Response to Kevin Graham
Rejoinder by Eric Johnson
(Editor’s Note: In order to make this review easier to read, all original quotes used from the Mormonism 201 rebuttal are boldfaced and italicized to separate these from the rest of the rejoinder.)
Though Kevin Graham writes one of the longer rebuttals in the Mormonism 201 project, he is unable to show how our chapter is in error. This rejoinder will briefly tackle his major points and show that salvation according to Mormonism is not the same salvation as described in the Bible.
Quoting from an Ensign magazine article, Graham writes:
Latter-day Saints clearly believe in salvation by the grace of Jesus Christ: “How are we saved? That is, how are we saved from death, and how are we saved from the effects of sin? To answer this question, let us consider two other questions: Is it only through the name of Christ that we are saved from both death and sin? If so, are we saved by the grace of Christ? The answer to both these questions is a resounding yes. We are saved only through the name of Christ, and we are saved only by the grace of Christ.“
Producing this quote makes our point in the terminology differences between Mormons and Evangelical Christians. For, when read on its own, this makes it appear that Mormons believe eternal life (in the highest possible heaven, as Mormonism teaches in three levels of heaven) comes solely through the grace of God. But is this really what the Ensign writer meant? Is a person “saved” unto exaltation through grace alone? Mormon leaders have taught that there are two types of salvation: general and individual (exaltation) salvation. According to LDS teaching, general salvation comes to practically everyone because of their merit in the preexistence. Because of Jesus’ atoning work in the Garden of Gethsemane, it is taught that everyone born on this earth can receive one of three levels of heaven.
However, getting to the top level of the celestial kingdom requires much more, as we explained in the book. Consider former Mormon Mark Champneys, a friend of ours from Washington state, who paid a visit to the church headquarters in Salt Lake City in 2003. He writes his experience with an official church employee in a tract: “When I was an active member of the Church, a 5th generation Mormon priesthood holder, and son of a bishop, I received thorough teaching, including four years of high school seminary, two years of religion classes at BYU, and did substantial study on my own. In an effort to bring clarity to my own life as a Mormon, I reduced many teachings into this one nutshell statement: ‘In Mormonism, before you can be forgiven of a particular sin by the atonement, you must successfully stop that sin permanently.’ Although the gospel in this nutshell statement seems harsh, I have had this statement confirmed by many LDS leaders, making it authoritative. It has been confirmed by bishops, the mission president at Temple Square, and even by the head of the Church doctrine Correlation Department, Brother Edward Brandt, via personal conversation with him on the 18th floor of the Church office building June 18, 2003.”
When Mr. Graham says that he is saved only by the name of Christ and only by the grace of Christ, he is confusing the issue with those who do not understand the Mormon language. Let’s consider the possibility that saved in his mind means exaltation. Mr. Graham, is it possible for you to be exalted without following celestial law? For instance, can a person be exalted without water baptism in the LDS Church? Or how about not being married for both time and eternity in the temple? Could a person be exalted and still drink hot drinks while refusing to pay a tithe to the church or wear the special temple undergarments? Every Mormon with whom we have spoken on this issue thinks these things are vital for a celestial-bound Mormon. The game of playing with the language is old and unnecessary. Why can’t Mr. Graham recognize that salvation by grace through faith as taught consistently throughout the Evangelical Christian faith by many different denominations is different than “salvation by grace” as taught in Mormonism?
Our authors carry on with this argument by asserting that the Mormon “mind-set” recognizes a need to do something in order to receive salvation in the fullest sense. I would say that this is fairly accurate…
With this next sentence, we wonder, then, why Graham even chooses to quote from the Ensign that would seem to contradict his very statement. When a Christian says salvation comes by grace alone, it means that justification is not something attained via special obligatory duties. Mormonism blurs the lines between justification and sanctification, as so described in this chapter from our book.
How do McKeever and Johnson account for the various Evangelical groups who also believe works are necessary?
It must be pointed out that Mr. Graham is using Christian pastor John MacArthur as his example. It is obvious that Mr. Graham has not read MacArthur very well, for if he did, he would see that MacArthur clearly accepts justification by grace through faith alone. The argument is not over this issue. Rather, the question of the controversy involves whether or not good works will follow a true conversion. According to MacArthur, the answer is yes. It is true that other Christians have disagreed, saying that sanctification may or may not come. However, to make it appear that MacArthur believes that “works are necessary” for justification is, at the very least, ignorant, or possibly even deceptive. Or would Mr. Graham think that John MacArthur would agree with Mormonism’s view of salvation? Besides MacArthur, Mr. Graham provides no additional examples of those “Evangelical groups” siding with Mormonism’s view of salvation. It should be pointed out that we believe MacArthur’s view of the issue is correct, that good works should follow a true conversion to Christ.
Latter-day Saints have always been taught that it is by grace that we can be saved, and that Christ’s atonement was made because we cannot do everything necessary to save ourselves: “We cannot save ourselves by our own works. Ephesians 2:8-9 reminds us that ‘by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.'” However, if there was ever an overall message from Jesus’ teachings, it was get up and do something.
If the point is that good works are an important biblical ingredient, then we would have no qualms. Certainly, as we just pointed out, good works are important in the sanctification process. This point is made very clear in our book. However, Mormonism teaches more than just “getting up and doing something” for one’s justification before God. Rather, it is “get up and do something” or you do not receive the best that Mormonism has to offer: Ruling a world in eternal life with one’s family.
Mr. Graham then suggests we took Mormon apostle Bruce R. McConkie out of context. Including the sentences preceding our quote, McConkie writes (with the portion we quoted in the book in boldface):
“Since all good things come by the grace of God (that is, by his love, mercy, and condescension), it follows that salvation itself — in all its forms and degrees — is bestowed because of this infinite goodness. However, one of the untrue doctrines found in modern Christendom is the concept that man can gain salvation (meaning in the kingdom of God) by grace alone and without obedience. This soul-destroying doctrine has the obvious effect of lessening the determination of an individual to conform to all of the laws and ordinances of the gospel.” Mr. Graham then writes:
Of course, without the surrounding context one might actually be convinced that McConkie was attacking the doctrine of grace
. In so doing, they embellish a partial quote (which is an art of persuasion not too uncommon among LDS critics) and avoid context. However, McConkie simply points out that it is a doctrine of salvation without obedience, which can be described as “soul-destroying.” With this statement Latter-day Saints are in full agreement, since grace is not efficacious without obedience.
Even McConkie understood a major difference between Mormonism and Evangelical Christianity. Mormonism, he says, holds that it is not by grace alone that a person receives salvation to spend eternity with God. He taught that justification before God comes through personal effort while labeling the Christian doctrine as “soul-destroying” because he believed those who would hold to such a doctrine would not want to be obedient. This is certainly an attack on the very doctrine that unites Evangelical Christians.
It is like this: Those who realize that they owed an impossible debt but were unable to ever pay are in dire straits. When someone comes along and pays that debt, no strings attached, the natural reaction (for most sensible people, anyway) is gratitude. If I’ve been imputed a gift (like the fictitious person we used in our book who had a million dollars put into his bank account), then I would have a desire to want to return the favor. But mowing the grass of my benefactor’s 1-acre lot for a year or even a lifetime will never be enough to pay back the gift. The Bible very clearly shows that a sinner cannot bring any goodness to the table, so to speak, because he or she is spiritually handicapped. Only when a person receives God’s gift of grace, with no works of his or her own, does true salvation take place.
This is why Romans 6:4 speaks of the Christian being buried with Christ in the past tense; justification has already taken place at belief. The good works we do (Paul calls these the “fruit of the spirit” in Galatians 5) are the end result of the justification we already received. However, requiring works as part of the payment for God’s grace is like trying to open your wallet and pay a person who has given you a birthday present. The gift was given freely, so no money is supposed to trade hands. Doing so is considered offensive by the recipient. It’s the same way with God, according to the Bible. We’re puzzled why Mr. Graham goes to the trouble of quoting the entire passage when McConkie clearly says what we were trying to say: Mormonism and Christianity are different when it comes to “salvation by grace.” Christianity remains firm on the idea that justification before God is freely given. Grace and works are like apples and oranges: they’re related but different fruits altogether.
