The Lamb of God is the Mormon Church’s video presentation of the Easter story. Widely advertised including a quarter page in The Times, this video has been finding its way into thousands of homes across the country, usually accompanied by a pair of missionaries. It was preceded, at Christmas, by a short video entitled The Nativity, depicting the birth of Jesus. The Nativity is simply a visual presentation of the Christmas story with very little dialogue, and that in Aramaic/Hebrew. It is more an animated tableau depicting successive familiar scenes from Luke 2. But then what more could you expect from a film barely 12 minutes long?
The tableau format is carried over into the 27 minute long The Lamb of God. Beginning with Jesus’ appearance before Pilate it is a presentation of the last few hours of His life, interspersed with retrospective scenes from His last week and a couple of brief scenes from the Christmas video. The dialogue is sparse, a few brief phrases at the last supper “Do this in remembrance of me,” and brief exchanges between Jesus and Pilate, familiar phrases given in the inevitable King James English – “Art thou the King of the Jews?” “My kingdom is not of this world.” “Art thou a king then?” “For this purpose came I into this world.” “I find no fault with this man!” “Shall I crucify your king?” There is the inevitable “Crucify Him!” from the crowd and the rest is simply a background noise of Aramaic/Hebrew. From the cross you hear “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” then “It is finished.” We see the anger of the crowds, the sorrow of the disciples and the hasty burial. Then the discovery of the empty tomb by Mary, and Peter and John racing to see for themselves. It finishes with a depiction in silhouette of the pair telling shepherds on a hill and a visual presentation of John 3:16.
This is a moving and heart-warming film. It is comforting and reassuring in its familiarity, well produced and quite accurate to the King James account. An Evangelical Christian viewing it for the purpose of finding arguments against the Mormon Church would be disappointed. There is nothing doctrinally wrong with it and it would serve well as a starting point for a gospel discussion. But that is because there is nothing doctrinal in it. If asked to write this video the average Christian would be hard pressed to decide what to leave out of a film depicting such a significant week in the history of the world. Yet, this 27-minute video is totally devoid of teaching or indeed structured storytelling – either Christian or Mormon. It is a 27 minute “virtual” tableau leading up to the most important message in the whole video – the last words on the screen: This is a presentation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is a type of iconography, designed to give an impression, a representation by means of images. An impression of what? An impression of Christianity. An Evangelical Christian watching this video would be hard pressed to fault it. Someone unfamiliar with the Christian message would learn precious little about Christianity – or Mormonism, and that is the point of the film. You will inevitably think that it is a “Christian” film produced by a “Christian” church.
We showed it to a group of Christian friends and asked for their comments. One expressed real surprise that it actually “told the gospel.” However, it does not tell the gospel at all, either the Christian gospel or the Mormon gospel. But as Christians, or as nominal Christians or even simply products of Western society, familiar with the story of Easter, we might be forgiven for seeing in this film much more than is really there. When we opened the discussion some began to see this and were appalled at the subtlety of the deception. But it is purely propaganda in the ongoing PR campaign to be seen as a Christian denomination. We have already said that it would serve well as a starting point for a gospel discussion. But where would an Evangelical Christian take it from there? From the word of God we might take the Roman Road:
ROMANS 3:10 – There is no-one righteous, no matter how good we are or how hard we try.
3:23 – All have sinned and fallen short. It is impossible for us to measure up to God’s standard.
5:12 – Death came to all men, because all sinned. It is our nature to sin.
5:8 – Because of God’s love for us, he sent Christ to die for us – while we were still sinners, not because we had done anything to earn it.
6:23 – The wages of sin is death – wages are what you earn as a result of what you do. The gift of God is eternal life – you do not earn a gift, or deserve it. God gives the gift because He loves us. We do not need to work for it, only accept it.
10:13 – Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, regardless of who they are or what they have done. You only have to call.
10:9,10 – True, heart-felt confession of faith in Jesus is what it takes to be saved, not works. The result is a salvation in the kingdom of God that is “by faith, from first to last” (Romans 1:17). A salvation that is freely available to all who receive Him. “To those who believe in His name He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent (the Mormon patriarchal blessing?), nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13). Here is the gospel, that there is “a righteousness from God [that] comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22-24).
