A Muslim & A Christian discuss belief

From my earliest days as a Christian, when I began to follow Christ out of a personal commitment (due to God’s regenerative work upon my heart and mind), I have enjoyed learning about the doctrines of Christianity. My study of Christian doctrines was and is accompanied by (and largely facilitated by) learning the history of doctrinal development and expression.

Bible-believing Christians have always believed the same foundational things (though great differences have existed in regard to secondary and tertiary doctrines), but they have articulated them in different ways and argued for them against different opponents over time. Whatever else might come from the exchange of ideas, one would be hard-pressed to argue that healthy and thoughtful debate doesn’t benefit everyone in search for genuine truth.

I am a convictional, Bible-believing Christian. I mean to say that I am a kind of 21stcentury fundamentalist. I believe in the virgin birth of Christ, His divinity, His physical death and resurrection, and the exclusive nature of His offering of grace to guilty sinners. These beliefs (among others) compel me to engage those who believe differently with thoughtful arguments and patient dialogue. I do not want to merely build a bunker and survive with like-minded separatists.

To that end, I recently had a conversation with Zahir, a self-proclaimed Ahmadiyya Muslim. His views do not represent the beliefs of all Muslims, just as mine do not represent all Christians. But the exchange was (I think) an honest and helpful dialogue about important beliefs, which form the overall worldviews we each possess.

What follows is part of the phone exchange between me and Zahir. I don’t know Zahir outside of our 3-hour interaction as transcribed below, but I pray that our dialogue might continue and that God might use it to benefit us both. I am making this a public post in order that the exchange might benefit others as well.

Note: Admittedly, the transcript below is from my (Marc) perspective, but I checked each of my recordings of Zahir’s answers with him to ensure an accurate record of his thoughts.

What religion do you associate yourself with?

Zahir: Zahir is an Ahmadiyya Muslim (a brand of Sunni Islam), which is possibly the newest sect of 73 different sects of Islam. Ahmadiyya Muslims understand themselves to be going back to the original sources and teachings (though, of course, Sunni and Shia Muslims disagree). Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was the self-proclaimed Messiah in modern times, and his teaching is carried forward by the Ahmadiyya Muslims by the phrase, “Love for all, hate for none.”

Marc: I am a Christian, but I should clarify that label. I understand myself to be in line with historical Christianity that would trace its lineage from the earliest days of the first century – to the teachings and practices of the prophets and Apostles. While there have been many misapplications of Christian belief and practice, I generally find my Christian heritage coming down from those Middle Eastern and Hellenistic Christians who subscribed to the Apostle’s Creed (circa 200 C.E.) and the Church Councils of Nicaea (325 C.E.) and Constantinople (381 C.E.).

From there, I would claim the side of the West at the schism of 1054 C.E., though I do not necessarily endorse the battles or wars that were fought in the name of Christendom. These roots are deep and nourishing for me, but I most easily associate myself with the Protestant church tradition, which began in the 1500s. The Reformers (such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli) understood themselves to be going back to the sources (namely the Bible) for Christian belief and practice. Of the many Protestant denominations, which share this basic heritage, I gladly join with the Southern Baptists (founded in 1845 in the USA, but now has adherents in many countries).

When and how did you become an adherent to that religion?

Zahir: Zahir was born and raised as an Ahmadiyya Muslim, but at an early age Zahir was encouraged to explore spirituality and religious texts (including the Bible and the Quran). Zahir’s father was a very spiritual man, and he was a leader in the home and the community. Through personal study and experiences, Zahir has come to believe a sort of amalgamation of religious teachings, but he claims to be a true Ahmadiyya Muslim.

Marc: My father left my mother when I was young, but my mother taught me some of the basic beliefs of Christianity. She is joined with a different branch of the Protestant churches, the Assemblies of God, but I did not decide to follow Jesus Christ for myself (become a true convert to Christianity) until I was away from home at 19 years old. I was alone in my college dorm room, reading the Bible, when I believed the gospel (the story about Jesus) and trusted in Jesus Christ as my God and Savior.

