Byline: Does the difficulty in feeling assured of salvation dissolve the practical differences in “works”-focused vs. belief-focused religion?
I used to think that the problem of assurance of salvation was a big practical difference between Mormons and Evangelicals. I am not so sure now.The theological differences seem stark. According to the rough academic analogy, Mormons believe that everybody is born with a passing grade, and you have to decide to fail. So long as your intentions are in the right direction, and you are living up to your potential , you are going to the Celestial Kingdom. If you fall short you are going to get a great consolation prize– eternally living in heaven with Jesus forever. If you criminally screw up and reject Jesus, you are going to suffer for your sins but eventually you will be in a heavenly place with the eternal joy that the Holy Spirit can bring you. Mormons believe (or used to) that some striving souls could get a “second endowment.” An ordinance performed in the temple that seals a person with their spouse to the Celestial Kingdom. They have their “calling and election made sure.” Anymore, this concept and practice has practically disappeared from the Church. Mormons are left completely sure they are going to heaven, but always unsure of which heaven they will go to. I believed that whatever I–or nearly anybody else–was in for in the afterlife, it was going to be a whole lot better than this world.
Contrasting my experience with the children of Evangelicalism. I can see how the “faith alone” doctrine would have scared the hell out of me. Evangelicals believe you are born with a failing grade– the default is hell. People qualify for salvation by correct belief and reliance on the work of Jesus alone. It seems to me that if you are an Evangelical facing the never-ending torment of hell, you’d better make darn sure you are saved. And the problem is, because non-saving faith can masquerade as true belief and faith, there is a lot of room for consternation. Just as Mormons obsess about doing enough to be “good enough” , it seems that doubt-prone Evangelicals can easily fall into a cycle of severe anxiety trying to assure their faith is “true” enough. And the stakes– and possibly the potential anxiety seem considerably higher. It seems that many Evangelicals indeed have this problem of assurance gauging from this article in Relevant Magazine, by J.D. Greear, Evangelical author of Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart. .
Pope Francis appears to have a new, dramatic, position on salvation for the non-believer. Catholic Online gives a detailed account of the Pope’s sermon yesterday where he stated that even atheists were redeemed by Christ and would go to heaven if they “do good.”
A quote from the article:
Francis explained himself, “The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart, do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can… “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ, all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!” We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
I recognize that the pope is not really making himself out to be a universalist, but he definitely opens the door to salvation to anyone regardless of belief. If this is a sign of things to come, I think this pope may have ideas that could really unite Christianity. If the pope believes an atheist can get into heaven, this seems to change the entire dynamic of Christian interaction with the world. The fundamental missionary act would be to promote and support good conduct–Christian love–rather than merely spreading Christian theology or belief. Is the pope implying this? Am I reading too much into it? Whether this represents a sea change or is simply warmer rhetoric, I think its a very positive step. Thoughts?
In our discussion about the LDS temple ritual. I mentioned that I do not believe the endowment is for everyone, nor was it meant to be. It is only for those who desire it.
While this seems to be a somewhat technical/semantic point. I think it is important in the context of the “Mormonism-seems-to-be-a-cult-because-it-has-secret-Rituals” discussion. By saying that endowment is ONLY for those that really want it, I underscore how different this position is from any sort of cult-like view of the ritual. Mormons are not forcing people to do weird things against their will. This seems akin to the same fallacious argument that Mormons are somehow disrespectful for performing rituals for the dead or that they disrespect holocaust victims by baptizing them. It makes no sense in context of Mormon thought and doctrine. It seems that among the pervasive misunderstandings and/or misrepresentations regarding the religion are that Mormons are a cult that pushes people or brainwashes them into making crazy commitments and weird secret rituals against their will. This is unsupportable by the doctrine or the scriptures.
One thing that strikes me as a key difference in how Mormons and Evangelicals view being “saved” is what they believe they are saved from. For Mormons, the flip-side of not feeling the joy of being COMPLETELY forgiven like Evangelicals do, is the comfort of never having to worry about hell in the least, for me or anybody else. I think this difference may shape how Mormons and Evangelicals differ in they way they see God, their purpose in life, and, to some degree, what life is about. I offer my own experience as a way for Evangelicals to gain some insight on how not believing in Hell can shape your thoughts and behavior.
To somebody raised in the LDS church in the late twentieth century, there is no hell. A fiery place where souls are sent by God to burn forever? As a Mormon growing up, I took that as seriously as the idea that the devil had horns and pitchfork. The only thing close to “hell” that I was taught about was not anywhere God would send me, It was merely the pain and disappointment of not being with our Father again, who wanted us to be there and provided a way for us to do it. I was taught that if we even got a glimpse of the Telestial kingdom, we would want to kill ourselves just to go their. The absolute worst part if it was that I couldn’t be with my family forever. This sounded crappy enough, so I couldn’t imagine my Father in Heaven, who loved me more than my real parents did, wanted any of us to go through anything worse.
Universal sin is, perhaps, the fundamental building block of the Christian Religion. Without sin, there is no need for the atonement of Jesus, the central focus of both Mormons and Evangelicals.
C.S. Lewis, in accord with other heavy hitters of Christian apologetics, contend that the most incontrovertible tenant of Christianity is original sin. (However, my favorite exposition of this doctrine is, of course, found here.) Indeed, most all people have an internal moral compass, a conscience, that tells them that they fall short of perfection. Those people incapable of feeling guilt are considered the most dangerous and potentially monstrous of all humans. While I am not convinced that universal sin is “proven” by the facts, it is clear that most of the people we call good or conscientious would agree that falling short of internal and external aspirations is a common part of life. Falling short is part of life not simply because we are defective, it seems to be an ingrained part of being a human to recognize that we do not live up to what our consciences aspire to. Even those that are often completely blind to their own faults can usually point out the faults of others. This brings guilt, perhaps one of the most important defenses against barbarism, yet it also one of those things that invariably saps happiness and joy from life.
What Christianity brings to the table is forgiveness. Evangelists tells us: “In Christ you will be saved and forgiven, white as snow.” Where Evangelicalism and Mormonism diverge is how they dish up the meaty meal of forgiveness to the believer. (To be specific: I am talking about how the forgiveness of is felt and experienced, not about whether or not either approach is justified by scripture, revelation or theology.)
Tim Keller and Eric Metaxas have become two of the most respected voices within Evangelicalism in the last 5 years. This video is a “fireside chat” the two had at the New Canaan Soceity Washington Weekend in 2012. They discuss Creationism & Evolution, how to define a “Christian”, hell, Rob Bell, universalism, and personality driven Evangelicalism. I highly recommend that you see this video and get a flavor for how Evangelicals approach these controversial topics
Keller makes reference to a paper by Richard Bauckham on Christian Universalism that you can find here. Keller says it’s the paper that Rob Bell should have read first before writing “Love Wins”.