#4: Comparison of Lutheran – Mormon Articles of Faith

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.

Preliminary Comment

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. …

Commentary

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.

Pondering Pastor

Click here for part 1 of this series

Click here for part 2 of this series

Click here for part 3 of this series

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16 responses to “#4: Comparison of Lutheran – Mormon Articles of Faith

  1. I have only read this piece so forgive me if you address this subject elsewhere. First, the A of F is intended to be a brief overview of our basic beliefs. The Doctrine and Covenants is where our doctrine is laid out in greater detail. You will find the Sacrament, as well call it, there.

    It seems our beliefs are difficuclt for tradtional Christians to understand as they want to consider it in the same light as they do other traditional denominations. We are either demonized as Satanic or condemed as Christian heretics. We are neither. The tradtional Chrisitian yard stick does not work when comapring the two theologies although there are many similarities.

    What makes our version of Christianity different is our belief that God has not closed the canon and in fact contniues to direct the affairs of his chuirch on earth by means of direct comunication through the Holy Ghost. That means through the gift of the Holy Ghost by one who has authority, members (saints) can be directed by God himself and that his involvement is not merely just to influence events. In essense, every human being can be a prophet when it concerns the things of his stewardship. Fathers are the prophets of thier family, a bishop is the prophet of his ward (congregation) and teachers the prophets of thier Sunday School classes.

    By stewrdship I mean the thing the person is directly responsible for. By prophet I mean one is entitled to direct revleation from God as an aid in carrying out the work which has been assigned to the person. If you are on the Lord’s errand you are entitled to his help. I testify to you that this is true and works just as I said it does. It is my personal experience. I have witnessed it first hand. It happens every day even to me. And you too can recieve a witness of the truth of what I say if you want. I tell you this in the name of Jesus Christ.
    Jack Fuller

  2. ponderingpastor

    What many miss here is that if Mormon Articles of Faith leave something out, and it is put in later into the Doctrines, people reading that will naturally conclude that item to be less important and significant.

    I find that Mormons are as ignorant about Christianity as Christians often are about Mormanism. The example in this comment from Jack is that Mormons are taught that Christians believe that God only continues to act on events, not in the lives of people. He writes, “What makes our version of Christianity different is our belief that God has not closed the canon and in fact contniues to direct the affairs of his chuirch on earth by means of direct comunication through the Holy Ghost.” Yes, for Christians the canon is closed. But, God continues to direct the affairs of the church on earth by the work of the Holy Spirit. In fact, when Lutherans talk about the Word of God, we include Jesus Christ, the Bible, and the proclaimed word (as in sermons).

    Pondering Pastor

  3. PP
    I understand why you refer to us as non-Christian but to us we find such comments confusing. It is though traditional Chrisitans think their version of how to worship in Christianity is the only one and no one else can claim to be believers unless they adhere to your doctrine. Of course we reject such notions. While we have significant differences in what we beleive is the nature of God, Christ, the Holy Ghost, who were are and our relationship to God the Father and Christ, there are many worthwhile contributions we can offer. But by demonizing us, many traditional Chrisitan denominations have erected a wall between us.

    You commented that our understanding of the how the Holy Ghost works is different. I think that is something we can add to our common understanding. I can find nothing in either the OT or NT that says Holy Scripture is closed. I think it must be a tradition. God said he will not give instruction to his children unless it comes from the mouth of a prophet and no one at Nicea or the other counsels ever claimed to be one or had a heavenly messenger bring new doctrine. So what ever was decided there must be the opinions of men. Correct me if I am wrong. By the way, I appreciate the civil nature in which you discuss our differences. I believe your heart is in the right place.

  4. ponderingpastor

    Mormons are polytheistic. Jews and Christians and Muslims are monotheistic. (In fact, Muslims teach that Christians are polytheistic too.) There is a huge difference. That’s why Mormons are not considered Christians.

    I know official Mormon teaching disregards the creedal statements of Nicea as binding, but Nicea defined orthodoxy, and Mormons have rejected that. Yes, Christians have defined Christianity in a way that excludes Mormons. It is not unlike “Jews for Jesus” claiming to be Jews or Christians. They are probably neither. I agree that Mormons have something to offer in the conversation, and that Mormons have often been demonized, but one has to understand that this is in large part because Mormonism is a polytheistic religion, and that is incompatible with monotheism.

