Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ministering to Mormons: The Burning Bosom

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and its missionaries instruct potential converts to rely heavily upon feelings in order to come to belief in its teachings, and they apply pressure to those who don't experience those feelings. Upon praying to God, they claim, the Holy Spirit will confirm that their message is true through a warm feeling. If after some time the one being witnessed to does not receive the warm feeling indicating that LDS doctrine is true, he is told perhaps he is unstable, doubting or lacking in genuineness of intent.

HOW CAN I KNOW THIS IS TRUE?

After explaining the basics of Latter Day Saint doctrine, before leaving the Christian's home the mormon missionary will encourage him to pray and ask that God would reveal the truth of what the missionary has communicated. Latter Day Saint doctrine teaches that this is the principal and proper way to test that what they teach is true. At their public online presence, visitors asking "How can I know this is true?" read the following:

Your Heavenly Father is the source of all truth. He loves you and wants to answer your questions. Therefore, He will help you recognize the truth as you sincerely seek it and ask Him for guidance. You can know if the things you are learning are true if you ask your Heavenly Father in prayer. He desires for you to know the truth, and you can receive an answer from Him through the Holy Ghost.

How does the Father confirm the truth of LDS doctrine in response to the seeker's prayer? In what manner will God communicate this answer? The article continues:

As taught in the Bible, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance” (Galatians 5:22–23). These feelings from the Holy Ghost are personal revelation to you that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is true...Feelings from the Holy Ghost are personal revelation to you that confirm the truth of the Book of Mormon and the gospel of Jesus Christ as restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Latter Day Saints find this doctrine not primarily in the Bible, but in two other works they consider authoritative scripture. First, as explained at the end of the article, the Book of Mormon teaches this method of testing the LDS truth claims:

The last prophet of the Book of Mormon, a man named Moroni, gave this remarkable promise to anyone who wants to know whether the Book of Mormon is true: “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost” ( Moroni 10:4).

Second, one of Joseph Smith's revelations from God as recorded in his Doctrine & Covenants instructed a man to use this test for confirming that what he was writing for Smith was correct:

But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. (Doctrine and Covenants 9:8)

IT WASN'T ANYTHING THAT WAS LOGICAL

The emphasis on a feeling in response to prayer as the primary test of Mormonism's truth is palpable, but at this point the surface has only just been scratched. Not only ought the potential convert to pray to receive this burning of the bosom, but this feeling should be considered to the exclusion of all else. Logic, research, science, archaeology, even the Bible--all of these alternative ways of testing truth claims are to be ignored; only this feeling in response to prayer truly matters.

In one of the videos linked to in the article above, a woman describes how she came to believe in the truth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints:

It was not a decision I made with my head. It wasn't... That was what was so odd about it, was that I was raised in Academia. Everything made sense. I studied. I was a math brain, a science brain... Everything had to make sense, and this was the first time in my life that I was making the biggest decision I have ever made based on something that I didn't feel that I could or had to prove on paper. I knew that God told me this was true. I knew that I had read the Book of Mormon and that I had prayed, and that I had done everything the missionaries told me to do...I couldn't prove it, I didn't... I didn't have any proof and so it wasn't, it wasn't anything that was logical. To ask me what I was thinking, I wasn't thinking. I was feeling. And I hadn't ever really been in touch with my emotions before, and didn't realize how much more powerful that would be. (http://mormon.org/mormonorg/eng/videos/decision-by-faith-jennifer)

The woman's testimony, and its presentation by the LDS Church as being the kind of conversion the seeker should expect--nay, even desire--illustrates LDS doctrine well. Mormonism emphasizes emotions, experiences and feelings, and urges the ignoring of anything else that might contradict its claims. As she put it, "I wasn't thinking. I was feeling."

A SINCERE HEART, WITH REAL INTENT, HAVING FAITH IN CHRIST

If the Latter Day Saints' emphasis on feelings, to the exclusion of all else, weren't enough, it goes still further. If after some time of praying to be shown whether LDS teachings are true one does not receive this "burning of the bosom," it will not be because Mormonism is to be doubted. Instead, blame will be placed squarely on the shoulders of the one doing the praying. Consider the passage from the Book of Mormon pointed to by the article above:

I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. (Moroni 10:4)

Note that one must not only pray, but one must do so "with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ." If one does not receive the promised warm feelings, it becomes all too easy to simply claim that the prayer was made with a lack of sincerity, without genuine intent, or without faith in Christ. It is this subtle pressure that is perhaps the most disturbing aspect to this LDS teaching. If conversion doesn't come about as a result of answered prayer, it can still be coerced through convincing the potential convert that his prayer was somehow deficient, lacking. It's his fault, not the fault of the god of Mormonism.

