Friday, September 12, 2008

"Let Us Be Very Clear On This Point"

I've decided that much of the frustration and confusion in conversations between Latter-day Saints and those not of our faith is caused by ourselves. One of my pet peeves, and pet peeves of many Evangelical Christians, is when Latter-day Saints say "We're Christians just like you", which of course isn't true, and means one of two things: The Mormon is ignorant, or the Mormon is purposely being misleading. Semantics matter, after all. Mormons certainly are Christians, but we're Non-Traditional Christians. Although I tend to enjoy exploring our commonalities more than our differences, I'll never pretend that we don't have significant differences with Traditional Christianity. We need to be careful about the intended and unintended messages our words give off. I'm sure we all could do a better job not only of understanding the gospel, but of communicating it more effectively both within the Church and without.

One example. Elder M. Russell Ballard cautioned members of the Church:

"We occasionally hear some members refer to Jesus as our Elder Brother, which is a true concept based on our understanding of the pre-mortal life with our Father in Heaven. But like many points of gospel doctrine, that simple truth doesn't go far enough in terms of describing the Savior's role in our present lives and His great position as a member of the Godhead. Thus, some non-LDS Christians are uncomfortable with what they perceive as a secondary role for Christ in our theology. They feel that we view Jesus as a spiritual peer. They believe that we view Christ as an implementor for God, if you will, but that we don't view Him as God to us and to all mankind, which, of course, is counter to biblical testimony about Christ's divinity…

"Now we can understand why some Latter-day Saints have tended to focus on Christ's Sonship as opposed to His Godhood. As members of earthly families, we can relate to Him as a child, as a Son, and as a Brother because we know how that feels. We can personalize that relationship because we ourselves are children, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. For some it may be more difficult to relate to Him as a God. And so in an attempt to draw closer to Christ and to cultivate warm and personal feelings toward Him, some tend to humanize Him, sometimes at the expense of acknowledging His Divinity. So let us be very clear on this point: it is true that Jesus was our Elder Brother in the premortal life, but we believe that in this life it is crucial that we become "born again" as His sons and daughters in the gospel covenant." ("Building Bridges of Understanding", by Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles).

24 comments:

Bored in Vernal said...

CC,
I have trouble negotiating these muddy waters. In the last couple of months I've interacted with several evangelical Christians on my blog. I vacillate whether to insist that we believe the same God and Christ that they do, or to concede that we have some major differences in theology.

Do you think our differences are enough to take the position that we worship a different God?

Clean Cut said...

I'm so with you BIV--and that's an excellent question that I don't take lightly. I understand exactly what kind of vacillation you're talking about because I've considered the same--trying to see both sides of the issue.

I explored this question a little bit on my post Worshiping Jesus differently does not equal "a different Jesus".

At the end of all the comments there was the following quote: "To be sure, there are doctrinal differences between some Christians and the Latter-day Saints. But, this is true of virtually all Christians:

"Christians have argued, often passionately, over every conceivable point of Christian doctrine from the filioque to the immaculate conception. There is scarcely an issue of worship, theology, ethics, and politics over which some Christians have not disagreed among themselves."

"Latter-day Saints have no quarrel with the idea that some of their beliefs about Jesus may differ from those of other Christians. If there were no differences in belief at all, it would make little sense to have the hundreds of Christian denominations which exist.

"But, it is insulting and unfair to insist that the LDS do not worship the "same" Jesus as other Christians. By analogy, a Protestant might consider Martin Luther an inspired instrument in the hands of God to reform the wayward Christian Church. A Catholic might rather consider Luther to be a wayward priest who was gravely mistaken. Clearly, the opinions about Luther may differ, but it would be absurd to insist that Catholics and Lutherans are each talking about a DIFFERENT Luther.

"Rather than illuminating LDS Christians' or non-LDS Christians' beliefs about Jesus, this accusation is simply an attempt to spread discord and confusion.

"LDS Christians and other Christians agree on the vast majority of points on Jesus' nature, mission, and indispensable role in salvation.

"The LDS differ from other Christians in that they tend to believe additional things about Jesus, since they have other scriptures (such as the Book of Mormon) which provide them with further information. This information complements the Biblical beliefs which they share with the whole Christian world."

Thomas Parkin said...

"Do you think our differences are enough to take the position that we worship a different God?"

Yes, and no. But mostly yes, and here is why.

Imagine that the being that we had to have faith in was you. Different people describe you in different ways. Some people claim that you don't have a body. Some people ascribe to you a radically different philosophy that the one you actually hold. How different would their descriptions of you have to be before you said things like 'they are drawing near to me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.' Let's say some of them claim that you will send most of us to an everlasting hell for a failure of correct belief. You might be tempted to say, 'that isn't me, at all.' You might say to such people, who used your name all day long, 'you never knew me.'