    To exclude Nicea, the closing of the canon, or any of the other councils is to say that the Holy Spirit was not at work in those gatherings of God’s faithful because they did not invoke the particular language of “prophet” or “heavenly messenger” is imposing 19th and 20th century language on the 4th-9th centuries. Just because they did not make those claims does not mean that the Holy Spirit was not at work.

    (Where do you read that God said that he will not give instruction to his children unless it comes from the mouth of a prophet?)

    Pondering Pastor

  5. PP
    Amos 3:7 “Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” If God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, then this statement has to be taken as literal. It seems logical that only when a properly called prophet of God has spoken a “thus saith the Lord” statement can new doctrine be considered as authorized. Nicea was disorganized and it took additional convocations for a generally recognized doctrinal belief to emerge. As I understand, Nicea began a process and was not an event. There was disorgaization and disagreement which doesn’t seem like God was at the helm. But, that is just my observations from 1500 years away. The NC Creeds and those that followed also seem to contradict what first century Chrisitans believed too. In an epistle from Mathetes to Diognetus, as reported by Roberts and Donaldson in The Anti-Nicene Church Fathers in 1867-
    “This [messenger] He sent to them. Was it then, as one might conceive, for the purpose of exercising tyranny, or of inspiring fear and terror? By no means, but under the influence of clemency and meekness. As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Saviour He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for violence has no place in the character of God.”
    This indicates that first century Christians believed God and Christ to be seperate beings. Of course there are other passages in the NT that support the idea that they are not one and the same being. Justyn Martyr, in Dialogue with a Jew “Then I replied, “I shall attempt to persuade you, since you have understood the Scriptures, [of the truth] of what I say, that there is, and that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things; who is also called an Angel, because He announces to men whatsoever the Maker of all things-above whom there is no other God-wishes to announce to them.”
    There are other statements and references that suppor the idea that God the Father and Christ were considered to be two individual beings. It was not until the 5th century that the Creeds altered those beliefs. You can see that the LDS Church and Jospeh Smith did notconcoct the idea that God and Christ are seperate. This is an original Christian belief.

  6. ponderingpastor

    And herein lies a primary difference between Christians and Mormons … and why it is not appropriate to call Mormons Christians.

    “Original Christians” also believed that Christ would return in their lifetime. “Original Christians” also believed that the Messiah was only for the Jews. “Original Christians” baptized in the name of Jesus or the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Practices and beliefs were not consistent and were gradually developed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I find it puzzling that Mormons who advocate that the canon is not closed and that the Holy Spirit continues to guide the church would discount the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the “5th century”.

    I don’t see any reference in the New Testament that a writer identifies themselves as a prophet. Are we to discount then the entire New Testament?

    Scripture witnesses to the fact that God does “change God’s mind”. (eg. Exodus 32:14)

    Pondering Pastor

  7. You ask some good questions. Don’t you agree that an Apostle to be a prophet? Certainly Christ him self declared He was the example for us to follow. If Revelation says not to add to that book wouldn’t anything else after that be considered unauthorized if not heretical? Christ refers to other books that are not included in the current canon such as the Book of Enoch.

    Deuteronomy 4:2 “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” has to be considered too as being authoritive. But in each of these, the statement is from a recognized prophet. No where in the creeds does a particiapant declare himself to be one. I suppose in the end, there is nothing definitive that declares the scriptures closed. But Amos unequivocally states how additional scripture will be made available to the mankind. The scriptures, by the very way they came down to us, bear witness to it. In short, can you find anywhere in history where recognized doctrine was provided to man except as Amos says?
    I really appreciate your comments. They make me think. I always learn more when I am forced to do a bit of research. These sessions are a great teaching tool for me.

  8. Exodus 32:14 refers to Moses’ intervention on behalf of his people. God relented his decison to destroy them because a rightous man, His prophet, prayed and asked for another chance for them. There is no comparison here between this passage and the Creedal convocations. One event demonstrated Gods desire to be able to forgive, as is in keeping with His nature, and the other was man made for political purposes.

