Raiders of the Ark: A Review of “Noah”

Let me get this off my chest – “Noah” is a blockbuster film which is in no way the straightforward biblical epic that its trailers would suggest. I am not referring so much to what is added to the story (which is a lot!) as to significant things left out of it. Like these two biggies:
Gone is a loving God who gives clear and direct revelation in order to save the human race; in His place is a distant, petty, and silent Creator.
Gone is a prophet who preaches repentance in a desperate attempt to save humanity; in his place is an environmentalist who wouldn’t hurt a fly but considers killing babies out of a belief that the human race doesn’t deserve to continue.

It seemed to me that at almost every turn, “Noah” took whatever the Bible account said and did the opposite.

“But what did you expect?” some may counter, “after all it is a theatrical release big budget movie.” Fair enough. Theology aside, “Noah” fails as entertainment due largely to its preachiness about the environment. While much of the acting is superb the film’s tone is all over the place. It simply can’t decide what it wants to be. Early on the film plays like a mythological fantasy a-la Lord of the Rings, with fallen angel rock monsters, snake-dogs, and wizard-like magic dominating the scene. It gradually morphs into an action film, then morphs again into disaster epic, before settling on psychological thriller by having the character of Noah become more Jack Nicholson in The Shining than righteous prophet . Some films skillfully straddle the line between genres. This isn’t one of them.

There were things I liked about “Noah”. It had striking visuals and the sets, wardrobe design, and cast are impressive. I was very impressed with the full size ark used as a set.

Theology aside “Noah” committed the cardinal sin of failing to make me care about its characters. Let me explain. Noah is a complex protagonist and his moral dilemmas were well-defined, but I couldn’t connect with him. It’s not Russell Crowe’s fault; he’s a phenomenal actor, one of my favorites, and he is a true profession who delivers exactly what the script calls for (I think I just identified my connection problem). To me the supporting characters are underwritten, underdeveloped, and mostly one-dimensional. Much of the dialogue is melodramatic and heavy-handed (the kind that often elicits unintentional laughter). I can sum up all of the antagonist Tubel-Cain’s dialogue in three phrases: “Kill monsters, kill Noah, take Ark”. The story is just too dark and disturbing for the few worthwhile moments to leave a lasting impression or for scenes of real impact to shine through.

The biblical story of Noah is a story of redemption, of the remnant being saved from destruction, as it is about the wrath of God. The film “Noah” does finally arrive at a redemptive message: mercy and love are as important as justice, and the human race deserves a second chance. Those are beautiful principles, ones worth crafting a story around.

But “Noah” got there too little, too late to redeem itself.

Respect My Authority, part 3 of 3

Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. (Romans 13:5-7)

Christians are obligated to be in subjection to civil government regardless of how happy we are with the government itself. The most obvious motivation for our subjection is fear of the consequences of rebelling against the authority but that motivation is a shallow one. Think of it this way. A Christian who remains sexually pure based solely on the fear of contracting AIDS has obeyed the letter of the law while missing the main point. A higher reason for subjection is found in verse 5: a clear conscience.

The fear of punishment is an external motivation that promotes submission. The motivation Paul calls for here is internal—that of a desire to maintain a pure and undefiled conscience. The standard which the law sets is the minimal standard for all men. The standard set by our own conscience is personal, individual, and hopefully higher than the minimum set by human government.

What is the conscience? It is an internal standard, defining right and wrong. It is not present only in Christians. All men have a conscience (Romans 2:15). The conscience of one may be stronger than that of another (1 Corinthians 8:7, 10, 12). Some consciences have become hardened and insensitive due to sin (1 Timothy 4:2), while the consciences of others are sensitized by obedience (Hebrews 5:14). We must never defile our conscience by doing what it considers evil, nor should we offend others by practicing what their consciences condemn as evil (1 Corinthians 8).

Our conscience is not an infallible guide to good and evil. While we must never do what our conscience condemns, we dare not assume that everything our conscience permits is good, since our conscience can become hardened and insensitive (1 Timothy 4:2).

Conscience was a very important manner to Paul. He sought to serve God with an undefiled conscience (Acts 23:1; 24:16; 2 Timothy 1:3), which he urged others to do as well (1 Timothy 1:19; 3:9). A clear conscience is a prerequisite for love and service to others: But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5).

Whenever we violate our conscience we hinder our fellowship with God and our service to Him and to others. A violated, guilty, conscience makes us less sensitive to sin and more vulnerable to error (Hebrews 5:12; 2 Timothy 3:6). A guilty conscience makes us tend toward a legalistic, external obedience, based upon appearances rather than on reality (Luke 16:15).

