Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Answering the "Works" Accusation

One of the most common accusations against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that we believe that we are saved by our works and not by the grace of God. Well I have been going to church all my life and I have never heard anyone ever teach that in church. The only place I ever heard that is from Evangelicals trying to prove that Mormons believe false doctrine. As an interesting side note, that is also one of the central accusations that Evangelicals have against Catholics, so go figure.

So the other day I came across a random blog that discussed religion and the author was looking for comments about what she had written about Mormons. So on her post about Mormons and "how they think they are saved by their works" (she called it the Jesus Plus program, as in faith plus works--imagine that! you mean we actually have to do something?! you mean we can't just "believe" and Jesus will save us?...anyway back to my post), I decided to leave a comment (actually it was three comments because blogger has a limit to the number of characters allowed in a comment). I decided to repost my comment(s) here.

--Begin Comment--

Perhaps one of the hardest things to understand about LDS theology from a Protestant perspective is the concept of how salvation, grace and what we do (our works) are related. Let me try to explain it.

You have quoted some of the more well known scriptures from the Book of Mormon and the D&C but there are others that will perhaps help you understand this concept better. In the Book of Alma in the Book of Mormon the prophet Amulek was talking to some people who were wondering why they had to have faith in Christ. In Alma Chapter 34, verse 9 he explains that, "For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made."

So up until now this is exactly the same as any other Christian church teaches. So, later on in verse 16 he says, "And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption."

Here is what many Protestants would consider to be the difference. For those who have enough faith in Christ to repent of their sins then the Plan of Salvation (Christ's atonement) will begin to work. Now before we continue with this we must understand why this needs to be.

Well further on in verse 33 and 34 we read,

"33 And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.

34 Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world."

Here we see a critical idea, because in the when we die the same spirit (our spirit) that possesses our body, that is to say what ever good, or evil, that we have in our souls will stay with us in the resurrection. When Christ restores to us our bodies, what ever type of person we were in this life, if we were mean and hateful, or kind and gentle, then we will still be like that after the resurrection.

The whole point is that when Christ comes to save us He will not, I repeat will not save us in our sins. He will only save us from our sins. He gives us a way out. A way out of bondage from our sins. This is what the scriptures mean when they say that Christ is the way. He is the way out of bondage from our sins. Thus for Mormons, to continue in our sins (to continue sinning) is to deny The Way, or the way out. Which is to say, to accept Christ as your savior, but then continue in your sins is to deny Christ, and the power of His atonement.

So the next question is, why is this?

Well, if we continue reading in Alma 34:35-36,

"35For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.

36 And this I know, because the Lord hath said he dwelleth not in unholy temples, but in the hearts of the righteous doth he dwell; yea, and he has also said that the righteous shall sit down in his kingdom, to go no more out; but their garments should be made white through the blood of the Lamb."

If we sin, which is to say we do not listen to the counsel of God and Christ, then we are opening ourselves up to the Devil, and he will make us unclean. And if we are unclean, then we cannot enter in to the kingdom of God. This is not just a Mormon thing. In Ephesians 5:3-5 it reads,

"3 But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints;

4 Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.

5 For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God."

The thing to remember is that once we are unclean, once we have sinned, there is nothing we can do that will cleanse us of our sins. If it were entirely up to us then we would be forever shut out from the presence of God the Father and Jesus Christ. But through the atonement of Christ we can have "our garments made white". There is no other way.

After they are made clean, the only thing that make them unclean is ourselves, returning to the sins we had previously given up.

With this in mind let us look at some of the phrases you picked up from and other places. One of the phrases you quoted, “the scriptures say that His Spirit cannot be with us if we are sinful.” This quote related to the idea that God cannot dwell in unholy temples, or to put it another way, God cannot dwell within us if we are sinning. To say otherwise would be to make God a liar. His spirit withdraws from us and we are left to ourselves, without his support.

Then you said, "We are cleansed of our sins when we reach perfection." I think a better way of saying this would be, "We are cleansed of our sins so that we might reach perfection." The further issue of what perfection is, and how the concept of perfection has been corrupted by different philosophies, would take a very long book to explain. The short answer is that Mormons try not to have an impossible view of what it means to be perfect. Anyway, back to the subject...

