Showing posts with label Doctrine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Doctrine. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Challenges of Defining Mormon Doctrine

I have to give major kudos to Loyd Ericson and his article "The Challenges of Defining Mormon Doctrine," which was published in Element (Spring and Fall 2007 edition, although it lists 2009 events)--thanks to Matt W. for loaning me his published copy after seeing my last post about Differing Definitions of Doctrine.

It's an excellent, and important article--link to it for yourself. Ericson nails some of the key questions that I've personally been asking myself--tough questions that people in the know haven't spent much time addressing. I hope that changes now.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Differing Definitions of Doctrine

It has been said that trying to nail down what constitutes our doctrine is like trying to nail jello to a wall. (Great post on that, by the way, by evangelical Bridget Jack Meyers at the Mormon group blog "Times and Seasons": "Why We’re Confused"). Apart from the diversity of beliefs within Mormonism which can make it hard to pin down concrete doctrine, there is a tendency to be loose in our definition and understanding of the word "doctrine" itself.

One the one hand, doctrine can be defined as a set of “beliefs” that are held by and taught by a church. On the other hand, within the Church, there is a tendency to speak of "doctrine" as unchanging. "The policies may change but the doctrine never changes" is an oft heard phrase. So in short, we have two differing definitions of doctrine. "Currently accepted beliefs" on the one hand (which can change) and "eternal unchanging truth" on the other.

Using the first definition, one can say that plural marriage was indeed “doctrinal”–at that time–and that it no longer is doctrinal today. This must be how President Hinckley was defining doctrine when he told Larry King that polygamy is no longer “doctrinal”. Obviously, certain 19th century LDS beliefs are no longer believed the same way now. Various dictionary definitions agree that doctrine is understood to be a set of beliefs held or taught by a church. Teachings have and do change over time. Of course the flip side of using this definition means that doctrines, as well as policies, do in fact change.

President David O. McKay must have had the second definition in mind when he emphasized that the priesthood restriction was "a practice, not a doctrine, and the practice someday will be changed." President McKay clearly differentiates between current policy on one hand and doctrine on the other. The context and definition is important to take into consideration with both examples. "Eternal unchanging truth" and "present doctrine" are not necessarily one and the same. While they may overlap, perhaps we too often mistake the former for the latter.

With the forgoing in mind, how do you typically understand/define "doctrine", "truth", "policy", "principles" and the relationship between them?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Major Kudos

Major kudos to both SmallAxe and aquinas for blogging (much better than I could) about topics I most certainly had in mind when I wrote my last post. Dave has already spotlighted both of these posts at the Bloggernacle Times, and I'll simply pass on the recommendations.

In Joseph Smith’s Revelations on Preexistence and Spirits, aquinas lays out an important foundation about the doctrine of spirits which I would argue the modern Church membership has largely forgotten, or in some cases unwittingly rejected. (More on how and why will be forthcoming in a series of posts--so stay tuned to the Pierian Spring.)

SmallAxe, in Imposed Openness, shares great insight into "how the LDS Church can have a theological approach that welcomes 'a variety of viewpoints', yet have manuals and a membership that is inclined to suppress diversity and openness in most discussions of most topics." (Well said, Dave. And great post SmallAxe!)

I also cannot agree any more than I already do with SmallAxe's later comment (#50), quoted below. I give it a word for word "ditto":
[For what it's worth], I agree that [Sunday School] is not the forum to deride the manual; nor is it the personal soapbox of the instructor. I do think, however, that one can tactfully present alternative views in [Sunday School], even those that disagree with the manual. The text for SS is the scriptures and if a passage of scripture could be or has been understood three different ways, I see no harm in presenting each of them as well as the arguments for and against each reading. In personally teaching SS this way, a number of students have expressed how “nourished” they felt because they realized that it is okay to believe in either of these readings and still be faithful members of the church.

I would argue that any approach that latches on to one reading, dismissing other legitimate readings, actually does more harm than good, even if it follows the reading provided in the manual. Creating the appearance that LDSs must believe a certain way in issues that do not require such uniformity of belief does damage equal to not nourishing our students with the good word of God. To follow the Packer analogy above, it would be like forcing people to have a diet constituted of bread and bread only; and man cannot, of course, live by bread alone.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

My Take on Joseph Smith's King Follet Sermon

I've shared the following thoughts about Joseph's King Follet Sermon with others elsewhere. Admittedly, they're not that original. But they are, nevertheless, now my thoughts. These are the words I have chosen to express what not only feels right, but what makes the most sense to me after having read Joseph in context.

For those who haven't read the sermon, the most common format is the amalgamated version (which is accessible in two parts here and here. The non-amalgamated scribe notes (which I find more valuable) can be found here). I think it's critical to try to step away from years of implicit assumptions and interpretations about it and and look at what Joseph was explicitly teaching. I've taken a great interest in this sermon and topic. By most accounts, Joseph teaches some pretty radical doctrine (at least as far as the traditional Christian world is concerned), but that's one of the things I love most about Joseph Smith!

First off, I think too many people pick one or two quotes out of context and interpret Joseph to be teaching that God was once not God, but was once merely a man--even sinful--exactly like us. And this despite the fact that Christ was God before he took upon himself flesh and was also sinless throughout his mortality. Not only do I believe that this is a significant misinterpretation of Joseph Smith, but I also fail to see how that teaching would have been any comfort for a funeral sermon. (Remember that the occasion for the sermon was the sudden and accidental death of Joseph's close friend, King Follet). Rather, here's how I personally understand Joseph Smith. He took this occasion to declare a "great secret"--that God the Father once had a mortal experience. To paraphrase Joseph, "we've supposed that God has always been right where he is, eternally dwelling in His heaven, without any changes. But that's actually not the case! He too came to an earth and took upon himself mortality!" That is the great secret. Not that he hasn't always been God, but that He too had a mortal experience. God our Father understands us perfectly, even in the midst of trials and death, since he's been through it too!