What would you say are the top 2-3 benefits you get from participating in your religion?

Zahir: One: Zahir claims a direct connection with the creator, without intermediary, including guidance and direction. God is more of a reality to Zahir than his own parents. Dreams of prophets have played a major role in Zahir’s religious experience. Two: Zahir has a relationship with God’s creation. He feels closer to creation and other humans, a connectedness through his religious beliefs.

Marc: Christians may answer this question quite differently if asked, but I believe the top benefits of Christian believers are as follows: (1) gracious favor from God; (2) knowledge of the nature and character of God; and (3) intimacy with God. Christians know, like everyone else, that we are not as morally good as we should be. Christians also know that God is holy and that He will judge all disobedience and immorality.

In the Bible, we learn that God has demonstrated grace towards guilty people by sending His Son (Jesus Christ) to live obediently, die as a substitutionary sacrifice for the guilt of those who would trust Him, and conquer death so that those who trust Him could hope to do the same. Christians know that God should judge them for being guilty, but the Bible teaches us that God offers gracious favor to those who will hear His words and believe and obey.

Once a person believes the gospel (the story about Jesus, as I expressed above), he or she is then a Christian. The Christian who reads the Bible can learn much about who God is and what He is like. As the Christian learns about God, he or she also learns much about himself or herself. The exploration of what and who God is provides both intellectual and emotional stimulation beyond compare.

Moreover, the Christian who studies and applies the Bible’s teaching to everyday life will discover that God Himself becomes known. It is hard to explain here, but the Christian who seeks God in the Bible and lives according to God’s precepts in life somehow comes to know an intimate relationship with God Himself. The Bible teaches that this is the doing of God’s Spirit who comes to live with and in those who believe and follow God’s words.

What does your religion teach about other religions? Are other religions valuable? Are they bad?

Zahir: “There is not a place or people on earth to whom a messenger has not come.” Muhammad is the latest in a long line of prophets, and Zahir believes that even Socrates and Buddha are valuable prophets. Therefore, all religions have value, but some of the modern forms are corrupted. God created all religions for diversity, not for infighting.

Marc: Here again, you will likely get many different answers from different Christians. I will answer by saying that the Bible teaches that God cares very much about how humans live, how humans worship, and what humans think about God. The Bible teaches that God has revealed Himself in nature and in the special revelation of the Bible itself. In nature, we may learn much about God, and this includes deductive and experiential reasoning within ourselves.

Therefore, various religions may have some (even many) things in common, because what can be known about God in nature is plain to all who observe it. However, any approach to living, worshiping, or thinking about God that is contrary to or aberrant from what the Bible teaches about such things is not good. The Bible teaches that all humans deserve dignity, respect, and even love; therefore, religious tolerance is perfectly in keeping with Christian belief and practice. But any religious system that would seek to dissuade someone from the clear teaching of the Bible is not to be followed.

What does your religion teach about the afterlife?

Zahir: When a soul is freed from the shell of the human body, it is like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. The soul/spirit endures an intermediate stage before the final judgment, and all souls (good or bad) get a taste of a lesser paradise or lesser hell. This state lasts for an undefined period of time that does not necessarily have a direct correlation with the time experienced on earth. All people will have the opportunity to turn to God during this intermediate state. Hell is not eternal, but a place of cleansing, making one ready to enter paradise. Eventually, all people will be in paradise… “even Satan himself.”

Belief in God and doing good are the only necessary prerequisites to entering paradise. Intentionality is the only important matter for judgment so God will judge people according to the light or understanding they had on earth. Zahir seemed to believe that very few people would fit into the category of intentionally wicked people who had any form of judgment to come in the afterlife.