What does our conscience have to do with submission to human government? Mere outward compliance with the requirements of government is simply not enough. This we can expect from unbelievers, if for no other reason than the fear of punishment. But God desires a fuller, deeper, obedience from the heart. This requires conscientious subjection—submitting done out of obedience to God. Such an attitude of submission enables us to retain the right attitude and actions toward government even when we must disobey specific laws in order to obey God.

An internal attitude of submission stimulates us to obey government even when our disobedience cannot be seen or punished. The actions of verses 6 and 7  are the outflow of an undefiled conscience and a spirit of submission. Paul does not tell us here to “obey the laws of the land,” but rather to honor those in authority and to pay taxes. Why is this specific form of obedience named? I believe it is because this is an example of something easy to avoid doing with little fear of being caught and punished.

We can be rude and disrespectful to officials and get away with it. We can even more effectively pretend to be respectful and never have our insincerity detected. We can quite easily report our income in such a way as to avoid income taxes. More often than not, if we are devious, we will not be caught.

But Paul has already told us that government has God’s authority and ministers for Him. Thus, when we fail to “pay our dues,”  whatever these might be, we disobey God. Even if the civil authorities never catch us, our conscience before God will be defiled. Our fellowship with Him will be hindered. Our service to others will be adversely affected. We are called to live by the higher standard: not only compliance to the government, but cooperation in a spirit of submission. Living by this higher standard keeps our conscience clear, our testimony untainted, and our service unhindered by sin and guilt. Living in subordination to civil authority is beneficial to our walk with God and our service to others.

The things which God requires us to give government officials are those things which facilitate the ministry of public officials: honor and money. Both are necessary for public officials to carry out their tasks.
Our subordination to those in authority not only means that we should do what we are required, but that we should provide all that is necessary so that our superiors can do their jobs. Our submission means that we serve and support them.

Romans 13:1-7  is not the only text in the Bible on the matter of “conscientious subjection.” Paul writes generally of this obligation to (Titus 3:1). Peter speaks of submission to human government in the context of suffering (1 Peter 2:13-14). But when Paul speaks of submission to government in this passage, he does so in the context of service.

This passage is part of a larger section with this theme in Romans 12:1–13:7. Paul opens the section in 12:1-2  with a challenge to present our bodies to God as living sacrifices, which is our reasonable service of worship. Paul then moves on to our sacrificial service in terms of the church, the body of Christ, and of the exercise of our spiritual gifts (12:3-8). Then in verses 9-21  Paul writes of our service in the context of love, whether we are serving our fellow-believers or our enemy. This is the context in which subordination to civil government is discussed in Romans 13:1-7.

Paul teaches on the importance of subordination in this whole section. We must subordinate our lives to God, presenting our bodies as living sacrifices to Him. We must subordinate our interests to the interests of others if we are to walk in love. We must also subordinate our lives to those in authority over us as civil servants.


True service is only rendered if self-interest is set aside and replaced by a spirit of subordination. We cannot seek our own interests as a priority and serve others as a priority at the same time. It simply does not and cannot work. Subordination is prerequisite to service. This is precisely the point Paul makes concerning our Lord’s attitudes and actions in Philippians 2:5-8: Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Subordination is the key to loving God and others. It goes against the grain. It is not the spirit of our age. But it is what God requires and what the Spirit enables when we walk in Him.

As I said in an earlier post, I see Christians rapidly moving in the direction of opposing government more than submitting to it. We have lost our respect for those in authority and have come to disdain, en masse, those in public office. We have come to view government as God’s opponent rather than as God’s ordained instrument. No doubt there is reason for disobedience to certain laws, but there is no excuse for our spirit of insubordination and for an obedience which is more compliant than it is cooperative and supportive.

It seems to me that the church of today is much more intent upon producing Christian leaders than it is in producing Christian followers. While the disciples of Jesus had their heads filled with thoughts of position, power, and prestige, Jesus constantly talked to them about subordination and service. While we think much about leaders, Jesus talked most about being followers, disciples. Ironically, the way to become good leaders is by learning to become good followers.

Evangelical Christianity is probably more purposeful and aggressive in seeking to influence government and legislation than ever before. And yet I fear that we are less effective than in previous times. How can this be? On the one hand, we seem to be relying on the “arm of the flesh,”
on human mechanisms and motivations, rather than on those which are spiritual. We seem to think that we need large numbers to attract the attention of government officials, and that we will not be able to change men’s minds or voting habits unless we hold over their heads the threat of losing the next election.

