A very important part of LDS practice is the development and bearing of testimonies. A testimony is a public statement of faith and belief. Because having a testimony is considered to be an important, if not essential, part of conversion, the LDS have developed a very nuance way of talking about the matter. I think there is a lot of confusion about what you must believe in order to have a testimony of the Church, and to believe the Church is true.
In an effort to clear up some of the confusion I propose that for a person to “have a testimony” of the Church is merely to believe that it is God’s will that the person belong and participate in the Church for the good of the Church, its members, and the world.
I like this definition because it allows the freedom of religious belief that Joseph Smith, and many other Latter-Day Saints died for. It also allows for those who have such a testimony openly accept new (or old) teachings without casting doubt on their loyalty to the cause of Zion that the Church has always stood for. If Joseph Smith stood for anything in his life, it was the freedom to proclaim and embrace the words God gave him, whether God gave him those words through experience, ancient scripture, or direct revelation.
I think it is a disservice to his memory and legacy to question somebody’s testimony of the church merely because they embrace radically different doctrine. It is the ability to embrace any and all bodies of truth, which are filled with both wheat and tares, that only sure path for the members to make the Church the true church that they claim it to be.
A frequent commentor named Ray has asked a series of questions. I appreciate these questions because they get at some of the most deeply seeded controversies between Mormons and Evangelicals. A full post (or book) could be written on each question so don’t expect my answers to be completely comprehensive, just an introduction to each issue. The comments section might be a great place to direct Ray and other Mormons to further resources on each topic.
You’ll notice that I will not make a lot of Bible references in my answers. This is not because my answers are not informed by the Bible but because I can answer these questions much quicker and make the length much shorter if I leave them out. To be sure, I can direct anyone interested to the Biblical texts that support my answers.
I have proposed that continuing in sin can cause some one to lose their salvation. Do you agree or do you think once saved always saved? What does “endure to the end” mean to you?
This is a response to Gundek’s suggestions regarding the way forward in my project to create a profitable LDS/Evangelical dialogue. (Again, I didn’t edit this much and it might be a bit too repetitive, so please read charitably. 🙂 )
Like I have said earlier, I really don’t know much about being a converted Protestant, but I know that I now see something now that I didn’t see as a believing, spiritually minded Latter-day Saint. I am starting with the Light of Christ because the LDS will have no problem acknowledging that whatever truth I did find, it was not from an experience with the Holy Ghost, or from the Gift of the Holy Ghost. This is important because I am not LDS anymore and I want to be clear that whatever think about salvation does not threaten the LDS tradition because it comes outside of LDS covenants and outside of the Gift of the Holy Ghost. Mormonism is, by definition, the religion that is revealed outside of the understanding available through the Light of Christ, i.e. the Spirit of God, that those outside the Church have access to.
The Light of Christ seems a great place to start my dialogue with the LDS tradition because within the LDS tradition, whatever light and knowledge I have found must have come through the Light of Christ. By couching my understanding in terms of the Light of Christ, it side-steps all LDS revelation and tradition, and tries to go to the root of what non-LDS see in God that Joseph Smith may have taken for granted, or simply failed to grasp. It is no knock on Joseph Smith to claim that he did not understand the full nature of the Light of Christ, because the Light of Christ encompasses all knowledge.
In some ways I am trying to reverse-engineer my conversion process, restating the ideas that pushed me over the edge. The problem with this approach is that that once I began to recognize the reality of law and the reality of grace, and then feel the joy that this recognition brought, all kinds of ideas started clicking together to the point that I didn’t know precisely what convinced me, and how to explain why the argument was inescapable.
Gundek and Kullervo are on me to clarify why I don’t think Mormons have creeds in the way traditional Christians do. I thought I would go further and try to explain why Mormon rejection of creedalism is also a critical part of their belief system. I think G.K. Chesteron’s essay “What is America?” is a good place to start. (This is a bit long-winded so be warned.) Chesterton describes how he was required to answer numerous questions about his political beliefs before being allowed to enter the United States, something he found laughably intrusive leading him to compare the Spanish Inquisition to the American Constitution:
“It may have seemed something less than a compliment to compare the American Constitution to the Spanish Inquisition. But oddly enough, it does involve a truth, and still more oddly perhaps, it does involve a compliment. The American Constitution does resemble the Spanish Inquisition in this: that it is founded on a creed. America is the only nation in the world that is founded on creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that all men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just. It certainly does condemn anarchism. And it does also by inference condemn atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority from whom these equal rights are derived. Nobody expects a modern political system to proceed logically in the application of such dogmas, and in the matter of God and Government it is naturally God whose claim is taken more lightly. The point is that there is a creed, if not about divine, at least about human things. Continue reading →
Sean McCraney was a Mormon who openly put his faith in an Evangelical brand of Christianity and was born-again by most Evangelical measures. Yet, lately, he sounds like Joseph Smith or Brigham Young when he talks about the extant traditional Christian church. This seems indicative of both his Mormon and Calvary Chapel roots, and his blatantly contrarian attitude.
Sean McCraney’s approach to theology seems common sense. To a modern liberal who answers to God alone, the church has clearly needed fixing over the years. It does not represent the “good guys,” just “some guys” who happened to have attracted enough credentials and attention to make policy. Common sense tells people like McCraney that if you can fix something using Biblical interpretation, can’t you fix anything, including the Trinity? Can’t you reject any doctrine of pagan origin if you can reasonably show it to be such? McCraney’s refrain is as common as his sense. If “only God can judge us” it is clear to many that “we run things things don’t run we.”
While anarchy is not necessarily an irrational response to the corruption of the world, it is clearly a practically unreasonable one. Tim’s last post pointed out the firm, yet soft-spoken response to McCraney by Pastor Jason Wallace of Christ Presbyterian Church. For the first time, perhaps, I recognized the complexities of positively explaining the historical church and its necessity for those who believe in the historical theology.
McCraney’s case might show Evangelicals something important about their brand of Christianity strikes people. It is easy for Mormons to pick up Evangelical views of salvation–and these views are also often quite spiritually effective–but it is very difficult to explain and swallow the historical Church. This is one of the seeds that sprouted into Mormonism. It’s far easier to reject the church as fundamentally corrupt or essentially irrelevant than to shoehorn its history into a neat package that can appeal to modern sensibilities. In a small way, the McCraney case shows that Evangelical Protestants have as big a problem with church history as do Mormons.