Are Mormons Christians?

When having a spiritual conversation with a Mormon, the definition of Christianity can become a divisive point. So, what exactly are their beliefs? Let’s look at the history and major doctrines of their system to see how it lines up with scripture.

 I. The History

  • Church – The Church of Jesus Christ of Ladder-day Saints (LDS or Mormon Church) was founded in 1830 by founder Joseph Smith in Fayette,New York.
  • Visits – Smith claimed to have been visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ. He said during the visit that Jesus told him all churches were corrupt, and had been since the death of the original Apostles. Smith also claimed later that an angel named Moroni visited him, and revealed the location of special gold plates.
  • Marriage – In 1843 Smith said he had received a revelation sanctioning plural marriage (polygamy), but later it was officially banned by the LDS in 1890. The leader Wilford Woodruff claimed to receive a revelation ending the practice.
  • Location – Pressured to leave several areas, Smith settled in Commerce,Illinois. After a critical article toward Smith, a newspaper was destroyed and Smith was arrested. While in jail, he and several other leaders were murdered by a mob.
  • Leadership – Most Mormons decided to follow Brigham Young (one of Smith’s twelve apostles). He led them on a long difficult pilgrimage to Utah (Salt Lake City).

II. The Writings

  • Book of Mormon – Joseph Smith wrote the entire book of Mormon, and published it in 1830. He said he had translated the golden plates into a book, and that the angel Moroni had already carried the plates back to heaven.
  • OthersDoctrines & Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price were also written by Smith. Some of thePearl book he claimed to have translated from an ancient Egyptian document he’d purchased from a traveling show.

 III. The Beliefs

The doctrines of the LDS church may surprise you if you’ve not read about them. At the same time, it’s important to know that these points are not clearly specified by a team at your doorstep. The goal of this post is to familiarize and display how terms may sound the same, but mean something different. For example:

  • God – God the “Heavenly Father” is married to “Heavenly Mother” and had millions of “spirit children” in a preexistent time. The origin of “Heavenly Father” is best described in a famous Mormon quote, “As man is, God once was; as God is, man may become.” Basically the teaching is that God was once human, but achieved “godhood” through a process of eternal progression.
  • Jesus – Their teaching is that Jesus was one of two sons who wanted to redeem the world. The other son was Lucifer. Jesus was chosen and Lucifer was rejected. He rebelled, became Satan, and took 1/3 of the spirit children with him (becoming demons). The other 2/3 came to earth as babies.
  • Salvation – The core belief is called the “Law of Eternal Progression” and is what they refer to as the “Restored Gospel”. The term “Gospel” is the whole idea of progression, not the good news of Jesus dying on our behalf.
  • Lifestyle – Mormons are known for their moral lifestyle. There are certain things a Mormon in “good standing” will be participating in, such as good conduct, regular church involvement, up-to-date on their tithe (full 10%). Also, being a Mormon means you’re part of “eternal marriage”, where you and your spouse hope to someday get your own cosmic domain to populate.
  • Eternity – The idea for eternity is also one of progression. It starts at death with faithful Mormons going to paradise, and all others going to “spirit prison”. However, in the afterlife all people eventually make their way to paradise, through various methods. Here’s how it all shakes out:
  • Telestial Kingdom – For sinners, criminals, and others
  • Terrestrial Kingdom – Non-LDS practicing religious people
  • Celestial Kingdom – Obedient and worthy Mormons, eventually achieving “godhood”

IV. Response

Basically the pivot point of the whole conversation is hinged on the person, and nature of Jesus. The Bible is clear concerning Him. He came as Savior, because we could not, and cannot save ourselves. As much as we would like to, we can’t even live up to the 10 Commandments, much less a broader set of rules. Think about these basics truths of scripture, compared to our list above:

  • God is Trinity – Genesis 1 and John 1 we see each of the three persons distinctly
  • God is Spirit – not bodily, having children – John 4:24
  • God has no beginning – He is “everlasting to everlasting” – Psalm 90:2
  • Jesus was not created – He was always with God – John 1
  • We cannot earn salvation – Romans 3:23, 5:8, 6:23, 10:9

In Galations 1:6-10 Paul warns the readers of those that would preach a “different gospel”, and not to follow anyone teaching something different. Also too, the Revelation given to John ends with a strong warning to those who would add to or take away from the truth of God’s Word. The subtitle of the Book of Mormon is “Another Testament of Jesus Christ”, which I think is self explanatory.