Marc: The Bible teaches that all humans will eventually face God and be judged for all that they thought, spoke, and did in this world. Those who live wicked lives, disobeying God’s laws, will be judged as guilty and suffer the penalty of God’s eternal wrath. Of course, as I said above, Christians know that all humans are guilty of disobeying God’s law, but the hope of the Christian is the gracious favor of God. As I said, Jesus Christ lived a perfectly obedient life, He died under God’s judgment (not because He was guilty, but as a substitute for all who would trust and follow Him), and He conquered death in order to demonstrate that He could do the same for those who believe or trust in Him.

The promise of God is that all those who believe or trust in Jesus will pass from judgment to peace and life everlasting. Despite their guilt, those who believe will avoid God’s judgment because it has already been poured out on Jesus Christ in their place. Therefore, in the afterlife, Christians will enjoy a new creation without the presence of wickedness or evil, in which God Himself will abide with humanity in gracious blessing and peace forever.

What does your religion teach about your purpose in the world or your responsibility to other people?

Zahir: Our primary reason for existence is to recognize God, to meet God, and to unify with God – represent God in the world. The person must overcome individualistic thinking, taking on the “color of the Holy Spirit.” Every person must treat creation with love and respect, looking for beauty and good in the world. Everyone and everything in creation is to be treated as an extension of God Himself. The protection of personal religious freedom and practice is paramount, and Zahir repeatedly affirmed the value of all beliefs from all religions.

Marc: The Bible teaches that Christians must show love for all people, especially for other Christians. The Christian is responsible to live in community and fellowship with other Christians, learning to follow God more faithfully and to love one another more honestly and meaningfully (such as sharing material resources, depending on one another in times of difficulty, and distributing the various responsibilities of life among one another).

The Christian is also responsible to meet the needs of those in his or her broader community (Christian and non-Christian alike) as he or she is able. In many ways, the Christian is to show love for neighbor (such as teaching, maintaining social order, developing healthcare resources and efforts, cultivating food, manufacturing clothing and shelter, and a host of other things) by living as a productive member of society for the benefit of all people. Additionally, the Christian is to show love for neighbor by helping those with some deficiency of a human good (such as food, water, clothing, shelter, companionship, education, social capital and/or the ability to maintain any of these).

Some Concluding Thoughts

I have always enjoyed thoughtful dialogue with those with whom I disagree. Zahir and I discussed more than the questions above, and the topics ranged from biblical textual criticism to the Trinity and substitutionary atonement to personal sinful desire. Zahir was a pleasant and thoughtful dialogue partner, but he and I obviously disagreed at some major points of theology, Christology, soteriology, and hamartiology.

Distinct Christian Prayer

Many people pray, and not just Christians. It seems that prayer, talking to someone or something greater than ourselves, is natural to humanity. Christian prayer, however, is quite peculiar and unnatural. While Christians offer petitions of hope and desire, the same as non-Christians, Christians pray with a distinctive approach and goal.

The Christian knows that his or her only basis for acceptance before God is the person and work of Jesus Christ. Therefore, his or her approach to God is as heavenly Father by way of adoption through Christ. Such an approach is by sheer grace and divine mercy.

The Christian also understands that God’s will is wiser and truer than his or her own desires. He or she knows that God is always working towards better ends, as a good heavenly Father. Therefore, his or her goal in prayer is not so much to get something from God but to align himself or herself to the will of God being worked out in the world.

May God not only teach us to pray but may He also create within us an unnatural desire to pray as fervent and sincere Christians.

Christ wants you to die!

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24).

While most people in our western culture have not had to consider what it might feel like to persecuted unto death, every Christian everywhere must resolve to die for the sake of knowing and possessing Christ. I hope you’ll take the time to re-read and consider that sentence.

The unmistakable call of Christ is to die. The thought of such a thing is so repugnant to us that we are naturally inclined to do anything to avoid it. I mean… who wants to die? However, in this paradoxical call, Christ beckons sinners to lose something lesser in order to gain something greater.

