A guest post by our friend Ray
I view the purpose of this life as becoming like Jesus was in His mortal life – and the purpose of the next life as becoming like Christ is now in His post-mortal life. For me, everything else (specific doctrine, intellectual understanding, nuanced discussions of exegesis, whatever) is secondary to that.
Joseph Smith was asked how he led the Church, and he responded: “I teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves.” “Principles” is not equivalent to “doctrines” or “intellectual understandings”. I read this to mean that the Church should give us the broad, general outline (connect the border pieces of the puzzle, if you will), but it should leave it up to us to complete the puzzle for ourselves. This might produce slightly, or even radically, different puzzles, but they all will share the basic outline – the core principles. That’s important to me.
When it comes down to it, I base my core principles on three main statements of Jesus:
“Be ye therefore perfect,” (Matt. 5:48 – meaning “complete, whole, fully developed” not “mistake free”); “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matt. 7:20 – meaning our works must flow from our connection to a pure tree or vine); “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21 – self explanatory). Basically, my core principles derive fundamentally from the Sermon on the Mount, but those three verses are the key.
When push comes to shove, I simply don’t care exactly what someone says they believe – only what they do and what they are becoming. If they teach Buddhism or if they claim atheism – if their background is of solid testimony of the Restored Gospel (TBM) or of disillusionment and leaving the Church (DAMU) or of never embracing what I believe (“non-Mormon”) – Again, when push comes to shove, I don’t care one bit. I really don’t, as long as they are trying to do the will of the Father as they understand it and become perfected (whole and complete). I believe God will sort that all out in the end, and my responsibility simply is to do His will, as I understand it, and help others do the same, as they understand it.
Why do I share that in this context? I believe in the Restored Gospel deeply and passionately, and I enjoy the intellectual stimulation I find on various blogs. However, my intellectual efforts do not define my discipleship. That is defined by my realization that no matter how my brain constructs my doctrinal understanding, it’s much more important what I do than what I say – what I am becoming than how convincing my arguments are. I believe I am intelligent enough to construct a solid intellectual justification for whatever I decide to believe. I also am intelligent enough to realize that others can do so, as well – often constructing different justifications than mine. I’m fine with that, as long as both of us are sincere in our efforts. My understanding may be different than another’s, but if we both are working to become the same thing (perfectly complete and whole and righteous [“right with God”]), our journey can be one of mutual respect and camaraderie and joy no matter our doctrinal differences.
I engage in internet conversations specifically to find ways to hone my discipleship – to plumb the depths of others’ understanding to find new ways to bring me closer to my Father. That’s what I long for in the discussions in which I engage – a place of refuge and rest, where I can drink deeply from the cup of perspective and insight – no matter the theological or denominational affiliation of those with whom I converse. I don’t want to fight and argue over minute points of doctrinal interpretation, although I will challenge statements that I think are hyperbolic and mean-spirited. I want to share and sup. That is the sustenance for which I hunger and thirst – the soothing sips of insight that restore and reaffirm my resolve for righteousness. I don’t hunger and thirst after insight for itself; I hunger and thirst after insight that leads me to greater *righteousness* – to be imbued more fully with the Holy Ghost – to do the will of my Father – to bring forth fruits meet for repentance – to become therefore perfected (whole and complete).
Everything else is meaningless if it isn’t involved in getting there.
Loved your thoughts Ray, I am continually honing my views, trying to open up to new ideas and become less judgmental. I look up to your ideals.
So something struck me after reading your definition of perfect. Do you not believe then, that Christ was “mistake-less”? Because this would soothe a doctrinal itch of mine. Thoughts?
“as long as both of us are sincere in our efforts”
That’s a mighy big ‘as long as’, as I think we’ve discussed before. At some point I will write something at length on the problem of sincerity. It is one of the big four principles that lead to personal revelation, along with pondering, real intent and faith. And, I think, in probably the most difficult of all.
Other than that, I think you and I will always mostly see eye to eye because, mostly, we follow the same principles. To me, the whole point is in knowing Jesus – who He is and who He isn’t, and following the path that leads to becoming like Him. That is the One Thing Neccesary. “Martha, Martha, you are concerned and troubled with many things. One thing is neccesary.”