Conclusion – It’s true that Mormons have a strong moral code, and use the term “gospel”, however it’s an inferior “gospel”. The true Gospel of Jesus Christ is grace, mercy, and faith, not something earned by works – Ephesians 2:8-9. It’s a far Superior Gospel to any other imitator, and available to anyone who chooses to place their faith in Him. I pray that everyone who reads this post has already, or will consider doing so today.

Series: Consider This…

Lesson: 10

Islam: What’s it all about?

Scenario: While talking to your co-worker, the subject of Christmas comes up. Since he’s a Muslim, you ask him his thoughts concerning it. He says he believes Jesus was a great prophet. How do you answer?

Obviously, there are lots of news stories concerning Islam, but what about when it gets personal? How can I express my Christian views with a Muslim, without becoming enemies? Well, there are a few points to consider.

First, as a side note, there are people with multiple letters after their names who’ve written more extensively, and with more authority on the subject than this post. Three of them are Ergun Caner, Emir Caner, and Sam Soloman. There is also a website with many articles if you’re interested at:

http://www.answering-islam.org/

With all of that being said, I hope this brief overview will be a help.

I. Fast Facts

  • The founder of Islam was Muhammad, and was born in the city of Meccain in 570 AD.
  • He claimed to be the “final prophet” of Allah (Arabic for God) in a line of prophets stretching back to Adam including major Old Testament figures like Abraham, Moses, and even Jesus of Nazareth.
  • The term Islam means “submission” or “surrender”.
  • A Muslim is a follower of Islam.
  • Three largest sects: Sunni, Shiite, and Sufi.
  • The two main components of the belief system are the Qur’an (their holy book) and Sunnah (Muhammad’s example)

II. Worldview

This quote from Sam Soloman in Ravi Zacharias’ book Beyond Opinion (p.62) sums up the Muslim worldview:

“Islam cannot be defined as a religion in the Western sense of the word; neither can it be termed as a faith. Muslim scholars state that Islam is an all-encompassing system-a sociopolitical, socioreligious system, as well as socioeconomic, socioeducational, legislative, judiciary, and military system governing every aspect of the lives of its adherents, their relationships among themselves, and with those who are non-Muslims.”

As you can see, it’s a view that includes all aspects of life. As Westerners, we tend to think of life in compartments, including our faith, but not so with Muslims. For them, “life stuff” happens inside the box of Islam, as opposed to us where we tend to think that “Christian stuff” happens inside of life-big difference. Perhaps here is a great place for us to ponder the question, “Does my life reflect Christ in every dimension or just some parts?”  

Disclaimer: It’s important to mention here that I list the important doctrines for the purpose of understanding the big picture. Each individual Muslim’s commitment and understanding varies, just like Christians, so avoid a blanket application to every person. Approach each conversation independently.

III. Important Doctrines

  • Abrogation – This doctrine teaches that Muhammad continued to receive revelations from Allah, through the angel Gabriel. When a “revelation” conflicted with earlier “revelations”, it superseded the previous. This creates difficulty because the earlier ones were not stricken, and are scattered throughout the Qur’an. For example, early revelations mentions Christians & Jews as friends, but later they’re categorized strongly as enemies.
  • Takkiya – This doctrine teaches that it’s OK for a Muslim to lie to or deceive others if the purpose is furthering the cause of Islam. This technique is used effectively in the public arena, such as debates and political discussions. It can be displayed in word and deed.
  • Biblical Corruption – This doctrine teaches that Christians and Jews tampered with the scriptures to edit out various prophesies of Muhammad’s coming, and the proper narrative of Ishmael as the rightful heir to Abraham.
  • Living Obedience – This doctrine teaches that a Muslim is obligated to observe various lifestyle duties. These include ritual prayer, fasting, almsgiving, dress codes, and much, much more.
  • Fitrah– In this doctrine, Muslim scholars reference Sura 30:30 (Qur’an) to say that all mankind is created Muslim, including Old Testament prophets, and Jesus. Since it’s believed that no one is exempt, Sam Soloman explains the rationale as “one’s parents, community, environment, or other influences make one a non-Muslim. As such, people who are of another faith –such as Christian, Jew, pagan, or other belief system- are in a state of rebellion against Allah. That is why when a non-Muslim converts to Islam, the term reversion is applied instead of conversion because they are “reverting” back to their birth status as Muslims.” (p.67)

