CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

A Review of The Saints of Zion. By Travis Kerns.

Jan 7, 2019

B&H, 2018.

Theology matters, and it matters greatly. In the past many believers were willing to even give their own lives in the defence of biblical orthodoxy. Today few believers would be willing to do so. Indeed, few would know the basic doctrines of their own faith. So the church is wide open to false teachings, cults, and unbiblical beliefs.

In the 19th century a number of aberrational groups appeared, all denying key biblical truths. Four of the more well-known ones which originated during this period were:
-Mormons: 1820s, Joseph Smith
-Christadelphians: 1840s, John Thomas
-Christian Science, 1870s, Mary Baker Eddy
-Jehovah’s Witnesses: 1870s, Charles Taze Russell

They all claim to be the one true faith today, and say that what preceded them was false Christianity. Red lights should always go off when you hear claims like that. Really, God had no true witness of himself for all those centuries? The church got it wrong all those centuries (the “Great Apostasy,” as the Mormons put it)?

I happen to have shelves full of books dealing with these and other such groups. One of the newest and best books dealing with the Mormons, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is this volume by Travis Kerns. It is a vitally important book, and we all need to be aware of it.

Kerns is fully qualified to deal with LDS theology. He has been studying it for nearly a quarter of a century, and has done a master’s and a doctorate on it. Also, he has lived and ministered in LDS heartland – Utah – since 2013. What makes his book so very vital is the fact that he overwhelmingly just presents quotations from official books, writings, teachers and leaders of the LDS church.

Indeed, I would guess that perhaps two thirds of the book is made up of direct quotations. He repeatedly and thoroughly quotes from the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, as well as key works like Gospel Principles. He also quotes extensively from the key leaders, presidents and theologians of the church, such as Smith, Young, Kimball, Hinckley, Peterson, Millet, McConkie, Talmage, Robinson and a host of others.

Chances are good that Kerns knows more about LDS theology than many Mormons do. And in this book he carefully distinguishes between the opinions of LDS scholars and the officially binding and declarative works of the church. So he cannot be accused of just making things up, or putting his own spin on things. He very carefully, fairly, judiciously and irenicly allows LDS theology to speak for itself.

And what we learn should be of great concern to any biblical Christian. He looks at three key areas: God, sacred texts, and salvation. If we get these matters wrong, then our faith is wrong. And all three areas depart massively from orthodox Christian teaching. Consider the LDS understanding of God.

They believe that God must be understood not just from the Bible, but from latter LDS revelations. Indeed, these additional sacred writings reinterpret what the Bible says about God – and other key matters. Briefly put, LDS theology claims that God began as a man, born and raised on a planet like Earth.

He progressed in his development to an exalted state and eternal glory, but he still contains physical bodily parts. To deny his materiality is to deny God. Not only is God an exalted man, but Mormons can also become like that: by obedience to celestial law men can inherit celestial bodies in the celestial kingdom, the highest of three post-mortem worlds. But more on that below.

Jesus Christ was a historical figure who performed miracles, However, he is not equal in essence to God the father but only equal in purpose. He is a distinct being, and has not existed as long as the Father has. Jesus is seen as Jehovah, and at one time in history he and Lucifer competed to see who would be the Messiah. At a point in time God chose or adopted Jehovah as the Messiah.

The Holy Spirit is also seen as a separate personage, not in very essence God. As one past LDS president had said, there is not one passage in the Bible that teaches “the erroneous doctrine that the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost are in substance one, a spirit, or essence, and without body or part”. Thus the orthodox Trinitarian understanding of the godhead (one God in three persons) is clearly denied in LDS teaching.

Concerning sacred texts, Mormons consider four books to be scripture: the Bible, and the three volumes I mentioned above. “Living prophets” also offer “inspired words” which are “also accepted as scripture”. As to the Bible, it is not God’s final word to us, it is not infallible, and it is not inerrant. It is only authoritative if “translated correctly,” and seen in light of the newer divine revelations.

Indeed, it is an incomplete book, the canon was not closed in the first century, and ongoing revelations are necessary. Thus the printed four-part canon is supplemented by a fifth, unwritten book: these ongoing revelations, “living oracles,” and inspired words.

Salvation, like the other two core matters, is also complex and multifaceted. The four main components of salvation are regularly taught: faith, repentance, baptism, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the holy Ghost. Added to this are a number of other religious duties concerning celestial law necessary to ensure entering the celestial kingdom.

As outlined in Gospel Principles, these include “the sacraments, the Sabbath day, fasting, sacrifice, work and personal responsibility, service, the Lord’s law of health, charity, honesty, tithes and offerings, missionary work, developing our talents, obedience, the family, eternal marriage, the law of chastity, temple work, and family history.”