Nevertheless, Joseph was not teaching that the Father's mortal experience was undertaken exactly like ours (that is, not as God), but rather "the same as Jesus Christ". Jesus Christ was also "a man", but like the Father, He was God while he had His mortal experience. We, on the other hand, are mere mortals, and clearly there is a difference between our mortal experience and that of Christ's, not the least of which was the fact that he was perfect and that he never sinned. He was God, I am not. Therefore, the "great secret" wasn't that God was once not God, but that God is in the form of a man (albeit a supremely exalted one), and that he dwelt on an earth "the same as Jesus Christ Himself did". The real revolutionary teaching, of course, is that we're of the same kind or species as God! When Joseph says that God is a man like us, he's teaching that God isn't some "substance", but rather that humankind and the divine are of the same kind/species and are not permanently separate, despite the traditional Christian belief about the Creator/creature divide.

I reject the interpretation which holds that God the Father was once merely a man and then grew into becoming God. I'm sure that many people (including Church leaders) have probably made that assumption, and still do, but I think it's the weaker argument. For me, that's not only unscriptural but it just was not what Joseph was teaching as I go back and read the actual text(s). One thing that seems very clear to me is that Joseph did not mean to contradict scripture--and he doesn't. He never said he was going to refute the Bible, but rather, that he was going to show this teaching from the Bible! The teaching was that the Son can do nothing but what he sees the Father do. Therefore, the Father took on mortality, became embodied, and experienced mortality the same as Jesus did (as a perfect, sinless, human-God) with the power to take up his life again. This is a power we clearly do not share.

Some people assume too much and think that Joseph implied things he never actually taught. For example, I've seen some argue that if the foregoing is correct, and the Father experienced mortality more in line with how the Son/Jesus experienced mortality, then that must mean He too was a Savior and performed an atonement. But again, that's just not an explicit teaching of Joseph Smith, and people are on thin doctrinal ice by making those assumptions. Joseph simply teaches that the Father had power in himself "to lay down his body and take it up again". I still believe in only one "infinite atonement". I've come to believe that if the Father can create multiple worlds by the power of His Son (Moses 1:33), then he would also redeem those worlds by the power of His Son. Otherwise, we'd have to reinterpret what "infinite" means in "infinite atonement".

The King Follet sermon goes on to include many more marvelous teachings from a prophet of God, including the radical rejection of the traditional doctrine of creatio ex nihilo (or creation out of nothing). I find it so much easier to appreciate the sermon and the prophet by not getting caught up with troublesome interpretations that don't ring true. Too many people bring previous assumptions to the text, or even the Lorenzo Snow couplet, and read it through that filter, rather than looking at what Joseph Smith was actually teaching.

For the record, the Lorenzo Snow couplet states that "As man is God once was, as God is man may become". Both the Father and the Son can both correctly be referred to as God, so if we read this couplet as referring to God the Father, I think we need to remember what Joseph taught about God's mortal experience and the divine power he had while a mortal. We could gain another appreciation for it by interchanging "Jesus Christ" for "God". We know that He too was/is God--not only the Son of God, but God the Son--or as the Book of Mormon title page says, "the Eternal God". Thus, as man now is, Christ once was. As Christ now is, man may become. What does that mean? What does it not mean? If we drop our previously held assumptions, things become a lot clearer. And that's how I also view the Snow couplet, whether we're talking about the Father or the Son, they were once as man is now (experiencing mortality) and we can become divine too! That is the heart of the gospel!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

"Mormon Cosmology" and Substance Over Sweetness

Here's to emphasizing shinning substance over saccharine sweetness: Memoirs of a CES agent, by J. Stapley. One excerpt:

"My general shtick was to sit down on the Relief Society room table, open the scriptures, and ask the hard questions. I wanted them to engage the text and not just swallow a saccharine gloss. I wanted them to experience the words and power of God and be changed because of it. I prayed not for what to say, but that the students would think enough to interact and ask questions of their own.

The first day of class was the “plan of salvation” lesson – you know, with the circles. I told them that they should henceforth call it Mormon Cosmology and we spoke of its development in our own tradition and what it means for us. When I got home after class, my wife met me at the door and told me that my nephew, whom I love, died that morning, just one month after being married. That morning that cosmology was a comfort."

Read the rest of a great post at

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Reading Recommendations for Anti-Mormon Counter-Cultist Critics (aka: the Fluffy Bunny Nice Nice Club)

Counter-cultist critics love to bring up quotes from the Journal of Discourses as if they're representative of official church doctrine, as if they represent essential doctrine, and are representative of general church membership belief. I recently came across one of these. For their sake, I'm re-recommending "What Is Official "Mormon" Doctrine?.

In re-reading the comments in that post of mine, a double standard appears even more obvious than before. Our critics insist that prophets must be held up to the standard of infallibility in every word they speak. Yet they concede that Christian theologians and reformers can disagree on non-essentials. After all they're just men. Apparently, however, the Latter-day Saints are not allowed to hold this same position.

I propose a level playing field. Latter-day Saints must be allowed this same rational, and without the double standard! When it comes down to it, most of the quotes of speculative nature that critics bring up are NOT essential, fundamental, or saving doctrine at all. (For the record, I personally reject the opinion that "God had sex with Mary"). Even prophets can have their own personal views. After all, these prophets are "just men" too.

David O. McKay wisely reminded us all that when the Lord calls a man to be a prophet, he does not unmake the man! (See "What Is Our Doctrine?").

The original post and quote by Stephen Robinson concerning what constitutes official Mormon doctrine is imperative to understand for Latter-day Saints and critics alike. To it I also recommend the article "What Is Our Doctrine?" by Professor Robert Millet.

Another thing counter-cultist critics love to do is hijack the general term "Christian" and monopolize it to mean a traditional, orthodox, nicene Christian who believes in the post-biblical dual natures of Christ and the post-biblical doctrine of the Trinity. According to them, anyone who does not believe this extra-biblical stuff cannot be considered a "biblical Christian" at all. To them I recommend reading Robinson's classic "Are Mormons Christians?".

I also recommend the following from a former counter-cultist critic who now respectfully disagrees with Mormon theology. She's an informed and engaging Evangelical Christian (and a BYU grad too!). She shares her wisdom and insight in answer to "infrequently asked questions", which I now quote from:

Question: Do you think Mormons are Christians?

I hate this question. The answer is, etymologically, Mormonism is a Christian religion. Its founder was raised in a Protestant tradition, so arguably Mormonism sprang from Protestant Christianity. If you don’t think it came from Christianity, where did it come from? Buddhism? Hinduism? No. It came from a branch of Christianity and everybody knows it.

