Monday, February 14, 2011

Salvation by Grace, Obedience, and the Parable of the Pie


As the ward primary chorister I teach the children to sing the article of faith songs; this month it's the third article of faith. While I primarily teach the gospel through music, there are many times when I feel the need to clarify what they're actually singing about so that they don't misunderstand. I fear that many within (as well as outside) the Mormon faith do this all too easily when they read the third article of faith. It states: "We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel."

My concern lies in taking three words out of context--saved by obedience--and getting a distorted picture of how this whole salvation thing is supposed to work. Thankfully the language in the third article of faith (“all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel”) is clarified in the fourth article of faith: “We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, second, Repentance, third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins.” Then to those who obey these principles God gives the gift of the Holy Spirit ("fourth, laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.”).

But since we don't sing the fourth article of faith until next month, I'll try to make sure those kids don't miss the most sublime and important point--the Atonement of Christ saves. The only crucial "laws and principles" for which our obedience is of upmost importance is having faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and repenting. Those two principles represent the real good news--Christ has us covered (see 2nd Nephi 2: 6-7, Alma 12: 33-34). I feel dismayed at how many people get stuck on a "do it yourself" salvation mentality--as if they can work out their own salvation if they're just obedient enough. (Let me know how that goes!)

When we sing "I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me, confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me", I would hope that no Mormon would ever be confused about grace as though it were a foreign concept. Rather, I would hope we're all amazed and confused at how all emcompasing that amazing grace truly is, especially being applied to mortals like us who don't deserve it.

With that said, I'd like to share my current favorite analogy here--The Parable of the Pie. I was first introduced to the parable here, but its author (Pyschochemiker) recently wrote it out in greater detail here. I quote it below, with some minor edits:

THE PARABLE OF THE PIE:

If I bake a pie (imagine your favorite, mine’s definitely blackberry), and invite you over, even when you don’t deserve it, cut a piece out, hand you a fork, and put some ice cream on top. Now there’s a choice, you could sit there and talk about how nice it was for me to make the pie, and talk about how good of a baker I am, or how awesome I am to not require you to do anything to get the pie. But until you choose to actually eat any of the pie, you won’t really know how good it tastes. Would you have gained from the pie without having eaten it, no. Yet, would you really claim boasting rights, or consider it an achievement that you actually ate the pie. Of course not.

From the Mormon point of view, eating the pie is the equivalent of [having faith in Christ, repentance], submitting to baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost...[followed by] a life of discipleship. That is how you “come unto Christ.” That’s how you partake of His grace. But just like we didn’t earn the pie, we also don’t enjoy it unless we eat it.

[One might ask]: “Have I not then become, in a sense, a co-savior with Christ?”
And I would answer: “Not unless you also become a co-baker with me for eating my pie.”

The pie is the salvation that Christ has prepared for us, but we MUST choose to follow him, yet we don’t earn the salvation. He moved first, He provides, He saves, but we must react positively and obediently to His message. “Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, if ye do not the things which I say unto you.”

Now it’s true Christ doesn’t cut the slice out for everyone, and doesn’t hand the fork to everyone, but He has made the pie for everyone, and invited everyone to come and have some. Those who know the sweetness of that pie, know that Christ is the Baker thereof, and we [wouldn't trade it for any other substitute]."

22 comments:

Fred Aeon said...

What if you're allergic to pie?

Aaron Shafovaloff said...

It sounds like the parable needs to be expanded to fit the awkward and forced application ("receiving" the pie is a lifetime of discipleship, etc.).

The guest who wants the pie is told that if he wants the pie, he should rake the leaves, vacuum the carpets, practice humility and kindness and love toward the children, feed the dog, clean the fish tank, perform years of family home evenings, pay ten percent of your income, and exercise the household religious rituals.

Then he can have the piece of pie.

Aaron Shafovaloff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aaron Shafovaloff said...

