A look at some of the fundamental teachings of Mormonism.

What do mormons believe – Part 5

(Disclaimer: These views are all based on my knowledge and interpretation as an active Latter Day Saint, or “Mormon”, only the actual article of faith I list should be considered “official”.  Still, I try to be accurate and do my homework 😉

We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.

5th Article of Faith

Core to Mormon Doctrine is the notion of divine authority, the priesthood of God.  For something to be binding in heaven it must be done by the proper authority.  No man can simply declare himself an authority and conduct the eternally binding business of the Lord on the earth.  A man cannot simply aspire to an office, calling, or ministry, or declare any authority of himself or through his education or accomplishments (“And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that was called of God, as was Aaron” Hebrews 5:4)

But rather we believe that a man must be called of God by divine inspiration and revelation by those who are in authority, and then given the keys, or the rights, to administer in specific and limited ways.

So, you might ask, wherein do “those who are in authority” claim their authority?  The answer is the same now as it was in the days of Christ – from the Lord.  For the priesthood and the keys to administer thereof must be passed directly, by the laying on of hands, in an unbroken chain.

When Christ was crucified, there began a great apostasy, where truth diminished, the gospel became polluted with the teachings man, and the rights of the priesthood were removed from the earth, for those who held it were killed, or died.  Because of that great falling away, it became crucial for a complete restoration, not only of truth, but of authority, for the work of God must continue today as it did in Christ’s time (“he is the same yesterday, today, and forever” Hebrews 13:8). 

So Mormons believe that there was a great restoration, where the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, along with the priesthood authority to administer the gospel and the affairs of the church were brought back to the earth in their totality, through the prophet Joseph Smith.  And that since that time, those keys have been passed in an unbroken chain, by the laying on of hands, down through the generations to our present day, at all times overseen by a prophet of God, just as in times of old (“for surely the Lord God will do nothing except he reveal his secret to his servants, the prophets” Amos 3:7).

What’s even more interesting is that in practice, it creates a dynamic within the church that is indeed very unique.

For since all who serve are called of God, and don’t “graduate” or “earn” a position, you have no idea who might be called, or when.  Consequently, the people that lead the church today, even the very apostles and prophet, all come from different walks of life.  None of them aspired to their position.  And since the general “clergy” of the church are unpaid (very unique indeed), they all continue to work, serving the Lord in their various capacities in an entirely volunteer manner.

None of these are professional “clergymen”, but rather ordinary people, called to do extraordinary things and make extraordinary sacrifices, enabled and empowered by the extraordinary power and priesthood of God.  Because he whom the Lord calls, he qualifies.  Through divine assistance, they’re able to conduct the Lords work on the earth, far beyond what would is befitting their native capacities.

How wonderful it is to know that we are led by men who have been called of God, chosen and called up to do his work, and who are given the authority and rights to function in ways that make the ordinances for our salvation official, binding, and eternal.

Rusty

See also Part 1Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7

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Writing on an open canon, line upon line

One of the foundational principles taught in scripture is that we are given “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little”, but many overlook the magnificent implications of this profound principle.

The unstated, but astoundingly clear premise of this principle is simply “what I have given you, is not all I have to give” and “what I have taught you, is not all I have to teach”, followed with a resounding and exhilarating “…there’s more”.

What beautiful and compelling doctrine, for at its heart is the promise of continued revelation, and the assurance that what he has already taught us, will be added upon.

That refreshing realization revitalizes our search for truth and renews our need for a religion whose philosophy embraces the ideals of ongoing communication from God.

For God has always communicated with Man, through prophets, an ancient and historically proven  pattern.  And as he does so, they record his words, as they did in Ancient Isreal which brought us the Bible.

And within the Bible Christ himself declared that he had other sheep that should hear his voice, other people to visit and teach.   Those too heard his voice, and recorded his words, bringing us the Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus Christ, and another witness that God gives man line upon line, precept upon precept.

And finally, the Lord restored his pattern of prophets to the earth, through Joseph Smith, thus renewing the ongoing availability of prophetic guidance and instruction to the true followers of Christ, that our divinely outlined “line upon line” instruction may be endlessly fed by inspired leaders of God.