Mr. Graham continues to provide more quotes from McConkie, but the same problem is evident. If Mr. Graham would clearly define what is meant by “salvation” (general resurrection? Individual exaltation?), then perhaps the reader could better understand what is meant. In the passage he quotes, it is obvious that McConkie was meaning general resurrection. But by no means is this meaning the same as when an Evangelical Christian says “salvation by grace.”
Mr. Graham then criticizes us because we use partial quotes to explain what particular LDS writers were saying. He writes:
McKeever and Johnson appear to be scanning LDS works and picking out sentences which contain strong terminology. They then divorce them from their context and use these sentences for shock value. To be sure, Mormonism 101 doesn’t separate itself from the anti-Mormon norm. This chapter was just loaded with one misquote after another.
It needs to be said that we did not have the same freedom that Mr. Graham had (i.e. write 47 pages of Internet material in opposition of just one of our chapters). The publisher limited the space we were allowed. Based on the book’s purpose, we had to concisely explain both the LDS and Christian perspective. So we were not able to give extensive quotes. We maintain that we did not take any of the general authorities out of context, as Mr. Graham maintains. For all of the quotes provided by Mr. Graham to show how we were taking his leaders out of context, we believe he is making a mountain out of molehill. The quotes he provides just gives further explanation of the portions that we had already quoted. He claims that the Mormon leaders we quoted were not attacking “grace.” But we never said they were attacking “grace,” per se.
Rather, the Mormon leaders we quote were clearly saying that grace is not enough for individual exaltation, which is defined as eternal life with God in the best possible place a human being could hope for. Using these quotes, we were attempting to show that, in Mormonism, true salvation (attaining the celestial kingdom) requires good works in addition to grace. However, in Christianity, it’s grace, period. Works come after the period. This is the very basis for the Christian faith and has been considered crucial for Christians, especially for we Protestants who follow Martin Luther’s “sola fides.”
After providing a number of quotes from LDS leaders explaining how important Jesus Christ is in the process of salvation, Mr. Graham writes:
How anyone could study LDS doctrine for more than a year, let alone three decades, and come to the conclusion that Mormons believe they can save themselves and reject grace, is nothing short of a mystery.
This is what is called a straw man fallacy. According to our reviewer, we said that “Mormons believe they can save themselves and reject grace.” Perhaps he has the page number to show us where we said or even inferred such an idea. Rather, to summarize our chapter, we said that the LDS definition of grace is much different than the definition provided by scripture, and this we supported in our book. When it is said by a Mormon that “salvation comes by grace alone,” he or she is probably referring to the general resurrection. This is confirmed by what Mr. Graham writes in the following paragraphs. However, this is much different from the grace as defined in the Bible, as we defined in our chapter. And that was our point.
Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus Christ overcame two obstacles for us in this life. The first obstacle was physical death, which entered the world with the fall of Adam. The second obstacle was spiritual death, which occurred once sin entered the world. Once the reader understands this basic LDS teaching, one can better comprehend the true LDS doctrine of salvation. All men will be resurrected because Jesus Christ overcame physical death. This is a fact that very few, if any, Christian denominations would challenge. Speaking on the resurrection, Paul taught, “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead, For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”( 1 Cor 15:21-22) In other words, all mankind, whether good or bad, faithful or faithless, believing or unbelieving, will be “made alive,” or in another sense, “saved” from physical death. And according to the Apostle Paul, there will be a resurrection of the just and unjust. (Acts 24:15)
The verses quoted here by Mr. Graham are used to improperly support his apparent view that all people will be resurrected for eternal life in some level of heaven. Indeed, there will be a resurrection of everybody. However, some will be resurrected unto life while others will be resurrection unto damnation. According to John 5:28-29, Jesus said: “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” As the National Association of Evangelicals writes in its statement of faith: “We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.” This is different
than the resurrection as explained in Mormonism, whereby everyone generally gets resurrected into one of the three levels of heaven.
As far as Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is speaking specifically of Christians. Notice the context and the way that Paul refers to the second person throughout. His letter to the Corinthians is addressed to them. For example, he says in verse 11 that the Christians were believers in what the apostles preached (in the NIV, “this is what you believed”); in verse 12 Paul says “how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?” meaning “among you Christians”; in verses 14 and 17, “your faith” is referenced, meaning the Christians; verse 22 says “for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive”; verse 23 says that the order will be Christ and then “those who belong to him” (the Christians). As it can very well be seen, the context clearly shows that Paul’s reference to a resurrection of life is referring solely to the Christian and not to all people.
On page 151 they say exaltation in Mormonism, “means keeping all the commandments as instructed by the LDS Church for a person’s entire life.” Although this is true, we will discover soon enough that “keeping the commandments” in LDS and biblical thought, does not carry with it the same meaning that our critics have presumed. The Bible is clear that keeping the commandments is something that must be done throughout a person’s entire lifetime….However, it should be noted that our critics have failed to provide the “Christian” interpretation of the same phrase that exists in both LDS references and the Bible. They narrow their argument to the bald assertion that we are wrong, and then move on without explaining or demonstrating the true biblical meaning.
Mr. Graham admits that it is important to “keep all the commandments as instructed by the LDS Church for a person’s entire life,” but it “does not carry with it the same meaning that our critics have presumed.” Either a person keeps the commandments or he does not. According to Mr. Graham regarding the issue of good works and salvation, we did not explain the Christian perspective at all. Perhaps his copy of our book was missing pages 166-168, where we clearly covered Christianity’s meaning of salvation (sanctification) that provided a number of scriptures. If this is the case, we would be more than happy to help Mr. Graham exchange his flawed book for a new one. Certainly his statement above cannot be taken seriously unless, for whatever reason, the copy of his book really did not have these pages.
As we have witnessed, it is clear that Latter-day Saints believe in a strict reliance upon the saving efforts of Jesus Christ. It is unfortunate that McKeever and Johnson did not share this beautiful doctrine with their readers, as it has always been taught among Latter-day Saints of every generation. Our authors failed to represent LDS doctrine accurately, and this “attack on grace” sideshow, is only the first of many steps they take towards redefining LDS doctrine.
I encourage the reader of this article to go look through Mr. Graham’s article and, based on his arguments here, see if you believe that the Mormons are taught to rely “upon the saving efforts of Jesus Christ.”
Regarding our section on the celestial law, Mr. Graham feels that we are being unfair in our portrayal. Toward the end of his critique, he writes:
So what can we conclude from this section? Repentance is a crucial part of the Celestial Law, and despite the fact that every one of us has sinned, we can take advantage of the gift of repentance which is provided us only because of the grace of Christ. In doing so we are actually “abiding by/living by” the Celestial Law by “observing” and “keeping” one of the most important commandments of renewing oneself. The phrases that have been addressed in this section carry a more passive meaning than “never ever make a mistake,” which is what our authors have erroneously presumed in the text. We live, we sin, we repent, and we renew ourselves by putting “on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” (Eph 4:24) The “inward man is renewed day by day.”(2 Cor 4:16) These LDS teachings are in perfect harmony with the Bible.
According to Mr. Graham, the celestial law is important. But it will be broken. Thus, there is repentance. This sounds good at first, but what about the many quotes we provided of Spencer Kimball? We asked, How do Mormons know their repentance is the kind that merits forgiveness? Kimball said that “the former transgressor must have reached a ‘point of no return’ to sin wherein there is not merely a renunciation but also a deep abhorrence of the sin—where the sin becomes most distasteful to him and where the desire or urge to sin is cleared out of his life.”
We also quoted Kimball who bemoaned the fact that many Mormons used repentance as a frequent “Get out of jail card”: “To return to sin is most destructive to the morale of the individual and gives Satan another handhold on his victim. Those who feel that they can sin and be forgiven and then return to sin and be forgiven again and again must straighten out their thinking. Each previously forgiven sin is added to the new one and the whole gets to be a heavy load. Thus when a man has made up his mind to change his life, there must be no turning back. Any reversal, even in a small degree, is greatly to his detriment.” Perhaps Mr. Graham’s disagreement should be with his leaders rather than with us.
The next segment, which covers procrastination, was a complete waste of space since the argument is based on, again, what our authors believe “some Mormons” believe. They assert baldly that many Mormons maintain a reliance upon the “I can do it later” excuse. No references are given as usual, and they dedicate five quotations that beat this straw man into the ground. It is amazing how their research covers the answer correctly as they come up with five LDS sources that will only serve to prove our point, but McKeever and Johnson are more concerned about what “some Mormons” believe, and have chosen to expound and embellish on this instead of taking the five points of refutation for what they are.
