Jan 26

Mormon Trilogy

By Kenneth Feucht books 1 Comment »

The Book of Mormon | Doctrine and Covenants | The Pearl of Great Price, by Joseph Smith

I had a recent Mormon student working with me who piqued my interest in actually reading the book of Mormon. I had several hard copies of the Book which I got at various Marriott hotels, but decided to download this from Amazon.com and read it on my Kindle. Most of it was read while I was at work.

First, let me say that I mean no harm and hold no hatred towards Moronis. The same was true when I reviewed the Koran. I have many friends (and even relatives) that are Muslim and Mormon, and unhesitatingly state that they are good friends and dear relatives without reservation. I don’t let particular religious biases cloud my judgment of a person. The same is true of my mix of political friends, who are far left, far right, far middle, off the edge, conservative, liberal, feminist, anti-feminist, pro-Nazi, anti-Nazi, Communist, Fascist, Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, etc., etc. To all, I mean no harm, and read these texts in a hopefully non-prejudicial fashion. Yet, my rose-colored glasses are Reformed Protestant Christian with Amish type roots. I can’t help that. That’s who I am. But, it does affect how I read anything and everything. Finally, I will call Later-Day-“Saint” folk Moronis because the warrior-become-angel Moroni seems to get more honor in the LDS faith than the warrior-become-whatever man Mormon. Back to the text at hand.

Looking at the text itself, it is very sloppily written. Joey (Joseph Smith) should have had a better proof-reader. I am told that this text has been “corrected” and altered substantially from the initial writings of Joey to the present day version that we read, but there are still problems with mis-spellings, grammatical errors, and a very sloppy style. Supposedly, a number of people wrote individual books of the book of Mormon onto the plates translated by Joey, yet the writing style remains exactly the same, all the way through the entire trilogy. The various texts of the Old and New Testaments all have differing styles, and sometimes even books of the OT have different style (look at Genesis, Isaiah) which have led to criticism of different authorship. There is nothing of that in the Trilogy. It matters not that there is a single translator, as Martin Luther single-handedly translated the Christian bible, yet the styles of the authors remain explicit. The only plausible Moroni explanation was that “god” was giving verbal dictation style inspiration to the various authors of trilogy, as well as a verbal dictation of the translation. But, that creates other questions. If the translation was verbally dictated by “god”, why does god speak 16th century English in the 19th century, why does he get it wrong and needs to be corrected, why did Joey even need the plates, the Urim and Thummin, and the translation stones to create this stunning trilogy?

There is a sense of extreme dullness in reading the trilogy. Unlike the Christian bible, the trilogy constantly reflects back to defend itself. Perhaps Joey figured people just might question him for the legitimacy of his writings? There is no real prose, no poetry, no shift in styles, nada! College English classes will offer books of the Christian Bible as examples of great literature, even though they may not believe that literature, but nobody except a Moroni school would dream of suggesting that the contents of the book of Mormon is great literature. It just isn’t.

Dullness is compounded by confusion in reading the text. Joey had no imagination in nomenclature of people and places. Many OT and NT characters are used in the book of Mormon, like Adam, Moses, Amalek and Jerusalem, just to name a few. The names that he created are multiple. There are two Moronis, two Mormons, multiple Almas, Helamans, etc., etc., etc. Joey doesn’t even give a means of differentiating the BC Moroni from the AD Moroni. They all just kind of blend in. Perhaps, Joey would have ultimately developed the concept of reincarnation in his theology, had he not have prematurely died, to explain this faux pas in his writing. Joey has multiple place names and descriptions of the land. Yet, there is not a shred of a clue as to where these fictional places might be. We now know where the hill Cumorah existed in upstate NY, but even there, there is virtually NO archeological findings to substantiate the claims. Even the large stone pit which held the plates for 1500 years is strangely gone. Otherwise, there is not a single identifiable place name in the new world consistent with Joey’s fantasy world. This is a substantial problem. Truth is verifiable. The writings in the book of Mormon are NOT verifiable. Let the reader draw his own conclusions.

Joey has a problem with chronology. The book of Mormon was written from about the year 600BC until 400AD. It was written entirely in the Americas with absolutely NO contact with the Eurasian continent. Yet, there are multiple quotes from the New Testament, and even from Old Testament text written after 600BC. Lengthy quotes are given of Jesus, even before Jesus supposedly appeared in 34AD to the American continent. Paul and John are frequently quoted, long before they were ever born. Mormons might argue this to be a manifest of “inspiration” to the ancient scribes of the book of Moroni, but I argue that even the NT and OT don’t do this.  Animals exist in Joey’s fantasy world, like horses, that never existed until European settlers after 1492AD. The fraudulent nature of the book of Mormon is just so blatant as to strain one’s credulity. More examples of chronological faux pas’s are found in the text review.

Joey gives lengthy quotes of Scripture. He especially loves the book of Isaiah, which is quoted in length. I did not cross-read his version of Isaiah with the Scripture text we have now, but do know that Joey jumps around all over the place when quoting. It is not a straight quote out of Scripture. It is Joey’s version. The quotes of Jesus are practically verbatim from the King James Bible. But then that is understandable. Jesus spoke King James English in ancient Palestine; don’t you know that?

The Mormons love to call themselves Christian, but from my reading of the Trilogy, they are definitely not Christian. In fact, they are very anti-Christianity. The Jesus that they describe is a non-historical fantasy, and the name “Church of Jesus Christ…” refers to a much different Jesus than walked in Palestine 2000 years ago. In the D & C. Joey stresses clearly that all Christian churches just have it wrong, and yet uses their bible, and much of their liturgy and doctrine for his own church without arguing how the church got it wrong. Joey often talks of “my gospel”. He is totally correct. Paul in Galatians 1:8 (ESV) states “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed”. The Mormon gospel is a MUCH different gospel from the Christian gospel, and Paul’s words stand as they will. In the BOM, Joey frequently speaks of the “atonement” of Christ, even the “infinite atonement” of Christ, but NEVER EVER tells you what that atonement was, why it was, or what it accomplished… it is simple religious “god-speak” in the Moroni sense of the word.

Conclusion: The reading of this Trilogy did not persuade me to become Mormon, but actually bred a bit greater resentment of Moronis. The reason for my resentment is the deception that Moronis offer. They are not forthright and honest about their belief system, but feel like they need to break it in slowly, especially when witnessing to those of the Christian persuasion. They are not honest with themselves about their belief system. Though their schools have apologetic departments to defend the Moroni faith, their ultimate defense trickles down to their “burning in the bosom”, a feeling that they get that persuades themselves that they are correct. I have a burning in the bosom that they are wrong. So, who is correct, me or them? I’m willing to proffer a defense of my faith based on rationality. The Mormon faith will never have a Francis Schaeffer. They can’t, since their faith is indefensible.  No belief system will be able to absolutely prove the legitimacy of their claims, including the belief systems of atheism, agnosticism, what-ever-ism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or Nose-picking-ism. We believe what we do based on fundamental presuppositions. The question for anybody is to examine what are your ultimate presuppositions, and to decide whether they have a logical consistency to them that can be discussed. The burning-in-the-bosom ploy just doesn’t work for me.

So, I conclude with the notes I jotted down as I read through the Trilogy. My comments are simple observations and my preliminary reflections of the text.

