Archive for September, 2008




     Repentance is another word that is defined differently by Mormons.  The LDS manual, True to the Faith, lists the following elements in the process of repentance:  1) Faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ; 2) Sorrow for sin; 3) Confession; 4) Abandonment of Sin; 5) Restitution; 6) Righteous Living.  I would like to focus on the 4th element: the abandonment of sin.

     This is what True to the Faith says under that heading.  “Although confession is an essential element of repentance, it is not enough.  The Lord has said, ‘By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins – behold, he will confess them and forsake them’ (D&C 58:43).

     “Maintain an unyielding, permanent resolve that you will never repeat the transgression.  When you keep this commitment, you will never experience the pain of that sin again.”

    Over the years, numerous Mormons have repeated this idea to me.  For example, one member of the stake presidency explained it to me this way.  He said that if he took the name of the Lord in vain when he was 16 and repented of it – but then took the Lord’s name in vain again when he was 17 – that would show that he truly wasn’t repentant when he was 16.

     In striking contrast, the Bible talks realistically.  It says that because we still have a sinful side, we won’t be able to perfectly fight off temptation or abandon the sin.  Even St. Paul confessed that the good he wanted to do, he often could not do and the evil he didn’t want to do, that is what he did!  In the Bible, repentance is not abandoning the sin.  Rather it is a change of mind. (That’s the literal meaning of the Greek word for repentance.) It’s the abandoning, not of sin, but of trust in ourselves precisely because we see the extent of our sins and the fact that we can’t perfectly abandon them.  Repentance is abandoning trust in ourselves and instead placing all our trust in Jesus and the fact that he perfectly abandoned sin for us.  Repentance is turning away from ourselves and turning to our Savior.   It is not a “painful process” as True to the Faith describes it.  It is joyous relief as exhibited by Zacchaeus in Luke 19.


When Addition is not just Subtraction but Destruction


     Mormonism not only claims but emphasizes that it is adding to Christianity.  Some of this, it claims, is restoring original Christianity.  The rest, it claims, is truly new based on new revelation.  In either case, there’s a lot of “new” in Mormonism:  new scriptures, new doctrines, new rituals, etc.

     The question is:  are these additions good and helpful?  The title of this post already reveals my answer.  But I would like to explain my answer in an attempt to help members of the LDS Church better understand why I and others react so passionately to Mormonism.  We truly believe that the additions made by Mormonism do not just subtract from God’s message of salvation, but destroy it – and in the process, destroy many, many people.

     We do not see LDS doctrines as just new ingredients added to the “stew” of Christianity.  Ingredients that don’t suit our taste buds and therefore ingredients that we think would be better left out.  No, we see LDS doctrines as nothing less than arsenic added to Christianity, poisoning all who eat from it.  And it doesn’t take a whole lot of arsenic to have that effect.

     Obviously I don’t expect Mormons to agree with me.  In fact, I expect some will be pretty frustrated with me and even angry at me for saying this.  But that’s not why I am posting this.  I’m posting this because when LDS members casually talk about LDS doctrines as “new” or “adding to Christianity” and imply that that they aren’t that different, this comes off as callous and offensive to many Christians.  If that is what you believe – say it.  What I am asking is that it is said in such a way that demonstrates sensitivity to how seriously many Christians view these differences. 

     And yes, I need to strive to exhibit the same combination of honesty and sensitivity to you and your beliefs.


Definition of Gospel


     In my last posts I looked at a couple of passages that are very popular with Christians, Ephesians 2:8-9 and John 3:16.  Those posts reveal the need to define the word, “gospel” since, for example, I said that many consider John 3:16 as the gospel in a nutshell.  I have repeatedly said that Mormons and Christians use the same words, but often define them differently.  This is one reason why they so often end up talking past each other.

     “Gospel” is one such word.  Christians define gospel as the good news that Jesus came to take our place – to live a perfect life for us and to die for all our sins.  That’s not just good news – that’s the best news!  The gospel reassures us that eternal life with Heavenly Father is his precious gift to us.  To Christians, gospel is the message of salvation.