Even if some Mormons did believe they could simply “do it later,” then their supply of five LDS refutations proves that the LDS leadership isn’t to blame for such misunderstandings. In fact, this is evidence that the LDS leadership has gone through great efforts to correct some misunderstandings of doctrine, whether they exist within or outside the Church. Such is the case here, and McKeever and Johnson have, albeit inadvertently, proven this to be so. While they attempt to put the blame on the LDS leaders for certain misunderstandings, they turn around and show several LDS leaders correcting such misunderstandings that these “some Mormons” supposedly espouse. McKeever and Johnson want it both ways, but these mystery Mormons, if they truly exist, do not misunderstand LDS leaders for the same reasons our critics do. Our critics read LDS discourses through an Evangelical lens at best, and an anti-Mormon lens at worst. Either way, their perception becomes flawed. Furthermore, they have a propensity for reading dissected commentaries instead of absorbing the overall context. This precarious combination will result in misconception and preclude proper understanding every time, as is indicative in Mormonism 101.
The Celestial Law is an important witnessing tool, as we have used this as the basis for literally hundreds of conversations over the past decade. Most Mormons understand the importance of good works in their religion. They do not quibble about this but accept it wholeheartedly. This must be because this is taught in the Mormon chapels across the nation. When we ask them if they are actually abiding a celestial law, the answer, most assuredly, is “no.” Then they proceed to give the thre
e excuses: “I can do it later,” “That’s what repentance is for,” and “I’m trying.”
Trust me, we have heard these three excuses dozens and dozens of times; oftentimes the same person will use all three excuses during the course of the conversation. Any Christian who has ever shared their faith with Latter-day Saints on this issue can attest to this fact. Interestingly enough, Spencer Kimball himself deals with each of these excuses in his book The Miracle of Forgiveness. Why? Perhaps it’s the type of excuses that he was hearing from his own people during that day. If these works cannot be done after death, as certainly taught by LDS scriptures and prophets, then perhaps the LDS educational department needs to do a better job informing the laity that this is not a valid excuse.
The LDS position is rather simple. Forgiveness only comes through Jesus Christ and this occurs when a person exercises faith in Christ and sincerely repents. Forgiveness is the end result of true repentance. These two concepts are related, and biblically speaking, always within the same vicinity….From repentance and turning to God, the repentant sinner must then perform deeds worthy of repentance (Acts 26:20). One must modify human behavior. Sin is not accidental; it proceeds from the conditioning of the mind. The mind becomes set in long term memory, which is a physio-chemical reaction in the brain. That is why it is difficult for people to battle with sin. They must alter the very processes of the mind.
The question is: Does forgiveness of our sins come only when we are obedient? Or does it come strictly through faith? And what exactly is meant that “forgiveness is the end result of true repentance”? Does this mean that if I repeat a sin, then the forgiveness is lost? Can a person ever know that he or she is truly forgiven? Both the Bible and the Book of Mormon are very clear that faith is what justifies a person before God. Good works are not something a person does to retain that relationship. For instance, consider:
- Romans 3:28 (in the Joseph Smith translation): “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith alone (a very strong word added to the KJV by Smith) without the deeds of the law.
- Romans 4:5 (JST): “But to him that seeketh not to be justified by the law of works, but believeth on him who justifieth not the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
- Moroni 7:26: “And after that he came men also were saved by faith in his name; and by faith, they become the sons of God.”
This is just a sampling. Yet these scriptures are contrary to LDS teaching on salvation. In fact, according to Mormonism, forgiveness is never completely assured. It requires much effort, which truly is impossible given the circumstances mankind is in. There is no freedom in the LDS gospel of grace.
As demonstrated, the LDS leaders have taught a very consistent doctrine of keeping, living by, abiding by and observing the commandments. They have coupled this with another unambiguous doctrine that says none of us are capable of attaining true perfection in this life. The result is obvious. Contra McKeever and Johnson, “keeping the commandments” cannot mean, in any real sense, “never being disobedient.” Keeping the commandments can be better understood as observing the commandments. This is exactly what the Bible says when the phrase is used. In the Hebrew, shamar means to observe or guard. In Greek, the term used is tereo, which means the same exact thing. The fact that the LDS interpret keep as synonymous with observe is demonstrated in LDS scripture.
Notice D&C 25:15, which reads: “Keep my commandments continually, and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive. And except thou do this, where I am you cannot come.” According to 1 Nephi 3:7: “And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”
Whether it is “keep,” “observe,” “abide by,” or whatever term you choose, Mormonism teaches that the commandments of God are to be kept. The Mormon shouldn’t just try or merely rely on repentance. He can’t do it later. Then, in the next section, Mr. Graham accuses us of “abusing (President Spencer W.) Kimball’s book” The Miracle of Forgiveness. He writes:
When Kimball spoke of a “returning to sin,” he was not referring to any sin, as our authors would like to believe. Instead, he was specifically speaking in reference to the same exact sin that was supposedly repented in the first place. Had our authors continued with the next sentence, this much would have been cleared up: “The reformed alcoholic who takes ‘just a little sip’ again may have lost all the ground he has gained. The pervert who relaxes and returns to old companions or situations is in grave danger again.” The fact of the matter here is that Kimball was speaking of sin and then returning to the same exact sin!
So in other words, if you cheat on your wife, repent from it, and then turn around and commit adultery the next day, then according to what Spencer W. Kimball was really saying, your repentance didn’t mean anything because it obviously wasn’t a true “turning away” from that particular sin. It meant nothing. I can’t think of one Evangelical, aside from McKeever and Johnson, who would disagree with this!
By making this point, Mr. Graham actually confirms that he believes in Spencer Kimball’s assertion that returning to sin (the same sin, he points out) means that repentance meant nothing and therefore was not efficacious the first time around. Thus, if a man lusts after a woman and asks for forgiveness, then does it again, there really was no forgiveness in this situation. (See Matthew 5:21-30 on anger and lust being compared to murder and adultery.) Or if a woman gossiped again about the same lady, any repentance she may have received earlier is lost because it apparently didn’t mean anything.
However, this is not what the Bible says, or nobody would ever know that he or she had ever been forgiven, in contrast to 1 John 5:13, which clearly says, “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” How could the apostle say that a person has (present tense) eternal life if there was a possibility that a future sin could negate it? To say that repentance is conditional is the same as saying forgiveness is conditional: I’ll forgive you as long as you don’t do the same sin against me ever again. Once you do the same sin, all forgiveness is lost. Woe is us if this is truly how God’s repentance works because none of us would ever qualify!
The fact that there are Latter-day Saints who might not properly grasp Church doctrines, is, if anything, evidence that we have something in common with Christianity. Contrary to their assertion, the citations by Robinson and Ashton indicate that the LDS leadership is actually making a concerted effort to correct these myths and misunderstandings within LDS circles. Yet, by their own logic, we could again blame the Bible for the many false religions that claim to be following it. After all, is it the messenger’s fault (Bible), or the people receiving the message (humans)? Do our critics want to apply the same standard across the board, or do they request special pleading for their side? Are not Latter-day Saints free to interpret as well as misinterpret LDS teachings as imperfect humans naturally would? McKeever and Johnson want to blame this “myth” on the LDS leaders themselves, and try to use this as evidence that they are giving “mixed signals,” but this is not proven by showing that some LDS ha
ve misunderstood. This only proves that such misunderstandings do indeed exist. The culpability for the misunderstanding, which is really the heart of their criticism, does not lay at the feet of LDS leaders. Therefore, the accusations of our critics are without merit.
Mr. Graham makes a case that Mormonism might be improperly interpreted by some of the laity. This is just the case, he says, with some who might misunderstand perfection as described in Matthew 5:48. First of all, he is correct to say that the improper understanding of certain doctrines by the laity does not mean that particular religion really teaches such a thing. He brings out a point with the Trinity, certainly a very heady issue and one that frustrates anyone who attempts to understand it on a completely rational level. However, just because a number of Christian laypeople have a Modalistic view of the Trinity does not mean that their churches really teach it. It’s just a very difficult doctrine to grasp.
