Archive for the 'Gospel Doctrine classes' Category



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.

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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!

 

31
May
12

Conversion

Lesson 22 of the Gospel Doctrines Class covers Alma chapters 5-7 in the Book of Mormon. It emphasizes the “mighty change” of heart that Mormonism labels conversion.  The LDS manual, True to the Faith, points to Mosiah 5:2 to describe what that mighty change involves. “The Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, … has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.”

It also refers to 4 Nephi 1,2,15-1: “the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another. … And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people…And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God…There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.”  As this quote emphasizes, LDS conversion involves more than no more having a disposition to do evil, but also entails the actual refraining from evil.

There are two other aspects of conversion, as defined by Mormonism, that can be emphasized.  One is that it is “a process, not an event” (True to the Faith, p. 41) and secondly, “you have primary responsibility for your own conversion” (p.43).  “Your capacity to experience a mighty change of heart will increase as you strive to follow the Savior’s perfect example.  Study the scriptures, pray in faith, keep the commandments, and seek the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.” (p.43)

Compare that to the most famous conversion described in the Bible.  It’s Paul’s conversion recorded in Acts 9.  Does it fit the criteria above?  Was Paul striving to be converted?  Did Paul have the primary responsibility for his own conversion?  Was he striving to follow the Savior’s perfect example?  The answer is no to all the above.  He was persecuting Christians.  The last thing he had in mind was to convert to Christianity!  How about after his conversion?  Did he refrain from all evil?  No.  He had a sharp contention with his co-worker, Barnabas (Acts 15:39).  He lamented how he could not do the good he wanted to do, but instead did evil (Romans 7).  He, an apostle, had not achieved what Mormonism lays out for its members.  Furthermore, Paul says his conversion is a pattern for others (1 Timothy 1:16).

This then serves as another in a long line illustrating how Mormonism defines terms differently than the Bible does.  In the Bible, conversion is an act of God as so aptly illustrated in Paul’s conversion.  He is the one who makes us spiritually alive when we were spiritually dead.  He is the one who spiritually enlightens us when we were spiritually blind.  And in the Bible, conversion is a turning away from trust in one’s own worthiness and works to trust in Jesus’ worthiness and works for you.  Converted people still sin. But they also know that they are forgiven instantaneously in Christ.  Instead of undergoing a long painful process of repentance to obtain forgiveness, converted people praise God and rejoice in the forgiveness that is already theirs in Christ.  Unlike how it is portrayed in Mormonism, conversion in the Bible doesn’t focus people on themselves and their efforts, but on the amazing love and effort of God.  Also when it comes to conversion the following applies.  “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31)

 

22
May
12

Curse of Dark Skin

Lesson 21 of the Gospel Doctrine Class covers Mosiah 29 and chapters 1-4 in Alma. The majority of this section from the Book of Mormon talks about government.  That is also the emphasis of the teacher’s manual.  There is, however, one very controversial verse in this section, Alma 3:6.  It says:

“And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a acurse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren, who consisted of Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men.”

The teacher’s manual does not address this verse.  On the one hand, that is not surprising.  But, on the other hand, it is surprising because it has played such a large role in the history of Mormonism.  On the basis of it and 2 Nephi 5:21 for about 150 years blacks were denied the priesthood.  They were banned until 1978 when President Kimball made the announcement that he had received a revelation lifting the ban.  (This announcement is now part of LDS Scripture.)

What is also interesting is how some Mormons try to say this verse doesn’t mean that the Lamanites had dark skin.  I just read a blog whose author was arguing that the dark skin was just a metaphor for the spiritual state they were in.  If that is correct, why then the long ban on blacks in the priesthood?

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus lived in the Middle East, at the crossroads of three continents?  I doubt if he looked like a northern European as he is often pictured. He, most likely, had the darker complexion of many Middle Eastern people.  In that way, even by his appearance, people from different races and cultures could identify with him.

