance meeting with the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith. Little did Mr Chandler know that the meeting would play a large part in altering the course of Mormon theology forever.

Chandler, the owner of some Egyptian artifacts, was touring the American frontier, showcasing his ancient treasures to curious spectators. The artifacts contained writing that Mr Chandler could not decipher. At some point in time, it was suggested to him that Joseph Smith had the ability to translate the mysterious writing on the Egyptian artifacts. Such an ability was absolutely remarkable in mid-19th century America.

Today, translating ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs seems like a relatively menial task – surely any academic who studies such things could provide a translation. However, in the 1830s such a task would have been considered absolutely remarkable.

Why? Because the key that unlocked the mystery of Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Rosetta Stone, had only been discovered about 36 years prior, and an English translation of the demotic (Egyptian) text from the Rosetta Stone in the United States was not published until 1858, twenty-three years after Smith’s acquisition of the artifacts from Chandler (and fourteen years after Smith’s death).

Despite this, Smith began his miraculous translation process sometime after the purchase of the artifacts. It wasn’t long before he discovered, “much to [his] joy” that “one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham, another writings of Joseph of Egypt, etc.”[1]

By some happy coincidence, Joseph Smith happened upon ancient Egyptian writings of Hebrew patriarchs in the frontier lands of North America and was able to translate them twenty-three years before their language was deciphered into English.

The result? The Book of Abraham (Abr), now part of the Mormon scripture Pearl of Great Price. In it, among many things, Latter-day Saints (LDS) are given a parallel narrative to Genesis that introduces new theology such as polytheism and the location of Heavenly Father’s throne, which is nearest to the star of Kolob (Abr 3:3).

Such a coincidence is entirely miraculous or doubtful. Lately, the LDS Church has given reason to suspect the latter.

TRANSLATION, TRANSCRIPTION, OR SIMPLY IMAGINATION?

The LDS Church has recently published an essay officially distancing itself from Smith’s incredible, eyebrow-raising tale of the Book of Abraham’s origins. Formerly, the LDS Church officially promoted the view that the Book of Abraham was “translated from the papyrus by Joseph Smith.”[2] However, after years of scholarly scrutiny, it has been adequately demonstrated enough for the LDS Church to admit that Joseph Smith’s supposed translation of the papyrus has nothing to do with it.

The ancient text is not an account of Abraham’s life as Smith taught. Instead, it contains religious ritual instructions belonging to a work called the Book of Breathings, which dates back to the Ptolemaic Era (305–30BCE) well after Abraham’s time.

Facsimile 1

A facsimile of what Joseph Smith purported to be an attempted sacrifice of Abraham by an idolatrous priest of Elkenah. In actuality, it is a deceased Egyptian citizen being mummified. His soul is seen leaving his body in the form of a bird.

 

Yet, as the article reminds us, the LDS Church firmly holds the Book of Abraham as scripture. It is scripture regardless of evidence that the original text has nothing to do with the end result.

(Imagine, for a moment, if we discovered that the Gospel of Matthew was not an account of Jesus’ life, but was actually a collection of Roman tax documents, and you’ll quickly realize the issue at hand.)

So, what does the LDS Church do with evidence that Joseph Smith fabricated a faulty translation to produce a text that radically departs from the Bible? One sentence from the article encapsulates their action well.

“The book of Abraham’s status as scripture ultimately rests on faith in the saving truths found within the book itself as witnessed by the Holy Ghost.”

In other words, it doesn’t really matter whether or not Joseph Smith fabricated the Book of Abraham based on papyrus belonging to a work called the Book of Breathings. What matters at the end of the day is whether or not it lines up with saving truths.

The Book of Abraham is no longer a sacred translation, but questionable interpretation. 

This, of course, begs the question – what are “saving truths”? It is more than safe to assume that these “saving truths” are found exclusively within Mormon theology. So, ultimately, as long as the fabricated “translation” of the Book of Abraham aligns with Mormon theology it is considered Mormon scripture.

This means that, so far as the method of creation is concerned, there is no difference between the Book of Abraham and Doctrine & Covenants, Mormon scripture consisting mainly of spiritual revelation purportedly given to Smith. In both instances, the Mormon prophet simply declared his words as scripture, which made it so.

The question becomes, why not do the same with the Book of Abraham? Clearly, Smith was comfortable creating scripture. Why go to great lengths in “translating” some papyrus to create the Book of Abraham?

SAVING TRUTHS

For whatever reason, Smith decided to create the Book of Abraham in a unique fashion unlike Doctrine & Covenants. (Not so unique when you consider his previous venture in creating the Book of Mormon). Fast-forward to today and the LDS Church is placed in the awkward position of explaining why their founding prophet did not actually do what he said he did.

