Archive for January, 2012

27
Jan
12

Feelings

This Sunday in their Gospel Doctrines classes, members of the LDS Church will be looking at 1 Nephi 16-22 from the Book of Mormon.  One teaching that the teacher’s guide draws from this section is the importance of feelings.  It shares the following quote by Boyd K. Packer, one of Mormonism’s 12 apostles.

“The Holy Ghost communicates with the spirit through the mind more than through the physical senses.  This guidance comes as thoughts, as feelings, through impressions and promptings.  It is not always easy to describe inspiration.  The scriptures teach us that we may ‘feel’ the words of spiritual communication more than hear them, and see with spiritual rather with mortal eyes.”

The best known example of Mormonism’s emphasis on receiving inspiration and revelation through feelings is the “burning in the bosom” that is to confirm the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.

Gospel Principles, the basic manual that they studied last year, said:  “To be worthy to have the help of the Holy Ghost, we must seek earnestly to obey the commandments of God.  We must keep our thoughts and actions pure.” (p. 123).  That this is talking about the same thing is seen in the next paragraph which also quotes Packer.  “The Holy Ghost speaks with a voice that you feel more than you hear.” Therefore isn’t it logical to say that any Mormon, who claims to have this help of the Holy Ghost, who claims to receive guidance through their feelings, has both pure thoughts and actions?  And if their thoughts and actions are pure, then can’t they claim to be sinless?  Or does pure not mean pure?

I pray that members of the LDS Church don’t lightly brush off those questions.  I pray that they don’t make pure mean something less than pure. I pray that they really see what their church is saying – how, in this case, it demands purity as a prerequisite for receiving the Holy Ghost’s help.

And then I pray that they listen, not to their feelings, but to the Word of God in the Bible.  That is where the Holy Spirit works. Jesus said, “the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63)  A few verses later Peter shows that he understood what Jesus said when he replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.”  The Holy Spirit speaks to us in the Bible, not through our feelings.

And what does he tell us there?  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) It’s not through obeying the commandments; it’s through the blood of Jesus that we are pure. “and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)  May our Mormon friends listen to these words of the Holy Spirit.

 

24
Jan
12

JOYFULLY PAYING OFF THE DEBT

One of the greatest feelings in the world is making your final house payment!  That calls for celebration!

But imagine the following scenario.  A couple has a large balloon payment tacked onto their mortgage.  For years they have been salting away extra money for it.  Finally the day arrives to make that payment.  They eagerly go to the bank.  They are grinning ear to ear as they lay their money down on the banker’s desk.  But as he examines it, he begins to frown.  After further examination he informs them that all their money is counterfeit.  Not only are they still in debt, but the time to pay off that debt has now expired.  They are ruined!

That is what will happen to people on Judgment Day – to people who – in any way – rely on their own works to get to heaven.  Salvation rests entirely on Jesus’ payment for sin.  All those who mix in their works with Jesus’ work are adding nothing but counterfeit money – worthless money that causes them to default on their debt.

This is why Mormonism is so dangerous.  It does talk about salvation by grace, but it denies the teaching of salvation by grace alone.  We see that even in the LDS author who speaks the most about grace, Robert L. Millet.  He wrote a book entitled Grace Works.  His whole premise is, as the back cover of the book quotes him as saying, “We have an obligation to cooperate with God in the salvation of our souls. While the ultimate power of change is in Christ, we can do our part and choose to be changed.”

But the Bible says God’s grace and man’s works don’t mix when it comes to salvation.  “And if by grace, then it is no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace.  But if it be of works, then is it no more grace; otherwise work is no more work.”  (Romans 11:6)  It’s like the scenario above.  It doesn’t matter what percentage of the mortgage is paid by counterfeit money.  As long as any of it is paid with counterfeit money, the couple is still in debt.  As long as a person is relying on what he does to be saved – no matter what percentage of his salvation he attributes to his efforts – he is still in debt and thus in deep trouble.  Talking about grace is not enough.  The issue is all about salvation by grace alone.

19
Jan
12

Many Plain and Precious Things

Just a word of explanation to those of you who are not LDS.  I didn’t blog this week on the next lesson on the teachings of George Albert Smith because it will not be studied this week in the LDS church.  They only study it on the 2nd and 3rd Sundays of each month.  On other Sundays there is a little more flexibility on what they will study in Relief Society and priesthood quorum meetings.  For example, for this coming Sunday they will be studying one of the General Conference talks from last October – which specific one is decided on by the local leaders.

But each Sunday, in their Sunday School or Gospel Doctrine classes, they will be studying the Book of Mormon.  The focus this Sunday is on 1 Nephi 12 – 14.  This is the section that repeatedly states that “the great and abominable church” has removed “many plain and precious things” from the Bible.