I have found nothing in the canon that says Jesus was “mistake-free” as we generally would define that. I am bothered greatly (and annoy my wife because of it) by song phrases like, “He never got vexed when the game went wrong, and he always told the truth,” and “Little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes” – more by the second one, since it’s just a stupid denial of his physical humanity.
I look at a few things:
1) Jesus’ stated definition of perfect (complete, whole, fully developed) in Matthew 5:48 – the conclusion of the rest of Matthew 5 listing characteristics of wholeness. I have been going into great detail about Matthew 5 on my blog this year, but I believe it is GREATLY misunderstood by WAY too many people – both inside and outside the Church. Whenever I speak without an assigned topic, I speak on some aspect of pursuing perfection.
2) The Biblical statements about how Jesus grew and progressed “line upon line, grace by grace” and “in favor with GOD and man”. That implies that He was MORE “favorable” **with GOD** as He grew – and interesting topic in and of itself.
3) The 2nd Article of Faith says that we will not be held accountable for the results of The Fall – for Adam’s transgression. I would love to write about how the Atonement of Jesus paid for those “natural man” tendencies that He, Himself, inherited from Mary – but that would be considered blasphemous by most Christians.
4) We also believe that little children and the ignorant (those lacking understanding) are not accountable for their “mistakes” – the “transgressions of the law” that happen simply through lack of understanding. Why must Jesus have been any different?
Thomas said the whole point to him is “KNOWING Jesus” (who he is and who he isn’t), Ray’s post seems different. I read his post as if someone follows Buddhism and by so doing is also doing the will of the father, then they are still “becoming” like Jesus which is a detail that will be sorted out in the end. My Presbyterian friend would argue that this is wrong because accepting Christ is the saving factor and that works would spring forth out of his love for Christ. However, in his quiet tolerance for the details of grace/works held by others, I can see he shares some of Ray’s viewpoint to a degree. I do like the idea of what we are “becoming”. A recent drudgery scout meeting I had to attend had one pearl in that the emphasis was on “becoming” and Eagle scout rather than “getting” the Eagle scout. They don’t need the badge to have the qualities that are obtained in the process. This is allegorical to “becoming like Jesus was in His mortal life” om this life –and the purpose of the next life, becoming like Christ is now in His post-mortal life.
I was once in the position of trying to explain 3 Nephi 28:34-35 to a Japanese investigator who was Buddhist. Verse 35 has the phrase “And it would be better for them if they had not been born” referring to those who do not “hearken unto the words of Jesus”. He took this to mean that because he was Buddhist, the Book of Mormon taught that it was better that he was never born. I focused on the plan and the concept that all inhabitants of the Earth followed Jesus (Jehovah) in the pre-existance, but I kind of like where Ray is going with this concept of specific doctrine becoming secondary, if I am understood his post correctly. If I haven’t, set me straight Ray.
I don’t think it is possible to come to know Jesus without also becoming like Him. That is to say: ‘knowing’ means more than accumulating correct facts. It actually means an intimate understanding that only comes through sharing His experience, and His sharing in ours (which He has already done). How knoweth a man the Master he has not served, and is far from His thoughts and the intents of His heart? (to paraphrase) This is, I think, described when Jesus prays that we become one in Him, as He is one with the Father. I use that word “know” because that is the description we’ve got as equating to ‘eternal life’ in the scriptures. This is not ultimately possible without participation is Melchezidek Priesthood ordinances which contain keys to the ‘mysteries of the kingdom, even the knowledge of God.’ Without those ordinances, the power of God is not made manifest to men in the flesh (D&C 84). (Not only receiving those ordinances, but understanding their symbology though faith, study and experience, which means living the principles contained in them.) That isn’t to say that members of other religions, and, especially, no religion at all*, don’t do the work of God, or that God isn’t associated in whatever inspires them to do good and believe true things. They may know through the Spirit of Christ many good, true and beautiful principles – and in so far they do understand those things, we would be silly to not give them an ear. But the true nature and personality of God will remain a mystery to them.
* I’ve always kind of felt that people who espouse no religion, who keep themselves aloof due to a rigorous self-honesty, are more likely to understand things then people who dedicate themselves to a cause, whether that be political, religious, philosophical, etc. with all the inhernet biases that dedication entails. I wouldn’t exclude Mormons from that, either – unless we are actually on the path, which significantly includes a willingness to sacrifice our own views and prejudices to learning.