Down through history, Believers have had a profound impact on kings and government officials—even though they served God and even though they were in the minority. John the Baptist was a man who stood for what was right and who did not shrink back from pointing out Herod’s sin. And yet, Herod found himself strangely drawn to John and his teaching. He listened intently to him. He would not have put him to death except for his drunkenness, his foolish offer, and his foolish pride (Mark 6:14-29).

Jesus had the attention of the governmental leaders of His day. They were eager to see Him face to face. It was only reluctantly that they played a part in His death. Paul too had a spiritual impact on some of the political leaders of his day. Even today, men like Billy Graham are sought out by presidents and powerful political figures. Why? Because even when they disagree with the powers that be they are subject to God, to His Word, and therefore to the government under which He has placed them.

We do not need to muster more votes or more political clout. We need more “moral clout,” gained by simple obedience to God, to His Word, and to the institutions He has ordained.

To honor God we present ourselves to Him as living sacrifices, we subordinate ourselves to others and to the government He has ordained.

Respect My Authority, part 2

In my last post I laid out my understanding of Paul’s precept of the Christian’s relationship to civil authority: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” (Romans 13:1a) Today I want to explore the reasons behind that precept.
      “For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God”. (Romans 13:1b)
Paul’s precept that Christians are to be subject to civil authority is based upon a fundamental premise: God is sovereign. As sovereign He possesses ultimate authority and all human authority is delegated by God.
There is no authority independent of God.
How do we know that a given government is ordained of God and that He has given it authority? By its existence: Paul says, those which exist are established by God.” A government’s existence is proof that it is ordained of God and that it possesses divinely delegated authority. God is sovereign. He is in control of all things. He causes all things to “work together for good” (8:28). 

Paul writes while under the government of Rome. As a Jew he is well aware that God raised up a disobedient Pharaoh in Egypt and the empires of Assyria and Babylon as His servants to discipline His people. So, like it or not, according to Paul – every government, whether democratic or autocratic, heathen or God-fearing – every government that has the power to rule over its people has been granted that power and authority by God. 

Submission to government then is an expression of our submission to God. God has instituted human government to exercise divinely delegated authority over menkind. Christians should be subject to human governments for this theological reason alone. But Paul adds two practical reasons for our submission and obedience in verses 2-7.
These provide additional motivation for our obedience to this command which goes against the grain of human nature.

“Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.” (13:2-4)

In Rom 13:1b, Paul asserts that human government is divinely commissioned. Based on that assertion he next emphasizes that our response to civil authority has divine consequence. His logic is that resistance to governmental authority is also resistance to God Himself. Therefore such resistance eventually brings divine judgment.
Next Paul moves on in verses 3 and 4
to warn that disregard for government’s authority also has present ramifications. In verse 4 he refers to civil authority as a minister of God.” Government, then is a servant of God tasked with dealing appropriately with those who do good and those who do evil. In short, God’s purpose for human government is to reward those who do good and to punish those who do evil.

Since as Christians we are to abstain from evil and pursue what is good (“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” Rom. 13:9) the role of civil authority is both consistent with and complimentary to the Christian lifestyle. Government should praise those who do good and punish those who do evil. Therefore God’s purposes for us and for government are in harmony. Government is here to help us do what God has called us to do and what we should desire to do. Ordinarily, anyone seeking to do good need not fear government. Anyone who is serving God need not worry about government opposition. Christians should be the best citizens, for our calling is consistent with government’s commission. But we should fear government if we choose to do evil. Only the law-breaker looks over his shoulder, wondering where the police are. In order to live our lives without fear of punishment, we need only to do what God has required of us, and what government requires as well.
One of the major benefits of civil government’s God-given role is that it frees us from returning evil for evilby retaliating against those who persecute or mistreat us. God has taken the task of administering justice or of avenging wrong-doings off our backs and placed it on the back of governmental authorities. It is the role of government to deal with the evil deeds of men against us. Government bears the swordfor such purposes. And if government fails in this task, we trust in God to make things right in that day when He judges with perfect judgment.

The failure of government does not give us the right to take the law into our own hands.

Next post: on to Rom. 13:5-7 for part 3 of this series.

“Respect my authority”

Whether a college, a corporation, or a community they all have their own “culture”. That is the written and unwritten “laws” that govern behavior within the group. There is always an authority to respond to. In every group that I have been part of there are those who respect authority and those that don’t. There are those that comply and those that defy. There are those that cooperate and those that comply without cooperating. Do we as Christians have any Biblical mandate about our response to authority?

Before I answer that question let me share an observation as an old man with lots of experience with Christians in different settings. Over the years I have found Christians are little different than non-Christians in their attitudes and responses toward authority. Compliance is given, but cooperation is not. For example I am just as likely to find a radar detector in the car of a Christian, as in the car of an unbeliever. Christians comply with the law. We slow down as we pass the police car with its radar speed detection equipment. We drive carefully and lawfully when the patrol car is following us. But as soon as we are sure it is safe, we drive normally—and illegally. (I am guilty as charged!)