Furthermore, Mormonism is in fact Christocentric. Like it or not, its doctrines and theology do derive from what Mormons regard as the gospel of Jesus Christ. They have as much claim to the title “Christian” as anyone. (BTW, don’t spout off to me about Mormons believing in a “different Jesus.” It means you’re probably too stupid to be reading this blog and should click away at your earliest convenience.)

What other Christians usually mean when they say Mormons are not Christians is that Mormons are not true Christians. The Christianity practiced by Mormonism is corrupt and incomplete, so Mormonism is a Christian heresy.

If you’re Mormon and what I just said offends you, it shouldn’t. You teach the exact same thing about non-LDS Christians. I say heresy, you say apostasy. It’s the exact same concept. Each of us thinks the other is not practicing full Christianity.

I think non-LDS Christians have very little to gain by igniting a semantics war over the word “Christian.” The issue should not be whether or not Latter-day Saints are Christian, it should be whether or not their theology is correct, which it isn’t. In general, I’m happy to grant the term “Christian” to Mormons as a courtesy so that we can move on to talking about things that actually matter.

Question: Is Mormonism a cult?

No. Only stupid people think this.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

"That They May Be One As We Are One"

Perhaps one of the most significant and moving passages of scripture is that of Jesus' great intercessory prayer found in John 17. One obvious fact here is that Jesus is not praying to himself. There are two "persons" involved. All Christians, LDS and Traditional, agree with this. Of course, many from both camps confuse the Trinity for Modalism, the belief that God is a single person who manifests himself in three different persons or modes, when in fact we all believe (or ought to believe) that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct persons.

Some people I've talked with wrongly believe they're all the same person and thus mistakenly assume that Jesus is somehow praying to himself. Technically, this is a "heresy", and there are indeed two persons involved in this prayer--Father and Son. The obvious conclusion is that since there are two distinct "persons" there is (consequentially) more than "one".

Now contrary to LDS understanding, where each "person" is their own being (1 person per being!), Trinitarians believe that each of these three divine persons are actually one ontological substance, or one Being. (Or in other words, that God is one Being eternally existing in three persons, or that these three persons are ontologically one, meaning at the level of being.) This is their best explanation for the biblical data that God is three, but that God is also one. Although I don't subscribe to that particular solution, I'm not interested in mocking someone else for believing that way. "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may" (11th Article of Faith).

However, lately I've encountered several [Christian] folk who seem to have made it their personal ministry in life to convince the Mormons of the error of their ways and who have set up blogs in the sole hope that our "misguided" eyes will be opened. After all, we're all "blind" because we're being "lied" to! Convinced their interpretation is the right one, these friendly folks bring up scriptures in the Old Testament, like Isaiah 45:5 ("I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me"), Isaiah 44:6 ("I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God"), or Isaiah 43:10 ("before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me") which, they thus claim, somehow provides "evidence" that the Mormons are wrong.

However, I think it would be wise for them to recognize this is the same kind of reasoning that Jews would use against Christian belief. You see, Jews don't consider Trinitarians strict monotheists either. Jews only believe that God is one, without subscribing to the belief that God is three and one. In this sense, Trinitarian Christians and LDS Christians are in the same boat--we both desire to preserve the distinction among the three persons. (Trinity is Tri-Unity, meaning a unity and a plurality.)

Naturally, we come to different conclusions about how God is both one and three. Jews, on the other hand, don't believe in three divine persons (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost)--just one God. Christians believe that there are three divine and distinct persons, each of whom is fully God. Joseph Smith referred to the three divine persons as three Gods, thus Joseph Smith offered a robust meaning of the word person, affirming the threeness of God. (Christians may feel Mormons somehow compromise the unity of God in believing God is three beings, but this is simply wrong just as it would be for Jews to accuse Christians of violating the Bible because of their beliefs.)

A Christian might say that God is one but merely manifesting himself as three different persons, but that is actually Modalism, when in fact they are three distinct persons. By any means, I don't see any biblical evidence that God is ontologically one. I think Jews might want to convince a Christian that there are not three divine persons--but only one--by using those same Hebrew Bible/Old Testament verses.

New Testament verses that clearly state that God is one do not say God is "ontologically" one. It's just stated that they are "one". The Bible also says that husband and wife are to be "one"--in fact "one flesh"--but we don't interpret that to mean that husband and wife are somehow supposed to be one being. Now don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to over-emphasize the separateness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, because I believe the Godhead to be infinitely more united as "one" than they are separate--one in every conceivable way except ontologically. But I don’t believe the only way to understand God’s oneness is to understand God is ontologically one. There are more ways to understand “oneness” than ontologically or numerically.

Christ prayed in John 17:11 for His disciples "so that they may be one as we are one" (New International Version). The King James version says "that they may be one, as we are." The New Living Translation puts it like this: "united just as we are". Obviously, this is not inferring that we are all supposed to become one substance or being--but one in terms of relationship, unity, and love. This is more in line with how I view the unity of the Godhead. Jesus wants us to be one with Him and Father--in exactly the same way--just as He and His Father are one.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bruce R. McConkie and "Our Relationship With The Lord"/Do Mormons Worship Jesus?

In 1982, Bruce R. McConkie gave a talk at BYU entitled Our Relationship with the Lord. I was not there in person (I was not quite two), but apparently, it has spawned a lot of confusion, both inside and outside of the Church. I have read it, and I just re-read it, to make sure my understanding was correct. My understanding is that in this particular speech Elder McConkie was warning against emphasizing having a special relationship with one particular member of the Godhead while neglecting the other two. It seems to me he was trying to teach about balance and proper perspective, but in doing so I think he ultimately ended up throwing things out of balance.

Rightly he taught that “there are, in the Eternal Godhead, three persons--God the first, the Creator; God the second, the Redeemer; and God the third, the Testator. These three are one--one God if you will--in purposes, in powers, and in perfections. But each has his own severable work to perform, and mankind has a defined and known and specific relationship to each one of them”.

The end goal of the gospel then isn’t to have a “special relationship” with one of the members of the Godhead (ie: Jesus), but to be brought back to the presence of the Father. I suppose you could say this is done by having a "proper" relationship with each of them. I don’t think Elder McConkie meant to de-emphasize the covenant relationship with Christ that gets us home to our Father in Heaven, but merely say “hey, don’t mistake the means for the end”.

