Saturday, November 15, 2008

Study of the LDS Church - 3.5 The Doctrine of Salvation

**Make sure you've read this post first!

Today is going to be a long one, so batten down the hatches and get comfy…this could take a while.

Salvation to the LDS church is drastically different than that of Christian theology. Without hesitation, let’s look further into the LDS teachings regarding how to be redeemed.

First you must understand a teaching that we have touched on earlier in the study—the ultimate goal of every Mormon is to attain godhood in the afterlife, as they believe that their Heavenly Father, Elohim, did. As stated in Doctrine & Covenants 132:20-21: Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them. Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to this glory. The manner in which to move closer and closer to godhood is to more toward perfection.

Matthew 5:48: Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. The argument that Smith made for moving to perfection based on this verse is, “Would Jesus give us a command that we couldn’t keep?” It is to move toward perfection and godhood…to be better today than we were yesterday. Former President/Prophet Spencer W. Kimball noted, “Perfection therefore is an achievable goal.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 209)

To become a god according to the LDS church, you must pass through eternal progression. Salvation does not come all at once, but is obtained by moving step by step through a series of events in life and in the afterlife. What is the final stop on this road? According to the LDS church, Romans 8:16-17 (The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together).teaches that we are going to be gods.

What steps are needed in order to move through this progression to attain godhood? There are several, so I’ll try to start at the beginning.

All of us reading this are doing pretty well so far, according to the LDS church. We have already chosen God’s side over Lucifer’s in the War in Heaven, so we’ve gotten that much right. Now we have physical bodies, which are also required in order to receive godhood. So what would be our next step? Baptism.

Being baptized is a very important point in the eternal progression of a Mormon. One must be “legally baptized in water by a legal administrator” (Mormon Doctrine, McConkie, p84). This means it must be done by a member of the Mormon priesthood in good standing. Acts 2:38 teaches, “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost,” thus leading the LDS church to support the idea that baptism brings the remission of sin. John 3:5 also indicates that baptism is essential for salvation in the LDS church’s eyes, as it states, “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Belief and baptism are needed together to bring salvation, which is also indicated in Mark 16:16: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

Members of the LDS church who grow up in the church at baptized at the age of 8. Before this time, children, according to the teachings of the LDS church, are not capable of sin before this time, as indicated by Moroni 8:8. …“little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin…”

Another requirement to follow this eternal progression is membership in the LDS church. Milton R. Hunter, an author, educator, and one of the First Council of the Seventy noted the following in his work The Gospel Through the Ages (on p 166): “…must become a member and live the gospel principles and ordinances of the true church of the Master—which is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, restored to earth through divine revelations to the prophet Joseph Smith.”

Good works are required for attaining godhood. LDS members use the following scriptures to support this belief:
James 2:17, 26: Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Philippians 2:12: Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

LDS members must be found worthy. This involves living a good, clean life regarding following God’s laws and commandments. A Mormon must be found worthy before being allowed to enter one of the temples where the essential rituals for eternal life are performed.

Another part of a success progression is keeping the Word of Wisdom, which includes many of the health-related rules that they follow, including abstinence from coffee, liquor, and tobacco. The commands can be found here.

Temple work is also vital for eternal progression. Much of the temple ceremonies are held on behalf of the dead, who are still working out their salvation and attempting to gain the exaltation of godhood. One ceremony held for currently living members of the LDS church is called the endowment. It is felt to be what “endows” Mormons with power and protection. We’ll discuss it more during section 4.1.

Lastly, marriages are performed in the temples and considered sealed for all eternity. Marriage is necessary to live a life as the Heavenly Father did and be able to procreate children once you become god in the afterlife in order that you may populate your universe.

Now you know what things a member of the LDS congregation must do on earth to work toward his godhood. Let another portion of the discussion regarding salvation must be examined here.

To better understand the LDS doctrine of salvation, you must understand not only the works that are required to attain the godhood they are seeking, but also their views and beliefs regarding the elements of salvation.

According to the LDS teachings, the original fall of Adam and Eve was not so much a bad thing. You see, they feel that this had to happen in order for God’s plan to progress as needed. They teach that at the time the sin was committed, they became mortal and capable of having children, thus being able to provide bodies for the spirit children of the Heavenly Father and Mother. Those children now had the ability to attain godhood for themselves since having a body is a requirement in the eternal progression. John A. Widtsoe, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve (Apostles) noted, “Adam fell, but he fell in the right direction” in his book Joseph Smith—Seeker After Truth (p 160).