Now back to my question about a Biblical mandate about Christians and civil authority. The Apostle Paul lived and died as a Roman citizen. In his letter to the church in the most powerful city in the world Paul, in Romans 13:1-7, deals directly with the Christian’s obligation to civil government.
There are a number of reasons Christians and civil government often are at odds with one another, and it is relatively easy for Christians to twist these into excuses for disrespect and disobedience to authorities. Let’s look at this dynamic in the time of Paul’s writing.

The first factor is simple but far reaching, civil government is secular and the church is spiritual. According to the Apostle Peter Christians are aliens and strangers, just passing through this world. Paul writes in Phil. 3:20  that Christian citizenship is in heaven. This difference misunderstood led the state to view the church as hostile to its authority. The church acknowledged that Jesus is Lord because their highest authority is God. The Roman government of Paul’s day acknowledged that “Caesar is Lord”. The church refused to acknowledge this and so the Romans considered Christians as atheists. It was a small leap for the government to see this atheistic institution as treasonous. The practical application of “Jesus is Lord” is that Christians are required to obey God, rather than men“. With each conflict the government’s suspicions of the church were confirmed. The result of the secular/spiritual conflict was that government officials, either unconsciously or willingly, used their authority to actively oppose the church and to persecute Christians.

In this political climate with civil government viewing the church with suspicion, and even fear, Christians were tempted to see government as their opponent, and as an enemy of God and the gospel of Jesus. Therefore civil disobedience might easily become common practice rather than a necessary exception. Submission to governmental authority was a vital topic in a day and time when the church and civil government were on a collision course. So what? What does that matter today?

I believe the church is on a very similar course today. In the earlier days of our nation, our government was founded on certain Christian assumptions and convictions. If our early government founders and officials were not Christians, at least their beliefs and values were compatible with Christian doctrines and practices. Our culture and our government today are post-Christian.

I am amazed when I hear Christians talking as if their views and values are still held by a majority of Americans. These are those that still mistakenly believe that if we could just mobilize the moral majority and encourage them to speak out—especially by voting – it would turn things around. I believe this view is, for the most part, unrealistic and untrue. I believe that Christian moral values are largely an unpopular minority view. Consequently, I expect that government will increasingly regulate, hinder, and even oppose Christian objectives whenever they conflict with the government’s objectives. Not surprisingly in this political climate some Christians are becoming increasingly disdainful of the laws of our land. Some even teach that if we disagree with a particular law, we are both obliged to disobey it, and justified to disobey other laws in protest.

Now if a good time for us to read Paul’s words in Romans 13:1 “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities”.
What? No, God’s Apostle by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit would not tell persecuted Christians to be in subjection to the pagan, Christian hating Roman government would he? Yes he would and he did. This principle was not only vital for the first century church, but it is just as vital for the 21st century church. Let’s unpack what Paul says God requires of the church in our relationship to civil government: “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities”.

First notice that this is a clear, categorical commandment addressed to all mankind, without exception. Every person  includes both believers and unbelievers. Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. Subjection includes obedience, but implies much more. Subjection means recognizing an authority over us to which we are obliged to not only obey but to respect.

The governing authorities  are quite simply those authorities which govern us politically. This is pretty straight forward and under normal conditions in any country, it is the government which is in place.

Are there exceptions to the rule or precept Paul has laid down here? Certainly there are Biblical examples of those who chose to “obey God, rather than men” (Daniel 3, 6; Acts 4:19-20; 5:27-32).
I believe that while the Christian may not, in good conscience before God, be able to obey the government in every instance, the Christian is never free to set aside true submission to the government. In other words, even when we cannot obey civil authority, we can always demonstrate a submissive spirit. According to Paul’s precept a submissive spirit should never be set aside when it comes to those in authority over us.

For example, in Acts 5 the Sanhedrin demand that the apostles (Peter and John) stop preaching in the name of Jesus. This they cannot do without disobeying God. Though they could not and would not stop preaching in the name of Jesus, they did not challenge the authority of this body. Their answer was evidence of their submissive spirit and intent: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).  Submission usually is demonstrated by obedience, but even when we must disobey, it is to be done with a submissive spirit.

To summarize: Submission to the authority of legitimate civil government is required by God, at all times and in all cases. Submission usually, but not always, results in obedience. But even when disobedient because of a conflict between God’s command and government’s laws, we are still to have a submissive spirit toward civil authorities. Submission means giving honor to who honor is due.

