Archive for July, 2012

24
Jul
12

Enduring until the End

Mormons often respond to a Christian’s insistence that a person’s works do not contribute anything to salvation by pointing to those passages in the Bible (i.e. Matthew 10:22) that tell us to endure until the end.  They then claim that those passages are saying that the Bible says we have to do something to be saved; namely, endure.

At first blush, that appears to be a legitimate argument.  But that is only how it appears to be.  There are two things that show the fallacy of this defense.  First, there are the numerous Bible passages that state that salvation and eternal life are God’s gift to us received only through faith – passages like Ephesians 2:8-9.  One of my favorite passages in this regard is John 3:15-18.  There Jesus talks about salvation and everlasting life.  Five times in that brief section he talks about believing. There is not even one sniff of talk about our work.  Or we could look at a passage like Romans 11:6 (“And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.”) which show that God’s grace and human work don’t mix.  In other words, God makes it plain through such passages that he doesn’t consider enduring to the end a work that contributes to our salvation.  If he considered it as such a work, passages such as the ones listed would be false and deceptive.

The second point deals with the question of when we are saved or when we receive eternal life.  It is true that sometimes the Bible talks about this happening in the future referring to when we fully experience that in heaven.  But it is just as true that the Bible often talks about believers having salvation and eternal life right now.  “For by grace are ye saved through faith.” (Ephesians 2:8) “Are ye saved” is a present tense describing a present reality, not a future happening. Or look at Jesus’ words:  “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” (John 5:24)   Again “hath” is a present tense.  Note also “is passed” not “will be passed”.  Salvation and eternal life, according to Scripture, does not lie only in the future for believers.  It is their present possession with the full experience of it awaiting them in heaven.

My point in all this is that “enduring” is something believers do only after they have already been saved!  It is not part of their being saved – it doesn’t contribute to their salvation.  Think of a man lying unconscious in his burning house.  A firefighter heroically rescues him and carries him to safety.  There he is attended to by paramedics and regains consciousness.  Although it is probably unnecessary, they warn him not to return to his burning house.  So he stays a safe distance away.  Think of how ridiculous he would sound if he would begin telling people that he contributed to his rescue by staying that safe distance away.  Or think of how the firefighter who rescued him would react to such statements.  Although there is no such thing as a perfect illustration, this is similar to anybody claiming that they contributed to their salvation by enduring to the end. Such statements don’t please our Savior who rescued us by giving everything for us, including his very life.

No, what pleases Jesus is when we give him complete credit for our salvation.  He so richly deserves that because salvation is all about what he did for us.  His blood washed away all our sins.  His perfect righteousness is credited to our account.  He saved us when we could do nothing – when we were dead in sins.  To him be every bit of praise and glory!

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18
Jul
12

Different Premises Complicate Communication

There has been a lot of “discussion” in the last couple of threads about individual statements and what they meant or what they didn’t mean.  Instead of commenting on specifics, I’m going to take a more general view and propose one reason at least, that often makes communication between Mormons and Christians difficult.  I cite that reason in the title:  different premises complicate communication.

This is what I mean by that.  It takes concerted effort to understand what a person means when they approach a topic from a completely different viewpoint – when they hold to a completely different premise.  When a person does that I first have to listen very carefully so that I don’t interpret their statements in a way that is colored by my premises. And even after I have done, I need to consciously work on remembering that or else I will slip back into my default mode, namely, looking at it from my viewpoint, according to my premise.  When I do that I will respond not to what the other person said but how I interpreted what they said through my filters.  Every expert on communication talks about how difficult it is and one of the most difficult aspects of it is being a careful listener.

Here are just two examples of different premises.

1) Mormonism teaches that it has the fullness of the gospel – that its teachings do not contradict the Bible but expands biblical teaching.  Therefore it is common to hear Mormons tell Christians that they can continue to believe the truths they already know while believing in the additional truths of Mormonism. A member of the LDS Church just told me that yesterday.  A Christian’s premise, however, is one diametrically opposed to that.  We don’t see Mormonism as complementing the Bible, but as contradicting it.  One illustration commonly used to show that is the comparison between Ephesians 2:8-9 and 2 Nephi 25:23.

Ephesians 2:8-9:  “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man boast.”

2 Nephi 25:23:  “For we know that it is by grace we are saved, after all we can do.”

A Christian sees no way that these two verses can be reconciled.  And that is just one of many examples.  But here’s the main point I want to make.  Because of that, there is no way that the Christian can accept the foundational premise espoused by Mormonism, namely, that it is not a different gospel but rather the fullness of the gospel.  This fact, however, often gets lost in the heat of discussions with the result that a lot of fruitless talking takes place over specifics – discussions that have no common ground on which to build and thus achieve little.

2) Another example of different premises is seen in the question asking why I have this blog?  My premise for having this blog is not to debate or even to engage in dialogue with Mormons.  Rather my premise for having this blog is to proclaim the wonderful truth that salvation is entirely God’s work for us.  That premise is based on the passages that tell us how powerful God’s Word is – that the Holy Spirit works powerfully through that Word to bring people to faith.  On top of that, over the years, I have seen wonderful examples of that.  As I write this, I can picture numerous people who, when I first met them, were vehemently rejecting that truth – people who now, through the power of the Holy Spirit, are tenaciously clinging to that truth.  What caused the change?  The simple proclamation of that truth.

My premise is that one of the most powerful things I can do is to continue to proclaim that truth.  But persons who don’ share that premise, not only have a difficult time understanding it, but often become quite frustrated because of it.

I, for one, am going to recommit myself 1) to trying to listen carefully and understand where people are coming from and 2) trying to clearly state where I am coming from.