IV. The Response

As you can see (even with very brief bullet points) a person who follows Islam views the world with a mindset framed by their religion. On first glance, it may seem unlikely that a Muslim would be interested in the Gospel, but the truth is that many are coming to faith in Jesus every day. Here are some points to remember if you should have the chance to discuss spiritual matters with a Muslim:

  • Prayer – First, it is of the utmost importance to remember; it’s the Lord through the person of the Holy Spirit who draws people to Himself (John 6:41-44). In that passage, people thought Jesus was “just Joseph’s son”. In the same way, Muslims think of Him as “just a prophet”. Pray for hearts to be tendered toward the true message of Christ.
  • Relationships – Titus 2:6-8 tells us to live a life that leaves no room for people to accuse us of being hypocrites. Living what we preach helps us earn the right to speak.
  • Respect – As a general rule, it’s a good policy to describe and reinforce the positive aspects of Christianity, as opposed to tearing down Islam.
  • Common Ground – Since there is a mutual regard for Old Testament figures and teachings, consider starting with the 10 Commandments. Since the 10 commandments are not possible for us to keep perfectly, we need help…a Savior (James 2:10 & Gal. 3:24).
  • Jesus – Love & grace are the keys. These two ideas are totally foreign in Muslim teaching, such as God loving us, dying for us, and desiring to have a personal relationship with us (Eph. 2:8-9). In Islam, the view of God is impersonal and authoritative, not personal and covenant-making as we know Him.

V. Conclusion

If you have a friend or co-worker that’s Muslim, pray for an opportunity to start a conversation. You may feel unprepared, but remember Who it is that does the spiritual work. Our job is to share. You may be the only true Christian your friend ever meets. Tell of His mercy and grace in your life, and how that same wonderful love is available to them too.

By the way, if you want to listen to an audio interview of Sam Soloman, follow this link:

http://europenews.dk/en/node/5449

Series: Consider this… “A Conversational Defense of our Faith”

Lesson 9: Islam: What’s it all about?

Co-habitation & Marriage Math

Jim Daly & Esther Fleece of “Focus on the Family” recently posted 2 great pieces regarding couples living together before marriage. Both articles can be found at http://ht.ly/6WnOe  

Because I often come in contact with this subject, I have two quick thoughts:

  • God’s Marriage Math – According to Jesus in Matthew 19:5, God’s mathematical equation for marriage is 1+1=1. In His words, “the two shall become one flesh”. Yes it violates the rules of math, but since God designed it, He can define it. As humans we attempt to redefine it, such as co-habitation. The problem with co-habitation is the “co” part. It looks like this, 1+1=2. That works in math class, but not in God’s design for a life long relationship. Each person is still their own, just trying to live like one. With it, issues abound, and there is no core “oneness” to come back to.
  • True Love – In my experience, when people “move in together”, usually one person in the relationship is more motivated to do so than the other. Ask yourself this “Is it driven by selflessness, or selfishness?” The Bible describes the nature of true love as “selfless”. It’s true whether you’re looking at the life of Christ, or the numerous references in Paul’s letters such as I Corinthians chapter 13 & Ephesians 5:25. Authentic genuine love has the best interest of the other person in mind…always.

 Obviously, there are many who disregard what the Bible says, but for those interested, the Bible speaks clearly and God’s way is the best way!

Jesus Among Bumper Stickers

Scenario: In a conversation with your neighbor, you notice a new bumper sticker on their car. It spells C-O-E-X-I-S-T using different religious symbols, including a cross. You ask, ‘What does that sticker mean?” They answer, “It means everyone can get along if we eliminate criticism of each other’s beliefs. Our church gave them out.” How would you respond?

Additionally, a young man interviewed at a recent political protest said Jesus’ mission was social justice. Oh really? Was Jesus on a mission of activism, or was His message unique? Let’s consider…

I. Jesus as Historical – Is there evidence for Christ other than the Bible? Yes, as a matter of fact there are many historical sources referencing Him.

