Email Conversation with a Latter Day Saint Friend – Part 2

This is a continuation of a conversation.  The first part can be read here.

Friend (response):  Please consider Peter’s declaration of Christ’s divinity “Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God” from Matthew 14 I believe.

How much of Peter’s testimony is based on physical evidence? Would I be too bold by saying NONE of his testimony came from the observable physical evidence Peter was subjected to on a daily basis. In fact, God gives us a more sure way of knowing truth. I know you know this. I know you know the power of the Holy Spirit bearing witness of truth and because you know that I am concerned that you believe this (the truth or untruth of the Book of Mormon) to be outside the realm of the Holy Spirit.

In fact, I would suggest that the rock upon which the church is built is “flesh and blood hath not revealed this but my Father which is in Heaven” or in other words, the rock upon which His church is built is truth distilled upon the minds of believers and non-believers by the power of the Holy Spirit. No other explanation makes sense as the power of Satan over men makes it a simple matter to pervert the correct ways of the Lord. Only revelation through the Spirit can prevail against the gates of hell (see Matt 14). This is how Peter knew who Jesus really was, it’s how you know the Bible to be true and how you know Jesus is the Savior. The physical evidence is not your primary source of truth (I hope) but only serves to support that which has been revealed to you by the Spirit of God.

No man knows the things of God because they are spiritually discerned (I Corinthians 2:14). “But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit” (I Corinthians 2:10).
“… when the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come” (John 16:12-13).

Do you suppose that if the Book of Mormon were true that there would be no opposition to it or to discredit its origin? How often were prophets rejected? I am not making the argument that any person claiming to be a prophet is a true prophet if he is rejected but I am saying that almost all true prophets are rejected.

The interesting thing about history is that it is written by people and people have perceptions and perceptions tend to bend the truth to suit our agendas. We have discussed this many times with respect to things both you and I believe but others do not.

You mentioned the Kinderhook plates. In your mind they are yet another brick in the wall of evidence that proves Joseph Smith was a false prophet. What is the truth surrounding this and does the truth even matter if your mind is made up? Jesus healed on the Sabbath. That is a fact. He was therefore in violation of the law of Moses (also a fact). I could dismiss Him because of the evidence (prophets do not break God’s laws, this man broke God’s law therefore He is not prophet) or I could seek greater enlightenment and then make a decision.

Why did the individual who claimed to plant the Kinderhhook plates wait until both Joseph and his co-conspirators had died before revealing that he planted them in an attempt to reveal Joseph as a fraud? If Joseph truly did declare the plates to be genuine then wouldn’t that be the time to reveal him an imposter? Or could William Clayton’s journal entry (the only recorded evidence of Joseph’s thoughts regarding the Kinderhook plates) be in error? If Joseph thought them to be real, when did he not pursue them as he had with the Abraham papyri? Either Joseph thought them to be real or he did not. If he thought them real why did he dismiss them (by his actions)? Bricks of evidence tend get thinner under objective scrutiny. I also have perceptions that are different from your perceptions when it comes to Joseph Smith. You see a malevolent man set on disrupting Christianity and seeking his own desires. The same was said about Jesus and every other prophet I’m sure. I am not saying Jesus was a only a prophet by the way.

If you only associated with people like Saul and Caiphas and the Sanhedrin, then you would have some fantastic evidence about how evil the man Jesus was. I think you are more like Peter rather than Paul. Don’t be the guy that has to see to believe. There are richer blessings for those who do not have to see the physical evidence and yet believe.

All I am saying is if the fruit is good then don’t dismiss the source because it doesn’t fit into your world view. Jesus healed on the Sabbath – that is some very good fruit even though it may not fit my perception of what a man calling Himself the Son of God would do.

To be clear I am not suggesting that you accept anything based on my word or any other person’s word. The Book of Mormon is the evidence. If Joseph Smith was a false prophet then the Book of Mormon is false. That seems to be your argument based on the assumption that Joseph Smith is the evidence. But he cannot be the evidence because he was hated or loved depending on who you talk to. No he cannot be the evidence you submit to God for an answer. The Book of Mormon is the evidence. If it is true then Joseph Smith is a prophet. That is the only way to get past the smoke and mirrors of history.

