Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Cross, The Crescent and The Cult

I know I'm not the first to notice this, but it occurred to me recently as I was preparing for a youth group bible study on world religions that Mormonism and Islam have a lot in common with one another..  I'm not speaking exhaustively or comprehensively, but perhaps more functionally with some specific examples aside from the classic nomenclature of religion of works (all world religions except one) vs. religion of grace (Christianity).  Or, in the words of Pastor Mark Jasa of the chapel at UCLA, free and not free.  The similarities between Mormonism and Islam, however, go deeper than this.  And yet they are at the core mutually contradictory.  They both require their followers to be wholly involved in the worldview of each.  Which should remind us that all religions do not say essentially the same things about God - as the PC crowd would have us believe - but rather, the thing that is most common to all religions in the world is their mutual incompatibility with one another.  That being said, there are many glaring connections between Islam and Mormonism.

But why you ask?  1 John reminds us to test the spirits that go out claiming to know and speak on behalf of God (1 John 4:1ff).  And it is equally important (so John says) to test these spirits on the basis of the same question that Jesus asked of Peter - who do you say that I am?  Do the Muslims and the Mormons confess the same Jesus as the New Testament?  What do they say about Jesus?  And how can that be used to share the true Gospel (not a false one delivered by angels or alleged messengers) with Mormons or Muslims we may meet and have an opportunity to speak the truth in love with (1 Peter 3:15). 

There really is nothing new under the sun.  You can't teach the devil new tricks.  Mormonism and Islam are - in part - re-used and recycled anti-Trinitarian and Christological heresies, albeit in new packaging.  Fun for the whole family...except the women.  Nevertheless, they are controversies which the early church (and our Lutheran confessions) have struggled with a great deal already and soundly answered (for example, Augsburg Confession, article 1 condemns the Muslims and the Arians and the Formula of Concord continues its defense of the New Testament witness of Jesus with sublime Christology).  This is all part of the apologetic task.  Of course, the issues needed to address both Muslims and Mormons in Christian evangelism and apologetics differ for both (intellectually and existentially), but the "homework" necessary for the Christian to answer and engage these objections/positions can be found under some common loci (or topics for those of you who don't sprechen sie Latin).  In no particular order.  Here. We. Go.

Eye-Witness Accounts.  Or rather, a lack there of.  This is especially helpful in the next section on the historicity and authority of the holy texts for each respective religion.  However, before the Book of Mormon and the Qu'ran were written, both Joseph Smith and Muhammad claim to have been visited by an angel - Joseph Smith by Moroni (and I will partially refrain from using a clever Latin ad hominem here) and Muhammad by the angel Gabriel.  Now, It is entirely possible that they were visited by an angel, but as with the textual problems in the next section, there are no eye-witness accounts to corroborate these claims besides that of the one alleging they saw the angel and that angel told them certain things.  I don't find it odd that men claim to have seen angels (to limit such a possibility would be no different than the pure naturalist).  Not all angels, however carry good news in fact Paul makes it pretty clear that they can carry other things.  So, it's possible that they did see an angel and just as likely that the angel could have been -hmmm, Satan?!  Thank you, Church Lady.  But more on what the angels said in a moment.  What a contrast when compared to the reliable and historically trustworthy eye-witness accounts of the NT and Jesus' claims vindicated by His death and resurrection.  Both Joseph Smith and Muhammad's story would not hold up under cross-examination.

Both Muhammad and Joseph Smith claim to have been told by their respective angels that the religions of their day were corrupt and that they were the chosen ones to usher in a new and pure religion.  Joseph Smith was allegedly told that he must “join none of them, for they were all wrong... that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight, and that all those who taught these religions were all corrupt...” (Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith 2:8-19).  Similarly, the Qu'ran writes: "Yet the Sects are divided concerning Jesus.... Truly, the unbelievers are in the grossest error.” And in Surah 30: “Do not split up your religion into sects, each exulting in its own beliefs.” And in Surah 3 we read: “The only true faith in Allah’s sight is Islam."  Ironically, both Mormonism and Islam are just as divided as any other world religion in terms of sects and splits, many of which came early in the history of both religions.  Conveniently, these new revelations of both Joseph Smith and Muhammad earned them political as well as financial power, not to mention the "benefits" this had in their personal life (one man's benefit is another woman's degradation).

