Abiding in Christ and the Tragedy of Pernicious Theology

I’ve had some wild experiences since moving to China. Some were worried about the risks I might be taking in the crazy streets of Shanghai (one of Asia’s most livable and lovable cities for Westerners) and other places over here, including parts of Indonesia where I was earlier this week. But the challenges I’ve faced are a piece of cake compared to what my youngest son is probably going through each day as a new missionary transplanted into an impoverished, dirty, parasite-rich, excessively hot, and not-always-friendly part of Peru. I know he probably won’t share just how difficult and dangerous some parts of his experience are, but it’s hard to hide what life is like there. Yet he went willingly to stand as a witness of Jesus Christ and to bear witness of the power of Christ and His Atonement, teaching and baptizing in the name of Jesus Christ.

A few days before he left the comforts of Appleton, Wisconsin, he was approached by one of his friends from high school, a friend who had known my son and seen his example as a Christian for years (recognizing parental bias, it’s still fairly objective to say that my son is a popular and well-liked young man who is widely noted for being religious and for having high standards). This friend, a devout Protestant, just wanted to reach out and let my son know that his soul was lost and that he wasn’t a Christian at all. What, believing in Christ, teaching of Christ, seeking to follow Christ, and putting your life at risk for two years as an ambassador of Christ doesn’t count for at least being partly Christian? No, it doesn’t count at all. You see, it’s one thing to believe in Jesus and be saved, but if you ALSO think you really ought to keep the commandments, then you don’t properly understand grace and, naturally, will rot in hell for this gap in theological understanding. In his form of modern Protestant theology, failing the Great Theology Quiz on the semantics of grace, justification, soteriology, and perhaps even esterification is just about the only way that someone who has accepted Jesus Christ can get thrown into hell.

My son was about to put on a name tag bearing the name of Jesus Christ (“The Church of ….”) to be a public witness for Christ for two years. My son explained that he fervently believed in and accepted Christ as his savior. But that wasn’t good enough. It’s good enough for almost everyone else except Mormons, apparently. By coming along and adding an errant belief on the relations between grace, works, and salvation, all is lost. Eternally. So, in the spirit of Christian love, this good Protestant just wanted to reach out to my son and warn him that his soul was toast. Nice way to say good-bye. [Update: Of course, he was trying to be loving and helpful to save my son’s soul, and my son recognized this. The intentions were noble, but good intentions can lead to bad outcomes when informed by horrifically flawed teachings.]

That Protestant young man was the victim of bad theology, and that theology, perhaps reinforced by religious bigotry from a pastor, led to an unfortunate result. A friend and fellow Christian was condemned as non-Christian. An entire religion of people seeking to follow Christ have been denounced as a non-Christian threat. That’s not just bad theology, it’s pernicious theology. Tragic theology.

If that young man is reading this blog, or for those of you who share similar unfortunate views, let me point to one of many passages from Jesus Christ that I hope you’ll read and ponder. My son shared a lot of Bible verses that ought to have helped clarify the relationship between grace and our response to it, including the importance of following Jesus not just in word only, but to no avail, so this may not do any good. But this passage takes a different approach that I hope will open some eyes, somewhere. This passage reminds us that to be truly Christian and to truly accept the grace of Jesus and be saved eternally, we need to abide in Jesus. It’s not a momentary event, but a journey. Abide. That means we endure, hang on, keep following, and not let go. Read this passage and see if you can possibly resolve what your minister has taught you with what Christ so plainly teaches.

1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.

5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.

9 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.

10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.

11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.

12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.

13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.

15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.

17 These things I command you, that ye love one another.

18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.

19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.

How ironic, how tragically ironic, that a young man striving to be a friend of Christ by not just believing once but by abiding in His grace and keeping His commandments should, for that very reason, be condemned as a non-Christian whose soul was lost. That’s pernicious theology. Tragically so.

Mormons believe in Christ. We accept Him as our Savior. After accepting Him, we seek to abide in His love. We seek to endure in faith to the end. We seek to do keep His commandments and do what He said. That great God who said, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” may have a lot of issues with our failures and misunderstandings, but I don’t believe that salvation inn Christ depends on passing a quiz on modern theology.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

92 thoughts on “Abiding in Christ and the Tragedy of Pernicious Theology

  1. I sometimes think that all who go through the narrow gate will have a mort of uncommonly silly notions they'll have to be disabused of. At least this friend takes his Christian beliefs seriously, even if they do shade off into nonsense.

    Adam G.