That’s the miracle of Mormonism, wholeheartedly embracing the principle of progression, line upon line, precept upon precept, ever looking for that next line, that next precept, rather than the devestatign proclamation that “we’ve had enough”.

Rusty

P.S.  Click here “Discussing an open canon” for further reflection and discussion on the subject.  See also a video of Jeffrey R. Holland discussing an open cannon on “Gods words never cease

What do Mormons believe, part 6

(Disclaimer: These views are all based on my knowledge and interpretation as an active Latter Day Saint, or “Mormon”, only the actual article of faith I list should be considered “official”.  Still, I try to be accurate and do my homework 😉

We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.

6th Article of Faith

The church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is organized according to revelation, with leaders that are called of God and not of man and who hold the authority of the Holy Priesthood, and is based on the same structure that Christ established himself on the earth. 

Hebrews 5:4 (and numerous references in the Book of Mormon) help us understand that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.   Throughout life we’re constantly bombarded with the challenge of discerning truth and right.  Those of you who are reading this post who are not Mormon face a similar challenge, to determine for yourself if the teachings of Mormonism are true (which you can know through personal revelation – James 1:5, Moroni 10:4). 

But how refreshing it is when we find instances, such as this, where the establishment of His church today is the same as it was in times past.  Seeing the same template of organization is one of the easiest ways to recognize His church.  For “by their fruits, ye shall know them”.  How is that so?  Because the things that they know, do, and believe, shall be recognizable as what He taught and did on the earth.

And aside from the refreshing sameness of church structure, how invigorating it is to know that at the head of His church today, just as in times of old, we are guided by a holy prophet, called of God, who holds all the necessary keys and authority of the priesthood to officiate in the church of God and all the necessary ordinances required for us to reach our exaltation.

The belief in a true and living prophet is very unique to Mormonism.  For we believe that God truly is the same today as he was yesterday, that today, just as yesterday, he works through prophets.  “Surely the Lord God will do nothing save he reveals his secrets to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).  These prophets play a crucial role today, as they did in times past, in teaching and testifying of the Savior and his gospel, and in warning us of those timely issues that we face, that we might, at all times, be prepared.

How wonderful it is that this prophet, the apostles, and other church leaders were called of God, and did not aspire, nor ever seek for their positions, but rather agreed to give up their lives to serve the Lord, when they were asked.  I find great inspiration in the organization of the church, and enjoy the distinctive flavor of divinity in its structure and workings.

Rusty

See also Part 1Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7

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Are Mormons Christian? What truly defines a Christian?

This post is a continuation of the series “Are Mormons Christian“.

In the comments on the post “Are Mormons Christian? Do doctrinal difference define us“, the Pondering Pastor and I began a most crucial discussion that strikes at the very heart of this matter.

The post was about the importance of having a commonality of definitions of terms for accurate communication.  How differences in belief do not disqualify someone from the definition of Christianity, since in truth, we all differ to some varying degree. 

If our doctrine differs by degrees, is it therefore possible to be 50% Christian, or 80%, depending on how greatly your doctrine departs from what is orthodox?  And is orthodoxy truly the best measure?  Wasn’t Christ himself unorthodox in his day?  How about Luther?

So to say to one “you’re not a Christian”, simply because their beliefs diverge from your own, is a definition that does us no good.

But then what is a good definition?  If the exact alignment of the details of our doctrine cannot qualify us as Christian, what can?  What is fair?  What is the righteous way to judge?

Fortunately, that answer has already been given.  Surely the Lord knew that so many varying beliefs would sprout up, and as such, gave us the mechanism with which we may judge.

“Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matthew 7:20)

That is how you know a Christian.  Not by what they say they believe, but by what they demonstrate of their beliefs through their actions.

For as Matthew continues “…not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”  (Matthew 7:21)

In that chapter the Lord clearly teaches that men do not gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles.  If you’re finding grapes, you’re not in a thorn bush, but a vineyard.   “…neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit”, but a “good tree bringeth forth good fruit”.  Hence, by their fruits ye shall know them.

Much can be discussed about doctrine.  What you believe, how you interpret scripture, what manner of baptism you subscribe to, etc.  But those don’t define a Christian.  Being Christ-like is what makes a Christian. 

