Michael WebbAll my life I thought I believed and understood the Gospel. Then, about 8 years ago, I picked up the Bible and, for
the first time, really read it--all of it; not the cursory or selective reading I had done over the years. I read it prayerfully and intently. I read it like a child--without presuppositions or suspicions. I will never be the same. It was as though scales dropped from my eyes and I realized that I had been in church all of my life and never heard the Gospel. Indeed, the more I read, the more it became obvious to me that the “gospel” I had been taught and believed was no gospel at all but, rather, a terrible perversion of Biblical truth. At best it was a gospel of morality, a gospel of behavior modification, a gospel of self-reliance; an impossible gospel really--and not “good news” at all. It certainly did not resemble New Testament Christianity or salvation. Talk about a paradigm shift! It became alarmingly clear to me that in the context of the theology I had embraced all of my life, Jesus was my helper, my example, and my inspiration, but He was not my Savior! I had been serving as my own savior. I had always loved Jesus and believed that He died for my sins, but like the ancient Galatian Church, I had been “bewitched” (the Apostle Paul’s word not mine) into believing that what Jesus had done for me was not enough; that His grace was sufficient, but only after I had expended all of my own best efforts. To define it that way is to give the impression that Jesus is like the cherry on top of our big hot fudge sundae--instead of the whole sundae.
So, what have I learned over these past 8 years? I have learned the beautiful and precious doctrine of justification apart from works of the law, through faith in Jesus alone, on the basis of His merit and finished work alone. That He not only suffered and died for my sins, but imputed His righteousness to me as well-- that I will never have a righteousness of my own that would “qualify” me for the Kingdom, but rather, I am clothed in His righteousness. Jesus is not just all we need, He’s all we have!! Our own best efforts are nothing more than “filthy rags” and we don’t just fall short of the glory of God at our worst, but at our very best! The thing that makes Him such a glorious Savior is that He saves us in spite of us, not because of us. “Christ died for the ungodly;” “while we were still sinners;” even “when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Romans 5:6-11).
The believer’s response to this is repentance and the pursuit of holiness, but if we get this backwards, we have no gospel! I now pursue Him freely and without shame! I have discovered the power of His Cross, where everything was purchased for me--every good thing, and even every difficult thing turned to my good! I am experiencing the incredible difference between being transformed by the Holy Spirit of God, rather than being conformed to a pattern of religion and morality! I look back over the few years since my conversion and see the idols and addictions that God has removed from my life--things that I had tried to overcome by sheer will power or white knuckling it over the years, but eventually and continually failed at. The irony is that this didn’t happen until I stopped “trying really, really hard” and instead set my eyes on Jesus. I am a new creation in Christ and it is a blessed and miraculous thing! I see God’s mighty hand in my life as He continues to perform supernatural heart surgery on me and faithfully sanctify me and conform me to the image of His dear Son. Oh the amazing difference the decision to trust and follow Christ alone has made in my life through the blessed and unmatched work of grace and of the Holy Spirit in my heart! Oh the joy and awesome wonder of belonging to Jesus through the blood of His cross! “Oh the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” It has been one amazing, yet challenging journey! It has been a journey of growth, joy and some pretty intense suffering, etc.; most of all, it has been a journey of falling deeper and deeper in love with Jesus!
My name is Michael Webb, and I was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah. I grew up as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka Mormons or LDS). Indeed, I was a strong believer and active participant in it for over 40 years. When I was 19 years old, I served a full time LDS mission in Mississippi and Louisiana. I came home and was married in the LDS temple and, for pretty much the next 20 years or so, remained a stalwart member of the Church, serving in various teaching and leadership positions. I was even a fairly well-known LDS speaker, song writer, and recording artist in the LDS music market--speaking and performing for mostly youth and single adult groups across the USA and Canada, sometimes even speaking alongside LDS General Authorities. I had always loved and believed in Jesus and I could never understand what Christians meant when they told me that I believed in a different Jesus than the Jesus of the Bible. I was also continually frustrated and became an ardent defender of the Church when people would refer to it as non-Christian or even a cult. And so it went as the years passed by.
I share this background, so that whoever reads this will understand that I was not just a nominal member of the LDS Church. I absolutely believed with all of my heart that it was the only true Church on the face of the earth, that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, and that God had restored His true Church and authority to the earth through that man. I also believed that, along with the Bible, the Book of Mormon and other modern LDS scripture were also the word of God, and on and on I could go. There was absolutely no way, in my mind or wildest dreams, that I would EVER doubt or leave the Church. It is very important to me that those who hear my story know this, so that it will be plain to everyone that only Almighty God, through the Holy Spirit, could have “changed my mind,” changed my heart, and caused me to flee from the false teachers and teachings of the LDS Church!
