Kicking Against the Pricks

On the road to Damascus, Paul found Christ.  Seeing Paul lost in his sin and murderous self-righteousness Jesus pointed out: “It is hard for you to kick against the pricks.” (Acts 9:5.)  In this metaphor, the “pricks” are the sin that dwells within us. The sin sprouts the thorns that goad us when we recognize that we cannot be what we demand ourselves to be.  Joseph Smith seemed to almost grasp the biblical meaning of the phrase in D&C 121:38 where he described those in church leadership that sought to hide their own sins with their authority as those “left to kick against the pricks.” The message of Paul’s ministry was that in Christ can we dissolve these thorns so they never bother us again.

Spencer W. Kimball — the beloved LDS Prophet — put a new spin on this phrase. Starting  in a conference talk in 1955, Kimball began to use the phrase as a description of the state of those who stand against the leadership of the LDS Church:

There is the man who, to satisfy his own egotism, took a stand against the Authorities of the Church. He followed the usual pattern, not apostasy at first, only superiority of knowledge and mild criticism. He loved the brethren, he said, but they failed to see and interpret as he would like. He would still love the Church, he maintained, but his criticism grew and developed into ever-widening circles. He was right, he assured himself; he could not yield in good conscience; he had his pride. His children did not accept his philosophy wholly, but their confidence was shaken. In their frustration, they married out of the Church, and he lost them. He later realized his folly and returned to humbleness, but so very late. He had lost his children. “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (Acts 9:5).”

Here the “pricks” are not the thorns of sin but the psychological and political consequences of criticism of Church leadership. On an all-too-poignant level, this passage represents hard reality of the Church’s position. The church has determined that there are some sins the gospel does not reach, and the sin of participation in gay marriage is one of those. The latest of the Church’s responses to its critics gave me shivers because it’s tone reflects the same terrifying chant of: “thinking differently than the leadership will destroy your family”. It really sucks.

The problem with the way the LDS deal with same-sex attraction probably stems from the way Mormons ignore original sin. Mormons simply cannot believe that humans might be really screwed up from birth in a way that willpower won’t fix. The good news of the New Testament is that in Christ, God has both seen and forgotten these screwed-up ways and granted you freedom to do so as well. The biggest problem I see with the policy is that the message the Church is giving its membership is not  “our sins can be dissolved in Christ”, but that “our sins will keep us from God.”   This was Paul’s message before Damascus, not after it. Paul’s ministry was focused on the fact that, in Christ, our sins will not keep us from God.

Like the Pharisaic Jews, Mormons believe our path to the celestial is through obedience to the law. However, in siding with the pre-Damascus Paul, Mormons are actually mistaking the law with the gospel. The “gospel” according to the Latter-day Saint tradition is what Paul refers to as the “law” — i.e. the combined commandments of God. Mormons believe that “living the gospel” is obeying the law.

A New-Testament Christian would understand that the law was the source of the pricks that goaded Paul. It was the law that Paul was trying to enforce when he persecuted the Christians, and the law that he found safety from in Christ on the road to Damascus.

Because Church leadership cannot distinguish the law from the gospel they now are denying the gospel to those that may break their law.  As I said, this really sucks for those denied access to the Church after being told as children that the Church is the only source of the “gospel”.

But I think those of us who despair at the new policy do not need to rally against the Church, any more than Paul needed to rally against the Pharisees or Rome.  His message was simple, straight, and narrow and so is our path to peace.  Whether the pricks are our sins as Paul describes, or the church leadership, as President Kimball describes, we don’t need to kick against these pricks — in Christ we are made free from their control.

Counting the Cost of Discipleship (notes from my underground)

I was looking through my journal and saw some thoughts I wrote down three years ago, I wrote these before sinking into a very dim atheism, this entry was part of my last effort to hang on to the Christianity I had when I was LDS. I think I was grasping at whether it made sense at all to consider ourselves Christian disciples.  Now I realize that it does not make sense to even to attempt Christian discipleship without more than a mere belief that you believe in Christ – a state of grace is necessary. I open them up for discussion to reveal something about how many faithful Mormons see the task of discipleship:


My Journal, September 1, 2012:  Pascal mentions that things are different for Christians now because primitive Christians had to devote themselves to the kingdom of heaven, to forsake all safety and security, in essence, to throw their lives away.  Becoming a Christian was about throwing your life away. It would destroy your career prospects, make you an enemy of the state, risk all of your life and property. It meant a hell of a lot.  What this tells me is that Christianity is simply not for everybody.  We simply cannot expect people to be Christians like this. It’s a very difficult task. But its always marvelous when we do see people approach life with this sort of abandon. Continue reading

Explaining Jesus to a child: the witness of the spirit.

