Response to Edward T. Jones
Rejoinder by Mike Thomas
In order to
make this review easier to read, all original quotes from the Mormonism 201
rebuttal are boldfaced and italicized to separate these from the rest of the
Some preliminary observations really should be made before moving on to
the main themes of this chapter. Many will have noticed that in much Mormon
writing these days, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is often
referred to as The Church of Jesus Christ. This is in accord with the Mormon
Church's "style guide" issued to members of the press and published
on their web site.
I have been amazed at how apparently seamlessly and efficiently it has
been adopted by Mormons, and note that Mr. Jones, in his writing, follows this
recently invented convention. It does, however, create several problems, both
for Christians who find it singularly offensive as well as for Mormons
themselves. In fact, this convention often serves to confuse rather than
I've no intention of becoming too embroiled in this issue, but
something should be said. I am writing this prompted by his opening line under
the heading Second Area of Disagreement: Universality of Effect (of the
atonement). It reads: "The second difference between 'Christians' and
the Church of Jesus Christ, according to McKeever and Johnson, is…"
His text is littered with such allusions and comparisons. I wonder if
Mr. Jones realizes how very peculiar that statement will sound to people
outside the Mormon Church, and especially where I am (in Great Britain), outside the geographical areas where Mormonism
predominates. Of course, I know the chequered history of the Mormon Church's
name, and I am fully aware of what their "style guide" is trying to do (i.e. if
people hear something often enough, they come to accept it as fact).
But this very odd juxtaposition of "Christians" and "The Church of
Jesus Christ" would lead most people to think that he had produced a tautology.
That he was discussing the Church of Jesus Christ at war with itself, since
most would define the Church of Jesus Christ as the sum of Christians, and a
Christian as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. It is a lot like writing
of the difference between Muslims and the Islamic faith.
I am interested in what has been seen by many as a cynical use of
terminology. Perhaps Mr. Jones feels that just because I am a Christian, this
doesn't mean I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ, which he clearly
equates with the Mormon Church. In thinking about where Christians fit, and
indeed where Mormons are trying to fit these days in the great scheme of
things, there should be an attempt at achieving clarity. Are we to make a
distinction between The Church of Jesus Christ and The Christian Church? If so,
how would you define and justify that distinction?
There is no warrant for it in Christian Scripture, and even convention
does not allow for such a distinction to be readily understood. I am not trying
to put words in Mr. Jones' mouth, but I am trying to understand where I fit if,
as a Christian, I do not belong to The Church of Jesus Christ. What are the
implications of such a policy? I am a Christian and, therefore, consider
myself a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. Does that make me a Mormon? If I
am not a Mormon and, by implication, not a member of the Church of Jesus
Christ, am I not a
Christian? No doubt, from the perspective of a Mormon motivated by loyalty more
than logic, there is no problem. However, to the Mormon who is sensitive to the
feelings of Christians and influenced by logic more than loyalty, there must be
recognition that this is both insensitive and problematic.
Priming the Pump
In defense of his work Mr. Jones writes: "This
review of their chapter on the Atonement will seek to present the LDS position,
not in a 'favorable' light, but in an accurate one. And that is what is needed
most here: accuracy and honesty. Those who would bear false witness against
another person or Church are seriously condemned by the Savior, and if Messers
(sic) McKeever and Johnson have studied the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints as thoroughly as they claim they have, then they are
certainly guilty of bearing false witness."
To begin a discussion of this kind with such
remarks (there are more of the same) is very unfortunate. The authors find
themselves on the gallows before the case has been put to the jury. Like the
Queen in Alice, Mr. Jones seems to
want to cry, "Sentence first, verdict afterwards!" I understand that feelings
can run high when addressing crucial issues of faith, but I would have hoped a
greater effort in the editing process would have expunged such prejudicial
remarks before publication.
There also seems to be an attempt at isolating
the authors from the mainstream of Christian thought with remarks such as "traditional
Christians" (as represented by McKeever and Johnson, at least) and it is a
problem "at least for McKeever and Johnson." It is as though these two
men hold to beliefs that are peculiar even to Christians and that they have
problems with Mormon theology other Christians would not hold. There is a
history to this kind of approach represented by such Mormon books as How
Wide the Divide and Are Mormons Christians?
In an attempt to legitimize theology that is
peculiar to Mormonism and is therefore alien to traditional Christianity, many
Mormons seek to redefine what are often settled issues for the Christian Church
by refining doctrines in their own image and then calling it Christianity. They
then compare the views of Christian apologists like McKeever and Johnson with
this creation and represent these apologists as though they are out on a limb
as far as most Christians are concerned. Anyone reading the extensive
literature they have produced will readily see that these men stand squarely
within the Evangelical Christian tradition on the issues under discussion and,
in challenging Mormon thought, represent accurately the problems most
Christians have with Mormon theology.
Mr. Jones further observes that "McKeever and Johnson do not speak
authoritatively for either 'the Christian faith' or for the LDS faith. This
review seeks to determine what the proper LDS belief is regarding the Atonement
of our Savior Jesus Christ. It should be indicated at the outset that if
Messers (sic) McKeever and Johnson understand the Christian belief on this
subject they do not exhibit such understanding; if they understand the LDS
belief on that subject, then they have distorted it, often beyond recognition.
Such distortion can only be considered deliberate, with malice of forethought…"
(sic. The actual term is 'malice aforethought.')
But Mr. Jones doesn't tell us
why the authors do not speak authoritatively for the Christian faith. Of
course, neither one claims to speak 'for' the LDS faith. Having stated that,
Mr. Jones feels that neither is qualified to comment on LDS theology, saying
McKeever and Johnson deliberately and knowingly misrepresent Mormonism "with
malice aforethought." But, if they are not qualified to do the former, neither
are they equipped to achieve the latter. That is, if they do misrepresent
Mormonism but don't know what they are doing, then they have simply blundered
into misrepresentation since malice aforethought, as he represents it,
presupposes knowledge of the subject. Mr. Jones needs to make up his mind.
Whichever way you look at it,
the conviction of Edward Jones that the authors either don't know what they are
talking about or maliciously and knowingly distort what they do know as true is
something that should not be indicated at the outset. It should certainly not
be presented as a settled fact since it is something that, at this stage, Mr.
Jones has yet to prove. Indeed, in his footnotes he states, "Whether they distort or de-contextualize their
quotations will be one of the items discussed in this paper." He
may feel that, by the end of the paper, one or more of these bold accusations
are proved, but in the spirit of academic veracity, he should follow the custom
of presenting the evidence before drawing his conclusions. He might otherwise
be accused of 'priming the pump' or 'poisoning the well,' which, I am sure, is
not his intention.
In commenting on motive, Mr. Jones
writes, "…[McKeever and
Johnson] claim that in the writing of their book they have been 'moved with the
same compassion felt by the LDS missionaries and lay members who attempt to
defend what they believe to be true.' This, of course, has nothing to do with
why missionaries are sent into the world; they go to proclaim the gospel of
Jesus Christ, not to defend it against others' attacks."
He concludes: "One would wish that Messers (sic)
McKeever and Johnson had written a book detailing what they believe to be the
true teachings of Jesus Christ, rather than an outright attack on the beliefs
of others. Their approach to others' beliefs says much about their own."
typical of the response of Mormonism to its critics, and I really wish Mormons
would think through what they are claiming. There are around 60,000 full-time
Mormon missionaries around the world today as well as the 'lay members' he
mentions, to whom the aphorism "every member a missionary" applies. They are
calling on our neighbours with a message emphasising temples, extra-biblical
revelation, and families as forever entities while insisting that, unlike their
detractors, they are simply proclaiming their gospel and sharing what they
in "detailing what they believe to be the true teachings of Jesus
Christ," they do not, themselves, simply present their view. Their
message is grounded in the doctrine that all other churches are in apostasy;
their creeds are an abomination, their practices are ungodly, and their
ministers are without authority. In other words, an integral part of the LDS
message is an attack on the beliefs of others. In light of this, I suggest
their familiar cry, "Why do you have to tear down other people's beliefs?" is
breathtakingly disingenuous since, in presenting Mormonism, they inevitably
tear down beliefs that I hold to be sacred.
Mormon books and web pages have been dedicated to the defense of Mormonism
against those who criticize it. This present exercise is a case in point. There
are also publications 'correcting,' in light of Mormon beliefs, 'apostate'
Christian beliefs and practices and educating people in the 'restored' Mormon
gospel. I think of books like Jesus the Christ, Mormon Doctrine, A
Marvellous Work and a Wonder, Doctrines of Salvation, and many more, all of
which compare Christianity unfavourably with Mormonism. The Book of Mormon
itself is scathing in its attack on the Christian Church, and Joseph Smith's
account of his first vision styles Christianity as abominable. If Mormons are
permitted to 'apologize' for, defend, and spread their views by casting
Christianity in a poor light, I fail to see any justification for Mormon
complaints about works that closely and critically examine Mormonism. The
authors might justifiably claim to be simply defending their own faith against
Mormon critics calling at our doors.
characterising the style and content of Mormon teaching and comparing it with
the approach of the authors, Mr. Jones writes:
missionaries are totally unaware of anti-Mormon literature, at least for a month
or two. In 1902 George Teasdale, of the Quorum of the Twelve, discussed the
Great Mandate of Mark 16:15–6 to preach the gospel to all the world, teaching
them to believe and be baptized. Elder Teasdale asked, and then answered, the
question: to believe what? "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, in the atonement,
in the resurrection, in holding communication with the heavens, in the spirit
of revelation, in putting our trust in God, in doing good, in fulfilling our
individual missions, and being in obedience to the principles of the Gospel."
That is what the missionaries were expected to be teaching as they went out
into the world. One would wish that Messers (sic) McKeever and Johnson had
written a book detailing what they believe to be the true teachings of Jesus
Christ, rather than an outright attack on the beliefs of others. Their approach
to others' beliefs says much about their own.
