Thursday, 16 February 2012

Epistemology and the Mormon Testimony

I am sure the first question most reading this is,what is epistemology? Sounds like it could be a swear word in some countries.

Epistemology is how you come to believe the thingsthat you believe. Or how do you know the things you know? It can be as simpleas how do you know you love your family? You would know this maybe from thestrong emotion you get when you see them or think about them, or how do youknow you are married to your spouse? This could be again the emotional link butalso as simple as the certificate you have which declares it to be so.

One of the big errors that can go on when it comesto religious discussion between any faiths, but I would say particularlybetween Born again Christians and Latter-day Saint members is the naturaldesire to discuss beliefs, but not how you come to this belief as there is avery significant difference in this between the two.

This is something the Mormon Missionaries willraise quite quickly when they ask you to

“Praywith all sincerity to see if the book of Mormon is true”.

This sounds very reasonable as what is wrong withpraying, however this question goes very deep in showing how different we arein how we evaluate what is true.

Members of the Mormon church use as their mainauthority for the truthfulness of the Mormon church a personal internalwitness, they refer to this as their testimony.

This comes from Mormon church history stating thatJoseph Smith was wondering which of the Christian churches were true, inreading the bible he came across James 1:5 which says:

Ifany of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally,and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

Joseph took this as to mean pray and ask whichchurch is true, this led him to pray and thus came a vision of God saying allof the churches are wrong, dont join any of them, this paved the way for therestoration through the Latter-Day saint church.

This is also spelt out more clearly in the book ofMormon, Moroni 10:3-5 says this:

Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall readthese things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye wouldremember how merciful the Lord hathbeen unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until thetime that ye shall receive these things, and ponderit in your hearts. And when ye shall receive these things, Iwould exhort you that ye would ask God, the EternalFather, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with realintent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truthof it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the HolyGhost ye may know the truth of all things.

Mormons today state that going on the direction ofthis verse they pray and ask if the Mormon church is true and most if not allmembers claim to have had a spiritual experience when doing this. For some itis a warm sensation in their heart known as “the burning in the bosom”, forsome it is just a sense of being awakened to the truthfulness of the Mormonchurch but all claim this is the moment that they realized the church is true.

This is what LDS member Mark Alan says about it.

Allof my ancestors for several generations back were Mormons, so I was raised aMormon. But there came a time in my life (as there is in all peoples lives)when they start to question the things taught be their parents. I was ateenager and I enjoyed going to church, and doing all the activities that wentalong with that, but I wasn’t sure if everything I had been taught was true.Specifically, I wanted to know if the Book of Mormon really was from God, or ifthe book was made up by Joseph Smith. I knew it had to be one or the other. Idecided I would read the book and pray about it. I had learned that the Book ofMormon has a promise in the last pages. In Moroni 10:3-5 I learned that if Iread with real intent, and prayed about the book, I could learn the truththrough the power of the Holy Ghost. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. As Iread the book, I started to feel a burning sensation in my heart. I feltpeaceful and happy, and suddenly it all started to make sense. Later I realizedthat the Holy Ghost was testifying to my that what I was reading was true. Here

So as we can see this is a very personal and verysignificant thing for Mormon church members, once a month they have a testimonymeeting on a sunday morning where many will in turn and often emotionally beartheir testimony, which is a declaration that they “know the church is true”.What I want to look at is, is this thinking biblical, where does it come from,and what is the best Christian response?

Is the concept of the Mormon Testimony Biblical?And if not how should you respond when asked to pray about it?

To look at this I have to explore what is ChristianEpistemology? Christians when they come to faith in Christ, giving themselvesto Him in a prayer of faith are putting their trust in Him, this trust mighthave come from reading the bible, it might have come from hearing a preacher,hearing a life story, or it could even come from evidence for Christianity, andthere are many many more things it could come from.

I was a 17 year old teenager living the same lifeas many other teenagers, hating college through the week, getting drunk at theweekend and just living a normal enough life for people around me(not that allteenagers do this). I had no interest or belief in God that I could speak ofand was quite happy that way. For me personally I got invited along to an eventcalled the Alpha course and I went just because it was something different withfree food in a nice place. I expected to be told I waesn’t good enough and Iwould have to shape up to go to heaven.

In reality week by week I was presented withstories of lives changed by a living, active and loving God, week by week thisgot more of my interest but I still wasn’t ready to act on it. Then we lookedat sin, of all the weeks I would have expected to feel bad on this one, butinstead I was shown that as someone separate from God I was lost in my sin, andin my own strength by my own good works I was powerless to change that. Thenthe message of Christs sacrificial amazing grace filled love struck my heartmore than ever before. Then at that weekend, rather than getting drunk Iwas reading a booklet in my bedroom that talked about putting your faith inChrist, so I did it, I simply prayed a prayer of commitment. This didn’t leadto lightening bolts from the sky however I simply became aware of God and Hislove for me and I saw the world from then on in a different way. My attitudeschanged and church and the bible and prayer all became privileges rather thanthings I felt I should do, in a way that was my internal witness that God lovedand accepted me.

It is important to note that the actual internalwitness for me came after conversion, yes my heart was struck by the words thatwere said however it was the words of the gospel that I responded to, and notany emotion or feeling inside me. This ties in with the bible which doesabsolutely teach there there is an internal change or witness, however thisoccurs after we give ourselves to God.