The Book of Mormon

Introduction

The introduction includes signed testimonies of three, and then eight witnesses, followed by the testimony of Joey Smith attesting to the veracity of these writings. Joey discusses how he managed to obtain the plates that contained these writings, which were buried on a hill, and then proceeded to translate the plates. The plates were then removed from Joe’s possession by angels. The plates themselves are accounts written by a group that escaped the Babylonian captivity and sailed to the Americas, writing their history for posterity.

Nephi 1

This first book is 22 chapters, and the account of Lehi, his wife and four sons, one being Nephi, on their departure from Jerusalem and journey to the Americas. They all took Ishmaelite wives, and struggle is noted between the “godly” Nephi and his troublesome brothers. The book was translated in the 1820’s (roughly), though the English used was King James 17th century English (which, incidentally, was quite annoying to read). It is written in first person, with Nephi repeatedly noting that he was writing this chronicle. While the plates were supposedly written at the time of the fall of Jerusalem in 600+B.C., numerous chronological faux pas’s are noted by me. He often spoke of the Christ, who was still in coming. He spoke of the church, which didn’t exist until the Christian era. He loves to quote Isaiah, but also extensively quotes New Testament Scripture, especially the words of Christ and the writings of Paul. I guess one has to assume that Nephi was being retro-inspired, since Jesus and Paul had no access to these plates. There is the presence of fine steel and compasses, neither of which existed in 600 BC. They found horses and other animals in the new world (America) which didn’t exist until the European explorers and settlers brought them to America. He speaks frequently of baptism, which wasn’t a practice until various sects began the practice in the last century before Christ. Finally, Joe spends much time putting words into Nephi’s mouth about the “great and abominable church, which is the whore of all the earth”, and then wonders why standard Christians have a little problem with Mormonism. Joe suggests that another “pure” church will come which is holy and righteous, implying that it will be the Mormon church. He fails to explain how 12 apostles essentially formed a whore church. Oh well. Joey didn’t do his homework before picking up the pen.

Nephi 2

Nepthi 2 is a continuation of the chronicle of Nephi 1, 33 chapters long. It is divided into a narrative section and a moral section. The narrative details the rebellion of Nephi’s brothers against Nephi, and how he fled into wilderness to escape his brothers. Joe attempts to provide some theology in this narrative section, such as hypothesizing what would have happened in the fall never occurred. To him, Adam and Eve would then not have had children. Odd, because Joey had many wives, and I’m sure he used them plentifully in a sexual manner. Intermingled are words from Nephi’s son Jacob. The majority of Nephi 2 is not narrative but moralistic and theological statements, with a very large section of Joey quoting from the book of Isaiah. Even then, direct quotations from the writings of Paul are inserted by some miraculous means. Joey frequently uses the word “Jew”, a term in the year 600BC that did not yet exist, but was first used in the post-exilic period. There are phrases that Mr. Smith frequently repeats again and again and again, often many times in the same chapter, such as “wars and rumors of wars” (taken from Matt 24:6). He repeatedly speaks of “infinite atonement”, a simple nonsensical phrase, described for mankind, making Joey a universalist. Yes? Mr. Smith waxes at length about Nephi discussing how he was going to preach, prophesy, and write about the Christ who was still 600 years to come. I consider this to be anachronistic sloppiness at its worst. It would be quite easy to detail numerous other anachronisms and simple sloppy writing and thinking in this text. It makes it VERY difficult for me to believe that anybody could believe this nonsense.

Jacob

The book of Jacob is short, at 7 chapters. It is written by Jacob, the brother of Nephi. There is little narrative, and it is totally Jacob preaching to his brethren. Oddly, the content and style are virtually identical to that of Nephi. Perhaps it was actually from the same person (Joey Smith????). Inconsistencies include Jacob suggesting that he was a priest, even though Nephi condemned priests, and Jacob condemning multiple wives, even though early Mormon practice was to have multiple wives. Jacob inserts in the middle a tale of the vineyard which goes for MANY pages, and ultimately making no sense, especially since vineyards are used to make wine, which Mormons don’t drink. The last chapter was a story of Nephi contending with a doubter of Christ (still 600 years in the coming!!)

Enos

Enos was the son of Jacob, and in a short 1 chapter book describes the struggles between the people of Nephi and their brothers (the enemy) the Lamanites. He describes also some falling away of Nephites. It engages in the same stylistic writing of Nephi and Jacob, and similarly makes chronological mistakes, such as quoting New Testament passages. Oh well!!! I guess some people will believe anything!

Jarom

Jarom was the son of Enos, and also wrote a short, one chapter book. He details the continuing struggle between the Nephites and Lamanites. Jarom notes that he didn’t have but small plates to write on, so had to keep things short. Thank God for that!

Omni

This one chapter book involves brief statements by Omni, his son, and on for a number of generations. During one generation, it was noted that another group of people were discovered in the “promised land” (America), who had also come across the ocean by boat from Jerusalem after its fall, but ended up with another language and belief system than the Nephites. By the end of the book of Omni, the plate was reported as “full”.

Words of Mormon

This is an account of the past by Mormon, who describes when Benjamin was king and engaged in a great but victorious battle against the Lamanites, bringing peace to the land.

Mosiah

I almost thought that Mr. Smith was running out of creative juices, that his muse had dried up, but now he again has a 29 chapter book. The tale is now very rambling and hard to follow, so pardon if you don’t follow my accounting. Mosiah was the son of king Benjamin. The books starts by recalling the end of Benjamin. Benjamin called the people of Nephi to the temple to speak to them. This happened just before AD 0. Oddly, 2:32, Mosiah is called the father of Benjamin-not sure if that was a mistake of Joey’s. Benjamin speaks at length moralistic platitudes, transfers power to Mosiah, and then dies. Mosiah sends out a scouting party that encounters another city apparently in struggle against the Lamanites. They have plates that need interpretation. The king was Zeniff, who was good. His son was Noah, a bad king. Battle persisted during this time against the Lamanites. Alma,a good guy, leads a group to settle elsewhere, but is harassed by the Lamanites and eventually returns to Mosiah’s city. Alma’s son, also named Alma, becomes chief priest. Interspersed is much moral dialogue, mostly sloppy quotes from the Old and New Testaments.

Alma

Alma was the son of Alma (Joey was having a hard time being original about names, using many Biblical names like Noah and Gideon. The book starts out with the deaths of Alma #1 and Mosiah, and the development of “heretical” preachers. Joe S. notes in the second chapter that the Lamanites were given dark skin because they were cursed of God. Alma, after battling the heretics with the Lamanites, establishes himself as high priest, and builds cities, setting up a “godly” empire, stamping out wickedness, etc. Alma goes about his country preaching, and often encountering resistance. Much of the first portion of the book is filled with moralistic preaching, the central aspect of Alma details the 39 years of war with the Lamanites, taking over cities that the Lamanites had conquered. In the end, several of the Nephite heroes were dead, Alma dies, Moroni dies, and Helaman dies. This book was long and tedious to read. Most of it did not read as a credible account of any real struggle that had occurred. many times, Joey reuses names, such as Judah, Ammon, Amalikite, etc. making the reading even more confusing. I’m not sure how Mr. Smith is going to get Moroni back into the picture in order to bury all the pages of much still unwritten parts of the book of Mormon. I wait anxiously…

Helaman

The Helaman that wrote this book is the son of Helaman. The book has 16 chapters, thus, shorter than Alma. It starts with Helaman as the chronicler, but he dies in the third chapter, and the chronicles are taken over by Nephi, the eldest son of Helaman. Through preaching of Nephi and imprisonment while surviving through fire, the Lamanites become good people, and the Nephites evil. Wow! By the end of the book of Helaman, Nephi is the judge of the wayward Nephites, and the Lamanites through the prophet Samuel is preaching to the Nephites to repent. There is no mention of particular sins of the people, just that they practiced great iniquities. Samuel mentions that the Christ is about to be born, and will come to the Nephites/Lamanites to preach to them. Thus, the end of 90 years of the judges.

