Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Worshiping Jesus differently does not equal "a different Jesus"

I had an epiphany yesterday. This is how it came about. After hearing over and over the accusation that "Mormons worship a different Jesus"--I started to recognize why some people of other faiths have claimed (wrongly I might add) that we are being deceptive or disingenuous when we say that we are Christians. In frustration they state: "We are simply talking about a different Jesus than you". Both parties tend to go away frustrated from this type of exchange, and nothing productive seems to come of it.

Now of course if Latter-day Saints believed only that Jesus was simply a great prophet and wonderful moral leader–if that were the extent of our testimony or our witness of Christ, than they would be right in assuming that that does not make us Christian. But few people bear stronger witness of Christ--and that He is much, much more than that--than do the Latter-day Saints. Of His divineness there is no doubt. We bear witness that Jesus is the Christ–the very Anointed One–and of His Messianic mission. The Book of Mormon confirms the truth of the Bible in this fundamental fact. So to be very honest, the claim that we are not Christian seems so pointless to most Mormons, because we know that we believe in and worship Jesus, and are therefore Christian.

But their claim of “a different Jesus”–that one is a tab bit more interesting. Because there are “differences” in our belief for sure. We believe in the Christ of the Bible, but not the Christ of post-biblical councils and creeds. I was there in person and remember when President Hinckley said:

"As a Church we have many critics, many of them. They say we do not believe in the traditional Christ of Christianity. There is some substance to what they say. Our faith, our knowledge is not based on ancient traditions, the creeds which came of a finite understanding and out of the almost infinite discussions of men trying to arrive at a definition of the risen Christ. Our faith, our knowledge comes from the witness of a prophet in this dispensation who saw before him the great God of the universe and His Beloved son, the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. They spoke to him. He spoke to them. He testified openly, unequivocally, and unabashedly of that great vision of the Almighty Redeemer of the world glorifying our understanding, but unequivocating in the knowledge it brought." (April 2002 General Conference)

Can it be put any more simply? Both sides accept the biblical teachings about Christ, but we interpret them through different lenses. Yes, this is a difference. No one has ever claimed "we're the same". So the epiphany I had was how to respond to this claim.

Even though we have differences in our Christian beliefs, (ie: Evangelicals believe in the Trinity where all three persons are one being; I believe in the Godhead where three distinct beings are one completely unified God) does that really mean that one of us can’t be Christian? I don’t necessarily think so. Or rather, do those differences really mean that we’re worshiping a “different Jesus”? I think the better answer is that perhaps we’re just worshiping Jesus differently.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A "Works Based Gospel"? You're badly mistaken.

There seems to be a huge misunderstanding. Actually, there are many misunderstandings, but this post highlights a major one; that we believe in a works based gospel, based right off of 2nd Nephi 25:23. My response is:

"You're misinterpreting how "we" interpret 2nd Nephi 25:23. The heart of it is saying that we are saved by grace NOTWITHSTANDING all we can do. Or in other words, "after all is said and done, or after all we can do (which isn't much)--we are saved by the grace of Christ." This is much more in line with LDS teaching and with all the other scriptures in the Book of Mormon, which eloquently states the doctrine of salvation by grace.

I would guess that there are some Church members who perhaps misunderstood our own doctrine/scriptures and think of the gospel as a gospel of works. They are wrong to do so and have not understood our own doctrine. When through our faith in Him we enter into a covenant relationship with Him through baptism, we turn ourselves over to Him. However, just like a husband and wife who enter into a marriage covenant are expected to be faithful to each other, He expects us to be faithful to Him and love Him more than we love anything or anyone else. Hence the scriptural analogy with Christ as the groom and the Church (and its members) as the bride.

Paul's definition of faith I believe includes "faithfulness". James' definition of faith is more like "belief"--hence the need to add "faith without works is dead". They're just defining faith differently. It's two sides of the same coin. Both were apostles. Both were right. Both taught that Christ expects us to give him our all--but no matter how much or how little that "all" is--it's insufficient to save us without the Savior Jesus Christ.

The Book of Mormon clearly teaches, “Since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself” (Alma 22:14). “There can be nothing which is short of an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world” (Alma 34:12; see also 2 Ne. 9:7; Alma 34:8–16). “Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; … he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law” (2 Ne. 2:6–7). Consequently, “there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Ne. 2:8). And so we “rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ … that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Ne. 25:26).

