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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, Chapter 2: Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself

During 2012, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is underlined is from the manual, with my comments following.

All people are our brothers and sisters, children of our Heavenly Father.

We look upon all men as our brothers, all women as our sisters; we look upon the face of every human being that is in the world as a child of our Father, and believe that as each is in the image of the Father, so also each possesses a spark of divinity that if developed will prepare us to return to His presence. …

That is our understanding of the purpose of our existence in the world, and explains our interest in our fellowmen. Many have supposed that we were exclusive in our lives, and some have thought that we were clannish. The fact is, we look upon every child that is born into the world, as a son or daughter of God, as our brother or our sister, and we feel that our happiness will not be complete in the kingdom of heaven unless we enjoy the companionship of our families and those of our friends and associates with whom we have become acquainted and in whose interest we give so much of our time on earth.

When it comes to the LDS doctrine of premortality, also known as preexistence or the first estate, D&C 93:29 explains how “man was also in the beginning with God.” According to the Feb. 2006 Ensign magazine, “Of all the major Christian churches, only The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that the human race lived in a premortal existence with God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. . . . But at some distant point in our premortal past, spirit bodies were created for us, and we became, literally, spirit sons and daughters of heavenly parents.” (Presidents of the Church Teacher’s Manual, 1.) The church manual True to the Faith reports, “The firstborn spirit son of our Father was Jesus Christ. He was our Elder Brother. He became a member of the Godhead while he was in heaven, before he came to this earth.”

When George Albert Smith said that “we look upon all men as our brothers, all women as our sisters; we look upon the face of every human being that is in the world as a child of our Father. . .,” he meant these words literally. According to Mormonism, there was a disagreement in the preexistence over who should be the Savior of the world and how mankind would be saved. Two brothers, Jesus and Lucifer, submitted their plans.

According to Gospel Principles,

“Jesus was willing to come to the earth, give His life for us, and take upon Himself our sins. He, like our Heavenly Father, wanted us to choose whether we would obey Heavenly Father’s commandments. He knew we must be free to choose in order to prove ourselves worthy of exaltation . . . . Satan, who was called Lucifer, also came, saying, “Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor” (Moses 4:1). Satan wanted to force us all to do his will. Under his plan, we would not be allowed to choose. He would take away the freedom of choice that our Father had given us. Satan wanted to have all the honor for our salvation. Under his proposal, our purpose in coming to earth would have been frustrated.” (13, 15)

Satan’s plan was rejected and, in response, he

“became angry and rebelled. There was war in heaven. Satan and his followers fought against Jesus Christ and His followers. . . . In this great rebellion, Satan and all the spirits who followed him were sent away from the presence of God and cast down from heaven. A third part of the hosts of heaven were punished for following Satan (see D&C 29:36). They were denied the right to receive mortal bodies. Because we are here on earth and have mortal bodies, we know that we chose to follow Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father. Satan and his followers are also on the earth, but as spirits. They have not forgotten who we are, and they are around us daily, tempting us and enticing us to do things that are not pleasing to our Heavenly Father. In our premortal life, we chose to follow Jesus Christ and accept God’s plan.” (15,16)

Since humans born to this world are said to have chosen wisely in this premortal state, they had a chance to progress by being sent to this world. President Spencer Kimball wrote:

“While we lack recollection of our pre-mortal life, before coming to this earth all of us understood definitely the purpose of our being here. We would be expected to gain knowledge, educate ourselves, train ourselves. We were to control our urges and desires, master and control our passions, and overcome our weaknesses, small and large. We were to eliminate sins of omission and of commission, and to follow the laws and commandments given us by our Father. . . . we said in effect, “Yes, Father, in spite of all those things [sorrows, disappointments, hard work, blood, sweat and tears] I can see great blessings that could come to me as one of thy sons or daughters; in taking a body I can see that I will eventually become immortal like thee, that I might overcome the effects of sins and be perfected, and so I am anxious to go to the earth at the first opportunity.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, 3)

In a 2008 devotional, Terry Ball, dean of religious education at BYU, told the students:

“Have you ever wondered why you were born where and when you were born? Why you were not born 500 years ago in some primitive, aboriginal culture in some isolated corner of the world? Is the timing and placing of your birth capricious? For Latter-day Saints the answer is no. Fundamental to our faith is the understanding that before we came to this earth we lived in a premortal existence with a loving Heavenly Father. We further understand that in that premortal state we had agency. And that we grew and developed as we used that agency.”

Many Latter-day Saints attempt to support their unique doctrine of premortal existence by referencing Jeremiah 1:5, which reads, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” Here the prophet Jeremiah was told by the sovereign God of the universe that He had a plan for Jeremiah. Does this mean that we had a relationship with God in premortality? The answer is, quite simply, no. Consider this first chapter of Jeremiah and notice how it says God knew Jeremiah, but nowhere does it intimate that Jeremiah knew God. If God is omniscient (all-knowing) and sovereign, we would expect that He knew Jeremiah. The Bible is full of passages stating that God is in sovereign control, as His plans cannot be thwarted by anyone. Even Jesus’ death by crucifixion did not surprise God (see Acts 2:22-24, 4:27-28). In fact, it’s clear that God has a plan for everyone, both righteous and unrighteous. It was God who knew who our parents would be (thus determining where we would be born), the color of our skin, the number of hairs our head, and even our natural temperament. Nothing surprised God with our existence. He knew us, but nowhere is it inferred that we knew Him before birth.

