During 2013, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow. 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 underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.
Teachings of Lorenzo Snow
Jesus Christ came into the world to do the will of the Father and open the way for our peace, happiness, and exaltation.
This gospel has been introduced at various times into the world. It was known by the Prophets. They understood plainly and distinctly that Jesus was the lamb slain from before the foundation of the world [see Revelation 13:8; Moses 7:47], and that in due season he would manifest himself to the children of men, that he would die for their sins, and be crucified in order to complete the plan of salvation.
There is no doubt that, when it comes to differences between Mormonism and Christianity, the issue of salvation is at the top of the list. Unfortunately, it is hard for many laypeople to comprehend because the language used by the Latter-day Saints is the same with vastly different meanings. Hence, grace, mercy, and other related terms are used and yet fall far short of what these words meant in the Bible.
There is no doubt that the issue of forgiveness is a central theme in Christianity. Matthew 1:20–21 recounts how “the angel of the Lord” appeared to Joseph, Mary’s espoused husband, and announced that the Child she was carrying, Jesus, would “save his people from their sins.” The Bible states that all people have sinned and come short of God’s glory, resulting in death (Rom. 3:23; 6:23).
Left to ourselves, we are a hopeless people. But when Jesus came to this earth as the ultimate sacrifice for sin and rose from the dead on the third day, He provided a gift that could never be bought or repaid. As Christian theologian James White points out, “One who has been justified stands before God uncondemned and uncondemnable—not because of what he is in himself, but because of what Christ is in him.” (The God That Justifies, 98). If people do not know for sure that their sins are forgiven, how can it be known with confidence that they are God’s “people”? Without this assurance, their claim to the title of “Christian” is merely presumptuous.
In Mormonism, salvation is defined in two unique ways. Joseph Fielding Smith explained, “Salvation is twofold: General—that which comes to all men irrespective of a belief (in this life) in Christ—and, Individual—that which man merits through his own acts through life and by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.” (Doctrines of Salvation 1:134). General salvation, or resurrection from the dead, is also called salvation by grace and is provided to all people. It is synonymous with immortality, since the resurrected person lives forever. The problem with this definition is that Jesus taught in John 5:29 that there are two resurrections, one to life and one to damnation. It seems odd that a resurrection to damnation is somehow made synonymous with a salvation of any kind. In fact, even in Mormonism it has been taught that “all those who do not gain eternal life, or exaltation in the highest heaven within the celestial kingdom, are partakers of eternal damnation.” (Mormon Doctrine, 234).
According to this manual, Jesus completed “salvation.” But if resurrection from the dead is the result given to everyone who was born on earth, then how could the event of Him dying on the cross and being resurrected “complete” salvation? In fact, Apostle Bruce R. McConkie stated that the
“mere fact of resurrection” does not give “a hope of eternal life, or any of the great spiritual blessings which flow from gospel obedience. These blessings are not free gifts. Except for the free gift of immortality (which comes by grace alone and includes bodily or physical perfection), all rewards gained in the eternal worlds must be earned. That perfection sought by the saints is both temporal and spiritual and comes only as a result of full obedience.”(Ibid., 641).
Brigham Young University professor Clyde J. Williams also stressed the importance of obedience when he wrote,
“The perfect relationship between the atoning grace of Christ and the obedient efforts of mankind is powerfully stated by Nephi: ‘We know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23). Furthermore, we are invited to ‘come unto Christ, and be perfected in him.’ When we deny ourselves ‘of all ungodliness,’ then and only ‘then is his grace sufficient’ for us (Moroni 10:32).” (Ensign, October 2006, 53).
Naturally, the goal of a faithful Latter-day Saint is to achieve eternal life in the celestial kingdom, a reward not just given through the atonement of Christ. President Thomas S. Monson stated that it is “the celestial glory which we seek. It is in the presence of God we desire to dwell. It is a forever family in which we want membership. Such blessings must be earned.”(Ensign, May 1988, 53).
Jesus Christ the Son of God was once placed in a condition that it required the highest effort in order to accomplish what was necessary for the salvation of millions of the children of God. It required the highest effort and determination that had to be exercised before the Son of God could pass through the ordeal, the sacrifice that was necessary.
Notice again the ambiguous language: “the salvation of millions of the children of God.” What exactly does this mean? Most likely it refers to this general salvation, but for true salvation (read, exaltation) to take place, it is necessary for humans to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Using 2 Nephi 25:23 as a proof text (“For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”), consider these different sources explaining this LDS scriptural verse:
• “The Lord will bless us to the degree to which we keep His commandments. Nephi put this principle in a tremendous orbit when he said: ‘For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23). The Savior’s blood, His atonement, will save us, but only after we have done all we can to save ourselves by keeping His commandments.” (Harold B. Lee, Stand Ye in Holy Places, 246. See also Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee, 24).