In fact, sin has been altogether redefined by the LDS church as being a wrong judgment, mistake, imperfection, or inadequacy. As Ron Rhodes put it, “The moral sting is taken out of the word sin in Mormon vocabulary.”

So if all of the works are required for salvation, what was the role of Jesus’ death in the LDS theology or redemption? He simply overcame physical death for us, and “opened the door of immortality for all to walk through. He paid the price for us to rise from the grave. Through His own willful sacrifice—the infinite and eternal atonement—we all shall live again.” (Church News, March 18, 1989, p 16). So salvation to a Mormon is better termed “resurrection”—a rebirth after death. In fact, the blood payment for our sins was not, according to LDS members, at the cross, but in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus took on sin and sweated drops of blood. Salvation by faith alone is completely wrong, according to Mormon theology. Grace does not hold the water in Mormonism that it does in Christianity. In Mormonism, it is simply an aid, given by God, to assist us in reaching exaltation.

And forgiveness in the LDS church? It is “reserved for those only who turn their whole hearts to the Lord and begin to keep all of his commandments.” (Mormon Doctrine, McConkie, p 295).

And since forgiveness is so hard to come by, it is not surprising that there are “serious sins for which the cleansing of Christ does not operate…” (Mormon Doctrine, McConkie, p 92). This is where Brigham Young, former prophet of the LDS church, called for the mandate of blood atonement, which we will examine under section 5.2.

Wow…I told you it would be long, right? Now time to look at the Bible for direction…

Back to Matthew 5:48. Did Jesus say, “become perfect”? No…he said, “be perfect,” which I dare to say that no LDS members would claim absolute perfection at this time in his/her life. Fact is, it is only possible to be perfect in one way: “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21); “By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all… For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:10, 14). We cannot be perfect, as according to James 2:10, “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”

Acts 2:38 seems to hold some water when looking at the LDS interpretation, but lets take a little lesson in Greek. As a refresher, the verse says, “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” The Greek word for “for” used in this sentence can mean “in order to attain” or “because of.´ For instance, you can run for the gold medal (in order to attain) or you can take medicine for a cough (because of). Obviously the LDS church reads it as “in order to attain” while the Christian church teaches the “because of” definition. They are correct that Jesus taught Nicodemus that, “except a man a born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5). However, they should really keep reading into the story, as verse 6 states, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” If you compare the two verses, you can see that in both cases, Jesus is referring to a physical birth in the first scenario and a spiritual birth in the second. And considering the physiology of a natural birth, being “born of the water” is not a bad description. If you read Mark 16:16 that they claim notes clearly that belief and baptism are both required, you will see that they obviously so not pay attention to the second half of that very verse. Note that only unbelief brings damnation…not lack of baptism. Paul also denotes the separation of the gospel and baptism in 1 Corinthians 1:17: For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. Scripture firmly supports that belief alone does the trick. See John 3:15, John 5:24, John 11:25, John 12:46, and John 20:31. There is plenty of background info.

Is church membership important to Christian believers? Absolutely. Hebrews 10:25 clearly states this: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. However, it is not a requirement in order to mediate between the Christian and God. 1 Timothy 2:5 plainly says, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Next topic is the baptism of children. Now, I’m certainly not against the baptism of children who have made a conscientious confession of faith. However, my argument with the LDS doctrine here is not that they baptize children, but that they claim that children are not capable of sin before the time of baptism. The Bible clearly states the contrary:
Psalm 51:5: Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Ephesians 2:3: … and were by nature the children of wrath….
Matthew 12:34: O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things?...
Romans 3:10-12: As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
And frankly, if you don’t think you’ve met a child who knows how to sin, please babysit for a friend sometime. Children have to be taught to tell the truth, not lie. Children have to be taught to share, not covet. You can meet my 3-year old who has lied to be intentionally before, knowingly not telling the truth when caught doing something wrong.

Are works required for faith? No. There is nothing is scripture that states that works are required to bring salvation. However, works are a result of true faith and salvation. Let me clarify some of the references given by LDS members…
James 2:17, 24-26: Here James is writing to the Jewish Christians who were in danger of living in false faith, which bore no fruit, instead of true faith, which resulted in works. He shows that true faith results in works, which become outer evidence that the believer is sincere. Dead faith is worthless. True faith, however, is alive. Contrast their belief about this verse with Romans 3:20: Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin; as well as with Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. You can also use Romans 3:20, 28, 31 for a clearer explanation of the relationship of faith and the law, Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law, Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.