For actions are the evidence of faith.   Remember, “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:20)

And as we read in John “though ye believe not me, believe the works:  that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him. (John 10:38)”

That is the one true, fair, and righteous way to define a Christian.  By their works, not their talk.  “I will shew thee my faith by my works.” (James 2:18).

Rusty

Mormons Are Christians

As I posted to the question “Are Mormons Christian“, the answer, of course, is a resounding and emphatic yes, and I explain why that answer is so clear.

The dictionary, used to determine socially accepted definitions terms, defines a Christian as “one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ”, and “one who follows Jesus Christ”, and of course, Mormons do.

Still, there are some who seek to strain at the definition of Christianity, to have it be somehow exclusive, and who somehow claim authority over that name as if it were a kind of brand that they could copyright and control, thereby denying all others their right to associate themselves to the term.

These, who would claim the corner on Christianity, endeavor to cast doubt upon the “Christianity” of others (such as Mormons) simply because their beliefs aren’t identical to their own.  But in doing so, they illustrate their own improper understanding of what being Christian really means.

Still, these people work diligently to perpetuate certain common arguments intended to confuse and mislead those who sincerely want to know.  For this purpose, I have decided to entertain open discussion of these arguments here.  I do this for those who have been confused by some of these things, that they might hear the full truth, and then consult with the Lord for themselves, rather than accepting in full the personal opinions of others.

Below, you’ll find a set of posts based on the most common of these arguments.  Click on each post to read the argument, the answer, and for discussion specific to that topic.  If there are additional arguments not listed here, please let me know in the comments here, and if necessary, I’ll create a post dedicated to it for further discussion.

(note:  I’m writing these sections now, one by one, and will post them as they’re done.  If you have comments pertaining to one of these, please save it for the dedicated post, so that the conversations can be more focused.  If not listed, then feel free to post here, and I’ll add to this list appropriately.)

Rusty

It is not the critic who counts

I’ve moved this post to my new Life-Engineering blog, dedicated to motivating people to achieve their goals and change their futures by taking control of their lives.

You can now find this post here:

http://life-engineering.com/it-is-not-the-critic-who-counts/

What do Mormons believe about works?

Many have asked me what Mormons believe about “works”, and how we reconcile those beliefs with the notion of being saved by grace, through the mercy of Christ and His atonement.

Indeed, Mormons believe that our salvation is made possible by the mercy of Christ, and were it not for his everlasting Atonement, we could not be saved.  For man is carnal, mortal, and imperfect, and as such, will inevitably sin.  But the atonement of Christ makes it possible for us to be forgiven for our sins by paying the demands of justice if we will repent.

For as the scriptures tell us, God is Just, and it is always required that the laws of justice be satisfied, for there are consequences for sin (as we read throughout the scriptures).  But if man will repent, the Lord will intercede with the demands of justice, having paid the price already himself.  Such is mercy. 

But if man will not repent, he cannot be saved, for no unclean thing can dwell with god.  And not only must we repent of our sins, but we must strive to live the gospel and keep the commandments, and there are certain things we must do in order to earn our salvation.

Baptism, for instance, is required for salvation.  So is obedience.  For why would God give men commandments if he did not expect them to be obeyed?  And why would he require men to repent, or why would his servants, the prophets, so continually preach repentance, if repentance were not necessary for salvation, or if obedience were optional and there were no consequence for disobedience?

Hence we believe that through the Atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel (1st article of faith).

The following are just a very few verses I’ve selected from the Bible that help provide the scriptural basis for these beliefs.  But the burden of proof of this doctrine of works is not upon Mormons, for the scriptures I reference here (among many others) are clear and present.  Rather the burden is upon those who believe contrary to this scripture, to come up with some alternative explanation for these and other verses.

Revelation 20:12-15 “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”

Hebrews 5:5-10 “He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.”

Romans 2:13-16 “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.”

2 Thessalonians 1:1-10 “When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

James 1:22-25 “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”

Romans 2:5-11 “And revelation of the righteous judgment of God: Who will render to every man according to his deeds…”

Matthew 7:21-23 “Not every one that saith unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

Matthew 16:27 and Revelation 22:12-15 “For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father, with His angels, and then He shall reward every man according to his works.”

Luke 6:46-49 “And why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?”

John 7:16-17 “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine…”

John 14:15-21 “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”

Acts 1-:34-36 “But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.”

