Joseph Smith’s bedrock message about the Light of Christ

In LDS teaching there is often a minor mistake often made in explaining the Light of Christ, but this mistake can have dramatic consequences in the minds of LDS children.

The light of Christ often defined by LDS Missionaries as the conscience, enabling people to judge good from evil. But according to doctrine, the conscience is only a manifestation of the Light of Christ. But if you judge by the Book of Mormon, the Light of Christ must also be the thing that allows you to see salvation from the conscience.  A critical doctrine in the LDS Faith is that Adam and Eve were sent from the garden with a specific sort of enlightenment: (1) the knowledge of good and evil, and (2) a knowledge of their inevitable salvation from good and evil.  The Books of Abraham and Moses establish that Adam and Eve knew about Christ from the time they left the Garden. Symbolically, the temple ceremony must mean that (1) all humans have a conscience, and (2) they have the capacity to understand their ultimate salvation, even before Jesus taught about it.  This understanding is assumed, before any priesthood, and any of the covenants.  This must be the Light of Christ. 

The temple ceremony also must mean that parents have the responsibility, before anything else, to teach their children to distinguish good from evil and to choose the right, and the inevitable salvation from their wrong choices in Christ.  Children must be taught that their salvation is inevitable in Christ, just as it is inevitable that they will fail to do good in nearly every choice they make.  To not teach the full light of Christ, is to fail to teach the first principle of the Gospel.  Without being enlightened in the mind somehow by the light of Christ it is not possible to have faith in Jesus Christ.

Mormon taught: “The Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God” (Moroni 7:16, 18, emphasis added). This shows the two prong message: (1) believe in Christ and (2) keep the commandments.  Christ is a simple concept, the good is something that must be navigated.  Without Christ, good and evil don’t matter at all, because everything is doomed without a Christ.

LDS doctrine is that there is a bipolarity in every value and emotion – there is an opposition in all things.(See 2 Nephi 2). But Lehi also teaches that the only real in such a world is not the joy in keeping the commandments, but the joy of salvation in Christ.  There is only safety and peace in keeping the commandments, the joy is only in Christ. 

Because of the veil, parents must teach children right and wrong, and the joy in the light of Christ. this is the most important priesthood duty, for both men and women. To not teach a child about the joy of salvation before teaching them the commandments is like passing them a sharp knife, blade first, and asking them to grab a hold.

The knife analogy works well.  the law is the blade, salvation is the handle.  You have to teach children to hold on to the handle before you even tell them about the blade.

The Gospel in the LDS belief is that you should teach your children that through the Spirit you can learn and live the principles that exalt humans above their generally miserable state.

The way LDS parents teach the love of God is by example, by loving their children unconditionally.  This sort of unconditional love must be divine thing, there is no question. And this is one effective way to show children the love of God, by showing them human love.  This is the sort of love that builds strong families, and chisels love into children’s hearts rather than fear.

The problem with the parental love model, is that it does not fully show a child the light of Christ, it only gives you an example of the love of God, not the love of God itself.  And the ultimate example of the love of God is Christ, not because God is the father of Jesus, and Jesus was willing to be the Christ, because that Eternal God above all Gods, that is beyond out ability to even understand by the Spirit, who speaks in terms that can never be repeated, decreed that a Christ would come. Jesus was ultimately just one of us, but we have to remember that in Jesus alone shone the Light of Christ, not in any of his apostles or any of their words.  The Light of Christ illuminates the law, which is death without that light.  The reality of Christ, not the commandments, is the strait gate and narrow way that leads to the understanding of the perfect joy that can only come from God himself, not obedience to God.  This was as much Joseph Smith’s message as it was Paul’s.

Perhaps collective shame and confusion over Joseph’s polygamy, and the excesses of the polygamist reformation of the Church, concealed Joseph’s bedrock message, that you can know that Christ will save you, no matter what you do in life.

If you grew up in a Mormon home that did teach a simple understanding of the handle, you might be inclined to believe that finding salvation may be as difficult and confusing and painful as perfectly determining right and wrong in any given situation.  The Spirit is necessary to understand the way forward,i.e. little by little giving up self-centeredness to give yourself fully to the cause of God. But the Gift of the Spirit is not necessary to understand the light of Christ, which must be taught clearly, just like right and wrong must be taught with clear rules. 

Just as we can look to all of the world to teach our children right and wrong, so long as we stay close to the Spirit, we can also look to all those who teach about the Light of Christ, including the orthodox.

There is an account in the Book of Mormon of a very bloody prolonged period of sectarian violence fueled by racism – think Rwanda or Congo and you get the picture. Thousands of bodies rotting in heaps, cut down by crude weapons. The narrator of the account makes the point that even though the destruction was equally appalling on all sides, some had cause for joy: ” and thus we see the great reason of sorrow, and also of rejoicing—sorrow because of death and destruction among men, and joy because of the light of Christ unto life.” (Alma 28.)

