Archive for May, 2012

31
May
12

Conversion

Lesson 22 of the Gospel Doctrines Class covers Alma chapters 5-7 in the Book of Mormon. It emphasizes the “mighty change” of heart that Mormonism labels conversion.  The LDS manual, True to the Faith, points to Mosiah 5:2 to describe what that mighty change involves. “The Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, … has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.”

It also refers to 4 Nephi 1,2,15-1: “the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another. … And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people…And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God…There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.”  As this quote emphasizes, LDS conversion involves more than no more having a disposition to do evil, but also entails the actual refraining from evil.

There are two other aspects of conversion, as defined by Mormonism, that can be emphasized.  One is that it is “a process, not an event” (True to the Faith, p. 41) and secondly, “you have primary responsibility for your own conversion” (p.43).  “Your capacity to experience a mighty change of heart will increase as you strive to follow the Savior’s perfect example.  Study the scriptures, pray in faith, keep the commandments, and seek the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.” (p.43)

Compare that to the most famous conversion described in the Bible.  It’s Paul’s conversion recorded in Acts 9.  Does it fit the criteria above?  Was Paul striving to be converted?  Did Paul have the primary responsibility for his own conversion?  Was he striving to follow the Savior’s perfect example?  The answer is no to all the above.  He was persecuting Christians.  The last thing he had in mind was to convert to Christianity!  How about after his conversion?  Did he refrain from all evil?  No.  He had a sharp contention with his co-worker, Barnabas (Acts 15:39).  He lamented how he could not do the good he wanted to do, but instead did evil (Romans 7).  He, an apostle, had not achieved what Mormonism lays out for its members.  Furthermore, Paul says his conversion is a pattern for others (1 Timothy 1:16).

This then serves as another in a long line illustrating how Mormonism defines terms differently than the Bible does.  In the Bible, conversion is an act of God as so aptly illustrated in Paul’s conversion.  He is the one who makes us spiritually alive when we were spiritually dead.  He is the one who spiritually enlightens us when we were spiritually blind.  And in the Bible, conversion is a turning away from trust in one’s own worthiness and works to trust in Jesus’ worthiness and works for you.  Converted people still sin. But they also know that they are forgiven instantaneously in Christ.  Instead of undergoing a long painful process of repentance to obtain forgiveness, converted people praise God and rejoice in the forgiveness that is already theirs in Christ.  Unlike how it is portrayed in Mormonism, conversion in the Bible doesn’t focus people on themselves and their efforts, but on the amazing love and effort of God.  Also when it comes to conversion the following applies.  “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31)

 

22
May
12

Curse of Dark Skin

Lesson 21 of the Gospel Doctrine Class covers Mosiah 29 and chapters 1-4 in Alma. The majority of this section from the Book of Mormon talks about government.  That is also the emphasis of the teacher’s manual.  There is, however, one very controversial verse in this section, Alma 3:6.  It says:

“And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a acurse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren, who consisted of Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men.”

The teacher’s manual does not address this verse.  On the one hand, that is not surprising.  But, on the other hand, it is surprising because it has played such a large role in the history of Mormonism.  On the basis of it and 2 Nephi 5:21 for about 150 years blacks were denied the priesthood.  They were banned until 1978 when President Kimball made the announcement that he had received a revelation lifting the ban.  (This announcement is now part of LDS Scripture.)

What is also interesting is how some Mormons try to say this verse doesn’t mean that the Lamanites had dark skin.  I just read a blog whose author was arguing that the dark skin was just a metaphor for the spiritual state they were in.  If that is correct, why then the long ban on blacks in the priesthood?

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus lived in the Middle East, at the crossroads of three continents?  I doubt if he looked like a northern European as he is often pictured. He, most likely, had the darker complexion of many Middle Eastern people.  In that way, even by his appearance, people from different races and cultures could identify with him.

But that is not the important point. What is important is that the Bible teaches that God doesn’t show favoritism.  “Knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.” (Ephesians 6:9)

When it comes to people’s relationship with God, there is only one important thing.  How does one approach God?  Do they come before God only on the basis of Jesus’ righteousness for them?  Or do they come claiming their own righteousness?  Or do they come mixing in their righteousness with Jesus’ righteousness?  God will only acquit (justify) those who come solely on the basis of Jesus’ righteousness for them.  “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”  (Romans 3:24)

 

16
May
12

Scriptures

Chapter ten of the Teachings of George Albert Smith is about the scriptures and the encouragement to use them.  Whenever the Scriptures are the topic, one of the most visible lines of demarcation between Mormonism and Christianity appears seeing that Mormonism includes three other books as Scripture; namely, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.

