Can The LDS Church Successfully Be Reformed?

David Clark stated

I think the hope that many evangelicals have is that there is a path whereby the LDS church gradually moves toward mainstream Christianity and makes a soft landing, i.e. doesn’t cause widespread apostasy, disbelief, atheism, agnosticism, etc. The hope is that over time millions of LDS become orthodox Christians without really realizing it. I don’t think this is possible, the CoC (RLDS) and the Worldwide Church of God have already tried this, and the results were dismal.

I think evangelicals need to ask themselves a hard question: “Do we prefer the LDS church to stay the course and have people with high values and a belief in God (but not of the orthodox variety)? Or is it more important to get a chunk of LDS to be more orthodox, accepting that there is going to be substantial collateral damage?”

I had discussed this issue on an individual level in a previous post, “We Push Them Out – Into What?” I think these are questions that are worth asking and pausing to consider. David’s question puts a new spin on it by asking what kind of organization would Evangelicals prefer of the LDS church, a powerful cultural ally or a fractured and weakened orthodox church?

If those are the only two choices, I think any Christian worth his salt who believes that the LDS church follows a false prophet, teaches false doctrine and doesn’t teach a saving faith to its members would choose doctrinal orthodoxy over a cultural ally. While Evangelicals value the tight-knit family values and social conservatism found in Mormon culture our ultimate goal is to see people brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Family values and social conservatism are viewed as an outcome of knowing Jesus, but not an end-unto-themselves. They offer nothing of eternal value in and of themselves. I think most Evangelicals would prefer to see Glenn Beck leave the Mormon church and become an orthodox Christian rather than speak on the national airwaves in support of their political values (there is an open question if Glenn Beck actually represents Evangelical political values).

The followup question is, can the LDS church be reformed toward Christian orthodoxy with a soft-landing that doesn’t cause it to fracture into hundreds of parts with only a third of its membership intact. I think this question is being actively asked by many different people, with many different viewpoints about what “reform” looks like. The consistent answer is “no”. There are no active reforms that can be made without alienating and disaffecting large segments of the LDS membership.

I’m well aware that the LDS church can’t become orthodox overnight without losing significant membership. There are a great many Mormons who have no interest in traditional Christianity and are only interested in the church as far as its unique Mormon doctrines, priesthood and ordinances are offered. I have no qualms about assuming that these are merely “Churchians” (every church has them). The Fundamentalist Mormon movement proves that these people would most likely break away and start their own Mormon movements.

The Worldwide Church of God only kept about 25-33% of it’s membership and I think the same could be assumed for the LDS church. Since I don’t have any value on the LDS church as an institution that serves as a cultural ally I think the loss would be worth it. The church in my opinion should reject falsehood and embrace truth even if that means a tremendous loss of influence and money. The formation of heretical offshoots is an unavoidable consequence, but all of them combined would still lack the religious influence the current LDS church has and in time most of them will die off (something else we can learn from the Worldwide Church of God).

The only thing critics of the LDS church agree about is that change will be coming to Mormonism. The chief reason is that the LDS church can no longer control information about it’s own history with its membership. The church can’t shield itself from truths that may not be useful in promoting faith. Even in a best-case scenario where the membership accepts the moral foibles and reduced prophetic status of Joseph Smith and continues to attend and contribute, Mormonism will change. I don’t see the church membership being as invested in evangelism or submitting to an authoritative hierarchy as it does now. It’s likely that “unCorrelated” Mormons who attend and maintain membership for cultural or family obligations will gain an opportunity to leave the church without much consequence. With current activity rates being reported at just 18% (attending at least once a month) and growth being at 1%, even these kinds of soft changes will greatly reduce the LDS church’s influence and financial stability. Listen to Dan Wotherspoon’s Mormon Stories interview and ask yourself if most people will maintain their commitment and activity with his “Fowler Stage 4/5” faith. Will Mormons ever again contribute to a political campaign like they did for CA Prop 8? The days of the LDS church being a strong cultural ally for Evangelicals are quickly coming to a close.

In a worst-case scenario, the larger part of the membership will accuse the institutional church of a cover up and Utah will quickly become a largely atheistic state. The LDS church in third-world countries will be unaffected in terms of membership but without the financial backing of American Mormons, will quickly suffer.

With change being a certainty it will be interesting to see how the Mormon leadership responds. Currently it seems the plan of action is to quietly dismiss past controversial teachings and to make Mormonism as mainstream and “normal” as possible. I don’t think this is leadership. It’s passing the problem along for someone else to deal with. Eventually the membership is going to strongly communicate that they’ve got serious reservations about the history and origins of the church. Grant Palmer recently stated that we’ll look back and view this as a time of weak leadership. I think I have to agree. Hard choices will need to be made and courageous men will need to make them.

A better question to ask than “what kind of LDS Church do Evangelicals want?” is what kind of smaller, less-influential LDS church does the current Mormon leadership want?

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135 thoughts on “Can The LDS Church Successfully Be Reformed?

  1. David’s question puts a new spin on it by asking what kind of organization would Evangelicals prefer of the LDS church, a powerful cultural ally or a fractured and weakened orthodox church?

    I think that this is the wrong question.

    The right questions:

    Do we believe in the possibility that practicing Mormons who accept the distinctive truth claims of the LDS church are in saving relationships with Jesus Christ?

    How many Mormons are saved?

    Only then, with those answers in mind, should we consider the possibility of LDS reform, what it would mean for us, and what we wish we could see.

    Let’s say that you’re an evangelical who believes that the vast majority of active and practicing Mormons are not saved. If this is the case, then why do you care how many members the LDS church hemorrhages in a hypothetical reform? So what if they defect from Mormonism to agnosticism or atheism or deism? An unbeliever is an unbeliever, right?

    But then again, let’s say that you believe it’s quite possible that a good number of Mormons are saved. If the LDS church reforms, what does that mean for these true believers? Are we worried that they’ll fall away from the faith altogether? I’m not. If they defect at all, I imagine it will be for other Christian churches.

    Point being, either way, I’m not worried about the effects of a potential LDS reform. The ones who are going to fall away altogether are, for the most part, the ones who never had the Holy Spirit working in their lives in the first place, and the believers will probably continue to believe.

    The only real possible casualty for evangelicals is a socially conservative political ally, and I don’t think evangelicals should be so concerned about a political agenda anyways, so this is one casualty I also don’t care about.

  2. Point being, either way, I’m not worried about the effects of a potential LDS reform. The ones who are going to fall away altogether are, for the most part, the ones who were never had the Holy Spirit working in their lives in the first place, and the believers will probably continue to believe.

    Totally agree.

    So then, orthodox reform is desirable because it weakens the influence of heretical views without causing true believers in Jesus to fall away.

  3. I’m with Jack. I’m not particularly concerned about an evangelical political agenda, it seems odd for a religion of grace to use the power of the state to enforce the moral law.

  4. I think your expectation if “big change” for the LDS Church that will fragment the Faith and weaken the organization is largely misguided and inconsistent with it’s history. I don’t think you really understand the mindset of a majority of active membership. If anything the LDS Church has shown that it has an organization and doctrine that is able to adjust and thrive in the face of growth and change.

  5. Let’s say that you’re an evangelical who believes that the vast majority of active and practicing Mormons are not saved. If this is the case, then why do you care how many members the LDS church hemorrhages in a hypothetical reform? So what if they defect from Mormonism to agnosticism or atheism or deism? An unbeliever is an unbeliever, right?

    What if some of those Mormons who defect to atheism or agnosticism would have eventually become among the vast minority of saved Mormons had they stayed in unreformed Mormonism?

  6. “There are a great many Mormons who have no interest in traditional Christianity and are only interested in the church as far as its unique Mormon doctrines, priesthood and ordinances are offered. I have no qualms about assuming that these are merely “Churchians”.”

    I just want to make sure I understand what you’re saying. I see two ways to read this:

    1) “…only interested in the church because they like its unique Mormon doctrines but not because they actually want/have a relationship with Jesus

    or

    2) “…only interested in the church as long as it retains its unique Mormon doctrines because if it gives those up it will be giving in to fit in (a la Community of Christ)

    (To be clear: I’m talking about the common *perception* of the Community of Christ and not saying that they actually “gave in,” etc.)

    I can see how #1 are Churchians, but not #2.

  7. Just a couple quick points for now:

    1. My initial reaction was along the lines of what Ms. Jack said. It’s a question I can’t answer for evangelicals, but if you were to conclude that what Mormons believe is “good enough” (I’m oversimplifying, I know) to be saved, just as apparently what Catholics and Seventh-day Adventists (for example) believe is “enough” (according to some evangelicals) to be saved despite significant unorthodox (by evangelical standards) doctrines, then perhaps it makes more sense to look for converts elsewhere. How you answer the question of whether we (or most of us) are saved may determine the answer to what Tim is asking.

    2. I think there’s some exaggeration here of the influence that evangelicals are having or can have on the LDS church. In the United States, evangelicalism is in decline just as much as Mormonism is, perhaps more so, and for many of the same reasons.

  8. As always there is great conversation happening here. Thank you for being a part of it.

    What I am confused about is does anyone really believe that the typical Mormon is not saved? If such a person proclaims Jesus Christ to be his Lord and savior and that through His atoning sacrifice he can be forgiven and have eternal life, is that person not already saved? As I read the New Testament I don’t find in the interactions with Christ himself any other requirements for salvation.

    Interested in your comments.

    In my opinion there will not be any changes to LDS doctrine to try and fit into the mainstream. Listen to the last several General Conferences and there appears to be no interest in becoming mainstream – something Brigham Young warned about long ago. The disciples of Christ are said to be “peculiar” and we are OK with that. Besides, outside of accepting the doctrine of the Trinity created at Nicaea, what other doctrines would the LDS Church have to adopt/drop in order to be considered “real Christians?”

    Thanks again for weighing in on this.

    God bless.

  9. According to research published in the Journal of the Social Scientific Study of Religion, the great majority of Mormons who leave the Church become atheists.

    So, if you would like millions more American atheists, just keep trying to undermine the faith of Mormons.

  10. Eric said:
    I think there’s some exaggeration here of the influence that evangelicals are having or can have on the LDS church.

    I don’t think Evangelicalism is having much affect at all. I think it’s the internet (and as always ex-Mormons are a bigger threat to Mormonism than anyone else)

  11. Eric Shuster,

    I have no way of knowing how many Mormons are “saved”. I’m really not interested or think I have the ability to read people’s hearts.

    I think a much more informative question is “Does the LDS church teach a saving faith?” I think the answer to that question is a resounding “no”. There may be Mormons who are saved, but I think it’s despite the LDS church’s teaching not because of it. That is at the heart of why I think the LDS church needs to be reformed.

    In addition, I think it’s really reductionistic to whittle “what must a man do to be saved?” down to it’s lowest common denominator. A more pressing question asked by Jesus is “What kind of person is my disciple?” I expect disciples to know their shepherd’s voice and be able to discern the presence of false prophets. As long as Mormons lack the ability to see Joseph Smith as a false prophet they lack the maturity that Jesus calls his disciples to. That is to the determent of Mormons above everyone else.

    outside of accepting the doctrine of the Trinity created at Nicaea

    Oh brother. [rolls eyes] Can I recommend a book on the development of the Trinity or on the Council of Nicea? That’s just an ignorant historical statement. It makes Mormons feel better about themselves but it’s not the least bit accurate. You are far more intelligent than that. I’m disappointed that you even stated it like that. (here and on Facebook)

    But to answer your question, I think Mormonism’s major problems first and foremost reside with the nature of God and then with the nature of man. As long as Mormons believe that God was once a man and that men can become gods you are outside the very wide bounds of orthodoxy.

  12. Murdock, As Jack stated, from a Kingdom perspective, there is little difference between atheists and unsaved Mormons. Both fail to worship Jesus in spirit and truth.

    The absence of a heretical LDS church would only cause fewer people to stumble.

  13. I should also mention that “reform” can mean a great many things.

    I would like reform that is directed on Christian orthodoxy. Others would like feminist reform. Others still reform toward acceptance of active homosexuality. Others still would like a return to polygamy and more teachings in line with Brigham Young.

