I’ve tried to articulate one particular problem I have with Mormonism, and it never seems to go over very well. The topic came up on one of my favorite blogs, Dando’s Mormon and Evangelical Conversations, and while discussing it (and being accused of spouting ridiculous nonsense), I decided to try explaining it using a strictly Mormon point of view, and I think I did a pretty good job (although nobody has responded to it, so I might be dead wrong):
Mormonism stresses the importance of gaining a testimony of critical principles of the Gospel, right? That testimony is theoretically gained by praying for a manifestation from the Holy Spirit of the truth of something.
Lets say I’ve read the Bible and I want to know if Jesus is really my savior. According to Mormonism, if I pray and ask God, he’ll tell me, and I’ll have a testimony of it, right? Now, that testimony is sufficient to infer the truth of the bible, because history places Jesus squarely in the middle of it. Sure, I could also pray to know that the Bible is true, but I don’t need to. Because if I know that Jesus is the Christ by the power of the Holy Ghost, the that means the New Testament must be true, and since the New Testament affirms the Old Testament on a number of occasions, I can also therefore infer that the Old Testament is true. I certainly don’t need to pray for a specific testimony based on a spiritual witness of each book of the Bible, each apostle, each epistle, and each prophet, do I? Again, I could if I wanted to, but it isn’t critical. If God has witnessed to me the truth of Jesus Christ’s divinity and mission, then the rest can be reasonably inferred.
But my testimony of Jesus Christ alone doesn’t let me reasonably infer the truth of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, or the Latter-Day church.
In order to know those things, I also have to pray to ask if either 1) the Book of Mormon is true or 2) Joseph smith was a prophet of God. Mormonism teaches that once I know either of those things, I can reasonably infer the rest: if I know that the Book of Mormon is true, then I know Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. If I know that, then I also know that the D&C and PoGP are true. I also know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is true, that the Priesthood was restored, and that the church is still led by a prophet, that the plan of salvation as laid out in the LDS church is true, that the Word of Wisdom is true, etc.
I can get individual spiritual confirmation of each of these if I want or if I’m having a particular struggle, but the standard answer is that I should be able to get a testimony of just the one thing (either the BoM or the First Vision) and reasonably infer the rest. Latter-day prophets have taught that, and the missionaries teach that all the time.
If all I had was a spiritual witness of Jesus Christ, I could in the same way infer the truth of the Bible and the Biblical prophets, and even reasonably infer the truth of the early Christian church, based on their historical connection to Jesus Christ, either before or after. A testimony of Jesus would be enough to let me be a faithful Protestan, Catholic, Orthodox Christian. But a testimony of Jesus alone isn’t enough to convince me of the truth of Mormonism.
To be a Mormon, I would at the very least need to get a separate testimony of The BoM or Joseph Smith. And I find that problematic because to me it places them on the same level as Jesus in terms of where our faith is placed.
What I find more problematic is that many Mormons don;t have a separate testimony of Jesus and BoM/JS, but that instead they begin with a testimony of the Book of Mormon or JS and infer the rest, including inferring the divinity of Jesus, the existence of God, and the truth (or at least general reliability) of the bible.
That means for many Mormons, the lynchpin of their faith is not Jesus Christ, but Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon. Either that or they have two equal lynchpins, only one of which is Jesus.
If your faith is built on anything but Jesus Christ, you have a house built on sand. I think that’s why it seems that most people who leave Mormonism become atheists: their faith was ultimately grounded in the Restoration, not in Jesus, and when they lost faith in the Restoration, they lost faith in everything.
Put in non-Mormon terms, one problem I have with Mormonism is that it requires separate and independent faith in something other than Jesus Christ. As a non-Mormon, I can begin with faith in Jesus Christ and then because of his place in the Biblical text and his context in history, I can infer pretty much the rest of Christianity, without having to exercise actual faith in anything else. But because the Book of Mormon and the latter-day Restoration occur outside of the continuity of Jesus’s historical and theological context, I actually have to at least exercise separate and independent faith in them, from which I can at least reasonably infer the rest of the truth of Mormonism.
Alternately, and this is the unfortunate path taken by all too many Mormons, I can ground my faith in the Restoration or the Book of Mormon and use that faith to infer Jesus’s divinity along with the rest of Mormonism.
Either way is troubling because it elevates something other than Jesus to at least the same level as Jesus, if not to a higher level, in terms of our framework of faith and belief. Essentially, in Sermon-on-the-Mount terms, that is building a house on sand instead of rock, and it’s why Mormons os often lose faith in everything when they lose faith in Mormonism. Their entire belief system was grounded in Joseph Smith and/or the Book of Mormon instead of in Jesus Christ.