During 2016, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter 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 in boldfaced is from the manual, with our comments following.
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter, 2015
Teachings of Howard W. Hunter
The two great commandments are the Lord’s touchstone for our discipleship.
On one occasion while Jesus was teaching the people, a certain lawyer approached him and posed this question: “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus, the master teacher, replied to the man, who obviously was well-versed in the law, with a counter-question, “What is written in the law? how readest thou?”
The man replied with resolute summary the two great commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.”
With approval Christ responded, “This do, and thou shalt live” (Luke 10:25–28).
Eternal life, God’s life, the life we are seeking, is rooted in two commandments. The scriptures say that “on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40). Love God and love your neighbor. The two work together; they are inseparable. In the highest sense they may be considered as synonymous. And they are commandments that each of us can live.
Jesus summarized the law when he told this man to “love God” and “love others. As a Christian, I seek to do these every day. Yet Hunter says they “are commandments that each of us can live.” The way I take what he says, I understand him to infer “live successfully.” Every week Mormons make promises at the sacrament promising how they will keep the commandments, but then they continue to repent for not keeping the very commandments they said they would live. (D&C 58:43 says that the way we know if someone has truly repented is they will not commit that same sin again. This was expounded up by Spencer W. Kimball.) Mormonism stresses the importance of keeping commandments to the detriment of receiving God’s free gift of grace. The problem is nobody can keep all the commandments, which D&C 25:15 says must be done. It is foolhardy to think that anyone can possibly “live all the commandments.” Did Hunter?
We need to walk more resolutely the path of charity that Jesus has shown.
In an important message to the Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo just one year before his tragic and untimely martyrdom, the Prophet Joseph Smith said:
“If we would secure and cultivate the love of others, we must love others, even our enemies as well as friends. … Christians should cease wrangling and contending with each other, and cultivate the principles of union and friendship in their midst.” (History of the Church, 5:498–99.)
That is magnificent counsel today, even as it was [then]. The world in which we live, whether close to home or far away, needs the gospel of Jesus Christ. It provides the only way the world will ever know peace. We need to be kinder with one another, more gentle and forgiving. We need to be slower to anger and more prompt to help. We need to extend the hand of friendship and resist the hand of retribution. In short, we need to love one another with the pure love of Christ, with genuine charity and compassion and, if necessary, shared suffering, for that is the way God loves us.
We need to walk more resolutely and more charitably the path that Jesus has shown. We need to “pause to help and lift another” and surely we will find “strength beyond [our] own.” If we would do more to learn “the healer’s art,” there would be untold chances to use it, to touch the “wounded and the weary” and show to all “a gentle[r] heart.” Yes, Lord, we should follow thee.
The solution to the world’s problem(s) is the “gospel of Jesus Christ,” as Hunter has said. The question is this: Which gospel are we talking about? The gospel of Mormonism, which tells people that obedience is the way to gain God’s favor? Or the gospel according to the Bible, which is focused on the free gift of eternal life available by grace through faith and a relationship with Jesus Christ? I have written much in other chapter reviews of this manual explaining what this means. I do believe it’s important to do this “with genuine charity and compassion” along with a “gentle heart. Peter writes in 1 Peter 3:16 that we not only should have an answer for everyone who asks us to be able to explain the reason for the hope that we have but to do this with gentleness and respect. I pray that this is the mark of my evangelism! There can be no greater love we have for others than be willing to stand for the truth at the risk of being misunderstood and even despised for the effort.
Charity is the pure love of Christ and will not fail
“A new commandment I give unto you,” [Jesus] said, “That ye love one another; … By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:34–35.) This love that we should have for our brothers and sisters in the human family, and that Christ has for every one of us, is called charity or “the pure love of Christ.” (Moro. 7:47.) It is the love that prompted the suffering and sacrifice of Christ’s atonement. It is the highest pinnacle the human soul can reach and the deepest expression of the human heart.
The best way to love one another is to tell others the truth. I find it interesting that my view may be disagreed upon by Latter-day Saints. Except for missionaries, I rarely have any Mormons share their “good news” with me on a voluntary basis. For instance, I’ve never had a Mormon neighbor or relative (yes, I have them) say, “Could I share with you the heart of the LDS gospel?” When I’m in public sharing my faith, having a Latter-day Saint come up and try to engage me (without just arguing) is rare. Perhaps they think it’s futile, I don’t know. But if you are a Latter-day Saint who is supposed to love others who don’t belong to your faith, don’t you think you owe it to me/them to let me/them know the truth about your religion/faith in a manner I can understand without having to call on the missionaries? I would think so.
