In the early days of the ancient church when Paul wrote these words, there were people who called themselves Christians who were teaching their own ideas of salvation (such as the need to be circumcised). Unfortunately, in our day we see this same situation which has resulted in there being tens of thousands of different denominations, with each one teaching a different version of salvation.
But there is another aspect to this problem that has affected the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints almost since its very beginning. When Joseph Smith began to proclaim that the heavens were no longer closed, that God still sends prophets to teach His word, and that the Bible is not the final and complete word of God, many Protestant Christians viewed these statements as blasphemous. But, as the LDS faith successfully began to convert an increasing number of people to their beliefs, many in the Christian community became alarmed and took it upon themselves to do whatever they could to stop the spread of this heretical religion they called “Mormonism.”
From almost the very beginning, the Saints were subjected to threats against their lives, they were forcibly driven from their lands, their homes and fields were burned, and all sorts of other forms of intimidation were used to prevent people from joining or remaining in the Church. But when that didn’t work, these holy crusaders felt that if they could get rid of Joseph Smith that his movement would fall apart and disappear. Therefore, they not only resorted to attempts on taking his life, but they also used the law to neutralize his leadership. By making false accusations, they repeatedly had him brought up on civil and criminal charges hoping to put him away in prison. In October 1838 they successfully convinced Illinois Governor, Lilburn Boggs, to issue an extermination order to eradicate this society from his state, and that extermination order remained in effect until June 1976.
Throughout the eastern part of the United States, newspaper articles and pamphlets were being written in increasing numbers accusing the “Mormons” of all sorts of vile behavior. In addition to that, since these writers did not believe in the divine origin of the Book of Mormon or in Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling, they also sought to discredit him and his book by providing natural explanations for how he came to write it. And, from that time to the present, such articles and pamphlets have increased a hundred fold.
There are claims made that Joseph was a dreamer, a money-digger, and/or a fantasy storyteller. It is claimed that he copied his Book of Mormon story in whole or in part from a book written either by Solomon Spalding, or Ethan Smith, or some other contemporary writer (depending on who it is that is making the allegation). Or his critics claim that one or more of his associates, such as Oliver Cowdrey or Sidney Rigdon, was the actual writer of the Book of Mormon, while Joseph was merely the charismatic person they used to promote this false religion. Then there are claims that Joseph was only interested in becoming rich or was obsessed with the accumulation of power. Under this scenario, he is pictured as being a gifted con artist who went about using religion as the means of bilking people out of their money.
While many of these assertions actually contradict one another, the number of different explanations to disprove the divine origin of the Book of Mormon and/or the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith keeps multiplying as people continue searching for evidence to “prove” that the very foundation of “Mormonism” is based on a lie. Even today, there are more charges coming forth that seek to expose the LDS Church as being built on a fraudulent premise. Using the latest in scientific discoveries, these allegations continue to attack the integrity of Joseph Smith and the validity of not only the Book of Mormon but other LDS scriptures as well.
As members of the Church we gain our testimony, not so much through provable evidence as we do through the witness of the Holy Ghost. What makes us different than most other churches is that we “know,” with a certainty, that this church is the Church of Jesus Christ, established in these latter days by Him and not by man.
However, the critics of the Church do not have this testimony from God. Therefore, they have no other choice than to base their religious beliefs on human wisdom because that is all they have to depend on. As they understand the Bible, we are teaching a false doctrine of salvation. Therefore, when we profess a belief in Joseph Smith as a prophet of God they are convinced in their own mind that we are being deceived and led astray by a charlatan. Their problem is, how do they prove this to us, especially if we don’t accept their interpretation of the Bible? Since they can’t depend on the Spirit to do that for them as we can, what they feel they must do is resort to finding some sort of physical “evidence” to convince us to abandon our beliefs.
For more than one hundred and seventy years, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has had to defend itself against this onslaught of criticism by those whom we refer to as “anti-Mormons.” In many cases, these are people who have made it their life work to destroy the LDS Church. These are people who are dedicated to spending nearly all of their time, talents, and resources to advance their cause. Using the pulpit, radio, books, movies, pamphlets, and the internet, they actively seek to preach their message and convert as many people as they can to their way of thinking. As such, they can rightly be called anti-Mormon evangelists.