  • Roman Sources-Tacitus (Roman Historian), Suetonius (Secretary to Emperor Hadrian), Pliny the Younger (Roman Administrator), Emperor Trajan, and Emperor Hadrian all mention Christ directly and/or His followers.
  • Jewish Sources-Talmudic writings describe Jesus of Nazareth’s ministry and how it led to execution. Historian Flavius Josephus’ specifically mentions Jesus.
  • With Jesus of Nazareth being a proven historical person, and many eyewitness accounts of His claims (including the four Biblical Gospels) we’re faced with the classic C.S. Lewis question, “Was He a liar, a lunatic, or Lord?” Obviously, someone can choose to believe he was a liar or lunatic, but what if He REALLY is Lord? I believe He is, and the Bible has some very BOLD words connected to Him. For example:

II. Jesus as Divine – Was He really God?

  • The Bible clearly declares in John 1:1-5 that Jesus was part of the Godhead (Trinity) before creation, active in creation, and here in the flesh ministering.
  • Jesus claimed he was Messiah (John 4:26, 5:39), claimed He was God (John 10:30, 14:9), and even went so far as to use the personal Holy Name “I AM” God revealed to Moses in John 8:58.
  • He made very bold statements and always spoke from a position of authority. He wasn’t passive, compromising, or distracted by inferior causes. Even in death, He had the power to lay down His life when He chose to (John 10:17-18).

III. Jesus as Human – Was He really Human?

  • The Bible describes Jesus being conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born after a natural 9 month time period, and in a natural way. He even had to grow up (Luke 2:52), along with siblings.
  • Physically – He experienced hunger, thirst, fatigue, etc.
  • Emotionally – He experienced sorrow, anxiety, separation, anger, etc.
  • Death – His actual death was confirmed by a spear in the heart (John 19:34)
  • Resurrection – Back to life with a literal body (Luke 24:42-43)
  • Witnesses – His body was seen by many first hand witnesses (I Corinthians 15:3-7)

IV. Jesus as Savior

  • Redemption – John the Baptizer describes Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29-34). In that statement the Old Testament promises of a deliverer culminate, and Jesus begins His ministry.
  • Exclusive – In John 14:6 Jesus says He is the ONLY way to God. His statement is clear, concise, and without room for interpretation gymnastics. Based on Jesus’ own words, there are no other options for salvation outside of faith in Him.
  • Grace – Forgiveness of sin and freedom are available through Jesus (Romans 8:1-2)
  • Reigning – Hebrews 1:1-3 tells us that He is sitting beside the Father now reigning as King.
  • Advocate – Jesus is our go-between with the Father, and we can turn to Him in our time of need (I John 2:1-3)
  • Returning – Revelation 19:11-16 describes a returning King taking care of business. The name He wears is KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. With “fierceness and wrath, He will strike the nations” and all will know He is God.

V. Conclusion –  Jesus as a great teacher going about doing good deeds is acceptable in most circles , but He’s more…much more. He is Savior, and the Bible says without Him we are lost, without hope, and destined for a place called Hell.

Jesus as the only way to heaven may be offensive to some, but it’s true nonetheless and the only message we have. Tolerance and peaceful coexistence are noble, but only Jesus can change a life. He knows our struggles, and can relate to what we’re going through. I hope you know Him in a real way today. If not, acknowledge Him in prayer, confess Him as Lord, ask Him to take charge of your life, and He will change your heart forever!

Series: Consider this… “A Conversational Defense of our Faith”

Lesson 8: Jesus among Bumper Stickers

Egg Rolls & Enlightenment

Series: Consider this… “A Conversational Defense of our Faith”

Lesson 7: “Egg Rolls & Enlightenment”

Scenario: During dinner at a Chinese restaurant your child asks, “What does the gold fat statue near the door mean?” How do you answer?

Most of us have visited a Chinese restaurant, and chances are a statue of the Buddha, more specifically Maitreya (Chinese image of a prophetic Buddha) greeted you at the door. So what does it all mean? Is it just a decoration, or does it represent more than great fried rice? As in the previous lesson, let’s consider the overall themes, and look at opportunities for discussion.

 I. The Framework

The Origin – Around 540 B.C. in the Lumbini area ofIndia (present dayNepal) a prince named Siddhartha Gautama observed the suffering of people and began his spiritual quest, lasting 6 years or so. After receiving “enlightenment”, he developed an explanation/solution for suffering and began delivering philosophical discourses.