The solution is just as dubious as the claim Smith made – officially, the Book of Abraham is  scripture based on a text that has nothing to do with the scripture itself, because it aligns with “saving truths.”

Essentially, the LDS Church is saying, “Our prophet Joseph Smith translated the German phrase ‘Ich liebe dich’ as ‘The train station is blue,’ even though the actual translation of that German phrase should read ‘I love you.‘ But, that doesn’t really matter because the point of the translation is to inform us that the train station is blue.”

The LDS Church’s defense of Smith’s fabrication is, frankly, absurd.

Frankly, this is absurd. No one would allow such a low standard of translation (if the term translation can even be used here) to apply to the Bible. Again, if the Gospel of Matthew was actually Roman tax documents and a pastor told you that what really matters is whether or not the fabricated information in the Gospel dealt correctly with salvation, how would you react? Hopefully, your reaction would be to reject both the pastor’s authority and the defunct text.

BOOK OF ABRAHAM VS. THE BIBLE

Regardless, I think it’s important to look past the obvious (that Smith fabricated his “translation”) and examine the LDS Church’s essential claim about the message of the Book of Abraham – does the Book of Abraham align with “saving truths” found in the entirety of the Mormon scriptural corpus? Unfortunately, for the LDS Church, it quickly becomes apparent that the answer is ‘no.’

First, there are a few internal issues that must be dealt with, aside from the apparent showcasing of Smith’s newly learned Hebrew language skills.[3] For example, the Bible informs us that Abraham was 75 years old when he departed Haran for Canaan (Gn 12:4). The Book of Abraham, however, disagrees. It states that Abraham was only 62 years old when he departed Haran (Abr 2:14). This is a striking oversight on Smith’s part. Failing at something as small as getting Abraham’s age correct should immediately raise a red flag.

Additionally, the Bible teaches us the folly of Abraham’s decision of identifying his wife, Sarah, as his sister for fear that the Egyptians would kill him to wed her. If you recall, Abraham convinced Sarah to tell the Egyptians that she was Abraham’s sister, not his wife. Eventually, it ends up going badly for Abraham since Pharaoh figures out what was going on and kicks them out of Egypt (Gn 12:17–20).

The Book of Abraham does not clarify Abraham’s life, it contradicts it.

The Book of Abraham, however, actually attributes that folly to God himself, changing the story to God forcing Abraham’s hand in the decision (Abr 2:22–25). In my opinion, in stark disagreement with the recently published article defending the spiritual value of the Book of Abraham, such a flaw does not “support” nor “clarify” the biblical account of Abraham’s life. It contradicts the account, making God out to be the cause of sin in Abraham’s life.

Simply brushing off the historical translation difficulties of the Book of Abraham does nothing in addressing the theological inconsistency between it and the Bible. Of course, the article does not address theological issues within the Book of Abraham; however, any attempt at defending its historicity should be coupled with its veracity. It is not enough to simply defend its legitimacy – the greater question is whether or not it is true, whether or not it coalesces with the Bible.

At the end of the day, there is very little difference between ancient pseudepigraphic or Gnostic writings and the Book of Abraham. Both came well after canonization and were formed for the specific purpose of forcing the biblical message and narrative into a system of theology far from what the original Bible authors attested to.

 CLARIFYING THEOLOGY?

In the article, the LDS Church adamantly contends that, despite contradictions like the two examples above, “The book of Abraham clarifies several teachings that are obscure in the Bible.” It has been briefly demonstrated that the Book of Abraham does not clarify teachings in the Bible, but contradicts them. Yet, the LDS Church must have taken this stance for a reason. What reason would lead them to hold fast to such a stance?

I believe the LDS Church needs the Book of Abraham in its current form not because it clarifies the Bible, but because it clarifies Mormonism. In that way, the sentence above should read, “The book of Abraham clarifies several teachings that were made obscure in the Bible by Mormon theology.”

What leads me to believe that?

The Book of Abraham came at a convenient point in Mormon history. Early in the Church’s history, we see Mormonism (especially the Book of Mormon) teaching a type of modalism, the belief that the Father and the Son are literally the same god. So, for example, the Book of Mosiah (within the Book of Mormon) declares that the messiah was prophesied to be called “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth (Mosiah 3:8).”

However, by 1833 Joseph Smith no longer held to this early modalistic view. Smith came to believe in two distinct gods (or personages), the Father and the Son, through his studies of the Hebrew language. He made a distinction between two Hebrew words for God – elohim and Yahweh – by assigning them to the Father and Son respectively.[4] By the mid-1830s, Mormonism shifted from modalism to binitarianism, the belief that two Gods, Elohim and Yahweh, were to be worshipped.

