Mormon Article of Faith #4
We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
It’s not easy to compare directly this Mormon Article of Faith with something from the Augusburg Confession, first, because this is a continuation of Article #3 and there are very few definitions within this Article of Faith. It is a continuation of #3 because #4 lists the “laws and ordinances” of #3 (as “first principles and ordinances” in #4). Are they the same? For Mormons, obedience to these “laws and ordinances” are required for salvation. Therefore you will see in this post some of those Articles of Faith from the Augsburg Confession which seem to relate best to this Mormon Article of Faith.
Augsburg Confession Chief Article of Faith #6 – Concerning the New Obedience
Likewise [the churches among us] teach that this faith is bound to yield good fruits and that it ought to do good works commanded by God on account of God’s will and not so that we may trust in these works to merit justification before God. For forgiveness of sins and justification are taken hold of by faith, as the saying of Christ also testifies [Luke 17:10]: “When you have done all [things] … say, ‘We are worthless slaves.’” The authors of the ancient church teach the same. For Ambrose says: “It is established by God that whoever believes in Christ shall be saved without work, by faith alone, receiving the forgiveness of sins as a gift.”
Augsburg Confession Chief Article of Faith # 9 – Concerning Baptism
Concerning baptism, [the churches among us] teach that it is necessary for salvation, that the grace of God is offered through baptism, and that children should be baptized. They are received into the grace of God when they are offered to God through baptism. [The churches among us] condemn the Anabaptists who disapprove of the baptism of children and assert that children are saved without baptism.
Augsburg Confession Chief Article of Faith # 12 – Concerning Repentance
Concerning repentance [the churches among us] teach that those who have fallen after baptism can receive forgiveness of sins whenever they are brought to repentance and that the church should impart absolution to those who return to repentance. Now, properly speaking, repentance consists of two parts: one is contrition or the terrors that strike the consciences when sin is recognized; the other is faith, which is brought to life by the gospel or absolution. This faith believes that sins are forgiven on account of Christ, consoles the conscience, and liberates it from terrors. Thereupon good works, which are the fruit of repentance, should follow. [The churches among us] condemn both the Anabaptists, who deny that those who have once been justified can lose the Holy Spirit, and also those who contend that some may attain such perfection in this life that they cannot sin. Also condemned are the Novatians who were unwilling to absolve those who had fallen and returned to repentance after baptism. Also rejected are those who do not teach that forgiveness of sins comes through faith but command us to merit grace through our own satisfactions.
Augsburg Confession Chief Article of Faith # 20 – Concerning Faith and Good Works
The article in the Augsburg Confession about Faith and Good Works is 40 sentences long. I’m not reproducing it in its entirety here right now.
… Therefore, all who trust that they merit grace by works despise the merit and grace of Christ and seek a way to God without Christ through human powers, since Christ has said about himself: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” … Beyond this, our people teach that it is necessary to do good works, nto that we should count on meriting grace through them but because it the will of God. …
The Mormon 4th Article of Faith, from the Christian perspective is quite inadequate. It is understandable, because in part what is lacking comes from erroneous LDS theology, especially about the nature or understanding of God. First, a clarification. The dictionary’s first definition of “ordinance” is “an authoritative rule or law; a decree or command”. I’ll keep that in mind as I proceed, but allow that Joseph Smith did indeed indicate that this Article of Faith includes “first principles” in addition to ordinances. (With the 3rd Article of Faith addressing “laws and ordinances of the Gospel”, just what does “first principle” mean and what weight does it carry?)
Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ must be a principle, because there is no command in the New Testament about faith. In fact, faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit. But, based on the 3rd Article of Faith, faith in Jesus Christ is not necessary … only obedience to the “laws and the ordinances of the Gospel”. (Circular logic is required to include faith as a “law and ordinance of the Gospel). Therefore, it is puzzling to me that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ appears here.
Next: “repentance”. The New Testament is full of references to repentance and it could be understood as a command of Jesus.
Next: “Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins”. Immersion is implied but not commanded anywhere in scripture. Lutherans (of which I am one) have held that the amount of water is not important since it is God who acts in Baptism, and it is apparent that the gifts of the Holy Spirit have been bestowed on those who have been baptized by methods short of immersion. Immersion is to be preferred, but to raise it to the level of a “command” seems to be excessive and not clearly supported by scripture. It is interesting to note that those churches that do not baptize infants emphasize that “immersion” is necessary. Lutherans baptize infants.
Next: “laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Spirit”. Again, reading the New Testament, I would suggest that the laying on of hands is not a necessary detail. In the book of Acts we see the Holy Spirit being given by God with and without the laying on of hands. It would seem that the act is not a necessary requirement for the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, I find it interesting that the Articles of Faith exclude two important commandments of Jesus Christ. The first absence is puzzling to me because LDS is well known for its missionary work. From Matthew 28: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” It is clear that this is a command “ordinance” of Jesus.
The missing (from the Articles of Faith) commandment of Jesus Christ is around what Christians call the Eucharist or Holy Communion. In 3 of the 4 Gospels and in one of Paul’s letters, that command to “do this in remembrance of me” is recalled … consuming the body and blood of Jesus Christ. This is a tremendously significant absence in the Mormon Articles of Faith.