[Sorry, reposting with my corrections]

Also, I understand that the neo-orthodox "we didn’t earn the pie" sentiment finds support in the Book of Mormon (especially original readings of it), but there is the problem of living oracles, modern day prophets and apostles, etc

"Mercy will not rob justice, and the sealing power of faithful parents will only claim wayward children upon the condition of their repentance and Christ’s Atonement. Repentant wayward children will enjoy salvation and all the blessings that go with it, but exaltation is much more. It must be fully earned. The question as to who will be exalted must be left to the Lord in His mercy." - President James E. Faust, "Dear Are the Sheep That Have Wandered", Ensign (CR), May 2003, p.62

“Peace is the precious fruit of a righteous life. It is possible because of the Atonement of the Savior. It is earned through full repentance, for that leads to refreshing forgiveness.” - Richard G. Scott, “The Path to Peace and Joy,” Ensign, Nov. 2000, 25 (featured as the "Young Single Adult Gem" of April 28, 2010)

"The demands of justice for broken law can be satisfied through mercy, earned by your continual repentance and obedience to the laws of God... Through the Atonement you can live in a world where justice assures that you will retain what you earn by obedience." - Richard G.Scott, “The Atonement Can Secure Your Peace and Happiness,” Ensign, Nov 2006, 40–42. From General Conference, October 2006.

Not to mention Correlation:

"Only through sacrifice can we become worthy to live in the presence of God. Only through sacrifice can we enjoy eternal life. Many who have lived before us have sacrificed all they had. We must be willing to do the same if we would earn the rich reward they enjoy." - Gospel Principles [2009], chapter 26

I realize that there are other things that leaders and Correlation say that seem to contradict this, but that only seems to cause more confusion.

Also, at the end of the day, it's kind of hard not to see the pie as earned when it is located in a larger framework of potentially becoming Gods to be worshiped and prayed to by billions of future spirit children. Our Heavenly Father (from both an evangelical and a Mormon point of view) doesn't seem at all to be giving credit to another God. He seems fully convinced that he has fully earned (or even inherently has the right) to be worshiped by us. God is to be worshiped because of what he is by his own merit, not by the grace of another.

If people believe they can become Gods like that too, though, it makes it hard to believe the pie isn't earned. Grace-talk ends up then having some psychological value, but in the end it won't stick with traditional Mormon views of exaltation.

I realize that you personally don't necessarily buy into traditional Mormon views on God's past and exaltation, etc., but people should know that that the best model of grace in Mormonism requires a substantial rejection of important Mormon theological developments.

Take care,

Aaron

Clean Cut said...

"I realize that you personally don't necessarily buy into traditional Mormon views on God's past and exaltation, etc., but people should know that that the best model of grace in Mormonism requires a substantial rejection of important Mormon theological developments"

While I'd substitute the adjective "important" for "certain theological developments", I actually agree. And yes, you're right about me not buying into certain views (whether classified as traditional or non-traditional) that I view as either errant or misguided. There are some ideas--regardless of whether they've come through correlation or this or that authority--that simply should be rejected. I really have no problem doing so.

"The guest who wants the pie is told that if he wants the pie, he should rake the leaves, vacuum the carpets, practice humility and kindness and love toward the children, feed the dog, clean the fish tank, perform years of family home evenings, pay ten percent of your income, and exercise the household religious rituals."

Again, if anyone tried to tell me I'm supposed to understand the gospel this way (the real good news of salvation), or speak of all those extra-curricular activities as a requirement even for exaltation--I'd just simply reject that.

Eric Nielson said...

I don't know if this will be helpful or not, but I feel that there is the concept of necessary and sufficient involved in the third article of faith and in the parable. I feel the grace of Christ is necessary for salvation, but is not sufficient (on its absolute own) for exaltation.

Aaron Shafovaloff said...

Thanks for your response, Clean Cut. What do you make of the list under the subheading "Requirements for Exaltation" in chapter 47 of Gospel Principles?

Eric Nielson said...

Aaron:

What do you make of the list of requirements in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5)?

Clean Cut said...

Aaron, I think it's obvious that the newest version is at least better than the last, as your work will attest. I suspect a future version will make improvements too.

When the revised Gospel Principles version was released last year, I wrote the following: "While I am pleased with the new formatting, I have generally felt a little underwhelmed at the lack of significant revision. One exception could be the concluding chapter on Exaltation [Chapter 47]. I was greatly pleased when I saw that a couple of personally troublesome quotes were removed from that chapter. There were some statements which had greatly bothered me because I felt strongly that assertions were made which were unsupportable and which may not even be true at all. I was pleased to see them disappear in the new version. Despite my occasional underwhelming feelings with the way the manual presents the gospel, I felt these revisions were a step in the right direction."

Yet while it's certainly better, it's still not great, but I've never put too much stock into a manual. I'm always finding things I would change if I were to be one of those who write them. Apparently others do too, since they're always being changed--a good thing.