However, is it fair to say that a number of LDS laity with whom we speak really misunderstand the role of good works in the religion of Mormonism? Let me provide just a sampling of LDS leaders who so stressed the Matthew 5:48 principle as to make it appear it was something that was attainable in this life:
“Must be perfect in our sphere. The words of Jesus which he spoke unto his disciples are intended for us: ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ (Matthew 5:48.) We, as a people and as individuals, should seek to attain to that perfection, to be as perfect in our sphere as God our Eternal Father is in His; and we cannot attain to that exaltation and glory which He has promised unto us unless we are thus perfect. . . .” (George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of President George Q. Cannon, selected, arranged, and edited by Jerreld L. Newquist, p.82)
“May we all have a desire to fulfil our assignments faithfully and well, and if possible, be hundred percenters. I cannot help but be reminded of the statement that the Savior made: ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ (Matthew 5:48.) To a great degree, we can accomplish this one-hundred percent perfection.” (Bishop Carl W. Buehner, Conference Report, April 1959, p.34)
“I am confident that one of the great desires of the Lord our God is that we shall keep that great commandment which says, ‘Be ye therefore perfect,’ (Matthew 5:48.) and that we may do so is my humble prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.” (Mark E. Petersen, Conference Report, April 1950, p.153)
“Some have thought [this to be] beyond the expectations of anyone. How in the world can we be as perfect as was He? But the Lord said it, and apparently He expected that we could live so that we could be like Him. The Prophet Joseph Smith, in one of the greatest sermons that he gave, said this about perfection: ‘When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the Gospel-you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.'” (Harold B. Lee, The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, edited by Clyde J. Williams, p.162)
“So it is up to us as to what we shall do with our lives, whether we shall be neglectful, or perfect our lives. You say we can’t be perfect? The Lord said we could. He said: ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is In heaven is perfect.’ (Matthew 5:48.) And it is repeated several times in the scriptures: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ (Matthew 5:8.) No one will ever see God who is not pure in heart. The celestial world can only be entered by unlocking the doors with the proper keys-the first key being baptism by immersion for the remission of sins and then the reception of the Holy Ghost follows, by those in authority to give it. Then we must continue with our church and temple work, serving others, loving the Lord with all our heart, might, mind, and strength, and loving our fellowmen more than ourselves.” (Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, edited by Edward L. Kimball, p.28)
“The scriptures teach that man was created in the image and likeness of his Creator. (Genesis 1:26-27.) Fundamental to the theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the belief that the purpose of man’s whole existence is to grow into the likeness and image of God. We accept quite literally the Savior’s mandate: ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ (Matthew 5:48.)” (Ezra Taft Benson, This Nation Shall Endure, p.126)
“Still others concede that both the first and second commandments are central but say these are so unreachable; therefore, why strive to distinguish between them? Yet Jesus called upon us to be “perfect even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48.) Would a Lord who cannot lie taunt us with any possibility that is irrevocably out of our reach? With God’s helping grace, Moroni promised, we can become “holy, without spot.” (Moroni 10:33.)” (Neal A. Maxwell, Notwithstanding My Weakness, p.28)
“We are to strive to become perfect even as our Father in heaven is perfect. But this is not just generalized goodness; rather, it is the attainment of specific attributes. (Matthew 5:4) (Neal A. Maxwell, We Will Prove Them Herewith, p.6)
“God, our Father, and Jesus Christ, our Lord, have marked the way to perfection. They beckon us to follow eternal verities and to become perfect, as they are perfect. (Matthew 5:48; 3 Nephi 12:48.). The Apostle Paul likened life to a race with a clearly defined goal. To the saints at Corinth he urged: “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.” (1 Corinthians 9:24.) (Thomas S. Monson, Live the Good Life, p.5)
“Our hymn tells us, ‘I’ll be what you want me to be.’ Question: What does the Lord really want you and me to be? He has given us the answer definitely and repeatedly. In the Sermon on the Mount he taught his disciples, ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ My little red dot at this quotation from Matthew 5:48 draws attention to the footnote, where I find an even stronger statement from the Joseph Smith Translation: ‘Ye are therefore commanded to be perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ (JST Matthew 5:50; emphasis added.) (Russell M. Nelson, The Power within Us, p.23)
“In the Sermon on the Mount, the Savior said, ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48). In the Joseph Smith Translation, we read: ‘Ye are therefore commanded to be perfect’ (JST, Matthew 5:50). The translation of the Greek word for perfect means ‘complete, finished, fully developed.’ Some biblical analysts indicate that the suggestion to become perfect is exaggerated idealism or scriptural hyperbole (embellishment, enhancement, or exaggeration). As Latter-day Saints, we interpret that verse very differently.” (Joe J. Christensen, One Step at a Time: Building a Better Marriage, Family, and You, p.106)
All of the above men were or currently are general authorities of the LDS Church. Many of these quotes came from general conference sessions. Mr. Graham is certainly entitled to his opinion, that it is the fault of the laity who strive toward the unreachable goal of perfection in this life, whether or not they realize that it can ever be attained. When Mr. Graham says that the church is making a “concerted effort” to fix the myth of attaining perfection, perhaps he ought to inform his church’s leadership. Of course,
some of these leaders freely admit that perfection cannot be attained in this life, but the goal of Matthew 5:48 remains. The difference between Evangelical Christianity and Mormonism is, quite simply, Christians believe in good works (Eph. 2:10; James 2:14-26), yet these good works are not the prerequisite to getting the very best the Bible talks about: life with God forever. In Mormonism, one’s behavior in this world plays a role in the person’s eternal status. This was not a biblical concept.
While they were citing commentary on Matthew 5:48, they could have mentioned a few more comments from their own side of the fence that concur. As noted before, at least one popular Christian scholar, Leon Morris, disagrees with them on the issue of repentance. However, there are many others who would find themselves in the same cult frying pan for also disagreeing with our authors on this verse of scripture. Take for instance the comments from, arguably the most popular Christian author of our time, C.S. Lewis (emphasis added): “The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were “gods” and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him–for we can prevent Him, if we choose –He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.“
In an attempt to show that we were not authorities on the Christian point of view, Mr. Graham brings forth those whom he says disagree with ours. It is fascinating to note that C.S. Lewis is one of the most quoted Christian theologians in LDS writings. Richard and Joan Ostling remark that Lewis “is quoted so often that he is practically an honorary Mormon” (Mormon America, San Francisco: Harper, 1999, p. 307) Gretchen Passantino writes in the Cornerstone magazine (issue 119, found at http://www.cornerstonemag.com/): “The ‘sleight of mind’ performed by the Mormons comes nowhere close even to the ‘sleight of hand’ of a Las Vegas lounge stage magician. C. S. Lewis is no crypto-Mormon. Not only do his works not support the Mormon theology of deification, in fact they expressly contradict it. Each of the Lewis citations have been taken out of their contexts and twisted. In addition, frequently in his writings about humanity’s eternal destiny, he carefully clarifies the eternal and impassible gulf between the only Creator and His creatures, including humans.”
Passantino continues: “In the first quote, Lewis’s context comes in a chapter called ‘Counting the Cost,’ and describes the process of sanctification that God begins at the moment one becomes a Christian and will continue until we are reunited after death and the judgment with our resurrected bodies, when we will be ‘perfect,’ that is, ‘complete,’ as creatures. In fact, the sentence immediately preceding the Mormons’ favorite is ‘He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command.’ In the same small volume he explains, ‘What God begets is God; just as what man begets is man. What God creates is not God; just as what man makes is not man. That is why men are not Sons of God in the sense that Christ is. They may be like God in certain ways, but they are not things of the same kind. They are more like statues or pictures of God.'”
She continues: “Lewis’s positive assertions that we can never be deified in the Mormon sense come in a variety of forms. In his popular The Problem of Pain he notes, ‘For we are only creatures; our role must always be that of patient to agent, female to male, mirror to light, echo to voice. Our highest activity must be response, not initiative. To experience the love of God in a true, and not an illusory form, is therefore to experience it as our surrender to His demand, our conformity to His desire.'”
Passatino adds much more in her article, but the point is clear that Lewis was talking about a future state. And this begs the question. If Mormons really don’t believe that perfection is an attainable goal in this life, as Mr. Graham seems to insist, then why would he provide a quote from a respected Christian theologian that makes it appear to be that way? And why would Mr. Graham do the very thing he accuses us of (i.e. taking a person out of context merely to make a point)?