In my next post we’ll look at Paul’s reasons for our submission to human government. For now ask yourself if you have a respectful, submissive spirit to our government. Do you want to obey God or men? Man’s way is rebellion and disrespect of authority. God’s way is “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities”.

The Fundamental Difference between Christianity and Mormonism

The One God of the Bible versus the many Gods of Mormonism

To put it succinctly, the fundamental difference between The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints and Christianity is that one is monotheistic and the other is polytheistic.

Biblical Christianity is rooted in Ontological Monotheism which is the belief in one God by nature.

LDS religion is rooted in Polytheism which is the belief in more than one God by nature.

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to the Prophet Joseph Smith:

  • LDS founder Joseph Smith in The King Follet Discourse, August 15, 1844 said:

“I will preach on the plurality of Gods . . . I have always and in all congregations when I have preached on the subject of Deity, it has been the plurality of Gods. . . . Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods”(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 370; emphasis added).

This teaching was elaborated upon by the Prophet Brigham Young:

  • Brigham Young, second President and Prophet said:

“There was never a time when there were not Gods and worlds, and men were not passing through the same ordeals that we are now passing through” (Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, 22-23).

This belief is fundamental to LDS theology:

  • Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt declared:

“In the Heaven where our spirits were born, there are many Gods, each one of whom has his own wife or wives which are given to him previous to his redemption; while yet in his mortal state” (Orson Pratt, The Seer, 37- 38; emphasis added).

In devastating contrast to LDS doctrine, Scripture teaches that there is only one true God. Yes, anything can be called a god, money, career, automobile, etc. But calling it a god, even worshipping it as a god, does not make it a God. Scripture teaches ontological monotheism, that is, by nature there exists one God. John 17:3 states: “And this is life eternal, that they might know You, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” All other so-called gods are false.

The apostle Paul makes a crystal clear demarcation of false gods and the one true God in 1 Corinthians 8:4-5, “There is no God but one… many ‘gods’ many ‘lords’ yet for us there is but one God.” Underlining this central theme of Scripture, Paul reminds the Galatians, when they did not know God- they were slaves to those who by nature were not gods (cf. 4:8).

Scripture teaches One God and Mormonism teaches many gods. This deviation essentially separates Christians and Mormons.

But aren’t Mormons just members of a Christian denomination? Although that perception is carefully cultivated, this must be stressed: there is a fundamental difference between Christians and Mormons. That fundamental difference between historic orthodox Christianity and Mormonism is that Christianity maintains the belief in one immutable, Eternal God by nature. He does not grow, change, or progress (cf. Mal. 3:6). He is God from all eternity, Creator (not organizer)1 of everything that exists. Absolute monotheism has always been the distinctive principle “norm” of Jews and Christians alike.  Never has the church or any of the church Fathers held to the pagan doctrine of many Gods.

Pure monotheism (ontologically) is the core of Christian theology from which all other doctrines flow. The first lie ever told to humankind was from Satan, in the Garden of Eden. “Ye shall be as gods. . .” (Gen. 3:5)Satan is the originator of polytheism.  The monotheism of the Jews is what separated them from all the pagan nations that accepted the existence of other Gods.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD (Deut. 6:4; emphasis added).

Literally: “Hear, O Israel: Jehovah our Elohim is one Jehovah.”

Mormons try to assuage their polytheism by claiming “we don’t worship those other Gods.” But, whether or not someone worships these “other Gods” is wholly irrelevant, the question is: how many Gods are there? For the Mormon there is an infinite number of Gods and for the Christian there is One.

To ensure that no one will be confused God explains again and again that no other Gods exists! Particularly in the book of Isaiah, where absolute monotheism (one God by nature) is incontrovertibly taught:

Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: That ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he; before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me (Isa. 43:10; emphasis added).

Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of host; I am the first, I am the last; and beside me there is no God (Isa. 44:6; emphasis added).

Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know of not any (Isa. 44:8; emphasis added).

God asks the question: “Is there a God beside me?” LDS doctrine would have to say yes, but God responds sharply: “NO, there is no God, I know of not any.”

Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretched forth the heaven alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself (Isa. 44:24; emphasis added).

I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me. . . . (Isa. 45:5; emphasis added).

All throughout Scripture God consistently affirms that He is the only true God:

Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightiest know that the LORD he is God; there is none else beside him (Deut. 4:35)

Know ye that the LORD he is God (Ps. 100:3)

In the New Testament, one of the scribes had asked Jesus, “Which is the greatest commandment in the law?” Jesus answered: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.”

