by Sharon Lindbloom
25 June 2018
In the June issue of the Mormon Church’s Ensign magazine, LDS Seventy Fred A. “Tony” Parker wrote about overcoming the pain of racism experienced within the LDS Church. His advice is to “find healing through the Savior” while Church members simultaneously seek to be “one in Christ.” He writes,
“To be His people, we must be one in Christ. But our relationship with Christ is individual before it can be collective. Before I can be one with others, including my family, I, Tony Parker, have to have a relationship with Jesus Christ and my Heavenly Father that is solid, genuine, honest, direct, and continually improving every day.” (“The Savior Heals Our Hurts,” Ensign, June 2018, 45)
Mormon leaders speak often of family relationships, eternal relationships, covenant relationships, and marriage (sacred) relationships, but this “solid, genuine, honest, [and] direct” relationship with Jesus Christ that Mr. Parker writes of is something I have rarely come across in a Mormon context.
Unlike Mormons, evangelical Christians often say, “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.” The important concept of a personal relationship with Jesus is all about intimate union with Christ. Christian author Cameron Cole explains,
“Paul’s letters mention this doctrine of union with Christ nearly 200 times, using terms like ‘in Christ,’ ‘with Christ,’ and ‘through Christ.’
“Jesus also describes this reality: ‘In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you’ (John 14:20). In simple terms, union with Christ captures the mysterious reality that Christ dwells in the heart of believers, and believers, simultaneously, dwell in the heart of Christ. Thus they are one.” (“Teach the Real ‘Personal Relationship with Jesus’,” The Gospel Coalition, July 3, 2017)
This deep and everlasting union with Christ is a reality for everyone who has been reborn in Christ through faith. (For more on this see John Piper’s list of “The Stupendous Reality of Being ‘in Christ Jesus’”)
I understand what a Christian means by the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus,” but in order to understand what Mormonism teaches about an individual (personal) relationship with Christ, I turn to a devotional address on the topic that was once delivered by a Mormon apostle at LDS-owned Brigham Young University.
In 1982 LDS apostle Bruce R. McConkie gave a speech he titled, “Our Relationship With the Lord.” Granted, this teaching is well over 30 years old, but such specific teachings by a man accepted within Mormonism as an apostle of God should have a shelf-life far beyond this. Especially in light of the credentials he claimed for this teaching. Mr. McConkie began,
“I shall speak of our relationship with the Lord and of the true fellowship all Saints should have with the Father. I shall set forth what we must believe relative to the Father and the Son in order to gain eternal life.
“I shall expound the doctrine of the Church relative to what our relationship should be to all members of the Godhead and do so in plainness and simplicity so that none need misunderstand or be led astray by other voices.
“I shall express the view of the Brethren, of the prophets and apostles of old, and of all those who understand the scriptures and are in tune with the Holy Spirit.
“…everyone who is sound spiritually and who has the guidance of the Holy Spirit will believe my words and follow my counsel.” (Read Mr. McConkie’s full speech here.)
At the start, Mr. McConkie’s talk focused on what he called “the most grievous and evil heresy” of Christendom. He explained,
“The creeds of Christendom illustrate perfectly what Lucifer wants so-called Christian people to believe about Deity in order to be damned. These creeds codify what Jeremiah calls the lies about God… Truly the most grievous and evil heresy ever imposed on an erring and wayward Christianity is their creedal concept about God and the Godhead!” (For information on Christian creeds, please watch Ron Huggins, “Those ‘Abominable’ Creeds.”)
Mr. McConkie belittled the biblical revelation of God (i.e., that He is a self-existent spirit who is beyond the full understanding of humankind, an omnipresent Trinity) and contrasted that with the Mormon concept of God (i.e., that he is a resurrected [man], a glorified, perfected, embodied Being of flesh and bone who lives in a family unit). (For a quick comparison of Mormon doctrines and biblical doctrines on the nature of God, see “The Mormon View of God the Father” at IRR.org.)
After detailing proper LDS theology and making sure Mormons understood that “We worship the Father and him only and no one else. We do not worship the Son, and we do not worship the Holy Ghost,” Mr. McConkie finally arrived at “the problem at hand” and addressed “Our Relationship to Members of the Godhead.” He said,
“Our relationship with the Father is supreme, paramount, and preeminent over all others. He is the God we worship…
“Our relationship with the Father is one of parent and child…if there were some need—which there is not!—to single out one member of the Godhead for a special relationship, the Father, not the Son, would be the one to choose.”
“Our relationship with the Son is one of brother or sister in the premortal life and one of being led to the Father by him while in this mortal sphere…He is our Lord, our God, and our King.
“Our relationship with the Holy Spirit is quite another thing. This holy personage is a Revelator and a Sanctifier…Those of us who have received the gift of the Holy Ghost have the right to his constant companionship.
“And again, if it were proper—and I repeat, it is not!—to single out one member of the Godhead for some special attention, we might well conclude that member should be the Holy Ghost.”
Nowhere in Mr. McConkie’s description of proper relationships with members of the Mormon Godhead does he even come close to the biblical concept of intimate union. His address was aimed at countering “many false and vain and foolish things [that] are being taught in the sectarian world and even among us about our need to gain a special relationship with the Lord Jesus.” He warned that “there is no salvation in believing any false doctrine,” and that “true and saving worship is found only among those…who understand the true relationship men should have with each member of that Eternal Presidency.”
LDS Apostle Bruce McConkie said,
“Now I know that some may be offended at the counsel that they should not strive for a special and personal relationship with Christ…you have never heard one of the First Presidency or the Twelve,…advocate this excessive zeal that calls for gaining a so-called special and personal relationship with Christ.”
I don’t know if people in Mr. McConkie’s audience at BYU were offended, but if they valued and believed God’s Word, they should have been. As a Christian, I treasure the deeply intimate and personal relationship I have with my Savior, a relationship that, as Jerald and Sandra Tanner have noted, is stressed “from beginning to end in the New Testament”:
“In Matthew 11:28 we find Jesus Himself saying: ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ This same theme continues right into the book of Revelation where Jesus says: ‘Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.’ (Revelations 3:20) The Apostle Paul certainly taught a close personal relationship with Christ in his epistles. For instance, in Philippians 3:8-10 we read: ‘Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death’”
What a contrast the teachings of the biblical apostles–and Jesus Himself–are to the teachings of this Mormon apostle. Mr. McConkie made no apology to those who believe what God has revealed in the Bible:
“I am well aware that some who have prayed for endless hours feel they have a special and personal relationship with Christ that they never had before. I wonder if this is any or so much different, however, from the feelings of fanatical sectarians who with glassy eyes and fiery tongues assure us they have been saved by grace and are assured of a place with the Lord in a heavenly abode, when in fact they have never even received the fullness of the gospel.
“I wonder if it is not part of Lucifer’s system to make people feel they are special friends of Jesus when in fact they are not following the normal and usual pattern of worship found in the true Church.”
After all is said and done, I still don’t know what LDS Seventy Tony Parker means when he writes, “I, Tony Parker, have to have a relationship with Jesus Christ and my Heavenly Father that is solid, genuine, honest, direct, and continually improving every day.” But if he is referring to the biblical deep, intimate union with Christ, he is out of harmony with the teachings of his church’s latter-day leaders. If he is referring to anything less than that deep, intimate union with Christ, he is not “in Christ” and therefore, is out of harmony with God Himself.
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19)