Consider the scripture which says that faith is hope for things not seen which are true. Faith, or, rather, belief, in things that aren't true doesn't, then, constitute actual faith. We must hear a correct idea before we can exercise faith in it. That's why faith comes through hearing the word. We can believe in a wrong idea with all our heart, and that has no power to save us - I'm paraphrasing Joseph Smith. Since these things are true, strong faith isn't only a matter of intensity, but also a matter of accuracy. Growing faith isn't only, or even primarily, a matter of feeling, but of having correct understandings. Growth in faith is simultaneously a growth in knowledge of true ideas about God. Consider this,

What is the first principle of the Gospel? Faith in Christ. But Joseph says that the first principle of the gospel is to have a certain and correct knowledge of the character, personality and attributes of God. Viewed in light of the above, we can see that these are the same things.

~

Athanasius said...

CC:

You have to understand the "Inner Christian debates" are not the same as the Mormon Christian debates. The inner Christian debates are usually about various minor dogma's and never about the nature of God. I'm sure there are traditionalist Christians who do not have a Trinitarian view of God, and fall in line with the Arian view of the Father and Jesus. However they would then not be considered Traditionalists but rather heretic's. So to compare the inner Chrisitan debates to the Mormon Christian debate is like comparing apples to oranges.

brooksrobinson said...

I agree with A (you don't mind if I shorten it do ya?). The Christian debates tend to be on issue's that do not regard the nature of God; but rather various side issues.

Jared (Andrea's blog) said...

I've just discovered through my conversations with Andrea and Neil a concept that sheds so much light on this issue. Let me just copy what I wrote over there.

God is not human. Duhh. We can all find a way to agree on that. But if I say it a little different, a Mormon can understand.

God is not a glorified man. He is not our same species. He is a different kind of creature, completely unique from us. Human qualities do not apply to Him. He is three in one because that’s the way He is. It doesn’t have to relate in any way to what humans are like. His body, His spirit, His personality, His being do not correspond to the human attributes of body, spirit, personality, and being.

Trying to understand the Trinitarian God by comparing our own spirit, body, and mind doesn’t work because He isn’t like us. Asking a question like, “Where does God keep His body when He isn’t Jesus?” isn’t relevant because God isn’t like a man.

This is hard for Mormons to understand because we believe that God is like us… or rather, we are like Him. We believe that He is a glorified man and that we are His children. In short, we believe that we are the same species as God. The idea that God is a fundamentally different type of being than man doesn't even crossed our minds. That is why Mormons don’t get it.

As a latter-day saint you have to imagine the evangelical view of the universe were we are not God's offspring. It is a very foreign idea. So foreign that the answer is a resounding YES, we believe in a totally different God.

This is the answer to why they do not believe we are Christians. They say that we do not believe that Jesus is fully God and they are right. We don't even believe that God the Father is fully God by their definition of what God is.

Does this make sense to anyone else?

Clean Cut said...

I think I understand that you're trying to shed light on how Trinitarians perceive God, and thus how they can believe so differently than Latter-day Saints. Is that correct? I think you might be able to add to the conversation on a former post of mine--""My View Of God".

jared (andrea's blog) said...

Yes, Clean Cut, that is correct. That is my attempt to describe how a born again Christian perceives God. I am still waiting for Andrea to confirm if my description is accurate.

If that description is correct, it means that protestants believe that we are not God's children. That is very disturbing. This had never occurred to me before, not in all my discussions with protestants. I never imagined that our view of God was so radically different.

"I am a child of God" is the core or LDS belief in Deity. It is the definition of our souls. It is the first principle of religion as we know it.

A universe where God is not our Father in Heaven is a dark dark place. In that universe, we are nothing like Him. I could never believe it. God's spirit confirms to me that I am His son even stronger than it confirms that Jesus is my Savior. I am a child of God is the first answer to prayer that I ever received. But this idea, does help me understand why Neil is so adamant that the Mormon definition of God is completely different than the protestant definition.

Clean Cut said...

I agree that we definitely have a different view of God than many Christians. However, we believe the same New Testament teachings about Jesus, although there may certainly be different interpretations of the scriptures.

I thought it was interesting that in that Building Bridges Of Understanding talk I linked to by Elder Ballard from back in 1998, he said:

"There are many who say that Latter-day Saints believe in a “different Jesus” than do other Christians and that we are therefore not “Christian.” Here is another place that we can agree to disagree without being disagreeable. We believe in the Jesus of the New Testament, and we believe what the New Testament teaches about Him. We do believe things about Jesus that other Christians do not believe, but that is because we know, through revelation, things about Jesus that others do not know. It is a twisting of language to call this a “different Jesus,” as though we have created some other individual by that name."

jared (andrea's blog) said...