    Regardless, the status quo will not remain and Mormonism will be changing with the next generation.

  14. I think this is a case of members in the Evangelical community believing their own hype. It’s the non-LDS Christians who are threatened with the emergent church and ecumenism. It is they who do not have the organization and the cultural power to resist what Brannon Howse calls “the religious Trojan Horse.”

    It seems that the Evangelical community can only agree on one thing: Mormons are not Christians, but they want to be.

    Evidently this started out as an Evangelical tactic, instigated mostly by apostate Mormons, but it is clear to all who will listen, and there are more and more people willing to, that Mormons are not creedal Christians and they don’t want to be.

    What I don’t understand is why more Evangelicals don’t read the Book of Mormon. They should. They know there is very little that can be agreed upon about America in the Bible, but the Book of Mormon is all about America in the latter days.

    Jesus taught the ancient Americans that the Gentiles would be brought to this land and blessed above all other nations, for one purpose: To take away the great stumbling blocks from all those Gentiles who would not harden their hearts and hearken unto the voice of the Lamb of God.

    But, though it is declared unto them, there are those who do not believe it and fight against Zion. Yet, the Lord promised that they will not hurt his servant, though he shall be marred by them (see D&C 101:43-62).

    The hedge of the U.S. Constitution is even now being broken down and soon enough, I suspect, the servants of the Nobleman will be affrighted and will flee, and the enemy will destroy their works and break down the olive trees.

    Will the Evangelicals then rejoice over the distress of Mount Zion, as Mount Esau did anciently? Is it not written that his work would destroy the wisdom of the wise and cause the understanding of the prudent to vanish?

    And your mighty men shall be dismayed, O Teman, so that every man from Mount Esau will be cut off by slaughter… For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations. As you have done (O Idumea), it shall be done to you, your deeds shall return on your own head. For as you have drunk upon my holy mountain, all the nations round about shall drink; they shall drink, and stagger, and shall be as though they had not been.

    But the remnant shall return. The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble; they shall burn them and consume them, and there shall be no survivor to the house of Esau; for the LORD has spoken.

  15. Eric Shuster said
    In my opinion there will not be any changes to LDS doctrine to try and fit into the mainstream. Listen to the last several General Conferences and there appears to be no interest in becoming mainstream

    Sorry I forgot to respond to this.

    yes, this is part of my point about weak leadership. The LDS leaders continue to say “all is well, all is well”. They either don’t know the threat that is upon them or they can’t think of a way to meaningfully respond.

    I agree that they don’t want to change.

  16. Tim:

    I think we need to simplify this. You mention “saving faith.” I am not certain what you mean, but I think I do. The first principle accepted by all Mormons is “faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” (AOF 4). We are called in the LDS faith to center our lives on Jesus Christ as the only begotten son of God who alone has the power to forgive sins as our advocate with the Father. We believe he is exactly who he said he is so many times in the NT: the son of God and the Christ. We accept his God is our God – our Heavenly Father, and as He prayed to Him and so do we. This is the core of our faith as Mormons, all of which is laid out in great clarity in the New Testament.

    The rest is fluff as Joseph Smith explained.

    We accept that if we love Him (Jesus Christ) we will keep his commandments just as he told us in the NT. And we love him and therefore we keep His commandments and do so with great passion (often misconstrued as working our way to heaven). We believe in doing what he taught, not merely believing what he taught – just as he urged us to do so in the NT so as to build our lives on a sure foundation. We believe first in faith, but with that faith we believe we must act and in doing so to be immersed in the grace that Christ offers us. As I said in my book “The Biblical Roots of Mormonism,: “Faith is necessary for actions to have meaning, and grace is necessary for actions to have efficacy.” As Christ taught, we believe that we must act on our faith and in doing so we will be rewarded in the eternities – just as the NT lays out in great clarity.

    We believe that any flaws that Joseph Smith had as a prophet are not inconsistent with those of the Old Testament prophets (Elisha killing 42 children, etc.). Joseph Smith was a prophet, but he also was a man. What the Lord did through Joseph Smith as a prophet was magnificent and has glorified God, but there are things he did as a man that I am sure were not pleasing to God (such was David, Solomon, and others that God trusted).

    We believe the nature of God to be first an approachable Heavenly Father who loves us, followed by God being omniscient and omnipresent and all powerful. It matters not what He was before, what matters is that we accept him as I AM and the God of our Savior Jesus Christ.

    There is no reason for the LDS Church to reform in my book. From my experiences here in Colorado Springs, a very strong Evangelical community, is that there needs to be a disposal of discussing doctrine and more embracing common values as Christians. Our stake has worked with Focus on the Family, New Life Church, Woodman Valley and others on trying to come together to serve our community in service. No matter how hard we try, they won’t join us shoulder to shoulder. A Focus on the Family official told us off the record they are afraid of the backlash from their supporters if they are seen side by side with the LDS Church in any activity. They do not want to validate the LDS Church in any way.

    The LDS Church will not water down or excuse itself from its doctrines – that will not happen. We do however constantly offer a hand to others in hopes that we can come together in the body of Christ to work together with that which is common in our faiths – to serve the children of God. We know and accept the differences, but seek to embrace the commonality. We want to join others to exercise pure religion in serving the widows and less fortunate. In doing so we can all come together as the mainstream and change the world that way, not in the LDS Church changing to become mainstream. If we cannot set aside our doctrinal differences we are divided and give the adversary more power.

    Thank you Tim for the conversation, you are doing a great work here.

    Eric Shuster

  17. Tim said:

    In addition, I think it’s really reductionistic to whittle “what must a man do to be saved?” down to its lowest common denominator. A more pressing question asked by Jesus is “What kind of person is my disciple?”

    I agree 100%.

    I am not accusing you of taking a lowest-common-denominator approach.

    But when we LDS hear evangelicals say that “all you have to do is become a Christian is to pray to invite Jesus to be your savior and the Lord of your life,” and we know that we have done that as part of our baptismal covenant, it should be understandable why we get confused when evangelicals say we aren’t saved or that our approach doesn’t save people.

    I couldn’t care less whether evangelicals think I’m saved or whether they think my church teaches a saving faith; ultimately that’s for God to decide anyway, and the best I can do I seek to follow where I believe the Holy Spirit is leading me. But I would hope that evangelicals understand why we get confused about why — in the way that the gospel according to evangelicals is often presented — a prayer that’s good enough to save non-Mormons isn’t good enough to save us.

  18. But when we LDS hear evangelicals say that “all you have to do is become a Christian is to pray to invite Jesus to be your savior and the Lord of your life,” and we know that we have done that as part of our baptismal covenant, it should be understandable why we get confused when evangelicals say we aren’t saved or that our approach doesn’t save people.

    My guess would be if you stopped at that, evangelicals would have less of a problem. One of the issues as I see it is that LDS people don’t trust in the efficacy of the baptismal covenant alone, but teach that it must be augmented with priesthood, washing, annointing, endowment, and marriage to achieve salvation/exaltation.

    Think of it this way. Someone tells you that you need a hole in the ground and that all you have to do is shovel dirt in the same spot and you will have a hole. So, you dutifully do that, producing a hole. But then you proceed to throw in yard clippings, topsoil, and plant roses on top.

    Your friend that told you to shovel dirt to make a hole then asks where the hole is. You confidently point to the spot where the roses are and say, “It’s right there.” He responds that he doesn’t see a hole. You respond with, “You’re a bigot, you told me that to make a hole I just had to shovel dirt in one spot, which I did. How dare you tell me that I don’t have a hole in my yard! I did what you said, therefore I have a hole.”

  19. D.C. — I understand where you’re coming from there, and I’m not attempting to persuade anyone that we’re “saved” by evangelicals’ standards or anyone else’s. Really.

    My point is to simply explain why Mormons often get confused (and are unimpressed) by evangelical rhetoric. That’s all. (And it’s a bit off topic anyway. I’ll get back to the main discussion with my next comment soon.)

  20. A fun little scenario for everyone in the forum to respond to:

    Four individuals came before the judgment bar of God to be judged (I will use “he” for simplicity, it could easily be a “she”):

    The first was from Africa and converted to Christianity near the end of his life. He proclaimed Jesus was his Savior and Redeemer. He was asked “who is Jesus?” He answered Jesus is the son of God. The man was illiterate and not able to read the scriptures and that was all he knew about Christ, despite the fact he was taught by his Church leaders that Christ was part of the Trinity.

    The second was an upstanding citizen who raised a good family, served in his Church, gave generously to the community feeding the poor, clothing the naked, and visiting individuals in jail. He attended the temple regularly, exercised his priesthood, performed work for the dead, and went on a mission to serve the poor of Indonesia. He proclaimed Jesus was his Savior and Redeemer. He was asked “who is Jesus?” He answered Jesus is the only begotten son of God who sits at the right hand of the father. The judge asked, but do you believe Jesus is God according to the doctrine of the Trinity? The man responded, I do not, I believe Jesus is the son of God as he proclaimed in the New Testament.

    The third was an average citizen who raised a good family, went to church occasionally, rarely ever gave back to his community, and generally kept to himself. He proclaimed Jesus was his personal Savior and Redeemer. He was asked “who is Jesus,” to which he responded Jesus is Lord, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit according to the Trinity.

    The forth was a troubled citizen in life. He was constantly in trouble with the law, never went to church, but remembered from his youth that Jesus was the only way to heaven. He proclaimed Jesus to be his Savior and Redeemer and a member of the Trinity with the Father and the son.

    You be the judge according to the gospel knowledge that you have today. How will you judge these four individuals?

    Looking forward to your thoughts.

    Eric Shuster

  21. Here’s a suggestion for Eric Shuster and Tim:

    I think the question that E.S. asks is a good one and that discussing it would be productive for the purposes of this blog. How about if that question is made a topic of its own, so we don’t get too far from the LDS reform issue?

    Just a suggestion.

  22. Eric said
    But when we LDS hear evangelicals say that “all you have to do is become a Christian is to pray to invite Jesus to be your savior and the Lord of your life,” and we know that we have done that as part of our baptismal covenant, it should be understandable why we get confused when evangelicals say we aren’t saved or that our approach doesn’t save people.

    Trust me, I’ll be the first in line to criticize Evangelicals who have emphasized converts over disciples.

    David Clark,
    Interesting analogy.

    Eric Shuster,
    What the other Eric said.

  23. Whoa, whoa, whoa! I’m not going to sit idly by and allow Eric to be referred to as “the other Eric”—he’s Eric! I have nothing against Eric Shuster, but Eric is Eric, and some other “Eric” can’t come along and change that.

  24. Tim said:

    Trust me, I’ll be the first in line to criticize Evangelicals who have emphasized converts over disciples.

    That’s why I said earlier to you: “I am not accusing you of taking a lowest-common-denominator approach.”

    And I think Mormons and evangelicals make a mistake (and we’ve both done it) when we/they suggest that the main purpose of our version of Christianity is to determine where we spend the afterlife. For evangelicals, such an approach can lead to an lifeless faith; for Mormons, it can lead to empty legalism.

    I’d better get off my soapbox and get to work …

    Oh, calling me “the other Eric” is fine. I’ve been called worse.

  25. Tim:

    You wrote: “Oh brother. [rolls eyes] Can I recommend a book on the development of the Trinity or on the Council of Nicea? That’s just an ignorant historical statement. It makes Mormons feel better about themselves but it’s not the least bit accurate. You are far more intelligent than that. I’m disappointed that you even stated it like that. (here and on Facebook),”

    Tim, there are plenty of books on the event in Nicaea and each have their own point of view. Don’t be too hard on me for making the statement that I did, such a statement is consistent depending on your point of view.

    Constantine invited 1,800 bishops and about 300 showed up. Some did not attend due to logistics of travel, but perhaps others because they did not want to be involved in the politics of the event. Although the mission of squelching heresies was at the top of the agenda, there were other reasons relating to power that surely infiltrated the proceedings. What was decided was decided by voting, not by revelation and therefore can we confidently say that the individuals who were developing and deciding on policy led under the influence of the Holy Ghost? Some say yes, others question it. It was contentious to say the least, with Constantine’s shadow looming about to make sure something was done. No pressure there!

