Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How we hate uncertainty!

We had the mormon missionaries over last night (click here for the report if you are interested). Something that came up really got me thinking about a common flaw in humans that bleeds into the church. It is a point of vulnerability for people that can lead to them (at least in part) getting caught up in cult groups like mormonism or the Jehovah’s Witnesses. We hate uncertainty. There are some aspects of Christianity that are clear and unequivocal. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God in the flesh who came to earth, lived and died and rose again. All men are sinners and are condemned by their sins. The only hope for salvation is faith in Jesus Christ.

Those things are certain. What is not as clear, not as specifically laid out is the “what now”. Why does God elect some and not others? Why doesn’t God just save everyone? Why not just give us an exact time and manner of Jesus coming back so we can skip all of this speculation about the end times?

We want specifics. We want to know exactly what to do and when to do it because we are culturally conditioned that way, perhaps even genetically hardwired that way. Maybe it is a symptom of our desire to be in control, to usurp the role of God. I have referenced this before but church bulletins are a great example of this. People love their bulletins because the bulletin tells them what is going on and what to expect. Watch people in a traditional church, that bulletin is clutched in many hands and referenced often because it tells them what happens next. First we do this and then this and then that. It is so hard to get used to not having that specific order. Silence can seem deafening. When you gather and don’t know for sure what to expect it is jarring. Where there is uncertainty, it is common to “fill in the blanks” and that is where we get into trouble.

This is especially pronounced in mormonism. Mormons love certitude. They love that in the Book of Mormon we see a specific, word for word incantation that is supposed to be uttered during baptism. In the mormon worldview, God being a God of order means that people must have specific instructions on everything. I posed the question that perhaps the reason we don’t have specific wording for the Lord’s Supper or a specifically prescribed mode of baptism is that it isn’t the important thing, the “main thing”. It is easy for Christians to get caught up in secondary issues and pretty soon those secondary issues become primary issues. The main thing is no longer the main thing, so to speak. We hate uncertainty so we fill in the void and in doing so end up with lunacy.

Maybe God doesn’t give us specifics on some areas because it just isn’t that important. Is it an absolute necessity that we recite the words from 1 Cor 11 when we observe the Supper or that we use unleavened bread? If you baptize by immersion, does it matter if the person bends forward into the water or backward? Is it OK that when we gather we leave room for the Holy Spirit and not have a certainty of exactly what is going to happen? Perhaps when we focus too much on the “how”, we lose track of the “why” and the “who”?

Where God has clearly spoken, let us hear and obey. Where God has remained silent, let us not seek to put words in His mouth. Above all, let’s keep the “main thing” as the “main thing”.

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Anonymous said...

Good thoughts!

Seth R. said...

Funny, it seemed to me that it was Protestants demanding infallibility from prophets and scripture that were the ones obsessed with certainty.

Arthur Sido said...


Who needs infallible Scriptures when you have "prophets" just make stuff up as you go? Wife catches you cheating? Say God commanded polygamy! Declare blacks cursed and find out that isn't popular in the 70's? God changes His mind!

Seth R. said...

Changing the subject, are we?

I take it then that you are conceding that Protestants are indeed obsessed with certainty?

Because by changing the subject, you are essentially admitting that I was right, and your only response is to try and deflect the conversation to something else and hope nobody notices.

Steve Martin said...

Water is water, bread is bread. It's God's Word which accompanies the water, the wine, and the bread... which gives it power.

The finite contains the infinite.

We do these things because God commanded them. But we are not legalists as to the exact specifications of the elements, aside from the Word.

Arthur Sido said...



I think the point of my post, if you bothered to read it, was that humans all desire certainty and don't do well without certainty. That includes Christians as well as the lost like mormons. The Bible is infallible of course where it speaks but where it doesn't we are uncomfortable and try to fill in the blanks. It would help your argument if you tried to actually engage what I said instead of tilting at windmills.

Seth R. said...

And I was responding to your original post by pointing out that the need for security is exactly the human weakness driving the need for biblical inerrancy.

Which you appear to agree with, since you haven't bothered to argue otherwise.

Arthur Sido said...

