Thinking Out Loud

March 2, 2017

Christians Should Study Mormonism

A reader wrote asking if I’d ever reviewed any books by Denver Snuffer. I get requests to review self-published books all the time, but this time I found the name intriguing and next thing, I was reading a number of articles on his blog. He’s written a number of books, and has an additional website commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. According to my contact, “He was raised baptist and is now an excommunicated Mormon.  He’s a lawyer who is qualified to practice in the Supreme Court.” But it was this article below, which I thought readers here might find interesting.

 

Christians Should Study Mormonism

by Denver Snuffer

Between the death of Christ’s apostles and the Council of Nicaea, Christianity changed dramatically. It is impossible to account for all that happened to cause the changes. Although some of the writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers (Christian leaders before Nicaea) have been preserved, the records are wholly inadequate to understand everything that happened, and why it happened.

A new religion rarely appears in history. When one does, it presents a unique opportunity for us to study the process.

Religions begin with an inspired leader whose confident vision opens new light and truth into the world. If there is no new vision then the religion won’t survive. But an original, inspired leader is difficult to replicate. Within a short time, the founder’s work is overtaken by others. Their insecurities and fears leave them without the confidence once present at the foundation. Believers donate, and contributions aggregate. A new generation of believers begin to notice the wealth of their movement, and aspiring leaders who would never sacrifice their name, reputation, security and lives are drawn to management, seeking personal benefit from the institution. Bold claims become hollow echoes, and leaders’ insecurity results in defensive and protective steps. Instead of moving forward with inspired new light and truth, the established religion fears and fights against threatened losses.

William James explained the process:

A genuine first-hand experience like this is bound to be a heterodoxy to its witnesses, the prophet appearing as a mere lonely madman. If his doctrine prove contagious enough to spread to any others, it becomes a definite and labeled heresy. But if it then still prove contagious enough to triumph over persecution, it becomes itself an orthodoxy; and when a religion has become an orthodoxy, its day of inwardness is over: the spring is dry; the faithful live at second hand exclusively and stone the prophets in their turn. The new church, in spite of whatever human goodness it may foster, can be henceforth counted on as a staunch ally in every attempt to stifle the spontaneous religious spirit, and to stop all later bubblings of the fountain from which in purer days it drew its own supply of inspiration. Unless, indeed, by adopting new movements of the spirit it can make capital out of them and use them for its selfish corporate designs!” (The Varieties of Religious Experience, being the Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion Delivered at Edinburgh in 1901-1902, Lectures XIV and XV: The Value of Saintlessness.)

Mormonism was founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith who claimed that ten years prior to founding a church he had been visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ. In the intervening years between the first visit and the time a church was organized, Joseph claimed to have been visited by an angelic messenger who delivered to him a new volume of scripture, the Book of Mormon. He claimed to have received revelations before founding the church, and then many more after its organization.

mormon-article-3-2Whether you believe Joseph Smith’s claims or not, he and his followers give a unique opportunity to witness how founding a religion sets in motion a series of predictable events that happen every time a new religion begins. Perhaps the best way to decipher the transition of Christianity from the original Primitive Christianity to its replacement, Historic Christianity, is to study Mormonism. Similar to the way the Primitive Christian church passed away after the death of the apostles, Mormonism has passed away following the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. The same process was at work in both.

Primitive Christianity and Mormonism set out to change the world, and after some initial success, both enjoyed worldly success. Their success diverted attention from saving souls to managing people and property. Paul observed, “the love of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Tim. 6:10.) A new religion is not profitable for the first believers. They are persecuted. They sacrifice their lives and property to follow what they believe to be God’s burden laid on them. Because of their sacrifices, they have faith and know they please God. Without sacrifice, it is impossible to obtain the faith required for salvation. Founders make sacrifices, successors enjoy the fruit of those sacrifices.

In time, the founding gives way to popular approval. John Wesley observed the price that is paid for popular acceptance is the loss of the Spirit.

“It does not appear that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were common in the Church for more than two or three centuries. We seldom hear of them after that fatal period when the Emperor Constantine called himself a Christian;… From this time they almost totally ceased;… The Christians had no more of the Spirit of Christ than the other heathens…. This was the real cause why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the Christian Church; because the Christians were turned Heathens again, and had only a dead form left. Churches all come to depend on money for survival.”

Churches, like the men who belong to them, are just as vulnerable to the “love of money” which leads to “all evil.” People can have the gifts of the Spirit, or they can acquire riches in this world, but cannot have both.

Catholicism grew wealthy from the offerings of its members. When it owned most of the European lands and ruled over all people within Roman Catholic boundaries, it was cold, corrupt, violent and cruel. The transition from persecuted minority to dangerous majority took three centuries. With that status the original was lost.

