Christian Apology: On some common heresies…

I wanted to capture the thoughts of a young man who came to me during our recent trip this past week for Baptisms for the Dead at the Washington Temple.  He asked me about the way in which the Zoramites recite their common prayer from the Rameumptom.  He wanted to know what I thought of the Zoramites’ prayer and what it meant.  It put me on the spot a bit, but the power of the temple to bring truth and knowledge brought immediate understanding and I wanted to describe the thinking here in more detail than I was able to give at the time.  This is a longer exposition on what I explained to him outside the baptistry.

First, the prayer itself (from Alma 31):

15 Holy, holy God; we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou art holy, and that thou wast a spirit, and that thou art a spirit, and that thou wilt be a spirit forever. 16 Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; and also thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ. 17 But thou art the same yesterday, today, and forever; and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ, which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God. 18 And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen.

A dangerous prayer to say the least, and one I’m glad we have a record of today because of some of the “philosophies of men” that it captures …  it’s no wonder that Alma and his brethren were “astonished beyond all measure”.  On to the heresies herein (in the spirit of Elder McConkie):

Heresies and Astonishments:

Man does not grant permission for God to be God. (Heresy: Inversion of creation)

When we say “we believe that thou art God” it’s not merely a statement about our desires and faith.  What is underlying the notion is the idea that we “invent” God in some fashion, that we give God permission to be holy, to be a spirit, to be timeless, and all the rest.  This is, of course, not the case at all.  God is our Heavenly Father.  He does not seek, need, or can even be granted our permission to fulfill his role.  God is before us — we are his children.  We do not grant our parents the right to their parental state or behavior.  And we cannot do the same for our Heavenly Father either.

God possesses a body of flesh and bone. (Heresy: God is only a spirit)

Heavenly Father is not a spirit personage.  Countless testimonies to the corporeal nature of God exist in all of the scriptures.  I will refer to a single reference from each of the standard works here, and allow the reader out there to find others because I want to focus on what this perversion does to our perception and understanding of the nature of the Godhead and our Heavenly Father specifically:

The key problem with this view that “God wilt be a spirit forever” is that it completely undermines mortality.  We are spirits in possession of bodies.  If our Heavenly Father, our Creator and parent, is not possessed of a body then we, the creations, have something which our Creator does not.  This does not follow.  We are specifically here on this earth to gain a mortal body (to combine with spirits we possessed in the First Estate).  There are lessons we must learn on this earth and in this life and we require this body to be able to learn them.  Jesus captured them succinctly in Matthew 22:36 -40:
  1. Love God with all your heart, might, mind, and strength
  2. Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.
  3. On 1 and 2 are based all of the tenets of the gospel
Our Heavenly Father has learned all the lessons required of Him.  He is not learning new truths and is not conducting a cosmic or heavenly experiment.  If God were a spirit, then he would need to fulfill 1-3 above just as we do, since Christlike love requires a body for empathy.  Without it, it would not be possible to understand and realize the trials of the flesh and what temptations the “natural man” goes through.  God’s work and glory is to bring about our eternal salvation — for us to re-join Him in the Celestial Kingdom.  There is no condition required therein which He does not already meet.  God has a physical body just like we do.  He created us in His image.  We are physical beings, and so is He.

God’s laws do not change; He does not single out people to give them new laws. (Heresy: God is changeable.)

The gospel has been set forth since the Council in Heaven before we came to earth.  We made a choice to come here and prove ourselves whether we would live according to the commandments of God or not.  There are laws and ordinances of the gospel and there are doctrine and explanations.  These were given to Adam and his family in the beginning and have been revealed again and again throughout the ages.  God does not give “childish” suggestions when he reveals the gospel.  He never has and he never will.  Indeed, to do so would make him cease to be God.
There are times when God selects a people to demonstrate his character to others around them.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stands as a witness to all nations of the character and blessings of the Lord.  The Church is again established with the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ in these times.  We are lucky to live when the gospel will not be removed from the earth again but will grow to encompass every nation, kindred, tongue and people.  I am excited at the prospect of seeing every knee bending and tongue confessing that Jesus is the Christ and thereby ushering in a new era of peace and righteousness throughout the earth.

Jesus Christ wrought the Atonement and broke the bonds of both physical and spiritual death. (Heresy: there is no Christ and thereby no reconciliation with Heaven)

Frankly, this one is baffling if you think about it.  What would be the point of praying to any being at all if there were no benefit from that being in the first place?  Having already belittled the Creator in the first heresy, the speaker acknowledges a single spark of “knowledge” from  God that there is no Christ.  This follows if you buy the first heresy of course — since we as embodied humans are permitting our Creator to exist (thereby reversing creation itself), then there is obviously nothing that such a God could do for us — let alone forgive us our sins and save us from mortal death.  Without a body to die the latter would clearly be impossible, and since forgiveness is a gift which can be only bestowed and not taken, there would be no Atonement either.