Thus instead of salvation being the gracious gift of God received by faith, a list of works and areas of obedience are offered as the way to ensure a chance of obtaining the highest eternal outcome. Biblical Christianity in contrast sees works and obedience as a result of saving faith, not as a means to earn it or achieve it.

Kerns also looks at Mormon history and organisation, and concludes: “In the end, Christians are forced to say one thing: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not Christian in that it has its own distinctive and divergent beliefs, separate from historic, orthodox Christianity, many of which have been bluntly declared heretical and unbiblical for thousands of years.”

Afterword

Of interest, I bought this book a few days ago and as I was leaving Koorong, a woman came up to me, introduced herself, and thanked me for my ministry, saying how blessed she was because of it. She also mentioned she had been a committed Mormon for 30 years but now was a born-again Christian. I showed her this book and said I would soon review it, so I hope she is looking out for this.

I also need to say one more thing. I know many Mormons and have worked with them as cobelligerants in the culture wars over the years. I am happy to continue to do so. However, while the battle over things like the family is important, so too is truth and biblical orthodoxy.

It has always been my policy not to allow folks to have a free run here when it comes to false teachings and clearly aberrant beliefs. So those wanting to challenge me or “correct” me will not have their comments posted here. They can seek to attack me and this book elsewhere if they feel the need, but it will not be happening here.

As with all people who need a living relationship with Jesus Christ based on solid biblical truth, I will pray for these folks and ask God to open their eyes to the truth of His Word. I pray they will join the ranks of the many people I know who have left the raft of LDS teachings, and embraced biblical Christianity.

(Australians can find this book here: www.koorong.com/search/product/the-saints-of-zion-travis-s-kerns/9781433692185.jhtml )

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18 Responses to A Review of The Saints of Zion. By Travis Kerns.

  • Thank you for this review. In times of amazing theological illiteracy and despondency in many churches, clear teachings on cults and where they err is vital.

    Many people do not realise how even the best argument with those in cults (especially JWs and Mormons) have little impact due to their allegiance to said cult.

    Using their own writings, books and teachings to illustrate their error is vital to minister to their minds. Of course we need to approach everything in love and the power of His Spirit so He convicts them and opens their eyes – but surely that goes without saying (hopefully!).

    May He use this book to encourage and equip Christians to share the truth with those deceived.

  • Thank you Bill Muehlenberg. This is a much needed post. I see young LDS men each Saturday on the streets of Melbourne looking for converts. I’m reminded of Jesus’ words “My sheep hear (recognize) My voice and follow me”. We so need to know the Master’s voice so we are not led astray by the many false shepherds.

  • Great article, gives vital information on Mormonism for religion surfers and those who need a condensed run down. Well covered, Bill!

  • Too few Christians understand their own theology enough to take on JWs or Mormons. Many are not able to because they don’t have the time and have too many distractions when they do get the time. We can’t all be as studied as Donall and Conall, they had no TV or children to provide for.
    When I was a Jehovah’s Witness (the first 29 years of my life) I spent 23 hours a week either drumming their theology in to my head or telling someone else about it. Which balanced Christian has the time to do that? Yeah I know you do Bill, but it is a special calling, not the norm.
    Thankfully we have something none of these cult members who spend 20 or more hours a week learning and relearning their unique “theology” have. We have a personal relationship with Jesus. And Revelation 12:11 tells us that “they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony”.
    When one comes to your door fully deceived and convinced their leadership’s interpretation of the scriptures is right and yours is wrong, as well as that you are willingly evil, then you have no chance of talking them round to understanding scripture from the orthodox point of view. JWs also believe in the “great apostasy” btw.
    So the best thing you can do is to ignore what they are saying, introduce yourself by name and tell them about the wonderful personal relationship you have with Jesus. Tell them about something He said to you recently or did for you. If they can see the sincerity in your face they will have to come to one of three conclusions, 1) that you are demon possessed and satan is transforming himself in to an angel of light and that is why you seem so serene, or 2) that you are crazy, or 3) that you do have relationship with Jesus and they want some of that.
    The third thing happened to me, it just took 12 years before I admitted it. I was door knocking and happened to knock at the door of a Uniting Church manse (yes a UC!) and the pastor ignored my prepared spiel and told me about her relationship with Jesus and how wonderful, kind and gentle he was and what he had shared with her the other day during her quiet time. It wasn’t the only thing that got me out of the JWs but it remained with me all that time.
    Only when they are ready to ask you questions and really want answers about how you have arrived at your beliefs can you then expertly show them what the scriptures really say.