• “Because of what He accomplished by His atoning sacrifice, Jesus Christ has the power to prescribe the conditions we must fulfill to qualify for the blessings of His Atonement. That is why we have commandments and ordinances. That is why we make covenants. That is how we qualify for the promised blessings. They all come through the mercy and grace of the Holy One of Israel, ‘after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23).” (Ensign, November 2010, 84).
• “This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts. Divine grace is needed by every soul in consequence of the fall of Adam and also because of man’s weaknesses and shortcomings. However, grace cannot suffice without total effort on the part of the recipient. Hence the explanation, ‘It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23).” (Found under the word “grace” on page 697 of the 1986 version of the “Bible Dictionary” appendix located in the back of the LDS Church-produced King James Version Bible).
• “Our sins make us unclean and unfit to dwell in God’s presence, and we need His grace to purify and perfect us ‘after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23). The phrase ‘after all we can do’ teaches that effort is required on our part to receive the fullness of the Lord’s grace and be made worthy to dwell with him.” (True to the Faith, 77).
• “We are saved by the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We must, however, come unto Christ on His terms in order to obtain all the blessings that He freely offers us. We come unto Christ by doing ‘all we can do’ to remember Him, keep our covenants with Him, and obey His commandments (see D&C 20:77, 79; see also Abraham 3:25).” (Book of Mormon Seminary Student Guide, 53).
Jesus, the Son of God, was sent into the world to make it possible for you and me to receive these extraordinary blessings. He had to make a great sacrifice. It required all the power that He had and all the faith that He could summon for Him to accomplish that which the Father required of Him. … He did not fail, though the trial was so severe that He sweat great drops of blood. … His feelings must have been inexpressible. He tells us Himself, as you will find recorded in section 19 of the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, that His suffering was so great that it caused even Him “to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit: and would that He might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink.” But He had in His heart continually to say, “Father, not my will, but Thine be done.” [See D&C 19:15–19.]
The passage mentioned in the Doctrine and Covenants is unique in the sense that Jesus supposedly spoke to Joseph Smith in a way He did not in the Bible or the Book of Mormon. Of course Jesus suffered, as this is depicted in the Bible, but to think that Jesus somehow saved these words for Smith (or else they were not recorded by either the biblical or the Book of Mormon authors) is an outrageous claim.
We are all dependent upon Jesus Christ, upon his coming into the world to open the way whereby we might secure peace, happiness and exaltation. And had he not made these exertions we never could have been secured in these blessings and privileges which are guaranteed unto us in the gospel, through the mediation of Jesus Christ, for he made the necessary exertions. …… Though he has sacrificed himself and laid the plan for the redemption of the people, yet unless the people labor to obtain that union between him and them, their salvation never will be accomplished.
Once more, unless the reader understands the hidden LDS meaning, confusion would result. The atonement in Mormonism provided the ability to have a resurrection; it does not include the work a person must do on his/her own in order to attain exaltation.
We understand, fully that as Jesus Christ dwelt here in a body and that He received that body and now dwells in it glorified, that we are entitled to the same blessing, the same exaltation, and the same glory.
All of a sudden, exaltation is brought into the picture. I am amazed that, because of what Christ did on the cross and raised Himself from the dead (John 2:19), this somehow should mean “that we are entitled to the same blessing, the same exaltation, and the same glory.” In what way? Unfortunately, Mormonism minimizes the Personhood of Jesus. Christianity has historically taught that Jesus, as the very God, took upon Himself the form of a man. This is not to say that at any time His godhood was diminished in any degree after His physical appearance on earth (His incarnation). Jesus was, and is, both divine and human: 100 percent God and 100 percent man. He was conceived through the agency of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:18–25; Luke 1:35); He lived a sinless life while subjected to human temptations (John 5:19; Heb. 2:18; 4:15); He died a real death and rose again bodily from the dead to conquer sin (Rom. 5:6–10; 1 Cor. 15:3–4); He will return to judge all humanity (John 5:22); He sent the Holy Spirit to empower the believers (John 14–16; Acts 1:8); He can be prayed to (Acts 7:59); finally, He is deserving to receive honor, love, faith, and worship as the Father (Matt. 10:37; John 5:23; 14:1; Heb. 1:6). At the same time, He shares attributes with the Father because Jesus is also God.
There is no doubt that Jesus is God. In what way can we, as finite humans, become exalted as gods on other worlds and somehow attain His status? Thus, Mormonism turns Jesus into just “a” god among many gods, with all humans having the potential to attain godhood just like Jesus. Never was a more blasphemous picture of Christ ever given.
