Friday, November 19, 2010

An Open Gospel

I am a proponent of an open Gospel.

I mean “open” in the sense of “open house”; where a real estate agent opens up a house for sale so that interested people can come in and look around. They will poke their noses into the cupboards, check various certificates (termite protection is a big issue here), wander around and generally scrutinize the place. Some will be genuine buyers, others will be just curious. The point of the exercise is to allow the buyer the chance to inspect the property before proceeding further and the real estate agent gets to know the neighbors for potential future business.

By contrast, “closed” refers to the situation where you can see the outside of the house, but you can’t look in; or at least, not until you’re fully signed up or initiated.

My theology for an “open” Gospel is derived from my reading of the Bible. It starts with an act of divine disclosure – God creates the Cosmos so that He can be known by it. Without a creation, God remains alone and there is nothing to which He can be known. He declares His creation “good” (Genesis 1:4 etc) because it fits His purpose and it reflects who He is. He creates humankind in His image, male and female (Genesis 1:27) so that they can recognize Him. Of all God’s creatures, we are the ones with the special privilege of being able to comprehend God; see the comparison with the Angels in Psalm 8:4-6, in which the author of the Letter to the Hebrews sees special significance in Hebrews 2:5-9.

Jesus is God’s ultimate act of self-expression, so much so that John calls him the “word made flesh” (John 1:14). When Christians think of God, they rightly think of Jesus – he is The God, come to make Himself known to us. Perhaps the most confronting image from this story is that of a crucified God, stripped naked and impaled, spread-eagled on a cross for all the world to see. This is God, bearing our sin. This is what our sin does to God. And yet, God triumphs, even over death.

Moving into the church age, we see that the Christian church has always striven to get the word out. Initially by word of mouth and handwritten scripts, then by the printed press and now by the internet. Christians want to make the Gospel of Christ known, and the more they can broadcast it, the better. The Bible is replete with admonitions to do this, not least of which are the concluding words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel;
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
(Matthew 28:18-20).

Did you get the “teaching” part?

God wants to be made known. He wants us to see Him as He fully is. Put it another way; He wants to be scrutinized by us, all of us and not just a select few. It’s “open house”, and we get to set the agenda.

So, I get pretty worked up when I detect the introduction of “secrets” to the Christian Gospel. To me, this cuts right against the whole tenor of God’s self-revelation to us. To put it bluntly, it’s blasphemy of the highest order.

However, these “secrets” do crop up, and they do so in the Christian community. That’s because the people who promote the idea of “secrets” are thinking more like Gnostics than Christians.

Gnosticism has made something of a come-back in recent years, and because western culture has been inculcated with Gnosticism-lite, it’s quite difficult to diagnose.

One of my theological hobbies is to develop diagnostics for heresies and here’s one for Gnosticism – if I find myself thinking that I am justified by my knowledge, then I’m thinking like a Gnostic, not a Christian. Why? Because I am justified by Christ, and Christ alone and He is not me nor is He any part of me. In fact, if I find myself thinking that I am justified by my anything, I am not thinking like a Christian.

Gnostics, as their name suggests, put a great deal of emphasis on knowledge. That’s appealing to an educated and knowledge-based culture like ours, but it’s no accident that the most active proponents (e.g. Elaine Pagels) are those who pride themselves on their knowledge. I’m not saying that knowledge and education are bad, rather that they are not the end-goal of human existence – that’s God’s prerogative.

Further Gnostics pride themselves on their ownership of a “secret” knowledge – a knowledge that is only available to their initiates. They operate a “closed” house.

A prime example is Mormonism. Joseph Smith, it’s founder, joined the Freemasons on 15 March 1842, setting up a Masonic lodge in Nauvoo ( In his early career, Smith promulgated a message that retained some Christian imagery, and this is the Mormonism that is familiar to most everyday Mormons. However, Smith progressively moved to a more secretive form of Gnosticism, introducing an elaborate system of temples, rites and initiations. The difference between the two has been described by Mormons as the "Preparatory Gospel" and the "Full Gospel", but by Mormon critics as the "Bait and switch" (see here for a discussion). Remarkably, both sides acknowledge that there is a difference.

These Mormon Temple rites remain secret today, and Mormons are forbidden to discuss them or what they were taught in them.

