I was browsing through Wikipedia, and on their homepage today they were highlighting Joseph Smith. Well, being a good Utahn, I decided to peruse the article.
I had always known that there were a few splinter groups in the "restoration" movement, but after a few clicks I was overwhelmed with how many there were. I started bookmarking all of the different groups so I wouldn't lose track.
Since I live in Utah, I have been most aware of the LDS church which also happens to be the biggest of the groups. Of course, the mormons I know would state that theirs is the continuation of the church that Joseph Smith founded.
However, as I purused through the various off-shoots of what Joseph Smith started, most of them make the same claim. As you read through their websites, they talk about their authority, revelations God has made to them, and the testimonies they have received. These are all things each of them claim and most would say are exclusive to them.
I am not writing this as a judgment or critique of mormons, but rather with a fascination for how closely this mirrors various things I saw growing up as a charismatic/evangelical.
One of my earliest church memories is when the Pastor of the Lutheran church we were attending left Lutheranism with a bunch of his congregation to become independent. Then someone within his church broke off from him and my family went with that group. Over the years people left the church we went to to join other groups or make new ones.
The one thing I noticed as a kid was that we left churches because the church was wrong, or that people left our church because they were wrong. The convenient commonality was that everyone else was wrong.
Most of us who have grown up in church environments unknowingly have been indoctrinated that we are right and others are wrong (or at least, not as right as we are). Since being in Utah, I have found that for a Mormon to not buy the package deal of Mormonism would be apostisizing (is that a word?). For an Evangelical, to do less than buy the whole package is compromising. I believe Catholics use the word heresy.
In any case, if you want to pursue God, you have to kind of put yourself into a box - and to think out of that box is to damage your potential of getting to know God (and perhaps even damn you).
One of the interesting points of many of the sub-groups of Mormons, is that they justify their stance of being the "true" church by various signs and/or revelations. God revealed this or told us that. This or that event happened in response to our prayers said with the proper authority (therefore, we are the true one).
Again, I am not saying that to rip on my mormon neighbors, but rather I sit here slightly awed thinking, "That is exactly how I grew up!" Different churches, and different theological backgrounds... but almost the exact same wordings and events. The writer of Ecclesiasties had it right, there really is "nothing new under the sun". No church group seems to be safe from the belief that they have a corner on the god market. They have an insight that everyone else is less privy to or as Butch Cassidy said, "I see clearly while the rest of the world wears bi-focals".
Of course, any of my denominational, non-denominational, pentecostal, or LDS friends who read this would probably interpret it the same way - that what I am saying is true of all the other groups, but the difference in their case is that they really are the right group.
I remember hearing a sermon by Peter Marshall years ago called, "The blessing of being wrong". He asked how many times in our lives have we experienced an insight into a topic and felt we were right... then later, when our opinion changed on the topic, we were REALLY right. Perhaps a later change made us REALLY, REALLY right. He suggested that given those patterns in our lives and in our churches, that perhaps there might be a blessing in being wrong.
I don't know how one gets around this prideful arena. Even as I write this, as I suggest that one should be comfortable not knowing, that one should leave room for possibility, am I not also inferring that I have an insight that most are not privy to?