What Would Make Mormons a Christian Denomination?

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Good afternoon everybody (or evening, or morning, or middle of the night depending on when you are reading this).  As I am typing this we have a blizzard developing outside my Utah door that is incredibly beautiful.  I wish I could share it with all of you but pictures would not do it justice.

It has been over a week since I last posted, which means my New Year’s Resolution to blog almost every day is going terribly.  But this morning a friend sent me an email and asked me a question that has been on my heart and mind a lot over the last couple years.  This email came from a couple who lives in a town that is 95% Mormon.  They left the Mormon church years ago but still love the Utah Mormon culture.  Last summer they reached out to me asking about the Church of the Nazarene and I have become their pastor over the last several months.

She more or less pointed out that there are members of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles whom she respects and whom she believes are steering the Mormon church in a Christ like direction.  However, she also noted that several Christians she talks with don’t share that belief at all.  Instead they argue that the “Christ” talk is just a deceptive PR stunt.  She wanted to know my thoughts.

I assured her and I assure you that I am not an expert in Mormonism at all.  However, over the last couple years I have spoken with many who are experts including a Southern Baptist Missionary who has a PhD in Mormonism and Richard Muow, the former President of Fuller Theological Seminary who meets regularly with the Mormon leadership.  I have also read some books about the relationship of Mormonism to Christianity that were insightful.  In addition I am friends with several Nazarene scholars who regularly meet with BYU professors and I have also listened to some lectures by an evangelical pastor out of Provo.

And I still find it incredibly difficult to say that the Mormon denomination is a Christian one.  The most gracious I can be is to echo what the previously mentioned pastor in Provo said in one of his lectures: “I do believe many Mormons will be saved, but it will be despite Mormonism, not because of it.”  For the record I also believe many members of the Church of the Nazarene will be saved despite our denomination.  And I believe the same thing about Baptists and Assembly of God and Catholics and Lutherans and any other.  After all it is by grace that we are saved, not by church membership.

However, to call an institution itself Christian requires something more succinct than the generic statement above.  I have thought long and hard about the circumstances that would have to happen for me to be able to call Mormons a Christian denomination.  The email from my friend gave me opportunity to sit down and write two lists that have been germinating in my head.  The first list is of the non-negotiables.  They are the things the top tier of the Mormon leadership must do in order make Mormonism Christian.  The second list are things that would make it easier for me to call them Christian, but that aren’t necessarily deal breakers.  You will notice the second list is longer than the first.  Regarding that second list, be assured I have similar lists for my denomination and, if I am being completely honest, most other Christian denominations.

List 1: What Would Make Mormons a Christian Denomination?

  1. Full acceptance of the Nicene Creed along with First 7 Ecumenical Councils (including full deity of Jesus and full equality of the Trinity)
  2. Statement placing the inspiration of the Old and New Testaments over the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price and Doctrines and Covenants  (This would not be a rejection of the Mormon documents per say but a relegation of their authority to that under the Scriptures.)

List 2: Things I Personally Would Like to See:

(Of note: some of these are all ready happening)

  1. Stop proselytizing people from Christian denominations
  2. Stop rebaptizing those from Christian denominations
  3. Start teaching the stories about the life and teachings of Jesus from the four canonical gospels as part of a catechism process for children.
  4. Relax some but not necessarily all requirements on temple recommends so that Christians from other denominations can participate in some manner.
  5. Rejection of the tiered eschatology (i.e. terrestrial, celestial and telestial levels of heaven).
  6. Full and public rejection of eternal marriage, especially eschatological polygamy (i.e. that divorced Mormons who were married multiple times in the temple will be married to multiple wives in heaven).

I have other things I am sure to add to that second list but it is a snowy Sunday afternoon and my head is spinning with other things.  Be that as it may, those are my thoughts from someone who is on the ground doing ministry in Utah!  Have a blessed day wherever and whenever you are!

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Why I Am Not Writing About Which Lives Matter or Who Should Be President or The Weather

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When I was a kid there was an old proverb going around that I think had been going around for a good century.  It went something like this, “Do not talk about politics and religion in polite company.  Better to stick to sports and the weather.”

I’ll never forget the moment I realized the last sentence in that tidbit wasn’t true any more.  I had moved to a small town in Eastern Oregon from the Midwest.  I was sitting in the local sandwich shop that sat a block from my church.  I was trying to get to know the owner, a bright woman with an entrepreneurial spirit and fun personality.  Somehow we got to talking about the weather, probably because we were polite people.