You are my friend and I only hope for you to realize what God has promised you and your family. Why do you need to know if the Book of Mormon is true? Why does it matter? In matters because if it is true the the following is also true:

Families are eternal units and you can continue to enjoy familial relationships beyond mortality

God has once again dispensed His Holy priesthood to benefit His children and you can receive that priesthood or authority to bless others

God continues to lead us with prophets and apostles

The nature of God is not a mystery. He is our literal Father (of our spirits), Jesus is His son and they are separate and distinct individuals. Jesus is a God with the Father and He is our elder brother (I know the idea of a plurality of Gods somehow violates your worldview but it is scriptural as you know – Eloheim is of course a plurality).

These and many other truths are revealed in our time for our benefit. This is why it matters. Does rejecting the Book of Mormon jeopardize your salvation? Absolutely not. But if true, you are living well beneath your ability with respect to who you really are and what God intends for you to become. Salvation describes a range of inheritances. I know that in your view it has only two options – saved or unsaved and that is true. But in the realm of the saved there is much much more to understand. So if you base the importance of what I have written on whether it will impact you salvation then the answer is no. But I submit that the thief on the cross receives a different inheritance than Peter.

As I have often stated in our discussions, what you believe is not nearly as important as who you have become. Ghandi, for example, when he sees His savior will recognize Him and worship at His feet and there will be very little distance between who Ghandi has become by how he has lived and who he has to be to live eternally with our Savior. At that point, Ghandi, an imperfect being who has separated himself from God by sin as we all have, can accept the redeeming love of his Savior and be redeemed from his sin. He and all the children of God who have not known the Savior can have their sins redeemed. The problem is for those who have only confessed with their mouth but not brought forth fruit worthy of their salvation (and I am not referring to salvation by works). These are people who have not become meek, humble and submissive to God as a child is to his parent. Even though they have professed the Savior even all their lives and are recipients of salvation offered, they will not have the same inheritance as Peter or Ghandi (assuming Ghandi to be a man who tried to live by the same kind of principles taught by Jesus).

So I have written many things here and I know much of it is abrasive to your worldview. The Book of Mormon is the evidence and you must look at it if you want to know the truth of it. Joseph Smith was a man, not a perfect man but a flawed man like all men are. You can focus on and amplify those flaws and see someone very different that who he really was. Others have done the same with Jesus and concluded He was not God. I will not speak any more of this matter unless you want to. I only want what is good for you and of course I know you wish the same for me. We are at bridge and I am beckoning you to follow me across that bridge. Not because if you stay where you are you will be destroyed but because I know life on this side of the bridge is more fulfilling. However, from you perspective, my side of the bridge leads you away from the truth you already know. Look at everyone you know on this side of the bridge, do they produce evil fruit? We love the Savior. We know the pain He suffered for us. We know we have a debt of gratitude for which we can never repay. We know we must travel the road He traveled which is lonely at times but worth the journey. You also love the Savior. So if we never cross the bridge until the Savior reveals Himself to us personally then I know we are both on the right general path and that is enough for me to know our friendship will endure beyond the grave.

Me: Wow, that was a BIG email.  You know there are a couple times in there where it seemed like you thought that you were in danger of offending me.  You don’t have to worry about that – I promise you!  I don’t take any of your writing as abrasive.  And I know right off the bat that we have many things that we disagree about, so that in and of itself would never offend me.  You are a great friend and as I stated before, I love talking about these issues with you.  In fact, I think there is no more important thing we could be talking about.  As I’ve said in our conversations before, if I’m going to die on any hill in battle, it would be the hill of Jesus Christ!

So…  Regarding your first point about Peter.  That is a really great point and has certainly caused me to think carefully.  It is true that Jesus said in Mat 16:17 “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”  Now as I look at this statement, He is not saying that evidence did not play any role at all in Peter coming  to the conclusion that He was the Christ, but simply that no person on earth revealed it to him, but rather the Father in heaven.  In fact in the 3 gospels where this statement is recorded, 2 of them record miracles in the chapter (Mark 8 – feeding of 4000 and the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida, Luke 9 – Feeding of the 5000, the transfiguration and the healing of the boy with an evil spirit) and 1  both predicts and reminds the disciples of miracles in the chapter (Mat 16 – predicts the sign of Jonah [v4 – the resurrection] and His death and resurrection [v21], and reminded them about both the feeding of the 4000 and 5000 [v9-10]), so we can surmise that Jesus was certainly doing a lot of miracles right around that time.  So, I look at Peter, a guy who met Jesus maybe 2 years earlier, walking around with Him, eating with Him, living with Him on the road (homeless) seeing Him do all these miracles and it definitely makes sense that the revelation he was receiving from the Father in heaven lined up with what he was seeing with his eyes.  If he had thought his Father in heaven was instead revealing Matthew (Levi) the tax collector as the Christ, I think he would’ve questioned the revelation as maybe a bad burrito the night before.  I think the only reason that Peter made that profession of faith was that the spiritual revelation he had was in accordance with what he’d experienced.  Peter had personal experience with Jesus.  He knew Jesus – intimately as a member of his inner circle.  He saw all the miracles first hand.  He was putting it all together.  I believe Jesus when He said that the Father revealed it to him, but I also believe Peter would not have made the profession if the profession did not line up with what he was personally experiencing.

