Archive for the 'Gospel Doctrine classes' 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  One thing that means is that all those dietary laws are no longer in effect.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)

23
Aug
12

THE ONLY SAFETY?

The following quotation is found in the teacher’s manual for lesson 32 of the Gospel Doctrines Class.  It is from President Harold B. Lee.

“Now the only safety we have as members of this church is to do exactly what the Lord said to the Church in that day when the Church was organized. We must learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through his prophet, ‘as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; … as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.’ (D&C 21:4–5.) There will be some things that take patience and faith. You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory.’ (D&C 21:6.)” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 152; or Improvement Era, Dec. 1970, 126).

Just before this the teacher is encouraged to write on the chalkboard, “Follow the prophet ‘with exactness’”.  This is just one example of many illustrating the fact that the LDS Church teaches that its final authority is not the Bible. It is not even their other scriptures.  The final authority in the LDS Church is the living prophet.

All this coincides with its belief in continuing revelation – that God needs to give revelation because the world and circumstances change.  This point was made to me years ago by a LDS leader who told me that he felt sorry for me because all I had to live by was the Bible!

A couple of things come to mind because of this emphasis on the living prophet.  One is that this is still another in a long list of proofs of how much Mormonism differs from Christianity.  Christians do not think that their only safety comes from giving heeds to the words of the living prophet.

Another thought is the question of why the Lord is not revealing more new things through his prophet.  The last official “new” doctrine was the proclamation in 1978 allowing blacks to be in the priesthood.  Now almost everybody is agreed that the world has seen more change in the last thirty years than ever before.  It would seem that if the reason why there has to be continuing revelation from God is because things change, then it seems that we should have expected a whole lot of new revelation these past 30 years!  If not now with all this rapid change, when?

But most seriously of all, if people follow the words of the prophet as he reinforces the LDS doctrine that eternal life in the presence of heavenly Father is not solely the work of Jesus but is something that people also have to earn – if they follow that teaching the gates of hell will prevail against them while the gates of heaven will remain close to them.

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.

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)




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