I made some statement about the fact that I was glad that I wasn’t in tornado alley any more.

She stopped and stared at me and said, “Oh, we get tornadoes here” as if she was genuinely concerned that I had been misled.

I almost laughed out loud.  Northeast Oregon is surrounded by 9,000 foot tall mountains.  They do not get tornadoes.

“Well I suppose you get little dust funnels out on the farm fields but not like Missouri where people’s homes get destroyed.”

The tone of the conversation changed drastically.  Her concerned expression turned to a glare.

“No, you need to know here that the wind blows pretty hard.  In 1967 a tornado knocked a single wide trailer right off its cinder block foundation!”

I suddenly realized I was in an argument I didn’t even want to win and so back tracked and said, “Oh really?  Thanks for letting me know!” and changed the subject to sports which she gratefully knew nothing about.

I could list thirty more conversations I have had that are very similar to this.  When I started my current assignment I made the horrible mistake of asking my worship team to pray right before our worship service.  I thought, “Everybody loves prayer!”  I am still paying for that horrible request.  Right after that I suggested to the wrong person that we look into painting our fellowship hall.  He let me know in no small way that I was not to touch that fellowship hall and still, a year later, won’t meet with me outside of Sunday morning.  I can’t open my mouth about anything any more without some unexpected backlash.

This illustrates that keeping polite company any more is a brutal chore.  People don’t value civility any more.  Instead they value their own opinions and how right they think they are.

Some of my friends have given up entirely.  They seem to adore the national and theological arguments that are destroying politeness.  Every time something goes down regarding guns, the LGBTQ community, women’s rights, or national elections their Facebook profile is instantly water marked and their statuses hashtagged with activism.  Whether conservative or liberal, they seem to love the chance to post divisive cartoons, tired talking points, angry blogs and partisan articles.  They seem sincere in this, like they genuinely believe they are doing society some good.

You older, anti technology types should not be fooled.  This did not start with the invention of Facebook.  I know a lot of people I meet with face to face who are just as boisterous.  They yell and share their opinions with anyone who will listen and they want to bait you into the argument so they can drag you down to their level and beat you with their experience.  They have succeeded to do that to me more times than I can count.

But don’t get me wrong, I am envious of their freedom.  I wish I felt like I had the freedom to just post whatever opinion I wanted to.  In fact sometimes I feel guilty for not chiming in and joining my “side” with my carefully informed and well formed opinions.  I bet I could even articulate them better than half the internet and that alone might do some good.

Or it definitely won’t.

Because every time I do chime in, whether online or in real life, I instantly feel guilty.  I cried for days that I had let the color of our fellowship hall come between me and a beloved parishioner.  I am still in mourning over insisting my worship team pray during a time that just would not work for them.  I should have reversed harder and quicker.  I definitely did learn my lessons though.

When I do chime in on my opinions, it is almost like I had just smoked my first cigarette.  There is a rush of rebellious satisfaction followed by nothing but guilt and a hacking cough as I wonder:

What will my church people think?

Will I lose my job over this?

Does that person still love me?

What will my liberal best friend or my conservative uncle think?

What if this new couple who has just started attending our church disagrees and decides our church isn’t right for them because of it?

Then I delete, delete, delete.  Or if it is in person, apologize, apologize, apologize.

In today’s world having and sharing opinions is just too costly.  The price is too high, especially for pastors.  In ages past you were allowed to think differently than someone without losing your salary, your position, even your ordination and definitely your friends.  This is not true any more.  People care more about the weather and what color their fellowship hall should be than they do about each other.  I don’t want to be one of them.

My friendship with you is far too important to me.  If you are going to terminate it because I think Oregon doesn’t get tornadoes than by all means, “watch out for those funnel clouds!”  If you want me to liberal, I will be liberal for you.  If you want me to be conservative,  I will be conservative for you.  If you love our fellowship hall just the way it is, than it is the most beautiful fellowship hall I have ever seen!

You can call me wishy-washy but know that I am not.  I know what I believe and I do act on it.   My best friends and wife will certainly attest to that!  I just try really hard not to let you know what I believe because I would rather keep being your friend.