This sort of joy because of the light of Christ unto life is not connected to the priesthood.  It is something that Mormons can learn from Protestants, just like they can learn physics from Einstein.  It might be smart to take note.

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10 thoughts on “Joseph Smith’s bedrock message about the Light of Christ

  1. To not teach a child about the joy of salvation before teaching them the commandments is like passing them a sharp knife, blade first, and asking them to grab a hold.

    I like the analogy

  2. “Because of the veil, parents must teach children right and wrong, and the joy in the light of Christ. this is the most important priesthood duty, for both men and women. To not teach a child about the joy of salvation before teaching them the commandments is like passing them a sharp knife, blade first, and asking them to grab a hold.”

    So, does Christ = salvation? How so? Later, you talk about obedience. If one is not obedient in Mormonism, what happens? Can a person be saved fully by failing to follow LDS rules?

    Thanks.

  3. This was written toward and LDS audience, referencing LDS scriptures and the temple ceremony. My goal is to try to elaborate on the concept of the Light of Christ so that the LDS reader to understand that the light of Christ is much more than the conscience.

    The LDS are nearly universalist when it comes to salvation, believe all humans will be saved from death and hell through Christ, except those that actively reject salvation. In their view, the atonement of Jesus Christ allows people to receive everything Jesus and the Father have.

    In the LDS view, if you are not obedient then you will not enjoy the fruits of obedience, and the blessings obedience brings to life.

    The temporal rules of the church, such as the word of wisdom, priesthood policies, etc. are not necessarily eternal commandments, but they are designed so that obedience to them will further the mission of the Church which is to perfect the saints, spread the Gospel, and redeem the dead.

  4. In the LDS view, exaltation is the process of perfection where through the “power of the Atonement” humans learn to perfect their faith to the point where they follow the law and become masters of it like God is. The atonement makes exaltation possible because it removes the barriers of sin and death. It is up to the individual to follow the path to perfection/exaltation but the path is not possible without Christ. Exaltation is developing the faith to “lay hold upon” every gift God has to offer, including the right to inherit all He has. This includes His creative power to produce offspring and “worlds without end.” Humans can become God-like through the atonement of Jesus.

    The difference I see is that, in the LDS view, the light of Christ does not cause exaltation, it illuminates the path. The light is an understanding of the law and of the salvation from the law. Without this understanding, heading down the path to exaltation is a tortuous one rather than a joyous one.

    The LDS teaching focuses heavily on the exaltation goal, which involves sincere attempts to perfectly following the law, often without fully recognizing the light of the facts of salvation. The focus on law often illuminates sin, but completely obscures the joy of salvation from that sin. It is a sort of perfectionist Christianity.

  5. “The LDS teaching focuses heavily on the exaltation goal, which involves sincere attempts to perfectly following the law, often without fully recognizing the light of the facts of salvation. The focus on law often illuminates sin, but completely obscures the joy of salvation from that sin. It is a sort of perfectionist Christianity.”

    Could this mean they substitute grace with works? Even if they acknowledge grace and grant it a role, do they limit the role of grace? Grace being relevant as it is part and paracel with the “joy of salvation from that sin” and the foundation of Christian joy in Christ.

  6. I think the LDS reject the psychological consequences of grace, in effect they defer them in life.

    This article is a fairly good statement of the LDS belief regarding faith and works:

    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1981/04/salvation-by-grace-or-by-works?lang=eng

    I think the way that salvation and sin are explained in the Church leads to a certain confusion that leads to an absence of joy for some.

    As Pascal said:

    “Words differently arranged have a different meaning, and meanings differently arranged have different effects.”

    To bring light those LDS who are confused, I think we need to arrange the meanings better. That is what, I think, made the difference for me. By giving up the entire system, all the meanings that were attached to the words, and rethinking God in more simple terms, salvation became clear, even when I really have no answers about anything else.

  7. The Pascal quote on words is precisely why I am pursuing these issues. While the word grace is used in LDS circles, salvation (exaltation?) is still predicated upon the obedience part. Grace is not an all powerful force within Mormonism. It is limited by our ability to obey and work. As I see it, grace takes people only so far in Mormonism.

    I agree that simplification is helpful, but isn’t the concept of grace after all we can do fairly straght forward in and of itself?

    I think what you are trying to say though, is that Mormons complicate the concept of grace by limiting it. Is that correct?

  8. I think Mormons complicate grace by complicating it. The concept of grace is still there in the religion, but in my view, it is often very difficult to grasp given the way the LDS talk about it.

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