I don’t recall exactly when it started, but I began to feel very uncomfortable over many things I was and wasn’t hearing over the pulpit each week. I will only mention here the three big ones that really got to me:
1. The Cross.
It was brought with force, by the Spirit, to the forefront of my mind that the cross was rarely spoken of, and in fact, hadn’t been a major part of the curriculum as long as I could remember. Indeed, a study of LDS Church lesson manuals and teachings of the Church leaders down through the years, etc. would also bear this out. There are no crosses on or inside of Mormon Church buildings either. The cross is mentioned in certain hymns of the Church and is believed to be an important part of Christ’s atonement within the Mormon Church, but it is absolutely NOT EMPHASIZED.
Part of the reason for this is that Mormons believe that the most important part of the atonement took place in the Garden of Gethsemane rather than on the cross. That the reason He sweat drops of blood was because it was there in the garden that the weight of our sins fell upon Him. The cross, I was taught, simply provided the instrument of his physical death, so that He could be resurrected. In fact, many in the Church believe that the means of His death wasn’t necessarily that important. For instance, I have actually heard Mormons ask Christians, referring to their cross necklace: “If Christ had been killed with a gun, would you wear a gun around your neck?” To give one more example: in his closings remarks to the 14 million plus membership of the Church during a recent LDS General Conference, Thomas Monson, its current president, said: “[M]ay I share with you my love for the Savior and for His great atoning sacrifice for us. I believe that none of us can conceive the full import of what Christ did for us in Gethsemane, but I am grateful every day of my life for His atoning sacrifice in our behalf.” He said a few more things and closed without once speaking of the cross, without once pointing to Christ crucified, or His slaughter for our sins like a lamb on the altar of the cross. Every time I think of this blatant deceit, my soul screams out, “We are not saved by the “sweat blood” of Jesus, but BY THE “SHED BLOOD” OF JESUS!!! I have come to learn that it is not what a church claims to BELIEVE, but what they EMPHASIZE that really matters.
2. The Doctrine of Grace.
If you really pin an average Mormon down, he will admit that we are ultimately saved by grace… but then he will add that it is not by grace alone, but, as it says in the 3rd LDS Article of Faith, “by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel” (i.e., baptism, receiving the temple endowment, temple marriage, keeping ALL of the commandments, etc.), and by doing our part to grow toward perfection, etc. The Bible Dictionary, published by the Mormon Church for its members, defines grace like this: “A word that occurs frequently in the New Testament, especially in the writings of Paul. …This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts. …[G]race cannot suffice without total effort on the part of the recipient” [emphasis added]. They use a scripture in the Book of Mormon to back this up. It says, in part: “for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23, emphasis added).
This idea is put into the heads of every LDS child at a very young age. The most well-known and beloved children’s song in the Church and which every child knows by heart and sings with conviction is a song called “I Am a Child of God.” In the chorus of that song are the words: “Teach me all that I must DO to live with Him someday.” (Contrast that with the message of another children’s song found in Christian hymnals, “Jesus Loves Me.” The former focuses on our “doing” and the latter focuses on the “doing” of Another.)
In my search for truth, I became more and more repulsed and nauseated with the realization that what I had been taught and believed all of my life was that we could and, in fact, must add to the “sufficiency” of what Jesus had already done perfectly once for all! I see this upside down teaching of grace as heresy of the worst kind! It, along with other so-called “modern revelations” and teachings--and even false doctrines couched in children’s songs--deceived and robbed me of true life in Christ for years and years, and continues to keep millions entrenched in the worst kind of legalism and bondage, if not self-atonement. This prevents them from seeing the stunningly beautiful, and tasting the radically delicious doctrine of grace that the Bible teaches--the grace, which alone and through faith in Jesus, transforms us into new creations into His image “from one degree of glory to another.”
3. Jesus Didn’t Seem to Be EVERYTHING, But Just One Among *MANY THINGS* That Mattered.
I am not sure how to explain this one, but it is what began bothering me the most. I would be sitting in church meetings hearing all sorts of doctrines, morality or admonitions, and there seemed to be much made of men and our need and, in fact, even our ability to be “worthy” (the Biblical doctrine of depravity is not a doctrine embraced by the LDS Church). But rarely, if ever, was much made of Christ, and even more rarely of “Christ crucified!” And it certainly never felt like He was being worshiped or praised. It began to feel to me that Jesus was constantly usurped from His rightful throne in favor of man and his grand efforts, etc. It was utterly baffling to me that nobody else seemed to see this. It was like I was the only one that could see or admit that the emperor had no clothes, so to speak. It got to the point where I would have to walk out of meetings before I broke down crying for Jesus’ sake or would become very indignant, even angry. The best way I can describe it is to say that I became (and remain) extremely jealous for Jesus!!!