One interesting note has been how the interpretation of the “great and abominable church” has changed over the years.  Years ago, when I first started witnessing to Mormons, it was not uncommon for them to identify it as the Catholic church of the Middle Ages.  This, however, is not how the teacher’s guide for this course interprets it.  It says:  “Emphasize that the great and abominable church is a symbol of apostasy in all its forms.  It is a representation of all false doctrine, false worship, and irreligious attitudes.  It does not represent any specific church in the world today.” (p. 18)

Much more important is the Book of Mormon’s claim that many plain and precious things were taken away from the Bible.  How should we react to that?  We could bring in evidence from the scholarly discipline known as textual criticism to show how faithfully the Bible was passed down from generation to generation.  Especially pertinent is the fact that the vast majority of variants between the various ancient biblical manuscripts consist of additions to the text rather than subtractions from the text.  But, to be honest, even though Christians see textual criticism strongly supporting the faithful transmission of the Bible, in my experience, its findings don’t seem to faze most Mormons.

I think the same can be said for the comparison between the wealth of archaeological evidence supporting the Bible and the dearth of such evidence supporting the Book of Mormon.  Yes, this concerns some Mormons but not that many.  Many haven’t thought about it, and when it is pointed out to them, many shrug it off as unimportant.

The bottom line is that, even though there is strong evidence of the faithful transmission of the Bible, it is still a matter of faith that we believe that today’s Bible faithfully represents the original.  As it is a matter of faith for Mormons to believe that many plain and precious things have been removed from the Bible.  Because of that, I feel that it is more productive to talk about how the book of Mormon does not complement the Bible, but rather contradicts it.

I realize that many Mormons will vehemently protest that last statement.  But for them to say that it doesn’t contradict the Bible would be similar to me saying that my beliefs complement and don’t contradict Mormonism, even while I reject many of Mormonism’s beliefs.  How many of them would sit still as I proclaimed, “I am a Mormon, even though I don’t think Joseph Smith was a prophet, or that the LDS Church was the only true church, or that heaven doesn’t consist of three kingdoms of glory”?  Similarly, we can’t sit still when the Book of Mormon is referred to as another testament of Jesus Christ even though it states that we are saved by grace after all we can do, or that Adam and Eve’s Fall was a blessing, that there was a great apostasy from 100 AD through 1800 AD (Teacher’s guide, p. 16) and on and on.

The messages of the two books are different!  I am so thankful that the Bible tells me that I am saved solely by grace, without works rather than “after all I can do”.  I am so thankful that it promises that there will always be believers and thus the church on earth until Christ returns.  I am even thankful that it shows just what a tragedy the Fall was because that highlights for me that I was spiritually dead and thus my utter inability to please God and my dire need of Jesus doing it all for me.

It is my hope and prayer that many Mormons will stop and think and see the drastic differences between the Book of Mormon and the Bible.  And that they will listen to the Bible rather than the Book of Mormon.

13
Jan
12

Eternal Life

This Sunday, in their Gospel Doctrines classes, Mormons around the world will be looking at 1 Nephi 8-11.  This section from the Book of Mormon describes the vision of the tree of life.  The Book of Mormon supplies identification for the various elements in the vision.  I am going to concentrate on the fruit of the tree which, according to it, symbolizes eternal life.

The first point that needs to be made is that Mormonism defines eternal life differently than Christianity does.  It equates it with exaltation.  “Eternal life, or exaltation, is to inherit a place in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom, where we will live in God’s presence and continue as families (see D&C 131:1-4).  Like immortality, this gift is made 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).” (True to the Faith, p. 52)

D&C 131:1-4 referenced in that quote says that celestial marriage (temple marriage for time and eternity) is essential for exaltation.  The next section of D&C (132) is also pertinent because it describes exaltation as nothing less than becoming gods!   In verse 19 it states: “they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things.”  Then in verse 20 it says, “then shall they be gods” not once but twice.

In short, Mormonism defines eternal life as becoming a god.  To obtain it requires “obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel”.  One such ordinance is celestial marriage that can only be performed in Mormon temples.  Thus, according to Mormonism, many LDS members, not to mention non-members, will not have eternal life.

What does the Bible say?  John wrote:  “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” (1 John 5:13)  Note that he says “ye may know that ye have eternal life”.   The tense is very important.  It is a present tense, not a future (will have).  They already had it!

