This is the name of the religious organization headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah. I like the title by itself because of the interplay of emphasis in the nine words. But here is the big question—how Christ-centered is the Mormon religion? To be fair, how Christ-centered is American Evangelicalism?
Recently, an LDS gentleman named Dave wrote a brief blog entry on “Evangelical Cults of Personality” that I discovered on the “bloggernacle” world of Mormon Archipelago. His thoughts resonated my frustration over the focus in mega-church Evangelicalism; therefore, his short article became the genesis for my serious contemplation these last few weeks. What is my daily focus? What is it that I really like to talk about the most? Is it my ambitions, interests, and ministry, or is it the Lord Jesus Christ?
Notice again the title of my article. There is no reference to any street, city, region, or province. Two words stand out in bold: JESUS CHRIST. In this article, it is my purpose to share a word of observation with any LDS readers who might be lurking; and second, to reorient, if need be, any of my Christian fundamentalist friends to what should be our sole focus and desire—not grand kingdom-building, but humble, accountable King-proclaiming. [To any LDS lurkers: if possible, please approach the fundamentalist SharperIron website without all the abusive baggage and wild connotations of religious Fundamentalism in our “neck of the woods.” And please don’t consider me a basher of LDS neighbors. In fact, one of my neighbors saved my hide the other day by supplying the right tool for my home fix-it project. Since SharperIron is a closed community of Christian fundamentalist bloggers, feel free to post any of your comments over here (www.heartissuesforlds.org) with the corresponding link and day of this article.]
A Word to the LDS
I am well aware of the debates over whether the denomination’s name was changed to emphasize “The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints” as a marketing ploy in order for the LDS church to be more equally positioned among mainline denominations, or perhaps as a strategic move to separate from some of the evangelical mush that appears to emphasize everything but Jesus Christ.
The first item of debate would be “Who is Jesus Christ?” How we rightly understand His Personage is significant. Doctrinal ontology is fundamental, for proper views of both justification and sanctification flow out of this understanding. I will be interested to see what SLC attorney Blake Ostler has to write next spring on the doctrine of the Triune God. More importantly, I have not currently come across any writings of the Twelve or Seventy who seriously grapple with the Old Testament teachings of universal monotheism and absolute uniqueness. Speaking of an absolute, self-existent reality, I did not realize until a couple of weeks ago that Gregory Boyd thinks most conservative Christians are duped by Hellenistic philosophy and Plato. He noted, “The view of God as eternally unchanging in every respect (and thus as possessing an eternal unchanging knowledge of all of world history) owes more to Plato than it does to the Bible.” Because of my lack of scholarly education in philosophy, I don’t know too much about Plato. But do most academic LDS believe that the traditional Christian view of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is Platonic rather than biblical?
Second, once we are in agreement over who Jesus is and what His relationship to God is, the question then becomes, “Does the LDS religion in all practicality focus solely on JESUS CHRIST?” Is He the only Man to be glorified, to be heaped with religious praise? Unfortunately, I cannot begin to describe to you the Christian disgust and the rubbing of salt into the religious wounds of inactive or ex-Mormons when seeing the recent advertisements of the movie on Joseph Smith crying, “Praise to the Man” (www.praisetotheman.com) on small cards and big billboards along the I-15 corridor. Though this title is taken from a hymn written by William W. Phelps to Joseph, and though John A. Tvedtnes argues for the basis of the title here, I am still perplexed.
Here is what I believe is a central question in the evaluation of any religious leader. When does a God-sent witness tell you to look to any other man than the God-Man? Even such a leader as the apostle Paul, encouraging others to mimic him, stated, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
I realize that among LDS the lines are blurred because even the LDS concept of God the Father is that of a “Man of Holiness” (Moses 6:57). Yet the current marketing department of the LDS media is spending good money on communicating a message to our cultural corridor bearing witness to a creature—a man. The praise seems to be going to Joseph Smith. Perhaps, as an outsider in the corridor, I still feel like I am being inundated by the 200th anniversary of the man. But I honestly believe that if I saw the same billboard banner to the Old Testament’s Moses, the New Testament’s apostle Paul, or the American theologian, Jonathan Edwards, I would revolt. How much would John the Baptist eulogize another man alongside the Messiah? Only the “Son of Man” (the Man not being the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7) is the glorious meeting-place between God and man. He alone deserves the rightful praise from every creature’s heart. Among all the men listed as prophets in the latest collector’s edition of U.S. News & World Report, there is only one Man who is “that prophet” (John 1:21). And any imperfect, mortal prophet who does not testify truthfully to the eternal Word (the second Person of the Trinity in John 1:1) is an imposter rather than a genuine prophet.
Do LDS follow a cult of personality? All LDS would emphatically deny the possibility. LDS President George Q. Cannon once said:
Do not, brethren, put your trust in man though he be a Bishop, an Apostle, or a President, if you do, they will fail you at some time or place; they will do wrong or seem to, and your support be gone; but if we lean on God, He never will fail us. When men and women depend on God alone and trust in Him alone, their faith will not be shaken if the highest in the Church should step aside… . Perhaps it is His own design that faults and weaknesses should appear in high places in order that His Saints may learn to trust in Him and not in any man or men.
But I close with this sincere question to Cannon’s exhortation: why would there be the continued need to trust and desperately, eternally depend on a Triune God when you become a separate, glorified deity in the flesh?
