In the previous post, The First Missionary Lesson, Part 1(a): God is our Heavenly Father, I discussed the first part of what used to be referred to as the first Missionary Discussion, and identified the differences between the orthodoxy and LDS theology on the following points:
- God is Our Heavenly Father.
- We are His children.
- He has a body of flesh and bone that is glorified and perfected.
- He loves us. He weeps with us when we suffer and rejoices when we do what is right.
- He wants to communicate with us, and we can communicate with Him through sincere prayer.
- He has given us this experience on the earth so we can learn and grow. We can show our love for Him through our choices and our obedience to His commandments.
- Heavenly Father has provided us, His children, with a way to be successful in this life and to return to live in His presence.
Continuing on with the first principle:
[LDS position are in red. My commentary is in blue.]
Lesson Principle: We must be pure and clean through obedience in order to do so. Disobedience moves us away from Him.
Pure and clean through obedience. This is a huge topic and extends beyond obedience to the laws contained in the Bible, the book of Mormon or the Doctrine & Covenants. It includes obedience to the general authorities—the leaders of the LDS Church—and, especially the Prophet.
The Ward Teachers’ Message for June, 1945,”SUSTAINING THE GENERAL AUTHORITIES OF THE CHURCH” stated When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan–it is God’s plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy. God works in no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost one his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the kingdom of God. [A “ward” is the LDS equivalent of a parish or local church headed by a bishop—a lay leader called by the church; general authorities might be considered the equivalent of the Annual Conference to United Methodists or the College of Cardinals to Roman Catholics.] See this article here.
The teaching also states that no member is required to sustain the general authorities, but try to get a Temple Recommend without doing so. (See what a Temple Recommend is and what is invloved here.)
I was taught that so long as I was acting under the guidance of the church leaders and in strict accordance with their instructions, then any responsibility for my actions rested not on me, but with the authority whose leadership and instruction I was following. Maybe this has changed since I left the church. This is fraught with obvious issues and difficulties.
Lesson Principle: Central to our Father’s plan is Jesus Christ’s Atonement. The Atonement included His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane as well as His suffering and death on the cross. Through the Atonement we can be freed from the burden of our sins and develop faith and strength to face our trials.
The LDS definition of “atonement” is As used in the scriptures, to atone is to suffer the penalty for sins, thereby removing the effects of sin from the repentant sinner and allowing him or her to be reconciled to God. Jesus Christ was the only one capable of carrying out the Atonement for all mankind. Because of His Atonement, all people will be resurrected, and those who obey His gospel will receive the gift of eternal life with God.
A decent ecumenical definition is the reconciliation of God and humans brought about by the redemptive life and death of Jesus.
But, the phrase those who obey His gospel will receive the gift of eternal life with God is a conditional. Those who obey receive eternal life, while immediately before it was stated that because of his [Jesus’] Atonement, all will be resurrected.
Here is what is going on. Resurrection to the LDS means staying out of Hell. Most Christianity will refer to this as being saved or “going to Heaven.” To the LDS, Heaven consists of three degrees of glory Paul referred to in the 15th Chapter of First Corinthians: There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption
What exactly Paul was talking about, I do not know. Everything I read on it is written by people with a theology to support and, like many of Paul’s writings, people looking for a proof-text can find it in his thoughts.
LDS people, when they talk about going to heaven, it is to the Celestial Kingdom which is, according to the LDS Church, The highest of the three degrees or kingdoms of glory in heaven, where one is in the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. The glory of the celestial kingdom is compared to the glory of the sun in the scriptures.
Here’s the thinking in summary: the atonement is the thing that Jesus did that keeps us out of Hell, but that is not the same thing as living with God. To live with God requires attaining the Celestial Kingdom and that is on us. The Atonement made it possible for us to get there because it kept us out of Hell, and the way we get to the Celestial Kingdom is by obedience to the Gospel, which is another odd usage.
“Gospel” is, literally, the Good News. As a type of writing, it is a semi-biographical work that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
The LDS definition is The gospel is our Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness. The central doctrine of the gospel is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “The first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Articles of Faith 1:4).
In other words, it is the things we must do to get to live with God. The Plan. A playbook. Is it good news? Yes, if you believe it to be God’s Plan, but it is not what ecumenical Christianity teaches. Is it a work that describes the life of Christ? No. This is why definitions are important when talking with the LDS Missionaries. One cannot assume words used by the LDS missionary mean the same thing as they were taught.
See the LDS Definitons and discussions here.