As far as the relationship between believers, loving one another despite our differences and disagreements is crucial. Threatening to leave a church body, for example, just because there is disagreement is not practicing the love that Jesus explained in John chapter 13.
Loving others is “a more excellent way.”
As a young man, Brother Vern Crowley said he learned something of the crucial lesson the Prophet Joseph had taught the early Saints in Nauvoo when he told them to “love others, even our enemies as well as friends.” This is a good lesson for each of us.
After his father became ill, Vern Crowley took responsibility for running the family wrecking yard although he was only fifteen years of age. Some customers occasionally took unfair advantage of the young man, and parts were disappearing from the lot overnight. Vern was angry and vowed to catch someone and make an example of him. Vengeance would be his.
Just after his father had started to recover from his illness, Vern was making his rounds of the yard one night at closing time. It was nearly dark. In a distant corner of the property, he caught sight of someone carrying a large piece of machinery toward the back fence. He ran like a champion athlete and caught the young thief. His first thought was to take out his frustrations with his fists and then drag the boy to the front office and call the police. His heart was full of anger and vengeance. He had caught his thief, and he intended to get his just dues.
Out of nowhere, Vern’s father came along, put his weak and infirm hand on his son’s shoulder, and said, “I see you’re a bit upset, Vern. Can I handle this?” He then walked over to the young would-be thief and put his arm around his shoulder, looked him in the eye for a moment, and said, “Son, tell me, why are you doing this? Why were you trying to steal that transmission?” Then Mr. Crowley started walking toward the office with his arm around the boy, asking questions about the young man’s car problems as they walked. By the time they had arrived at the office, the father said, “Well, I think your clutch is gone and that’s causing your problem.”
In the meantime, Vern was fuming. “Who cares about his clutch?” he thought. “Let’s call the police and get this over with.” But his father just kept talking. “Vern, get him a clutch. Get him a throwout bearing, too. And get him a pressure plate. That should take care of it.” The father handed all of the parts to the young man who had attempted robbery and said, “Take these. And here’s the transmission, too. You don’t have to steal, young man. Just ask for it. There’s a way out of every problem. People are willing to help.”
Brother Vern Crowley said he learned an everlasting lesson in love that day. The young man came back to the lot often. Voluntarily, month by month, he paid for all of the parts Vic Crowley had given him, including the transmission. During those visits, he asked Vern why his dad was the way he was and why he did what he did. Vern told him something of their Latter-day Saint beliefs and how much his father loved the Lord and loved people. Eventually the would-be thief was baptized. Vern later said, “It’s hard now to describe the feelings I had and what I went through in that experience. I, too, was young. I had caught my crook. I was going to extract the utmost penalty. But my father taught me a different way.”
A different way? A better way? A higher way? A more excellent way? Oh, how the world could benefit from such a magnificent lesson. As Moroni declares:
“Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world. …
“In the gift of his Son hath God prepared a more excellent way.” (Ether 12:4, 11.)
You know, this is a great story. In fact, I think it perfectly displays the love of Christ. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He paid the price even before I accepted Him as Lord and Savior.
Unfortunately, Hunter’s Mormonism makes an appearance in the story. Notice how he said that Vic came back to the lot often, “voluntarily, month by month.” and that “he paid for all the parts” he was given. What?! That’s preposterous! Did Mr. Crowley “give” the parts to Vic–with love and charity? which is how I read it initially–with the agreement that Vic would have to pay it all back? That doesn’t seem to be part of the story. Rather, to be charitable, it would have meant that Mr. Crowley gave those parts with no intention that he would be paid back…ever. And when Hunter uses the term “voluntarily,” that can’t be true. If either Mr. Crowley or Vic expected work to be done in return (payment) for the parts, that’s not “voluntary” service but work done for a wage. When a person labors for a company and receives his paycheck, does he thank the store owner for the charity shown? No, because that money was owed and is not considered a gift. The story given by Hunter is nothing more than a “transaction.” This, my friend, misses the message of the biblical gospel. As long as Latter-day Saints think they’re doing something—anything!—to earn God’s approval or are attempting to pay God back for what they could not initially afford, the very heart of Romans 5:8 is missed! This is a shame. This is why I will do my part to share truth with Latter-day Saints so they can have the complete gospel as described in the pages of the Bible explained in a clear manner!