While it is true that people can and do have honest differences of opinions and may disagree with one another’s view of the same events and facts, most anti-Mormon evangelists deliberately distort the information they present to the public. People such as, “Dr.” Walter Martin, Dee Jay Nelson, Jerald and Sandra Tanner, and Ed Decker make a living by attacking Mormons by using deceptive, misleading, and incendiary statements to sway people to their way of thinking. Although none of their allegations are strong enough to withstand close scrutiny and nearly all of their charges have been proven false or baseless, they nonetheless continually keep re-circulating these accusations, hoping to find a new audience whose ignorance of the facts will cause them to accept what they are told without question.
And some of those who make up this new audience include members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Since most members of the LDS Church are sincere and honest seekers of truth, they assume that the anti-Mormons evangelists are being just as sincere and honest in their portrayal of their facts. And it is because of that assumption that they automatically give our critics the benefit of the doubt concerning their allegations. Therefore, they think that these critics are being fair and unbiased in their reporting when, in many cases, nothing could be further from the truth.
But regardless of whether the critics of the Church are being honest in their disagreement or are being deceptive, the way they always frame the debate is by forcing the LDS Church to respond as though they are a defendant in a court of law with the anti-Mormons acting as the prosecution. These prosecuting critics put forth their evidence to show that the Church is teaching false doctrine, they may even allow the Church to present its evidence, to which they offer their rebuttal, but then they ask us, as members of the Church, to decide who is right, as though we are the judge and jury in the case.
However, there is a serious problem with this scenario. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we should not be the judge! When we became baptized members of Christ’s Church we are no longer neutral observers but have become active participants who have already taken sides in the debate. Rather than behaving as the judge, we, as members of the Church, should be part of the defense team that is vigorously defending our faith against all charges.
Imagine if we were accused of a crime and our defense lawyer said to us, “The prosecution sure seems to have a strong case against you. I don’t know if I should defend you or not. Maybe I should listen more closely to what the prosecution has to say first before deciding whether I think you’re guilty or innocent of the charges against you.” What would we think of that lawyer? Would we praise him for his fairness and his objectivity? Would we keep him on our payroll as our advocate before the judge? Or would we fire him and get someone else who was willing to fight for us no matter how bad the evidence seemed to be against us?
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and especially those who have made sacred, solemn promises in the temple to build up the kingdom of God on the earth, we have committed ourselves, before God, that we will defend the Church in every and all situations, and that includes whatever allegations and accusations are brought against it. Because we have made a commitment to the Church, the Church is depending on us to stand by its side at all times and in all places.
Imagine in war if a soldier walked off the battlefield so he could sit and watch to see which side was going to win before deciding who they should fight for. Would he be praised for his action? Would it be said that his behavior was reasonable and justified? Hardly. Yet, that’s exactly what happens when the opposing army of critics brings out some big, scary argument and we run for the sidelines, questioning if we are fighting for the right side. At our baptism, we willingly signed up to be soldiers in the Army of God and committed ourselves to fight for the cause of truth. But, more than that, we were armed with that truth when the Holy Ghost bore witness of it to us. As a result of that divine witness, we know what the truth is.
Our enemy doesn’t have that assurance. All they are depending on to win the war is their own intellect, guided by their own prejudices and bias. The stated goal of the anti-Mormon evangelists is to destroy our faith in Joseph Smith, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish that goal. They have no intention of being fair, balanced, and objective. Over the past one hundred and seventy years, the critics of the Church have proven that they are more than willing to deliberately misquote church authorities, take things out of context, used a double standard of judgment, and make false statements in order to attack the teachings of the LDS Church, impugn its integrity, and malign its leaders.
Furthermore, they don’t play fair. While they demand proof that Mormonism is of God and insist that we answer each and every allegation they bring up, they dismiss any evidence that proves what they believe is wrong. And when confronted with the same arguments concerning their beliefs that they use to discredit ours, they make excuses to justify their beliefs while not allowing us to use the same excuse to justify ours. So what we see is that they have no intention of being fair, honest, and objective, but that is exactly what they expect us to be.