The life lived apart from Christ is death unto death. Sinners reap the bitter fruit of their wickedness in this life and in the life to come. But, the life given over to Christ is life unto life. The sinner who dies with Christ shall be raised with Him, and the one who lives on mission with Christ shall reap the savory rewards of a life well lived.

Whether it is long or short, may we live worthwhile lives for Christ.

Christian, Be Baptized!

“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:37-38).

What is biblical baptism? This question has been answered with great similarity since the time of the early Christian Church. And yet, there have also been distinctive ways in which some have given an answer. While the mode or method of baptism does not have to separate Christian brothers and sisters, it is still a very important subject of consideration.

First, we know that Jesus Christ commands all His disciples (or followers) to be baptized (Matt. 28:19). Second, we know that the Apostles taught and commanded the same (Acts 2:38). Third, we know that a Christian becomes a Christian by a miraculous act of God, whereby God imparts new life (or spiritual life) to the previously darkened sinner (Eph. 2:4; Jn. 3:3). Fourth, we know that new life in Christ is demonstrated by a pattern of obedience to Christ (James 2:14-26).

Therefore, we know that every believer ought to be baptized as a sign and beginning of new life in Christ.

The Christian is one who has been joined to Christ and joined those who have been united to Christ before him/her. In believer’s baptism, all Christians testify to their common faith, their spiritual unity, and their purposeful commitment to follow Christ together.

May God create new life abundantly in our day, and may many come to glorify God because of the distinctive way in which Christians live to honor God and others above themsleves.

Living Like We Believe

“And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him” (1 John 2:28–29).

Everyone believes something.

This may come as a surprise to you, or it may come as a silly and obvious thing to say. Either way, the statement is probably not immediately remarkable. If, however, we consider that the way we live reveals what we truly believe, then the statement may become more thought-provoking.

The Bible tells us what we may already know to be true about this subject. The choices a person makes are always based on what he or she really believes. We may claim a certain set of beliefs, but our lives will either give evidence for or against our belief claims. Believing Jesus will manifest itself in a person’s way of life, and so too will disbelief and rebellion.

Jesus is the Savior of sinners, and He is the one through whom God will judge the whole world. Those who truly believe these things, and trust in Jesus to rescue them from judgment, will live in light of these realities.

In other words, genuine belief always produces transformed living.

May God grant us grace to believe Him and the conviction to live as we say we believe.

Joy

“Though you have not seen [Christ], you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8–9).

What is Joy?

Well, I think a good way to answer this question is to contrast joy with happiness. Happiness is conditional, but one may possess joy in any circumstance. Happiness comes and goes, depending on our experiences, our feelings, and a host of other things. Joy, on the other hand, is based on an unchanging reality.

Because the basis for joy does not change, it is not subject to any of the things upon which happiness depends.

But, what is the unchanging, fixed, transcendent basis for joy?

Ah, the answer to this question is a core feature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So many truth statements formulate and are derived from the message of the Gospel. Those truth statements construct an indestructible foundation for joy, which is Christ-centered and not self-centered.

God has justified guilty sinners through the work of Christ. God has adopted unworthy rebels as sons. God has brought spiritual and eternal life to all those in Christ. Union with Christ is an intimate relationship enjoyed by all those who love and trust Him.

These truths and many more form the basis for steadfast Christian joy.

Therefore, we may have joy in every circumstance because Christ has demonstrated God’s love and grace for us. We may rest in that reality now, and we await the fullness of that reality in the glorious new creation.

We who love and trust in Christ may find indestructible joy in union with the God who loves us so and gives Himself freely to us.

2 Questions for Christians, After the Election

Well, the most frustrating, vexing, and exhausting election of my lifetime is over. After the inauguration of our new president, things have not seemed to get particularly less chaotic. While there are both good and bad things to observe among American life today, I’d like to offer a couple of questions that Christians would do well to ask.

