Archive for June, 2012

27
Jun
12

Who is Jesus?

Lesson 26 of the Gospel Doctrine curriculum covers Alma 24-29 in the Book of Mormon.  These chapters consist mainly of the supposed story of the converted Lamanites and do not contain much doctrine.  Because of that I am going to use one comment made by the teacher’s manual as a springboard to explain biblical Christianity’s view of Jesus especially as it differs from Mormonism’s view of him.  I am doing that not only because that is a question many Mormons ask, but one that has been asked here.  The comment in the teacher’s manual that got me thinking about that was:  Why is it essential that Jesus Christ be at the center of our conversion?”

In its bare wording, I can wholeheartedly agree with that.  But the key, of course, is what does that mean.  I usually focus on showing the difference ways Mormonism and the Bible describe the effects or consequences of what Jesus did for us.  In this post, however, I will list a few ways that Mormonism and biblical Christianity differ in describing who Jesus is.

Biblical Christianity has always placed Jesus, as the Son of God, on the very same level as the Father.  Even though it is logical to assume that the Father is older than the Son and deserves greater honor; that is not biblical.  I say that fully aware that, during his time on earth, Jesus himself says that the Father is greater than he.  (I will return to that shortly.)  I say that because the Bible itself gives them equal honor.  Think, for example, of the command to baptize in the name (interesting that it is singular and not plural – but that is a topic for another time) of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.  Or consider what Jesus said in John 5:23.  “That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father.”  The word “even” in that passage has the force of “equal” as is seen in many translations that translate “just as”.

The Bible also talks about the eternity of the Son in the sense of having no beginning or end.  John 1:1 simply states.  “In the beginning was the Word”.  In other words, the Word was already there in the beginning.  The Bible also calls him “the mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6) and, according to the Bible, God didn’t become God.  He was always God.

These are just a couple of many different ways that we see the Bible placing the Son on the same level as the Father.  But what about those passages, especially in the gospel of John, that indicate that Jesus is under the Father?  The key to understanding those passages is Philippians 2:5-11. “ Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Verse 6 admittedly is difficult to translate from the Greek even though the Greek is quite clear.  The difficulty is not a matter of wondering what the Greek says.  The difficulty is not having the words in English to express those thoughts.  What Paul says in verse 6 is that even though Christ was in “very nature” (some translations) God, he didn’t want to publicly display his equality with God – he didn’t want to make a big deal of it.  Instead he did the complete opposite – he took the very nature of a slave, even to the point of being obedient to dying on the cross.

Those are the facts.  Paul, in 2 Corinthians 8:9 tells us the reason Jesus did that.  “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.”  Jesus did this to give us the riches of forgiveness, eternal life, and the blessedness of living with Heavenly Father for all eternity.  In other words, he humbled himself and became his Father’s slave to save us.  That wasn’t his true nature – his true nature was God– but that was the nature he took upon himself for his mission of saving us.  And that is why, while on that mission, speaking as a slave, he could say that his Father was greater than he.

Compare that to the teachings of Mormonism.  It states that Jesus is a spirit child of Heavenly Father and Mother as supposedly not only all humans are, but also the devil and all the demons.  It states that Jesus was our brother, not just when he became flesh (John 1:14) but already before his birth in Bethlehem.  It states that Jesus was not always true God but like all –even his Father, he had to attain to godhood.  It tells its members to pray to the Father through Jesus, but it never tells its members to pray directly to Jesus as Stephen did in Acts 7.  In these and in many other ways, Mormonism does not give the Son equal honor with the Father.

Over the years I have asked Mormons one simple question to illustrate this fact.  Who is the one God that the Bible talks about? Keeping to its teachings, it can’t give both the Father and the Son that honor – something that Christians don’t hesitate to do. That is just one of many differences between Mormonism’s and Christianity’s views of Jesus.

And that is important because as Jesus himself said:  “That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father.  He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.” (John 5:23)

20
Jun
12

Missionary Work

Chapter 25 of this year’s Gospel Doctrine Class covers Alma 17-22 and encourages LDS members to share the gospel.  I’m going to break away from my usual practice on commenting on the content of the lesson and instead talk about some of my experiences with Mormon missionaries.

Over the years I have talked with literally hundreds of them.  The vast majority of time our discussions have been quite courteous.  One of the most encouraging things is how many are genuinely interested in hearing the wonderful news that eternal life is totally God’s gift to them.  Sometimes they are eager to come back and talk more – even asking what I will teach them next time.