I put my six-year-old son to bed the other night and reminded him to say his prayers.  ten or fifteen minutes later he came down with a huge smile on his face, he wanted to call his mom and tell her something (his mother and I are not married anymore). It was too late so he went back to bed. First thing the next morning he came directly downstairs and called his mother to tell her about the feeling he had when he was praying.  He explained to her, and later me, that he had this amazing feeling when he was praying and could not stop smiling about it.  Watching this experience–like so many I have had as a parent– was like looking into a mirror reflecting myself at his age.

Of course this experience raises so many questions for me, and for perhaps should raise this questions for all Christians: How do we explain the witness of the Spirit to a child.

I actually do not have a good answer– a satisfactory explanation of spiritual experience like this is perhaps the biggest question I have in life. I know there are all kinds, including those that do not involve belief in God, but my son deserves one.  And he deserves one in language he can understand.  I reject many aspects of the explanation he is routinely given at LDS church, and I am not satisfied with what I did tell them.  So I put it to anyone who reads this–how would you explain this experience to my son, if he was yours?

We Pretenders

When I was a kid, I loved to pretend.  My life was filled with forts, guns, armies, horses, dragons, talking animals, magic swords, and space armadas.  You didn’t have to point out to me that I was pretending, I was doing it on purpose.

Jesus pointed out the pretenders who did not seem to know they were pretending. To the Romans he pointed out that they were merely pretending to be the masters of the world. In fact, the Kingdom of God was in our midst and held sway over what mattered.  To those pretending to be good, he said there is no good but God.  To those pretending to honor the temple of God, he dealt a beating.  To those pretending to be his disciples, he exposed as denyers, betrayers, and court jesters. Jesus was God who pretended to be a man and–in the end–He exposed this pretense as well.

Few would disagree that those who follow Jesus only pretend to.   The Old Testament teaches us that we are foolish and pretending children to a Perfect Father who has given us his law, the New teaches us that we are all fallen and lost, incapable of following the law God gave–we can only pretend. The Book of Mormon teaches that when it comes to obedience, we are less than we are not the dust of the earth, only pretending to be submissive. Joseph Smith taught that our compliance and authority is often–because of our nature and disposition–simply pretense to fulfill our pride and hide our sins. Jesus’ apostles made it clear that Jesus was the Christ, we merely pretend to be Christians. Paul taught that whatever we are of Christ is not us, but Christ in us.

Ironically, Christians also like to point out pretenders.

Continue reading

Mormons & Evangelicals: What can I learn from you?

Over several months so I have had a born-again sort of experience of sorts– one of those times in life where perspective shifts dramatically and you feel like you are seeing the world for the first time.  One of the biggest difficulties in experience was recognizing that I had lost faith in the LDS Church. It has been coming for quite a while, and it feels like the core meaning of my life was yanked from me. Losing faith has been very difficult for me even to acknowledge. But for complex reasons, I can’t now honestly claim to believe in the Mormon Church and this reality has stung me hard.  My participation in this blog has been a big part of the process of figuring out where I am and what to do next.

Over the years the blog has been a place for me to vent a lot of the deep thoughts and patent nonsense that bubbled up during this process. (Regulars here will recognize I write far more of the latter than the former.)  But lately I have been thinking about what attracted me to this blog– and how it might help me in the new spiritual life that I face.

Continue reading

How “Christian” Should Mormonism Strive To Be?

This is an interesting discussion from the Sunstone Symposium. The panel included Shawn McCraney, Grant Palmer, Brian Birch, Rex Sears, Bill Russell and Dan Wotherspoon. You can download the file from here.

I thought it was interesting that there were basically 3 paths given that would mainstream the LDS church into orthodox Christianity.

  1. A greater emphasis on methaphysical experiences with Jesus (born-again experiences)
  2. More emphasis on Jesus in worship, more emphasis on the Gospels in lesson planning and adoption of modern Bible translations.
  3. Abandonment of all doctrines stemming from the King Follet Discourse and the Lorenzo Snow couplet

I think any of these would have an effect on Mormonism that would bring it into orthodox Christianity in pretty short order. I imagine that #1 and #2 would probably bring about #3 on it’s own. While #3 in isolation would be welcomed, but would not necessarily produce a vibrant Evangelical-Mormonism.

