Archive for the 'George Albert Smith' Category

24
Oct
12

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  One thing that means is that all those dietary laws are no longer in effect.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.

15
Oct
12

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.

12
Sep
12

FAITH AND SAVING FAITH

Chapter 17 of the Teachings of George Albert Smith deals with faith and especially its power.  It cites example after example from both Scripture and LDS history of people doing great things through the power of faith.  It ends with the exhortation to nurture such faith through the keeping of the commandments.

This is how Mormonism most often talks about faith.  It defines it as “a principle of action and power” (True to the Faith, p. 54). The fact that Mormonism talks about faith is something many Mormons quickly point to when they are accused of not being Christian.  “We are Christian.  We talk about having faith.” This has led many non-Mormons to consider them Christian.

It’s right at this point, however, that it is important to make the distinction between faith in general and the specific faith that saves people from an eternity in hell.  What is vitally important in saving faith is its object.  Faith that saves is not just a general trust that God is good but the very specific trust that Jesus came as our substitute and did it all for us – keeping the commandments in our place and cleansing us from all our sins.

That type of faith is not what Mormonism talks about.  It is not mentioned once by President Smith in the chapter cited above.  Or take the following as an example.  It is from the manual, True to the Faith , and is its entire treatment about faith in Jesus.

     Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ

            In order for your faith to lead you to salvation, it must be centered in the Lord Jesus Christ (see Acts 4:10–12; Mosiah 3:17; Moroni 7:24–26; Articles of Faith 1:4). You can exercise faith in Christ when you have an assurance that He exists, a correct idea of His character, and a knowledge that you are striving to live according to His will.

            Having faith in Jesus Christ means relying completely on Him –  trusting in His infinite power, intelligence, and love. It includes believing His teachings. It means believing that even though you do not understand all things, He does. Remember that because He has experienced all your pains, afflictions, and infirmities, He knows how to help you rise above your daily difficulties (see Alma 7:11–12; D&C 122:8). He has “overcome the world” ( John 16:33) and prepared the way for you to receive eternal life. He is always ready to help you as you remember His plea: “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not” (D&C 6:36).

There are many good sounding statements in these two paragraphs.  But look at the object, at what they tell people to have faith in.  You can exercise faith in Christ when you have an assurance that He exists, a correct idea of His character, and a knowledge that you are striving to live according to His will.

And a little bit later:  trusting in His infinite power, intelligence, and love. It includes believing His teachings. 

      Noticeably absent is any talk of trusting in his death for our sins.  But that is what the Bible says is essential.  “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.” (Romans 3:25)  Saving faith is very specific; it’s trusting that Jesus, through his life and death, has saved us.  It’s trusting completely in Jesus and not in our own works.  “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:5)

For all of its talk about faith, this is something Mormonism doesn’t talk about.  Therefore this is something we need to talk to our Mormon friends about. They need to hear that saving faith is trusting in Jesus’ works, not their own.

 

07
Sep
12

Keeping the Sabbath

Lesson 16 of the “Teachings of George Albert Smith” deals with keeping the Sabbath and taking the sacrament.  I have seen quite a few LDS members not strictly adhering to Mormonism’s Sabbath restrictions.  Some were bothered by this, some not so.  This particular manual doesn’t go into as much depth as some manuals do in explaining specifics.  Here are a couple of quotes from it.

“One of the first sermons that were preached in this (the Salt Lake) valley was by President Brigham Young, and he warned the people to honor the Sabbath day and to keep it holy, and no matter how difficult their circumstances they were not to go out and do manual labor on the Sabbath day.”

“I say to you that if the members of this Church, knowing better, persist in desecrating the Sabbath day in the pursuit of worldly pleasures, they will lose their faith, and the Spirit of our Heavenly Father will withdraw from them.”

The manual, Gospel Principles, lists some of those worldly pursuits.  “Our prophets have told us that we should not shop, hunt, fish, attend sports events, or participate in similar activities that day.” It continues by saying:  “President Spencer W. Kimball cautioned, however, that if we merely lounge about doing nothing on the Sabbath, we are not keeping the day holy.  The Sabbath calls for constructive thoughts and acts.” (p. 141)

I have often wondered how the dozens of Mormons who have played in the NFL over the years (Steve Young being one of the most notable) squared their playing on Sundays with Mormonism’s teachings.  And that is just one of numerous examples.  I have seen some of my Mormon acquaintances shopping on Sunday or eating out.   To be fair, I also know some who try to follow the Sabbath requirements to the letter.  There have also been a few who have told me about some of the less than truthful things they did as families to give the appearance that they were keeping the Sabbath.  (One of the my favorites is the family who played cards on Sunday and called the card game, genealogy, so that they could say they were involved in their genealogy if anybody asked.)

I made mention of this because this illustrates a number of unattended consequences when keeping the commandments become such a focal point.  Yes, some will try very hard to keep them but will also feel very guilty when they fail.  Others will just pick and choose the ones they want to keep.  And still others will feel forced to act hypocritically.

How much better it is to make Jesus and his perfect law-keeping for us the focal point!  That frees us from guilt and gives us the freedom to confess our sins and not try to hide them.  That further serves as a powerful motivation to glorify him in all that we do.  Focusing on Jesus and what he has done for us – and not on what we are to do – is the best way to honor and keep the Sabbath.

O, by the way.  The Bible also says: “ 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: 17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” (Col. 2:16-17)

17
Aug
12

Keeping the Commandments

This is a phrase that is commonly heard in Mormonism.  Many people in Provo countered with it as I talked about already being perfect in Christ.  They could not conceive of perfection in Christ without our doing something also -without our also keeping the commandments.

This phrase also appears repeatedly in Chapter 15 of the Teachings of George Albert Smith, the manual currently being studied in the LDS Church.  The chapter continues the discussion of mission work and is entitled, “Advancing the Work of the Lord”.  The following quote from that chapter is especially telling.

“Zion will be redeemed and the world, which now misunderstands the work of ‘Mormonism’, will live to know that it is the power of God unto salvation to those who will keep the commandments of our Father.” (p.165)

Compare that to Romans 1:16.  “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”  “It is the power of God unto salvation to” are identical in each quote.  But then what a difference! Mormonism points to a person’s keeping of the commandments while the Bible points to a person’s belief.

This illustrates what I heard repeatedly on the streets of Provo.  And not just there. This also illustrates what I have heard repeatedly from the LDS Church and its members over the years. The emphasis of Mormonism, even when the topic is salvation, is not on trusting and believing in what Jesus has done for us but rather on keeping the commandments.

Yes, it is the desire of every believer to try and keep God’s commandments.  LDS members grossly misunderstand Christians when they think that we believe that we can run amuck in sin because we believe that we are saved freely.  Nothing is further from the truth than that.  The key difference, however, is our motivation. Believers try and keep the commandments not as something we need to do to be saved, but rather out of gratitude for already being saved through Jesus’ perfect life and sacrificial death.

That difference in motivation makes all the difference in the world.  For any reliance on our works in the matter of salvation does nothing less than ruin that salvation.  You can’t mix God’s grace and our works.  “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” (Romans 11:6)

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.

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!




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