In most Christian church services, at the end of the sermon, the pastor or church leader issues what is generally referred to as "an invitation." This is where people in the congregation who have not yet accepted Christ as their personal Savior are asked to come forward and publicly make a profession of their faith. Charles Stanley, a prominent television evangelist, offers the invitation in these words: "My friend, no matter who you are or where you are, right now, if you will pray this prayer with me you can begin what will never ever cease - eternal life. Will you pray this prayer and tell God that you want His eternal life?
"Heavenly Father, I do believe that you sent Jesus, your only begotten son. I believe that he came to die on the cross. I believe he paid my sin debt in full. I realize that I cannot help myself because I'm spiritually dead and I need life and I want eternal life. I confess that I've sinned against you and am unworthy to be the recipient of eternal life but I accept, right now, by faith, the gift of eternal life through the death of Jesus Christ as I receive Him as my personal savior. Amen.
"Now my friend, if you prayed that prayer, do you realize that in those few seconds you allowed God to change your eternal destiny? You just stepped out of eternal death into eternal life. You just changed your destiny from Hell to Heaven."
According to traditional Christianity, there are four steps to becoming saved. First is to believe in Jesus Christ as the only begotten son of the Father. Secondly, that He died on the cross to pay for our sins. Thirdly, that we acknowledge our sins before him. Fourthly, accept Him as our personal Savior and the only Person who can get us into heaven. If a person can admit those four things with full honesty of heart, that is all we need do to be saved. There are no other requirements. There are no other conditions. And once a person is saved, most Christian churches teach they are saved forever, no matter what kind of a life they may live after their profession of faith. And it is this declaration of belief that makes someone a "Christian."
If this is true, then every faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can offer that prayer in all honesty, without any reservation or qualification. We believe completely and unequivocally that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of the Father and that His death upon the cross absolutely paid for our sins. Furthermore, every faithful Latter-day Saint can truthfully state that they are a sinner and are in need of Christ's atoning blood, without which we cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Therefore, by the very definition which almost every Christian church uses to define their standing with God, Mormons are unequivocally both saved and are Christians
However, when Mormons make this assertion, many Christian churches strongly argue that we are neither Christians nor saved because our beliefs are different than what they teach. What makes this attitude of theirs puzzling is that when evangelical Christians offer their invitation to come unto Christ, they say nothing about having to accept certain doctrines as a condition of salvation. It is only after a person has become saved -- i.e. accepted Christ as their personal Savior -- that they are then required also to adhere to certain, orthodox teachings. But how can this be if once a person has accepted Christ as their personal Savior they are saved and nothing they do can make them lose their salvation?
Let me illustrate the problem this way. What if a devout Christian who has accepted Christ as their personal Savior, and therefore has become "saved by grace," later becomes converted to the LDS church (which many have)? And let's say that Mormons should not be considered Christians because they teach false doctrines about salvation. Is the formerly saved Christian who has converted to Mormonism still a Christian and do they still retain their "saved" condition, or does converting to Mormonism no longer make a person a Christian and unsaves them? If we say that once a person is saved they can never lose their standing with God, then it is erroneous to say that all Mormons are neither Christians, nor saved, since many Mormons are formerly "saved" Christians. But if it's true that all Mormons are not saved, then it must be equally true that a person becomes unsaved if they later accept erroneous ideas about salvation.
Furthermore, if we say that in order for a person to be truly saved they have to believe in the doctrine of "saved by grace", do people who have become saved according to the orthodox teachings become unsaved if they later accept the LDS teachings of grace plus works? If the answer is "yes," then that means there is something we can do to lose our salvation. If we say "no" then our salvation is not determined by doctrine but only by our acceptance of Christ as our Savior, in which case it is false to accuse Mormons of not being a Christian simply because they teach a different doctrine.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, on the other hand, doesn't have this kind of doctrinal dilemma because of the way they convert people. Unlike most Christian churches who rely on convincing people to accept the preacher's interpretation of what the Bible says concerning how to become saved, Mormons invite people to "ask of God" to verify the things we teach. Rather than relying on the understanding of fallible men to tell us what the Bible teaches, we invite people to ask God in prayer to show them the truth of what we believe.
