Archive for September, 2008

27
Sep
08

Heretical Christians

 

     Meridian Magazine is an online LDS magazine.  This week it contained which to me was a surprising article.  It was reporting on an article in a journal called “First Things” that consisted of a discussion between Elder Bruce D. Porter, a LDS General Authority (member of the First Quorum of Seventy) and Gerald McDermott, a Christian professor.  The discussion was whether Mormonism was Christian or not.

     The thing that I found surprising was the following quote from Elder Porter.  After saying that Mormons were Christians, he added.  “To the title Christian a critic of Mormonism may add any modifiers he deems appropriate – unorthodox, heretical, non-Nicene, different – but blanket assertions that we are Christians are a poor substitute for informed argument and dialogue.”  I read it about three times to make sure I read it correctly.  A LDS General Authority prefers that critics of Mormonism describe it as heretical Christianity rather than non-Christian?  It would seem logical that he would then say that critics of Mormonism may call Joseph Smith a heretic.

      Not only did I find that quote surprising but also the fact that Meridian Magazine reported it with approval.  By this am I to conclude that it won’t bother most Mormons to use those terms?  I personally have difficulty seeing Mormons not object if Christians regularly began to describe Mormonism as heretical and Joseph Smith as a heretic.  But that sure seems to be what Elder Porter is saying.  He would prefer that to being called non-Christian.

      To see the article, go to www.ldsmag.com/ideas/080923porterprint.html

 

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26
Sep
08

What Is Repentance

 

     In my post of September 15th  I focused on how Mormonism defined repentance and contrasted that with the Christian view of repentance.  But I did that only briefly.  Therefore I want to focus on the Christian view now since the idea of repentance repeatedly is brought up in comments.

     The Greek word for repentance literally means a change of mind.  The command to repent in the Bible is mainly (but not exclusively) used in mission settings and is addressed to non-believers.  In that context it’s helpful to remember that the root meaning of the word is to change your mind.  In those contexts the call to repentance is a call for people to change their mind from thinking that salvation depends on their efforts and seeing that salvation depends on Jesus’ efforts. 

     One thing that aids that change of mindset is seeing the extent and seriousness of our sin.  When we see how thoroughly sin has corrupted us and how serious each and every sin is, then we are primed to look for help outside of ourselves.  That is why when people think of repentance, they often think of being sorry for their sin. 

     But if that sorrow over sin doesn’t result also in a turning to God it is not repentance.  Judas was extremely sorrowful over his betrayal of Jesus but he didn’t think God could forgive him.  His sorrow didn’t end up in repentance.  Still today there are a lot of people who are sorry for their sins, but they aren’t repentant because they aren’t looking to Jesus.  Now compare Judas to Peter who also was very sorrowful over his denial of Jesus.  But he trusted that God would forgive him.  He was repentant.

    The question has been asked more than once if repentance is a one-time event or a process.  I like to think of it as a state believers are in.   When the Holy Spirit caused me to see the truth about my sinfulness – and Jesus, my Savior, I repented.  That is, I had a new paradigm, a new mindset.  I changed from thinking I had to earn salvation to trusting in Jesus saving me.  That mindset of trusting in Jesus for salvation is the state I now am in.  That is now my mindset.  Therefore I don’t have to daily or weekly or monthly or what have go through the process of repenting by turning away from myself and looking to Jesus for salvation.  As a believer, that is now part of my being – that is my mindset. 

25
Sep
08

Why Become A Mormon?

 

 

     Why should I consider becoming a Mormon?  I think that is a good question to ask Mormons.  But I also think it is only right to explain to them that from my perspective I would lose so much.  Even if I thought Mormonism’s plan of salvation was God-pleasing (which I don’t), from my perspective it doesn’t look very attractive.

     Right now I have forgiveness freely and fully through Jesus.  Why would I want to give that up for forgiveness that depends on a long and often painful process of repentance?  Right now, because Jesus has made me acceptable to God, I have the assurance that I will live with Heavenly Father for all eternity.  Why would I give up that sure thing for the uncertainty of becoming worthy enough to live with Heavenly Father?  Right now my life in Christ in wonderful.  Each day I experience his forgiveness, his protection, his love.  How can Mormonism improve on that?