     But that is not how Mormonism defines gospel.  It equates the gospel with the teachings of Mormonism including all of its requirements.  The LDS manual, True to the Faith, says:  “The gospel is our Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation.  The central doctrine of the gospel is the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”  And a few sentences later says:  “In its fullness, the gospel includes all the doctrines, principles, laws, ordinances, and covenants necessary for us to be exalted in the celestial kingdom.”

     Can you see the confusion this creates?  When the word gospel is used, Christians think only of Christ’s work and the salvation achieved by it.  When Mormons hear the word gospel, they think of the Atonement plus. . .  (Fill in the blank from the above quote.)  They think of the plan of salvation rather than salvation itself. 

     As Christians and Mormons converse with each other, it is important that they correctly hear each other.  One way that can be achieved is paying careful attention to each other’s definition.


John 3:16


       In my last post I talked about one of Christianity’s most popular passages and the LDS interpretation of it.  Now I would like to look at arguably the most popular of all passages, John 3:16.  Christians down through the years have cherished this verse.  It has often been called the gospel in a nutshell because in it Jesus gives a wonderful summary of the gospel.

       It was spoken by Jesus to Nicodemus.  I quote it in its context.  “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. 14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

     Jesus is talking about the most important subjects:  eternal life – not being condemned – being saved.  And they all hinge on one thing:  believing.  Jesus uses that word no less than five times in this short paragraph.  It’s all about believing in Jesus – especially believing in his crucifixion.  That’s obviously what he is referring to in v. 14.

      Jesus’ reference to that Old Testament story is very instructive.  It is recorded in Numbers 21.  “And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. 9And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.”  They lived by looking.  That’s it.  And that is what believing is.  It’s looking to Jesus and his death on the cross.  That is the key to eternal life.  It’s no wonder that John 3:16 has been the most popular of all Bible verses.

      But it’s not even referred to in the most thorough LDS manual on the New Testament, the 500 page manual, The Life and Teachings of Jesus & His Apostles.  The closest you get is the following:  “What is available to you if you accept the Lord’s sayings and constantly strive to obey the Lord’s commandments?  (See John 3:13-15.)”  That’s it.  And what is so distressing is that, as can be seen above, John 3:13-15 doesn’t mention any need to “constantly strive to obey the Lord’s commandments”.   There is a total disconnect between the question and the reference to John 3:13-15.

      No mention of John 3:16.  A brief reference to John 3:13-15 that is very misleading.  That is how Mormonism’s official manual on the New Testament treats this precious passage of Scripture.


Mormonism’s Interpretation of Ephesians 2:8-9



    It is revealing to see how Mormonism views Bible passages that say we are not saved by works.  Probably the most familiar of these passages is Ephesians 2:8 -9 which says:  “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

    The LDS manual that addresses the New Testament most thoroughly is the 500 page manual, The Life and Teachings of Jesus & His Apostles.  Following is the only treatment it gives of this passage.  It is quoted in its entirety.

     “I am not unmindful of the scripture that declares: ‘by grace are ye saved through faith; and this not of yourselves:  it is the gift of God.’ (Ephesians 2:8) That is absolutely true, for man in his taking upon himself mortality was impotent to save himself.  When left to grope in a natural state, he would have become, and did become, so we are told in modern scripture, ‘carnal, sensual, and devilish, by nature.’ (Alma 42:10)  But the Lord, through his grace, appeared to man, gave him the gospel or eternal plan whereby he might rise above the carnal and selfish things of life and obtain spiritual perfection.  But he must rise by his own efforts and he must walk by faith.

