If Christians believe the risen Jesus appeared to the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus, why shouldn’t they accept Joseph Smith’s claim that this same Jesus appeared to him in New England in 1820?
This is the central question Robert M. Bowman Jr. addresses in Jesus’ Resurrection and Joseph’s Visions: Examining the Foundations of Christianity and Mormonism. It’s a question worth exploring across the pages of this well-written and carefully documented new book.
Bowman, widely regarded as the leading evangelical scholar addressing Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness interpretations of the Bible, is well qualified to examine the evidence – both the claims of the apostle Paul and of Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Bowman approaches his study using evidence and reason – evidence meaning factual information that provides objective support for a particular conclusion, and reason meaning the use of methods of drawing conclusions from available information.
This is a fair-minded approach upon which skeptics and true believers may agree. It holds both the Bible and the Latter-day Saints’ additional scriptures (The Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrine and Covenants) open to the same levels of scrutiny. In the end, Bowman shows that Paul’s claims to have seen the resurrected Jesus are well-grounded in evidence and reason; Smith’s claims of seeing Jesus are not.
Last month, Russell Nelson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced that God had impressed upon him the urgency of casting off the nickname “Mormon.”
Non-Latter-day Saints in the 19thcentury used the “Mormon” moniker disparagingly to identify members of the organization founded by Joseph Smith, whose followers came to embrace the name as a badge of honor. Even so, Nelson argued that “Mormon” does not do justice to the name that God, in 1838, gave Smith for his fledging religion.
“The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He has revealed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Nelson said in a statement. “We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with His will.”
Other acceptable names, according to Nelson, include “the Church,” “Church of Jesus Christ,” and “restored Church of Jesus Christ.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that baptism is essential to salvation. Since many people have died without being baptized, or because they were baptized outside the LDS Church, they cannot obtain exaltation, or godhood.
However, “Because God is merciful, He has prepared a way for all people to receive the blessings of baptism,” according to the church’s official website. “By performing proxy baptisms in behalf of those who have died, Church members offer these blessings to deceased ancestors. Individuals can then choose to accept or reject what has been done in their behalf.”
The LDS Church cites Jesus as its primary source for the necessity of baptism (John 3:5), and posits that “baptisms for the dead were done during the Apostle Paul’s time (1 Cor. 15:29). This practice has been restored with the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Prophet Joseph Smith first taught about the ordinance of baptism for the dead during a funeral sermon in August 1840.”
No doubt, Paul’s statement about baptism for the dead has been widely misunderstood – and much abused. In his teaching on the resurrection, Paul inserts the statement, “Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people being baptized on their behalf?” (1 Cor. 15:29 ESV).
Do Christians and Mormons worship the same God?
The question may irk our LDS friends, who insist that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the restored Church and therefore cannot be distinguished from orthodox Christianity.
What’s more, some LDS leaders shrewdly blur the lines that separate Mormon beliefs from the biblical doctrines evangelicals affirm – sometimes with the help of evangelicals in the name of “dialogue.”
A case in point: How Wide the Divide? – a book by Brigham Young University’s Stephen Robinson and Denver Seminary professor Craig Blomberg.
While both scholars argue their distinct theological views, they acknowledge agreements such as, “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one eternal God.”
Really? Is the doctrine of God true common ground for evangelicals and Mormons? Not so fast.
Satan is clever but not original.
He cannot create, procreate, raise the dead, or inspire Scripture. But he can take things God created for good and twist them for his evil purposes.
He is especially proficient in false religions, from Algard Wicca to Zoroastrianism. While the world’s wayward faiths are diverse, the evil one’s fingerprints are on all of them.
To illustrate, let’s look at similar patterns in two very different belief systems: Islam and Mormonism.
It would seem these religious organizations have little in common. Their doctrines and rituals are distinctly different. Yet their claims to truth bear remarkable similarities. Consider six such parallels.