However, the keeping of secrets is a hard business in the days of the internet, and any enquirer can quickly search for what they want to find. To cut a long story short, the theology that emerges from these secrets is that Mormonism is actually a polytheistic religion, in which men become Gods by acquiring multiple wives and subscribing to the Church. Brigham Young, Joseph Smith’s direct successor, said “The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy" Journal of Discourses 11:269, 1866. Ask the next Mormon missionary who comes knocking on your door, though you're unlikely to get a knowledgeable answer.

Remember my diagnostic above about “I am justified by my [fill in the blank here]”? Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and the Mormon prophets after them want to tell you that you are justified by your polygamy.

In discussing this with Mormons, the most common response I get is the “milk before meat” thing. It’s a misappropriation of what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 3:2, where he’s actually saying “I’m going to take you back to basics because you seem to think that the Gospel of Christ gives you a license to sin”.

However, the Gnostic isn’t interested in allowing the text to speak for itself because he already has a “special knowledge” that tells him what he wants to know. Why does he have this “special knowledge”? Because he has been initiated into the brotherhood, of course.

I once asked a Mormon Bishop what he thought the main intent of Christ’s mission was. He replied that it was to give us the ordinances and principals of the Gospel. His answer indicated that it was all about transferring a special knowledge to his followers. When I replied that we don’t read much about that sort of thing in the Bible, he retorted that that’s because it had been changed by the Catholics. I feel that he considers himself to have this “special knowledge” because of his connection to the “one true Church”, and it’s not his fault the Bible doesn’t agree with him.

There are a couple of themes in the Bible that might seem to support the Gnostic view, but I think they can be dispelled as giving support to it. I’ll address a couple briefly.

The first is that Jesus spoke in Parables. The dialog in Matthew 13:10-11 addresses this directly;
The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.
Jesus goes on to quote Psalm 78:2. This is one of those instances where it’s worth going back to the scripture quoted to get a fuller picture. Here’s the opening stanzas of the Psalm…
My people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a parable;
I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
things we have heard and known,
things our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD,
his power, and the wonders he has done.
(Psalm 78:1-4).

In other words, the Psalmist is proclaiming an “open” Gospel, using such phrases as “we will not hide”. If there is a “secret” knowledge here, it is only so because the people have forgotten it and needed to be reminded - a situation that the Psalmist seeks to correct.

So, is Jesus misquoting the Psalm? I believe he is doing what the Psalmist is doing, by opening the eyes of the people to what they can already see. The Parables are a superlative vehicle for this message, because Jesus takes everyday scenarios and uses them to point out the obvious. It remains a “secret” to his opponents because they are incapable of “getting” it. Jesus’ opponents don’t see the Kingdom of God described in the parables because they see it in the building of their Temple and the “principals and ordinances” of their law. Thus the parables divide between those who are Jesus’ followers and those who are not.

Another verse I needed to reconsider this week (because it was brought up in a post at, click here and do a search on "white stone") was Revelation 2:17b
I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.
My reply was that it is not appropriate to interpret the apocalyptic language of Revelations too literally, however it is appropriate to understand the meaning from the imagery provided. The “white stone” signifies a permanent monument or marker post, like the Ebenezer in 1 Samuel 7:12. The “new name” denotes a change in ownership, like the change in name that God gave to Abram and Sarai (Abraham and Sarah, Genesis 17:5 and Genesis 17:15).

The fact that the new name is known only to the person who receives it is a little more problematic, because it appears to imply some kind of secret initiation. However, I think that John is saying that the only people who can be sure of this change of ownership are the people themselves, perhaps at an individual level. In other words, the fact that God’s people now belong to God is a fact that the world cannot comprehend or “know”.

In my experience, I’m often greeted with blank stares when I tell people that I don’t belong to myself – I belong to God, doubly so because He created me and He redeemed me
You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
(1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

That’s a confronting message to give to the next person who protests at Christianity’s interference with his or her life, saying “it’s my life, I’ll do with it as I please”. They might even challenge the Christian with “it’s your life, why do you allow yourself to be dominated by God”. They cannot see the white stone with the new name written on it. God owns us.

There may be secrets in the world. The revelation of God, whom He is and what He is like, is not one of them. If it is a secret, then it’s a secret that’s meant to be exposed.


  1. Martin, before bringing up Mormon polygamy, you should first address Christian polygamy:,,,,,,

    Just saying. ;)

    LDS Anarchist

    Oh, yeah, and when you say that "Mormon Temple rites remain secret today, and Mormons are forbidden to discuss them or what they were taught in them," that's not entirely accurate. Here's a Mormon web site that'll give you accurate information about the temples and what goes on in them:

  2. LDS_anarchist,

    Thanks for visiting my site.

