You’ve got to be careful what you share online. Over the weekend Facebook and Twitter were suddenly inundated with links to a new recording of the Christmas hymn “Angels From the Realms of Glory” mashed up with “Angels We Have Heard on High.” It was recorded by The Piano Guys and features David Archuleta, a one-time runner up on American Idol. It is a creative recording that intersperses shots of the musicians with video taken to record the world’s largest nativity scene. The song is beautifully sung and the music is rich; it is no surprise that it quickly gained over one million views. Well and good, right? Well, except for one thing: Its purpose is to separate you from Jesus Christ.
This video was produced as a key part of a huge social media campaign called #ShareTheGift—a Mormon evangelistic social media campaign. This campaign is meant to reclaim Christmas as a religious holiday but also to serve as a gateway into Mormonism. At the end of the video is a brief testimony by Steven Sharp Nelson of The Piano Guys who shares what Christmas means to him and who points to a second video titled “He Is the Gift.” This video, in turn, leads to a page at Mormon.org that shares why you, too, ought to become Mormon.
As I said, you’ve got to be careful what you share online. What looks good at a glance may harbor some deep concerns.
I thought a lot about this video over the weekend and want to offer a few reflections on its significance.
This video reminds us that Christians–true Christians who hold to the true gospel of the Bible–are not the only ones who use biblical language and who sing the great hymns of the Christian faith. Mormons sing many of the same hymns as we do, though they often change the lyrics to remove any references to the Trinity or to otherwise make them palatable with Mormon theology. (e.g. Where in “Holy, Holy, Holy” we sing “God in three persons blessed Trinity” they sing “God in his glory, blessed Deity.”) Mormons claim to be Christians and to honor the Bible; they speak of Jesus as their Savior and Redeemer and claim that he is the only begotten son of the Father; they proclaim a gospel of faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, receiving the Holy Spirit, and persevering to the end. But they also deny the doctrine of the Trinity, they deny the divinity of Jesus Christ, and they deny justification by grace alone through faith alone. Though they proclaim that they are Christians, in reality they are Christ-deniers. We do not need to apologize for this and cannot over-emphasize it: Mormons are not Christians. Yet they share just enough of our beliefs that they can masquerade as Christians if we do not look deeper than the surface.
This video also reminds us why Mormonism is a quickly-growing religion. Mormons rarely win and woo converts through their theology. It has been my experience that most Mormons do not know a lot of theology and that most of them do not much care for theology. Mormons win followers through their promise of a better life and through their example of happy, clean-cut individuals and families. And sure enough, this video is full of beautiful people behaving beautifully. There is not a tattoo or body-piercing to be seen, not a hair out of place, not a frown in the crowd. Mormonism does not have to offer theology because it speaks to the realm of felt needs. The great promise of Mormonism is “you can be like us” or, even better, “your family can be like ours.” For many people that is very nearly irresistible.
This video serves as a helpful reminder that Mormons and many others use new media very well. These Mormon evangelistic efforts are always very clever and very compelling. They always give away enough information to make it seem like Mormons are just another friendly group of Christians, and they withhold the information that distinguishes them from true Christians. They speak gladly of the affirmations but tend to hide the denials. This video is powerfully effective at accomplishing its purpose–to serve as an advertisement for Mormonism and to function as a gateway into Mormonism.
Finally, this video reminds us that even good songs can be dangerous. Most years I enjoy watching a performance of Handel’s “Messiah,” and it does not much bother me that few of the musicians involved are Christians. They sing the most God-glorifying words set to sublime music, and do it without a shred of faith in Christ. But there is a substantial difference between God-glorifying music sung by unbelievers and God-glorifying music sung by false teachers who intend to use that music to lead you away from Christ. This performance of “Angels From the Realms of Glory” is meant to turn you away from justification by grace through faith alone and meant to turn you toward the false gospel of Mormonism. The song was not intended to glorify Jesus, but to draw attention to a false representation of him. The song itself is not the problem, of course; the problem is the purpose behind the song and the campaign that generated it.
This video reminds us once again: Not all that glitters is gold.
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