I don’t get the feeling that Elder McConkie had a lot of patience with those who did not believe in the gospel just like he did, whether within or without the Church. I also doubt that he was ever accused of having the most tact. :) He was, however, definitely bold (harsh?); especially when he felt that truth was being challenged. Apparently there was a book out which persuaded some BYU students that they could or should emphasize a special or advanced relationship with Jesus while neglecting the other two persons of the Godhead, and he came down hard on that, to call out "heresy".

Naturally, we believe that the end goal of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to reconcile us with the Father—Christ is our Mediator. Thus, McConkie seems to emphasize here that it’s not proper to single out one member of the Godhead for some special attention. One could argue that he’s making a mountain out of a mole-hill, since when we worship the Son we worship the Father, and visa-versa. Truly, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost constitute the One God we worship.

Even McConkie admits here "that most scriptures that speak of God or of the Lord do not even bother to distinguish the Father from the Son, simply because it doesn’t make any difference which God is involved. They are one. The words or deeds of either of them would be the words and deeds of the other in the same circumstance." It’s just obvious in this talk that McConkie decides to focus on their distinct and separate roles, rather than their practically infinite unity. I can see how that can and has caused some confusion (inside and outside the Church), and that’s unfortunate.

One particular statement, however, may have done more harm than good. In my opinion he distracted from the heart of what he was trying to get at in this talk when he chose to use the words “we do not worship the Son”. Shocking right? Well, apparently he’s reserving a different definition of worship than even he has used on other occasions and that he admits, directly after saying it, that the scriptures even use. Perhaps he could or should have said that we do not worship the Son in the same role as the Father. Clearly, he's trying to differentiate degrees of worship and the different relationships we have with each person in the Godhead, but as he admits, it is a "fine line".

God the Father is our Father—we are his children. So when we pray, we pray directly to our Father in the name of Christ--just as Jesus taught; not directly to Jesus. (Even though a song of the heart is considered to be a prayer, and many of our hymns are in essence prayers to Jesus.) McConkie is, for better or worse, emphasizing the Father’s preeminence. But in that same talk he makes clear that while our relationship with the Son is "one of brother or sister in the premortal life", it is now "one of being led to the Father by him while in this mortal sphere". In the talk he elaborates on Jesus the Christ:
He is the Lord Jehovah who championed our cause before the foundations of the earth were laid. He is the God of Israel, the promised Messiah, and the Redeemer of the world. By faith we are adopted into his family and become his children. We take upon ourselves his name, keep his commandments, and rejoice in the cleansing power of his blood. Salvation comes by him. From Creation's dawn, as long as eternity endures, there neither has been nor will be another act of such transcendent power and import as his atoning sacrifice. We do not have a fraction of the power we need to properly praise his holy name and ascribe unto him the honor and power and might and glory and dominion that is his. He is our Lord, our God, and our King.

Even in his (infamous?) book Mormon Doctrine, under the heading “worship”, McConkie writes that:
The Father and the Son are the objects of all true worship. “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” (Matt. 4:10; Luke 4:8; Ex. 34:14; Mosiah 18:25; D&C 20:17-19.) No one can worship the Father without also worshiping the Son. “All men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.” (John 5:23.) It is proper to worship the Father, in the name of the Son, and also to worship the Son. “Believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out.” (2 Ne. 25:16, 29.)

So, of course, it would be disturbing to any Christian, LDS or not, if somehow they stopped reading at one point in the talk and determined that McConkie was saying that Latter-day Saints don’t worship Jesus—but that is just false. It’s also false to say that Latter-day Saints don’t believe we should have a relationship with Christ—he was just saying we shouldn’t have one at the exclusion of the other persons of the Godhead; let’s keep things in perspective.

In my opinion, now and after all is said and done, the proper relationship we have with Christ is pretty special. That covenant relationship we have with Christ is our only hope--without Him we would be lost. Furthermore, He is the father of our spiritual rebirth. We become born again as His sons and daughters. And we need to be very clear on this point. Elder M. Russell Ballard, in a talk entitled "Building Bridges of Understanding", 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.

One of the great ways to learn about real Mormon doctrine is to actually learn the doctrine in the Book of Mormon. 2 Nephi 25:29 states:
And now behold, I say unto you that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out.

Ideally, informed Latter-day Saints will correct the caricatures of this talk which have been spawned both inside and outside of the Church. Besides a Mormon Matters post, Offenders for a Word, Part 2 - Do Mormons Worship Jesus?, S. Faux at Mormon Insights has written a relevant essay entitled: Do Mormons Worship Jesus?. Even with a full understanding of the differences between traditional and restored doctrine, the correct and obvious answer is a resounding "yes".

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Purifying Power of the Atonement

Thirteen days before passing away from cancer, Elder Bruce R. McConkie bore powerful apostolic testimony in his final conference talk: "The Purifying Power of Gethsemane".

Technically it should be titled "The Purifying Power of the Atonement", since it's not the Garden of Gethsemane that purifies, but Christ's Atonement. Moreover, the Atonement did not take place only in Gethsemane, but also on the cross of Calvary. Elder McConkie testifies: "While he was hanging on the cross for another three hours, from noon to 3:00 p.m., all the infinite agonies and merciless pains of Gethsemane recurred."

In this classic talk he invites us to join with him in gaining "a sound and sure knowledge of the Atonement", which Atonement is "the most transcendent event that ever has or ever will occur from Creation’s dawn through all the ages of a never-ending eternity."

Candidly, Elder McConkie was wrong on some things during his lifetime, but on this he was 100% right. In the imperative matters of testimony bearing, and in his apostolic role, I admire him greatly. His last statement is even more powerful listening to him deliver it himself. I can't help but be inspired:
And now, as pertaining to this perfect atonement, wrought by the shedding of the blood of God—I testify that it took place in Gethsemane and at Golgotha, and as pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify that he is the Son of the Living God and was crucified for the sins of the world. He is our Lord, our God, and our King. This I know of myself independent of any other person.

I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears.

But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God’s Almighty Son, that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way.