Rather, you can say I am a coward because I am.  You can say I care too much about what people think because I do.  You can say I like having money to feed my family more than I like “the gospel.”  That is fair, though I would argue my opinions and your opinions about national affairs are NOT the gospel.

Ultimately we now live in a world where pride is alienating us from each other and I desperately crave true, civil, Christian friendship.  And if the price of my friendship with you is letting you have your opinions while thinking (most times wrongly) that I agree with you, than so be it.  I want to be your friend and that is worth the price of constantly biting my tongue and not clicking the “share” button.

Rethinking my Re-thoughts on God and Football

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Praise Football from whom all blessings flow! Praise touchdowns for his highness below! Okay I will stop.

I am not going to lie.  I wholeheartedly believe that Christianity’s idolization of American Football has become.  .  .well, idolatrous.  Also, I am not going to lie.  I like football.  It is a really fun game to both play and watch.  I will even go further to argue that we owe our professional entertainers (from actors to musicians to sports players) a livable wage, maybe not a wage that exceeds that of most countries, but a wage nonetheless.

Putting all that aside, I get really nervous when people start talking about God helping football players win, especially the ones who make great public spectacles of religiosity like praying after every touchdown and talking about God during press conferences.  That just seems to go against the grain of Matthew 6 a bit much.

Also, I have read other parts of Scripture, passages like, Psalm 146:7, “God upholds the cause of the oppressed” and others like it that seem to suggest that God is more concerned with things like looking out for the poor and the oppressed than with helping independently wealthy athletes score more touchdowns to get more money to cause more concussive brain injuries.  It makes me even more nervous when these athletes go home and beat up their spouses and children. (source although to be fair, countersource)

The things God seems to be engaged in doing.

I am quite passionate about this, as you can probably tell, so much so that I have blogged about it before.

However, something happened over the last couple weeks that has caused me to rethink my thoughts about God and football.  Simply put, I read Luke 6 again.

Verse 35 has always stood out to me, especially the last phrase which states quite clearly, “[God] is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”

This is what God is supposed to do to wicked people!

The God I grew up worshiping was not kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  In fact, being ungrateful was a great way to get God mad at you.  Being all out wicked (a word we reserve for the worst of the worse) was the best way to get God to pummel you into a fiery eternity.  As for entire nations of wicked people.  .  .well God would certainly disband them quite soon, even though it took God about a 1,000 years to disband Rome after the very wicked Pax Romana. But who has time for the study of history when you are trying to convince your compatriots to not be evil nor get destroyed?

Someone stop Jesus from talking on mountains. He starts to say some pretty bizarre things when he does!

And yet right there, coming from the mouth of Jesus no less, we find out that God is not actively decimating the wicked.  Instead God is showing kindness to them.  I love that Jesus used the word “kind” here instead of something more generic like, “love.”  If it were “love” we could hide behind sentimentality, saying such ridiculous things like, “God loves them but still will destroy them, but you know, out of love.”

That is not what kindness means.  Kindness means God is actively doing gracious and kind things to wicked people.  This isn’t a lone verse.  There are echoes of this in other parts of the Bible.  You can look at Mathew 5:45 watered down version where Jesus says that God sends both the sun and the rain on good and wicked people alike.  You can also look to particular narratives like God’s deaalings with Jacob in Genesis.

Concerning football this might mean that once in awhile God takes a break from upholding the cause of the oppressed to help a wicked person score a touchdown.  It might also mean no matter of prayer and religious grandstanding is going to help you win that football game.  In the end God might just offer a miraculous hail-mary catch to the “wicked” team because God decided to have some fun with our silly sports that day.

Of course, one can surmise that this would have something to do with prevenient grace.  Prevenient grace is this idea (on which I base my blog) that God’s gracious provision goes before us and meets us in our wicked states to invite us into a relationship with God.

This might mean there is no problem in telling that wicked, concussed, wife abuser of a football player that God did help him win.  Now in order to respond graciously to God’s grace, he should leave his violent sport and lifestyle, give all his money to the poor, seek forgiveness from those he has harmed and offer himself as a living sacrifice to God’s mission of helping oppressed people.

Oooooh, concussive brain injuries, yum!

Or maybe this has nothing to do with prevenient grace and God just enjoys blessing the wicked because that is who God is by nature.

Or maybe I was right at the very beginning of all this, that God really doesn’t want anything to do with American Football, no matter how many football players offer shallow prayers after touchdown drives and “give the God the glory” during press conferences.

