Discussion 5: Living a Christ-like Life – Keeping the Commandments; the idea that Sacrifice brings Blessing; Fasting; Tithing and Giving. (Commitment, Pay Tithing)
This discussion covers probably the most admirable aspects of Mormonism. When people think of Mormons as “Christians” it is their conduct in light of this discussion that people think about. It is about putting God and others first in our lives and overcoming attitudes of selfishness and is based on Matthew 22:37-39:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'”
Mormons truly believe and strive to live these principles and the investigator will be encouraged to “Reconcile yourself to the will of God” (2 Nephi 10:23 BOM), taught that “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt.25:40), and encouraged to realise that ‘By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to the other’ (John 13:34-35). These sentiments are admirable but they should be understood in the context of the Mormon plan of salvation and eternal progression. To a Mormon, Christian service is a proving process. A time when the Lord
“will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in [his] covenant, even unto death, that you may be found worthy. For if ye will not abide in my covenant ye are not worthy of me” (D&C 98:14-15).
Sacrifice Brings Blessings?
This testing puts a slant on Christian works that emphasises a direct connection between service and blessing. “[Sacrifice] helps us become worthy to live in the presence of God…We must also trust that we will receive the promised reward” (Fifth Missionary Discussion). This is a fundamental Mormon principle:
“There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated – And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to the law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:20-21).
This is a religion of merit in which works are seen as a condition for winning God’s favour and a means of maintaining that favour. By works Mormons prove their worthiness, and by works they “progress” to greater rewards. In this discussion missionaries will cover fasting, prayer, tithing etc., all in this context.
“Fasting can be a powerful way of gaining a testimony.”
“[Fast] days will provide great spiritual experiences for you.”
“Tithing is a test of our faith. As we obey this commandment, the Lord promises to bless us both spiritually and temporally (physically).”
They are instructed to “Find out whether [the investigators] feel that fast offering would bring blessings into their lives”. And, “Whether they recognise that great blessings come from obeying [the] law [of tithing]”. All this leads to the idea that we can merit reward on the basis of strict justice, i.e. God becomes obliged to bless us, even obliged to allow us to live in his presence when we prove worthy. This is a reworking of fifth century Pelagianism. Pelagius taught that we are not saved by anything Christ has done but by following the example of Christ.
Great is Your Reward in Heaven (Matt.5:12)
Rewards are spoken of in the Bible, and judgement based on works is taught by Jesus (Matt.16:27) and Paul (Ro.2:6) and John (Rev.2:23;18:6;20:12-13;22:12). So how are we to understand these things? In Rev.22:12 Jesus said, “Behold I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.”
Rev.20:12-15 indicates that at the judgement bar of God there are two groups (1) those whose names are written in the book of life and (2) those whose names are not. There are two destinations (1) the New Jerusalem (21:1-3) and (2) the lake of fire (20:14-15). Whatever else might be said it is clear that the saved are all in one place and it is the dwelling place of God.
If we begin as unrighteous (Ro.3:9-18), dead in our transgressions (Eph.2:1) and enemies of God (Ro.5:10) there is nothing in us to merit the reward. If “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (Eph.2:4) there still is no merit in us “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (vv 8-9). If in our new state “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (v 10), then the work that subsequently flows from a convert’s life is a reflection of the work of God in that life. It is supplied and equipped by God (2 Corinthians 9:8; 2 Timothy 3:16-17) and accompanied by the promise that, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
As God’s grace operates on us and “justifies the wicked” (Romans 4:4) there is a sense in which we co-operate with him in achieving growth in our new lives. However, in Luke 17:10 Jesus declared, “when you have done everything you were told to do, [you] should say, ‘we are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'” If God then chooses to treat us as sons and not servants, what have we “proved”, as Mormons would have it, except that God is good?
In describing the new order John wrote, “They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev.21:3b-4). It cannot be a meritorious kingdom, wherein some are more favoured than others, for we are saved into it by God’s initiative, and there can be no envy or jealousy or regret in heaven, which is, itself, our reward and our goal. Encouraging those who suffer for the gospel Peter wrote, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:3-9).