Third Nephi

3 Nephi was a tedious book to read, 30 chapters long. This Nephi was not the first Nephi, but the son of Helaman the son of Helaman. The story starts with continuous wars between the Nephites and Lamanites, who sometimes unite each other to fight the Gadianton robbers lurking in the woods surrounding the Nephite and Lamanite towns. War against the Gadianton robbers leads to victory for the Nephites. Mormon then writes of their history, of which I can only presume that this was a different person Mormon than the Mormon mentioned in previous books. Again, the Nephites turn evil, civil unrest occurs, Nephi preaches in vain. The year 34 AD arrives. The land gets darkness for three days, and great physical upheaval occurs that destroys many of the cities, the city of Moroni and others sank into the depth of the sea, and many die. Then, Jesus appears, and he preaches. And preaches. And preaches. Between, he ascends to heaven. Then reappears. Then re-ascends. Then reappears. Etc. Etc. Lengthy quotes of the sermon on the Mount were given, as well as a few quotes by Paul. I guess Jesus needed Paul’s help. Twelve apostles are chosen by Jesus. I guess these apostles were counter-apostles to those chosen in Judea? It was a blessing to end this book.

Fourth Nephi

4 Nephi is just one long chapter. I’m not sure why Joey made it a separate book from Third Nephi. This book spans about 3-400 years, and incredibly, Nephi wrote it, even though he lived a normal length life. Oh well! The Nephites and Lamanites are all converted to the Mormon church, and live happily. But, as the years go by, they fall away and turn wicked again. Oddly the robbers of Gadianton reappear. Geez? Ammaron (another Ammaron than he who was mentioned previously) preserves the “sacred” records.

Book of Mormon

The book of Mormon is 9 chapters. Ammaron informs Mormon of the sacred records (this is a different dude Mormon than the Mormon mentioned earlier, unless he was “reincarnated”). The book starts by mentioning the continued war going on between the Nephites and Lamanites. Three of the Nephite apostles are wicked away to heaven, but the book does not mention who they were. War continues with Mormon as general of the Nephite army, and he also becomes responsible for the plates. Mormon then refuses to continue on as general of the army, carnage continues, Mormon again accepts generalship of the army, and “prophesies” that the Lamanites some day will be preached to by the Gentiles (how would they even know who the Gentiles were, as they were living in the Americas for 1000 years!). The Nephites gather in Cumorah (now in upstate NY!) and the Lamanites wipe out the Nephites. Mormon hides the plates in the hill Cumorah. I’m not sure how the remainder of this book and the following two books made their way into the plates, save perhaps by some “miracle”. Mormon carries on his preaching, even though the Nephites were utterly destroyed. Oh well! By now, my credulity has been strained to the maximum anyway. And, the moon is made of cheese, isn’t it?

Book of Ether

Ether is 15 chapters long, and is an accounting of 24 plates incidentally discovered hundreds of years ago BC, during the reign of Mosiah. These plates were written in abridged form by Moroni. Mr. Smith needed more stories, and more fictions to create, so here is the book of Ether. It is the record of the Jaredites, who started at the tower of Babel. For some reason, their language was not “confounded” at the tower, so that they could understand themselves. Mein Gott! Jared went to live in Nimrod, but the Lord has a few long chats with Jared, who has Jared go down to the great sea, build a boat (with holes in the top and bottom), and sail across the sea (to America). Wow!… just like Lehi did with his family a thousand some years later. Absolutely incredible! Jared reveals that God actually is made of flesh and blood, JUST like us! Jared was given stones that glowed in the dark, allowing him to see the way across the ocean to America. This account was instructed to be written by Jared, but to be preserved unseen by man until the coming of the Christ. It is mentioned here that these works were written in reformed Egyptian, a language not known or used by any language group on earth, but that the story was recounted by Moroni from memory. Why didn’t he just translate the 24 plates? Perhaps this explains how Mr. Smith got everything… “memory”. On reaching the “promised land”, they quickly appoint a king (even though there were only 22 people), the king of who does well, but many generations later, the kings turn wicked. Many place names and personal names were identical to the Lehi generations and settlements, which is incredible, since the Jaredites had unconfounded language, as compared to what Lehi would have spoken. A number of stories are told, such as a Smithian version of Herod vs John the Baptist. It is here that Smith notes how the Jaredites had many horses, elephants and other animals which never ever existed in the Americas until after 1492. The book ends with a great battle between the people of Shiz and Coriantumr, where they destroy each other. Every other sentence starts with “and it came to pass” which I needed to know repeatedly, especially when at the end, Shiz’s head is struck off but he continues breathing! Ether quickly buries the plates chronicling these events and the book ends.

Book of Moroni

The book of Moroni is a fitting book to end the Mormon Scriptures, as it was written by a moroni for a bunch of moronis, and is 10 chapters long. Moroni continues his story, starting with the end of the Jaredites, and getting back to the story of the Nephites being destroyed by the Lamanites. These chapters start very short, and detail church liturgy, followed by lengthier chapters reiterating previous moral behavior. He spends a chapter refuting infant baptism and original sin. Chapters are closed with the phrase “I am now done writing” but then resumes in the next chapter. Moroni ends with some final words and passes away.

 

Part 2: Doctrine and Covenants

There are 138 sections and two additions to this section. These were obtained by “special revelation” to Mr. Smith on various occasions and in the company of various people. Each section introduces the occasion and circumstances of the revelation, and attests that this is directly the word of God to Joe.  The first few sections start by attesting that the book of Mormon and this Doctrine and Covenants are the very words of God, and MUST be heeded. A number of sections then find Joey with a problem in that one of the men with Joe, Martin Harris, took some of the translation pages and lost them. Joe astutely realized that perhaps when he “re-translated” the plates, that they might come out much different, proving that the translation was a joke. Joey wiggles through this one, later re-befriending Mr. Harris. Section 19 was written as a specific reprimand of Mr. Harris to repent and shape up. This brings an interesting concept to mind. Throughout the book of Mormon, and now here, conformity to the head of the church is mandated without any questioning or hesitation. The book of Mormon frequently speaks that the main “sin” of the people was that of contention. This is evolved into a church that is intolerant of any questioning. You don’t dare question whether the “leader” or “apostle” truly received a message from God. Thinking ist verboten!!!! In section 28, some other dude was receiving revelation through a special stone, and was immediately shut up by a prophecy that ONLY Joey would be getting revelations. Whoa, dude!!!! But then, Joey was assassinated or committed suicide, and in several instances, some very embarrassing doctrines and practices of the church needed to be fixed, so, lo and behold, more “divine” revelations were given. The first was in 1890 when certain leaders realized that polygamy was a problem, and so the “Lord” decided that the Moronis should stop the practice. The second was in 1978, when it became apparent that negroes, orientals, and other races would be a financial boon to the church, that they were suddenly (MIRACLE!!!!) permitted to become members and priests in the church. The sections show a sharp turn toward becoming really bizarre about 1836, when Joey was jailed in Missouri. It is at that time that he started introducing some VERY strange doctrines, like that God exists in the heavens as flesh and blood, that humans are spirits brought down from the nether world to be humans, the doctrine of baptism for the dead, etc. Many other doctrines known to the Mormon church alone have not been mentioned in either the book of Mormon or D&C, such as the origin of Satan (as a brother to Jesus), the necessity of lineages, family practice, etc.