Without the Book of Abraham, the doctrine of eternal progression is in jeopardy.

Yet, the theological evolution of God was not complete in Mormon thought. When the Book of Abraham was published in 1842, the LDS Church had made the transition from binitarianism to henotheism, the belief that although many gods exist only one should be worshipped. Not only this, but faithful Mormons may actually join the ranks of these other gods in a process called apotheosis, which is known by Latter-day Saints as the doctrine of eternal progression. This is the position the Church holds today.

It would be extremely difficult for the LDS Church to support polytheism without the Book of Abraham. Even Joseph Smith himself presented a very weak argument for polytheism by appealing to the Bible alone in his famous King Follett Discourse. Without the Book of Abraham, there is no definitive polytheism.

Without a definitive polytheism, there is no apotheosis. Without apotheosis, Smith’s words from the King Follett Discourse turn from revelation to heresy. “You have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves,” Smith declared, “to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done.”[5]

Without the Book of Abraham, Joseph Smith is a false prophet.

This is ultimately what is at stake – whether or not Joseph Smith was speaking God’s truth when he declared, “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!”[6]

If that’s not true, then not only is Joseph Smith a false prophet but the religious system he left behind is preaching a gospel contrary to the one preached by the apostles of Jesus Christ. So, the question deserves to be asked – do you believe the Book of Abraham is scripture? Much is resting on your answer.

—–

[1] History of the Church 2:236

[2] Introduction to the Book of Abraham, Pearl of Great Price

[3] It is widely known that Joseph Smith received Hebrew language training at Kirkland, Ohio in the School of the Prophets in the mid-1830s near the time when the Book of Abraham artifacts were acquired. Evidence of his training is clearly seen in the finished work. For example, Smith borrows from the Hebrew kowkab (star) for “Kolob” and translates the Hebrew word for ‘eternity’ as “gnolaum,” which is apparently an old transliteration of the Hebrew owlam. Another example is Smith’s “Kokaubeam” for ‘star,’ which is actually the Hebrew kowkab.

[4] Boyd Kirkland, “Jehovah as the Father: The Development of the Mormon Jehovah Doctrine” (Sunstone Magazine), 37.

[5] King Follett Discourse

[6] Ibid

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The Lost Mormon Language

welcome_utah Mormon history is the fascinating story of America’s most successful modern indigenous religion. It is filled with 19th century frontier religion, angelic visitations, the notorious golden plates, and rugged pioneers. But there is one small part to this story that many people are unaware of – the Deseret Alphabet.

The Deseret Alphabet was an alternate to the Latin alphabet of English that was formed by the University of Deseret (now University of Utah) under the direction of Brigham Young. Theoretically, it would have replaced Latin character in English in favor of the phonetically uniformed characters of Deseret.

If that sounds strange, it really shouldn’t. Forming a phonetic alphabet was not an uncommon endeavor in the 18th and 19th centuries. In fact, Benjamin Franklin proposed an alphabet to alleviate mispronunciation and standardize an American version of English. (Which, in my opinion, would have been pretty awesome.)

The reasons why early Mormons devised the alphabet remain speculative. Some argue that they desired a phonetic alphabet to unify the English language, especially for immigrants moving into the Utah territory who struggled to learn the language. Others speculate that the alphabet was created in an attempt to uniquely distinguish the Mormon community from the United States during their bid to become an autonomous State of Deseret.

Whatever they reason, it is fascinating nonetheless! Here are some examples of the lost Mormon language. For you glossophiliacs, add Deseret to your collection!

THE DESERET ALPHABET

deseret_alphabet

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FIVE DOLLAR COIN FROM UTAH (1860)

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MY HUMBLE ATTEMPT AT THE LORENZO SNOW COUPLET

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 As man now is, God once was; as God now is man may become.

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TITLE PAGE TO THE BOOK OF MORMON

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Will We Become Gods? A Look at Mormon Exaltation

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  • Mormonism teaches that some humans have the potential to become gods
  • LDS employ biblical texts and authoritative quotes out of context as evidence
  • According to the Bible and orthodox Christianity there is the only one God

Among the many unique theological differences between Mormonism and Christian orthodoxy, one stands out among the rest – the Mormon doctrine of eternal progression.

According to this doctrine, part of our salvation process is the potential of evolving past a limited existence as a created human in order to become a creator god. Joseph Smith, the first Mormon apostle, recounts this ‘revelation’ in Doctrine & Covenants.

“Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.” – D&C 132:20

In this instance, the term gods is meant to be understood literally. Human beings will one day literally become gods like God is now. A number of past Latter-day Saint (LDS) apostles have clarified this uniquely Mormon concept.