     I have to admit that I began asking that question out of frustration after being repeatedly told by LDS members how much I was missing.  Even after I told them I was a Christian pastor, many persisted in trying to convince me how much better off I would be as a Mormon.  Therefore I began asking the question as stated above.  What I have discovered is that it often led to some decent discussions about salvation and forgiveness.  It is my prayer that some Mormons left the conversation not only more aware of the Christian view of salvation but also wondering if that would be the better course for them also.

23
Sep
08

Eternal Life

 

     In John 5:24 Jesus says: “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” It is important to note the tenses.  They are not futures.  “Hath” is a present tense.  “Is passed” is in the past tense.  When Jesus  speaks about eternal life, he is not talking about something that lies in the future.  The person who hears Jesus’ words and believes already has eternal life.  This is possible only because of Jesus – because with his perfect life he fulfilled God’s commandments for us and with his death he paid for all our sins. 

     Mormonism, however, defines eternal life differently.  “Eternal life, or exaltation, is to inherit a place in the highest degree of celestial kingdom, where we live in God’s presence and continue as families (see D&C 131:1-4).  Like immortality, this gift is possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.  However, it requires our ‘obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel’ (Articles of Faith 1:3).”  (LDS Church Manual, True to the Faith, p. 52)  A little bit later it says, “be assured that eternal life is within your reach.”

      Jesus says believers have eternal life.  Mormonism says it is in our reach.  Mormonism teaches that because it says that eternal life requires something from us:  obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.  But Jesus never mentions that.  In fact, if anything was required of us, Jesus couldn’t have said that believers already have it.  He too would have to talk about it being in our reach – not being in our possession. 

     But he didn’t say that because eternal life isn’t conditioned on our obedience.  It is God’s gift to us through Jesus Christ our Lord.  To him be all praise and glory!

21
Sep
08

Mormonism’s Sources of Authority

 

     Seth, a regular on this blog, asked an important question.  He asked:  “Imagine you are an active Mormon (or at least try for a moment).  Imagine you had to rank Mormon sources of teaching and doctrine on a numbered scale.  How would you rank the following:

            *Accepted Mormon scriptures – the “Standard Works”

            *Statements by Joseph Smith on doctrinal matters

            *Statements by Brigham Young on doctrinal matters

            *Statements made by current or recent Prophets and Apostles in General Conference, or in the Ensign

            *Explanations made in books published by General Authorities. Statements made by official Church organs (such as the Church website, or press room)

            *Statements included in currently used manuals or lesson materials.”

     This is an important question because if there is an agreed-upon answer then that establishes common ground for discussion.  In my experience, however, both Mormons and Christians don’t agree on the relative importance of the things listed.  This results in ever-increasing frustration for all involved as everybody, it seems, cites different authorities.  Sometimes it even appears as if the same person will cite different authorities at different times to suit his purpose.  This switching of authorities, whether real or perceived, creates not only frustration but also suspicion.

     What I find perplexing about all this is that it seems to me that the LDS Church has spoken clearly about this very question.  One of its basis tenets is the idea of ongoing revelation.  I have lost count of the number of LDS members who have talked to me about their benefit of having a living prophet who can receive revelation for the current day.  This is a universally accepted idea.  At least I have never seen or heard of a LDS member not sustaining the current living prophet.

     Building on this teaching of ongoing revelation, the LDS church has published numerous statements like the following.  These are all taken from the official church manual, Teachings of the Living Prophet

      “The most important prophet, so far as you and I are concerned, is the one living in our day and age to whom the Lord is currently revealing His will for us.”  Ezra Taft Benson, P. 13

     “The living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works.”  P. 15

      “The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.” P. 15

      “The prophet does not have to say, ‘Thus saith the Lord’ to give us scripture. P. 16

      “The most crucial reading and pondering which you should do is of the latest inspired words from the Lord’s mouthpiece.  That is why it is essential that you have access to and carefully read his words in current Church publications.”  P. 19

      “President Ezra Taft Benson counseled the Saints to ‘beware of those who would pit the dead prophets against the living prophets, for the living prophets always takes precedence.’” P. 20

     “It is the latest word from God that must be heeded, in preference to any former revelation, however true.  The same God ways do thus and so today, can repeal that commandment tomorrow, without being changeable or inconsistent.”  P. 20

