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, December 17, 2008

Merry Christmas from San Antonio!

Merry Christmas from San Antonio! It's not too often that it gets this cold down here in South Texas. We didn't last long, but it was fun to bundle up for Family Night and head downtown to see the lights. Here we are in front of the Christmas tree at Main Plaza, home to the San Fernando Cathedral.
It's as beautiful as it is historical. It marks the very center of town. Inside the front left doors are the remains of Davy Crockett and other heroes of the Battle of the Alamo. We were among the very few people visiting the usually packed Alamo that night. It was a calm, silent night, and we were mindful of the reminder the Christmas lights provide of the Light of the World. We are so grateful for our Savior, Jesus Christ. Our hearts rejoice as we contemplate his humble birth, his incomparable life, and his marvelous Atonement. It is He that gives meaning, not just to Christmas, but to our entire lives. Merry Christmas, indeed.

"One silent night in Bethlehem, God filled the earth with hope so real, joy so pure, and love so true--our hearts still rejoice today."

Monday, December 8, 2008

Misunderstanding the Mormons

It's always been fascinating to see how others perceive me as a Mormon. Needless to say, it has provided me quite an education. It's gratifying when there is mutual respect and understanding. But far too often I encounter perceptions about my faith based on deeply ingrained misunderstandings. Misunderstanding often leads to bewilderment, ignorance, and sometimes enmity. Unfortunately, perceptions are more often than not perceived as reality.

We face an uphill battle to be understood as we really/truly are, and not as others have perceived us in the past. Frankly, sometimes it's an uphill battle even to understand ourselves. For example, how do you suppose the Proclamation on the Family would read had it been written in the 1870's? All in all, the fact that the Church is being much more open, such as with publishing the Joseph Smith Papers, is the kind of thing that will lead to mutual understanding. A win-win situation for everyone.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

His Grace is Sufficient

I love Velska's comment on my last post: "I often wonder if I am 'valiant' in my testimony, but I have no illusion about saving myself - I know I have to rely on Christ."

I think this is more true of the majority of members of the Church. We have no doubt in Christ's ability; we doubt our ability. This humble recognition therefore fuels our faith in Christ as Savior, and our need to trust Him, as well as to rely more fully on "the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah" (2nd Nephi 2:8).

Then AFTER being secure in that saving covenant--the "arms of safety" (Alma 34:16)--being faithful to Him becomes our greatest desire. We don't desire this in order to merit salvation (because we can't) but rather to show our commitment and desire to STAY in the saving covenant. And we wish we could be more profitable servants.

I think it's helpful to delineate between accepting/having faith in Christ as Savior and making Christ our Lord by turing our lives over to Him and serving Him and none else. This is where I so often fall short. Mercifully he has provided repentance, and I rejoice in that that, because all too often my behavior doesn't quite match the deepest desires of my heart.

That "natural man" battles with the spiritual born-again man in me. Nevertheless, I trust that Christ knows my heart, and knows that I truly desire righteousness and that I "hunger and thirst" for it. Although I fall short in actually attaining righteousness, He promises that I shall be "filled" for hungering and thirsting for it. (Matthew 5:6)

..."then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ" (Moroni 10:32)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Drive-by Evangelism

A drive-by evangelist by the name of "Further the Kingdom" recently visited my blog and left the following comment totally unrelated to that post. I wonder how often this happens to anyone else:

"Here’s a million dollar question – If you were to die right now, would you qualify for the celestial kingdom? If you’re like most Mormons, you’re not sure. You try hard to be as good as possible, but you still don’t know if you’ve done enough. If the Book of Mormon is really scripture, this hope will always elude you. Alma 11:37 says God cannot save you in your sins. Are all of your sins forgiven? Moroni 10:32 says you must be perfected in Christ, which can only be done by denying yourself of “all ungodliness”. Have you done that?

"Do you repent on a regular basis? If so, then it is clear that you sin on a regular basis, since only those who break the commandments need to repent. 1 Nephi 3:7 states that you are able to keep His commandments. In fact according to D&C 25:15, you are required to keep them continually! Since you haven’t done this so far, why assume you will in the future? Of course, we should all try to be holy; but if you think that sinning less will qualify you to live in God’s presence, you are mistaken (Gal 3:1-11). The assumption that good works are required for forgiveness only cheapens Christ’s atonement, making it nothing more than a partial payment. God chooses to justify us by faith. Jesus alone does the “perfecting” (Heb 10:14). God gives peace to those who trust in Him alone. If you don’t have this peace, it’s probably because at least a part of you trusts in yourself. Questions? Visit us at

So here's my ten cent answer to his "million dollar" question:

"If you were to die right now, would you qualify for the celestial kingdom?" Yes, because of my faith in Christ. That's the "good news." It's actually great news. And "most Mormons" that understand the gospel properly should have hope for the same--as well as true peace.

"If you’re like most Mormons, you’re not sure." Really? Do "most Mormons" not understand the gospel properly? I'm sure some don't, but "most"? I'm a little skeptical of that statistic. But if that's true, I guess I've got my work cut out for me! As a gospel teacher, we all have the ability to truly "further the kingdom". I guess I'd start by recommending the books"Believing Christ" and "Following Christ" by Stephen E. Robinson.

I'd love to have this kind of scriptural/gospel conversation with you in my living room; maybe this blog will suffice. But first it would be helpful to do away with all of the preceding blanket (and wrong) assertions and stop misconstruing scriptural references. I'll add that to my now growing list of tips for witnessing to Mormons. Maybe then we can have an actual dialogue about what I believe.