Thursday, June 25, 2009

Golden Plates

I'll just come out and say it: The history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is bizarre. Golden plates? Angels appearing? God appearing to Joseph Smith? To respond with incredulity is, I think, a natural response, especially give the modern scientific world view that is so prevalent today.

Then again, the majority of the Western World for the past millennium believed that all evil and suffering ultimately stemmed from a talking snake. Go figure.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Growing up, I always had Zion in my heart, and as I grew, so too did my love for God and my longing for home. I was raised in a conservative Evangelical home. I went to private Christian school and attended a “Bible believing” Church. I remember as a young teenager my profound desire to be closer to God, though in my immaturity I didn’t know exactly how to achieve it apart from transitory spiritual highs. After graduating high school, I ended up attending college at Multnomah Bible College. My junior high desires had taken deeper root in my soul, and I went off to college with a burning desire to know God and everything He had for me. Based on the tradition I had been raised in, I assumed my primary means of finding these things out would be through God’s Word, the Bible. My desire was to reside in Zion – to really be a citizen of God’s Kingdom. I trusted that reading my Bible would tell me everything I needed to know: how to get there, how to be there, and how to know her Ruler.

I soon found out that there was no “Zion,” at least not in the form I had expected her in. Instead of finding a church that was built on Christ’s authority, I found a multitude of interpretations huddled around a small bundle of “orthodox” truisms. Belief in the Trinity, inerrancy, sola scriptura: these were the requirements to enter what I took to be Zion. I was taught, or at least it seemed to me, that one could not pass through her gates without adhering to certain fundamental doctrine. And so I nodded my head and passed through the gate labeled” Zion.”

“Zion” wasn’t what I expected it. It was human, it was messy and it was confused. Instead of finding transcendent truth and guidance for God’s people, I found division and instability. Had I been wiser, I would have expected Zion to be both human and at least somewhat messy (for, although perfect, God’s dealings with humanity are always fraught with our creaturliness), but in hindsight I never should have for one moment tolerated the division and the doctrinal uncertainty. I should have never have traded in my hopes of the fullness of God’s truth with all its promises for the sliver of “orthodox” sine qua non. But I did not understand then as I do now and we all must grow.

As time progressed, I became more and more disillusioned with the idea that man’s reading of the Bible will lead to a cohesive and necessary understanding of soteriology. Sola scriptura seemed in reality to be the biggest philosophical failure of the western world. Man’s ability to read did not produced a good grasp of who God was or God’s truth. It did not bring Truth, it did not bring unity. It did not bring Zion. Instead, its fruit was school after school of theological thought: Calvinsim, Arminiasm, Baptists, Presbeyterians, traditionalists, new wave theology, the emergent church. Thousands upon thousands of branches of opinions, many of them mutually exclusive in their truth claims.

Ah, yes, you might say, but certainly these efforts could lead to Truth, if only knowledge was really applied with good intent and purity of heart? If only it were so. But I saw teachers and students, both good and learned, reach radically different conclusions, with radically different and perhaps eternal consequences. And so I witnessed firsthand how the Reformation bloom withers under reality’s sun.

In all this, my heart still longed for Zion. When I first realized that Zion was not to be found in any one Protestant tradition or stream of belief, I hoped that reading the Bible might at least tell me how she might be built. However, as I saw those around my striving after this aim with little or no success, I rightly lost faith in my ability to construct her, even in my own heart. I would never be able to know enough or understand enough. Thousands of years, countless histories and incredible culture gaps lay between me and being able to get at the text with enough precision to draw up any sort of blue print for Zion. I felt like a monkey trying to read Shakespeare: I could get bits and pieces here and there, but the metanarrative eluded me.

And so it was that I had not found Zion and I did not know how to build her. But where disappointment met me, hope led me on. And so my heart became a pilgrim and my prayers petitioned the heavens, longing for guidance.

At this point, all the fears that lay at the back of my mind and all the suspicions accumulated since childhood began to take root: there was no Zion here and now on earth, there was no way to build her, there was no way to know or be part of God’s chosen people. There was nothing but the cacophony of opinion and the longing of my heart for my heart’s truest home.

As I felt the twilight coming and as my soul began to despair even as it earnestly poured out its petitions, it happened. I found Zion. She was shrouded in ill opinion and lies, she was hard to descry, but the cries of my heart were heard and God had in His mercy led me home. It was a painful trudge ascending the Hill of the Lord. It was disorienting arriving at her gates and the shock of waking up within her walls jarred me time and time again. Finding her was like learning to see the light, living in color after years of black and white. It was the joy of coming home when you’ve been away so long you can barely remember what home is.