Glenn Beck, are You Really a Mormon?

This video of Glenn-Beck-wannabe, Todd Friel, is a classic example of the traditional Evangelical approach to Mormonism. If the Mormon in question does not match up to the Evangelical’s notion of what Mormonism is, then it must be that the Mormon either doesn’t understand Mormonism or that the Mormon is really not a Mormon.

It never occurs to the Evangelical that Mormonism may not be what he thinks it is. It never occurs to the Evangelical that the way Mormonism has been described to him may not be completely accurate or in a full context. It never occurs to the Evangelical that the Mormon might be in a better position to describe his faith (particularly his own personal beliefs) than the Evangelical. Ed Decker’s influence is quite apparent in this clip.

For Evangelicals interested in what they may be missing about Mormonism, I recommend this article: http://ldstalk.wordpress.com/2010/02/20/what-evangelicals-now-need-to-know-about-mormonism/

The Least of My Brothers

My wife has dedicated her life to the issues surrounding poverty and world hunger and specifically what Christians can do about them.  So it was to my surprise that she illuminated to me a reading of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats that undercut every take on it I had ever heard.  But it also offered a relief to a conflict it seemed to offer in regards to our salvation not coming about “by our works” (so that no one can boast).

I hated this song, but my view of this parable was largely influenced by the very guilt-inducing rendition offered by Christian folk singer Keith Green. If you’ve never heard of Keith Green, you will gain an enormous amount of insight into late 70’s – early 80’s Evangelical culture by listening to this one song.

What was new to me was a new look at the words “brothers of mine”

The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

It seems that this was not the only place in the Gospel of Matthew that Jesus had used the word “brothers”.  In fact a distinct pattern can be found.  Matthew consistently records that Jesus called his disciples his “brothers.”

Here are just two quick examples.

Matthew 12: 48-50

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Matthew 28: 9-10

Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

It’s likely that when Jesus said “least of these brothers of mine” he pointed straight at his disciples. This flips the entire meaning of the parable from being about what Christians do with the oppressed to being about what people do with oppressed Christians.

Please, don’t hear me saying that I think Christians are now off the hook for caring for the “the least”.  The rest of the scriptures are full of admonitions to feed, clothe and advocate for the oppressed.  In fact I think Christians should feel justified to go on caring for others as if they are caring for Jesus. But this parable isn’t about that, this parable is about the final judgment.

Green had it right at the end of his song; the only thing separating the sheep and the goats was what they did.  What he missed was that they were being judged for what they did . . . with those who were carrying the gospel of Jesus.

Are Evangelicals Really Christians?

Forgive the provocative title.

Reading through the Gospels has put a lot of questions in my mind about what it means to be a disciple of Christ. Jesus is quoted as giving some pretty direct statements regarding who would be his true followers and be part of the kingdom of heaven of which he spoke so often. It appears to me that he defined his disciples by those who choose to follow his highest moral teachings. i.e. the Sermon on the Mount and the “New Commandment” to love others as he had loved his disciples.

After the Sermon on the Mount he is quoted in Matthew 7:

15“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

21Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

24“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

In John, Jesus gives this definition:

34 A new commandment. I give to you,(that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”John 13 34-35 (NIV)

Again in John, Jesus is quoted as saying that the choice to do the will of God was the path to understanding if Jesus was really of God, as opposed to relying on your interpretation of scripture the Pharisees were doing) :

John 7: (NIV)16Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me. 17If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. 18He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.

From my point of view the title of “Christian” is something that Jesus would not give out to all those who claim that title today, Mormons and Evangelicals included. It seems rather clear from these two accounts, that There has to be a will to follow God, and to put Jesus’ teachings into practice rather than a simple confession of faith. Indeed, according to the Jesus of Matthew, a correct confession of correct faith in accord with the learned seems to be something quite superfluous if you actually choose to do God’s will, i.e. you will know for yourself without scriptural confirmation.

So according to Him, isn’t it a bit presumptuous for us to call ourselves “Christians” without searching our hearts to find out if we really want to put the very difficult teachings of Jesus into practice. He does not say: ” By this shall men know that you are my disciples, if you have the correct creed and teaching about my true substance” or ” By this shall people know that you are my disciples, if you belong to my one and only true church”.

