This week, after a short train journey, I alight at Reading, into the warm sunshine. Then I stroll casually into the town centre shopping precinct. Among the crowds was a group of smartly-dressed men, shirt-and-tie and all that, their dress code making them stand out from the rest of us, that is, except for the passing school kids in their uniform.
Thinking they were salesmen, I did my best to avoid them. The one who approached me spoke in a dialect which made his introducing of himself difficult to understand. Like as if he's an annoying mosquito buzzing around in its hope for some blood, I waved him off and continued to where I was going.
|Among the crowds was a group of smartly-dressed men...|
Later, on my way back to the station, I passed them again. A different person was eyeing me up but this time, driven by curiosity, my attention was turned to the tiny lapel pinned to his shirt. On it was the wearer's name. Underneath, in almost microscopic lettering, were the words:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
To the uninitiated, such a title or church name looks impressive. After all, as a believer in Jesus as my Saviour and a member of Ascot Life Church, a revamped Baptist Church in East Berkshire, am I not a latter-day saint myself?
I immediately spoke before he could get a word in, my actual speech here in italics.
Oh, you're Mormons! I have visited your headquarters over at Utah.
(That is, in Salt Lake City.)
I then went on:
I'm already familiar with Joseph Smith and his finding of the golden tablets buried in New York State. (Actually, I should have said "golden plates").
Tell me, what has happened to those tablets? Why aren't they in a museum where they can be checked (for their authenticity) as well as to be seen by the public?
The Mormon looked as if a little too embarrassed to answer. He already knows that the reason why those plates would never be found at any museum, nor stored away at some secret vault, is because they were taken up to Heaven by an angel soon after Joseph Smith had finished with them.
I only read the Bible, I said, and I don't read any back-up books (referring to the Book of Mormon, said to be written by Joseph Smith as a direct English translation of the golden plates, originally written in "Reformed Egyptian" - a language unknown to secular linguists, with him using a huge pair of oversized spectacles, known as Urim and Thummim, which was also taken up to Heaven!)
Carefully avoiding the words, I believe, which would have weakened my testimony, I then finished the conversation:
I know Jesus Christ as my Saviour. He died on the Cross so that he gives eternal life to anyone who believes. Sorry, I have to go. I have a train to catch.
I immediately began to regret cutting the talk short so quickly. I wished that I have emphasised his physical Resurrection from the dead, despite not fully knowing what the Mormon's view is of the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Although I perhaps should have known. After all, I did visit their Headquarters in Salt Lake City. The site boasted the Temple, not open to the public, a choir auditorium which is open to visitors, and the Visitor's Center, which is a museum of the history and belief on the Mormon faith. Here and there were quotes from the Bible, but none on display from the Book of Mormon, which is held on equal terms by them as being the inspired Word of God, alongside the Bible itself.
For the uninitiated, the history on which their whole faith rests can be taxing to the sane mind. The story goes that after trying out different Protestant churches across New York State and finding them all bickering against each other, Joseph Smith prayed to attend the right church. The answer he received back was quite extraordinary. He saw visions of disembodied spirits of two or three of the original apostles, along with an angel, who instructed him not to attend any of those churches, but instead to go to a certain site in the countryside with a spade and to dig up some golden plates and a huge pair of glasses, and to write in English what is written on the plates. The spectacles themselves will translate the text from "Reformed Egyptian" into English.
The story goes that during the Jewish exile from Babylon, around 600 BC, a group of them, known as Nephites, got into large boats and sailed the length of the Mediterranean and out into the Atlantic Ocean until they reached the continent of North America, and then built and settled into townships at was is now New York State. The leader of that community, Lehi, wrote on golden plates and had them buried for future posterity.
It 's a fascinating story. And despite that there is no archaeological evidence of any settlement dating back to that time in America, neither has any kind of "Reformed Egyptian" as a written language has ever been found on either the Old World or the New World alike. Furthermore, the ancient Jews had no history of being seafarers, and their language would have been Hebrew, possibly Aramaic as well, but certainly not Egyptian, reformed or whatever.
|Joseph Smith has a Vision...|
Yet these people I met in Reading, in Utah, as well as in my own apartment, all fully believed in these things and rested their eternities on such faith. To them, salvation is achieved through a combination of both faith and works: Faith in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ plus works in entering a covenant of baptism, constant repentance from sins, the partaking of the sacraments, and eternal marriage, the latter doesn't hold much hope for singles. All to earn and secure their own eternities.
Reading about the early Mormon settlers as they face persecution and then left to wander like nomads across the continent until finally settling in the State of Utah, they suffered for their faith. Even Joseph Smith, the founder of the movement, was martyred, calling curses on his persecutors rather than forgiveness, as both Jesus and Stephen did (Luke 23:34, Acts 7:60).
How such a story, lacking in any historical credibility, could convert someone to the point that he would suffer martyrdom, beats me. Yet they are convinced they are on the right path to reconciliation with God and surety of future sonship with him. This also reminds me of the stories told about Jehovah's Witnesses, another cult which has its origins in New York, putting themselves at risk of death in a hospital rather than accept a blood transfusion.