  2. Jeff, I am sorry that your son felt unloved by his friend. There are many ways to share truth with others in ways that are loving…this post offers that potential.

    I believe in your love for Christ, and I believe your son does too, and I would guess that you believe that I do too. So if we both love Christ and trust Him as our Savior how can we disagree? The issue for me is the incomplete atonement that Christ offers as defined by the LDS church:

    “The atonement of Jesus Christ was of two-fold nature. First: By his death upon the cross he redeemed all mankind from death. Second: He redeems all mankind from sin on condition of faith in God, repentance from all sin, and baptism by immersion—a burial in water—for the remission of their sins”

    Using this definition, Christ's atonement doesn't even seem to require my faith in Him, does it? It does, however, require a great deal of action on my part in order for my own sins to be forgiven.

    In contrast, the Biblical definition of the atonement of Christ is complete:

    "But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared , Not by works of righteousness which we have done , but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;" (Titus 3)

    This complete salvation will result in our being filled with the Holt Spirit to good works…and hopefully those works will include things like lovingly witnessing God's truth to others. I hope you can feel the love I have toward you in this post Jeff…

  3. Jeff,

    When I was a missionary, I encountered a lot of "love" from people like your son's friend. I responded the same way as you: would God punish us for bad theology? If so, wouldn't He also have to punish people who just aren't sophisticated enough to have a proper understanding of theology or soteriology? Doesn't seem right to me.

    I'm curious, though, how you might apply your reasoning to heterodox Mormons like myself. I no longer believe that the Book of Mormon is historical. I keep my temple and baptismal covenants, but I don't think the atonement as it's commonly taught makes sense. I'm sure that Joseph Smith had a powerful spiritual experience when he was about 14, but I suspect that the way we now report it is embellished. I'm sure the leadership of the church consists of very capable men, but I'm frequently skeptical of their declarations. I don't think that there was an actual Adam or Eve. I still attend church and pray. Can I get into the highest degree of the celestial kingdom like this? Or do I need to correct my "theology" first?

  4. Hi Cindy,

    I took the liberty to put in some more verses of Titus chapter 3:

    "At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone."

    I took the verse you quoted as to saying that Jesus came down to save us not because of righteous things we have done but because we needed saving so he was merciful towards us and there fore he came down to save us. Notice the admonition in verse 8 to do good things.

    I won't comment on your unreferenced quote because I am sure that you are not implying that LDS doctrine denies requiring faith in Jesus Christ.

    Steve

  5. Once again, Jeff quotes extensively from the words of Jesus himself to teach a Christian principle, and the counter-argument doesn't address those words at all. Absolutely amazing.

    That passage, Jeff, is one of the clearest in the entire Bible. There is no refuting that Jesus taught the true nature of faith and love – loving someone and believing what they say enough to do what they ask. You also might add the parable of the two brothers who reacted differently to their father. I won't bother quoting it here, but one said he would do what he was asked and then didn't do it; the other said he wouldn't and then repented and did it.

    Guess who was blessed and rewarded – the one who said he loved his father but ultimately didn't do anything or the one who did what his father asked even after refusing first? Yep, the one who initially rejected his father's wishes then repented and did what he was asked to do.

    I have two sons and four daughters. I don't make very many demands on them, especially the ones who are not minor children anymore and have left home to establish themselves as individual adults. However, it would be incredibly easy for me to see who really respects me more when I actually do make a formal request of them. I'd FAR rather they do what I ask, even if they grumble a little and try to get out of it initially, than have them tell me how much they love me and then turn around and ignore me and my wishes.

    This isn't a difficult concept – unless someone is so steeped in alternate theology that they just can't let go and actually believe the words we have that are attributed to Jesus himself. That never ceases to amaze me – seriously.

  6. Oh, and Cindy:

    1) I'll take the words of Jesus over the words of an apostolic epistle every time – and twice on Sunday – IF they are in conflict.

    2) As has been pointed out already, they are NOT in conflict in this case, since you (hopefully unintentionally) flat-out omitted the part of the Titus reference that actually supports Jeff's point in this post. I'll chalk that up to nothing more than an oversight, but the full passage from which you excerpted teaches exactly what Jeff is teaching in this post.

    3) That's precisely what I've been saying to you in every one of these threads – that your argument ONLY works if you ignore Jesus and quote other verses out of the full Biblical context (and, often, even out of their own context, as you did in the case of the Titus reference). Please, just once, actually critique the verses and passages that Jeff and others provide, especially the ones that are attributed directly to Jesus. Lacking that . . . I really don't know how to respond any differently than I already have many, many times.

