My eyes are wet.
Not sure if it’s the sharp glare of the sun in my eyes coming off the parked cars outside this Starbucks where we sat for an hour and twenty minutes, or if I’m actually feeling something… (if you’re LDS, you know what that phrase could mean).
I read the Book of Mormon in three days — from the onset in 600 B.C. with Lehi’s family and their journey to the New World, to Moroni in 401 A.D. when the Lamanites and Nephites are both utterly degenerate and murder each other. I will say, along the journey, the chapter summaries were supremely helpful.
Overall impression was that it felt like the Bible, but with names of people groups swapped out. Instead of the Israelites, it’s the Nephites. Instead of the prophets like Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Micah, you read about prophets like Mormon, Alma, and Helaman.
Lots of wars. Lots of prophecies. Lots of kings doing evil and being corrected by the divine lineage of Lehi’s sons. Lots of “And it came to pass…” (that’s how many verses begin).
I tried to read the pages with an open mind, which some Christians might fault me for. But if people are staking not only their livelihood but also their eternity on this book, then shouldn’t I give it a chance? Could this be true?
I came to the book not without my own biases. I had heard about loopy labels and bizarre lambasts against the LDS church. But to my surprise, the book was explicitly God-honoring, and more specifically Christ-glorifying. Similar to the Bible, it all pointed to Christ.
After I finished the book, I visited Mormon.org and requested a missionary visit. Within the day I received a call from two sisters to meet up. I asked if they would meet me at Starbucks, where I like to work. They agreed.
After gassing up on a cold brew, I sat outside the Starbucks and waited.
Two younger women wearing badges and dresses walked up to the front door and I called over to them.
“Hey, I’m Dave.”
They smiled and walked over, shook my hand, and sat down. One had dark hair and brown skin, the other had light brown hair and fair skin — both in their late teens, possibly early twenties.
The lighter one was on mission from Florida, her partner from California. The fair skinned missionary talked more, and knew more answers than the other but deferred to the dark-haired missionary when it was an easier meatball she could knock out of the park.
I explained that I grew up a Christian and that my main question was why. Why did this all need to happen? Why is the Bible not enough? Where does all the extra religiosity come from?
The girl from Florida on my left was recently converted from Christianity to Mormonism. She was the only one in her family who believed; the rest were Christians.
“Perfect,” I said. “You can explain it to me.”
We got right into the script, guided by a colorful tract on the table. I stopped them immediately and asked if they could focus on the differences of what we believe, because we all knew there was a treasure trove of things we had in common.
“Christianity is like pre-school, Mormonism is like high school,” said a Mormon in a video I watched before our meeting. It’s the same thing, but there’s just more advanced material.
Ignoring my request, they proceeded with the script.
I asked the Floridian, “What was wrong with Christianity that made you become a Mormon?”
Her eyes looked off into the distance and she paused in thought. I could tell she was thinking about how much to divulge. Finally, she said, “I had questions that the Bible didn’t answer that LDS answered for me.”
“Could you be more specific? What were those questions?”
She paused again. Even more hesitant. Then she brought up a topic that’s always been a conundrum in Christianity.
“If God knows all, then why did he create Adam and Eve and then doom them by having them eat the forbidden fruit?”
She was speaking about free will. Predestination. Popular puzzles in the Christian faith.
She believed Adam and Eve didn’t know what they were doing when they ate the fruit. They became aware of good and evil when they ate, but they didn’t do it intentionally or heinously. They were good, but had to eat the fruit so that Jesus had a reason to come and save us.
I thought that was interesting, but offered my view on the issue. “Just because God knew what would happen didn’t mean he determined it to happen that way. Fore-knowledge doesn't necessarily imply pre-determination. Besides, we all would have eaten the fruit if we were in their shoes. God took the risk to give us free will because he loves us and wanted us to be able to love him back.”
She thought for a moment, but, as was the theme in the entirety of our conversation, she jumped right back to the script.
The Great Apostasy created the need for Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.
The clearest reason why Joseph Smith and Mormonism came about was because of The Great Apostasy.
There have always been prophets in the Old Testament. God repeatedly spoke through prophets to his people. When the prophet Jesus (by the way, I interrupted them once again when they called Jesus a prophet — he was more than that, he was God himself in the form of a man, so you’re either speaking for God as a prophet or you’re speaking as God as, well, Jesus…God can’t be a prophet. Anyways — ) came, he established a church with 12 disciples and 70 apostles. With time, these disciples and apostles died off, and The Great Apostasy began.
With the apostles and disciples gone, corrupt teaching and churches began cropping up, polluting the truth. All the way until 1820, the teachings of Jesus became more and more fragmented and conflicted. This period of time is called The Great Apostasy.
“What is an apostle?” They asked me.
I looked at them, thinking. I didn’t know off the top of my head, but an apostle seemed to me to be like a disciple of Jesus… as in, they were the same. An apostle preaches the Word of God but on the road.