So finally we come to spiritual death and our salvation. With all this in mind if we consider the implications of sinning again, then that is a strong incentive to not sin, or to continue being a good person. So when we get baptized, both by the water and by the spirit, the Atonement of Christ cleanses us from our sins. Now it is up to us to not mess it up, because we can return and sin we are also able to act for ourselves and to not sin. But if we do mess up, then Christ can again cleanse us from our sins and let us start new again. There are no sins (except for denying the Holy Ghost) that Christ cannot cleanse us from. To not even attempt to repent is to deny the Way, which is to deny Christ.

I think that is a start.

--End Comment--

I hope that wasn't too much for her since that ended up being more writing than she put in all of her six posts on Mormons that she had up. So, any comments?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Slippery Slopes and Moral Lines

I wasn't going to comment on this because I generally don't comment on sports, sports related stuff, or things that are more than adequately covered in the normal news outlets. But for some reason it was notable enough that it got international news coverage (yes, there was an article on the BBC about this). The event that was so notable that even the British news services felt compelled to cover it. So what was this international news worthy event? BYU enforced its honor code.

In the middle of the run up to the NCAA Basketball tournament, BYU suspended it's center starter because of an honor code violation. While I will not comment on what the player did, I will comment on the reaction to what happened. Some of the reactions were positive, some were negative, but most (almost all) were shocked. The most shocking part, and the part that got BYU international news coverage, was that BYU would even have such an honor code, and would enforce it, especially when it involved a star player right before the big play-off. Perhaps what was so interesting about the reaction was not that so many people were shocked that BYU set such high standards, but that they had set any standard. That is, they were shocked not by the "extreme" or "restrictive" honor code, but that BYU had a firm "line in the sand" that they would not cross. For them the firm moral line was more of a shock than where the line was drawn.

The very fact that so many news organizations, all over the US and even in Britain, covered the story demonstrates that they consider what happened to be odd, or out of the ordinary, meaning it was news worthy. Effectively the titles of the news articles could have been, "BYU has firm moral values" or "BYU uncompromising in its morals" and it would have gotten the same response. Thus the fact that someone had and held a firm moral line was news worthy indicates that it is not "normal" or "common" to have a firm moral standard. So if there is not a firm moral standard, then the next obvious question is, what kind of moral standard do we have?

First, because there is no firm moral standard in our society (there may be one for individual groups or organizations, but not in general) that indicates that our historical moral standard is in flux. Because it is changing no one really knows where to "draw the line" or even if a line should be drawn. Some say that there should be no line because the mere existence of a moral line in the past caused "hurt feelings", "heartache" or other problems (according to them) such as stifling creativity, identity or expression. The end result in this is that there is no moral line that society in general will not cross. There are many individuals, organizations and churches that maintain their moral lines, but society in general has not yet established an equilibrium where any type of moral line is drawn.

Probably the only moral imperative operative in Western Society right now is the idea that there should be no moral line imposed by anyone other than the individual (and even then that is subject to ridicule).

So does this mean that our society is currently wallowing in a sea of amoral actions and is one or two years from total societal collapse? No. Just because there is no current moral line in society does not mean that no one has personal moral lines, or that we will quickly descend into an amoral hell, but right now society in general is in a kind of moral free fall. Because there is no societal moral lines there is nothing to prevent society in general from moving into more and more immoral actions. The point is, because society in general does not draw a line anywhere in particular does not mean that anything and everything is allowed, but that there is no societal pressure that would eventually prevent those things from becoming standard and acceptable.

One of the common accusations against same sex marriage is that if it is allowed then what is there to stop polygamy, polyamory or any else which is currently disallowed by society in general. To which supporters of SSM respond, "That will never happen." Well unfortunately the same thing that currently makes their situation possible will not prevent those other things from becoming "acceptable" by society. It is very hard to begin drawing moral lines and preventing things from happening when there have been no moral lines drawn by society since the 1960's. We have yet to reach the bottom of our current free fall into the abyss of immorality. The question is when, or if, society will begin again to draw moral lines. Some attempts at drawing moral lines have already been made (i.e. with hate speech legislation, and other things) but because of the immense societal momentum it is hard to begin drawing lines now. Society has already gone down the slippery slope and some are desperately trying to catch onto anything to prevent a further decent into immorality.

