Saturday, October 20, 2007

Thoroughly Furnished Unto All Good Works

Jeff Robinson reports on the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, Summer edition 2005, which is dedicated to the topic of Mormonism. In his article, published in the Baptist Press News on Sep 23, 2005, he writes that "Evangelicals often find Mormonism intriguing because of the clean lifestyle and conservative values of its adherents. Mormons may make great neighbors, but their doctrines and practices within the church appear as anything but appealing to evangelicals"

Recently, several denominational Christian Churches have come out with official doctrinal statements and resolutions stating that LDS church doctrine and practices are unorthodox, strange, or weird and not in harmony with the Bible. However, before condemning us as a heretical cult and non-Christian; these statements invariably start out praising our clean living, exemplary citizenship, and strong families. Then they warn their sheep not to be fooled by the [sheep in wolf's clothing]?

First, I cannot think of a more gracious compliment from these other faiths than to recognize the goodness and Christ-likeness of the LDS people. Chances are that you know an LDS member or family at work, school, or next door. And chances are you think they are pretty great people. But then you tell yourself that they must be the exception to the rule. I will tell you that, LDS members aren't perfect, but the reality is that your LDS neighbor or friend is only typical of most LDS members.

Now, if you give the above sheep and wolf analogy some thought you will see that it is exactly the opposite of the Bible warning (Matt. 7: 15). When the Bible teaches about false prophets in sheep's clothing, "cleansing the inner vessel" or having "clean hands and a pure heart," it is talking about the personal behavior and righteousness of the believer. The author praises LDS members for being good, honest, hardworking, family-oriented, Christ-centered on the outside but then he goes on to warn the reader to beware of their bazaar doctrines and secret temple practices on the inside? It seems the author has his analogy mixed up. When the Bible speaks of righteousness, good works, and pure religion; these aspects of true Christian worship are the fruit or outward manifestations of an inner faith and devotion to Christ and not just a facade.

Here is my point. It makes no spiritual sense to say that a person or group misunderstands correct Christian doctrine and scripture but on the other hand are exemplary in terms of their moral living, family values, citizenship, and Christ-like example. According to the Bible, the whole point of doctrine and scripture in the first place is to teach you how to behave and believe and act in away that God approves of. A person cannot be Christ-like if he does not know Christ.
James 1: 27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
2 Tim. 3: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
1 Tim. 1: 5 Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:
John 13: 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
Matt. 7: 16, 20 Ye shall know them by their fruits
1 Cor. 13: 8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

Unfortunately, many evangelical Christians do not recognize the importance of correct Christian doctrine because there exists such a disunity of doctrine even within churches of the same denomination in the same city. Most of my friends and colleagues tell me that it doesn't matter much what the exact doctrines are, so long as they worship Christ and study from the Bible. LDS members do not hold such a casual attitude with regard to doctrine. The LDS Church has a unified doctrine. Anywhere you go in the world, any LDS church you attend, you will hear the exact same doctrine taught and religion practiced.

Now I hope I don't have to convince you that doctrine matters. Pick a doctrine and I will give you an example of someone who excused themselves in sin, or made an incorrect choice because they did not understand the fundamentals of Christian discipleship. That doctrine does matter is the foundation assumption of these many recent doctrinal resolutions passed by the denominational Christian religions.

The point is that one of many reasons I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ is because I feel more "thoroughly furnished unto all good works." The LDS church helps me be a better husband, a better father, a better neighbor, and a better disciple of Christ. The LDS church helps my family be stronger, more unified and more Christ-centered. Stats support that active LDS members and families are wealthier , are more educated, have much less divorce, live longer, have a lower rate of teen pregnancy, and give more to charity than active members of any other Christian denomination. So, despite our seemingly weird and wolfish doctrine, we really are Christ's sheep inside and out.

Also, the LDS Church has a far more developed culture of caring than any other religious organization. As an LDS member, I know that my and families spiritual and temporal needs will be cared for until death and beyond. Unfortunately, many of my religious friends have lamented at how poorly their church responds to individual crisis. In the LDS church, we really do take care of each other.

Doctrinally speaking, Other Christian Churches call us a non-Christian, unorthodox, religious cult because of our rejection of what we consider to be a heretical 3rd-century AD doctrine on the trinity which was fabricated in 325AD at the 1st ecumenical council of the Catholic Church. First off, the world trinity is not found anywhere in the Bible. LDS believe in the GodHead, which is found in the Bible (Acts 17: 29, Rom. 1: 20, Col. 2: 9). The GodHead comprises God the Father, The Son Jesus Christ, and The Holy Ghost who are 3 distinct entities with glorified bodies (Acts 7: 55-56), parts (Rev. 4: 2), and righteous passions (John 3: 16); but are knowable (1 Jn. 4: 7)(John 17: 2-3), and comprehensible through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2: 11), and who are one in purpose (John 17: 11, 22).

