I am glad you took down my phone number and look forward to meeting with you again soon. While I am not looking to convert, I do have genuine questions about the faith that you profess.
When we spoke, I explained why I have a hard time considering the Mormon faith as an option.
The church I attend now is not the church I grew up in. I was raised in a cultish house church that identified itself as a non-denominational Christian community; it was in a vein similar to what is commonly called Evangelical Protestant with loose roots in the Seventh Day Adventist tradition.
While not a full-blown cult, it was cultish in several ways. There was a powerful "them versus us" attitude toward all other Christian communities that bred judgmentalism, feelings of superiority, and proselytizing zeal. This attitude kept us closed off from interacting with others in a genuine and open way and thereby limited our ability to learn from them or see ourselves in a true light.
The definitive theology of the group was largely the invention of one or two leaders whose sway was established through power, charisma, and manipulation; their personal histories and (lack of) education did not recommend them. The theology preached had significant holes and incongruities; when questions were raised about these holes and incongruities, the leadership became defensive, dismissive, or patronizing. The group was controlling and emotionally incestuous. Uniformity was often equivocated with unity.
I accepted the doctrines and disciplines of my childhood church wholeheartedly and did not question or test them until they started to collapse around me when I was well into college. In high school and as a freshman and sophomore in college, I was a hot-handled proselytizing zealot. I was probably about your age when, like you two, I went about trying to convince other Christians of "the fullness of the faith." I believed it was my righteous duty to enlighten the benighted. (The zealot is still in me—old habits die hard—but, by God's grace those habits no longer rule me.)
Later, in a graduate psychology class I learned the technical term for what I had experienced: foreclosure. It's what happens when a child makes a premature commitment to a life identity. The problem is not in adopting the beliefs of the parents but rather in defining the direction of one's adult life on a trajectory that has not been sufficiently tested against the alternatives, that has not been given time to mature into an adult belief system. Directions are chosen too soon and without sufficient exposure to alternatives.
After taking a class in child development, my college roommate wondered what would happen if you taught a child the opposite names for all the colors so that they believed red was green and so forth. She thought it would be an interesting experiment (one that, of course, she would never really undertake). I think I know what would happen because it is similar to what happened to me. When I learned that what I had been taught about the world and the church was false, my world turned up side down and I was disoriented and depressed for quite a while.
I eventually joined the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church because it offered an essential ingredient which my childhood church lacked: secure moorings in truth evidenced by two centuries of doctrinal and pastoral continuity.
That brings me to my first question about the LDS faith: I would honestly like to know how you explain the disjuncture between the doctrine and discipline of the LDS church, on the one hand, and traditional Christianity on the other hand.
While Mormons and traditional Christians use some of the same words, we do not mean at all the same thing when we speak of Jesus Christ being the begotten Son of the Father. Your own president/prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, agreed that we define our terms differently when he said, "The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak."
Before Joseph Smith, no one taught or believed the set of beliefs taught by the LDS, especially (among other beliefs) that God the Father has a body, that Jesus and Lucifer are brother sons of God, that we pre-existed as God's spirit children in heaven before we were born, and that we will have our own planets to populate (in polygamous marriages) and be God over in heaven if we are properly sealed and sufficiently righteous in this earthly life.
One of the watershed experiences in my conversion process was reading the works of the Apostolic Fathers—the generation of church leaders, such as Saint Ignatius of Antioch, who were discipled and appointed by the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ—as well as successive Church Fathers, such as Saint Athanasius and the Capadocian Fathers: St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus.
From my reading of the historical documents—the letters, cannons, teachings, scholarship, and creeds of the Church—it seems that the teachings regarding church leadership and hierarchy, the sacraments, the eternal Triune Godhead, the two natures of Christ, the incarnation and passion of Christ, and the nature of salvation and sanctification have all remained consistent over the Church's life being affirmed by the seven Ecumenical Councils of the "one, holy, universal, and apostolic faith."
Can you tell me what the Mormon church teaches regarding the Church Fathers? I've not been able to find a specific date as to when the apostasy is supposed to have begun—do you know of one? Are there any explanations offered as to why the apostasy would have lasted so long, and, if so, what has been offered to support this interpretation of events?
Yours in Christ,