During 2016, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is in boldfaced is from the manual, with our comments following.
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter, 2015
“We should at every opportunity ask ourselves, ‘What would Jesus do?’ and then be more courageous to act upon the answer.”
This opening quote is true. There was a movement years ago when it was popular to wear a “WWJD” plastic/rubber bracelet around one’s wrist. Perhaps it became a trite statement, but for those who take on the name of “Christian,” doesn’t this mean we intend to become just like Him?
Throughout his ministry, President Hunter lovingly encouraged Church members to follow the Savior’s example. In his first statement as President of the Church, he said:
“If we are to follow the example of Christ and walk in his footsteps, we must seek to do the same things after the pattern he set.”
Teachings of Howard W. Hunter
Jesus Christ set the perfect example for us.
To be a light is to be an exemplar—one who sets an example and is a model for others to follow. … [We have covenanted] to follow Christ, the great exemplar. We have the responsibility to learn of him, the things he taught and the things he did during his earthly ministry.
Yes, it is true that Jesus did set a great example for His children. While LDS leaders say that Jesus is the Savior in Mormonism, it’s meant in a much different way than what Christians mean by the same term. Consider a Mormon tract:
Christians speak often of the blood of Christ and its cleansing power. Much that is believed and taught on this subject, however, is such utter nonsense and so palpably false that to believe it is to lose one’s salvation. Many go so far, for instance, as to pretend, at least, to believe that if we confess Christ with our lips and avow that we accept him as our personal Savior, we are thereby saved. His blood, without other act than mere belief, they say, makes us clean (LDS tract titled, What the Mormons Think of Christ, p. 31).
Christians believe the Bible contains the total and complete truth. It says:
- The blood of Jesus cleanses the believer from sin (Romans 5:9; Heb. 9:12, 10:4; 1 John 1:9)
- A person who confesses the name of Jesus and believes in their heart is saved (Rom. 10:9-10)
- Good works are a result of faith, not something that is done to earn righteousness before God (Eph. 2:10)
The religion of Mormonism looks at Jesus as being more of a role model than a Savior. For the Mormon who is offended by me saying this (after all, many Latter-day Saints even claim that Jesus is their Savior!), I ask, “From what did Jesus save you?” The Christian says “sin,” but a Mormon usually bristles at the idea that complete forgiveness of all sins–past, present, and even future sins–can be received; claiming such a thing sounds boastful, some would say. After all, to receive forgiveness in Mormonism means you have kept all the commandments. In Mormonism a person’s efforts (i.e. baptism, going to the temple, obeying the Sabbath, etc.) are required for exaltation in the Mormon religion; the atonement merely provides the opportunity for a person to attain exaltation; however, exaltation itself is up to the individual. Consider the following citations from LDS authorities:
Jesus became a God and reached His great state of understanding through consistent effort and continuous obedience to all the Gospel truths and universal laws (Milton R. Hunter, The Gospel Through the Ages, p. 51).
Eternal life is living with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ in the celestial kingdom. This blessing—which is also called exaltation— comes only to those who keep the commandments and make the necessary covenants (Preparing for Exaltation Teacher’s Manual, 1998, p. 4).
We must do more than just say we believe in Jesus Christ; we must follow him. All people, regardless of their level of righteousness, will be saved from death because of the Resurrection of Christ. However, in order to attain the highest degree of glory in the resurrection, we need to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him” (Moroni 10:32). We come unto Christ by having faith in him, repenting of our sins, being baptized, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, receiving other saving priesthood ordinances, obeying the commandments, and keeping the covenants we make with our Heavenly Father. How we live does make a difference (Preparing for Exaltation Teacher’s Manual, p. 39).
Mind you, Christians are in agreement with good works! Philippians 2:12 says believers will “work out” their salvation with fear and trembling. (Notice, though, it says work “out” and not work for.) A Savior is someone who rescues another person from something. As mentioned above, biblical Christians believe that Jesus has saved His people through the forgiveness of all sins.
I like what Christian scholar Leon Morris says after citing the “New Covenant” passage from Jeremiah 31:31-34:
This means a radical break from the past. It represents a new approach to the problem of man’s relationship to God. It is not that God’s high standards are relaxed for one moment. God’s law is to be put into their minds and written on their hearts. The moral law is being given a central place. The difference is that the law is now part of the people. It is within them, transforming them. They obey it because of what they are. This is more than the obeying of an external set of commands and ordinances. It points to a whole-hearted transformation. God’s people will want to do God’s will with mind and heart. Far from there being a relaxation of moral demands or moral standards, these are heightened because they are not to be part of God’s people’s innermost being (The Atonement: It’s Meaning and Signficance (Downer’s Grove: Nav Press, 1983), p. 29).