The Veracity and Historicity of the Texts.  In contrast to the overwhelming amount and quality (both in terms of content and dating) the NT manuscript far out weigh both the Book of Mormon and the Qu'ran.  As the eye-witness accounts go so does the veracity of these respective holy texts.  The aforementioned angels were the ones who allegedly delivered the message to write the new texts.  In the case of Mormonism it was the golden plates of Nephi (none of which have ever been found) given to Joseph Smith and then taken by Moroni back to heaven (isn't that convenient) and the "mother book" delivered through Muhammad in Islam which resides in heaven.
These men were also very good at redacting Scripture they had access to at the time - the Old Testament in particular.  One primary reason for such blatant redaction (if not out right plagiarism and then falsification) was the fact that they both believed the Bible - OT and NT - to be lost, corrupted, altered and defiled in transmission, therefore rendering it unreliable.  According to both Joseph Smith and Muhammad, their text was the perfectly translated, transcribed corrective.  And this is the objection many Mormons and Muslims throw at Christians.  "Our text is perfect, incorruptible, etc. yours has been altered and corrupted in transmission."  Both claims are hardly accurate.  In fact many apologists are looking forward to the critical edition of the Qu'ran.  Should be interesting to see what Muslim scholars run on the PR front when that gem hits book shelves.  And while I can only assert this here, the evidence for the veracity of the NT documents is anything but scant or circumstantial.  I recommend books such as John W. Montgomery's Tractatus Logico Theologicus (for this and any issue apologetically related), Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses and FF. Bruce's The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Just to name a few!

Women.  Christianity is often - and unjustly I might add - associated with being patriarchal, misogynistic, etc., etc., etc.  In reality, the NT portrayal of women is a far and above anything in terms of the current practices at the time and greatly surpasses the treatment of women when compared to both Mormonism and Islam.  The first people to discover the empty tomb of Jesus were women, no small thing.  Many followers of Jesus were women - some of whom were significantly involved in His life and the life of the early church including deaconesses.  I would love to know where groups such as National Organization for Women are when little Muslim girls are being killed in "honor" ceremonies and undergoing clitoridectomy, or when they are scheduled to protest against the massive human rights violations and degradation of women in Islamic run, shariah law based societies throughout the world.  I guess the jury is still out on that one too.  Both Islam and Mormonism promote (to greater and lesser degrees) polygamy.  One of Muhammad's wives was even 6 years old.  And no, that is not a typo.  Polygamy does not create more love it destroys families and profoundly hurts women.  And if you've ever watched Sister Wives on TLC you know exactly what I mean.  But no shocker, after all, Mormonism also teaches that the only way a woman – who is intrinsically inferior to a man – can enter into heaven is by being married to a Mormon man. 

Alleged Miracles.  Unlike the miracles of the NT done by Jesus and vindicated by His resurrection from the dead the miracles in Mormonism and Islam lack both the eye-witness accounts and the historical analysis capable of either confirming or denying them. This relegates such events as the moon flying through Muhammad's tunic and the vision of the angels in the woods or the miracle of the seagulls to the logical positivists category of nonsensical truth claims (i.e. nonsense in the scholarly and junior high definition of the word).  And yes, that is a link to Mormonpedia.  Thank you, Micah!

Cult of Personality. Not much needs to be said here.  Suffice it to say that it seems to be no coincidence that the personality of both Muhammad and Joseph Smith had a great deal to do with the early expansion and continued theological devotion of their followers.  The chief difference with this kind of allegiance in distinction to Christianity is that Muhammad and Joseph Smith never claim to be god, but men who claimed to be appointed prophets of God in order to bring about their religious truth claims.  Much has been written about this aspect of both religions.  The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World's Most Intolerant Religion by Robert Spencer is a good one for historical background and personal inquiry with regards to Muhammad and the beginnings of Islam.

Who Is Jesus?  This is the big one.  All theology is Christology.  This is where the early church is extremely helpful - battling Arians (not the hand-waving types), Nestorians, Eutychians and the like.  So, if you're going to spend some time with a Muslim or Mormon this - along with the reliability of the NT - is where you want to spend the time.  Simply because who Mormonism and Islam say Jesus is happens to be radically different than what the NT believes, teaches and confesses about Jesus Christ.  Both Islam and Mormonism have taken a similarly popular position on Jesus: He's a great prophet.  Now this is more nuanced in Mormonism.  But as C.S. Lewis reminds us Jesus did not leave us with that option - calling Him a great prophet.  He's either a liar, lunatic or Lord.  Islam's picture of Jesus is different than Mormonism in that He is a prophet of Allah, but not the Savior/Messiah that Christians make him out to be (Sura 61:6).  One wonders what kind of Christians were around in Muhammad's neighborhood confessing the kinds of things they did.  Perhaps it was Coptic - not known for their allegiance to Chalcedonian Christology or something else - but this is pure speculation on my part.  Islam's Jesus was totally human and that those who regard Him as divine are infidels for whom is reserved a special place in hell.  It's almost as if Jesus was some kind of Islamic John the Baptizer, a forerunner for Muhammad.  But the historical coup de grace is found in Surah 4:157: "They did not really slay him, neither crucified him; only a likeness of that was shown to them."