McKeever and Johnson divide up the concept of salvation into three levels: justification, sanctification, and glorification. Referring to Justification they cite Acts 13:39, which refers specifically to the Law of Moses. Mormons will agree that the Law of Moses justifies no one, and the LDS commentary provided in this review has confirmed this. They then cite Romans 3:28 and 5:1, which again, refers specifically to the “deeds of the Law” (Law of Moses). Mormons believe this as well, but we do not believe that “once justified, always justified.” If this were true, then logically there would be no reason for anyone previously saved to later repent. Evangelical Protestantism, for the most part, has adopted the idea that justification is a one time deal that takes care of your past, present and future sins. If our critics had read Romans 3 in context, they would see that justification actually refers to sins that have already been committed. Paul revealed the principles of justification in great detail in his epistle to the Romans, beginning with Romans 3:21-26, which reads…(taken out) Observe that Paul referred to sins that are past. If this justification had a universal application to all past, present and future sins, then he could have simply said “remission of sins,” or “remission of all sins.” Yet, he specifically mentions sins that are past. Therefore justification by faith, according to Paul, only involves one’s past sins. However, justification for all sins, including all future sins involves a life-long enduring faith. Not a dead faith, but a working faith. Some Evangelicals may consider this axiom (working faith) to be an oxymoron, but we shall see that this is exactly what the Bible teaches.
According to Mr. Graham, justification of sins only takes care of past sins. What he fails to understand, however, is that when the sins were paid for (according to Christianity, at the cross), the sins were in the future, not the past. This is clear in verse 25, which in the New International Version says that “because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time.”
A little later, in Romans 8:30, Paul gives the order of God’s election of His people: “Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” Galatians 2:16 says, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” Titus 3:7 says: “That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (It ought to be pointed out that “being justified” here is an aorist participle and is really referring to a one-time “past tense, as signified in the New International Version’s “having been justified by his grace.”)
According to the apostle, justification can involve no works. It’s something that God has given to the believer as a free gift, with no strings attached. But in Mr. Gr
aham’s world, there is no such thing as knowing you are a justified individual before God because you might sin tomorrow. There is no knowing “that ye have eternal life.” We believe this is a very scary proposition, as one’s good works are the wages one must earn throughout his life to earn the very best that the LDS religion has to offer. And this is the exact scenario we uncovered in Mormonism 101.
Evangelicals tend to make sweeping generalizations about what it means to “believe.” This is clearly exemplified in Mormonism 101‘s oversimplification: “belief equals salvation.” If we assume there are truly no conditions on belief and all belief is equal, then one could argue that the demons are also saved since even they “believe.”(James 2:19-20) In all probability, our critics will not support this proposition either, so I think it is safe to say we are in agreement that there different types of “belief.” Therefore, we must determine what “kind” of belief is necessary. Latter-day Saints submit that it is a “working” or an “active” belief that comes from sincere, repentant followers of Christ who exercise faith in him. Simply saying, “belief is all that is needed,” doesn’t do justice to the real doctrine taught in the Bible, and this phrase certainly doesn’t negate the necessity of obedience and works. A true believer is a believer because he obeys the commandments. His faith has been made complete through works (James 2:22).
A sweeping generalization is made in Mr. Graham’s first sentence in order to make his own point! Thus, the slogan, “calling the kettle black.” Regardless, Mr. Graham does not agree that belief equals justification before God. It can’t be that simple, he says. He says, well, then, all of the demons must be believers, according to James 2:19-20. Unfortunately, this is not the type of belief we are talking about. In the Latin there are three words to help us understand the nuances of this English word believe: fides, assensus, and fiducia. Fides refers to head knowledge, assensus to an assenting belief, and fiducia to a heart knowledge.
One illustration to show the differences would be if one’s plane were about to crash and the passenger has a parachute. Would the mere knowledge that the parachute exists help save this individual? Of course not! How about if the passenger puts on the parachute and believes that, if he jumped out, it would probably work while remaining in the plane? This is a recipe for disaster. Only the last idea of belief, that you not only believe in the parachute in your hands and the potentiality that it could hold you up if you jumped, but the action of jumping must also take place. This is the belief that Jesus and the apostles advocated. A person who has been given a parachute and jumps by faith is the person who, in the end, receives justification. Mere head knowledge is not enough. The result of this faith will later result in works, as James certainly talks about in his letter, but the works are not what earns a person merit.
Truly these works cannot be pointed to as payment for the salvation. It is wrong to say that “a true believer is a believer because he obeys the commandments.” Rather, the Bible teaches that “a true believer in God obeys the commandments because he is a believer.” There is a major difference in these two sentences. Evangelical Christianity clearly says that justification is not a wage one earns through the law or good works. It is a free gift of God. As Titus 3:5 says, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Praise God for His indescribable mercy!
The relationship between works and faith seem to completely escape our authors. They inform us that their position is proven biblically since Acts 16:31 says, “Believe…and thou shalt be saved.” However, if they would continue reading they would see that in verse 33 we are told that the jailer was baptized. This is an action which is clearly in harmony with Acts 2:37-38. Paul taught that converts should repent (doing something) and be baptized (doing something) before the atoning blood of Jesus would be effective. When he later refers to mere “belief” in Jesus, these necessary actions were already implied with that term, as evidenced in Acts 16:33.
The author’s analysis of Paul is what is known as “eisegeis,” or reading into a text. The jailer was not justified by his baptism or any good work he might promise to perform. The passage is so very clear that justification comes through faith, with good works naturally following a true conversion. Wouldn’t it be ridiculous for a sinner who is forgiven of his sins and promised eternal life desire to curse God and do evil acts? Such an attitude doesn’t make sense.
Notwithstanding the contextual exegesis of Paul’s comments, McKeever and Johnson continue assuming a dichotomy between “believing” and “obeying.” They fail to grasp the concept that they are one in the same, or as C.S Lewis stated, “It does seem to me like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary…If what you call your ‘faith’ in Jesus Christ does not involve taking the slightest notice of what He says, then it is not faith at all.” … Given the history of great Christian minds who saw contrary to McKeever and Johnson, I find it hard to believe that our authors could be presenting the “Historic Christian” viewpoint on which they pride themselves. The relationship between faith and works, according to the aforementioned authors, appears to be no different than the LDS understanding.
Mr. Graham quotes important theologians such as Lewis, A.W. Tozer, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer as he sets up a straw man caricature of our position. Apparently he wants his readers to think that McKeever and Johnson do not believe in the efficacy of good works. We still wonder if he read pages 166-168 of our book, which clearly show how sanctification (as part of the entire salvation process) is made up of good works and holy living. And this is what these great Christian writers are showing, that good works do follow belief. The differences they have with Mormonism would be great, or why else did none of the men quoted here join Mormonism though they certainly knew about this religion during their lifetimes?
To delete works or obedience from true faith is to adopt the wrong kind of belief. It would be as if someone professed a perfect faith in their schoolteacher, yet refused to obey any of the principles that were taught. They threw their own homework out the window and expected an A in the class because the teacher offered them grace. Grace simply provides the opportunity to obey. This much is free, and none of us deserve even the opportunity to obey, repent and become perfect in Christ. He will not assign perfection on those who do not obey Him. Nowhere is this concept supported in the biblical texts, and it remains an open challenge for our critics to prove otherwise.
Again, Mr. Graham attempts to pull off the straw man fallacy, saying “to delete works or obedience from true faith is to adopt the wrong kind of belief.” Yet we were not deleting works or obedience, but rather putting these in their proper place. To say that “grace simply provides the opportunity to obey” is so very blasphemous. His twisting of the real meaning of grace is exactly what all other world religions and cults do to the Christian message of justification by grace alone through faith. Finally, it should be pointed out that, for all of the times Mr. Graham complained that the type of Mormonism we described in our book was inaccurate, he sure spends a lot of time defending these very ideas that we said Mormonism believed (and Christianity rejects). To paraphrase Shakespeare, “Mr. Graham doth protest too much, methinks.”
They are quick to take advantage of Acts 16:31, which relates a man asking Paul what he should do in order
to be saved. Then they jokily suggest that if Paul were a Mormon, he would have responded with a list of works. In reality, the LDS missionaries respond in the same fashion, as did Paul in chapter 2: “…repent and be baptized for the remission of sins!” But they completely dodged the opportunity to cite the only biblical instance where this very same question was asked of Jesus Christ, as Matthew 19:16-7 relates the story. In reference to salvation in the kingdom of God, a man asked Jesus Christ himself how he can attain it. How does Jesus respond? “Keep my Commandments!” We can easily turn the tables here and suppose that if Jesus were a modern-day Protestant, He would have simply responded with, “Just believe in me, don’t do anything because your deeds are just filthy rags. Trust me to do it all for you,” or better yet “accept my grace alone, it is all you need!” But no, this is not what we find in Jesus’ reply. Instead, He offered a very Mormon reply that the man should keep His commandments. That means he had to actually do something.
Mr. Graham pulls more straw men out of the closet and puts words into our mouths that is contrary to what we actually said. In his scenario, a Protestant Jesus would apparently say good words are unimportant, like filthy rags (Is. 64:6). Again, if he would look over the section we have on sanctification, it will become obvious to anyone that good works are vital…in the process of sanctification. But justification is clearly a completely different issue. To a person like the rich young ruler, Jesus was checking the attitude. Because this young man’s loyalties were divided, Christ’s main point was that it is impossible to follow two different masters (Matthew 6:24).
The book of John is a good example of Jesus’ teaching on belief. For example, when asked in John 6:28 what a person must do, Jesus replied, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” He adds in verse 40, “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 11:25-26 says, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” Success, according to John 8:30, was when “many believed on him.” Those who did not believe in Him did not believe in the Father (John 8:47; 10:25-26; 14:6-7). This eternal life He gave them could never be taken away (John 10:27-29). There are dozens of other verses that could be referenced. The point is, Jesus clearly taught that it was a true belief in Jesus that reconciled a person to God.
In addition, Christianity does not teach in “easy believism” or, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “cheap grace.” It is a wrong stereotype to say that Christianity teaches in merely walking up the aisle at a revival service, getting the eternal life insurance squared away, and then returning to a life of sin and self-pleasure. Instead, the Bible says belief (which provides eternal life) sets into motion a life of sanctification, to “work out [not work for] your salvation with fear and trembling,” as Philippians 2:12 says. Jesus said that, if you loved him, you would obey His commandments (John 14:15, 24; 1 John 3:24). He appointed us from the very foundation of the world to bear fruit (John 15:16; Eph. 1:4, 12). But never does He say performing the commandments is what a person does to earn God’s favor. Rather, it is clear that the commandments are performed as an act of worship in returning the love that God first gave to him. Mr. Graham needs to look at the whole context of Jesus’ teaching before mocking our illustration.
Jesus Christ cut to the chase and made the answer clearer. He demanded obedience in conjunction with belief! He didn’t say it would naturally flow from belief and that it wasn’t necessary to keep our saved status – such is the common Evangelical apology. In fact, he taught exactly the opposite. Christ will only save those who obey Him, and this is why he is called the “author of salvation,” only for those “who obey Him.”(Heb 5:9)
Mr. Graham quotes Hebrews 5:9, which says Jesus is the “author of salvation for those who obey him.” And that is true. What is Jesus’ command? To believe in him, as illustrated above. What else could it mean? Is it possible Jesus is saying only those who fully obey God receive eternal life? (I am not trying to make a straw man, but I openly wonder what Mr. Graham would say.) If so, who does? Does it mean to partially obey, which is what sinful human beings are capable of? Then how could this be acceptable to an all-holy God if our works are what put us into the presence of God? The Evangelical Christian interpretation seems not only much more biblical but also much more rational.
We are then presented with the another proof text, John 5:24, which speaks of “belief” as a necessity for salvation. However, they completely ignore verse 29 which says, “And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” Quite obviously there is some sort of work that must be done if one wishes to receive ‘life’ following their individual resurrection. Faith is the first step, but by no means the only step. Making ones faith complete is a process. Belief and faith would be totally wasted if it were not for the atonement that Christ wrought for all of us. We are all saved from death brought about by Adam’s transgression; but if we wish to go to heaven we must obey the one we call Master.
I’m not sure how Mr. Graham can accuse us of “ignoring verse 29” when our book was never meant to be a commentary. Nevertheless, he feels that this verse negates our point. Is Mr. Graham insinuating that Jesus says only those doing “good” receive eternal life? If that’s the case, then who is good? According to Jesus in Mark 10:18, only God is good. Quoting from Psalm 14 and 53, Paul says in Romans 3:12 that nobody can do good. If this is the case, then Jesus must be talking about something other than justification here. As Jesus says in John 6:29, the only good work is believing in Him. Everything else is burned up in the end. The problem that Mr. Graham has is that he is a believer in “another gospel” called Mormonism; its leaders have made bad interpretations of the scripture. It is therefore “another gospel,” as Paul says in Galatians 1:8-9 and should therefore be rejected.
McKeever and Johnson also have issues with the fact that some Christians were called “saved” in the past or present tense. This of course, isn’t a problem when one analyzes the entire NT and understands the different meanings attributed to the term salvation. The scriptures give indication that salvation is not just a beginning or an end, but it is also a process.
The terminology needs to be understood, and this is why we took the time to divide up the words “justification,” “sanctification,” and “glorification,” or salvation past, present, and future. Salvation as a whole is a process, we would agree, and is not culminated until we see God face to face. However, what does Mr. Graham mean here by “salvation”? It appears he is rolling justification into his definition, and this is where we part. We have no problem saying that a saved individual who has believed in God has responsibility unto good works—the scriptures are replete with such passages.
At the same time, it is vital for us to understand—once again—that our righteous obedience to God’s law could never place us into a relationship with Him because we cannot perfectly obey it. Rather, our holy living is a result of what God already did in our lives, making us into “new creations” in Christ. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Instead of searchi
ng after the ways of darkness, our old cockroach nature—which once fled anytime we saw the flashlight—has been metamorphosied into a moth’s nature, which now is attracted to that flashlight. It is a work that only God can do inside of us, because we are by nature completely sinful.
By far the majority of references to salvation in the New Testament are in future tense….In fact, there is only one instance in the Bible where a specific individual is said to have been saved at a specific moment in time (Luke 7:36-50, esp. 48-50). In that case, a devoted and abjectly penitent woman was forgiven of her sins by Christ when she anointed His feet with oil. After He forgave her, Christ said, “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.” The woman’s sins having been forgiven by God Himself, she was, at that moment, in a state of perfect holiness before Him and thus “saved.” But the Bible does not say she remained in that state.
Mr. Graham quotes from a book written by Richard Hopkins. His analysis is a classic case of eisegesis (which, as stated earlier in this rejoinder, means reading into a text rather than exegesis, which is pulling the meaning out of what a text means in its context). He says “the Bible does not say she remained in that state.” Does it say she didn’t? This is an argument from silence. According to Hopkins, Jesus is merely playing a game with the woman. For instance, Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.” Later, he comes along and says, “Oops, they’re not.” Then she repents. “Oh, salvation is yours again.” Does the Bible teach such a ridiculous notion? Absolutely not, and scripture is replete with passages to the contrary (i.e. John 6:40; 10;28-30; Rom. 8:28-30; 1 Cor. 1:8-9; Eph. 1:13-14; Phil. 1:6; 1 Peter 1:6,9).
Besides Ephesians 2:8, there are a few passages in the writings of John that use the present perfect tense to describe the enjoyment of eternal life by those who believe (e.g., John 3:15, 36; 6:47; and 1 John 5:13). These passages require an understanding of what John meant when he used the term “believe,” as will be discussed later. NO biblical reference speaks of personal salvation in the past tense alone ( e.g., “I was saved in Jerusalem at the feast of Pentecost”).
Richard Hopkins says that there are no references to salvation in the past tense. This is a ridiculous notion. For example, Second Timothy 1:9 uses the aorist participle to say that God “saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.”
In Ephesians 2:6, Paul speaks of events that are clearly in the future tense as though they were in the past. This is a writing technique Paul uses to make promised future blessings more immediate and vital. Paul’s statement, “you have been saved,” is a literary technique referring to the future blessing of ultimate salvation as though it were a present reality. This statement cannot be taken as a generalized assurance of permanent salvation, as Evangelicals imagine it to be. Christ has made His atoning sacrifice, and hence, in one sense all men “have been saved.” This does not mean that any single individual is guaranteed of that condition irrespective of his or her state of current repentance.