Imagine a preacher at the end of his sermon saying, "I've just shown you from the Bible what I believe it says about how to become saved. But I don't want you to take my word for it. I want you to study the Bible for yourself and, after prayerful consideration, if you feel convinced by the power of the Holy Ghost that what I've told you is correct, then, and only then, do I want you to join my church." But that's not what they say. Since they feel the Bible's message of salvation is clear, most traditionalist Christians don't see the necessity of having potential converts "ask of God" first. Therefore when Mormons use such an approach -- often with great success -- many Christian denominations denounce this practice as being unbiblical. One publication calls this form of conversion as "a psychological trick." Another Christian magaizine has labeled this as "a form of positive hypnosis."
Still another Christian author writes, "Mormons are held in their faith, not by objective scripture, but by internal feelings that they have confused for confirmation of the Holy Spirit that Mormonism is truth. The Bible nowhere makes a similar promise of itself. Jas 1:5 does not teach this! This passage is addressed to brethren who are saved, not seeking sinners. Mormons are asking for knowledge, this passage promises wisdom. Wisdom and knowledge are different: (Rom 11:33; Col 2:3). Nothing in this passage indicates that Christians should give non-believers a copy of the Bible and God would directly & miraculously confirm its truthfulness."
Yet another Christian author writes, "They [Mormons] believe when they pray to God about the Book of Mormon that God sends a sign to confirm the genuineness of the book. They get a 'Burning in the bosom', a warm glow in their chest. When they present their 'gospel' to you they will ask you to accept a copy of the Book of Mormon, and pray over it, asking for confirmation. Christians should not [their emphasis, not mine] pray about the Book of Mormon, as it is demonically influenced."
An article on how to witness to Mormons states, "1. Know the role of `feelings' (testimony) and how `feelings' for some can be a substitute for facts, knowledge and wisdom. 2. never [their emphasis, not mine] pray about the Book of Mormon. We should follow 1 Thess 5:21 and `Prove all things, hold fast that which is good;' it doesn't say anything about prayer. Do what the Bereans did in Acts 17:10-11."
Since an answer to prayer is derogatorily referred to as "feelings," we see that traditionalist Christians teach that both a belief in prayer and in having a testimony as given by the Holy Ghost are things which should be avoided at all cost, especially when applied to Mormon beliefs. But is this the correct Biblical interpretation?
Mormons point to the first chapter of James which reads, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering..." (1:5,6) as Biblical evidence of the need to ask of God. However, as we have just seen, more than one Christian writer has said this is not the correct understanding of these verses. Since the quoted author tries to make a distinction between knowledge and wisdom, and between sinners and saved Christians, it's only fair to take a closer look at his assumption.
Knowledge is the gaining of facts, while wisdom is the proper use of knowledge. Facts alone can be interpreted anyway one likes to shape them. On the other hand, wisdom is knowing how to use facts to determine the truth. The Bible teaches, "Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom; and with they getting get understanding" (Proverbs 4:7). When two or more people are teaching different doctrines from the same Bible, obviously they both have knowledge of the scriptures. But it takes wisdom to discern whose set of facts are being correctly used. However, are saved, born-again Christians the only ones allowed to pray for wisdom concerning God's word? Are non-Christians only permitted to decide for themselves which doctrine contains the correct knowledge of salvation without any help from God?
It is indisputable that true wisdom and knowledge comes from God. It is also acknowledged that man's wisdom and knowledge is fallible and incomplete. Therefore, whether we are talking about wisdom or about knowledge, should not unsaved as well as saved people rely on God, rather than on man for both their knowledge and wisdom about what the Bible teaches?
It was Jesus who taught, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened" (Matthew 7:7,8). Jesus promised that if we ask it shall be given us. If we seek for truth we will find it. The implied meaning here is to ask God, not man. To say that praying about the Book of Mormon or any other aspect of the LDS church is unbiblical is to say that Jesus didn't mean what He said.
Furthermore, concerning unsaved people, Paul himself wrote, "And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech, or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God...And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God" (1 Corinthians 2:1,4, emphasis added). Paul didn't rely on preaching to unsaved people "with enticing words of man's wisdom." He didn't use facts, logic, or reasoning to convince people of his message. He didn't use his extensive knowledge of the scriptures as the authority for his words. Rather, he relied on bearing his testimony and on the power of God to enlighten his listeners. His success as a preacher was dependent on the Holy Ghost teaching the unsaved sinner, rather than on his eloquent speech to tell them what God's word said. In fact, Paul was so inspired and full of the Spirit of God that the very words which he himself spoke eventually became scripture themselves.