    Exodus demonstrates God’s use of justice and mercy. There is a different spirit at work in the creedal convocations which, history tells us, were an attempt by a murderer to get control of his decaying Roman Empire. He did so by combining the religious beliefs of pagan and Christian into a mutually agreeable amalgam.

  9. ponderingpastor

    Re: next to last post.

    Lutherans are not as rigid as Mormons when it comes to the “prophet” designation, and so the question about whether an “Apostle is a prophet” doesn’t even rise to the level of consideration. For us it is not necessary. We haven’t based our understanding of how God works on that one verse from Amos. Likewise, I think it is misreading Amos to suggest that there God says that only through a prophet will new _scripture_ arise. That comes from a Mormon “lens”. Certain teaching of the faith results in a seemingly logical interpretation of those verses. But without that “lens”, it doesn’t quite work. You see, it becomes a convenient way for Mormons to not ascribe to the creeds.

    Your argument is similar to the ones from this side that you object to. We define Christianity based on the creeds as a true witness to scripture … and you object to that. You base revelation on a person’s “declared prophet status” and we object to that particular formula.

    Re: the last post.
    Is it possible that God works through a “murderer with a different agenda”? We’ve seen that before when the King of Assyria was used by God to return the Jews back to Jerusalem, even though he did not know God. We believe that the one creed formulated in the way you describe and others that came about in other times and places were God directed (even though no one called themselves a prophet).

    We are as stubborn with the importance and value of the creeds as Mormons are in distancing themselves from them. In fact our “Chief Articles of Faith” #1 declares that the “decree of the Council of Nicea concerning the unity of the divine essence and concerning the three persons is true and is to be believed without any doubt.”

    Pondering Pastor

  10. Boy PP, you have really loaded me up with some mind benders. Thank goodness you are briefer in your questions than I am in my answers or we would be here all day.

    You raise another very good question about how to take original Christian comments and beliefs as recorded in the early Church fathers writings. From purely an intellectual point of view, as opposed to fasting and prayer, it seems one has either to do a lot of research and compare of all the differences which credible first century writers record as essential Christianity and compare and contrast them to the fifth century creeds or take significant creedal statements and look at where they came from. I think it is easier and quicker to inspect a few creedal statements. The most salient, I believe, is that of the Trinity since it seems to have, in LDS understanding, replaced God’s true nature with a man made version. It also appears to be foundational to a great deal of traditional Christian understanding of our nature and relationship with Deity. Let me take a brief side trip first.

    As I am sure you already know, we understand that man’s spirit is eternal. We have always existed in one form or another. God took us as quickened intelligences and provided spirit bodies. We lived as his literal spirit children in His house and under His tutelage growing in our understanding until we came to a point where we had to learn things we couldn’t learn while living in His perfect presence. We had to learn to know what joy was. In order to do that, we had to know the absence of joy. We had to know if we could obey His commandments without being compelled by His presence. We had to be tested. We would have to come to Earth away from God’s direct and continual presence. We would be subject to temptation by one who hated God and swore to avenge his ejection from Heaven.

    Being imperfect beings we would make mistakes. We would fall short. We would sin. And given no unclean thing can endure His presence there would have to be someone to atone for or pay for our sins so we could be re-united with Heavenly Father. Being imperfect and weak, we could not do it ourselves. It would have to be a prefect soul. It would have to be a God. That God was Jesus. He would be the Christ. In the end, if we did the best we could, even though we would fall way short, His atonement would make the difference. We could make claim on it if we lived the Gospel as God laid it out to us. We could claim Christ’s full inheritance.

    This understanding is the part we believe the Creedal version of the Holy Trinity removed from Christianity. It essentially robbed God the Father of His literal fatherhood and Christ of His nature and the nature of His sacrifice. So where did the idea of a Trinity come from? It isn’t found in the NT. I amintersted to read your understanding.

  11. ponderingpastor

    You write: “As I am sure you already know, we understand that man’s spirit is eternal. We have always existed in one form or another.”

    This is not Jewish or Christian thought at all. In fact, this is Greek pagan theology. Christianity teaches that we are created creatures. Mormons see humans as being a “line” whereas Christians understand human beings to be a “ray” —–> with a definitive starting point (using geometry as an illustration). Since we do not have that understanding of humanity in common, what follows is also different.

