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Sunday, November 27, 2011

We Give Thanks for Our Freedoms: Spirit, Body and Mind

Abraham Lincoln: Proclamation
Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well as the iron and coal as of our precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.
As the 18th century ended and the 19th began, the spirit of liberty was strong in the land. The Revolution was over; men were freed from the tyranny of an unjust government.

But stronger than the Redcoats, many of the old ideas still kept us captive.

Early in the 19th century, the Lord sent forth three men who turned the world upside down, shook it open, and set the captives free.

The first of these, Joseph Smith Jr., was born December 23, 1805.  Three years and two months later, on February 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on the same day.

 Man was never to view himself or his God in the same way again.

Joseph Smith and Abraham Lincoln were born in frontier circumstances. Each attended school only briefly, and each was enormously self-educated. Darwin came from a prosperous family and had a university education. No one who knew any of them or their families could have guessed their importance to the world.

Each produced a seminal document:

Joseph Smith Jr.: the Book of Mormon

Because of this "unlettered farm boy" and the message he brought, man (in the anthropological sense; includes both male and female) was freed from the centuries-old dogma of the Triune God.  When we pray, we are not addressing a formless blob or a concentration of energy; we are speaking to the father of our spirits, our Heavenly Father.

For the first time, we no longer had to ask Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? No longer did we fear that if we made the slightest misstep, forgot the smallest observance, we would burn in the fires of hell forever. No longer need we fear a frowning, vengeful God. Instead we kneel to a loving, gracious Father who loves us and asks only that we love him.

Abraham Lincoln: the Emancipation Proclamation

Another "unlettered farm boy" who saved the Union and made it clear once and for all that man must never be physically enslaved by another man. The soul of this great man is further revealed in his Gettysburg Address. His work laid the groundwork for freedom everywhere; a battle that is still being fought as I write this.

Charles Darwin: The Origin of Species

Though I doubt that he would have thought of himself in this way, Darwin was the product and refiner of the Protestant Reformation. For centuries, illiteracy, the lack of Bibles translated into the vernacular languages, no printing press and no cheap paper conspired to keep men from reading Holy Writ for themselves. All they knew was what the local priest told them, and sometimes he was as ignorant as his flock. So everyone "knew" the Bible said the world and every creature in it was created in six days, fixed in their species forever.

Darwin was the quintessential naturalist; his brilliant seeking mind soaked up information and put it together like a huge jigsaw puzzle. He had the idea of evolution, but knew it could not fit into the 6,000 years alloted for creation. When he boarded the Beagle, his father gave him a going-away present. It was Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology, and the five-year voyage of the Beagle became an unequalled adventure of the human mind.

The closing paragraph of The Origin of Species reads:
It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
These men perceived the Laws of Nature to be the Laws of God, their Creator and ours. In the early days of the 21st Century, let us look back with gratitude to the early days of the 19th, and to our several gifts of freedom. From Joseph Smith, freedom from the wrath of a whimsical and vengeful God; from Abraham Lincoln, freedom from the Simon LeGrees of the world; and from Charles Darwin, freedom from the tyrany of a young earth

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What if the Mormons are Right? [Gasp! Horrors!!]

The subject of whether or not the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is truly Christian or an aberrant cult, is being done to death nowadays. I have written about it before, but this time I propose to address it from a slightly different angle: What If? Just for the sake of discussion, and not to be taken as perjorative in any sense, we might ask: What If we Mormons (LDS) are Christians and "Mainstream Christianity" (MSC for short) is the cult?

Let's look at some of the issues being raised. The first thing that comes to mind is the doctrine of the Trinity. MSC holds that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are three manifestations of the One Triune God. LDS belief is that they are three separate beings, united in will and purpose.
On this question many MSCs are closer to the LDS than you might think. A quick look at the SaintsAlive! Store on this site will show you a number of books whose MSC authors do not accept the doctrine of the Trinity.

