Perfect Mormonism

By Sharon Lindbloom
4 April 2017

At a blog site titled “Relationship Refinery,” Mormon blogger Kate wrote about her “Lifelong Wrestle with Mormonism.” In her article, Kate writes that there is one factor to which she attributes “any lasting peace or happiness” she has experienced.

“that, unequivocally, has come from fully living my religion. And I mean, the real religion.

“One issue is that I don’t follow the tenets of Mormonism to perfection. Those close to me (and those not close to me, really) could tally up diversion after mistake after deliberate rebellion they have witnessed in me, painting a picture of just how imperfectly I follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“However as I get older, I am finally beginning to absorb something I had only given lip-service to over the years.

“Following the rules to perfection isn’t Mormonism. Going to church or not drinking alcohol isn’t Mormonism. In fact, doctrinally speaking, one will not be saved if things like that are the central focus.

“Messing up and knowing where to turn because of it, then doing so, over and over again, is perfect Mormonism.

“In short, knowing Jesus Christ is perfect Mormonism.”

Kate goes on in her article to list “the rules to being Mormon” that she learned growing up. This list comprises 13 bullet points, and includes typical Mormon dos and don’ts such as keeping the Word of Wisdom, keeping the Sabbath day holy, paying tithing, attending church meetings, etc. This short list is dubbed by Kate as merely the “warm-up” and is followed by another list of 56 bullet-pointed rules, most of which fall into the broad categories of selfless service and personal holiness. Kate explains that “Mormonism is only complete and effective” when both lists are added together. This looks pretty bleak for those trying to live Mormonism. But then, Kate writes,

“when you inevitably fail at all of the above, come to know our Savior Jesus Christ.”

Judging by the comments left at Kate’s blog and elsewhere where her article has been posted, Mormons find great comfort in her words. They are relieved to read that perfection is not required in Mormonism. They had previously understood that they were supposed to “keep [the] commandments” — a covenant they make with God weekly and promise to fulfill; they thought they were supposed to actually do all the things on Kate’s lists, something every one of them, by experience, knows is impossible. But if “real religion” and “perfect Mormonism” is limited to knowing Christ while being quick to “repent every day, many times a day,” this is something Mormons believe they can actually do.

So Latter-day Saints find comfort in Kate’s blog; but I confess that my reaction to reading it is just the opposite. Setting aside the fact that the god to whom Kate sends people is, in her words, “a man of flesh and bones, united with your Heavenly Mother, the Parents of Jesus Christ your Brother,” (i.e., from a biblical perspective, a false god), there is another problem with Kate’s optimistic position: LDS leaders who speak for God (according to Mormonism) teach something quite different. (Bear in mind that in Mormonism an LDS apostle is on the same authoritative level as the biblical apostles.) Mormon apostle Bruce R. McConkie explained,

“True religion is the true and revealed worship of the true God; all other systems of religion are false. In its pure and perfect form religion is found only among those members of the Church who practice their professions, who live the gospel, who walk uprightly before the Lord, who conform their lives to gospel standards, who sanctify their souls, and who thereby gain peace in this life and have a sure hope of eternal life hereafter… True religion, the religion of Jesus Christ, was instituted of God for the benefit of man, and it is found only in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, 626. Ellipsis in original).

Mr. McConkie’s apostolic definition of true (or real) religion/Mormonism is very different from Kate’s. His focus is on doing; on obeying the rules, conforming to gospel standards, and sanctifying one’s own soul. His definition keeps its distance from Kate’s focus on knowing Jesus Christ. Mr. McConkie barely includes Christ in his definition at all.

LDS apostle Richard G. Scott explained what is required in order to “have a fullness of joy on earth” (i.e., the “lasting peace and happiness” that Kate writes about):

“Only those who make and keep the covenant of baptism, diligently obey His commandments, and receive all of the other necessary ordinances will have a fullness of joy on earth and will live eternally in the celestial kingdom.” (Ensign, 4/2001, 10)

Again, this apostle focuses on obedience; Kate’s idea of knowing Christ is not included. This is also true of apostle Robert D. Hales’ explanation of “the central gospel principle in the Church,” that he presents in the current April 2017 Ensign magazine:

“Everyone who comes to the earth and receives a mortal body will be resurrected, but we have to work to receive the blessing of exaltation through our faithfulness, our agency, our obedience, and our repentance.” (“The Savior’s Atonement: Foundation of True Christianity,” Ensign, 4/2017, 25. Emphases mine.)

Kate’s combined lists of 69 rules required to make Mormonism “complete and effective” (emphasis hers) are overwhelmingly burdensome. Impossible, as she herself notes in a later comment. Nevertheless, Mormons are encouraged because Kate says they can (and should) “Repent every day, many times a day, genuinely striving to reset your course even when you fail miserably.” Indeed, she says “Messing up and knowing where to turn because of it, then doing so, over and over again, is perfect Mormonism.” But again, my reaction to Kate’s comforting advice is not a feeling of encouragement, but rather a deep feeling of distress for the Mormon people. Her ideas on repentance are also out of alignment with LDS leaders who allegedly speak for God. In Mr. Hales’ Ensign article noted above, he speaks of “repentance,” but he notes that this repentance requires “diligence” (23). Diligent repentance (i.e., repentance requiring careful and persistent effort) was described well by Mormonism’s twelfth prophet and president, Spencer W. Kimball. In his landmark book, The Miracle of Forgiveness, he pointedly explained,

“Those who feel they can 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.” (170)

There is no comfort in President Kimball’s teaching. In his book he provided a list of 90 transgressions that God has condemned, including things like flattery, whispering, inhospitality, anger, cursing, foolishness, and “covenantbreaking.” For Mormons, “covenantbreaking” by itself covers all of God’s commandments because every Latter-day Saint covenants with God at baptism to keep (obey) His commandments — without qualification. Repentance is possible, President Kimball said, but “It is a long road spiked with thorns and briars and pitfalls and problems” (149).

President Kimball taught that true repentance, “the repentance that merits forgiveness” (354) requires a permanent forsaking of all sin:

“The forsaking of sin must be a permanent one. True repentance does not permit making the same mistake again. …If the sinner neglects his tithing, misses his meetings, breaks the Sabbath, or fails in his prayers and other responsibilities, he is not completely repentant.” (Repentance Brings Forgiveness (LDS Church-produced pamphlet), 7, 12)

With her unorthodox view, Kate is soothing tired, depressed, and hopeless Mormons with a gospel that is not Mormonism. As a Christian who longs to see Mormons find freedom and new life in Christ, Kate’s message of hope for Latter-day Saints breaks my heart. You see, when Mormons recognize the impossibility of doing all that Mormonism actually requires of them, they thirst for relief. Their weariness prepares them to receive the Good News of God’s free gift of redemption in Christ alone. But if Mormons think they can find relief in Mormonism, if they can be comfortable and hopeful while following a false prophet and worshiping a false God, they won’t recognize their deepest need. They won’t feel quite so weary. They’ll hardly notice their fatal thirst.

The Psalmist captured the true condition of all of us:

“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” (Psalm 42:1-2)

Mormon friends, don’t believe a false gospel. Whether it comes from your prophets and apostles in the form of an impossible, unlivable system, or as soothing, hopeful words from a weary fellow-traveler, “perfect Mormonism” will never provide “lasting peace and happiness.” For that you must drink deeply from the living water of the true and living God. Jesus said,

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” (John 7:37)

and

“whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)

This is an amazing offer. Come, quench your thirst with the living water Jesus offers, and receive His lasting peace and happiness – it is exactly what you long for.