The D&C is a very strange document. It sections are both short and long, most of them being orders (from God???) about minor decisions, such as Mr. X needing to donate money to build a church is town Y, or a temple which should be built in town Z with such and such dimensions, or some transgression of a member (the transgression is never specifically mentioned). Only toward the end is there mention of certain doctrines peculiar to the Mormon church. I get a very strong feel that this is a deceptive ploy of Joey to control other people’s lives, as all you need to do is to tell them God commands this. It does great harm to the true gospel. Another peculiarity is how often “god” got it wrong, such as commanding Joey to build a temple in Far West, Missouri, only to have the Moronis expelled from the state. Joey, of course, quickly attributes it to the sin of the Moroni believers, an oddity, since God NEVER does that in the entirety of the Old and New Testaments. The book of the D & C seems to do more than anything to persuade me not only of the inconsistencies of the Moroni faith, but of the positive evil that they reflect. I will forever find it harder to forgive Moronis for being a touch naive about their faith, as it is so clear than this is a totally artificial religion demonstrated by the D&C.

Part 3: Pearl of Great Price

This is a hodge-podge of writings first assembled in 1851, later experiencing a number of additions and revisions. It seems to be a work in progress of the church. It starts with a fanciful “re-translation” of the first 5 chapters of Genesis, formed somewhat creatively by the wishful imagination of Joey Smith. I don’t mean to be cruel, but it is stated as a “translation”, which means that you are reading something in one language, and re-stating what has been said in another language. So, what was it translated from? Where did the extra text come from? Where did the creative new “interpretations” come from? Truth of the matter, it’s all a hoax, as is seen again in the next section on Abraham. In this section with the following facsimiles, Joey obtained some Egyptian script obtained from a traveling road salesman, and allegedly interpreted the Egyptian script. Unfortunately for Joey, this was soon after Champilion had broken the code on the Rosetta Stone, but before anybody was able to efficiently translate from Egyptian hieroglyphics. In the facsimiles, Joey details the events of what was going on, but left the hieroglyphics for the illustrations intact, allowing any Egyptian scholar to confirm the validity of the translations, which (of course) Joey had totally wrong. In the Abraham translation, he again repeats several early chapters in Genesis which were translated in Moses, but now the translation has much more added, including additions that describe a plurality of gods that counseled to create earth. Oooops! I guess he thought we wouldn’t notice. The Old and New Testaments show very ancient forms, and very unsubstantial changes over time. Joey shows that the book of Mormon, the D&C, and the Pearl are constantly changing as the church prophets discover mistakes and errors in their sacred texts. The PGP then contains the start of a translation of Matthew. I presume that if Joey hadn’t committed suicide by jumping out of a window, he would have eventually translated the entire old and new Testaments. There is no explanation as to what he was translating from, and I can only assume that it was his personal form of “re-inspiration” of these texts. Unfortunately again, the texts are so significantly deviant from the earliest extent copies we have of Matthew, that there is only a fleeting resemblance. It was Joey’s way of discrediting the entire volume of the Old and New Testament. The PGP finally included an autobiography of Joey as a kid, and his discovery of the “plates”. It ends with the articles of faith of the Moroni church, which is a lie, because they tacitly assume much more must be believed in order to go directly to the celestial sphere. The so-called Moroni prophets are constantly inventing new doctrine which also must be believed.

A final summary of the Mormon trilogy is stated at the beginning of this post, so look up for my assessment.

For my Moroni readers, Joey, throughout the trilogy, calls for repentance. He is relentless. He doesn’t tell you what you should repent of, save for being contentious against the high priest. The LDS system cannot tolerate dissension or questioning of their faith since they have no answers. I will tell you what you really need to repent of, and that is of your belief in the LDS church.

As a kid, we had a book of Mormon in our AC church library, and the librarian (Rosalie D) astutely had the checkout card label the author as Satan. A few people took issue with that, but I believe Rosalie had it right. Your angels of light were none other than demons from the pit of hell. Why would the devil wish to make a peaceful, loving, family friendly religion? Simple. Anything that could distract one from the true Gospel is fair play for the nether world. All of my Muslim, atheist, liberal, conservative, Commie pinko freak, or whatever-they-are friends have a much greater chance of passing through the pearly gates than you do. So, I beg of you LDS adherents: repent.

 

 

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Dec 12

Martin Luther

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Martin Luther, The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, by Eric Metaxas, 480 pages ★★★★★

A recent review reported on three other histories of Martin Luther, read in light of the 500th anniversary of the nailing of the theses to the Wittemburg castle church. This book arrived after Reformation Day, and so I was delayed in getting it read. I read it as an autographed hard cover text, and not on the Kindle. The book is well written, and the reading flows quite easily. The book has a different focus than Roland Bainton’s magisterial text on Luther, Here I Stand, one of the books reviewed a month or so ago. Metaxas was wonderful in providing a more detailed physical history of Luther than Bainton. You were told which towns he traveled through, which people he befriended, the content of the conversations and debates of the time, small details that color the story of Martin Luther. One was told more about the mindset and thinking of the man Luther in Bainton’s text. The two texts stand as complementary, supplementing each other on the life of Luther, and both are worth reading in order to grasp the man Luther.

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Sep 07

In preparation for the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I decided to read up on Martin Luther. I’ve read three books so far, the fourth is in the mail and will be reported later. One book, Here I Stand, I’ve read many moons ago, so it was like reading the book fresh.

A life-Martin Luther, by Martin Marty ★★★★

This is a short, easy to read biography of Martin Luther. Marty focused primarily upon Luther as a person, with no effort to show how ML changed and affected the world that he lived in. It is easy to read in 1-2 evenings, and leaves you a feel for knowing ML personally. He works through Luther’s life in a historical fashion, providing vignettes of his life that are often illuminating as to the nature of the person, often chummy, often quite irascible. The book definitely does not labor hard on Luther’s theology, but more on his personality, and leaves nothing to describe the Lutheran church that he formed. It is a fun book to read, though not an encyclopedia of his life.

The Legacy of Luther, edited by RC Sproul and Stephen Nichols ★★

This book is a hodgepodge. As an edited book, the style and quality is quite variable. Several chapters are informative. Many are misleading or mistaken in their information. The two editors provide very little input, with RC Sproul writing almost nothing save for a few brief meaningless summary pages of text. Written by a bunch of Presbyterians, they do Luther a serious disservice by trying to fit ML into a Presbyterian mold. Though Presbyterians pride themselves in vigorous and accurate scholarship, this book is anything but that, save for a few chapters. Many of the chapters try to paint ML as a near-Presbyterian with Presbyterian theology, something they are quite mistaken about. There is minimal discussion as exactly how Lutheran thinking affected the minds of Reformed thinkers, such as Calvin, Zwingli, Bucer, Cranmer and others. Such discussion might have made the book an informative read. There is so much left out that the entire book, that it is a travesty. They fail to grasp how the liturgical reforms of ML in Wittemberg during the years 1522-1528 so heavily influenced Reformed practice. They fail to describe exactly how the formulations of the doctrines of grace in Lutheran thought affected Reformed thought. They failed in their attempts to compare and contrast Lutheran from Reformed thinking. All of these issues were responsible for affecting the world after Luther and forming his legacy.