Christ’s Church has been restored once again to the Earth. Zion has descended from the heavens and opens her gates to all who would enter in. Truth is here, beyond thought and supposition, beyond exegesis and all such valiant efforts. Where I had frailly tried to understand God’s Word for myself, I have it explicated for me by His prophets and apostles. Truly, I am blessed beyond words by the blessings of God. Wonder beyond dreaming, peace beyond expression. Zion is here and Christ stands at her gates to welcome all to come in and partake of His Kingdom here and now on Earth.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Did the Great Apostasy Happen? Part One


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints makes some big claims: a new book of Scripture, a living prophet, God’s full truth restored to the Earth. It’s a lot to take in. Fortunately, though, there is an initial logical hinge upon which all this swings: the claim of a “Great Apostasy.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints really only has a reason to exist if the Church set up by Christ and the fullness of Christ’s teachings disappeared from off the face of the Earth. If there was no apostasy, then there would be no need for a restoration, Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, etc. God would have in essence wound a clock which was still telling perfect time. Mormons claim the clock broke and that God stepped in and through Joseph Smith fixed it. Who then, is right? Is the original clock still telling time or did it break?[1]

This is no mere lofty musing or abstraction – it is important stuff. A radical truth claim is being made by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and that truth claim must be evaluated out of a love not only of truth but also out of a desire to fully know God and His will.

How then, can this claim be proven or disproven? What issues are important and what questions what must be answered? What reliable criteria can be used?

In attempting to answer this question of a Great Apostasy, we are from the outset disadvantaged. History is not objective, incomplete and sometime unreliable. People lie and often do, even in historical records. Perspectives change and evidence (both archaeologically and documentarily) is incomplete. Although I’m personally not comfortable trying to construct my theology on the basis of history, it is a necessary evil that must be appealed to as second-tier evidence. God’s word should come first, history second. Although history is flawed, it still has its place.

Unfortunately, too, the Bible also brings with it disadvantages in trying to establish whether or not a Great Apostasy occurred. This, of course, comes from the fact that the New Testament give us only a very small sliver of the time frame we are trying to evaluate. We are in essence evaluating the last 2,000 years of Christian History; the New Testament goes radio silent after about 90 AD. Additionally, some of the passages referred to are prophetic, and it is notoriously difficult trying to differentiate stages at which a prophecy will be fulfilled. For instance, take the confusion at the time of Christ regarding Messianic prophecies. The Jews were expecting a triumphant king, as Isaiah prophesied, not understanding that his writings referred to two comings of the Messiah: the first as servant, the second as ruler. As it is said, prophecies can be fulfilled a thousand ways, and often times the real fulfillment is only to be seen in hindsight and with the aid of the Holy Spirit.

So then, in the quest to answer the question, “Did the Great Apostasy occur?,” we will move forward using our two main tools – history and the Bible, with the caveats and handicaps mentioned above.

[1] I would like to briefly add that it is possible that a Great Apostasy did take place and that we are as of yet awaiting a full restoration of God’s truth. Nevertheless, it is important to determine whether or not such an event did take place, before evaluating further LDS claims which will either uphold or destroy their position.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Fundamentally Bizzare, but Intriguing

One of the weirdest things I've ever come across.I'm not exactly sure what conclusion it was aiming towards and it suffers from a lack of solid scholasticism, but if you can leap with the author in her logic and look past the interesting way in which she interprets some texts, it makes for an interesting read.

Sort of like the X-files for theologians.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

I Literally Can't Believe That This Just Happened

May 31, 2009 at approximately 10:40 pm

I was heading home tonight from the tube, and as I began to climb the stairs from the underground I went to call home, as I always do. It makes me feel safer to talk to someone as I walk home and I always enjoy catching up with family. My mom didn’t pick up on either line and so I mentally paused as I approached the cross walk, waiting for the signal to turn. I found myself sandwiched between two men, and felt really uncomfortable. Some people I instinctively know not to trust and I’ve learned to trust my instincts. When the signal changed I walked quickly, hoping to lose them.

“I need to talk to you.”

The thought entered my mind with Divine transcendence that I could easily recognize as being distinct from my own mental chatter.

“Yes, Heavenly Father?” I inwardly cringed, wondering if it was going to be bad news. I’ve been wrestling through some stuff lately and so I inwardly prepared myself to hear whatever came next.

Nothing came.

Maybe it was just my brain misfiring. I continued to feel quite uncomfortable as I walked home alone in the dark. I paused and then dialed my mom again. She didn’t pick up.