 

The questions Christians must ask themselves today are, “What has Christ promised?” and “What am I supposed to do?”

1. What has Christ promised?

Jesus Christ promised that bad times would come (Jn. 15:20; Rom. 8:18; 1 Pet. 4:13). You may or may not know it, but the experience of difficulty is to be expected in the Christian life. While no one in their right mind welcomes adversity and suffering, we should not be surprised when the unwelcome guest arrives on our doorstep.

Jesus Christ promised that He would be with His followers (Matt. 28:18-20; Jn. 15:7). Christians may go through any number of valleys, but they never travel them alone. Christ is always with His people, and He is a faithful friend like no other. The divine King of glory knows well how to keep that which He has taken as His own.

Jesus Christ promised that He would build and glorify His Church (Matt. 16:18; Rom. 8:28-32; Jude 24). Christians are to remain faithful in the task to which Christ has called them, but Christ Himself is responsible for producing the results. The marvelous reality is that Christ cannot not be successful, and Christians may rest assured that the Gospel is still the power of God unto salvation.

 

2. What is a Christian to do?

Christians are to uphold truth (1 Cor. 15:58; 1 Tim. 3:15; 1 Tim. 6:11). The most difficult task that Christians will set out to do is to live according to an absolute standard of truth and morality. This will anger those who disagree, and it will enrage those who want to live immorally. And yet, upholding truth in personal practice and public proclamation is exactly what every Christian must do.

Christians are to proclaim the Gospel (2 Cor. 5:20; 2 Tim. 4:2). The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only message that actually carries with it the power of God to make dead sinners live. God has decided to include Christians in His endeavor to make His glorious Gospel known to all the world, and there is no greater calling. The joy and privilege of Christianity is that those who are transformed by the Gospel are also commissioned to proclaim it.

Christians are to make disciples (Matt. 28:18-20). Making disciples includes proclaiming the Gospel, but it goes further. Disciple-making is the lifelong process of growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Every Christian is a disciple, learning to follow Christ; and every Christian must also be a disciple-maker, teaching others what it looks like to follow Christ as well.

Today, Christ’s promises have not changed, nor has the Christian task.

Let us throw off our false hope in any lesser thing, and let us affix our eyes today upon the victorious Lamb upon the throne. Christ is King, His Church shall prevail, and we shall one day see the glorious end to which He has been moving all things.

Coalescing Churches and Missionaries

The Church – the universal body of Christ – is a unique institution made up of people rather than materials or mechanisms. Established and sustained by God Himself, the Church acts most like she should when she fulfills the role for which she has been created. The oft-quoted passage at the end of Matthew’s gospel contains the commission of the Church – her purposeful assignment and the promise of her providential Lord. In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus says to His disciples,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Mark Dever (commenting on this very passage) says, “Jesus’ command to go ‘to the ends of the earth’ [or ‘all nations’] reminds believers that Christ is Lord over all, that he loves all, and that he will call all to account on the great day. Therefore, Christians today have a responsibility to take the gospel around the world.” Dever also understands that congregations (local expressions of the universal Church) are bearers of this same responsibility, because congregations are made up of individual Christians. “Christians together can pool wisdom, experience, financial support, prayers, and callings and direct them all to the common purpose of making God’s name great among the nations…” Dever leaves no room for individual Christians or assembled groups of the same to remain unengaged from this Great Commission when he says, “Witnessing the glory of God proclaimed around the globe in the hearts of all his people should be an end and purpose for every local church.”[1]

Involvement in this intentional activity is no peripheral matter for any local church, and many congregations have been purposefully working at it for a long time. However, recent research and contemporary conversations are revealing that a disconnect may have developed over time between the two prongs that have formed the spearhead of this Christian commission. Local churches in America seem to have been allowed to understand missions as something that is done over there – anywhere but here – by someone called a missionary. Many local churches support “missions efforts” with their financial backing, giving a portion of their budget to some kind of cooperative program that distributes funds to local and international missionaries. Sometimes local churches may even call a special prayer meetings with a “missions” emphasis, but taking ownership of particular missional efforts appears to be lacking at best. In addition, the perceived distance between missions and local church ministry has permitted most American Christians to remain personally unengaged from the Great Commission. This is a tragedy.