Massive family arguments had occurred in hospitals over this issue. There have been cases when the patient himself, often a child or an adolescent, would have consented to a transfusion. The doctors would have happily gone along with the youngster's consent, had it not been for the fierce opposition from his faithful parents or relatives. Conversely, there were many J.W. patients who have resisted a transfusion to the bitter end, despite pleading from both non-believing relatives and doctors alike. They are all convinced that whether breaking a Mormon covenant or disobeying the dictates of the Watchtower Society, any hope of salvation is lost.
But more than this, each of these followers is convinced that he is right and all others are wrong. It's not just a matter of holding on to the right doctrine, but also a heartfelt conviction. And I could say this about all religions. Whether Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, Roman Catholic, Islam, Buddhism, Hindu - all have a heart conviction from one degree to another that they are on the right path to God.
Therefore, it leaves me to ask: Where do I stand? Even in my own church at Ascot, I was told specifically by just one person that when I stand before the Throne of Judgement, I will cry out:
Lord, Lord, have I not prophesied in your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in your name done many wonderful works?
To which the Lord's reply:
I never knew you, depart from me all ye who work iniquity.
Not that I actually prophesied in public in his name, nor have I driven out any demons, at least as far as I know. And many wonderful works - what "wonderful works"? Nevertheless, I was branded as wicked by this same person. And remarkably enough, it was not because I denied the Lord, whether publicly or secretly. Rather it was because I don't act like a "proper British person" whatever that suppose to mean - oh yes, I hug other people in public, I also lack self reserve, I have a trembling lower lip instead of a stiff upper one, and, according to this guy, I'm not that well educated. In reality, he is not the only one. There are several other Christian men who know me well, from other churches, who also exclude me, for example, from such Facebook profile sharing, for precisely the same reasons. Therefore, there are times I tend to feel that I'm standing all alone.
But I'm not all alone! Far from it. How can I be assured that I'm in the "right religion"? How can I be assured that my relationship with God is healthy?
Daily reading of the Bible and getting to know the Bible thoroughly. Knowing that from the moment I believe, God the Judge imputes his righteousness, that is, the very righteousness of Jesus Christ, into my soul, quickening my spirit, regenerating me, making me a son of God. And once that stage is accomplished, it can never be reversed. It's God who does the saving and its God who does the keeping afterwards. No other religion teaches this! It's not taught in the Mormon faith, neither among Jehovah's Witnesses nor even in the Catholic faith. My trust is in God alone, but furthermore, at my church at Ascot, there are many who accepts me as a brother and a friend, share Facebook profiles, and asks me to pray with them. When it comes to men's fellowship dinners and socials, I'm normally invited. And in all, my hugs go down well with them.
Faith in Christ is the only way to God the Father. He himself said so. For example, John 14:6 says:
I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
But there is much, much more than just this. Jesus is the only one who fulfils Old Testament prophecy. For example, he is foretold in Genesis 3:15, when, at the very dawn of history, a prophecy about the seed of the woman bruising the head of the serpent, is made, ushering the Promise, which remains unhindered right up to the Crucifixion. Other astonishing prophecies such as Psalm 22, where King David foretells about the agony of Christ on the Cross, being mocked by the crowd surrounding him, and the throwing of dice over his clothing.
And read Isaiah 52:13-15 and the whole of Isaiah 53, a prophecy about the servanthood and suffering of Jesus on the Cross. And Zechariah 9:9, where a prophecy of the Lord's triumphant entry is foretold, along with Zechariah 11:12-13, which is a foretelling of the thirty pieces of silver God is priced at. Other prophecies such as Job 19:25-27 Job cries out that he will see his Redeemer after his skin has decayed, long after his own death, yet in his flesh, he will see God, because he already knows that his Redeemer lives (that is, Resurrected from the dead). Indeed, Eternal Security of the Believer is not confined only to the New Testament! Rather, it's intricately linked with the resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth from the dead.
These are great truths, wonderful truths, fascinating truths! Jesus himself had said:
I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No man comes to the Father except through me.
Jesus Christ of Nazareth is actually the Truth himself, not merely the source of truth or the right doctrine. This I know, that trusting in Jesus Christ to save me is the only way to the Father. And with this comes forgiveness of all sins - past, present and future, imputed righteousness, and adoption into God's family, which includes fellowship with other Christian believers.
Abraham once said, I'm but dust and ashes. Genesis 18:27.
King David, in addressing Saul, admitted I am but a dead dog, a flea. 1 Samuel 24:14.
Isaiah cries out: Woe is me, I am undone. For I am a man of unclean lips... Isaiah 6:5.
Paul the Apostle writes: In me dwells no good thing, that is, in my flesh... Romans 7:18.
With such statements, coupled with my own life's experiences, I know full well that I'm no better than those quoted four. Yet these four men were some of the greatest men of God in human history. All had faith in God, and not in themselves.
That is why no Mormon can help me, nor any Jehovah's witness, nor any religion or faith that adds works of any kind to faith. Nor any faith, come to that, which insist that I must stay faithful in order to remain saved.
In me dwells no good thing, that is, in my flesh... It's impossible to add an iota of human effort to be saved or even to remain saved. It's all about God, his faithfulness, and his promise to keep everyone who believes.