Unfortunately whenever anyone tries to impose a moral line they are frequently met with the accusation, "If you start imposing your morality (i.e. any morality) then that is just a slippery slope into an overly restrictive and suffocating society without joy, happiness, puppies, butterflies, rainbows and ponies." It is rather ironic that while society is sliding down its slippery slope those who wish to apply the breaks and prevent our decent into a cesspool of immorality are accused of themselves going down a slippery slope. They fail to see that there can only be a moral slippery slope when there is no well defined boundary or moral line that should not be crossed, which is precisely the situation in which we find ourselves.

Lately I have been hearing a lot of talk about how the current trend in society is "inevitable", as if the current trend were self-evident and was the obvious result of the natural human interactions called history. Well unfortunately the view that it is inevitable will only hold until Western Society begins to draw a moral line again, at which point they will need to justify the moral lines they are drawing, which means they will again have to build a systematic morality (something that has been noticeably lacking in our society for the last 75-100 years or so, connection? hmmm....). But with a systematic morality comes the conclusion that societal trends are not "inevitable" because one of the hallmarks of a systematic morality is the idea that some things are not allowed, not because we can't do them, or not because we don't have the inclination, but because we should not do them. This removes the feeling of inevitability that comes with no fixed moral code. Thus things are only inevitable if there is not fixed moral code. If there is a moral code, then that will "prevent the inevitable" slide into immoral behavior, which is the whole point of having a moral code.

So the question is, when will our society begin to draw moral lines and begin to build a systematic morality? I don't know.

There are indications that this may be happening. There is an ever so slight shift in our society that might result in the moral lines being drawn somewhere (as opposed to nowhere as it currently stands). But as to the state of our society when those moral lines are finally drawn? I don't know. I guess we will have to see where we end up. We will just have to wait until we hit the bottom of the slippery slide.

The next question is, what do we do when we finally stop our decent? And more importantly, how do we build back up to the moral society that we were before (if not better)? Well if I knew the answer to that then I would be a wise man, and I probably wouldn't be writing a blog about this. But my guess is we would have to begin again, and follow a similar path to what as done before. That is, look at what led up the introduction of systematic moral systems through out history and see what allowed for that to happen. It is possible, it just has to be done deliberately, and it will take time. I am willing to help work for a moral society, and I invite you to do so as well.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Error of Cain

In the book of Genesis in the Bible we find recorded the story of Cain and Abel. While many people focus on Cain's sin of killing Abel, many people overlook Cain's error that put him on the path that ended with him killing Abel. The record in Genesis tells us.
3And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.
But when Cain presented his offering the record tells us,
5But unto aCain and to his boffering [the Lord] had not crespect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
The Book of Moses expounds a little more on what happened by giving the interchange between God and Cain after the failed offering.
 22And the Lord said unto Cain: Why art thou wroth? Why is thy countenance fallen?
23If thou doest well, thou shalt be aaccepted. And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door, and Satan bdesireth to have thee; and except thou shalt hearken unto my commandments, I will cdeliver thee up, and it shall be unto thee according to his desire. And thou shalt drule over him; 
24For from this time forth thou shalt be the father of his alies; thou shalt be called bPerdition; for thou wast also cbefore the world. 
25And it shall be said in time to come—That these abominations were had from aCain; for he rejected the greater counsel which was had from God; and this is a bcursing which I will put upon thee, except thou repent. 
26And Cain was wroth, and listened not any more to the voice of the Lord, neither to Abel, his brother, who walked in holiness before the Lord.
From these verses we note the ironic fact that it was Cain's attempt to offer a sacrifice to God that ultimately led him to commit murder. So let us consider this, what exactly was wrong with Cain's sacrifice that prompted God to reject it?

We note that when Cain offered sacrifice he offered "the fruit of the ground", which is to say, he offered the food that he had grown. We do not know exactly what it is that he offered but we can guess that it must have been whatever he had been farming, and we might even assume that it was the first of his harvest and the best of his crop. These things would surely be a worthy sacrifice, as he might have been offering the best of what he had, if it were not for the fact that Cain was attempting to change the ordinance and substitute his own efforts and ideas for those of God's.