His teaching moved away from the pantheism/polytheism of his Hindu upbringing to a non-deity path, focused on self-perfection. He became known as “The Buddha” or literally “The Enlightened One”. Even though there are many sects, with varying depictions of the Buddha, wisdom and self-realization are common components of the teaching.

The Tenets – Although Buddhism shares some common tenets with Hinduism (Reincarnation, Karma, Nirvana, and Meditation) it’s different in key areas. Buddhism is more creedal. The core teaching is the Four Noble Truths, and is more atheistic in nature.

The Four Noble Truths

  1. Life is suffering (Dukkha) – (to be comprehended)
  2. Suffering (Dukkha) is caused by cravings – (to be abandoned)
  3. Suffering (Dukkha) is stopped by ending cravings – (to be realized)
  4. The way to end suffering (Dukkha) is the Noble Eightfold Path – (to be developed):
    • Right View (the world as it really is)
    • Right Resolve (unselfishness and compassion)
    • Right Speech (refraining from harmful speech)
    • Right Action (no violence, theft etc.)
    • Right Livelihood (earning a proper living)
    • Right Effort (preventing evil)
    • Right Mindfulness (total attentiveness – body & mind)
    • Right Concentration (training the mind in meditation)

 II. The Conversation

 When considering these tenets in light of scripture, there are two approaches:

 A. Starting Points – Where do we see positive elements to build a conversational bridge on?

  • Recognition of the reality of suffering – Life contains suffering, but suffering’s origin is the key. The Bible tells us in Genesis 1&2 that God made everything good. There was peace and direct fellowship with God. When Adam and Eve chose to disobey God’s instructions, the result was death, separation, and a curse on the earth. As a direct result of Adam’s sin, suffering is part of an ongoing cycle of pain. We are all subject to difficulty, either as a result of sinful choices (ours/others), or the collateral damage from living in a world ravaged by darkness. The good news is Jesus overcame sin and death (John 16:33) and offers us eternal hope when we place our trust in Him as savior (Romans 10:9-13).
  • Recognition of cravings as a problem – Often I’m reminded of Romans 7:13-25 where Paul describes the daily battle of his flesh versus God. By nature, we are inclined to pursue our own thoughts and interests. Not only do we fail to live up to the 10 Commandments, but we fail to even live up to our own consciences (Romans 1). God’s call to repentance is the only way to permanently deal with our penchant for self-gratification. His Holy Spirit delivers me from sin and death, setting me free from bondage! (Romans 8:1-7)
  • Recognition of a disciplined life as desirable – Discipline is a good thing. An army, sports team, or organization struggles without it. The pursuit of discipline is commendable, and the Bible speaks of Christians living a quiet disciplined life (I Thess. 4:9-12). The question is how? According to Romans 12 & 13, a person transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit is to live a type of life that positively influences everyone around (family, friends, government officials, poor, etc.).

 B. Breaking Points – Where do we see flawed premises that break down under scrutiny?

  • Life is suffering – Based on observation of our natural world, the premise that life is just variations of suffering is not true. God has blessed us in many ways regardless of our acknowledgement of Him. For example, there is the joy of a newborn baby, a sunset, laughter, and the warmth of love. These things point to a Creator who shows His love, even in the midst of a world full of strife.
  • Abandonment of craving – As much as we would love to self-eliminate our problems, superficial improvement is the best we can hope for. Romans 3:23 says we have all fallen short of God’s glory, meaning we fail to measure up to the only standard that matters…God’s standard of perfection. Inside, there is a tenacious selfishness wanting its way, and according to Galatians 2:20 the only way to win is by putting “self” to death. I must abandon my own way, identify with His death, and experience the Son of God alive in me through faith. That’s not just a better path, but redemption, freedom, and victory!   

 In Conclusion – Our capacity for discipline can accomplish tremendous things, even amazing things…but not perfection. No person can leave this world without some measure of imperfection – that’s why we need a Savior. Hebrews 9:27 states we’ll all face judgment after death, and His perfection is my only hope. Faith in Christ is not a way among many, but the only way (John 14:6). If you’ve experienced God’s grace, your story may just be the hope someone needs today…share it!

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