Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Friendly Advice to LDS Who Want to Debate Mormonism on the Internet

I am sure many Latter-day Saints who like to debate Mormonism on the Internet think that they are smart enough to take care of themselves, and don’t need any advice from me—and they are probably right. This is intended for those who may find it useful.

An important lesson to learn from debating Mormonism on the Internet is knowing when not to reply to someone. It often happens that the best reply to give to someone is not to reply to them at all! In those situations, any other answer given will be the wrong answer, and will put one at a disadvantage. It is difficult to lay down hard and fast rules when exactly to do that. It is like “teaching by the Spirit” (D&C 42:12). If you have the Spirit, you will know.

There are some people who as a general rule one should not reply to at all, except on rare occasions, and under the “constraint of the Spirit”:

D&C 63:64 “Remember that that which cometh from above is sacred, and must be spoken with care, and by constraint of the Spirit; and in this there is no condemnation, and ye receive the Spirit through prayer; wherefore, without this there remaineth condemnation.”

There are people out there who are in denial of the Holy Ghost; and it is actually a sin to engage them in debate:

1 John 5:16 “If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.”

2 John 1:10–11 “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”

So if we are not supposed to pray for them, and even say hello and good bye to them, then it stands to reason that we should not debate with them either. There are such folks around; and they tend to congregate on Christian message boards on the Internet. We recognize them by the Holy Ghost. (Apostates from the Church sometimes fall into this category.) This does not mean that one should never reply to them. On rare occasions it might be necessary to do so. But there is a difference between giving them an occasional appropriate response, and engaging them in lengthy and protracted debate. Jesus gave appropriate responses to the devil when He was being tempted by him (Matthew 4:1–11); but He did not sit down and argue with him!

We also need to decide whether we want to inform people or argue with them. There is a difference between somebody who has a genuine disagreement with us and is willing to engage in a genuine discussion about those differences, and somebody who has no interest in the answers you give and just wants to argue. Again, we recognize them by the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Why Did God Put the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden?

Some questions arose during my discussions on Christian message boards regarding the doctrine of the Fall of Adam and the Original Sin, which may be summarized as follows:

  1. Why did God put the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden?
  2. Why did He command them not to partake of it? What was wrong with having a knowledge of good and evil?
  3. Why did He allow Satan to tempt them to partake of the fruit?
  4. Why was the penalty of death assigned to partaking of the fruit?

My answers to these questions are given below:

Q1. Why did God put the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden?

The purpose of man coming to earth was so that he could be tested and tried to see if he would be obedient to the will of God, and choose good over evil; and ultimately be rewarded accordingly:

Abraham 3:

24 And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;

25 And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;

26 And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads forever and ever.

This is also attested by many passages in the Bible, where man is enjoined to always do good and avoid evil:

Deuteronomy 10:

12 And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul,

Micah 6:

8 He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God

1 Peter 3:

10 For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile:

11 Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it.

12 For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.

And God has appointed a day of judgment in which mankind will be judged according to their works, and each will receive a reward according to how their works have been:

Acts 17:

31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.

None of these would have been possible without the acquisition of the knowledge of good and evil; for without it man could have chosen neither good nor evil. The acquisition of the knowledge of good and evil was a necessary prerequisite so he could be placed in a situation so that the above testing could take place. God placed the tree in the garden so that man by partaking of it might acquire a knowledge of good and evil.

Q2. Why did God command them not to partake of the fruit? What was wrong with having a knowledge of good and evil?

There is nothing wrong with the knowledge of good and evil per se. Indeed, as shown above, it was even necessary so that man could be made accountable for his actions and tested. But there was also a problem with it. Partaking of the fruit did not just give them a theoretical knowledge of good and evil; it placed them in a condition in which they would have to choose between good and evil—and suffer the consequences. It put them in a position where they would have to learn by experience the difference between good and evil. But God knew that if He placed mankind in that situation, that most (if not all) men, through the weakness of human nature and the force of circumstance, as well as the temptations of the devil, would choose evil rather than good, and fall into sin, and could not be saved. Therefore a plan was devised from “before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:18–20; Revelation 13:8) that would rescue man from his fallen state, should he partake of the fruit; and that plan was the Atonement of Jesus Christ. But in order for that plan to be put into effect, another condition had to be fulfilled; and that was death.