We have already seen that, in
presenting their message, Mormons do more than offer what they believe to be
the teachings of Jesus Christ. When they explain Mormon doctrine, certainly
they attack the traditional Christian church by the very nature of their
message. The use of the above quote from George Teasdale illustrates another
characteristic of this approach. Taken at face value, the statement has much to
But it's what is not said that
is important in this context. There is an instinctive (one might say,
unconscious) strategy among Mormons whereby they don't exactly lie, but they
don't exactly tell the truth either. This is illustrated by a common experience
for anyone who has discussed their faith with Mormon missionaries. A Christian
might say, "I understand you Mormons don't believe in the God of the Bible." To
this the missionary may quote from the First Article of Faith and reply, "Oh,
that's not true! We believe in God the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus
Christ, and in the Holy Ghost."
An uninformed or undiscerning
Christian may go away satisfied at having been corrected by what appears to be
an orthodox Trinitarian statement of faith. (I have often witnessed this
happening.) However, anyone familiar enough with Mormon teaching will know that
the Mormon concept of God is so far removed from the orthodox view as the east
is from the west. The Mormon knows what the Christian is asking, but he or she
chooses to give the appearance of orthodoxy with a statement of faith that,
while not totally untrue, is really dishonest. The honest answer would be,
'Yes! Our concept of God is radically different from what you have in mind when
you ask that question.'
This is what is known as
plausible deniability. It is a term that was coined in the world of espionage
to describe a cover story that serves to convince people that they are mistaken
in their suspicions of a person or organization. It was popularized at the time
of Watergate. Thus, plausible deniability can be achieved in many ways,
including concocting a cover story, restricting knowledge (need to know), and
by producing parallel, alternative accounts or texts, which are then pressed
into service, much like the Mormon first Article of Faith. The texts or
statements may not originally have been produced with this purpose in mind;
however, it is how they are pressed into service that gives the game away.
The George Teasdale statement
falls into this category. I have just finished a study of the Mormon missionary
discussions for publication and, in light of what I have discovered, find the
use of this statement gloriously misleading. It appears deeply orthodox and
disarmingly innocent, yet covers a multitude of sins, because Mormons mean
something entirely different from what would be commonly understood by
virtually every word or clause of the statement.
They also bring a message that
is profoundly more controversial than the statement, taken on its own, would
lead people to believe. This is born out by what we have already observed of
the hostility towards the Christian Church implicit in the Mormon message but
plausibly denied by Mr. Jones. Plausible deniability is part of Mormon
strategy, as I have demonstrated and, while it may be an unconscious reflex in
the average Mormon, it operates in much of what passes for theological debate
with Mormons, and the reader needs to be aware of this.
Again, I am reminded of something from Alice:
"There's glory for you!"
"I don't know what you mean by 'glory'," Alice said.
"I meant, 'there's a nice knock-down
argument for you!'"
"But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice
knock-down argument'," Alice objected.
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in
a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more
Playing by the Rules
Jones is very concerned about the purpose and format of Mormonism 101.
It is described in its preface as "a resource that compares the
teachings of the Mormon leaders, both past and present, with those of the
Bible." Mr. Jones is unhappy on several counts with the way this is
achieved. Commenting on the comparisons between the sayings of modern Mormon
leaders and their 19th century counterparts, he writes:
(sic) McKeever and Johnson need to understand that the rule they have
established here is a two-edged sword: what the Christians said in the early
days (Bible and Church Fathers) and what Christians are saying today can also
be checked, and double checked, against accuracy and agreement. If the
differences become apparent, can we also state that we will then have 'an idea
of what kind of men [modern Christian apologists] really are'?"
bluntly, No! This is always an attractive proposition to the Mormon apologist
(i.e. applying the same criteria to Christian Churches as are applied by
critics to Mormonism). The reasoning is that if Christian churches don't pass
the test, why should the Mormons? However, while these standards do apply to
the Mormon Church, they do not apply to Christian churches. If you compare the
two systems, it becomes immediately apparent why. Mormonism is, in its
government and practice, ultramontanist. It makes far-reaching claims to
primacy and uniqueness.
Christian church is a local expression of a universal movement of faith in the
Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. Christians accept only the Bible as "God
breathed" and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in
righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good
work" (2 Tim.3:16). Whilst every Evangelical Christian would claim a
unique position for the Christian faith in the sea of faiths in this world, no
one church or congregation would claim the unique position of Salt Lake City
amongst fellow Christian believers.
Mormon Church claims that it is the only true church with leaders who are
uniquely inspired of God. While they may find the teachings of their leaders
helpful and inspiring, a Christian would afford none of them the exalted
position that Mormons give their prophets. In fact, the Christian leaders are
fellow pilgrims from whose experience and insights we appreciate, but their
counsel must be sifted in light of Scripture. You cannot then compare the
Mormon Church, its practices, or its leaders with Christian churches. There is
no "two-edged sword" here. The sword that the Mormon Church has put in the
hands of its critics cuts one way.
Handsome is as handsome does
also objects to how "irresponsible" is defined as it relates to statements made
by church leaders. He quotes the authors:
student of Mormonism still needs to carefully weigh what LDS leaders have said
and are saying, since it gives us an idea of what kind of men they really are.
For example, if certain LDS leaders continually make irresponsible comments, we
must take that into consideration."
comments, "If certain LDS leaders are making irresponsible statements,
then doesn't one have the obligation to determine exactly from whose viewpoint
they are to be considered irresponsible: the LDS church, or mainstream
Christian apologists? If they are irresponsible from the LDS standpoint, then
they ought to be ignored, as not representing the true position of the LDS Church on that particular
point of doctrine or practice. If they are irresponsible from the point of view
of mainstream Christians, then… Well, I guess that is what this review is
really all about."
his point inasmuch as, if a Mormon leader declares that God is an exalted man
and was once as we are now, then from a Christian viewpoint that would be
irresponsible, not to mention grossly erroneous, while from the Mormon
viewpoint it would be true. However, we already have sound criterion by which
to judge "irresponsible" from the Mormon standpoint. It is, in fact, the test
we are discussing, i.e. the pronouncements of Mormon leaders compared with each
other and with Scripture. And, in general terms, most people know what
"irresponsible" looks like. What is puzzling is what Mr. Jones wants us to do
with our findings.
If a man claims
responsibility before God as a prophet for bringing clear, consistent, and
reliable guidance to God's people, and if that man goes on to make
irresponsible statements before people who have come to trust him in that
office, we should treat it lightly. Ignore them. Pretend it didn't happen and
get on with our lives. How do I manage any level of obedience to God's Word if
I cannot trust the channel through which that word comes? Surely the promise of
Mormonism is that we should no longer be tossed to and fro and carried about
with every wind of doctrine (Eph.4:14).
on this subject, Mr. Jones comments on the comparisons between early and modern
Mormon leaders and the inconsistencies such comparisons reveal:
is the observation of this reviewer that what most evangelical writers wish to
see is a Mormon Systematic Theology, a volume that will give answers to all
their gospel questions, and explain Mormon doctrine in a very neat and concise
manner. What they fail to recognize (or choose to ignore, since they have
studied the subject for so long!) is that letters written to a son-in-law do
not hold the same authority within the Church as a talk given at a General
Conference, which in turn does not hold the same authority as the words of
canonized scripture. Are these "alleged" differences, or are there demonstrable
differences? If the latter, what then is the position of the reviewer? Much
needs to be said here about "authority" without detracting too much from the
It is the
observation of this reviewer that systematic theology describes exactly
the promise of Mormonism. Consider the story Mormons tell of Christ organizing
his Church around the Ephesians 4 ministries; of the eventual apostasy of the
church and the ensuing chaos as councils and convocations argue over doctrine;
of divisions and factions. Consider, then, the story of final restoration and
the promise that God would choose righteous men once more as his witnesses who
would learn from firsthand experience about the plan and the mission of Christ
in that plan.
their claim to authority to teach clearly and simply the knowledge of heaven
and the truths of the gospel. (All of this is taken from the first missionary
discussion.) As Mormonism casts itself in a favorable light by comparison with
2,000 years of the Christian Church, it condemns Christianity for getting so
hopelessly confused and vaunts as one of its greatest virtues a systematic
understanding of God's great plan of happiness for mankind.
course, there is no Mormon systematic theology. A review of Mormon teachings
and statements given over the short history of this church shows why.
of authority in the Mormon Church is a thorny one and seemingly insoluble. Mr.
Jones feels that something should be said on this subject and seems to rank
authority in the familiar order. He reminds us that "letters written to a
son-in-law do not hold the same authority within the Church as a talk given at
a General Conference, which in turn does not hold the same authority as the
words of canonized scripture." Thus, he seems hopeful of dismissing
much of the evidence produced in Mormonism 101. Mr. Jones must be
speaking in general terms and not relating his thoughts to the chapter under
lest anyone reading these reviews without reference to the book Mormonism
101 should get the wrong impression, I should point out that there is not
one "letter to a son-in-law" or anything so remotely informal that was
referenced in this chapter. Perhaps Mr. Jones is disparaging Bruce McConkie's
calling as a Mormon apostle because he was the son-in-law of tenth President
Joseph Fielding Smith. If so, that can be discussed in another venue. Indeed,
in scanning the notes for the book, I find a great weight of evidence brought
from general authorities, church publications, and other sources regarded by
Mormons as authoritative enough for their own use. Indeed, if we pay regard to
the "authorities" of the church, we find a different picture to that given by
Mr. Jones on what is, or isn't, authoritative.
In a 1999
conference address, Mormon Apostle Dallin Oaks had the following to say:
subject being taught in the Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and Relief Societies
of the church during the second and third Sundays of each month is the
Teachings of the Presidents of the Church. During the last two years we have
studied the teachings of President Brigham Young. For the next two years we
will be studying the teachings of President Joseph F. Smith, the 6th LDS
President. The books containing these teachings, which are being given to every
adult member of the church as a permanent personal library resource, contain
doctrine and principles. They are rich and relevant to the needs of our day,
and they are superb for teaching and discussion" (Ensign, Nov.
1999, page 80).