It seems a bit strange that we so readily defend ourselves as “Christians” because we believe that Christ died for our sins, when this theological fact was not at all the focus of what Jesus had to say to those who believed that he was the Messiah. I, for one, would think that He would look more favorably on those who sought to put his words into practice, whether or not they believed He died for their sins, was resurrected, was God, a God, or part of a triune substance that is the Trinity. He does say that these people, apparently regardless of their particular brand of theology, will be on the solid foundation when they stand before Him. I mean, may of the much maligned “hell-bound” secular humanists seem to fair better on this front than those who call “Lord Lord” quite often. It seems that the focus on our own salvation and doing what it takes to “get saved” really misses the point, doesn’t it?

So, does it make sense to call yourself a “Saint” (latter-day or otherwise) or a “Christian” without the will and inclination to put His teachings into practical application?

____________________________

Others, inside and outside of purported Christianity seem to have previously picked up on this same thought:

As Gandhi observed. “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” discussed here by an Anglican.

An inside LDS Perspective on this Topic from David Haight

and Joseph Smith (verses 34-46)

Another tangent:
Are The Great Commandment and The Great Commission Incompatible?

A new discussion about how Mormons are not christian:

Parchment & Pen

What Are We Doing Here?

I was recently asked

Tim, please correct me if I have misunderstood you. It seems to me that you have already completed your evaluation of Mormonism and have concluded that Joseph Smith is a false prophet and that teachings in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are false. You have held up Mormonism to the standard of scriptures and you believe it does not comply with what you know to be true about the nature of God and Jesus. I feel that you have made your position clear about that in this thread and on other posts.

My question is, with this understanding, what kind of communication do you hope to have with Latter-day Saints who participate on the blog?

I have to admit that this question made me pause for a second. Not because it stumped me. I do have at least a rough idea of what I’m after. But how to articulate it?

I’m definitely not interested in any sort of Kumbaya-let’s-all-get-together-and-celebrate-our-differences forum. I’m also not asking anyone to convince me that Mormonism is true. Nor do I think I have much hope via blogging of leading someone through the four spiritual laws, the sinner’s prayer and resignation from the LDS church. I do in fact think Joseph Smith is a false prophet. But quite intentionally, I spend very little time pointing out what I perceive as his moral failings or the historical problems with his institution. I rarely mention the differences between faith-promoting and the actual descriptions of popular Mormon lore.

So what do I hope to happen through this blog? Iron sharpening iron is often a violent act. I recognize that my personality type is not common in our society. But I like to have my thoughts and ideas challenged. I also enjoy challenging the thoughts and ideas of other people. I find these challenges to be a sort of refiner’s fire for poor thinking and shoddy reasoning. They also strip away inaccuracies and distortions pretty effectively. Both sides have a number of popular straw men set up against the other which need to be debunked so that the real issues can be discussed. I find a valuable education (and at times edification) in these interactions.

I want my thoughts on Mormonism to be challenged. I want Mormon thoughts on Mormonism to be challenged. I want my thoughts on Evangelicalism to be challenged. I want Mormon thoughts on Evangelicalism to be challenged. Our faiths appear quite similar on the outside but their core principles offer so many contradictions. I wish to explore those differences and see which can be modified, stretched or amended and which are off limits.

To make the whole thing even more difficult, I want to learn to disagree with Mormons in a way that my discipleship under Jesus can’t be questioned by anyone. I want to find a way to “violently” disagree, to what I believe to be falsehood, that still leaves Mormons interested in me and my presentation of Jesus. At times I think I succeed, there are many other times in which I do not.

I spent a good amount of time on a Mormon message board. Ultimately I found it too combative and too aggressive, so I left. I started this blog because of a conversation I had with a Mormon that led me to believe a more civil and respectful tone could be reached by both sides. I hope the readers and commentators of this blog can agree.

And most certainly, not all of the conversations here are duels. Nor should they be. There is much we agree on and much that can be celebrated (but let’s be honest, that’s not as much fun). 🙂

A New Low Point

Evangelical and LDS relationships hit a new low point. This audio clip is from the Evangelical show “Heart of the Matter.” Hosted by “Born Again Mormon” author Shawn McCraney. A caller tries to silence him by the power of the Melchizedek Priesthood.

Direct link

The Problem with Orthopraxy

It’s clear that when someone devotes their life to Christ, something about their behavior should change. With the help of the Holy Spirit they should be transformed into a new kind of person. Their lives should be marked by grace, mercy and righteousness. But I’m unconvinced that focusing on people’s outward behavior as a marker of change is what Jesus was all about. In fact I get the opposite picture.