Morris added on page 29, “The new covenant would be based on forgiveness, not on a profession of readiness to keep the law of God.” And, “Forgiveness is basic to the new covenant.”
Having learned these lessons, we are under commandment to follow his example, and these are some of the examples he set for us:
- Christ was obedient and valiant in the premortal life, thus gaining the privilege of coming into mortality and receiving a body of flesh and bones.
The Bible disagrees. It’s blasphemous to suggest that Jesus had to be “obedient” in the premortal life to allow him to be incarnated! Listen to what other leaders have said about this:
Even Christ himself was not perfect at first; he received not a fulness at first, but he received grace for grace, and he continued to receive more and more until he received a fulness” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 1986, p. 68. See also Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, p. 153).
CHRIST GAINED FULNESS AFTER RESURRECTION. The Savior did not have a fulness at first, but after he received his body and the resurrection all power was given unto him both in heaven and in earth. Although he was a God, even the Son of God, with power and authority to create this earth and other earths, yet there were some things lacking which he did not receive until after his resurrection. In other words he had not received the fulness until he got a resurrected body, and the same is true with those who through faithfulness become sons of God. Our bodies are essential to the fulness and the continuation of the seeds forever (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:33).
Christ worked out his own salvation by worshipping the Father. After the Firstborn of the Father, while yet a spirit being, had gained power and intelligence that made him like unto God; after he had become, under the Father, the Creator of worlds without number; after he had reigned on the throne of eternal power as the Lord Omnipotent-after all this he yet had to gain a mortal and then an immortal body (Bruce R. McConkie, Sermons and Writings of Bruce R. McConkie, 1966, p. 61. Italics in original).
According to these teachers:
- Jesus was not perfect at first and earned the right to be the Savior
- Jesus was “a God” and needed a body to receive “fullness”
- Jesus had to work out His own salvation.
The Bible says:
- Jesus was God from the very beginning and didn’t need to earn the right to be God (John 1:1, 10:30; Col. 1:15-17)
- Jesus did not need a body to receive fullness, for all fullness of Deity is in Him (Col. 2:9)
- Jesus never worked out His own salvation, for how could God every need to do such a thing? (John 8:58)
According to the Bible, there is no such thing as “premortality.” In addition, Jesus was never incomplete. Hunter and the Mormon religion miss it completely.
- He was baptized in order that the door to the celestial kingdom would be opened.
Which biblical verse supports such a notion? Matt Slick from www.carm.org writes,
Jesus was baptized in order to fulfill the legal requirements to enter into the priesthood. He was priest after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4; Heb. 5:8-10; 6:20). Priests offered sacrifice to God on behalf of the people. Jesus became a sacrifice for our sin (1 Pet. 2:24; 2 Cor. 5:21) in His role as priest. See
- He held the priesthood and received all the saving and exalting ordinances of the gospel.
Indeed, Jesus is the only one to hold the Melchizedek priesthood, as discussed in Hebrews 7. Why do Mormons think that this priesthood is needed to be held by Mormon male individuals today?
- Jesus served for about three years in a ministry of teaching the gospel, bearing witness of the truth, and teaching men what they must do to find joy and happiness in this life and eternal glory in the world to come.
And what was it that he said must be done? This was to believe in Him (John 5:24). He never taught that it was necessary to get married in the temple, observe the Sabbath, and avoid drinking alcohol or hot drinks in order to receive God’s favor, unlike what Mormonism says is necessary to become exalted. Why the dichotomy?
- He performed ordinances including the blessing of children, baptisms, administering to the sick, and ordinations to the priesthood.
In Protestant Christianity, there are two ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Yes, Jesus did administer the Lord’s Supper at one time, but he never baptized anyone. John 4:2 says “Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples.” A mistake like this shouldn’t have been made by someone who once held the highest position in the Mormon Church. Protestants do not consider “blessings of children,” “administering to the sick,” and “ordinations to the priesthood” to be ordinances. Even so, where does the Bible ever teach that Jesus ordained people to the priesthood? Just like baptism, this rite was never performed by Jesus. It is an argument from silence to say He did.
- He performed miracles. At his command the blind were given sight, the deaf heard, the lame leaped, and the dead returned to life.