Just a few months ago I was talking with a young man who had just returned from an overseas mission.  He came to one of my presentations.  After it was over, he remained and asked many questions.  Not that long ago he was baptized into the Christian church.

Another shining example of LDS missionaries being reached with the truth are the members of the Adam’s Road Band.  If you have never heard their story, go to their website and watch their video, Unveiling Grace.  It’s well worth viewing.

I mention this to encourage my Christian readers to see Mormon missionaries as a mission field.  When they come to your door, invite them in and tell them the wonderful message of God’s love for them.  Tell them how they are worthy through Jesus’ worthiness.  Tell them how Jesus did everything for them to live eternally with heavenly Father.  Tell them about the true miracle of forgiveness – that God, on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice, has drowned all our sins in the depths of the sea.  Share with them the powerful gospel – the gospel that the Holy Spirit so powerfully works through.  This will make a difference – an eternal difference – in some of their lives.

11
Jun
12

The True Gospel

Chapter 12 of the Teachings of George Albert Smith is the first of three chapters encouraging LDS members in their missionary activities.  As is stated, this chapter “focuses on the reasons we share the gospel”.

Although these words are not directly used in this chapter, the reason for sharing the gospel is the belief that the LDS Church is the only true church.  For example, Jose L. Alonso, one of its General Authority, stated at last October’s General Conference, “I bear witness that President Thomas S. Monson is Their prophet and that this is the only true Church upon the face of the earth.”  Chapter 12 reflects that by saying that the only persons who possess divine authority are in the LDS Church.

The other reason why Mormonism teaches it is important to do mission work is because it feels it is the only one that has the true gospel.  For example, President Smith states, in reference to pastors: “These good men, not understanding the gospel and the necessity for the ordinances of the same, confine their teachings very largely to moral lessons and to reading the psalms to their congregations. Isolated passages of scripture are chosen as texts for addresses on virtue, honesty, etc., all of which are helpful and uplifting, but few sermons are preached explaining the requirements made of every soul before we can enter the kingdom of heaven. It is this information of which the world is most in need. Few ministers have a message for their congregations that inspires in them the belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ and the necessity of partaking of the ordinances of the gospel prescribed by him.”  I find it interesting that he sees most sermons largely as moral lessons and not as pointing to the wonderful things Jesus has done for us.

But what is most important to see is how Mormons define gospel differently than the Bible does.  The gospel, according to the Bible, is simply the good news that Jesus, as our substitute, lived a perfect life for us, died a sacrificial death for us, and solely on the basis of that, God sees us as worthy and perfect in his sight.  But when the LDS Church talks about the fulness of the Gospel it means much more.  “In its fulness, the gospel includes all the doctrines, principles, laws, ordinances, and covenants necessary for us to be exalted in the celestial kingdom.” (True to the Faith, p. 76)  As that quote shows, included in the LDS gospel are many things that humans are to do.  That is emphasized in chapter 12 of the Teachings of George Albert Smith when he states:  “My understanding is that the most important mission that I have in this life is: first, to keep the commandments of God, as they have been taught to me; and next, to teach them to my Father’s children who do not understand them.”  Note how when he talks about his most important mission he mentions nothing about teaching what Jesus did for him.

Sometimes Mormons wonder why Christians react so adversely to the teachings of Mormonism. This is one example.  What Mormonism calls the fulness of the gospel I see as a terrible corruption and complete destruction of the true gospel.  The true gospel is from first to last about what Jesus has done for us.  Any mention of what I have to do in order to be accepted by God is not gospel, good news.  Instead of relieving me, such things burden me.  Instead of inspiring confidence, they introduce doubt as I wonder if I have done everything I need to do to be worthy.  But most importantly of all, they rob Jesus of the glory of doing everything for me.  “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” (Ephesians 1:6)  Being accepted by God through grace – that is the true gospel.  And praising God for it is the most important mission of all!

08
Jun
12

Saved in Sin

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 23 covers chapters 8-12 in Alma in the Book of Mormon.  In that section the statement is made that the Son of God cannot save people in their sins. (Alma 11:34 -37)  The teacher’s guide explores this with the following question and answer.

“What is the difference between the false idea of being saved in our sins and the truth that we can be saved from our sins?  (If we are unrepentant and remain in a state of sin, we cannot be saved.  If we repent, Jesus Christ can save us from our sins.)”

