I grew up Mormon, and left the church while in college. Many years later I found Jesus (or Jesus found me) and today I pastor a small church my family helped start in SWFL. Recently I received a letter from the Mormon Church instructing me to “be truthful by telling others that I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints“.
Well — I want to obviously be truthful. So below is both the letter I received from the Mormon church, and my full and detailed response.
Letter from Mormon Church
Dear Brother Culbertson,
As your new bishop, I want to start by wishing you a happy Christmas season and letting you know that I send the love of the ward to you and your family.
I am writing because it is my understanding that for some years now you have been a pastor at a church you helped found called Refuge Church. I’ve visited your website and can appreciate what you do to help bring people closer to Jesus Christ and your service to the community. On Refuge’s website you say that you “grew up mormon” and then “left all religion behind,” publicly suggesting that you no longer identify as a member of the Restored Church. Unless and until you have your name removed, if friends or neighbors ask you what church you belong to, please be truthful by telling them that you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am attaching a copy of your membership record. In the Restored Church of Jesus Christ what is bound on earth is in heaven (See Matthew 16:19). Please understand that name removal cancels the effects of baptism and confirmation, withdraws the priesthood held by a male member (in your case, the Aaronic priesthood), and revokes the temple blessings of the member. Once your name is removed you can be readmitted to the Church by baptism and confirmation but only after a preparation process including a thorough interview.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, if a member formally joins another church and advocates its teachings, name removal may be necessary if formal membership in the other church is not ended after counseling and encouragement. I know that members of the church have tried to reach out to you many times over the years and that your own brother is the bishop of another ward in our stake. I think at this point it is appropriate for me to invite you to send me a letter letting me know whether you want your name remove from Church records. If I do not hear from you within a few weeks I will assume you wish to remain on church records, in which case I’ll be following a different – and mandatory – procedure for these very circumstances. Please make your decision on name removal and let me know it unequivocally, in writing (a verbal request is invalid, per Church policy). Meanwhile, please let me know if there is anything that I or your ward can do for you.
My Letter in Response
This letter is my formal resignation from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and it is effective immediately. I hereby withdraw my consent to being treated as a member and I withdraw my consent to being subject to church rules, policies, beliefs and ‘discipline.’ Please remove my name permanently and completely from your membership rolls.
I walked away from the LDS church in the mid 1990’s due to considerable consideration and study. I had been taught from birth that the LDS Church was the “one true restored church”. I had been taught because we had a prophet, in Joseph Smith, and a prophet today, that we would be guided in “these later days”.
With the advent of the internet, I was able to read church documents and records dating back to Brigham Young and through the modern generation, documenting change after change to this “restored true and perfect church”.
These documents I read and researched were not propaganda books or documents pushed by “anti-Mormon” groups, they were archived church teachings and writings from the Prophets. From Polygamy, to views on race in the priesthood, to changes to temple ceremonies and scriptural translations, the church was still evolving its beliefs, even though it had supposedly been perfectly restored by Joseph Smith. This is what led to my initial walking away from the LDS church.
As time progressed, jaded now against all religion, thinking of it simply as a coping mechanism for death for naïve people, I didn’t give my personal faith much thought. Then one day, around 2003, I begrudgingly visited a local church here in SWFL. My wife and I (and new daughter) were new to town and thought maybe we could at least make some “nice” friends.
As the pastor spoke, I debated everything he said, using what I’d been taught in Mormonism. I still knew all the come backs. All the reasons the Christians were wrong. I still felt that sense of arrogance. Of how “cheap” the grace he taught about seemed.
Over the course of the next year though, I continued to go, listen … and MOST importantly, I finally opened the Bible and began to read it for myself. As I read through books like the Gospel of John, I found a different Jesus than the one I’d been exposed to through Mormonism. That Jesus was with God in beginning, and we were not. That there is ONE GOD, in three persons, Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
I discovered that grace didn’t come “after all we could do”, but grace upon grace was available. That there was nothing we could do to save ourselves. That there is no ladder we needed to climb to God. That John teaches about God’s descension to us, not our ascension to him.