This is false in the extreme.  God, possessing a body as do we and as his Son does, worked out the Plan of Eternal Salvation before the foundation of the world, and instrumented an Atonement and a Christ to wring out the Atonement.  It is this gift to us of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, which is the event around which human history hinges and which has made it possible for us to return to His presence.  There most certainly is a Christ.  He lives, and that has made all the difference.

God is no respecter of persons. (Heresy: “Chosen” groups are “elected” to the exclusion of blessings for all of God’s children)

Heavenly Father is just that, a father.  It has always confounded me that people can picture a father deliberately disconnecting himself from any of his children — let alone entire groups.  That would be a plan for sadness and sorrow.  God works instead to “bring about the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).  This is a recipe for joy.  Indeed, from the beginning of our time on this world, joy has been crucial.  ”Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy.”  This means that God loves us all, every single one.  Each one of us is precious to him.  He uses groups to demonstrate his power and to bring others to the gospel.  He took Enoch’s city out of this world. He brought Abraham into Canaan.  He brought Moses and the Israelites out of Egypt.  He brought Lehi and his family to the New World.  He uses his peculiar people to demonstrate the blessings that the light of truth and righteousness bring when poured out liberally because of obedience to his laws and commandments.

He does not condemn other groups to Hell.  Hell is a choice we make.  It’s a terrible, awful choice, but a choice nonetheless.  And I know he grieves openly for each and every soul choosing that destructive path.  The walk to Hell is not a triumph in solemnity as Milton’s Satan might have us believe.  It is a lonely, dark, evil, corruptive road where even remorse and regret can not reach.  Light cannot escape, because there is no light left to leave in the first place.

I hope this helps clarify just why Alma and his brethren were “astonished beyond all measure” when they heard the exclamations prayed over and over from the rameumptom of the Zoramites.  Moreover, I sincerely hope it helps to clarify the LDS (Mormon) position on these issues and just why we believe some of the things we do.  Feel free to add comments, ask questions, click around.  I’ve added a lot of links to the text before I published it in order to help provide some references.  These are all important aspects of Mormon doctrine, and they definitely build one on another.

I ask only that you comment and question with respect.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

 

 

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On Journal/Blog/Record Keeping…

The Come Follow Me theme for the month of August is Marriage and Family.  While I don’t have a permanent teaching schedule any longer (I’m Sunday School President for those keeping track of my callings), I do make sure to prepare the youth lesson for Come Follow Me in case I’m called on to substitute a class.  So having plunked down on this lovely Saturday night to do my reading, it came from the first outline to discuss journaling.

As you might already know, I started the blog format on the site specifically to keep track of things.  While I’ve had journals in the past, the fact that I don’t like writing physically and that once my contact lenses are out, I can’t see to write anyway, they never got very far.  So I thought I’d do better if I blogged as a journal.  It won’t take you long trolling through “recent posts” to see that hasn’t been working out well either.  C’est la vie.  Until now.

Reading this great talk from President Eyring as preparation for the lesson, I was reminded of how I felt when I first heard it.  Roughly the same time I switched to the blog format the first time.  Ok Ok … I remember.  And so now I’m typing …

Let’s hope I can keep it up…

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Harry’s Walk To His Own Death

The Rev. Danielle Tumminio recommends a study of Jesus’s trials in Gethsemane and a comparison with Harry Potter’s walk to his own death in the Deathly Hallows as a “fruitful avenue of research”. I’ve decided to take on the challenge and highlight some of my thoughts here. I’m not sure if I will fully develop the study into something larger, but the idea is interesting to me and one that I have considered myself in reading the books. I am of course indebted to Rev. Tumminio for her challenge and do indeed recommend her “God and Harry Potter at Yale” (Unlocking Press. 2010) for those looking for more generic Christian analysis of the Harry Potter series.

These first postings will provide some of the work of an outline I think, as I will need to spend more time thinking on the subject. I also intend to correspond with Rev, Tumminio and see if I can get some more of her thoughts on the subject as I move forward. I admit that I have been considering working on some aspect of the Harry Potter series as a means to help shed some light on issues from a Latter-day Saint perspective for some time, and that I have often used the books to illustrate points in my various classrooms for Sunday School, Seminary, and LDS Institute.

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Lesson 10: Fasting…Hungry or Full?

Key Concept

Rather than being spiritually uplifted through fasting, many people merely experience hunger. We should see that we can become spiritually “full” by preparing, praying, and fasting with a purpose. When we abstain from food and take spiritual nourishment during the fast, the Lord blesses us with his Spirit.

20120311 lesson 10

20120311 lesson 10 handout

 

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Lesson 9: The Power of Personal Prayer

Key Concept:

Prayer is such a frequent practice in the Church that we often take it for granted. Remind class members that although we should pray daily, prayer is not merely an everyday routine to be taken lightly. It is an opportunity to sincerely thank Heavenly Father for our blessings and ask him for guidance in our lives. Heavenly Father loves to have us pray. He listens to our prayers and answers them.