Whereas the Muslims deny that Jesus was the savior of the world, the Mormons use the terminology but mean something entirely different than orthodox Christianity does.  So, don't be fooled when they say things like: "Jesus was the son of God" and "he is the founder of the faith" and the "savior and redeemer."  Mormons reject the idea that Jesus' divinity implies that he is God, the Son, exclusive of all others.  Lorenzo Snow crafted this saying which reveals their true position on Jesus (and humanity for that matter), namely, that as man is God once was, as God is man can become.  This is a far cry from: There is one Christ, Jesus; yet He possesses two natures, human and divine which are inseparable, indivisible, unconfused and unchanging.  For that which God did not assume He did not redeem.

The other interesting point to make is that what both texts say about Jesus would be inadmissible in a court of law.  The author was not an eye-witness of the events in question and the texts they claim to have written were not anywhere near the time of the events they are want to describe.  These three views on Jesus are also contradictory.  Either Jesus is God Almighty come in human flesh to save the world or he's just a prophet of Allah preparing the way for Muhammad or he's some kind of strange first born spirit creature of God which you too can become with enough work and obedience to the principles and ordinances.  All 3 could be wrong but not all 3 can be right.  And as I've presented elsewhere the evidence points glaringly in the direction of Jesus and the NT.

Political Realm.  This is not meant to be a political position or commentary, merely an observation.  Both Mormonism and Islam rule by theocracy.  There is no separation of church and state.  There's also nothing even close to Lutheran's understanding of the two kingdoms.  Not to mention those who are not Mormon or Muslim are often ostracized in the places where these theo-political rules are the law of the land.

The Spin-Zone.  Glenn Beck.  Need I say more?  Regardless about how you feel politically, the fact that Mormonism (and Islam too) have gone mainstream is intriguing. What it all means is something to save for another day.  But both have undergone huge efforts to make themselves more palatable, more tolerant, less radical and family friendly especially in the United States.

Assurance of Salvation.  It comes down to one phrase:  "Free..and Not Free."  In Islam we hear: "To all those who believe and do deeds of righteousness hath Allah promised forgiveness and a great reward (Surah 5:9).  And according to Surah 10:109, a Muslim who hopes to escape the wrath of Allah and the torment of hell must diligently strive to fulfill the requirements set forth in the 5 pillars.  In Mormonism we hear these familiar words with a new twist: "We labor diligently to write, persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe Christ, and to be reconciled to God; For we know that it is by grace we are saved, after all we can do" - 2 Nephi 25:23.  In both, salvation is promised, but contingent; available but not given freely.  In other words it's entirely based upon works.  What a contrast to Jesus' life and ministry: "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many" - Matthew 20:28.

Furthermore, there is no assurance of salvation in either Mormonism or Islam.  How do you know you are saved?  How do you know if you've ever done enough to earn the great reward?  You don't and that's the problem.  No wonder we hear passages like this in the Qu'ran: "Allah will lead into error whom he pleaseth, and whom he pleaseth he will put in the right" - Surah 6:39.  If salvation is up to you, there is no assurance.  But if it's up to Jesus; it is finished.  His death atones for us and there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.

Revelation.  Both men also claimed that the version (of the Koran or the Book of Mormon) that we have in our possession today is identical to what God revealed to them – and that there are no parts that are lost, altered, or corrupted. Of course the proof that these claims are invalid is found in two books.  In terms of revelation one chief difference is found between progressive revelation in Mormonism and what is called abrogation in Islam.  The former adding new revelations (such as the 1970's proclamation that blacks can now be priests in the Aaronic order) and the latter removing passages previously held to be authoritative in Islam.

Well, congratulations if you made it all the way through this "Jedi training" of sorts.  Here are a couple other books I would recommend in this arena:

The Great Divide: The Failure of Islam and the Triumph of the West and How Christianity Changed the World, both by Alvin J. Schmidt.

Encyclopedic Dictionary of Cults, Sects and World Religions by Larry A. Nichols, George E. Mather and Alvin J. Schmidt.

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