This is one of a series of reviews from a Christian perspective on the weekly lessons found in the Come, Follow Me (New Testament, 2023) for Individuals and Families published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To find the index of these reviews, visit here.
Matthew 11-12; Luke 11
In many ways, the Pharisees and scribes had made worshipping Jehovah burdensome. They often emphasized strict rules over eternal truths. Rules about the Sabbath day, which was meant to be a day of rest, were themselves a heavy burden.
Ok, let’s stop here. I have to say that this is akin to calling the kettle black. Yes, the Pharisees and scribes did make “strict rules over eternal truths.” But what about LDS leaders? Haven’t they done the same? When it comes to the Sabbath day, listen to some of the things leaders have said in the past:
2nd President Brigham Young:
“Now, remember, my brethren, those who go skating, buggy riding or on excursions on the Sabbath day—and there is a great deal of this practiced—are weak in the faith. Gradually, little by little, little by little, the spirit of their religion leaks out of their hearts and their affections, and by and by they begin to see faults in their brethren, faults in the doctrines of the Church, faults in the organization, and at last they leave the Kingdom of God and go to destruction. I really wish you would remember this, and tell it to your neighbors. JOD 15:83.”Discourses of Brigham Young, 165.
11th President Harold B. Lee:
“LET US NOT PATRONIZE BUSINESSES OPEN ON SUNDAY. If the body of the priesthood. . . would resolve here and now that neither you nor your families will hereafter patronize any business that is open on Sunday, it wouldn’t be long until they would close their businesses on Sunday. You would wield such a force and power that you would dry up the businesses that are making their Sunday opening profitable. They are only catering to the needs of the people who are demanding Sunday service.”Conference Report, 3 October 1970, 104-105. Ellipsis in original.
12th President Spencer W. Kimball, as cited in current church manuals:
“The Sabbath is a holy day in which to do worthy and holy things. Abstinence from work and recreation is important, but insufficient. The Sabbath calls for constructive thoughts and acts, and if one merely lounges about doing nothing on the Sabbath, he is breaking it. To observe it, one will be on his knees in prayer, preparing lessons, studying the gospel, meditating, visiting the ill and distressed, writing letters to missionaries, taking a nap, reading wholesome material, and attending all the meetings of that day at which he is expected.”Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 2006, 170. See also True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, 146
“Our prophets have told us that we should not shop, hunt, fish, attend sports events, or participate in similar activities on that day. President Spencer W. Kimball cautioned, however, that if we merely lounge about doing nothing on the Sabbath, we are not keeping the day holy. The Sabbath calls for constructive thoughts and acts.”See Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball ,
170.)” (Gospel Principles, 2009, 141).
Seventy Francisco J. Vinas:
“What might be some of those vanities that can interfere in the process of receiving a remission of our sins and that are associated with keeping the Sabbath day holy? Some examples include being late for sacrament meeting without a valid reason; arriving, without previously having examined ourselves, to eat the bread and drink from the cup unworthily (see 1 Corinthians 11:28); and arriving without first having confessed our sins and having asked God for forgiveness for them. Other examples: being irreverent by exchanging messages on our electronic devices, leaving the meeting after partaking of the sacrament, and engaging in activities in our homes that are inappropriate for that sacred day. ““The Pleasing Word of God,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2015, 37-38.
Just who appointed the LDS Church to describe what it means to “keep the sabbath day holy”? Riding buggies? Checking texts or emails? Napping but not lounging around? Aren’t these rules just as “man-made” as what was foisted upon the people of Jesus’s day by those Jewish leaders?
Another point of legalism is what is called the Word of Wisdom. Supposedly church founder Joseph Smith was told by God in D&C 89 that hot drinks and meat except in times of cold or famine, among other things, were not to be part of a believer’s diet. Consider these quotes:
7th President Heber J. Grant:
“Many a professed Latter-day Saint in hard times has lost the home that sheltered his wife and his children, who, if he had observed the Word of Wisdom, would have been able to save it. The violation of the Word of Wisdom has meant the difference between failure and success. By observing the Word of Wisdom, sufficient money to pay the interest on the mortgage would have been forthcoming, with additional help to take care of his family and farm.”Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, 2002, 193.
10th President Joseph Fielding Smith:
“SALVATION AND A CUP OF TEA. You cannot neglect little things. ‘Oh, a cup of tea is such a little thing. It is so little; surely it doesn’t amount to much; surely the Lord will forgive me if I drink a cup of tea. Yes, he will forgive you, because he is going to forgive every man who repents; but, my brethren, if you drink coffee or tea, or take tobacco, are you letting a cup of tea or a little tobacco stand in the road and bar you from the celestial kingdom of God, where you might otherwise have received a fulness of glory?”Doctrines of Salvation 2:16.