Jesus’ harshest critiques were not directed at sinners. Instead they were reserved for the religious who were consumed with following every letter of the law. Jesus over and over again condemns them for obeying the law and keeping evil in their heart. He accuses them of being white-washed tombs and of only washing the outside of the cup. It’s clear that their outward obedience was not a credit to their righteousness. It did nothing to endear them to Christ. Should we expect it to be different with us? I can’t imagine how a church that is truly devoted to the teachings of Jesus can be consumed with orthopraxy.

I’m convinced that Jesus is unconcerned with our behavior. Instead, what he is after is our character. A heart that looks like his. Obedience to rules (even if they come from a church) doesn’t make someone a true follower of Jesus anymore than the ability to pass a theology test.

Listen to these words from Paul:

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. . .

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (Colossians 2:16-17, 20-23)

Look at verse 20 in the KJV: Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances

I agree, they lack any value in restraining sin. Only developing a character that loves what Jesus loves gives us the ability to live a truly different kind of life. (which is what Colossians 3 goes on to talk about)

unChristian

unchristian-kinnaman “Christianity has an image problem.”

What if I told you that the top perception of Christians among those in Generation X and Mosaics was that we are first off, anti-homosexual, then hypocritical, judgmental, sheltered, too political and only interested in people if they’re going to convert. Would you be surprised? hurt? offended? Or does that sound about right?

It seems to be a far cry from Jesus’ prayer for us that we be known for our love. How come that’s not at the top of the list, followed by trustworthy, accepting, caring, loyal and gracious? Isn’t that what we want to be known for. . .

Almost exactly 15 years ago I met my first college roommate. I had traveled to California on my own with 2 suitcases and nothing more. I arrived in my dorm room before my roommate and sat in a very empty room. Several hours later Dave Kinnaman arrived with a cargo van full of stuff and a small army made up of his family to carry it all in. Dave’s memory is that I looked overwhelmed by all the stuff he was bringing into the room. I think my thoughts were somewhere along the lines of “oh good he’s got a stereo and a word processor.” Little did I know that one of my eventual lifelong friends was entering that room along with all of that stuff.

Dave and I stayed close throughout college and roomed again our senior year as we shared an apartment with 2 other guys. We have many memories of a number of antics that can’t be shared in a public blog. We served as groomsmen in each other’s weddings and welcomed each other’s children into our worlds. Since college we with a number of other friends have at times been in daily email contact as we’ve shared our takes on the latest in the sports world or felt the need to get any inane thought off of our chests. We’ve also prayed for one another and confided together as we have experienced the many up and down hills life has to offer.

For these reasons I am extremely excited that Dave has published his first book. “unChristian” Since college Dave has worked at The Barna Research Group and has now worked his way up to earn the title President. So he’s earned the right to be heard and in fact without knowing his name many Christians have been listening to what he has to say for quite some time. I’m also excited because I think it’s a message the Christian world needs to hear.

We are not presenting ourselves or Jesus to the world the way we would want to. As readers of this blog know, this is something I’m quite concerned about in regards to what Mormons think of mainstream Christians and something I am working to counteract. With startling sociological research Dave shows us just how off the mark our message has become to all younger Americans. What I really enjoy about the book is that he’s found a way to not condemn or criticize Christians for this turn in perception. But instead he simply states the facts and then leaves it the reader to question “is this what we want?” and more importantly “is this what Jesus wants?” He also does a skillful job of not encouraging us to water down our message or give up those things that are important to us.

Do What You Want — You’re Born Again

In the comments section of another post Seth and Lisa made some great comments.

They brought up a theme that I think is consistent in conversations between LDS and Evangelicals. LDS counter our “saved by grace alone” with “so then you can do whatever you want because you’re saved?” And the answer is “NO, absolutely not”. Paul makes it quite clear that we DON’T go on sinning, we start a new life. I have never heard a Protestant pastor preach forgiveness without preaching repentance at the same time. Repenting means leaving your sin behind and not returning to it.

So why do Evangelicals go on sinning? I’d venture to guess for the same reason LDS go on sinning. Because they haven’t fully converted. They still somewhere in their heart believe that their will should be done rather than God’s will (me included by the way).

So why haven’t they fully converted? I think there are several reasons for this. First off, we Evangelicals have done a terrible job making disciples. We aim for converts and then hope that discipleship will happen. We are definitely out of line with Jesus on this one. Your critiques are well aimed (although a 30% activity rate in the LDS church seems to indicate that it could equally be turned on you).