- In conformity with the mind and will of the Father, Jesus lived a perfect life without sin and acquired all of the attributes of Godliness.
Hunter suggests that Jesus “acquired all the attributes of Godliness”? If Jesus is God in the flesh, how could He have “acquired” these attributes? After all, God is eternal and always has His attributes. Since he has always had them, he didn’t need to be born with them.
- He overcame the world; that is, he bridled every passion and has risen above the carnal and sensual plane so that he lived and walked as guided by the Spirit.
- He brought to pass the Atonement, thereby ransoming men from the [spiritual and physical] death caused by the fall of Adam.
The Atonement is efficacious only for those who believe. The term “justification” means to be set apart by God through faith. Morris explains,
Justification then means the according of the status of being in the right. Sin has put us in the wrong with God and justification is the process whereby we are reckoned as right. In one way or another all religions must face the ultimate question: “How can man, who is a sinner, ever be right with a God who is just?” Most religions answer, in some form, “By human effort.” Man committed the sin, so man must do what is required to put things right and undo the effects of his sin. It is the great teaching of the New Testament that we are justified, not by what we do, but by what Christ has done. Paul puts is simply when he says that we are “justified by his blood” (Rom. 5:9). He links our justification directly with the death of Jesus (The Atonement, p. 196).
- Now, resurrected and glorified, he has gained all power in heaven and in earth, has received the fullness of and is one with the Father.
Jesus has always had all power in heaven and in earth and is eternally one with the Father. Even when He humbled Himself and became obedient to death on the cross, He remained God! This is because He was always in very nature God. I’ll talk about Phil. 2 a little later.
If we are to follow the example of Christ and walk in his footsteps, we must seek to do the same things after the pattern he set.
Again, I don’t disagree that Jesus is our example. However, it is impossible “to do the same things after the pattern he set.” Mormonism can be defined as striving to achieve the impossible. Christianity is Jesus doing what would be impossible for humankind and declaring it “done” on the behalf of all believers.
Faith is the casting of oneself that can avail to bring him salvation. Faith is the casting of oneself wholly on God. Faith is the hand that reaches out to God for salvation. Faith is no more than the means through which salvation is received (The Atonement, p. 197).
Like other LDS authors, Hunter makes it appear that “perfection is an achievable goal.” Thirteenth President Spencer W. Kimball writes,
This progress toward eternal life is a matter of achieving perfection. Living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sins and assures one of exaltation through that perfection which comes by complying with the formula the Lord gave us. In his Sermon on the Mount he made the command to all men: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48.) Being perfect means to triumph over sin. This is a mandate from the Lord. He is just and wise and kind. He would never require anything from his children which was not for their benefit and which was not attainable. Perfection therefore is an achievable goal (The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 208-209).
In the context of the spirit of forgiveness, one good brother asked me, “Yes, that is what ought to be done, but how do you do it? Doesn’t that take a superman?” “Yes,” I said, “but we are commanded to be supermen. Said the Lord, ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ (Matt. 5:48.) We are gods in embryo, and the Lord demands perfection of us” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 286).
I would emphasize that the teachings of Christ that we should become perfect were not mere rhetoric. He meant literally that it is the right of mankind to become like the Father and like the Son, having overcome human weaknesses and developed attributes of divinity (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 26).
Other leaders have admitted that perfection cannot take place on this realm but maybe the next. Yet which passage of scripture can be used to support a notion like this? Certainly not from the Bible.
It is important to remember that Jesus was capable of sinning, that he could have succumbed, that the plan of life and salvation could have been foiled, but that he remained true. Had there been no possibility of his yielding to the enticement of Satan, there would have been no real test, no genuine victory in the result. If he had been stripped of the faculty to sin, he would have been stripped of his very agency. It was he who had come to safeguard and ensure the agency of man. He had to retain the capacity and ability to sin had he willed so to do.
Is it possible for Jesus to have sinned? While Jesus had a natural ability to choose, He did not have the moral ability to do so. Christian theologian John Piper gives a biblical answer here.
To the very end of his mortal life Jesus was demonstrating the grandeur of his spirit and the magnitude of his strength. He was not, even at this late hour, selfishly engrossed with his own sorrows or contemplating the impending pain. He was anxiously attending to the present and future needs of his beloved followers. He knew their own safety, individually and as a church, lay only in their unconditional love one for another. His entire energies seem to have been directed toward their needs, thus teaching by example what he was teaching by precept. He gave them words of comfort and commandment and caution.