Why would I deny that the Bible is inerrant? That is affirmed by Christians the world over. The Bible is also sufficient and clear. Again, my point is that where the Bible is silent, we should not seek to fill in the blanks. Nor should we follow the words of false prophets like Joseph Smith or Thomas Monson who deny the Gospel of Jesus Christ because it gives us warm fuzzies.

Seth R. said...

Mormon testimony is not based on warm fuzzies either. Except in the more scripturally illiterate and shallow regions of modern LDS pop culture.

But Protestantism doesn't have any of those, does it?

Arthur Sido said...


Certainly there are goofy corners of evangelicalism, more than I can count although I often point them out here. Having said, mormonism at its core absolutely is based on a "burning in the bosom". That is what the missionaries always turn to, the only way to know anything for sure as it applies to mormonism is to pray to see if it is true and the way you know it is true is the warm fuzzy feelings. Everything else is predicated on this: if you believe the BoM, you believe Smith was a prophet, and if he was a prophet you believe what he said happened, etc. Everything else stems from this: the "restored" gospel, the "priesthood", temple worship, polygamy, etc all are based on Smith being a prophet.

Seth R. said...

And I consider such appeals to be faulty, inadequate, and not soundly based in Mormon scripture when LDS missionaries use them.

Are you trying to argue here that Mormonism - as a whole - must be defined by the imperfect and immature view of it held by a pack of nineteen year old boys?

Arthur Sido said...

A pack of “imperfect and immature” nineteen year old boys? These are the elders of the restored church!

If they were just nineteen year old kids, certainly not or if this were an isolated incident, perhaps not. This is the preferred and consistent methodology used by these young men. These young men are supposedly elders in the restored church, with authority given to them to proclaim the “restored gospel” under the authority of the “restored priesthood” that they hold. They are trained with the methodology of the Missionary Training Center, so they are hardly loose cannons running around spouting their own opinions. In fact I would argue that you get much better conversations with your missionaries when they get away from the set script. Like it or not, your church sends these men out and claims that only they have the authority to baptize properly and only men holding the office they hold can give the gift of the Holy Ghost. Like it or not, agree with it or not, that is the stance of your church. If you disagree with the missionary methodology, perhaps you might consider what else it is wrong about mormonism….

Seth R. said...

Are you seriously trying to argue missionary infallibility here?

That's a new one, I'll admit.

I would point out that the official Missionary guide and Moroni chapter 10 call for an INFORMED decision before you pray for that "burning" witness from the Holy Ghost. Nowhere in either the missionary training materials, nor in Mormon scripture is there a call to simply blindly "pray for a feeling."

It is always informed by study (from MANY different sources), meditation, and even by testing the principles being offered.

So, I would say that your characterization of the official LDS Church material on this subject is misinformed. Possibly by the youthful enthusiasm of the missionaries (who sometimes do tend to skip a step or two in their eagerness to get a baptism), or by your own agenda.

Arthur Sido said...


Not sure where you got that. Your organization sends out over 50,000 young men. I have spent time with maybe 100 of them, both as a mormon and later as a Christian. The method these 50,000 men use is to teach a couple of "milk" lessons, get people to read some of the book of mormon and then pray about it. The reason your organization has such poor retention rates is that people do NOT make an informed decision.

Seth R. said...

Oh? How are Protestant retention rates then?

I actually taught these lessons you are talking about. They were not designed to have a person merely read "some" of the Book of Mormon.

You are supposed to read the whole thing.

The the first few lessons actually do pack in all the basic information you need for an introduction to the Church. There were six more lessons after that covering the most difficult and controversial parts of being a Mormon for most people: tithing and the Word of Wisdom. Other basics were also covered.

It wasn't perfect. But seemed OK to me.

Arthur Sido said...


Tithing and the Word of Wisdom are nothing compared to exaltation and polygamy.

How many converts to your organization have read the entire book of mormon? I have but I didn't read until we had been members for years. I would hazard a guess that the percentage is fairly low.

As far as Protestant retention rates, I have no idea. I do know that the retention rate of people converting to Christianity by being born again is 100%.

Seth R. said...

Actually, we do cover exaltation in the lessons pretty well.

As for polygamy....

Who gives a fig? It's not like we're requiring people to make a time-jump to 1880. Polygamy has very little to do with the life of your average LDS member.

Do you include, as a part of your lessons to prospective converts, all the little secrets about your history?