  7. Jeff, The Jesus of the Protestant, Catholic faith is VERY different. Different parentage. The Trinity. The miracle of the sacrament.

  8. Excellent post Jeff.

    Cindy – the very quote you use contains the phrase – 'He redeems all mankind from sin on condition of faith in God'. Yet you say that it does not require faith.

  9. Jeff, it was not so long ago–right on up into your parents' day–when Mormons were just as theologically exclusionary as your son's friend. And why not? Didn't Joseph Smith say that all the other churches were false? And weren't all those other churches (especially but not only the Catholic Church) widely considered to be "the Church of the Devil"?

    Don't get me wrong. I'm glad such beliefs have faded from the Church. I just think we should all be a little less eager to jump on your son's friend's church without first looking at our own.

  10. I may be wrong, but don't Protestants say that Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist theologies are false? Can't we say that any teaching which denies the truth and teachings of Christ is not of God's doing? I believe Protestant Christians wouldn't hesitate to say that the devil has a hand to play in keeping those peoples in ignorance. Does that mean that those beliefs don't have righteous or well-meaning adherents? It doesn't.

    I believe in what Joseph Smith declared about all other Christian creeds. That doesn't mean that other beliefs don't have %99 of the truth and are good and righteous people that won't end up in the celestial kingdom with God for eternity despite their life-long ignorance.

    You shouldn't take Joseph's statement personally: he was talking about the churches; not the people.

  11. I still don't quite get this post. Jeff describes the actions of his son's friend, "a devout Protestant," by saying that he "just wanted to reach out and let my son know that his soul was lost and that he wasn't a Christian at all."

    The friend is politely and sincerely expressing what he believes to be true. How exactly is that pernicious? Is it pernicious simply because of the notion that Mormons do not meet some other church's definition of "Christian"? If so, given that the LDS Church for generations believed the same thing about other denominations (see "Church of the Devil" comment above), do we now have to think of the LDS Church as having had a "pernicious" and "tragic" theology all those years? Seems to me we can't have it both ways.

    — Eveningsun

  12. Evening Sun:

    It is quite different. For starters, Joseph Smith, other prophets, and our scriptures do denounce false creeds and beliefs. The difference, however, is that we do not teach that a person who is a victim of false beliefs has lost his soul (will be in hell, forever) and are not Christians. We don't tell someone that they are not following Christ because of theological differences. Our message has little to do with what others believe and more to do with what we believe and what Christ has taught. Of course there is a difference in beliefs, and us announcing ourselves as Christians is not an attempt to come into mainstream Protestant-Christian circles. We simply invite everyone to take the good that they have, and receive more.

  13. Cindy,

    "Second: He redeems all mankind from sin on condition of faith in God, repentance from all sin"

    What exactly do you mean that this definition doesn't require faith? It says it very clearly.

    Plus, why would we keep the commandments of someone that we don't have faith in?

  14. Dear Anonymous,

    I didn't say we shouldn't do good works, just that faith produces them. "This complete salvation will result in our being filled with the Holy Spirit to good works"

    You said, "I won't comment on your unreferenced quote because I am sure that you are not implying that LDS doctrine denies requiring faith in Jesus Christ."

    I'm sorry for not referencing the quote about the atonement…there are many places on LDS.org where it can be found…here are a couple:

    “Thanks to the Atonement, the gift of immortality is unconditional. The greater gift of eternal life, however, is conditional. In order to qualify, one must deny oneself of ungodliness and honor the ordinances
    and covenants of the temple” (Russell M. Nelson, “Divine Love,” Ensign, February 2003, p. 24

    “The atonement of Jesus Christ was of two-fold nature. First: By his death upon the cross he redeemed all mankind from death. Second: He redeems all mankind from sin on condition of faith in God, repentance from all sin, and baptism by immersion—a burial in water—for the remission of their sins” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions 3:179).

    So what I was asking is this, If the first gift of the atonement is eternal life, and it is given to all, do I need faith in Christ for it?

    And if I must qualify for eternal life, why do I need faith in Christ for that?

  15. "So what I was asking is this, If the first gift of the atonement is eternal life, and it is given to all, do I need faith in Christ for it?"

    The first gift of the atonement isn't "eternal life". It's salvation from physical death (an actual, real, physical resurrection of some sort) – or, as we term it, immortality. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15, "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." (It's indisputable, imo, that the resurrection was seen by the early saints as literally physical, especially given the description of Jesus' appearance in Luke 24.)

