False Finality in Mormon 3

After the Nephites take ungodly oaths in chapter 3 of Mormon, Mormon says that he “did utterly refuse from this time forth to be a commander and a leader of this people” (verse 11). Yet, we find him in chapter 5 repenting of that oath and leading the Nephites into battle again. If this book was written at the same time, why wouldn’t Mormon say that he refused to lead the people “for several years” or something like that rather than making an absolute statement only to contradict it a bit later? The text of the book indicates that it was written after all these events were in the past (6.6), “therefore I made this record out of the plates of Nephi…”, which happens at the end of Mormon’s life.

The reversal of Mormon’s position instead is consistent with someone who is inventing the story as he goes along, not knowing the future events from the “present” events.

Mormon – Gnostic Connections

It’s hard not to see Mormon undertones in the description of Gnosticism in Pelikan’s “The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition.” First is the belief in preexistence:

Implicit in many Gnostic statements about the cosmological descent of man was a doctrine of the preexistence of man or of his soul; thus according to the Sethian-Ophites, “Adam and Eve previously had bodies that were light, clear, and, as it were, spiritual, as they were at their creation; but when they came into this world, these changed into bodies more opaque, gross and sluggish.”

Second is the idea of having to use passwords to ascend through the spheres of the cosmos and back to the highest heaven.

As the Ophites ascended, they spoke the appropriate passwords at each stage, including this one: “And thou, Ialdabaoth, first and seventh, born to have power with boldness, being ruling Word of a pure mind, a perfect work for Son and Father, I bear a symbol marked with a picture of life, and, having opened to the world the gate which thou didst close for thine eternity, I pass by thy power free again. May grace be with me. Father, let it be with me.”

These ideas are very old and Smith was repackaging them for a new context. Incidentally, there are many Islamic ideas about Christ on the Cross in Gnosticism.

Mormons as Evangelical Dopplegangers

I’ve thought for some time that the LDS church is something of a mirror image of the evangelical movement. This video convinces me even more:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aup9M5HZawI]

If evangelicals think that tearful testimonies about the love of God are monopolized by them, they had better think again. I think the Mormons have it pretty down pat now.

Don’t go in the water!

Doctrine and Covenants Section 61 contains some bizarre stuff. Apparently Joseph Smith and his traveling companions had a rough trip on the Missouri River, so one of them saw a vision of “the destroyer riding in power upon the face of the waters.” This caused Smith to issue another revelation which includes this:

Behold, I, the Lord, in the beginning blessed the waters; but in the last days, by the mouth of my servant John, I cursed the waters. Wherefore, the days will come that no flesh shall be safe upon the waters.

This is apparently why Mormon missionaries are not allowed to swim on their missions (no joke). Some interpreters of this passage say that the revelation only refers to the specific waters of the Missouri River, and some of the language does tend toward that view, but the verses quoted above seem to refer to all waters on the earth. The reference to John seems to refer to Revelation, perhaps something like:

and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.

Either way, this promise of “no flesh” being safe upon the waters seems like a false prophecy. Next comes a threat to Cincinnati:

And again, verily I say unto you, my servants, Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Oliver Cowdery, shall not open their mouths in the congregations of the wicked until they arrive at Cincinnati; And in that place they shall lift up their voices unto God against that people, yea, unto him whose anger is kindled against their wickedness, a people who are well-nigh ripened for destruction.

One would think that if Cincinnati was ripened for destruction in 1831 the time would be up by now, but apparently not.

The Congregations of the Wicked

As previously noted, the attitude of modern Latter Day Saints towards the world is one of near universalism. It is hard to square these beliefs with many statements in LDS Scripture. Today I was reading Doctrine and Covenants, Section 60. In it, God (via Joseph Smith) three times refers to churches that LDS missionaries were to evangelize as “congregations of the wicked.”

This kind of black and white, Abominable Church vs. Pure Church rhetoric is common in the founding documents of Mormonism, but you don’t hear it much from the General Authorities these days. They merely refer to ‘the Apostasy’ which is a catch-all phrase. They generally want to portray modern Protestants and Catholics as well-meaning but mislead. Their attitude is, “we don’t want to take anything you have away, just to come alongside and show you what you are missing in the Fullness of the Gospel.” How this works with our churches being congregations of the wicked is beyond me.