10
Jul
12

A Loving Witness

Chapter 14 of the Teachings of George Albert Smith encourages LDS members to share Mormonism with non-Mormons with love and kindness and not coercion or criticism.  Here is one of his statements.

     “It is not the purpose of this Church to make statements that would hurt the feelings of those who do not understand things. This Church is not one that goes about criticising and finding fault with others, but in the spirit of loving kindness and the desire to be helpful, its representatives carry the Gospel message to the nations of the earth.

     In all … churches there are good men and good women. It is the good that is in these various denominations that holds them together. It has been my privilege to be with people in many parts of the world and to be in the homes of many people of the various denominations of the world, both Christian and Jew. I have been with the [Muslims]; I have been with those who believe in Confucius; and I might mention a good many others. I have found wonderful people in all these organizations, and I have the tremendous responsibility wherever I go among them, that I shall not offend them, not hurt their feelings, not criticize them, because they do not understand the truth.”

A little bit earlier he relates a conversation he had with a Presbyterian minister.  In that conversation he said, “First of all, we are asking all you fine people over here to keep all the glorious truths that you have acquired in your churches, that you have absorbed from your scriptures, keep all that.”

In many ways, this brings us back to the subject of my last post.  As these quotes indicate, George Albert Smith was not inclined to highlight the differences in people’s beliefs – even when he was talking to a believer of Confucius or a Muslim.  By including this in the manual being studied this year, the LDS Church is telling its members to take the same stance.  This approach is labeled as doing mission work with love and kindness.

Is such an approach even realistic?  As has been amply pointed out, there are many major differences between Mormonism and the beliefs of other churches.  Is it true that the LDS Church would accept me if I kept all the glorious truths that I have acquired in my church and absorbed from the scriptures?  How about the most glorious truth of all – that my living with heavenly Father doesn’t depend one iota on what I do, but rests 100% on what Jesus has already done for me – that I don’t have to participate in any temple ordinances or anything else to live eternally with him.  Does the LDS Church truly encourage me to keep that glorious truth?

And is this a loving approach?  Isn’t it loving to point out error?  Isn’t it loving to warn people about the dreadful consequences of error – especially any error that will result in eternal damnation?  I wonder what President Smith would have told Jesus when he vehemently criticized the Pharisees’ false teaching?  I wonder what he would have told the prophets and apostles who denounced false prophets?

One of the most loving things we can do is warn about error and its consequences.  A good example of that is seen in the website, www.beyeperfect.org. I encourage you to check it out.

06
Jul
12

Acknowledging the Differences between Mormonism and Christianity

Lesson 27 of the Gospel Doctrines Class covers Alma 30-31.  These two chapters talk about how Korithor, an Anti-Christ, spread his false doctrine.  One of the false doctrines mentioned is recorded in the prayer of the Zoramites. “Holy, holy God; we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou art holy, and that thou was a spirit, and that thou are a spirit, and that thou wilt be a spirit forever.” (Alma 31:15)

According to Mormonism, this is a false doctrine because it teaches that God the Father doesn’t have a body.  “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s.”  (D&C 130:22)  This belief that God had a body is also seen in the couplet coined by one of their past presidents, Lorenzo Snow.  “As man is, God once was.  As God is, man may become.”  As seen in that couplet, Mormonism also teaches that God was once a man.

One passage that many Mormons use as proof that God has a body is Genesis 1:27 where it is recorded that man was created in God’s image.  They say that this must refer to a physical image.  But that is not what the Bible says.  Colossians 3:10 and Ephesians 4:24 refer back to that image and obviously in those passages it is talking about a spiritual, not a physical, image.  Those passages identify it with the new man of faith which is attuned to God’s will.  When Genesis talks about God creating man in his own image, it means that Adam and Eve were perfectly attuned to God’s will.  It has nothing to do with how they looked.

But that is not how Mormonism sees it.  Therefore it says that this teaching that God doesn’t have a body is one of the main characteristics of the Great Apostasy that it says occurred after the death of the apostles.  “Soon pagan beliefs dominated the thinking those called Christians.  The Roman emperor adopted this false Christianity as the state religion.  This church was very different from the church Jesus organized.  It taught that God was a being without form or substance.” (Gospel Principles, p.92)

This then is just another in a long list of examples of the vast differences between Mormonism and Christianity.  Therefore it boggles the minds of many Christians when they hear Mormons saying that they are Christians like we are – only they have the fullness of the gospel.  Why would they want to identify, in any way, with people who believe so differently than they do?  Why does the first FAQ on mormon.org say they are Christian without any emphasis on differences?

Many LDS members, however, honestly don’t understand why this bothers, even angers, many Christians.  In an attempt to illustrate this, I have asked some of how they would feel if I said I am a Mormon, although I deny that

1) Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God

2) The Mormon Church is the true church

3) The Book of Mormon, D&C, and the Pearl of Great Price are scripture

4) The president of the LDS Church is a prophet

5) God the Father has a body

6) We are saved after all we can do

If I said I denied those and numerous other teachings of Mormonism, but claimed to be a Mormon – the only difference is that I have the fullness of Mormonism – if I went around claiming to be a Mormon under such conditions, how would they feel? How would they feel if the first thing I tell people is that I’m a Mormon and this is a Mormon blog?   Would they question me about that?  Would they be angry that I made that claim?  Honestly, I doubt if many Mormons would welcome me with open arms as a fellow Mormon.

In the same way, many Christians are dumbfounded by the thought of welcoming Mormons as fellow Christians. They feel that doing so would involve a denial of many truths they hold dear.

Openly and publicly acknowledging the differences, rather than ignoring them or talking in such a way that obscures them, is not only the honest thing to do – it is also the only way productive dialogue will ever be able to take place.




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