Paul further taught that using proof (signs) and intellectual wisdom is not the way to find God (1 Corinthians 1:22,23). In fact, he also taught that the gospel "is hid to them that are lost" (2 Corinthians 4:3) and they cannot understand it because it is foolishness to them" (1 Corinthians 1:18).
Then how do we come to know about Christ? In the 2nd chapter of 1 Corinthians Paul explained that no one knows what someone else is thinking except the spirit of the man is inside of him. Likewise, no one knows God's thoughts except the Spirit of God (i.e. the Holy Ghost) (verse 10,11). Paul then explains that the natural man (man's unsaved condition) cannot receive the things of God because they are spiritually discerned (verse 14). As such, man cannot possibly come to know God's way through the wisdom of the world's teaching. Rather, Paul said that it is the Holy Ghost who teaches us to understand spiritual things (verses 13).
Finally Paul asks the question "Who knows the mind of the Lord?" Since the Holy Ghost knows the mind of God (verse 11), the answer to his question is that anyone who has been taught by the Holy Ghost knows the mind of Christ (verse 16). Therefore, how can an unsaved person come to know and understand the spiritual things of God (i.e., that salvation comes through Jesus Christ as our redeemer and personal Savior) unless the Holy Ghost reveals that knowledge to them? According to Paul, there is no other way for them to gain that knowledge.
In fact, speaking of the mysteries of Christ's atonement (verse 7,8), Paul stated, "God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit" (verse 10). A little later on in the same epistle Paul clearly states that no man can say that Jesus is the Christ except by the power of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 12:3). The apostle John also taught that the way we come to know Christ and have Him dwell in us is because that knowledge has been given to us by the Holy Ghost (1 John 4:13). He further states that no matter what kind of witness mortal men may give, God's witness is always greater (1 John 5:9).
Yet despite what the Bible says, many traditionalist Christians scoff and ridicule the idea that unsaved people can receive their knowledge and wisdom about salvation from God's Holy Spirit. And when Mormons claim that they have asked for and received a witness from the Holy Ghost, evangelical Christians dismiss such an idea as being based on "feelings" rather than reason.
It is a result of this witness that Mormons base their "faith" in the Book of Mormon, in Joseph Smith and in the doctrines of the LDS church. Yet many Christians boldly state that the standard by which everything should be judged is found in 1 Thessolonians 5:21 which declares, "Prove all things, hold fast that which is good." Therefore, they say that before we can hold fast to something, we must first prove that is it true.
Yet Paul defined faith as "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). By its very Biblical definition, faith is the opposite of "proof." Faith is believing in something you can neither see, nor prove. Paul also said that "the just shall live by faith" not by proof. (Hebrews 10:38). He also stated that it is our faith which makes us righteous (Romans 4:5), not our intellectual knowledge of provable facts. Furthermore, he said that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). And faith is based solely on feelings.
But if the traditionalists are correct, then we must also apply the same test to the Bible. However, how do you "prove" that Jesus is the Son of God? How do you "prove" that because he was executed according to Roman law as a convicted criminal that our sins have been washed away simply by believing on His name? How do you "prove" that He rose from the dead with an immortal, glorified body that could go through walls and rise in the air on a cloud (Acts 1:9)?
To a Christian, the only "proof" they offer is based solely on what the Bible says about itself. Yet, if a Mormon attempts to show where the Book of Mormon proves itself, these same people emphatically declare that such an approach is both illogical and untrustworthy. Instead, they demand independent, secular evidence to verify our claims.
But how do we "prove" that the Bible is the word of God by the same standard? Archeology may confirm that certain cities and events spoken of in the Bible actually did exist, but that doesn't demonstrate that the Bible was written under the inspiration of God. And if our standard for believing is dependent on "proving all things", then all Christians have a problem. There has been no independent, archeological proof that a man named Moses actually ever existed, nor is there a known record from any source except the Bible of the Israelite's exodus from Egypt. There's no independent, secular record of even one of the miracles performed by Jesus as recorded in the New Testament. There's no Jewish or Roman record of Jesus having been crucified, let alone being resurrected.