Your quotation of 1 Cor 2:14 is absolutely appropriate and so is 1 Cor 1:18 “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  Now as I said in my last email “belief is not even a natural condition for sinful man without the intervention of God”, so I agree with you there.  God must intervene to open our eyes so that we can evaluate the evidence fairly.  But that doesn’t mean that once we have our eyes open we instantly just believe.  It just means that we no longer have that enmity against God.  J. Warner Wallace has a great analogy he gives about anchovies on pizza.  He said that he hates anchovies, but if God were to remove that hatred for anchovies, it is not like he’d immediately go around seeking to find an anchovy pizza, but the next time he went to a restaurant and saw a menu with anchovies as an option we would be able to freely choose the anchovies because the hatred against anchovies had been removed.  He would still have to see that as an option on a menu or someone eating them to even consider ordering anchovies.  In the same way, once our eyes have been opened, someone still needs to present the gospel to us and then we would be able to freely choose to say yes.  Again, though, that presentation of the gospel should be backed by evidence.  No one is going to receive the flying spaghetti monster as lord because there’s no evidence to back it/him up.

Unfortunately, it’s time to go to work, so I’ll have to stop here.  I’ll reply on the rest of the points (hopefully) tomorrow.

*************************

Continuing on from yesterday… Here is my concern.  When you say that the Book of Mormon is the evidence, not Joseph Smith, I believe that I understand what you are saying.  I hear you saying – evaluate the text in and of itself, don’t evaluate the man who wrote it down, because he is just a fallen human being like the rest of us.  But the Book of Mormon is 100% linked to the integrity of this single man – Joseph Smith.  This is nothing like the Bible, which was written by 40 authors over 1500 years and has plenty of historical and archeological evidence to back it up (not requiring blind faith to believe it).  Joseph Smith is the only one who had the vision.  He is the only one who claimed to translate these plates (which were not even present during the translation process).  No one else could verify it.  He is the only one who translated the ancient Egyptian scrolls that became the Book of Abraham.  The complete system relies on his integrity.  There is no way for anyone else to verify that what he said/wrote was not just an elaborate hoax.  He used the same ‘technology’ (the seer stone) to do the translation that he’d used in his former treasure digging (resulting in fraud charges against him and a trial in 1826).  He is the one who started an “anti-bank” in Kirtland Ohio that failed (resulting in lawsuits and arrests).  He was the one who claimed that polygamy was ordained by God after he was caught in an adulterous affair with Fanny Alger.  You may talk about the 3 witnesses (or 8 witnesses) as verifying what Joseph wrote down and seeing the golden plates.  In fact some LDS missionaries stopped by my house the other day and brought up the witnesses as evidence.  But here is some information that contradicts the [3 or 8] witnesses reliability:

Oliver Cowdery was eventually excommunicated from the Church after exposing Smith’s first polygamous relationship to Fanny Alger. Smith described Cowdery as a thief, liar, perjurer, counterfeiter, adulterer and leader of “scoundrels of the deepest degree”. Cowdery later became a Methodist and denied the Book of Mormon altogether and publicly confessed his “sorrow and Shame” for having any connection with Mormonism.

Martin Harris was a member of 5 different religious groups before becoming a Mormon, and he was part of eight different groups after leaving Mormonism. He was also excommunicated from the Mormon Church and later reported that he did not see the plates as Smith described, but only saw the plates three days after Cowdery and Whitmer and then only in a spiritual sense:

“I never saw the gold plates, only in a visionary or entranced state. …In about three days I went into the woods to pray that I might see the plates. While praying I passed into a state of entrancement, and in that state I saw the angel and the plates.” (Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast, n.d., microfilm copy, p. 70-71).