Where would a Mormon take such a discussion? Would the honest seeker end up with the same assurances so clearly offered in the Bible? Forgiveness of sin, justification before God, righteousness as a gift and assurance of eternal life with God? Read on.
Miracle of Unforgiveness
In 1969, Spencer W. Kimball published a book entitled The Miracle of Forgiveness. This book became a classic within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [Mormons]; in fact, it was so successful that the copy we have was from the 40th printing in 1991. At the time, he was an apostle in the Mormon Church, one of the Council of the Twelve, second only in authority within the Church to the First Presidency. In 1973, he became President of the Church, until his death in 1985. This man spoke with authority, and his book has become the definitive work on sin and forgiveness for Mormons. How strange, then, that missionaries of the Church are discouraged from reading it!
Perhaps the reason is because of statements like the following:
“No matter how brilliant was the service rendered by the bishop or stake president or other person, if he falters later in his life and fails to live righteously “to the end” the good works he did all stand in jeopardy… for who can tell when one might slip across the line?” (pp.121/122)
A life spent in good works can still be lost if we do not keep it up “to the end.” Life for Mormons must be a great strain, having to be on your guard all the time not to stray, not to falter. This is a great burden indeed. But the message of the book is that there is forgiveness for those who sin and are repentant. After spelling out the details of sin and its consequences, Kimball gives assurance that there is a way out:
“There must be works – many works – and an all-out, total surrender, with a great humility and “a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” It depends on you whether or not you are forgiven, and when. It could be weeks, it could be years, it could be centuries before that happy day when you have the positive assurance that the Lord has forgiven you. That depends on your humility, your sincerity, your works, your attitudes.” (p.325)
Jesus paid the price, made it possible for you to be forgiven, but whether you are forgiven depends entirely on you. More works are required, this time to prove to God how repentant you are, and assurance can be a very long time in coming. It seems from the quote above, that some people may never know for sure that they are forgiven. There is also no room for weakness or error, especially if you commit the same sin again. If you succeed in being forgiven, receiving that assurance that you are once more right with God, you have to go back on your guard again, because those who repeat a sin are in very deep trouble:
“Unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return, saith the Lord your God. “- D&C 82: 7.
Would this mean that the person who has returned to the sins he has professedly abandoned must start the process of repentance again from the beginning?
“To return to sin is most destructive to the morale of the individual and gives Satan another hand-hold on his victim. Those who feel that they can sin and be forgiven and then return to their sin and be forgiven again and again must straighten out their thinking. Each previously forgiven sin is added to the new one and the whole gets to be a heavy load.” (p.170)
The load, which Mormons have to bear, is a heavy one indeed. This book, which outlines so graphically the extent of sin and the way to forgiveness, makes it clear that forgiveness is not a miracle at all, the miracle is that anyone is forgiven!
After All You Can Do
The Mormon Church teaches that we are saved by grace “after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25: 23). This means that the grace of God only comes into effect after you have done everything you could and should have done. There is the idea that we spend our entire lives accumulating good and bad deeds which will be weighed at the judgement bar to see if we have done enough to merit heaven.
“Even the murderer is justified in repenting and mending his ways and building up a credit balance in his favour.” (p.131)
“The child born in the Church goes to Primary and Sunday School; later attends MIA and seminary and institute; works in scouting and exploring; later participates in Relief Society and much other specialized works, besides serving and attending and participating in other meetings and conferences, and all this in addition to the study of the gospel and many hours on his knees in prayer. The adult convert can make up much of this training by intensive study and pondering and prayer.” (p.203)
The Mormon God’s “Plan of Salvation” is to make an earth for his children to live on.
“And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; and they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; … and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.” (Abraham 3: 25,26)
The first estate was life with God before we were born, the second estate is life on earth and the glory to come is eternal life. This life is a school for godhood, where we prove ourselves.