Therefore, it is clearly evident that Christians believe all these things about the Bible because of their faith rather than the existence of any real, tangible proof. Yet, many of these same people strongly condemn any kind of faith in the Book of Mormon saying that it is an unbiblical way of determining truth.
The only real "proof" of either the Bible or the Book of Mormon comes from the witness of the Holy Ghost. When Peter declared that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus told "him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven (Matthew 16:17). Peter's knowledge of who Christ was didn't come from any kind of proof. It didn't come through a study of the scriptures or because of physical evidence or because of observable miracles. His knowledge came through the influence and power of God.
Yet one prominent Christian wrote, "Emotions are unreliable - biased - whimsical. They lie as often as they tell the truth. They are manipulated by hormones... and they wobble dramatically from early morning, when we're rested, to the evening when we're tired. One of the evidences of emotional maturity is the ability (and willingness) to overrule ephemeral feelings and govern our behavior with the intellect and the will. If perception or emotions are suspect at best, then we must be extremely wary in accepting what they tell us about God.... What they `feel' may reflect nothing more than a momentary frame of mind" (from the book "When God doesn't make sense" by James Dobson, page 47).
To be consistent in our logic and non-hypocritical in our standards, according to this explanation, we should dismiss Peter's testimony because it was based on his "feelings" rather than being determined "with the intellect and the will." Yet, instead of Jesus condemning Peter because of his testimony (i.e. "feelings."), like many evangelical Christians do with Mormons, Jesus said Peter was blessed for it.
Furthermore, Jesus taught his disciples to teach the gospel by this same method. He told them "beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you" (Matthew 10:17-20). In other words, the apostles were to speak as they were "moved upon by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1:21), which means they were to say the things they "felt" led to speak about.
Shortly before Jesus left His apostles, He told them He would send them the Holy Ghost who would teach them all things (John 14:26). After Christ was resurrected, when the apostles spoke, they didn't need to give any proof of their claims. Instead they bore their testimony of who Jesus was, which testimony came from the Spirit of God. On the day of Pentecost, Peter and the other apostles went into the Temple and converted 3,000 people, not because of any "proof" but because of the testimonies which they gave of Jesus Christ (Acts 2). And that is the same way Paul taught the gospel.
A testimony is a personal declaration of something which someone knows to be true, even though they may not be able to give solid, concrete proof to substantiate their claim. When someone has a testimony of Jesus Christ, it is something sacred because it is a knowledge which has come from a Divine source. Even traditional Christians testify of Jesus Christ as being the Son of God because of a witness given to them by the Holy Ghost and not because they can actually prove it. It is something they believe primarily because of their faith.
However, this testimony is not based on "feelings," as many fundamentalist Christians would have people believe. Instead, it comes from a sure "knowledge" which has been imparted to us by the Holy Ghost, much like a teacher imparts knowledge to their students. How does the student know that what they are being taught is true? Because of their trust and confidence in the instructor's knowledge. Take, as an example, the subject of government history. Since none of us actually lived in America during the Revolutionary War, nor attended the signing of the Declaration of Independence, nor personally knew George Washington, the only reason we "believe" what a history teacher tells us is because of our "faith" in the teacher.
In the same way, the Holy Ghost is also a teacher, and He reveals knowledge to us. But, unlike any earthly instructor, when the Holy Ghost reveals information, He has the ability to convey His teachings with such clarity and conviction that we "know," with absolute certainty, of their truthfulness and validity. To say that this knowledge is something we believe in strictly because of our intuitive "feelings" is a gross mischaracterization of what a testimony is.
Yet, despite what the Bible teaches, many evangelical Christians still belittle and mock Mormons for bearing their testimonies, saying that they only do so because they cannot defend their beliefs. As one Christian writer put it "Many religious groups when confronted with Bible truth are heard to reply, I can't answer your arguments, but I know you must be wrong because I have the testimony of the Holy Spirit in my heart." Another person wrote, "One may further give to the Mormon his or her own testimony of the truth of the Bible and of historic orthodox Christianity. After all, if subjective `testimonies' were sufficient proof, the Christian would be in as good a position as the Mormon. Thus, one person's experience can cancel out the other's, leaving only the objective evidence to discuss."