The polytheistic teaching of the LDS Church comes from their founder and first Prophet, Joseph Smith. He plainly defines the doctrine of the LDS Church teaching:

“God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens… it is necessary we should understand the character and being of God and how he came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and suppose that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see. These are incomprehensible ideas to some, but they are simple. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did; and I will show it from the Bible. Here then, is eternal life–to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priest to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one. . . .”(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 345-347; emphasis added).

“I will preach on the plurality of Gods . . .  I have always and in all congregations when I have preached on the subject of Deity, it has been the plurality of Gods. . . . Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods” (ibid., 370; emphasis added).

The Mormon God is a changing god that is not eternally God. What he was before, he is not today. Mormons say that God was once a man that lived on a planet similar to this one. He progressed and was exalted to become the God of this planet by His Father God Who Himself is an exalted man that lives on the planet Kolob.2

Without question, Mormonism and Biblical Christianity believe in different Gods: “For I am the LORD, I change not. . . . ” (Mal. 3:6).

The doctrine of many Gods then, will always be the primary and fundamental difference that excludes the Mormon religion from bona fide orthodox Christianity. Christianity is cradled in the same monotheism that was fundamental to Judaism: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.”


1 In LDS theology God does not create anything He merely “organizes” eternal matter. Joseph Smith explains: “I am right, I might with boldness proclaim from the house–tops that God never had the he power to create the spirit of man at all” (Teaching s of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 354).

Of course, this idea does not square with Scripture. The Bible presents God as Creator (e.g., Gen. 1:1; Isa. 44:24; 45:18; Jer. 10:10, 11; John 1:3; Col. 1:16-18; Heb. 1:2, 10).

2 Pearl of Great Price: Abraham, 3:9.

Everything You Want to Know about Mormonism in an Election Year…

Last week I taught 2 workshops at the ACM National student Conference rather facetiously named “Everything You Want To Know About Mormonism In An Election Year.” As a result of my research to teach and my discussions afterwards I now feel the need to write a little about Mormon history and theology and especially Mitt Romney‘s family’s part in it. Calling Romney a Mormon does not really tell us very much about him as an individual. I hope to give you a broad understanding of Romney’s background in Mormonism.

But first let’s start at the beginning.

1805 Joseph Smith Jr. is born.

1820: Smith now 15 years old, receives a “visitation” that initiates his work as Prophet. The LDS magazine “Ensign” says:

“This work began with the most remarkable manifestation when the Father and the Son appeared to the boy Joseph Smith on a Spring morning in the year 1820. All of the good we see in the Church today is the fruit of that remarkable visitation, a testimony of which has touched the hearts of millions in many lands.” (Ensign, Jan.2005, p.2)

This is now called the “First Vision” but there is no account of this experience by Smith before 20 years later in 1840. The details of this theophany varied as Smith recounted the vision. In one version he is almost overtaken by an evil power before two shining “personages” appeared and rescued him. These personages are presumed to be Jesus and God the Father who told him that all the churches existing were wrong and that their creeds were an “abomination.”

1823: Smith stated that an angel visited him. In Smith’s own words he received the angelic visitation to guide him to a special set of golden plates.

“He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni (originally Smith said the angel’s name was Nephi); that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people. He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness[sic] of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants; also that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates”. (Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, Liverpool: S.W. Richards, 1853)

Smith stated that the precise location of the golden plates was shown to him by Moroni. Other accounts by Smith were that a “personage” showed him the location and he told Henry Harris that the located the plates using his favorite “seer stone”.

1824: Smith goes to the location revealed to him on September 22nd and found a stone box with the gold plates inside. He was given specific instructions which he failed to follow so the plates were resealed and he was told to return one year later to the day.

1825-1826: To make a long story short Smith returned on September 22nd each year but was told to return in a year. Finally he was told he had one more try and then the plates would be held from him forever.

1827: Using a “seer stone” Smith receives a prophecy that Emma Hale was to marry him and then accompany him to the Hill Cumorah on September 22nd. He eloped with her over his father’s objections and they were wed early that year. She went with Smith, now her husband, to the fateful meeting and as she prayed he received the plates and hid them in a fallen tree near the hill.

According to Smith, the golden plates were:

“…six inches wide and eight inches long and not quite so thick as common tin. They were filled with engravings, in Ancient Egyptian characters and bound together in a volume, as the leaves of a book with three rings running through the whole. The volume was something near six inches in thickness, a part of which was sealed. The characters on the unsealed part were small, and beautifully engraved. The whole book exhibited many marks of antiquity in its construction and much skill in the art of engraving.” (Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, Liverpool: S.W. Richards, 1853)

1828-1829: After getting funding from Martin Harris, Smith and Emma moved to Harmony Township, PA and began the work of translation of the golden plates. Smith translates the plates using seer stones and Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery record the translation without actually seeing the golden plates. (The first 116 pages are lost by Harris and Smith is told not to retranslate them but to replace them with the book of Lehi. Finally the translation is complete and witnessed to by Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Harris (8 other witnesses were added later).

