In the comments on a recent post here at Mormanity, one of our critics stated that the Mormon concept of accessing the grace of Christ in a covenant relationship that involves seeking to follow Christ and keep His commandments causes us to live a life of fear. It’s a common objection from some Protestants who may see things quite differently than we do, but I think it is based on possible misunderstanding. My semi-serious offering here won’t solve the perpetual gap between widely divergent approaches to interpreting the scriptures, but might at least offer another perspective for those interested in understanding the LDS faith.
For those who have heard that Mormons live in fear, I’d like to introduce you to one of my favorite Christian
fearmongers, in fact, an early Christian fearmonger whose words rightly caused the great Apostle Peter to feel concerned. Indeed, Peter warned that this particular man wrote
things that confused many people about the Gospel, for his writings contained “some things hard to be
understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do
also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). So with that caveat,
recognizing that there may be risk in relying too heavily on his
sometimes confusing words, allow me to introduce you to the fearmonger
Here is some of his fearsome preaching in Hebrews 4:
1 Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it….
9 There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.
10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.
11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.
other words, “Folks, be afraid, be very afraid, for you can fall and
depart from the promised rest God offers to his people. So don’t slack
off, but labor diligently to enter into that rest, lest you fall.”
was big on fear. In Acts 13:26, he told his audience that “whosoever
among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent.” And after his conversion, when he joined up with the Christians in Judea
and neighboring regions, they were soon “walking in the fear of the
Lord” (Acts 9:31). I bet it was his fault.
But plain old fear
was not enough for Paul. He wanted something more dramatic, namely, fear
and trembling. Wow. Thus, in Phil. 2:12, we have this extreme example of
fear-based emphasis on obedience: “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have
always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my
absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Read the words in bold out loud, slowly, and then ask yourself if this man could possibly be a Christian? It was no mistake–he
used that same phrase in Eph. 6:5 and 2 Cor. 7:15. I know, I know, with
all that talk of works, obedience, and fear, he has no more right to be
called Christian than any Mormon does.
Naturally, I recognize such doctrine
is a horrible departure from historic Christianity (here I use the
generally accepted definition of “historic Christianity,” namely,
“that particular branch of Christianity that developed in a portion of
northern Europe about 600 years ago”). But frankly, I still rather like the man.
Guess it’s my life of fear as a Mormon that helps me appreciate Paul’s
So when Paul tells us to cleanse ourselves and seek
“holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1), when he praises those who
respond to his preaching with repentance and fear (2 Cor. 7:11), when he
tells us to submit “in the fear of God” (Eph. 5:21), when he encourages
Church leaders to rebuke sinners so “that others also may fear” (1 Tim.
5:20), when he warns that willful sin will bring “a certain fearful
looking” for the judgment of God (Heb. 10:27), and even says that it is a
“fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:27),
I’m willing to take his words with a grain of salt and, frankly, am
still willing to accept him as a fellow Christian, in spite of Peter’s
warning about his words.
Peter, like many authentic early Christians, apparently had his own Mormonesque fear-based issues, as we see in 1 Peter
1:17: “And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons
judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning
here in fear”. Wow, Peter was also into that whole “fear God and obey
him” Mormon-like thing. In fact, after warning his readers about Paul and the destruction that came upon some who misapplied Paul’s words, he then tells them to “therefore … beware lest ye also, being led away
with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness” (2 Peter 3:17). Beware, be afraid, lest ye fall and face destruction. Yep, Peter was something of a fearmonger himself.
But in the end, I know that both Peter and Paul
also understood the love and grace of God. They both realized that we
can fall from grace and depart from the living God (1 Cor. 10:12), and
that we needed to endure to the end to receive the full blessings of
grace (1 Peter 1:3-10, though Peter sounds way too Mormon there, so, uh, beware). So
telling us to not slack off, to “fear” or respect God, and to have some healthy fear about the grim alternatives
if we depart from Christ, all was actually intended as a kind, loving thing to help us. I think their heart was in the right place, so I’m willing to give both
of them a pass on this. Hope the rest of you will soften your hearts
and give them a break as well.