Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Two Testimonies of Christ: From a Current and a Former Mormon

Today, within minutes of each other, I read testimonies from two sincere followers of Christ. While each focuses on his current life in Christ, the paths each traveled have been very different. Yet, both are enlightening and worthy of reflection.

In Why I Left The Mormon Church, Mike shares his testimony about how Jesus, not a church, is the head of our salvation. Thus, his is a testimony with which I completely agree. I only feel sad that this truth was not reinforced and made more obvious during the dozen years Mike was still a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This line of his struck me as so very tragic: "I had believed in [Jesus Christ] for years, but I had been taught that the way to salvation was by obedience to the Mormon church. The church had effectively stood between me and God".

I can't blame him for leaving. I can only hope that his experience is a rare exception. If there are others who feel this way, how can we ensure that the ball doesn't get dropped? All I can say is that I'm so glad my personal experience has been quite the opposite. I have come to truly know Jesus and feel of his saving grace and power. I've also been a life-long Mormon.

In Ray's A Testimony for My Birthday, the "central point is that I have experienced and continue to experience God in my life as a follower of Christ who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

While my own experience more closely reflects Ray's, reading these two testimonies back to back made me curious how many people out there would fall into the experiences of the former or the latter. It's disheartening to think about even one person who can go for a year, let alone a dozen, being outwardly active in the Church while not truly inwardly active in Christ. It reminds me of Stephen Robinson's analogy of those sitting in a cold, dark room pretending to be warmed by all the heaters and the lamps without actually having turned on the power switch. Or put another way, truly being made "alive in Christ because of our faith" (2nd Nephi 25:25).

While I don't think this challenge is necessarily unique to the Latter-day Saints, it is nevertheless a challenge. I feel part of my personal mission is to share the "good news" with those who still haven't "got it", whether LDS or not.


NM said...

Great post Clean Cut!

I resonate with similar sentiments. Certainly from my own experiences within the evangelical church: for 20-odd years I completely missed the message of God's saving grace through Jesus' penal substitutionary death. I think the problem in Evangelicalism relates to mis-met-communication; although grace is preached from the pulpit, sometimes speakers' demeanor in verbally expressing 'grace' is not congruent with their character. I say this because I know that to truly experience grace: there must be brokenness... Although Evangelicalism does not necessarily place [as much] importance upon 'church', it is guilty of placing importance upon other church-ey activities that one may feel one needs to do in order to be accepted...thus completely missing the mark.

As a side issue, I'm really impressed that the LDS church [not very] recently invited Ravi Zaccharias to one of their conferences to speak about the centrality of the cross. Mr. Zaccharias was, for me, a shining beacon during my struggles with Christianity, existentialism, post-modernism, relativism... He and others like Francis Schaeffer, CS Lewis, Andrew Fellow, Michael Ramsden (et al), helped me - and their ministry continues to help others for the defence of the gospel message.

I have no doubt that there are people in the LDS community who have a real living relationship with Jesus - their one and only source of righteousness. And like other people within other churches/denominations, the people who "have got it", are those who have failed; and for LDS - they are most likely to be those who have failed to acquire their temple recommend (for example) is in our failure and stark reality of sin that we realise who-He-really-is and what-He-really-did...

john f. said...

In the portion you quoted from Ray's testimony, it looks like he is saying that Christ is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Am I mis-reading that? It seems like an odd point.

Jared said...

"This line of his struck me as so very tragic: 'I had believed in [Jesus Christ] for years, but I had been taught that the way to salvation was by obedience to the Mormon church. The church had effectively stood between me and God.'"

How does one define salvation? That's the key question here. If salvation is simply triumph over physical and spiritual death, then it is correct that no one "needs" the LDS church to be saved in that sense. However, without the authorized priesthood ordinances as found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to our understanding, one cannot be "fully saved" in that they return to live with God again. All (well, most) will someday be saved from death and hell - mainly through the Atonement of Jesus Christ but also partially through their own suffering should they reject the necessary ordinances!

Yes, salvation comes only through Christ but that does not mean that we do not have to follow His commandments and receive the necessary ordinances.

Mike states he felt the LDS Church stood in His way to God. That is tragic like you said Clean Cut. That means he completely misunderstood LDS doctrine. That was not necessarily and completely his fault but I have met very few church or ex-church members who have felt that way and I have met and talked with a lot of church members (practicing, not practicing, and former members).

One difference in my opinion between Mormons and other Christians is that many of us Mormons are focused on developing a personal relationship with Heavenly Father in addition to Christ (even if this is not explicitly stated, or even understood). We pray to God in the name of Christ. We do things for the glory of God in the name of Christ. This comes from our understanding of Heavenly Father and Christ as two distinct beings.

Jesus prayed to His Father and our Father these words: "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3). We seek to know not only Christ but also our Heavenly Father. This can sometimes come across as de-emphasizing our relationship with Christ.