Again, it came: I need to talk to you. This time I snapped to a bit more, mentally speaking.

I started to pray, first starting out with what was weighing on my heart. As I prayed I found the mild panic I had felt minutes earlier at the thought of walking home alone dissipate. As I continued to pray, I moved on to praying for the local missionaries of the ward I attend. Next I prayed for the Gospel to spread throughout the world, and finally, to finish up the triad, I prayed that I might have missionary experiences of my own.

No sooner had this last prayer been prayed I looked up and immediately saw a man standing ahead of me.

“You’re going to share the Gospel with him.”

Ummm…. No, possible, pseudo-schizophrenic misfiring, I am not. I am not going to approach a stranger, in Central London, thank you. I am going home, tired brain, and giving you some rest, rest which you obviously need. I walked passed him and wondered casually about my mental health. A minute later I looked over to my left and there the man was. He greeted me and we began to speak casually. I could tell by his accent that he was of Middle-Eastern descent. He seemed pleasant and I didn’t get any sort of bad vibes off of him. I figured I was on my way home and it was well lit enough to risk it, especially since I had been given some Divine forewarning.

He asked me what I had done that day. I told him I had just come from church and we spoke a bit about that. After a few minutes, he asked what made my church different and I told him about the Book of Mormon, what it was and what it meant to me. A minute later I gave him my copy.We continued to talk about religion – he was Muslim, but readily admitted “My family and I could be wrong. My people could be wrong.”

I told him there was much I admired about Islam. He and I both agreed it was important to ask questions of our faith, to live life well, to honor God and focus on meaningful relationships with people. Kahel, my new friend, seemed genuinely to be a good soul. So much so that I felt safe walking with him in downtown London. He warned me against being so trusting – I told him God had told me I was going to speak to him and that’s the only reason why I was doing it.We walked and talked for about ten more minutes.

It was an amazing experience to find a kindred spirit in the midst of a city of purposeful strangers. At the end I told him I hoped we would meet again, and in the note I wrote in his Book of Mormon I gave him information on how to contact me. I hope I do hear from him again. I feel extremely blessed to have been used of God to meet this man. I have never so profoundly heard the Lord in my life, and never had His word so quickly fulfilled. I can only think that we were supposed to meet and that the Lord has great intentions in our meeting.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Falling Out of Love Defined

Falling out of love: that great sting that engulfs the entirety of one’s being upon the realization that they have been conned by reality.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

My Very Brief Testimony

Taken from a brief talk I gave in Sacrament, earlier this year:

When I was first asked to share today about my conversion story, I was thrilled. And then Kevin told me I only had one to two minutes. I certainly won’t have time to tell you all of it, but I’d like to tell you one aspect.

Several years ago, while visiting family in California, I was reacquainted with a good friend of my brother-in-law’s. Corey was a member, and I remember there being something different and wonderful about him. I can still remember the feeling of the Spirit I got from just talking with him, even though it would be several years before I even knew what the Spirit really felt like. Over the next couple of years, I didn’t forget my encounter with Corey. My last semester before graduating from Bible College, I started to write a paper on LDS doctrine. Corey was the only reason I chose the Church as my topic. I knew there was something different about him, and that brief encounter years earlier was enough to spur my curiosity on. Six months later, I was baptized.

Those six months were the worst and the best of my life. I had dozens of questions and even more fears. Sometimes I felt like I would never see light again – but I knew I had seen it once, in a “Mormon,” and hope of finding it again was enough to keep me going.

The reasons why I joined the Church, the reasons that convinced me it was true, are many. But one of the most powerful, and certainly the most impelling, did not come from two Elders knocking on my door, or a Church advert, or even a free Book of Mormon. It came from a member, just being himself.

When we met years ago, Corey said nothing of his faith. But the Spirit shone threw him and into my life.

Today I would like to bear testimony not only of what God has done in my life, but of the incredible ability He has granted all of us to be His beacons unto the world. Every one of us who has the gift of the Holy Spirit bears an incredible light. And when we let it shine, that light brightens the world all around us.

Not every person you smile at or talk with is going to feel the Spirit, get baptized and become a member. But one might. And the one standing here today did. I know this Church is true, I know God lives and I know God loves us. I know God is every day at work in the world and that He uses the light and truth we bear to transform the world around us. I would encourage you today to go forth and bear that precious light more boldly. To raise it a bit higher and carry it more proudly. That light is the greatest gift we have to give the world. And you never know who might be looking for it. I leave these things with you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.