Five Objectionable Mormon Doctrines

In The New Mormon Challenge, Craig Bloomberg takes a stab at defining what he thinks the “five most objectionable Mormon doctrines” are. He says:

  1. a finite theism in which God at some point in eternity past was merely a man and not divine;
  2. a view of the universe as not eternally contingent on the will or being of God;
  3. the denial of the necessity of prevenient grace to overcome humanity’s sinful disposition in the process of conversion or regeneration;
  4. the denial of Trinitarian monotheism; and
  5. the denial of the classic Christian understanding of the relationship of the two natures of Christ.

William Ames on image worship

William Ames writing in his Marrow of Theology discusses image worship:

Prayer is opposed by the use of representative images at or before which God is worshiped, even though the worship is referred not to the images themselves – subjectively, as some say – but objectively to God alone.

Superstition of this type is called idolatry, Exod. 32:5; Ps. 106:20; Acts 7:41.

If idols are themselves worshiped instead of God, this is the idolatry which violates the first commandment. If the true God is worshiped at an image or in an image, this is the idolatry which violates the second commandment.

Although such a worshiper does not in intention offend against the primary or highest object in worship, yet from the nature of the thing itself he always offends against the formal worship of God. In his mind a new God, who is delighted with such worship, is imagined as the object of his adoration; religious worship is also given to the image itself. This occurs even when the worship is not considered to be ultimately bound up with the image but is directed to God himself.

The Golden Calf

Israel and Judah worshiped Yaweh in a compromised way that included the worship of deity via statues. This is what happened when Aaron first instituted the golden calf to worship Yaweh – note that Israel was not worshiping other gods, they were worshiping the one true God via a statue. John Sailhamer offers the following exegesis of the incident in Genesis 32:

The Hebrew text of the narrative is somewhat ambiguous about the intention of the golden calf. Did the calf represent “other gods” that Israel was now seeking to follow, or was it rather an attempt to make an image of the one true God, Yaweh? In other words, did the golden calf represent polytheism (worship of many gods) or idolatry (physical representation of God)? It is possible to translate the passage to reflect either view. Thus we must look to other features of the text and context for a solution.
Two immediate factors in the text affect the interpretation of the expression. First, the Hebrew word ‘elohim can be understood and translated either as a plural noun (“gods”) or as a singular (“god/God”). Only the context in most cases will determine which sense is intended. In many instances when the plural “gods” is intended, the verb used with the noun will also be plural. Since the verb in this passage is plural, the NIV has rendered the Hebrew noun ‘elohim in the plural: “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” (32:4). Often, however, the sense of the noun ‘elohim is clearly singular and should be translated “God,” even though the verb is plural. In the book of Nehemiah, for example, this very passage is quoted and the singular verb is used, showing that the translation was taken to be, “This is your God who brought you out of Egypt” (Ne 9:18). The book of Nehemiah thus understood the sense to be singular. Appropriately, in that passage, the NIV rendered it with the singular.
Second, the Hebrew expression “other gods” or “gods” is often, if not always, used specifically as a term for idols and not, as we might have expected, for “other gods” per se. In Deuteronomy 28:36, for example, the expression “other gods” clearly refers not to other deities as such but to “gods of wood and stone,” that is, idols. It is widely recognized that the biblical writers had little tolerance for the concept of other deities existing along with the one true God. The expression “other gods” or ‘elohim (plural) meant simply physical images or fetishes.
In the present passage the term gods, or rather god, represented in the golden calf, seems to be understood as an attempt to represent the God of the covenant with a physical image. The apostasy of the golden calf, therefore, was idolatry, not polytheism. Indeed, throughout Scripture Israel was repeatedly warned about the sin of idolatry.
Several points in the narrative suggest this conclusion. First, that the people wanted Aaron to “make” a god(s) for them (v. 1) shows that the term ‘elohim was understood as something that could be made–an idol, not a deity as such. For example, the same expression is used in 34:17, where the sense is clearly that of making an idol. In the present chapter, as well, Moses called the calf “a god of gold” (v. 31). Clearly, he saw the calf as an idol. Second, the Hebrew word for “idol” is actually used in this passage to describe the “god” that Aaron made: “He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf” (vv. 4,8). Third, Aaron fashioned only one golden calf. It is not likely that one calf would be called “gods” in the plural if actual gods were to be understood. Thus the reference to a single calf suggests that it represented one god/God and not many gods. Fourth, the “god” (‘elohim) which Aaron made is always referred to with the singular pronoun “it.” Finally, the celebration of the making of the golden calf is called “a feast for the Lord” (v. 5). Thus the Israelites saw the calf as a representation of the Lord rather than another deity.