The book is in three parts, the first being the history of Luther, portrayed in a very abbreviated fashion. It does have some historical inaccuracies, and was a little too brief to be meaningful. The second part was an attempt to describe Luther’s thought and theology from a Reformed perspective. This section was weak, and often completely misreads Luther by trying to make his words that of a Reformed thinker. This section would be best skipped altogether. The last section was on Luther’s legacy, which contained some good chapters. Particular were Luther’s work at translating the Scripture, Luther as a musician, and Luther as a preacher. One chapter, “Luther in the middle: Luther among the Reformers” was just plain odd, in that Luther, in the space of just a few years, had to completely re-invent the liturgy, while refusing to totally trash the Roman Catholic liturgy. For the most part, though there was Huss and Savonarola and few others before Luther, their legacy was not strong. Contemporaries such as Zwingli did not survive long enough to leave a lasting imprint on the church. Only Luther remained as, not the man in the middle, but the man at the head, serving as the model and example for all of Christendom, including the Lutheran, Reformed, and Anabaptist faith, as model of the church, worship, and christian behavior. Indeed, Luther affected German culture in toto, down to the very language now spoken in Germany. To call him a “man in the middle” is not only insulting but inaccurate.

The few good chapters in this book do not justify its purchase or time to read. I generally pride Sproul as a great scholar, yet this book is a shame to his name. I certainly hope that he either quits writing, or that he return to his older standards of excellence in scholarship.

 

Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, by Roland Bainton ★★★★★

There is very little that I could possibly say critical of this text. It is no wonder that Bainton’s biography of Luther remains the top English text on this giant. Bainton’s writing style holds one fixed to the text, even when laboring over minute (but important) aspects of Luther’s life and teaching. Bainton provide a wonderful mix of the history of Luther, but also of the thinking and mind of Luther, providing many quotes, some even lengthy quotes, to help one understand the man ML. This text was a delight from the first to last page. It is detailed but not excessively so, giving one a feel as to Luther as a person, as a genius, as a scholar, as a husband and father, and mostly as a leader of the Reformation. Luther’s faults are all too well known, but Bainton does not labor on those, and shows the beauty of this man, making him proper to be labeled first among many to lead the charge against an evil and corrupt Catholic church. This book should be a must-read among Christians who wish to know their heritage.

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Jul 01

The Qur’an

By Kenneth Feucht books 4 Comments »

The Qur’an, by Muhammed

I’ve been quite curious about the contents of the Qur’an since it is so often quoted today in issues regarding to dealings with the Muslims. There are many that quote the Qur’an as a book of violence, though I’ve wondered whether those oft-quoted passages were taken out of context and thus mis-interpreted. The only way to give the Qur’an a fair chance would be to read the book through and through, cover to cover, and let the book speak for itself.

Any criticisms that I might have of the Qur’an are not intended to be criticisms of Muslims. I have many friends that are Muslim, and even a few relatives that are Muslim, and find them to be good people. I would never intend to use my comments on the Qur’an to reflect either good or ill of those people. This is solely a book review and not a person review.

The Qur’an is organized into a total of 114 suras, or chapters, and seem to be organized from the longer to the shorter suras, though not in precise order. Each sura has a title given to it, usually taken from a word or phrase found within the sura. The title is a very poor indication as to the prevailing topic within that sura. The suras are all independent, and none of them connect with others, either preceding or following. To discuss the book, it would be easiest to discuss the prevailing themes of the book rather than individual suras.The particular translation of the Qur’an that I read is by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, whom I presume is a devout Muslim as well as a scholar in both the English and Arabic language, and thus competent at the task. This particular translation has very few bad reviews, and mostly excellent reviews on amazon.com where I purchased the book, and thus seems to legitimately reflect the real contents of the Qur’an as found in Arabic.

Style of writing in the Qur’an

Amazon describes the Qur’an as the greatest literary masterpiece in Arabic. The Qur’an was written by only one person in one language, and has only one persistent stylistic form. It is a polemic against the heathen. There is no poetry. There is no prose. There are no systematic discussions. There are historical reiterations of Old Testament themes, mostly from the books of Moses, but they are told in a rambling fashion, providing no historical details as might be found in the Old Testament. Mohammed occasionally refers to contemporary history, but he does not elaborate that history, so that the translator must provide footnotes to explain the situation. Thus, the Qur’an is not a work complete in itself. No sura more than several paragraphs long has a consistent theme, but is a compilation of a flow of ideas. The repetition is intense, as sura after sura seems to say close to the same thing. There is no development of ideas, as might be found in Psalm 119, Ecclesiastes or Romans. Mohammed seems to have been forgetful of what he just wrote, but perhaps he was simply repeating himself to drive home a point. There are frequent inconsistencies in the Qur’an, and though those inconsistencies could be viewed as simple interpretative challenges, for the casual reader, it is often difficult to identify exactly what Mohammed was saying. The entire book is more a rant against anybody opposed to Mohammed, than a thoughtful development and argument for the Muslim faith. There is no delight in serving God reflected in the Qur’an as might be found in the Psalms and other passages of the Christian Bible.  As a literary work, the Qur’an does not excel.

What is right about the Qur’an?

There is much right in the Qur’an which orthodox Christians and Jews would agree with. Certainly the word “islam” means “submitted to God” and thus “Muslim” as “one submitted to God”. Christians could all agree that our primary function in life is submission to God. Thus, we would be correct in calling ourselves as Muslims, save that the word now has a very specific connotation. The Qur’an often mentions allah as all-knowing, all-powerful, all-wise, able to create by his word, and is a moral being. This is consistent with Judeo-Christian belief regarding the nature of God. The Qur’an encourages believers to live in a specified manner, maintaining honesty, being charitable to the poor and orphans, and acting with care toward fellow believer. This is consistent. There is a strong distinction between the believer and unbeliever, the faithful and unfaithful, which is also consistent with Judeo-Christian beliefs.

The consequences of unfaithfulness and immoral behavior will eventually need to held in account, as this life is the only beginning of a life after death, and judgement awaits all people, some destined to the fires of hell, and others to the bliss of paradise. This also is found in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.