The January 2010 Ensign magazine cited Hebrews 12:9 to support the doctrine of premortality, saying, “God is our Heavenly Father, a literal spiritual parent.” (15) The verse from Hebrews reads, “Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live.” Mormons tend to read too much into this passage. All who have entered into mortality have spirits, so it would be wrong to assume this refers to some preexistent state. The writer of Hebrews is merely making a connection between the discipline of human fathers and that of a Heavenly Father.

Another verse sometimes used by Latter-day Saints is Ecclesiastes 12:7, which says, in part, that “the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” This poetic book describes how the body decomposes to “dust” and the spirit returns to God for judgment; this does not imply a preexistent state. Zechariah 12:1 states that God forms “the spirit of man within him.” The assumption is not that man was composed solely of spirit in some premortal state, but that man has a physical body in which the spirit dwells.

Some have claimed that clear references to premortality must have been expunged at some point in early church history. If this conspiracy theory is true, it opens the door to believe just about any strange teaching may have been sanctioned by God. It is an argument from silence to say teachings were taken out of the Bible. It would be impossible for all of the biblical manuscripts to have been collected and gathered from all over the biblical world, only to be systematically altered.

Another resource used by some Mormons to support this doctrine is the Church Fathers. While it is true that Origen (c185- c254) advocated a type of preexistence, historians consider this view to be mere speculation. Two church historians wrote, “Origen tried to express the Christian faith in terms of the prevailing Platonic philosophical ideas of his time. Some of his speculations, for example about the preexistence of souls and universal salvation, were repudiated by the church, and helped bring about his later condemnation.” Another historian observed, “The problem is that Origen was very much enamored with speculation and it sometimes led to conclusions that seem patently unbiblical . . . . According to Origen, this premortal, spiritual probation explains why humans enter the world in such unequal conditions. It is his own form of what some Eastern religions call ‘karma.’ Such speculation seemed innocent and even helpful to Origen, but it goes far to explain why some other Christians regarded him as a heretic.” Origen even admitted that his ideas were his own and not necessarily canonical. Besides, Origen’s teaching is not even close to Mormonism’s doctrine of premortality. For example, he did not teach that Jesus was the first-born offspring or that humans are the siblings of Jesus.

Indeed, the topic of premotality is nothing more than mere speculation on behalf of the Mormon leadership. With no evidence from the Bible, this doctrine should be soundly rejected by Christians.

The gospel teaches us to have charity for all and to love our fellows. The Savior said: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, this is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” [Matthew 22:37–40.]

As members of the Church of Christ, we should keep His commandments and love one another. Then our love should pass beyond the border lines of the Church with which we are identified, and reach out after the children of men.  Let us evidence by our conduct, by our gentleness, by our love, by our faith, that we do keep that great commandment that the Savior said was like unto the first great commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” 

Do not forget no matter how much you may give in money, no matter how you may desire the things of this world to make yourselves happy, your happiness will be in proportion to your charity and to your kindness and to your love of those with whom you associate here on earth. Our Heavenly Father has said in very plain terms that he who says he loves God and does not love his brother is not truthful [see 1 John 4:20].

It isn’t only what we receive that makes us happy; it is what we give, and the more we give of that which is uplifting and enriching to our Father’s children, the more we have to give. It grows like a great fountain of life and bubbles up to eternal happiness.

When our life here is ended and we return home, we will find credited to us there every good act we have performed, every kindness we have done, every effort we have put forth to benefit our fellows. …

In the final half of this manual’s chapter, the idea of performing good works is emphasized. Performing good works is certainly an admirable trait. For, as 1 John 5:3-5 says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?”

Being born of God is the qualification for those who would overcome the world. Belief is what is required. In my review of this manual’s first chapter, I showed how Mormon Church leaders require their followers to qualify for celestial glory via individual efforts in the impossible attempt to become united with one’s earthly family in eternity. In the quote from Smith (last line of the indentation), he explains how Mormons one day hope to “find credited to us there [the celestial] every good act we have performed. . .” However, the Bible declares in Isaiah 64:6 that all of our righteous acts are akin to filthy rags in God’s sight. Nobody can ever work enough to earn God’s favor because of the sin factor (Rom. 3:23, 6:23). Again, the only way a person can have assurance of being with God in eternity is to do what 1 John 5:13 says and “believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (NIV).

While there is certainly a judgment for works, righteous acts are not what earn a person to heavenly glory—something taught not only in Mormonism but practically every religion outside of Christianity. As Jesus stated in Mathew 7:21, “not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” What is that “will”? According to Jesus in John 6:40, “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.”

It ought to be pointed out that doing good works is a vital part of the sanctification process in biblical Christianity. After all, Paul said in Ephesians 2:10 that we are God’s workmanship, created to do good works. James says in James 2:20 and 26 that “faith without deeds is dead.” In Galatians 5:19-26, the acts of the sinful nature is contrasted with the fruit of the spirit. While many Mormons unfortunately assume that Christians don’t believe in good works, this is far from the truth. According to the Bible, while good works are important in our life of Christ, they are a result of true faith and have nothing to do with justification before the all-holy God of this universe, lest we think we somehow earned the right to enter God’s presence and therefore have something to boast about (see Eph. 2:8-9). It’s all about what God has done and not what we think we have accomplished. Hard works don’t get us to a certain place and then “Jesus pays the rest.” This concept is just not biblical. Rather, salvation is about how Jesus paid it all and how it’s all to Him I owe.

Misunderstanding this concept results in the misunderstanding the Gospel as taught in the Bible. As stated in the review of chapter one, read the book of Galatians and gain an understanding of the true Gospel of God. If you have questions, please write us at [email protected].

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