In a 1998
address, Merrill C. Oaks spoke of The Living Prophet: Our Source of Pure
Doctrine. I commend it as a classic example of how Mormons are encouraged
to think about their prophets and leaders. He quotes 12th LDS
President Spencer W Kimball thus:
that Momentous day in 1820, additional scripture has continued to come, including
the numerous and vital revelations flowing in a never-ending stream from God to
his prophets on the earth…There are those who would assume that with the
printing and binding of these sacred records [and he was speaking here of the
four standard works] that would be the 'end of the prophet.'. But again we
testify to you that revelation continues and that the vaults and files of the
Church contain these revelations which come month to month and day to day. We
testify also that there is, since 1830 when the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints was organized, and will continue to be, so long as time shall
last, a prophet, recognized of God and his people, who will continue to
interpret the mind and will of the Lord. ("Revelation: The Word of the
Lord to His Prophets," Ensign, May 1977, 78 Quotes in [square
brackets] are original).
Oaks went on to say:
have large amounts of written historical material available to us, including
sermons of early Church leaders. These give us background that helps us
understand the early events of the Restoration…"
goes on to promise:
are wonderful continuity and agreement of these teachings and those of the
current prophets." (Ensign, November 1998, pp. 82-83)
reasonable to draw from these statements certain conclusions, i.e.
- That the four "Standard Works" are certainly not the only authoritative sources of doctrine.
- That the Lord continues to speak to and through his prophets, "day to day."
- That these prophets can be relied upon to "interpret the mind and will of the Lord."
- That there is "a wonderful continuity and agreement" between former prophets and leaders and the current ones.
this the words of Dallin Oaks quoted above and it seems that people are
encouraged to expect that transparency, clarity and continuity are the
normative experience of those following Mormon leaders, via LDS scripture, LDS
historical documents, and LDS Church manuals. In light of this, any reasonable
person would be satisfied that the authors seem to have the endorsement of
Mormon Church leaders in their selection of authoritative material.
heading Centrality of the Atonement in LDS Thought, Mr. Jones charges
the authors with seriously understating the position of the Mormon Church. He
goes to some lengths to emphasise the centrality of the cross in Mormon
soteriology. But then he seeks to use Christian sources to show how the cross
has not always had the status it holds today for Christians. Commenting on his
sources, he writes:
These statements are not cited in order to devalue in
any way the importance of the cross, either for McKeever and Johnson or
Latter-day Saints. It is important to realize however that the cross is
necessarily as significant a concept in the scriptures as they would
like it to
appear. Leon Morris agrees with Murphy-O'Connor that aside from the
Paul, there are not many references in the New Testament to the 'death'
Jesus; indeed: "We would imagine that there are many New Testament
to the death of Christ. But, outside of Paul, there are not." And in
context it is important to remember that Paul's writings comprise less
one-fourth of the New Testament writings. Father Murphy-O'Connor also
"during the first Christian centuries, the cross was a thing accursed.
professed allegiance to Christ by wearing a cross." He indicates that
only after Constantine lifted the ban against Christianity in
general, and forbade crucifixion in particular, that a "new, more
meaning for the cross was facilitated." But, he concludes, "even after
cross had been widely accepted as a symbol, there was a consistent
accept its reality. Only two crucifixion scenes survive from the fifth
The situation remains unchanged until the twelfth century." These
not intended to devalue the cross or the blood shed there, only to
events in their proper context within sacred scripture. Despite the
fact that Gethsemane is mentioned only twice in the scriptures, it has
nevertheless engendered an enormous amount of secondary literature. A
the study of the passion narratives published in 1989 identified seven
dealing specifically with Gethsemane during the previous 100 years and
than 100 articles. That represents a significant amount of discussion
something seemingly of no account!
His footnotes seem substantial in this area and
play down the importance of the cross, of the apostle Paul, and the witness of
a quarter of the New Testament record. Having insisted on the central role of the cross in
Mormonism, he then attempts to show from Christian quotes that it is not so
important after all. Mr. Jones then goes on, under the heading Back to Gethsemane, to show the importance of Gethsemane in the atonement, ending with the comment:
"This is the one thing which
seemingly all commentators, LDS or otherwise, agree: He loved us and He
manifested that love by His life and by His death…there is a fair amount of
non-LDS support for the idea that the experience of our Savior in the Garden of
Gethsemane is also related to the atoning sacrifice which He made for us."
Now it must be said that, whatever position you
take on any question of Christian theology, you will find a quote from someone
with letters after their name who will support, or appear to support,
your view. We must ask, however, whether the use to which these quotes are
being put would have the approval of the authors. We must also find out what
Scripture has to say.
And, although he says that "these
statements are not cited in order to devalue in any way the importance of the
cross," nevertheless, I am suspicious of what he is trying to do here.
He begins by defending against the accusation that Mormonism plays down the
cross and emphasizes Gethsemane. He then goes on to justify taking the stand of
which he is accused, playing down the cross and emphasising Gethsemane. In the same breath
he almost seems to be saying, "What McKeever and Johnson are claiming is that I
don't think the cross is important. But I do think it is important and here is
the proof of that. And, anyway, other people don't think it is so important
either and here is the proof of that."
reminds me again of the lines from Alice:
should say what you mean," the March Hare went on. "I do," Alice hastily replied; "at
least – at least I mean what I say – that's the same thing, you know." "Not the
same thing a bit!" said the Hatter. "Why, you might just as well say that 'I
see what I eat' is the same thing as 'I eat what I see.'"
Areas of Disagreement: Gethsemane and the Cross
There seems to be a good deal of confusion in the mind of Edward Jones
concerning several issues in this chapter. I understand how easily one can get
lost in the middle of a convoluted argument, although I feel it need not have
become as convoluted. Somehow he does seem to have helped the process along.
First it would be wise to make clear what are the main issues. These things are
explained very well in Mormonism 101, but since Mr. Jones has
misunderstood some key points and some of the argumentation, it seems wise to
go over this ground here.
The authors explain the following to the reader:
"While Christians and Mormons
would both accept the atonement of Christ, they disagree as to what this
sacrifice actually accomplished and even, for some, where it took place" (Mormonism 101,
The Christian View
McKeever and Johnson explain how Christians
understand the atonement:
"Through the sacrifice of God's Son, those who were once enemies of
God can now know that the barrier that separated them from their Creator has
been removed. So powerful is this sacrificial act that believers can be assured
that all their sins – past, present, and future – are now forgiven" (Mormonism
They then quote Colossians 2:13-14:
And you, being dead in your sins and the
uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having
forgiven you all trespasses; blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that
was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing
it to the cross.
Thus they present the Christian belief that,
through the atonement, there is effected a complete reconciliation between God
and believing humankind – "having forgiven you all trespasses," as well as the
location of the transaction – "nailing it [the law that condemns us] to the
The Mormon View
The authors then present how Mormons understand
"Mormon leaders have taught that
the atonement of Jesus Christ releases the 'human family' from the consequences
of Adam's fall and allows a general resurrection from the dead. It also makes
available the forgiveness of personal sins on the condition of repentance"(Mormonism 101,
They quote from authoritative Mormon sources:
"The universal, infinite, and unconditional aspects of
the Atonement of Jesus Christ are several. They include his ransom for Adam's
original transgression so that no member of the human family is held
responsible for that sin. Another universal gift is the resurrection from the
dead of every man, woman, and child who lives, has ever lived, or ever will
live, on the earth" (The Encyclopedia of
vol.2, s.v. "Atonement of Jesus Christ," 84).
"And not only was this vicarious atonement made to
cover the transgression of Adam, but it was made to reach also to the
individual sins of men, that they might not suffer if they would accept the
gospel."(B H Roberts, Defense of the Faith and the Saints, 2 vols. (Salt Lake
City; Deseret News, 1907-12), 2:513).
Thus they present the Mormon belief that Jesus'
death effected a general resurrection and the possibility of forgiveness of
personal sins conditional upon acceptance of, and adherence to, the Mormon gospel.
They then quote impeccable Mormon sources to show
where, in Mormon thinking, this transaction took place:
"And lo, he shall suffer
temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man
can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore,
so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his
people" (Book of Mormon, Mosiah 3:7).
"Therefore I command you to repent–repent, lest I
smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your
sufferings be sore–how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how
hard to bear you know not. For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for
all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not
repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the
greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to
suffer both body and spirit–and would that I might not drink the bitter cup,
glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the
children of men" (D&C 19:15-19).
It should be noted that the Mosiah verses are
cross-referenced in the Book of Mormon footnotes with Matthew 26: 38-39
and Luke 22:44, which are both accounts of Christ's agony in the Garden of
Gethsemane. The Doctrine and Covenants verses are also cross-referenced
in the D&C footnotes to Luke 22:42-44. It is also significant that
there is no cross-reference to Golgotha (Luke 23:33-46). Therefore, even a close study of Mormon scripture
reveals a garden atonement with no reference to the cross. Mr. Jones seems to
want us to take it that the cross is an integral part of Mormon soteriology.
However, it would be wise to take nothing for granted. We need to consider the
evidence and not simply accept assurances.
The authors go on to say:
"While he acknowledges that Jesus would eventually go
to the cross, President Ezra Taft Benson concluded that it was in the Garden
where Jesus took on himself the sins of the world":
"[Christ] suffered as only God
could suffer, bearing our griefs, carrying our sorrows, being wounded for our
transgressions, voluntarily, submitting Himself to the iniquity of us all, just
as Isaiah prophesied (see Isaiah 53:4-6). It was in Gethsemane that Jesus took
on Himself the sins of the world, in Gethsemane that His pain was equivalent to
the cumulative burden of all men, in Gethsemane that He descended below all
things so that all could repent and come to Him" (Teachings of Ezra Taft
There is then a quote from Bruce McConkie:
"And as He came out of the Garden, delivering
himself voluntarily into the hands of wicked men, the victory had been won.