Mormonism has followed the same path and achieved the same end in less than half the time. If a Christian wants to know how Primitive Christianity was lost to apostasy, the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is where it can be found. Mormon beliefs are so unstable that they now “unequivocally condemn” 10 of the first 11 of their church presidents, including Brigham Young, John Taylor and David O. McKay.

In order to progress forward, we must go back. Since we have no way to recover enough information to understand Christianity’s trek from Jerusalem to Rome, Mormonism allows Christians a view into the transition from Nauvoo to Salt Lake. Both paths followed the same tragic topography.


Go Deeper: In a more recent article Denver Snuffer draws a parallel between the time of Irenaeus and the doctrinal path of Mormonism. Check out Christian Apostasy.

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May 28, 2011

Crystal Cathedral Land, Buildings To Be Sold in June

In a desperate bid to eliminate debt, an Irvine, California real estate partnership will acquire the land and buildings and then grant the church the option to lease back the facility for 15 years.   The church has been cutting back expenses, but membership, weekly attendance and revenue have kept falling faster than the cutbacks.

The debt relief could also allow what the Orange County Register terms “23 insiders” to continue to live in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed.  Although it limits salaries, there isn’t mention of the ever conspicuous “housing allowances” paid to key staff.  The newspaper reports:

Greenlaw Partners would pay $46 million for the cathedral and surrounding buildings, leasing back the cathedral to the ministry. Most of the cash would go to creditors.

After four years, the ministry would have the right to buy back the cathedral, parking lots and most other buildings for $30 million. Greenlaw would get the right to build apartments on some of the 30-acre property…

…The key to the plan is real estate development. Greenlaw wants to build apartments – potentially hundreds of apartments – on what are now parking lots, low-slung buildings and lawns near the corner of Lewis Street and Dawn Avenue.The deal is critical to the ministry’s precarious financial health. Each apartment Greenlaw builds would knock $20,000 off the price the ministry pays to get back the cathedral and its core buildings. In an example cited in court papers, 400 apartments would reduce the repurchase price by $8 million…

…The family of founding Rev. Robert H. Schuller would give up some of its financial power over the cathedral to an independent board. Although the elder Schuller and his wife, Arvella, would sit on that board, an executive board controlled by outsiders would set the ministry’s budget and would also appoint the chief financial officer.

In addition, the bankruptcy plan limits the salary of the ministry’s chief executive officer, Schuller’s daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman, to $69,525 a year.

The church owes about $7.5 million to unsecured creditors including many longtime vendors who provided services for its annual Christmas and Easter pageants. Church administrators say the cathedral will continue its local worship services, community outreach programs and its weekly “Hour of Power” broadcasts. Also, the plan will immediately eliminate both the church’s mortgage and the majority of its vendor debt, they say. Any remaining vendor debt will be repaid over the next 42 months, officials say….

Continue reading the story at OC Register.

Crystal Cathedral staff are quick to lay the blame on economic factors, but readers of this blog know otherwise.   While megachurches elsewhere are booming, the difference lies clearly in the message preached.  Even though some identify the big glass church as within the parameters of Evangelicalism, the church’s “positive thinking” teaching more resembles that of mainline Protestant churches — most of which are also seeing rapidly declining numbers — if not, on some Sundays, coming across with a message that would be fully acceptable to most Unitarians.

The cathedral’s court filings’ blame its financial troubles partly on “unsettled leadership” but mostly on the recession.

However, a financial statement filed Friday shows that the ministry’s losses predate the recession…

Perhaps they predate even the founding of the church.  Let me explain.  Like Chicago’s Willow Creek, the Crystal Cathedral was founded on the basis of a door-to-door survey.  But while Bill Hybels’ neighbors (a) didn’t want to be asked for money and (b) wanted to be anonymous or not singled out; those in Schuller’s survey made it clear they didn’t want to be judged, or preached condemnation.  On that premise, and under the influence of Norman Vincent Peale, Robert H. Schuller embarked on a message of self-improvement that at times is indistinguishable from that of Oprah Winfrey.  In a church-saturated country, it wasn’t the message that either those within the fold, or those outside it craved.

Evangelicals have always admired the quality of the Hour of Power’s television productions, the choir and orchestra, and the colorful list of weekly guests.   But the message was always watered down, light years away from the “full gospel” of Pentecostals, and often not even a “half gospel” that more conservative Christians could endorse.

In the end, Schuller’s own son, Robert A. Schuller couldn’t endorse it either; and the pastor, who credits a Billy Graham crusade with his own personal conversion, began a more aggressive exposition of Biblical texts, much to the dislike of some in the church’s executive branch.

The younger Schuller’s dismissal and absence from the weekly telecast was the wake up call that many faithful viewers needed to realize that there was indeed trouble in the camp. 

And so, the once mighty Crystal Cathedral limps onward, but a shadow of its former self. 

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