I learned that Jesus destroyed the temple and rebuilt it. He did not rebuild it as one of those beautiful buildings the LDS uses today and calls Temples, but that when we are born again (as Jesus refers to our being remade process in John 3), we become the residing place of God. We become His temple. We no longer needed a prophet. We no longer needed temples.
I read through the Epistles, in particular Paul’s letter to the Romans and found a new kind of appreciation for the depth of my (and all of humanities) depravity and our inability to do ANYTHING about it. Yet I found hope beyond hope, that for those in Christ there is no condemnation. That Jesus set us free. Free from striving, and working, and temple recommends, and dress codes. Free from wearing masks.
I read Galatians, that made is so clear that what Joseph Smith did was a twisting and perversion of the gospel just like Paul warned about. That anytime we add works on top of the finished work of Jesus Christ, it is not the Gospel. That we are made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law, or gotten married in a temple, or received the Melchizedek priesthood.
I read the Old Testament (which is still hard to read), but I began to see that even those hard, difficult stories pointed us to Jesus. That the Bible isn’t about me, and what I must do … but about God and what He has done.
I write to you today, and I bear you my testimony, that I believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Mormon church is a perversion of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. That the Book of Mormon is a fraud. That Joseph Smith was never a prophet of God.
I believe that there is this ONE infinite, Holy, perfect, almighty, creator God in three persons that created ALL things for His glory. I believe human beings, have all sinned against God, fall far short of his glory. I believe that the wage of that sin is death.
I believe God, being just and right and Holy, cannot stand for sin. That we cannot enter His presence in our corrupted state. Yet He desires to be with us; to reconcile with us.
I believe He sent Christ in the flesh to pay for our sin, to take the punishment we deserved. He suffered. He died. I believe God raised him to life, and now being rich in mercy, because of His great love for us, makes us alive together with Christ, saving us by grace through faith alone.
I believe in the admonition of Paul that says …If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, YOU WILL BE SAVED. (Rm 10:9)
That’s my testimony. I can’t imagine the cost of the Gospel. I can’t fathom the cost of our sin. The cost of God saving me, Brian Culbertson. It’s so high. That’s why I also can’t fathom an All-Knowing, All-Powerful God, who would pay that cost … and then allow the truth to be removed from the earth for 1700+ years, only to then finally be “restored”.
As I studied the Bible and came to understand that it wasn’t a book about me, rather a book about the true hero (Jesus), I gave my life to Him in 2005 and became a child of God.
I remember as a kid singing that primary song “I am a child of God, and so my needs are great. Help me to understand his words, before it grows to late. Lead me, guide me, walk beside me, help me find the way. Teach me all that I must do, to live with him someday.”
The list of “all that I must do” was pretty long as I remember in the Mormon Church. But I had missed that all I must do was REST. Rest in the arms of a Savior; put my life, my hope, my eternity into the hands of the one who already did EVERYTHING.
Today, I am the full-time lead pastor at Refuge.Church in Fort Myers (www.refuge.church). I do this for no pay. I do it out of no obligation. I do it only because I’ve FINALLY found the one true pearl of great price and I want to share it with anyone who will listen.
My encouragement to you, and to others (Christian, Mormon, Atheist, etc) read the Bible. Read it like a child reading it for the first time. Allow God to speak to you. Remove your filters. Stop using it as a tool to justify what you already believe. Instead, read it to see what it actually says. Be honest with yourself. Be honest with God. Seek the truth. Then Jesus says “and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you FREE.” (John 8:32)
I understand what you consider the ‘seriousness’ and the ‘consequences’ of my actions. I am aware that the Church Handbook says that my resignation “cancels the effects of baptism and confirmation…and revokes temple blessings.”
My resignation should be processed immediately, without any ‘waiting periods.’ I am not going to be dissuaded or change my mind. I would like a letter of confirmation so that I know that I am no longer listed as a member of your church.
Lastly, I pray that this letter begins a new search in your heart Daniel. You will be in my continued prayers. If you have a free Saturday night, feel free to drop by Refuge for a visit. You’ll always be welcome and loved.