When Adam and Eve were first created, they were immortal and eternal beings. There was no death. If they sinned in that state, and remained in that state, their sin would have eternally remained with them, and there would have been no opportunity for repentance. That is why after the resurrection there is no possibility of repentance (Alma 34:33–35). Death was required so that this period of mortality would become a state of probation, a “preparatory state” (Alma 12:26; 42:10, 13) in which man could “repent and prepare to meet God” (Alma 12:24). Then, through the Atonement, a resurrection would take place which would “restore” mankind to that immortal and eternal state that they were in before the Fall (Alma 11:42–44; 40:22–24); and a final judgment would decide everyone’s fait. (Death was also necessary to fulfill the Atonement; if the sentence of death had not been passed on Adam, Christ could not have died to atone for the sins of the world.) So there were two trees placed in the Garden: one the tree of life, which enabled them to live forever; and the other the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which (necessarily) led to death. Thus the tree of good and evil was put in the Garden of Eden, and the penalty of death was affixed to partaking of it; and man was given the opportunity to eat from it and suffer the consequences if he chose to. But a plan was put in place to rescue him from the consequences of his actions should he partake of the fruit. The punishment of death for eating of the fruit was not exactly a “punishment” as such; but a necessary requirement to bring about the eventual salvation of man. Without it mankind could not have repented after sinning, and without repentance the plan of salvation could not have been put into effect. And without it also Christ could not have died to atone for the sins of mankind.

Partaking of the fruit was a sin because God had commanded them not to do it; not because it was something inherently wrong or immoral. The explanation that God gave to Adam and Eve for not partaking of the fruit was that if they did so, they would “surely die”:

Genesis 2:

17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

It is like being warned not to eat a certain poisonous substance because if we did, we would certainly die! Eating the poisonous substance is not immoral. It is just not a good idea if you intend to stay alive! The only thing that made it a sin was the commandment of God to them not to do it; but the reason why God had commanded them not to do so was the penalty of death that was (necessarily) affixed to it, not because it was something inherently wrong or immoral. Thus the tree was planted in the Garden of Eden, and man was given the opportunity to partake of it if he chose to; and the commandment was issued not eat of the fruit, the penalty of death having been assigned to breaking commandment in order to fulfill the “merciful plan of the great creator” (2 Nephi 9:6). This doctrine is explained in the Book of Mormon in 2 Nephi 9:6–7; Alma 12:23–35; 34:33–35; 42:3–24.

Q3. Why did God allow Satan to tempt them to partake of it?

This is explained in the Book of Mormon in 2 Nephi 2:11–27.

Q4. Why was the penalty of death assigned to partaking of the tree?

This has already been explained earlier; but to summarize: the penalty of death was not so much a punishment for partaking of the forbidden fruit, as a necessary consequence of it in order to put into effect the plan of salvation through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. But it became a kind of punishment for it because of the commandment that God had given them not to partake of the fruit.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Do Mormons Believe in the Original Sin?

That depends on whose Original Sin you are talking about. According to this Wikipedia article on Original Sin, it has a wide variety of meanings and definitions depending on which church you go to and what Christian tradition you adhere to. LDS believe in a limited version of the Original Sin, but not the full-blown version of it that some Christian churches believe in. We accept that aspect of Original Sin that says that as a consequence of the sin of Adam, mankind has acquired a tendency or disposition to commit sin. This is clearly taught in the Book of Mormon:

Mosiah 3:19 “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”

Ether 3:2 “. . . for we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually; nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires.”

But we reject that aspect of it that says that mankind is guilty because of the Original Sin. That has been the traditional Christian theology of the Original Sin. According to that theology, a man is guilty because of the Original Sin, even if he himself has not done anything wrong. That has been the logic behind infant baptism. According to that theology, a newborn infant is guilty not because he did something wrong, but because Adam did something wrong; and he will go to hell if he died in infancy without baptism. That is the aspect of the Original Sin that we reject completely. Our second Article of Faith states: “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” That is why we don’t baptize infants. We believe that all infants who die in infancy will go to heaven without the need for baptism.