When the ordinance of sacrifice was first instituted it was done for a very specific purpose. As we read in the Book of Moses, when Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden they were commanded to offer sacrifice.
5And he gave unto them commandments, that they shouldaworship the Lord their God, and should offer the bfirstlings of their cflocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was dobedient unto the commandments of the Lord. 
6And after many days an aangel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer bsacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me. 
7And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a asimilitude of the bsacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of cgrace and dtruth. 
8Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the aname of the Son, and thou shalt brepent and ccall upon God in the name of the Son forevermore.
We find from this that the purpose of offering sacrifice was to remind the Children of God of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The amount or value of the sacrifice was not the important thing because the sacrifice itself was not the thing that brought salvation. The purpose of the sacrifice was to remind them that it is only through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that we can receive salvation.

So when Cain offered his sacrifice he was changing the intent of the ordinance. He was in effect saying that his sacrifice was what brought salvation. It was his actions and his intent that would allow God to give him salvation. Thus by changing the ordinance, Cain sought to put himself in the place of Christ, and make his own actions, thoughts and intents more important than those of God. In a sense what Cain was trying to do was understandable. He viewed the ordinance of sacrifice as nothing more than the act of giving up what one has. If we think about it in this way then it makes sense that in order for Cain to make a worthy sacrifice then all he would have to do is offer that which had the most value to him, that is, he offered the fruits of his labors.

Here in lies the error of Cain. He failed to see the intent and purpose of the ordinances that he was commanded to perform. We might say that Cain thought that the ordinances were all about him and what he had to do, and he failed to see that they were not about him and his actions, but pointed towards Christ. It should be noted here that Cain did not do this ignorantly. He must have known the intent of the sacrifices, and even after his failed sacrifice he was not immediately condemned or cast off by God. He was admonished and warned that if he did not repent then, and only then, would he be delivered over to Satan. But as God said to Cain, "If thou doest well, thou shalt be accepted."

But Cain did not repent and did not listen "any more to the voice of the Lord, neither to Abel, his brother", and Cain continued on the path he was on that led to him murdering Abel and being cast out forever from the presence of the Lord. And it all started because he wanted to change the ordinances to suit his own desires.

Unfortunately we find members of the Church today who will do the same thing. They want to change the order of the priesthood, or the ordinances of the Gospel to suit what they view as the "correct" or the "right" way of doing things. They view the priesthood as "unfair" and the ordinances of the Temple as "asserting male dominance" or "blind obedience to a bunch of old men", as one comment said that I read today. But in doing so they are committing the error of Cain by wishing to change the ordinances of the gospel to suit their own desires and to fix things as they see fit. Nowhere in all their arguments do they even consider what God has to think on the subject. They also fail to see that just as the sacrifices of ancient times were intended to point to Christ, thus are the ordinances, the structure and teachings of the priesthood are also intended to point to Christ.
1And again, my brethren, I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children; and I would that ye should remember that the Lord God aordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people. 
2And those priests were ordained after the aorder of his Son, in abmanner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption. (Alma 13:1-2)
In their rush to bring equality and justice they loose sight of the fact that the purpose of the priesthood is not to exert dominion and control over others, and is not a symbol of worldly power and strength, but is only intended to point our minds to Christ, "in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption." That is to say, the whole structure of the priesthood is set in such a way that we may know the manner and source of our salvation. The structure of the priesthood (and the Church in general) is set such that it is a reflection of the way we will gain salvation. When I say that the structure of the Church, I do not refer to the common daily (or weekly) administration of the Church, but the structure of teaching, compassionate service, brotherly love, service, selflessness, kindness, caring and unity that make up the Church. This is the manner of our salvation.
6And thus being called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his arest 
. . . . 
16Now these aordinances were given after this bmanner, that thereby the people might look forward on the Son of God, it being a ctype of his order, or it being his order, and this that they might look forward to him for a remission of their sins, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord. (Alma 13:6,16)
To desire otherwise is to deny the ordinances and order as given by God that point us to Christ. There is wisdom in what God does, and we need not commit the error of Cain and impose our desires, wisdom (or lack there of) and thoughts on the ordinances and order of God. For they are given to point to Christ and when we endeavor to change the ordinances to suit our own ideas, we deny the power and efficacy of Christ's Atonement. This is why the ordinances were given to us from God and were not instituted by man (or women) that we might look to Him for our salvation and not to ourselves.