The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints claims to be the restored Christian church and “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased.” (D&C 1:30 – see context here)
It would seem likely then that a twice yearly conference full of teaching by its leaders to its members, and freely available via the internet around the world, would be full of teaching based on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. After all, a Christian is one who professes the Christian faith and the definition of Christianity is “the religion based on the person and teachings of Jesus Christ”. (Oxford Dictionary of English) So do the teachings provided at the LDS church’s general conference of April 2013 reflect such a religion? Do we see the person and teachings of Jesus to the fore in the talks given? Well, here we will look at the Priesthood session recorded on 6 April 2013.
There were six talks given during this two hour session. These were given by: Robert D Hales, Tad R Callister, David L. Beck, Dieter F. Uchtdorf (Second counsellor in the First Presidency), Henry B Eyring (First counsellor in the first presidency) and Thomas S Monson (President and Prophet of the church). The last three speakers are the most important leaders in the Mormon religion.
Having listened to all six talks, a predominant theme that emerged was that of the importance of missionary work. Throughout the session many anecdotes emphasising the value of missionary work were given. This was particularly notable in the talks given by Henry Eyring, Thomas Monson and Tad Callister. What was interesting about these tales of missionary work was their focus on two key things. Firstly, the language used was of bringing people into the community or kingdom, and also sharing the gospel with others. The language used was not the language of ‘teaching people about Jesus’, ‘developing faith and trust in Jesus’ or ‘coming to know the Lord’, nor was any kind of an explanation of what ‘the gospel’ actually is put forward in order to clarify what this would be. It seems striking that the mission of the only true and living church does not appear to be about bringing people to Christ. Secondly, the talks that were heavily focused on missionary work referred to the personal benefit of serving a mission, rather than the service it provides to others. Tad Callister alludes to how it is a time of increased spirituality and development of leadership skills for the missionary, and Thomas Monson claims that for missionaries, ‘dedicated missionary service returns a dividend of eternal joy which extends throughout mortality and into eternity.’ Surely a mission is a commitment to bringing others to know God, not an opportunity to store up ‘brownie points’ for the next life.
Throughout the session, a great emphasis was placed on what the work of priesthood holders is. Robert Hales listed a great many tasks that members must do in order to be ready to do God’s work: “staying on the gospel path of covenants, commandment and ordinances, protects us and prepares us to do God’s work in this world.” He then explained that by keeping the word of wisdom, “paying tithing, studying the scriptures, receive baptism and confirmation, live with the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, partake of the sacrament worthily, obey the law of chastity, prepare for and receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, and make sacred covenants in the temple, then we are prepared to serve. In the temple we are prepared and promise to live the law of consecration. Able young men, seek to live this law by seeking a mission call.”
He then goes on to explain that this path will lead the young men he is addressing, “to go forward to the highest covenant in life: to many, it will be to be sealed in the temple and begin an eternal family.” This is the path Mormons are expected to follow. Remember, this is claimed to be the one, true church of Jesus. Did Jesus ever teach that the highest covenant in life is to begin an eternal family? No, our Lord Jesus taught: “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free… If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (John 8:32 & 36). If you were to carry out perfectly everything in Robert Hales’ list, would you feel as though the truth had made you free? In the verses quoted, Jesus is saying that the Son can set us free from our sin. In Mormonism it is through fulfilling the roles and duties expected of you that you can enter God’s glory (i.e. being freed from our sin). Did Jesus teach people to give themselves, their time, talents, and everything that they own to a church, a man-made organisation (i.e. the Law of consecration)? No, rather Jesus taught: “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 neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40) It is also worth noting that here Jesus is openly preaching to all that these are God’s commands. In Mormonism, the law of consecration is a promise or covenant that is made in secret in the temple.
I would like to move on shortly to address some aspects of Thomas Monson’s talk, but before doing so, I wanted to point out one last thing I noticed during Robert Hales’ talk. Near the very end he said: “When the chief priests accuse him before Key er, Caiaphas, Joseph wisely and courageously refused to respond to untruth and he held his peace.” (italics added for emphasis) I had to listen to that sentence twice because I was stunned that a man claiming to hold very high office, with priesthood authority, in the only true and living church (the church restored by Jesus Christ himself) would make such a slip; especially without correcting himself. I will not comment further on that point but found it fascinating.