Titus 3:8 “That they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works.”

1 John 1:6 “And this is love, that we walk after his commandments.”

Revelation 22:14-15 “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life.”

1 Samuel 15:22 “To obey is better than to sacrifice”

Matthew 7:15-20 “Ye shall no them by their fruits”

Matthew 24:13 “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved”.

Galations 5:20-23 “Now the works of the flesh are manifest…of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

James 2:14-26 “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have no works? Can faith save him?… For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

Rusty

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Is “anti” contrary to Christianity?

You can be “non” without being “anti”. 

I’m not a protestant (I’m Mormon), but that doesn’t make me anti-protestant.  The two are mutually exclusive.  And there’s a big difference from being “non” (like being non-Mormon), and being anti.  One is innocent, without malice, while the other is focused upon criticism and destruction.

I recently commented on another post, that as I study the life of the Savior, what I find is not a pattern of him being “anti” anything.  He didn’t seek opportunities to refute others.  Instead, he demonstrated a life of building, creating, of going around teaching the gospel, creating truth and testimony, performing miracles.  The times when he DID become more hostile or accusatory are when others sought him out to refute him, or to persecute him.  They were the “anti’s”.  Instead, His life was one of tolerance and love, understanding and empathy.  His conversations were not crammed with criticism.

Such were the teachings of Rabbi Gamaliel of Tarsus as described in Acts who counseled Saul and others against persecuting the saints.  Acts chapter 5 describes an event where Gamaliel encouraged moderation, saying “take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men… refrain from these men, and let them alone:  for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought:  But ifit be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against god.” (Acts 5:38-39)

This is wisdom.  This is the character of Christ, whereas “anti” is an attribute of the adversary.  The one is centered around moderation, love, patience, kindness, tolerance, and understanding, the other centered around destruction, negativism, criticism, and judgement.

Theodore Roosevelt said it well:

“It is not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbles, or how the doer of deeds might have done them better.  No, the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat, and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again…  Who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

If you’re going to be “anti”, be anti about principles and morals, things like “anti-abortion”, “anti-dishonesty”, “anti-drug abuse”, but don’t be anti about people or religions, for such is not the character of Christ.  As the Lord taught Peter, we must have compassion, and forgive all men their trespasses.

 

Rusty

Picking the lock of salvation

For those of you who weren’t aware, last week was the national HOPE conference in New York.  No, this isn’t a self-help conference teaching us how to increase our capacity to hope (I wish it were).  Rather, it’s a gathering of some of the most talented and well-known hackers around the planet.  HOPE stands for “Hackers on Planet Earth”.

At every HOPE conference there’s a popular area called “Lockpicking Village” where they discuss all the latest lock picking techniques. 

Reflecting on the whole thing, I couldn’t help but draw the parallel to those who somehow think they can “slide” into heaven, somehow opening the “doors” of heaven without actually going through the mandatory prerequisite steps. 

A lock is made of tumblers in a tube, each of which must be in the correct place before the lock will turn.  Inserting just the right key will put those tumblers in their required positions, but inserting any other key, or a partial key, will only place a few of the tumblers, if any, in the necessary position, and no matter how hard you twist, or how long you wait, the lock simply won’t turn and the door simply won’t open.

So many religions teach the doctrine that man needs to do little, if anything, for salvation.  In fact, often they teach that it’s as simple as accepting Christ, or being baptized.  But first, baptism must be done by one holding the proper authority, but even then, that is only one of the tumblers in the lock.  There is more we must do.  Baptism and faith alone are insufficient for our exaltation; they’re only part of the lock.  Religions that teach such doctrine, therefore cannot adequately equip you to enter into the kingdom of God. 

The proof is in scripture itself, for we will, as Revelation 20:12-15 states, be “judged… according to their works”.

While the sacrifice of our Savior put the gate on the barrier, making entrance possible, it does not make entrance sure.  The surety of our salvation can only be gained by approaching that day armed with the right key, the one that satisfies the demands of all the tumblers in the gate, baptism by authority being one of them.

While this doctrine is far from traditional, it is prevalently backed by scripture.  And while critics are quick to protest, it is not the burden of Mormonism to back this claim, but the burden of anyone believing contrary to come up with a suitable explanation for each of the scriptures which clearly state otherwise (and which I list in detail here – a post that has gone almost entirely unchallenged).