David Whitmer was also excommunicated from the Church and later declared that he was himself a prophet of the New Church of Christ. Joseph called him a “dumb beast to ride” and an “ass to bray out coursings instead of blessings”. Whitmer later admitted that he saw the plates “by the eye of faith” rather than with his physical eyes and he waffled between three varying accounts of how he saw the plates.

Eventually, Smith decided that this group of three “witnesses” was insufficient; he involved eight additional men and recruited them as potential eyewitnesses, forming a group of eleven total witnesses to the golden plates. Smith limited his choices to men that were close friends and relatives. He first involved four brothers of David Whitmer. Smith next recruited his own father, two of his brothers and Hiram Page (who was married to David Whitmer’s sister, Catherine). Even though Smith limited his choices to close friends and relatives, these men also had trouble staying true to the faith founded on the golden plates they claimed to see. Two of these eight men apostatsized and left the Church altogether. Another was excommunicated. Of the eleven men who claimed to see the golden plates, only five remained faithful to Mormonism. Three of these five men were blood relatives of Joseph Smith. Martin Harris later reported that these additional eight witnesses also observed the plates in a vision and never saw the plates with their “natural eyes”.

After the translation of the plates, Smith claimed that they were returned to the angel and were no longer available for examination. For this reason, no other witnesses were ever present to authenticate the golden plates.”

Why are people who were excommunicated from the Church listed in the front of the Book of Mormon as witnesses?

Regarding Jesus healing on the Sabbath – Jesus said in Mark 2 that the Sabbath made for man and that He is the Lord of the Sabbath.   Jesus is God and He is our Sabbath rest.  The Sabbath is a picture … a type.  There is a pretty decent little article here that talks about this topic.  So, it was the legalistic Pharisees who accused Him of this violation of the law.  Since Jesus is God and the Sabbath was made for man, it could be argued that #1, the Pharisees misunderstood the Sabbath and were wrong in accusing Jesus of violating it and #2, Jesus didn’t need to follow the Sabbath since it was for humanity, #3 Jesus created the Sabbath and knows the purpose of it better than the Pharisees and they are wrong, not Him.  So, I don’t believe Jesus violated that law.  So, you are correct in not dismissing Jesus because of this.  But Jesus has infinitely more in the way of credentials and trustworthiness than any other prophet (including Joseph Smith).

Regarding a plurality of Gods.  There is one God – scripture is clear about that.  See the following references (Rom 3:30, Isaiah 42:8, 43:10-11, 44:6-8, 45:21-24, 46:9-10, Neh 9:6, Deut 32:39, Hosea 13:4, [the shema] Deut 6:4 and Mk 12:29. 1 Cor 8:4, 1 Tim 2:5, James 2:19).  Many more can be given.  So, I don’t think it is possible for a Christian to believe that there can be more than 1 God.  However, that one God is revealed in Scripture as 3 co-eternal, co-equal persons: The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.  Each of the persons revealed in the godhead are described with the attributes of deity and described with personal male pronouns (He).  I don’t have the time to list all the references supporting this, but trust me, there are many (you can use the Nuggets app and look at the tags ‘Deity of Jesus Christ’,  ‘Holy Spirit’ and ‘trinity’).  So, since both things are true (there is 1 God and in Scripture He is revealed in 3 persons) we can’t just throw one of them out and say there are 3 Gods which clearly contradicts Scripture.  Just because our finite human minds can’t fully comprehend the nature of God, doesn’t mean we can’t trust Him on His revelation of Himself.  I would not expect to be able fully comprehend (in this mortal life) everything about the God that made the enormous universe and everything in it.

I know there are a lot of other things I’ve yet to address from your last email, but I need to chunk this response bit by bit.

Thanks for listening…

********************************************

It is amazing that you’ve got me responding a 3rd day in a row!  And it may go beyond that J  A lot of great content in your email…  Let’s get to it.

First off, I’ve been meaning to ask this and I keep forgetting…  When I talk to you (and even when the Mormon missionaries stopped by this past Saturday), it seems like there is always a suggestion to read the Book of Mormon and pray to God about it to inquire as to whether it is true.  I have 2 questions:

  1. I don’t have any idea how many religions there are in the world, but are we supposed to read all of their holy books and pray about them too, or just the Book of Mormon?
  2. I’m pretty sure the answer to this question is no, but I’ll ask it anyway: have you read the Qur’an and prayed to God to see if it is true?  If not, why not?