I quote from Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles:
“These teachings obviously stand in opposition to the belief or assumption of some mortals (perhaps even some members of our Church) that they have no need of Christ because they can think they can save themselves by their own works.

“As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we testify with the Book of Mormon prophet-king Benjamin that “there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.

“For behold … salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ” (Mosiah 3:17–18).

And so we say to all, in the words the prophet Moroni wrote as a conclusion to the Book of Mormon:

“Come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ. …

“And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot” (Moroni 10:32–33).”

This is fundamental! This is our doctrine! I've personally felt the power The Book of Mormon has to bring us to Christ and rely wholly on His merits, mercy, and grace (and not our own.) By continuing to perpetuate the myth that we believe in salvation by works would be disingenuous and dishonest--the very thing you have accused us of in times past."

When you think about it, it is "all we can do" to repent of our sins and trust in Jesus.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Finding an Oasis of Understanding in a Desert of Criticism

My last post was entitled "Pessimists do not contribute, unbelievers do not create, doubters do not achieve". But another title that I liked better was suggested: "Finding an Oasis of Understanding in a Desert of Criticism". Instead, I've found another oasis of understanding in a different type of "desert of criticism" lately. That desert belongs to those of other faiths who spend way too much of their time criticizing my faith. Recently I've tried to participate in one of these discussions. It's a delicate balancing act to try to get something productive to grow out of a desert while at the same time trying to get out alive. All in all, I appreciate the privilege of following Elder Ballards recent advice when he encouraged us to use "new media" such as blogs to participate in various conversations:

"There are conversations going on about the Church constantly. Those conversations will continue whether or not we choose to participate in them. But we cannot stand on the sidelines while others, including our critics, attempt to define what the Church teaches. While some conversations have audiences in the thousands or even millions, most are much, much smaller. But all conversations have an impact on those who participate in them. Perceptions of the Church are established one conversation at a time."

I decided I have nothing to fear from trying to have a "conversation" with those not of our faith, especially when it involves clarifying misconceptions. As President Hinckley said about his interview with Mike Wallace: "I concluded it was better to lean into the stiff wind of opportunity than to simply hunker down and do nothing." I try not to get defensive. I really, really try to put myself in their shoes and see their perspective through their own lens. I try to speak by the Spirit in a way that would bring honor to the Master and His work. I enjoy the challenge, quite frankly, of having an open and honest conversation while still being so very respectful and neighborly.

Sometimes it's hard to know when it's time to stop and when to go on and "plow in hope" (1 Corinthians 9:10) Sometimes some of the comments really try my patience. Especially when things they bring up are so old, unimportant, or have already been answered/addressed a gazillion times. Of course pure love needs to be the motive. All in all, it's nice to know I have an oasis to return to--my testimony. The foundation of my testimony is the Book of Mormon. My faith really is unshaken in the Book of Mormon. And there are a lot of implications to knowing that the Book of Mormon is true. Because I know the Book of Mormon is true, I also know that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has restored His gospel through the prophet Joseph Smith, and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God's kingdom with the authority, ordinances, revelation, and true prophets and apostles to lead us to life and salvation--in short--this is God's holy work.

Elder Ballard gave some very solid advice: "As you participate in this conversation and utilize the tools of New Media, remember who you are—you are Latter-day Saints. Remember as the Proverb states that “a soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). And remember that “contention is of the devil.” There is no need to argue or contend with others regarding our beliefs. There is no need to become defensive or belligerent. Our position is solid; the Church is true. We simply need to have a conversation, as friends in the same room would have, always guided by the promptings of the Spirit and constantly remembering the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ which reminds us of how precious are the children of our Father in Heaven."

This is my desire. And although I’m strong in my convictions, I’m much more into building bridges than I am into trying to convert people. I really feel no need to prove anything, and certainly no need to point out errors in somebody else's beliefs. As the saying goes, "a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still". I'm interested in building bridges, not destroying them. I would love to engage in civil conversation with anybody who sincerely is trying to live the gospel. We all have much to gain from each other. Religion ought not to be divisive. God pitches a big tent to include all of His children. So should we.

Monday, May 5, 2008

"Pessimists do not contribute, unbelievers do not create, doubters do not achieve"

The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right time, but also to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment. 