No support for this interpretation is given. It’s just obvious to the author, so Evangelicals are imagining something that really isn’t there. Ephesians 2:5 says, “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)….” The words for “ye are saved” are formed by the perfect participle, talking about salvation in a past tense. Paul is showing that, in the past, God made us alive while we were unable to do anything since we were, as Paul says, “dead in sins.”
Glorification therefore is a “done deal,” which is why Paul can add in verse 6 that our justification will result in our future glorification, which is life with God forever. Verse 8 again uses the perfect participle (“For by grace are ye saved through faith”), which properly translated is “having been saved” in a past tense. Now that you are justified, so to speak, you should continue to be sanctified, according to verse 10, through good works. Salvation is all three aspects— justification, sanctification, and glorification—are woven together quite nicely in this passage. It’s much different than the spin provided by Mr. Hopkins.
In another instance Paul uses “saved” in the present: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Titus 3:5) This clearly shows that the ‘mercy’ was given to us via baptism and the reception of the Holy Ghost; not by faith alone. Again, salvation that is to come is spoken, as if it were already present. Yet the next verses speak of the “hope” of salvation: “so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.” Why hope for something that is already attained? McKeever and Johnson quote this passage but fail to mention the context, which finds itself amidst an elucidation on obedience…. Why hope for something that is guaranteed or inevitable? Would it be appropriate to say that a man jumping off a building should “hope” to reach the ground? If you are trapped on a deserted Island for days and you see a rescue boat off in the distance, it is most appropriate to exclaim, “I am saved.” This accounts much for the present tense references in the New Testament. Jesus Christ was the salvation the world had been looking for. Yet, final salvation is not acquired at the moment one meets the Savior.
Mr. Graham continues writing, saying that “saved” here is used in the present tense. However, Mr. Graham apparently does not understand the Greek, as the word for “saved” here is in the aorist tense, which indicates a past tense. Titus 3:5 uses the aorist verb tense to say that “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Verse seven then says “that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Notice, we have been “justified by his grace” (aorist participle, past tense), and because of this we have future hope of glorification. A hope is not a wish or a prayer, but rather can mean something that is certain. Hebrews 6:19 says that “hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast.”
According to Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville: Nelson, 1995, p. 575), hope is “confident expectancy…Genuine hope is not wishful thinking, but a firm assurance about things that are unseen and still in the future (Rom. 8:24-25; Heb. 11: 1,7). ” The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989, p. 532) concurs, adding, “Christ as the chief Shepherd expresses this hope that his own will together behold his glory (John 17:24), and the consummation is guaranteed by the earnest of the Spirit within Christian hearts and the church (Rom. 8:16-17).”
Finally, the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982, p. 751) says the concept of hope “involves trustful anticipation, particularly with reference to the fulfillment of the promises of God.” The author of the article, D.F. Morgan, adds that “the Christian’s hope of experiencing the glory of God (Rom. 5:2) rests on his justification (Rom. 5:1) rather than on his sanctification (even though the development of Christian character adds an element of expectancy), since what God does in His own rests on what He has done for them. All believers are called to one hope (Eph. 1:18; 4:4); this is understandable in light of the fact that salvation, including its final, eschatological aspect, is a matter of grace rather than human at
tainment (1 Peter 1:13). This gives a strength and constancy to the hope of believer that it could not have if it were conditioned on some element of human achievement….The heavenly hope if reflected in the depiction of believers as already possessing a heavenly citizenship (Phil. 3:20), with the result that they are sojourners in this world (1 Pet. 2:11) awaiting their summons to a better land.” (p. 753)
According to the New Testament, the word hope does not mean “wishful thinking”; instead, it means assurance of something in the future that has not yet been experienced. Graham also uses an unfortunate term, “final salvation,” as a straw man for what we were saying in our book. In his continual way to make it appear that we do not hold to good works, he makes it appear that once the sinner’s prayer has been recited, there is no responsibility on the part of the Christian. As explained earlier, this is not true. But it is clear that salvation—when it is talking specifically about “justification”—is a done deal at the very moment of belief, as attested by many biblical references. The only reason Mr. Graham cannot see this is because he is reading the words through lenses given to him by his LDS leaders. Until he looks at the whole of scripture without these glasses, he will continue to think that works are what a person must do in order to be justified before God.
The next argument involves the definition of grace: “Grace is unmerited favor form (sic) God provided to those who believe,” so say our authors. But isn’t this the same thing as meriting it? If we need the faith before the grace comes to us, then where is the problem with LDS beliefs?… The only way our critics can alleviate the implications of this dilemma is to define faith as if it is not a work. We have witnessed this attempt already. However, Paul made it perfectly clear that faith is something we must strive to keep. He even went so far as calling it a “fight” that we must endure our entire life and a “race” that we must strive to finish: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith…Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses”(2 Tim 4:7/ 1 Tim 6:12)
Belief is not a work one conjures up. Rather, as Eph. 2:8-9 says, salvation is a “gift.” Would Mr. Graham say that receiving a birthday present is a work? Opening up your arms and receiving a gift is not a wage for the service rendered. Fighting the good fight and finishing the race, as mentioned by Paul, is certainly not talking about justification but sanctification, which again means living out the Christian life in holiness and fear.
The reason many Evangelicals must insist on this idea that sanctification is an automatic event, is because the Bible makes it perfectly clear that sanctification is achieved through our works and obedience to commandments. And “works” in the same sentence as salvation, is nothing short of anathema to Evangelicals. The only way they can bypass the necessity of obedience, along with accepting the process of sanctification, is to adopt this theory by which sanctification comes to the justified individual whether he likes it or not. That way it really isn’t a work on our part. After one is justified, according to our critics, they have no choice but to go through a process of sanctification that is impugned to them. For them, a justified person has Christ working and performing the sanctification, regardless of their acquiescence, since such necessary compliance would constitute a work on our part. This is a popular explanation among Evangelicals believe it or not, and such ‘shot in the dark’ conjecture, of course, is not biblical.
Mr. Graham is remiss when he makes it appear that we say that “sanctification is an automatic event.” Actually, the believer will continue to struggle with sin even after conversion. Consider the rhetorical questions Paul asks in Romans 6:1-2: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”
He then writes in Romans 7:7ff: “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.”
The point is this: A person who is truly justified by God has, as 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, become a new creation as old things have passed away and all things have become new. But the road of sanctification is not an easy process, as we retain our sinful nature. A justified Christian who has the Holy Spirit indwelling him/her can be helped by the power of God to conquer the sinful habits.
To be fully sanctified is to arrive at a state of consistent obedience that, in conjunction with justification for past sins, will allow men to live in perfection with God. Men who have achieved this goal during their life on earth were referred to as “perfect” in the Bible. Even though they were not perfect from birth, as Christ was, they learned obedience through the process of sanctification and were justified with respect to their past sins through the grace of Christ.
After arguing earlier in his rebuttal that the Bible is obviously not demanding perfection, Mr. Graham returns to the thinking of his leadership: that perfection is possible. He says that “they learned obedience through the process of sanctification and were justified with respect to their past sins through the grace of Christ.” Such a statement is confusing, to say the least. Either a person is justified by grace or he’s justified by works. To mix the words “justification” and “sanctification” is inconsistent.
The scriptures say that we are sanctified by God’s truth (John 17:17), through Christ (1 Cor 1:2; Heb 10:10,13:12), by the Spirit of God (1 Cor 6:11), through the influence of others (1 Cor 7:14), by obedience to the ordinances of the Gospel, notably baptism (Eph 5:25-26), and by the word of God and prayer (1 Tim 4:5). It is clear, therefore, that a mutual effort between God and man is required for ultimate salvation, and that the prerequisite of sanctification clearly involves obedience on our part.
“A mutual effort”? This completely contradicts Ephesians 2:9, which says it is not by works or somebody might get cocky and think he actually earned God’s salvation.
On page 167 our critics assert that Mormons often, “point to James 2:14-26 in an attempt to show how works are more important than faith.” I would challenge our critics to provide one single LDS reference that implies such nonsense.
Obviously Mormons believe that faith is important—we cert
ainly weren’t trying to make it appear that faith to a Latter-day Saint was not important. Our next sentence clarifies what we meant. It reads, “If it’s just faith that’s needed for ‘salvation,’ the argument goes, then it would seem reasonable that Christians could do whatever they wished (i.e. murder, commit adultery, steal) and still call themselves Christians.” To take what we were saying out of context is unfair.