  • “Man is a god in embryo and has in him the seeds of godhood, and he can, if he will, rise to great heights.” – Spencer W. Kimball, LDS Apostle (1895–1985)
  • “Mortality is the testing or proving ground for exaltation to find out who among the children of God are worthy to become Gods themselves.” – Joseph F. Smith, LDS Apostle (1838–1918)
  • “As man now is, God once was; as God is now man may be.” – Lorenzo Snow, LDS Apostle (1814–1901)

While this is, indeed, a unique idea to Christians, many LDS hotly contest its uniqueness, arguing instead that the idea of exaltation (humans becoming gods) is not a new one. (Of course, it must be said, not all LDS believe in exaltation; however, the idea is still prevalent within Mormon thought.)

In fact, one can find evidence of exaltation in the Bible in addition to the writings of many of the early church fathers and famed Christian thinker C. S. Lewis.

So, is there any truth to these points? Does the Bible teach exaltation? Did the early church fathers and C. S. Lewis hold to the view?

CONSIDERING THE BIBLICAL EVIDENCE

First, we must notice one important thing – the biblical passages typically employed for support of ‘exaltation’ are usually taken out of context. Within context, the Bible is emphatically clear that there is no God aside from God.

Here are just a few verses to this effect: Isaiah 43:10; 44:6,8; 45:5,14,18,21,22; 46:9; 47:8; John 17:3; 1 Cor. 8:5-6; Gal. 4:8-9.

Within the framework that the Bible give us, there is no room for polytheism (the existence of many gods). This is a problem for Mormonism. If human beings are destined to become gods one day, then there is more than one god. Thus, Mormon theology is necessarily polytheistic.

So, while a LDS would most certainly affirm the biblical passages mentioned, the problem of polytheism exists nonetheless.

A potential LDS response is that Heavenly Father is a higher god than we’ll ever be, which is why the Bible seems to teach that there is only one God. We are only to worship him even if we are destined to become gods one day. God, Heavenly Father, is our god.

Unfortunately, this explanation does not do away with polytheism. Whether or not the other gods receive our worship is moot – they exist nonetheless. This is why God says in Isa 44:6, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.”

Yet even a verse like Isa 44:6 can be taken out of context by simply adding “…of this planet” to the end of the verse. Still, one must contest, unless the term god means something other than an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent being, the doctrine of eternal progress necessarily teaches polytheism.

The biblical evidence for exaltation, and by extension polytheism, is simply not there.

“YOU ARE ‘GODS'” – MISQUOTING JESUS

From the New Testament, a common verse used in defense of exaltation is Jhn 10:4. “Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’?'”

Here, we see a clear instance in which Jesus is rhetorically asking whether or not we believe we are called gods. On face value, it does seem like Jesus would agree with this unique Mormon doctrine.

However, on face value, Jesus also calls himself a door (Jhn 10:7), to which I do not believe he meant to say that he may be purchased at Home Depot for a reasonable price. There must be something more to the text.

A closer look at Jesus’ quotation in Jhn 10:4 gives us a hint at what the Bible means here. Notice Jesus does not say, “you are becoming gods.” Instead, he says, “you are [present tense] gods.”

Certainly, a LDS would agree that they are not currently gods (although they may believe they are in an ’embryonic’ state). If Jesus meant to support exaltation in this one instance, why did he use the present tense?

The answer lies in the original source of what Jesus is quoting. Psa 82:6 states, “I said, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.”

Instead of affirming exaltation, it is much more likely that Jesus meant the term gods in the same way the original psalmist did – to describe earthly beings (“gods”) who are being judged for failing in their duties of properly administering justice.

Thus, verses like Jhn 10:4 can be inappropriately taken out of context to support the idea that humans are literally destined to become gods.

“WE MAY BECOME GOD” – THE EARLY CHURCH FATHERS

At the outset it must be said that any evidence for the early church father’s support of the doctrine of eternal progression is shaky and scant at best. The idea seems wholly foreign in their writings.

So, how could they be used in support of exaltation? Simply put, we misunderstand what the fathers meant by the word god.

It was very common for the early church fathers to describe us as “gods” in glorification because we do, in fact, become like (but not ontologically like) God.

There’s a million dollar word – ontological. It simply means “the metaphysical being or reality of something.” So, to be ontologically like God means to be made of the exact same stuff as God.

This, however, is not what the early church fathers had in mind when they referred to us as gods. While we may become like God (free from sin, eternal, etc) we will never be ontologically like God (e.g., omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, etc).

Take, for example, a widely quoted line from Athanasius, “He became man that men might be made gods (emphasis added).” On face value, we can be lead to believe that he would support exaltation. However, within context, we quickly see that he would not.