This has also been one of the most hotly debated topics between Mormons and Christians.  Understandably so.  Nothing influences people’s beliefs more than what they consider the word of God.

Over the years, many Christians have listed many problems they have with LDS Scriptures. They have cited the lack of archaeology proof for the Book of Mormon; its similarity in many places with the King James Version; the Book of Abraham in reality being a funeral Egyptian text to name just a few.

One thing that I always have found curious is that the books of Abraham and Moses in the Pearl of Great Price are supposedly the correct version of the similar accounts in Genesis.  If that is correct, why didn’t Jesus point that out when he walked the earth?  We know that the Genesis account as is contained in the Bible is the one that the Jews of Jesus’ day used.  We know that from the Dead Sea Scrolls and other sources. If that account was as corrupted as indicated by the Pearl of Great Price, why didn’t Jesus correct it?  I suppose somebody could claim that Jesus’ correction was one of the plain and precious truths that Mormonism claims were taken out of the Bible.  But that is very difficult to believe.  Just think of how Jesus’ Jewish opponents could have used that to incite the crowds!  “He’s changing our Scriptures!”  It’s difficult to believe that all traces of that could be wiped out, not only from the Bible, but from ancient history.

I doubt, however, that this argument will have much effect on most Mormons.  After all, accepting books as Scripture are more a matter of belief than reason.

Over the years I have found a better way of showing the differences between the Bible and LDS Scriptures.  It is emphasizing the unique and glorious message of the Bible that salvation and my living with heavenly Father is entirely, completely, 100% God’s gift.  That we don’t have to do one single thing to receive that – that we can’t do anything to receive it.  When it comes to being accepted by God the only thing that counts is what Jesus did for me. The more I emphasize that, the more I hear from Mormons wanting to learn more.  That shouldn’t surprise me.  Because, as the Bible says, that gospel message is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe.

10
May
12

Covenants

One thing that Lesson 19 of the Gospel Doctrines Class covers is the baptismal covenant described in Mosiah 18 of the Book of Mormon.  In that connection the teacher’s manual contains the following quote from President Joseph Fielding Smith.  “A covenant is a contract and an agreement between at least two parties.  In the case of gospel covenants, the parties are the Lord in heaven and men on earth.  Men agree to keep the commandments and the Lord promises to reward them accordingly.”

Here again is an example of how Mormonism and biblical Christianity not only define words differently, but also view matters differently.  The word gospel literally means good news and in the Bible it refers to the very specific good news that Jesus became our substitute, fulfilled all the commandments for us, died for all our sins so that now eternal life is God’s gift to us.  The Bible, and historic Christianity, has always sharply distinguished between this good news of what God has done for us and his commands telling us what to do.  In short, the biblical gospel has nothing to do with God’s commands.  If it did that would not be good news – in light of verses like James 2:10 that state that even breaking one commandment makes us guilty of all.

Secondly, the way that the Bible describes the gospel covenant is all about what God does.  It describes not an agreement between two parties but rather a unilateral action on the part of God.  For example, Jeremiah 31:33-34 says:  But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.  34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”  There is no mention of keeping the commandments or any other action on the part of man.  God’s gospel covenant is 100% about what God does – especially his forgiving us of our sins.  That deserves the description, “good news”.

Because of that good news I know that I am worthy before God – that I am nothing less than a saint in his eyes.  Because of that good news I am eagerly looking forward to Judgment Day knowing that, solely because of what Jesus did for me, I will be eagerly welcomed by God.  Because of that good news I have no doubts that I will be living in the very presence of Heavenly Father for all eternity.  Thank you, Jesus, for doing everything for me.

05
May
12

One God?

Lesson 18 of the Gospel Doctrines Class covers Mosiah 12-17 of the Book of Mormon.  The lesson in the teacher’s guide is entitled “God Himself. . .Shall Redeem His People”.  This title is based on Mosiah 15:1 which states:  “And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people.”  This obviously refers to Jesus.  Verse 2 continues by saying:  “And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God. . .”  Obviously here, and in many other places, the Book of Mormon refers to Jesus as God.

That sparks many questions.  For example, when and how, according to Mormonism, did Jesus become God?  It teaches that people must have a physical body to become a god since it believes that Heavenly Father has a body.  But it also teaches that Jesus was Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament. How, then, was Jesus God before he had a body?  How could he come down already as God to redeem us?  I repeat: How and when, according to Mormonism, did Jesus become God?