And here are some more scripture references that indicate that faith is enough:
Romans 3:28: Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
Romans 5:1: Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:
Galatians 3:8: And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed
Galatians 3:21: Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.
Galatians 3:24: Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
Titus 3:5: Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
Galatians 2:16: Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
Romans 11:6: And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.

What about that whole “work out your salvation” thing in Philippians 2:12? Ron Rhodes does a fascinating job giving the explanation of this one (paraphrased):
This church was plagued by 1) rivalries and individuals with personal ambition (Phil 2:3-4 & 4:2) 2) the teaching of Judaizers (Phil 3:1-3); 3) perfectionism (Phil 3:12-14); and 4) the influence of libertines (Phil 3:18-19). Paul was calling for them to work out the salvation of the community of believers, not of individuals, and not to depend on his presence so much Note that Paul also wrote Ephesians 2:8-9, seen above.

As for the Word of Wisdom, counter the argument with Jesus’ statement from Mark 7:18-23, “Whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly”

And for marriage…you can certainly make the argument about marriage in Heaven with them using Jesus’ quote from Matthew 22:30: For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. You can also ask why Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7:8, “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.” None of the apostles, ever indicated being married at any time in their lives, especially Paul who actually preached against it for those who could endure singlehood.

So, you can see the complicated differences in the two faiths, making them vastly different faiths.

I’ve written and you’ve read enough for the day. Why don’t we get to some questions that you can ask your LDS acquaintances that aren’t already approached in the above writings (certainly don’t need to repeat myself today!):

1. Can you please read Isaiah 44:8? How then do you justify that there are other gods (Elohim’s father, for instance)?
2. Can you please read Isaiah 43:10? Doesn’t this indicate that there are no prior generations of gods? Doesn’t it also indicate that there will be no future gods?
3. Can you please read Alma 11:22-31? Doesn’t this teach that there is only one God? Why then, does the LDS church teach something that contradicts its own scripture?
4. Will you please read John 6:47? Can you see that “hath” is in present tense here, indicating that eternal life is not something to get later, but that can be obtained now?
5. Have you ever made the same mistake twice? President Kimball said, “The forsaking of sin must be a permanent one. True repentance does not permit making the same mistake again.” Is your life characterized by repentance strictly defined as President Kimball does?
6. Would you please read Luke 18:9-14? In this passage, isn’t an unworthy publican welcome in God’s temple? Isn’t he commended above the “righteous” man? What does this tell you about temple recommends that indicate that only righteous people are allowed into the temples?
7. According to Genesis 1:28, didn’t God command Adam & Eve to be fruitful and multiply immediately after creating them…and before the first sin?
8. How do you reconcile the LDS view that there is no original sin with Romans 5:12, which explicitly states that “by one man sin entered into the world”? Romans 6:23 tells us that the penalty for sin is death. If there is no original sin, why is the death rate still one per person? Please read 2 Nephi 2:21 and Mosiah 3:19. Doesn’t the Book of Mormon indicate that there was original sin?
9. Please read John 12:27. Isn’t it obvious that Jesus came to die? Read Matthew 26:28. Isn’t it clear that His blood was shed for the remission of sins?
10. Why do Mormons emphasize part of the Word of Wisdom and ignore the part forbidding the eating of meat except in winter, cold or famine (D&C 89:12-13)?
11. Why does Doctrine & Covenants 42:18 say there is no forgiveness for a murderer when 3 Nephi 30:2 says there is forgiveness for him?
12. Since the Word of Wisdom teaches to abstain from alcohol, why did Paul encourage Timothy to drink win for his stomach (1 Timothy 5:23)?
13. Why does the LDS church teach that Jesus paid for our sins in the garden of Gethsemane when 1 Peter 2:24 says that it was on the cross?
14. Why did Bruce McConkie write that a man may commit a sin so grievous that it will place him beyond the atoning blood of Christ (Mormon Doctrine p 93) when the Bible says that the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7)?
15. Why are Mormon Temple ceremonies secret to the public when the Old Testament temple ceremonies were open to public knowledge?
16. Why do LDS Temple ceremonies not mirror the temple ceremonies of the Old or New Testament? Why aren’t detailed descriptions of the ceremonies given in the Book of Mormon, as they were in the Old Testament?

Study of the LDS Church - 3.6 The Doctrine of Heaven

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