Here are just a couple (among many) of examples:

The Doctrine of the Trinity: Christianity's Self-Inflicted Wound [Paperback]
Sir Anthony Buzzard (Author), Charles F. Hunting (Author) Publication Date: August 1, 1998

Book Description [Copyrighted material cannot be copied; thus only the description is reproduced here]:
This important work is a detailed biblical investigation of the relationship of Jesus to the one God of Israel. The authors challenge the notion that biblical monotheism is legitimately represented by a Trinitarian view of God and demonstrate that within the bounds of the canon of Scripture Jesus is confessed as Messiah, Son of God, but not God Himself. Later Christological developments beginning in the second century misrepresented the biblical doctrine of God and Christ by altering the terms of the biblical presentation of the Father and Son. This fateful development laid the foundation of a revised, unscriptural creed that needs to be challenged. This book is likely to be a definitive presentation of a Christology rooted, as it originally was, in the Hebrew Bible. The authors present a sharply-argued appeal for an understanding of God and Jesus in the context of the original Christian documents.

One God & One Lord : Reconsidering the Cornerstone of the Christian Faith John W. Schoenheit (Author), Mark H. Graeser  Mark H. Graeser (Author).

Of course, volumes defending the doctrine of the Triune God are innumerable.
Click on any of these three images to see more.

The next thing we might look at is the insistence of the MSC that the Book of Mormon, since it was "added on," cannot be true. Yet they subscribe to one or more of the following Creeds, all of which are obviously "added on."

 Deuteronomy 4:2: "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish [ought] from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you."
This of course, if taken literally, would obviate the OT after the Pentateuch, and the NT in its entirety.
Revelation 22:18-19  "For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and [from] the things which are written in this book."
With these scriptures in mind, let's look at the following Creeds and their dates:

Symbolum Apostolorum (Apostle's Creed)
The present form first appeared in the 6th century in the writings of Caesarius of Arles (d 542), but prior versions can be traced back to 340 AD in a letter to Pope Julius I and even still further back to a circa 200 document containing the Roman baptismal liturgy. ... Instead of the continuous prayer as we have it today, each line was rather in the form of a question to which the catechumen gave assent indicating he both understood and believed. ... Eventually this question and answer style was modified into the prayer form as we have it today. A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful who recite the Symbolum Apostolorum. ...
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day He rose again. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty.
The Canons of the Council of Orange (529 AD) 
CONCLUSION. And thus according to the passages of holy scripture quoted above or the interpretations of the ancient Fathers we must, under the blessing of God, preach and believe ...  
The Synod of Constantinople  (Hiera, 753 AD)
Thirty-five years later, Irene, the regent for Constantine VI, called another council at which 350 bishops repudiated the decision documented above.
Council of Nicaea (7th Ecumenical,787 AD)
We, therefore, following the royal pathway and the divinely inspired authority of our Holy Fathers and the traditions of the Catholic Church (for, as we all know Holy Spirit indwells her), define with all certitude and accuracy that just as the figure of the precious and life-giving Cross, so also the venerable and holy images, as well in painting and mosaic as of other fit materials, should be set forth in the holy churches of God, and on the sacred vessels and on the vestments and on hangings and in pictures both in houses and by the wayside, to wit, the figure of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, of our spotless Lady, the Mother of God, of the honorable Angels, of all Saints and of all pious people. ... and to these should be given due salutation and honorable reverence not indeed that true worship of faith which pertains alone to the divine nature; but to these, as to the figure of the precious and life-giving Cross and to the Book of the Gospels and to the other holy objects, incense and lights may be offered according to ancient pious custom. For the honor which is paid to the image passes on to that which the image represents, and he who reveres the image reveres in it the subject represented.
See the previous post, Of Temples, Churches and Crosses on this blog, and the page The Cross, the Cross Symbol, and Christianity by MSC writer L.D. Hannons.

