You are FORGIVEN! – What Evangelicals have that Mormons don’t. (Part 1)

Universal sin is, perhaps, the fundamental building block of the Christian Religion.  Without sin, there is no need for the atonement of Jesus, the central focus of both Mormons and Evangelicals.

C.S. Lewis, in accord with other heavy hitters of Christian apologetics, contend that the most incontrovertible tenant of Christianity is original sin.  (However, my favorite exposition of this doctrine is, of course, found here.) Indeed, most all people have an internal moral compass, a conscience, that tells them that they fall short of perfection.  Those people incapable of feeling guilt are considered the most dangerous and potentially monstrous of all humans.  While I am not convinced that universal sin is “proven” by the facts, it is clear that most of the people we call good or conscientious would agree that falling short of internal and external aspirations is a common part of life.  Falling short is part of life not simply because we are defective, it seems to be an ingrained part of being a human to recognize that we do not live up to what our consciences aspire to.  Even those that are often completely blind to their own faults can usually point out the faults of others.   This brings guilt, perhaps one of the most important defenses against barbarism, yet it also one of those things that invariably saps happiness and joy from life.

What Christianity brings to the table is forgiveness. Evangelists tells us: “In Christ you will be saved and forgiven, white as snow.”  Where Evangelicalism and Mormonism diverge is how they dish up the meaty meal of forgiveness to the believer. (To be specific: I am talking about how the forgiveness of is felt and experienced, not about whether or not either approach is justified by scripture, revelation or theology.)

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An Evangelical Review of “The Miracle of Forgiveness” — Part 1

The Mormon classic “The Miracle of Forgiveness” outlines the need for repentance and how a person can go about obtaining forgiveness from God. It had previously been suggested that the book was written for the most serious and unrepentant of sinners and thus its tone should be considered in light of those kinds of readers. After reading the book it was clear that the author wrote the book after an assignment in dealing with very serious sin, but I saw no indication that the book was intended solely for such people. The suggested pattern for obtaining forgiveness is the same for serious sins such a murder and adultery as well as “sins of ommission” such as failure to home teach, pay tithing, get married, have children and fast.

Early in the book Kimball suggests that the LDS church program for repentance and forgiveness is as follows

  1. The Malady: Mental and physical sin
  2. The Vehicle: The Church and its agencies and programs.
  3. The Medication: The gospel of Jesus Christ with its purity, beauty and rich promises
  4. The Cure: Proper attitudes and self-mastery through activity and good works

As a general description I don’t really take issue with the formula as outlined here. I’d want to find out more about the differences between the words “medication” and “cure”, but aside from that I understand what Kimball is directing people towards in order to find the forgiveness of Christ.

Sadly, Kimball seems to break from the outline pretty quickly and switches the order of #3 with #4. I was shocked to read:

The Lord cannot save men in their sins but only from their sins, and that only when they have show true repentance.

. . . .The world should know that since the Lord himself cannot save men in their sins, no man on earth can administer any sacrament which will do that impossible thing. [page 166-167]

The key piece of Kimball’s remedy for sin that diverges from my one is that a sinner must completely turn away from his own sins and be free of all of them before Jesus can save them. Jesus has no power to forgive anyone who demonstrates any amount of sin in his life or in his heart. A man must be FULLY repentant and that means no longer sinning in any way.

Repentance must involve an all-out total surrender to the program of the Lord. That transgressor is not fully repentant who neglects his tithing, misses his meetings, breaks the Sabbath, fails in his family prayers, does not sustain the authorities of the Church, breaks the Word of Wisdom, does not love the Lord nor his fellowmen [page 203]

This view of repentance seems to be inspired by three unique Mormons Scriptures:

Doctrine & Covenants 1:32
Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven.

Helaman 5:10-11
. . . He said unto him that the Lord surely should come to redeem his people, but that he should not come to redeem them in their sins, but to redeem them from their sins. And hath power given unto him from the Father to redeem them from their sins because of repentance.

Alma 11:37
. . . Ye cannot be saved in your sins.

I’ve always considered “repentance” to be the acknowledgement of sin and the desire to turn away from it. Not the total and complete freedom from sin. It’s been my experience that I need the grace and forgiveness of Jesus to begin the process of “dying to self”. I can’t imagine accomplishing that task on my own. Kimball says that Jesus told the woman caught in adultery to transform herself, that it would take time and only afterwards would she receive his forgiveness. It seems that according to Kimball “no unclean thing” can enter into forgiveness much less the Kingdom of God. Is this your view of repentance? Does Kimball reflect the Mormon understanding accurately?

Part 2 of my review can be read here.