They had it through believing.  John is echoing the words of Jesus that he himself recorded.  “That whosever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:15)  Eternal life then is the present possession of believers.  It’s the new spiritual life we now have with God through faith.  And most importantly, it is not something that we obtain through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.  It is God’s gift to us.  “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  (Romans 6:23)

“Through Jesus Christ our Lord” – the key is not my obedience and my work, but Jesus’ obedience and his work.  As my Substitute, he obeyed God perfectly.  As my Substitute, he performed many wonderful works.  He died – as my Substitute.  He did it all – 100% – for me.  Faith is nothing more, or less, than humbly acknowledging that and totally relying on that.  And through faith we have the tremendous joy of having true eternal life – right now!

09
Jan
12

A Heart Free of Enmity?

 

This coming Sunday, chapter two of the Teachings of George Albert Smith will be studied throughout the LDS Church.  This chapter is entitled, “Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself”.  There are a number of things that struck me as I read that chapter but the two I would like to focus on are two quotes from President Smith.  On p. 11 he is quoted as saying, “I do not have an enemy that I know of, and there is no one in the world that I have any enmity towards.”    Then a few pages later we read this quote:  “I have only good will in my heart for mankind.  I haven’t any animosity in my heart toward any living human being.” (p. 16)

Even making these more striking is seeing when President Smith spoke them – especially the second quote.  He said that during General Conference in April, 1946.  World War II had ended only the year before.  Especially pertinent is the fact that from November 1945 to October 1946 numerous major Nazi figures were on trial in Nuremberg for war crimes.  Almost daily there was new evidence of their atrocities – evidence that filled the newspapers.  Placing President Smith’s statement that he didn’t have any animosity in his heart toward any living human being against that background makes it even more startling.

I don’t know about you, but I could never make that claim.  It’s not good will that fills my heart when someone cuts me off on the freeway.  When I hear about people abusing children, my heart is not filled with good will.  I have to admit that people don’t even have to give me a good reason for me to think ill of them.  I frequently do that unfairly.  They didn’t do anything to me but because I was in a bad mood or had a bad day, I lash out at them.  There is no way that I can identify with President Smith’s statements.

That’s why I am so thankful that Jesus has not only washed all my sins away but that he also kept the law perfectly for me.  Because I could never keep one commandment perfectly.  And nobody, not even the president of the LDS Church, can do that.  What’s more, nobody, not even the president of the LDS Church, can ever get to the point in this life of doing that.  Until the day we die we all will sin – in a great variety of ways.

But what is tragic is that this chapter doesn’t even mention God’s forgiveness of our sins in Christ.  Neither does it mention that Jesus is our righteousness.  All it does is hold up statements like the above as examples to follow.  Or talks about rewards to be earned.  “When our life is ended and we return home, we will find credited to us there every good act we have performed, every kindness we have done, every effort we have put forth to benefit our fellows.” (p. 18)

“He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31)

06
Jan
12

The Futility of Playing Spiritual Whack a Mole

 

This Sunday, throughout the LDS Church, 1 Nephi 1-7 from the Book of Mormon will be studied in the adult Sunday School, or Gospel Doctrines class.  Probably the most quoted passage from this section of the Book of Mormon is this part of 1 Nephi 3:7:  “I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”  Mormons have quoted it in many different settings and situations to urge people that they could do what was commanded of them.  After all, according to this verse, the Lord would never give a commandment to you unless he gave you a way to follow it.   And usually, at least with the Mormons who have explained it to me, the way the Lord has given to follow it is by giving you inner strength or ability to keep the commandment.  Therefore, if you aren’t keeping the commandment, it’s because you are not using what God has already given you.

Apply that now to one of the most famous commands in the Bible, Matthew 5:48.  “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”  This is commanding nothing less than perfection – right now!  Although many Mormons over the years have tried to explain this as a command to become perfect, that is not what Jesus said.  He said “be” – not “become”.  Neither does the Joseph Smith translation say “become”.  It reads:  “Ye are therefore commanded to be perfect.”  Therefore, according to 1 Nephi 3:7, God has given people a way to be perfect, not sometime in the distant future, but right now.  And if a person isn’t perfect right now, it’s because they are not using the way God has already given them.

And that’s serious because as James 2:10 says:  “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”  “He is guilty of all”.  Think of how a defendant in a courtroom feels when the judge says, “guilty on all counts”.  Talk about being devastated.

As strange as it may first seem, that is one of the main reasons God has given us commandments.  He has given them to devastate us.  He has given them to show us just how sinful we are.  “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20)  The commandments are like X-rays that penetrate our spiritual being.  We might think we are spiritual healthy but those X-rays tell a different story as they reveal tumors of greed, and lust, and envy, and bitterness, and worry, and the list goes on and on.