    The Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland wrote: “In the year A.D. 325 the Roman emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea to address—among other things—the growing issue of God’s alleged “trinity in unity.” What emerged from the heated contentions of churchmen, philosophers, and ecclesiastical dignitaries came to be known (after another 125 years and three more major councils) as the Nicene Creed, with later reformulations such as the Athanasian Creed. These various evolutions and iterations of creeds—and others to come over the centuries—declared the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to be abstract, absolute, transcendent, immanent, consubstantial, coeternal, and unknowable, without body, parts, or passions and dwelling outside space and time. In such creeds all three members are separate persons, but they are a single being, the oft-noted “mystery of the trinity.” They are three distinct persons, yet not three Gods but one. All three persons are incomprehensible, yet it is one God who is incomprehensible.”

    “We agree with our critics on at least that point—that such a formulation for divinity is truly incomprehensible. With such a confusing definition of God being imposed upon the church, little wonder that a fourth-century monk cried out, “Woe is me! They have taken my God away from me, … and I know not whom to adore or to address.” How are we to trust, love, worship, to say nothing of strive to be like, One who is incomprehensible and unknowable? What of Jesus’s prayer to His Father in Heaven that “this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent”?”

    We believe what was recorded in the scriptures, although not canonized at the time, was and is sufficient to know and understand God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost. We do not believe there was a need for the Council of Nicaea, however we understand that what came from that council formulated (or created as I earlier wrote) the core doctrine of Christianity from that time forward. It appeased the Jews, defined what was heresy, and charted a course of legitimacy for Christianity from a political and societal standpoint.

    I have no issue with the Trinity and those who ascribe to it. It is not a problem. The complexity of the Trinity is nearly equal to that of the Godhead. Both are hard to comprehend for the mortal mind. I find the differences between the two not relevant to anyone’s salvation, although highly relevant to our relationship with divinity.

    As I said Tim, point of view is what separates the attitudes towards the Council of Nicaea.

    I hope this explains what I wrote, and I hope I did not offend you or others in the process.

    Take care,
    Eric Shuster (or, the other Eric… or Eric 2)

  26. Some did not attend due to logistics of travel, but perhaps others because they did not want to be involved in the politics of the event. Although the mission of squelching heresies was at the top of the agenda, there were other reasons relating to power that surely infiltrated the proceedings.

    I love this, history by mind reading.

    What was decided was decided by voting, not by revelation and therefore can we confidently say that the individuals who were developing and deciding on policy led under the influence of the Holy Ghost?

    Does this mean that the selection of Brigham Young to lead the church after the death of Joseph Smith, which was decided entirely by vote, can also be called into question? Also, every time the Qof12 have an internal vote (which they do), does that mean what they do can also be called into question?

    Some say yes, others question it. It was contentious to say the least, with Constantine’s shadow looming about to make sure something was done. No pressure there!

    But the shadow of the U.S. Federal Government looming over Wilford Woodruff did not in any way impede of affect he revelatory process leading to the issuance of Official Declaration 1?

    We believe what was recorded in the scriptures, although not canonized at the time, was and is sufficient to know and understand God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost.

    Then why bother with the Book of Mormon?

  27. Eric Shuster,

    The main thing you need to correct about your view of the Trinity is that it was “invented” at Nicea. It was well established by that time. You might want to say the Council was contentious but the vote was almost unanimous.

    If that’s what you call contentious then I have to say, it was a very contentious General Conference you had last April. The vote to sustain your leaders probably would have gone the other way if those who couldn’t be there due to travel restrictions or their disinterest in politics had shown up.

    What was decided was decided by voting, not by revelation and therefore can we confidently say that the individuals who were developing and deciding on policy led under the influence of the Holy Ghost?

    If you think this is where they went wrong PLEASE don’t look into the revelation that lifted the ban on the priesthood and don’t at all look into the succession crisis that installed Brigham Young into the Presidency.

    Dallin Oaks once said “if the President of the Mormon Church declared to the Twelve that the Church would no longer preach the Book of Mormon, he would look around the room for a sustaining vote.”

    So according to LDS History and one of your current leaders, it’s quite clear God doesn’t have a problem passing his thoughts through the filter of a vote.

  28. Excellent thoughts by David and Tim. Thank you for taking the time to share them.

    Tim – my mistake in language. Yes, the theology of the Trinity was conceived long before the Council of Nicaea, but was not codified or ratified until the Council. Thank you for making that distinction.

    Voting to sustain and voting by way of a democratic vote are two entirely different things. In voting to sustain the vote is merely a member’s (or Qo12) way of saying “I will support this” and has no democratic meaning. Votes are not counted – ever – in the LDS sustaining process (it is not voting)! If there is a dissenting individual then protocol calls for that person to be interviewed to understand their concerns.

    Even when Brigham Young was appointed the next President of the Church, which by the way did have revelatory tone during the event if you read the history, it was a sustaining, not a democratic vote.

    Voting is not sustaining – they are two different things.

    At Nicaea votes were very important and counted accordingly as part of a democratic process – committees if you look at even more closely. Constantine did not have a vote and therefore was unable to provide such influence. In the LDS faith in matters of doctrine, revelation is given to the prophet who then presents such revelation to the Qo12 for a sustaining and then to the Church body for sustaining. No votes are counted.

    David – I used the term “perhaps” on the political issue because although there was great suspicion this was the case, no one was interviewed (or at least admitted) that politics had anything to do with it. I would rather say “perhaps” than to be definite inappropriately. Most historians agree there were major political implications of the Council.

    Why then the Book of Mormon, or any of the modern day scriptures for that matter?

    Think of it this way: For many years the TV has evolved and given us a picture to view. Over the last few years we now have high definition TV that allows us to see more clearly the images being shown.

    The Bible provides a clear image of Christian theology for that which was needed until the time shortly after Christ. For many centuries man lived and was taught accordingly. With the ushering in of the final dispensation the gospel was restored, man was being called to live a higher law, and clarity was needed over and above that provided by the Bible (regular TV). Enter in modern day scriptures. Or, high definition Christian theology!

    As a gospel doctrine teacher teaching the New Testament this year we are enjoying learning from the New Testament in all its splendor and glory. It is amazing sometimes how we can then refer to modern day scriptures to provide us a brighter illumination of doctrines and principles found in the Bible. Sometimes they are very subtle, and other times they are large.

    It is a beautiful thing.

    Great conversation – thank you.
    Eric Shuster (no “c” in the name – don’t worry, most want to put it in there)

  29. Mormons should recognize that the Trinity is a very elegant solution to a difficult conceptual problem. Mormons just disregard the conceptual problem of maintaining monotheism in the face of a Son of God.

    Demanding conformity is a practical solution to keeping the church together. The LDS church makes such practical moves all of the time.

    The reason for Mormons to reject Nicea should not be its method or its logic, but simply because it is not in line with further revelation.

  30. Even when Brigham Young was appointed the next President of the Church, which by the way did have revelatory tone during the event if you read the history, it was a sustaining, not a democratic vote.

    Then why was there a vote for who would be the next leader of the church? Some voted for Sydney Rigdon, others voted for Brigham Young. The majority voted for Brigham. Thus Brigham became prophet. It’s not a sustaining vote if multiple candidates are being offered up for selection. That’s a bona fide vote.

    I have read the history. Please tell me that by “revelatory tone” you don’t mean the old story that Brigham Young looked and sounded like Joseph during his speech. That’s been debunked, by believing Mormons no less.

  31. Bingo Jared. Which means we can get to the real issue, is the “further revelation” trustworthy?

  32. “Mormons should recognize that the Trinity is a very elegant solution … but simply because it is not in line with further revelation.”

    Jared wins. The whole paragraph. Yes.

  33. Bingo Jared. Which means we can get to the real issue, is the “further revelation” trustworthy?

    I don’t think Mormons would disagree that this is the “real issue.”

    Even from outside the Mormon v. Evangelical conversation, this is a huge issue, but I would qualify it: to what extent is any given religious truth-claim accurate or reliable?

  34. Mormons unquestionably, and quite reasonably, argue that Modern revelation is as trustworthy as ancient revelation.

    Even if neither is particularly trustworthy, if there is current evidence of the power and love of God operating within the Mormon tradition (or the Hindu tradition) then it will always undermine anybody’s claim on the “only solution”.

    I don’t think the Mormons or the Evangelicals have really established the proposition that God cares a whole lot about which particular theological propositions you assent to.

    From what i have seen, the evidence on the ground doesn’t support this contention.

  35. I don’t think the Mormons or the Evangelicals have really established the proposition that God cares a whole lot about which particular theological propositions you assent to.

    From what i have seen, the evidence on the ground doesn’t support this contention.

    So say we all.

  36. Think of it this way. Someone tells you that you need a hole in the ground and that all you have to do is shovel dirt in the same spot and you will have a hole. So, you dutifully do that, producing a hole. But then you proceed to throw in yard clippings, topsoil, and plant roses on top.

    This analogy doesn’t quite make sense to me. I see the difference between the evangelical approach to Christ and the Mormon approach to Christ being more like this:

    Jesus told us to dig a hole.

    Evangelicals get out the shovels, dig the hole, and then make sure the hole stays there, breaking out the shovel every now and then.

    Mormons get out the shovels, dig the hole, and then reinforce the hole with reinforcing bars, concrete, and stand by with power washers to make sure that no dirt gets in the hole again.

    Both groups are digging holes. Evangelicals just say that Mormons are trying too hard and that, because we try so hard, our holes don’t count.

    Of course, then we have the question of whether or not Mormons are listening to Jesus when they dig the hole. Tim has made it clear that he does not believe we are, while others believe that at least some Mormons are listening to Jesus when they start, but then they go off into heresies by adding to the directions to dig a hole.

  37. Alex,

    I didn’t say why you were supposed to dig a hole.

    You are supposed to dig a hole because God is going to do something magnificent with that hole. Perhaps plant a huge Texas shade tree or a giant California Redwood. He will plant, He will water, and He will give the sunlight to make it all happen. The point is that He is going to do something much more with that hole than you are.

    All your work of reinforcing bars, concrete, power washers, etc. just gets in the way. In fact, it prevents it from happening as that redwood or Texas shade tree will get choked and killed by your bars and concrete.

    I think this is one of the real dangers that Mormons get themselves into when they associate the influence of the Holy Spirit with some form of works-righteousness. What if a 19 year old Mormon kid feels that he/she is being called to do humanitarian work in Africa? Or assist in inner city projects? Or learn Greek and Hebrew to really understand the word of God? Sorry, by definition in Mormon culture he/she is not feeling the Spirit, because it’s obvious that the Holy Spirit would only tell them to go on a mission that is LDS church approved. It ignores the Holy Spirit and kills a talent and a calling in that kid, which I don’t think God likes. If the retort is that the Holy Spirit would only tell a 19 year old kid to serve a mission, I ask why bother seeking its influence? I mean the rules already tell you everything you need to know.

  38. As someone who is neither an evangelical nor an LDS member, I have to say after reading this discussion that the differences between your faiths appear slight, at least to an outside observer. It seems a shame that Mormons and evangelicals will not work together, the things you have in common are greater than your differences!

  39. DC – Insofar as I know scores of young adult men and women in the church who have taken upon themselves multitudes of humanitarian projects, before, during, and after missions, I just don’t think your claim is true. But then, there have been very few (if any) points about Mormonism and Mormon culture with which we have agreed, so I guess it shouldn’t be surprising. You think everything about the Mormon Church is awful; I don’t.

  40. I don’t think DC hates the church, I think he just thinks its false and wrong-headed when it comes to conformity. Its a common complaint, even amongst the faithful, but perhaps a bit over-stated here.

  41. As someone who is neither an evangelical nor an LDS member, I have to say after reading this discussion that the differences between your faiths appear slight, at least to an outside observer. It seems a shame that Mormons and evangelicals will not work together, the things you have in common are greater than your differences!

    It’s a shame that the two of you are not willing to set aside the things that you think are important in order to work together on the things that I think are important!

  42. Very interesting discussion going in multiple directions. I do agree with eurobrat that the differences between Mormon and Evangelical belief systems are “slight” on several topics. They may seem HUGE so some, but in the end I completely agree with what Joseph Smith said:

    “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it. But in connection with these, we believe in the gift of the Holy Ghost, the power of faith, the enjoyment of the spiritual gifts according to the will of God, the restoration of the house of Israel, and the final triumph of truth.”

    There is a profound love for and worship of Jesus Christ in both of these celebrated Christian religions (Evangelical and Mormon). We both believe he is our Savior and Redeemer, that he was born of a virgin through the power of the Holy Ghost, that he had a miraculous mortal ministry, that he atoned for the sins of the world in his suffering at Gethsemane and crucifixion at Calvary, and was resurrected on the third day. That through, and only through, Jesus Christ we can be forgiven of our sins and gain eternal life. We share the belief that he today sits at the right hand of God and will come again in all of his glory and splendor to reign over all.

    It is not enough to take this powerful common belief and join together shoulder to shoulder to defend Christian values, to work together in our communities, and to serve one another and our neighbors toward building the kingdom of God on earth?

    Why must matters of doctrine (mostly theoretical when we get down to it) get in the way of this? I am certain that Mormons can live with our Evangelical friends’ belief in the Trinity, while perhaps our Evangelical friends can live with our having a prophet, apostles and additional scriptures. We as Mormons should be able to respect the Evangelical’s belief in a closed canon and focus on grace and faith, while wishfully Evangelicals can respect the Mormon’s focus on the temple, the priesthood, and adding active works to faith and grace.

    As I said in an earlier posting, there is so much that the local Mormon Church and Focus on the Family (FOF) could do together here in Colorado Springs but FOF refuses to join us in anything we plan for our community. This has been very frustrating to us. We have made great in-roads with the local Evangelical Churches with VIPs attending various events, but there is still a great hesitation to do too much and risk being seen as validating the Church as being Christian.

    So much potential. United we will stand, but a house divided… We will keep working away on this.

    Just a few thoughts this morning.
    Eric Shuster

  43. Don’t be dense.

    If whether or not Mormons are Christian is more important to a Church than working with Mormons toward some common goal, then the Church will not work with Mormons toward that goal.

    This is just, basic economic theory.

    The fact that you don’t attach the same value to the relevant considerations as they do doesn’t make it somehow tragic.

    Look at it this way:

    Let’s say you have two kids that both love riding bicycles. Kid A wants to ride bikes together, but Kid B has a baseball game. Kid B loves baseball more than she loves riding bikes. Kid A does not see the appeal of baseball at all.

    Kid B is not making an irrational choice by choosing baseball over riding bikes together. Kid A would prefer riding bikes together, but it’s not going to happen, because going to the baseball game is more important to Kid B.

    It’s useless for Kid A to try to appeal to Kid B’s love of bikes, because at the end of the day, bikes are less important to Kid B than baseball is, whether or not Kid A agrees or understands.

  44. Shuster,

    I think you should also consider that LDS efforts to team up with evangelicals are not as pure and interest free as you seem to want to portray them as being. Perhaps you are trying to work with them specifically because by being seen as working with them the LDS church will be perceived as Christian? Perhaps the evangelical leaders sense an ulterior motive and are hesitant to participate? I think both sides have ulterior motives on this one.

    I ask because if your goal is only to work with Christians (with no ulterior motive of image rehabilitation), why not try and team up with the UCC, the Episcopal church, or the PCUSA? None of those organizations is all that hung up on theology anymore and you might have better success in working with them. Or try the Catholics, some of them were pretty enthused that the LDS church carried such a heavy load during prop 8.

    Or if your goal is just to team up to multiply efforts, why not team up with more secular organizations?

    If your goal is just family values stuff (which would explain not working with more liberal churches and your consistent mention of Focus on the Family) then you have to realize that you are no longer in the realm of ecumenical relations, you have entered politics. And in politics people do all kinds of things to preserve their political capital. Just having the same position is not sufficient motivation to team up politically if it destroys more political capital than it produces. For instance, I’m sure the KKK espouses all kinds of family values positions that would be in agreement with Focus on the Family, but I seriously doubt that FoF wants anything to do with the KKK. And no, I’m not comparing the LDS church to the KKK. I’m simply choosing an extreme example to make a point.

  45. Kullervo: Shouldn’t you have already figured out how to keep track of two kids? And since you haven’t, I think maybe now’s the time for you (and katyjane) to learn. And no, no one will be able to “fix that” if you screw it up!

  46. David and Kullervo make excellent points well said by both of you.

    As I stated originally. I’m more interested in the LDS church becoming orthodox than I am in having a strong political ally. The large portion of the Evangelical world feels the same way. As it warrants, I’m happy to join in working together with Mormons (as I recently did in a community clean-up day) but I’m not going to go out of my way to show a political front with Mormons (not to mention the harm that comes to my faith community by being overtly political).

    Counterfeit prophets do more to harm my faith community than political action will help my faith community.

    If Mormons truly think our differences are slight and merely theoretical I welcome them to abandon beliefs they think are insignificant compared to the prospect of joining forces with Focus of the Family.

  47. Alex said
    Of course, then we have the question of whether or not Mormons are listening to Jesus when they dig the hole. Tim has made it clear that he does not believe we are, while others believe that at least some Mormons are listening to Jesus when they start, but then they go off into heresies by adding to the directions to dig a hole.

    I might have gotten lost in the analogy somewhere but this statement makes me think Alex is putting words in my mouth. I think it might be better to say “Tim doesn’t think the LDS church teaches people to dig a hole the way Jesus did”.

    I am not opposed to works and grace is not opposed to effort. Grace is opposed to earning. Work hard! But don’t make anyone think they must work hard for something freely given.

  48. Counterfeit prophets do more to harm my faith community than political action will help my faith community.

    This is what I am getting at: if the perceived costs of doing something are greater than the perceived benefits of doing that thing, then it is not rational to do that thing.

    If a church thinks it loses something by working with Mormons for political action, and the thing it loses is more important to that church than the benefits of the political action, then working with Mormons for political action is irrational.

    The fact that you value the costs and benefits differently–or even if you don’t think there are any costs–is irrelevant. It means working together for policial action is rational for you, but not for them.

  49. DC – Insofar as I know scores of young adult men and women in the church who have taken upon themselves multitudes of humanitarian projects, before, during, and after missions, I just don’t think your claim is true.

    You miss my point entirely, because you end up tacitly agreeing with me. Notice that in your response following a calling or prompting of the Holy Spirit is something to be worked around the mission. I take it as obvious that plenty of LDS people do good things unrelated to the LDS program, but it is understood that following the program of the church is to come first, and any personal calling or prompting comes second. Take the scores of people who did humanitarian work “before, during, and after missions,” I applaud them for doing that. But it’s undeniable that they did 2 years less than they could have because they were busy on the mission. And to be absolutely specific, I’m not saying that everyone is called to do humanitarian work. But I am saying that those who are called to do it face having to take 2 years of their lives to do missionary work, instead of following a calling they may have.

    The other way in which you missed by point is that I provided ONE example of how I think the regimented policies of the LDS church get in the way of people following their callings and utilizing their God given talents. I could have listed dozens of others but I don’t have time and I assumed that people would get the gist of what I was saying.

    But I guess it makes sense that what I was saying didn’t come across so well since you say things like this:

    But then, there have been very few (if any) points about Mormonism and Mormon culture with which we have agreed, so I guess it shouldn’t be surprising. You think everything about the Mormon Church is awful; I don’t.

    I get it, I’m a hater in your book.

  50. Tim said:

    The only thing critics of the LDS church agree about is that change will be coming to Mormonism. The chief reason is that the LDS church can no longer control information about it’s own history with its membership. The church can’t shield itself from truths that may not be useful in promoting faith.

    And later:

    I don’t think Evangelicalism is having much affect at all. I think it’s the internet (and as always ex-Mormons are a bigger threat to Mormonism than anyone else)

    I disagree and agree.

    I don’t think the history is that big of deal. (I’m not saying it’s a zero factor, though.) Yes, there are vocal exceptions, but my observation is that historical facts and such don’t really have a lot to do with why people get involved (and stay involved) with a religion. And generally (I’m not saying always) if people are finding value in a faith, they’ll keep on believing and practicing that faith regardless of what’s out there (and in the case of Mormonism, there really isn’t much that’s apologetically significant other than racial issues that wasn’t known when when Fawn Brodie wrote her book more than a half-century ago). There are still plenty of fundamentalist Protestants around even though their interpretation of Genesis is provably false, there are still plenty of Seventh-day Adventists around even though the church was founded on prophecies that turned out to be false, there are still plenty of Catholics around despite obvious historical problems with their line of succession, there are still plenty of Christians around despite the lack of historical proof of a Resurrection, there are still plenty of Benny Hinn followers around despite well-documented problems with his ministry, and so on and so on. Historical and even scientific facts are always subject to interpretation, and people of faith somehow find a way of dealing with them.

    And I don’t think ex-Mormons are that big of a threat either (I’m not saying they’re zero threat). They’re marginalized in the eyes of the faithful, and the most outspoken ones are often so unreasonable that they’re easy to dismiss.

    That said, I agree with that the Internet-powered social networking and other communications are having and will have an effect on the Church, although I don’t know what that effect will be. Wide-open, unfiltered communications are a threat to any hierarchical organization, and there’s no question that the Church is hierarchical. (There are also ways that a hierarchy can take advantage of media.) Mistakes made by leaders can become much more visible, persons with a bone to pick can more easily connect with other like-minded persons, and attempts to quell dissent are more likely to backfire.

    Partly because there’s a bureaucracy involved, and partly because of the age of the Church’s top leaders, the Church has been slow to deal with this relatively new mass medium (the same goes for many traditional Christian denominations). And much of what it has done has still involved a hierarchical-type approach, such as putting nearly all its teaching materials online (which the Church should be commended for) and strongly filtering any Church-sponsored online discussion.

    Couple that with the growing secularization of U.S. society (which is affecting evangelicalism as well), and I have to agree with Tim that there are substantial changes ahead for the Church, and they probably aren’t good for the Church as we know it. As to the type of change that will come about, well, my crystal ball has a few cracks in it today.

    I’m not even sure how I’d respond if by some miracle I were asked by the powers that be what approach to take to deal with the communications paradigm shift. Just one thought, though: Let’s put one or more of the apostles (whose job is supposed to be sharing the Good News rather than managing a bureaucracy, isn’t it?) on Facebook or a blog — why not? We do have at least one paid spokesperson communicating in such a fashion, but that’s not the same thing. Even some U.S. presidential candidates these days are communicating with followers and potential followers in such a direct fashion, and I don’t think there’s any reason to expect less of an apostle.

    (For what it’s worth, in some parts of the country LDS missionaries are in a pilot program where they’re expected to maintain a Facebook presence, updated daily, for communicating with investigators. I’ll find it interesting to see how that goes.)

    I believe the communications shift in our culture puts the Church in a position where it could reclaim some of Joseph Smith’s vision of Church as a community in a way that wasn’t possible even half a generation ago. If change is going to come about, and I agree with Tim that it will, I want it to be a positive one.

  51. there are still plenty of Seventh-day Adventists around even though the church was founded on prophecies that turned out to be false

    I’m glad you brought up the Adventist because I think the way they dealt with these issues could be instructive for the LDS church.

  52. I don’t really see how any organized religious folks can avoid being “churchian” — I think we are all inevitably shaped by the company we keep, and I think that that company necessarily shapes how we see Jesus (who at the end of the day is a group construct, an image broadcast to the world). People always have their own unique visions of ultimate reality, of course, but church inevitably controls these (more or less: some churches are more hands-on than others).

    Also, I do not think that the emergence of Utah as a predominantly atheist state would necessarily be a moral disaster. I have known many atheists (it comes with the territory of serving a European mission for the LDS and working in academia), and many of them have very good morals.

    I guess this outs me (if I was not out already) as one of those Mormons lost to Christianity. But I don’t see myself that way. I still like a lot of things about Christianity generally (as I have experienced it) and Mormonism specifically (again, as I have experienced it), but I have definitely lost the conviction that there is any kind of universal panacea in either place. To put it bluntly, I don’t think Jesus or Joseph Smith is necessary to anyone’s moral improvement (salvation?), though both have been useful to certain individuals. As for salvation beyond the grave, I am very much agnostic about that. (What does it mean? How do we know anything about it? Why is it even relevant? I confess that it is not meaningful to me on any level any more: I prefer a Stoic or Buddhist approach to dealing with the mystery of death. Neither of these approaches is irreconcilable with a Christian or Mormon position, from my perspective, though many Christians and Mormons are uncomfortable with both.)

  53. David Clark said, “the regimented policies of the LDS church get in the way of people following their callings and utilizing their God given talents.”

    I just don’t see how any Mormon can disagree with that (unless DC means that as a universal statement; i.e., the Church always gets in the way). How many of us feel that we’ve always been called to the ideal calling? or that our calling prevents us from doing something else we feel is more important?

    My experience is that callings often aren’t the best for me nor the best use of me. But I also recognize that some callings have forced me to do (and therefore, learn and contribute) things I never would have otherwise. (I don’t want to make this into a defense of the “calling system,” so I’ll stop here, but just wanted to register that by recognizing the limitations of the system I’m not condemning the system.)

    At any rate, I agree pretty much with David Clark’s point. (And yet, yeah, David Clark often comes across as a “hater.”)

  54. Regarding the reformability of Mormonism, I think it is really an impossibility. The heart of Mormon practice is the temple. I can’t see how that is ever going to be commensurate with protestantism theologically. And, just on a practical note, given the sheer amount of property and investment in temples, I don’t see how Temples will ever go away. The momentum is too strong.

    Plus, its hard to see how protestantism offers Mormonism a whole lot that requires adoption of Trinitarian theology. Mormonism can get more grace-oriented on its own, without changing any of its core practices, or diverging from Joseph Smith. It will deal with its history much like Catholics deal with theirs, positive gloss, distancing, and apologetics. The fact that there were positively bad popes hasn’t slowed Catholocism down when it remains relevant to the believers lives. These purportedly infallible leaders make any of Joseph Smith’s blemishes look very quaint. (SEE http://hubpages.com/hub/Ten-Bad-Popes)

    Fitting in better may offer some benefit, but like the Protestants, Mormons are less interested in political allies than their own theological positions.

  55. “Plus, its hard to see how protestantism offers Mormonism a whole lot that requires adoption of Trinitarian theology.”

    I’m interested to see how the Trinitarians here respond to this. Do they agree? Are there some “protestant offerings” that Mormonism simply cannot adopt without large or fundamental changes in theology? It might be an interesting separate post: The 95 Theses Against Mormonism—and then we see which we could easily adopt and which we could not.

    “Fitting in better may offer some benefit, but like the Protestants, Mormons are less interested in political allies than their own theological positions.”

    I wish this were more true. The political allying we’ve done recently has been a distraction and waste of resources.

  56. Tim – I have come to understand that you believe Mormonism does not lead people to Christ because it preaches a false God, a false Jesus, and false prophets. My general view has been that you think of Mormons as good people who are worshiping the wrong God, and that your desire is to lead them away from their false doctrines and to the proper, orthodox doctrines. If this is incorrect, then I will retract my statement.

    DC – I don’t think you are a hater; I think you are negative a lot, but that isn’t the same thing. I think you and I disagree regularly because you see the negative where I see the positive. Your experiences with Mormonism have been by and large negative (at least, that is how you talk about them), and thus you seem to see everything about Mormonism is a negative light. My experiences have been by and large positive, and I continue to see Mormonism in a positive light.

  57. Jared C said:

    Regarding the reformability of Mormonism, I think it is really an impossibility. The heart of Mormon practice is the temple. … Mormonism can get more grace-oriented on its own, without changing any of its core practices, or diverging from Joseph Smith.

    I guess it’s unclear to me what type of “reform” is “needed,” or at least the extent. There are those would consider a more grace-oriented outlook (which, as you said, doesn’t require abandonment of Joseph Smith) a type of welcome reform.

    BrianJ gets at a similar point:

    It might be an interesting separate post: The 95 Theses Against Mormonism—and then we see which we could easily adopt and which we could not.

    Maybe not even a separate topic (that’s Tim’s call). Certainly there are some types of “reforms” that are conceivable and some that aren’t. The more grace-oriented outlook (for example) is at one extreme, or perhaps a more open approach to finances; such “reforms” need not require abandonment of basic principles and would not be objected to by most members if the come from the top. At the other extreme, it’s hard to conceive of an LDS church that denies some degree of exclusivity or that would deny, for example, the corporeal nature of our Heavenly Father.

  58. A better topic may be which of those 95 theses are required for Mormons to join the fold of Christianity according to Evangelicals. What are the reforms that are “needed”to allow LDS ministry to do more good than harm.

  59. Jared: that’s how I intended the question/theses; not just a list of “how Mormonism bugs Evangelicals,” but specifically the necessary reforms—reforms that would be needed so that whatever differences might still exist in Mormonism would be no greater a sticking point than the differences that exist between, say, Evangelicals and Methodists.

  60. right, like: Could evangelicals accept Mormons if they adopted the Trinity but kept the priesthood concept and the temple?

  61. Also: Can Evangelicals accept Mormons into the fold of Christianity by accepting some doctrines, such as the Trinity and the idea that God has always been God–i.e. formal rejection of the Lorenzo Snow couplet, but not others, such as sola scriptura–i.e., can we continue to believe in continuing revelation/new scriptures?

    I would be very interested to know if an Evangelical could think of a list of reforms that would allow Mormonism to continue without rejecting, well, Mormonism. Or is Joseph Smith a deal-breaker from the get-go?

  62. “It’s a shame that the two of you are not willing to set aside the things that you think are important in order to work together on the things that I think are important!”

    Kullervo: That’s not how I meant it at all. I meant the things that *you* both think are important. And yes, I realize that the gist of this discussion has been that the theological differences are more important than the political goals. But I have to say, that hasn’t been my experience at all when interacting with evangelical and Mormon individuals — politics/family values seems to be the main priority in life to them. To them, not to me. Hence my surprise that they won’t work together more to achieve those common goals. But I guess I was wrong about what their priorities are.

  63. Alex asked:

    Or is Joseph Smith a deal-breaker from the get-go?

    I suppose the answer has to do with what we do with Joseph Smith. The Community of Christ is recognized as Christian by some who don’t recognize us.

  64. reforms that would be needed so that whatever differences might still exist in Mormonism would be no greater a sticking point than the differences that exist between, say, Evangelicals and Methodists.

    Your wish will be granted . . .in a future post.

    And to further clarify this current post; I don’t think Mormons are itching for reforms to make them either mainstream nor orthodox. But as the church starts publicly wrestling with the underbelly of Mormon history the opportunity will be presented to become orthodox (as the Community of Christ did). I think the LDS church will either be shaped into a conservative orthodox church or a liberal religion that maintains some of it’s current distinctness.

  65. Eurobrat — On an individual level, many Mormons and evangelicals work together on all sorts of things; I’ve known of both, for example, who have helped build Habitat for Humanity homes. And even though Mormons are more insular than we should be, we often do get along fine on a personal level with evangelicals because of the values we share.

    On an institutional level, there may not be a lot of cooperation, but there is some. Much of the humanitarian aid provided by the LDS church is funneled through other organizations, including other faith groups (some Christian, some not), for example. And while it’s not a big deal in terms of resources spent, LDS church lawyers have come to the defense of evangelicals in freedom-of-religion cases, and vice versa. Evangelicals and Mormons can be friendly to each other where our interests coincide.

    But there’s no getting around the fact that we have conflicting theological beliefs, and we’re both often unwilling to compromise certain faith issues. I’m not sure that’s necessarily a bad thing.

  66. Tim said:

    I think the LDS church will either be shaped into a conservative orthodox church or a liberal religion that maintains some of it’s current distinctness.

    Could you briefly explain what you mean by those terms? I think I know what you mean, but I’m not sure. We tend to apply political labels to two of those terms, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what you mean.

    If I understand you right (and I’m looking at this while trying to be objective, not as a believer who’s trying to predict what God may reveal), I think the second possibility is much more likely than the first, but I want to know first exactly what you’re saying before I speculate more.

  67. This idea of Mormonism not being grace-centered is curious to me. The LDS faith focuses on being disciples of Christ and in doing what he urged his disciples to do. He admonished us to be humble, to love one another, to serve relentlessly, and to make sacrifices toward the building of the kingdom. The Mormon Church is often derided for working its people too hard and asking too much of its people. This Sunday’s lesson from the New Testament is titled “What Shall I do to Inherit Eternal Life?” – Mark chapter 10 and Luke chapter 12 and 14. You may remember these chapters about the young rich man and about the unjust servant.

    Luke 14:26-27 and 33 states: “(26) If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. (27) And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. (33) So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.”

    Serving and sacrifice was at the center of Christ’s early ministry and that which Mormonism fully embraces as disciples of Christ.

    The Prophet Joseph Smith spoke of the need for the Church of Jesus Christ to require its people to act on their faith in order to drive home the principles taught by the Savior. He felt any church that did not require such of its people was not acting in their best interests nor the best interests of the kingdom. As such Mormonism takes very seriously the urging of its people to serve in a variety of capacities within the Church, in our communities, in the temple, and most importantly in our families.

    Grace centered? Yes, grace is essential and is something we must fully understand and take into our life completely. However, to make that grace come alive in our hearts we must do what Christ urged us to do outside of ourselves, as without doing so we cannot fully absorb that grace into our lives nor bring it to others.

    David Clark spoke of the questionable intentions of some of the service rendered by the Mormon Church, or at least their attempts to reach out and do so. This is a no win situation for the Church. For decades the Church has been active around the world in humanitarian efforts. The Church is often the first on the ground with help because it is so organized and focused in doing so. Many years ago there was a disaster in the US to which a local official said he wanted to thank two churches for being there so quickly and fully: the Mormon Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was quite humorous. We will always reach out and serve; as for intentions that is up to those organizing the efforts. However, don’t be so quick to judge the Church’s ongoing efforts as image boosters, there are much easier ways of boosting one’s image.

    Food for thought.
    Eric Shuster

  68. Eric Shuster,

    Service is not a no win situation for the church. What is a no win situation is trying to use it as a means to bolstering one’s image. Wrapping political activities in the mantle of service and ecumenical relations is also a no win situation.

    In any case, I offer those as possible explanations as to what may be happening in Colorado. I don’t know the specifics, perhaps the LDS church is clean and pure in this instance. However, at this point it’s fairly obvious that we’ll never know because you never offer specifics, other than to mention the organizations by name you consider to be wronging the LDS church. And, when people give possible explanations you prefer to back off and offer up platitudes rather than engaging the issue.

    If you want to know why people have a problem with the LDS church’s position on grace, look no further than your own comment where you say, “without doing so we cannot fully absorb that grace into our lives nor bring it to others.” I’m willing to chalk that up to poor phrasing, but for many Evangelicals that raises all kinds of red flags as it seems to go far beyond Arminianism, and posits that grace isn’t effective unless you do work to get it.

    As for people denigrating the LDS church for working its members too hard, if it’s done in those general terms then the criticism is unfair. I’m sure people have done that, and I won’t defend it. A more fair criticism, in my opinion, is that the LDS church is too focused on spiritual busywork and organizational maintenance, and then sets up people’s ability to slog through that as the measure of their righteousness.

  69. “raises all kinds of red flags as it seems to go far beyond Arminianism”

    I’m not specifically asking about Arminianism, but that raised a question:

    Would you say that Arminianism is grace-centered? That Arminius had aspects of grace wrong, but that he was nevertheless focused on grace? Or when he talks about grace do you “tighten the definition” and respond that “what you’re talking about—what you say you’re focused on—isn’t really grace”?

  70. Would you say that Arminianism is grace-centered?

    Yes, in both its classical and Wesleyan formulations. Both Calvinism and Arminianism are going to agree with salvation by grace alone. The difference is how it plays out in relation to God’s sovereignty and the view of human free will. Calvinists emphasize God’s sovereignty and usually subscribe to a compatibilist version of free will. Arminians are more likely (in my limited experience) to support libertarian free will.

    That Arminius had aspects of grace wrong, but that he was nevertheless focused on grace?

    I’m an Arminian so I think he got it right. See above for how grace is seen differently. I do understand why Calvinists arrive at their conclusions, and I do see why from their perspective Arminianism looks like it is not affirming salvation by grace alone, but I respectfully disagree with them.

    Or when he talks about grace do you “tighten the definition” and respond that “what you’re talking about—what you say you’re focused on—isn’t really grace”?

    I’m afraid I don’t understand the question, could you rephrase it?

  71. David Clark:

    Specifics paraphrased: When I was in Houston our stake engaged with Houston Northwest Ministries (NAM) to seek out opportunities for service. We wanted our members to be engaged in service outside of the church so as to broaden their vision and help in our community. More than one of the board members of NAM (Church pastors) adamantly opposed the LDS Church being involved with the charity, thus the request to help was denied.

    After hearing NAM’s pantry was nearly depleted that same stake president called the Church’s food distribution center and had a truck load of food sent there to help. The response was a willingness to allow the LDS Church to help on a limited basis. It started with activities no one else really wanted to do and our stake was able to get those unwanted activities done very quickly. Over time there was a gradual loosing of the kinds of activities until which time in the words of the NAM director “the Klein Stake has become our go-to organization to get things done,” told to us in a stake conference she attended (she was not LDS). My understanding is those board members who opposed LDS involvement resigned and they gave our stake president a seat on the board. The relationship has been going strong for ten years. It was a model situation.

    In 2004 the National Day of Prayer task force decided to limit the involvement of the LDS Church in their annual activities. “Task force spokesman Mark Fried said the group didn’t recognize the Mormon faith as in accordance with the evangelical principles the task force set forth when it began in 1988. That includes a belief in the “Holy Trinity,” or the idea that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all one being.” We are talking here about a day of prayer, not a day of doctrinal evangelism, but a day of prayer. Why exclude a group of people interested in praying with the rest of those observing the day?

    In Colorado we wanted to expand our day of Church-wide service to more of a day of service for the entire city. We engaged FOF with the idea and they quietly declined saying off the record they really could not be seen standing side-by-side the LDS Church for any function due to a number of reasons.

    My understanding from those who have applied (I cannot verify this): the FOF employment application includes two interesting questions regarding belief in the Trinity and the acknowledgment that the Bible is the only scripture from God. These two questions are to exclude Mormons from being FOF employees. They are a private organization and can do what they wish; however, to exclude a certain religion from your company is ethically questionable.

    In California the LDS Church and other churches (including Evangelical) came together to pass proposition 8. It was a great team effort. That is the kind of thing we can be doing together if we agree to lay aside doctrinal differences and come together in defense of core Christian values.

    What other specifics are you looking for?

    As for my comment on grace it is simple. When James wrote that faith without works is dead, this is exactly what he meant. Grace stands on its own, but it is driven deeper into our spiritual fiber by way of works. James wrote “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” Paul wrote “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity,” charity requiring us to do something in terms of love. We are called to act, and in doing so we don’t earn grace, we simply magnify its meaning in our lives and bring glory to He who gave us grace to begin with!

    The LDS Church is absolutely grace-centered depending on how you want to interpret the meaning of that. To me the LDS Church drives home the gift of grace by encouraging its members to be active disciples of Christ.

    Good to talk to you David.

  72. They are a private organization and can do what they wish; however, to exclude a certain religion from your company is ethically questionable.

    That’s nonsense and a double standard. Focus on the Family is a religious organization. It’s quite reasonable for them to require their employees to be in agreement with their statement of faith.

    Is it ethically questionable for BYU to require its professors to be temple-recommended Mormons?

  73. Regarding NAM: It sounds like the LDS stakes in the area handled the situation well and I commend them for their desire to serve. It sounds like they took the approach Jesus would have taken to service.

    Regarding National Day of Prayer: This is a fine line between ecumenical outreach and political maneuvering. In any case on their “About Us” page on their website makes it quite clear that they are not including any organization that is outside the Judeo-Christian tradition as they define it. That they do not include Mormons is a reflection that they probably consider the LDS church as falling outside that definition. But, they do not appear to be targeting Mormons specifically.

    Regarding FOF: I think it’s admirable that you tried to extend service participation in Colorado. However, I have to ask, why solicit FOF? They appear primarily to be a political action group and an education group. While this doesn’t prevent them from participating in service opportunities, it also doesn’t appear to be part of the objectives of their organization. Am I missing something here?

    Regarding FOF employment: The LDS church is a corporation and has one of the most restrictive hiring policies on the planet. So when the church starts hiring evangelicals to be employees, I guess you can complain about FOF.

    Regarding Grace Centered LDS: I agree that you can find grace in the LDS church. The question is not does the LDS church like the epistle of James, which I think everyone agrees it does. The question is how does grace play out in the doctrines and practices of the LDS church today. And the fact is that salvation/exaltation does not come by grace alone in the LDS church. If you do not have the correct ordinances you do not get salvation/exaltation. And, if you do not engage in the right works, the LDS church as the gatekeeper of those ordinances, will not let you have them. If that does not mean that works are an integral part of salvation, thus negating “by grace alone”, I don’t know what is.

  74. They are a private organization and can do what they wish;

    No true. They are a religious organization, so they can discriminate in employment on the basis of religion. Just like the LDS Church can and does.

    however, to exclude a certain religion from your company is ethically questionable.

    Based on what ethical principle?

  75. In 2004 the National Day of Prayer task force decided to limit the involvement of the LDS Church in their annual activities. “Task force spokesman Mark Fried said the group didn’t recognize the Mormon faith as in accordance with the evangelical principles the task force set forth when it began in 1988. That includes a belief in the “Holy Trinity,” or the idea that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all one being.” We are talking here about a day of prayer, not a day of doctrinal evangelism, but a day of prayer. Why exclude a group of people interested in praying with the rest of those observing the day?

    I believe in Zeus, Dionysus, Aphrodite, Ares and the other gods of ancient Hellas, as well as deified rock stars like Jim Morrison and Ronnie James Dio. Is the National Day of Prayer Task Force obliged to let me participate with no limitations also?

  76. In California the LDS Church and other churches (including Evangelical) came together to pass proposition 8. It was a great team effort. That is the kind of thing we can be doing together if we agree to lay aside doctrinal differences and come together in defense of core Christian values.

    Nice. Well, at least you are able to come together to accomplish cowardly deeds of rank evil. You should be very, very proud of that.

  77. “I’m afraid I don’t understand the question, could you rephrase it?”

    My bad. I said I wasn’t asking about Arminianism, and then I went and asked about Arminianism, and that obscured my question. (Although thanks for your response on Arminianism.)

    The point of the question was to determine how you distinguish between different faiths’ grace-centeredness. Suppose one faith says that “grace is everything and the only thing—nothing we do or are makes any difference whatsoever; it’s entirely up to God.” People of this faith could argue that any other stipulation for salvation constitutes a shift away from grace. I think you recognize this because you said:

    “I do understand why Calvinists arrive at their conclusions, and I do see why from their perspective Arminianism looks like it is not affirming salvation by grace alone, but I respectfully disagree with them.”

    But another option for Calvinists would be to say that what you (as an Arminian) call “grace” is not really grace, because real grace is irresistible but what you believe is resistible. This is what I meant by “tightening the definition”: they’ve made you not grace-centered by definition.

    Obviously (maybe), my question has Mormonism in mind, as it moves even further from the Calvinist extreme, past Arminianism, and lands somewhere else.

  78. You posted again while I was writing. Your second post clarifies a bit.

    “If that does not mean that works are an integral part of salvation, thus negating “by grace alone”, I don’t know what is.”

    I don’t have any problem with rejecting “by grace alone.” I think it’s wrong, and I think every Mormon should openly state that it is wrong.

    But that doesn’t change my belief Mormonism is grace-centered.

  79. Brian can I clarify? You reject the idea that salvation comes solely through the grace of Jesus. And you hold this up as normative Mormonism?

  80. Also I don’t think the phrase “grace-centered” is very helpful in understanding what someone believes. Claiming a definition is different than defining a term.

  81. Mormonism accepts and teaches that grace and works go hand-in-hand to bring about salvation (thinking of salvation as more than just resurrection).

    It isn’t so much that Mormonism rejects the idea that salvation comes solely through the grace of Christ. It rejects the idea that the grace of Christ can somehow be separated from the works that Christ Himself commands that those who accept His grace do. It is a false dichotomy.

  82. “Also I don’t think the phrase “grace-centered” is very helpful in understanding what someone believes. Claiming a definition is different than defining a term.”

    I didn’t like the term either, but since others had already used in this thread, I went with it (because I didn’t want to get into re-re-redefining terms).

    “Brian can I clarify? You reject the idea that salvation comes solely through the grace of Jesus. And you hold this up as normative Mormonism?”

    I believe, and state this as normative for Mormonism: In the “big picture,” God’s grace is what it’s all about. Yet I reject the idea that Jesus’ grace alone is sufficient.

  83. I’m happy to clarify/explain more if needed. (I’m a little surprised by the question, I must say, since I didn’t think I was saying anything you didn’t already know.)

  84. Tim:

    Interesting point on BYU professors – it was not always that way. However, BYU is a school that caters to Mormon students and therefore that makes sense. FOF is an organization that claims to cater to all Christian faiths. Apparently one Christian faith, although it has obviously leveraged a great deal of its material on families, it does not.

    David:

    If we bring into the discussion the three kingdoms in the discussion the three kingdoms in the afterlife we may effectively resolve this issue. Grace alone is sufficient to be saved in the telestial and terrestrial kingdoms to be given the presence of the Holy Ghost and Jesus Christ; however, the Celestial kingdom (exaltation) – the greater reward spoken of in the NT – requires one to act on one’s faith in a more profound way. It is a matter of where one feels comfortable. Again, just another way to think about it.

    Kullervo – I don’t think I can help you, but perhaps there someone else who can.

  85. More on Focus on the Family from their website:

    Focus on the Family is a global Christian ministry dedicated to helping families thrive. We provide help and resources for couples to build healthy marriages that reflect God’s design, and for parents to raise their children according to morals and values grounded in biblical principles.

    We’re here to come alongside families with relevance and grace at each stage of their journey. We support families as they seek to teach their children about God and His beautiful design for the family, protect themselves from the harmful influences of culture and equip themselves to make a greater difference in the lives of those around them.

    No matter who you are, what you’re going through or what challenges your family may be facing, we’re here to help. With practical resources – like our 1-800 Family Help line, counseling and websites – we’re committed to providing trustworthy, biblical guidance and support.

    I don’t see a strong reason to exclude Mormons from employment in this organization based upon their purpose. However, I can understand that there may be a fear that Mormons may try to add to their “biblical focus” and that many do not believe Mormons are Christians.

    As it relates to BYU: there was a time when non-Mormon teachers were allowed to teach there, or those without temple recommends. The issue became inconsistency as the school caters to Mormon students, with non-Mormon students making up a vast minority of its population. The school makes no secret of what it focuses on and teaches.

    Good point Brian – if BYU can exclude non-Mormons to teach there, then FOF can exclude Mormons to work at its ministry.

  86. Eric Shuster,

    I think you are digging yourself into a hole at this point. What you are claiming is that the grace of Jesus Christ is sufficient to get you 2nd or 3rd place prizes, but is insufficient to get you a 1st place prize. I don’t see how that helps elevate grace in an LDS worldview.

    And in any case, I don’t even think that is correct. D&C 19:16-17 teaches that all sins which are unrepented of must be paid for by the person who committed the sin. Since I take it as given that those who go to the lower two kingdoms will have sins prior to entering them, they must pay for their sins prior to entering. So if they are paying for their own sins, how is the grace of Christ making their reward possible?

  87. fwiw, I don’t believe that Eric Shuster has properly defined the role of grace in any degree of salvation, thus I believe that David Clark is responding to an erroneous idea.

  88. Yes, I think it is erroneous from the LDS point of view. That was the point of the second paragraph of my response.

  89. I don’t see a strong reason to exclude Mormons from employment in this organization based upon their purpose. However, I can understand that there may be a fear that Mormons may try to add to their “biblical focus” and that many do not believe Mormons are Christians.

    There you go. You may not agree, but it’s their organization, not yours.

  90. Eric Shuster,

    Do you believe your view on the capabilities of grace are the normative Mormon view or just your own? How do you reconcile Brian and David’s view with your own?

    I have to admit that from what I know of Mormonism, they are describing the Mormon view of grace more accurately than you are. Don’t people in the Telestrial and Terrestrial kingdoms need to have certain ordinances done for them before receiving salvation?

    Isn’t the requirement for salvation grace + ordinances?

  91. Regarding Focus on the Family, I think they’ve demonstrated to you that they don’t think Mormonism is Christian. As a faith-based non-profit it is their prerogative to define their own terms of employment and exclude Mormons without a lapse in any ethical standard.

    Would you retract your statement that their actions are “ethically questionable”?

    I wouldn’t blame you in the least for deciding to no longer donate or participate in any of their programs based on their view of Mormonism, but I don’t think they’ve acted unethically in any way by not hiring Mormons.

  92. David Clark said: I think you are digging yourself into a hole at this point. What you are claiming is that the grace of Jesus Christ is sufficient to get you 2nd or 3rd place prizes, but is insufficient to get you a 1st place prize. I don’t see how that helps elevate grace in an LDS worldview.

    Wait, don’t evangelicals essentially believe the same thing. Works get you jewels in the crown that grace got you? How is this at all different from the three kingdom.

    LDS believe that grace alone saves people from hell and death, nobody deserves to escape either of those. In some sense, Mormons believe that God has a whole lot more grace than do evangelicals. Isn’t the number of people ultimately saved the best measure of God’s grace?

  93. Tim: “Don’t people in the Telestrial and Terrestrial kingdoms need to have certain ordinances done for them before receiving salvation?”

    I can’t think of any.

    “Isn’t the requirement for salvation grace + ordinances?”

    You know that a tricky question—but not a trick question—to answer, because we have so many different meanings for “salvation,” as illustrated by the different degrees of glory. So before I answered I would want to know precisely what you mean by “salvation.”

    But to answer prematurely, I would not even say that “the highest degree of salvation (aka Exaltation) = grace + ordinances.” The reason is that faith, charity, endure to the end, etc. are also required. In other words, just because you receive the ordinances and God wishes to bestow his grace upon you, does not mean that you will be exalted if you still don’t have charity; such would receive terrestrial glory according to D&C 76: “…are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus…”

  94. Wait, don’t evangelicals essentially believe the same thing. Works get you jewels in the crown that grace got you? How is this at all different from the three kingdom.

    Semantically.

  95. Tim asked:

    Don’t people in the Telestial and Terrestrial kingdoms need to have certain ordinances done for them before receiving salvation?

    To the best of my knowledge, no, but I’ve been wrong before.

    Tim also asked:

    Isn’t the requirement for salvation grace + ordinances?

    In a sense, I suppose, one could take that position.

    But in another sense, the ordinances themselves are acts of grace. There will be many who are saved in the highest sense of the word who had their ordinances performed for them. In that sense, I believe, the temples are an outstanding symbol of grace.

    And while it isn’t doctrinal (as far as I know), it is a very common LDS belief (I’d call it normative) that all needed ordinances eventually will be performed for all people. It’s not like people actually have to do anything to have their ordinances performed — although it is ultimately up to people whether to accept the efficacy of those acts of grace.

    But I also have to agree with what Alex said:

    It [LDS Christianity] rejects the idea that the grace of Christ can somehow be separated from the works that Christ Himself commands that those who accept His grace do. It is a false dichotomy.

    We believe in grace, but we don’t believe in cheap grace. (And, FWIW, I’d say the same of many, if not most, evangelicals, especially those of an Arminian bent.)

  96. Jared said
    Wait, don’t evangelicals essentially believe the same thing. Works get you jewels in the crown that grace got you? How is this at all different from the three kingdom.

    This was the heart of the question I asked of Robert Millet
    https://ldstalk.wordpress.com/2010/09/17/the-greg-bob-show-hits-santa-barbara/

    If Mormons put Grace in the realm of Salvation and Works in the realm of Sanctification (becoming perfected) and Glorification/Exaltation (rewards), we would be saying the exact same thing.

    But Millet said that Mormons entangle Salvation and Exaltation too much to do that.

  97. I think the reason why I could never be an Evangelical is that they don’t believe that God even has what I would consider a reasonable amount of grace.

  98. Wait, don’t evangelicals essentially believe the same thing. Works get you jewels in the crown that grace got you? How is this at all different from the three kingdom.

    The difference is that in the telestial and terrestrial kingdoms you do not live with God. If people are going to argue that salvation/exaltation is possible living apart from God, you have just entered JW land where salvation is to live apart from God in a really nice place. Watchtower anyone?

    LDS believe that grace alone saves people from hell and death, nobody deserves to escape either of those. In some sense, Mormons believe that God has a whole lot more grace than do evangelicals. Isn’t the number of people ultimately saved the best measure of God’s grace?

    The problem with this assertion is that there is no unitary nor coherent definition of hell in LDS doctrine. Let’s examine a few possible meanings:

    Hell = Outer Darkness: On this view the grace of Jesus literally can’t save you. The only way to get there is to committ the unpardonable sin, which in LDS theology is beyond the reach of the grace of Jesus. If this is what Mormons mean by hell, then Jesus’ grace is insufficient to save you from it.

    Hell = Spirit Prison: A temporary state whereby Jesus’ grace may or may not help you. However, it’s a foregone conclusion that everyone will get out of it, grace or not. So while grace may make it easier to leave, it is certainly not necessary for escaping it.

    Hell = Telestial Kingdom: On this view Jesus’ grace didn’t actually save you from hell, though it might have aided your repentance and made it easier to get to hell (since that’s where you end up).

    Hell = Anything other than Celestial Kingdom: Same problems as previous entry.

    On none of those views of hell is grace both effective and necessary, so I don’t see how one can argue that grace is saving people from hell, whatever the hell hell means on an LDS view. My main point is that if you are going to say that Jesus saves people from hell in a Mormon context, you can’t smuggle in an evangelical conception of hell, you have to argue that Jesus saves you from a Mormon conception of hell.

    Of course many Mormons believe that such a thing as hell doesn’t exist. If it doesn’t exist, I don’t see how Jesus can save your from it. Nor is there a need for grace to be saved from going to a place that simply doesn’t exist.

  99. BrianJ posted his last message as I was composing mine. In saying that I agree with Alex, I’d say that I also agree with BrianJ:

    The reason is that faith, charity, endure to the end, etc. are also required. In other words, just because you receive the ordinances and God wishes to bestow his grace upon you, does not mean that you will be exalted if you still don’t have charity …

    I’d add that it is grace that allows us to develop that charity as we seek to follow Christ (and to grow in faith and to endure), so grace is still at the center. In Book of Mormon terms, after everything we can do, it is still grace that saves us. But, yes, our wills and the decisions we make are also involved.

    To put it in evangelical-speak, I might say that salvation in the highest sense doesn’t come by accepting Jesus as Savior alone, but by accepting Jesus as Savior and Lord.

  100. Brian said
    So before I answered I would want to know precisely what you mean by “salvation.”

    I hate when you guys do that. You need to tell me what you mean by “salvation”. I’m not asking you to line up your beliefs with mine. I WANT you to define your own terms.

  101. But in another sense, the ordinances themselves are acts of grace.

    If they were freely given to all who wanted to get them, then you would have a better argument for calling them acts of grace. Also, if they were seen as communicating Jesus’ grace, then there would also be a better argument for calling them an act of grace. While ordinances might be seen as being made possible through grace, they are mainly viewed as covenant making rituals, not as channels of grace in the manner of Catholics or Orthodox viewing their sacraments.

  102. Eric: I agree with you too.

    Tim: “I hate when you guys do that.” I’m trying to answer your question, not mine. So you shouldn’t get upset when I try to understand your terms. I understand your frustration with “the Mormon Jell-O,” but I don’t think that’s what I was trying to do here, so I wish you wouldn’t have jumped to that conclusion. I know that you know a lot about Mormonism—in this case, that we have a lot of meanings for “salvation”—so I think it’s fair for me to make sure I know what you are asking. Moreover, I gave you what I called a premature response in which I began to define my terms; thus, I’m even a bit more confused by you getting upset about me asking for clarification.

  103. “If they were freely given to all who wanted to get them, then you would have a better argument for calling them acts of grace. Also, if they were seen as communicating Jesus’ grace, then there would also be a better argument for calling them an act of grace. While ordinances might be seen as being made possible through grace, they are mainly viewed as covenant making rituals, not as channels of grace in the manner of Catholics or Orthodox viewing their sacraments.”

    This is a perfect example of what I called “tightening the definition” to exclude someone else’s view of grace.

    To be clear, I don’t think that’s necessarily wrong or bad, for exactly the same reason as I don’t necessarily disagree with the motivation/rationale for claiming that “Mormonism isn’t Christian.”

  104. thanks for bearing with my frustration. I know that you’re probably not trying to be Jell-O. You in particular have taken to “giving it to me straight” and I appreciate that.

    The word “salvation” (from what/to what) has clearly at this moment set itself up as a roadblock to understanding.

    I believe that salvation means “rescue from eternal separation from God (in a place called Hell).”

    Can you tell me what you mean by “salvation”?

    Perhaps, what Evangelicals mean by “Hell” and what Mormons mean by “Telestial Kingdom” are the same thing after all. . . a place where we are separated from God. And therefore it’s quite clear that Mormons do not in any way think that salvation can come solely through grace.

  105. The problem with this assertion is that there is no unitary nor coherent definition of hell in LDS doctrine

    Not really, I think the bible dictionary definition is both clear and coherent: http://lds.org/scriptures/bd/hell?lang=eng

    “In latter-day revelation hell is spoken of in at least two senses. One is the temporary abode in the spirit world of those who were disobedient in this mortal life. It is between death and the resurrection, and persons who receive the telestial glory will abide there until the last resurrection (D&C 76:84–85, 106), at which time they will go to the telestial glory. In this sense the Book of Mormon speaks of spiritual death as hell (2 Ne. 9:10–12). Hell, as thus defined, will have an end, when all the captive spirits have paid the price of their sins and enter into a degree of glory after their resurrection. Statements about an everlasting hell (Hel. 6:28; Moro. 8:13) must be interpreted in their proper context in the light of D&C 19:4–12, which defines eternal and endless punishment.

    On the other hand, the devil and his angels, including the sons of perdition, are assigned to a place spoken of as a lake of fire—a figure of eternal anguish. This condition is sometimes called hell in the scriptures (2 Pet. 2:4; D&C 29:38; 88:113). This kind of hell, which is after the resurrection and judgment, is exclusively for the devil and his angels, and is not the same as that consisting only of the period between death and resurrection. The one group are redeemed from hell and inherit some degree of glory. The other receive no glory. They continue in spiritual darkness. For them the conditions of hell remain.”

    LDS believe in torment and anguish but that God has the grace to save many people from all torment and most everybody from eternal torment.

    Hell = Outer Darkness: On this view the grace of Jesus literally can’t save you. The only way to get there is to committ the unpardonable sin, which in LDS theology is beyond the reach of the grace of Jesus. If this is what Mormons mean by hell, then Jesus’ grace is insufficient to save you from it.

    This is backwards. Paul says we are all deserving of Hell, outer darkness, but only those who knowingly reject Jesus fail to be saved by God’s grace. The only reason “the only way to get there” is because God has the grace not to condemn those who just accidentally were not able to grasp the message of the Gospel.

    The difference is that in the telestial and terrestrial kingdoms you do not live with God

    In LDS view God is present in all kingdoms. The Holy Ghost dwells with those in the Telestial kingdom.

  106. A quick point of clarification, Evangelicals believe that God has the grace to save ALL who want it. There are no “accidental” condemnations. Everyone who rejects God have been given the full and cognizant ability to do so.

  107. Tim: sounds good. Thanks for bearing with me. I think you’re right that the term “salvation” has become a roadblock in this conversation. I think “hell” is going to become such as well.

    I want to answer your question about salvation (and hell), but I’m going to have to come back to it later. I don’t want to give it a rushed response and add to the confusion. I think I will at the same time have to illustrate why I think Evangelicals’ “restricted” definition of grace is adding to the confusion here.

  108. There are no “accidental” condemnations. Everyone who rejects God have been given the full and cognizant ability to do so.

    I agree that there no accidental condemnations. But from a human perspective, salvation is always accidental in one way or another.

  109. Not really, I think the bible dictionary definition is both clear and coherent: http://lds.org/scriptures/bd/hell?lang=eng

    Yes really. I actually had the BD definition of hell in mind. That’s why I said, neither unitary nor coherent. The BD says “In latter-day revelation hell is spoken of in at least two senses,” which explicitly concedes that there is no unitary definition. Thus if you are going to talk about Jesus’ grace saving one from hell, you have to talk about each of the senses of hell, which is what I did. To simply treat it as a unitary concept, which you did, doesn’t work.

    This is backwards. Paul says we are all deserving of Hell, outer darkness, but only those who knowingly reject Jesus fail to be saved by God’s grace.

    Please stop smuggling concepts to try and make your point. Paul never uses the phrase “outer darkness,” thus you simply cannot equate the concept of “outer darkness” with hell. Paul cannot be talking about an LDS concept of outer darkness, because once one merits outer darkness through the unpardonable sin, one cannot escape. For Paul, grace allows one to escape from hell. Since it is escapable, he can’t be referring to the same thing.

    LDS believe in torment and anguish but that God has the grace to save many people from all torment and most everybody from eternal torment.

    Yes, but they also believe that without grace the torment ends after you pay for your own sins and you are assigned a kingdom of glory. Since you earlier seemed to think that this was salvation, then grace is wholly unnecessary for salvation.

    In LDS view God is present in all kingdoms. The Holy Ghost dwells with those in the Telestial kingdom.

    In LDS speak God (sans qualifications) usually refers to God the Father. But just to be specific, you are now claiming that salvation still involves a separation from God the Father.

  110. In the Greek New Testament, there are two words, gehenna (where the trash is burned) and hades (the place of the dead), that are traditionally translated as “hell.” That’s why we have two different understandings of what it means. (FWIW, when the creeds say that Jesus “descended into hell,” the reference isn’t to the place of eternal torment, but to hades, so this duality of definition isn’t unique to LDS thinking.)

    Unfortunately, in popular Mormonism, there are those who equate any degree of glory other than celestial kingdom with hell. I find that an abuse of the word and doctrinally misleading at best.

    This may be helpful, although I vaguely recall someone linking to it in another thread: Elder Dallin Oaks on the definition of salvation.

  111. A quick point of clarification, Evangelicals believe that God has the grace to save ALL who want it. There are no “accidental” condemnations. Everyone who rejects God have been given the full and cognizant ability to do so.

    For example, I clearly and unambigously reject God as understood by Evangelicals, with the full and cognizant ability to do so.

  112. Ok, “hell” does not have a single definition but its definitions are coherent.

    Paul cannot be talking about an LDS concept of outer darkness, because once one merits outer darkness through the unpardonable sin, one cannot escape. For Paul, grace allows one to escape from hell. Since it is escapable, he can’t be referring to the same thing.

    You still have a backward view of the theology. Paul is talking about spiritual death, hell, torment. I don’t see any significant difference between the Evangelical view of just desserts and the LDS view. Both views understand that if you reject Christ you will go to an eternal place of torment. LDS simply believe that everyone will accept Christ as the savior (every knee shall bow), but some few will willfully reject him, knowing that he is the Son of God. We are all on our way to eternal torment of spiritual death, but the plan of salvation provides the escape.

    Just as hell (evangelical sense) is the destination of everyone who doesn’t accept the grace of God, outer darkness is the destination for everybody who ultimately rejects Christ, however very view actually reach there because of the grace of God.

    It is also clear that in Pauls’ view, death and hell is inescapable for those who reject Christ.

  113. Jared,

    I don’t have a backward view of the theology. But, I’m going to claim that I understand the theology/doctrine quite well without further clarification under the WWGBH? do rule, in an effort to bow out of the nailing greased Jello to the wall contest currently under way.

  114. In the Greek New Testament, there are two words, gehenna (where the trash is burned) and hades (the place of the dead), that are traditionally translated as “hell.” That’s why we have two different understandings of what it means.

    1) Modern translations (like the NRSV) will translate “Gehenna” as “hell”, and will footnote it as such. Hades is usually transliterated as “Hades.” This leads me to think that much of the “duality in thinking” comes from reading bad translations and not so much from the authors themselves.

    2) Hades generally means the place where all the dead go, (in LDS thought this would be Prison + Paradise), while Gehenna is the abode of the damned.

    3) Gehenna probably has nothing to do with burning garbage. The idea seems to have started in medieval rabbinic thought.

    Unfortunately, in popular Mormonism, there are those who equate any degree of glory other than celestial kingdom with hell. I find that an abuse of the word and doctrinally misleading at best.

    I agree that it is misleading. I think some of that has been going on in this thread.

    This may be helpful, although I vaguely recall someone linking to it in another thread: Elder Dallin Oaks on the definition of salvation.

    Oaks says that LDS can use the word salvation in at least 6 different ways. Thus, when LDS want to discuss salvation and how grace applies to it, it would be helpful to specify which version of salvation they are talking about or to discuss all six instances if they want to make a generic statement. To discuss salvation as a unitary concept in an LDS framework is misleading and confusing.

  115. So there you have it Brian, when you return I want you to tell me how I can be saved by grace in 6 different ways. =P

  116. But, I’m going to claim that I understand the theology/doctrine quite well without further clarification under the WWGBH? do rule, in an effort to bow out of the nailing greased Jello to the wall contest currently under way

    hmmm, sounds like a cop out to avoid defending strange (straw) characterizations of Mormonism. I guess i will take this as a retreat from your argument.

    To clarify, I have no interest in nailing down precise definitions of hell or salvation. There was a claim that Mormonism was “grace-centered” and I think the theology supports that label more than traditional Christianity.

    I think the Evangelical idea of torment due to sin and the Mormon one is sufficiently close to allow a comparison of how much of such torment is relieved by grace within the respective traditions. Both traditions believe that sin demands torment and that this torment can only be relieved by grace.

    I think by any standard Mormons believe that this grace will be extended to more people than do Evangelicals.

  117. hmmm, sounds like a cop out to avoid defending strange (straw) characterizations of Mormonism. I guess i will take this as a retreat from your argument.

    No, and you also didn’t get the reference.

    After Gordon B. Hinckley caused, inadvertently or otherwise, lots of confusions because of his odd answers on King Follett related questions by the media he had a chance at the next general conference to clarify what he meant. Instead of clarifying what he meant, this is what he said in the October 1997 general conference:

    I personally have been much quoted, and in a few instances misquoted and misunderstood. I think that’s to be expected. None of you need worry because you read something that was incompletely reported. You need not worry that I do not understand some matters of doctrine. I think I understand them thoroughly, and it is unfortunate that the reporting may not make this clear. I hope you will never look to the public press as the authority on the doctrines of the Church.

    In other words, he simply asserted that he knew what he was talking about without bothering to explain what he actually was talking about. Nor did he take the chance to explain the actual doctrine to prove that he did know what he was talking about. I was simply taking the same liberty that he did.

    FWIW, I think you are equivocating on definitions, redefining words to suit your own arguments, are working with a very idiosyncratic idea of salvation and hell for a Mormon, and are refusing to own up to the very complexity of the issue that you yourself bring up when quoting the Bible Dictionary.

    But really, the game is old. Have fun with your Jello.

  118. I don’t know why you think you can justifiably take the GBH liberty when you don’t think he justifiably took it. 😉

    I think you are the one playing with definitions here. You bring them up to point out that Mormons do not have very clear theological positions. This is a fun game for those that don’t like the way Mormons do theology. But it is entirely beside the point.

    I am not working with an idiosyncratic Mormon definition of salvation, I am postulating a common sense definition.

    i.e. hell is torment you deserve when you sin, salvation is avoidance of hell, grace is the divine favor of God pursuant to which he hands out salvation to the undeserved.

    I am sure both Mormons and traditional Christions could write volumes carefully explaining and defining each of those terms but I think that these are fair general definitions.

    My point is that Mormons believe that God hands out the undeserved gift of avoidance of hell far more liberally than do Evangelicals.

    Thus it is fair to say that Mormons are at least as “grace-centered” as traditional Christians. In limiting the grace of God to the lucky few that have heard the Gospel, and focusing heavily on being saved from hell rather than being perfect (having already been saved from hell by liberal grace) Evangelicals appear to me to be far more “hell-centered” than Mormons.

    Nothing in your talk of definitions disputes this conclusion at all. So I am happy to have you bow out as you concede the point. 😉

  119. I think by any standard Mormons believe that this grace will be extended to more people than do Evangelicals.

    Grace is extended to everybody according to the Evangelical tradition, so I’m not sure how that can be more.

    Perhaps you meant that grace will be accepted by more people according to Mormonism?

    To flip your expectation, Evangelicals believe far more people will be with the Father than Mormons. Evangelicals believe that God isn’t going to force himself on anyone who doesn’t want him. But whoever wants him will get all of him. He won’t hold back because you didn’t get married.

  120. “He won’t hold back because you didn’t get married.”

    Just to clarify/correct this point: there is no requirement for marriage in order to receive celestial glory and therefore enjoy the presence of the Father:

    D&C 131:

    1 In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;

    2 And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];

  121. “Grace is extended to everybody according to the Evangelical tradition, so I’m not sure how that can be more.”

    I thought, in practice, Grace is only extended to those who have faith in Jesus prior to death.

    Perhaps the most difficult thing to for me to swallow in Evangelicalism is the postulate that God loves all people equally yet does not give them an equal opportunity to accept his Grace.

    Given the hard stop on new insight produced by sola scriptura, its hard to see how Evangelicalism could be successfully reformed to reconcile this strange view of God’s love with the availability of His grace.

  122. If God is judging people based on what they did with the information they received I don’t know where the challenge lies.

    Grace is offered to everyone.
    People have the choice to accept it or reject it in whatever limited capacity they have it spelled out to them.

  123. I didnt read all the postings so this may be answered already. It was my understanding that one of the off shoots of LDS, one of many I know, did actually turn back to orthodoxy. Is this not true?

  124. Kent J — You may be referring to the Community of Christ (once known as the Reorganized church), which these days is fairly close theologically to mainline Protestantism (which is not the same as orthodoxy to an evangelical). I wouldn’t say so much that it “turned back” to a Protestant-style theology as that it gradually abandoned its distinctives to the point where there wasn’t much separating it from other Christians.

  125. I would say the minute they formally accepted the Trinity they became (for the most part) orthodox.

  126. As far as I know (and I’d be happy to be corrected if I’m wrong), acceptance of the doctrine of the Trinity isn’t something new for the CoC. My understanding is that when the Reorganized church was formed, many of its members came from people who were familiar with Joseph Smith only before the Nauvoo period, so much of Smith’s unorthodox theology wasn’t adopted. (This also helps explain why the Reorganized church denied for many years that Smith had practiced polygamy.)

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