The LDS Church in the Book of Mormon

One of my Christmas presents was the book American Apocrypha, Essays on the Book of Mormon edited by Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe. Much of the book is fascinating reading and I am thoroughly enjoying it. In the essay, Historical Criticism and the Book of Mormon: A Personal Encounter by Edwin Firmage, Jr. there is an assertion that I had not heard before. Firmage writes:

The key to this case is the fact that nowhere in the Book of Mormon’s many detailed prophecies of the last days is anything ever said about the establishment of a new church. The nature of God’s work subsequent to the appearance of the Book of Mormon is very vague, particularly so after the detailed prophecies pertaining to Smith’s involvement in the translation.

It appears that the detailed instructions towards the end of the BoM regarding eucharist and baptism may have been intended as a manual to reform ALL churches, not to establish a brand new church! Firmage discusses infant baptism and says in part:

The matter of infant baptism…is broached for the first and only time in Moroni 8:4ff…This is puzzling since the Nephites have been practicing baptism at least since Alma the Elder’s time (Mos. 18:10ff). How is it that only at the end of the history does the question arise?…Moroni 8 implies that the issue is new: Mormon and Moroni are initially at a loss for a response. Even with his thorough knowledge of Nephite history, Mormon has to go to God himself for an answer (v.7). Mormon’s justification (v.8) is a pastiche of New Testament sentiments taken out of context in a manner not uncharacteristic of the rest of the Book of Mormon.

Both the absence of these issues – the absence of the LDS church from the BoM and infant baptism not becoming an issue until hundreds of years after Nephites had been baptizing – are startling and obvious problems when one performs a close reading of the text. They knock even more holes into the edifice of those who want to maintain that the Book of Mormon is an ancient text.

Eschatology and Sacred Space in LDS and Islam

Eschatology and Sacred Space in Islam and Mormonism

There are some clear similarities at the structural level between how the two faiths view these subjects; but there are very large differences when closer scrutiny is brought to bear on the doctrinal details. The descent of both faiths from a common basis in the Scriptures of Judaism and Christianity provides some common groundwork. When it comes to eschatology both faiths teach the descent of mankind into evil and darkness prior to the return of Jesus to the earth. Both teach a general resurrection of all people who have ever lived on the face of the earth. Both teach that god will judge every person based on what they have done. Both teach a blessed afterlife for believers and a fiery hell for evildoers.

The LDS view of last things encompasses the Biblical teaching on the subject with much of its own material expanding and adding to this teaching. The burning millennialism of the early LDS leaders may have waned but the church itself carries the name “Latter-day” which is a clear testimony to the prevailing belief amongst Mormons that we are near the end of our present age. The LDS standard works, their canon of scripture, have much to say about the time we live in and what is to be expected in the days preceding the return of Jesus Christ to the earth.

It should be recognized that the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the establishment of the LDS church are in themselves notable signs that God is again moving and that the present age is drawing to a close. The Mormon view of history since the first advent of Jesus is that the church quickly fell into great apostasy and stayed in darkness until the nineteenth century. This apostasy is the frequent subject of the prophecies of the Book of Mormon as exemplified by Nephi who writes:

Yea, and there shall be many which shall teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines, and shall be puffed up in their hearts, and shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord; and their works shall be in the dark. (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 28.9)

This apostasy through which all branches of the Christian church had fallen into error necessitated what Mormons call the Restoration wherein the Book of Mormon was unearthed and given to Joseph Smith to translate. Joseph Smith also reestablished the true church, along with its priesthood authority. It is worth noting that the LDS Scriptures mince no words telling of the downfall of the apostate church system in the last days. Joseph Smith quotes Jesus as telling the Mormons that “the great and abominable church, which is the whore of all the earth, shall be cast down by devouring fire,” (Doctrine and Covenants 29.21a).

The standard works include commentary on eschatological passages from the Bible and teachings about the last days unique to Mormon thought. The book of Doctrine and Covenants is LDS Scripture on a par with the Bible and the Book of Mormon and it traces the outline of what is to be expected in the last days. Section 45 has Jesus giving a teaching about the consummation of this age in which he teaches a sequence of “wars and rumors of wars” and other upheavals which seem to run parallel with the unearthing of the Book of Mormon. The coming forth of the Book is described in Biblical phraseology: “a light shall break forth among them that sit in darkness, and it shall be the fullness of my gospel;” (Doctrine and Covenants, 45.28b). The Mormon Jesus goes on to teach that the generation which receives this fullness of the gospel and rejects it will be the one in which the Biblical “times of the Gentiles” shall be fulfilled (Doctrine and Covenants 45.30). In the Book of Moses from the Pearl of Great Price (another part of the standard works) the Lord speaking to Enoch describes the last days as “days of wickedness and vengeance,” (Moses 7.60). Cosmic disturbances are consistently described along with moral evil. When I asked an LDS member to tell me the outline of events leading up to the end of the world he said, “Prophetic events include wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and other natural disasters occurring with increasing regularity, men’s hearts will fail them, unrighteousness will abound, etc.” In tandem with this he mentioned that “…Christ will gather his elect His people (the gathering of Israel).”

