Archive for January, 2010


Going On to Perfection

    Remember the story of the rich young man who came to Jesus claiming to have kept all the commands?  In response Jesus said, “Sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.”  (Luke 18:22) We then read that the young man left Jesus sorrowing because he had many possessions.

    When I read that story, and then examine my life, I don’t come off very well.  Compared to the rest of the world, the average American like me fits into that category of rich.  Compared to the majority of the world’s population, I have great possessions.  I have grown accustomed to them also.  Therefore it is difficult for me to sincerely say that I would be willing to sell everything and give it to the poor.  But Jesus didn’t just ask the young man if he would be willing to do that, he told them to do that.  It is difficult for me to even contemplate doing that, much less actually doing it.  Once again this verse reveals how deeply ingrained my sinful nature is – how far I am from perfection.  And how impossible it will be for me to ever achieve perfection.

     That is why I treasure the many Bible passages that tell me that I don’t have to achieve perfection – that Jesus was perfect for me.  “By one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.”  (Hebrews 10:14) What a relief to realize that perfection is not a goal to be obtained, but a gift that has been bestowed.

     That, however, is not what Mormonism teaches.  Here is its comment on this Bible story under the title, “Going On to Perfection”.  “The gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16), but that power can be fully released only for the perfection of the individual as he is willing to sacrifice all earthly things in the service of the Master.  Elder Bruce R. McConkie concludes:

      “It is our privilege to consecrate our time, talents, and means to build up his kingdom.  We are called upon to sacrifice, in one degree or another, for the furtherance of his work.  Obedience is essential to salvation; so also is service; and so also, are consecration and sacrifice.”  (Life and Teachings, p.133)

      Notice how that only talks about the willingness to sacrifice.  But Jesus talked about actually giving up everything.  Therefore it seems to me that should be something every Mormon should be doing as part of “after all we can do”.


The Temptation of Jesus

      This Sunday I will be preaching on Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.  Today, as I began preparing my message, I was again struck by Matthew’s wording, “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.”  This occurred right after Jesus’ baptism and entrance into his public ministry.  Immediately the battle is joined.  But what I so appreciate is that it’s God who takes the initiative – Jesus is led by the Spirit to be tempted.

      I appreciate this so much because here Jesus is already acting as my Hero, my Substitute.  Jesus did not just die for us, he also lived for us.  Paul wrote to the Romans: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19)  Not only did God credit Jesus death on the cross as payment for our sins, he also credited Jesus’ obedient life to us as our obedience.  It is his perfect life, his righteousness that makes me acceptable to God.

     That is why I so appreciate how Jesus’ temptation is recorded.  Jesus is taking the initiative to do what we couldn’t do.  Unlike Israel’s 40 years of repeated failures in the wilderness, Jesus experienced 40 days of victory in the wilderness – for Luke tells us that Jesus was tempted all 40 days.  “Being forty days tempted of the devil.”  (Luke 4:2)  His successful resisting of the devil’s temptation serves much more than an example for me; it serves as a wonderful reassurance that God already sees me as successfully resisting the devil – in Christ.

     For curiosity sake, I looked to see how the LDS Church talked about Jesus’ temptation.  This is what I found in its manual, The Life and Teaching of Jesus & His Apostles. 

     Matthew 4:1: Did Jesus Go into the Wilderness to Be Tempted?

         Compare the Inspired Version account of these verses with the King James.

         “Then Jesus was led up of the spirit, into the wilderness, to be with God.

         “And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, and had communed with God, he was afterwards an hungered, and was left to be tempted of the devil.” (Matthew 4:1, 2, Inspired Version. Italics added.)

          “Jesus did not go into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil; righteous men do not seek out temptation. He went ‘to be with God.’ Probably he was visited by the Father; without question he received transcendent spiritual manifestations. The temptations came after he ‘had communed with God,’ ‘after forty days.’ The same was true in the case of Moses. He communed with God, saw the visions of eternity, and was then left unto himself to be tempted of the devil. After resisting temptation he again communed with Deity, gaining further light and revelation.” (McConkie, DNTC, 1:128; see also Mosiah 3:7.)

     Both the change made by the Joseph Smith in the Inspired Version, and the explanation by McConkie, remove the idea of God taking the battle to the devil.  That not only drastically changes the meaning but also, for me, dramatically weakens this account.


The New Gospel Principles Manual


     One of the things that have been discussed repeatedly on this blog has been the question of what are considered authoritative sources for current Mormon teaching.  Whenever this topic is raised, quite a bit of disagreement has been expressed.  One area of contention has been over what weight should be assigned to official church manuals.  How authoritative are they?

     That is why I was interested to see an article in the January 2010 Ensign carrying the same title as the title of this post.  I became even more interested when I saw that it was written by one of the LDS apostles, Russell M. Nelson.  That itself lends quite a bit of credibility to the article.

     Following are a couple of things that I found interesting.  In answer to the question of why the change in curriculum, Nelson writes:  “Since we first began using Teachings, millions of people have joined the Church.  Many of them have tender testimonies and with relatively limited experience in the Church, will benefit greatly by a focus on the fundamentals of the gospel.  In addition, all Church members will benefit b a return to the basics.  A careful study of core doctrines as presented in the new and improved Gospel Principles manual will help members strengthen their understanding of the fundamental teachings of the gospel.”

     And then under the conclusion entitled “A Timeless Book” he writes, “It is our hope that the new Gospel Principles manual will take a prominent place in the homes and lives of all Latter-day Saints.”

     As the word Principles in the title implies, as Nelson states, this is a manual about core and fundamental LDS teachings.  LDS teaching involves more than what is presented in Gospel Principles.  But wouldn’t you agree that Nelson, in his role as an apostle, presents this manual as a true and authoritative source of the fundamentals of LDS teaching?  And that it is only right and proper for non-Mormons to look to it to see what Mormonism teaches?  And that such non-Mormon observers of Mormonism have, at the very least, a good reason to become befuddled when individual Mormons disavow or dismiss quotations from Gospel Principles as not authoritative of Mormonism?  And isn’t it legitimate to ask why changes are made in each edition of Gospel Principles – changes that are not just cosmetic or made for easier readability – but changes that affect the sense of what is being presented?

January 2010

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