All LDS doctrines including the temple are clearly supported by the Bible and by modern revelation by prophets and apostles which is also Biblical. Also, the LDS church is not and never was trying to pass ourselves off as evangelical or protestant. Joseph Smith taught that our faith and religion should be considered Restored Christianity. Our doctrine is more in-line with 1st Century Christianity than the later corrupted 3rd -century version. But if the other Christian denominations insist on excluding us from being considered Christian, at least they recognize us for being Christ-like which is what really matters.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Newsweek on Mitt Romney: Personal Belief and Presidency

The sub-title of this most recent Newsweek article “Voters can't connect with a candidate they feel they don't know. Mitt Romney has to decide how much he wants to share,” is evidence of an unfortunate misunderstanding about LDS Doctrine with regard to the responsibility of a an LDS member who serves in public office. A member of the LDS Church is expected to live up to his personal and religious beliefs in any and all circumstances but a public servant is admonished never to legally force or impose those beliefs on a majority who do not share those beliefs (Mosiah 29: 26).

Mitt has been clear that he doesn’t want to talk about the LDS Church but Newsweek claims, “Romney has downplayed both his religion and his own family history.” The LDS Church is not running for the presidency—Mitt Romney is. Jesus Christ taught that believers should not “cast their pearls before swine.” LDS members do not interpret this to mean that non-LDS are "swine" but that there is an appropriate place and time to speak of sacred matters. LDS hold their beliefs sacred but not secret. If a person wants to learn about the LDS faith, they are invited to speak to LDS missionaries who are appointed by the church to teach the LDS message.

Newsweek criticizes Romney for not reminiscing with a reporter about his attendance at an old LDS church in Pontiac, MI at the age of 10. I’m not sure I could say much about my membership in the LDS church before age 10 except for my baptism day. Maybe he could have talked about his happy childhood but there is nothing special about an LDS church building itself. They’re all the same. That’s why LDS members say they can go anywhere in the world and hear the exact same gospel message and feel the exact same Spirit. For LDS members, the joy comes from Christ, His gospel, and fellowship with the saints, and not the building.

Newsweek says, “Mindful of the sway of evangelical Christians over the GOP base, he has positioned himself as the candidate with conservative principles and strong faith, even adopting evangelical language in calling Jesus Christ his "personal savior" (vernacular not generally used by members of the Mormon Church).”

Yes, Mitt wants the support of the evangelicals. But to say that members of the Mormon Church don’t generally call Christ our “personal savior” is inexcusable. Other than the phrase “my personal savior” being grammatically redundant, every testimony given of Jesus of Nazareth from Joseph Smith, through all the Apostles and Prophets down to the prayers given by LDS members at home or over the pulpit has contained the confession of belief that Jesus is the Christ, Savior, and Redeemer.

Mitt’s response to the “Baptism for the dead” question with the remark, "I have in my life, but I haven't recently" is more a reflection that these baptisms are more generally done by LDS adolescents (which the article explains later on) than Mitt trying to distance himself from his religion.

Newsweek claims that “Romney has been unable to shake his authenticity problem,” calling Mitt a “flip-flopper" for his “all-too-convenient conservative-conversion” with regard to gay rights and abortion. When Mitt ran for governor of Massachusetts, he knew the majority of the electorate was pro-choice. It should be well known to the media from the famous Reed Smoot hearings that LDS Doctrine holds that LDS leadership and members need not impose their personal or religious beliefs on the majority. We call that “unrighteous dominion,” which is expressly forbidden in our Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 121: 37, 39).

So, there is nothing, which detracts from Romney’s faith for him to say when he was running for Governor of a state where a majority of it’s residents are of a liberal political ideology that, as governor, he wouldn’t try to impose his personal belief’s on his constituency by overturning Roe v. Wade. Although at the same time, as governor, he fought hard to preserve the status quo and oppose a vocal minority who sought to propagate an ideology of death against the wishes of the majority of his constituency.

The account of the exchange student Tito Cortella who lived with the Romney’s is a profound example that is in stark contradiction to the author’s conclusions. Tito recounts that the Romney’s strongly encouraged him to attend the local Catholic Church and allowed him to smoke in his room. Other clear examples of this principle are beautifully described in the article including how the Romney’s kept alcohol in their home for guests and how Romney approved an investment in a media company which also included R-rated material. Romney approved the deal but did not invest any of his personal money.

Now that Romney is running for President, his constituency shares his personal ideology of life. Therefore he can, without reservation, run a campaign based on that ideology. This is not Romney re-inventing himself. This is a man who is running on the principle that a leader should not impose his ideology on others but he should persuade them to do well by patience, perseverance, and example.

(The LDS Church encourages its members to be politically active but does not support a particular party or candidate, even if he happens to be LDS. But don't be surprised if Romney win's Utah)