During both his mortal ministry among his flock in the Holy Land and in his postmortal ministry among his scattered sheep in the Western Hemisphere, the Lord demonstrated his love and concern for the individual.
The assumption that Jesus was ever in the Western Hemisphere is nothing more than a Mormon presupposition. If the Book of Mormon is not true, though, then Mormonism itself falls. Early Mormon apostle Orson Pratt explained:
This book must be either true or false. If true, it is one of the most important messages ever sent from God to man, affecting both the temporal and eternal interests of every people under heaven to the same extent and in the same degree that the message of Noah affected the inhabitants of the old world. If false, it is one of the most cunning, wicked, bold, deep-laid impositions ever palmed upon the world, calculated to deceive and ruin millions who will sincerely receive it as the word of God, and will suppose themselves securely built upon the rock of truth until they are plunged with their families into hopeless despair. The nature of the message in the Book of Mormon is such, that if true, no one can possibly be saved and reject it; if false, no one can possibly be saved and receive it (Orson Pratt, Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon, 1:1, Liverpool, October 15, 1850. Italics in original).
Our salvation depends on our commitment to following the Savior.
The Lord’s invitation to follow him is individual and personal, and it is compelling. We cannot stand forever between two opinions. Each of us must at some time face the crucial question: “Whom say ye that I am?” (Matt. 16:15.) Our personal salvation depends on our answer to that question and our commitment to that answer. Peter’s revealed answer was “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). Many, many witnesses can give an identical answer by the same power, and I join with them in humble gratitude. But we must each answer the question for ourselves—if not now, then later; for at the last day, every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is the Christ. Our challenge is to answer correctly and live accordingly before it is everlastingly too late. Since Jesus is indeed the Christ, what must we do?
The passage cited above is from Philippians 2. Consider verses 5-11:
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Notice several things:
- Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped”
- He took the form of man and contained His status as God
- Whether now or in the future, everybody will acknowledge that Jesus is kurios (Lord).
The word “kurios” in this context pertains to the deity of Jesus. It is the same word as used in John 20:28 when Thomas called Jesus “my Lord and my God.” This is very powerful. In fact, Paul is citing from Isaiah 45:
“Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
23 By myself I have sworn;
from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
a word that shall not return:
‘To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear allegiance.’”
The words attributed to God in Isaiah 45 are aimed at Jesus in Philippians 2. Yet the Latter-day Saint is not allowed to even pray to Jesus. If He is God, why shouldn’t His name be used in a prayer address?
Christ’s supreme sacrifice can find full fruition in our lives only as we accept the invitation to follow him [see D&C 100:2]. This call is not irrelevant, unrealistic, or impossible. To follow an individual means to watch him or listen to him closely; to accept his authority, to take him as a leader, and to obey him; to support and advocate his ideas; and to take him as a model. Each of us can accept this challenge. Peter said, “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). Just as teachings that do not conform to Christ’s doctrine are false, so a life that does not conform to Christ’s example is misdirected, and may not achieve its high potential destiny. …
Righteousness must start in our own individual lives. It must be incorporated into family living. Parents have the responsibility to follow the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ and teach them to their children [see D&C 68:25–28]. Religion must be part of our living. The gospel of Jesus Christ must become the motivating influence in all that we do. There must be more striving within in order to follow the great example set by the Savior if we are to become more like him. This becomes our great challenge.
If we can pattern our life after the Master, and take his teachings and example as the supreme pattern for our own, we will not find it difficult to be consistent and loyal in every walk of life, for we will be committed to a single, sacred standard of conduct and belief. Whether at home or in the marketplace, whether at school or long after school is behind us, whether we are acting totally alone or in concert with a host of other people, our course will be clear and our standards will be obvious. We will have determined, as the prophet Alma said, “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that [we] may be in, even until death.” (Mosiah 18:9.)
What is our responsibility today as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? It is to see that our individual lives reflect in word and deed the gospel as taught by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. All that we do and say should be patterned after the example of the one sinless person to walk the earth, even the Lord Jesus Christ.
Remember, I said there is nothing wrong with considering Jesus as the Christian’s example. But He is so much more than an example. More than anything, He is my Savior. I’ll never be like Him because He’s perfect. But I can accept His perfection by having my sins atoned for through belief and receiving the imputation of my sins. When Hunter mentioned “religion must be part of our living,” I see a striving after the impossible and a missing the trees for the forest. Unfortunately, Mormonism stresses religion over the relationship with Jesus that believers are intended to have. Seeing Jesus primarily as our example and not our Savior causes a person to miss out on something very special.