What is worse is that missionaries, having such a strong commitment to go and tell, are continuing to do so without an essential and healthy attachment to a local church or churches. “The problem is that there are now missionaries all over the world with virtually no connection to local churches to love and care for them, shepherd them, and join them on mission.” To compound the loss, “there are also local churches full of laypeople talking about being ‘missional’ without the benefit of learning from those who are actively crossing cultures with the Gospel. They are talking about mission without the input of missionaries (emphasis added).”[2] If one is to understand what it is to be missional, it is imperative that one understands what it is to be a missionary.

Ed Stetzer helpfully defines the term “missional” in his standard-setting work on the subject of “missional churches.” He says, “Missional means actually doing mission… adopting the posture of a missionary, learning and adapting to the culture around you while remaining biblically sound.”[3] With this definition in mind, it is helpful to consider that missional living may only realized in the local church context as missionaries and their efforts are appropriately known and celebrated in the local church.

The bringing together of missionaries and the local church is a combination that regains the benefits of the multi-membered body of Christ. If the missionary is the extended arm of the local church, then the local church is the core, which lends stability, resources, and strength to the missionary. Just as the arm needs the core to function properly, so the core needs the exercise, reach, and functionality of the arm in order to remain healthy. There are many more aspects of local church ministry that may not include a direct relationship to missionary efforts, but all of what the local church is and does should center around the idea of living missionally in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – both in the context of its own community and in the world at large. These two distinct branches of missional engagement (missionaries and the local church) are so intertwined that each compliments the other in multiple ways, particularly when they are both functioning healthily.

The pervading goal of the missionary is the same as the local church, namely the Great Commission – make disciples, baptize them, and teach submission to Christ to the glory of His great name. If this directive is embraced and acted upon, the result will inevitably be a plurality of baptized disciples who will be life-long learners who grow in their submission to Christ. This plurality of Christians, if the missionary is properly focused on the task, will be formed into a local church themselves. “The result of [the missionary’s] work should be biblical, local, independent churches that reflect the soil in which they are planted.”[4]  Therefore, the missionary is most effective when he is planting local churches with those baptized disciples who have benefitted from his proclamation of the Gospel.

These locally planted churches will be better churches if they resemble the same kind of local church(es) that have cultivated a quality relationship with the missionary who facilitated their own rooting and grounding. If missionaries and local churches work in tandem (as it seems they were designed to do), then the cycle will simply continue. Aubrey Malphurs says of church planting and its ultimate goal,

“We are not to start just any kind of church; they should be Great Commission churches. These are churches that take most seriously Jesus’s command to make disciples! Making disciples begins with evangelism and continues with edification or the building up of the saints in the faith with the ultimate goal of their attaining spiritual maturity (Col. 1:28–29; Heb. 5:11–6:1).”[5]

Malphurs’ statement brings us back to the beginning; the Church acts most like she should when she fulfills the role for which she has been created. The goal of newly planted church is the same as the missionary, and it is the same as the established local church congregation. When the established local church is healthy, she will serve her role well as a support structure for the missionary and a model for the church plants that (by God’s grace) result from his efforts. When the missionary is healthy, he will serve his role well as an evangelist and facilitator for the eventual indigenous church plant(s) as well as a motivation and inspiration for the congregants who support him. When the indigenous church plant is healthy, she will repeat the cycle with new missionaries and fresh groups of newly converted Christians.