As regards infant baptism, it was not a practice of the early church; it was a later development. Jesus and His Apostles did not baptized little children. Catholics would say otherwise; but they have no evidence to prove it. Not only is there no direct evidence that it was practiced; there is even evidence against it. It contradicts the theology of the gospel taught in the New Testament. One obvious reason is that repentance was a necessary prerequisite to baptism; and since infants cannot repent, they cannot fulfill the necessary requirement for baptism. Another obvious reason is that baptism was performed for the remission of sins. Again, since infants cannot sin, their baptism cannot have any theological validity—unless, of course, you believed that infants have “sinned in Adam;” which was indeed the original catholic position regarding infants—hence their doctrine of infant baptism. Here are the scriptural references:

Matthew 3:6 “And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.”

Matthew 3:11 “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.”

Mark 1:4 “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”

Luke 3:3 “And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”

Acts 2:38 “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

Acts 19:4 “Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.”

Acts 22:16 “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”

These requirements obviously cannot apply to infants, who can neither repent, nor have they committed any sins that need to be “remitted”.

Another obvious indication is that Jesus clearly taught that little Children are unconditionally saved, without the need for any sacraments:

Matthew 19:14 “But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

Mark 10:14 “But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.”

Luke 18:16 “But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.”

So not only there is no evidence for infant baptisms in the primitive church; all the available evidence points in the contrary. Therefore we can safely conclude that infant baptism was not a practice of the early Christian church.

When I have discussed this subject with Catholics, they nearly always respond by saying that the Catholic Church does not teach that an infant will go to hell without baptism! That may be true today; but it was not always so. That is a relatively new development. The earliest Catholic teaching was that infants will go hell without baptism. Then in the 12th century Peter Abelard proposed limbo, which became the standard Catholic teaching until around the council of Trent. Since then the doctrine has changed once again to what it is today.

The Catholic Church’s current position is that it is not known what happens to infants who die in infancy without baptism! Again, Catholics often deny that “Limbo” was the official teaching of the Church; but evidence suggests otherwise:

Pope Innocent III accepted Abelard’s Doctrine of Limbo, which amended Augustine of Hippo’s Doctrine of Original Sin. The Vatican accepted the view that unbaptized babies did not, as at first believed, go straight to Hell but to a special area of limbo, “limbus infantium”. They would therefore feel no pain but no supernatural happiness either (only natural) because, it was held, they would not be able to see the deity that created them. Source.

Do Mormons Believe in the Trinity?

The answer is yes; we believe in the Trinity of the Bible; but not the Trinity of post-Apostate Christendom. The English word Trinity is derived from Latin Trinitas, meaning “the number three, a triad”. The corresponding word in Greek is Τριάς, meaning “a set of three” or “the number three”. (See Wikipedia article on the Trinity.)

It simply referred to the three members of the Godhead—the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost. It did not have the connotations that modern Trinitarians like to put on it. Other English equivalents of the word could be trio, triad, trilogy, triple, triumvirate, or trine. They all basically convey the same idea. They mean three! Its use in early Christianity came out of the realization that the three members of the Godhead are sometimes referenced or invoked together or as though acting in concert, as in these quotes:

Matthew 3:16–17: “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (See also Mark 1:10–11; Luke 3:22; John 1:32.)

Luke 1:35: “And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”

Hebrews 9:14:How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

Acts 7:55: “But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,”

Matthew 28:19: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:”

2 Corinthians 13:14: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.”

That is how the word Trinity originated. It simply meant the three members of the Godhead. It was not an attempt to define how the three are united, act in unison, or are “one”. Well, Latter-day Saints very much believe in the three members of the Godhead—the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost. Our very first Article of Faith states that “We believe in God the Eternal Father, and in His Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost”. That is the Trinity.

Latter-day Saints who discuss this subject with Christians of other faiths, or with LDS critics, are often unwilling to say that we believe in the Trinity, because they associate the word with the Trinitarian theology of traditional Christianity. But that is a mistake. When the critics of the Church assert that Mormons don’t believe in the Trinity, they want to create the false impression that Mormons do not believe in the three members of the Godhead—the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost—which of course is not correct. Mormons very much believe in the three members of the Godhead. So the correct answer to that question is that Mormons believe in Trinity of the Bible, which is the correct doctrine of the Trinity; but not in Trinitarianism, or in the Trinitarian theology of traditional Christianity. They are two different things. Trinitarianism has no biblical basis. It is a false theology that developed after the Apostasy of the early Christian church.