That is a very good way of putting it, "we believe in the same New Testament teaching of Jesus". In that way we can say "we are Christians too" and not be lying.

The problem I see with this is that is it so incomplete. Like you said semantics matter. Especially to someone who is being told that they are wrong. It is like them saying to a crowd, "Mormons believe that they can become gods". We would never say it that way. It is to incomplete.

Saying "We are Christians too" can (and will) be construed as "We are Christians just like you" which is definitely off limits. If we are contentious we shouldn't say it. When we speak of our similarities we must also mention our differences or we are being incomplete. We are telling half-truths. They, understandably, hear the half-truths as deception.

I know that we can't cover every similarity and every difference, every time we speak, but we need to make sure to give it a fair effort. We always make the effort to write a paragraph instead of a sentence when they distort our doctrine. We'd better write a paragraph instead of a sentence when we declare our Christianity.

Athanasius said...

Jared:
"'we are Christians too' and not be lying."

Buddhist's, Muslim's, Jehovah witnesses, and thousands of other cult's have done just the same. However, they all have very different interpretations on what those teachings mean. Should we regard them as Christian's to? Who should we regard as Christian's, and how much room for interpretation should we allow? Jesus either revealed himself in the Trinitarian way or he didn't. If he did, then Mormons, Buddhist's, Muslim's, etc. etc. are wrong. If Jesus is merely another god, as Mormonism holds I cannot be right niether could anyone else.

I think interpretation can not be lax as Mormon's make it out to be. He was either saying these things or he didn't. They are completely different views of God, Jesus, and many other teachings. So how does one know how to interpret these things? Well considering the scriptures are Koine Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, start with the original language. After that take what those words mean and apply it to the Jewish concept of the scriptures and how they viewed God. The Jew's are the original root and revelation, without interpreting from their view scriptures like "cut your own eye out and throw it in the fire" can be taken literally. Without a Jewish revelation mindset you'll be interpreting the scriptures from a man who lived 1800years after the fact and had dabbled in the occult.

Clean Cut said...

Jared, you make an excellent point about incompleteness and how things can be perceived. I really like the way you put it. You've mentioned some very significant insights.

jared (andrea's blog) said...

'Should we regard them as Christian's to? Who should we regard as Christian's, and how much room for interpretation should we allow?'

Who owns the definition of the word Christian? Inside my head, the word Christian means, someone who has dedicated themselves to living the teachings of Jesus and believes that Jesus is the only path to salvation.

This definition allows me to know some Mormons who are Christians and some who are not. I've known some strict Pentecostals who I'd say were not Christians. They talked about Jesus all the time and quoted the Bible a lot, but they were just bad people. They didn't follow Jesus' teachings. I know some Mormons who are mean and try to cheat others whenever they can to raise themselves up. They are baptized members, but I don't consider them Christians.

This isn't the same definition you use. You want Christian to mean you and you don't want it to mean us. I get that. As Mormons we do the same thing to other groups. There are fundamentalist groups that practice polygamy and call themselves Mormons. We say to them: "You aren't Mormons. Don't use that name. You are messing up the word Mormon". Well.... that's what you are saying to us about the word Christian.

Neither of us can control how other people think of themselves. I will always think of myself as a Christian and a Mormon. You can't change that. You can try, but you will be waisting your time.

Years ago, our Church Leaders started a campaign to get the news media to stop calling us Mormons. It didn't work. They couldn't control how people use the language. You are dealing with the same problem here. You can fight and fight and fight to have your definition of 'Christian' be the only one, but it isn't going to work.

You can say "but it is a different Jesus". That is true, but that doesn't help the debate. To us, the 'different Jesus' is the Christ. Therefore, while we are a different kind of Christian, we are still Christians.

It is like I said in that post above. Using one sentence like, "Mormons are not Christians" isn't going to work. It is incomplete. If you insist on using it, you'll have to get used to someone always trying to complete it for you.

jwood (andrea's blog) said...

Thanks Clean Cut,
That is a great compliment. I have the highest respect for your ability to express our beliefs correctly. I am amazed at your ability to find relevant quotes and sources. You seem extremely well read. I love the one from Elder Ballard you used in this topic. You have a great talent.

Anonymous said...

This is a great blog/comments. I am very interested to learn what the Protestant view of God is. When Mormons say they are children of God; in comparison, what do Protestants believe?