There are several ways in which the Bible describes rewards. One is reward, not as wages for work, but as God’s generous favour to all who respond to the call. In the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matt.20:1-16) those who worked one hour were treated as equal to those who “have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the sun” (v.12).
Another is reward, not as due recompense, but as the enduring nature of what we have built. In 1 Cor.3: 6-9 we read, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labour. For we are God’s fellow-workers”. Paul goes on to explain that it is the materials with which one builds that will be judged. Some were building according to the world’s wisdom (vv 18-20), hence their “boasting about men” (v21). Paul warns them to build on the foundation already laid by him, which is Christ Jesus (v11).
The superstructure is evaluated to see if it conforms to the original foundation. In the context of the chapter, this is a reference to the building of the church. Those builders should realise that, in being true to Christ, “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God”.
This is reward, not as merit, but as outcome, or fruit. In the illustration of the vine and the branches (John 15) Jesus spoke of those who remain in him as bearing “fruit that will last”. James also wrote about “the wisdom that comes from heaven [which] is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:17-18). This is not what Jesus gives us as due recompense but what we inherit in terms of family likeness as we become more like him (Ephesians 4:24; Ro.8:28-30). Using Paul’s illustration of Abraham in Romans 4 we can see the correct order of grace and works, judgement and reward.
“What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about – but not before God. What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
“Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness…. We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised” (Romans 4:1-11).
Because he trusted God righteousness was credited to Abraham before he had kept any law or rendered any service (vv18-22). His subsequent obedience was the work of a man who already had his reward because God promised and Abraham believed (v11 c.f. Galatians 3:17). God made a promise, Abraham believed God, God blessed Abraham, and Abraham obeyed God. Compare this with the Mormon formula we have already looked at from D&C 130:20-21 above. God gives a law, Mormons obey God’s law, God sees their obedience, and blesses them.
One problem is that we see this process in component parts, i.e. what God does and what I do. But God sees it as one whole process and when he judges he doesn’t simply look at what we have done, the outward appearance, but where we stand in relation to his promises, at the heart. Out of the heart that believes God will come the works that, no matter how humanly inadequate, will please God. In 2 Corinthians 9 Paul gives the same order when he writes “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all you need, you will abound to every good work” (v8). So far as the acceptability of that work is concerned Paul has already said, “For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have” (8:12). The heart that believes God stands clothed in God’s righteousness and the works it produces only serve to demonstrate the trustworthiness of God’s promises. When James declares that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20) he is describing the inevitable wholeness and continuity of faith and works in the lives of true believers. Not the testing of faith by works but the outcome of faith in works that in turn authenticate the faith that saves.
What are the implications of this for Mormons? Throughout these discussions there is a growing emphasis on what we must do to be worthy of God’s blessing. When we left the Mormon Church our bishop failed to address the issues that concerned us. These were the issues that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 3 i.e. are we building with the right materials and on the right foundation? He spoke only of our failure in duty. We were encouraged to be more generous, more faithful, more sacrificial and devoted, all of which is sound advice in the right context. However, in trusting that doing enough of the right things will resolve any issue, he was building a temple of works on a foundation of duty and not a temple of faith on the foundation of Christ. Paul’s teaching, that getting the foundation right and building with material God provides will bring enduring rewards/fruits, is the assurance of every true Christian that when Jesus comes to “give to everyone according to what he has done” it is a sure promise and not an uncertain hope. This is the hope that is missing from the Mormon message and, as admirable as Mormon principles and practices may be, without this hope there is no hope at all.
Discussion 6: Membership in the Kingdom – Christ’s part in God’s plan; Exaltation through Christ and His Church; The 3-fold Mission of the Mormon Church, Perfecting the Saints; Proclaiming the Gospel; Redeeming the Dead; Enduring to the End. (Commitment, Be an active member of the Church and help fulfil its mission)
The final discussion is largely a review and final attempt to gain a commitment. This affords us an opportunity to do our own review. The “Doctrinal Overview” of this discussion is instructional in helping us understand the thrust of the Mormon message.