God grant that all of us may walk in the light as God our Father is in the light so that, according to the promises, the blood of Jesus Christ his Son will cleanse us from all sin.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Glorying "in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ"

Of all people, Latter-day Saints should be striving more to "talk of Christ", "rejoice in Christ", and "preach of Christ" (2nd Nephi 25:26). Thus, it was with great satisfaction that I listened to Elder Holland's "instant classic" conference address this past Sunday--"None Were With Him".

Two days later, there was an interesting write-up of the conference talk at another blog in which some of the ensuing comments brought to light that there are Latter-day Saints who don't understand the integral role of the cross in the Atonement. Some are under the impression that the Atonement of Jesus Christ took place ONLY in Gethsemane, but not ALSO on the cross. That some don't realize that the Atonement was worked out BOTH places made me wonder if there was any connection to the absence of the cross as a visual symbol of our faith.

I don't know exactly how, when, or even why we began to separate ourselves from the Traditional Christian world in terms of how we use (or don't use) the cross, but I do think there may have been an over-reaction in our attempt to be "different". I suspect we have a lot of LDS who have less than desirable feelings towards the image of the cross simply because they don't want to be mistakenly grouped with other churches, or perhaps because it just hasn't traditionally been a part of their worship experience. I understand those who have valid reasons why they wouldn't want to emphasize the cross. If I had a relative die in a car accident, I probably wouldn't want to wear a symbol of a car around my neck, either. But for me, the cross is different.

There is a statement on which says that
the cross is used in many Christian churches as a symbol of the Savior's death and Resurrection and as a sincere expression of faith. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we also remember with reverence the suffering of the Savior. But because the Savior lives, we do not use the symbol of His death as the symbol of our faith.

We may not use it as a symbol of our faith institutionally, but I've become much more open to it as a symbol of my personal faith in Christ. Paul says we are to glory "in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Galatians 6:14).

When I think of the cross, I "glory" in it not because it makes me focus on his death, but because it boldly proclaims that Christ has overcome death. It is a symbol of His magnificent Atonement--the greatest act of love ever shown. Like the sacrament, the cross is also an emblem of Christ's suffering, and "contact with the emblems of Christ’s suffering should shock us, humble us, and evoke in us a deep sense of gratitude" as well as our submission to Him (see "The Root of Christian Doctrine").

Jesus suffered for all of our sins, pains, and infirmities. Gethsemane literally means "olive press", and in that garden, appropriately, the Savior was crushed by the weight of all the world's sins (and everything else effected by the Fall), as an olive on the wine press. But then all of that was repeated AGAIN while on the cross, while suffering a most painful death so that we too could overcome spiritual and physical death. What began in Gethsemane reached its climax on Golgotha.

While I personally do not wear a cross, I would hope any stigma associated with it might be diminished. I personally have no problem whatsoever with those in or out of the Church who choose to wear a cross, not for show, but as a deeply personal demonstration of faith. Our next-door neighbors gave me and my wife a gift last year of a cross with a scripture engraved in it. I felt that was such a heart felt gift and I deeply appreciate it. It's small, but I have it sitting on my book shelf because of what it represents to me.
It has been said that our lives are to be the symbol of our faith, and I couldn't agree more. We are to "receive His image in [our] countenances" when we are "born of God" (Alma 5:14), not merely surround ourselves with symbols of our religion. Thus, perhaps institutionally we won't change much on this, and we probably shouldn't. The world would only view it as an attempt to be recognized as part of "mainstream" Christianity, anyway. For me, it's not about that at all--it's personal. Between me and my Savior, I deeply appreciate that symbol of salvation--and I glory in it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

LDS bishop tackles truth, Evangelical Christianity

I've been wanting to spotlight this post at Adventures in Mormonism: "LDS bishop tackles truth, Evangelical Christianity". It's a spoof which nicely points out the irony in a recent news article entitled Pastor Tackles Truth, New Age Spirituality, Mormonism.

After reading the actual article I find myself vacillating between what I would say and how I would respond to this particular pastor.

There are some natural disagreements, and I'm fine with disagreeing. For example, Pastor Phillips says that "Historic Christianity ... believe[s] that we have only one source for ultimate eternal truth and that is the holy Bible."

I admit that as much as I love the Bible, it's not my ultimate eternal source of truth. For me, the ultimate eternal source of truth rests with God himself.

On other points, Pastor Phillips is either completely ignorant of LDS Christianity or he is purposefully spreading untruths when he says that Mormonism denies the deity of Christ and "completely negates the biblical view of salvation through Christ alone". Nothing could be further from the truth. Obviously he has not done his homework. Or perhaps he does not care to truly understand.

Look, it's fine to disagree, but let's at least disagree about the right stuff! Unfortunately he gets it wrong. And that's unfortunate for himself, for the ordinary lay person in his pews, anyone reading the article, and lastly for Latter-day Saints who are blatantly being misrepresented.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

More Conversation with an Evangelical Ex-Mormon...

[It's] fine with me, really, if you “believe the evidence shows Mormonism to be false”. I believe otherwise. Nevertheless, I don’t think the point here was to try and prove one or the other, but rather explore how you take things and understand things to mean what you say they mean. In that spirit, I want to commend you in the way you describe evangelical belief in God. I think you speak that language very well. But remember that Latter-day Saints have a different theological vocabulary, and I am recognizing a gap between your theological understanding and your ability to translate that understanding into a theological vocabulary Latter-day Saints can agree with and see themselves portrayed completely accurately. There is plenty we can still disagree on and hold our own views on by getting it completely right, without having to include (intentionally or not) caricatures of LDS belief.

For instance, you talk of Christ being a “formed” being as if that rules out his ability to simultaneously be God himself. You fail to recognize that Latter-day Saints do not hold to the strict wall of separation between the Creator and the creatures that factors into your understanding/paradigm. If I had did indeed hold to that paradigm, as you do, then I could understand why you would find your evidence as contradicting “Mormon Theology”. But I do not agree with that strict wall of separation that comes out of creation ex nihilo. I do not find it to be biblical. Again, we must agree to disagree here, but I find that strict wall of separation between God and everything else (including us) to be a product of the creeds and philosophical discussions rather than biblical.

Please don’t misunderstand me to be “attacking” your paradigm nor the cherished doctrine of the Trinity. (By the way, you’re absolutely right that just because it is mysterious doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be incorrect, but this goes both ways. Just because our belief about God is less “complex”, or more “simple”, doesn’t necessarily mean that it must be wrong). I’m just saying that we need to work toward becoming more theologically bilingual, and it seems that you are not as fluent in LDS understanding as you think you are.

