Building the wrong house from the right blueprints

On Sunday, January 12, 2014 Elder Tad R. Callister of the Presidency of the Seventy gave an address to the Church Educational System of the LDS church. In it he spoke about the analogy of a blueprint for a house and how “[i]n a similar way Christ built a home to best accommodate the spiritual needs of His children. It was called His Church.” On this count it is hard to disagree with Elder Callister. Jesus certainly did provide instructions on how His church was to operate, who it was composed of and the like. And, I even find myself, basically, agreeing with Elder Callister’s affirmation that we ought to look to the New Testament as our source for knowing how Jesus Christ desires His church to operate: “If one desired to discover Christ’s Church today he would want to match the spiritual blueprint found in the New Testament against every Christian church in the world until he discovered a church that matched the blueprint—organization for organization, teaching for teaching, ordinance for ordinance, fruit for fruit, and revelation for revelation.”

But, when we look to the New Testament what do we see? We clearly see Apostles leading the church in its earliest days, and even resolving disputes over matters of doctrine (Acts 15). However, we also see those Apostles appointing other leaders to carry on their work, such as Paul’s instruction to Titus to appoint elders in the various towns (Titus 1:5). There is absolutely no indication in the New Testament that the ministry of the Apostles would be perpetual. In fact, Acts 1:21-22 records Peter declaring in the midst of the other Apostles the need to replace Judas, and not just with any individual but with a person who met particular qualifications:

“So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-22, ESV)

This is a very particular qualification required to serve as an Apostle that Peter lays down: an Apostle must have been a witness to the ministry of Jesus and his resurrection. The obvious question that should be raised then is: what about Paul? Paul defends his apostleship repeatedly in his letters, and Acts 9 describes Paul’s encounter with the resurrected Lord, meeting the second qualification that Peter had laid out in Acts 1:21-22. And, Paul was likely familiar with the ministry of Jesus, despite not being among those who followed Him as His disciples. But, the strongest reason to accept Paul’s apostleship are the words of Peter as recorded in 2 Peter 3:15-16:

“And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” (2 Peter 3:15-16, ESV)

Peter refers to Paul affectionately and recognizes the wisdom given to Paul in his writings. But, moreover Peter writes of Paul’s writings alongside “the other Scriptures.” So, it appears that Peter is supporting Paul’s authority and elevating his writings even to the level of already received Scripture.

Today, the LDS church claims to have Apostles, yet not a single one was a witness to the earthly ministry of Jesus, nor have they likely “witness[ed] … his resurrection.” If any of them claim to have had an experience akin to Paul’s vision of the resurrected Lord, they certainly aren’t publicly stating such. On this count the LDS Apostles would seem to be misnamed, at the very least. But, the LDS church has also adopted other practices the find no foundation in Scripture.

Never does the New Testament advocate the building of temples in which to conduct, so-called, ordinances, endowments and the like as practiced by the LDS church. The LDS temple system is an invention that has no parallel in Scripture. The Temple, as known to the biblical Apostles and to other Jews, was a place of offering, prayer and thanksgiving with its practices clearly defined in the Old Testament. In fact, Leviticus 10 records the death of Nadab and Abihu for offering “unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded.” God takes His worship seriously, and the LDS temple system makes a mockery of what God has commanded by adding to His Word.

While Elder Callister is right in identifying the New Testament as the place to look for the blueprint of Christ’s church, it is clear that the LDS church is the wrong house. A careful reading of the New Testament, especially a reading which is informed by the fullness of the Old Testament, ought to make it clear that Christ’s church is not accurately reflected in the temples, ordinances, organizations and, so-called, revelations of the LDS church. Doctrine and Covenants 1:30 clearly is wrong to assert that the coming forth of the LDS church represents “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.” The LDS church is the wrong house to build from the right blueprints of the New Testament.

True Christians ought to side with Luther and Tertullian who rightly identified means to discern the presence of a true church:

“Now, anywhere you hear or see such a word preached, believed, confessed, and acted upon, do not doubt that the true ecclesia sancta catholica, a ‘holy Christian people’ must be there.” (Luther, On the Councils and the Church)

“For their very doctrine, after comparison with that of the apostles, will declare, by its own diversity and contrariety, that it had for its author neither an apostle nor an apostolic man; because, as the apostles would never have taught things which were self-contradictory, so the apostolic men would not have inculcated teaching different from the apostles, unless they who received their instruction from the apostles went and preached in a contrary manner.” (Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics)

Any church that follows after the teachings of the Apostles, and thus the Word of God as revealed in the Old and New Testaments alone is where you will find God’s people. In spite of ecclesiastical differences, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists and others confess the same faith as taught by the Apostles: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV)