[This post is excerpts from an LDS sacrament meeting talk on fasting a friend of mine gave. These are not my thoughts but this is almost exactly the way I believed as a Mormon. The speaker is an strong example of typical LDS faith, and I thought this might be of interest to the discussion of the similarities and differences between Evangelicalism and LDS Christianity.
The LDS set aside one Sunday per month to fast for a chosen purpose. A “fast” consists of going 24 hours without eating or drinking or skipping two meals. The money saved by not eating is donated to the needy through the church welfare system. The program was instituted as a way to generate money for the poor. The talk began with a discussion of the historical practice of fasting in the bible and in the history of the LDS church and then turns to picking either a spiritual or a temporal purpose for the monthly fast. ]
. . . Here’s how I might go about thinking through picking a temporal purpose for a fast. I would ask myself these two questions: (1) Is this something God is capable of helping me with? (2) Is this something he even cares about?
First of all, what is God’s purpose? To bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man — that is his focus. To accomplish this on this earth, he set up 2 things. First, free agency. We know that before this earth was created, Satan wanted God to have complete power to control our decisions on this earth. Christ’s plan was to give us that power. And God went with Christ’s plan. Which is remarkable, because in doing so, he consciously limited himself.
With free agency, he can’t force me to get out of bed, or go to work, or take care of my kids. He can’t force an employer to hire me – or to not fire me. He can’t stop a man from abusing his wife. He can’t stop war, or disease. He can’t stop Donald Trump from getting on TV or will the BYU Cougars to win a game in the NCAA tournament. Because we, individually and collectively, all 7 billion of us, are the decision makers on this earth. We decide who gets rich, and who doesn’t. We decide who wins wars, and who doesn’t. We decide who goes to jail and who doesn’t. Not God. It’s the primary explanation for why a loving God would allow all the temporal pain and injustice that happens in this world. It’s part of a larger plan we accepted prior to coming to this earth – with all of its risks and temporal inequalities.
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.
This is in response to a lot of questions Andrew had about whether Christianity makes sense or is worthy of concern.(The challenge was to EILI5, I suppose this is as simple as I can make it for now.) I am coming at this in an admittedly unorthodox way. I don’t know that I believe in a personal God, or even really know what that could mean, so setting aside this fundamental Christian doctrine, i.e. whether God is either personal or ethical. I will try to put the other rudiments of Christianity in a way that would make sense to the average five-year-old (or 35-year-old) deist, atheist, or pagan.
Along with the fact of salvation, there is another fact that is wound up in Christianity. James pointed to this fact: i.e. faith without works is dead. Once a person accepts that salvation is possible, the question remains, what should I do? The Mormon answer is actually very compelling for most people given the facts in front of them.
Joseph Smith grew up. like many Christians today, with the understanding that the Bible was the word of God. He had no sophisticated understanding of how to prioritize scriptural passages – nor did he care for sophisticated understandings – he saw the original text all as equally true. It all came from God didn’t it? The bible talks a lot about Israel, Zion, the end of the world, the Second Coming, the Kingdom of God and a whole lot of other things that would happen on earth. To him, and to many reasonable people, if the Bible is reliable, it seems like the “true” Church should be wrapped up in that stuff in a big way.
Nearly every country preacher in Joseph Smith’s time was using reason and the Bible to try to figure out how the Bible should apply to life and society in light of the dire prophecies in the text. They were incorporating “churches” based on all kinds of novel hermeneutics, visions, assimilation of science, and personal creativity. Some of this, no doubt, was simply branding and gimmicks, and the young Joseph Smith was clearly deeply cynical about the established order of things – especially given the bald-faced selling of salvation and religious competition that was going on around him. It may not be possible tell if Joseph was “saved” in the Protestant sense, but it may be also that he rejected the descriptions of salvation given by the country preachers around him, because they were too simple and self-serving. He might have thought that the way the preachers talked about salvation was corrupt as they were, or at least made way-too-simple in order to make their product more attractive. Like Joseph, these country preachers had already completely rejected the authority of the Catholic Church, every state church, and every other denomination except their own. It seemed clear to him that these men did not seek “the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol.” (D&C 1: 16.) He sought direction from heaven.