I certainly don’t think I’m an expert in understanding both theological vocabularies, but I’m trying. “How Wide the Divide?” really helps promote mutual understanding and getting past the hang-ups that naturally come when we try to impose our unique biblical paradigms onto the others’ beliefs. I think this is what is happening when you say your view of our theology surrounding God does not match well with the Bible. We, of course, feel that the Bible matches very well with the true nature of God. You and I are viewing the Bible through different lenses, and some of what we may be projecting onto the others’ beliefs are non-biblical assumptions. I do not think there is a single verse of the Bible that I would say is “wrong”, as you claim we do. There is not one passage of the Bible I disagree with. (See "Are You Telling the Truth About the Bible?").

You also claim that we try to read something into the Bible text that is not there…Eisigesis. But again, this is a two way street, and we feel that traditional Christians do the same.

You say we “bring God down to a point where they [we] can understand Him. [We] simplify Him”, but this just won’t do. It is not an accurate representation of how Latter-day Saints also believe God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. We just also believe that we are of the same kind, or species, as God. For us, this doesn’t take anything away from God, as you seem to think it does.

You are correct, however, that our understanding “elevates man”, because now we are not a different kind or species than God–we are literally the children of God with divine worth and noble potential. Apparently the LDS take the “offspring of God” scriptures more literally than evangelicals do, because when one literally believes that God is our Father and we are His children, it’s not hard to understand how some consider us “gods in embryo” and that we can become exalted to godhood, too. This is our belief. But even this teaching is much misunderstood WITHIN the church and is taken too far, beyond what our scriptures say, into the realm of speculation.

We will be gods by grace, because God, through the grace of His Son, makes us divine beings and part of the family of God. We will be exalted, but only through Christ who does the exalting and takes away the wall of separation between Divinity and mere mortals through the “at-one-ment” of Jesus Christ. But I wouldn’t be comfortable in going so far as to say we believe that we will become worshipped beings ourselves. That’s not official Mormon theology. The goal is to become LIKE God, not to replace or supplant God. We believe we will always worship Him and be subject to Him, but it will be from a relationship of “oneness” with Him. See my post "Becoming Like God: some things I know and some things I don't".

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Root of Christian Doctrine

I didn't have to go far to find my "object lesson" for my 16-17 year old Sunday School class. Right outside of the Church building was a tree branch that was already mostly severed from the rest of the tree--sadly dangling, dying and obviously no longer receiving the nourishment it needs to stay alive. I took this branch into my class as part of the suggested lesson on the Atonement of Jesus Christ; how it brings us life and gives meaning to all other gospel doctrines.

Naturally I thought of the scripture in John 15:5: "I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." I can't help but be struck and amazed by the symbolism.

"[The Atonement of Christ] is the very root of Christian doctrine. You may know much about the gospel as it branches out from there, but if you only know the branches and those branches do not touch that root, if they have been cut free from that truth, there will be no life nor substance nor redemption in them. [Boyd K. Packer, “The Mediator,” April Conference, 1977.]

(Parenthetically, I highly recommend the "The Garden: An Allegorical Oratorio". Several years ago a small group of fellow freshman in my BYU ward performed this for our stake. Put simply, it's spiritually powerful to listen to that music and ponder the personal relevance of its symbolism and of the Atonement.)

There can be no more motivating and powerful doctrine than this. I deeply hope that we Latter-day Saints, in wards and stakes all across the world, will continually and constantly focus all we do on the Atonement of Jesus Christ. After all, this is foundational and central--the very gospel of Jesus Christ.

Joseph Smith taught:

"The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it. ["Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith".]

Today as I was reading some thoughts from a fellow blogger about the power of the sacrament, my thoughts turned to a devotional address by Justice Thomas B. Griffith, which highlights the transforming connection between the sacrament and the Atonement, as well as some suggestions on how we might place the Atonement at the core of all we do and teach. It's a talk I've thought about many times, especially during sacrament meetings, entitled: "The Root of Christian Doctrine".

He highlights the fact that "contact with the emblems of Christ’s suffering should shock us, humble us, and evoke in us a deep sense of gratitude." He then quotes "the only first-person detailed account of the suffering [the Savior] endured so that we would not need to suffer the full effects of our disobedience":

For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; . . .

Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink— [D&C 19:16, 18]

Justice Griffith goes on to say: "Knowing this ought to be enough to move us to submit our lives to him in obedience and gratitude."

When I step back and contemplate the magnitude of Christ's love for us, I literally "stand all amazed." And indeed it is wonderful to me--in the full meaning of that word.

I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me
Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me
I tremble to know that for me he was crucified
That for me, a sinner, he suffered, he bled and died

I marvel that he would descend from his throne divine
To rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine
That he should extend his great love unto such as I
Sufficient to own, to redeem and to justify

I think of his hands, pierced and bleeding to pay my debt
Such mercy, such love and devotion can I forget?
No, no, I will praise and adore at the mercy seat
Until at the glorified throne I kneel at his feet

Oh, it is wonderful that he should care for me enough to die for me
Oh, it is wonderful
Wonderful to me

(“I Stand All Amazed”, Hymns, 1985, no. 193.)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Saved By Grace Through Faith: Continuing the Conversation

Mike, I am truly impressed (and grateful) for your commitment to having a productive dialogue. I want you to know you are welcome here and I’m glad to address some of these issues. I hope you feel respected and that you’ll have no need to “take up cudgels” in defense of your beliefs. I much prefer to continue with seeking mutual understanding and having a respectful dialogue. I certainly feel no need to defend my beliefs, nor to criticize yours. I would, however, like to address some of the things you’ve said. You wrote that “if we are saved by trusting then we had better be sure that our trust is in the right place and that we are listening to the right teachers.” I assure you, I know in Whom I have trusted. As Nephi of old said, “O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever” (2nd Nephi 4:34).

Please allow me to respond by leaning heavily on the words of my former professor and mentor Stephen E. Robinson—specifically from the book “How Wide the Divide?”.