“We come unto the Father and receive eternal life through Christ. The Church of Christ is organized to help the Saints perfect themselves, proclaim the gospel, and redeem the dead. The Church helps all the children of our Heavenly Father to enter the strait and narrow path to eternal life. The main principles of this discussion are:
Jesus Christ is our Creator, Redeemer, Savior, and Judge.
Exaltation comes through Christ. His Church helps us progress towards perfection.
The Church and its members have a responsibility for perfecting the Saints.
The Church and its members have a responsibility for proclaiming the gospel.
The Church and its members have a responsibility for redeeming the dead.
We can follow the strait and narrow path to perfection.”
While there is an appearance of orthodoxy in statements like “We come unto the Father and receive eternal life through Christ”, the inevitable conclusion is that Mormonism is not about Christ but about Mormonism. In every discussion there has been a demotion of Jesus and a promotion of the Mormon Church. Missionaries are instructed from the outset that “the focus of this discussion should be the Book of Mormon and the Prophet Joseph Smith”.
We have learned that, while Mormons teach that “the central figure in the plan of salvation is Jesus Christ”, the fact is that the Mormon plan is what is central to the Mormon gospel. And while Mormons quote John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me”, they believe that “By his perfect example and his teachings, Jesus showed us how to fulfil this plan”, and that the plan will work for us only “if we have faith to do what Jesus Christ taught”. In other words, to a Christian Jesus is the way, while to a Mormon Jesus shows the way; to a Christian Jesus is God’s plan, to a Mormon he is central to the plan. In Mormonism John 14:6 might be more accurately stated “The plan is the way, and no-one comes to the Father except through following it”.
Using 1 Corinthians 15:20-22 and Philippians 3:20-21, Mormons reason that ‘Salvation is equivalent to resurrection and is a free gift to each of us, regardless of whether we have done good or evil in this life”. They believe that, beyond that, we are to strive to be worthy to return to God. But, while all people will be resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:22), resurrection cannot be called salvation because salvation comes only to those who believe (Ephesians 2:8). All are resurrected but it is faith which determines whether we are resurrected to life (salvation) (Revelation 20:6) or to condemnation (Revelation 20:15).
Mormons teach that as His children we are imperfect versions of God, who is an exalted Man, but the Bible teaches “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind” 1 Samuel 15:29. The goal of Mormonism is to become gods. But while we are to become like God “made in his image” we will never be godlike, i.e. gods ourselves. God says of Himself ” I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God” Isaiah 45:4, and “Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me” Isaiah 43:10.
Mormons teach that, after people rejected the apostles and prophets and killed them, the Lord took the priesthood from the earth and so there was no longer a church led by revelation and authority. Mormonism, they claim, is a restoration of truth and authority. But we have learned that, once the foundation of apostles, and Christ, the cornerstone, was laid there was no need for other foundation. Further, it is the Spirit, not apostles and prophets, who would continue to lead his followers into all truth (John 16:13). The Spirit inspired scripture, which is “God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16). The church is marked by the life of the Spirit in true believers gathered around God’s Word and seeking God’s will, not the presence of apostles and prophets who are foundational, not developmental.
Mormons believe that we had a pre-mortal existence with God and that “Our life on this earth has a purpose. It is to provide opportunities for us to work toward becoming like our Heavenly Father and to prepare to return to him.” But the opening of Genesis declares, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. So, while God has always been (Psalm 90:2), everything else was created (Jeremiah 10:16) and had a beginning, which the Bible places “In the beginning”.
The Mormon covenant with their God is a bargain in which by keeping certain laws and promises they merit reward. By following the Mormon gospel, keeping the Mormon health law, going to the Mormon temple, working to “save the dead”, and giving to the Mormon cause, they hope to attain exaltation in God’s kingdom as gods. But we have seen that God doesn’t bargain before he blesses. He blesses out of his goodness and we serve him out of that blessing. May he bless our Mormon friends with insight and revelation as we witness to the truth. May they know His blessing, not because they are worthy, but because He is good, and because He loves them.