At first glance, that answer looks pretty good.  The manual, True to the Faith, gives a little more thorough explanation.  “Note that you cannot be saved in your sins; you cannot receive unconditional salvation simply by declaring your belief in Christ with the understanding that you will inevitably commit sins throughout the rest of your life (see Alma 11:36-37).” (p 151f)  Whoa.  So if it is wrong for me to have the understanding that I will inevitably commit sins throughout the rest of my life, doesn’t that mean that I should have the understanding that, at some point in my life, I will no longer sin?

That is strengthened by how True to the Faith continues.  “Through the grace of God, you can be saved from your sins (see Helaman 5:10-11). To receive this blessing, you must exercise faith in Jesus Christ, strive to keep the commandments, forsake sin, and renew your repentance and cleansing through the ordinance of the sacrament.”  Note that one of the qualifications listed is that of forsaking sin.  Forsaking sin is also one of the elements consistently listed as part of repentance.  That brings us full circle back to the answer in the teacher’s guide.  Part of repenting, according to Mormonism, is forsaking sin.

Many LDS members have told me that forsaking sin doesn’t mean that won’t commit sin again.  But that explanation doesn’t do justice to the work, “forsake”.   My dictionary defines forsake in this way:  “to give up, renounce.  To quit or leave entirely SYN – abandon.”  Or think of the marriage vow of forsaking all others.  What are we telling our spouse if we water down the meaning of forsake?  I come back to what is written in True to the Faith.  Mormonism teaches that to be saved people need to forsake sin – that people, to be saved, cannot have the expectation that they will inevitably commit sins throughout the rest of their lives.

I thank God that this is not how the Bible describes salvation.  Salvation, in the Bible, is all about what Jesus has done for me – not about what I have to do.  Yes, it does tell me to bring forth fruits of repentance.  But fruits are the result, not the essence of repentance.  Repentance itself is a change of mind.  It’s the abandoning not of sin, but of trust in anything I do and replacing that with trust in what Jesus has done for me.  That change of mind motivates me, out of gratitude, to try and lead a life pleasing to God.  But even then it doesn’t say or even give the impression that I will be able to do this perfectly.  Rather, as it shows me how deeply sin has infected me, it gives me the understanding that yes, I will inevitably commit sins throughout the rest of my life.  But that doesn’t disqualify me from salvation – because my salvation doesn’t depend on what I do. Contrary to the message of the Book of Mormon, I thank God that he has saved me in my sins!

 

05
Jun
12

Revelation

Chapter 11 of the Teachings of George Albert Smith deals with revelation.  One of its main emphases is Mormonism’s teaching that the Lord gives revelation for the church only through the church president.  “Let us remember that the President of this Church has been officially designated as the pilot of the Church here in mortality to represent the Master of heaven and earth.”

Its other emphasis is that each member can receive personal revelations conditioned on keeping the commandments and living a godly life.  Most of the time this revelation is said to come through their feelings.  The manual True to the Faith puts it this way:  “we often describe a spiritual prompting by saying, ‘I had a feeling.’” (p.144)

It also addresses the fact that this is something that the Mormon Church has received criticism on.  “By the unbeliever, the members of the Church of Jesus Christ in all ages of the world have been considered a peculiar people. When the Lord has spoken through his servants, there have been at different periods of time many people in the earth who have said, ‘I do not believe in revelation.’ This age is no exception to the rule. The thousands, yes, the millions, of our Father’s children who live in the earth are but repeating the history of the past when they deny that God has revealed again his will to the children of men, and say that they have no need of any further revelation.”

Obviously, I would be placed in that grouping.  But, just for the record, I do believe in revelation.  I believe that the Lord is still powerfully and wonderfully revealing himself and his will in the Bible.  It tells me absolutely everything I need to know for my life now and for eternal life.  In my personal devotions, I am just finishing a thorough study of the first three chapters of Ephesians.  Talk about a breath-taking revelation of God’s grace!  As I studied those chapters once again, the Lord revealed anew to me the greatness of his love for me – how he did absolutely everything so that I will live with him for all eternity.  Verse after magnificent verse reveals the unsearchable riches we have in Christ.  In Christ we are blessed with every spiritual blessing.

And what was so striking was, not once was there a qualification of having to be worthy for all this.  In fact, Paul talks about the wonderful grace given him to be an apostle even though he was the least of the saints.  Not once was there a condition of having to keep the commandments.  No, the entire focus is on what God had done for me through Christ.  The only imperative verb (command) in the entire first three chapters is to remember our former state before Christ. That’s it.  The rest is a description of God acting for me.

What God has done for me in Christ – that, my friends, is the fullness of the gospel.  That is true revelation.  That, and the rest of biblical revelation, is all the revelation I need.




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