Uchtdorf begins his session by telling the story of a young lady who was greatly damaged by abuse but, apparently, eventually found peace and healing after joining the LDS Church. Uchtdorf states that it is God’s light that brings such healing and that this is open to all. Similarly, he also recounts a story of endurance by LDS members in South Africa who overcome through God’s light.
Christians would agree with this general theme of overcoming through the light of God, in and of itself. Uchtdorf’s talk is even peppered throughout with many biblical references on the theme of light (even one of my very own favourite verses where Jesus said: “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12).
It is encouraging that Uchtdorf even goes so far as urging people to “open their hearts” to Christ and “seek Him in study and prayer.” However, just when I thought all this was too good to be true he states: “Come to His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” and “He [Jesus] is the entrance to divine enlightenment.” For those who do not have a good knowledge of Mormonism these subtle statements could be easily missed.
What Uchtdorf is stressing here is that, in Mormonism, a person can only be fully saved (in the fullest Mormon sense of the word) if they are a member of the Mormon Church. Additionally, Christ is only the “entrance” towards full salvation. In Mormonism all are ‘saved’ through Christ’s atonement and will be resurrected (even unbelievers). But to be saved in the fullest sense of the word in Mormonism a person needs to be baptised in the Mormon Church, be worthy, avoid tea and coffee, be a regular tithe payer, receive temple endowments, and be married for time and eternity in the Mormon temple. Then there is hope of gaining what Mormons call “exaltation” in the highest part of the three heavens (the celestial kingdom). This is also synonymous with being a god and having eternal life.
With regards to eternal life Christians would point out that eternal life is a gift (Rom. 6:23) and therefore cannot be worked for. It is granted to all those who have faith and trust in Christ alone:
1 John 5:13 states: These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
Notice from this verse as well that we can have an assurance of eternal life through simple faith, trust and dependence on Christ, and isn’t something that is strived for by becoming part of a religious organisation or by performing various works. Eternal life comes by faith in Christ alone (see also: John 3:15-16; 3:36; 5:24; 6:40, 47).
I would mention here that I have often found that when Mormons come across bible verses like the above they tend to think that maybe the verse in question has been tampered with in some way, or mistranslated. However, it is worth mentioning here that even Joseph Smith’s own Inspired Version of the Bible does not change this verse.
Again, as with Uchtdorf’s presentation, Anderson’s talk begins very biblically. However, it soon takes a turn into doctrines of Mormonism where he talks of the Christ’s Church needing to be “restored” through the coming of Joseph Smith. Again, this is quite subtle and could be missed or misunderstood by any Christians listening who may not have a good knowledge of Mormon doctrine.
Anderson focuses a lot on the missionary work of the Mormon Church and speaks of the zealousness and enthusiasm of young men and women signing up since the last conference announcement of the lowering of age for those desiring to be missionaries (18 for men and 19 for women). He also reminds all members that they should be missionaries in sharing “the gospel.“
It needs to be kept in mind that when Mormons speak of “sharing the gospel”, though this sounds very Christian, there is a wider meaning than what is generally understood of this term (i.e. the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ). Many Mormons tend to use the phrase “the gospel” in a secondary way to describe the restoration of the Church (Mormon Church), the work of Joseph Smith, the coming of the angel Moroni, the golden plates, the Book of Mormon etc.).
Bruce McConkie, under the heading of Gospel, stated:
But in the high spiritual sense in which the term is used in the revelations, the gospel is concerned with those particular religious truths by conformity to which men can sanctify and cleanse their own souls, thus gaining for themselves salvation in the eternal worlds…The fulness of the gospel consists of those laws, doctrines, ordinances, powers and autorities needed to enable men to gain the fulness of salvation. (Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1979 ed., pp. 332-333).
However, there is only one gospel and this is specifically stressed throughout the New Testament as being Christ crucified and risen again (See: Luke 24:46-47; Acts 2:22-24; 10:38-43; 13:23-39; 17:3. The gospel is very specifically defined in1 Cor. 2:2; 15:1-6). In fact the Bible actually forewarns us that any who come with a different gospel contrary to what the disciples originally preached, even if it is an angel from heaven, should be condemned (Gal. 1:6-9).