The statement that if the Book of Mormon is true, then families are eternal units is at odds with Jesus, who said “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” (Matt 22:29-30)

Regarding someone like Ghandi, I would not want to give him or anyone like him any false assurance that they would have any chance after this life to accept Christ.  Paul says “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.  Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.” (2 Cor 5:10-11b) and the author of Hebrews says “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment”. (Heb 9:27) Again, I would look at all the verses about repentance and salvation in Nuggets.  The verse that I think you’ve referred to in the past about Jesus going to preach to the prisoners (1 Peter 3:19), I understand to mean that Christ was proclaiming victory, not offering salvation to those already physically dead.

As I’m re-reading through the bottom half of your last email, I see the plea for me to follow you “across the bridge” where life is more fulfilling and if I don’t, I won’t be destroyed.  I hear what you’re saying.  I can’t help but be reminded by Pascal’s wager – the classic argument typically used in the context of Christian vs. Atheist.  But I’m seeing it as classical Christianity vs. LDS.  Typically the argument with Atheists goes something like this (Christian speaking to the Atheist and phrased in my own wording):

  1. If my worldview is right and there is a God and a judgment/reward, then when I die, I’ve avoided judgment and have hit the jackpot – I get eternal life of bliss and joy in heaven with Christ forever!
  2. If my worldview is wrong and there is no God, no afterlife, then when I die, we are both in the same position – dead – nothingness.  I’ve still lived a good life ~80 years, having a hope in a God who happened not to be there.  I was happy but deceived.
  3. If your worldview is right, then you die just like me, we end up in the same state (worm food), all you’ve gained is ~80 years of the pleasures of life on earth and have had the “freedom” to live how you wanted (which only leads to emptiness).
  4. If your worldview is wrong, you end up with eternal torment in hell separated from God and everything that is good, the worst of all possible situations.

So, the argument goes that you have more to gain and less to lose when you choose to believe in God.  The risk is too great and the benefit too small not to believe in God.

In a similar way, we could cast the argument in terms of our worldviews:

  1. If classical Christianity is true and the Book of Mormon and other LDS scriptures are just the words of a man (and therefore whatever is taught in them that contradicts the Bible amounts to another religion/God), then when I die, I’ve avoided judgment and have hit the jackpot – I get eternal life of bliss and joy in heaven with Christ forever!
  2. If the LDS view of the world is correct and the book of Mormon is true, as I understand it, being a Christian will not get me thrown into hell, but rather, only the first level of heaven, which I believe Joseph Smith said if you could get a glimpse of it, you’d want to commit suicide to get there since it is so wonderful.  So, my end state is still REALLY good if I don’t become a Mormon.
  3. If the LDS view of the world is correct, then you will go to the celestial kingdom/level of heaven and have a much greater eternal reward than me.  I know there are many other points/benefits you’d add here…
  4. If the LDS view of the world is NOT correct, then you are risking having spent your life believing/following the words of a man who claimed to be speaking for God and was not – a false prophet.  What that means for you in the afterlife, I’m not sure…  Heaven, hell?  I’m not totally sure about that.

So, taking the same argument, I would phrase it as: you have more to gain and less to lose when you choose to believe the classical Christianity view of the world (the Bible is the word of God and the LDS scriptures are not).  The risk is too great and the benefit too small to commit to the LDS view of the world.  Using that logic, it would not be wise for me to switch, but it would be wise for you to switch.

Jesus said that “unless you believe that I AM HE, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).  As I understand, the word “HE” is not in the Greek, so, really He was using the phrase “I AM” from Exodus 3:14, where God met Moses at the burning bush.  Jesus said both directly and indirectly that there is one God (Mark 12:29) and that He is that God (John 14:6, John 8:58, John 10:30-33) and that one God is also revealed in 3 co-equal, co-eternal persons (John 14:26, Matthew 28:18-20).  All the New Testament authors agree.  If there is any doctrine of the LDS faith that views God in ways that are not biblical, then it would seem to be that the LDS faith describes and worships a different God (idolatry/polytheism).

So, I appreciate your offer to “walk across the bridge”, but I would say the risk is too great (because the circumstantial case against the author of the LDS scriptures is too great).  But I would like to offer to you to walk back across the bridge (before any of the planks fall out) and join me on this side.  We have great friendship, but we could really have biblical fellowship (i.e. Acts 2:42)!  I am concerned of course about your eternal destiny.  As I said, I don’t know what God holds in store in the afterlife for those on your side of the bridge, but I would not want you to take any chances.

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