But that is not the important point. What is important is that the Bible teaches that God doesn’t show favoritism.  “Knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.” (Ephesians 6:9)

When it comes to people’s relationship with God, there is only one important thing.  How does one approach God?  Do they come before God only on the basis of Jesus’ righteousness for them?  Or do they come claiming their own righteousness?  Or do they come mixing in their righteousness with Jesus’ righteousness?  God will only acquit (justify) those who come solely on the basis of Jesus’ righteousness for them.  “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”  (Romans 3:24)

 

10
May
12

Covenants

One thing that Lesson 19 of the Gospel Doctrines Class covers is the baptismal covenant described in Mosiah 18 of the Book of Mormon.  In that connection the teacher’s manual contains the following quote from President Joseph Fielding Smith.  “A covenant is a contract and an agreement between at least two parties.  In the case of gospel covenants, the parties are the Lord in heaven and men on earth.  Men agree to keep the commandments and the Lord promises to reward them accordingly.”

Here again is an example of how Mormonism and biblical Christianity not only define words differently, but also view matters differently.  The word gospel literally means good news and in the Bible it refers to the very specific good news that Jesus became our substitute, fulfilled all the commandments for us, died for all our sins so that now eternal life is God’s gift to us.  The Bible, and historic Christianity, has always sharply distinguished between this good news of what God has done for us and his commands telling us what to do.  In short, the biblical gospel has nothing to do with God’s commands.  If it did that would not be good news – in light of verses like James 2:10 that state that even breaking one commandment makes us guilty of all.

Secondly, the way that the Bible describes the gospel covenant is all about what God does.  It describes not an agreement between two parties but rather a unilateral action on the part of God.  For example, Jeremiah 31:33-34 says:  But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.  34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”  There is no mention of keeping the commandments or any other action on the part of man.  God’s gospel covenant is 100% about what God does – especially his forgiving us of our sins.  That deserves the description, “good news”.

Because of that good news I know that I am worthy before God – that I am nothing less than a saint in his eyes.  Because of that good news I am eagerly looking forward to Judgment Day knowing that, solely because of what Jesus did for me, I will be eagerly welcomed by God.  Because of that good news I have no doubts that I will be living in the very presence of Heavenly Father for all eternity.  Thank you, Jesus, for doing everything for me.

05
May
12

One God?

Lesson 18 of the Gospel Doctrines Class covers Mosiah 12-17 of the Book of Mormon.  The lesson in the teacher’s guide is entitled “God Himself. . .Shall Redeem His People”.  This title is based on Mosiah 15:1 which states:  “And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people.”  This obviously refers to Jesus.  Verse 2 continues by saying:  “And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God. . .”  Obviously here, and in many other places, the Book of Mormon refers to Jesus as God.

That sparks many questions.  For example, when and how, according to Mormonism, did Jesus become God?  It teaches that people must have a physical body to become a god since it believes that Heavenly Father has a body.  But it also teaches that Jesus was Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament. How, then, was Jesus God before he had a body?  How could he come down already as God to redeem us?  I repeat: How and when, according to Mormonism, did Jesus become God?

Mormonism’s identification with Jesus as Jehovah (LORD) and Heavenly Father as Elohim (God) also breeds confusion. For often the Bible places those two names together to describe one person.  Just one example, “And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone.  I will make him an help meet for him.” (Genesis 2:18)  Why would the Bible so frequently use LORD God as a description of one person when it is, according to Mormonism, two persons?

Or how about Isaiah 45:21?  “Who hath told it from that time? have not I the LORD? And there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me.”  How does the Father fit into that verse if there is no God besides the LORD?