Prevailing themes and pertinent thoughts

  1. Paradise and hell
    Many often poke fun at Christianity as a fire and brimstone religion, a religion that focuses on nothing but going to heaven or burning in the fires of hell. Yet, many of those same people will offer sympathies for the Muslim religion. It must be assumed that they have never read the Qur’an, since the topic of paradise (heaven) and hell (the fires) are mentioned in nearly every one of the suras, and often to excessive length in the suras. There is far more about the final judgement and afterlife in the Qur’an than in the Scriptures. From the reader’s perspective, the Qur’an is overly excessive in its mention of hell fire. Muhammed’s mind might have been a little hot in the desert.
  2. The present life on earth
    The Qur’an has a very dim view of life on earth. It is a sub-life, a temporary period of trial for the eventual welcome into paradise. Current life is pictured as a lesser existence, and that our presence here is for testing only. This is contrast to the Judeo-Christian view of life as a good and complete, though fallen existence. Life may be hard and oftentimes seemingly meaningless, but the emphasis is the God created us to enjoy His creation, and gave us good things to help us accomplish that end. Our first duty is to praise God with a joyful heart, something not seen in the context of the Muslim faith.
  3. The believer vs unbeliever
    Similar to all faiths, great contrast is drawn between the believer and unbeliever. The Qur’an suggests a somewhat unique approach for the believer to the unbeliever. The descriptions of the relationship of believers to unbelievers in complex and difficult to sort out. Friendship with unbelievers is highly discouraged, as it could lead to loss of faith. Migration to an unbelieving country is strongly discouraged as is betrays trust in allah. Whenever the Qur’an encourages friendship with others, it specifically refers to friendship with other “believers”, i.e., friendship with other Muslims. There is never a call to charity or help to the unbeliever. Muslims have frequently been very friendly to me, and I can only assume that that friendship is in defiance of the Qur’an.
  4. God
    The Islam view of God is drastically different from the Christian view of God. Mohammed is very careful to emphasize that god never begat a son, and that the concept of Jesus as God is a polytheism or perversion. Thus, he fails to understand the Christian notion of the Trinity, as no Christian would consider the Trinity as a trio of three gods. Mohammed fails to understand that this nature of God defies human explanation or understanding. To fail to comprehend a complex issue does not make it false; it simply means that the complexity of God is only fitting for a “real” god. The Muslim god is a non-complex god. God is all-powerful, but he never escapes having a human-like character in the Qur’an. His size and power ultimately defines his holiness and goodness, and thus are the only things that differentiate allah from man. Allah is gracious and merciful, yet it is a mercy of a human type. Allah would never die to save his enemy, which is exactly what the Christian God did. The pronoun for allah is frequently pleural in the Qur’an (we, us) yet there is no explanation as to why the pleural is used, especially since the Muslim doctrine adamantly states that allah is “one”. The Muslim approach to god seems much different than found in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, especially referring to the Psalms. There is no reflection on the joy of being under God’s protection. There is no joy reflected in the worship of God. In the Muslim Scriptures, allah calls the believer to prayer at certain times, and those calls must be slavishly obeyed. Allah is definitely a different “god” from Jehovah.
  5. Battle against the unbelievers
    Much ado is made about the Qur’an call for Jihad, or battle against the unbeliever. I frequently see quotes from the Qur’an calling for the death of infidels and those outside the Muslim faith. In fairness, there are occasional passages, but also passages warning against taking undo violence to those outside the faith. Certainly, terrorism is NEVER called for within the Qur’an, and one could assume that terrorists are acting outside of the stipulations of their own Scripture.
  6. Reiteration of Old Testament Stories
    There are many Old Testament stories re-told in the Qur’an, including that of Adam and Eve, Abraham, Lot, Moses, Jonah, and others. The New Testament is occasionally quoted, though the NT stories are not told. The stories as told in the Qur’an are always different from the OT stories, and often different enough as to be impossible to be simultaneously true with the OT account. This would mean that the differences could not simply be accounted for as differing points of view. Which calls into question as to which account is the correct on (assuming that at least one account reflects a true event that actually happened). This issue leads to a deeper problem for Muslims, in that it is known that the Qur’an in its infancy had many forms. How will the Muslim know that his “Scriptures” are really accurate? He can’t know, assuming that even carefully protected text of the Old Testament “failed” to survive and needed “correction” and reinterpretation by Muhammed.
  7. Statements against the Jewish and Christian faith
    While I’d like to assume that the Qur’an has a neutral stance regarding the Judeo-Christian faith, I fear that it is not neutral. There are many condemnations regarding Christian belief. I mentioned above the Old Testament stories. Considering how carefully the OT was transcribed from century to century, it is unlikely that significant textual degeneration occurred in the OT. Muhammed is very confused as to the doctrine of the Trinity, and completely fuddles up the notion of God having a wife and a son (Jesus). The Qur’an issues frequent proclamations that believers in the Trinity will be going to hell. There are no subtleties or hidden suggestions here; it is very overt. In essence, either the Judeo-Christian Bible or the Qur’an is true, but not both.
  8. Women
    Outside of the OT stories in the Qur’an, the Qur’an has no stories, and thus women are mentioned only as a societal element. It is clear that the women of Muhammed are lesser people. One could argue that the Judeo-Christian Scriptures also hold women in a lesser state than men, yet to say so confuses status with hierarchical authority. In the Qur’an, I do not see women elevated to a status of worth equivalent to men. In terms of relations, Muhammed does protect women in the area of divorce by making sure that they are provided for, but never calls to question the issue of divorce itself, and does not give grounds for or against divorce. Thus, the Qur’an pictures women as important but of less value than men.
  9. What the Qur’an doesn’t mention
    I’ve read through the Qur’an only once, and have no intention of reading it through again. I was specifically looking for certain things that are often are associated with the Muslim faith, but that I did not find in the Qur’an. I can think of a few examples. A) Full Burquas are not called for. Women are instructed to dress modestly, but no where does it call for the covering of everything including the eyes. B) 70 virgins are not promised in paradise. Generally, only one maiden is assured of the faithful men. C) Terrorism is prohibited and not condoned by the Qur’an. It is mentioned that to slay another Muslim means condemnation to the fires of hell, yet terrorist self-sacrifice is doing exactly that. Terrorism is never mentioned as a means of absolving all prior sins and gaining favor with allah. D) The touching of pigs is not prohibited but just the eating of pigs, and even then, if pig is eaten out of the desperation for survival, it is promised that allah would be understanding and merciful. E) Strong intoxicating drink is prohibited, but alcohol specifically is not prohibited. F) The mandatory use of only Arabic in the legitimate reading of the Qur’an is hinted at but never explicitly mentioned. G) The call to prayer is not specifically mentioned, and call to prayer five times a day not mentioned. In all, this suggests that much Muslim practice and beliefs are not based strictly on the Qur’an. I realize that Muslims have other writings that they rely on, but how they view those writings in relation with the Qur’an is uncertain to me.

Summary

The dear reader of this review might argue that I inappropriately read the Qur’an with a Christian bias. That is totally correct. The Qur’an makes truth claims, and it is the responsibility of the writer  (Muhammed) to add legitimacy to those truth claims. In the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, truth claims were also accompanied by miracles to substantiate the truth of the prophet. Muhammed is very quick and repetitive in defending the absence of miracles in his time on earth, yet he offers no other valid reason for accepting his truth claims. I have no reason to believe Mohammed over any other person claiming to offer prophecy and truth claims that supplement the Judeo-Christian Bible. The Mormons are a perfect example, and I would be very interested in seeing how a follower of Mohammed might challenge the claims of Joseph Smith, save that Joseph Smith was a polytheist, and thus “clearly” wrong. The Qur’an is not a supplement to the Christian or Jewish faith, but in direct opposition to it. Because it would be inappropriate in this book review, I did not elaborate on the differences in doctrines of the Muslim and Judeo-Christian faith. The most notable difference is that the Qur’an repeatedly calls allah merciful, yet that mercy must be earned. In Judeo-Christian doctrine (which I think is adequately maintained throughout the entirety of the Old and New Testaments), mercy is not something to be earned but is granted to undeserving sinners. Thus, the real meaning of grace in Judeo-Christian thinking is never found in the Qur’an.

