I have probably been thinking about this way too much lately, but it seems to be an occupational hazard when what I do otherwise is make hopeless arguments for the hopeless people that are my clients.
I wanted to share a common LDS example of the difference between what the LDS call “the light of Christ” and what they call “the Gift of the Holy Ghost.” In LDS teaching, the Gift of the Holy Ghost was not on the earth at the time Jesus was on the earth. The Holy Ghost was around, but this particular state of having its “constant companionship” was not. This is the explanation of why Jesus’ disciples seemed so clueless about who He was. They were simply operating on what Jesus taught and the light of Christ. This is why Thomas doubted, this is why Peter denied Christ three times – they didn’t have the power of the Gift of the Holy Ghost to make them strong and unshakable in their testimonies. After Pentecost, when they received the “baptism of fire,” the book of Acts shows that the apostles did not falter.
This story is used in LDS teaching to show that the surest way to know that Jesus, a man, was actually God (in the LDS sense or any other sense) was by accepting the testimony of the Holy Ghost, not by seeing visions and miracles. Why? Because, as shown by Peter’s humiliating denials, and Thomas’s obstinate doubt, even the Gospels report that intimately knowing the man Jesus, watching him be crucified for his teaching (not to mention watching him raise the dead) did not fully convince them that his cause was worth being crucified for. But after Pentecost, it is pretty clear that the Apostles were all willing to “take up the cross” in the most brutally literal way. This unbelievable commitment to sacrifice for the truth – like what Stephen showed – was probably what shocked Paul out of his complacency and prompted him to see the “light of Christ” on the road to Damascus.
The flip-side of the story is also fascinating. What in the world convinced the disciples in the first place, if not the Holy Ghost? Jesus must have been essentially a social outcast, a bastard step-son of a typical family, probably treated precisely like a step-child, he clearly took comfort in the scriptures and spent plenty of time thinking about their meaning, even when he was a pre-teen. When started his ministry it probably seemed to His community that he completely lost his marbles, they were ready to stone him for his blasphemies. He was a dangerous man to be associated with from the beginning. He openly blasphemed, ate and drank with traitors, outcasts, and sinners, did not share the revolutionary politics of the day, caused public disturbances in holy places, and preached the moral bankruptcy of all of the powers that be of the day.
What was it that these early disciples saw in Jesus words that made them break away from their culture, even if they were yet unwilling to give up their lives? To the LDS it was not the Gift of the Holy Ghost, it was the words of Jesus and the light of Christ that shone in his words. The LDS believe it is these words and the light of Christ that kept the church alive, in spite of the apostasy of the clergy, and laid the groundwork for the Restoration.