Archive for the 'Gospel Principles' Category

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)

08
Mar
12

“As man is God once was; as God is, man may become.”

This Sunday, in Gospel Doctrine Class, the study is on 2 Nephi 31-33.  One of the summary statements in the heading of chapter 31 says, “Eternal life comes to those who kept the commandments after baptism.”  Since I posted about eternal life just a couple of months ago (see the post for 1-13-12) and there showed that the Bible says eternal life is the present possession of believers through faith, I thought I would, in this post, explore what Mormonism says about eternal life.  I’m going to do that with quotes from the last chapter of their basic manual, Gospel Principles.  If you would like to read the entire chapter, you can do that on lds.org.

The first thing to note is that Mormonism equates eternal life with exaltation.  “Exaltation is eternal life, the kind of life God lives. He lives in great glory. He is perfect. He possesses all knowledge and all wisdom. He is the Father of spirit children. He is a creator. We can become like our Heavenly Father. This is exaltation.” (p. 275)  Note that this says eternal life is not only equal to the kind of life God lives but also to becoming like him.  That is illustrated with the list in the middle: great glory, perfection, possessing all knowledge and wisdom, Father of spirit children, creator.  In other words, Mormonism teaches that people will be able to possess all knowledge and wisdom, that they will become creators etc.

This is expanded a couple of paragraphs later.  (The italics are my emphasis).

“These are some of the blessings given to exalted people:

1. They will live eternally in the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ (see D&C 76:62).

2. They will become gods (see D&C 132:20–23).

3. They will be united eternally with their righteous family members and will be able to have eternal increase.

4. They will receive a fulness of joy.

5. They will have everything that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have—all power, glory, dominion, and knowledge (see D&C 132:19–20).

Mormonism plainly teaches that people can become gods.  I’m emphasizing that because many Mormons have told me that Mormonism doesn’t teach that.  I don’t know how many told me that it says that they will be like God, but not become a god.  But note what this official manual states.  “They will become gods.”  Gods who have everything that Heavenly Father and Jesus have.  And lest we forget, that is what Mormonism is talking about whenever it talks about eternal life.  Eternal life and exaltation are the same thing.

This chapter also includes a couple quotes from Joseph Smith. (Again the italics are mine)  “The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil [died] before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 268).”

“Joseph Smith taught: “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God. … He was once a man like us; … God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 345–46).”

I highlighted that last part because again many Mormons have stated to me that Heavenly Father never was a man. Some have told me that the famous couplet, “As man is, God once was; As God is, man may become”, no longer applies.  When I explored that with them, they said it wasn’t just that this wording is not used that much anymore, but that is not what Mormonism teaches.  It’s obvious that this chapter of their basic manual says otherwise.

The bottom line is that when Mormonism talks about eternal life, it means something vastly different than when Christians talk about it.  (See my January 13th post for a full look at the Christian view.)  This is a point both Mormons and Christians need to keep clearly in mind when talking with each other.

16
Feb
12

Atonement

This Sunday, in their Gospel Doctrine classes, LDS members will be studying 2 Nephi 6-10, especially chapter 9 and its description of Christ’s atonement.  It’s interesting that Mormonism uses the word, atonement, as the most common way to refer to Jesus’ sacrifice for us, although it is rarely used in the Bible.  (The only New Testament reference is Romans 5:11.  Most Old Testament references are from Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, and refers to the Old Testament sacrificial system.)

Because it is a common word in Mormonism, it is one that deserves close scrutiny.  The LDS source that has been most helpful in explaining it is chapter 12 in the basic manual, Gospel Principles.  The whole chapter is on the Atonement.  A large portion of that chapter is taken up by a parable told by President Boyd K. Packer. It’s quite lengthy so I will summarize much of it here.  Heavenly Father is the creditor.  We are the debtors.  After a while we realize that we can’t pay back the debt. After a discussion about justice and mercy, Jesus, the mediator, steps in. He asks the creditor if he will free the debtor from the contract, if he, the mediator, pays the entire debt. The creditor agrees. Let me pick it up there by quoting a few sentences.

“The mediator turned then to the debtor. ‘If I pay your debt, will you accept me as your creditor?’

“‘Oh yes, yes,’ cried the debtor. ‘You saved me from prison and show mercy to me.’  “‘Then’ said the benefactor, ‘you will pay the debt to me and I will set the terms. It will not be easy, but it will be possible. I will provide a way. You need not go to prison.’”

Those sentences clearly illustrate that Mormonism views Jesus’ atonement in a vastly different light than biblical Christians do.  Many Christians are genuinely horrified to hear Jesus being described as a creditor and their having to pay the debt to him.  This goes against every grain of their being.

This horror on the part of Christians is mystifying to many Mormons.  They don’t see the problem.  They wonder what the big deal is.  To them seeing Jesus as their creditor is no big deal – it’s even natural.