Thomas Monson presented what he called a formula containing four points for being successful missionaries.
The first of these is to search the scriptures. He went on to explain that church curricula are based on these. However, it was revealing that during this conference session, the leaders who spoke generally used anecdotes to make a point about how church members should live their lives much more frequently than they used scriptures. Surely, as Christians, these leaders should have been focusing on the lives and teachings of people in scripture, especially Jesus himself, when teaching their church members. As leaders of the one true church on the face of the earth, surely these men would wish to share their love of God’s holy word in order to demonstrate the importance of ‘searching the scriptures’. Time spent quoting the Bible and then teaching directly from it was extremely limited.
The second point was to ‘plan your life with purpose’. This was broken down into ‘school, mission and marriage’, with military service being a possible fourth addition. This appears to be a ‘one-size fits all’ life-plan. It also appears to be rather self-focused to have a checklist approach to plan life in this way. Jesus doesn’t desire us to be self-focused, rather he taught: “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour” (John 12:24-26) Our lives are to be lost to ourselves and given over to love of God and service of others, not reduced to a mere formulaic checklist of life-goals to be met.
Point three was to teach the truth with testimony. This testimony was defined as:
Firstly, sharing the true nature of the Godhead. In Mormon teaching this means that the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost are three distinct and separate beings or gods. However, different LDS scriptures tell us different things about the nature of God. The Book of Mormon has a great many verses that support the traditional doctrine of the Trinity, one of the clearest being in 3 Nephi 11. Yet when we turn to the Pearl of Great Price we see an opposing view in Abraham 5, which has ‘the Gods’ sharing the work of the creation. Staying in the Pearl of Great Price however, we can also see a version of the creation where it is carried out by one god (see Moses 2). So how can LDS members be expected to teach about the true nature of the Godhead when the teachings in their scripture differ so greatly? And this is before adding in any references to LDS leaders who have taught the Adam-God doctrine or the doctrine that men can become gods and that God was once a man. This is a fundamental area that distinguishes Mormons from most other people who call themselves Christian. The Bible teaches that “I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,” (Isaiah 46:9) and “Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58) and “Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17) These and a great many other scriptures form the foundation for the doctrine of the Trinity. There is a clear and fundamental difference between Biblical teaching on the nature of God compared with the varied teachings of the LDS church.
Secondly, a testimony should include a witness to the Book of Mormon. Much could be said about the historical validity or otherwise of this book, but this blog entry is lengthy enough (!) so I will not address this point. Suffice it to say that anyone wishing to explore the origins of the writing of the Book of Mormon need only search the internet for first-hand accounts of how it was created.
Thomas Monson then went on to say that a testimony should include the ‘glorious and beautiful truths contained in the plan of salvation’. In this plan, our spirits existed in a pre-mortal state. Yet we know that we are created beings and not eternal in this sense. 1 Corinthians 15:45 explains that “Adam was made a living soul”. For him to have been made in this way means that he did not live prior to being made, therefore there was no pre-mortal existence. In the pre-existence of Mormonism, Jesus and Lucifer had differing plans for how souls could be saved and then progress eternally. Lucifer’s plan differed in that he would ensure that everyone would progress, thereby taking away free choice. The plan offered by Jesus enabled us to have free choice. Those spirits who followed Jesus were allowed to come to Earth, and those who followed Lucifer were cast out of heaven.
Some Mormon leaders have also used the actions of those spirits at this time to teach the following belief: “Those who were less valiant in pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the negroes.” (Bruce R. McConkie: Mormon Doctrine) The next step in this plan is this earthly life. According to the LDS, this is where we prove ourselves worthy to reach the celestial kingdom (spend eternity with God and become gods ourselves). This teaching is put most succinctly here: “They will live eternally in the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. They will become gods. They will be united eternally with their righteous family members and will be able to have eternal increase. They will receive a fullness of joy. They will have everything that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have – all power, glory, dominion and knowledge.”
These words are taken from the current LDS teaching manual ‘Gospel Principles’ and sum up what a Mormon’s ultimate destiny can be. These are the reasons for their striving in their temple work, mission work and church callings. Such requirements are listed here: I do not wish to dwell further on a Biblical response to this, as I will cover this further down.