Of those who bring the Mormon message (or ‘gospel‘) Anderson states: “Trust them [the missionaries] with your family and friends.” One can only wonder how it is that anyone is expected to put so much trust in inexperienced young men and women (even younger now since last conference!) who have such limited life experience. For many, this will be there first time away from home and parents yet older people are expected to refer to them as “elders.” In New Testament times, however, the term originated from ‘the older man’ with which it was assumed wisdom accompanied due to maturity.
I didn’t get much from this talk to comment on but immediately after I thought it was interesting how the hymn “Guide me O Thou Great Jehovah” was sung. Images of original welsh choirs came to mind and how the Mormon Church are trying very hard these days to present themselves as Christian to other mainstream Christian groups. I was left wondering when this trend of singing traditional Christian hymns started. I could not imagine the early Mormons having anything to do with hymns sung and written by “apostate Christendom”.
There was some focus on marriage in this presentation, specifically the LDS concept of eternal marriage. Some of this talk by Clayton consisted of common sense ways of having a successful marriage that could be applicable to anyone (even non-religious people).
Clayton mentions a verse in the Book of Mormon on marriage. I couldn’t help but wonder how many actually realised that, even though the verse was about marriage, it wasn’t about eternal marriage. Indeed you will not find such a concept in the Book of Mormon (and neither will you find other key Mormon doctrines such as baptism for the dead, men becoming gods, etc.). The concept of eternal marriage came later when Joseph Smith claimed to have a revelation on this doctrine (see Doctrine and Covenants section 132).
Mormons believe that marriage in the Mormon temple is absolutely essential to eternal life but (as was discussed above) eternal life is a gift from God freely given by faith alone in Christ.
Perry discusses the Mormon doctrine of pre-existence and the war in heaven. Whenever this war in heaven is mentioned these days there is no longer any mention of the Mormon belief that those who fought less valiantly in their pre-existence were cursed with a dark skin.
Joseph Fielding Smith stated:
NO NEUTRALS IN HEAVEN. There were no neutrals in the war in heaven. All took sides either with Christ or with Satan. Every man had his agency there, and men receive rewards here based upon their actions there, just as they will receive rewards hereafter for deeds done in the body. The Negro, evidently, is receiving the reward he merits. (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, pp. 67-68).
Bruce McConkie likewise stated:
Those who were less valiant in the pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the negroes. Such spirits are sent to earth through the lineage of Cain, the mark put upon him for his rebellion against God and his murder of Abel being a black skin…but this inequality is not of man’s origin. It is the Lord’s doing, based on His eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of spiritual valiance of those concerned in their first estate. (Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966 ed, p. 527).
However, despite the modern Mormon Church’s reluctance to talk about the curse of a dark skin in the pre-existence the references in the Book of Mormon which declare that a dark skin is the sign of disobediance against God remain more problematic to modern Mormonism’s PR campaign (See: 1 Nephi 11:8; 1 Nephi 11:13; 1 Nephi 12:23; 1 Nephi 13:15; 2 Nephi 5:21; 2 Nephi 30:6 (1830 edition); Jacob 3:8; Alma 3:6 3; Nephi 2:15; Mormon 5:15).
Perry rightly warns against the rise in secularism and worldliness and how in a liberal society it is good to have unchanging absolutes. The sentiment is noble here. However, what immediately came to mind was the fact that Mormonism’s doctrines have themselves changed many times over the years. Doctrines once taught as absolutes and God’s truth are now either hushed up, played down, reinterpreted or even abandoned altogether. For example, polygamy, the Adam God doctrine, and blood atonement, to name but a few.
Finally to a presentation by the current president and prophet of the LDS Church, Thomas S. Monson. The discussion basically consists of stories, humour, and anecdotes on the issue of obedience. But, as I listened to this, I couldn’t help thinking, as the prophet of the Church, where are the prophetic utterances and the new scripture? There was none of this. Mormons may feel this is unfair and may protest that a prophet doesn’t always have to speak prophetically. But even if we are to accept this we need to ask when exactly did the current prophet (or for that matter any of the more recent LDS prophets) speak prophetically and his words canonised into LDS scripture? As Mormons often boast of having a living prophet at the head of the Church so should be challenged on this.