First, this is most likely a mistranslation. This quote should actually read, “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God (St. Athanasius, De inc. 54, 3: PG 25, 192B, emphasis added).”

With this in mind, note Athanasius does not say ‘become gods’ but ‘become God’. Obviously, he is speaking of our glorification to become like/with God in heaven. No LDS would agree that Athanasius means to say that we will become Heavenly Father. Neither, then, does he mean to say we will become gods.

Another popular quote to utilize is from Augustine, “If then we have been made sons of god, we have also been made gods (Exposition on the Psalms, 50.2)”

As before, face value agrees. Like usual, context doesn’t.

Just a few sentences later he writes, “For the only Son of God, God, and one God with the Father, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, was in the beginning the Word, and the Word with God, the Word God. The rest that are made gods, are made by His own Grace, are not born of His Substance, that they should be the same as He, but that by favour they should come to Him, and be fellow-heirs with Christ. (Ibid).”

Here, Augustine clearly teaches what orthodox Christianity teaches – that we will be perfect like God, but not literally (ontologically, by nature) a god. Unfortunately, for our LDS friends, using this quote from Augustine to support exaltation is unfounded.

(As an aside, it is ironic that this passage would be utilized to support a Mormon doctrine in the first place. Note that it clearly affirms Augustine’s view of the Trinity, an idea that Mormonism rejects.)

“WE WERE ‘GODS'” – C. S. LEWIS

Employing C. S. Lewis to support the doctrine of eternal progression is a very popular move among the doctrine’s proponents. Perhaps this is due to the authority and weight commanded by the theological giant. Nevertheless, were Lewis alive today he would surly disagree with exaltation.

LDS have claimed that Lewis held to exaltation based on a quote from Mere Christianity, “He said (in the Bible) that we were “gods” and He is going to make good His words.”

Again, at face value this does seem to indicate Lewis’s support. However, as with the examples before, we must keep in mind what the author means by the term gods.

Note that Lewis was careful to place quotation marks around the word ‘gods.’ Like the early church fathers, Lewis meant that we will be like gods in that we will no longer suffer sin and death, not that we will be literally gods who are omnipresent, -potent, -scient.

We can be sure of this by placing the quote within its proper context. Lewis goes on to write, “If we let Him. . .He will make us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature. . .which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness.”

Here, Lewis is clearly explaining the process of sanctification and the culmination of our salvation through glorification. We will, one day, become the perfect creatures who perfectly worship the Creator.

If this were not enough context for clarification, Lewis reveals his position perfectly well in the beginning of the chapter when he says, “He is the inventor, we are only the machine. He is the painter, we are only the picture.”

From this, ontologically speaking, are we to presume Lewis imagines a time in which the machine becomes an inventor or a picture becomes a painter? Obviously, we are not.

Lewis clearly defines the orthodox lines between Creator and creation – an impassible chasm not crossed by any manner of exaltation.

EXALTATION IS IDOLATRY

In conclusion, when it comes to the Mormon doctrine of exaltation context is key. Most support for the doctrine comes from a line or two lifted out of context and distorted to mean what the original author never intended.

But, the issue of exaltation goes deeper than simply misquotations and unorthodox ideas.

The deeper issue begins in a misunderstanding of glorification. According to the Bible, our salvation consists of three stages (or aspects): justification, sanctification, and glorification.

  • Justification is instant, the moment we are declared righteous before God by his grace through faith alone (Rom 3:24-25;5:1, Eph 2:8-9).
  • Sanctification is a continual process of becoming more and more Christlike through the Holy Spirit (2Th 2:13, 1Pe 1:2).
  • Glorification is when we die and enter into God’s presence in a perfected state free from sin for all eternity (Phi 3:21).

Mormonism, unfortunately, blends sanctification and glorification into the same process. If sanctification and glorification can be blended together, it only follows that we work towards salvation (something the Bible fiercely rejects, Eph 2:8-9). Add the doctrine of exaltation to this and we come to something even more dangerous – idolatry.

At the end of the day, to be frank, the Mormon doctrine of eternal progression is idolatry. It necessarily takes away the function of our very being (namely the worship of God) and replaces it with a slightly cheaper, albeit tempting, giving of and reception of worship to ourselves.

According to eternal progression, one day we will have people of our own who will worship us. Herein lies the danger – Isa 42:8 says, “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other.” Eternal progression necessarily states that we share in God’s glory of worship, which is idolatry.

QUESTIONS TO PONDER FOR LDS READERS

If you are a LDS reader and would like to further consider the doctrine from a critical angle, here are some questions to ponder.