There is a high amount of concurrence between Jewish, Christian and Muslim thinking, including the belief in only one God, a belief that God is a moral God, and a belief in an ultimate judgement. Many of the ethical statements are in accord. So, what do we make of the Muslim faith? Historically, the Muslim faith is an offshoot of Christianity. Like so many of the Judeo-Christian heresies, from gnosticism to Arianism to present day Mormonism, Muhammedism is sufficiently deviant from the Judeo-Christian faith both in its description of God and it’s belief system as to warrant the term “heresy”. It remains a heresy of the Judeo-Christian faith since retains much of the skeleton of its original Christian origin.

I am left in great confusion as to the behavior of Muslims based on the Qur’an. They claim to be “people of the book”, yet much of their practice is completely outside of what is mentioned in the Qur’an. My reading of the Qur’an does not draw the illustration of the present day Muslim. Perhaps they might be better known as “people of an Arabic tradition”. I am also confused as to why they don’t stand up against their fellow Muslims that choose to engage in terrorism, being that the Qur’an forbids terrorism. Muslims seem to not really believe their own Scriptures.

I am glad to have read the Qur’an in its entirety, and perhaps multiple readings might soften (or perhaps harden) my position. The question still remains… what is true? Is it the Qur’an? The Bible? Neither? If either the Bible or the Qur’an are true, then there is an eternity of implications for that. It behooves the reader to make than decision.

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Mar 31

The quirks of Presbyterianism

in relation to my Anabaptist roots

My wife and I are religious schizophrenics—we are deeply rooted in both the Presbyterian and Anabaptist traditions. These traditions seem to be polar opposites, though in many ways, the opposite is true. I would like to briefly explore my thoughts on their similarities and differences.

History

My wife and I grew up in the Apostolic Christian Church (ACCA [Apostolic Christian Church in America] and ACCN [Apostolic Christian Church Nazarean]), which are actually two denominations of the Amish-Mennonite Anabaptist tradition that split in the early twentieth century. It is a denomination, in spite of their quirks, that is still dearly loved by me. I consider myself as having a world view shaped by their teaching, notably that of fervor for God’s word, of intense love for the Brethren (which is a non-sexist word and includes females), and anti-militarism. For various pragmatic reasons, our family attended Moody Church while we were living in Chicago, Illinois when I was in surgery residency, a church we also dearly loved, especially with the preaching of pastor Irwin Lutzer. We attended a Baptist church while I was in the Air Force in Biloxi, MS, and really did not like it at all. There was a PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) church in town, but did not attend there because we felt the Presbyterians were heretics and totally off base. It was during my time in Biloxi that I started reading intensely on Dispensationalism versus Reformed theology, and became convinced that Reformed theology (Calvinism, if you wish), had a more consistent approach to Scripture in its entirety than either Dispensational or Anabaptist theology. I also realized that the description of “Calvinism” by Anabaptists and Dispensationalists was entirely in error. On moving to Puyallup, WA, we attended a generic Christian church for a little over a year. I absolutely hated it for its irreverent worship style and weak theology. On recommendation of a close colleague at the hospital, our family broke down and started attending Faith Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, WA, a member of the Presbyterian Church in America denomination. The pastor was the son of the first president of Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, and well acquainted with Francis Schaeffer. He was a large drawing point for us. We have been there ever since, with no plans of leaving. We had never formally left the Apostolic Christian Church, and have no idea whether they still consider us to be “members”. Our departure was more by incidence of our life’s journey, rather than a formal choice to leave the ACCN. Thus, my wife and I still consider ourselves to be a part of both worlds.

Comparisons of Anabaptist/Reformed theology

Theology was the driving force for leaving the generic church and going to a church that has Reformed doctrine. Contrary to many thinkers, Calvinism is everything but “once saved, always saved”. This is especially true of the covenantal manifestations of Calvinism. In fact, what is portrayed as Calvinism and what is the true meaning of Reformed doctrine are unrecognizable. I’ll offer several examples. Perseverance of the saints as a doctrine means that the saints will persevere in holiness. It never was intended to mean that a person could never “lose” their salvation, except for that if one is truly saved, they will persist in holiness. The discussable issue on this topic for both Anabaptists and Reformed thinkers relates to assurance of salvation, even though arguments for assurance will follow different lines of thought. Both Anabaptists and Reformed thinkers share the necessity for godly living. A second topic of contention is that of limited atonement, which is a terrible phase that means particular redemption. Most Reformed thinkers advocate a universal calling, and bona fide offer of the gospel for all. The only realm of contention regarding particular redemption is that the Reformed thinkers will say that Christ’s death was EFFICACIOUS only for the saved, something that even Anabaptists would ultimately agree with, unless they hold to the doctrine of ultimate universal salvation for all. The doctrine of total depravity would be an area of contention between Anabaptists and Reformed thinkers that would not be resolvable. Oddly, this is not an issue commonly fought over. Nobody wishes to consider themselves to be Pelagian, so one will usually default to a semi-Pelagian position regarding total depravity, which in my thinking is a most confused approach to depravity. As GK Chesterton has noted, total depravity is the one and only doctrine which is easily verifiable in real life.

The baptism of infants is a point of contention with Anabaptists which is usually terribly misunderstood. Baptism is considered neither a confirmation of salvation nor a witness to the world of salvation. Rather, it, like circumcision, is a representation of a covenant with God.  This covenant has both promises as well as obligations. Much of the obligation is on the parents to raise their children as Christians, and duly expect them to make a profession of faith throughout their life. Many non-Reformed churches have a dedication ceremony which is neither Scriptural or meaningful, save for trying to imitate the ceremony of infant baptism. In terms of when a person actually becomes a Christian, the Reformed doctrine refuses to define a precise method. In fact, virtually every New Testament conversion that is discussed is different. Some children of believers may be converted in utero, others in childhood, others after a period of sinful life, and others never. The point is that the Christian will always need to persist in their profession of faith until death.

Some of the ramifications of the doctrine of predestination may be troubling to the Anabaptist until they give worthy pause to what is actually being said. Predestination most certainly is NOT fatalism, i.e., that the course of history has been set in motion in which nothing will change. I would refer the reader to J.I. Packers’ “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God” to grasp this issue. It is certain that we are both totally determined yet totally free in our decisions and actions. The explanation for this remains in the divine wisdom of God which cannot be explained. Finally, I wish to note that when one looks at both the Anabaptists and Reformed churches, there are multiple splits numbering in the hundreds to thousands. Most of these splits are related to some subtle doctrinal issue which presents itself as irreconcilable to the church leaders. Even in my lifetime, I’ve seen a number of splits in churches (both Apostolic Christian and PCA) that are inexplainable save for our persisting depravity.

Both the Reformed and Anabaptist traditions are quite intense about their theology and hold it of great importance. The Reformed thinkers have approached theology in a more systematic fashion, and win out in terms of have a more consistent and organized theological base. Unfortunately, the Reformed church knows this, and it tends to breed a very strong sense of arrogance on their part for having “the best” doctrine. The Reformed folk also manifest a sense of divisiveness in their theology, discussed kindly in a recent internet article by John Frame (http://frame-poythress.org/machens-warrior-children/). This article discusses 21 topics that are highly divisive in the PCA church—I think that he is kind, and under-estimates divisive issues, and I mean divisive enough that various groups would hold charges of heresy against contrary thinking. I have seen Presbyterians approach theology with such opinionated aggressive as to wonder if they were not terminally constipated. A recent move in the PCA condemning the theology of federal vision had a vitriol of extreme proportions, yet one had a challenge even defining what one meant by federal vision!

