May I extend the blessings of this New Year to you. This year, we will not be focusing as much on the Teaching Manual this year, so we will not be following the Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith in strict chapter order. Instead we will be selecting some highlighted chapters of great interest and importance regarding the gospel of the LDS and the gospel of the Christians starting with today’s review of Faith and Repentance. Before we do that however, we shall briefly explore the life of Joseph Fielding Smith.
Joseph Fielding Smith, 10th President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, came from a very illustrious family. Son of President Joseph F. Smith, grandson of Hyrum Smith and great-nephew of Joseph Smith Jr, it was not surprising that Smith (referred to herein as JFS) devoted the majority of his life to the church. During his life, he served on a mission in England, was widowed three times and served as an Apostle in the Quorum of the Twelve for sixty years before becoming President in 1970 at the age of 93. His stint as the President and Prophet was only just over two years but his sixty years of service that preceded this service provides a lot of teaching material that can be examined and scrutinized when compared to the Gospel.
Something that we must remember when we investigate the teachings of the Presidents is that a lot of the unique teaching to Mormonism is hidden underneath orthodox Christian teaching. This is something we saw time and time again when we explored the teachings of Lorenzo Snow. This is the same with JFS. When we look at JFS’s comments on willful sinfulness and it’s incompatibility with a life that follows and embodies the Gospel, we see language that would not seem out of place in orthodox Christianity. Like Snow however, we scratch at the surface of this language, we can see that the theology behind the language reveals a different understanding. Let us consider the following quote from page 85,
‘The Lord has redeemed us with his blood. He gave us salvation, provided – and there is this condition that we must not forget – that we will keep his commandments and always remember him’.
This quote, reaffirmed in a number of places on page 86, is a typical LDS quote on the subject of salvation. To reach the celestial kingdom and exaltation, one had to preserve to the end, live a righteous life and receive the temple ordinances. The redemption by his blood, according to JFS, is conditional. It is conditional upon your perseverance to the message of the restored Gospel to the end. This is fundamentally different to Christianity. JFS relies on James 2:18 (faith without works is dead) as Scriptural justification for this point of view and this is where Christianity and Mormonism go down different paths. While the Mormon position on this verse, as JFS argues, is that one must contribute works such as perseverance, ordinances and mission to salvation, redemption and exaltation, the Christian position would be that the faith itself, true faith given by God, changes the person into doing good works. The works come as a result from faith. The works come from the faith that was given by God. To it rather simplistically, the Mormon position puts a lot of emphasis on the self in terms of works and faith whilst the Christian position puts the emphasis on the work of God. Consider this passage from JFS:
‘God is not going to save every man and woman in the celestial kingdom. If you want to get there, and you have failings, if you are committing sins, if you are breaking the commandments of the Lord and you know it, it is a good time right now to repent and reform, and not get the idea that it is such a little thing that the Lord will forgive you, just a few stripes, just a little punishment and we will be forgiven; for you may find yourselves cast out, if you insist and persist in such a course.’
Not only do we some similar language to Christian terminology as discussed with Snow such as one must repent for salvation. It is also true that one should not be flippant with salvation and the sacrifice of Christ. Repentance must also bring about change. The emphasis here is on the self changing. There is no language of assistance from the Lord in this change. You must do the reform. To reach the celestial kingdom, exaltation and godhood, one must believe, repent work and strive to reach that promise by your own work with assistance from the Lord. Without going into deep details on the Christian perspective on the kingdoms of heaven and attaining godhood, the Christian position on salvation is that God has done the work through Jesus. All that is needed from the human perspective is to repent and believe. The following are a selection of verses from the LDS Scriptures on the topic of endurance that seem to be more in line with the celestial kingdom argument that with the Christian argument:
In the name of Jesus Christ I ordain you to be a priest (or if he be a teacher, I ordain you to be a teacher) to preach repentance and remission of sins through Jesus Christ, by the endurance of faith on his name to the end. Amen. (Moroni 3:3)
Wherefore, ye need not suppose that I and my father are the only ones that have testified, and also taught them. Wherefore, if ye shall be obedient to the commandments, and endure to the end, ye shall be saved at the last day. And thus it is. Amen. (1 Nephi 22:31)
The emphasis within these verses is once again what is key in determining the differences between the LDS and Christian position. Whilst a Christian would argue that the result of faith would be faith at death, it would not be undeniably linked with salvation. What we can see from the quotations from the Book of Mormon and Doctrines and Covenants is that endurance until the end is key to the LDS idea of exaltation. One must have faith, repent, believe, work and endure to attain exaltation and a place in the celestial kingdom and godhood. This quotation from JFS adds to this emphasis with the introduction of ‘progress’.
I’ve learned from my own experience that when you want to change, really want to change, you can do it. Our conscience and the scriptures tell us what to live by—and they tell us what habits we should change for our eternal welfare and progress.
Not only is endurance necessary to the end but humanity can also aid our own progress to exaltation and godhood. Whilst the Christian viewpoint would be that we can do nothing to aid our own progress to salvation and that being molded and refined by the power of the Holy Spirit to imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1), the LDS viewpoint is that humanity can and must aid our own progress to salvation, exaltation and godhood. JFS, by saying we can change habits and behaviours to aid our ‘eternal welfare and progress’, signs up to that doctrine and it is a doctrine that cannot go side by side with Christian doctrine.
So as we begin our look through the teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith in 2014, what are our first impressions? In his writings, JFS is very similar to Lorenzo Snow, the president whose teachings we looked into last year, in that the distinctive Mormon theology is wrapped up within orthodox Christian language. What is also similar between the two is the insistence that there is something else to salvation other than repentance and belief. The need to work your progress out and to endure until the end to attain exaltation and the celestial kingdom is something that Christians would fundamentally disagree with. This is a theme which will be explored regularly by contributors to UPFC UK this year by the reviews of Spencer Kimball’s Miracle of Forgiveness that shall be uploaded throughout the year. It has been suggested that in recent times, the LDS leadership have been trying to reposition the church so it appears more like a mainline Protestant church (to use an Americanism) but the decision to explore the teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith, a relatively recent president compared to Lorenzo Snow, reveals that Mormon theology still, at its heart, not only has a different expectation of the afterlife that is not compatible with Christian theology, but has different expectations and standards for salvation/exaltation that are anathema to orthodox Christianity. Let us look forward in prayer and with joy to another year of discussion and challenge in our conversations. Amen.