The first time my wife and I attended an LDS baptism a man stood up to speak and he told the young woman being baptized that the following day they would lay hands on her and give her the gift of the Holy Ghost. He counseled her to avoid all evil afterwards and to never enter a place in which the Holy Ghost could not follow. My wife and I were stunned. This might have been the thing that stunned and offended our sensibilities more than anything we had heard in Mormonism to that point.
As we discussed it later we couldn’t imagine living a faith where the possibility existed that the Holy Spirit could not bear his presence. Our own journeys and the faith we had grown up in taught us that even in the deepest darkest places the Holy Spirit was at work convicting, counseling and comforting. Though the distractions around us may make it difficult to hear him, we believed that he always had to power to reveal himself. As God, He could always overcome the situations or atmosphere of those he wished to guide.
Byline: Does the difficulty in feeling assured of salvation dissolve the practical differences in “works”-focused vs. belief-focused religion?
I used to think that the problem of assurance of salvation was a big practical difference between Mormons and Evangelicals. I am not so sure now.The theological differences seem stark. According to the rough academic analogy, Mormons believe that everybody is born with a passing grade, and you have to decide to fail. So long as your intentions are in the right direction, and you are living up to your potential , you are going to the Celestial Kingdom. If you fall short you are going to get a great consolation prize– eternally living in heaven with Jesus forever. If you criminally screw up and reject Jesus, you are going to suffer for your sins but eventually you will be in a heavenly place with the eternal joy that the Holy Spirit can bring you. Mormons believe (or used to) that some striving souls could get a “second endowment.” An ordinance performed in the temple that seals a person with their spouse to the Celestial Kingdom. They have their “calling and election made sure.” Anymore, this concept and practice has practically disappeared from the Church. Mormons are left completely sure they are going to heaven, but always unsure of which heaven they will go to. I believed that whatever I–or nearly anybody else–was in for in the afterlife, it was going to be a whole lot better than this world.
Contrasting my experience with the children of Evangelicalism. I can see how the “faith alone” doctrine would have scared the hell out of me. Evangelicals believe you are born with a failing grade– the default is hell. People qualify for salvation by correct belief and reliance on the work of Jesus alone. It seems to me that if you are an Evangelical facing the never-ending torment of hell, you’d better make darn sure you are saved. And the problem is, because non-saving faith can masquerade as true belief and faith, there is a lot of room for consternation. Just as Mormons obsess about doing enough to be “good enough” , it seems that doubt-prone Evangelicals can easily fall into a cycle of severe anxiety trying to assure their faith is “true” enough. And the stakes– and possibly the potential anxiety seem considerably higher. It seems that many Evangelicals indeed have this problem of assurance gauging from this article in Relevant Magazine, by J.D. Greear, Evangelical author of Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart. .
St. Paul on road to Damascus (Photo credit: bobosh_t)
Christian J pointed out in the discussion of my last post that he thought the Mormon model of seeking spiritual confirmation of doctrine was biblical. I think he is right. When I was LDS, I was very impressed by Paul’s discussion in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 2. It captured perfectly my view of the core of Missionary work. Those interested in Mormonism would do well to understand how Paul’s words are lived by LDS today.