Mormonism’s identification with Jesus as Jehovah (LORD) and Heavenly Father as Elohim (God) also breeds confusion. For often the Bible places those two names together to describe one person.  Just one example, “And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone.  I will make him an help meet for him.” (Genesis 2:18)  Why would the Bible so frequently use LORD God as a description of one person when it is, according to Mormonism, two persons?

Or how about Isaiah 45:21?  “Who hath told it from that time? have not I the LORD? And there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me.”  How does the Father fit into that verse if there is no God besides the LORD?

Something else that is puzzling is Mormonism’s interpretation of the passages that say there is only one God.  The most common explanation I have heard from Mormons is that this means that there is only one God whom we are to worship.  But who is that God?  Talking about Heavenly Father Gospel Principles says:  “God is the Supreme and Absolute Being in whom we believe and whom we worship.” (p. 5)

But Jesus often is referred to as the God of this world.  “Jesus Christ is the God of this world. He has made it very plain in his many self-introductions.” (Spencer W. Kimball, Oct. 1977 General Conference) In a news release dated October, Elder M. Russell Ballard answered the question, do you worship Jesus Christ in your Church services, in this way:  “Anyone that visits The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is welcome and you would be, they would be impressed, totally, with the devotion and the center of our faith being Jesus Christ, the son of God. You would hear the name of Jesus Christ mentioned time after time after time. We pray in His name. We teach in His name. We have the communion, or the sacrament we call it, all in His name in remembrance of His atoning sacrifice. We partake of the bread and the water in renewing our covenants we’ve made with Him. When the meeting is concluded we close it in the name of Jesus Christ.”

It’s interesting that he doesn’t come right out and say that they worship Jesus. Some might argue that I am straining at gnats but you see the same distinction made in other places. For example, under “Worship” in True to the Faith it talks only about worshipping the Father.  One example: “As you reverently partake of the sacrament and attend the temple, you remember and worship your Heavenly Father and express your gratitude for His Son, Jesus Christ.” (p. 188)

Does Mormonism espouse both the worship of Heavenly Father and Jesus?  If so, how does that coincide with its explanation of the Bible passages that there is only one God?

These are just some of the questions that arise from Mormonism’s teaching of Jesus.

03
May
12

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

Of all the parables Jesus told, one of the most familiar is the Parable of the Prodigal Son recorded in Luke 15.  It is a wonderful story of God’s forgiveness as the father rushes out and welcomes home his wayward son.

But, as we place it into its context, we see that the point Jesus was really making was the joy we are to experience whenever we see a lost soul saved.  H makes that emphasis in direct response to the Pharisees’ murmuring against him.  “And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” (Luke 15:2).  In response, Jesus tells three parables about the lost – the parable of the Prodigal Son being the last of the three.  And all three emphasize the joy we are to feel when we see the lost saved.  (See Luke 15:5-7, 9-10, 22-24)

In that setting it is obvious that the complaining elder son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son represents the Pharisees.   His anger over his father throwing a feast for his brother mirrors the murmuring of the Pharisees over Jesus eating with the tax collectors and sinners.  I’m sure that the Pharisees listening to Jesus as he unfolded this parable felt as if he had hit them with a two by four over their heads!  In essence, Jesus was telling them that, instead of murmuring, they should be rejoicing that he was reaching the lost.

Therefore I found it interesting to see how Mormonism interprets this parable.  In the New Testament manual, The Life and Teachings of Jesus & His Apostles, it talks about the mercy and forgiveness of the Father.  But what I found interesting is that it talks more about the two sons than it does the father.  The point it emphasizes is that the father “did not have the younger son restored to all the privileges he had forfeited.”  He was received back but now “the farm” is gone.  “The ‘father’ himself cannot undo the effect of the foregone choice.”

In striking contrast, the older son becomes the role model.  He is described as the “more dutiful” son.  “The father consoled him with the statement: “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.”   In other words, for him “the farm” was not gone.  Unlike the younger son, he did not forfeit his privileges.  There is not one mention made of the Pharisees and their ungodly murmuring against Jesus.

A beautiful story of forgiveness is turned into a story of making choices.  “Every choice one makes either expands or contracts the area in which he can make and implement future decisions.  When one makes a choice, he irrevocably binds himself to accept the consequences of that choice.”  So much so, that “the ‘father’ cannot undo the effect of the foregone choice.”

The Bible teaches about a Heavenly Father who can undo the effects of foregone choices and has done so in Jesus Christ.  Through the saving work of Christ he has restored all the privileges that we have forfeited through sin.  Because of Jesus I’m looking forward to living eternally with Heavenly Father.




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