There are so many benefits to this relationship that a brief work such as this cannot explore them all. Suffice it to say that the coalescing of churches and missionaries is a recipe for enjoying vibrant, Great Commission assemblies of vigorous, missional disciples of Christ – both locally and globally.

 

[1]Dever, Mark. The Church: The Gospel Made Visible. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2012.

[2]Crider, Caleb, Larry McCrary, Rodney Calfee, and Wade Stephens. Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission. Portland, OR: Urban Loft Publishers, 2013.

[3]Stetzer, Ed. Planting Missional Churches. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2006.

[4]Crider, Caleb, Larry McCrary, Rodney Calfee, and Wade Stephens. Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission. Portland, OR: Urban Loft Publishers, 2013.

[5]Malphurs, Aubrey. The Nuts and Bolts of Church Planting: A Guide for Starting Any Kind of Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011.

The “Jesus” of Mormonism

What do Mormons believe about Jesus Christ?

As is true of Christian churches, those parishioners of the Mormon Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints may not be aware of or able to articulate every foundational belief of the institution. Like many naïve Christian church attendees, some Mormon temple members might be unable to state (and fewer are likely able to explain) the doctrinal stance of the LDS (Latter-Day Saints) Church pertaining to the person and work of Jesus Christ. However, a church’s statement of belief concerning Christ (biblically orthodox or not) is essential to understanding what the church believes about almost everything else.

So foundational is the biblical description of Jesus Christ that maintaining an inaccurate or lacking view of His person and work in the face of truth is destructive to the soul. In other words, belief or trust in the true Jesus of the bible ensures the salvation of one’s soul, but a belief or trust in someone with different or missing attributes accompanied by the same name leaves one condemned. Of particular importance is the acknowledgment of Christ’s full divinity and actual humanity. This unique and biblical description of Jesus Christ is at the heart of Christian belief and the message of the Gospel itself. God’s plan to redeem sinful humanity is only accomplished through the person and work of this singularly capable God-man – Jesus Christ.

Mormonism maintains a view of Christ that is extremely dangerous to those who are not deeply planted in the soil of biblical truth. One could read the statements about Christ on the official Mormon or LDS websites without noticing much in the way of distinguishing marks from Christianity. However, Mormons may use the same terms as Christians when they speak of Christ, but they have attempted to redefine His person and work – the terms have new definitions.

Brigham Young, a major Mormon Prophet who directly followed Joseph Smith, said, “He [Jesus] was the Son of our Heavenly Father, as we are the sons of our earthly fathers. […]Jesus is our elder brother spirit clothed upon with an earthly body begotten by the Father of our spirits.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 10, p. 2, September 28, 1862 [emphasis mine]).

An Apostle of Mormonism stated, “We are brethren and sisters of Satan as well as of Jesus. It may be startling doctrine to many to say this; but Satan is our brother. Jesus is our brother. We are the children of God. God begot us in the spirit in the eternal worlds.” (Apostle George Q. Cannon, March 11th, 1894, Collected Discourses, compiled by Brian Stuy, vol. 4, p. 23 [emphasis mine]).

Not only do Mormons believe that Jesus was the literal offspring of Mary and a physical Heavenly Father, but it also claims that Jesus had many wives himself. “The grand reason of the burst of public sentiment in anathemas upon Christ and his disciples, causing his crucifixion, was evidently based on polygamy, […] a belief in the doctrine of a plurality of wives caused the persecution of Jesus and his followers. We might almost think they were ‘Mormons.'” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 1:345-346 [emphasis mine]).

In conclusion, there could be many other citations and a more detailed description of the Mormon Jesus as he contrasts the biblical Jesus Christ. The words of authoritative Mormon Apostles and Prophets state it clearly as they proclaim, “It is true that many of the Christian churches worship a different Jesus Christ than is worshipped by the Mormons or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (LDS Quorum of the Seventy member Bernard P. Brockbank, The Ensign, May 1977, p. 26 [emphasis mine]) In fact, Brigham Young makes it unambiguous when he says, “Brigham Young said that the “Christian God is the Mormon’s Devil…” (Journal of Discourses, Volume 5, page 331).

