Why I am not an Evangelical - Part 1
I found this document on my computer recently. I wrote it a couple of years ago to clarify why I have made the decisions I have, and chosen the path I am following, rather than the oh-so-easier one of being part of the biggest and most dynamic and popular Christian movement today. I think I wrote it with Betrand Russell's 1927 essay, "Why I am not a Christian" in mind, although of course I am a Christian, however much people may try to claim otherwise.
I'm sorry that it's so long that it has to be posted in seven parts. Well, not all that sorry, as it gives me a break from having to come up with topics to blog about each week, and I need that time to actually write and edit at the moment as I have a deadline looming.
Comments welcome, although I reserve the right to gleefully delete any I don't like.
Since becoming a Christian at the age of 14, I have attended various churches. Starting off with the Brethren congregation where I attended the Covenanters Youth Organisation which persuaded me of the need to turn my life over to Christ, I attended a couple of other local churches briefly (Thundersley Congregational Church and Hadleigh Elim) before settling into the Anglican Parish Church with my Dad. On arrival at University I went to an Assemblies of God church, a Baptist Church and an independent Evangelical Church for several terms. I also attended the University Christian Union. Although I eventually returned to the Anglican church I have, at various times, been seized with the desire to see whether I can “feel the spirit” in other environments and have thus been to other churches including Salvation Army (a small but very friendly congregation in Bangor), Southend and Rayleigh Vineyards, and several other evangelical gatherings.
From the age of 19 I studied the LDS (Mormon) religion in some detail, initially from the perspective of vehement opposition. Extremely fascinated by this philosophy from the beginning, I discovered over the years that much that is taught about it in evangelical circles (and in the anti-Mormon books I devoured) is at best misrepresented and often grossly untrue. Many evangelicals know next to nothing about the religion except that they don’t like it. Often they imagine Mormons to believe or practice wildly ridiculous things, but do not bother to check whether this is true. Such ignorance irritated me as an anti-Mormon (I often found contradictions and errors in anti-Mormon books which I felt rendered them useless) and infuriates me now.
My studies went on for several years and led me eventually to conclude that this was not only a lamentably misunderstood sect, but a living, thriving and growing Christian church where, for the most part, members live what they believe and exhibit true devotion to the saviour in every aspect of their lives. I set out in 1988 to prove the church wrong; several years later I was forced to admit that I had failed. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. I came to know that it was Jesus Christ’s true restored church, having the dramatic witness of the Holy Spirit which I had never experienced anywhere else. Since 2001 I have attended the LDS church. And I love it.
My previous Christian experiences had been in denominations that, for the most part, embraced the Evangelical model. Several friends and family members who hold to this creed are dismayed at my apparently joining what they consider to be a “cult”, and some have made and continue to make efforts to bring me back to the Evangelical fold. I have therefore written this document in an attempt to explain why I could never again embrace the Evangelical understanding of Christianity.
What is an Evangelical?
The Evangelical movement began in the 1730's, but the word Evangelical does not denote a church denomination, although there may be churches that use the name. The Evangelical movement might be defined as a set of beliefs held by many Christians across most of the mainstream churches. The following might be seen as the central core beliefs that characterise the Evangelical experience.
- There is an emphasis on the importance of giving one’s life to Christ and accepting Him as Lord and Saviour. I have found that in strongly Evangelical churches this message is often repeated again and again. There is a widespread belief that other churches are attended by many who pay lip service to Christ but have not been “born again”. Some Evangelicals will call themselves “born-again Christians” or “Bible-believing Christians” to make it clear that they have taken this step, and distinguish themselves from those whom they consider are not really Christians at all.
In the LDS Church, the need to have faith in Christ, repent and follow Him is the message brought by the missionaries. Once the person is baptised and has thus demonstrated that they have taken this step, the teaching they will receive in church is largely based on increasing their knowledge of the scriptures, strengthening their relationship with the Saviour, and learning to live a Christlike life.
- There is a belief that once someone is “saved”, they can never be “unsaved”. Accepting Christ and becoming a Christian ensures that the person will go to Heaven, whatever sins they may commit later. Salvation is by faith alone, and is guaranteed the moment that person prays their declaration of faith.
Latter-day Saints believe that accepting Christ is a two-way Covenant; He forgives our sins through His atonement, and we choose to follow Him for the rest of our lives, living according to His commandments and repenting as necessary when we fall short. Should we choose to cease following Him, we are rejecting His free gift of salvation and can thus be “unsaved” again. [Luke 8:13 shows that it is possible to lose one’s salvation, and Matthew 10:22 shows that it is necessary to endure to the end to be saved.]
- There is a belief that the Bible is complete and inerrant, the final authority, should be read and understood literally, and is the “foundation of prophets and apostles” on which the Church is to be built (Ephesians 2:20).
Latter-day Saints honour the Bible as scripture, study it intensively, refer to it frequently and most also interpret it literally. However, Article of Faith 8 states, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly”. We do not accept that it is without error, nor that God no longer speaks to mankind nor inspires further scripture to be written. [It is fairly simple to prove that the Bible is not inerrant – compare Genesis 50:13 with Acts 7:15-16, for example. It’s also simple to prove that it is not complete – Joshua 10:13, 2 Samuel 1:18.]
- There is an emphasis on gifts of the spirit. Being “baptised by the Holy Spirit” is seen as a separate experience from the initial conversion, and spiritual gifts are expected to be manifest when this occurs, primarily speaking in tongues. I have even heard some evangelicals argue that anyone who does not speak in tongues is not truly “saved”. Many predominantly evangelical churches may also be “Pentecostal” which means that services are characterised by such gifts of the spirit. As a result, meetings are informal and generally very noisy, with a great deal of enthusiastic singing (“worship”), hand waving and clapping, dancing, speaking in tongues and prophesying (making declarations about God’s will or thoughts.)
Mormons would call this same experience with the Holy Spirit a "testimony”. By this they mean the powerful inner spiritual witness which can, among other things, help them to discern truth from error, prepare and give inspired talks and lessons, gain direction for themselves and their families, and know how they might best help someone. Mormons also believe in spiritual gifts, but have a different interpretation of the gift of tongues, seeing this as the ability to speak clearly and intelligibly a language the recipient has never learned, or has only briefly studied, generally in order to preach the gospel to others in that language. Missionaries sent to foreign countries frequently report that they find that they are able to teach and bear testimony in that language through the Spirit.
- There is a sense of urgency in conveying the message of salvation to others – hence the word Evangelical. Evangelicals are often anxiously engaged in spreading the word and winning converts. Strongly Evangelical churches are the only ones in the UK (apart from the LDS church), which are growing in numbers rather than declining.
Mormons also accept Christ’s great commission: we recognised that every member is a misisonary, and 75,000 young men and women and elderly couples are currently serving full-time missions.
With the benefit of experience and greater knowledge now, and the safety of having found a Church in which I really have experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit and received answers to all my questions, I can reflect on these matters and give definitive reasons why, despite the desires and attempts of others, I could never again be an Evangelical.