1830: 5,000 copies of translation are published as a 588 page volume called The Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith, Jr. was listed as Author and Proprietor. Later that year Smith founds the church that would become the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

1837:  Only seven years later in Romney’s great-great-grandparents Miles and Elizabeth Romney began studying with the first Mormon missionaries to England: Apostle Orson Hyde & Apostle Heber Kimball. Soon they joined the 7 year old religion and were baptized.

1841: Miles and Elizabeth and their five children set sail from Liverpool on the “Sheffield” headed for the Mormon city of Nauvoo, Illinois. Joseph Smith is not only head of the LDS church but also Mayor of the city, and head of the Militia of the 2nd largest in Illinois at that time. The day before their departure Miles Romney met Brigham Young, the man who would soon become the new President, Prophet, Revelator and Seer of this new American religion.

1843: Two years after arriving in Nauvoo Miles Park Romney is born to Miles and Elizabeth in Illinois.

1871: Miles Park Romney marries Hannah Hood Hill and Gaskell Romney was born in Utah.

1907: Gaskell Romney marries Anna Amelia Pratt and George Wilcken Romney is born in 1907 in Chihuahua, Mexico.

1947: George Romney  marries Lenore LaFount and Williard Mitt Romney is born in Michigan.

Why this genealogy? I want to point out that Mitt Romney is not a casual member of the LDS religion. His maternal great-great-grandfather was Parley Pratt, a Mormon apostle who had twelve wives. His great-grandparents were polygamous Mormons who moved to Mexico because of U.S. anti-polygamy laws. Miles Park Romney had five wives—including one taken in 1897, more than six years after the “Manifesto” supposedly announcing a ban on plural marriage in the LDS Church. The historical evidence shows clearly that Miles was not an anomaly. LDS Church founder Joseph Smith had himself secretly practiced polygamy, and his successor Brigham Young led the way in making it a common practice in territorial Utah. Many Mormons, including Wilford Woodruff, the LDS Church President who issued the Manifesto, continued to take additional wives years after the Manifesto.

Romney’s father, George Romney, was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, to monogamous parents, and moved with them back to the United States in 1912. George went on to become governor of Michigan (1963-69) and the head of HUD under Richard Nixon (1969-73). However, during his retirement years, George Romney held the offices of patriarch and regional representative of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the LDS Church.

Mitt Romney’s Mormonism is deeply ingrained. Oh, I don’t think Romney will reinstate polygamy but he served for two and a half years as a Mormon missionary in France (1966-68), during the last three months of which he functioned as mission president in Paris. Romney has acknowledged that his faith “became much deeper” as a result of his missionary experience.

But what did his faith becoming “much deeper” mean? What does his LDS religion really teach? Is it just another denomination? No it is not! In fact the tenets of Mormon theology have more in common with Hinduism than with Christianity.

The LDS religion with its temples, endowment buildings and its polytheistic theology is inconsistent with the beliefs and practices of biblical and orthodox Christianity. For example, Mormons are engaged in a massive project of trying to baptize their members on behalf of every non-Mormon who has ever lived in order to help “save” the deceased and provide them an opportunity to live in the highest heavenly kingdom. The LDS Church agrees with traditional Christianity on some facts about Jesus (such as that he lived a sinless life, died on the cross, and rose bodily from the grave), but also teaches radically unbiblical and untraditional notions about Jesus. For example, when Mormons affirm that Jesus is “the Son of God,” they mean that Jesus is the only human being who had an immortal Father of his physical body as well as a mortal mother. That is, the LDS Church teaches that Jesus is the literal physical offspring of God the Father.

While many people—even many Christians apparently—think Romney really has little interest in Mormon doctrine and genuinely sees his religion primarily in terms of moral and social values. For example, Mormon historian Matthew Bowman suggested in an article in New Republic in May 2011, “This was not an attempt to dodge issues of theology—rather, it simply reflected what Mitt Romney genuinely believes religion is.” If that is true why does any effort to provoke Romney into discussing his Mormon beliefs elicit denunciation from Mormons and non-Mormons alike?