     “’He who would ascend the stairway leading upward to eternal life must tread it step by step from the base stone to the summit of its flight.  Not a single stair can be missed, not one duty neglected.  If the climber would avoid danger and delay and arrive with all safety and expedition at the topmost landing of the celestial exaltation.’  The responsibility is upon each individual to choose the path of righteousness, of faithfulness and duty to fellow men.  If he choose otherwise and as a result meets failure, misery, and death, he alone is to blame.” (David O McKay in CR, Apr. 1957, p. 7 Italics added.)”

     Notice how McKay (who was one of Mormonism’s living prophets) equates the gift of Ephesians 2:8 with the Lord giving the eternal plan – a plan that depends on man’s own efforts.  The manual even emphasizes this by putting it in italics.  “But he must rise by his own efforts and he must walk by faith.”

     The “this” of verse 8, however, grammatically refers back to “by grace are ye saved” or salvation itself.  Salvation is not of ourselves – something that is reinforced by verse 9:  “Not of works, lest any man should boast.”  It is striking that McKay doesn’t even mention verse 9.  That is striking especially because, even though, it is a separate verse, it is still part of the sentence.  It completes the thought.  Standing alone it makes no sense. 

     It also shows that McKay’s interpretation is wrong.  God’s gift to us is not a plan of salvation which requires us to tread the stairway step by step.  God’s gift to us is salvation itself.


Purpose of Life


     Mormons often ask Christians what they think our purpose is for being on earth.  Mormonism says that the purpose of earthly life is to be tested.  As one of their 12 apostles said; “We have trials to face because our Heavenly Father loves us.  His purpose is to help us qualify for the blessing of living with Him and his Son, Jesus Christ, forever in glory and in families.  To qualify for that gift we had to receive a mortal body.  With that mortality we understood that we would be tested by temptations and by difficulties.”

     As he says, Mormonism teaches that we have to qualify to live with Heavenly Father.  Part of that process of qualification is the overcoming of earthly temptations and difficulties.  That we are on earth to pass the test is a bedrock belief of Mormonism.  Most Mormons accept this without question.

     Therefore they have looked at me quite strangely when I said that I don’t agree with that purpose.  Most see that as a given.   They have continued to look at me strangely when I tell them that our purpose is to believe that Jesus has already passed the test for us – and then to share that awesome news with others.  Why am I on earth?  To be a light – pointing people to Jesus – his perfect life led for them – his sacrificial death for all their sins – his victorious resurrection as wonderful proof.  Life is not about passing the test.  Life is about celebrating the victory and salvation won for us by Jesus.


Are Any Sins Misdemeanors?


     It sure seems like some sins aren’t very serious; at the most being on the level of minor crimes, misdemeanors.  But that isn’t how the Bible portrays them.  Sin, all sin, is extremely serious because of the person whom we are sinning against.

     For example, if I took a swing at my friend, there would be consequences but we wouldn’t even make the news.  Taking that same swing at a police officer, however, might get me into the papers – and into jail.  Same swing – different consequences -because of whom I swung at.  Take it a step further.  Say I took that same swing at the President of the United States.  That would get me national attention – and serious jail time.  Same swing – different consequences – because of whom I swung at.

     Sin is serious because we are sinning against God.  For example, after committing adultery, David cried out to the Lord:  “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned.”  (Psalm 51:4)  All sin is against God because all sin breaks God’s law.  That means all sin is serious. That’s why James wrote, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”  (James 2:10)  Sin, all sin, is serious.  There are no misdemeanors when it comes to sin.  In fact, sin is more than a felony – sin, all sin, is a capital crime.  “The wages of sin is death.”  (Romans 6:23)  It’s not just the blatant sinners who have a big problem.

     The only solution to that problem is Jesus.  How wonderful it is that this verse continues:  “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Eternal life is more than immortality.  Eternal life is living eternally with Heavenly Father.  (The LDS Bible’s Topical Guide recognizes this by referencing exaltation and eternal family under the heading, eternal life.)  Jesus died for our capital crimes.  He paid the penalty for all our sins.  His blood washes away all sin.  So much so that God gives eternal life as his gift to us – with no strings attached.  To Jesus be all praise!

September 2008

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