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Come, Follow Me: Christmas

This is one in a series of reviews of the weekly lessons found in the Come, Follow Me for Individuals and Families published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To link to all of the 2022 teachings, click here. Bold face type in this article comes from the Church’s curriculum. (Note: Not every sentence written in the curriculum is being reviewed.)

December 19-25

Christmas

That hope began to be realized when Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem. The mighty Deliverer of Israel was born in a stable and laid in a manger (see Luke 2:7). But He wasn’t just the Deliverer of the ancient Israelites. He came to deliver you—to bear your grief, to carry your sorrows, to be bruised for your iniquities, so that with His stripes you can be healed (see Isaiah 53:4–5). This is why Christmas is so full of joyful anticipation even today. The Messiah came over 2,000 years ago, and He continues to come into our lives whenever we seek Him.

I am one who loves Christmas. It is a magical season. A Christian understands the meaning of Christmas and the idea that a Messiah was born in such a humble circumstance. But unlike my Latter-day Saint friends, I believe that Jesus is enough. Nothing can be added to the work that He offered on the cross.

Let me give some examples of LDS leaders who have claimed salvation requires more than just Christ’s atonement and the grace He provides:

HOW TO OBTAIN FULL SALVATION. If I ever obtain a full salvation it will be by my keeping the laws of God.

Wilford Woodruff, The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, p. 23. See also Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, 71.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God unto salvation, and it is absolutely necessary for every man and woman in the Church of Christ to work righteousness, to observe the laws of God, and keep the commandments that He has given, in order that they may avail themselves of the power of God unto salvation in this life.

Joseph F. Smith, Conference Reports, October 1907, 3.

I do not believe that a man is saved in this life by believing, or professing to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, but that he must endure to the end and keep the commandments that are given.

Joseph F. Smith, Conference Reports, April 1915, 119.

One of the most fallacious doctrines originated by Satan and propounded by man is that man is saved alone by the grace of God; that belief in Jesus Christ alone is all that is needed for salvation.

Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, 206. See also The Book of Mormon Student Manual Religion 121 and 122, 1989, 36).

Many people think they need only confess that Jesus is the Christ and then they are saved by grace alone. We cannot be saved by grace alone, “for we know that it is by grace that we are saved after all we can do.

James Faust, Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2001, 18.

Do these citations line up with what the author(s) of Come, Follow Me is saying? Remember, these are their words, not mine when they said, “He came to deliver you—to bear your grief, to carry your sorrows, to be bruised for your iniquities, so that with His stripes you can be healed (see Isaiah 53:4–5).”

It sure sounds like the onus is on the individual’s back, not Jesus’s. In Mormonism, Jesus is not enough. This is not the message of the Bible.

Ideas for Personal Scripture Study

I rejoice in my Redeemer.

Christmas is known as a joyful season because of the joy that Jesus Christ brings to the world. Even people who don’t worship Jesus as the Son of God can often feel the happiness of Christmas. Ponder the joy you feel because Heavenly Father sent His Son.

For Christians, Jesus is everything. The joy we have because God sent His Son is contagious.

Symbols can help me remember Jesus Christ.

Many of the traditions associated with Christmas can have symbolic meanings that point us to Christ. Star-shaped decorations represent the bright star that shone the night of Jesus’s birth (see Matthew 2:2). Carolers can remind us of the angels who appeared to the shepherds (see Luke 2:13–14). As you studied the Old Testament this year, you may have noticed many symbols of the Savior. A few are listed below. Consider studying these and recording what they teach you about Him.

The article then gives the examples of lamb, manna, water, brass serpent, rock, branch, and light. These are all great symbols of Christ, no doubt. But as I read this paragraph, I thought out loud, “What about the cross?”

Yes, the cross is not associated with Christmas, I understand. But if you ask 10 Evangelical Christians what they think of when they think of symbolic items associated with Christ, I think at least 7 would mention the cross.

Of course, a popular early symbol of Christianity was use of the ΧΘΥΣ (IKhThUS), or also ἸΧΘΥϹ, was more common in early Christianity. It is an acrostic for “ησοῦς Χρῑστός Θεοῦ Υἱός Σωτήρ”, or Iēsoûs Khrīstós, Theoû Huiós, Sōtḗr. This translates into English as “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.” This symbol began in the 2nd century as a way for Christians to identify with each other; the fish is still used by believers as a faith symbol today.

Yet when it comes to the cross, LDS leaders have not been very kind. Dealing with this issue in the October 2022 general conference, Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland gave a talk titled “Lifted Up Upon The Cross.” He said he was asked by a graduate student in a American religious history class where Holland spoke: “Why have the Latter-day Saints not adopted the cross that other Christians use as a symbol of their faith?”

He deflected the question in an expert way by saying that the LDS Church “considers the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ to be the central fact. . . ” and that “the saving grace inherent in that act was essential for and universally gifted to the entire human family . . .” He then shared from 1 Nephi 11:32-33 where it says the “Lamb of God . . . was lifted up upon the cross,” adding he was about to quote the apostle Paul when the questioner looked at his watch and the conversation ended.