    I took a quick look at the site you quoted. I say "site" (singular) because links all the others in the order you listed (see

    I am not convinced by the argument. In short, this is an example of eisegesis (imposing one's views on the text as opposed to allowing the text to speak for itself). BiblicalPolygamy lost me in its opening sentence "God Himself has described Himself in polygamous terms." It then links such passages as Jeremiah 3 and Ezekiel 23. The site then shoots itself in the foot by half-heartedly acknowledging that the Prophets are using metaphorical language, whilst using the metaphor to support a very literal understanding of polygamy.

    I'll add that the polygamous interpretation of the relationships described in Jeremiah and Ezekiel is far from axiomatic.

    As far as the LDS endowments are concerned, has clearly transgressed the oaths of secrecy that surround the rites. The site itself states "This site is an independent initiative. It has no official connection to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or any other Mormon organization." That's just as well because its authors might get excommunicated for breaking their oaths.

    The fact that Mormons are very sensitive about their secret ceremonies should be apparent from the reaction to the recent episode of "Big Love", in which one of the secret rites was broadcast on air (quite accurately, I understand). Until 1990, these oaths were taken as blood-oaths (see Though the penalties for breaking them have now changed (why?), the fact remains that those who partake in them are sworn to secrecy.

  3. " has clearly transgressed the oaths of secrecy that surround the rites"

    Martin, again you've missed it. That site has not transgressed in any way. It appears you did not keep reading. There is a portion of the endowment that is not to be revealed, everything else can be revealed. That site tells everything that can be revealed. The site author, a Mormon, keeps his (or her) identity secret because there are many Mormons who (erroneously) believe that no part of the endowment can be discussed outside of the temple (but the endowment itself does not put anyone under under oath to that end) and these people would create a backlash for him or her. I've been through the temple and he or she is correct. No one can be excommunicated for doing what that person has done.

    The biblical polygamy web sites are a Christian ministry by Mark Henkel, I believe, and he gives a New Testament basis for Christian polygamy. I'll get you started:

    "I took a quick look"

    This is the problem. You need to take a long, thorough look into these matters. Quick looks are only good if you wish to remain content in your own beliefs. Long looks allow truth, if any is there, to sink into the soul, which may help to dislodge any erroneous ideas one may have.

    LDS Anarchist

  4. LDS_anarchy,

    "Quick look" because I'm working long hours away from home. No, that's not an excuse to avoid important stuff, but I'm not going to argue the point when... missed it. Nobody is justified by their polygamy. The Bible teaches that we are justified by faith. Even if (big if) polygamy is OK, it does not justify your inclusion in the people of God. Getting many wives does not qualify you for entry to heaven, contrary to the express teachings of Joseph Smith and his followers.

    Let's follow this a while. If (big if) polygamy was needed to qualify a person for entry into the highest levels of the Kingdom of God (per Brigham Young's doctrines), why has the current LDS leadership abandoned it? Are they apostates? Shouldn't they be fighting tooth and nail to get it legalized so the LDS faithful can acquire the highest that God has promised for them?

    Regarding secrets, I don't care if some of the endowment ceremony can be publicized (as you claim). The fact that any of it is secret is abhorrent to me for reasons stated in my blog. I believe God is in the business of letting us scrutinize him, and he even allows us to set the agenda. It is incongruent with his nature to keep secrets, which is why we should not attempt to do so.

    Anyway, who decided that some of the Endowment Ceremony could be disclosed publicly? I very much doubt it was Joseph Smith's intent, when he introduced them to his church in 1842. Are you sure you're following the intent of the Prophet's teachings?

  5. Fair enough about the time constraints. That is totally understandable.

    I'm not sure where you are getting that Mormons believe, or have believed, that polygamy justifies a man. There is nothing in our scriptures that teaches such a doctrine. As you have stated, a man is justified by faith alone.

    As I stated on my own blog (in response to one of your recent comments), Mormons are varied in their beliefs. The only "official" Mormon doctrine is found within our cannonized scriptures. So, you will find Mormons living in times believing different things, while their scriptures remain the same. Telling me what some other Mormon has taught or believed and asking me to defend those beliefs is kind of like me telling you your Christian neighbor's beliefs, whose views on Christianity are different than yours, and telling you to defend them. The only believe one should defend is one's own. The scriptural cannon of the Christians is the Bible. Of the Mormons, the Bible, BOM, D&C and PoGP. But each person varies in their interpretation, whether Christian or Mormon, of their scriptural cannon. Sometimes they vary slightly, sometimes greatly, but beliefs must be taken individually, not en masse and homogenized.