Aaron Shafovaloff said...

Eric, in it Jesus says we must have a righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees, a real heart-righteousness. A broken-hearted, thirsting righteousness. Otherwise one is thrown out with the hypocrites at final judgment.

The irony is that the only way to have this righteousness is to ask and receive from God free grace. Free, immediately forgiving, justifying, adopting, uniting grace.

The one who is forgiven littles loves little. In the end, it is the freely forgiven who love, and it is those who thought they had to work for forgiveness who end up being hypocrites.

Aaron Shafovaloff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aaron Shafovaloff said...

[reposting with corrected typos]

Clean Cut, thanks for the response. I gather from your words that the section in question still needs correction. Fair enough, I can respect that. I would note that the chapter is still quite explicit on the prospect of becoming Gods, and in the context of the manual as a whole, this entails having our own spirit children like our Heavenly Parents had spirit children. Hence the aforementioned merit-problem which seems escapable for those who buy into that.

I trust that you realize that a good number (on the order of millions) seem to take the manual much more seriously than you (who seem far more comfortable disagreeing with a long-established Correlated manual). On a topic so basic and important, teachers will be held to a harsh standard before God someday for having led any astray (cf. Paul's compassionate rage over this issue in Galatians). This seems like a major hurdle for neo-orthodoxy: even with little bits of encouragement, of slight course-corrections being made, how can the Brethren still be so wrong on such a vital issue? And how can people such as yourself, bottom of the priesthood totem pole, think of yourself so much more accurate than a Church manual that the leadership has had stewardship and frequent attention over since 1978?

Take care,

Aaron

Aaron Shafovaloff said...

On a related note, and I hope you don't mind me linking to it, my article on Gospel Principles (different from the mere list of changes) has been posted:

http://www.utlm.org/newsletters/no115.htm#gp

I put a lot of work into it, and my once-neo-orthodox friends tell me it has a lot of relevance for modern Mormon neo-orthodoxy.

Take care,

Aaron

Andrew said...

Compared to the grace offered through the Atonement of Jesus Christ (the pie), any to-do list of gospel responsibilities is still, by comparison, a minuscule & unworthy offering, dwarfed by both the suffering of & the blessings offered by Christ, insufficient to earn a slice of the pie, so to speak, & is still the equivalent of only picking up the fork & taking a bite of free pie. Meeting the conditions Christ has given for accessing gospel blessings is not the same as earning them; it is merely obeying the Master you have chosen to serve.
Elder Nelson's wife once said that too many people in the Church only know enough of the gospel to feel bad about it, & not enough to rejoice in what the gospel actually is. If your only perspective of the gospel is the to-do list, then I recommend studying the Atonement more thoroughly; then you can enjoy the gospel, & even enjoy working through the to-do list given in ancient & modern scripture, which is actually the conditions that determine whether or not you have accepted Christ, His grace & His blessings, & all that goes along with becoming His disciple. When you accept Him & learn of Him, the promise is that your burdens will become light, not heavier; therefore, learn more of Him.

Clean Cut said...

Thanks Andrew--great comment.

Aaron, there are beginning to be so many separate issues here that I might not have time to respond to each one. Would that you could just rejoice in the post itself, but I understand that your ultimate goal is not for people to come to a recognition of Christ's grace but also to believe that Mormonism is seriously messed up.

I must, however, separate the idea of becoming a god/theosis (which I believe in and I've written about plenty) from the idea of spirit birth/having spirit children--since I think the latter is based on a warped view of what it means to become like God/become a god, and furthermore because I don't believe in spirit birth in the first place (based on Joseph Smith's own teachings). Many explicit references about the having "spirit children" idea were in fact removed in the recent revision of Gospel Principles, for which I was glad to see.

As for holding teachers accountable for "vital" misunderstandings or false teachings, I guess you and I don't need to stress too much over this since God will be the one to take care of that. I'm glad that's His job and not mine. Nevertheless, I'm convinced we ALL will be in for a huge eye opening experience once things "as they really are" are finally made known and we see what we THOUGHT was the case simply was not.

As for position along a totem pole--that, to me, is completely irrelevant. I don't think God expects us to outsource our thinking to any person (or church) no matter what position they hold. I believe we can (and ultimately must) think for ourselves.