  1. If exaltation is such an important doctrine of salvation, why is there such scant evidence for it in the Bible and historical Christian writings?
  2. Given exaltation’s importance, why did it take Joseph Smith so many years to teach it?
  3. Why does the Book of Mormon remain relatively silent on the doctrine of eternal progression?
  4. Is it not strange that the LDS Church, which has historically criticized orthodox forms of Christianity for “adopting” pagan concepts into biblical theology, would adopt such a pagan idea as exaltation?
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Saturday Sunday School

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Every Sunday across the globe, most Christians gather together in order to worship Jesus. That is, most Christians. A small group of Christians known as the Seventh-day Adventists maintain that all Christians should worship on Saturday in order to keep the Sabbath.

Adventism, a term from which the group derives its name, began in the 19th century America under the leadership of William Miller who taught the imminent return of Christ (or advent). Like most religious movements in the young American republic, Millerites sought to restore primitive, simple Christianity in response to centuries of European doctrine and dogma they viewed as an intrusion on true Christianity.

As a result, many Christians focused on what they believed was a plain reading of scripture in exchange for whole systems of theology derived from scripture. One of the unique ideas from this religious experiment was a return to observing the sabbath, since it was clearly given as a commandment in Exodus.

Those Millerites who held this view became known as Seventh-day Adventists. Today, the group contends that Christians should worship on Saturday in order to maintain the Sabbath (from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, worship included).

So, is this something Christians should consider? Are the Seventh-day Adventists on to something that they rest of Christianity is missing? Should Christians keep the sabbath and worship on Saturday instead?

SATURDAY MORNING SUNDAY SCHOOL?

The short answer is, “No for salvation, Yes if they’d like to.” The sabbath is no longer a requirement for Christians to follow, although it is certainly something Christians can practice.

Usually, the confusion over sabbath is simply a confusion over covenants. Under the old covenant, Adventists would have a great point. Christians should keep the sabbath because it is a commandment. However, because of Jesus’ person and work, we’re in the new covenant in which the sabbath is a continual rest found in Christ rather than a mandatory twenty-four hour period of rest.

With that in mind, we should always remember that all but one of the of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament – keeping the sabbath. This is because the sabbath was meant to foreshadow the eternal rest we find in Christ, which is why Jesus declares himself “Lord of the Sabbath” in Matthew 12:8.

Because of Jesus, we don’t obey the law for rest, we rest from the law.

Moreover, the Old Testament requirement of keeping the sabbath was satisfied in Christ. Our justification (salvation) in no way depends on our ability to keep the sabbath law. Instead of obeying the law in order to have rest, we now rest from the law in Christ.

All this leads to how the New Testament church treated and wrote about the sabbath. The best places to see this is in Acts 20:7 and Romans 14:5–6. In Acts 20:7, we see the first evidence of Christians worshipping on a Sunday in celebration of the resurrection.

“On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.” – Acts 20:7

The first day of the week for first century Jews was the day we know as Sunday. So, here we have Christians gathering on Sunday, not Saturday, to here Paul preach until midnight. (And you thought sermons at your church were long…)

CHRISTIANS HAVE ALWAYS WORSHIPPED ON SUNDAYS

We also have extra-biblical evidence that points to Christians exchanging the sabbath for worship on Sunday, which they called the Lord’s Day.

  • “But every Lord’s day…gather yourselves together and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned” (Didache, ca. 70CE).
  • “We keep the eighth day [Sunday] with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead.” (Letter of Barnabas, 74CE).
  • “[T]hose who were brought up in the ancient order of things [the Jews] have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s day, on which also our life has sprung up again by him and by his death.” (Letter to the Magnesians, Ignatius, 110CE).

Furthermore, Romans 14:5–6 seems to give a closed-cased against the Adventist position, and the reason why many Christians reject their argument.

“One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.”
– Romans 14:5–6

Paul is basically arguing that it doesn’t matter when we worship. If one person is convinced that they should worship on Sunday, then that’s fine. If another person is connived they they should worship on Saturday, then that’s fine as well. If a third person is convicted that they should worship at 3:30AM on alternating Wednesdays, it’s weird but it’s also okay.

So, you could say, evangelicals esteem Sunday over Saturday but Adventists esteem Saturday over Sunday, which is completely acceptable.

KEEPING THE WHOLE LAW

With all that said, there is a danger in believing we must worship on Saturday in order to observe the sabbath – if Adventists desire to keep the Sabbath as apart of their salvation, then they must keep the entire law. (This is an if, since not all Adventists may hold this belief.)

Paul makes a similar point with a different kind of law-keeping in Galatians 5:1–6. He states that if you get circumcised in order to earn your justification, then you must keep the whole law, which is impossible since by attempting to keep the law you’ve fallen away from grace.