  • Well done Bill, your treatment of Mormons was up to date, concise, accurate, and very valuable. When you have time, could you also do similar articles on the Christadelphians, Christian Science , the Church of Scientology, and the JW’s. All of these groups have evolved in the last decade, and an up to date overview of their wacko theologies would be valuable to all of us. Blessings, Kel.

  • Thanks Bill for the review. It should be read by as many people a possible to prevent them from falling into one of the worst cults in existence today who teach that Salvation requires works in addition to the works completed by Jesus Himself though His life, death and resurrection. It is clear from scripture that anyone who teaches that faith/trust in those works completed by Jesus are insufficient for Salvation are actually teaching a false Gospel.

  • Adam raises a good point. It seems to me that a great many cults, and deviant denominations, are hard to communicate with because of the difference in the relevance of the Bible. Whereas a Christian will rely on Scripture as their first and last resource – though not their only one (!!!) when debating with others of radically different beliefs they’ll base their arguments on non-Biblical sources – people, texts etc and argue that Bible based arguments are invalid as they’re a matter of private interpretation. I’m not quite sure how you get past that barrier.

    On a side note, this book sounds like it could be a very interesting book. Perhaps something to add to the list of possible presents for next year for those bothersome relatives who need ideas? 🙂 I keep thinking I should sometime read through the Book of Mormon but I’ve never felt enthusiastic enough to do so, plus I question whether I’m sufficiently grounded in Scripture to wisely handle such a text. This might be a case of kill 2 birds with 1 stone! 🙂

  • Thanks Andrew. Two general principles tend to apply here. Unless one has a specific calling to work with cultists, most Christians probably should avoid immersing themselves in cultic and heretical literature. Certainly newish Christians or those not well-versed theologically should stay away from there.

    Also, as bank tellers know, the best way to spot a counterfeit is not to know all about the various fakes, but to know the real thing real well. The more we know all about what we believe, the easier to spot the false teachings.

  • For a superb quick refutation of Mormonism:

    https://youtu.be/tS2imEyP7OA

  • Thanks Damien. And here is an excellent, brief video interview with an ex-Mormon, showing the very close similarities between Islam and Mormonsim:

  • And Lynn Wilder was a tenured professor at Brigham Young University and her husband was a high priest in the church. They were deeply involved with it for 30 years. Her amazing testimony is found here:

  • Ha – Islam and Mormonism. I spotted that similarity myself years ago. (Multi marriages, a later & greater prophet after Jesus, salvation by works, women need help from men to get to heaven. No doubt there is more.) Oh, and Wilder’s son Micah is a great testimony – since he is really the one that first got saved in that household.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0mckI8Xfl8
    With the last 3 sets of Mormons I have conversed with, I brought up the lack of historicity of the Book of Mormon. Namely the bogus claims of Joseph Smith that America had a whole bunch of animals, plants and technology before 421AD that were clearly brought to the Americas only in the last few centuries. Some fell silent about this, but they all use the “pray about it and you will feel the Holy Spirit confirm it” line.
    Them I bring up the Bereans (whom none of them had ever heard about – including missionaries from the US – since they don’t read the Bible much). What stands out about the Bereans is that Paul commended them for checking out the facts BEFORE diving into the new movement. Likewise Luke starts his book with “I wrote orderly account this so you can be sure about what you have heard”.
    So despite the lack of historical, linguistic, collaborative or biblical support for the Book of Mormon, they want me to read it and check out my inner feeling about it? Ha. That is not how it works. That is not even how the early church worked. It never was meant to be “turn off your brain and feel your way”.
    Christianity is firmly backed up with multiple layers of evidence – from fulfilled prophesies, to multiple witnesses of the events, and with myriad archeological confirmations, and a unified text. It is so statistically impossible for Jesus to fake the fulfilment of all those prophesies that this alone is enough to prove the Bible is divinely inspired.
    Nothing like that in the 1800’s fiction book – The Book of Mormon.
    BTW: Several of the Mormon evangelists I spoke to had exactly the same response when I brought up the historical errors of the Book of Mormon. They said the Bible has the same errors!
    “Like what?”
    “Like Noah’s Ark for instance.”
    Haha. They were talking to someone who studied Noah’s Ark for years. It is absolutely waterproof. I even worked with a PhD naval architect who got saved by Genesis 6:15 – when he realised the dimensions of the Ark were too good for a myth.
    The Bible is like a granite mountain. The more you dig, the stronger it feels.
    I am amazed anyone would be a Mormon when we have the internet.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_the_Book_of_Mormon
    But, since cults are the predators designed to take out weak Christians, we need to make sure we don’t skip the fact-checking process ourselves.

