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It was Mormonism I was looking for all along

A good and busy Sunday.  I'll get around to answering comments and emails soon.  Just wanted to blog this while it's still fresh.

This afternoon I had two very different meetings with a similar theme.

One person - a really great Christian - confessed to me that they'd prayed for God to enter their life many thousands of times but never got the answer they were looking for.  I could relate - this describes the entirety of my teenage years.  (See this talk for more)

The other meeting was with some Mormons who knocked on our door.   They both told me they became convinced Mormons when they prayed for an experience of the Holy Ghost.  This apparently confirmed to them the truth of the gospel as restored by Joseph Smith.  As the little leaflet they gave me says: "The Holy Ghost confirms the truth through feelings, thoughts and impressions."  Both of them described this as a private experience of peace and joy.  It was unclear how this brief religious feeling related to the status of Joseph Smith as a prophet and priest, or the truth of the book of Mormon.

But apparently this is the way to become a Mormon.  As with Smith himself, pray James 1:5 and something will happen.  My leaflet tells me, "This knowledge can be miraculous and life changing [Smith met the Father and the Son personally!!] but it usually comes as a quiet assurance."

Joseph Smith 1

Clearly the missionaries I met were at the 'quiet assurance' end of Holy Ghost experiences.  But it struck me after they left that they had found what my friend was after, and what I'd been seeking as a teenager.  I wanted a private religious experience - shining lights, weak knees, woozy stomach.  I wanted peace and joy as I perched on the end of my bed.  I wanted some kind of numinous glow, wordless ecstasy, love and groovy vibes.  Now that I think about it - I was very much into Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground at the time.  I think I basically wanted spiritual heroin.

But again the question would have to be asked - what exactly is the link between this spiritual experience and the truth that is supposedly being authenticated?  The Mormons had a spiritual high - but that doesn't answer the question, 'which spirit has produced it?'  A Mars bar could give me warm fuzzies, what's that got to do with Jesus?

Perhaps this is another case where we need to reconsider faith in more biblical ways.  We commonly think of faith as our work (a feeling to be generated) and as something related to religion in general.  On this understanding, all kinds of people have 'faith' because they manage to work up generic religious sentiments.

In the bible, faith is simply our receiving Jesus.  Not our work but God's.  And its content is not 'religious feeling' in general, but 'Christ and Him crucified' in particular.

And how is Christ received?  Not perched on the end of my bed.  He is received in word and sacrament.

Ever noticed how parallel Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 are?  Well look in particular at Eph 5:18-20 and Col 3:16-17.  Being filled with the Spirit is parallel with 'letting the word of Christ dwell in you richly.'  Want to be filled with the Spirit?  Be filled with His words.  And these words are the words of Christ - He Himself is communicated in them.

So I don't say to my friend that spiritual experiences are unimportant.  But neither do I advocate the Mormon route.  God is found in Christ and Christ is found in His word.  We ought never to stop short of a personal encounter with the living Christ.  But we should never seek such encounters apart from where He Himself is given.  And He is freely given in word and sacrament.

It's just interesting to me that a cult founded in mistrusting the word and trusting personal experience can foster spiritual understandings that are so close to home.  Let's give up on looking for the spiritual heroin - it's such a sordid, selfish and unsatisfying fix.  Let's instead receive fellowship with the living Christ, not because of our own quest for experience but on the basis of His prior and utter self-giving.  The encounter is already real and true in the gospel - He is yours.  "The Son of God loved you and gave Himself for you." (Gal 2:20)   If you've believed that sentence, you have experienced the Holy Spirit's assurance.  If you haven't received that word, then you must know that you'll receive Christ in no other way.  Continue to ask, seek and knock by all means.  But return continually to the place where He's already freely offered.  Right there you already have Him.


0 thoughts on “It was Mormonism I was looking for all along

  1. Heather

    It is interesting to me that experiential spirituality is not limited to pseudo-Christian cults. It seems that many mainstream denominations are embracing a similar approach that appeals to emotions and a sense of "well-being".

    And it is seductive.

    I know that when I go through "dry" times of struggle or sadness, I am tempted to look for an emotional anchor rather than the firm foundation of God's promise that His grace is sufficient, regardless of how I feel.

  2. Bobby Grow

    You guys have Mars bars in the UK? Wow . . . ;-)

    I like your point on the Word and the Spirit, being filled with the Word is to be filled with the Spirit --- amen!