There remained yet the shame and the pain of his arrest, his trials, and his
cross. But all these were overshadowed by the agonies and sufferings in Gethsemane. It was on the cross that he 'suffered death in the
flesh', even as many have suffered agonising deaths, but it was in Gethsemane that 'he suffered the pain of all men, that all men
might repent and come to him.'…Jesus took upon himself the sins of all men when
he suffered and sweat great drops of blood from every pore in Gethsemane. It was then that his suffering caused himself , even
God, to suffer both body and spirit in a way which is totally beyond our
mortal comprehension" (The
Mortal Messiah, pp 127-28).
In summary, Christians believe that the atonement is a completed work
that offers full reconciliation to all that would turn and believe. This
atonement occurred at the cross. Mormons believe that the atonement has both
unconditional and conditional aspects, i.e. God unconditionally ransoms us from
the penalty for Adam's transgression and effects our resurrection. Forgiveness
for personal sin and full reconciliation with God are conditional upon
obedience to the Mormon gospel. Mormons believe that this limited atonement
occurred in Gethsemane.
There is, later in the chapter, an interesting
quote from President Lorenzo Snow:
"…the time approached that He
was to pass the severest affliction that any mortal ever did pass through. He
undoubtedly had seen persons nailed to the cross, because that method of
execution was common at that time, and He understood the torture that such
persons experienced for hours. He went by Himself in the garden and prayed to
His Father, if it were possible, that that cup might pass from Him; and His
feelings were such that He sweat great drops of blood, and in His agony there
was an angel sent to give Him comfort and strength" (Lorenzo Snow, Collected
Discourses, vol.3, 362).
Here Mr. Jones seems to be confused. Commenting
on the use of this quote, he writes:
(sic) McKeever and Johnson are so determined to make Latter-day Saint writers
look so 'un-Christian' that they quote those portions of LDS statements which
contain the information they want their readers to know, but only that much.
Such contextual selectivity is a form of bearing false witness. For instance,
they quote the following from Lorenzo Snow, in 1893:
He then gives the above quote from Lorenzo
Snow and continues:
quotation is meant by McKeever and Johnson to indicate that the LDS teaching on
the atonement is that it took place "primarily in the garden." What they fail
to do, however, is read further into the talk given by Elder Snow. He stated in
the same talk that "when Jesus went through that terrible torture on the cross,
He saw what would be accomplished by it; He saw that His brethren and
sisters—the sons and daughters of God—would be gathered in, with but few
exceptions—those who committed the unpardonable sin. That sacrifice of the
divine Being was effectual to destroy the powers of Satan." Clearly the
cross was important in President Snow's soteriology.
authors are not using this quote "to indicate that the LDS teaching on the
atonement is that it took place 'primarily in the garden.'" Quite the
opposite, in fact, can be seen from their own comment on this quote:
not all LDS leaders have held that Jesus' greatest agony took place in this
garden. For example, President Lorenzo Snow stated that Jesus' suffering in the
garden was a result of knowing He was about to face the cross."
the continuation of the quote by Mr. Jones serves to strengthen McKeever and
Johnson's argument, in that Lorenzo Snow is shown to clearly hold the Christian
view that the agony of the Garden was in anticipation of the cross, and the
agony of the cross was the place of atonement. The authors do point out that
President Joseph Fielding Smith believed the opposite. Quoting D&C 19:18-19 (where footnotes
take us to the garden, remember), he declared:
great many people have an idea that when he was on the cross, and the nails
were driven into his hands and feet, that was his great suffering. His great
suffering was before he ever was placed upon the cross. It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that the blood oozed
from the pores of his body…That was not when he was on the cross; that was in
the garden. That is where he bled from every pore in his body."
he is so wrong in how he has read this, I would not go so far as to accuse
Edward of bearing false witness, a charge that seems to spring easily enough to
his own mind. I find that people usually get into this sort of fix when their
excitement at catching someone out blinds them to what is often obvious.
Of the making of Many Quotes there is no End
seeks to answer the authors with lists of quotes to show that the cross is
important in Mormon soteriology. To do this he cites several sources. His
sources fall into three categories: The cross; The Blood; and The Song of
Righteousness (a fancy title for hymns of the Church). However, the following
will serve as an illustration of where he is taking us:
They quote President Ezra Taft Benson to the effect
that "it was in Gethsemane that Jesus took on Himself the sins of the
world." Had they but taken the time to seek out the entire article from which
this statement is taken they would have noticed that Elder Benson continues by
referring to "the glorious Atonement of our Lord which extended from Gethsemane to Golgotha." Even
without having sought out the original text, they could have determined the
incorrect judgment they made of President Bensons (sic) position. They could
have quoted from the same volume the quotation immediately preceding the one
they cited: "In Gethsemane and on Calvary, He worked out the infinite and eternal atonement. It
was the greatest single act of love in recorded history. Thus He became our Redeemer.
He then writes, "The atonement is clearly
defined as having encompassed both the Garden and the cross. The cross is not
in the least devalued or neglected. Had there been no death on the cross,
whatever it was that happened in the Garden would have been superfluous. With
the cross, the events in the Garden have meaning and significance."
and Johnson [state] that "Mormon leaders have taught that this atoning
sacrifice began in the Garden of Gethsemane." they (sic) then
quote President Benson and Elder McConkie to the effect that the major portion
of the atonement took place in the Garden. From this they conclude that one of
the major themes of the LDS faith is that the atonement "took place primarily
in the Garden" (which ought to lead one to conclude that it took place
'secondarily' somewhere else: perhaps the cross?)
sarcasm is not called for, and I suggest that Mr. Jones address the very real
problems raised in his own arguments before he points any finger of derision.
McConkie does not make a statement "to the effect that the
major portion of the atonement took place in the Garden." McConkie clearly
believes that, by the time Christ left the garden, the job had been done and
"the victory had been won." Indeed, at the head of the chapter McConkie is
quoted as saying:
is available because Christ the Lord sweat great drops of blood in Gethsemane as he bore the
incalculable weight of the sins of all who ever had or ever would repent." (The Promised
this with one of his "proofs" taken from Spencer W Kimball:
he climbed crucifixion's hill, he carried that Adamic penalty, and as the nails
through his hands and feet, and the spear in his side, drained from his body
all of his precious blood in this, his voluntary sacrifice, he neutralized and
paid for all the Adamic sins…"
McConkie, Christ climbed crucifixion's hill with the knowledge that He had paid
the penalty. To Kimball, as Christ climbed crucifixion's hill, He had yet to
pay the penalty. The same principle applies to all his other "proofs." Whether
speaking of the cross, the blood, or hymns, there are references that give an
orthodox rendering to Mormon theology. The question is whether this is truly
orthodoxy or simply a patina created by joining together a selection from
generations of otherwise contradictory statements to present a plausible
picture of orthodoxy.
is that there is no shortage of references to the cross in Mormon theology,
even apparently orthodox references. The sheer weight of selected quotes is not
proof but simply the wearisome weight of assertion, i.e. this is the way Mr.
Jones chooses to see things. But he is in no way convincing that this is the
way things are. This is because there is a plentiful supply of references that
quite explicitly deny the orthodox view. For instance, in Doctrines of
Salvation (1:130), Joseph Fielding Smith goes so far as to contrast the
Mormon teaching with the universally held view of the Christian Church:
great many people have an idea that when he was on the cross, and the nails
were driven into his hands and feet, that was his great suffering. His great
suffering was before he ever was placed upon the cross. It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that the blood oozed
from the pores of his body…That was not when he was on the cross; that was in
the garden. That is where he bled from every pore in his body."
you have a Mormon prophet declaring that Christians are wrong to believe that
Christ atoned for sins on the cross and that the garden was the place of his
"great suffering." As I have already pointed out, even the Mormon scripture
text quoted by Fielding Smith, D&C 19:18-19, is totally bereft of any
reference to the cross in the footnotes. Indeed, they point unequivocally and
exclusively to the garden. It may be that Mr. Jones can summon a library of
quotes from other sources to "prove" the importance of the cross in Mormon
soteriology, but they will at best serve to show that there is not agreement.
They will more likely show that he is interpreting disparate statements in such
a way as to get up an argument against the claims in Mormonism 101.
happening here is clear enough. It is the, "I know that is what it says, but
believe me, this is how you should understand it" defense. The authors already
concede that "for some" in the Mormon Church it is the Garden and not the
Cross. Using the Lorenzo Snow quote (whose use Mr. Jones has misunderstood),
they point out that some Mormon leaders appear more orthodox in their view.
However, it seems clear that some of the most strident and explicit
pronouncements in explaining Mormon soteriology have Christ's atonement
occurring in the Garden before He simply died on the Cross.
Suffering and Atonement
sometimes speak as if the sufferings of Christ were limited to his final
agonies, but this is not correct. His whole life was a life of suffering. It
was the servant life of the Lord of Hosts, the life of the sinless One in a
sin-cursed world. Satan assaulted Him, His people rejected Him, and His enemies
persecuted Him. The sufferings of the soul were even more intense than those of
the body. He was tempted by the devil, was oppressed by the world of iniquity
round about Him – 'a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief' Isa.53:3" (Berkhof, A
Summary of Christian Doctrine, Banner of Truth, 1993 ed. p.92).
extent, of course, there is agreement that Christ's suffering was not confined
to his final hours on the cross. However, the sacrifice of atonement took place
in a particular place and at a particular time, took a particular form, and
achieved a particular end. The difficulty Mr. Jones has is that some Mormon
leaders very clearly state that the business was transacted in the Garden:
"It was in Gethsemane that Jesus
took on Himself the sins of the world, in Gethsemane that His pain was
equivalent to the cumulative burden of all men, in Gethsemane that He descended
below all things so that all could repent and come to Him" (Teachings of
Ezra Taft Benson, p. 14).
"And as He came out of the Garden, delivering
himself voluntarily into the hands of wicked men, the victory had been won.