They are committed to achieving their goal, no matter how many times their arguments keep being discredited or how much evidence we put forth to refute their claims. They keep coming at us with the same old, worn out, unsubstantiated allegations, without ever giving up hope that they will prevail. And if they can’t destroy the Church itself, then they at least hope to destroy the faith of as many individual members of the Church as they can. And the reason they do that is because they believe in their cause.
As members of Christ’s true Church, who have been given a witness in our heart, borne by the Holy Ghost, that what we believe is of God, should we not be even more willing to show the same determination in defending the Church against these attacks as they are in attacking us? Should we not believe in the cause of our faith as much as they have faith in their cause?
Yet there are some who may still feel that the proper way to behave is to objectively look at all charges rather than being close-minded like our critics. However, that would be like asking a lawyer, who knows with certainty that his client is innocent, to be impartial and have his client prove their own innocence against the prosecution’s charges before deciding whether they want to defend them. Yet, that is exactly what people do every time they give credence to the criticism of those who seek to destroy our faith.
But the situation is even worse than that. Our critics have been proven to be unrepentant deceivers. Why then do people automatically assume that every time these anti-Mormon evangelists come out with a new charge against the Church that it is they who are telling us the absolute gospel truth, while at the same time assuming that it is the LDS Church -- who places great emphasis on honesty and integrity -- who is lying? How is that being logical and reasonable?
If we truly believe in the Church and its teachings, would it not make more sense to start with the assumption that it is our critics who are misrepresenting the facts and then search for ways to prove that their allegations are incorrect? Then, if all of our effort to disprove their evidence has failed, no matter how hard we try, it could be reasonably said that there might be some justification in thinking that our critics might have a point.
As members of the Church, we have tasted the good word of God and have observed its effects in our life. Based on those observations we have come to know through personal experiences that what we believe is true. Should we then not seek to do all in our power to confirm that belief rather than cast our faith aside the first time we encounter something that questions it? Would it not seem reasonable to seriously question the accusations of those who seek to destroy our faith rather than just assume that they are the ones who are being honest and fair with their facts?
The critics of the Church automatically assume that we are wrong, even before they have any evidence to support their allegation. Therefore, they go looking for the evidence they need to maintain their belief. We should do no less when it comes to defending the Church, especially if we have been given a testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel. A good defense attorney seeks for evidence to discredit the testimony of the prosecution, not support the cause of the opposing side. Whenever we hear a criticism about the Church, our attitude should be to automatically assume that it is our critics who are wrong, especially given how many times they have been wrong in the past.
Image what God must think of those who have pledged their support to Him and His cause and who have received the precious gift of the Holy Ghost when they are quick to accept what the critics of the Church say as being true while assuming that it is Christ’s Church who is lying. Imagine what God must think of those members of His Church, especially those who hold His holy priesthood, who are all too willing to sit down in the middle of battle so they can think about whose side they want to be on. Yet that is what members of Christ’s defense team do every time they stop defending the church by making themselves judges rather than defense attorneys.
The scriptures tell us that without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6) and we believe that faith is the first principle and ordinance of the gospel (4th AoF ). But faith is believing in something you can neither see nor prove with certainty (Heb. 11:1). Our critics have full faith in their religious convictions even when all the evidence is against them. When confronted by evidence that contradicts their beliefs, they will still vigorously defend themselves. For example, they continue to firmly believe that God created the world and the entire universe out of nothing in six literal earth days in spite of all the scientific evidence to the contrary. They boldly proclaim that the Bible is infallible and complete even when such a statement is easily disproved by the Bible itself. Although there are tens of thousands of different Christian denomination, each one of them has full faith that they are the only ones who are right.
Yet, there are some members of Christ’s true Church who allow themselves to put their belief on the shelf and suspend their faith in the testimony that was given them by the Holy Ghost when confronted with a claim they can’t answer. Instead of vigorously supporting the Church, especially when the evidence may seem to be against them, there are some who will tend to doubt their faith and question their allegiance.
It was Jesus who said, “except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). I’m afraid that unless our faith in Christ’s Church exceeds that of the faith of our critics, we may find ourselves standing in line behind them on judgment day. And instead of Christ saying to us, “Well done thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matt. 25:21) we may very well hear Christ critically say of us, “Why were ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” (Matt. 8:26)