    "And if I must qualify for eternal life, why do I need faith in Christ for that?"

    This is about what Jeff has been writing in his posts – the numerous admonitions of Jesus himself and of his early apostles saying that there is more to everlasting life than mere immortality. We could be vegetative and still be immortal. What the Bible teaches is that we not only will be resurrected (be physically immortal), but that we also may become "eternal" ("at one" with God). This principle is what constitutes the "New" Testament – by which the "Old" Covenant of collective servant-hood was replaced by the "New" Covenant of personal "heir-ship". The verses and passages that teach this change are almost innumerable in the New Testament, and Jeff has quoted many of them for the posts that deal with this general topic – but they just are brutally difficult for most people to accept.

    The idea of true "at-one-ment" is counter-intuitive to most mortals, since we know we naturally are separated from God by a bridge we simply are unable to cross on our own. Because it is so blatantly counter-intuitive, it takes REAL, DEEP, ABIDING faith in the teacher of it (Jesus) and those who taught it after his death (Peter, James, John, Paul and others).

    Thus, it takes no faith to receive the free gift of immortality – unless one counts the pre-mortal decision to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior (and I do count that decision), but it take "abiding" faith to believe the unbelievable.

  16. Hi Cindy,

    You seem to have a nice collection of LDS literature so I suspect that you know the answer already. If that is the case, then you are purposefully interchanging terminology to obfuscate the point. Eternal life is life with God, we need to deny ourselves of ungodliness and perform the ordinances necessary for salvation. Resurrection is the gift everyone who is born receives having already chosen to follow Christ and having faith in the plan of salvation that our Heavenly Father laid out before the world was created.

    But, I suspect you already knew the answer. Both gifts require faith. All of us already exercised faith to receive the gift of resurrection.

    Steve

  17. Let me say it this way:

    It would take no faith whatsoever for a caterpillar to be changed to a butterfly. It's simply a natural process.

    However, if no caterpillar ever had seen another caterpillar "die" and "rise again" as a butterfly (recognizing it for what it was), it would take GREAT faith for that caterpillar to believe she literally, actually could become a butterfly. A butterfly could say to her, "I used to look like you. I lived as one of you. Look at me now. You can become like me and live as I live – and all you have to do is what I tell you must be done to live long enough to experience the metamorphosis" – and it would take "abiding" faith (faith that lasts despite and through "things not seen") to believe the butterfly.

    The words of Jesus during his ministry constituted, at the most basic level, his promise of what could be – while his words after his resurrection and the words of his early disciples and apostles constituted their testimony of what had been for Jesus and may be for us. Their admonitions and pronouncements about what we have to do constitute the directions of our own "eternal manual" (what will produce the promised metamorphosis) – and they boil down to one simple (but not easy) statement:

    "Have hope in the "substance" of what I've taught, and use my life and teachings as the "evidence" of the things that can't be seen."

    Iow, "have abiding faith that I can make the impossible come true – and trust me enough to do what I tell you must be done, even though you are naturally inclined to believe it can't have any merit or effect."

  18. Papa,

    First of all, I am sorry for misusing the term eternal life as you define it…my definition is different and I wasn't intentionally trying to distort.

    Secondly, I appreciate your candor in defining LDS doctrine. As you know, I am trying to understand the perspective of my LDS friends, and between looking at Mormonism through the lens of my own perspective as well as what I find to be some convoluted LDS writings, I am often confused by the actual meaning.

    In terms of your definitions of the first principle of the Gospel, i.e., Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, you are saying that decision was made by us in the pre-mortal state, right?

    And in this probation, you have faith in the teachings of Christ that you interpret as saying that you can become a god if you are obedient enough?

    So is it fair to say that you would describe the gospel of Jesus Christ by saying that He came to show us how to become gods ourselves?

  19. Sorry, have been away for a few days. Internet access can be a challenge in Asia. But I'd like to ask Cindy if she'd care to respond to the content of my original post here and tell me how I'm misreading the words of Jesus regarding abiding, commandments, etc. They seem very clear to me, but that's probably because I haven't been trained formally in modern theology. Sorry about that!

    As for the actions of my son's friend, my son recognized that it was motivated by a sincere desire to help, as misguided as it was, or rather, misinformed. That friend was not the first to sincerely seek to serve God by attacking Christians. I hope he'll come around eventually, as Paul and others have. Sadly, the effects of bad theology can be tragic, especially when one sees the Church of Jesus Christ as a threat rather than a blessing.