The Jesus of Christianity and of the bible is not the Jesus of Mormonism and, therefore, not the Jesus who saves.

The purpose of stating such a thing in dramatic contrast is not to personally ‘cast stones’ at those who willingly take upon themselves the label of “Mormon” or “LDS.”  Rather, my purpose is to present the real and present divergence of these two religious systems.  Christianity – the bible itself – offers salvation, the forgiveness of sins, through the person and work of Jesus Christ alone.  This gift is to be received by faith, apart from any work, effort or will of man.  Mormonism offers a version of salvation through one’s diligent effort and overwhelming obedience.  This system is like many others with respect to its “path towards salvation.”  According to the bible, the path is really no path at all – the path is a man, and only He can save sinners from God’s imminent wrath (John 14:6).

Strength to Strength in times of Suffering

In his devotional “Mornings and Evenings,” Charles Spurgeon wrote his own commentary on the passing of Christians from security and strength to further stability and power. This progression is contrary to much of our natural experience, and Spurgeon acknowledges the same. A runner, for instance, begins with full energy and ends with none; and the wrestler finishes his long match with much less vigor than he had at the start. But Christians are anchored and empowered by someone who is unnatural, and their advancement from strength to strength is observable as well as biblical.

The Bible speaks of a God who is not merely a passive all-observing eye. No, the biblical God is the creator and sustainer of every aspect of His creation; He is the ever-active, sovereign king of the universe (Acts 17:24-25).

This brings great comfort to the humble Christian. Spurgeon says, “Thou shalt never find a bundle of affliction which has not bound up in the midst of it sufficient grace.”[1] This means that there is no amount of suffering, no tumultuous season of life, no seemingly unrewarded effort expended that is completely in vain. The Bible never calls evil by the name of good, but all things are by God’s design and for the ultimate good of His children (Rom. 8:28; Lam. 3:37-38).

Much more could be said on this biblical assertion of God’s sovereign work to bring about the sanctification of His children, but Christians may be observed as having lived out this surprising experience as well. While not all churchgoers exhibit this same development, the mark of mature Christianity is finding secure refuge in Christ.

Consider the believer who receives a terrible diagnosis from the doctor. She may recoil and feel distress just as much as anyone, but her soul is eventually steadied and the Commander of the storm calms the gales of her mind.

Think also of the young Christian couple that rushes their newborn to the emergency room only to learn that their child’s mortal life has ended much too soon. Their pain and anguish is beyond words, but the light of life somehow invades their dark night of the soul.

Christ is their portion, and He is enough.

Once, Christians were commonly noticed as experiencing joy in the face of their own sorrow. In our day of commonplace denial and distraction, it is not so normal to see anyone bear the load of suffering well. Yet, when the Christian does it is a bittersweet site indeed.

What a peculiar beauty it is to see the Christian rejoice in the Lord while they are enduring significant pain. Others may even become irrationally envious of the agony of these exemplary saints when that agony is born steadily by the grace of God.

Spurgeon is also quoted as having said, I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.

The counter-intuitive destination of a Christian’s suffering is safe in the arms of Christ. Isn’t it a wonder that Christians will often find themselves crawling out of Christ’s bosom and onto the floor of life until they encounter some strange pain or confusing fear? Upon such an encounter, they cry out for the embrace of the Father’s care and find Him worthy of their full trust and reliance.

Only in this light may we perceive suffering as a gift.

Oh, that you and I would know the strength of God’s abiding Spirit – with or without the common suffering of life under the curse of sin. May the Lord bless us with His caring allotment of energy and affliction, for His glory and for our greatest joy.

“[W]e rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”[2]

“God will give the strength of ripe manhood with the burden allotted to full-grown shoulders.”[3]