A free ride to heaven?

In a facebook exchange related to my last post,  I stated that, in “The Gift of Grace” President Uchtdorf “teaches explicitly that we get a free ride to heaven.”

One LDS disagreed and responded:

“If by “free ride” you mean free of repentance, obedience, good works, or somehow contradictory to what other prophets and apostles have taught, you’ve clearly completely misunderstood his point.”

Another LDS agreed and stated:

That “free” gift of sanctification, however, is itself conditioned upon repentance, personal righteousness, and “enduring to the end.” Grace assists us in these tasks as well, but DOES NOT override our agency, free will, or the power of Satan to tempt and deceive.

It is after “all we can do” moment by moment, that we are purged and made “new creatures in Christ.”

I totally disagree with these very common mis-interpretations of Mormonism. When I was a Mormon I might have been an outlier in that I based my faith on what it said in the scriptures over any other teachings.  Based on the Doctrine and Covenants section 76, Joseph Smith’s revelation concerning the afterlife, these commentators have Mormonism fully bass-ackwards.

In their vision of heaven Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon affirm that Christ himself appeared to them defined the Gospel:

 40 And this is the gospel, the glad tidings, which the voice out of the heavens bore record unto us—

 41 That he came into the world, even Jesus, to be crucifiedfor the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and tosanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness;

 42 That through him all might be saved whom the Father had put into his power and made by him;

 43 Who glorifies the Father, and saves all the works of his hands, except those sons of perdition who deny the Son after the Father has revealed him.”

It sticks in my craw that Mormons continue to deny even their own scriptural account of the Gospel, to hold onto the dream that eternal joy is not the fate of all who accept the power of God in their lives.

I have always understood that authentic scripture-based Mormonism teaches that all are guaranteed eternal joy in Christ.  What the Church has been missing are witnesses to this reality.  Without the witnesses, and without the evidence in the countenances of the saved, Mormon children simply won’t get what Jesus — or Joseph Smith — was talking about.

Joseph Smith clearly believed he, and every man, woman and child that was created, was saved from hell and his life was an attempt to glorify God.  Only those who rejected God’s grace would not wind up in heaven.  What Latter-Day Saints should be teaching is that the ONLY free ride in this world is the ride to Heaven. Instead, they often teach that everything in this world is guaranteed if we obey, EXCEPT our place in heaven.

Evangelicals, Theosis & Exaltation

Christian bookstores sometimes sell personalized bookmarks listing your name, its meaning, and a Scripture verse that goes along with it. Youth leaders gave these to me often while I was growing up, and they would say something like this: “BRIDGET / Irish: ‘Strength’ / ‘The Lord is my strength and my song.’ ~ Psalm 118:4.” I grew up thinking my given name meant “strength,” which I guess is okay as names go. It wasn’t until I was a pregnant adult in my mid-twenties beginning to research names for my future daughter that I learned the other meanings of my name: “exalted one” or “high goddess.” “Strength” isn’t incorrect, but it is one of the least potent interpretations of the name. Why do the makers of cute personalized Christian bookmarks shy away from describing us Bridgets in more divine terms?

Theosis Phobia

I think it has to do with Western Christianity’s phobia of theosis, also known as deification or divinization. Theosis is the doctrine of men becoming gods or, as the Eastern Orthodox church beautifully puts it, “becoming by grace what God is by nature.” I think it’s safe to say that evangelicals don’t actively believe in theosis. I’ve been a practicing evangelical for the last eleven years and a less active evangelical for six years before that, in which time I’ve been to all kinds of evangelical conferences, retreats, Bible studies, youth camps and festivals, and I have never once heard theosis preached from the pulpit, taught as a lesson or discussed with a small group. None of the evangelical devotional books I’ve read have discussed it, either.

Not only do evangelicals not preach theosis, but when we hear that Mormons believe in a version of it (usually referred to as “exaltation”), we become outright opposed to it. We start arguing that wanting to become a god is sinful, that the notion of becoming “like God” was part of Satan’s temptation of Eve in the garden of Eden (Gen. 3:5). We don’t bother to stop and examine the Bible for ourselves to see whether or not there could be any biblical basis for the doctrine, nor are we aware of the strong history of theosis among Christian writers whom we consider orthodox. As Greg Johnson said in Bridging the Divide, “We react to each other’s theological emphases … and we almost conclude that if, doctrinally speaking, the Mormons are headed east then we had better head west.” (p. 29-30) Theosis has Mormon cooties on it now, so we don’t want it.

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