Second, when we do disciple people, we allow it to be messy. When an LDS convert is baptized he commits before his baptism to live a certain way. We don’t believe that people can straighten out their lives without the Holy Spirit first being in them. So we invite people to come worship Jesus with whatever junk they might be carrying with them. Sometimes that junk is substantial. Then we invite them to start the process of sanctification. We spend our whole lives turning away from sin. We don’t pretend that there are nothing but sinless people among us. We KNOW that they people sitting next to us in the pews are sinning.

So do Evangelicals allow people to go on sinning? Yes and no. If someone owns their sin and acknowledges how they continue to mess up, then we help hold them accountable. We walk them through the process of leaving it behind. Some are able to leave their sin cold turkey others are not. We make space for failure. If a person is unrepentant and blatantly goes on sinning with no intention to seek holiness we for sure confront them. Church discipline is different everywhere. If the person is in leadership, they are removed from that position whether they are repentant or not. They are given the resources of the church to seek restoration and it’s up to them to respond.

As far as orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Having right belief entails knowing what is right action. I dare say that those who are strict on their orthodoxy know quite well that sex before marriage is wrong. Those that think fornication is okay are probably missing quite a few other things in their “right belief”. But I think Jesus makes it quite clear that both orthodoxy AND orthopraxy fall short. The Pharisees had their doctrine and the religious practice nailed but their hearts were still corrupt. It’s pointless to focus on belief OR practice if we aren’t first reforming the heart. A right heart will produce fruit. But stapling apples on a lemon tree doesn’t do anything other than make a fraud.

Another comment by Lisa in that same post indicated that Evangelicals believe that all sins are the same. This is true and not true. We believe that ALL sin equally removes us from God. But to say that all sin is equal is ludicrous. I know that many Evangelicals believe that but they’re wrong. They have a very weak concept of justice. The sin of murder quite clearly destroys and corrupts much more powerfully than speeding. Adultery and lust are both sins, but adultery IS worse than lust in it’s consequences.

Lisa also reported that 40-80% of Evangelicals lose their virginity before marriage. The difference between those numbers is so huge it’s obviously not scientific. But even the 40% number is distressing. I’d venture to say that a belief that the numbers aren’t the same in the LDS church is naive. The only thing that might be reducing the number is the fact that the average LDS gets married probably about 8 years earlier than the average Evangelical. That’s no excuse for the Evangelicals. Hopefully I explained why it is happening.

A Graceful Resolution

The Barna Group, probably the most highly regarded evangelical research organization, found that “…one-quarter of those who call themselves born again did not meet the Barna Group criteria for born again – which generally meant they rely upon something other than God’s grace as their means to salvation.” Most Latter-day Saints would probably also agree with this statement. http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdate&BarnaUpdateID=204

But is there really a fundamental conflict? Perhaps, both Mormons and the one-quarter of born again Christians (referenced above) believe that it is only through the grace of God that we are able to confess His name, be baptized, or “visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction.” In that sense, we are saved by grace alone, but in another sense, we are required to “earn our way to heaven,”—to take action, through the grace of God, that will release further grace. In this way, we progress “precept upon precept, line upon line.”

 

1) As you see it, do the majority of born again Christians and Mormons fundamentally disagree over the role of grace in salvation? Or is the alleged contradiction mostly a matter of phrasing?

 

2) Whether a self-described born again Christian, Mormon Christian, or William Jamesafarian, do you rely upon something other than grace as a means to salvation? What is it?

 

I Follow That Dude —> Jesus

In my rather controversial post on whether or not Mormonism is Christian I was asked to answer the following two questions. I promised I would, so here are my answers.

1) How do you, personally define a “true Christian?”
I have two parts to this answer. The first is to explain what I think makes an individual a “true Christian”. I would say it is a man’s heart that makes a person a Christian. I think Jesus is ultimately the only good and righteous judge who can determine what a person’s heart is like. I do not have the ability, right or prerogative to say if anyone is a true Christian.

I think Jesus does set down some clear guidelines concerning what a person must do to follow him and enter the Kingdom. They included recognizing and repenting from one’s own sins and accepting Jesus as a perfect sacrifice for that sin and making him the Lord of one’s life. Doing so will produce inward and outward changes in a person’s life. For example, repenting means leaving your sin behind. Making Jesus the Lord of one’s life means that He gets to set the agenda and you pursue, and learn to love things that He loves. These are things that I expect to see in the life of a “true Christian.”

