Chicken or Egg?

The “We’re Not Worthy” discussion as brought up a question in my mind. It’s a rather basic question about salvation so I should expect there to be a uniform LDS answer. Which is true in LDS theology:

A) No one can receive the atonement without first performing the saving ordinances

OR

B) No one can perform the saving ordinances without first receiving the atonement

The Evangelical answer is that there are no saving ordinances, the only thing that saves us is the atonement (and if you want to be technical our acceptance of it). We believe in doing good works, but that they have nothing to do with our salvation. Rather, our works can’t even begin to be truly “good” until after we receive the atonement. (By works I mean acts of love and kindness for the benefit of others). Our view is perhaps best summed up by Ephesians 2:8-10

8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

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21 thoughts on “Chicken or Egg?

  1. “The Evangelical answer is that the there are no saving ordinances, the only thing that saves us is the atonement (and if you want to be technical our acceptance of it).”

    Unless you’re a Calvinist, no?

  2. Dando,

    Here’s the thing. Everyone receives the saving ordinances. Temple work is performed for everyone.

    I think you can receive the atonement before you receive the ordinances, or else why would there be spirits waiting in spirit prison for us to do their work? Also, since you have to accept the atonement before you can be baptized, it must come first.

  3. Dando-

    Your uniform answer theory is surely setting us up for failure on this board. With almost every posting, this apparant disagreement among the Mormons is mentioned. I don’t think any of us claim to know it all. We should know a lot, especially in regards to the Atonement. But unlike the very simple Christian concept of “Accept Christ in your life and you will be saved”, Mormon doctrine on the subject is complex. There is one answer, but how everyone interprets it is different, unfortunately.

    All we Mormons are growing from grace to grace, knowledge to knowledge, please don’t be too harsh on us for differing opinions.

    Having that out, here’s my take on your question:

    I view accepting the Atonement as the first principle of the gospel- Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Then comes the rest. The ordinances mean nothing unless you know what they are for and believe in that “what for”.

    As far as works are concerned, I’m still confused as to what the “works” are that we are accused of. Because in your post you mention two types, those of the “saving” kind and those of the “good Christian” kind. Or are you lumping all of it together?

  4. There is one answer, but how everyone interprets it is different, unfortunately.

    That means there’s not just one answer.

    The reason it matters that Mormon doctrine is all over the place and inconsistent is that members swear it isn’t, rejoice about how clear and simple everything is, and look down on other churches for being fractious and disagreeable. But it’s all a charade! Mormonism has the same dissent and disagreement that every other faith has, but in Mormonism you’re not really allowed to admit it.

  5. Austin,

    I’m quite content to allow LDS to say that it depends upon your interpretation of this passage or that. But then the charge that my faith tradition is not true and is in need of a restoration because we rely upon interpretation to discern doctrine needs to be taken off the board. If LDS disagree with one another about this, I’m really okay with it.

    I’m still confused as to what the “works” are that we are accused of. Because in your post you mention two types, those of the “saving” kind and those of the “good Christian” kind. Or are you lumping all of it together?

    I’m not actually accusing you of anything. I was merely clarifying what Evangelicals mean when we mention works. I was defining how we use the term. If you’d like to clarify what LDS mean by “works” I’m interested.

  6. Kullervo, I’m really not understanding you. Are you talking about the general membership’s interpretation of doctrine? If so, is clarified answers from the Prophet and Apostles sufficient to settle the one answer claim? Or, are you saying that the Church as a whole, including it’s leadership, are all over the place with doctrine? Or am I way off and none of this applies?

    I’ll try not to be critical of you, but I think it matters to know which position you, and others who share your opinion, cling to. Especially if we are going to hold any type of conversation on this blog.

  7. I definitely include the Church’s leadership, past and present, when I say there’s no consistent take on LDS doctrine. Again, there’s this myth that when there is confusion, that the General Authorities speak and clear it all up, but in practice, I don’t think that happens, at least not in a way that’s noticably different from what happens in any other human-led Church.

  8. I think one of the confusions here is equivocation (at least from a Mormon’s perspective) with the word “receive.” LDS doctrine is clear that we must “receive” the saving ordinances, but for a Mormon that’s not really enough. I must live the Gospel for the rest of my life. I will have plenty of opportunities to turn my back on the church, sin, repent, etc.