Anabaptists also excel in divisiveness, and there are countless sub-factions of Amish, Mennonites and the like. This Anabaptist divisiveness can either be theological (like a recent ACCA split debating whether or not a Christian could/does sin) or practical (like whether it is permissible to grow beards or have lightning rods on your house). In the Anabaptist circle that I grew up in, theology was a constant discussion. Our discussions as kids were quite crude and seriously misinformed, but we took theology quite seriously and it was a typical subject of discussion when we would get together. I don’t see that fervor in the Reformed church youth—after all, since they hold the “correct” theology, by bother discussing it?

Church polity/discipline

While this may sound strange, both the Reformed and Anabaptist traditions tend toward the Presbyterian model of polity, in contrast to the Congregational or Episcopalian models. Anabaptists do not generally have a paid clergy, though there are exceptions to this rule. Yet, there are central Anabaptist structures, and national meetings of the elders that are akin to the annual presbytery/synod meetings that occur in Reformed circles. The interest of both traditions is to maintain commonalities in theology and worship that define the denomination. To the surprise of Anabaptists, the conservative Reformed denominations (such as the PCA) take church discipline very seriously, and do exercise member expulsion for various sins or absence of repentance. The terms of expulsion or other forms of church discipline differ, but yet there is a very strong sense of the necessity of the church to exercise discipline of its members, and preach the value of a godly lifestyle in all things.

Worship style

The similarities between Anabaptist and Reformed worship is greater than their differences. Both hold a very high estimation of worship and formality in their church meetings. This is true, even though the Anabaptists do everything possible to remove distinctive display elements to their worship, including the display of crosses in church, the wearing of special garments by the ministry, or other outward displays. Oddly, Anabaptist members usually are required to have special garments, such as specially defined head coverings for females, and distinct dress for men. The Anabaptists would never call their service a “high-church” style, yet it has a formality and regulation that is uniform and consistent between churches and enduring through the years. Both Anabaptist and Reformed thinkers have an equal problem with the current contemporary worship service, which consists of worship as entertainment.

Music

The Reformed churches would love to think that they have the great advantage in music. In this regard, they are sorely wrong. As a matter of fact, Presbyterians simply cannot sing. It is true that many Reformed members go on to become professional musicians and that musical instrumentation in the church is of high value. Many Anabaptist churches, including the ACCA denomination which my parents came out of, never even used a keyboard in their services. Yet, I would estimate that most Anabaptist members had home musical training, and greater than 90% were able to sing in 4 part harmony during worship services. They would stay on tune, even singing a cappella. If you examine closely their hymnody, the Anabaptists mostly drew on the German Lutheran/Bach choral tradition, with far more complex harmonies and melodies than could ever be found in a Reformed/Presbyterian congregational hymnal. In addition, the Anabaptists would sing those songs quite well. Playing or singing the ACC hymnal (Zion’s Harp) is far more challenging than playing or singing the PCA Trinity Hymnal. The Presbyterians are slightly more cautious regarding good theology in their songs, but even there, the ACC hymnal has much better tunes for praise, consecration of one’s life, the afterlife, suffering, and general worship than any Reformed Hymnal. The British and Scots just were not as artful in music as the Germans!

Fellowship

In the Anabaptist family, one feels like family. It doesn’t matter where you go in the world. If you encounter another “AC”, you might as well consider yourself a real brother or sister. You are always welcome in their home, as you would welcome them into your home. Much of your free time would be spent at church or with fellow AC’s. The Presbyterians also maintain a sense of community, but no where near the intensity that is found in traditional AC circles. It is common in Anabaptist communities to see them going out of their way to care for each other. An example are the nursing homes that the ACC’s have developed in conjunction with their churches. These serve several uses. First, they care for the debilitated elderly while keeping them out of the ward of the state. Secondly, they allow elderly in the nursing homes to be useful and active, rather than simply shuttering them in. It is a shame that Reformed churches cannot develop such a modality—I presume that they are in fear of “offending” the state or its ordinances.

The fellowship among Anabaptists extends in other ways. Most of the brethren of the AC church could be assumed to be “trustable”. By that, I mean that if there were business contracts or other dealings that transpired among two brothers in the AC denomination, even if the agreement was verbal and not in print, one could assume that the agreement would be faithfully adhered to. It is not the case in the Presbyterian world, and though members all consider themselves as Christian and adhering to the laws of God, your probability of integrity among the “faithful” in the Presbyterian church isn’t much higher than you’d find from somebody randomly picked from the telephone directory or pulled off the street. Indeed it is a sad state of affairs when professing Christians are no different than the world.

Influence in the world/Politics

The Anabaptists tend to stay out of politics. Yet, a number of its sons do go into politics, such as one of the long-standing senators from Illinois who grew up in an ACCA home. The first Presbyterian politician of great acclaim also shamefully happened to be among our worst presidents—Woodrow Wilson. America would have been better off without Presbyterians in government. Presbyterians have served as a positive influence in society, the best example being that of Francis Schaeffer, though often his actions were at odds with those of the Presbyterian church, explaining why he tended to act independent of any Presbyterian mission board. To this date, Presbyterian actions in politics frighten me. While I appreciate their willingness to act as salt and light in the world, and influence the political structure for good, many of the actions of devout Presbyterians have been more detrimental than good on society. I wait pensively for how Donald Trump proves to be as president since he states that he is Presbyterian—his saving grace might be that he is despised by many prominent Presbyterians of both the conservative and liberal stripes. Contrariwise, the action of Anabaptists have also been a touch problematic in that they have not been willing to confront society in the public square and speak truth. Their policy of “letting the world go to hell as we will maintain our private devotion to God” might absolve them from taking a stand for truth and righteousness in the public square, but their failure to speak out will be ruled against them at the last judgement. In my final analysis, I will act like a Presbyterian in the public square, but will shy away from getting political advice from the Presbyterians and vote like a traditional Apostolic Christian.

Summary

My wife and I are caught between two worlds. We love our Anabaptist heritage, and we love our current Presbyterian situation. We see both the best and the worst of both worlds, and see neither as distinctly superior to the other. I could not have had a better time growing up in the ACCN denomination in Portland, Oregon. It nurtured me well in the faith. Yet, we remain most happy in my current situation in the PCA church. We have a beloved and wonderful pastor, our faith has grown steadily under his preaching, and doctrinally we’ve been challenged and grown in ways which never could have happened in nearly other setting. Thus, we feel doubly blessed.

In a previously quoted article, John Frame speaks at length about ceasing quibbling about petty doctrinal and behavior issues in the church. It is a plea for Christian charity and humility among other Christians. I saw this in action when I took a class in systematic theology from JI Packer, experiencing  graciousness of abounding proportions when angrily challenged and confronted on touchy topics in class. I wish that I could manifest the spirit of Dr. Packer! Francis Schaeffer also wrote much about Christians fighting among each other, and his book “The Mark of a Christian” emphasized that as important as doctrine and behavior may be, love for each other needs to shine out strongest.

We will remain Presbyterian for now, but our hearts (and hopefully our behavior) are Anabaptist. Without a doubt, in heaven, these issues will all work out, and we will not have to take sides as Catholic, Anabaptist, Generic Protestant, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Reformed, Anglican, Baptist, or Orthodox. Christ isn’t divided, and I pray that the church would seek more the spirit of unity in Christ than of obscure technical differences.

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