If you can, imagine the following conversation without falling asleep.
“You Mormons are dead wrong and are going to hell.”
“Because you say that God has a body, when John 4:24 says God is a spirit.”
“That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a body. It also says that we need to worship God ‘in spirit and in truth.’ Do we need to leave our bodies to worship Him? When John says elsewhere that ‘God is love,’ does that mean He’s not a spirit anymore?”
“Yeah, well, John also says that ‘no man hath seen God at any time.’ Kind of makes Joseph Smith look like a crackpot, then, doesn’t it?”
“Is Moses a crackpot too, then? Exodus 33:11 says that Moses spoke to God ‘face to face, as a man speaketh to his friend.’ Acts 7:55 says that Stephen saw Jesus ‘on the right hand of God.’ By the way, don’t you have to have a body to have a right hand?”
“He was speaking figuratively. You would know that if you trusted the complete Word of God. The Book of Revelations says that you should not add to or take away from the Bible.”
“It’s the book of Revelation, bonehead. No S. And that was written long before the Bible was compiled, and refers to John’s Revelation only. Virtually the same verse appears in Deuteronomy 4:2. Should we toss out the whole New Testament?”
“You’d like us to, wouldn’t you? It’s the New Testament that tells us to beware of false prophets, like your Joseph Smith quack.”
“So why doesn’t it just say ‘beware of prophets?’ If we’re only supposed to watch out for false prophets, doesn’t that imply that there will be true prophets, too? The New Testament also mentions baptism for the dead in 1 Corinthians 15:29. Why doesn’t your church practice baptism for the dead?”
Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.
(It’s over. You can start reading this blog post again.)
Believe it or not, I’ve had the discussion outlined above, or at least variations of it. In such conversations, I’ve also wandered into Ezekiel and Isaiah’s prophecies about the Book of Mormon; we’ve hashed out whether or not it’s OK to give blood; and whether or not the Mormons have a transatlantic tunnel that begins in London and leads to the Salt Lake Temple, where British women are married off to men with beards and/or Orrin Hatch.
You may be startled to learn that such conversations usually fail to make converts on either side.
Mormon missionaries refer to such events as “Bible bashes.” They’re nasty, nasty affairs, and everyone involved usually ends up walking away angry. Revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants warn against such nonsense. Section 19, verse 31 reads as follows:
And of tenets thou shalt not talk, but thou shalt declare repentance and faith on the Savior, and remission of sins by baptism, and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost.
I’ve learned that the Holy Ghost isn’t argumentative or contentious. He’s not interested in legalistic wrangling over tenets. He speaks with a still small voice, not with a bullhorn and a subpoena.
That’s not to say that the principles we believe in are irrelevant, or that they don’t stand up to scrutiny. It’s that heated arguments over Bible verses don’t shed any light on anything. Many members of the Church like to refer solely to the Bible to make their arguments, because the Bible is common ground between our faith and the Christian world.
But the Bible is not common ground. The Bible is battleground.
The Christian world has been fighting over the Bible for centuries, if not millennia. The Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox churches have excommunicated each other; the Protestants have rejected the authority of both of them, and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of sects of Christianity have sprung up all over the world, each of which has a different spin on which scriptures should be interpreted literally, which are figurative, which are unimportant (Martin Luther called the Book of James a “straw book”) and which are essential to salvation. They also have a hard time deciding on what the Bible actually is. The Catholic Bible is bigger than the Protestant 66-book version, and each version has scriptures that refer to books that aren’t part of the canon.
Even if you can agree on what books should be included, the Bible is not an Ikea owner’s manual. It’s hardly self-explanatory. Imagine if you dropped the text of the King James Bible on seven different English-speaking planets and told them to fashion a religion around it. Do you think all seven would be identical, or even similar? Do you think they would bear any resemblance to any churches now in existence? Do you think, for instance, that any one of them would come up with the Athanasian Creed or Easter eggs hidden by bunnies?
It’s important to recognize that the Bible, in and of itself, is not religion. It is, rather, the record of people who had religion. And these people had no Bible, or at least no New Testament. Rather than wrangle over what Peter meant in his epistles, they were able to ask Peter directly. The same Spirit that led Peter and Paul to minister to the New Testament church is necessary in order to step away from the dead letter of ancient texts and into the living power of God. “For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6)
Mormons that decide to engage in this battle are not only wasting their time, they’re ignoring the charge they’ve been given. We revere the Bible, but we don’t worship it. We worship the Living God instead. Our message is that God continues to speak, and that revelation didn’t end when the apostles did. That’s a message that comes by speaking with boldness and power, not through bickering and squabbles that lead nowhere.
Although I ought to share one Bible bash I had back on the streets of Dundee, Scotland, that was particularly memorable.
Some evangelicals were holding a street meeting, and my missionary companion and I were the only ones paying any attention to it. Pretty soon, they were standing in a circle around me, firing off nasty questions, with me firing back. (My companion had the good sense to keep his head down and wait until the whole thing blew over.)
In the middle of the fracas, a woman in a pirate’s outfit came storming through the middle of it, asking iof we knew where we could find buried treasure. Annoyed at the interruption, I pointed at a nearby building and said, “It’s over there!”
“That’s a bank!” she said, scoffing, as she hit me over the head with a plastic baseball bat.
Turns out she was a TV host of a popular British children’s program, and I was on national television the next day. So the moral of the story is, if you want to be a British TV star, you should argue about Bible verses in the public square.
I’m sorry, what was my point again?