Something else that is puzzling is Mormonism’s interpretation of the passages that say there is only one God.  The most common explanation I have heard from Mormons is that this means that there is only one God whom we are to worship.  But who is that God?  Talking about Heavenly Father Gospel Principles says:  “God is the Supreme and Absolute Being in whom we believe and whom we worship.” (p. 5)

But Jesus often is referred to as the God of this world.  “Jesus Christ is the God of this world. He has made it very plain in his many self-introductions.” (Spencer W. Kimball, Oct. 1977 General Conference) In a news release dated October, Elder M. Russell Ballard answered the question, do you worship Jesus Christ in your Church services, in this way:  “Anyone that visits The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is welcome and you would be, they would be impressed, totally, with the devotion and the center of our faith being Jesus Christ, the son of God. You would hear the name of Jesus Christ mentioned time after time after time. We pray in His name. We teach in His name. We have the communion, or the sacrament we call it, all in His name in remembrance of His atoning sacrifice. We partake of the bread and the water in renewing our covenants we’ve made with Him. When the meeting is concluded we close it in the name of Jesus Christ.”

It’s interesting that he doesn’t come right out and say that they worship Jesus. Some might argue that I am straining at gnats but you see the same distinction made in other places. For example, under “Worship” in True to the Faith it talks only about worshipping the Father.  One example: “As you reverently partake of the sacrament and attend the temple, you remember and worship your Heavenly Father and express your gratitude for His Son, Jesus Christ.” (p. 188)

Does Mormonism espouse both the worship of Heavenly Father and Jesus?  If so, how does that coincide with its explanation of the Bible passages that there is only one God?

These are just some of the questions that arise from Mormonism’s teaching of Jesus.

19
Apr
12

“No more deposition to do evil”

Lesson 16 of the Gospel Doctrine Class on the Book of Mormon covers Mosiah 4-6.  These chapters contain King Benjamin’s speech and the people’s reaction to it.  One thing they said was that the Spirit had worked a mighty change in their hearts with the result that “we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually”. (Mosiah 5:2)

My dictionary defines disposition as “a prevailing tendency, mood, or inclination”.  Therefore this says they didn’t even have an inclination to do evil; rather they were inclined to do good continually.  I think we would all agree that sin is evil.  Jesus also talked about how sin begins in our heart and thoughts.  James talks about how our desires give birth to sin.  Therefore if someone claims to have no more disposition to do evil but only good continually, isn’t it reasonable to say that they are claiming that they are no longer sinning?

I, for one, can’t make the claim that I have no more disposition to do evil but only good continually.  I’m far from being inclined to only do good.  Before I even realize I’m doing it, I think something bad about the person who doesn’t go when the light turns green because they are chatting on their cell phone. When someone cuts in line, my jaw immediately clenches as I bit my tongue trying not to say what I’m thinking.  Honestly, there is no way that I could claim for even one hour that I had no disposition for evil.

Therefore I was interested in seeing how the teacher’s guide would handle this verse.  In this regard, it asks a couple of interesting questions.  First it asks:  “how might our lives and relationships be affected if we ‘had no more disposition to do evil’?  I could maybe see that being a hypothetical question.  But reading on it’s apparent that it’s not hypothetical.  Because then it asks, “Once we have experienced a ‘might change in our hearts (Mosiah 5:2), what challenges do we face in maintaining this change?  How can we meet these challenges?”  There it talks about actually experiencing that mighty change.  This is pictured as an attainable goal! I can only assume by that that there are members of the LDS Church who right now claim that they have no more disposition to do evil but to good continually.

Until the day I die I will sin.  Until the day I die I will have dispositions to do evil.  That doesn’t make me happy.  But that is a fact of life.  It’s a fact that no matter how hard I try not to, I will still sin.  But it’s also a fact that I am not worried in the slightest that, because of this, I won’t live forever with heavenly Father.  I’m not worried about that because Jesus’ blood cleanses me completely.  I’m not worried about that because I am saved fully, completely, entirely based on what Jesus has done for us.  Because of Jesus, even though I am still in a sinful state, before God I have the status of a saint.  And that is all that counts!

 




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