Posts Tagged ‘Gospel Doctrine class

30
Apr
13

Plural Marriage

Over the years I have rarely talked about polygamy (or, as the LDS Church calls it, plural marriage) either on this blog or in conversations with LDS members.  There are a couple of reasons why I have often refrained from mentioning it.  The first is that I often talk about what is being currently taught in the LDS Church and plural marriage is rarely mentioned in that context.  More importantly, however, I haven’t talked about it much because I strive to stick to the most important subjects such as our worthiness in Christ and how, because of him, we can be assured that we will live forever with Heavenly Father.

But I have decided to talk about it today because an upcoming lesson in the LDS Church is about family relationships.  Chapter 9 of the Teachings of Lorenzo Snow is entitled “Sacred Family Relationships”.  What I found interesting is that it begins with a description of a reunion of his large family that he initiated in 1884.  But no mention is made of the fact that he had more than one wife.  This omission is especially striking since he would be imprisoned for practicing plural marriage less than two years after that event.  But neither in that description nor in the whole chapter is there even a whiff of the fact that he was a polygamist.  (To be fair, the book does mention that fact very briefly in the introductory history that precedes the chapters.  But it has also been my experience, since no lessons are based on that history, very few church members read it.)

This avoidance of the subject of plural marriage is common. A striking example of such avoidance involved a couple of friends who toured the Beehive House in Salt Lake City last summer.  The Beehive House is a large house where numerous of Brigham Young’s wives lived.  But that was not mentioned by the tour guides. My friends repeatedly tried to politely raise that issue but each time the tour guides changed the subject.  This coincides with how it is described on lds.org. “The Beehive House was built between 1853 and 1855 and served as home to Brigham Young when he was President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and governor of the Utah Territory

This avoidance of the subject of plural marriage helps explain why some LDS members aren’t even aware that it is part of their history or doctrine.  (The doctrine of plural marriage is enshrined in LDS Scripture in D&C 132.)  Many non-Mormons are astonished by such ignorance and often conclude that their LDS friend is just not being honest.  I’m sure that is sometimes the case, but I also know LDS members who truly did not know about this facet of their religion.  Don’t automatically assume your LDS friends are being disingenuous if they express ignorance about polygamy.

I would also like to hear, from my LDS readers, your thoughts on plural marriage.  Do you believe that men will be able to have more than one wife in eternity?  Is that part of what you think of when you think of having an eternal family?  What about those men who were sealed to multiple women? Let me know your thoughts.

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18
Jan
13

Forsaking Sin

Chapter two of the Teachings of Lorenzo Snow deals with baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost.  The following paragraph occurs towards the end of this chapter.

     “To obtain religion that will save us in the presence of God, we must obtain the Holy Ghost, and in order to obtain the Holy Ghost, we must believe on the Lord Jesus, then repent of our sins, that is, forsake them, then go forward and be immersed in water for the remission of sins, then receive the laying on of hands.” (emphasis mine)

In Mormonism, as is clearly stated in this paragraph, repentance involves the forsaking of sins.  In fact, as President Snow says above, it is the very essence of LDS repentance as he makes forsaking sin synonymous with repentance. Another word that is often used in Mormonism to express this idea is abandonment.  Repentance means abandoning sin.

Forsaking and abandon are two very strong words.  Most marriage vows include the idea of forsaking all others.  We talk about abandoning ships when they are sinking. Even more serious is the idea of people abandoning their children.  Whatever the context is that they are used in, forsake or abandon carry the idea of permanency.  Woe to the spouse who interprets “forsaking all others” as doing that just most of the time.

That is also how repentance was explained to me a number of years ago by a member of the local stake presidency.  He told me that if he repented of a sin, but then committed that sin a couple of years later – his repetition of the sin revealed that he wasn’t truly repentant the first time and thus was not forgiven for either sin.

Recently, however, some LDS members have weakened the meaning of abandon and forsake by saying that if they repeat the sin they just have to repent again.  Whenever they say something like that I ask them how that jives both with official LDS teaching and the meaning of the words abandon and forsake.

I totally understand why they are weakening the meaning of these words.  Abandoning sin is an impossible standard for anybody to keep.  (Although I have had some LDS members tell me that they believe some LDS people have already achieved that.)

That is why the message of the Bible is so comforting.  The Bible clearly acknowledges our inability to rid ourselves of sin.  St. Paul’s confession:  “For the good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Romans 7:19) is one I so identify with.  An honest evaluation of each day reveals many instances of sin on my part.  No matter how much I try, I can’t keep myself clean.

That in itself is not comforting.  But what is extremely comforting is the biblical message, that because we can’t do it, Jesus did it all for us.  He obeyed each and every commandment perfectly and he did that for us.  He paid the terrible price of each and every one of our sins.  He has washed all our sins away and has clothed us in his perfect righteousness.  The message that screams off the pages of Scripture is that it is not all about us – it’s all about Jesus.  And thank God for that.  Because of Jesus, I know beyond the shadow of any doubt that I will live forever with Heavenly Father.

Because of Jesus, you can have that same confidence.  Turn away from trusting in your works and turn to trusting in Jesus’ works for you.  That, my friends, is what true repentance is all about.

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.




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