Archive for October, 2012


Word of Wisdom

Chapter 19 of the Teachings of President George Albert Smith, a manual being studied this year in the LDS Church, deals with the Word of Wisdom.  This is the famous Mormon restriction against the use of coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco.  It is found in section 89 of Doctrine and Covenants, one of their scriptures.  Although that section talks about “hot drinks” later prophets interpreted that as coffee and tea.

The Word of Wisdom holds a prominent place in Mormonism.  Not only does it affect every Mormon’s daily life, but keeping it is also one of the criteria for becoming worthy to enter the temple.

There are three things that I have observed about their keeping it.  One is that many struggle to keep it.  It is not uncommon to hear someone having a “Word of Wisdom problem”.  The second thing is that many ignore the rest of what is said in section 89 especially the command to eat meat sparingly.  Here are the pertinent verses from section 89.

“Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly; And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or of famine.” (12,13)

The third thing is how many Mormons are now calling the Word of Wisdom good advice but something that is not binding on them.  They make that claim even though church manuals, like the one mentioned above, consistently describe it as a law and talk about how obeying it will bring not just earthly blessings but spiritual ones as well.  In spite of all this, however, the Word of Wisdom continues to be important in Mormonism.

That is in keeping with Mormonism’s emphasis.  It emphasizes commands rather than promises.  It focuses people on what they are to do, rather than on what God has done for them.  In the Old Testament, God did give the Israelites many dietary laws.  But, as Paul makes clear in Galatians, that was because God was treating them as small children.  Since Christ’s coming, God now treats us as mature children.  One thing that means is that all those dietary laws are no longer in effect.  Paul made that clear in Colossians 2:16-17.  “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days; Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.”

The true word of wisdom is the stupendous news of what God has done for us.  It focuses on Christ’s perfect obedience – obedience that he offered God in our behalf – obedience that is credited to our account through faith.  It focuses on Christ’s sacrifice for us – the sacrifice that made us worthy to enter his presence.  Being worthy has nothing to do with what we take into our mouths.  Being worthy has everything to do with what is in our hearts.  Being worthy is all about despairing of our own works and trusting completely in Jesus’ works for us.  That, my friends, is the true word of wisdom.


Do We Have the Ability to Keep the Commandments?

Chapter 18 of the Teachings of George Albert Smith, a chapter being studied this month throughout the LDS Church, is entitled, “Stay on the Lord’s Side of the Line.”  Its subtitle is:  “The Lord has given us commandments so that we can resist evil and find happiness.”  The major premise undergirding this whole chapter, a premise that is foundational to all of Mormonism, is the thought that people have the ability to keep the commandments.  For example, one section is entitled, “Staying on the Lord’s side of the line requires strict obedience to the commandments.”

Can people strictly obey the commandments?  The Bible answers that with an emphatic, “No!”  Paul, for one, makes this point in a very striking way.  He writes: “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. 10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. 11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. 12 Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” (Romans 7:7-12)

Note how Paul says that sin used the commandments, which are holy and good themselves, to work sin in us!  We see that principle in action all the time.  The young boy doesn’t even notice the cookie jar until we tell him not to take any cookies from it.  Before you know it, we catch him with his hand in the cookie jar.

The problem is not with the commandments but with us.  That is why Paul continues in Romans 7 to talk about his not being able to do the good he wants to do.  That is why in the beginning of chapter 8 he says:  “ For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3). The very reason why Jesus had to come was because we couldn’t keep the commandments!

To be fair, Mormonism does mention Jesus’ atonement.  But that is not what it emphasizes.  Even when it talks about the atonement the emphasis is on keeping the commandments.  For example, in the chapter on Atonement in Gospel Principles, Jesus, after paying our debt, turns around and tells us that we have to repay him!  How? By keeping the commandments.  “By because of Him, if we will keep His terms, which are to repent and keep His commandments, we may return to live with our Heavenly Father.” (p. 65)

This emphasis on keeping the commandments permeates chapter 18 of the Teachings of George Albert Smith.  Not once is Jesus’ atonement mentioned.  Not once is forgiveness mentioned.  According to it, the only way to stay on the Lord’s side of the line is by keeping the commandments.  Such an emphasis, which violates the biblical teaching that we don’t have the ability to keep the commandments, results in no good.  It either blinds people to how pervasive sin truly is causing them to think that they are really keeping the commandments, or else it drives people to despair as they realize that they can’t keep the commandments.

To see the stark difference between Mormonism and biblical Christianity, think of what the emphasis would be if this chapter on staying on the Lord’s side of the line was written by a Bible believing Christian.  It would revolve around how Jesus, through his shed blood, saved us and how the Holy Spirit, through creating faith in our hearts, put us on the Lord’s side of the line.  It would then emphasize the importance of staying in the faith – the importance of always trusting that Jesus did everything for us – including keeping the commandments.  Instead of putting the spotlight on us, it would put the spotlight on Jesus.  That is what true churches of Jesus Christ do.

October 2012

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