And one of the things the commandments convince us of is that we don’t have the ability to keep them.  No matter how hard we try, we can’t stop sinning.  It’s almost like the arcade game, whack a mole.  We put all our effort into whacking down one sin, only to have a different sin pop in a different place.  I use all my efforts to stop worrying only to have pride pop up over there.  I focus on always treating my spouse in a loving way only to find myself trampling over my co-worker.  As the Bible says, “There is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Romans 3:12)

As I said, this is what God wants us to see as we consider his commandments.  He wants us to see our utter inability of keeping them.  He wants us to literally despair of thinking we can keep them.  He wants us to despair of ourselves so that we are eager, no, desperate for help.  The help he has given us in the person of Jesus.  What we couldn’t do, Jesus did for us.  He did it all.  He did it completely.  Yes, there is a way that we can be perfect right now.  And that is by being covered with Christ’s perfection.  “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14)

If you haven’t yet done so, take a serious look at yourself in light of God’s commandments.  Take them at face value.  Don’t water them down.  Don’t change “be perfect” to “become perfect”.  Don’t call sinful words just mistakes or slips of the tongue.  See how serious Jesus considers lustful, greedy, angry thoughts.  See your tumors of sin.  See that.  And despair.  Despair of yourself.  Trust totally and completely in what Jesus has already done for you.  That’s the only way that you will ever be able to stand in God’s presence.

02
Jan
12

Attending the Heavenly Wedding

As I mentioned last week, the LDS Church has a set curriculum for its adult Sunday School or Gospel Doctrine classes.  It also sets much of the curriculum for what is studied during Relief Society (women) and priesthood quorums (men). This year, on the second and third Sundays of each month, they are continuing a series entitled Teachings of the Presidents of the Church.  This year they are studying the life and words of George Albert Smith who was president of the LDS Church from 1945 to 1951.  As with the Book of Mormon manual I mentioned last week, you can obtain a copy of this book for just a few dollars from LDS.org.

The first lesson, which will be studied this coming Sunday, is entitled, “Living What We Believe”.  Being worthy is the theme that runs throughout the lesson.  The following quote reflects the tenor of the lesson.

“I would like to say to the Latter-day Saints, if we are worthy to be called Latter-day Saints, it will be because we are living the lives of saint, and it is the purpose of the Gospel to qualify us in that way.  The world has gotten into such a condition and has been deceived by the adversary for such a long time and has declared that the mere belief in God is all that is necessary, that I am fearful for it.  That is only a trick of the adversary.” (p. 3)

But what I want to focus on is its treatment of the parable of the wedding feast recorded in Matthew 22.  It focuses on the man who was thrown out because he didn’t have a wedding garment on.  It then makes the point that we have to be prepared if we will be welcomed by God.  “The adversary has so deceived them as to make them believe that no preparation is necessary, anything will do, but in this message that the Savior gave in a parable to his associates we are informed that there must be some preparation and without that preparation no one will be permitted to partake of the more precious gifts of our Heavenly Father.” (p.6)  The way we prepare, according to this lesson, is to keep the commandments. “The Lord will be merciful, but he will be just, and if we want any blessing there is only one way we may obtain it, and that is to keep the commandments that will entitle us to the blessing.” (p.7)

Is that really the message the Savior gave with this parable?  What is so instructive about that parable is that the custom at royal weddings was that the king would supply a wedding garment for the guests.  It would be his gift to them.  We don’t know, but the man who was cast out might have been well-dressed.  But he wasn’t dressed in the wedding garment that the king had supplied.  By not wearing that garment, he dishonored and angered the king.  He was thrown out into outer darkness.  The thought that these wedding garments were gifts of the king also fits into the context of the parable because the king’s servants went out into the highways and byways to get guests – guests who would not have had the time or even the means to get a wedding garment of their own.

It’s obvious the point Jesus was making is that in order to enter God’s presence you need to be wearing the clothes he has given us.  These are the clothes Isaiah talked about when he said:  “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful to my God; for he hath clothed me with 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.” (61:10). Note that Isaiah said the Lord clothed him – the Lord covered him with the robe of righteousness.  Isaiah’s robe of righteousness was given him by the Lord.

That robe of righteousness is the robe Jesus wove for us when he kept the commandments perfectly for us.  It’s all about his works, not our work.  It’s all about his gift to us, not our obtaining his blessing by living worthily.  It’s all about me not making or obtaining my own wedding clothes, but rather being clothed by the Lord.

And notice how high the stakes are.  Anyone not wearing Christ’s robe of righteousness is cast into outer darkness (Matthew 22:13).  A couple of times this lesson mentions that the adversary (Satan) has deceived people.  I agree.  But the sobering truth is that Satan’s deception is the teaching that we, in any way, merit or obtain the blessing of living with heavenly Father for all eternity.  That is God’s gift to us.  “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

 




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