You quoted Romans 3:23-28—a great scripture and I love every single word. As a former Mormon, I am sure you do not need to be reminded that there is not one single passage of scripture in the Bible that I, as a Mormon, disagree with. In the past, some evangelicals have quoted scripture as though it goes against what I believe; as if it proves they’re right and therefore I must be wrong. But again, I believe every single passage of the Bible! I love the Bible, and utterly reject your assertion that Mormons believe the Bible is corrupt. Mormons would be wrong to believe this. Please see my post: "Are You Telling The Truth About The Bible?" .

Now I look forward to addressing a key issue here, and something I was going to bring up on my own in the interest of full disclosure—properly understanding the third Article of Faith, and by implication, what Joseph Smith was teaching. This can easily be misunderstood, not only from informed Evangelicals such as yourself, but faithful Mormons!

First off, Joseph Smith was NOT teaching that man is saved by their works or by obedience. Anyone who stops reading after the phrase “saved by obedience”, without reading on to the Fourth Article of Faith, will end up assuming that Mormons believe in a "works based salvation"--keeping commandments like checking off a "to do" list. That is the NOT what Joseph Smith and all of our restoration scriptures clearly teach. They indeed teach that we are saved by grace, through faith in Christ. Clearly there is a need for the born again to behave AND obey—not as a condition for being born again, but as an obligation that being born again incurs. True faith includes obedience, and the true Christian obeys. So the tension you detect here, Mike, is nothing more than the differences you see between Calvinist Evangelical Christians and Arminian Evangelical Christians, the latter whom reject Calvin's TULIP doctrine and emphasize human free agency.

Nevertheless, the LDS believe the only obedience necessary to be born again is obeying the commandments to have faith in Christ, to repent, and to be baptized. These are the only “laws and principles” on which being born again is predicated. The language in Article of Faith Three that you find disturbing (“all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel”) is clarified in Article of Faith Four: “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,” To those who obey these principles God give the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:32), "fourth, laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

In other words, it is impossible to be born again without faith in Christ, repentance, and baptism (Acts 2:38; John 3:3-5). Most Evangelicals would agree with the first two, and some would agree with all three. But there is no quid pro quo here, no earnings being paid off; these things constitute being born again. The only “requirement” for coming to Christ is to come. Truly, there are other laws and principles after these “first” ones, but these refer to ways in which the saved can become more like Christ. They are not conditions for “being saved” initially as Evangelicals use the term.

Now two more points, in the interest of full disclosure. I understand that Baptism is a hot button issue if it is perceived as a “work” somehow contributing to our salvation. Mormons believe that baptism is a part of the good news (see Hebrews 6:1-2, where both baptism and the laying on of hands are represented as foundational principles of “the doctrine of Christ”). One is baptized into Christ (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12) and both salvation and the remission of sins is connected to baptism (Acts 22:16; Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21). The belief that baptism is necessary is not peculiar to the LDS but is also held by some Evangelicals. Neither they, nor the LDS, understand it to be a prerequisite to conversion, but rather a part of conversion (Acts 8:12-17; 19:1-6). One’s faith, repentance, and submission to the lordship of Christ are expressed by submitting to baptism. Jesus’ grand commission to his disciples was not just to teach, after all, but to teach and to baptize (Matthew 28:19). Latter-day Saints thus line up with those Evangelicals who insist that Jesus must be accepted as both Savior and Lord.

The second and final point is that some Evangelicals, like many LDS, also misinterpret 2nd Nephi 25:23, which says: “We know that it is by grace we are saved, after all we can do.” In this passage, “all we can do” is have faith in Christ. This is made clear in the following verses, particularly 25:26, “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophecy of Christ, and we write according to our prophesies that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” Moreover, the Book of Mormon elsewhere states that “all we can do” is to repent and turn to Christ. (Alma 24:10-11).

Latter-day Saints believe in salvation by grace, although it's a less used term in LDS circles because "salvation" in LDS terminology is usually the equivalent of "sanctification" in Evangelical terminology, and sanctification requires obedience as well as God's grace. Thus, the real sticking point between LDS and Evangelicals is not whether we are saved by grace (both affirm this) but whether we are saved by grace alone, that is, without individual, personal involvement or participation. Latter-day Saints find “salvation by grace alone” to be unbiblical and, borrowing C.S. Lewis’ analogy, like cutting cloth with only half of the scissors. (For C.S. Lewis’ quote, see “Mere Christianity”. For the unbiblical claim, the term “grace alone” is not found in the Bible, and the similar term “faith alone” is found only once, in a Scripture hostile to the idea (James 2:17).

Finally, even if the rest of Mormonism—apart from our faith in Christ—is not true (though I deeply believe it is), then which is more potent, my theological “error” in believing the Book of Mormon or Christ’s saving blood as I call upon his name? Was God’s promise (Romans 10:9-13) truly unconditional, or is there an implied exception just for Mormons who might believe and confess? Are Christians saved by the grace of Christ or by “proper” theology—by the atonement or by catechism?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Mormon Trinity

In contemplating the theology of the Restoration, I've enjoyed learning more about our similarities and differences with historical Christianity's concept of the Trinity. It's been an enlightening religious education! Suffice it to say, I think LDS Christians would greatly benefit from a concerted effort in thinking and teaching about the nature of God in terms that would be more understandable to non-Mormon Christians.

After all, Elder Bruce D. Porter in this recent interview made it clear that the only part of the Nicene Creed that Mormons would not agree with would be the statement that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are of "one substance".

So with that in mind, I'd like to recommend reading a recent post at Mormon Matters entitled The Mormon Trinity.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

God is Three. God is One. And We Can Be One With God.

I've learned a lot from my blogging interactions with people not of our faith, as well as from my recent reading of "How Wide The Divide?" by Craig Blomberg (an Evangelical scholar) and Stephen Robinson (a Mormon scholar). One of the biggest things I realized, and it's simply huge, is that the Latter-day Saints are unique in their understanding that we are of the same essence or species of God. Evangelical Christians believe we are a different species from God, who "chose at some point to make creatures distinct from himself--human beings--with the capacity to have a personal realationship with him" (Blomberg).

Thus, Stephen Robinson writes: "The real sticking point is not what the LDS think of Christ and his gospel, but rather the different ontological frame or view of the nature of the universe into which Mormons fit the gospel. For Latter-day Saints also believe in the literal fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of humanity. We believe that God and humans are the same species of being and that all men and women were his spiritual offspring in a premortal existence. The main purpose of the gospel of Christ is therefore not so much to get us to heaven as it is to get us home."