Thomas Monson’s fourth point in his formula was to serve the Lord with love. He here refers to qualities listed in D & C chapter 4 which are remarkably similar to those found in the Bible in 2 Peter 1.
Finally, in the last thirty seconds of his talk, Thomas Monson, who claims to lead the one true Christian church upon the face of the earth, refers directly to Jesus as the Son of God, the Saviour and Redeemer. This is the only point during his nineteen minute talk where he tells us something about Jesus. Yet even here, nothing is taught about Jesus. There is no sense of a deep relationship of closeness and love between Jesus and his ‘living prophet’ since he has not dwelt on any episode in the life of Jesus, nor taught about the significance of his life, suffering, death or resurrection. Isn’t that the least one should expect to hear from a Christian leader?
Lastly, I would like to refer to the talk of Dieter Uchtdorf. I found his talk to be the most interesting. He was exploring some of what he believes to be titles of priesthood holders. He gave four. These were: Son of Heavenly Father, Disciples, Healer of souls, Heirs to all that he has. I believe a Christian would say that all believers can give themselves these titles since these titles define what it means to have come to know Christ and be saved by him. Yet here Dieter Uchtdorf is suggesting that they are titles that can be given only to those with the LDS priesthood. Sadly, this is to misunderstand the term ‘priesthood’. In Old Testament times those who held the priesthood could enter the temple to make sacrifices for the sins of the people. They were those who held this authority. These sacrifices had to be repeated, since people continued to sin. However, in the New Testament, the book of Hebrews explains that for those who have faith in Christ, this priesthood role is no longer required: “they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore” (Hebrews 7:23-28) Therefore it is clear, the concept of a priesthood or priesthoods is now incorrect since we have Jesus to intercede on our behalf.
I wish to dwell in particular to Dieter Uchtdorf’s last title: “Heirs to all that he has.” He begins this part of his talk by quoting verses 16 and 17 from Romans 8 which state: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” However, Mr Uchtdorf does not provide the reference to these Bible verses, nor does he provide a scriptural context for them. Rather, he then goes on to quote D & C 84 (again without providing a reference or a context). The verses he mentions in D & C 84 talk of worthy males receiving the two priesthoods (Aaronic and Melchizedek) and then magnifying their callings in them, thereby receiving ‘all that my father hath’. Does this passage from Mormon scripture fit with the verses quoted from Romans 8? The first part of the answer lies in the context of what we have just read from Hebrews, namely that ‘the two priesthoods’ are not needed since Christ has become our high priest. Secondly, we need to see what Romans 8 was really saying. Let us look at it in more depth. The first two verses of the chapter tell us that those who are ‘in Christ Jesus’ are no longer under condemnation because Christ has freed them from the law of sin and death. If they are no longer condemned by the law then they are now children of God (v.16) and heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ (v.17). This is to say that since we have accepted Christ, He has made us right with God through his suffering, and therefore we will also share in His glory. The consequences that flow out of this are explained in the last few verses of the chapter. Verse 32 is key: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” This verse refutes the Mormon notion that Uchtdorf refers to in D & C 84, that it is through fulfilling the ‘priesthood’ duties that the LDS will share in the Father’s glory. Uchtdorf says that it is “worth all our efforts in life.” and “you will grow and develop until you reach the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Then you will be prepared to inherit with Christ everything that the father has.” But Romans 8:32 says that God will freely give us all things, not through completing a checklist of command, covenants, duties, etc. Besides, to God: “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) and “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) Therefore even our best ever efforts to be a ‘worthy’ follower of Christ would fall below God’s standard.
The chapter ends gloriously with the truth that God will not abandon those he loves: “we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Thus it is clear, our works will not bring us this inheritance as joint heirs with Christ. It is Christ’s work and his glory.
This, to me, is the tragedy of Mormonism. Its teachings lead its followers to believe they must work and work to attain salvation/exaltation/glory/godhood, yet the Bible makes it plain that to those who truly believe, the Lord will save and make them joint heirs with Christ and they will not be abandoned. Consequently, we are free of the consequences of our sin and called to serve God out of love: “ For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)