But the miracle of Mormonism, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is that through Joseph Smith, the great latter-day prophet, the gospel of Christ was restored to the earth in its fullness along with all the keys, authority, ordinances and covenants necessary for us to do all we must do to enter the kingdom of our Father.

I invite you to learn more about this prophet Joseph Smith (here), partake for yourself in the miracle of Mormonism, and experience the rich blessings that come from understanding and living the fullness of the gospel.

Rusty

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What do Mormons really believe, part 3

See also Part 1Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7

(Disclaimer: These views are all based on my knowledge and interpretation as an active Latter Day Saint, or “Mormon”, only the actual article of faith I list should be considered “official”.  Still, I try to be accurate and do my homework 😉

We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

3rd Article of Faith

Surely one of the most beautiful of beliefs and refreshing of realizations is the reality of the Atonement.  The third Article of Faith is meant to address the efficacy of the Atonement, and the profound role it plays in our lives.

We believe that through the atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved…  ALL mankind!  What more encouraging words could you possibly encounter?

That tells me that no matter where I am in life, no matter how far astray I may have gone, no matter what I’ve done, the atonement of Christ can save me from my sins.

How often Satan – ever our adversary – seeks to engulf us in the belief that we’ve gone too far, or done too much.  Enveloped with despair he tries to overwhelm us with our past, and blind us to the hope to which we are entitled because of the atonement.  But such is not the case.  Hope is ever ours to have.

Through the crucifixion of Christ and his unimaginable suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, He took upon himself the sins of the world, the sins of you and me.   All this that we might not have to pay the price for those sins – for indeed a price there must be, for mercy cannot rob justice.

But herein enters an important principle, the second part of this article of faith.  While the resurrection of Christ makes it possible for all mankind to be resurrected, a free gift with no prerequisite price to pay from us, the atonement of Christ is ours to have also, but is conditional.

For us to benefit from the Atonement, for us to “be saved”, we must first acknowledge and accept the Savior and His sacrifice.  He has cast us the lifeline, but we must exert ourselves to grab hold.  Said so simply, it sounds easy, but it requires genuine humility, which proves ever difficult for all.

And it doesn’t stop there… a portion of this principle that creates an unmistakable and compelling distinction between Mormonism and most other Christian beliefs.  The notion that after we have accepted Christ, and been baptized in His name, we must continue in the faith, abounding in good works, keeping the commandments of God, and continually repenting along the way.

But a life so led, where one struggles to stay on the path as he is frequently beset by the inevitable mistakes of mortality, is one that is acceptable in the eyes of God, and is one that leads to salvation.  We must first grab hold, and then endure to the end.

Rusty

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Faith Fitness – day 2 (Optimism)

This post is part of a series called Faith Fitness – increasing our capacity to believe.  Don’t forget to see the intro, part 1 (Testimony), part 2 (Optimism), and part 3 (Hope).

Thanks for joining me again.  I hope that your finding yourself invigorated by your newfound appreciation for your divine worth.  You are magnificent, and incomprehensibly capable of achieving anything.

Now you’re ready to move on to step two – building up just a little more momentum.  The second exercise in building your capacity to believe and exercise faith is all about optimism.

First, let’s discuss the principle upon which this exercise is based.

Faith and pessimism are antithetical.  You cannot simultaneously be pessimistic and faithful.  The perniciousness of pessimism cripples your ability to hope (a crucial component for active faith), and fills you with a spirit of negativity.

Many people believe that the optimistic can be too much so, forcing them to be unrealistic.  But we need to watch ourselves, for faith is not based on reality, but our hope for things which are not seen.

When Peter sought to walk on water, as long as his eyes focused on Christ he maintained his belief that what he was doing was possible.  But when he cast his eyes toward the waves and the depth of the ocean beneath him – what he saw was reality.  What we perceive as reality blinds us to what CAN be.  And because reality told him that standing on water was not possible, pessimism and doubt shattered his foothold of faith, and he started sinking.

But optimism forces us to look beyond “reality”, and not in an ignorant, self-disillusioned manner.  While our physical eyes are trained to see “reality”, or what things ARE, optimism is the lens that lets us see what CAN be.