If he could have finished the conversation, he said, he would have explained why the cross is not emphasized because crucifixion was a brutal form of execution. (It is, but so what, this was another deflection.) Saying the church is “restored,” Holland inferred that the cross was not emphasized “before the time of councils, creeds, and iconography.”

The use of the cross by Christians did not get official government approval until the 4th century. It began when the Emperor Constantine had a dream in 312 where he was told to use the sign of the cross to defend against all enemies and then at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge he saw a cross in the sky. This led to his conversion to Christianity.

According to the New World Encyclopedia, the cross had become so closely associated with Christ that Clement of Alexandria, who died between 211 and 216, used the phrase “the Lord’s sign” to mean the cross.” Tertullian, a contemporary of Clement, called believers “crucis religiosi,” or “devotees of the cross.” He also said in his book De Corona, written in 204, that it was already common for Christians to trace the sign of the cross on their foreheads.  “ Source

The Jewish Encyclopedia says:

The cross as a Christian symbol or “seal” came into use at least as early as the second century (see “Apost. Const.” iii. 17; Epistle of Barnabas, xi.-xii.; Justin, “Apologia,” i. 55-60; “Dial. cum Tryph.” 85-97); and the marking of a cross upon the forehead and the chest was regarded as a talisman against the powers of demons (Tertullian, “De Corona,” iii.; Cyprian, “Testimonies,” xi. 21-22; Lactantius, “Divinæ Institutiones,” iv. 27, and elsewhere). Accordingly the Christian Fathers had to defend themselves, as early as the second century, against the charge of being worshipers of the cross, as may be learned from Tertullian, “Apologia,” xii., xvii., and Minucius Felix, “Octavius,” xxix. Christians used to swear by the power of the cross.

Apocalypse of Mary, viii., in James, “Texts and Studies,” iii. 118.

The use of the cross for Christians from early times makes perfect sense. After all, it was Paul himself who declared that “the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Philippians 3:18 says, “For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ.” And Jesus said in Matthew 16:24, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”

Holland said the church doesn’t use crosses because they want to emphasize the resurrection, not the death, of Jesus. He obviously has no understanding that an empty cross is quite symbolic of the resurrection because the grave could not contain the Savior! Source

Holland’s protests are weak and without substance. He minimizes the rich symbol of the cross that Christians have used for almost 19 centuries. What’s interesting about symbolism is that his own church cherishes symbols like Moroni or the temple. Symbolic icons such as the Masonic handshake or heavenly plants adorn the outside of the Salt Lake temple, among others. Faithful members also put paintings or pictures of Joseph Smith and the general authorities on their walls at home as a reminder of the importance of the “restored church.”

Like Holland, other LDS leaders have condescending things to say about the cross, including this from tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith:

To many, like the writer, such a custom is repugnant and contrary to the true worship of our Redeemer. Why should we bow down before a cross or use it as a symbol? Because our Savior died on the cross, the wearing of crosses is to most Latter-day Saints in very poor taste and inconsistent to our worship. Of all the ways ever invented for taking life and the execution of individuals, among the most cruel is likely the cross. This was a favorite method among the Romans who excelled in torture. We may be definitely sure that if our Lord had been killed with a dagger or with a sword, it would have been very strange indeed if religious people of this day would have graced such a weapon by wearing it and adoring it because it was by such a means that our Lord was put to death.

“The Wearing of the Cross,” Answers to Gospel Questions 4:17.

Fifteenth President Gordon B. Hinckley lamely stated, “But for us, the cross is the symbol of the dying Christ, while our message is a declaration of a Living Christ” (“The Symbol of Our Faith,” Ensign, April 2005, 3). For many years, it has been common for Latter-day Saint leaders to point to the event of Jesus sweating in Gethsemane as the focal point for where the atonement took place. As BYU professor Robert J. Matthews put it, “It was in Gethsemane, on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, that Jesus made his perfect atonement by the shedding of his blood, more so than on the cross” (A Bible! A Bible! 282).

This is a major difference between Mormonism and Christianity, for it is the death (expiation) of Jesus that brings atonement, not his suffering in the Garden (perspiration).

To read more about the Christian perspective on this issue, visit Why Christians glory in the cross and Should the Cross Just be an Afterthought?

For more on Gethsemane, visit Why Not Gethsemane? and Confusion Over Gethsemane and the Atonement.

Finding the Savior in the Old Testament.

As you prepare to study the life of Jesus Christ in the New Testament next year, consider reviewing with your family what they have learned about Him this year in the Old Testament. You might review the outlines in this resource and any personal study notes to help you remember what you’ve learned. Younger children might benefit from looking through Old Testament Stories or the pictures in this resource. What prophecies or stories stood out to us? What have we learned about the Savior?

Honestly, I look forward to continuing reviewing these weekly lessons and would like to see how the church handles the New Testament. As I have said many times in the reviews in 2022, I believe that Latter-day Saints have not had a very good overview on the Old Testament.

Conclusion

The Jesus of Mormonism looks much different than what is portrayed in the Bible. I think about what Mormonism has taught about the “Virgin Birth” of Jesus, a much different outlook than what this doctrine really is. Here are two articles that you may want to consider about this topic:

I hope you will continue to follow this review series into 2023.

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