Knowing that Joseph Smith’s appearance happened in the 1820s, I saw where they were going with this.
I replied, “We don’t hear much about apostles anymore today, do we? I guess that’s a good question. Why don’t we have apostles in the Christian church anymore?”
Then it hit me.
“Didn’t Jesus make us all apostles? Because the Holy Spirit himself is actually inside of us, don’t we all have the capacity to be apostles — like sent disciples?”
Apparently not. Apostles are special and receive Christ-like authority that other believers don’t have. This is how the Mormon church is organized, with one Prophet leading the faith. Joseph Smith is the first Prophet after The Great Apostasy. He translated the lost records from old when he found them in Palmyra, New York.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to discuss Joseph Smith. I couldn’t get passed The Great Apostasy. To me, the “fragmentation” and “conflicting teachings” refer to the discrepancies between the many denominations of Christianity and translations of the Bible.
Unlike the theory of evolution, which implies that with enough time things get better (e.g., primates turn into humans), the theory behind The Great Apostasy is that with enough time, the Law of Entropy takes place and things get worse. Thus the perversion of Christianity and the need for a “Restoration.”
Why are there differences in Christianity?
I had to clarify that, for the most part, denominations and translations differ on non-fundamental practices like style of worship, leadership structure, and observances of tradition — they still believe the same exact thing from the Bible — and that the differing translations of the Bible stem from semantics, not riffs in core theological doctrines.
The Bible vs. the Book of Mormon
In 1947, two goatherders were spelunking in the caves near the north rim of the Dead Sea. They happened upon old jars with ancient scrolls in them. Turns out, they were original Bible manuscripts which scholars estimate to be written in the first century — around the time Jesus’s disciples and apostles proliferated their ministry by copying and distributing manuscripts.
The Book of Mormon, on the hand, describes ancient metropolises in the pre-discovered United States, recording enormous battles of tens of thousands of people killed. No archeological evidence has been found to support these civilizations ever existed.
When I put this research in front of the two missionaries, they fired back that there is plenty of claims in the Bible not proven by archeology or history.
“You’re right, we don’t have evidence for everything in the Bible, but at least we have some.”
The Book of Mormon’s large and small plates (i.e., the golden records Joseph Smith found and translated into the Book of Mormon) are nowhere to be found.
Unlike the Bible, which has forty authors writing from three continents over nearly two thousand years and maintains perfect consistency of message, the Book of Mormon has one author and two witnesses and several errors.
The problem when a religion has active "Apostles" who receive new information directly from the Creator of the Universe and that carries the same authority as its founding book, it’s only a matter of time before the new information begins to counter the original text, unless it truly is from God.
In Alma 7:10 it says this about Jesus’s birth:
“And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.”
The problem is that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, six miles by foot from Jerusalem. It’s like saying you’re born in New York City when you were born in Jersey City. Not the same thing.
Another inconsistency, that I have a sensitivity to, even among Christians, is calling the Holy Spirit by the personal pronoun “it.” I can’t stand it. In the Bible, the Holy Spirit is referred to as a “he” — a person of the Triune God. You’ll never find “it” in the Bible as a reference to the Holy Spirit. In the Book of Mormon, the Holy Spirit is referred to as an “it” in 1 Nephi 13:12–15 three times. THREE TIMES.
But in the Restoration tract the missionaries gave me, the Holy Spirit is a “he” everywhere.
Which one is it? I was confused and while I understand I might be reading into things too much, this word differential has serious implications. Either you believe the Holy Spirit is a person of God, or he’s a thing, a feeling, a mysterious power. It’s one or the other and this has serious theological consequences.
When the time ended with the missionaries, I was sad. I had so many more questions. I really wanted to get to the heart of things. The way they talked about their faith sounded academic, almost pedantic.
Faith is supposed to solve our deepest human controversies. Faith answers questions about truth, life, and purpose. Who am I? Why am I here?
The point is it didn’t come across as real. I was just an appointment in their schedule that day of many appointments. You would think when you’re dealing with something as crucial as a person’s deepest hope and happiness, that you’d explain what you believe to be true to its fullness.
And this is where I am most convicted.
As a Christian who has the truth, why am I not as zealous as these missionaries who share a supplemental religion based on the perceived inadequacy of the truth? Why do I hesitate to share the original reality of God and Jesus, when these folks are so passionate about sharing a reactionary tale from men?
Something to think about. My eyes are wet because I’m sad. I’m sad that I’ve read in a book and seen in two LDS followers how Christian faith has been twisted and “perfected” into a tight-knit system of intellectualism and religious duties causing its followers to miss out on the all-satisfying nature of the God of the Bible and the complete freedom he’s bought for his beloved kids through his son Jesus.
Thanks for reading. If you have questions or comments, feel free to leave them below.