A Word to the Christian Fundamentalist
We don’t have billboards announcing, “Praise to Joseph Smith.” Instead, we have billboards announcing our church programs and our next ministry conferences.
I have needed the Gospel of John to reorient my heart. God knows how badly I have needed the message of John 1 for the continued anchoring of my ministry for Him out here in the West, just a little shy eastward of the huge incubator of evangelical mega-churches all along the Western coastline. As in the West, most of America is a breeding ground for the financial marketing of Christian leaders rather than the Christ.
John the Baptist is an example of what our mental focus should be. Don’t look at him. He is just a son of dust like ancient Ezekiel. “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world!” Look on the Christ! He is the preferred One because He is the pre-existent One! If there is any message that needs to be broadcast from bogus billboards and blundering blogs (such as my own), it has got to be the absolute, unique attractiveness of the Lord Jesus Christ. What prophet has such authority to command, “Follow me”?
Unlike Mormons, we have Wesleyans, Lutherans, Arminians, Calvinists, etc. We have our Christian colleges named after individual people and communities of people. We have our local churches that celebrate human community more than Christ. Even our study Bibles are named after people. Where in the world is the blazing focus of John the Baptist?
When priests and Levites from Jerusalem questioned John, saying, “Who art thou? That we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?” John said, “I am the voice of the one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias” (John 1:22-23).
John the Baptist was just a voice. He was just someone trying to clear the debris before the King came down the pathway. So who among us would ever consider praising a grimy, dirty worker on a road construction crew? Who would make a “voice” the object of one’s veneration?
Christian Fundamentalism should never be about the franchising of mortal men, for they are eternally dependent. It is all about the everlasting Jesus Christ, the source of life and joy for all His human creatures. He is what makes the highest of celestial spheres to be heaven indeed!
This past Sunday, a godly, older couple moving from California to Idaho gave me a book to read. (By the way, this same husband also encouraged me earlier to read the Online Pulpit articles of the Shepherd’s Fellowship. Small world, eh?) So I looked at the book on Sunday afternoon. Wow. The book is Holiness, by J.C. Ryle. (Déjà vu to you, brother Chris Anderson, on your book discussion of such a worthy volume.) Hungry for another spiritual feast on this Lord’s Day after the morning service and lunch, I decided to read the whole chapter titled, “Christ is All” before the evening fellowship and prayer time. Praise God for the content of this message written over 100 years ago.
I will let Ryle bring my article to a conclusion:
Let us understand that Christ will be all in heaven… . Like the altar in Solomon’s temple, Christ crucified will be the grand object in heaven. That altar struck the eye of everyone who entered the temple gates. It was a great brazen altar, twenty cubits broad, as broad as the front of the temple itself (2 Chr. 3:4; 4:1). So in like manner will Jesus fill the eyes of all who enter glory. In the midst of the throne, and surrounded by adoring angels and saints, there will be ‘the Lamb that was slain.’ And ‘the Lamb shall be the light’ of the place. (Rev. 5:6; 21:23) (p. 383)
Ryle relentlessly spears the man-centered, infected pus of our day.
Is Christ all? Then let us LEARN THE UTTER USELESSNESS OF CHRISTLESS RELIGION. There are only too many baptized men and women who practically know nothing at all about Christ. Their religion consists in a few vague notions and empty expressions. They ‘trust they are no worse than others.’ They ‘keep to their church.’ They ‘try to do their duty.’ They ‘do nobody any harm.’ They ‘hope God will be merciful to them.’ They ‘trust the Almighty will pardon their sins, and take them to heaven when they die.’ This is about the whole of their religion! … There are multitudes of baptized men and women who profess to honour Christ, but in reality do Him great dishonour. They give Christ a certain place in their system of religion, but not the place which God intended Him to fill. Christ alone is not ‘all in all’ to their souls. No! It is either Christ and the Church, or Christ and the sacraments, or Christ and His ordained ministers, or Christ and their own repentance, or Christ and their own goodness, or Christ and their own prayers, or Christ and their own sincerity and charity, on which they practically rest their own souls.
If any reader of this paper is a Christian of this kind, I warn him also plainly that his religion is an offence to God. You are changing God’s plan of salvation into a plan of your own devising. You are in effect deposing Christ from His throne, by giving the glory due to Him to another.
I care not who it is that teaches such religion, and on whose word you build. Whether he be pope or cardinal, archbishop, or bishop, dean or archdeacon, presbyter or deacon, Episcopalian or Presbyterian, Baptist or Independent, Wesleyan or Plymouth Brother, whosoever adds anything to Christ, teaches you wrong.
I care not what it is that you add to Christ. Whether it be the necessity of joining the Church of Rome, or of being an Episcopalian, or of becoming a free churchman, or of giving up the Liturgy, or of being dipped—whatever you may practically add to Christ in the matter of salvation, you do Christ an injury.
Take heed what you are doing. Beware of giving to Christ’s servants the honour due to none but Christ. Beware of giving the Lord’s ordinances the honour due unto the Lord. Beware of resting the burden of your soul on anything but Christ, and Christ alone (pp. 385-387).
Todd Wood is pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He received his B.A. in Missions, M.A. in Theology, and M.Div. from Bob Jones University. But more than anything he hungers for the A.I.G. degree affixed to Apelles (Rom. 16:10). He also operates a blog called Heart Issues for LDS.