  • There is a Wikipedia page entitled:
    Criticism of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_The_Church_of_Jesus_Christ_of_Latter-day_Saints

    The ministry https://www.youtube.com/user/Newnamenoah has uploaded many videos showing the errors of Mormonism, including:
    Behind The Veil: Never-before-seen videos of secret Mormon Temple rituals
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6udew9axmdM&list=PL4-6rXpMOwwfCNXDXYFlhLxZtgzAD_scY (2 million views)

  • Hi Bill, I was an active Mormon for five years, an elder, and made the trip to New Zealand with my wife and young family to go through the temple ceremonies. In those days there was no temple in Australia. Being a reader, I bought and read the “four standard works” together with McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine and Talmage’s Jesus The Christ, etc. The journey out began with questions raised in my mind by the temple experience, but the specific catalyst was a brief exchange with an evangelical work colleague. During one of our conversations I said to him, “Why do you talk to me as though we don’t believe the Bible; we use the Bible to support our doctrine.” His reply was, “We get our doctrine from the Bible.” I never forgot that principle, and no Christian ever should. Later in Life I enjoyed reading “Crisis of Conscience” by Raymond Franz, former member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which expanded on the importance of getting our doctrine from the Bible rather than bringing our doctrine to the Bible.
    For what it’s worth, here is a little summary I did a while back for someone who wanted to know the distinctives of Mormon Doctrine. “Mormon doctrine is very complex, and contradictory in many ways. On the surface, Mormonism can appear almost evangelical, but words which mean one thing to her may mean something very different to the Mormon. The following is offered as a “beneath -the -surface” overview sufficient to show how very different their beliefs are to Christianity.
    Mormon’s do not believe in the God of the Bible. Theirs is a different God and a different Christ. They are not Trinitarians – technically they are tri-theists. They believe that the Father and the Son are two individuals each with a body of “flesh and bones.” They believe the Holy Ghost is a separate individual but with a ‘spiritual body.’ The unity of these three, they say, is one of mutual love and purpose.
    They will not want to tell you this, but their belief about God the Father, is that he is a glorified man with a body of flesh and bones, who lives on another planet (called Kolob), and that he did not create the universe out of nothing but used existing materials to “organize” it into its current form. Their god is nothing like the God of the Bible.
    They believe that Jesus was our elder brother in the spirit pre-existence (as was Satan, so they teach) and that he was chosen to be our Saviour because he was the first-born and more worthy than the rest of us. Theirs is not the Christ of the Bible.
    The Mormon ‘gospel’ is a different gospel. The Mormon idea of salvation is one by which prospective proselytes are told that: they pre-existed as God’s spirit children before receiving bodies through human birth into this world in order to be tested, and that a veil has been drawn over their memory of this.
    Now, having believed this ‘gospel’ they can become part of the true church which is the only vehicle on earth that will lead to their perfection through obedience to its “laws and ordinances.” Later in their experience of the church they will visit one of their temples and be introduced to secret knowledge which will help them “progress.” Technically, it is a form of Gnosticism.
    Their gospel is self-confessedly a ‘gospel of work’—of repentance, yes, but not of faith in the true Christ and the eternal saving efficacy of his work on the cross on behalf of the believer. For them, Christ’s atonement only deals with physical death; the Mormon must now work in order to progress in his salvation. This is very different from the gospel of grace whereby men and women who were dead in sins and trespasses are brought to life, forgiven and cleansed, by grace through faith.

  • Thanks Bill and commentators,
    Yes we all need to be aware of this deception.
    Over the years I have come to be aware of what I think are the spiritual forces behind Mormonisn and the JWs. Both have levels of deception and a focus on the need for works.

    It seems to me that the JWs really appeal to those who are triggered by the “security” of a works salvation. There is something innate in our expectations that feels comfortable about a works righteousness.

    However the LDS has it seems a much more powerful deception element. I believe that it is tangible and evil. Tim mentions it in his reply, ‘they all use the “pray about it and you will feel the Holy Spirit confirm it” line.’ That is so true and it is demonic.
    I still shudder at the memory of a discussion I had with some of their missionaries. We got to talking about whether Joseph Smith was a true prophet, and of course I rejected the idea out of hand. But they came up with that line that they all use. I could almost feel the demon saying ask and you will get a “Yes” answer. I can tell you it scared me, and I refused to ask and confessed that I already know that Joseph Smith is a false prophet.

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