Arthur Bloomfield & Bad Exegesis

I grew up in a church that was enamored with many things that I now find to be less that sound doctrinally – Finney’s sinless perfection for one. One thing that made a huge impact on my thinking was the dispensational thinking of a particular strand unique to my church. The source of much of this dispensational theology was a pastor named Arthur Bloomfield. He wrote and taught quite a bit, mainly on Daniel, Revelation, and other prophetic literature.

He has some odd hermeneutical principles that I embraced until I started looking at them a little bit closer.

Take this passage from the book of Amos for example; in it Amos is denouncing the sins of the northern kingdom of Israel and pronouncing judgment against them for their sins. Amos writes:

“Are you not as the sons of Ethiopia to Me, O sons of Israel?” declares the Lord.

Have I not brought up Israel from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir? Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth; Nevertheless, I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob,” Declares the Lord. “For behold, I am commanding, and I will shake the house of Israel among all nations as grain is shaken in a sieve, but not a kernel will fall to the ground. All the sinners of My people will die by the sword, Those who say, ’The calamity will not overtake or confront us.’

In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David, and wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by My name,” Declares the Lord who does this.

Amos 9.7-12

It is instructive to see how Pastor Bloomfield interprets this passage. In a long section on the Ark of the Covenant he has this to say:

David built a tabernacle for the Ark in Jerusalem, before it entered into its rest in the temple, while it was still the symbol of conquest. Amos says, speaking of the return of the Jews, ’In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up the ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old: that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen.’ –Amos 9.11-12

The Ark was kept in the tabernacle of David during the wars of David after which it was transferred to the temple of Solomon. Amos gives the reasons for building again the tabernacle of David as it was in the days of old–namely, conquest, prosperity, safety. The tabernacle of David would be quite empty without the Ark. You will note also that the building of the tabernacle of David gives promise of the same blessings as does the lifting up of the ensign.

Bloomfield also mentions this in passing in his book All Things New (p. 236): “The tabernacle of David will be rebuilt (Amos 9:11).”

So we see that Pastor Bloomfield took a woodenly literal approach and said that the tabernacle will literally be rebuilt and that this will occur after a future return of presumably unbelieving Jews, and he adds that the Ark of the Covenant will be placed in this tabernacle mentioned by Amos. It sounds straightforward enough on its face, but there is one large problem, namely that the Holy Spirit through the Apostle James has given us the correct interpretation of this passage and it is completely different from what Pastor Bloomfield wrote.

In the famous Council of Jerusalem described in Acts 15 which dealt with the Gentiles being saved and the law of Moses, the Apostle James stood up and the account reads like this:

And after they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, “Brethren, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. And with this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, ’After these things I will return, and I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, and I will rebuild its ruin, and I will restore it, In order that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,’ Says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old. Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles. Acts 15.13-19

James, inspired by God, tells us that the passage in Amos was being fulfilled in his day by the calling of the Gentiles and their grafting into the Israel of God. It has nothing to do with a literal tabernacle being rebuilt in some distant day.

I am not sure if Bloomfield ever addressed this passage from Acts, but it shows the failure of many dispensational authors to account for the interpretations of these passages in the New Testament itself.