Another key development prior to the end is the gathering of Israel to its ancient land including Jerusalem. In Mormon thought this also included the conversion of at least some Native Americans. To Mormons the Native Americans (or at least certain tribes) are the descendants of Jews who fled the kingdom of Judah prior to the exile into Babylon. Their history is narrated in the Book of Mormon and it is believed that they possessed the same gospel that the early church in Palestine did. This American church also descended into spiritual darkness. Their apostasy has left them ignorant of the fact that they are indeed of the seed of Abraham. A key teaching of the LDS standard works is that these descendants of Israel will also be gathered along with Jews from the entire world to their ancient home and will embrace the fullness of the gospel.

The final judgment is a frequent subject in the standard works as well. The wicked will be doomed when it comes, “But behold, the residue of the wicked have I kept in chains of darkness until the judgment of the great day, which shall come at the end of the earth;” (Doctrine and Covenants 38.5). The basic premillenial Christian expectation of the end is taught in the standard works. Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead, and then his people will “reign with me on earth” (Doctrine and Covenants 43.29). As for the wicked, they “shall go away into unquenchable fire,” (Doctrine and Covenants 43.33). The thought of this final judgment is said to strike “the wicked with awful dread and fear” (Jacob 6.13).

LDS book changing

This link is tracking the changes to the most recent edition of the LDS book Gospel Principles. You can read more about it here.

Aaron Shafovaloff tells me that the book is “the main introductory book for new converts and for members in general. The Mormon missionaries widely use it, they use it in classes on Sunday morning, and members will use it for family home evening studies.” Given this fact, and the fact that the thrust of the changes seems to be to make the LDS Church seem more vanilla Protestant in its doctrine, this is worth consideration.

Cynics (and I am amongst them) might think that this is simply a PR move to try and hide more objectionable doctrines for those who go ‘further up and further in.’ On the other hand, there is a real possibility that the Salt Lake church is going the way that the former RLDS Church (Community of Christ) went in moving towards a more orthodox Christian position. This would still leave many smaller Mormon sects in the movement that retain the charismatic and radical nature of the early LDS Church out there, but would mean that the Salt Lake church will continue on the path towards blandness, conformity, a business culture and an attempt to be as unobjectionable as possible. It is hard to see how the LDS Church can become orthodox while holding to the Standard Works that it accepts, but I suppose creative leaps could be made. Either way, the tensions with Mormonism are playing themselves out and it seems like the Mormon neo-orthodox have the upper hand in leadership positions.

Mormons and tongues – 2

Writing in the Latter-Day Saints’ Millenial Star, someone (I believe it is Heber Kimball), mentions Brigham Young speaking in tongues:

We received the gift of tongues and interpretation a few days after we were baptized. The brethren who brought the Gospel to us belonged to the first Branch of the Church that received the gift of tongues, and the Branch at Mendon was the next. Brothers Brigham and Joseph Young and myself went to Kirtland, with my horses and wagon, to visit the Prophet, a distance of three hundred miles. We saw brother Joseph Smith and had a glorious time; during which brother Brigham spoke in tongues before brother Joseph, it being the first time he had heard any one speak in tongues; he testified that the gift was from God, and spoke in tongues himself. Soon the gift of tongues became general in the Church in Kirtland. We had a precious season and returned with a blessing in our souls.

Leonard Arrington in his book Brigham Young discusses this same incident:

Still with the Prophet that evening at prayers, Brigham again spoke in tongues. “As soon as we arose from our knees the brethren flocked around him [Joseph Smith] and asked him his opinion concerning the gift of tongues that was upon me.” Joseph told them, “It is of God.” During the course of the evening the Prophet, who had never before heard speaking in tongues, received the gift himself. Those present remembered this event as a modern replication of “the day of Pentecost,” when the early apostles were “filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” That Brigham, a seemingly practical, rather staid person, should have been one of the few who exercised this “gift” is extraordinary.

Young spoke in tongues prior to this. Arrington relates:

One morning, happening upon the Kimballs as they knelt in family prayer, Brigham silently joined them. Serving as voice was Alpheus Gifford, the Pennsylvania missionary who had done most to convert the Youngs and Kimballs. Gifford suddenly began to speak in an unknown tongue. “At the same instant,” said Brigham, “the spirit came on me like an electric shock to speak in an unknown tongue, and though I was kneeling in an opposite direction, the same moment I turned round on my knees towards him and spoke in tongues also.”