For me, not only the parable itself, but then also the two differing and drastic reactions to it clearly illustrate the differences between Mormonism and Christianity.  The parable illustrates the different teaching; the differing reactions illustrate the different mindsets. As Christians talk with their LDS friends, they need to not only remember that many times words will be defined differently between the two, but also that their mindsets will be different from that of their LDS friends.

That might not lessen much of the frustration experienced by both, but it does help explain it.  Not only are we talking different languages, but we are on different wavelengths.  Thank God that the Holy Spirit has overcome that with many Mormons so that now they are rejoicing not in Jesus, their creditor, but in Jesus, the one who paid the debt and remembers it no more.  May the Holy Spirit open the eyes of many more to this wonderful truth.

04
Aug
11

GODHOOD IS NOT AN OUTDATED LDS DOCTRINE

 

Over the years, numerous Mormons have told me I was wrong when I stated that Mormonism teaches that people can become gods, while a smaller number of Mormons have said that I was correct.  This lack of agreement is understandable because this doctrine has been downplayed in recent years.  Just one example of that is the change made in Gospel Principles, the basic manual of the LDS Church.

The 1979 edition states:   “We can become Gods like our Heavenly Father.  This is exaltation.”  (p. 290).  In contrast, the 2009 edition states:  “We can become like our Heavenly Father.  This is exaltation.”  (p. 275).  Both, however, just a few sentences later, talking about those who are exalted, say:  “They will become gods.” That sentence alone indicates that present-day Mormonism still teaches this doctrine.

But, as I have stated, it is not mentioned nearly as much as it used to be.  Therefore, I was surprised to see a reference to it in the current (August 2011) issue of the Ensign, the monthly magazine published by the LDS Church.  Elder L. Tom Perry, one of Mormonism’s 12 apostles, has a lengthy quote from Spencer W. Kimball, a past prophet of the LDS Church.  In reference to Peter and John, Kimball wrote:  “Their righteous lives opened the door to godhood for them and creations of worlds with eternal increase.” (p. 51)  Not only does President Kimball talk about their becoming gods but also refers to the LDS doctrine that part of godhood is the creation of new worlds which they then will populate “with eternal increase” or, in other words, with their own spirit children.

I have a couple of reasons for highlighting this quote.  The most obvious reason is as proof that the idea of people becoming gods is still a teaching of Mormonism – a fact that should be both known by Christians and acknowledged by Mormons.  (By the way, even some Mormons have told me that it bothers them that many of their fellow Mormons don’t acknowledge this or do so reluctantly.)

But another reason I am citing this quote is to offer another example of how Mormonism focuses the attention on people and not on Christ.  According to Kimball, it was Peter and John’s own righteousness that opened the door to godhood for them.  According to the Bible, however, it’s all about Christ’s righteousness.  In fact it says our righteousnesses are nothing but filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).

I, for one, am so comforted by the fact that my standing before God and my eternal destiny doesn’t depend on what I do or how good I am, but rests entirely on what Jesus has done for me and his perfect righteousness.  As Paul states, “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” (Philippians 3:9)  That also is my desire.  To Jesus, not to myself, be all the glory.

20
Sep
10

Catch the Wave

     In one of the latest issues of Sports Illustrated there’s an article about a group of surfers who travel around the Pacific in pursuit of the big waves.  They have a sophisticated website that tracks the storms and predicts where the big waves will hit.  They effectively network with each other about travel plans.  Everything in their lives revolves around their surfing those big waves.  It’s obvious that this is their purpose in life.

     What is the purpose of life?  That’s a question LDS missionaries like to ask people.  It’s a great question.  But it’s one that a lot of people often haven’t given much thought to. I have seen many people respond to it with a blank stare as they figuratively (and sometimes literally!) scratch their heads.

     What’s the purpose of life?  Mormonism’s answer is that this mortal life is a time of testing – a time to progress and prove our worthiness.  For example, the LDS manual, Gospel Principles states: “Our Heavenly Father knew we could not progress beyond a certain point unless we left Him for a time.  He wanted us to develop the godlike qualities that He has.  To do this, we needed to leave our premortal home to be tested and to gain experience. . .If we passed our tests, we would receive the fulness of joy that our Heavenly Father has received.”  (p. 10-11)

     So what has all this to do with those surfers?  Just a day or so after reading that article, I was studying John 1.  Verse 17, talking about Jesus, says:  “And of his fulness have all we received, grace for grace.”  I immediately thought about that article which described how the waves would come one right after another.  That is exactly what John is here describing about Jesus.  He sends one wave after another, not of testing, but of grace.  His grace is like the ocean. We can never plumb its depths. Paul wrote:  “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”  (Romans 5:20)  God’s grace is like an endless series of waves washing over us.