However, the Bible clearly shows that it was through the bearing of testimonies that the early Christians spread their beliefs. The gospel of John concludes with these words: "This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true" (John 21:24, emphasis added). In other words, John wrote his gospel as a way of bearing his testimony of Christ. In his first epistle, John again testified of Christ (1 John 4:14, 1:1-3). Speaking about the apostles after Pentecost, the Bible tells us, "Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands" (Acts 14:3, emphasis added). Early in his ministry Paul spoke of wanting to remain in Jerusalem to preach the gospel, but the Lord came to him in a dream "saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me" (Acts 22:18, emphasis added). As we saw earlier, Paul preached the gospel by bearing his testimony of the Savior but the people in Jerusalem didn't want to hear it and sought to take his life.
Paul reminded the saints in Corinth how he declared unto them the testimony of God (1 Corinthians). Paul reminded the saints in Thessalonia that they came to believe in Christ because of the testimony he bore of Him (2 Thessalonians 1:10). Furthermore, Paul told Timothy, "Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God" (2 Timothy 1:8 ). Notice that Paul tells Timothy not to be ashamed of bearing his testimony about Christ. Yet that is exactly what some Christians strive to do with Mormons who bear their testimony.
While John was in exile, he wrote, "I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Revelation 1:9, empahsis added). In other words, John had been banished to Patmos because of his testimony of Jesus Christ.
When an angel appeared before John, he wrote, "At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." (Revelation 19:10, New International Version, emphasis added). To have a testimony of Jesus Christ is what makes Christians fellow servants and brothers in Christ. And to gain a testimony of Jesus Christ one must have the spirit of prophecy.
Peter wrote, "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1:21). Prophesy isn't something that is provable. By its very definition, prophecy is something that has to be taken strictly on faith because there is no way to verify its prediction prior to the forecasted event. And prophesy doesn't come simply because man wants it to happen. Rather, prophesy is something unknowable to man until God decides to reveal it. And the same is true of a testimony of Jesus. It doesn't come through proofs, logic, or scriptural analysis simply because man uses his intellectual reasoning to discover it. It is something unknowable and improvable until God decides to reveal it personally to an individual. And when that happens, then that person has what is called "a testimony."
Saul of Tarsus was a student of the word of God before he went to Damascus, and yet he could not and would not believe in Jesus despite his knowledge of and belief in the Old Testament scriptures. However, after God revealed himself to Paul personally, there was no other proof needed to convince him that Jesus was the Savior. Only after Paul had this testimony did he then understand what the scriptures taught about the Messiah. Yet, it wasn't the scriptures that convinced him. Instead, the scriptures only confirmed what he first had learned by revelation from God. And even so, when he tried to teach other Jews in their synagogues from their own scriptures, many of them were unconvinced, once more showing that a personal testimony doesn't come from "proving" that Jesus is the Christ. It can only come by direct revelation from God.
But there is something else we can learn from this scripture in 1 Peter. The word "holy" as used twice in this verse comes from the Greek word "hagios." In the New Testament Paul often refers to those who have accepted Christ as their Savior as being "saints." Thus the Bible itself defines a Christian as someone who is a saint. The Greek word for "saint" is "hagios," which is the same exact word that is also translated as meaning "holy." Therefore, a saint (hagios) is someone who is considered to be a holy (hagios) person. With that understanding, we can accurately rephrase Peter's words to read, "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but saints spake as they were moved by God's Spirit."
As we have already seen, Paul spake by the power of God's Spirit, and Jesus taught his disciples to do the same. And since the Bible states that the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy, we can also accurately say that "the testimony of Jesus Christ [which is a prophecy] comes not by the will of men. But Christian saints [holy men] have it because they have been moved upon by God's Spirit."
Jesus taught, "Ask and ye shall receive; seek and ye shall find." Paul explained that the way people come to know the mysteries of God is by having it revealed to them by the Holy Ghost. He further wrote that it is the Holy Ghost who teaches us (1 Corinthians 2:10,13), thereby echoing the Savior's words to his disciples (John 14:26). Yet despite these words of scripture, the message which most Christian ministers preach is, "Listen to me and ye shall know what the Bible says. Accept my understanding of the Bible and ye shall receive salvation."
In contrast, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches, "Ask God, the eternal Father in the name of Christ if these things are not true. And if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost" (Moroni 10:4). Many in the Christian community complain that this is an unbiblical and false way to understand how to become saved. On the other hand, Mormons have trouble understanding why so many believers in Christ strive so diligently to persuade people not to ask of God.
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