    But in 2) you mean something different, and I believe that is the major difference in LDS theology and Evangelical theology. LDS theology states that while we can feel the effects of the Atonement throughout our life, as we repent, we do not experience the full Atonement until after death and the final judgement. To a Mormon the Atonement means salvation from physical death (resurrection) and salvation from spiritual death (admittance into the Celestial Kingdom), which can only be full “received” after death. We qualify for the blessings of the Atonement by “by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.” (AoF 3).

  9. Dando,

    You bring up a good point about the charges Mormons make. Our claims (reasons for the Restoration, etc.) are pretty bold and can be quite offensive if not handled right. Hopefully we’ll catch ourselves more often and think before posting.

    Regarding the chicken or the egg- I agree with Katyjane that personal acceptance of the Atonement comes before the ordinances.

    As far as the term “works” is concerned, I think we agree that one who has been converted unto Christ will willingly and lovingly perform acts of service. Not only do we covenant to serve the Lord and each other (http://scriptures.lds.org/en/mosiah/18 v.8-10), but for one who has truly “taken upon him/her the name of Christ” and has “received His image in their Countenance”, they will become like Him in that their nature is changed, and that “duty of service” becomes a “labor of love”.

    We know we will be judge by our works, but that depends on who we have chosen to follow. Or, as Robert Millet has put a perspective on works, “We will be judged by our works. Not by the merits of our works, but the extent to which our works manifest unto God, who and what we have become.”

    In addition, I think the humble approach to our daily lives, our acknowledgement of our dependency upon God, is the checks and balances of helping us keep the right perspective of our acts of service and other “works”. King Benjamin made this clear (http://scriptures.lds.org/en/mosiah/4).

    Time permitting, I’ll give my opinions on the “works” of saving ordinances later.

  10. Kullervo, I now think I understand what you are saying. I think you’ve expressed these ideas in other posts, but it just donned on me what you mean.

    While I disagree, I can certainly understand. The claims of Apostolic/Prophetic leadership really doesn’t appear any more authoritative than what other churches claim. And this is backed up because of a lack of cohesiveness in doctrine.

    I hope I got it right.

  11. Craig, thanks for your comment. I agree with what you wrote. Trying to explain the gift of the Resurrection and the need to endure to the end in this “probationary state” we’re in, and the concept of “the final judgement”, can get complicated. I’ve heard of other terms such as the day of redemption, the last day, etc., which would connote to anyone that ultimate salvation is a future event.

  12. To a Mormon the Atonement means salvation from physical death (resurrection) and salvation from spiritual death (admittance into the Celestial Kingdom), which can only be full “received” after death.

    Thanks for that Craig. This is a difference I had not considered before. To Evangelicals, the Kingdom is here and now and is already available. We say that we begin living our eternal lives the moment we become born again. That distinction makes a difference in WHEN we receive the atonement.

  13. The claims of Apostolic/Prophetic leadership really doesn’t appear any more authoritative than what other churches claim. And this is backed up because of a lack of cohesiveness in doctrine.

    Pretty much. Mormons claim that the Restored church is superior to all the apostate Christian churches for so many reasons, but when you look closely and peer past the mantras and false images, you see that Mormonism’s only real claim to superiority or greater truth lies in Priesthood authority. If Mormonism is right about priesthood authority, then it’s the only church worth being in. Otherwise, it’s really got nothing.

  14. Well, Joseph Smith said the, “Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors [of these creeds] were all corrupt;. . .” (Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith History). He was specifically told to join none of them.

    “Their creeds” refers to the Christian denominations who at the time were conducting “tent revivals” in his (Joseph Smith’s) neighborhood.

    It seem clear that he believed that all of the churches of the time were apostate, and was so told by divine authority. where does that leave the debate? Either we Christians are apostate, or the LDS church is apostate from the beginning. It seems that all other questions grow out of that.

  15. Gene Thomas,

    Just as a point of clarification. “Their creeds” does not “refer to the Christian denominations who at the time were conducting ‘tent revivals’ in his (Joseph Smith’s) neighborhood” (why did you put “tent revivals” in quotation marks, btw?).

    “Their creeds” actually is a reference to the various formulated statements of belief of the various Christian churches of the time (i.e. the Apostle’s Creed, Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed, etc.).

    Not that that fact necessarily changes the intent of those words, but Joseph Smith did have a particular distaste for the formulated creeds of 19th century Christianity.

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