There remained yet the shame and the pain of his arrest, his trials, and his
cross. But all these were overshadowed by the agonies and sufferings in Gethsemane. It was on the cross that he 'suffered death in the
flesh', even as many have suffered agonising deaths, but it was in Gethsemane that 'he suffered the pain of all men, that all men
might repent and come to him.'…Jesus took upon himself the sins of all men when
he suffered and sweat great drops of blood from every pore in Gethsemane. It was then that his suffering caused himself, even
God, to suffer both body and spirit in a way which is totally beyond our mortal
Mortal Messiah, McConkie, pp. 127-28).
However, others appear to agree
that it occurred on the cross:
time approached that He was to pass the severest affliction that any mortal
ever did pass through. He undoubtedly had seen persons nailed to the cross,
because that method of execution was common at that time, and He understood the
torture that such persons experienced for hours. He went by Himself in the
garden and prayed to His Father, if it were possible, that that cup might pass
from Him; and His feelings were such that He sweat great drops of blood, and in
His agony there was an angel sent to give Him comfort and strength." (Lorenzo Snow, Collected
Discourses, vol.3, 362).
Mr. Jones seeks to straddle the two views by
speaking of the atonement as though it started in the garden and concluded on
the cross. He even brings forward evidence that Mormon leaders have held this
view declaring that "the Latter-day Saint leaders, including the two they
cite (Benson and McConkie) do not in any way restrict the atoning sacrifice of
our Savior to the Garden. But they definitely consider the atonement to
have had its beginning there."
But this will not do since we have Lorenzo Snow
teaching that the agony of the garden was in anticipation of "the severest
affliction that any mortal ever did pass through." Joseph Fielding Smith
dismissed this idea, declaring, "His great suffering was before he ever was
placed upon the cross. It was in the Garden of Gethsemane…" And Ezra Taft Benson
taught, "It was in Gethsemane that Jesus took on Himself the
sins of the world, in Gethsemane that His pain was equivalent to
the cumulative burden of all men, in Gethsemane that He descended
below all things so that all could repent and come to Him."
McConkie fully concurs when he declared, "And as He came out of the Garden, delivering
himself voluntarily into the hands of wicked men, the victory had been won." McConkie even makes clear that, agony
though it was, there was nothing significant at all about the crucifixion. "There
remained yet the shame and the pain of his arrest, his trials, and his cross.
But all these were overshadowed by the agonies and sufferings in Gethsemane. It was on the cross that he 'suffered death in the
flesh,' even as many have suffered agonising deaths, but it was in Gethsemane that 'he suffered the pain of all men, that all men
might repent and come to him.'"
these leaders be "not in any way restricting the atoning sacrifice…to the
Garden"? It seems that one moment the cross is central, the next it is
secondary. One moment something special happened there, the next it was a
brutal but common enough execution. What do Mormons believe? Mr. Jones may be
satisfied with his view that takes in both Gethsemane and Calvary. To this he is
entitled. He is not entitled to the rather imperious attitude that says only a
fool or someone with mischief in mind could put forward an alternative
understanding of Mormon thinking. There are real problems here. Perhaps a
recent Ensign magazine article will give us an insight to at least where
the weight of evidence should point us.
The April 2002 Ensign
magazine, the official organ of the Mormon Church, carried a small piece in
which a bishop told of the insight he gained into the depth of the Saviour's
love (p.19). It is a moving story of a man bravely bearing the weight of
responsibility for his erring flock but who is aware of his own shortcomings.
Reflecting on this predicament, he asks himself, "If I feel pain when someone commits
sin, I cannot imagine the pain the Saviour must have experienced." In
his reflections the bishop declares, "As terrible as Christ's suffering on the cross
was, perhaps it was not as great as His suffering in Gethsemane. When he sweat drops
of blood as He bore the weight of all the sins of mankind, the great agony of
the Atonement took place."
He had the very best authority on which to base
his reflections. The April 2001 Ensign magazine carried a special feature
containing the text from a video presentation, Special Witnesses of Christ,
which was broadcast by the leaders of the Mormon Church during the general
conference. From carefully selected locations, Mormon leaders, every one an
apostle and/or prophet, spoke of various aspects of their faith. It is a
powerful presentation representing probably the most authoritative statement of
Mormon beliefs in modern times. Neal A. Maxwell begins by giving his account of
Christ's pre-mortal role as creator. Through the promise given to Abraham, to
his birth, his earthly ministry, his death and resurrection, each speaking from
an appropriate location, they give the Mormon account of the gospel. Mormon Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland, speaking
from the Mount of Olives, declared:
"It was here in the Garden
of Gethsemane, on that last night in mortality, that Jesus left His Apostles
and descended alone into the depth of agony that would be His atoning sacrifice
for the sins of mankind…To the thoughtful follower of Christ, it is a matter of
surpassing wonder that the voluntary and merciful sacrifice of a single being
could satisfy the infinite and eternal demands of justice; atone for every
human misdeed; bear every mortal infirmity; feel every personal heartache,
sorrow, and loss. But I testify that is exactly what Christ did for every one
of us…Is it any wonder that we walk quietly and reverently here [in Gethsemane]? Is it any wonder
that we make sacred covenants because of the love that was demonstrated here
[in Gethsemane]? Is it any wonder
that Christ, the greatest of all, partook of the bitter cup and did not shrink
here [in Gethsemane], that we might not
suffer if we would repent and come unto Him?" (Ensign,
April 2001, p.p. 13-14, words in brackets added.)
Now what would you expect the next location to be? What event do you
think should follow on from this moving account of Gethsemane? The next
witness is Gordon B Hinckley, the Mormon prophet. Perhaps
the office of the man will give us a tantalising clue to the subject of
talk. The arrest and the trial of Jesus perhaps? The mocking and
cross surely springs to the reader's mind. He begins his talk with the
outside Jerusalem, in this place or somewhere nearby…Was the
tomb of Joseph of Arimathea where the body of the Lord was interred. On the
third day following His burial…" (p.14).
Which Witnesses should we trust?
The Apostle Peter first
publicly declared the Good News of Christ's triumph at Pentecost saying,
"Men of Israel, listen to this:
Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders
and signs which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man
was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with
the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God
raised him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep
its hold on him" (Acts 2:22-25).
From that time the theme of the cross has been a constant in the
Christian faith. The Apostle Paul wrote,
"For God was pleased to have all
his fullness dwell in him (Christ), and through him to reconcile to himself all
things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through
his blood, shed on the cross" (Colossians 1:19-20).
"When you were dead in your sins
and in the circumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.
He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code, with its
regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away,
nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he
made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross" (Colossians
Lorenzo Snow may have believed that Gethsemane was a painful
prelude to Christ's atoning work on the cross. Edward Jones may wish to put
forward the idea that what began in the garden was completed on the cross. But,
while biblical apostles brought the message of the cross, Mormon apostles
clearly teach that Gethsemane was the crucial place of atonement and the cross merely a place where
death occurred. It is not even worthy of a mention in this Mormon chronology of
Christ's ministry. You really have to have this landmark statement open in
front of you to fully appreciate the import and impact of this devastating
Of course, Gordon Hinckley refers to "the
agony of Gethsemane, His arrest, His trials, His condemnation, the
unspeakable pain of His death on the cross, His burial in Joseph's tomb and the
triumphant coming forth in the resurrection." But don't be fooled, this is
just a prelude, an introduction to what these witnesses have to say. And when
you say it so quickly, it sounds so orthodox, but when, in the following pages,
this summary is unpacked, the cross is missing. This is the wonder of it all.
Mormon leaders can say just enough of the right things to proclaim their
orthodoxy while believing more than enough of the unorthodox to warrant being
challenged. And what we think of them is dictated by which piece of evidence we
study. Remember plausible deniability.
Does it matter whether it was Gethsemane or Calvary? After all, there is faith in the atonement, and that
is what counts. It does matter because if you look to the wrong place, you may
be looking to the wrong event and the wrong Savior. If you do not understand
why the cross, then you will not understand the atonement of which you bear
witness, be it ever so eloquently. Bear in mind Paul's warning to the
Corinthian church, "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith"
(2 Cor.13:5). Remember also that there are false Christs, a false spirit, a
false gospel, and false apostles (2 Cor. 11:3-5).
What more subtle way could there be to empty the cross of its power
with words of human wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:17)
than to empty it into Gethsemane? While biblical apostles look to the cross
(John 3:14), Mormon apostles dismiss the cross
declaring "he 'suffered death in the flesh' even as many have
suffered agonising deaths."
If the Mormons could but grasp the significance of the cross and the
total loss, abandonment, and weight that Jesus bore! Not the comforted and
strengthened Jesus of the garden (Luke 22:43)
but the abandoned and desolate Savior of the cross. Not the garden where, in
exquisite anguish, he anticipated his sacrifice in intimate association with
heaven, but the cross where heaven looked away for the sin He bore. As far away
as a man is from the cross, so far is he from Christ (Galatians 6:14).
Historical Christianity and the Atonement
Here Mr. Jones causes another problem for himself. He declares:
"They never state it explicitly, but McKeever and
Johnson seem to assume that the LDS position is a 'ransom' theory of atonement,
and that the mainstream Christian interpretation is one of sacrificial death on
The "ransom" theory of salvation was central to
the thinking of Greek patristic writers. Origen, who is described by Alister
McGrath as the most speculative of early patristic writers, argued that if
Christ's death was a ransom, it must have been paid to someone. The question
is, to whom? Since God does not hold sinners to ransom, it had to be paid to
the devil. The idea developed, and the devil came to be seen as having rights
over fallen humanity. God was obliged to honor those rights and pay a suitable
ransom. I have contacted the authors and they assure me that they were not
assuming that the LDS position is a ransom theory of atonement. Indeed, the
only text in this chapter that mentions ransom is a Mormon text:
"The universal, infinite, and
unconditional aspects of the Atonement of Jesus Christ are several. They
include his ransom for Adam's original transgression so that no member of the
human family is held responsible for that sin" (B H Roberts, Defence of the
Faith and the Saints, vol.2, p.513. Quoted in Mormonism 101, p.144).
The problem for Mr. Jones is that, since he
introduced the subject, he must now say to whom this ransom is paid.