If you read that particular passage of LDS scripture, you will quickly realize that most Latter-day Saints don’t know all the things they should be doing if they truly are keeping the Word of Wisdom. Listen to one church manual that describes additional details of how the Word of Wisdom really ought to be kept:
“D&C 89:7. Strong Drinks Are for Washing the Body. Alcohol is a valuable cleansing agent for wounds and abrasions. When used to bathe an injured part of the body, alcohol performs a service for which it was intended.” (Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual
Religion 324 and 325, 2001, 208. Bold in original).
“D&C 89:8. ‘Tobacco … Is an Herb for Bruises and All Sick Cattle.’ Tobacco, like alcohol, possesses medicinal properties for use on sick animals. When applied with skill, a tobacco poultice can be useful in healing the cuts and bruises of cattle. Alcohol and tobacco have place when used as the Lord intended” (Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual Religion 324 and 325, 2001, 209. Bold and ellipsis in original).
“D&C 89:13. ‘Only in Times of Winter, or of Cold, or Famine.’ This verse has caused some to ask if meat should be eaten in the summer. Meat has more calories than fruits and vegetables, which some individuals may need fewer of in summer than winter. Also, before fruits and vegetables could be preserved, people often did not have enough other food to eat in winter. Spoiled meat can be fatal if eaten, and in former times meat spoiled more readily in summer than winter. Modern methods of refrigeration now make it possible to preserve meat in any season. The key word with respect to the use of meat is sparingly (D&C 89:12)” (Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual Religion 324 and 325, 2001, 210. Bold and italics in original).
With no biblical precedent, LDS Church leaders have made their people subject to keeping rules and regulations that go beyond the biblical teaching. Breaking them could result in not receiving a temple recommend necessary for a person to do work necessary for exaltation. As far as keeping the Sabbath, Jesus criticized the religious leaders for going way beyond the intention of the command.
When it comes to dietary law, faithful Mormons are abstaining from alcohol, tea, and coffee but possibly breaking the rule by not washing their bodies in alcohol or eating meat in the summer. Consider, as well, how many Latter-day Saints for many years would not drink caffeinated drinks until the church came forward in 2012 to say they could, in fact, drink colas? It seems like these rules are not much different than what the religious leaders continue to heap on the shoulders of their followers even to this day.
And then, Jehovah Himself came among His people. He taught them that the true purpose of religion is not to create burdens but to relieve them. He taught that God gives us commandments, including the one to honor the Sabbath, not to oppress us but to bless us. Yes, the way to God is strait and narrow, but the Lord came to announce that we need not walk it alone. “Come unto me,” He pleaded. His invitation, to all who feel “heavy laden” for any reason, is to stand beside Him, to bind ourselves to Him, and to let Him share our burdens. His promise is “Ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Compared to the alternatives—trying to carry on alone or relying on mortal solutions—His “yoke is easy, and [His] burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30.)
Yet how is the “yoke” easy with a light burden when we consider the stringent, non-biblical rules of the LDS Church?
Ideas for Personal Scripture Study
Jesus Christ will give me rest as I rely on Him.
We all carry burdens—some resulting from our own sins and mistakes, some caused by the choices of others, and some that are nobody’s fault but are simply part of life on earth. Regardless of the reasons for our struggles, Jesus pleads with us to come unto Him so He can help us bear our burdens and find relief (see also Mosiah 24). Elder David A. Bednar taught, “Making and keeping sacred covenants yokes us to and with the Lord Jesus Christ” (“Bear Up Their Burdens with Ease,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2014, 88). With this in mind, ponder questions like the following to better understand the Savior’s words in these verses: How do my covenants yoke me to and with the Savior? What do I need to do to come unto Christ? In what sense is the Savior’s yoke easy and His burden light?
Covenants are nothing more than impossible burdens that church leaders place on their followers. Spencer W. Kimball wrote,
“Akin to many of the other sins is that of the covenant-breaker. The person baptized promises to keep all the laws and commandments of God. He has partaken of the sacrament and re-pledged his allegiance and his fidelity, promising and covenanting that he will keep all God’s laws. Numerous folks have gone to the temples and have re-covenanted that they would live all the commandments of God, keep their lives clean, devoted, worthy, and serviceable. Yet many there are who forget their covenants and break the commandments, sometimes deliberately tempting the faithful away with them.”The Miracle of Forgiveness, 57.
Kimball’s successor, Ezra Taft Benson, said that only by keeping all of God’s commandments could a person merit God’s mercy:
“We go to our chapels each week to worship the Lord and renew our covenants by partaking of the sacrament. We thereby promise to take His name upon us, to always remember Him, and keep all His commandments. Our agreement to keep all the commandments is our covenant with God. Only as we do this may we deserve His blessings and merit His mercy.”The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, 442. Italics mine.