  20. Another stumbling block in terms of definitions is that most Christians (of the evangelical type mainly) use the word "saved" to be coincident with "accepting Christ as one's savior". To them it is an _event_, whereas to LDS it is more of a process.

    Sometimes the word "conversion" is used. In the mainstream christian theology, "conversion" is also used along with 'getting saved.'

    In the Book of Mormon, the experience that Alma the Younger, and the sons of Mosiah had with the angel, when they had their big "turn around moment" would be called "getting saved."

    Other examples in the Book of Mormon would be Lamoni's conversion experience, and Lamoni's father's conversion experience when the Holy Ghost fell on them and they fainted.

    Even today, many LDS converts can point to a specific moment when they realize "it's all true", God, Jesus, the atonement, the Bible and Book of Mormon, etc.

    Or, like me, I had my "one big moment" as a teenager when I realized God and Jesus were real and had a big "change of heart".

    But it was when I was in my early 20's when I had the next step, investigated the LDS church, and had two other big "moments" when the Holy Ghost confirmed that the Book of Mormon was true, and that Jospeh Smith was a propeht.

    People who grow up in the LDS church more often have smaller, almost imperceptible steps, and can't point to exact moments when they realized or "accepted" these things. To "lifers" in the church (or BIC/Born-In-Church), it's even more of a process than an event or events.

    In LDS terminology, we often call it "a mighty change of heart". And we realize it is the _beginning_ of a life-long process of progression.

    However, we also need to realize that our brothers and sisters in other churches also have their "mighty change of heart" experiences of conversion.

    But one of the big differences of definition, is that they define that moment as the point of their "salvation" or "getting saved". And most often, they define that "moment" or "conversionn experience" as all that's necessary.

    LDS also need to acknowledge that those experiences that our brothers and sisters in other churches go through _are legitimate_. The Lord does bless them in that experience, and does pour out his Spirit. I can personally testify that I felt a very great outpouring of the Spirit when I had my experience as a teenager. That experience as a teenager was even more powerful than the confirmations/conversion I went through as an investigator of the Book of Mormon.

    However, it should be easy to see how someone can get confused in thinking that such an experience is the "be all and end all", because the Lord blessed the experience with an outpouring of Spirit.

    LDS realize it is the _beginning_, such as with Alma Jr., Lamoni, Lamoni's dad, etc.; and progress and growth then needs to be pursued.

    But evangelical Christians often think it is "all done and over with", "I'm saved", "that's it", "don't need anything else", "good to go". After all, in the evangelical viewpoint, what can be needed more than "salvation"? Salvation is the be-all and end-all in their paradigm.

    So if that's the be-all, and end-all, for LDS to come along and say that you need MORE, that you need to progress, and press forward, keep the commandments for the rest of your life, and "endure to the end", well that pretty much cheapens that "getting saved" experience.

    Not only that, in their view, our assertion that you need "more", cheapens or even tries to negate that outpouring of Spirit they received.

  21. As I see it, that outpouring of Spirit on the part of the Lord comes under the heading of the Lord is bound when we obey. If someone undergoes that mighty-change-of-heart (or "getting saved" in evangelical terminology) experience, and fully turns towards the Lord with full purpose of heart, He is _bound_ to pour out his Spirit.

    Perhaps what our evangelical friends don't realize is that that initial outpouring of Spirit is merely a down payment (deposit or "earnest" as the NT puts it) of blessings to come. I get the impression they think it's more of a "done deal; don't need to do any more" kind of thing.

  22. Hi Jeff,

    I don't disagree with the verses you posted, I'm just asking whether or not those works/commandments are the basis of your eternal life (and I'm using that term with your definition now-of eternal life in the celestial kingdom with the father sharing in the same glory he has) because it seems like that is what LDS doctrine says.

    I agree that the life of a true disciple of Christ is filled with good works, but Believe that those works should be a result of our faith in the forgiveness of our sins through the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. As He says, we should love much because we are forgiven much. And the fruit of our love for God and others will be good works.

    Our faith in Christ's forgiveness will lead us to obedience….we won't be obedient in order to merit eternal life. Jesus's testimony is that our belief in Him is what gains us eternal life

    "That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life."

    THEN

    Our works will be evidence of that faith.

  23. is something wrong Jeff? Not feeling well? I have never seen you write So negatively. You need to accept your place and standing. We are NOT Christians to many religions due to not meeting their criteria. Why are you not okay with that? Learn to deal with the fact others do not consider us Christian by their criteria. Get past it.