20120304 lesson 9

20120304 lesson 9 handout

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Lesson 8: Three Kingdoms of Glory

Key Concept:

We should strive for exaltation in the celestial kingdom by keeping the commandments and exercising faith in Jesus Christ.  By understanding more about the mansions which have been prepared for us in the Kingdom of our Father in Heaven, we can better understand our role in securing eternal salvation for ourselves and our family.

This is a very long lesson, and I’m posting this early to make sure the class has time to digest the message and read the necessary scriptures to really engage this topic.  Please work with your children and go over these concepts and the natures of the three kingdoms since a single 45 minute class session will not nearly be enough to get through this material.

20120219 lesson 8

20120219 lesson 8 handout

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Lesson 2: Agency: The Power to Choose

A discussion of our moral agency — a gift given before the foundation of the world — and its relation to each of us as Heavenly Father’s children.  The importance of understanding how our choices influence who we are and what we become, and a conversation about how we are not free to choose the consequences of our choices.

Principles of Agency

  1. Law
  2. Knowledge of the Law
  3. Opposition — Good and Evil
  4. Freedom of Choice
  5. Responsibility for Choices

20120101 lesson 2

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Thoughts on Doctrine and Covenants 10:45-52

Verses 46-52 are some of the most interesting scriptures I’ve read lately. I’d not spent much time thinking about the way in which the specific teachings and stories of the Book of Mormon were abridged until I read this recently. What the Lord says here, is that the prophets who are in the abridgment specifically prayed that the tenets of the gospel they concentrated on would reach our day. The Lord grants that prayer (verse 52) and the result is the Book of Mormon. This also means then, that the work of Mormon was truly as inspired as the translation of the Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith was. He had to be tuned to the spirit not only to derive the right choices for the work itself, but also to add the right commentary and clarifications along the way.

Likewise, I am astounded at the order of the Lord in his work. It is Mormon’s responsibility to abridge the work. But it is Moroni’s responsibility to care for and oversee the safekeeping of the Book of Mormon itself. He tells us this in Ether 5 (verse 6 specifically). This is likely why it is Moroni who brings forth the message and the book to Joseph. Not merely because he is the last prophet to handle the plates, but because he holds the keys to the handling of the Book of Mormon itself. Joseph also returns the plates to Moroni when the work of translation is accomplished, and Moroni holds the plates in his care still (JSH 1:60).

I wonder how much the “passing down” of the plates from prophet to prophet might have been a specific calling with priesthood keys… I digress.

Finally, I am reminded and strengthened in my testimony of Joseph Smith. His role is one of translation, and ultimately he carries the weight not only of Mormon, but of all the prophets of the Book of Mormon on his shoulders to faithfully tell their stories and relay their messages according to the dictates of their hearts and prayers.

The Lord keeps his promise to “grant unto them according to their faith in their prayers” (D&C 10:47) and conveys that promise through all time and through all of his servants. A miracle. Indeed he tells us that much in his own words: “For behold, I am God, and I am a God of miracles: and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and I work not among the children of men save it be according to their faith.” (2 Ne 27:23).

Now it’s up to us … we have proof that our prayers in faith matter to the Lord. He changes everything to bring about righteous desires of his servants. Give it a try… and see what He can do for you.

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December 23: Jesus Christ: The Christmas Story in Carols

December 23: Jesus Christ: The Christmas Story in Carols

December 23: Jesus Christ: The Christmas Story in Carols

Join us for the third Chancellor Ward Great Lives Firesides at the Fredericksburg Building (1710 Bragg Rd, Fredericksburg, VA). Bro Ryan Quick of the Chancellor Ward will present an in-depth telling of the nativity through the examples of some of our most beloved Christmas carols. Please join us for a wonderful chance to learn about the meaning of Christmas, through the scriptures that tell of the coming of our Lord and through the carols we all love to sing. Bring your family and friends. Refreshments will be provided.

  • Fredericksburg (Bragg Rd) Building
  • Friday, December 23rd, 7:00 pm
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The Infancy Narratives

Review: The Birth of the Messiah. Raymond E. Brown
Format: Paperback. Doubleday, 1979.
Rating (of 5): 3.8

Ever since my first religion class at the UNC, I have been interested in the works of Fr Brown. While I definitely do not agree with everything that he has to say, you cannot argue that his exegesis of the New Testament is dedicated, well-reasoned, and impeccably researched. Right now, I am working on a talk regarding the Nativity of Jesus Christ for a series of Firesides in December and I read this to get a lot of the history and background on the Matthew and Luke gospels back fresh in my mind.

I have several thoughts which will turn into blog posts under the religion and Christianity tags in the near future, so I won’t go into them here. Suffice it to say that Fr Brown is an authority and his works are milestones in scholarly and catholic thought. The commentaries here are a part of the Yale Anchor Bible series and worthy of that acclaim. Not suitable for an introductory look into the New Testament, they are nevertheless definitive works.

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