The same could be said about sabbath. If you keep the sabbath in order to earn your justification, then you must keep the whole law.

If we keep the Sabbath, we must keep the whole law.

This is why Christians should fiercely reject the Adventist position if they maintain that the sabbath must be kept in order to receive salvation. If, however, they worship on Saturday in order to maintain the Sabbath knowing that it has nothing to do with salvation but simply preference, then there really isn’t anything wrong.

At the end of the day, Christians are free to worship any day of the week because Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. We continually enjoy sabbath rest in him, since we are no longer under the law. If we want to worship on Saturday, that’s fine according to Romans 14:5–6. However, if we believe that we must worship on Saturday to keep the sabbath as a part of our salvation, then we must also keep the whole law.

Editorial note: Previously, the article was written to reflect that Adventism practices sabbath rest on Sunday. After a wonderfully insightful comment by a reader (Kristine), the article as been edited to better reflect Seventh-day Adventist beliefs. Thanks for the catch, Kristine!

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religion

Mormon Church Explains Past Racism, But Neglects an Important Part

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An article was recently published by the Huffington Post drawing attention to the Mormon (LDS) Church’s explanation for why the organization banned African American males from obtaining the priesthood until 1978. Citing a newly released article titled Race and the Priesthood, columnist Brady McCombs explains how the LDS Church has finally offered the most “comprehensive explanation of why the church previously had barred men of African descent from the lay clergy, and for the first time disavows the ban.”

McComb does a wonderful job explaining the background and importance of such an admission by the LDS Church. He rightly heralds this as a major step forward, something many within the LDS community have undoubtedly already held true. However, the Huffington Post, perhaps unknowingly and to no fault of McComb, neglects to mention an issue that the LDS Church has left out of Race and the Priesthood.

What has not been addressed is an explanation for the Book of Mormon as the potential source of that racism. Maybe the LDS Church feels that discussion of potential racism in the Book of Mormon against Native Americans is inappropriate under an article which deals with race and, specifically, the priesthood.

Nonetheless, it is curious that the LDS Church feels it necessary to address issues related to racism in the church’s past without mentioning racism found within the pages of the “cornerstone” of their religion, the Book of Mormon.

Instead, the LDS Church focuses on racism against African Americans, maintaining that it was a direct result of the cultural context that any majority white American church found itself in the mid-19th century to the late 20th century. No mention, not a single word, is lent towards the racism Native Americans met by past LDS members.

This is not to fault LDS members, but to note that something potentially pushed early Mormons towards holding racists views against Native Americans. That something, of course, is the Book of Mormon.

CURSED WITH A “SKIN OF BLACKNESS”

According to the Book of Mormon, many (if not most) Native Americans, or Lamanites, are descendants of a man named Lehi. Lehi, whose family originated from Jerusalem and fled to Mesoamerica prior to the Babylonian captivity (ca 600BC), had a few sons, most notably Laman and Nephi. In short, Nephi was a righteous man who experienced continual indignation from his brothers.

Eventually, they went their separate ways and formed two tribes of people in modern-day Mexico, as speculated by some LDS scholars. The two tribes became known as the Nephites, those who followed Nephi, and the Lamanites, those who followed Laman.

It is at this point when racism enters the picture. As a result of Laman’s continual indignation towards Nephi and God, his family was cursed with “skin of blackness”; a crude explanation, I suppose, as to why Native Americans have more melanin than Europeans. From the Book of Mormon:

Wherefore, the word of the Lord was fulfilled which he spake unto me [Nephi], saying that: Inasmuch as they [Lamanites] will not hearken unto thy words they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And behold, they were cut off from his presence. And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.” – 2Ne 5:21

To add insult to this injury, Nephi goes on to warn his people not to “mix seed” with the now-cursed black Lamanites as they were to become an “idle people, full of mischief and subtlety (2Ne 5:24).”

Now, do LDS members today believe this means that Native Americans are an intrinsically inferior race of people? No, of course not. Could this have been used to insight past racism in the early Mormon church? Quite possibly, but this is purely speculative.

Regardless of whether or not this passage was a primer behind racist motivations at any time in the LDS Church’s history, be it towards Native Americans or African Americans, these verses’ unfortunate existence alone stands as a testament towards either a racist God or, more likely, a racist author.

POTENTIAL EXPLANATIONS (OR, BETTER, EXCUSES) FALL SHORT

Let’s come to the potential defense from a Mormon perspective for the moment. Can this be spiritualized? Could, perhaps, the “blackness” refer to the Lamanites’ (and by extension Native Americans’) internal character and not their outward appearance? This may be a tempting route to travel, but I see two problems with “spiritualizing” these verses.

