Mormon Articles of Faith #3
We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
Augsburg Confession Chief Article of Faith #3 – Concerning the Son of God
Likewise [the churches among us] teach that the Word, that is, the Son of God, took upon himself human nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary so that there might be two natures, divine and human, inseparably conjoined in the unity of one person, one Christ, truly God and truly a human being “born of the Virgin Mary,” who truly “suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried” that he might reconcile the Father to us and be a sacrifice not only for original guilt but also for all actual sins of human beings. He also “descended into hell, and on the third day he was” truly “resurrected.” Thereafter, “he ascended into heaven” in order to “sit at the right hand of the Father,” and he will reign forever and have dominion over all creatures. He will sanctify those who believe in him by sending into their hearts the Holy Spirit, who will rule, console, and make them alive and defend them against the devil and the power of sin. The same Christ will publicly “return to judge the living and the dead …,” according to the Apostles’ Creed.
Augsburg Confession Chief Article of Faith #4 – Concerning Justification
Likewise [the churches among us] teach that human beings cannot be justified before God by their own powers, merits, or works. But they are justified as a gift on account of Christ through faith when they believe that they are received into grace and that their sins are forgiven on account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins. God reckons this faith as righteousness (Romans 3 and 4).
The numbering of the two Articles of Faith diverge a bit here, but that is to be expected. There is no evidence I know about that suggests that Smith used Luther in the formulation of the Mormon Articles of Faith.
Much of the Augsburg Confession Article 3 relates better to Article 1 of the Mormon Articles of Faith, but admittedly, even that requires considerable additional reading to understand what Mormons claim about Jesus. The Augsburg Confession there quotes liberally from the Apostles’ Creed. I’ll not spend any more time here looking at this particular comparison. See installment #1 of this series for more detail.
The Mormon Article of Faith uses the term “Atonement of Christ”, but then immediately discounts what Lutherans (and most Christians) understand “atonement” to mean. As a theological term, atonement means “the doctrine concerning the reconciliation of God and humankind, esp. as accomplished through the life, suffering, and death of Christ.” In the Mormon Article of Faith, there is nothing explicitly stated that is accomplished by Christ. There was already salvation through adherence to the law before Christ. If salvation depends upon what we do to follow the law, then what is different in the means of salvation pre-Jesus to post-Jesus? What results in reconciliation of God and humankind for Mormons is “obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel”, made possible through Christ. It is not until the next Mormon Article of Faith that we even get to what those “laws and ordinances of the Gospel” are thought to be. The Mormon Article of Faith could have left off the “atonement of Christ” and nothing would have been changed because what follows negates the first part of the statement. (I’ll be blasted on that one, but I see nothing in the Articles of faith that would suggest that for Mormons Christ is either necessary or sufficient.)
Notice that the Augsburg Confession clearly indicates that “human beings cannot be justified before God by their own powers, merits, or works.” This would include obedience to any “laws and ordinances” that might be described in the Gospels. The term “grace” in the Augsburg Confession in fact signals that the forgiveness of sins is undeserved by humans and is “on account of Christ”. This is the appropriate understanding of “atonement of Christ”. Mormon Article of Faith #3 misses the mark in that the atonement of Christ is not sufficient in itself … it requires obedience. For Lutherans, even faith is considered a gift of the Holy Spirit, therefore there is no ability to lay claim to an accomplished reconciliation.
It is true that various Christian denominations differ on the understanding of human participation in salvation through obedience. Lutherans are careful to emphasize grace and God’s action as opposed to human action. Many claim we go to far. Obedience is a response to salvation. For Lutherans, it is not a condition required for salvation. Lutherans do not have a once “forgiven always forgiven” understanding as will be seen in future installments.