John Lennon on Led Zeppelin

For the longest time I have looked in vain to see any of the Beatles comment on Led Zeppelin. I just couldn’t find any- thing on what John, Paul, George or Ringo thought of Led Zep. And to me, the torch passed from the Beatles to Zep in terms of world-dominating groups that mattered. So why this amazing silence? Zeppelin certainly commented on the Beatles a bit. Maybe there is more out there that I haven’t seen, but I finally found one mention last night. It’s from a Lennon interview with the Hit Parader in 1970. Here are the question and answer:

Q: “Do you think in terms of feelings? Do you think of music, popular music, in terms of emotional reaction as opposed to saying something…”

JOHN: “I think in any of those terms. You know, I just think it’s either something I like or don’t like or it’s heavy or it’s light. I like heavy music, I call it rock. I like Zeppelin, I’ve only heard a couple you know, they’re okay.

So there you have it. John, at that early stage of Led Zep’s career, said that ’they’re okay.’ Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Maybe he feared them as rivals and replacements for his own genius, I don’t know.

The Good Life

I’ve quoted the definition of the good life here before; it is: “happiness,” or the good life, which is to be attained in a community of family and friends who can satisfy one another’s material and social needs, behave justly toward one another, and, according to their capacity, contemplate the Good.

I am reading Till We Have Built Jerusalem by Phillip Bess, a professor of architecture at Notre Dame. He writes:

Ethics and politics in this tradition are related to each other, and the subject matter of each is the good life for human beings – which itself is related intrinsically to life in a city (polis). The good life for any individual human being is the life of moral and intellectual excellence lived in communities – a “community” being any group of persons who pursues a common end. The ultimate human community is the city, Aristotle’s community of communities, the foremost purpose of which is the best life for its citizens.

I tend to agree with the ideals of New Urbanism, but the drawback that I see personally is affordability. Moving into a city like D.C., or living in the planned New Urban community tends to cost a lot more than going to the cheap outer rim suburbs. If I could afford to live in a neighborhood setting, I would. I really long for that kind of community, and I’m tired of the suburbs with the buffer of land all around you and not knowing anyone or anything around you.

Bess sums up the tradition on the good life:

the good life for individual human beings is the life of individual moral and intellectual virtue (or excellence) lived with others in communities. Aristotle himself characterized the four components of the good life as good health, sufficient wealth to satisfy our bodily needs, good habits, and good fortune.

Also:

the city (is) the foremost community that exists for the sake of the good life.

Rich, Divorced, ‘Christian’ Pastors

I’ve watched Paula White on TV for sometime now. One of my hobbies is watching stations like TBN and offering a constant verbal criticism of what the people on-screen are saying or doing. Paula White is particularly entertaining. She is able to talk without breathing for long stretches at a time. She is a “pastor.” Never mind that females have not been pastors in the church for oh, about 1,900 years until now. We know better these days.

There is an entire wing of the ‘church’ in America that bears no resemblance to anything Christian that ever came before it. No liturgy, no creeds, no sacraments, just blather from self-help types who talk only about sowing seeds and endlessly fleece huge flocks of apparent dupes who seem to want to be rich and prosperous like the female pastors they emulate. I don’t get why people would possibly give money to people like Paula White, Ken Copeland or whoever the latest scam artist is, but I guess there’s one born every minute as the saying goes.

These prosperity gospel types are adept at being slaves to whatever the inane pop culture of the moment is turning out for the masses. When I was growing up it was easy to see Jim Baker, Tilton, Tammy Faye and Jan Crouch as absurd leftover from a bygone era. They had silly hairstyles that identified them immediately as religious hucksters and women who were stuck in a timewarp. But these days the modern conmen and women are more schooled in hip ways. I see several young conmen with soul patches, goatees, and hip glasses. They talk hip language and import the same prosperity gospel (prospgosp) concepts from the past, in a context that is more “RELEVANT” to today. They are morphing to milk money from the new generations. And it appears to be working:

As the church gained members and revenue, the pastors changed. Paula built her international television ministry and became a life coach on “The Tyra Banks Show.” Randy talked of performing nuptials for Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson in Michigan (they filed for divorce a month later). He boasted that he wasn’t like “religious” people, posing in 2005 for a cover story in Makes and Models magazine, a publication devoted to exotic cars, motorcycles and scantily clad models. He has tattoos, collects guns and enjoys wine.

