By Harry R. Osborne
On May 15 & 16, 1989, there was a public discussion on Mormonism at the meeting place of the Wonsley Drive congregation in Austin, Texas. The discussion was arranged as a result of a series of lessons presented by brother Robert W. LaCoste (who works with the Wonsley Drive church) on denominational doctrines. Brother LaCoste wrote various denominational churches inviting them to hear the lessons and respond to the teaching if they so desired.
Darryl Townsend, a stake president in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, came to hear the lesson and manifested a desire to respond when the occasion for such could be arranged. Mr. Townsend made it clear that he would not agree to a “one-on-one debate,” so a panel discussion was proposed with no more than three people on each panel. Therefore, the Wonsley Drive elders asked Joe Price (of Kaysville, Utah) and Harry Osborne (of Alvin, Texas) to participate in the discussion along with brother LaCoste. During the discussion, however, Mr. Townsend decided to take all of the time given the LDS group for speeches.
Synopsis of Discussion
A good number of brethren from various congregations in the Austin area had the opportunity to hear Mormon doctrine firsthand. Mr. Townsend made clear a number of basic positions of the LDS church. He stated the Mormon doctrine which declares that Adam’s sin was an essential part in the progression of man for, without Adam’s sin, man could not have received “mortality” and a body. It was further reasoned that if man had no body, he could not be raised with Christ and set out upon the Mormon hope of eternal progression which ultimately aims at men becoming gods of their own world. Not surprisingly, Mr. Townsend did not mention the last step in that theory (men becoming gods), realizing that teaching would not be viewed with great favor by much of his audience. If ever a theory claimed that sin caused grace to abound, this Mormon doctrine is the one!
In reviewing salvation, Townsend took the position that every person in human history approved by God was a “Christian.” He claimed that Adam was the first Christian (cf. Acts 11:26). He claimed that the Old Testament prophets knew and understood the plan of salvation declared in the New Testament (cf. 1 Pet. 1:10-12). Therefore, not only were the prophets Christians, but those who accepted the messages of the prophets were also Christians.
The Mormon concept of the church as a centralized, all-controlling institution became clear in Mr. Townsend’s presentations. In reviewing the first century church declared in the New Testament, Townsend asserted that Peter was the “chief apostle” and “presiding elder” despite the Bible teaching which would deny any place of primacy for Peter (e.g. – 2 Cor. 12:11; Gal. 2). Townsend also claimed that Jerusalem was “church headquarters” based on a misunderstanding of Acts 15 (cf. Gal. 1:15-17). He viewed those listed in Ephesians 4:11 as being the perpetual “church offices” which bring unity through their continued day-to-day supervision over official church decisions. Instead, the context makes it clear that the ones mentioned in verse 11 make unity possible through the truth that they revealed and declared (cf. Eph. 4:11-16). The focus for unity is on the message of truth in the Bible, whereas Mormonism puts the focus on official church structures.
Mr. Townsend also took a great deal of time giving the audience his “personal witness” that the Book of Mormon is from God. He spoke of the events and statements declared in the Book of Mormon and those within the Bible as equally true and authoritative. He related a personal story of seeing an archeological site in Central America which had what he claims was a ‘Jewish star of David” on the wall by an altar. He took this as a confirmation that Israelites had journeyed from the Middle East to the Americas around 600 B.C. as claimed in the Book of Mormon. This was an interesting claim since the “star of David” was not used by the Jews as a symbol of their religion until the late 18th or early 19th century! An excellent discussion of the “star of David” (called the “Magen David” among the Jews) can be found in the Encyclopedia Juddica (book 11, pp. 687-698).
It is true that the same symbol was found in Mesopotamia, Britain, India, Spain, the Roman Empire, and a host of other places earlier in history. However, it was not a symbol of Judaism and was often connected with pagan magic or used merely as a decoration. As a decoration, this six-pointed star was used alongside the swastika. Would our Mormon friends see proof in this of an early link between Jews and Nazis? If Mr. Townsend is correct about his unsubstantiated sighting of this hexagram, how does it verify that the Book of Mormon boat-people were Jews from Palestine? The fact is that Mormons have repeatedly made false claims from archeology which have been soundly refuted time after time. For instance, the Smithsonian Institute issued a letter to refute the fraudulent claim by Mormons that the Book of Mormon was used as a guide to archeological finds in the Americas. Even Mormon scholars in the archeology of the Americas have condemned the repeated attempts by other Mormons to use ruins and artifacts of a period postdating the Book of Mormon to verify the culture presented in the book. Maurice Barnett’s materia on Mormonism gives excellent detail regarding these matters.
