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.