    Re: polygamy. First of all, the current church leadership has not abondoned polygamy. Men are still sealed to more than one wife, just not while everyone is living, so as to comply with the law. Same goes for women, they are sealed to all their spouses when they are dead.

    Changes in church teachings, policies, etc., must follow the law of expediency.

    The endowment itself tells exactly what must not be disclosed. Everything else is free to disclose. The principle is this: anything revealed by God can be told to another, except those things that are expressly forbidden. The Lord follows the law of expediency, but man also should, too, so it is not always wise to reveal things that are allowed to be revealed.

    LDS Anarchist

  6. Received by email from Sharon;

    I agree with Martin that the has probably crossed a line. The current Temple Preparation Teachers Manual ("Endowed From On High") says 9 times, "Remember that some aspects of temple work must not be discussed outside the temple," but never explains specifically what "some aspects" are. However, the manual also says that because of this limitation, "class discussion should be limited to the explanations given in this manual. "Additionally, class members are to be instructed not to write about "some details of temple work" in their personal journals.

    While does refrain from revealing "some aspects" of the endowment ceremony, according to "Temple Preparation Seminar Discussions" (copyright 1978), "Much of what is done in the temple cannot be talked about outside the temple. Our guide as to what we can say outside the temple is governed by what has been said by apostles and prophets in printed sermons and discourses." holds back very little of the ceremony. It would appear that the folks behind this revealing web site understand the content of what is to remain "secret" differently from the teaching of Church leadership.

    “The Gospel is not about something we must do; the Gospel is about something God has done.” - Alistair Begg

    Mormonism Research Ministry

  7. LDS_anarchy,

    Regarding justification, I believe that the most robust approach is in the context of "what justifies your claim on God?". Like most theology, it's best explained by story, which is exactly what Paul does in the first half of his letter to the Romans.

    Here's the story, but re-written in a modern context (remember, it's a metaphor - I'm not trying to score political points here).

    The scenario is that you're in trouble. You've been captured by an enemy King who has overpowered you and taken you captive. So, you appeal to the Queen of England to save you, because she is more powerful than your captor. She knows she is perfectly capable of saving you, but she asks the question "why should I save you? You're not a subject of mine (you live in a rebellious colony) and you've never paid me any allegiance previously. Your actually part of the problem, because you are not a citizen of my Kingdom. I am the Big Queen now, and I will never anything less than the Big Queen. If you want me to save you, I'll only ever be your Big Queen, so why should I be your Queen?"

    If the Big Queen considers you to be her subject, she will redeem you. Rather like the US Government will send its troops in to rescue US citizens, wherever they may be in the world. If you're not her subject, she will make war against you because your "kingdom" is in opposition to hers (she's not just the Queen of England, she's the Queen of the entire cosmos, so she will not tolerate any other "kingdoms").

    What justifies your standing before the King of Kings? Why should he be your God. He has declared himself to be the God of Abraham and Abraham's clan (Exodus 3:16 etc) - Abraham's "seed". What justifies your claim to be a member of this clan - a son of Abraham, such that you can call on Him to redeem you? What gives you the right to call Him your God? (Paul answers this exact question in Romans 9:7).

    My point is that if you can justify your claim to be part of God's people, then you can call God your God, and all the blessings of God are available to you (see Ephesians 1:3 etc). There are no degrees; you're "in" or you're "out". Those who are "in" have access to God, and those who are "out" don't. Note that the Heavenly Jerusalem has walls to divide those who are "in" from those who are "out" (Revelation 22:14-15). It's a binary state and God knows those who are His and those who are not.

    If you want any blessing at all from God, you need to justify your claim on Him. The Bible is pretty clear about this, the only grounds for justification is faith, and faith alone. That's how it was with Abraham, and that's how it is with all those who are his "seed".

    The idea that you can get God's highest blessing by some other means, like polygamy or circumcision or anything else that you can do, runs contrary to the Biblical narrative on justification.

    I know LDS don't teach it in this context, but when BY states that the highest blessings can only be obtained by the men who enter into polygamy, he is saying that a man can justify his standing in the Kingdom by his polygamy.

    That is not justification by faith, it's justification by polygamy.