I DO NOT think that anyone has to pass a theology exam to be a true follower of Jesus. I DO NOT think that there is a check list of Christian service that a person must fulfill to be a true follower of Jesus. I DO NOT think that perfect Sunday church attendance is required to be a true follower of Jesus. I DO NOT think that there is a magical incantation that a person has to recite or perform and I DO NOT think that a person has to be in the right club to be a true follower of Jesus.

I DO think that a true follower of Jesus will develop a heart that will be interested in truth and correct belief, loving other people and worshiping in the community of other believers.

The second part is to answer what makes a Church a true Christian organization. Organizations obviously are not individual persons. Jesus called individuals to himself, not organizations. Organizations don’t go to heaven. Organizations and their leaders do have a responsibility to teach truth. Since organizations aren’t persons and don’t have hearts we do have the right to judge them. We SHOULD judge an organization based on its teachings and evaluate if they match up to truth. Followers of Jesus will pay close attention to His words and seek to understand if a church’s teachings match up to His.

I think that the Bible is quite clear on a number of core doctrines. A true Christian organization will teach these core doctrines and for nearly 2,000 years Christians churches have been unified on the following essential teachings:

1. The Bible is the true written message of God. [Psalm 19:7-11, 119:105; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:8; 2 Peter 1:20-21]

2. There is one God, who exists forever in perfect community as three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. [Genesis 1:26-27; Deuteronomy 6:4; Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1:8]

3. Jesus Christ is fully man and fully God. He is the perfect reflection of God’s character and glory. He lived a sinless life and offered himself as the only perfect sacrifice for the sins of all people by dying on the cross. All who believe in Him are declared righteous on the basis of His death. He rose physically from the dead and will return again to earth to reign forever with those who are His. [Matthew 1:18-25; John 1:14, 8:40,58, 11:33; Acts 1:9-11; Romans 5:8-10; Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1:8]

4. Humans are created in the image of God, but each one has fallen short of God’s perfect standard and is in need of salvation. [Genesis 1:26; Romans 3, 5:12-19; Ephesians 2:1-3, 4:18-19]

5. Salvation from our sinful condition is a free gift from God to us. It is not something we earn or deserve. It is offered in grace and received by faith in Jesus Christ alone. Those who believe in Jesus Christ and call on His name are made right with God and given eternal life. [John 3:16, 14:6; Romans 3:28, 8:31-39; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:26-27,36-39; Ephesians 2:8-9; 1 Timothy 2:5-6]

A Church that does not teach these essential doctrines does not fit the historical, classical, theological definition of “Christian”.

2) Does it seem reasonably possible to you that the percentage of “true Christians” in the LDS Church is as high as the percentage of “true Christians” in the average protestant church?
It seems reasonably possible to me that there are “true Christians” in the LDS church. It’s becoming apparent to me that there is a growing number of Mormons who are becoming willing to part from their church’s false doctrine. This indicates to me these individuals have an ever growing heart that seeks after the things Jesus loves and seek after truth. There are also a number of Mormons who act like Christians by extending grace and comfort to others. But all of these are outward signs and like I said it’s only the heart that makes a person a Christian.

Being a member of an organization does not make a person a true Christian. Jesus made it clear that there are many who claim to know him that do not. And there are a great many people in Christian churches who will some day be greatly disappointed. The Barna Research Group has done and is continuing to do great work in measuring the spiritual temperature of the American public. Something like 78% of Americans claim to be Christian. Only 30% of Americans have any recognition of Jesus as their ONLY means to salvation. 13% of Americans meet Barna’s definition of “Evangelical” regardless of church affiliation (participants are not allowed to self identify). So I would guess the number of “true Christians” in America would be no less than 10% and no more than 35%.

I have no idea how to quantify how many true Christians are in the LDS church. I would probably start by figuring out how many Mormons have allegiance to Jesus over the LDS church. Interestingly, Barna identified Salt Lake City to be the LEAST Evangelical city in the United States. An inside source tells me that self identified Mormons overwhelmingly state that “if a person works hard enough they can earn their way to heaven.”

Are There Evangelical Mormons?

http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=Topic&TopicID=17

A Formula for Eternity

What is the better way to express what LDS believe is necessary for salvation?

faith + grace = salvation + works = exaltation

OR

faith + grace + works = salvation + more works (worthiness) = exaltation

For evangelicals the “equation” would go like this:

faith + grace = salvation + works = sanctification and eternal rewards

Mercy and Justice

This is a parable that really helped me understand God’s use of justice and mercy in my ongoing salvation. The Kingdom of God is like a smoothie store. . . .