But if this idea is not explicitly stated by or
even in the minds of the authors, why does he raise the subject? As we read on,
it becomes clear that it is no more than a device for going on to show that
there is not complete agreement in the history of the Christian Church on the
subject while writing in glowing terms of Mormonism. If, as he seems to be
implying throughout his paper, disagreement over doctrinal issues is indicative
of apostasy, then Mr. Jones needs to tread carefully.
The Sacrifice of the Cross
The authors do emphasise the sacrificial nature of Christ's atonement,
and with good reason. Mr. Jones, under the heading Back to the Cross,
makes the following observations:
Near the end of their chapter on the atonement
McKeever and Johnson suggest that the apparent overemphasis on the shedding of
blood in the Garden rather than on the cross "no doubt is but one of several
reasons why crosses cannot be found on LDS buildings. Certainly in the mind of
the Latter-day Saint, the significance of the cross is not nearly as important
as it is to the evangelical Christian." Whether the cross has any significance
in the LDS faith has already been discussed; it does. That it has less
importance for the LDS than for the evangelical Christian is simply not true.
Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, hung and died on the cross; it was by
this act that He consummated all that the Father sent him into the world to
accomplish. If there is a single reason why there are no crosses on LDS
buildings, it is certainly not to be attributed to such an idea as that
presented by McKeever and Johnson. The reason, or reasons, as McKeever and Johnson
suppose (but never list), has nothing whatsoever to do with whether the Garden
or the cross is the most important element of the Atonement. Both are
significant to the Latter-day Saints. There might in fact be several reasons
for the lack of a cross on the LDS chapels, but probably the most important
one, and one to which evangelicals such as McKeever and Johnson ought to be
able to relate, is that there is simply no scriptural warrant for it. Granted,
there were no specifically Christian buildings during New Testament times,
other than synagogues, and later private homes. Nevertheless there is no
warrant. It is simply a tradition that has arisen within historical
Christianity, as part of its cultural evolution. It is not a scripturally based
practice. But there is another reason (and the only one the present writer is
aware of) why LDS buildings do not have crosses on them. M. Russell Ballard of
the Quorum of the Twelve wrote not long ago:
"Most other Christians use the cross as a
symbol of their devotion to Christ, a physical reminder of His crucifixion on Calvary.
So why don't members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints follow suit? We revere Jesus. He
is the Head of our Church, which bears His name. He is our Savior and our
Redeemer. We love Him. Through Him we worship and pray to our Heavenly Father.
We are grateful beyond measure for the essential and awesome power His
atonement has in each of our lives. But while thoughts of the blood He shed for
us in Gethsemane and on Calvary
fill our hearts with profound appreciation, it isn't just the fact that He died
that is so meaningful to us. Our hope and faith are rooted in the profound
understanding that He lives today, and that He continues to lead and guide His
Church and His people through His spirit. We rejoice in the knowledge of a
living Christ, and we reverently acknowledge the miracles He continues to work
today in the lives of those who have faith in Him. That is why we choose to
place less emphasis on a symbol that can be construed to represent primarily
His death. We believe that only as we focus our attention on the Savior and
build our lives upon the strong foundation the Atonement and gospel give us,
are we prepared to resist the challenges and temptations so prevalent in
From the LDS perspective the empty tomb is a more
fitting symbol of the Savior's atonement than is the Cross. We mean no
disrespect towards those who choose otherwise; but we would like our position
to be more faithfully reported by those who think we need their help.
Latter-day Saints do not worship at the foot of the Cross; they worship at the
feet of Christ. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Creator of the universe; He
is the Lord and Redeemer of humankind; He is the Founder and Head of His Church;
He is my Savior; I have accepted Him as such, and seek constantly to do His
will, to do as He would have me do.
This is a typical as well as familiar Mormon apologetic for excluding
the cross from Mormon culture and worship. Something might be said about the
fact that, for many years, the spot in the second story of the Carthage Jail
where Joseph Smith was killed in a gunfight was a place of "historical"
pilgrimage. A stain, which was purported to be his blood, was carefully
preserved and pointed out to visitors. (For more information see http://www.mrm.org/multimedia/text/final-moments.html).
But the more important point is that Mormonism is telling only part of
the gospel story.
"We preach Christ crucified"
Occasionally controversy arises over the burial
place of Jesus and 'rival' tombs are discussed at length. Pilgrims to the Holy Land are interviewed for
TV news programs in an attempt to elicit rival opinions and keep the story
going. One such interviewee I recall seeing gave what must be the best
Christian answer when he declared, "You know, it doesn't really matter where he
was buried. The point is that he is no longer in the tomb. He is risen!" And
all God's children shouted Hallelujah!
Of course, it is essential to every Christian
that He is risen. The patronizing attitude of LDS general authority Russell
Ballard, as he implies that Mormons have a better way of understanding these
things and the idea that the Christian story ends at the cross, is uncalled
for. Our hope and faith are
also rooted in the profound understanding that He lives today and that He
continues to lead and guide His Church and His people through His spirit. We
certainly do rejoice in the knowledge of a living Christ, and we do reverently
acknowledge the miracles He continues to work today in the lives of those who
have faith in Him. Christians, too,
preach resurrection, but along with Paul, Christians emphasize the cross
because of what was done there. Because we appreciate the full import of the sacrificial
nature of the cross, "we preach Christ crucified."
When Jesus was with his disciples, Mark 8:31 says
that He "began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and
be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he
must be killed and after three days rise again." Luke 24:44-46 add, "He
said to them, 'This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything
must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets
and the Psalms.' Then he opened their minds so they could understand the
Scriptures. He told them, 'This is what was written: The Christ will suffer and
rise from the dead on the third day…'"
And what was written in the Law of Moses, the
Prophets and the Psalms?
When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him he said, "Look, the
Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29) Paul referred
to Christ as "our Passover lamb, [who] has been sacrificed" (1
Corinthians 5:7). This is an obvious allusion to the Passover lamb of Exodus
(12:3-6,21) whose slaughter signified God's salvation for the children
of Israel. By his death on the
cross, Christ fulfilled the true meaning of the Jewish sacrifice of the
The Psalm most often quoted in the New Testament
is Psalm 22. It is the anguished prayer of David who is victimized by his
enemies, and it is used to draw parallels with Christ's death on the cross. The
Gospel writers frequently alluded to it in their accounts of Christ's passion
(Matt.27;35,39,43;John 19:23-24,28). Its opening lines were repeated by Jesus
at this crucial time on the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken
me?" Its description of Christ's suffering and humiliation is striking:
All who see me mock me;
They hurl insults, shaking their heads:
'He trusts in the Lord;
let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
Since he delights in him'
I am poured out like water,
And all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
It has melted away within me.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
And my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
You lay me in the dust of death.
Dogs have surrounded me;
A band of evil men has encircled me,
They have pierced my hands and my feet.
I can count all my bones;
People stare and gloat over me.
They divide my garments among them
And cast lots for my clothing.
And what of that most famous of Old Testament
descriptions of the passion, Isaiah 53? It reads:
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,
Yet we considered him stricken by God,
Smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed
for our iniquities;
The punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
And by his wounds we are healed.
We all like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
Yet he did not open his mouth;
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter;
And as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
So he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgement he was taken away.
And who can speak of his descendants?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgression of my people he was stricken.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked
And with the rich in his death,
Though he had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in his mouth.
In prophecy, it is the cross that is prefigured.
The paschal lamb prefigures the Lamb of God, whose sacrificial death
saves God's people from their sins. The prophet Isaiah, in the most familiar
prediction of Christ's passion, wrote, "He was pierced for our
transgression." And in the subsequent teaching of the New Testament church,
it is clear that we have peace "through his blood, shed on the cross" (Colossians 1:19-20).
In a clear description of his impending sacrifice and its significance
for all who believe, Jesus told his disciples, "Now is the time for judgement on this world; now the prince of this world
will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw
all men to myself." The
evangelist comments, "He said this to show the kind of death he was going to
die" (John 12:31).
And in a vivid picture of the cross and its
significance Jesus taught Nicodemus in John 3:14-16:
as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted
up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved
the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall
not perish but have eternal life."
The story of the serpent in the desert is found
in Numbers 21. When the people spoke against God and complained, "the Lord
sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.
The people came to Moses and said, 'We have sinned when we spoke against the
LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.' So
Moses prayed for the people."
"The Lord said to Moses, 'make a
snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.'
So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then anyone who was
bitten by the snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived" (Num. 21:5-9).
The whole thrust of the Christian message is that
there is life at the cross. The original words of Isaac Watts from Hymns and
Sacred Songs, 1709, sum it up well:
So did the Hebrew prophet raise
The brazen serpent high,
The wounded felt immediate ease,
The camp forbore to die.
"Look upward in the dying hour,
And live," the prophet cries;
But Christ performs a nobler cure,
When Faith lifts up her eyes.
High on the cross the Savior hung,
High in the heav'ns he reigns:
Here sinners by th' old serpent stung
Look, and forget their pains.
When God's own Son is lifted up,
A dying world revives;
The Jew beholds the glorious hope,
Th'expiring Gentile lives.
Against all this evidence, Mormons are urged by
their leaders to look to the garden and to consider Christians who preach
Christ crucified as misguided.
Second Area of Disagreement: Universality of effect
Here we come to an area where Mr. Jones has truly got himself into a
tangle. Confusion is inadequate a word to describe his predicament. He has
convinced himself that the authors do not believe in the universal effect of
the resurrection and that they hold to the idea that only those born after
Christ's death can benefit from His sacrifice. He is also confused about the
Evangelical Christian understanding of salvation.
Because he has misunderstood so much, Mr. Jones has ended up discussing
issues that are never raised in the book. I have before me three pages of Mr.
Jones' superfluous notes on one such issue and regard this as an object lesson
in the necessity of books like Mormonism 101 that can clarify key issues
concerning Christian and Mormon beliefs.
Mr. Jones writes:
"As is so frequently done, the critics here are
attempting to compare apples and oranges. They are contrasting 'resurrection'
on the LDS side with 'salvation' on the other side."