With optimism we see the bright side of things; we see the good in all that surrounds.  I testify that as you begin to perfect the practice of optimistic living, your world will become brighter.  You’ll be lifted up to the view of a vista that is abounding in opportunity, flush with goodness, dripping with wonder, and that perspective will change your life forever.

Optimism is empowering, for it lets you see the world as it could be.  And as the clarity of that vision begins to replace the dull reality that surrounds you, you’ll find yourself capable of believing that you can make a difference.  You’ll start to see the role you can play to connect the realm of reality to the wonder of what could be.

Now, armed with the testimony of who you truly are, and looking through the lens of opportunity, you’ll be prepared to move to the next step… HOPE.  The brilliant and empowering, propelling principle of hope.

So today’s exercise, is to be optimistic.  Focus your mind on forcing out the negative cloud of pessimism, look at the world not at what it is, but what it could be.  See the silver lining.  Enjoy the wonder and glory of a much brighter world.

Rusty

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God’s words never cease…

Yesterday I posted “Writing an open canon, line upon line” and “Discussing an open canon“.  As a continuation of this important topic, I thought that today I would present you with a special treatment on the topic by an apostle of the Lord, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland.

 

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tz3rggCnhxQ&feature=related

 

Rusty

Ask a Mormon a Question

As I posted here “Researching Mormonism – a Lutheran Bishop’s advice“, Krister Stendahl gives us three rules for examining another religion.  The first and foremost rule is that when you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion, and not its enemies.

His words inspired me to create this page – allowing you to ask me any question you might, so that you can hear an answer directly from a Mormon.

As you’ll see by the disclaimer at the top of my blog, everything I say is simply my opinion and interpretation of doctrine, for official doctrine you can visit www.lds.org.  But, I will give you my honest opinions, and I will base them on scripture and doctrine to the best of my ability.

If I don’t know the answer to your question, then I’ll endeavor to get you an answer. 

Since I intend to keep this present at all times, I’ve created an “Ask a Mormon” page (click here).  All you have to do is type in your question in the comments at the bottom of the page.  I don’t moderate them.  If the question seems genuine, I’ll answer it in a dedicated post.  If it’s not genuine, or if your purpose seems to simply be to argue, disrupt, or be disrespectful, don’t bother – I’ll delete it and move on.

But if you’re someone who genuinely wants to know what Mormons believe about something, just ask.  But don’t ask here – go to the page.  Please reserve comments on this post to the endeavor as a whole, and not for specific questions.

Thanks,
Rusty

The commercialization of religion

In my first post in the miracles of Mormonism series, I touched briefly on something that needs further exploration.

Like it or not, we humans are economically driven.  From the very moment that Adam was cast out of the Garden of Eden and told that he would eat his bread only by the sweat of his brow, we became dependent upon the need for compensation.  Compensation allows us to live, survive, to feed and support our families, and to maintain a particular lifestyle.  We became inexorably tied to the laws of economics.

As mankind progressed, societies progressed.  Soon we outgrew hunting and gathering, began to farm and store our own food, trade, and specialize.  In the course of this specialization man began to look for all kinds of opportunities to make money.

It was only a matter of time before some would realize that religion, or the desire to believe in something, was a pretty fundamental need of mankind.  Where there is demand there will also be supply.  That’s how economics works; people will pay you for giving them what they want.

But there are lots of problems with this kind of commercialization when it comes to religion, and just as one could have predicted the emergence of the occupation of “preaching for money”, economics can also forecast some of the consequences of this model.

When you receive regular compensation for something, that something becomes your product.  If you are going to make a living off selling that product, then now you have to market that product.  In a very real way, you’re simply in business, and the basic rules of business and product marketing and management can now be extrapolated to you – even if what you’re selling is religion.

As a product manager myself, I can testify that once you start selling a product, you become very interested in selling more of that product.  After all, your sustenance depends upon it.  So you begin to naturally see how your product is received.  Over time, your product evolves. 

Soon you start carving out the portions that people don’t care for, or that are too “expensive”, and don’t offer sufficient return.  At the same time you start adding to your product things that you know your consumers want, things that will keep them buying your product, and things that will make your product more enticing to others.  You start to look at ways to expand your customer base and reach new market segments.