Additionally there are some Mormons (e.g., Bruce R. McConkie and Robert L. Millet) who, when it comes down to it, emphasize our relationship with Heavenly Father over our relationship with Christ. Again, not to minimize Christ - He and His Father are one, they just happen to be separate beings - but even Christ stated repeatedly that glory be to the Father (and thus implying not to Him) so limiting our focus to just Christ is, well, limited (based on LDS understanding of the Godhead).

Okay, I have rambled a bit off topic. Mike felt that the church stood between him and God. That is unfortunate. The church facilitates our approach to God, which facilitation is powered by Christ. Without Christ and without His power, the LDS Church is nothing. However, because it is Christ's church, the only way to return to live with God again is by receiving the ordinances found in the church. Those ordinances and that path are not separate from Christ - they are His ordinances and it is His path. "Obedience to the 'Mormon Church'" is important because it is obedience to all of Christ's commands. So where Mike saw the church as a stumbling block, I see it as a starting block. Mike sees Christ and the end of the race but does not follow the strait and narrow path the Savior made for us to follow. Is that statement meant to be condescending? No and hopefully no one will take it to be. But as a member of the LDS Church I believe that the fullness of the gospel of Christ is found in the LDS Church.

I hope what I have written is not misunderstood. Nothing I wrote (I hope) implied that somehow Christ is unnecessary. However, Christ's church is not unimportant.

Eric Nielson said...

Well said, Jared.

Anonymous said...

Clean Cut,

I really appreciated this post. I'm a lifetime member of the the LDS church, but find myself doing a lot of "pretending to be warmed" these days. I've chosen to work through my doubts and concerns within the church, rather than from the outside. Sometimes I feel like I'm just going through the motions. I want to believe. How do I turn the power switch back on?

Clean Cut said...

NM--I appreciate your wonderful thoughts. Thank you.

John F.--I see that now. I originally read it how I think it was meant--that Ray has experienced Christ as or while he [Ray] also happens to be a member of the Church.

Jared--thanks for sharing your insight. You've nicely explained the role of ordinances as another crucial means of divine grace, as well the LDS distinction between salvation and exaltation.

I also understand you in regards to both Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Lately, though, I've personally felt that perhaps we could do more to better emphasize Jesus Christ as the "Mighty God" in His own right. As I read the Book of Mormon, it is Christ who takes center stage as God and we clearly see His messianic mission.

Furthermore, most of what I know of the Father, and the only way to come back to the Father, is through Christ. But I understand what you're saying, and clearly this is an interesting LDS challenge of giving proper emphasis to God the Father and God the Son, without diminishing either one.

Clean Cut said...

Anonymous--what a fantastic question. I don't know the best way to respond personally, but I'd begin with the difference between believing in Christ and believing Christ. I recommend Stephen E. Robinson's book "Believing Christ". The focus is on trusting Jesus--He will do (and does) what He says He's going to do if we stay faithful to our baptismal covenant of having faith in Him and continually repenting. I think truly living those principles (faith and repentance) turns on the power switch more than anything else.

Of course, faith is not just believing in Him, but believing Him--trusting Him. And repenting is more than just overcoming sin, but also about turning to Him and living/becoming more like Christ.

As I begin to recognize not only my need for Christ, but I begin to actually know Him, I trust Him more and have faith His promises--for me personally. Then the power of the good news/gospel begins to flow and Christ's love, mercy, and grace become tangible realities rather than mere talking points.

A humble recognition that I am nothing without Him, and that we're all in the same boat and in need of the same salvation leads me to have a broken heart and contrite spirit. He's not just an Example, a Coach, or an Advisor--He's the Savior. He saves me now--as well as in the future. I need and receive His grace now--and that's why I rejoice.

Anonymous said...

Clean Cut,

I sincerely appreciate your thoughtful and considerate response. You've reminded me of a very important distinction regarding one's belief in and believing Christ. Truth be told, I'm struggling with both at the moment, but I believe it's a struggle worth going through. I'm familiar with Robinson's book, but have never read it. I'm anxious to do so. Thanks again.

Thomas Parkin said...

How many times in my life have I been told to _study_ the scriptures, at least daily? If I had done that, wouldn't I have encountered doctrines of Christ in abundance? Yes, I would have. But possibly instead of believing them, I would have put more weight on the tangential things said in meetings, by others who were also muddling along rather than drinking deep, and whose views were also not marked by personal revelation and the Spirit but by cultural osmosis.

How many Sacrament Meetings have I attended where I promised to remember Jesus _always_ and try to keep His commandments? What percentage of those times have the words been water off a duck's back? 90%? And only that low because over the last few years they have finally become meaningful to me. But the trouble is real, that many many, possible most, active Mormons mistake the culture of the church for the gospel. They think we are saved by playing out the part of being a good Mormon. When they then find they have no access to God, what? The church has gone wrong because it failed to be what they thought it was.