In 2004, in the midst of all this inner turmoil, I was invited to sing the theme song, and submit some of my own songs, for the Brigham Young University program Especially For Youth (EFY) CD. (EFY is an LDS youth camp the Church education system puts on every summer at BYU and a few other campuses that LDS kids from all over the world attend.) One of the songs I wrote and submitted was a song called “I Was Made to Praise Him.” If it hadn’t been for the producer of the CD, the song wouldn’t have made it onto the CD. It was considered “too Christian” by much of the committee and one young guy on the committee--a returned missionary--actually said: “I was made to praise Him?? That just doesn’t resonate with me.” (Ironically, we recorded the song for the CD and it ended up winning “Best Inspirational Song of the Year” in that year’s Faith Centered Music Awards--the LDS equivalent of the Dove Awards). I tell this story, because it was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back and caused me to see even more clearly that I was on an entirely different planet than most of my LDS associates, friends and family. That is when I turned in desperation to prayer and the Bible.
I like to say that in all of my searching and questioning that the Bible is the only “Anti-Mormon” book I ever read. Mormons believe the Bible to be the word of God, but only “as far as it is translated correctly” (8th LDS Article of Faith). An even darker cloud of doubt is put over the Bible through some Book of Mormon verses which teach, in part, that after the Bible (referred to as the Book or Gospel of the Lamb) went forth from the Jews to the Gentiles (sometime after the first century A.D.), it went through the hands of the “great and abominable church” and thus “many plain and precious things [were] taken away from the book of the Lamb of God (the Bible); and also many covenants of the Lord [were] taken away”; and because of this “an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them” (1 Nephi 13:24-29). In other words, the Bible, as we have it today, cannot be fully trusted. Therefore, the emphasis in the Church is definitely and unashamedly on the Book of Mormon. In fact, Joseph Smith taught that “the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”
So in my life, I had dutifully focused on the Book of Mormon while referring to the Bible now and then, careful to remember that it was not an inerrant document and could not be fully trusted as a source of absolute truth, especially when used against us by those not of our faith. It was when I began prayerfully and intently reading the Bible, that all sorts of questions came up and all sorts of questions were answered. Sometime after my conversion to Christianity, it hit me like a ton of bricks that many wonderful and critically important Bible verses that have since become part of the bedrock of my faith in Jesus and His gospel (Romans 3:21-28; 4:2-8; 5:6-11; 8:1-4; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Galatians 2:20-21; 3:10-14; 5:4-5; 6:14; Ephesians 2:1-10; Colossians 1:20-22; 2:13-15; Hebrews chapters 8-10 and many others) were, as far as I can remember, hardly, if ever, mentioned, let alone the subject of exposition of any kind in weekly Sunday meetings, and never preached on in the semi-annual general conferences of the Church where the prophet, apostles, and other Church authorities speak to their worldwide membership. Also ironic and troubling, is that none of these inspired and massively important verses (or any similar verses) are included in the lessons that Mormon missionaries use to “teach the Gospel,” nor are they found among the many scriptures that Mormon missionaries are required to memorize in preparation for their “preaching of the gospel.” I have come to treasure the Bible and have found IT not only to be the most correct of any book, but to make the others seem like a shadow by comparison. The Bible (including the exposition of it by His servants) has nourished and nurtured my soul like nothing else ever had before. I can’t fathom knowing Christ or coming to treasure Him without constantly reading and meditating upon it!
I also began praying very specifically and continually for truth--truth about grace and works, truth about Jesus and the nature of God, truth about heaven and hell, etc. Every time I would ask God for the truth about these and various other things, He was faithful to answer me and would continually lead me to a source outside the Mormon Church. Almost without exception, it would come from an Evangelical Christian source. I was very familiar with Christian music, but had no experience in Christian circles and did not know where to turn. However, God mercifully led me. For example, I came across Chuck Swindoll’s “Insight for Living” radio program where I heard him quote from a book called “The Pursuit of God” by A. W. Tozer. I felt compelled to have that book. I immediately purchased it and every word of it not only rang true in my heart, but thrilled my heart as well. I began listening to Tozer’s sermons and began growing in my knowledge of the Gospel through them. I became more and more hungry for truth and realized I had been starved of it all of my life; that I, like so many others, had been severely malnourished with food that was not helping me grow to spiritual or Christian maturity, nor was it creating a lover and true worshiper of Jesus out of me. I began to see that the foundation of my religious life that I thought was made up of the “fullness of truth” was actually nothing more than a dead tree. (I feel the need to clarify that my problems are with the LDS Church, its false teachings and “suppressing of the truth,” and not necessarily with the Mormon people who are, by and large, wonderful and “good,” but terribly deceived. “They have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” as Romans 10:2 says.)