“While we lack recollection of our pre-mortal life, before coming to this earth all of us understood definitely the purpose of our being here. We would be expected to gain knowledge, educate ourselves, train ourselves. We were to control our urges and desires, master and control our passions, and overcome our weaknesses, small and large. We were to eliminate sins of omission and of commission, and to follow the laws and commandments given us by our Father.” (p.5)
We are to spend our lives working to add to our credit balance, and working to prove our repentance in order to decrease our debit balance. The miracle of forgiveness is that we can repent of the bad deeds, have them taken off the scale and even transform our lives so that no more bad deeds need ever be added.
God In Embryo
The underlying problem is the Mormon doctrine concerning the nature of man.
“The scriptures point clearly to the high purpose of man’s existence…that, having within him the seeds of godhood and thus being a god in embryo, man has unlimited potential for progress and attainment.” (p.3)
“It thus becomes the overall responsibility of man to co-operate fully with the Eternal God in accomplishing this objective. To this end God created man to live in mortality and endowed him with the potential to perpetuate the race, to subdue the earth, to perfect himself and to become as God, omniscient and omnipotent.” (p.2)
Because man is told that he has godhood within him, he is tempted to believe that he really can perfect himself. The Mormon belief that man is born sinless, adds to this idea. The only problems we carry are those of our own making, and therefore we have the power to overcome them.
“All transgressions must be cleansed, all weaknesses must be overcome, before a person can attain perfection and godhood. Accordingly the intent of this book is to stress the vital importance of each of us transforming his life through repentance and forgiveness.” (p.16)
Kimball quotes a previous Prophet of the Church, Joseph F Smith:
“True repentance is not only sorrow for sins, and humble penitence and contrition before God, but it involves the necessity of turning away from them, a discontinuance of all evil practices and deeds, a thorough reformation of life, a vital change from evil to good, from vice to virtue, from darkness to light. Not only so, but to make restitution, so far as it is possible, for all the wrongs we have done, to pay our debts, and restore to God and man their rights – that which is due them from us. This is true repentance, and the exercise of the will and all the powers of body and mind is demanded, to complete this glorious work of repentance…” (p.149)
Indeed, Spencer Kimball insists that it is possible not only to overcome sin, but also to reach the point “…where the desire or the urge to sin is cleared out of his life.”
“Surely this is what is meant, in part at least, by being pure in heart… it gives meaning to the Lord’s statement, made through the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1832, that presently impure people can perfect themselves and become pure: ‘Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him;…'”(D&C 88). (p.355)
This teaching gives man at the same time arrogance and hopelessness: I am born perfect, containing the seeds of godhood, with the potential to become a god myself one day. Yet at the same time the belief that I can perfect myself does not bear out in my daily experience. I cannot so easily overcome my faults and sins, yet the Mormon Church teaches that I can and should.
Body of Death
When we first became members of the Mormon Church, the idea that we could ‘turn over a new leaf’ and work hard to become acceptable to God sounded good. Most people believe that they need to be good in order to be accepted by God. But the reality is that perfection is impossible because we are all flawed. Even the great apostle Paul, who had a personal experience of Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus and spent his life serving God and preaching the Gospel, knew that he was weak and sinful:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing… What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7: 15, 18b, 19, 24)
The very purpose of the law in the Bible is to show us how impossible it is for us to reach God’s standard on our own, and how much we need God’s gift of grace made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The Mormon Church, by denying the free gift of grace and insisting that members perfect themselves, is laying an impossible burden on them. Those who take their obligations seriously live in guilt and fear that they will never be good enough. Those who believe that it will be all right are simply deluded. That is why this book is so dangerous to Mormons.
Do it Yourself
“In a nutshell, the Church program is like this: The Malady: Mental and physical sin. The Vehicle: The Church and its agencies and programs The Medication: The gospel of Jesus Christ with its purity, beauty, and rich promises. The Cure: Proper attitudes and self-mastery through activity and good works.” (p.88)
Thus Spencer Kimball sums it up and clarifies the problem for us all. The Malady is correct, and The Medication, but the Mormon Church insists that it is the only way, and we must do it ourselves.