Can a religion claim to be “Christian” if it changes biblical truths about Christ and God?
One of the things I find interesting about Christian history is how quickly Scripture can be corrupted. The early church, for example, had to fight off gnosticism, which, among other false ideas, taught that salvation was gained through the acquisition of divine “knowledge.”
Today, we find Christian churches practicing some pretty strange stuff — dancing with poisonous snakes during church services, for example — which members say publicly displays their faith in a Bible verse they interpret to guarantee God’s protection. Though participants are often bitten, this doesn’t dissuade them. Neither, apparently, does death. When bites prove fatal, church members view the loss to be “God’s will.”
When the Bible is not just misinterpreted, as in the case above, but intentionally reinterpreted to create new doctrine, we move into the realm of false religion. Two groups that we can soundly place in that category — the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) — cling to the claim that they are “Christian.”
Both groups share some commonalities. Both believe themselves to be God’s “true” church. Both claim their spiritual texts to be more authoritative than the Bible. Both believe they must witness door-to-door to gain new members. And both require members to fully adhere to church doctrine — or face possible expulsion and complete shunning by family and friends.
Note that despite their departure from Bible-based doctrine, both groups continue to draw members around the globe. In part because of the strong sense of community that members enjoy when in good standing. But these members don’t know they’re being doctrinally misled.
Let’s look more closely at the core beliefs of these two groups, to clearly see where they derail in their teachings about Christ and God.
Asserts one church source, “We believe that our church, our books of scripture, our teachings, and our lives are all centered on Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.”
He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross under an immeasurable weight to ransom us from our mortal burdens. After three days Jesus Christ overcame death, emerging from the tomb resurrected and winning for us that same reward; He made possible our own resurrection, the permanent union of our spirit and perfected physical body.
On the surface, the above description of Jesus on the official LDS website appears to follow Christian doctrine. At least until we get clear on how Mormons view Jesus. Bottom line: Mormons DON’T think Jesus is God, but a separate god created by God. And He didn’t resurrect to redeem them, but to ensure their own physical resurrection after death. Mormon doctrine strips Jesus of His deity and significantly downplays His role in our lives.
Dr. Lynn Wilder, once a tenured professor at Brigham Young University who is now a Christian, shares that Mormonism doesn’t guide members into correctly viewing Christ: “I didn’t get very far through the New Testament before I realized that the Christ in the Bible was not the Christ I knew in Mormonism. And I had sold this Christ short. This one was huge. This was the one that was real. This is the one that I wanted. This is the one that changed my life.”
Sandra Tanner, the great-great-granddaughter of Brigham Young, the church’s second prophet, adds that the LDS church teaches that salvation is dependent on so much more than Christ: “Mormons believe we were all born as spirit children of Heavenly Father. And so Jesus is our older brother. But Christ’s atonement alone is not sufficient. Mormons believe their salvation is completed only with the addition of Mormon ordinances, Mormon gospel, and Mormon Temple ritual.”
GotQuestions.org nicely sums up this works “to do” list for us:
In the Mormon gospel we see belief + repentance + baptism + laying on of hands + temple work + mission work + church ministry + tithing + ceasing from sin + abstaining from the use of intoxicants and strong drinks and tobacco and caffeine + confessing Joseph Smith as Prophet + temple marriage + baptism for the dead + genealogy research . . . the list could go on and on and on.
Only upon completion of all these things may Mormons attain the third and highest “degree of glory,” thus achieving the ultimate goal of the Mormon gospel — godhood.
Wait; what? Mormons believe they’ll become gods? Where does it say that in the Bible?
And Mormons believe there’s no hell, but a “spirit prison.” LDS doctrine also teaches that Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit are separate, individual gods — part of a universal community of gods. But here’s the kicker: these gods were once mere men! Don’t miss this: Mormons believe that God — our Creator — was once a man elevated to godhood by his own efforts.
So the ultimate goal of every committed Mormon male, then, is to also attain godhood. In the words of LDS founder Joseph Smith, “Here then, is eternal life — to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all gods have done before you.”
In the early 1800s, while still a teen, Smith claimed he had visions of being visited by God, Jesus, and the angel Moroni. God’s supposed message to him: that all existing Christian churches were false, and their teachings an “abomination.” So directed by Moroni, Smith translated special gold plates on which were written the Book of Mormon. (It is from this book, which the LDS believe contains the “fullness of the gospel,” that the church got the nickname “Mormon.”)
Smith pronounced the text to be “the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion … a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”
Wait; what? Joseph Smith asserted that the Book of Mormon has been more faithfully translated (transmitted) than the Bible?
Per the LDS website, “The Book of Mormon answers essential questions that we all have at some point: Is there life after death, and what’s waiting for us on the other side? What is the purpose of life, and how can I find happiness and peace now? Does God know me and hear my prayers? How can I avoid sin and learn to truly repent? How can I become the best possible version of myself?”
I share this response put forth by Pastor Tim Challies: “The heart of Joseph Smith’s false teaching was that he put his own authority over the authority of Scripture. By adding his own revelation to the Bible’s revelation, Smith took it upon himself to identify and correct what he claimed were errors in Scripture.”