First, the Book of Mormon holds human agency in very high esteem (2Ne 16, also Moses 4:3). For God to cause a people group to be spiritually “blackened” would be out of character.

Secondly, the Book of Mormon clearly states that this “sore cursing” is a “skin of blackness.” It is difficult to spiritualize something so plainly written, especially since the author (Nephi) makes it clear later on that he has, “spoken plainly that ye cannot err (2Ne 25:20).”

Of course, Nephi could have simply recorded what happened. This was simply “historical fact” that, when placed within its proper context, tells things in the way that they happened.

Yet again, this leaves us with one chilling conclusion – God uses race to delineate between the value of people. He sees one group as “white and exceedingly fair and delightsome (2Ne 5:21)” whereas he curses another group with a “skin of blackness” who were “idle people, full of mischief and subtlety (2Ne 5:24).”

We know, however, that this is not the case. God does not use race to delineate the value of people. This is a fact that the LDS Church would agree with and even claims that the Book of Mormon teaches.

After all, 2 Nephi 26:33 states, “he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” (A striking, albeit anachronistic, foreshadowing of Galatians 3:28).

Nonetheless, while the LDS Church certainly abandons racism as nothing short of condemnable, and while some aspects of the Book of Mormon do indeed promote equality, there is racist residue leftover from an author(s) who sought to answer why Native Americans have “skin of blackness.” The answer is profoundly unchristian, which should give us pause concerning the trustworthiness of the Book of Mormon.

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1Ne – 1 Nephi, Book of Mormon

2Ne – 2 Nephi, Book of Mormon

Moses – Book of Moses, Pearl of Great Price

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religion

There’s Only Room For 144,000

144000_plane

Of the many unique ideas to Jehovah’s Witness theology, perhaps one of the most intriguing has to do with the number 144,000. This number, found in Revelation 7:4–8, describes 12,000 Jews from twelve different tribes of Israel, all of whom have been sealed into salvation by God. Some quick math reveals that number to be 144,000.

The Watchtower Society, the organization where Jehovah’s Witnesses receive spiritual instruction, teach their members that the number is meant to be understood as a literal amount, and to interpret the tribes of Israel as an allegorical picture of the Society itself. These tribes are seen later in chapter 14 ruling with Jesus.

As a result, the Society interprets this picture as 144,000 Witnesses (throughout history’s past)  enjoying rulership of earth with Jesus for eternity after Armageddon.

So, is this true? Is the Society correct in interpreting the number 144,000 as a literal number of Jehovah’s Witnesses? Perhaps the safer interpretation of Revelation 7, among other safe interpretations, is an allegorical image of the collective body of God’s elect throughout the history of redemption.

In other words, the 144,000 does not represent a literal number of Jehovah’s Witnesses, or even Jews, but the complete and perfect number of those called, both Jew and Gentile, to salvation throughout history by God.

AN ALLEGORICAL FORMULA

If the Society chooses to literalize the representation of the 144,000, namely that it conveys a literal number of privileged Jehovah’s Witnesses, they would be forced to completely ignore the fairly evident symbolism of the number itself. For example, take the fact that 144,000 could be represented as 12 x 12 x 1,000. These two numbers, 12 and 1,000, are common in biblical literature as symbolic.

Earlier in the Book of Revelation we are given a picture of God’s throne surrounded by twenty-four elders. The symbolism in this picture is of twelve elders from the Old Testament (prophets) and twelve elders from the New Testament (leaders of the church, or apostles).

Couple the twelve prophets and twelve apostles with the 1,000 year reign of Jesus spoken of in Revelation 20 and we have a very reasonable interpretation of the number 144,000 – (twelve Old Testament leaders of the saints) x (twelve New Testament leaders of the saints) x (the reign of Jesus Christ for a thousand years) = (the salvation of all the saints, better known as the collective church, both Jew and Gentile) or 12 x 12 x 1,000.

LITERALLY SYMBOLIC

This is but one interpretation of the 144,000 that finds consistency throughout the Bible. Other interpretations include viewing this number as converted Jewish evangelists sent out from Israel towards the end of the world or Jews who were sealed to salvation during the destruction of the temple in 70CE. Either one fits within an acceptable framework of understanding Revelation consistently; however, limiting the number to a literal amount of salvation does not.

Granted, the Society does not claim that only 144,000 people may receive salvation. According to Jehovah’s Witness theology, all may receive salvation. However, the number limits those who will be privileged to rule with Christ in the afterlife.

At the very least, what we should conclude is that the meaning behind the 144,000 doesn’t represent a literal number of people who will be reigning with Jesus in the future. Rather, in my interpretation, it is a symbolic number of all the people who have been saved throughout the years and who will be with Jesus for eternity.

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