At a Sunday service in April, he introduced his former personal trainer – an attractive ex-porn star turned Christian – from the pulpit.

“We’re cutting edge,” he told the Tribune that month. “We do things a little bit differently than what a typical ministry would do.”

and:

Michael Chitwood, whose financial services company devised their compensation package, said he recalled they have taken an annual salary as high as $1.5 million collectively, though most years it’s closer to $600,000.

They were approved to take up to $3 million collectively, said the president of Chitwood & Chitwood of Tennessee.

Perhaps the most complex part of their divorce, being handled by Holland & Knight law firm, will be dividing up the assets, debts and business interests.

The couple’s home on Bayshore Boulevard has an assessed value of $2.22 million. They have a land trust that includes two Tampa houses with assessed values of $144,800 and $257,835. The New York condo is valued at about $3.5 million.

That’s what it’s about, hanging out with B list celebrities and having serious cash to roll with. Sounds sort of like the American dream right? America has totally remade the Church into its own image: democratic, money loving, celebrity worshiping. It’s a joke and so many people have sickened of it, and yet the crowds still flock to hear clowns like Osteen who have nothing to say to the soul, only nice chitchat about success. Perhaps it should not be surprising given that the average American lives a life bombarded by media and rarely if ever stops to think about anything meaningful. If we do stop, say on 9/11, we are told by our President to get back to shopping to keep the economy going.

So, Paula is getting divorced (divorce number 2). In the ancient church, right up until about 1960, divorce was a scandal. In the modern church, it’s just a fact of life that we really don’t even think much about. Kind of an ‘oh well’ like quitting a job or selling a car. And this isn’t just the laity, we are talking about ‘pastors’ like Paula and Randy. Their ‘ministry’ will go on. Anyone who questions if it is ok for twice divorced women and men to be ‘pastoring’ will be called a ‘legalist’ who is ‘judging’ these anointed ones.

Let’s be clear: ministries like “Without Walls” have as much resemblance to what used to be the Church as does that other classically American religion – Mormonism, which is to say a faint one. All previous doctrine and discipline is thrown out the window for whatever the teacher of the moment thinks the Bible says – or that God directly tells them. For Mormons, this meant a rejection of previous church doctrine and discipline. They took wine out of communion, made the eucharist an ‘ordinance,’ rejected infant baptism and the Councils and Creeds of the Church, they also rejected the teaching of the church for centuries on marriage (among other things).

The prospgosp folks have remade the church into a money making racket, built on false revelations, false doctrines, no church discipline and whatever else they dream up. It’s disgusting, but it’s popular.

The Need for Enemies and the Federal Vision

In America, we had the Nazis and the Japanese to fight, before that I suppose it was the slaveholders vs. the abolitionists, and Whigs vs. Democrats, etc. After WW II ended, we moved on to Communism. The entire nation, and much of the church, defined itself by being anti-communist. There was an evil enemy our there that we had to destroy. And communism was evil and did need to be opposed. But the wall fell, it came crashing down. For the period of the 90’s, we cast around not knowing how to define ourselves as a country. The left feared militias, the right feared Clinton, thinking he was going to put people in concentration camps or some absurd thing.

Then 9/11 came and gave us our new enemy. For Christians, it is true that Islam has been a vicious opponent from its inception. But America latched on to having a new enemy. Defense spending started skyrocketing again, and the right quickly churned out reams and reams of literature about this new threat that came out of nowhere and now demanded military and political exertions of power in places we had never heard of (and oh yes, lots of money).

Much of the church is the same way. It exists in a constant act of opposition, not against the world, the flesh, and the devil, but against other branches of the same tree. You might see this manifest itself in statements that say “Catholics believe this but we believe that.” Who cares what Catholics believe? Why do you have to always define yourself against what they believe? Are there only two options?