Brethren LaCoste, Osborne and Price gave presentations and answered questions on three major areas. Joe Price spoke first on the Bible as the complete and final revelation of God’s will to man. Harry Osborne spoke on the nature of true and false prophets with specific application to Joseph Smith as a false prophet. Bob LaCoste spoke on the nature and organization of the New Testament church. Tapes of the discussion were made and are available by contacting the Wonsley Drive congregation in Austin, Texas (the address and phone number are listed in the directory at the back of this publication).
Having briefly reviewed the discussion, I would like to make a few remarks on lessons I learned in this endeavor. First, I was strengthened through the good work done by brethren LaCoste and Price in this effort. In an age where the world and many brethren herald the horrors of religious conflict, it is worth noting that the good done in this discussion was all as a result of brother LaCoste’s unabashed defense of the truth and the open, specific investigation of error. Some may decry such a clear and militant approach, but it has been and continues to be the way that people deceived by error may come to see the truth of God that they might be saved. I love Bob as my brother (we dropped the “in-law” long ago), but I love him for his work’s sake even more.
Brother Price was of far greater help in this work than can be told. Joe has lived in the Salt Lake City area among the Mormons for about 6 years. During much of that time he has carried on a daily call-in radio program to answer religious questions. His is probably the most knowledgeable person on Mormonism among our brethren today. He is able to perceive their points, analyze them in light of the Bible, and answer in a way that makes the truth clear to the ordinary Mormon. That talent was much needed in this discussion where an estimated 40 to 50 Mormons were present over the two nights.
A second lesson learned from this effort was the degree to which Mormonism has changed approaches to conform to mainstream denominationalism. When those of us preaching the truth made specific application of the principles taught to refute Mormon doctrine, Mr. Townsend and his fellow Mormons were outraged. In the words of one young “elder” (?), it was said, “I didn’t come to hear what You were against, but what you were for!” They told us they were “not comfortable” with a format that had any rebuttal regardless of how kind and honorable it might be. I remember as a boy that Mormons had a far more militant approach. They were out to convert those with whom they discussed their doctrine. They did not hestitate to compare doctrinal differences with others in a good spirit. The Mormons in this discussion were quick to acknowledge the kind spirit shown towards them in the differences, but believed that any “negative” teaching should not be done. They wanted us to accentuate the “positive” areas of our agreement and leave the other alone.
Before the Tuesday night session, Mr. Townsend referred us to a decision made regarding this matter in the last “General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” The Salt Lake Tribune quoted two church officials regarding the decision. Dallin H. Oaks of the “Quorum of the Twelve Apostles” said that church members should not “contend over doctrines” (cf. Jude 3). He went on to say that debates 6 tare not effective in acquiring gospel knowledge. Gospel truths and testimony are received from the Holy Ghost through reverent personal study and quiet contemplation.”
Glenn L. Pace, “second counselor, Presiding Bishopric,” was quoted as characterizing the comparisons of Mormon doctrines with conflicting teaching as “attacks.” He said, “As members of the church, we are appalled by such attacks. Hopefully, it makes us more sensitive and extra careful not to make light of the sacred beliefs of other denominations” (The Salt Lake Tribune, April 2, 1989, p. A-6). Thus, any discussion of differences was to be viewed as a personal “attack” upon Mormons and “making light” of their doctrines. Mr. Townsend suggested this was the reason he would not engage in any discussion of differences.
As a doctrine of man, it is not surprising that Mormonism would adopt this posture which is embedded in the religious world around us. The past few decades have seen the denominational would around us do the same thing. The only ones the religious world around us wants to condemn are those who condemn others! (Consistency, thou art a jewel!) They can debate most eloquently on the proposition that debating is wrong. Such is to be expected from those who do not believe, practice and preach the saving gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 1:8-13; 1 Pet. 1:22-25).
However, it is a troubling thing when our brethren seems to be “going to the Mormons” and other denominationalists in this matter! How many times lately have we heard our own brethren declare that we ought to “accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative” in our preaching? How many times have we heard it claimed that honorable controversy and debate “don’t do any good” in teaching and learning the truth? Recent months have seen our brethren decrying the open discussion of differences regarding divorce and remarriage as “personal attacks” and “making light” of others. Are we in the process of following the Mormons down a path of fearing honorable and open discussion of God’s truth? Do we have no more assurance than they in the things we have learned (2 Tim. 3:13-17)? 1 fear already that too many brethren would be more comfortable with the approach of the Mormons than that of the apostle Paul or even Jesus (cf. 2 Tim. 4:1-5; 2:16-19; 1 Tim. 1:18-20; Gal. 2:11-17; Matt. 22,23). If we do not stop this spirit of compromise, we may end up with the Mormons – for eternity.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 18, pp. 561-562
September 21, 1989