The issue as Latter-day Saints view it is whether or not a person can do something so bad that it would alter an assumed salvation. If one can be convinced that no future actions, good or bad, could possibly overturn the saved status of an individual, then what is the consequence of future sinning? Just because a Christian church doesn’t come right out and say, “you can go commit adultery, and you’ll still be saved,” doesn’t mean the logical implications aren’t there. Arguing against a “license” to sin doesn’t solve the problem. What if a group of saved persons actually do sin? Are they still saved? And if so, to what extent are they allowed to sin before it effects (sic) their salvation? According to what we have just covered, the prerequisite of sanctification involves abstaining from sexual immorality. What if a minister commits adultery after being saved? According to the Bible, he is no longer sanctified, so what can we assume about his salvation if sanctification is necessary? These are very real and reasonable questions that are rarely ever addressed by “once saved always saved” proponents, and McKeever and Johnson do nothing to solve this problem.
Mr. Graham asks, “What if a group of saved persons actually do sin?” And “what if a minister commits adultery after being saved?” A question must be asked of Mr. Graham. Do Mormons not sin as well after getting baptized into the church? Suppose a Mormon hates somebody or lusts after somebody in their heart? As mentioned earlier from Matthew 5, these sins are just as evil as murder and adultery. Is such a person not “saved” according to Mormonism? Can a person who hates and lusts really following Matthew 5:48, just a few verses down from this passage?
Ultimately, the arguments presented in Mormonism 101 do little more than insult the intelligence of a discerning reader, Mormon and non-Mormon alike. I find it extremely hard to believe that a practicing Latter-day Saint of any stripe would express anything but humor or disgust from this book. The success of their book relies on an anticipated lack of critique on the part of the readers, along with a complete ignorance of the truth of Latter-day Saint beliefs. Perhaps this is why the book was entitled Mormonism 101; to target those who are oblivious to what Mormons really believe. Only someone totally unmindful of the LDS faith could possibly be mislead (sic) by this information.
On Amazon.com, readers are given the opportunity to explain why they liked (or did not like) a book. Numerous people have given their input, including a number of Mormons. But to show that what we are saying is not completely made up, allow me to share the reviews of several people who once belonged to the Mormons Church.
Zig Gey, a former Mormon, wrote this on Feb. 15, 2006: “The book merely outlines Mormon belief and responds with orthodox Judao-Christian theology. Why does this mean the authors are their enemies? I grew up in this church and know what I was taught and the authors do not misrepresent anything….And since I spent so much of my first twenty years attending classes and seminary and sunday school and fast and testimony meeting and the dreaded stake conference, I can speak (for you Mormons, make that “spake”) or testify in court if you’d like that Mormon’s regularly misrepresent the theology of Christian churches, and in fact, say that the Roman Catholic Church and by association all other apostastolic (sic) churches are the ‘Church of the Devil’. Pretty ugly stuff that! This book, by contrast, is at all times respectful, while challenging the Mormon’s theology. … This book is a must if you’re considering conversion, and for Mormons, I would think they’d WANT to know the arguments against their beliefs, if for nothing else, so they’d have a better concept of why Christians consider them a cult and Catholics and Methodists require rebaptism if a Mormon joins those churches. How can Mormons insist they’re Christians when they don’t comprehend why others consider them a cult?”
Bradley Rich of Salt Lake City, UT, someone who was raised in the LDS Church, wrote the following on Jan. 2, 2002: “…Mormonism 101 avoids the combative tone and for the most part, gives accurate positions for Mormon theology. They expose many of the flaws and inconsistencies in Mormon doctrine. Recognize that their analysis is designed to show that Mormonism is not a Christian religion and to sell the reader on the alternative belief system, Christianity, and that the authors’ analysis showing that alternative Christian beliefs are somehow better may leave the skeptical reader cold. Those caveats notwithstanding, this is a good introduction to the problems that infest Mormon theological underpinnings. This book is highly recommended…”
Former Mormon A. Tindell of Richland, WA wrote this on July 14, 2002: “It is easy to tell which reviews have been written by Mormons—each one that condemns and belittles the book no doubt was written by a Mormon. I was a Mormon for many years and in the real LDS tradition, I can testify to you that this book is extremely accurate in its depiction of LDS doctrines. Unfortunately for modern Mormons, their early leaders were prolific speakers and writers and volume after volume of their musings on the principles of their faith is available. And since even most modern Mormons find it as upsetting and as cultish as non-Mormons do, they spend most of their counter-argument attacking books like “101” or just dismissing the early LDS statements as being “out of context” or just the “personal opinion” of the founders of the faith. Don’t be fooled.”
In an anonymous July 28, 2000 review titled “Lifelong member of LDS church praises book for accuracy,” one person wrote: “As a lifelong member of the LDS church, graduated from BYU, served an honorable mission, former Elder’s Quorum President etc. etc. I can tell you that this book is accurate, thoughtful, and very readable. It is also commendable that this book does not have the shrill tone of some other books that illustrate the LDS church for what it is….”
Our associate, Lane Thuet of Lancaster, CA, wrote this on July 14, 2000: “I have read many books about the LDS Church, and found most to be re-hash of old quotes and references from dead LDS leaders. This book was refreshing since it mostly quotes from LDS leaders over the past 10 years. I was LDS for 23 years, and I can say without reservation that this book accurately represents LDS teachings and beliefs. I was also a temple Mormon, and the section on the LDS temple is accurate and informative, without being hard to read or boring. They discuss the most important Christian doctrines with clear support for their non-denominational position from the Bible, and compare them with what the LDS Church believes about those same teachings. Overall, the book is an excellent information source for Christians, and a valuable read for any LDS member. I highly recommend it for Mormons and Christians alike.”
These are just the former Mormons who wrote on Amazon.com. We have many other letters and personal responses from other former Mormons who would whole-heartedly agree. And even though he disagreed with my conclusions, one LDS acquaintance whose father was a general authority (Seventy) and who has held a number of positions in the church acknowledged that our understanding of Mormonism in both Questions to Ask Your Mormon Friend (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1994) and Mormonism 101 is accurate. It is not only inaccurate but unfair to make it appear no knowledgeable person would agre
e with our depiction of the LDS religion.
Anyone who has covered the basics of the LDS faith, will see how transparent this book really is. Mormonism 101 gives very little effort to provide accurate information. It doesn’t even provide evidence that the doctrines according to McKeever and Johnson, represent the biblical, let alone the “Christian” position. In the end, it is McKeever and Johnson’s doctrine vs. an imaginary LDS doctrine, which the authors have invented. Mormonism 101 intends to widen the divide between Latter-day Saints and Protestants by any means possible, including deception.
If what Mr. Graham says here is true, then why does he spend so much time arguing against our points? If we are merely making up Mormonism, then it would seem like it would be a waste of his time to argue against us. We have been told many times by active Mormons that our overall understanding is accurate (even if they may disagree with our conclusions, which we should expect). To say we are using deception is untruthful.
Furthermore, after analyzing their research and having witnessed the blatant errors therein, I have come to the conclusion that this book could not have been compiled in ignorance. Taking into consideration the boast of having studied these sources for thirty plus years, I’m compelled to believe it is highly unlikely that their mistakes could have been by mere mishap. Their conclusions clearly rely on a total evasion of truthl. McKeever and Johnson have assumed a higher calling; a self-appointed ministerial position in the name of Jesus Christ. Their mission is to teach people why the Church of Jesus Christ cannot be considered Christian. The only way they can do this successfully is by misrepresenting the Latter-day Saint faith. This in and of itself simply diminishes their claim to Christianity. To ignorantly contend and deceive others as they do does Christianity a tremendous disservice. I’m confident that if a curious researcher would examine the sources in context, they will come to the same conclusions which this reviewer has drawn. This is my challenge to any LDS critic who reads this review. Don’t take my word for it and certainly don’t take theirs. Do your own homework and do not allow yourself to be dissuaded in searching for the truth from its source.
We too encourage the reader to do the homework. We never have told the reader to take our word for it. Study it out. If Mormonism truly is Christianity, then by all means, it should be followed. If it’s not, then it should be avoided at all costs. Our book was intended for the Evangelical Christian believer to show them some of the basic differences and explain how the two faiths are different. It’s as simple as that.