Thousands gathered in the historic Mormon Tabernacle on November 14, 2004 to hear Dr. Ravi Zacharias, the world renowned defender of the Christian faith, speak on Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life. However, the powerful talk by Dr. Zacharias has been virtually lost in the shuffle due to remarks made prior to his taking the pulpit. Dr. Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary in California was asked to give a few words and in doing so made ‘an apology’ that also contained several accusations against the evangelical community.
In his opening address at the Mormon Tabernacle, Dr. Mouw made a number of remarks that many Christians feel were hurtful to evangelism efforts among the LDS people:
“Our public relations between our two communities have been-to put it mildly-decidedly unfriendly. From the very beginning, when Joseph Smith organized his church in 1830, my evangelical forebears hurled angry accusations and vehement denunciations at the Mormon community-a practice that continues from some evangelical quarters even into this present day. “
Mouw did not elaborate but is it possible that these ‘angry and vehement denunciations’ had to do with responding to Smith’s false prophecies and false teachings? In other words, were the ‘evangelical forbears’ contending ‘earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints’ (Jude 3)?
Mouw went on to claim:
“I am now convinced that we evangelicals have often seriously misrepresented the beliefs and practices of the Mormon community. Indeed, let me state it bluntly to the LDS folks here this evening: we have sinned against you. The God of the Scriptures makes it clear that it is a terrible thing to bear false witness against our neighbors, and we have been guilty of that sort of transgression in things we have said about you.”
We do not deny that there have been evangelical Christians who have been careless and even spiteful in their portrayal of the Mormon faith. However, the excesses of a few who address the false teachings of the Mormon Church does not invalidate the conscientious work of most Christian outreaches to Mormons today. EMNR is dedicated to responsible biblical evangelism to the New Religions, and we include several ministries to Mormons among our constituents, such as Mormonism Research Ministry, the Institute for Religious Research, Word for the Weary, Watchman Fellowship and Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. We do not wish to see Dr. Mouw’s words turned into a tar brush which discounts the witness made by these servants of Christ.
Thirdly, he called for Evangelicals to participate in the 200th anniversary celebration of Joseph Smith’s birth:
“In just a month and a half we will greet the year 2005, which marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Smith. During this year there will be many occasions to pay special attention to Joseph’s life and teachings, and I hope many in the evangelical community will take part in those events.”
Many contacted Dr. Mouw asking for clarification. Who exactly is the ‘we’ he was referring to in his apology, and who was he accusing of bearing false witness? In what way was Mormonism being misrepresented and should we really join in the celebration of a false prophet? His clarification was that the ‘we’ were those who were involved with exposing the false teachings of the Mormon Church on the nature of God and nature of salvation. He named two men specifically; Dave Hunt and the late Dr. Walter Martin. It is difficult to believe that he only meant to criticize folks like Walter Martin or Dave Hunt since Mouw made a similar blanket criticism on page 11 of the foreword of The New Mormon Challenge in 2002 where he asserted:
On a more technical point, I have received emails in the past few days where evangelicals have said that Mormonism teaches that God was once a human being like us, and we can become gods just like God now is. Mormon leaders have specifically stated that such a teaching, while stated by past leaders, is something they don’t understand and has no functioning place in present-day Mormon doctrine. Bob Millet has made the same point to many of us, and Stephen Robinson insisted, in the book he co-authored with Craig Blomberg, that this is not an official Mormon teaching
Mouw’s clarification tends to prove what EMNR have suspected for quite a while; that he is getting his understanding of Mormonism from professors at BYU rather than the General Authorities of the LDS Church which determines the official doctrine of the church. It needs to be clearly understood; the LDS Church has not nor does it appear that in the foreseeable future they will officially be backing off of its understanding of Lorenzo Snow’s “As man is, God once was” couplet. In fact, Millet himself supported the teaching that God was once a man in an Ensign article titled ‘The Eternal Gospel.’ In this article Millet states, “Knowing what we know concerning God our Father — that he is a personal being; that he has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as our own; that he is an exalted and glorified being; that he was once a man and dwelt on an earth – and knowing that this knowledge was had by many of the ancients, should we be surprised to find legends and myths throughout the cultures of the earth concerning gods who have divine power but human attributes and passions?” (‘The Eternal Gospel,’ Ensign magazine, July 1996, pg. 53).
In his November 14th address Dr. Mouw quoted Joseph Smith regarding justification and sanctification as if Smith (or the Mormon Church) defines these terms the same way as Evangelicals. Officially, the LDS Church defines justification as, “All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations” (D. & C. 132:7), “in which men must abide to be saved and exalted, must be entered into and performed in righteousness so that the Holy Spirit can justify the candidate for salvation in what has been done.” (1 Ne. 16:2; Jac. 2:13-14; Alma 41:15; D. & C. 98; 132:1, 62.). It is our hope for the sake of every student attending Fuller Seminary that Dr. Mouw does not hold a similar view.
We understand that Mouw has developed personal friendships with some of the professors at BYU. However, Mouw’s trust in these men becomes especially problematic when one considers that Millet, Robinson and other LDS scholars do not speak for the church in any official capacity; especially in terms of reversing the church’s official teachings. Their opinions are not the same as the church’s official positions.
We have no problem with and in fact encourage Christian scholars dialoguing with Mormon scholars and would rejoice if the Mormon Church, as the World Wide Church of God did several years ago, rejects their false teachings and embrace the historic biblical teachings on the essentials of the faith. We are concerned about what the outcome will actually be when Mouw and others choose to believe BYU professors in Provo, instead of studying primary sources from the leaders who work in Salt Lake City and state the official doctrine. In the words of Ravi Zacharias, “Truth cannot be sacrificed at the altar of pretended tolerance.”
Dr. Mouw’s comments were irresponsible, shameful and hypocritical. He bore false witness against many fruitful ministries that want nothing more than to present a clear and accurate case when it comes to the teachings of Mormonism and the presentation of the gospel and the Christ of Scripture. Given how he has defined ‘bearing false witness,’ we are unclear how Dr. Mouw can think his broad brush accusations were any less a sin than the stereotypes he claims have been foisted on Mormons. Dr. Richard Mouw owes an apology to the many missionaries and ministries he has undermined.