So what is the Christian to make of this doctrine?

THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT

As quoted above, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints points to Paul's letter to the Galatians in support of this "feeling not thinking" teaching. Paul's words read, "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." The Saints' leaders claim, "these feelings from the Holy Ghost are personal revelation to you that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is true." In so doing, they demonstrate that they are false teachers and prophets, unable to rightly interpret and teach scripture. For here is the verse in its context:

The whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:14-25)

Paul is writing to the Galatians contrasting deeds, not feelings. The "fruit of the Spirit" is contrasted with "the deeds of the flesh", and thus "fruit" is analogy to works, to actions. And lest the mormon claim that to "walk by the Spirit" means to rely upon feelings and emotion in an effort to walk with God, the context of this passage makes it clear that to "walk by the Spirit" means to behave in accordance with the Spirit, rather than the flesh.

IF ANY OF YOU LACKS WISDOM, LET HIM ASK OF GOD

The founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Joseph Smith, claimed that as a seeking teenager in the midst of religious confusion he stumbled upon a passage in scripture that practically leapt from the pages of the Bible and spoke to him personally:

I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible. (Joseph Smith--History 1:10-12, http://scriptures.lds.org/en/js_h/1/)

This realization led Joseph Smith, he claims, to pray for the first time in his life, and mormons will point Christians to this passage as evidence that above all else they should pray to be shown that what the LDS Church teaches is true. However, in doing so they demonstrate yet another case in which the prophets and leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints misinterpret scripture.

In context, James' words have nothing to do whatsoever with asking God to show the Christian truth or meaning. James is writing to Christians encouraging them to find joy in the testing of their faith through temptations:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1:2-5)

The sort of wisdom for which James instructs Christians to pray is that which provides strength and courage in the midst of trials. "Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him" (James 1:12). This wisdom reminds he who is facing temptation that "God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust" (James 1:13-14). It urges those being tested to "prove [themselves] doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves" (James 1:22).

EXAMINING THE SCRIPTURES DAILY TO SEE WHETHER THESE THINGS WERE SO

So if the mormons are wrong, and if these passages don't instruct us to pray to ask God to show us the truth of their claims, what should we do? How should we verify that what they tell us is true? A look at the travels of Paul and Silas give us the answer:

The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men. (Acts 17:10-12)

Why did the Bereans come to believe what Paul and Silas were telling them? Did they pray to receive a burning in their bosom confirming the reality of Paul's and Silas' teachings? No. Instead, though they "received the word with great eagerness," they tested what they were told by "examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so."
 
Were the Bereans spoken of negatively for using this approach? Is it implied that the test they applied is somehow inferior to praying and responding to emotions? No. Instead, the Bereans are said to have been "more noble-mnded than those in Thessalonica." They are lauded for their approach, applauded.

THE HEART IS MORE DECEITFUL THAN ALL ELSE

Why does God demand that we look to His word to test teachings presented to us? Why shouldn't we pray and respond to the burning we feel in our bosom? Because, "the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick" (Jeremiah 17:9). From birth we are all "by nature children of wrath," "indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind" (Ephesians 2:3). And upon being born again as a result of faith, we do not lose this body of sin but will instead struggle with it for the rest of our lives:

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. (Romans 7:21-23)

Our hearts, our flesh, whether born again or not, love sin. It is for this very reason that we must not trust our emotions, but must instead test them and what we're told by something else, by some objective, unwavering standard. This standard is the Bible, for while "The grass withers, the flower fades, ...the word of our God stands forever" (Isaiah 40:8). As Jesus said, "until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished" (Matthew 5:18). God doesn't change, and neither does His word, and we must test the words of others with those of God to make sure they're true, rejecting what contradicts.
 
ALL SCRIPTURE IS GOD-BREATHED
 
In his letter to Timothy, Paul wrote that "all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). The Greek word translated "inspired by God" is theopneustos which comes from the root word theos, meaning God, and pneƍ, meaning to breathe. Literally, then, "inspired by God" means "God-breathed".
 
The Bible is not just the words of men, nor were men merely "inspired" to write its contents. Instead, the original words of scripture were breathed out by God through the pens of men. They are perfect, trustworthy and unchanging. We mustn't trust a warm feeling in our chest in testing truth because our hearts wish to deceive us. Fortunately we can turn to the original words of scripture and what we know are faithful translations of them, and in so doing we see that the prophets and leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are false ones and we mustn't trust our faith to them.

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