The traditional acid test for gold consists of placing a small drop of a strong acid, such as nitric acid, onto the metal's surface. Most metals fizz or bubble, while precious metals remain unaffected.
Would anyone subject a wedding ring or a cherished heirloom to such a test? If not genuine, what remains would be marred and what dissolves would be lost forever. A “failed” test would indicate impurity and shatter any confidence in the object’s authenticity, depreciating its value.
Given the opportunity, many choose not to conduct such assays. They hope for the best, but accept what they have at face value, even if what they cherish later proves to be a "knock off," a cheap imitation. For many, substitutes suffice. (See D&C 132:25.) “If I can’t tell the difference, what difference does it make?” they say.
Surely ignorance is bliss. But knowledge saves. Imitations matter most in matters of life and death. Whether one eats wholesome food (or poison), whether one worships the true and living God (or serves an idol), whether one pursues a course leading to eternal life and exaltation (or is damned) -- these are matters not best left to chance and speculation. A prudent person accepts no substitutes for the real thing. They find “wishful thinking” unacceptable.
Many Mormons find great value in their religion. They consider it to be of eternal consequence and import. They hope it is all true. (Many claim they “know” it is true!) Others have doubts. With so much riding on the outcome, however, both believer and skeptic ought to put their religion to the test: by subjecting it to thorough investigation and inquiry.
Mormon leader J. Reuben Clark observed:
“If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.”
“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21.)
In his book Teaching for Doctrines the Commandments of Men: Tradition in Modern Mormonism (offered here for free), Robert Smith does just that. Using the “solvent” of holy scriptures, LDS histories, journal entries and the testimonies of Mormon leaders, Smith "tests" several of Mormonism’s sacred golden calves. His stated purpose is revealed in his work's introductory paragraph:
“I have learned that there are only ever two things that are worth preaching over. The first and greatest is to turn to God. This is commonly called repentance, as in “preach nothing but repentance unto the people.” Unfortunately, repentance has often been reduced to convincing individuals to commit or abstain from a list of things. This is wresting of the principle in more ways than can briefly be summarized, and for the sake of the length of the book, I will refrain from elaborating. The second topic worth preaching about is the tearing down of false traditions that prevent people from turning to God. Just as the second great commandment is the way we live the first great commandment (as we love God through loving our neighbor), most are prevented from turning to God through a misunderstanding of what God is like (and what he is not like), what he is saying (and what he is not saying), and what his will is for us (and what it is not). One can only repent to the degree that they are free from false traditions. Therefore, one cannot preach repentance without preaching against false traditions.”
Any Latter-day Saint who finds the above passage intriguing ought to be captivated by the balance of Smith’s book.
This is no “anti-Mormon” screed. Smith clearly believes the Book of Mormon to be the word of God and embraces the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ through its founding prophet, Joseph Smith. He is intimately familiar with Mormon culture, teaching, history and scripture. His arguments, while limited in scope, are well-reasoned, well-researched, comprehensive and compelling. With each essay, Smith calls upon these resources, like Elijah calling down fire from heaven, to “slay” one false prophet and “burn up” one dumb idol after another.
Mormons ought not read Smith's work unless (and until) they are willing to put it all on the line and “clear the ground” (even licking up the water!) of any encumbrance to their exercising faith in Christ.
26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26.)By this work, Smith ably explicates how tradition and the precepts of men have come to dominate Mormon theology, culture, and practice, largely supplanting the pure doctrine of Christ (still ensconced in The Book of Mormon, but now largely ignored), thereby impeding Mormons’ ability to repent and be redeemed. He explains how man-made innovations have replaced and altered divinely ordained, restored ordinances and modes of worship and how ancient, vital covenants, once revealed and received, have long since been broken and abandoned. He presents the dire consequences portended by such changes. In short, Smith documents how Mormons, perhaps even inadvertently and unintentionally, have “transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant” (Isaiah 24:5), thereby rendering their religion largely inert and powerless to save.
While Smith is undeniably “pessimistic” about modern Mormonism’s ability to turn about, accounting for its own failures, correcting deficiencies and fulfilling its promises, he is certainly “optimistic” that the Lord will, eventually, raise up a righteous, believing people who will turn to Him, establish Zion, and enter into His rest in this life, as Joseph Smith intended for the Latter-day Saints of his day. As Smith relates in his book’s preface:
“[T]he purpose of this book [is] not to convert, although great pains [have been] taken to make it suitable for that purpose. Instead, it [is] to lay the case out so plainly as to leave those to whom it is directed without excuse when the judgments [God] has foretold occur.”For Mormons inured to tradition; who are confident their religion and prophets can “save” them; who embrace the precepts of men as worthy substitutes for personal Divine interaction, instruction and redemption; who have given up hope of ever returning to God’s presence in this life; who yet yearn to experience all that the scriptures promise to those who believe in Jesus: this book is for you.