I’ve been involved here and on Rusty’s Blog comparing Mormon and classic Christianity and challenging the Mormon’s (LDS) claim to be Christian. Sometimes that discussion has been civil and informative. On occasion, there have been some stress and strain. As we engage in conversation, we quickly learn that we do not mean the same things by the exact same words. This is a very significant challenge, which means that we have to go slow and carefully explain what we mean by the very words we use.
Recently, there was a posting on Rusty’s Blog titled “Picking the Lock of Salvation”. Briefly, it was a description about how Mormons understand the role of obedience to our salvation. Part of what Rusty writes:
Reflecting on the whole thing, I couldn’t help but draw the parallel to those who somehow think they can “slide” into heaven, somehow opening the “doors” of heaven without actually going through the mandatory prerequisite steps.
I did not post a lengthy response on Rusty’s Blog, but rather have chosen to present the Christian (and especially Lutheran) perspective here.
First, I find even the title of the post pretty offensive to Christianity. It demonstrates a complete ignorance of what is meant by God’s grace. I ran the title by another Lutheran pastor colleague of mine, and her response was immediate. “So, the door to the kingdom of heaven is locked and has to be picked to be open? Does that mean we have to sneak in?” Granted, I don’t think that’s quite what Rusty meant, but one has to move past his imagry just to get at the kernal of his message … and that is that unless you do the right things, God won’t let you into heaven. From what Rusty has described, it seems that Mormons believe that Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension has resulted in the “creation” of the door to heaven. The “key” to being able to unlock the door and actually enter is our “obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.” Third Article of Faith. Rejected is “saving grace”.
A newly published book, Crazy Talk: A Not-So Stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms describes Justification this way.
“In the typographical sense, justification has to do with the alignment of text. In the theological sense, justification has to do with God’s alignment of you.”
“‘A person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law’ (Romans 3:28). Talk about crazy talk! That’s about the craziest talk there is. Because at the heart of justification is the word JUSTICE. Now usually when you think about justice, you think about the LAW. So you’d think that justification would be all about the law–about measuring up to some legal standard.
“But noooo. Instead, right there, smack in the middle of the New Testament, there’s this crazy talk of a new, nonlegal standard for justice–for “gettin’ right” with God. What’s that you say? You’re having a hard time understanding how you can have justice without law? Well, you’re not the only one:
Duh: Okay, God, tell me again–which rules I have to obey to get on your good side?
God: You want to get on my good side? Well then, the first thing you have to do is give up the idea that following rules is going to get you on my good side.
Duh: No rules?
God: No rules. Instead, I’ll give you my Son, JESUS. He’ll take care of all the rules. He’ll be the one who makes sure that you’re on my good side.
Duh: But that’s just crazy.
God: Look, you’re going to have to trust me on this one…
Furthermore, this faith is not our own doing. This FAITH is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast about how they were able to work up enough faith to get on God’s good side.
Now, that really runs counter to what Mormons teach.
What about works? What about obedience? What about all those Biblical passages that tell us we have to do something because we are judged by God?
Again, from Crazy Talk:
Good Works: What you do because you don’t have to do anything.
Your friend invites you to dinner. You ask, “What can I bring?”
Your friend answers, “Nothing: there is nothing you can bring. I’ve got it all covered.”
Out of gratitude, you bring something anyway.
Now read this again. But …
For “friend” substitute “Lord.”
For “invites you to dinner” substitute “saves you from your sins.”
For “bring” substitute “do.”
But that is Crazy Talk!
Ok, let me introduce to you Martin Marty. Pastor Marty “is one of the most prominent interpreters of religion and culture today. Author of more than 50 books, he is also a speaker, columnist, pastor, and teacher, having been a professor of religious history for thirty-five years at the University of Chicago, where he is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus.” The following excerpts are from his book, Lutheran Questions, Lutheran Answers: Exploring Christian Faith.
If We are Christians, Do We Have to Obey God’s Law?
Yes, indeed, always yes. Christians cannot conceive of God as being half-serious in giving commands… Lutherans are just as emphatic in saying that no human other than Jesus…kept the commandments. Instead, Jesus stands in their place and by his perfect obedience has won a new situation before God for believers. So the New Testament can speak at times abou tthe law having been done away with, and thus Christians are to live by grace and freedom from the tyranny of the law. Christians set out to keep the law because it is God’s law, because Jesus fulfilled the law with love rather than smashing it. Properly seen, the law can be used in the larger society just as the biblical stories suggest it was designed to serve among the nomadic children of Israel…In a classic formula, lex semper accusat (the law always accuses). It shows how great is the gap between what a holy God expects adn what an unholy human at her best can deliver. It drives believers from teh notion that they can please God by having kept the law. It drives people who are thus accused to run for mercy to Christ, who did keep the law. So don’t expect Lutherans to relativize the law o fGod or to subvert it. They simply want to block notions that keeping the law is the way to pleace God and to win God’s favor and salvation.
The distance between Lutherans and Mormans can’t be made more clear than this last line. Mormons clearly state that salvation depends upon our obedience to the law (and what they refer to as ordinances of the Gospel … a change in what “Gospel” means!).
And, in a direct comparison, the Augsburg Confession (a document Lutherans use as a true defintion of the faith much the same way that the Mormon Articles of Faith are used) says:
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).
What matters most in this conversation to Lutherans is that we do nothing to take credit for our own salvation, whether that be by our good deeds, our following God’s commandments, the “level” or “depth” of our faith. We understand grace as a gift. We understand grace as salvific. It comes through forgiveness of sins, the very real recognition that we are faulty, and even our best efforts fall short.
Mormons have a very different view of humanity and our ability to perfection. That different view leads naturally, I think, to the kinds of abuses we see in west Texas with the poligamest sect. (I know, the main Mormon church does not recognize this group as a valid Mormon group.) The connection is that if humans are able to achieve perfection, are capable of contributing to their own salvation, then there are certain humans who have the ability to “rise above the fray” and speak and teach with an authority beyond the rest of us.
This is already too long of a post, and yet there is so much more to say. I’ll simply end this here, and invite comments.