I remember many years ago talking to the wife of one of my bishops. She told me that when she was young _they_ thought they were saved by attending young women's activities. Of course, she didn't mean this literally, but she made the point. Our culture is so idiosyncratic, and in many members lives so omnipresent, that it itself can be a distraction from those basic doctrines that can bring us to Christ.

In my view, the church is a couple things. Most importantly, the church (the responsibility of the Priesthood) administers and safeguards those revealed ordinances through which we make covenants with God, and can come to know Him fully. Second, the church contains some people being prepared to withstand and enter into the presence of God. I see my role in church is in submitting to those things, and to help other's who choose to do likewise, and to persuade, when possible, others to make those same choices. Most other things in the church are to a great degree, a malleable context - very often good and inspired, but not essential. I don't mean to say that God isn't in the day to day inessential activities of the church, but He is also in the day to day activities of any church where people are trying to live godly lives, to the best of their ability and understanding. ~

Anonymous said...

The emphasis in LDS culture on the relative primacy of the Church can be heard by listening to the "mouths of babes." A fairly typical testimony by a primary child begins, "I'd like to bear my testimony that I know the Church is true and I love my mom and dad and brothers and sisters."

Much of the Reformation was fueled by a rejection of the understanding that the Roman Catholic Church was the mediator between God (including Jesus) and humankind. Many of the Reformers, and today's Protestants, believe that human beings have a direct connection to God (and God's grace and saving power) without any intermediation of a church. Thus, the priesthood of all believers.

Many Protestants would claim that when Jesus said that He was the Way, and that no one comes to the Father except through Jesus, that is what He meant. Not that His Church was the Way or Mediator, but that Jesus was the only Way and the only Mediator. In a sense that churches were helpful, but not necessary.

I think the Mormon view is more like Roman Catholics' than Protestants'. With this wrinkle. While Mormons claim that the Church is essential to salvation (or exaltation, in LDS terminology) because it exclusively administers saving/exalting ordinances, Mormonism does not require receipt of Church administered ordinances in this lifetime. There is room in Mormonism for followers of other faith traditions (or no faith tradition) to receive salvation/exaltation without the intermediation of the LDS Church during the lifetime of those indviduals.

I do think that, for me, sometimes "the Church" can get in the way of my relationship with God. For me, "the Church" is not the same thing as God. And, for me, my relationship with God is more important than my relationship with "the Church." I will say again what I have said before: there was a time when I believed in God because I believed in the Church. Now I believe in the Church because I believe in God (i.e., because I believe God wants me to be LDS).


Clean Cut said...

Thomas--very well said.

DavidH.--great points.

Thomas Parkin said...


I agree with you, but would add another wrinkle. In the Mormon scheme, ordinances are _never an end in themselves_ but act as a doorway and a symbolic teacher. It isn't enough that someone receive a sacrament, they must move into the world beyond it. So that while the church administers the ordinances, at least ideally this influence of the church is enabling of, rather than getting in the way of, access to God. That the church becomes an end in itself, and receiving ordinances being more important than understanding and utilizing them, sure happens, but isn't the design.

Thanks, CC. ~

Andrew S said...

I am interested in hearing how Mike would respond to Jared's comment, but I think that comment really proves Mike's point.

As he wrote in a later comment on his site:

There is no doubt that both Mormons and Evangelicals believe in obedience and to deny this is to fly in the face of reason. The only bone of contention is what role obedience plays in their respective faiths.

Mormons obey in order to be saved while Evangelicals obey because they are saved (working on the biblical definition of saved which is to spend eternity with God on glory and not the Mormon definition which is to be resurrected)

So, Mike is really talking about exaltation, I think. In the LDS church, to be exalted (rather than saved), you must have certain ordinances, etc., But outside, to be exalted (which is simply referred to as being saved), you believe and cultivate that relationship. No need for temple ordinances, etc.,

Jared's comment doesn't seem to disagree with that understanding. Rather, Jared just believes that these ordinances are from God, so that's what building a relationship involves (is that a correct understanding)? But since Mike does not, can we really blame him?

Papa D said...

Holy crap, that interpretation of what I wrote never crossed my mind, johnf. Sorry, but I had to chuckle to think I had given that impression.

Fwiw, I agree with Thomas Parkin - as usual.

Oh, and Mormons obey because Jesus said to obey. Hopefully, it is from a love of God and all humanity, but it's really hard for me to fathom accepting the Bible as the word of God and not believing in ACTIVE obedience to what one sees as divine commandments. I recognize that people can disagree easily about what specifically is being obeyed, but I really struggle to understand how someone can criticize obedience as a principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.