Jesus Christ has visited the earth in the latter days, revealing heavenly truths for our salvation.
That Being who dwelt in Heaven, who reigned there before the world was, who created the earth, and who, in the meridian of time, came down to perfect and save that which He had created, has appeared to men in this age. We testify to the whole world that we know, by divine revelation, even through the manifestations of the Holy Ghost, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that he revealed himself to Joseph Smith as personally as he did to his apostles anciently, after he arose from the tomb, and that he made known unto him [the] heavenly truths by which alone mankind can be saved.
Except for the quick mention to Joseph Smith, what is written sure looks like the version believed by Christians for 2,000 years. Of course Christians believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that He was resurrected. He even was with the apostles for many days before being raised into heaven (Acts 1). But the meaning here is that more complete truth came in the 19th century, as Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon and had Jesus even appear to him. We must understand that the version of Mormonism is not the same as the biblical viewpoint.
There were two men in the Temple at Kirtland who saw Him. … The Son of God appeared to them, He who was slain by the Jews, and they said, “the veil was taken away from our mind’s eye, and our understandings were opened, and we saw the Lord standing on the breastwork of the pulpit before us.” … Under His feet was pure gold. His countenance shone above the brightness of the sun. His voice was as the sound of rushing great waters. It was the voice of Jehovah, saying, “I am the first and the last. I am He that liveth. I am He who was slain. I am your advocate with the Father. Behold, your sins are forgiven you. You are clean before me; therefore lift up your heads and rejoice. You have built this house to my name. I will accept this house, and I will pour out my Spirit upon those who keep my commandments, and I will not suffer this holy house to be polluted.” [See D&C 110:1–8.] This was the voice of the same individual that the Jews rejected, and He was seen there. Now I know that these things are things that are true as God is true. But the nations of the earth are not aware of it, that Jesus, the Son of God, has come and appeared to men, and clothed them with authority to preach the Gospel and to promise the Holy Ghost to all who will believe and obey these principles, and should receive a knowledge that these principles are true.
Unfortunately, the Jesus as supposedly recorded in these appearances is not the same Jesus as depicted in scripture, and we are commanded to not accept false versions of Christ and His teachings (2 Cor. 11:4).
The Savior will come again, and we should prepare ourselves for His coming.
We have a testimony concerning Christ, that He is coming to the earth, to reign.
Jesus will come by and by, and appear in our midst, as He appeared in the day when upon the earth among the Jews, and He will eat and drink with us and talk to us, and explain the mysteries of the Kingdom, and tell us things that are not lawful to talk about now.
If you are on a moving train of cars, as long as you sit still and occupy your seat that train will take you to the point you wish to go; but if you step off the cars it will be dangerous, and it may be a long time before another train will come along. It is the same with us—if we are living right, doing our work, we are going along, and if we are keeping our covenants, we are doing the work of God and accomplishing His purposes, and we will be prepared for the time when Jesus the Son of God will come in honor and glory, and will confer upon all those who prove faithful all the blessings that they anticipate, and a thousand times more. …… I say to the Latter-day Saints, if any of you are sleepy, read the words of the Savior spoken when He was upon the earth in regard to the ten virgins, five of whom were wise, and took oil in their lamps, and when the Bridegroom came there was only one-half prepared to go out to meet Him [see Matthew 25:1–13; D&C 45:56–59]. Do not let it be so with us as Latter-day Saints. Let us try to be true to the everlasting covenants that we have made and be true to God. God bless the Latter-day Saints and pour out His Spirit upon you. May you be faithful to your God, faithful to your families, and conduct yourselves with prudence in all things, and labor for the interests of the kingdom of God, and that we may not be among the foolish virgins, but be found worthy to be amongst those who will be crowned as kings and queens and reign throughout eternity.
We come back to the fundamental difference between salvation in an LDS vs. Christian context. Latter-day Saint, do you know that your sins are forgiven? According to Mormonism, a person has to do, do, and do (i.e. keep the covenants, do the work of God, etc). Christianity teaches that this is a done deal through the work of Christ. Thus, Christians don’t depend on their own works; rather, they depend on the work of Jesus. As the Bible states in Acts 16:31 and Romans 10:9-10, it is through belief (faith) that we receive the free gift of God, not by works lest any man should boast (Eph. 2:8-9). If you are a Latter-day Saint, let me ask you, have you kept all your covenants? (I hear it now, “that’s what repentance is for.” But repentance is only an admission that you didn’t keep the very covenants you made in the temple and at the last sacrament service.) Keeping the impossible standard according to Mormonism is impossible. The only chance we have is if somebody has paid the price for us. . . and He has! All we must do is receive the gift. Thank you, Jesus.