Besides the sermons and books of A. W. Tozer, Pastor John Piper’s ministry (desiringgod.org) along with the teaching of itinerate preacher, Paul Washer (heartcrymissionary.com) were also very instrumental in my conversion and transition coming out of the Mormon Church as well as my continued growth as a Christian. (I should also include Steven Curtis Chapman in this list whose music is so Christ-honoring and Gospel/Bible saturated. His songs were some of the first seeds planted in my heart.) Though I give all glory to God, I feel gratefully indebted to these men for being His instruments and faithfully preaching the Gospel and the “whole counsel of God.” I absolutely believe that God led me to them. Their love for God and passion for the supremacy of Christ and the glory of His Name have had a life changing impact on me.
I will never forget one night in Kansas in 2007. I heard that Paul Washer would be speaking at a conference out there, and so I jumped in my truck and drove myself to it. I will never forget sitting in the last meeting of that conference. The awesome presence of God was palpable in that room. Paul was talking about what Jesus really faced as He went to the cross--not just a few Roman nails, but the full fury and wrath of a just, holy and Almighty God; how the Father slaughtered His own Son, finishing the story that Abraham couldn’t finish with Isaac, etc. I will never forget how I felt as he preached those words of God! It was all I could do to stay in my chair. I wanted to run outside into a corn field or something and throw myself to the ground in brokenness for my sin and in praise to my God for what He had done for me in Christ. Even now as I write this, I am finding it hard to contain my emotion just thinking about it! I was definitely on my way to salvation before that meeting, but I count that moment in that meeting as the moment when God really opened the flood gates and I was consumed with His love and KNEW I belonged to Him!!
In August 2009 I was baptized by my Pastor, Cliff Gregory, in Jordanelle Reservoir near Heber City, Utah. I came up out of the water with my hands in the air praising God.
In October 2009, however, all Hell broke loose! I don’t even know how to begin to describe the nine months from October 2009 – June 2010. It was a season of unrelenting darkness, unbearable torment, and unappeasable fear; and it was all of these things every waking moment. I experienced firsthand the “spiritual forces of evil” and know exactly what 18th century hymnist William Cowper meant when describing his season of darkness: “I was struck with such a dejection of spirits as none but they who have felt the same can have the least conception of. Day and night I was upon the rack, lying down in horror and rising up in despair.” It was as though demons had invaded my heart and were slowly sucking my soul dry. I was nothing more than a shell with a very thin soul. Someone once said that a person’s soul should be like an ocean, but mine was more like a pool of rain in a parking lot. I experienced an awful and ongoing combination of being oppressed by one invisible force while feeling absolutely forsaken by the other; for it felt as though God had completely taken His Spirit from me and that I was alone and without Him in the world. And so I suffered alone, knowing that there was nothing anyone could do to bring me back.
I would try to pray and literally could not form the words in my mind or in my mouth to do it. It was as though my tongue was unable and, in fact, forbidden to speak the sweetest Name in the universe. Reading the Bible was almost impossible as well; it felt heavy in my hands and every verse seemed to condemn me. I could only read a few lines and then could bear it no more. I lost all affection for my wife and children whom I absolutely adored. I didn't feel the opposite for them, rather, I felt nothing. I was unable to work. The simplest things felt agonizingly undoable, like using a computer, fixing something to eat, or doing the dishes, etc. I had great difficulty and even feared being engaged in any way or in any thing. I literally could not smile, laugh, or even cry. I could not attend church or any kind of social or family gathering. I didn't answer the phone or talk to anyone unless I absolutely had to. It was like I was completely disconnected from everything and everyone, especially God. I began to feel and believe that I was outside the mercy of Jesus, that I was lost forever. I was taunted and oppressed daily by demons, as it were, that I was certain were waiting to take me to hell. In fact, my reality was that I was getting just a taste of the hell that I knew and feared was not only waiting for me, but would be a thousand times worse! This is the worst kind of terror I have ever experienced! When alone, this horrifying thought, among others, would drive me to pacing the floor, sometimes for hours, while literally "wailing and gnashing my teeth.” I considered suicide and may have done it had it not been for the fear of what would happen next.