If that last scenario is the case, then I guess I will conclude with The Hunger Games’ popular mantra, “May the odds [of your favorite team] be ever in [their] favor” because God probably isn’t.

What’s Pastor Kevin Reading: Volf’s Free of Charge

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Two significant things happened this week.  First, I read Miroslav Volf’s “Free of Charge.”  I bought it for $3 which I thought was a ripoff considering the title of the book.  The second was that my 1 year old IPod was stolen out of my unlocked car.

These things were not all that significant in the grand scheme of things.  I read books all the time and stuff gets stolen all the time.  Still the two were related.  Whoever stole my IPod wronged me and Volf’s book is about what to do when wronged.  So they are maybe worth writing about together.

The fun thing about my IPod disappearing was how complex the situation was.  It was not just a thief finding an easy target.  Instead everything about our world gets pulled into this event.

First off, you have my invincible naivete that wholeheartedly believed because I live in a small town things like IPods won’t disappear out of cars.  This naivete remained even after a conversation I had with a police officer who explained to me that stuff disappears out of cars all the time in Elgin.  I didn’t believe him and that was my bad.  So am I to blame?  My wife thinks so but I won’t go there.

Another layer surrounds the Toyota Motor Company who built my car.  The engineer who designed the locks put together an impossibly complex automatic system that sometimes locks the doors after 30 seconds of inactivity and sometimes keeps them unlocked for days on end.  I am sure there is a method to the madness but I haven’t figured it out in the 2 and a half years since buying my Rav4.  Either way, it feels as if the doors should have locked themselves because they do at other times, which means I got out of the habit of locking them myself which means the doors were unlocked which made my IPod easy prey.  So maybe Toyota wronged me by hiring dumb engineers.

Or, just maybe, it was the thief’s fault.  Stealing is wrong, after all, whether the doors are locked or unlocked.  But also, just maybe, the thief was an 8 year old who never learned better because they had bad parents or no parents.  Maybe they were taught what our culture seems to teach any more and that is it is the victim’s fault for not locking their car doors or for buying a car that pretends to lock itself and then does not.  Maybe the thief has been irreparably damaged by what Volf calls, “a culture stripped of grace” and they themselves are the victims while simultaneously also being the criminals.

All that happened was an IPod disappeared and yet the very event calls into question the decisions of myself, a group of engineers in Tokyo (or wherever), a teenager (or kid or young adult) and the entire culture(s) in wVolfhich all of us live.

Considering this, Volf’s book was quite endearing because Volf recognizes our world is anything but simple.  We do not live in the black and white fantasy of absolute right and wrong, world which Sunday School teachers indoctrinate into young children.

Instead, Volf faces the complexity head-on, even concluding at one point that as we peel back the layers of a wrong, we might find that we are the ones needing forgiveness, not giving it.  Still, Volf confronts the complexity with the simple image of God giving and forgiving on the cross.  The cross means that despite the complexity surrounding us, we should still give forgiveness when we feel wronged.  This is because the cross reminds us that only God gives complete and perfect forgiveness.  We just participate in a less complete and imperfect way.

Perhaps the most significant statement in Volf’s book came at the very end, in the afterword.  Volf states, “Some people like to keep their spirituality and their theology neatly separated.  .  .I don’t.  Spirituality that’s not theological will grope in the darkness and theology that’s not spiritual will be emptied of its most important content.”

This is a wonderful sentiment.  It reminds me that even something simple like the disappearance of an IPod is deeply theological.  My reaction to the event cannot be a vague spirituality that attaches all kinds of religious buzzwords to the event.  “They were a hurting soul who did not know better and I hope the love of God overwhelms them and the Scott Daniel’s sermons saved to the hard drive saves their lost souls.”  Gag me now.

Neither can my response be theological affirmations that seek to explain the event.  “By violating one of the sacred Ten Commandments, this teen is now guilty of the condemnation of God.  They haven’t just offended me but the very system that seeks to dispense true justice.”  Even typing that makes me roll my eyes.

Instead what I believe about God and my own acceptance of the God’s forgiveness has filled this event with meaning.  It is not enough to be spiritual.  It is not enough to hide behind theology.  Instead my spiritual response has to be infused with the content of the gospel, a content that says, “Forgive as Christ in God forgave you.”

So with that said, you who stole my IPod, I forgive you.