An extreme example of this in America is the very small world of Reformed theology. We in the Reformed camp like to think that we are the center of the universe intellectually, but really that’s not the case. And in terms of numbers globally and in America, the Reformed slice of the Christian pie is very small. That won’t matter to any of these folks though. “Wide is the gate…” and other such verses will be used by them to justify their insignificance.

But even in this small slice of the world, there is an overwhelming need for enemies. Can you imagine a century of Reformed thinkers who simply build the kingdom and elucidate a positive theology? No, we must always be defining ourselves against enemies. If it’s not theonomy it’s six day creation or Van Til or the emergent church or charismatics or something. There just has to be an enemy all the time to generate newsletters, blogs, books, and hate. It’s nice to have a mission, and since by and large the Reformed aren’t known as the world’s evangelists, the mission is often theological battle, followed by church court cases. The Federal Vision is a perfect case in point. Most people have no idea what the term even means, and then they conflate it with the New Perspective and Norman Shepherd – how this happens I really don’t know. Perhaps they are intellectually lazy and so can’t figure out that the three have nothing to do with each other, or perhaps they think it is all part of some evil paradigm to destroy ‘the gospel.’ But the Federal Vision is the whipping boy of the moment for brave keyboard theologians, tapping away at all hours to defend the 123 Reformed denominations (as measured on 6/16/2007) from the perils that are inside the gates. These fearless defenders are bravely sending out fresh blasts into cyberspace, standing in the shoes of Calvin and Edwards to smite the modern day Papists, er, FV-ists. Perhaps they author things like, “The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Rule of the Federal Vision” or “The Death of Death in the Death of the Death of the Federal Vision” – good titles like that. They have the enemy firmly in their sites and they are going to stop at nothing to defeat them.

But there is one problem – what do you do when the controversy ends? How do you find another enemy? What will whip people up into reading your journal, your magazine, your blog, or listening to your radio program? Well, I’m sure we will have that answer soon. Let us all watch together as a new enemy will rise up. It should happen in the next year or two.

Pascal on the Holy Spirit

Blaise Pascal and the Baptism of the Spirit (have any of us ever had anything like this happen?:

When he was 31 years old, less than eight years before his death, Pascal had an overwhelming experience of the presence of God.He apparently made hasty notes, during the vision or immediately afterwards, so that he might al- ways have at hand a reminder of what had happened to him. He transcribed these onto a piece of parchment and sewed it into the lining of his coat, where his servant found it after his death. There is no evidence of his having men- tioned the experience to anyone while he lived. The parchment reads as follows:1(Bible references added; translation by Emile Caillet and John C. Blankenagel, Great Shorter Works of Pascal, Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1948)

MEMORIAL

In the year of grace, 1654, On Monday, 23rd of November, Feast of St Clement, Pope and Martyr, and others in the Martyrology, Vigil of St Chrysogonus, Martyr, and others, From about half past ten in the evening until about half past twelve,

FIRE!

God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, (Ex 3:6; Mt 22:32) not of the philosophers and scholars.

Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace. God of Jesus Christ.

“Thy God and my God.” (Jn 20:17)

Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except God. He is to be found only in the ways taught in the Gospel. Greatness of the Human Soul.

“Righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee, but I have known Thee.” (Jn 17:25)

Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.

I have separated myself from Him.

“They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters.” (Jn 2:13) “My God, wilt Thou leave me?” (Mt 27:46)

Let me not be separated from Him eternally. “This is eternal life, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.” (Jn 17:3) Jesus Christ.

JESUS CHRIST

I have separated myself from Him: I have fled from Him, denied Him, crucified Him.

Let me never be separated from Him.

We keep hold of Him only by the ways taught in the Gospel.

Renunciation, total and sweet.

Total submission to Jesus Christ and to my director. Eternally in joy for a day’s training on earth. “I will not forget thy words.” (Ps 119:16) Amen.

Notes

  • 1
    (Bible references added; translation by Emile Caillet and John C. Blankenagel, Great Shorter Works of Pascal, Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1948)