While I was consumed day and night with fear of everything temporal and eternal, my dear, devoted wife never gave up hope. It was devastating beyond words for her and my children to be sure, for it was as if I had actually died (and in many ways, worse). But, she clung to Jesus and constantly sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I'm not sure if most women would have endured it as she did. When others told her that they feared I would never get better and that maybe it was time to move on, she would, by the grace of God, hear a different persuasion from the Spirit and refuse to let me go. In my worst moments, she would plead with me to choose Jesus instead of the fear and darkness, and I would desperately respond, "I want to, but I can't". She would sometimes respond to that by saying "You can, you just won't." She now knows that I really couldn't; I honestly couldn't. It was as if I was bound by some invisible force. She would pray over me again and again and had constant emails going out to everyone she could think of requesting their prayers and faith on my behalf. I was certain that I was consigned to this abyss forever, for in the thick darkness I had lost sight of the God of might, mercy and miracles that Jesus is.
There is so much more to the story if time allowed. For instance, I was institutionalized five times in that nine month period. None of those institutions could keep me long term, which meant that my only other option was the Homeless Shelter (because it was obviously not healthy for my kids to see me in the condition I was in). This is exactly where I almost ended up, but for the grace of God. During the last couple of months, the fear and despair even drove me to biting myself. From my elbows to my fingertips, there wasn’t a space on my skin that wasn’t covered with open wounds or scabs. Because of this, the medical staff that checked me in for my fifth institutional stay were convinced that I was on meth, but this was not the case. I could go on and on… my wife and I could probably write a book!
And then it suddenly happened: one night I went to bed in my usual stark despair and awoke to a dawning of relief, light, and hope. Within two days, all of the darkness and the power it had over me was gone and was replaced with a lightness and peace I believed would never exist for me again. I had done nothing to change my desperate situation, countless doctors had tried without success, and all sorts of administered drugs had been utterly useless; God did it, Him and Him alone! To those closest to me, who watched me "die" and succumb helplessly to a tomb, this miraculous transformation was tantamount to Lazarus being raised from the dead. God had brought me back to my family and encircled me once again in His arms of safety, though I suspect I was never anywhere else.
Why did I have to go through such darkness, oppression and torment? Some of my LDS family and friends actually believe it happened because I left the Church. If anything, I believe just the opposite. Perhaps it was Satan’s last ditch effort to scare me back into the more palatable darkness of Mormonism? I know those are strong words, but there it is. Whatever the case, Satan surely intended harm and evil against me, but, on the other hand, God intended it for good. I believe that He allowed it in order to make Himself truly known to me--to show His great power and mercy. I was put into a place that only He, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, could have gotten me out of. There may be other reasons, and I may never know or understand all of them, but the lessons I learned are invaluable. My treasuring of and love for Jesus, my Savior, is much deeper, and my faith in Him is more real for having gone through it and making it out alive and well in His hands. A day does not go by that I do not praise and thank Him for His merciful miracle performed for me and my family.
When that season of darkness ended two and a half years ago, I entered a wonderful season of worship and intimacy with God, filled with His tender mercies that I am still basking in. I am currently the worship leader (music minister) in a small Evangelical Christian Church in Heber City, Utah--a town/valley of about 18,000 people. Since seeing the true Jesus and His amazing Gospel with the eyes of my heart, worship--through music and day to day life--has become a huge and natural part of my life! And it is truly a wonderful experience to worship with God’s people each week! I am writing songs again--songs of praise and gratitude and hope that pour from a heart that He has truly rescued, regenerated and transformed. He’s not done with me by a long shot, but I know He will finish what He started (cf. Philippians 1:6).
When I sent my resignation to the membership department of the LDS Church, I explained that I was requesting my name to be removed from its records because I was now placing all of my hope and trust in the merit and finished work of Christ alone and that what I have found in Christ since leaving the LDS Church far exceeds anything I ever experienced while a member of the Church. Jesus--and Him crucified--has come to be EVERYTHING to me!! I find myself thinking about Him all of the time. I hunger and thirst for Him. I want to really, really know Him! I love anything and everything that will stir my affections for Him! He has become my Magnificent Obsession! An LDS friend of mine recently told me that I was too obsessed with Jesus. I can only conclude from that remark that I must know an entirely different Jesus, and for that I will be eternally grateful!
Here is Michael's video on The ExMormon Files (September 7, 2016).