This kind of product evolution is inevitable and inescapable, and the economics are undeniable.  As long as one derives their sustenance from the customers they serve, they’re interests will be naturally shaped by their customer satisfaction.

A business cannot survive, after all, selling a product that nobody wants.

But when we’re talking about the commercialization of religion, where doctrine and teachings are the product being sold, then the evolution of that product becomes a scary thing, for the longer time goes by, the more that product begins to represent the will of the people, and not the purer, original version.

The commercialization of religion is a large part of what led to the great apostasy, or falling away, where the truth of the gospel could not be had in its fullness upon the face of the earth.  For the doctrines of man began to intercede with the will of the Father, and the original product of Christ – his true church, began to evolve.  Over time, unpopular principles began to fade away until they were gone entirely.  In their place came new principles that made the product more enticing to the people.  This evolution was sustained and propelled by leaders seeking increasingly to protect their own power and wealth than to maintain the purity of the gospel despite its difficulty.

The Bible tells us that straight is the way unto salvation, and few there be that find it, but broad is the way that leads to damnation.  But the commercialization of the doctrines of the church forced the opposite – they evolved to become widely popular, to appeal to the masses.  For the more customers purchasing the product, the larger the organization could grow, the more wealth could flow in, and the more power would be given to those who were already in authority.  Soon it would become an organization led by the profit of the world, and not by a prophet of God.

These evolutionary changes in doctrine over time are readily apparent to one who truly studies and understands the Bible.

Think for instance, on the doctrine that man is saved by grace alone, in spite of what works they do on earth.  If I derived my sustenance from my congregation, and my ability to appeal to the masses, what better doctrine is there!  Come to my church.  Be baptized.  Then, it doesn’t matter what you do, at least not in terms of your eternal salvation.  Act as you will, sin, it’s okay.  Just come to church!  What a marketable concept, even if the references in the Bible that speak to the contrary are clear, plain, and readily available (which I cover here). 

Does that sound like the path of God that is supposed to be straight and narrow, with few there be that find it (as described in scripture), or some man-made highway, manufactured to accommodate and capitalize on the greatest possible traffic?

What about baptizing infants.  Marketers today are learning more and more that they need to start early, marketing to toddlers, for if you can sell them on a brand while they’re young, you exponentially increase the likelihood that they will remain your customers as they grow older.  Is this a practice supported by doctrine, or by the commercialization of religion?

Is it heresy, or wisdom to ask such questions?  I submit that it’s our eternal salvation that’s at stake, and no matter how unpopular the question, if it needs to be asked, it should be, for none should trifle with the souls of man.

But such commercialization was not necessary, it was chosen.

One of the miracles of Mormonism is in its lay ministry.  It’s in the fact that none of the local or area leaders are paid for their work.  Missionaries aren’t paid for their time and labor.  They take two years out of their lives to teach the gospel, travel to foreign lands, learn foreign languages, and all at their own expense.  Bishops, teachers, priests, stake presidents, primary, Sunday school, and all those who are called to directly preside over and administer to their local congregations are entirely volunteer.  They did not ask for their positions, nor did they aspire to them.  They were simply asked to serve, and being willing, were called to sacrifice their own time and effort as the needs demand.  Such a notion gives even more context to the Mormon miracle I describe here.

So when the bishop gives guidance or counsel, or when missionaries exhort someone to pray and ask the Lord if the Church is true, if Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet of God, and if the Book of Mormon is true, there is no financial motive.  They have nothing to gain, save only an eternal friendship and the blessings that come to those who so unselfishly serve.

But in spite of a lay ministry, of an organization made up of volunteers, and not paid professionals, and in spite of the difficulty around being a Mormon, and being required to live and abide by the commandments of God, the church is flourishing.  The work of the Lord rolls forth, free from the grasp of economic principles that do not apply, and free from the evolutionary changes that corrupted the true gospel of Christ so long ago.  The church today has been restored in its fullness, back to the blessed “version 1.0” of the gospel of Christ, led not by the profit of man, but by a prophet of God.

I extend an invitation to all to ask such critical questions, to read the Book of Mormon, and to pray and ask God if it is not true.  I invite all to read and learn of Joseph Smith, the great latter day prophet who restored the church of Christ.  I invite all to discover for themselves the miracles of Mormonism.

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Rusty

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