If people don't understand this, then no wonder why we don't understand each other or we talk past each other. No wonder why other Christians would be confused that we believe we can become like God. For us, we are literally His children and therefore want to grow up to be like Him. We have the seeds of divinity in us. But for them, we'll always be different than God. Because Plato and Greek philosophy said that the "created" must always be separate from the "Creator", or the divine separate from the non-divine, the common thought that went into the councils and creeds was how to reconcile the fact that Christ was divine but also became a created man on earth.

We may believe in the same New Testament teachings of Jesus, but we definitely believe differently about the nature of God. I happen to like our understanding of God much more. :) I would find it hard to have faith in a mysterious and undefinable God that created "human beings" and put them on earth as if we're some kind of pet in a zoo or fish in a fish bowl, yet capable of having some kind of "relationship" with God--our owner or creator. I have faith in God and relate to Him and love Him as my Father in Heaven, who I lived with before I came to earth and wants me to return back to Him, but having grown from my experience here. So this is a fundamental difference, and I believe it's key to mutual understanding.

Incidentally, isn't it interesting that both "sides" can read the same bible and yet come away with such a different concept of God? Yet we each feel adamant that our interpretation is fully biblical. To quote Robinson again: "We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in God's Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. We accept the biblical doctrine that God is three and that God is also one, but we reject the post-New Testament attempts to explain how these two truths are to be reconciled."

It has been helpful for me to think of the "Trinity" (three persons in one being) as a solution to this "problem", that people saw that the scriptures talk of "one eternal God", and yet also that not only the Father was God, but Christ was God and fully divine, as well as the Holy Spirit. It seems that the Trinity was simply a solution for people who were afraid that worshipping three Gods, when the scriptures also clearly say that they are, or there is, "one God", would be polytheism. But Latter-day Saints also recognize the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as one "God"--or the Godhead--without feeling there is a polytheism problem. Since all three of them are united as one in practically every way (except physically), we have no problem in thinking of them as "one eternal God" in three persons.

We even take it one step further and really believe that the Bible means what is says when Christ prays to His Father for his disciples, that "they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us" (John 17:21). What mercy and blessed grace indeed! Through the atonement of Christ, He will make us divine and change our natures so that we can be at one again with God, just as Christ is one with God. Yes, the word gospel means good news, and this is most definitely "good news"! What a testament to the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Witnessing to Mormons

I came across an evangelical blog that had a list of suggestions up for witnessing to Mormons. I think it was a pretty good list, but I would like to add one more thing for Orthodox Christians who want to witness to Non-Traditional Christians such as the Mormons--make sure you understand Mormon doctrine as Mormons understand it.

Mormon doctrine holds that there is only one eternal God, or Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) and that there are many gods, but they are gods by grace, made so by God himself. But we hold that there is only one source of worship and power and knowledge in the universe-–God (or the Godhead). No matter what exalted beings are called, we will always be subject to the one true God who made us what we are.

And that "shocking" quote about God once being a man isn’t such a stretch when you realize how we believe the scriptures which say that we are His offspring, created in His image, and that He is our Father. That means that we believe we are the same species or essence of God. So thinking of God as an exalted human being isn't such a stretch. Just as Jesus was once on the earth as a man, but was still fully divine and fully God and is now resurrected and glorified and exalted, we hold that God the Father also could have had a mortal experience, but there is no doubt that he is glorified and exalted. Remember also that Jesus was still fully God while he dwelt on earth as a man. We are "fallen" man, although we have hope of overcoming the effects of the Fall through the atonement of Christ, who intends to make us divine like He is. Now, if you've only asked the LDS missionaries about this and you felt like you didn't get a sufficient answer, just know that 19 year old missionaries aren’t the most informed in Mormon theology. They are sent to bear witness of the restoration, but they're not necessarily trained in theology. Actually none of us are, but some are more informed than others.

Last thing--about becoming gods ourselves. We literally believe the Bible when it says that by God’s grace we receive His glory (John 17:22-23), or as Peter said, we become partakers of His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). We do not believe that it is only figurative. We believe the Bible is literal when Paul says that we are made joint-heirs with Christ to all that the Father has (Romans 8:15-17; Revelation 21:7; 1 Corinthians 3:22). God, by His grace, makes us divine through the atonement of Christ, which breaks down all barriers between the Creator and the created--making us “at one” with God through the at-one-ment. We believe, as Christ prayed in His intercessory prayer in John 17, that through his grace we can become “one” with God, as Christ and the Father are one. We will share in their relationship and, again, to quote Peter, fully partake of their "divine nature"-–thus becoming divine ourselves.

The Westminister Dictionary of Christian Theology (not a Mormon publication) says: "Deification is for Orthodoxy the goal for every Christian". Almost stating LDS belief exactly on the doctrine of deification is the great Christian defender C.S. Lewis, who wrote: "The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were ‘gods’ and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him–for we can prevent Him, if we choose–He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said” (Mere Christianity.)

Thus, we believe we can be made into much more than we currently are through the atonement of Jesus Christ. He changes our nature. Nevertheless, we will still always be subject to, and worship only the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost through all eternity. Plain and simple.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Explaining What Mormons Believe

Excellent post up at Summa Theologica--Explaining What Mormons Believe--reviewing an article in FIRST THINGS: A Journal of Religion, Culture, and Public Life entitled "Is Mormonism Christian?". The article includes a section written by Bruce D. Porter, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Gerald R. McDermott, Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion at Roanoke College. This same McDermott wrote a book with Robert Millet (BYU) but seems to exclude some important Mormon interpretations both in his book as well as in the article. Aquinas, from Summa Theologica hits the nail on the head in so many places with two excellent reviews. The reviews are eloquent, thorough, and a very important read for Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints alike.

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).

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

With Liberty, Unity, and Charity For All

"In essentials let there be unity; in non-essentials, liberty, and in all things, charity."

Isn't that a great quote? I was going through some old files and saw that I had written that down as a B.H. Roberts quote, but I think it's more likely that he was quoting someone else. Either way, just think of all the applications of that one, whether in church, a marriage--the list goes on...