Are they comparing apples and
oranges? What is "resurrection" to a Mormon? What is "salvation"? And what are
these things to a Christian? I believe we should define terms before
Salvation, in Mormon thinking, is
universal. It is the resurrection of all people from the dead. All are saved in
that all are redeemed from the first effect of Adam's transgression, i.e.
physical death. This does not, however, get Mormons into God's presence but
merely gives them immortality.
Exaltation, to a Mormon, is the
ultimate goal and describes existence in the presence of God in the highest
heaven. This is quite different from salvation and is known as eternal life,
denoting a quality of existence. James Talmage explained, "Some degree of salvation will come to all
who have not forfeited their right to it; exaltation is given to those only who
by active labors have won a claim to God's merciful liberality by which it is
bestowed"(Articles of Faith, 1977, p.91).
To a Mormon, the final state of
every man and woman is as an immortal (salvation), but the place and quality of
that immortal existence (degree of exaltation) is determined by faithful
obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Mormon Church. In other words,
there is a spiritual career path whereby the application of new truths and
spiritual insights gain for the Mormon what, for a Christian, is the free gift
of God to all believers.
The problem with the Mormon understanding of "salvation" is that it
cannot be found in the Bible. The elements are all there: universal
resurrection, judgment, a place with God for the faithful, etc. But the model
is quite different.
First of all, salvation cannot be equated simply with resurrection, as
Mormons teach, because that would mean salvation would come to the believer and
non-believer alike. Paul declared to the Ephesians, "For it is by grace you
have been saved (salvation), through faith" (Eph.2:8 c.f. Romans
10:9). It is clear from Scripture that salvation is conditional upon
faith in the one through whom it comes. Therefore it cannot be universal. So,
while it is true that resurrection comes to all, this cannot be equated with
salvation, which comes by faith. And that faith determines whether we are
resurrected to life (Rev.20:6) or to condemnation (Rev.20:15).
Mr. Jones writes:
"Our authors say almost nothing about the universalism of the LDS
position, simply mentioning it as one of the two major areas of disagreement.
This suggests that for McKeever and Johnson the atonement does not provide for
all mortals to be resurrected, or saved."
simply wrong. When the authors
write about Christian atonement as "[providing] for the salvation of only
those who have faith in Christ," they are presenting the biblical view,
i.e. salvation comes to those who believe (at least according to the apostle
The authors are comparing
salvation according to Mormons with salvation according to Christians.
Therefore, they are comparing the various uses of the same term, which is
"apples with apples." It is not they who are confusing apples and oranges!
Rather, they are simply pointing out that Mormons have chosen to call apples by
another name, i.e. to call salvation resurrection. Mr. Jones does this in his
suggests that for McKeever and Johnson the atonement does not provide for all
mortals to be resurrected, or saved."
is not saved. Resurrected is brought to judgment (Rev.20:11-15). Saved is
justified by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross
(Romans 3:28; 5:1).
understanding of the distinction can be gained from reading chapter eleven of Mormonism
101, especially from page 160, Christianity's Understanding of
Salvation. Had Mr. Jones read this, perhaps he would not have got so
Is Salvation Retrospective?
Mr. Jones writes:
McKeever and Johnson seem to object that the atonement
is applicable to all who have ever lived. They want to restrict it to only
those who lived after the Savior ("only after Christ's death" and "for the
believer"). This doesn't only limit its accessibility to those who lived before
the Savior, it quite literally slams the door on the possibility of their ever
Do the authors think this way? Are they limiting
the atonement to those who lived after the Savior? The problem here is that Mr.
Jones is confusing several different words, as we have already seen. Atonement
effects a general resurrection, which applies universally. Through the
atonement salvation is available to those who believe, effecting justification
of the faithful. Once you realize this, it becomes clear that they are not
limiting atonement, as Mr. Jones suggests. Again I submit what McKeever and
Johnson wrote on pages 144-5 of Mormonism 101:
be sure, Christians throughout the centuries have seen the atonement of Christ
as God's way of reconciling sinful humanity to Himself. Through the sacrifice
of God's Son, those who were once enemies of God can now know that the barrier
that separated them from their Creator has been removed. So powerful is this
sacrificial act that believers can be assured that all their sins – past,
present, and future – are now forgiven."
This doesn't sound limited to me ("reconciling
sinful humanity to Himself"). So where does Mr. Jones get this idea that
has taken him on such a tangent? I believe he takes it from the authors'
summary at the end of the chapter in which they say:
[Mormon salvation] was possible before Christ had
died and was raised.
[Christian salvation] was possible only after
I can see how he has become confused; however,
the meaning is clear enough when you realize that these are summaries, i.e.
they summarize in bullet point form that which was said in the body of the
chapter. Against the background of the chapter, it is clear that this is again
about when atonement was effected and not whom it affects. Another way of
putting the same summaries would be to say:
[Mormon salvation] became effective before Christ
went to the cross (because he atoned in the garden)
[Christian salvation] is only effective as a
result of the cross (because here is where Christ atoned)
This is so much the main theme of the chapter
that even Mr. Jones seems to recognize the fact when he says, "The major portion of the chapter deals
with McKeever and Johnson's rejection of the LDS suggestion that the atonement
proper took place in the Garden of Gethsemane…"
It seems clear enough that all humankind will be
raised from the dead and all other benefits of the cross are available to all
the faithful of every age who look to God in faith. But the meridian event was
Does God require nothing of us?
Recognizing that the issue of grace and works is for another chapter,
nevertheless I also recognize that Mr. Jones has made it an issue here and feel
I should write something on the subject. Mr. Jones writes:
… do they really want to
contrast "obedience" to the Gospel with the "grace of God?" Does God require
nothing at all of us after that grace has entered our life? The Lord had
something to say about those who cry Lord, Lord, but do not what He says. The
restoration of the Gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith actually makes the
two positions most compatible, at least from the perspective of the members of
the Church of Jesus Christ. It is really only
McKeever and Johnson and their friends who have a problem reconciling the two
positions. The LDS position is a broader concept, based on further light and
knowledge, i.e., revelation from God.
The Latter-day Saints teach a principle of exaltation,
beyond the ordinary salvation mentioned by McKeever and Johnson, which makes
both systems compatible on the first point. Salvation is a free gift of grace
provided for by the atoning death and resurrection of the Savior; however, the
specific type of resurrection is based on one's own life activity: we will be
judged according to our works; Jesus Christ is the "author of eternal salvation
unto all them that obey him." The "Great Commission" of Jesus to the Apostles
at the end of Matthew says that they are "to teach them to observe all things
whatsoever I have commanded you." The word 'primarily' in the second point of
differences opens up the door for reconciling the two positions on the issue of
Gethsemane vs. Calvary. As has been seen, there is no such issue
for the Latter-day Saints: the atonement begins in the Garden (or before
creation, 'before the foundations of the world were laid'), and ends on the
Cross (or perhaps is still continuing, with Christ continuing to intercede for
us with the Father).
It is popularly believed among
Mormons that those who put their trust in Jesus somehow become exempt from
actually putting their faith into practice. The question is sometimes asked,
"Does that mean that you can now go out and live as you please and still go to
heaven?" It is thought that a faith system that prompts such a question must be
flawed and self-indulgent. Ironically, the apostle Paul must have preached just
such a faith because he was asked a similar question:
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning, so
that grace may increase?" "By no means!" was Paul's reply "We died to sin; how can we live in it any
longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptised into Jesus Christ
were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism
into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the
glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (Romans 6:1-4).
What does this mean? And how
does it compare with "the LDS
position [which] is a broader concept, based on further light and knowledge,
i.e., revelation from God"?
Contrary to what Mr. Jones
suggests, Christians have no difficulty reconciling the grace that saves and
the works that are so apparent in Scripture. What follows is taken from a study
of the fifth missionary discussion of the Mormon Church. When people think of
Mormons as "Christians," it is their conduct in light of this discussion that
people think about. It is about putting God and others first in our lives and
overcoming attitudes of selfishness and is based on Matthew 22:37-39, "'Love
the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your
mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it:
'Love your neighbour as yourself.'"
Mormons truly believe and
strive to live these principles, and the investigator will be encouraged to
"reconcile yourself to the will of God" (2 Nephi 10:23 BOM), taught that
"inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done
it unto me" (Matt.25:40), and encouraged to realize that 'by this shall
all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to the other' (John
These sentiments are admirable,
but they should be understood in the context of the Mormon plan of salvation
and eternal progression. To a Mormon, Christian service is a proving process.
It is a time when the Lord "will prove you in all things, whether you will
abide in [his] covenant, even unto death, that you may be found worthy. For if
ye will not abide in my covenant ye are not worthy of me" (D&C
"Sacrifice Brings Blessings"?
This testing puts a slant on
Christian works that emphasizes a direct connection between service and
blessing. "[Sacrifice] helps us become worthy to live in the presence of
God…We must also trust that we will receive the promised reward" (Fifth
Missionary Discussion). This is a fundamental Mormon principle:
There is a law, irrevocably
decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all
blessings are predicated – And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by
obedience to the law upon which it is predicated (D&C 130:20-21).
This is a religion of merit in
which works are seen as a condition for winning God's favour and a means of
maintaining that favour. By works Mormons prove their worthiness, and by works
they "progress" to greater rewards. In this discussion missionaries will cover
fasting, prayer, tithing etc., all in this context.
"Fasting can be a powerful
way of gaining a testimony."
"[Fast] days will provide
great spiritual experiences for you."
"Tithing is a test of our
faith. As we obey this commandment, the Lord promises to bless us both
spiritually and temporally (physically)."
