It’s that time of the year again. Our reviews of each session of General Conference are scheduled to start going live from this Friday. However there has been a lot of interest and excitement that has arisen on the back of a talk given on Sunday Morning by Dieter. F. Uchtdorf, second councillor to the first presidency. His talk focused on the subject of grace. This is a key issue that often comes up in Evangelical/LDS dialogue, and I thought I would jump right in with some thoughts on this.
I think if I listened to this talk without much of a background knowledge of Mormonism I probably would not bat too much of an eyelid at this, in a lot of ways it sounds like a basic good talk on grace. I guess inevitably then I am going to have some bias, however I hope that bias is reasonable based on my past knowledge of Mormonism.
Firstly at about 3:50 Uchdtorf says this about grace
“….The grace of God, the divine assistance and endowment of strength by which we grow from the flawed and limited beings we are now, into exalted beings of truth and light….”
This is an immediate difference between the LDS and I would say the Biblical view of grace. I see the Biblical view as being that grace is the unmerited favour of God, placed upon us by faith. Instead Uchdtorf calls it the means by which we become something better, this from my understanding is the general LDS view on grace. We see this quote from an article on Grace on LDS.org.
No one can return to the presence of God without divine grace. Through the Atonement, we all can be forgiven of our sins; we can become clean before God. To receive this enabling power, we must obey the gospel of Jesus Christ, which includes having faith in Him, repenting of our sins, being baptized, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and trying to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ for the rest of our lives.
Really this means that grace is what makes you do good enough, in order that you might gain or earn exaltation, this is a contradiction in terms if you are seeking to show that it’s not by works, as this is really how you become able to do the works, thus the works are still necessary.
The website gotquestions.org says:
the word translated “grace” in the New Testament comes from the Greek word charis, which means “favor, blessing, or kindness. We can all extend grace to others; but when the wordgraceis used in connection with God, it takes on a more powerful meaning. Grace is God choosing to bless us rather than curse us as our sin deserves. It is His benevolence to the undeserving.”
True Biblical grace is the merit of God imputed to you, when you put your trust in Him, you become righteous by virtue of His saving work in you. Which absolutely should produce a changed life, resulting in good works. Without this there is no way of knowing that someone truly has accepted Christ. However Uchtdorf is putting the cart before the horse here, saying that grace is all about making you perform, in order that you might receive eternal blessings.
This is further reinforced at around 9:13 when he says:(bold added)
“His grace helps us become our best selves.”
This reminds me of a story that Thomas Monson told in the 2012 Priesthood session, he says this about a missionary who was asked why he was so successful.
Brother Tanner asked him what was different about his approach—why he had such phenomenal success when others didn’t. The young man said that he attempted to baptize every person whom he met. He said that if he knocked on the door and saw a man smoking a cigar and dressed in old clothes and seemingly uninterested in anything—particularly religion—the missionary would picture in his own mind what that man would look like under a different set of circumstances. In his mind he would look at him as clean-shaven and wearing a white shirt and white trousers. And the missionary could see himself leading that man into the waters of baptism. He said, “When I look at someone that way, I have the capacity to bear my testimony to him in a way that can touch his heart.”
This missionary looked at someone’s outward and focused on that, I think this is the essence of Mormonism, working to make people behave better outwardly, while leaving people lost inwardly.
In the Bible we see this in Romans 4:5
But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness
But to him that seeketh not to be justified by the law of works, but believeth on him who justifieth not the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
All of a sudden, God does not justify the ungodly. Because in Mormonism people need to make themselves Godly (with the help of grace), in order that they might become acceptable to God, As Alma 11:37 in the book of Mormon says: he cannot save them in their sins.
This is what Uchdtorf is really saying here, but he is dressing it up in a way that many uninformed evangelicals and LDS members alike will love.
At around 15:50 during the talk, Uchdtorf talks about how people have so often misunderstood 2 Nephi 25:23 saying how its not really saying we have to do all that we can, this is a misinterpretation.
In October 2010 Dallin Oaks said this:
Because of what He accomplished by His atoning sacrifice, Jesus Christ has the power to prescribe the conditions we must fulfill to qualify for the blessings of His Atonement. That is why we have commandments and ordinances. That is why we make covenants. That is how we qualify for the promised blessings. They all come through the mercy and grace of the Holy One of Israel, ‘after all we can do’” (2 Nephi 25:23).
In 2009 JORGE F. ZEBALLOS said:
“Salvation and eternal life would not be possible if it were not for the Atonement, brought about by our Savior, to whom we owe everything. But in order for these supreme blessings to be effective in our lives, we should first do our part, ‘for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.’”
Thomas Monson, “An Invitation to Exaltation,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1988, p.53 (bold added)
“It is the celestial glory which we seek. It is in thepresence of God we desire to dwell. It is a forever family in which wewant membership. Such blessings must be earned”
Lowell L. Bennion, Introduction to the Gospel (1955; LDS sunday school material), chapter 20, “The Way of Salvation”
“We believe in individual merit as a means of gaining salvation” –
The reason people have been “misinterpreting” this for so long, is that their Leaders have been teaching it in that way.
To finish off, I think if the Mormon church really wants to prove to the world that they believe we do not become acceptable to God by our works, and its all of the merit of Christ, they need to ditch Temple recommend interviews, letting everyone in who professes Christ. They need to get rid of tithing settlement meetings where people have to show they have given a full 10% of their income, instead just telling people to give according to their conscience. Also get rid of Sunday dress, as we come to God as we are.
Also what about removing the “Requirements For Exaltation” part of the Gospel Principles manual that lists all of the things people need to do in order to be exalted.
They need to show by their actions as well as their words that this is a grace filled movement, otherwise they are simply saying that Jesus is full of grace, but the LDS church wants its piece of you.