Notes on the possibility of a profitable dialogue between Mormons and Protestants

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. ūüôā )

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.

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Joseph Smith’s bedrock message about the Light of Christ

In LDS teaching there is often a minor mistake often made in explaining the Light of Christ, but this mistake can have dramatic consequences in the minds of LDS children.

The light of Christ often defined by LDS Missionaries as the conscience, enabling people to judge good from evil. But according to doctrine, the conscience is only a manifestation of the Light of Christ. But if you judge by the Book of Mormon, the Light of Christ must also be the thing that allows you to see salvation from the conscience.  A critical doctrine in the LDS Faith is that Adam and Eve were sent from the garden with a specific sort of enlightenment: (1) the knowledge of good and evil, and (2) a knowledge of their inevitable salvation from good and evil.  The Books of Abraham and Moses establish that Adam and Eve knew about Christ from the time they left the Garden. Symbolically, the temple ceremony must mean that (1) all humans have a conscience, and (2) they have the capacity to understand their ultimate salvation, even before Jesus taught about it.  This understanding is assumed, before any priesthood, and any of the covenants.  This must be the Light of Christ. 

The temple ceremony also must mean that parents have the responsibility, before anything else, to teach their children to distinguish good from evil and to choose the right, and the inevitable salvation from their wrong choices in Christ.  Children must be taught that their salvation is inevitable in Christ, just as it is inevitable that they will fail to do good in nearly every choice they make.  To not teach the full light of Christ, is to fail to teach the first principle of the Gospel.  Without being enlightened in the mind somehow by the light of Christ it is not possible to have faith in Jesus Christ.

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Mormon Doctrine as Positive Law

Gundek suggested I lay out my thinking regarding Mormonism as a system of positive laws. Here goes:

The LDS Church is structured¬†in the doctrine of unity. To them, Christ ¬†himself decreed:¬†‚ÄúBe one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine‚ÄĚ (D&C 38:27.) ¬†This command is still at the very root of the way the Church is run today. ¬†This unity is also at the heart of the project of the Church, which is to bring about Zion. ¬†To the LDS, the concept of Zion was simply defined by Jehovah who applied that name to¬†the city established by the¬†antediluvian¬†Enoch¬†“because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” (Moses 7:18.) Zion is a sort of heaven on earth, so much so that, in theory, when people approach Zion in practice, they are translated, i.e. taken to heaven to await the final establishment of Zion.

Unity of heart and mind is generally considered a celestial standard by the LDS, which generally means that it is part of the higher law, the political goal striven for in this life, but ultimately reached after the Second Coming of Christ.  In theory, the Church was designed as the human vehicle for establishment of Zion on earth. As a Mormon, I saw most of the law throughout Biblical and LDS church as human groping with the Spirit to form a Zion society.  The law differed from time-to-time based on what was needed to move toward Zion. The differences were based what the culture and temperament of the people that followed God could sustain.  The doctrines and practices are contingent and transitory steps to produce Zion rather than dogmatic principles of theology.

What this has meant, in practice, is that the political unity of the Church is the paramount priority over the perfection of its theology or practice. Getting the right answer on they way the church has run is less important than getting behind the leadership.  Most theological questions are intentionally left unanswered. In rough terms, this is a system where the policy of the Church is considered correct, not because of its intellectual justification, but fact that the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, and the Membership have ratified it. The ultimate basis for the authority of the ratification comes from the conscience of the Church as it listens to the spirit. Thus, apostasy has little to do with theology or even argument, but a rejection of the structure that controls the ordinances of the Gospel.

In this way, most of the policies of the church are properly considered positedРi.e.  not directly derived from scripture, reason, or nature but established by proposition by the leadership and ratification by the membership. Unlike with Protestantism, Church doctrine and practice is not derived by interpretation of scripture through some hermeneutic principle. Church doctrine, including the content of Church covenants, is dependent on institutional facts, not the merits of a particular scriptural interpretation or philosophical argument.  This view was helpful to me as a Mormon in explaining the sweeping changes that have been made in the rules and practices and even the ordinances of the Church.  It also explains the pragmatic approach taken by the Church in policy over the years.