Sometimes I think my students resist learning formal register because they feel they are betraying their roots. Here‘s a great discussion on using formal register versus using normal register. I like the easy terms and examples.
I stepped out of the bright sunshine into the cool interior of the visitors’ center at the Mormon temple in Salt Lake City, Utah, curious what I would find. I had the impression that the beliefs of Mormons differed in significant ways from the beliefs of Christians and was on the lookout for what these differences were. My eyes were immediately drawn to the huge photographs mounted on the walls of the visitors’ center. In vivid color, these beautiful pictures depicted scenes from the life of Christ. A pedestal in front of each huge scene captioned the picture with a Scripture verse from the Bible: the birth of Christ, His childhood, His discussion with the Jewish leaders in the temple, His miracles, His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, His crucifixion, His resurrection. Only the last pedestal contained something unfamiliar to me: a verse with a reference I didn’t recognize. The verse said nothing contrary to the timbre of the Christian Scriptures. I strolled around enjoying the beauty and truth. I had not anticipated this emphasis on the Bible and on Jesus in the Mormon mecca.
The familiar Biblical themes continued in the lower level of the visitors’ center. A timeline illustrated by wax figures and other visuals traced God’s revelations to people throughout Old Testament times. All of it was familiar, Biblical, true.
But then the timeline jumped forward to the nineteenth century, and everything turned weird. A man named Joseph Smith was receiving golden tablets from the angel Maroni. These tablets were revelations from God and set up the only “true church,” the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This church had left the earth in apostolic times and had only been reinstituted in the mid 1800s. Murals depicted Jesus’ appearing to Native Americans in a unique history revealed to Joseph Smith.
Outside again in the warm desert sunshine, the strange blend of the Biblical and the distorted continued. In a courtyard containing flowerbeds awash with color stood a couple strange statues: Joseph Smith receiving the Holy Ghost through an anointing by Peter, James and John (who appeared to him in bodily form) and Joseph Smith receiving the Aaronic priesthood!
As we strolled the courtyards surrounding the huge white temple, its spires gleaming white against the clear blue sky, we saw many pairs of Mormon lady missionaries mingling among the tourists. They were marked by their nametags, but their modest apparel and smiling faces also set them apart. They were eager to share their faith with anyone who would listen.
As we chatted with one of these missionaries, my smile could not match hers. She explained that only really dedicated Mormons could ever enter the temple. (She was one of these Mormons.) In a second visitors’ center, I looked at the scale model of the interior of the temple, provided for the perusal of those of us not worthy to enter. A huge baptismal font was held on the rump of giant oxen. Here good Mormons could be baptized in proxy for the dead. Other rooms contained elaborate furnishings and were the site of ceremonies which sealed couples and even families eternally.
How could something seem so almost right and yet so profoundly wrong?
Back in the car, I googled some information from James Walker, a fourth generation Mormon who left the religion to become a Christian. The question burning in me was whether the Mormons had retained enough of the true Gospel to be saved. Jesus says He is the only way to the Father. 1 John 4:15 says, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” Clearly the Mormons were honoring Jesus. So were they saved?
James Walker articulated some of the ways the Mormons have changed the Bible. The crux of the change is in the definition of God. The Mormons believe God used to be a man. After He became God, He and His wife (our Heavenly Mother), conceived billions of spiritual children. These children now populate this earth. In other words, we are these “children of God.” Satan is also one of God’s children, as is Jesus. So while they say that Jesus is the Son of God, they are not talking about the God of the Bible.
Furthermore, the Mormons teach that if one lives as a good Mormon (no drinking coffee or tea, always tithing, etc.), marries a good Mormon, and goes through certain temple ceremonies, he will become god of his own planet when he dies. In other words, we have the capability to be like God in every way. We can be God.
Does that sound familiar? Before his fall, Satan said, “I will make myself like the Most High” (Is. 14:14). Later, he told Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because it will make her “like God” (Gen. 3:5). Six thousand years of anguish have followed these quests to be like God.
In Isaiah 45:5, God states, “I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God.”
A Mormon will say that Jesus is God’s Son. A Mormon will even say that Jesus is God. But when he says the word God, he does not mean the God of the Bible. His terminology is a thin veneer of truth covering a Satanic lie.
I left Utah with an aching heart. I also left convicted. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the dedication of this group following only law surpassed the zeal of those of us claiming to be empowered by grace. The value the Mormons placed on building and maintaining a temple surpassed the value we Christians place on being God’s temple. The evangelistic fervor they displayed was much greater than my own. And their disciplined life style made the American church at large look pretty pitiful in comparison.
Perhaps this is why the deception is so beguiling: because the counterfeit appears more real than the genuine. My visit to Salt Lake City stirred my passion to be a part of a church that provides living definitions for the Bible’s terms, realities that render false definitions empty and lifeless in comparison.
I few months ago I was preparing a lecture for Bible class at school. We were in the minor prophets, and I was listing some attributes of God’s love. “Unconditional,” I jotted down. Then I ran a quick search in Accordance to find a good reference to put with that word.
I couldn’t find one. Not a single verse in the Bible said that God’s love was unconditional. Instead, I found this one in 2 Samuel 7:15:
but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you.
I was familiar with the story of Saul. He was commanded by God to annihilate the Amalekites, leaving no person or animal alive. But he disobeyed, bringing back Agag and the best of the flocks. So God removed His love from Saul. Which must mean that God’s love is not unconditional. Saul failed to meet the condition of God’s love—honoring God’s Word—and God’s love was removed from him.
I did a Google search on the question “Is God’s love unconditional?” and discovered that I was not the first to ask this question. One writer said the phrase “unconditional love” was popularized by the hippies. To them, unconditional love was a love that didn’t ask for any commitment. Think free sex.
That didn’t quite sound like God’s love.
And yet to say that God’s love is conditional seemed heretical. I can never earn God’s love. I can never deserve it. It is vast and it is freely given.
I decided to say that God’s love is “undeserved.” Romans 5:6-8 states this clearly:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
This little incident underscored for me again the importance of word choice in my writing and speaking, especially when I’m endeavoring to communicate truths from the Bible. Saying God’s love is unconditional gives the impression that no matter how we respond to God, God will still love us and we’ll end up in Heaven. That’s heresy. Saying His love is undeserved does not give that false impression.
When I attended Ellerslie a couple years ago, I was really blessed and challenged by the way that Eric Ludy often chose the Bible’s own words as he expounded on the concepts in the Bible. He even used the Greek or Hebrew words sometimes. This served two powerful purposes: It guarded against the subtle error that tends to creep in when we choose our own words with their own connotations, and it made the Bible come alive to me in new ways as I read it and understood the terms that Paul and other writers use to describe the Christian walk. Phrases like “in Christ” and words like “flesh” suddenly had much deeper meaning for me.
Eric’s use of the Hebrew and Greek words also added new dimensions of meaning to his expositions of the Bible. For example, the original Greek word translated “patience” in the KJV actually has the idea of endurance. To run the race with patience (Heb. 12) does not just mean running it without whining—it means running it with perseverance and determination.
Sometimes words and phrases the Bible does not use become so deeply ingrained in our church culture that we don’t even notice they’re not in the Bible. Take the statement that we are saved by “faith alone.” My dad did a search for that phrase in the Bible and noticed it appears once, in James 2:24:
You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
Interesting. And yet many a pastor will preach with conviction that we are saved by “faith alone.”
So don’t underestimate the power of a word. Especially when expounding on the Bible, stick as closely as you can to the original terminology. And be wary anytime of the connotations words carry.