Young counseled a branch of the church and:

taught them that when they spoke in tongues the language might be from the Lord, but with that tongue they spoke the things which were in their hearts, whether they were good or evil; the gift of tongues was given for a blessing to the Saints, but not to govern them, nor to control the elders, or dictate the affairs of the church.

In the book Mormon Enigma by Newll and Avery, we read: “The practice became a part of the Saints’ worship-particularly among women-until well into the next century.” Indeed, this tongues-speaking by Mormon women also generated poetry. In her book White Roses on the Floor of Heaven, Susanna Morrill discusses a poem called “Lines” by L.L. Greene Richards:

The circumstances surrounding the composition of the poem are telling, however, because the messages were conveyed through the gift of tongues by Clara H. James, then interpreted by Rida Taylor, and finally put into polished verse by L.L. Greene Richards…In order to most authentically communicate the revelations delivered in the gift of tongues, often identified as the primordial language of the Garden of Eden, or the Nephite language, Greene rendered them into poetic verse, in this way capturing both the message and the mood….

Ian G. Barber has noted that within the LDS community women were seen to be “natural” seers and visionaries who could more easily than men tap into supernatural and divine messages and powers. Women rather than men most often exercised the gift of tongues. While men sometimes attended and headed these meetings where women spoke in tongues, they rarely seem to have joined in the tongue-speaking themselves. As the community settled in Utah and as the practice of tongue-speaking became routinized, this gender separation became even more pronounced, as did a separation based on age and prestige within the church. This is not to necessarily say that those who spoke in tongues were the ones who wrote the poetry. Sometimes this was the case as, for instance, with Zina D.H. Young who was well known to regularly speak in tongues during Relief Society meetings, but who was also a sometime author, poet, and contributor to the Exponent. Rather, it is more accurate to say: the same forces that led to tongue-speaking also led to nature and flower poetry.

July Mulvay Derr notes in her review of The Personal Writings of Eliza Roxcy Snow, that:

In informal gatherings at Winter Quarters, Eliza and other women, many of them plural wives of Joseph Smith, repeatedly received the charismatic gifts of tongues, prophecy, and healing. These spiritual outpourings Eliza described as “a glorious time,” “a rejoicing time,” “a refreshing time”.

Mormons and tongues

In a book called “History of Mormonism” published in 1840 and written by Eber D. Howe, we get an interesting look into the use of tongues amongst the early Mormons. It raises questions about why tongues are no longer practiced by Mormons. Howe writes:

On the opening of the year 1833, the “gift of tongues” again made its appearance at head-quarters, and from thence extended to all their branches in different parts…it would appear, from all the facts which we have been able to gather upon this subject, that if this gift were not supernaturally bestowed, it required but a few moments instruction from a priest, to render his pupil expert in various dead languages, which could never be understood by man or beast, except a supernatural power was at the instant given to some one present to interpret it. They sometimes professed to believe that these “tongues” were the same which were “confounded” at the building of Babel.

Some curious particulars are related respecting these blasphemous practices by a Mr. Higby, who was eight months an Elder in the Mormon church, and which he published in a small pamphlet. He says that shortly after he joined them, a Mormon Elder said to him, “you must go to work in the vineyard of the Lord as a preacher of the Gospel. I have viewed your heart by the spirit of discernment; I see what is in your heart and what the will of the Lord is, concerning you all.” Mr. Higby says that he was soon after ordained as an Elder in the said church, and commissioned to preach and baptize, ordain Elders, confirm the churches, heal the sick, in short, that he was ordained to all the gifts of the church, which were the same as given to the apostles of old. He continues – “about the 10th of April following, R. Cahoon and D. Patton came again to the place-a meeting was called, and previous to the meeting, they said that some one would speak with tongues before they left the place. Accordingly he set himself to work at that meeting to verify his prophecy. During the meeting he said, “Father H. if you will rise in the name of Jesus Christ, you can speak in tongues.” He arose immediately, hesitated, and said, “my faith fails me-I have not faith enough.” Said Patton, “you have-speak in the name of Jesus Christ-make some sound as you list, without further thought, and God will make it a language.” The old gentleman, after considerable urging, spoke and made some sounds, which were pronounced to be a correct tongue. Several others spoke in a similar manner, and among them was myself. I spoke as I listed, not knowing what I said, yet it was declared to be a tongue. The sound of the words used by some, in speaking in tongues, was a medium between talking and singing-and all, as I am now convinced, a mere gibberish, spoken at random and without thought. Continue reading “Mormons and tongues”