MSC holds that Joseph Smith and his successors cannot be called Prophets, since as "everyone" knows there can be no prophets in our day.  But the Prophet Amos wrote "Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets." Amos 3:7.
Are we to infer that, since there can be no prophets today, God will do nothing? If this is the case, why do we waste our time in prayer?
In the Temple, Mormons pledge their time, effort and substance to the Lord. MSCs find this particularly offensive, but who among them, if called upon, would not give all that they have in service to the Lord? Mother Theresa comes to mind.

How dare they call themselves Saints? 

Church Discipline By: Pastor Vincent Nicotra
Church discipline was never intended to drive a sinning saint away or to execute judgment on fallen saints. ...At this point the sinning saint should recognize the seriousness of their offense. ..., for the purity of the church and the good of the sinning saint. . . .  Paul commonly addresses the Christian community as "saints." (Acts 9:13, 32; Rom 1:7; 12:13; Phil 4:22; 1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:1), especially the community in Jerusalem (15:25; 1 Cor 16:1).

To return to our original question, What if? What if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints turns out to be the truly New Testament religion? We would never apply the term "cult" to other denominations, but just ask yourself: What If?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Resurrection and Baptism for the Dead

Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead? 1 Corinthians 15:29  King James Version

Here St.Paul is addressing two fundamental questions: Resurrection and Baptism for the Dead.

I have long suspected that, along with the Virgin Birth, Resurrection is one of the biggest pills for the non-Christian to swallow. A man was killed -- didn't just die, but was actually crucified -- wrapped in linens and laid in the tomb. And on the third day, he came out of the tomb, leaving his wrappings behind, and conversed with his followers. Afterward they saw him ascend into heaven.
Incredible. Unbelievable. If you believe that, you'll believe anything.
There is a name for people who believe that, and according to Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance they constitute about 32% of the world's population. They're called Christians. 

Many, if not most, Christians do not believe the other part of the verse in 1 Corinthians. They want to believe in the Resurrection, but they do not want to believe in baptism for the dead -- so they don't. They either ignore it or come up with some kind of explanation which relieves them of the necessity of belief.
By others, that the apostle refers to a custom of vicarious baptism, or being baptized for those who were dead, referring to the practice of having some person baptized in the place of one who had died without baptism. This was the opinion of Grotius, Michaelis, Tertullian, and Ambrose. Such was the estimate which was formed, it is supposed, of the importance of baptism, that when one had died without being baptized, some other person was baptized over his dead body in his place. That this custom prevailed in the church after the time of Paul, has been abundantly proved by Grotius, and is generally admitted. But the objections to this interpretation are obvious...[Of course. But not to me!]
 Read more:

There is, perhaps, no passage of the New Testament in respect to which there has been a greater variety of interpretation than this; and the views of expositors now by no means harmonize in regard to its meaning. It is possible that Paul may here refer to some practice or custom which existed in his time respecting baptism, the knowledge of which is now lost. Barnes' Notes on the Bible, referenced frequently on the Net.
As a believing Latter-day Saint, I point out the following:
 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. John 3:3.
Should persons who have not been baptized, most likely through no fault of their own, be denied entrance? Does the Resurrection apply only to those of today, and the recent past, or did Christ die for us all? What of the uncounted millions who have lived in remote times and places where they never have even heard of Jesus Christ, much less baptism? Or, having heard of it, had no opportunity to participate?
Will a just and loving Father in Heaven stand at the gate and deny them entrance?

Ask yourself, would you stand at your front door and deny entrance to most of your children, providing food and shelter to only a favored few?

Surely a way has been provided, and Mormons believe that baptism by proxy for the dead is that way.

BTW we do NOT believe that baptism for the dead implies a forced conversion to or membership in the Church. God gave us all free agency, the right to choose. For those who wish to accept baptism, we provide it, just as we do for the living. We offer the key: whether anyone decides to use it is strictly a matter of individual choice.