Mike Huckabee asked Romney if Mormons didn’t believe that Jesus and the devil were brothers. The question drew scornful protests from Mormons and Christians — in the end Huckabee felt obliged to apologize to Romney. The fact is that in LDS theology, all human beings (including Jesus), all angels, all demons, and the spirit who eventually became the Devil himself, are all originally spirit children of a Heavenly Father and one of his heavenly wives. Jesus became a God and Lucifer became a Devil, according to LDS doctrine, because of the choices they made in Heaven before the earth was made. This doctrine is far more significant for what it tells us about the Mormon view of Jesus than for what it tells us about their views of Satan. While Mormons, including Mitt Romney, are taught to downplay the significance of their theological differences with Christianity, right thinking Christians maintain that theology—what we think about God—is central to life and faith. That is why, for me, Romney’s LDS faith remains an issue with regard to his run for President—not the only issue, certainly but an issue at least to be considered. Whatever one may think about a Romney presidency, the controversy points up the importance of taking a closer look at the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

So I propose to do just that from now to the election. Blog about the stated beliefs of the LDS religion.

Send in your questions and I’ll take a crack at answering them over the next few months.

Eating Crow

Eating crow is not very high on my list of gifts and talents.  But I have a bit of crow to eat today.  In my last post I said that I only received 1 phone call on my birthday.  While that wasn’t meant as a whine…well not consciously anyway…it turns out it wasn’t even true.   I missed some very important phone calls on my birthday because my phone battery was loose and when I fixed it I found that I had missed  some incredibly sweet calls on my birthday that, thankfully, were there on my voice mail.

I missed the birthday call from my mother and daddy. In my 64 years I don’t believe I have ever had a birthday without either being with them or hearing  from them.  Turns out this birthday was no exception.  Mother, now in her 80’s and daddy who just turned 90, are responsible for the good things I have done in life.  For my screw-ups I take full responsibility.  It was good to hear my mother say “We love you, Tim.”  Of course, happy birthday was ok but the “I love you” was more important. I’m really sorry I missed the call and the opportunity to say, “And, I love you and daddy, too.”

But the calls I really regret missing were the ones from Hudson, Cooper, Miller, and Maddox, my grandsons by J.J. and Eric Rubio.  I mean, talk about missing something precious!!  Just that they took the time to call means a lot!!  I’m glad I got to hear them on my voice mail but I so regret not being able to respond to them in real-time.

Hudson called me on his own cell phone and sounded very grown up as he wished me a happy birthday and then said “I love you, Papa.”  I missed your call Hudson, but thanks for calling and I love you too.

The next call on my voice mail was from Miller, my youngest grandson.  I could hear his dad prompting him in the background then his sweet voice said “I called to say Happy Birthday, Papa.  This is Miller. Happy Birthday. Love You”  I love you too Miller.

Next was a joint call.  The voice said (remember they are having to respond to a sterile phone message “Hi this is Tim. Leave me a message.”) Happy Birthday! Oh, this is Cooper. Happy Birthday. I love you Papa!  I love you too Cooper.

Then Maddox took the phone and yelled Happy Birthday and then proceeded to sing “Happy Birthday to You” to me replete with the tap,tap,tap refrain they use at their birthday celebrations.  I have laughed out loud with delight every time I’ve listened to his recording.  Thanks for being you Maddox and I love you too.

I also found that I received text messages from Melissa and the Berry boys wishing me a happy birthday. I missed those too. What a day for my phone to be on the fritz!  Thanks for the texts and I love you too.

So what I wrote in my last post about not caring for my birthday is only partially true.  Like many things enjoyed as children, adult birthdays are enjoyed differently or not at all.  I realize it is sort of an automatic response to prefer celebrating my grandsons’ birthdays, as I did my daughters, while they are innocent and capable of incredibly genuine displays of affection over simple things like candles on a birthday cake, over my adult birthday with its reminder that life is short.  Their calls and texts, not to mention eCards and mailed cards filled a void that I didn’t even know was there. It was as if I needed to hear them say they loved me…even though I know it.  I needed to tell them, too, for this love for each other is the two-way street of family, and I truly regret that I missed those calls and texts!

As I pondered all of this, it took me to a deeper level and I wondered, when we tell God, Our Father in Heaven, that we love Him, does He, too, in His Great Love and Mercy for us feel compelled to tell us that He loves us.  I think He does.  But, sometimes I don’t think we know it…or feel it…or understand it.  Sometimes our phones are on the fritz.

I feel challenged now to not only tell God that I love Him, but also to take time to listen for the ways He tells me that, yes, He does love me, too.

My first public prayer of my 64th year of life is that in any circumstance of our lives…the good times and the not-so-good times…the times of light and the times of darkness…that we may know the love of God.  May our eyes see the ways He impacts our lives.  May our ears hear the wonders of His love as we journey through the days of our lives.  May our hearts know clearly in our love for God that He loves us deeply and more intimately than we shall ever know or begin to understand.  Amen.