They are instructed to "find
out whether [the investigators] feel that fast offering would bring blessings
into their lives" and "whether they recognize that great blessings come
from obeying [the] law [of tithing]." All this leads to the idea that we
can merit reward on the basis of strict justice, i.e. God becomes obliged to
bless us, even obliged to allow us to live in His presence when we prove
worthy. This is a reworking of fifth century Pelagianism. Pelagius taught that
we are not saved by anything Christ has done but by following the example of
Great is Your Reward in Heaven (Matt.5:12)
Rewards are spoken of in the
Bible, and judgment based on works is taught by Jesus (Matt.16:27) and Paul
(Ro.2:6) and John (Rev.2:23;18:6;20:12-13;22:12). So how are we to understand
these things? In Rev.22:12 Jesus said, "Behold I am coming soon! My reward
is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done."
Rev.20:12-15 indicates that at
the judgment bar of God there are two groups (1) those whose names are written
in the book of life and (2) those whose names are not. There are two
destinations: (1) the New Jerusalem (21:1-3) and (2) the lake of fire
(20:14-15). Whatever else might be said, it is clear that the saved are all in
one place, and it is the dwelling place of God.
If we begin as unrighteous
(Ro.3:9-18), dead in our transgressions (Eph.2:1) and enemies of God (Ro.5:10),
there is nothing in us to merit the reward. If "God, who is rich in mercy,
made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions"
(Eph.2:4), there still is no merit in us "for it is by grace you have been
saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God –
not by works, so that no one can boast" (vv 8-9). If, in our new state, "we
are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God
prepared in advance for us to do" (v 10), then the work that subsequently
flows from a convert's life is a reflection of the work of God in that life. It
is supplied and equipped by God (2 Corinthians 9:8; 2 Timothy 3:16-17) and
accompanied by the promise that "He who began a good work in you will carry
it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6).
As God's grace operates in us
and "justifies the wicked" (Romans 4:4), there is a sense in which we
co-operate with him in achieving growth in our new lives. However, in Luke
17:10 Jesus declared "when you have done everything you were told to do,
[you] should say, 'we are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'"
If God then chooses to treat us as sons and not servants, what have we
"proved," as Mormons would have it, except that God is good?
In describing the new order,
John wrote, "They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and
be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more
death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed
away" (Rev.21:3b-4). It cannot be a meritorious kingdom, wherein some are
more favoured than others, for we are saved into it by God's initiative, and
there can be no envy or jealousy or regret in heaven, which is, itself, our
reward and our goal. Encouraging those who suffer for the gospel, Peter wrote, "Though
you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now,
you believe in him and are filled with inexpressible and glorious joy, for you
are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls" (1 Peter
There are several ways in which
the Bible describes rewards. One is reward, not as wages for work, but as God's
generous favor to all who respond to the call. In the parable of the workers in
the vineyard (Matt.20:1-16), those who worked one hour were treated as equal to
those who "have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the sun" (v.12).
Another is reward, not as due
recompense, but as the enduring nature of what we have built. In 1 Cor. 3: 6-9
we read, "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So
neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes
things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and
each will be rewarded according to his own labour. For we are God's
fellow-workers." Paul goes on to explain that it is the materials with
which one builds that will be judged. Some were building according to the world's
wisdom (vv 18-20), hence their "boasting about men" (v 21).
Paul warns them to build on the
foundation already laid by him, which is Christ Jesus (v11). The superstructure
is evaluated to see if it conforms to the original foundation. In the context
of the chapter, this is a reference to the building of the church. Those
builders should realize that, in being true to Christ, "All things are
yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the
present or the future – all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of
This is reward, not as merit,
but as outcome, or fruit. In the illustration of the vine and the branches
(John 15), Jesus spoke of those who remain in him as bearing "fruit that
will last." James also wrote about "the wisdom that comes from heaven
[which] is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full
of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace
raise a harvest of righteousness." This is not what Jesus gives us as due
recompense but what we inherit in terms of family likeness as we become more
like him (Ephesians 4:24; Ro.8:28-30). Using Paul's illustration of Abraham in
Romans 4, we can see the correct order of grace and works, judgment and reward.
Verses 1-11 read:
What then shall we say that
Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was
justified by works, he had something to boast about – but not before God. What
does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as
Now when a man works, his
wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the
man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is
credited as righteousness…. We have been saying that Abraham's faith was
credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was
it after he was circumcised, or before? It was not after, but before! And he
received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by
faith while he was still uncircumcised.
Because he trusted God,
righteousness was credited to Abraham before he had kept any law or rendered
any service (vv18-22). His subsequent obedience was the work of a man who
already had his reward because God promised and Abraham believed (v11 c.f.
Galatians 3:17). God made a promise, Abraham believed God, God blessed Abraham,
and Abraham obeyed God. Compare this with the Mormon formula we have already
looked at from D&C 130:20-21 above. God gives a law, Mormons obey God's
law, God sees their obedience, and He blesses them.
One problem is that we see this
process in component parts, i.e. what God does and what I do. But God sees it
as one whole process, and His judgment doesn't merely consider the outward
appearance, but rather where we stand in relation to his promises. The person
who truly believes God will do the works that please God. In 2 Corinthians 9
Paul gives the same order when he writes "And God is able to make all grace
abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all you need, you
will abound to every good work" (v 8).
So far as the acceptability of
that work is concerned, Paul has already said, "For if the willingness is
there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what
one does not have" (8:12). The one who believes God stands clothed in God's
righteousness; the works merely serve to demonstrate the trustworthiness of
God's promises. When James declares that "faith without works is dead"
(James 2:20), he is describing the inevitable wholeness and continuity of faith
and works in the lives of true believers. It is not the testing of faith by
works but the outcome of faith in works that in turn authenticate the faith
What are the implications for
Mormons? Throughout Mormon teaching there is an emphasis on what we must do to
be worthy of God's blessing. If I might be allowed a personal note, when my
wife and I left the Mormon Church, our bishop failed to address the issues that
concerned us. These were the issues that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 3. He
spoke only of our failure in duty. We were encouraged to be more generous, more
faithful, and more sacrificial and devoted, all of which is sound advice in the
However, in trusting that doing
enough of the right things will resolve any issue, he was building a temple of
works on a foundation of duty and not a temple of faith on the foundation of
Christ. Paul's teaching that getting the foundation right and building with
material God provides will bring enduring rewards/fruits is the assurance of
every true Christian. It is a sure promise and not an uncertain hope. This is
the hope that is missing from the Mormon message and, as admirable as Mormon
principles and practices may be, there is no hope at all without this hope.
I have already pointed out that the Christian pilgrim looks to
Scripture and to the Spirit's guidance rather than to men claiming to speak
"ex-cathedra." Even while Jesus walked the earth, the disciples argued over
what He meant by the things He said. During the time of the primitive church,
which is so often looked on as a model for any number of groups claiming to
return to first principles, there was disagreement. And, as we move forward in
church history, what Mormons see as evidence of apostasy is simply the same old
problem magnified. Thankfully, God does not judge us by our stumbling attempts
to cross every 't' and dot every 'i' but by our hearts. Nigerian writer Ben
"Nations and people are largely
the stories they feed themselves. If they tell themselves stories that are
lies, they will suffer the future consequences of those lies. If they tell
themselves stories that face their own truths, they will free their histories for
If Mormons would tell the stories that face their own truths, they
would have to confess that their own brief church history tells exactly the
same story of disagreement and schism. The pot should realize there is an old
cliché that denies it any real success in calling the kettle black.
When Mr. Jones quotes the thoughts of people like Clark Pinnock and
others, he is simply doing with Christian writers what he does with Mormon
writers, i.e. quoting those bits that appear to give support to his view from
those Christians with whom Evangelicals would disagree. The question, however,
is not what does Clark Pinnock—a Universalist who has received severe criticism
for his unorthodox teaching—say? But what does Scripture say? While writers and
commentators are helpful, even inspiring in their insights, it is the Word of
God that is the final arbiter. I am sorry that Mr. Jones feels it necessary to
have someone else do his interpreting for him. I find it ironic that he should
highlight the following from Pinnock:
"I guess it is time for evangelicals to grow up and
recognize that evangelical theology is not an uncontested body of timeless
The acid test is whether Mr. Jones will come to realize that what
Pinnock says of Evangelicalism applies to Mormonism. I suggest that the
difference between Mr. Jones and Mr. Pinnock is that the latter brings his
thoughts to the Bible and tests them there. While we may not agree with
everything he says, we must admire his honesty in admitting he has more to
learn from Scripture.
Mr. Jones, however, brings the Bible to the "prophets" of Mormonism and
tests the Bible there. This is how the Bible becomes the only "Standard Work"
of Mormonism that is not fully reliable ("so far as it is translated correctly").
But it is the Bible that gives us our answers when we search for the truth of
what happened on the cross. We need to be careful, therefore, that we don't end
up discussing what men say, which is endlessly debatable even within Mormonism,
instead of what the Bible says.
I have asked myself why the garden? It has puzzled me, and it seems
perversely self-destructive to take such a basic, universally accepted,
Christian truth as the cross and meddle with it. To emphasise the cross is to
have to deal with all the Bible texts that speak of what was done there by God
for people who could do nothing for themselves. It is to face the Biblical
There is no one righteous, not
even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have
turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does
good, not even one. …There is no one will be declared righteous in his sight by
observing the law; rather, through the law we became conscious of sin.
But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law,
has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This
righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
There is no difference, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God
and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by
Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in
his blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice, because in His forbearance
He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – He did it to demonstrate
His justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies
those who have faith in Jesus
Such a message has no place in the career path of the potential gods of
Mormonism. Such undeserved favor, won by the cross, is an affront to those who
are determined to prove themselves worthy rather than humbly accept the
righteousness that is from God and is by faith. What happened on the cross is
so discomfitingly humbling, so scandalously generous, yet so reassuringly final
that those who would "out-Hebrew the Hebrews" with laws and prophets may count
it too dangerous to countenance. Instead they speak of the garden, of which so
little is said in Scripture and, therefore, into which so much might be read.
There their temple of laws and ordinances seems secure, and the truth that they
have simply rebuilt all that Jesus came to fulfil and, thereby, make redundant,
is hidden. There is so much of Mormonism that would be lost at the cross, and
yet so much that Mormons strive but fail to achieve is to be gained for a look
at the cross of Christ. I urge them to look and live.