Archive for May, 2009

29
May
09

HOW TO BE RIGHTEOUS

     Although not used much in normal conversation, righteous and righteousness are important biblical words.  An important point – but one is difficult to see from English translations – is that these two words are very closely related to “just” and “justify”.  In Greek all four words come from the same word root (dikaio).  “Justify” literally means to “declare righteous”.  It is a term taken from the courtroom where it was used to describe a judge’s verdict of declaring someone righteous or not guilty.  From the perspective of the Greek of the New Testament there is no difference between the two questions:  “How can I be righteous”” or “How can I be justified?”

     Therefore a most important passage in this regard is Romans 3:20:  “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified (declared righteous) in his sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”  A most important question is what does the word “law” refer to in this passage?  It is obvious how the LDS Church interprets it.  A footnote in the LDS edition of the Bible references this to the Law of Moses. 

     But that doesn’t fit the context.  From 1:18 through 3:20 Paul argues extensively that all people, both Jew and Gentile, are under God’s wrath because of sin.  Starting with 3:9 he begins his summation:  “for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin.”  The “no flesh” of 3:20 does not just refer to Jews who had the Law of Moses.  It refers to all people and, by extension, all law.  No matter what law a person holds to and tries to follow – it will not be a way for that person to be declared righteous (justified).

     “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe:  for there is no difference:  For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” 

     How to be righteous before God?  Not by deeds but by belief.  The contrast Paul sets up here is not between righteousness through deeds alone and faith and deeds.  No, the contrast Paul makes is between righteousness either through deeds or faith.   “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (v. 28)  Interestingly, the LDS Bible’s footnotes the word “without” with GR which indicates an alternate translation of the Greek.  The alternate translation:  “apart from, without intervention”.  ‘Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from, without the intervention of the deeds of the law.”  In the very next verse Paul again mentions both Jews and Gentiles.  From the context it is obvious that his point is that people are justified through faith apart from any deeds of any law.

23
May
09

STIMULATING DISCUSSION OR ETERNAL CONSEQUENCES

 

     When Mormons and Christians discuss their beliefs and dialogue with each other, it can easily come off as nothing more than stimulating discussion of two different viewpoints.  This obscures the sobering fact that eternal consequences are at stake. 

     Therefore, in many ways, I appreciated what Geoff wrote in the last thread.  He wrote:  “You mentioned that seeing someone “convert” to denominational Christianity is “priceless”.  Hardly. There is a STEEP price to pay. You, IMO, will share in that price. When someone breaks his covenants, turns his back on truth and the Holy Ghost there is a price!  I wonder when that realization will hit you?”

     Just to clarify.  I didn’t say converting to denominational Christianity was priceless.  What I said was priceless was “seeing the wonderful change in people’s lives when they experience the free forgiveness and eternal life in Christ”.

     But I really don’t want to distract from the important point Geoff makes, namely, that the stakes are high.  He very sincerely believes that I will suffer some pretty serious consequences because of my witnessing activities.  I thank him for again highlighting that there is much more to all this than interesting discussion.

     Just as Geoff sincerely believes that I will have a steep price to pay, so I believe Mormons will have a steep price to pay.  I don’t say that as an angry retort to Geoff – “You told me that, so back at you – you too!”  Not at all.  If I didn’t wholeheartedly believe that, I would never be doing this.  No offense – but if I didn’t think there were eternal consequences involved, I wouldn’t be doing this even if I thought the discussion sometimes was stimulating.

     On a related note, this is why I find it so frustrating when the difference between entering Heavenly Father’s presence only by grace or by grace plus works is brushed off as insignificant.  That is the heart of the matter.  That is why in this blog I have addressed it repeatedly from different angles.  “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 grace, otherwise work is no more work.” (Romans 11:6)

     It is my wholehearted belief that anyone who does not rely solely on God’s grace to enter Heavenly Father’s presence will suffer the consequences of spending eternity in the otuer darkness of hell.  That’s not stimulating.  That’s sobering.  That’s why it is priceless seeing the wonderful change in people’s lives when they experience free forgiveness and eternal life in Christ.

20
May
09

Frustration Over Sources of Authority

      In the comments following my last post a LDS member replied to a question I had about an older edition of Gospel Principles by stating:  “I also wouldn’t put it passed the writers (whoever the nameless curriculum writers are) of Gospel Principles or any other manual to not only include a typo, but also to make an assertion that the scriptures themselves do not make.”  I appreciated the candid answer but it left me frustrated.  Here’s why.