Athanasius said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Clean Cut said...

Brooks (aka: Athanasius):
By now you should have learned my simple request in respectful blogging--namely, sharing your thoughts about your own beliefs, of which your are an expert, not Mormon beliefs, of which you are certainly not. It's especially ironic when you speak as if you were an expert on Mormonism or understand something that we do not, when you, to be quite frank, show much ignorance in your understanding of Mormonism, and do so in broad daylight (although under a pseudo-name) on a Mormon blog. It just doesn't make much sense to me that you not only have the time but that you're so motivated by criticizing Mormons instead of sharing your own wonderful beliefs, of which I'm sure you have many. I recommend you do so on a blog of your own, although I'm sure you'll soon find it's a lot harder to articulate your own beliefs than to jab at someone else's.

By any means, before you criticize us strive first to build bridges of understanding and a relationship of trust. By doing otherwise your motives will always come into question and you won't get very far. I hope you can respect my wishes as long as you choose to visit this blog.

Athanasius said...

CC:

My name's not brooks. Also, I do know Mormon beliefs. Do you not believe that Jesus is a seperate god in an office called the Godhead?

Athanasius said...

CC:

You know where to email me ICXCNIKA.08@Gmail.com

jared (andrea's blog) said...

athanasius (or any other protestant),

I am going to go over to the "My View Of God" topic and repost my description of the Trinity. I'd greatly appreciate it if you'd join me there and tell me if it is accurate, or needs improvement.

I'll be posting as 'Jared W' from now on.

Clean Cut said...

I'm not quite sure why you want to ask the question. Are you merely wanting to debate or re-confirm how right you are and how wrong we are? That isn't my motivation in blogging.

I like to have interfaith dialogue to learn and to build bridges of understanding. We both have a vastly different framework of "God", and we both feel convinced we're right. Thus, the only effective way of communication would be to try to understand where the other person is coming from. I've tried to do this recently with the Trinity. I'm beginning to see that the Trinity was a solution to a problem. The problem was that people saw that the scriptures talk of "one eternal God", and yet they also believed that not only the Father was God, but Christ was God and fully divine too, as well as the Holy Spirit. I think the Trinity--3 persons in one being--was a solution for people who were afraid that worshipping three Gods, when the scriptures also clearly say that there is "one God", would be polytheism.

But Latter-day Saints also recognize the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as "God"--or the Godhead--without feeling there is a polytheism problem, because all three of them are so one in every way (except physically), that there should be no problem in thinking of them as "one eternal God". In this way, "God" can also be understood as one "presidency"--similiarly to how the First Presidency is one presidency but all three men are presidents themselves.

Clean Cut said...

I too would be curious to move that conversation over to My View Of God and hear about how people not of our faith think of our Heavenly Father, yet not truly believing that he is literally the Father of our spirits.

As Eliza R. Snow wrote: "I had learned to call Thee Father through Thy Spirit from on high, but until the key of knowledge was restored I knew not why". Because of our knowledge of the Plan of Salvation restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith, we Latter-day Saints literally believe, as we sang in primary: "I am a child of God, and he has sent me here." We lived with our Heavenly Father before we came to earth. We chose to accept and sanction that Plan of Happiness, in which the Savior volunteered to come to earth and reconcile us to our Heavenly Father, which atonement, or "at-one-ment", became necessary because of the Fall.

So we literally think of our Heavenly Father as our Father, and not some unimaginable essence without body, parts, or passions. As Jared suggested, I invite anyone who believes differently to share how they see things over on My View Of God

ji said...

I have long believed what Elder Ballard taught -- we diminish Jesus Christ when we call him our elder brother. We have no authority for this undue familiarity. When I see him someday, I will not give him a high-five as an elder brother and then ask him to step aside so I can proceed to my Father. No, but because of my being born again, I know that Jesus Christ is now my father. As he says, he is my Lord, my Savior, my Redeemer, and my God. If I accept Jesus Christ as my father, then one day I will share with him all that his Father has. Jesus Christ himself says in D&C 132:12, "I [Jesus Christ] am the Lord thy God ... no man shall come unto the Father but by me or by my word..."

Elder Ballard rightly counsels us that while it might be true that "Jesus was our Elder Brother in the premortal life ... in this life it is crucial that we become "born again" as His sons and daughters in the gospel covenant.". We err, perhaps innoncently, by hailing Jesus Christ as elder brother. After all, in this same sense, Satan is our elder brother, isn't he?

Paraphrasing D&C 18:47, Jesus Christ is [my] Lord and [my] God.

John Inman

Clean Cut said...

Amen John. Excellent comment.