Monday, November 17, 2008

Study of the LDS Church - 3.6 The Doctrine of Heaven

The last time we had this study, we touched on the process (yes, process) of salvation as taught by the LDS church. Salvation to the LDS member is a resurrection after a physical death of earth. So what happens after that? The ultimate goal is godhood, but how do you get there in the afterlife?

Let’s examine the LDS church’s teaching on heaven.

After death, the faithful LDS member will immediately find themselves in a lovely place called “paradise” which they will continue their eternal progression toward godhood. Non-Mormons will go to a spirit-prison where the gospel will be preached to them. If a non-Mormon receives the gospel in sprit-prison they may then enter Paradise as long as a relative undergoes “baptism for the dead” on their behalf. I will touch more on this later.

This is supported by the LDS church using the following two verses:
1 Peter 3:18-19: For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
1 Peter 4:6: For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
Both of these verses point out to the LDS faithful that there will be preaching to spirits in a spirit-prison.

At the end of the world, the LDS teaching is that all people will either find themselves in one of three heavenly kingdoms…the celestial kingdom, the terrestrial, the telestial kingdom…or in the “outer darkness.” Worthiness will determine your fate. Let’s now further examine each of these:
Celestial Kingdom: This is home to the faithful, worthy LDS members and all children who die before the age of 8, when baptism for the remission of sins is performed. This is where the Heavenly Father and Jesus live and they will abide there with them. Within the celestial kingdom, there are also three levels—the highest level: where exaltation and godhood occur consisting of an eternal family and spirit children; the middle level: the purpose of which has not yet been revealed; and the lowest level: those faithful Mormons whose marriages were not sealed in the temple on earth and therefore cannot be exalted to godhood and who will be “ministering servants.” You can only get here by practicing all of the commandments and laws as outlined in the salvation discussion (last session) and being deemed worthy.
Terrestrial Kingdom: This is the area reserved for non-Mormons who live upstanding lives and LDS members who do not live up to the expectations of God as laid out in the LDS plan of salvation. It has glory, but not nearly as much as the celestial kingdom, which includes the very dwelling of God. No one here is married. They will fit into 4 different categories…A) Those who die without the law but are accountable and do not accept the gospel in the sprit prison, B) Those who reject the LDS gospel in mortal life but accept it in the afterlife, C) Honorable people are blinded by the ways of men and do not accept the law and D) Members of the LDS church who are not devoted to the church and to righteousness.
Telestial Kingdom: This is where the majority of the world’s population will be found. It too has much glory, but far less than the higher two kingdoms. These are people who followed the ways of the world including all means of sinners. These people must first go to hell to pay for their sins via tormenting from satan, but then are released to the telestial kingdom.
Outer Darkness: Where bad souls go to be punished. This is the most like the Biblical doctrine of hell of the results. This is where the “sons of perdition” go. You can find background info on this place in Alma 40:13-14.

These three kingdoms of heaven are supported, according to the LDS faith by the following verses (1 Corinthians 15:40-42): There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption. The different “glories” of these bodies is listed in decreased intensity and therefore supports the different degrees of heaven. The three degrees of glory within the celestial kingdom is felt to be supported by 2 Corinthians 12:2, which states, “I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.” Reasoning goes that since there is a third heaven, there must also be a first and second.

LDS members are completely unsure about where exactly they will fit in until they meet the Judge of the universe. Although there are obviously some indications, there is no certainty.

So what does the Bible say about all of this? Let’s examine it:

Let’s look at the idea that spirits that are not faithful LDS members will be caught up in a spirit prison and evangelized to. The Bible is very clear on the fact that immediately following death there is judgment to take place. You can see in Hebrews 9:27 that, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” and there is no chance of redemption after death, as seen in Luke 16:19-31 (story of Lazarus and the rich man). God said, “…behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” according to Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:2. This leaves no room to allow for a middle ground of a spirit prison. Please note that the word “preached” used in 1 Peter 3:18-19 in Greek is not the same word as used for “preaching the gospel” but instead as a proclamation. It therefore has nothing to do with an expected response to the gospel, but just the fact that these spirits will HEAR the gospel and the proclamation of victory. Easy enough to debunk the interpretation of 1 Peter 4:6 is to look at verb tense. Notice that he writes that the “gospel was preached” to those “who are dead.” So the gospel was previously preached to those who are now dead. Makes perfect sense to me.