Interesting stuff, right? Space constraints demand that I move on to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But I leave you with this comparison chart that shows, clearly, that Christianity and Mormonism are very different religions. You might also watch this YouTube video, in which two ex-Mormons share why they left the church.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) movement started in the late 1800s under the leadership of Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916). Russell outlined early church doctrine in his six volume series, Studies in Scripture.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe Christianity died soon after Christ, but was resurrected under Russell. In the 1870s Russell organized the Watchtower Society, which directs, administers, and disseminates all doctrine. Per current Watchtower doctrine, society members are “modern day servants of Jehovah, a people intent on living in the light of biblical truth.”
Yet the “biblical truth” they’re referring to isn’t found in the Christian Bible, but in their own deliberate misinterpretation of it, which they published in 1961 as The New World Translation (NWT). Dr. Bruce Metzger, during his role as professor of New Testament at Princeton, was among many other Bible scholars that characterized the NWT as “erroneous” and “reprehensible.”
Doctrinal tweaking continues to be a hallmark of this religion. So we might speculate that the Watchtower Society is comprised of poor listeners — or that God keeps changing His “truth.”
“Russell taught and published many doctrines that the current Watchtower Society totally rejects, and engaged in practices regarded by current Jehovah’s Witnesses to be of pagan origin. In fact, if Russell were a Jehovah’s Witness in the current Watchtower Organization, he would have been disfellowshipped for his beliefs and practices!”
One reason members cite for leaving the church is the amount of repeated false prophesy the Watchtower Society has put out. As one outsider noted, “The Jehovah’s Witnesses are the undisputed world champions of false prophecy.” Russell was but one church leader that prophesied a date for the end of the world. Russell chose 1914. When Jesus failed to show up for this scheduled Second Coming, the Watchtower Society assured members that Jesus had come — but was invisible.
Some of what the NWT now teaches: Jesus is God’s only direct creation, “the firstborn of all creation,” so He has earned the right to the title “son of God”; Jesus is actually Michael the Archangel in human form; after His crucifixion, Jesus was recreated as an immaterial spirit creature; and the Holy Spirit is not a person, but a specific manifestation of God’s power.
Say, what?? Jesus is the Archangel Michael?? Where does it say that in the Bible?
We have to agree with Dr. James White, a Christian apologist, that “Christianity is a religion of the Book. If you twist the Book, you twist the faith.”
Yet, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe they alone know the “truth” of God. Thus they view all persons outside their religion — whether Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist, or atheist — to be “the walking dead” who are “under God’s wrath.” The reason Witnesses spend so much time going door-to-door is to fulfill the Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations.”
Per the JW website: “We endeavor to share our faith with others, hoping that they will benefit from God’s promises. But we don’t believe that we earn our salvation by engaging in our ministry. … He saved us because of His mercy, and not because of any good things that we have done.”
Why, then, do Witnesses not live with an assurance of God’s acceptance?
An interesting fact, per Dr. White: 99 percent of Jehovah Witnesses believe themselves to be among ‘The Great Crowd” that might get to enjoy an earthly paradise after the Millennium. An upper echelon of believers — a mere 144,000 of the most faithful Witnesses — get to be part of the “Anointed Class.” This small group, which the Watchtower Organization believes to be nearly full, will resurrect as spiritual beings and reign with Jehovah in heaven. Those who find themselves among The Great Crowd will resurrect as physical beings — but only through the Anointed Class gain access to Jehovah.
Followers who find the courage to leave — “apostates” — are formally shunned and “disfellowshipped” by the church. Even family members still in the church are prohibited from having any interaction with them. So, for some, to leave the church means being forced to break connections with the very people most special to them. Does shunning reflect the love Jesus asks of His followers?
Per the JW website, “Surely, someone who strives to obey Jesus’ commands can be called Christian.” In actuality, that barely gets to the heart of the matter. Even this tiny slice of church doctrine clearly show us that Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t have a biblical understanding of Christ.
~ What Should Be the Christian Response to These Religions? ~
Skip annoyance and go straight to compassion.
Specific to Mormons, I like the way Tanner puts it. Christians, she says, need to understand that when these young Mormons come knocking, they sincerely believe what they’re preaching.
“They don’t understand, probably, all of Mormon doctrine,” she says. “Your kindness to them, your challenge to them to read the New Testament, could be the start of their journey to Christ. So, when we see them at the door, we need to remember, this is someone Christ died for. They don’t know the deception they’re in. We need to reach out with a heart of love to these people.”
Before you try to counter-witness to LDS missionaries, however, you might want to get up to speed on their terminology, and have a sure understanding of how their beliefs differ from those of Bible-based Christians. You can also check out this discussion between Sean McDowell and Eric Johnson, in which they discuss in the new book they co-edited, Sharing the Good News with Mormons. The book highlights tips from 26 authors on using 24 different strategies for engaging Mormons in spiritual conversation.
The same goes for Jehovah’s Witness you might encounter. Recognize that they doggedly believe that they, alone, possess God’s truth. Carefully trained by the Watchtower Organization to expect persecution as they go door-to-door, your kind response can have a positive impact, perhaps providing you the opportunity to be an outside influence. Here’s a beginner’s guide on dialoging with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Do you have to accept literature, or allow these visitors inside for a chat? No. But do commit to showing them compassion and respect. You’d hope for the same, right?
This blog post highlights Josh and Sean McDowell’s recently revised apologetics classic, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. We are certain this fully updated and expanded resource will be an effective evangelism tool for you, and strengthen your faith by answering the toughest questions tossed to you by skeptics. Know what you know, because it’s true. But share this truth with LOVE!
If you’d like to start from the first blog post in this series, click here: Apologetics: Apologizing for Believing in God?.