Seventy Adhemar Damiani explained:
“This redemption is conditioned on our having faith in His Atonement, our repenting from our sins, our keeping the covenants we make with the Lord, our obeying all His commandments, and our enduring to the end. Obeying the sacred covenants and all the commandments qualifies us to receive the remission of our sins, allowing us to live clean and pure lives in the presence of God as resurrected and exalted beings.”“The Merciful Plan of the Great Creator,” Ensign, March 2004, 11-12.
And a church manual puts it this way:
“Receiving ordinances and keeping covenants are essential to Heavenly Father’s plan. The scriptures often refer to His people as a “covenant people.” The Lord’s blessings exceed our mortal expectations. To live in the presence of our Heavenly Father, we must receive all of the necessary ordinances and keep all of the required covenants.”The Gospel and the Productive Life Student Manual Religion 150, 2004, 98.
What kind of burden do these teachings place people under? Most Latter-day Saints fully understand that they are supposed to keep God’s commandments–all of them–and do it consistently–all the time. Yet they know they are not doing everything they are supposed to be doing. What stress does the church put on its people when it is possible to be reassured of the forgiveness of sins based on what Jesus did, not based on what we do?
“Do well on the sabbath days.”
The teachings of the Pharisees differed from the Savior’s in many ways, but especially in how to honor the Sabbath day. As you read Matthew 12:1–13, you might consider how well your attitudes and actions regarding the Sabbath align with the Savior’s teachings. To do this, you could ponder statements like these:
“I will have mercy, and not sacrifice” (verse 7; see Hosea 6:6).
“The Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day” (verse 8).
“It is lawful to do well on the sabbath days” (verse 12).
How might these teachings influence the way you approach the Sabbath?
The teaching in this series does not compute. The writers want to criticize the Pharisees about how they forced Sabbath-day regulations on them, yet they whistle past the graveyard because they do not see how their own rules go beyond the teaching of the Bible to hamstring Latter-day Saints. (See the citations given above.) The hypocrisy seems so obvious, but apparently it is not obvious.
Matthew 12:34–37; Luke 11:33–44
My words and actions reflect what is in my heart.
One of the Savior’s main criticisms of the Pharisees was that they tried to appear righteous but their intentions were not pure. As you study the Savior’s warnings to the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34–37 and Luke 11:33–44, ponder the connection between our hearts and our actions. What does the phrase “good treasure of the heart” mean to you? (Matthew 12:35). How do our words justify or condemn us? (see Matthew 12:37). What might it mean for your eye to be “single”? (Luke 11:34). Ponder how you can become “full of light” (Luke 11:36) through the Savior’s power.
Are the intentions of the LDS Church leaders pure? There is no way for us to know. While the LDS leaders give the appearance that they are righteous and keeping the commandments that they tell the people to keep, I for one wonder how tightly they actually hold to the Sabbath and Word of Wisdom regulations. Could they be watching the Super Bowl or lounging around on the Sabbath? Could they possible be sneaking a coffee or tea in the morning? Nobody knows and they certainly would never admit to it.
Ideas for Family Scripture Study and Home Evening
You can help your family visualize the Savior’s teachings in these verses by having them take turns trying to pull something heavy, first by themselves and then with help. What are some of the burdens we carry? What does it mean to take Christ’s yoke upon ourselves?
In this passage Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
According to His own words, Jesus took the burden for us so we don’t have to be the heavy lifter. Yet in Mormonism, the emphasis is on the individual making and then keeping the covenants that are impossible to keep. This is why Mormonism and biblical Christianity cannot be considered synonymous faiths.
As you read about Jesus healing a man on the Sabbath, your family could talk about how we are “restored whole” by the Savior. How can the Sabbath be a day of healing for us?
Inspired by the Savior’s example in these verses, your family could make a list of ways you can “do well on the sabbath” (verse 12). Be sure to include opportunities to serve others. It could be helpful to keep your list and refer to it on future Sundays.
But we must ask, how much can we do to serve others and still honor the Sabbath? If we look at what leaders have said, the Sabbath seems to be more of a time of reflection than it is helping other people.
Perhaps your family could discuss these verses while washing dishes together. You could talk about why it would be a bad idea to wash only the outsides of things like bowls and cups. You could then relate this to the need to be righteous not just in our outward deeds but also in our inward thoughts and feelings.
Consider these verses:
37 When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. 38 But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal.
39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
42 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.
43 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.
44 “Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.”
So many regulations in Mormonism are outward, from wearing nice clothes at Sunday services to observing the Sabbath by not going to stores and restaurants or not being seen at the local coffee shop. But these are outward signs. What about dealing with those inner issues?
There is so many “outward” commands in Mormonism, including the Sabbath regulations and the Word of Wisdom. When I read the biblical accounts and then see how the commentary given by LDS teachers, I am not sure how the writers could not see the hypocritical nature of their words as reflected in this lesson. After all, there is so much teaching in Mormonism that involves the appearance just as the Pharisees and scribes once stressed. Does the Latter-day Saint who is reading this review not see this point?