Now for the kingdoms of heaven…

Scriptures in the Bible frequently group people into two distinct groups…the saved and the unsaved. This can be seen in Matthew 13:30 (tares/wheat = unbelievers/believers respectively). Ron Rhodes pointed out that Jesus does not talk about the wheat going into three different barns here either. Let’s also examine Matthew 13:49 when the angels will “sever the wicked from among the just.” The division can also be seen in Matthew 25:32 when Jesus spoke of people being divided into goats and sheep (once again, two groups). In the rich man/Lazarus account of the afterlife in Luke 16:26, you can see there are two places represented…”paradise” and “torments” and there is a “great chasm” or gulf between the two. Therefore the Bible does not support more than two classifications for souls in the afterlife…those who are believers (regardless of their “level” of sin) and those who are non-believers (including those who were moral and good, but who rejected the gospel of the Bible).

Often it seems that Mormons feel that the traditional view of one heaven and one hell indicate that all in heaven will be treated equally while all in hell will receive equal levels of punishment. Mormon apostle LeGrand Richards tells us in A Marvelous Work and a Wonder (p 253), “one of the greatest errors in the teachings of the Christian religions is the doctrine of one heaven and one hell, so that all who go to heaven share and share alike, and all who fail to go to heaven are sent to hell where they share and share alike.” It is evident, however, that not only is that unjust and illogical, but it is against Biblical teachings of what is going on in heaven and hell. The Bible is clear that there are varying degrees of punishment in hell (just read Matthew 10:25, Matthew 11:21-24, Matthew 16:27—careful here…not dealing with salvation by works, but rewards by works—Luke 12:47-48, Hebrews 10:29, Revelation 20:11-15, and Revelation 22:12). It is also clear that there are varying degrees of rewards in heaven which will be given according to our works on earth (yes…this is where our works come in…in handing out rewards in heaven). Just read 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 and 2 Corinthians 5:10 to see this laid before you.

The Bible also clearly indicates that all believers will be in ONE place…
John 12:26: If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.
Galatians 3:29: And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Galatians 4:28-31: Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.
Titus 3:7: That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
James 2:5: Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?
Romans 3:22: Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference
John 10:16: And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.

In argument against the three kingdoms of heaven of the LDS faith, note that 1 Corinthians 15:40-42 does not even mention a “telestial” kingdom…it’s actually not a word other than in the Mormon faith. If you consider that Paul was answering a question regarding how the dead are raised up and that the words celestial means “heavenly” and terrestrial literally means “of the earth” this verse begins to make more sense from the Biblical point of view. Celestial bodies are eternal, perfect and power while earthly bodies are temporal and weak. There are two kinds of bodies here and there is no evidence of a division of three. Even though there are three types of celestial bodies here, they are simply being compared to the different types of earthly bodies mentioned in verse 39 (men, animals, birds, and fish). You can even point out that the doctrine regarding the three kingdoms actual contradicts more LDS scripture, as can be seen in 1 Nephi 15:35, Mormon 9:23, Ether 4:18, and Alma 3:26 just to name a few.

As to the three levels of the celestial kingdom via 2 Corinthians 12:2? Let’s look at the reality of creation for this one. There are three heavens described in the Bible…the “atmospheric” heaven (the sky) as seen in Deuteronomy 11:11, the starry heaven (space and the universe) as seen in Genesis 1:14, and God’s residence heaven (Isaiah 63:15). There is nothing confusing about this verse when you think of the different uses of the word “heaven” in our language.

Lastly, let’s look at the Biblical account of hell…a scary but vital part of Christianity. Biblical Christianity teaches that hell is eternal torment for those who have rejected the message of the true Jesus Christ…including good people and people who dedicated themselves wholly to another faith in true belief. Matthew 25:46 states, “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” Yep. Everlasting = eternal. You can also point out Revelation 14:9-11 that the “smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever.” No, it’s not a pretty picture, but it is a real one that if you don’t believe in now, you will definitely find yourself believing in one day.

There are vastly different definitions of what heaven will be like in the eyes of LDS members and evangelical Christians. Which is more true to the teaching of the Bible? I think it is clear.

Question for your LDS associates (not found in arguments already stated above):

1. If those who have not heard the gospel have the chance to hear it after death, accept it, and make it into the celestial kingdom, and those who hear it and reject it now and later accept it can only get into the terrestrial kingdom, wouldn’t it be better for you not to try to convert people now (and give them the chance to reject it now) and just let them hear the gospel after death?

Use all scripture above to formulate your own questions. I believe I have passed along enough evidence to really wrap the discussion up in scripture.

Study of the LDS Church - 4.1 The Endowment

No comments: