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Alma Gets Saved

October 16, 2009

In my recent studies of the Book of Mormon my earlier conclusions have continued to be confirmed: the Book of Mormon does not teach Mormonism!

In today’s study, we reflect on Alma’s conversion experience.  His is a classic testimony repeated all over the world by followers of Jesus Christ from every tongue, tribe, and people who have been born again by the Spirit of God. I can personally relate to all of the elements of the gospel in Alma’s testimony and I share the same future hope:

1) Alma is deeply convicted of his sin (Scripture References – Matt. 3:2; Acts 3:19, 17:30; Romans 3:23)– “my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins” (Alma 36:12), “I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments” (Alma 36:13), “the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror” (Alma 36:14), “I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins” (Alma 36:17).

2) He comes to understand that the solution for his sin is found in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Isa. 53:5; Rom. 5:8; Heb. 10:12-14; 1 Pet. 2:24; I John 2:2)– “I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world” (Alma 36:17). In other statements Alma made previously, he connected the atonement with Christ’s sacrificial death, not Gethsemane: “For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice…but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice…an infinite atonement which will suffice for the sins of the world…and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yeah, infinite and eternal. And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice…” (Alma 34:10-15)

3) Alma prays directly to Jesus Christ and asks for mercy and forgiveness for his sins (Matt. 9:27; Luke 18:13, Rom. 10:13)- “Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought [the atoning death of Christ], I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death” (Alma 36:18).

4) He finds immediate forgiveness and peace by trusting in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of his sins (Rom. 3:24-26, 5:1; Heb. 10:16-18) “And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more” (Alma 36:19).

5) Alma is filled with joy immediately after trusting in Christ and connects this joy with the filling of the Holy Ghost (Eph. 1:13-14; Gal. 5:22) – “And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy. Yea, methought I saw, even as our father Lehi saw, God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God; yea, and my soul did long to be there. But behold, my limbs did receive their strength again, and I stood upon my feet, and did manifest unto the people that I had been born of God. Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost” (Alma 36:20-24).

6) His future hope matches the future hope of every born-again believer who has received Jesus Christ as Savior and sin-bearer – he looks forward to dwelling with God and praising Him forever (Rev. 4:10-11, 5:8-14, 7:9-17)– “And I know that he will raise me up at the last day, to dwell with him in glory; yea, and I will praise him forever” (Alma 36:28).

A couple of questions to ponder:

1) Do you have a testimony similar to Alma’s – have you personally cried out to Jesus Christ and trusted in His sacrificial death to pay for your sins?  “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13), “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood” (Romans 3:24-25).

2) Are you preaching the same gospel Alma was preaching in this chapter – is your goal to see souls converted to Jesus Christ regardless of where they end up fellowshipping with other followers of Jesus?  Alma’s goal was to see people born again by the Spirit of God by coming to trust in Jesus Christ alone and His sacrificial death for their sins (Alma 36:24).  He was not calling people to join an organization.  “And behold, it is he that cometh to take away the sins of the world, yea, the sins of every man who steadfastly believeth on his name” (Alma 5:48).

“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world”

(John 1:29)

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. Cordelia permalink
    October 16, 2009 7:50 pm

    First off, I love this chapter. It’s so beautiful, so poetic, and the imagery is so profound. It leaves me feeling incredibly joyful that the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ can bring us complete liberation from the bonds of sin and death! What a miracle!

    I really don’t see, however, how this chapter conveys the message that the Book of Mormon does not teach Mormonism. What exactly in Alma’s words contradicts the message of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? I’ve honestly read and re-read your post, and I completely agree with every single point you brought up. I’m just not sure what it is I’m missing. I think, perhaps, that we are again having issues with interpretation, that we’re both seeing Alma’s experience through the lens of how we interpret what it means to be born again.

    Your first question, regarding if I have a testimony similar to Alma’s—yes, I do. There have been times that I have felt to be in the gall of bitterness and cried out to be saved. I often do my best to repent of my sins and ask to be redeemed by the saving blood of Jesus Christ. It is Him and Him alone who can save me.

    Your second question confuses me a little. Where in Alma’s testimony does he say he wants to save souls “regardless of where they end up fellowshipping with other followers of Jesus?” He never said that. There weren’t tons of different forms of Christianity in Alma’s time—there was only one, of which Alma’s own father, Alma, was prophet and head at the time of Alma’s experience. Yes, he did not call people to join an organization, but I don’t think it was necessary that he did. It was common knowledge among the people in the BOM times that believing in Christ meant that you were baptized and then continued to keep the commandments and fellowship with other believers. I don’t think there was an actual “church” set up in their civilization at the time, just like there wasn’t in Israel until Christ came and organized it according to His desires (which he also did in the promised land after his death, as recorded in 3 Nephi).

    I will say that yes, I am preaching the same gospel that Alma was preaching. I want to see souls converted to Jesus Christ. I think He can and will save as many as call on His name, and we will all live together and worship Him forever in the eternities. It just so happens that I also believe there is more that He and His Father have to offer to us, continued knowledge and glory beyond our comprehension, and that we can literally inherit all that They have.

  2. faithoffathers permalink
    October 16, 2009 9:05 pm

    Cheers to you for looking at what we read, teach, and consider scripture. I honestly respect you much more than 99% of those who criticize the church. Most never even go this far.

    And what a surprise that you found that we are not lying when we say that the Book of Mormon does not contradict the Bible as is claimed so often by those critics who never read it.

    Regarding your first question- I relate to Alma in a very personal, deep way. I too have been in the “depths” of sin and have pleaded with the Lord to forgive me and wash away my sins. I have felt His redeeming love, and the miracle of being clean once again. I truly never tire of pondering it all and what has become of my life since.

    Second question- yes- I very much believe I teach and believe the same gospel as Alma. If you read the entire record of Alma the younger’s life, you will see he was very instrumental in building up the organization of saints who worshiped Christ. He even gave up the position of Chief Judge to preach and strengthen the church.

    Again- major kudos to you for delving into the real LDS gospel found in the BOM. To me, it shows honest curiosity and sincerity rather than the desire to rush to judgement based on what others have said.

    By the way, in this chapter, Alma 36, is the most advanced and complicated chiasmus identified thus far in the BOM. I wish there was an effective way for me to demonstrate its structure here. But that is certainly less important than the doctrinal truths and testimony found there.

    Thanks,

    fof

  3. October 17, 2009 2:33 am

    Hi Cordelia! 🙂 I don’t think I’ve officially welcomed you yet! I am so happy to meet another female LDS blogger! 🙂

    Ok, you bring up a lot of really great points and questions! Where to start…

    First of all, you said, I really don’t see, however, how this chapter conveys the message that the Book of Mormon does not teach Mormonism. What exactly in Alma’s words contradicts the message of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

    According to the LDS church’s missionary manual Preach My Gospel (2004), it says we can “qualify” for eternal life by having faith in Christ, repenting, being baptized in water by someone having priesthood authority, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands of someone having priesthood authority, and by enduring to the end (pp. 68-69). This appears to be a very different gospel than the one being emphasized in this chapter of Alma.

    Your second question confuses me a little. Where in Alma’s testimony does he say he wants to save souls “regardless of where they end up fellowshipping with other followers of Jesus?”

    Ok, Alma did not specifically say this. My point was that his gospel was directly connected to the person of Jesus Christ and his testimony centered on a personal conversion experience with Christ rather than a list of things he believed were true about a human organization or human prophet. His testimony reminded me more of the testimonies of born-again Christians I’ve heard (of various denominations) rather than Mormon testimonies (speaking from personal experience here, I don’t know the personal testimonies of all Mormons).

    In regards to why Alma did not point people to an organization you said, I don’t think there was an actual “church” set up in their civilization at the time

    From my studies in the Book of Mormon the church was first established in 147 BC, before Christ allegedly came to the Americas (which I wrote about in my former post here if you are interested):

    It was this church that Alma says he was trying to destroy before his conversion (Alma 36:6).

    So, my point being, even though there was a church in Alma’s time, he was not primarily concerned with converting people to a church, but rather to Christ Himself. This is the same gospel portrayed in the New Testament. Salvation is never connected with the church, but rather with faith in the person of Christ.

    However, we see in LDS church manuals, such as True to the Faith, that exaltation salvation is connected with specific rituals that can only be performed by the LDS organization. Under the heading “Entering the Path to Eternal Life” (p. 21) we see “Baptism is the first saving ordinance of the gospel. Through baptism and confirmation by priesthood authority, you became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints… We will receive eternal life if we endure to the end, keeping our covenants and receiving other ordinances of salvation.” This section goes on to state that the Savior revealed “the true method of baptism to the Prophet Joseph Smith, making clear that the ordinance must be performed by one having priesthood authority” (p. 22). The section goes on into further detail about the covenants LDS members must make and keep and then in the section that is subtitled “Being Born Again” it states: “Through the ordinances of baptism and confirmation, you were born again into a new life” (p. 25).

    So, the definition of “being born again” currently taught by the LDS church does not appear to be the same definition that Alma was using. His conversion doesn’t even mention baptism, let alone the necessity of priesthood authority.

    Finally, you said, I think, perhaps, that we are again having issues with interpretation, that we’re both seeing Alma’s experience through the lens of how we interpret what it means to be born again.

    I think this is probably very true. Would you share with me what you understand “being born again” to mean?

  4. October 17, 2009 2:35 am

    Hi fof,

    I assure you that I genuinely want to understand and to be correct in my portrayals of Mormonism. I will be honest that I was careful in how I wrote this post by saying “the gospel that Alma was preaching in this chapter” because I do not agree with things taught or emphasized elsewhere in Alma. So I would disagree with your statement “the Book of Mormon does not contradict the Bible” but we can agree to disagree on that for now. In this post I really wanted to emphasize the aspects of Alma’s testimony and message that I agreed with.

  5. October 17, 2009 7:12 am

    Alma 36 has long been one of my favorite chapters in the Book of Mormon. Even before I really knew Christ, I knew this chapter said some really important things about Him.

    One of my earliest spiritual experiences is of reading this chapter and finding so much joy in Alma’s description of turning to the Savior. I’ve always loved the way he juxtaposes his sorrow with his joy:

    “And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! …There could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. …And on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.”

    It’s just beautiful.

    And yes, my experience deeply resonates with the experience portrayed in this chapter. And no, I don’t believe God is constrained by the parameters of a single organization. What matters most to me is that people find the joy and goodness Jesus offers.

  6. Cordelia permalink
    October 18, 2009 9:51 pm

    Hi Jessica! Thanks for the official welcome. I wouldn’t call myself an actual LDS blogger, as I’ve rarely commented before and I don’t have an actual blog myself (outside of the typical family one with pictures so the grandparents can keep up). But thank you anyway =)

    I actually read your reply yesterday morning, but I’ve been mulling it over since then. I know that seems like an eternity in the blogging world, but I wanted to make sure I thought through my response before I replied.

    First I need to apologize. I said I didn’t think there was a church set up at that time, and I was completely and utterly wrong. Please accept my apologies. I don’t know why I said that—I can only claim that my head was still foggy from my recent cold and I wasn’t thinking straight. Thanks for pointing out to me the error and for allowing me to correct myself.

    You’re right, the first principles and ordinances of the gospel, as listed in the 4th Article of Faith (and reiterated in that passage you quoted from Preach My Gospel), include having faith, repenting, being baptized, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. We must then continue on the path that leads to eternal life, as mentioned in 2 Nephi 31. This is the gospel that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints endeavors to preach.

    I can definitely see why you would think this to be a different gospel than the one explained in Alma 36. Allow me, if you please, to explain why I don’t see it as a different gospel at all.

    The first thing that occurred to me was this: who is Alma? Where is he coming from? If you haven’t read the actual back-story to this experience as written in Mosiah 27, then please do. Alma was the son of Alma, who was the leader of the church at that time that Alma the Younger had his experience with the angel. I can imagine that, as a parent, Alma had taught his son about the gospel. Maybe he had even been baptized—we don’t know. It isn’t written. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, whether before or after his life-changing experience. I don’t think that failing to mention the ordinance means that it wasn’t performed nor that it was unnecessary for either Alma or those he labored to bring to repentance.

    Who was Alma speaking to? He was not preaching to a bunch of unbelievers. He was not seeking to convert anyone in particular. These are the words of a father to his son. Alma wanted his son to know of what he had experienced and what had made him into the man that he eventually became. It was this experience that was the catalyst in bringing him to God. It’s a beautiful testimony and I’m glad he shared it with his son (and therefore us).

    I agree with you that his testimony sounds more like that of a born-again Christian. Here’s my question: how many different types of Christians were there at this time? There was only one church that followed Christ, from what I can tell. That is very unlike modern day. There was no need to emphasize the need for authority at that time—it doesn’t seem like there were other churches preaching. The only church that taught of Christ was the one that had the authority to baptize in His name.

    I know that Mormon testimonies often speak of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, of temples, of a multitude of other things. It’s my opinion that this is because those are things that are unique to this church—you can find people speaking of Christ in any one of a thousand different churches in this day and age. But where can you find people speaking of one true church? Where do people claim that authority is necessary and that it is to be found in one specific organization? These things are unique to the LDS Church, and that, I think, is why they are often emphasized. Humans tend to focus on things that are different. I do believe there is room for change in the typical Mormon testimony meeting. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t all believe that Jesus Christ is the center of our religion and that His sacrifice, His death, is the only thing that makes it possible for us to return to Him.

    I’m sorry this post got so long. I appreciate your patience with me—I just don’t know how to be concise. I hope you can see what I mean. I don’t see the need to mention authority in Alma’s conversion, as it was obvious that it was there and it was used. Alma’s own father was baptized after learning of the gospel from Abinadi and feeling himself be converted. It only makes sense that Alma would do the same. We just don’t have a record of it.

    One last thing: you asked what I understand “being born again” to mean. I believe in the kind of experience that Alma had, that someone can have an incredible experience in which they feel their sins be forgiven. I don’t think that is something that is confined to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Lord can and will forgive anyone who comes to Him for forgiveness. Some people think that this forgiveness is all that it takes to be “born again.”

    But I think that, in order to truly be born again, once must be born of water and of the Spirit, as Jesus Christ told us in John 3. Once we feel that forgiveness of sins and are converted to the Lord, we must seek out that ordinance that even Christ Himself did not avoid—we must be baptized. We must receive cleansing power of the Holy Spirit. It is an entire process—having that faith, repenting, being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit. Going through all of these things is what I believe it means to be born again.

  7. October 19, 2009 12:39 am

    Hi Cordelia! 🙂

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful, articulate, and in-depth reply. I completely understand that sometimes it takes longer to respond – we all have busy schedules to keep. Sometimes I can’t keep up with the blog and other times I find time. It’s been on the back burner for me most of the summer and I had thought about taking a break this fall as I had some other ministry plans that I expected to take up more time, but somehow I have been finding more time recently. So don’t ever feel pressured like you have to respond right away, but I was glad to hear back from you on this topic!

    You said, But where can you find people speaking of one true church? Where do people claim that authority is necessary and that it is to be found in one specific organization? These things are unique to the LDS Church, and that, I think, is why they are often emphasized.

    Actually, the one true church claim is something I don’t find unique to the LDS church at all. There are many churches that claim to be God’s “one true” church and yet each of these churches seem to place special focus on certain requirements for salvation that Jesus did not emphasize. In my opinion, each of these churches usurps His unique and central role as “the door” and makes the church (or rituals unique to that church) “the door” through which a person is saved. It deeply concerns me that many people in these “one true” churches might actually be making their church (or a certain ritual) their central object of trust instead of Jesus Christ. The New Testament teaches that Jesus Christ should be the central object of our trust, not a church (John 10:9, 14:6).

    I agree with you that someone who has received Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord should follow Christ’s example and be baptized. But the New Testament makes a distinction between saving faith (being “born again”) and the public testimony of baptism that follows. The Apostle Paul was concerned about doctrinal errors that were creeping into the early NT church where people were already gravitating toward allegiance to human leaders instead of to Christ alone:

    “For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ” (I Cor. 1:11-12).

    Paul corrected them by declaring that these kinds of divisions should not occur in the body of Christ which centers on Christ and His work for us:

    “Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name…for Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel; not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (I Cor. 1:13-18).

    There are several differences that stand out to me between the gospel Paul was preaching and the gospel Joseph Smith taught:

    1) Paul was so concerned to keep Christ as central at all times and he urged the brethren not to be divided from one another over human leaders. He said Jesus Christ should be the central, unifying object of our faith and that we should not be divided over claims of superiority based on which human leader baptized us or led us to Christ.

    2) Paul made a definite distinction between “the gospel” and baptism. Note in v. 17 where he said, “Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” Later, in I Cor. 15:1-11 Paul declares the elements of the gospel and you will note that he does not include baptism.

    3) Paul was especially careful not to baptize others because he did not want them to be confused as to the emphasis of his message. He was not pointing people to himself or any other human authority, but rather to Christ who never gave up His authority when He ascended into heaven (Matt. 28:18).

    In the passage you brought up (John 3) I don’t believe “born of water” is referring to baptism at all. If you look at the context Jesus and Nicodemus are talking about the difference between physical birth and spiritual birth. Right before the part where Jesus talks about being born of water and of the spirit Nicodemus had just asked for clarification on what Jesus meant by being “born again.” Nicodemus did not understand the term in a spiritual sense at all and thought that Jesus was referring to physical birth. He asked Jesus how a man could be born when he is old and whether he would have to enter back into his mother’s womb (3:4). Jesus clarified by explaining that a person must be born not only of water (physical birth) but also of the Spirit (spiritual rebirth) in order to enter the kingdom of God. That this is Jesus’ meaning is further made clear in the very next verse for He says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” There is nothing in the context remotely referring to baptism. It is about physical birth and spiritual birth. Nowhere in John’s gospel does he intimate the necessity of baptism for saving faith. John’s gospel is very heavy on the theme of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. I’ll admit I do think there are a couple of “proof texts” that people can use for the view that baptism is necessary for justification, but I don’t think John 3:5 is one of them. And I think they can all be resolved by looking at the context and comparing scripture with scripture.

    Again, I want to emphasize that I agree with you that followers of Jesus Christ should be baptized. I just see it as one of those inevitable results of being born again, not as a requirement on a checklist to merit salvation. Someone who has been born again by the Spirit of God will have a desire to follow Jesus Christ and obey Him. I believe the fruits of justification – such as following the Lord in baptism – are part of the sanctification process rather than a part of justification (Romans 4:1-8).

    So much more to say, but this post has already grown quite long!

    What are your thoughts/responses on this?

    Thanks for the great discussion!

  8. October 19, 2009 1:04 am

    It’s seems in these discussions, that it is important not to confuse “justification” with “sanctification.”

  9. October 19, 2009 1:43 pm

    Jessica ~ Question for you. Unless I’m misreading you (which is possible), you indicated on CleanCut’s blog that you believe it is possible that the Book of Mormon was inspired by Satan.

    I understand that we have a biblical basis for believing the forces of evil can display supernatural powers. There’s the miracles performed by Pharoah’s priests, the medium at Endor conducting a séance for Saul in which she successfully called forth the spirit of Samuel, and the accounts in the gospel of miracles being performed by people who are not followers of the Lord, among others. Of course the passage about how Satan can even appear as an angel of light is famous in LDS-Evangelical discourse.

    But do you honestly believe that it could be Satan who inspired Joseph Smith to write out the prayer on how to get saved as displayed here in Alma 36? Even if he believed that it would later bait people into acceptance of things like polygamy (or more properly, adultery masquerading as polygamy), polytheism, the Adam-God doctrine, etc., that still seems like a rather risky move on Satan’s part.

    (I say it’s possible that I’m misreading you because perhaps you only meant to indicate that you believed Pearl Curran may have been in touch with a demon, not that Joseph Smith’s spiritual contacts were demonic, so forgive me if that’s the case. Then again, why a demon would inspire a woman to write 17th century poetry and prose is also on my list…)

  10. October 20, 2009 12:38 am

    Hi Jack,

    Great question! For the record, I am presently undecided on the origins of the Book of Mormon myself. Sometimes I lean toward the naturalistic view that Joseph Smith wrote it when he was less distanced from his Christian roots and before he was lifted up with pride and strayed off into immorality and then lies to justify his immorality. I see the doctrinal changes between the BoM and the D & C as part of his own personal theological shifts.

    On the other hand, when I read about the actual method of translation and compare it with stories like Pearl Curran I have a hard time not seeing the occultic connection.

    I definitely think it’s possible that a product such as the Book of Mormon that contains many elements of truth mixed with error could have been inspired by Satan as part of a greater scheme to lure people away from the truth and into deception. The “angel of light” passage you brought up is an excellent example of Satan’s method. All the warnings in the NT to test the spirits, be on guard, be sober, be vigilant, etc. indicate the subtle nature of the enemy’s strategies. I don’t think he’s primarily concerned with concocting plans to deceive those who could care less about God. Their own sinful natures keep them pretty busy and I don’t think they are his primary target. I think it’s the spiritual seekers that he is primarily concerned about deceiving with false spirits. If someone is going to actually seek God Satan will try to do everything in his power to keep them from finding Him.

    All religions have many aspects of good and truth. And, yes, even including a prayer such as Alma prayed can be included if inserted into something that is riddled with salvation-by-works admonitions so that the end product is not preaching the same gospel as the New Testament.

    Finally, the end product was not rolled out in isolation. If it was, my view on it would be completely different. It would be some interesting, creative (and out-of-dispensational-order) 19th century Christian fiction. But when it’s rolled out with a system that authoritatively demands which parts are emphasized and which are minimized/re-interpreted the end product doesn’t seem so innocuous anymore.

    And I’m not primarily concerned with people being baited into polygamy. Obviously that was an issue in the LDS church’s history and there are groups of people still practicing it. The misery of their lives has driven many of them out of it and to the Savior, though. Currently, I’m concerned that the saving object of faith (Christ) is being usurped and replaced with a counterfeit (an organization/human leaders). How people get from “the Book of Mormon is true” to “the LDS church is true” remains a complicated piece of the pie that I haven’t totally figured out yet, but nonetheless it happens more often than not and so I have to be suspicious of the bait too.

    Does that make sense?

  11. October 20, 2009 2:39 am

    Jessica ~ It does. I’m not sure if I’m willing to go that far on what Satan can inspire, but I do see your point of view.

    I do find it curious that both Pearl Curran and Joseph Smith used an occult item/item with a magic focus (Ouija board, rock in a hat) in bringing forth their literary works. I do lean toward seeking a more naturalistic explanation for it though. In Pearl’s case, it’s been suggested that perhaps she was actually a literary genius whose creative ambitions were stomped out by her mother’s decision to force her into a singing career, and that the Patience Worth personality allowed her to release those crushed aspirations. I don’t see why it can’t be something along those lines with Joseph Smith, with the magic item for each person functioning as a sort of literary placebo to the alternate personality/personalities.

    I actually had a talk about this today with one of my professors. I’m going to look and see if there are any similar literary enigmas in American history, and possibly do my thesis on them. I probably need more to talk about than just Pearl Curran and Joseph Smith though. We’ll see.

  12. October 20, 2009 4:12 am

    Jack – I’ve read some of these naturalistic explanations before as well. They would probably resonate more with me if I hadn’t had some pretty bizarre experiences growing up. My parents were in full-time Christian ministry and somehow seemed to attract folks with a background in the occult. So I experienced a lot of things that psychologists and philosophers make a living sitting around and hypothesizing about. For me spiritual reality suddenly morphed into a very tangible and reasonable part of my world view.

    Sounds like a fascinating topic for your thesis! I believe there are probably other examples besides Pearl Curran and Joseph Smith. Are you looking to focus on writing enigmas in that time period only?

  13. October 20, 2009 4:32 am

    Reason I ask is that the popular New Age workbook (A Course in Miracles) might be a more recent parallel. I don’t believe the author employed a magic device of any type, but she claims the book was dictated to her by an inner voice who claimed to be Jesus. Over 2 million copies have been published since it was first for sale in 1976 and the book has been translated into 19 languages with 8 new translations in process.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Course_in_Miracles

  14. October 20, 2009 7:06 am

    I know some people who are way into A Course in Miracles. I haven’t read much about it, but I did listen to a CD about it once. It kind of ooged me out.

  15. October 20, 2009 7:10 am

    And I realize how judgmental and lame that just sounded. “I haven’t read it, but it creeped me out anyway.” Please forgive my ignorance. I usually know when to hold my tongue, but it’s late, so chalk it up to late-night filter reduction.

  16. Cordelia permalink
    October 20, 2009 8:57 pm

    Hey, Jessica! I think I could really get into this whole blogging thing…except I don’t have time to write very often, and often it seems the threads have migrated onto a different topic by the time I get around to responding. But, you did ask for my thoughts, so here I am 

    Wow, I really had no clue that there are other churches that claim to be the “one true church.” Thanks for enlightening me! I know that there are people in the LDS Church that focus more on the Church than on Christ, and that is a shame. There is a reason the Church has the name that it does—we really believe that Christ is the head of it and leads it directly. I believe firmly that Jesus Christ is the only Way back to our Father in Heaven, but I can see how many get sidetracked by things that must be accomplished along the Way. Human failings are very real, and we are all of us imperfect—but that doesn’t mean we’re on the incorrect path. The end goal is still the same. Still, I’m doing my best to make sure we focus more on Christ and His teachings. He really is the center of the entire gospel.

    I really don’t see how the actual words of the NT describing what you call saving faith, or being “born again” (though that actual phrase only occurs a handful of times), and what I believe that entails, are all that different. Where there is a distinction is in your interpretation of those scriptures. Obviously, we both interpret things differently, usually along the lines of how our belief system interprets them. The way you explain your interpretations helps me to see where you are coming from, but you must know that I don’t agree with that particular interpretation. That’s what makes these types of conversations so enlightening! 

    In regards to your points about the gospel Paul was preaching, I have the following responses:

    1) You said Paul was concerned that Christ should be the central, unifying object of our faith. I completely agree and don’t see as how the gospel as preached by Joseph Smith disagrees with this.
    2) Yes, Paul did say that Christ did not send him to baptize, but to preach the gospel. I don’t see how that implies that baptism is not necessary, though. Maybe Paul was not sent to baptize, but others were? Christ Himself did say to His Apostles, before His ascension into heaven, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Just because Paul did not baptize doesn’t mean there weren’t plenty others who were doing so. 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 does include the central figure of the gospel, but I don’t believe it was intended to be a comprehensive list of the entire gospel.
    3) You said, “Paul was especially careful not to baptize others because he did not want them to be confused as to the emphasis of his message.” That is your interpretation. And stating that Christ never gave up His authority is your interpretation as well—the verse you quoted, Matt. 28:18, says, “… ‘All power [or authority, in some translations] is given unto me in heaven and in earth.’” Then with what power or authority did Peter perform miracles after Christ’s ascension? Christ does hold all the authority, I believe, but He also authorizes certain people to act on His behalf while He is not here. That doesn’t diminish His authority, but rather expands it.

    Thank you for your interpretation of John 3. I do understand the context, and I can see where you are coming from. Of course, I believe differently, and think it a perfect explanation of the need for baptism. That doesn’t mean I’m incorrect because you understand it a different way.

    I’m glad that you agree that true believers should be baptized. There’s one thing we finally agree on! But we do disagree on the purpose and necessity of baptism. In my scripture study last night, something jumped out to me. It was Mark 16:16—“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” This was Jesus Christ speaking. How is baptism then not necessary for salvation? The phrase “and is baptized” is not optional in this sentence. It is required of us that we believe and be baptized in order to receive salvation. What is your explanation of this scripture?

    I look forward to your response!

  17. October 21, 2009 11:53 pm

    Hi Cordelia!

    I think I could really get into this whole blogging thing…

    Yay! See? Blogging is fun! 🙂 I have learned a ton since I first started blogging. It’s been a very interesting and enlightening experience. I wasn’t able to respond until now because I had a wisdom tooth extracted last night and was feeling a little down in the mouth. I’m starting to feel better finally!

    Wow, I really had no clue that there are other churches that claim to be the “one true church.” Thanks for enlightening me!

    And just to make things even more complicated for someone like me – even if I were to decide that the Book of Mormon was of God, I would then have to decide which branch of Mormonism was the “true” Mormon church. I think that even if I were to believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God I would never be able to accept that Brigham Young was his true successor. James Strang maybe 🙂

    Christ does hold all the authority, I believe, but He also authorizes certain people to act on His behalf while He is not here. That doesn’t diminish His authority, but rather expands it.

    Ok, so question for you. How do you personally discern which people Christ has authorized to act in His name? How do you decide, for example, that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were prophets of God but not James Strang?

    I’m glad that you agree that true believers should be baptized. There’s one thing we finally agree on! But we do disagree on the purpose and necessity of baptism. In my scripture study last night, something jumped out to me. It was Mark 16:16—“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” This was Jesus Christ speaking. How is baptism then not necessary for salvation? The phrase “and is baptized” is not optional in this sentence. It is required of us that we believe and be baptized in order to receive salvation. What is your explanation of this scripture?

    First of all, I think Seth made a good point earlier that it is a wise idea to define our terms and remember the distinctions between justification and sanctification. Let me explain what I mean by these terms. When I think of justification I think of my legal standing before God. As a sinner I have nothing to offer God to merit salvation. He has declared in His Word that humans are lost in trespasses and sins and have fallen short of the glory of God. Without the sacrificial death of Christ we are without hope in trying to make ourselves worthy of coming into God’s presence. God cannot excuse sin and still be completely holy and just. We are only deserving of God’s judgment for our sin. This is what makes the cross of Christ so central to my faith. God could not pardon sinful humans in any other way. He could not overlook our sin just because we were possibly succeeding in some small, paltry ways to keep His holy law. James 2:10 says, “for whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” So it truly is impossible for us to try to earn salvation by works. Rom. 3:21-28, 4:1-5:21, Gal. 3:6-22, Eph. 2:8-9 make this very clear.

    We might disagree that baptism is a “work” but I think anything we “do” in order to merit salvation is a work. Even those who say we have to pray a certain prayer. I say, Bogus! It’s not the prayer that saves! Only Jesus can save! God judges our hearts and He knows those that have truly repented for their sin and are trusting in the death of His Son as payment for their sin. This is the free gift of righteousness – that great exchange – that Romans talks about. We give Him our sinful lives and He gives us His righteousness. “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” – Rom. 5:18-19).

    So, God in His mercy has declared me free from the penalty of sin simply because of my faith in the work of His Son (justification / Rom. 3:22-28) and I grow in overcoming the power of sin (sanctification) as I yield myself daily to God and not to sin (Rom. 6:12-22). By abiding moment-by-moment in Christ (John 15) I can accomplish the good works that He has for me to do (Eph. 2:10). James later exhorts us that those who are truly in the faith WILL do good works so I believe following the Lord in baptism is expected of those who truly believe.

    So, all of this introduction just to help you see my view a little better before I dive into this passage you brought up… 🙂

    First of all, my method in scripture study is to consider the whole revelation of God and to compare scripture with scripture. In looking at the different books of the Bible and the different purposes for their writing I also consider the intent of the original author, his original audience, and the genre. I find that the less clear passages make more sense when compared with passages that are clearer. So when I come to a passage such as Mark 16:16 (which I believe is inspired narrative, albeit a contested passage by textual critics), I have to take into account what the rest of God’s Word has to say on the subject of how we are saved. I cannot assume that just because “believeth and is baptized” are linked together in the first sentence that it means they are both a necessity for salvation. That would only be true if the second half of the verse included the condition of baptism when it says who will be damned. However, we see only that those who do not believe will be damned. If the verse was teaching that baptism is necessary for salvation it would have to say “he that believeth and is not baptized shall be damned.” That would make baptism a necessity for salvation, but we do not find that kind of statement anywhere in the Bible. Rather, this passage teaches that believing is a necessity for salvation and that believing is closely linked with following the Lord in baptism. We have the deep theological treatises of the Apostle Paul to help us avoid confusion regarding how we are justified before God and to understand the difference between justification and sanctification. We also have the example in Luke of the repentant criminal who cried out to Jesus while he was dying on the cross and Jesus promised him eternal life in paradise (Luke 23:39-43). Of course, it is possible that he was baptized and the text just doesn’t say. But if baptism was necessary for salvation you would think the author of Luke would make the point that the man was able to be saved that day because he had been baptized previously.

    Ok, those are my views! 🙂 Looking forward to your reply!

  18. October 23, 2009 12:08 am

    Baptism isn’t a work for “meriting” salvation in Mormonism either.

    It’s just something we are commanded to do.

    There’s a difference.

    People forget that what we call “occult” today about Joseph Smith’s actions was perfectly normal and respectable in his day. In this sense, Joseph is simply a victim of religions that are embarrassed about their own supernatural pasts and trying to re-imagine themselves as something “rational” and “safe.”

  19. Cordelia permalink
    October 25, 2009 9:05 pm

    Hey Jessica! I’m sorry about the delayed response…work has been very busy lately, and I like to spend as much time as I can with my husband and son on the weekends. My husband is currently in a meeting and my son is asleep, so I have a few spare moments. =) I’m sorry you were in pain from your wisdom tooth extraction…so not fun. Here’s to feeling tons better by now!

    You asked the following: “How do you personally discern which people Christ has authorized to act in His name? How do you decide, for example, that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were prophets of God but not James Strang?” My response: To be perfectly honest, I grew up as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I was taught that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were prophets throughout my entire life. There did come a time when I wondered exactly why I should believe that, and I prayed and received a testimony through the Holy Spirit that these men were called of God. Why not James Strang, you ask? Well, judging from what I understand about what he taught, his teachings do not coincide with what we learn from the scriptures, neither the Bible nor the latter-day scriptures brought forth by Joseph Smith—especially his view that Christ was not the literal Son of God the Father. I see that as a direct contradiction to the written Word.

    Thank you for sharing your testimony. It is beautiful to know how you feel about Jesus and His infinite atoning sacrifice. I honestly would agree about many of the things that you said. It is impossible for us to try and “earn” salvation by works. I don’t see it that way either. I know many who are outside the LDS Church think we teach that, but like Seth said, baptism is not viewed as a work for meriting salvation. It’s something that we are commanded to do, and so we do it. I don’t think that my being baptized means that I earned my way into the Lord’s kingdom, but rather that my being baptized shows Him that I am following His example, and that I have entered in by the gate to the path that leads to eternal life (2 Nephi 31:17-18). I must now press forward and endure to the end, showing that I will give all I can to Him. That is what He has asked of me, and that is why I do it.

    I don’t think that we’ll ever convince the other that our view is correct. Only the Spirit of the Lord can do that by speaking peace and truth to our hearts when we are open and willing to be taught from on high. We can give scriptures back and forth until the Second Coming, but I don’t know that that will really accomplish anything. Suffice it to say that we disagree, that we understand different passages to mean different things, and that both of us are trying our best to do what we feel is right. May the Lord bless us both on our journeys!

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