     Years ago, when I was starting to research Mormonism, I asked some local LDS leaders what sources I should read to understand Mormonism.  They pointed me to the standard works but also to the words of the living prophet.  In that connection more than one told me that any church manual that, at that time, was copyrighted by the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was a true and trustworthy source.  They especially pointed me to Gospel Principles as a great introduction to official Mormonism.

    Over the years, I have heard similar things expressed at General Conference, in the Ensign by the First Presidency, and yes, also in manuals.  In fact, I can’t think of a time when somebody in an official capacity downplayed the official manuals.  To this day, the manuals are represented by official Mormonism as reliable sources of authority.

     That is all well and good until you are talking with individual Mormons who do downplay the manuals.. They point back to the standard works as the only sources of authority.  The trouble with that is that individual Mormons interpret them quite differently from each other as is very evident in the contradictory comments often left on this blog by LDS members. 

    Here’s my point and please try to understand the frustration this gives to a non-Mormons who are sincerely trying to learn what Mormonism teaches and not so much what individual Mormons believe.  The official church consistently points to the living prophet besides the standard works as a source of authority.  Included in this, according to church explanations, are things that are printed under his authority – like official manuals.  And if you read the manual, Teachings of the Living Prophets, especially Ezra Taft Benson’s speech, the authority of the living prophet is very broad and is not restricted to just “official” pronouncements.  Therefore it seems only legitimate and proper for a non-Mormon researcher to give much more weight to the explanations given in church manuals than to differing ones given by individual Mormons – when the topic is what does Mormonism believe and teach.

     Therefore it is extremely frustrating when individual Mormons don’t give much weight to what the official church manuals teach.  As far as I can tell, unless somebody can point me to an official declaration, the official leaders of the LDS Church, the General Authorities, have not disavowed Benson’s view of the wide-spread authority of the Living Prophet.  In fact, by citing it extensively in an official manual, isn’t the logical conclusion that they support it?

13
May
09

Exaltation and Eternal Life

     Once again in the recent General Conference there were a number of references to exaltation and eternal life.  For example, Elder D. Todd Christofferson said,   “If we are faithful to the covenants made there, we become inheritors not only of the celestial kingdom but of exaltation, the highest glory within the heavenly kingdom, and we obtain all the divine possibilities God can give (see D&C 132:20).”

     D&C 132:20 says:  “Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things aren’t subject unto them.  Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.” 

     In a similar vein Elder Quentin L. Cook said:  “The desire of our hearts, of course, is not only to acquire salvation and immortality but also to attain eternal life with a loving Father in Heaven and our Savior in the celestial kingdom with our families.”  This is in the same vein because eternal life equals exaltation and thus equals becoming a god.  (For example, as the True to the Faith Manual explains eternal life it simply says, “eternal life, or exaltation.”)

     With eternal life and exaltation regularly referred to and striving for it is regularly encouraged, it is puzzling to me that a common reaction I have received from Mormons when I asked them are they striving to become a god is denial!  Some have been quite fervent in saying that if they remain obedient, they might become like god, but they don’t think that they will become a god.  In fact this reaction has been so common that I find it refreshing when a Mormon agrees with this foundational teaching of Mormonism!  When that happens, we can at least talk about that issue and not debate whether or not Mormonism teaches that.

     Do me a favor.  The next time you are with your LDS friend or family member, ask them if they are striving to be a god.  I would be curious if you get the same reaction I often get.

     And to my LDS friends – is asking that question in anyway offensive – if it is asked sincerely and politely?

07
May
09

SALVATION OR A PLAN OF SALVATION

 

     I have just returned from a trip on which I had the opportunity to give a number of presentations on the differences between Mormonism and the Bible.  One simple comparison I make in those presentations is that the Bible talks about God giving us salvation while Mormonism talks about God giving us a plan of salvation.  There’s a whole lot of difference between the two.

     I realize that Mormonism often defines salvation differently – sometimes equating it with resurrection; other times including within it exaltation (Mormonism’s belief that people can become gods).  But to me, the important word is the word “plan”.  Plan implies that it is not completed.  As the popular saying goes, “Plan the work and then work the plan.”

     Significantly, the Bible never once uses the word “plan” or mentions a “plan of salvation”.   But it does talk a lot about salvation.  “O sing unto the Lord a new song; for he hath done marvelous things:  his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory.  The Lord hath made known his salvation; (note not his plan of salvation), his righteousness hath he openly shewed in the sight of the heathen.”  (Psalm 98:1-2)  Note how it is a done deed.

     Again, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God, for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.”  (Isaiah 61:10)  The garments of salvation are already made.  The Lord even puts them on the person.  There’s no plan here.  Rather this describes a wonderful gift.

     Salvation or Plan of Salvation.  A simple comparison.  But also a profound difference.

03
May
09

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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