There's something about our society that has embraced a culture of complaining. And you can't very well complain about the amount of complaining that's going around either. All in all, I've realized that I'm a lot happier when I don't complain so much. And along the same lines, I'm happier when I stop looking for things to criticize, and enjoy more of the simple goodness of life. I suppose that since the onset of reality tv and judging shows it's become more popular to critique every little thing about every little performance, and that's probably carried over into our lives. (For the record, I enjoy American Idol.) It happens in regards to our country, our Church, and it's obviously one of the greatest dangers to a marriage.

I really feel grateful that among other things the Spirit has taught me since Thomas S. Monson became the prophet is that I feel his ministry is like an invitation to step back and enjoy the simple things in life. It's like an invitation to simply serve like Christ would serve, to never postpone a prompting, and to be happy with the things that are right there in front of you--on the surface--that bring happiness and that have always been right. If I'm being honest, I felt for a short time like I was going to be missing out on deep doctrine, or that I was just going to keep hearing stories or things I'd already heard Monson say before. I'm so grateful that I've had a change of heart on that. I don't feel that way anymore. Instead it's been really good for me to simply take a step back and appreciate the little things more--the things that really matter the most and that really bring us happiness. I've noticed my love for the prophet grow too. In short, I feel a lot happier.

The same goes for searching for things to criticize in the Church's history. President Hinckley spoke well when he said: "My plea is that as we continue our search for truth, particularly we of the Church, that we look for strength and goodness rather than weakness and failings in those who did so great a work in their time. We recognize that our forefathers were human. They doubtless made mistakes. Some of them acknowledged making mistakes. But the mistakes were minor when compared with the marvelous work which they accomplished. To highlight mistakes and cover over the greater good is to draw a caricature. Caricatures are amusing, but they are often ugly and dishonest. A man may have a wart on his cheek and still have a face of beauty and strength, but if the wart is over emphasized in comparison to his other features, the portrait is lacking in integrity. There was only one perfect man who ever walked the earth. The Lord has used imperfect people in the process of building his perfect society. If some of them occasionally stumbled, or if their characters may have been slightly flawed in one way or another, the wonder is the greater that they accomplished so much." ("The Continuing Search for Truth")

It gets a little discouraging to hear so much criticism so much of the time. We hear it all the time in the news about our own country. Glen Beck recently wrote: "We're constantly reminded about America's faults and flaws, but what about our achievements? If you want to teach our kids about Vietnam, that's fine, but you better also teach them about World War II. And if you want to talk about our wars, you better also talk about our welfare. America is one of the most charitable countries in the history of the world, yet our mistakes are always glorified far more than our generosity. That needs to be reversed." (Glen Beck: "America needs a 12 step program")

I feel happy that I've finally come to my own little oasis of understanding and contentment in the midst of a desert of criticism. (And it really is like a desert wasteland--nothing productive grows out of it.) President Hinckley went on to describe how we can each come to our own little oasis of which I speak. "I am asking that we stop seeking out the storms and problems of life, and enjoy more fully the sunlight. I am suggesting that as we go through life we concentrate on the positive. I am asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we halt the sounds of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment virtue and effort... What I am suggesting is that each of us turn from the negativism that spreads through our society and look for the remarkable good among those with whom we associate, that we speak of one another’s virtues more than we speak of one another’s faults, that optimism replace pessimism, that our faith exceed our fears. When I was a young man and was inclined to speak critically of people or events, my father would say: 'Pessimists do not contribute, unbelievers do not create, doubters do not achieve'." ("The Continuing Search for Truth")

It seems like sometimes we hold our own fellow members to a higher standard and forget to treat them with as much love, care, and neighborliness that we would those not of our faith. It’s probably because we depend on each other so much in our various callings for things to get done–but since there are no “professionals”–we can’t let ourselves get too judgmental.

"To live continually in thoughts of ill will, cynicism, suspicion, and envy, is to be in a self-made prison hole. But to think well of all, to be cheerful with all, to patiently learn to find the good in all-such unselfish thoughts are the very portals of heaven; and to dwell day by day in thoughts of peace toward every creature will bring abounding peace to their possessor" (James Allen--"As A Man Thinketh")

A good reminder for all of us.