Romans8:16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit,that we are the children of God:

This happened to me, however as I said this feelingdid not cause me to become a Christian it came after. Why is that important?Because we respond to the word of God not an internal feeling for trueconversion.

Romans10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing bythe word of God.
The bible does not say you can “know” anything istrue from an internal witness it says that you respond by faith towards Christand He then steps towards you. Going on to what the bible says about how tomeasure what is true, the bible says that God’s word is the measure of what istrue.

In the book of Act’s we see a story of Paulpreaching to the berean’s, when presented with a message that was clearlydifferent to what they believed they did what Christians should do to measurewhat is true.

Acts17:11 These were more noble than those inThessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, andsearched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

They searched the Scriptures, and the bible hereeven calls them noble also, they did not pray about it to maybe see how theyfelt about it, they searched the scriptures to see of what they were hearingmeasured up to that.

2Timothy 3:16 says All scripture is given by inspiration ofGod, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, forinstruction in righteousness.

Scripture is where you go as it is profitable fordoctrine, reproof, correction and righteousness. I have always said to MormonMissionaries that if they can show me in the bible that what they believe istrue then I will seriously consider my position. In the end time and time againwhen it has been clearly shown this is not the case then I get told “Well BobbyI know the church is true”. This is in the face of biblical as well as other evidencesand is sadly not biblical, the bible never says pray to see what is true as thereality is these good feelings you feel are not necessarily of God.

As a side note James 1:5 is actually misquoted whenused as a way to measure truth. Firstly it is wrote to Christians so thereforeit is wrote to people who have already found faith anyway and I heavily doubtJames was trying to move them on to other beliefs. Secondly wisdom is nottruth, wisdom is asking God in your day to day live to help you live in a Godlyway, it is not asking God in your day to day life what is true. So when youhave a Mormon Missionary in your living room asking you to pray about thesethings there are two reasons why you should not do it.

1. The bible clearly shows the measure of truth isthe scripture you already have, so what Mormonism says should be measuredagainst the bible. Missionaries have said to me in the past that what theybelieve is biblical. After a few challenges to this one missionary said to me “Wellbobby your destroying my faith in the bible”. I wasn’t quite sure what to dowith that.

2. This is in reality a psychological trap. Thismay sound a bit harsh but lets take away all this bible talk for a minute,think about this. A Mormon missionary says to you “pray with all sincerity thisis true”. What happens if you pray that the book of Mormon is true and actuallyfeel nothing, that must mean its not true right? Or depending how post-modernyou are it might mean its not true for you. So you may do this and think that’sa relief don’t need to change my faith, its not true anyway. So you go back tothe Mormon missionaries and say sorry guys I felt nothing so I guess this isn’tfor me. Hey wait a second they will say, you just haven’t prayed with enoughsincerity you need to pray again! And thats where the circular reasoning comesin as what they are saying is this is true! You just need to keep praying untilyou feel it is! And sometimes people will meet up with the Missionaries forweeks or months, they will like them, like their church and want to be part ofa community like that, however they will be told you have to have your owntestimony, so they will pray week after week waiting for that feeling, and thereality is, they will get a feeling. Or imagine someone brought up in a Mormonfamily, maybe a male expected to go on a mission and their whole culture issurrounded by Mormonism, maybe a male expected to go on a mission, however itis expected they have to have a testimony as that is the basis they areexpected to have, I can’t imagine after 18 years of Mormonism they are notgoing to get a feeling its true.

Proverbs8:26 says: He that trusteth in his own heart is afool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered.

Many may understandably quote Luke 24:32this says: And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us,while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?This verse underlines the danger of my post, which is simply saying thatemotions and feelings are never useful, they are! However they have to bealined with scripture, it cannot work the other way around. You cannot trustyour feelings to determine what is true, there has to be something external.The sad reality is that many LDS scholars have admitted that the book of Mormonhas no external archaeological evidence, and the gospel the Mormon churchteaches is contrary to the bible this sadly means its members are left alonewith an internal feeling and sadly not the gift of righteousness by faith alonein Christ.

So as a born again Christian meeting up with MormonMissionaries please do not agree to pray about the book of Mormon but ratherask them to show you if what they are saying is biblical and see if the Jesusand salvation that they are talking about even remotely resembles the one youknow.

Where does theconcept of Mormon Testimony come from?

Many LDS may or may not know this but JosephSmith’s religious background is Methodist, history records that Smith appliedfor membership in the Methodist church in 1828, interestingly 8 years after therevelation that all otherchurches were false.
However why this is relevant is that the founder ofthe Methodist church John Wesley said this in his journal about his conversion:

‘In the evening I went very unwillingly to asociety in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to theEpistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing thechange which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heartstrangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation:and an assurance was given me, that He had taken away my sins, even mine, andsaved me from the law of sin and death.’ Here

This is now a very key part of Methodist thinking,on the official Methodist website under the heading of assurance of salvationWesley is quoted here as this being his assurance.

Interestingly both the Methodist and the Mormonwitness have both had the title “Burning in the bosom” used to describe them.In the very least it is an interesting comparison and could account for whereJoseph Smith got this thinking from.

So thank you for reading please leave a commentwith any of your thoughts or comments.

Original article by Bobby Gilpin of UK Partnerships for Christ

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