     “Today the Lord is revealing his will to all the inhabitants of the earth, and to members of the Church in particular, on the issues of this our day through the living prophets, with the First Presidency at the head.  What they say as a presidency is what the Lord would say if he were here in person.  This is the rock foundation of Mormonism.”  P. 25 (My emphasis)

     There are other similar quotes from other current and official manuals. These are not taken from obscure and outdated documents. There are numerous quotes, for example, that describe General Conference talks as scripture.  One of the newest LDS manuals, True to the Faith, says, “Your greatest safety lies in strictly following the word of the Lord given through His prophets, particularly the current President of the Church.” P. 130

     Back to the original question.  It sure seems to me, if I were a faithful member of the LDS church, the church itself is telling me loud and clear where to look – at what is currently being taught by the First Presidency.  In that regard, I would pay special attention to everything the First Presidency officially endorses – as is the case with many church manuals.  In fact, if I put something above them, it seems to me that I would not be a faithful member.  As the church itself teaches: “The living prophet always takes precedence.” 

19
Sep
08

Romans 4:5 and the JST

 

     One of the most striking passages in the Bible is Romans 4:5.  “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”  What is so striking about this passage is that it describes God as “him that justifieth the ungodly.”  Justifies is a courtroom term that means to acquit or declare not guilty.  In other words, this passage startles us by describing God as acquitting the ungodly.  That doesn’t seem right!

     But it is.  This is what makes the Bible unique.  Where else do we hear about a God who acquits the ungodly?  The common picture shared by other world religions is of a God who keeps a record of rights and wrongs and judges accordingly. 

     Only the Bible says this because only the Bible talks about a Savior who has taken all our sins on himself and paid their terrible price for us.  “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities:  the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  (Isaiah 53:5-6)

     Interestingly this is a verse that Joseph Smith changed.  The Joseph Smith Translation (JST) of this verse is:  “But to him that seeketh not to be justified by the law of works, but believeth on him who justifieth not the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Note especially how he changed the description of God.  “him who justifieth not the ungodly.”  With the addition of not, he changed the meaning of this phrase completely and aligned it with the concept of God common to other world religions.

      Here then is another striking difference between Christianity and Mormonism.  Christianity’s God is the one who justifies the ungodly. Mormonism’s god doesn’t.

17
Sep
08

Amazing Grace

 

     Very few words have only one meaning.  That is apparent in any dictionary as most words have a number of meanings listed for them.  Therefore the context in which it is used is vitally important in determining its proper meaning.  Nowhere is this more important than in reading the Bible.

      Take the word grace.  When it is used in the context of salvation, it refers to an attribute of God – his unconditional love.  This is the love Jesus spoke about in John 3:16.  This is the love Paul referred to in Romans 5, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’  What is pertinent to our discussion is that the Bible says, when it comes to salvation, grace and works don’t mix.  “And if by grace, then it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace.  But if it be of works, then it is no more of grace; otherwise work is no more work.”  (Romans 11:6)

     Mormonism defines grace differently. The LDS manual, True to the Faith, says:  “The word grace, as used in the scriptures refers primarily to the divine help and strength we receive through the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  The LDS Bible Dictionary uses almost the exact same wording.  A couple of other excerpts from it:  “This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts.”  “However, grace cannot suffice without total effort on the part of the recipient.” Nowhere do either of these two sources mention the idea that grace is God’s unconditional love for mankind.

     One reason I am pointing this out is to highlight the fact that when Christians and Mormons talk about grace, most of the time they will be thinking of two different things.  If there is going to be any meaningful discussion between the two, this fact needs to be acknowledged.  Christians will need to remember that when most Mormons hear the word grace they will be thinking of an enabling power given them.  Mormons will need to remember that most Christians will be thinking of God’s love shown them in giving them salvation totally and freely on the basis of what Jesus did.

     The second reason for doing this is so that I can bear my testimony about this amazing grace.  I know that God has accepted Jesus’ payment for my sins and I don’t have to add anything to it.  I know that I am going to spend eternity in celestial glory in God’s eternal family solely on the basis of what Jesus has done.  To him be all glory!




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