Ray: Wonderful post. I am a relatively recent participant in the bloggernacle, and it has been interesting to think about the role my participation plays and will play in my discipleship. And it has really required some thought. In addition to helping me clarify my own thinking about the interplay between intellectual pursuits and becoming, your post motivates me to strive harder at what is important. Thank you.
Thomas Parkin: I look forward to your post(s) on sincerity. I think about my own sincerity (or lack thereof) a lot. It is a very intriguing concept.
on 3) – not only do I think you’re right, I think that while some things about our Christian heritage cause us to recoil from that insight, (the beleif that He came into the world with all knowledge and power) it is an essential insight. In Sec 93 we read that He “received not the fullness at first”, but “grew from grace to grace.” (which is pretty much exactly what Matthew says) And then it says this is revealed so that we can know ‘what we worship’ and how we should worship. (By emulating Him in the same process, presumably: coming unto Christ.)
“I think about my own sincerity (or lack thereof) a lot.”
I’ve got a friend, who isn’t a memebr of the church. (He’s a former atheist who now described himself as “Agnostic High Anglican”, which makes me happy.) He’s a philsophy prof at York University in Toronto (or, at least, that is where he got his PhD). Really bright guy, downright intimidating. Anyway, he tells me that it (sincerity) is the _only_ thing I think about.
“Joseph Smith was asked how he led the Church, and he responded: “I teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves.” “Principles” is not equivalent to “doctrines” or “intellectual understandings”. I read this to mean that the Church should give us the broad, general outline (connect the border pieces of the puzzle, if you will), but it should leave it up to us to complete the puzzle for ourselves. This might produce slightly, or even radically, different puzzles, but they all will share the basic outline – the core principles. That’s important to me.
When it comes down to it, I base my core principles on three main statements of Jesus”
I really liked your post, Ray, just one question.
I’m confused as to whether you are giving the church the role of defining the core principles (which you equated to the border of the puzzle), or if you would say you have defined your own border?
I think any church is supposed to set the basic parameters within which principles can be discovered. I don’t try to define the border, per se; I try to put the puzzle together within borders that have been established. I love Mormonism because the “borders” are so broad as to almost constitute no borders, but rather “conceptual guidelines” – particularly with the “core principle” of on-going revelation that results in an “evolutionary” view of understanding truth. It’s as if the borders are the principles, not any conclusions derived from them. Too many religions restrict their puzzles within select conclusions and build a wall well within the boundaries of the principles from which those conclusions were derived.
When it comes to the core principles, I think they are more fundamental than “The Church”. When I read the scriptures, there are certain principles that seem to be embedded in many of the stories and teachings – totally independent of any organizational structure. The ones that are mentioned explicitly in the 4th Article of Faith are faith, repentance, a public pledge of symbolic cleansing/renewal and following God’s word to you individually (to phrase baptism and the Gift of the Holy Ghost slightly differently), for example, can be pursued by anyone – even at any individual level. Conceptually, I believe it is the job of churches to encourage us to understand other core principles (like the practical universality of salvation and the possibility of exaltation) and strive to help us develop the characteristics of godliness that find expression through them.
That, however, is true of any church or religious organization. I see the main role of “The Church” as providing the ordinal and conceptual framework in which “the power of godliness” *can* be understood *fully* – and I think that is summed up in Matthew 5:48 (and modeled in the temple) very well. I’m nowhere near understanding it fully, but what I think I have seen is incredibly inspiring – even though it should be overwhelming. It’s a recognition, like I hinted at in the first verse, that the constraints on understanding are merely extensions of my own limitations – that the puzzle might just be so multi-dimensional – the principles so all-encompassing – that I’ll still be working it out millions of years from now.
I don’t know if that makes sense, but it’s the heart of why I believe anyone can have insight that can influence my personal understanding of the principles of the Gospel – since, on my own, I am limited in my vision by what I cannot see that often is obvious to others. Their puzzle can be taking shape within the same “principle boundaries” but have little overlap with mine. Wanting to see inside those other puzzles – to learn how to expand and deepen my own and encompass theirs – is what I think “hungering and thirsting after righteousness” is all about. It’s wanting to understand the “eternal picture” so badly that you will open the feast table to all and sample the unique foods that are brought to the banquet.
There is a HUGE difference between cultural and practical borders and the conceptual, principle borders I am discussing here. That’s a topic for another post – a discussion I don’t want to have on this one.