  3. John Ievins

    Thanks Glen - as so often, a fantastic heart-warming post.

    I have a question though... how does your final paragraph relate to the fact that there are many people who appear to have faith, even to themselves, and yet do not?

  4. theoldadam

    There are other spirits out there besides the Holy Spirit.

    This is why St. Paul tells us that the devil can come all "dressed up as an angel of light". (Moroni?)

    I think that entire Galatian letter could have been addressed directly to the "foolish" Mormons.

    This is why we trust the EXTERNAL WORD. The Word that comes to us from OUTSIDE of ourselves.

    I believe this is exactly why the gifts of Baptism and Holy Communion were (are) given to us.

    So that we can have something (tangible) of God, from God that we can count on, apart from our own feelings, or actions, or thoughts (which can fool us).

  5. Si

    I once did (perhaps foolishly) what the Mormons asked me to do. I got the answer 'no - the Book of Mormon is made up and disagrees with the Bible' that I expected. I watered it down, when telling them to something like 'check the book of Mormon against the Bible and see if they are saying the same thing' and lied that I was still doing it. They were really wound up by my non-yes answer - it threw them off and they were really pushy anyway (asking me the first time we met if I would get baptised - mental!)

    A second set I gave the straight 'no' answer, but to soften the blow and keep them keen (and distracted from talking to others that they could lead astray), I mentioned the whole devil as an angel of light thing and said that I could be deceived and likewise they could be (after all it's true like my 'no' answer). This pair were more open and the discussions more fruitful - we got to talk about justification and so on without them being aggressively defensive of Mormonism. We got on far better.

    It's sadly really common, even in 'evangelicalism', that the external word and works of God play second fiddle wrt assurance compared with subjective experiences. Subjective experiences can help, and do, but only if done properly. The whole "I've got faith, that's what matters" thing is something I hear too often (once is too often, but I'm talking about more than that).

  6. Glen

    Hey John - sorry not to get to your question earlier.

    Do you mean, What about the person who thinks they trust Christ but doesn't?

    Again, I'd just point and re-point them to where Christ is placarded - word and sacrament.

    I do think there is a mutuality to our knowing of Christ - "I know my sheep and my sheep know me." So I do think the safest thing to do is to say "Do not stop short of anything less than a personal and direct encounter with the Son of God." For that is what's offered in the gospel.

    Is that in the ball park of what you're asking?

    How would you answer your own question?

  7. Loraine

    Glen, thank you for another excellent post. By the way, your essay on the Gateway Psalms was just tremendous. More than the spot-on-truth in your post, I am especially sensitive to your spirit in speaking of the Mormon Faith. Evangelicals need to get the speck out before attempting to help those with their mote removal.

    We can learn incredible things from those that are living their Mormon faith. For example, they have some excellent videos on their PR web-page; really have stepped up their aggressive recruiting here in the States. I watched the re-enactment of the whole story of Joseph Smith's search for the truth-and I wept profusely. First, it was in the context of upper New York state when religious fervor was at a high pitch, Biblical truth was very thin to say the least, and all the hawkers of religion were out to win the multitudes. Poor Joseph is seen going from one meeting to the next finding no answer to satisfy his search for the holy grail.

    But the saddest of all, and what really broke my heart, was the advice of his own father that sent him into the woods to find that which satisfies. His father would not go to church services with his family, but was faithful in reading his Bible both morning and evening. Why oh why, did he not send Joseph to the Scriptures instead of to the woods?

    Of course there is much more to the story than this. I highly recommend the Mormon videos and blogs for the purpose of understanding the Mormon believer in his own words and then prayerfully asking God to do the miracle of regeneration in their midst. After all they have another book from which their faith rests, the Scriptures.

  8. Peter Davidson

    Gerald R. McDermott, the Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion at Roanoke College and author, with Robert Millet, of Claiming Christ: A Mormon-Evangelical Debate, addressed the question of whether Latter-day Saints are Christians in an article "Is Mormonism Christian?" published in First Things magazine (October 2008).

    By examining Professor McDermott's critique in light of the Bible, one can see that Mormonism differs from historic Christian orthodoxy to the degree that historic Christian orthodoxy diverges from Biblical truths. See the following link:

    Most points where sectarian Christians have problems with LDS doctrine illustrate the departure of sectarianism from the Bible.

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