     What’s my purpose in life?  To catch and keep on riding the waves of God’s grace.  It is my goal to be propelled through life by the power of his grace, his love which caused him to save me freely – which continues to wash over me daily.  But I don’t want to keep this to myself.  Just like those surfers, I want others to experience the exhilaration of riding those waves.  I want others to have the wonderment of knowing that even though they have failed the test = Jesus has passed it for them – that where their sins abounded, God’s grace is there in much greater abundance.  Catch and ride the wave of God’s grace.  It’s the greatest ride in the world.

04
Mar
10

Complete Honesty is Necessary for our Salvation

     “Complete honesty is necessary for our salvation.  President Brigham Young said:  ‘If we accept salvation on the terms it is offered to us, we have got to be honest in every thought, in our reflections, in our meditations, in our private circles, in our deals, in our declarations, and in every act of our lives’ (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young [1997], 293).  (Gospel Principles, p. 179)

     The rest of the lesson in Gospel Principles gives examples of complete honesty.  Here are a couple of excerpts:  “We can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the truth.  Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest.”

     “Copying music, movies, pictures, or written text without the permission of the copyright owners is dishonest and is a form of theft.  Accepting more change or goods than one should is dishonest.  Taking more than our share of anything is stealing.”

     These excerpts demonstrate that this lesson is quite thorough in its description of dishonesty.  I don’t know about you, but that phrase “intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look” etc. really hits home.  I will be the first to admit that my body language is not always an honest indicator of my feelings.  Or how about all the Brigham Young quote?  The more you consider each individual part of it, the more depressing it becomes.  Honest in every thought. . .in every act?

     But what really caught my attention was the last section of this lesson in Gospel Principles.  It is titled, “We Can Be Completely Honest”.  It states:  “To become completely honest, we must look carefully at our lives.  If there are ways in which we are being even the least bit dishonest, we should repent of them immediately.”

     “When we are completely honest, we cannot be corrupted.  We are true to every trust, duty, agreement, or covenant, even if it costs us money, friends, or our lives.  Then we can face the Lord, ourselves, and others without shame.”

    Here, my friends, is where I see the vast difference between Mormonism and Christianity.  Christianity, like the quotes in the beginning of this post, also talks about the many different ways we sin.  Right now we are in the Season of Lent – a time when many Christian churches encourage their members to take a good hard look at themselves for the express purpose of seeing their sins.

     But Mormonism and Christianity end up in drastically different places.  As this lesson from Gospel Principles so clearly demonstrates, Mormonism ends up by telling people that they can work and become completely honest.  Being completely honest, that is one of the most discouraging things I have ever heard.  I know myself.  There is no way that I can completely do what this lesson all says.  Being completely honest, I must confess that there is no way that I can work and become completely honest.  But that is the message of Mormonism.

     How different the message of Christianity!  Christianity, once it shows people their sinfulness, instead of pointing them to themselves, points them to Jesus.  Christianity takes people by the hand and shows them how Jesus was completely honest for them.  It takes people to his cross and shows them all their sins, including their dishonesty, being completely paid for – and forgotten!  (“Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” Hebrews 10:17).  And Christianity doesn’t just do this once in awhile.  No this is its main message, this is its beating heart.  Day after day, week after week, year after year, it incessantly points people to Jesus’ perfect work for them.

     In other words, I cannot imagine having a lesson on honesty in my church not stress the wonderful comfort we have in seeing what Jesus has done.  But there was not a single word of that in this Gospel Principles lesson!  For me, that is an example of the stark difference between Mormonism and Christianity.

16
Feb
10

FAST DAY

      Over the years it has been interesting to hear Mormons talk about fast Sunday.  For those who don’t know, the LDS Church has designated the first Sunday of the month as fast days.  This is what Gospel Principles says:  “One Sunday each month Latter-day Saints observe a fast day.  On this day we neither eat nor drink for two consecutive meals.  If we were to eat our evening meal on Saturday, then we would not eat or drink until the evening meal on Sunday.”

     As I said, the way various Mormons have described their fast practices has been interesting.  I remember one individual talking about how his family would have a very late lunch on Saturday and a very early lunch on Sunday.  But there have been others who have told me that they were very conscientious about keeping the fast.  Just this past week, a LDS man talked to me about the benefits of fasting.

     But the thing that I just noticed and something I never caught before, was that the church manuals like Gospel Principles and True to the Faith describe fasting as not eating or drinking.  The reason that caught my attention was because this man was telling me how important it was for him to drink a lot of water when he was fasting or else he got bad headaches.  But, according to the church manuals, that wouldn’t be a true fast would it?

     I bring this up, because as a non-Mormon observer of Mormonism, this is an example of the problem I often encounter when having discussions with Mormons.  I suspect many Mormons brush off this restriction about drinking as a non-essential aspect of fasting.  When that happens, that puzzles and confuses me.  If it isn’t to be taken seriously, then why is it being taught?  And if I don’t have to take the restriction against drinking seriously, then why not brush off the restriction against eating?  Isn’t the entire command to fast one that Mormons need to obey in order to be worthy?  And if they don’t obey it by drinking during their fast, isn’t that something they need to repent of and never do again?




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