I love smoothies. I’d like to drink a smoothie everyday. I have a favorite smoothie shop that’s within walking distance of work that I frequent often. The same guy is working there every day, his name is Josh and we’ve gotten to know one another quite well. The problem is, in the past I have frequently forgotten my wallet. When this happened I would beg and plead with Josh to give me a free smoothie. He sometimes gave me a free smoothie, he would justify it by saying “Ah, you’ve bought so many smoothies you probably deserve a free one.” Well this arrangement worked out great until one week I forgot my wallet everyday. On Monday he gave in, no problem. Tuesday he was hesitant. Wednesday took a lot of begging on my part (it got embarrassing). On Thursday he finally said “ENOUGH! I can’t keep giving you free smoothies. If I keep giving you free smoothies I’m going to lose my job.” He was right of course and I left without my smoothie. Amazingly on Friday I forgot my wallet again and didn’t even bother visiting Josh.

Well, my wife heard about all of this and devised a plan. On her own time she visited Josh at the Smoothie store. She and Josh had a good laugh about what a dope I am. Then she asked Josh if they sold gift cards. Sure enough, they did. So she paid for a $100 gift card and asked Josh to keep it. She told him, “Next time Tim forgets his wallet, I want you to just charge this gift card for his smoothie. Don’t tell him about it and let me know when it’s almost empty and I’ll recharge the card.”

So sure enough, the next time I forgot my wallet, I sheepishly asked Josh if I could have a free smoothie and he said “No problem, would you like a sandwich too!”

Before my wife bought the gift card I was relying on Josh’s mercy for a smoothie. Eventually I exhausted his mercy, I had to pay. But after he had the gift card, my smoothies had been paid for. Justice required Josh to give me a smoothie any time I asked for one.

Christianity teaches that forgiveness is offered by God in the same way. The first time we ask for forgiveness from God, in mercy he gives us his Son and forgives our debt. But after we accept this gift, when we again ask for forgiveness (because we will fail again), justice demands that we receive it because the price has been paid, now and forever more.

Children of God

Why don’t I think we are literal children of God, despite all of the verses in the Bible that say we are “children of God?” It’s a good question and I think it deserves a good answer. The short answer is that not everything the Bible says is meant to be literal. “Children of God” is a metaphor.

You Must be Born Again

John 3
1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

4″How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

5Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit[b] gives birth to spirit. 7You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You[c] must be born again.’ 8The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Here Jesus shows us that being born again is a metaphor and not a literal birth. Nicodemus ask how is a man supposed to reenter his mother’s womb? Jesus answers that it’s not a literal rebirth, it’s a spiritual rebirth. When the New Testament writers go on to call us “children of God” they are making a reference to what Jesus says about being born again. God’s children are those who have been “born again”.

Not Everyone is a child of God

John 1:12-13
12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13children born not of natural descent,[a] nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Here we see that only those who believe in the name of Jesus have been given the right to become children of God. Notice the word “become”, that means it wasn’t their natural state, it’s something that happens to them. It’s a right that has to be given to people.

1 John 3
9No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.

Notice here again, not everyone is a child of God; only those who do what is right. In fact not only are not all born of God, some are even born of the devil. Does LDS doctrine make room for Satan being the father of men?

1 John 5
1Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

There’s a logical argument being made here that goes like this: If A=B, and C=B, then A=C.

God’s children (A) = overcome the world (B)
Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God (C) = overcome the world (B)
therefore
God’s Children (A) = Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God (C)

I think the New Testatment quite clearly contradicts the idea that all men are children of God. Only those that believe in Jesus are children of God and they only gain this status after they are “born again”. I’m interested to hear how LDS view these verses.

Paul, Zues and Aratus
Since I was specifically asked about Acts 17, I did some research. Paul quotes a Greek Poet by the name of Aratus. The verse Paul quotes is from the poem titled Phaenomena

Let us begin with Zeus, whom we mortals never leave unspoken.
For every street, every market-place is full of Zeus.
Even the sea and the harbour are full of this deity.
Everywhere everyone is indebted to Zeus.
For we are indeed his offspring…

The point of the poem and the point Paul is making is that God created everything (something the Greeks agreed with). Paul goes on to say that if God is the creator, then why do we as created beings think we can created God in stone? Paul too is using the word “offspring” as a metaphor.