There are many others who view the role of prophets and manuals very differently than I do. That's just how it is. Deal with it. :)

I like how Richard Poll put it:

"James Madison cautioned: 'When the Almighty Himself condescends to address mankind in their own language, His meaning, luminous as it must be, is rendered dim and doubtful by the cloudy medium through which it is communicated.' Because I believe, with Madison, that everyone, including Paul and the other prophets, saw eternity, or sees eternity through a glass darkly, prophetic infallibility, scriptural inerrancy, and unquestioning obedience are not elements in my faith."

Not only is there no perfect teacher, but there's no perfect prophet. The "bretheren" can be wrong because they're not infallible either. Perhaps even Paul might possibly be "held accountable" for something he taught that was perhaps a little "off". Thankfully God is merciful. I certainly depend on that because heaven only knows what I personally have gotten wrong.

Papa D said...

Aaron spams Mormon blogs with multi-point comments all the time. It's what he does, and he's good at it. I actually respect him for his diligence; I just disagree almost 100% with him doctrinally when it comes to this question.

Please stick to the topic of this post. It would be a shame to let it get side-tracked and highjacked by the intentional attempts of a professional anti-Mormon - as much as I really do admire Aaron and his sincerity.

Good post. "Faith without works is dead, being alone" is a really good summary. I think the Gospels agree with you, as well - which means even more to me, since they are attributed to be the words and works of Jesus.

Anonymous said...

I thoroughly approve of this accompanying picture...
-PC

Rich Alger said...

I just read What I Thought I Knew about Spiritual Death I thought it has some interesting illuminations on this subject.

I initially found the parable incomplete. I do however agree with the explanation of Andrew, "Compared to the grace offered through the Atonement of Jesus Christ (the pie), any to-do list of gospel responsibilities is still, by comparison, a minuscule & unworthy offering, dwarfed by both the suffering of & the blessings offered by Christ, insufficient to earn a slice of the pie, so to speak, & is still the equivalent of only picking up the fork & taking a bite of free pie...."

Anonymous said...

Just so we're all clear, anyone expecting a parable to be "complete" is pretty much an idiot in my book. All parables, by definition, fall apart, and I find it fairly hypocritical for self-proclaimed bible believers to accept the genre of parable for what Jesus writes, and not extend the same charity when I'm writing in the same genre.

And, Aaron, just read the entire New Testament and you'll see you have to force my parable a lot to line up with Paul's teachings too...

Critique and improve my parable as you want, but if you fail to be consistent, you may find yourselves in danger of judgement (by God and not just by me).

-PC

Tomchik said...

I find that the more I try to explain this principle, the more it just comes back to the inspired wording of the 3rd article of faith:

THROUGH THE ATONEMENT OF CHRIST, all mankind may be saved, BY OBEDIENCE

Christ offers the salvation, and it is free, but we must walk the path of discipleship, or we aren't truly saved. IF we ever refuse to continue walking the path of discipleship, we lose said salvation.

Criticisms such as those levied by Aaron in quoting Pres. Faust et al. miss the point that even in our eternal, saved state, we will continue to walk the path of discipleship. We will continue to follow the principles taught by Christ, not out of compulsion, but because it will become our very nature to do so. At some point, a saved individual will start behaving in this manner. Be it in this life or the next, saved individuals will eventually conform their behavior to Christ's perfection. It is the only logical end to the path of discipleship.

Does that make any sense whatsoever?? I sure feel like I'm rambling.

Tomchik said...

To be more succinct -

I find that Aaron's initial criticism ignores the subtlety in the word "saved." One may be saved and still continue to commit sins (duh, none of us are perfect).

But eventually we will forsake all those sins. It is a requirement for salvation, or perfection, if you will. I have a hard time believing that people will be running around in heaven lying and backbiting.

Rich Alger said...

Tomchik,

What you posted seems to balance out what I felt was lacking in the parable. It focused more on the blessings of salvation. On how, in comparison to the work and power of the Lord in saving us, our obedience is merely the sitting down, accepting the pie and eating in thankful joy.

What I feel is not told in this parable is the depth of sacrifice and diligence and persistence I have felt in my own walk towards God. Not that I have had all that many trials. But somehow to brush over them does not do them justice.

On the other hand, I am so eternally grateful for the mercy of the Lord. Anything that I contribute is infinitesimally small compared to the power of God in my salvation.

See The Mathematics of the Infinite and Eternal