    Your description of what you think Jesus loses in the Trinity is also in error. Mormons have a very difficult time with the Trinity, because from the beginning you’ve been taught that it is wrong and is not in scripture and is “human made”. Have you ever heard or tried to see what “problems” the Trinity solves? Have you ever tried to trace it’s value? Christians have done both sides of it in fairness. My experience is that Mormons have not learned enough to argue for it. (When I was in High School and on the debate team, we had to be able to convincingly argue both sides of the topic. In fact, we never knew what side we would be arguing. Great training!)

    Again, the primary difference between Christianity and Mormanism is that Mormons are polytheistic (and dare I say nearly infinitetheistic) and Christians are monotheistic. Polytheism is unacceptable to Judaism and Christianity.

    Pondering Pastor

  12. I am not sure what you mean by the Trinity solving problems. Do you mean in the sense of literary device? If so, doesn’t that mean it is human creation? The question still remains – where in the NT does one find the Trinity? By tracing the value of the Trinity, does that mean turning God’s nature into something for a reason other than to accurately describe Him? If the value in the Trinity is provide cover for something not supported in scripture then I see no real value in it. It does not accurately portray God, Christ and the Holy Ghost and can only be described as not in keeping with truth of who and what God really is. I agree with you when you say we Mormons have been taught that the Trinity is not of God but was a political solution for a despot. So please pardon my lack of understanding. Regarding what you called polytheism, I think the scriptures are quite clear and unambiguous about there being more than one personage in the Godhead, which is our term. I am grateful you have taken the time to explain these things as you see them.

  13. PP
    You have been very generous with your time and I appreciate it. If I might leave one final thought: I suggest all these things we have discussed are really beside the point. They are distractions from what may be the most and only real issue. That is, whether or not the canon is again open and whether God has re-established his Church on the earth today. Proving absolutely one way or the other defines the default position of the argument on both sides. Mormons are in a bit of unique position here. Either what we say is exactly as we claim or it is a ruse of gigantic proportions. We can’t just tire of one denomination and take refuge in another and still claim authority to act in God’s name. Either we are in it all the way or we are out all the way. It is no church for namby-pambies or side-line sitters. Each of us has our belief about the other. One day we will find out. If we are right, you will have an opportunity to hear the gospel as we understand it and re-think some of your decisions in this life. Whereas if you are correct there is substantial doubt as to what eternity will be for those who think differently than you do. I think the by the very nature of this argument one has to think long and hard as to what kind of God our two positions represent.

  14. ponderingpastor

    “I am not sure what you mean by the Trinity solving problems. Do you mean in the sense of literary device?”

    No, not at all. I mean that the doctrine of the Trinity bears witness to all of scripture, negates none of what is said about the relationship between God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and maintains monotheism. This is not true of any other way of describing God.

    You will find a description of the Trinity in absolutely every part of scripture (Old and New Testaments) where God is described/revealed. The word “Trinity” does not appear, it doesn’t need to in order to be valid.

    “It does not accurately portray God, Christ and the Holy Ghost and can only be described as not in keeping with truth of who and what God really is.”

    On the contrary: polytheism does not accurately portray God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I’ll agree that there is more than one “person” in the Godhead, but though there are three distinct “persons” (and sorry, that is not your term … it is part of the creeds of the Christian church and has been adopted by Mormonism and understood to mean something different than the creed states) there is only one God. As the famous hymn states, “God in three persons, blessed trinity.”

    Pondering Pastor

  15. ponderingpastor

    “That is, whether or not the canon is again open and whether God has re-established his Church on the earth today. Proving absolutely one way or the other defines the default position of the argument on both sides. Mormons are in a bit of unique position here. Either what we say is exactly as we claim or it is a ruse of gigantic proportions.”

    Christians say, no, the canon is not open. Christians say, no, God has not re-established the church because the church of Christ was never unestablished. Christians say that Mormanism is a “ruse of gigantic proportions.” You have nailed it on the head.

    I describe it a bit differently. Your leaders have misled you and created an attractive religion and have convinced you that it is a higher form of Christianity.

    Pondering Pastor

  16. In Genesis ch1 Yahweh is realized as power of the Father, the Word carrying out the action of his thought, and the calming Spirit bring order to the creation. Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh in Isaiah, Psalms, and all of the New Testament.

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