#5 & #7 – That is precisely what I meant. I think perhaps the greatest abomination of the apostasy was the distortion of the duality of His nature – that He was fully God but also FULLY human. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, AND Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent,” goes WAY beyond knowing about Him, but it also DOES include knowing about Him.
My wife’s favorite part of the BofM is 2 Nephi 4, specifically because it gives us a glimpse into the self-critical nature of a prophet that we rarely see. It makes Nephi more than a caricature; it makes him *fully* human. One of the things that makes Isaiah’s description of the future Lord so compelling is that it shows His trials and pains and suffering; it makes Him *more fully* human. “Knowing” Jesus in this sense – allowing Him to be *fully human* in ALL ways except the actual commission of sin – opens up the possibility of SUCH a deeper, more personal connection than knowing Him ONLY as God ever can.
That’s perhaps the biggest irony of the Restoration – that it emphasizes the way to have the deepest, most personal relationship with Jesus imaginable (ironically, outside of actual marriage) – that of “brother”. Ideally, we know our siblings’ faults and weaknesses but love them anyway. By removing ALL weaknesses and natural tendencies and temptations and spiritual growth, we literally create a chasm we can’t cross – a creature we can’t approximate – a Savior we can’t truly know. Other religions preach the need for a personal relationship with deity, but they erase the principles that allow such a relationship actually to exist. There really is a chasm between their God and them, but it’s a chasm of their own digging.
Looking purely at analogies, I find an interesting difference between talking about core principles versus outlines. We have two different ways of talking about what makes a Mormon a real Mormon. If we should all share the border pieces of the puzzle, (the outline) then couldn’t we conceivably arrange the center of the puzzle (the core principles) differently? Conversely, if we all share the core principles, the outline or borders are what will look differently for everyone (the same shining heart in everyone’s differently sculpted chest, for instance). 🙂
Are we saying the same thing with these two analogies? Or am I over-analyzing?
I think we are saying the same thing, John – just in different ways. I really do think that building the boundaries of “principles” rather than “doctrines” makes the outline malleable enough to be a 9-piece children’s puzzle or a 5000-piece, double-sided mountain snow scene that is almost impossible to complete – all dependent on the need of the individual believer. I think it allows us to create whatever puzzle works for us, while allowing for further expansion as new principles are identified and assimilated.
I believe puzzles can be right or correct or even “true” without being “perfect”. If I am working on the river, and you are working on the mountainside, and someone else is working on the sky – each of our work can be right and correct and true, without any of them being perfect (fully developed). Each might be “perfect in its sphere” (which is a fascinating concept, in and of itself, and deserving of attention separately), but if one’s vision can expand to recognize a vaster sphere . . . (kind of like the closing scene in Men in Black)
Let me reiterate, this is not simple religious relativism. I believe what makes The Church unique is the sheer breadth and depth of its outline – the unending potential within a nearly limitless puzzle – the real and practical atoning power it unmasks. The difference between that fundamental framework and its counterparts among other denominations is the heart, imo, of the statement, “their creeds were an abomination in his sight” – since those creeds serve to limit the potential scope of the outline and replace an ever-expanding framework with clearly defined boundaries. The creeds make the infinite finite – and that is a real shame, imo.
Nice thoughts Ray. I like a lot of what you have to say on perfection(ism).
So are you really a universalist, or is that more a principle of dialogue?
JfQ, I am a universalist in the Biblical sense of “as in Adam ALL die, even so in Christ shall ALL be made alive.” I don’t see how any believing Christian can address that verse (or the entire chapter [I Cor. 15], actually) without being “universalist” in that way – since ALL who die in Adam means ALL who ever have lived. In Mormon terms, that means I believe ALL (minus VERY few Sons of Perdition, who are the exception that proves the rule) will be “saved” and receive a degree of glory.
I also am universalist in that I believe exaltation is “available” for all – and I am “more universalist” than many other Mormons in that I believe we will be shocked in the end at the percentages that make up the various kingdoms. Frankly, I don’t preach reincarnation, since it’s not part of the Christian paradigm, but I see a “reincarnative process” in our theology that is missing completely from the rest of Christianity – that informs how we are universalist at heart.
At the very least, we teach of 5-6 distinct states of being – and one more if I am allowed to define creatively.
1) Intelligence – no idea, really, what that means
2) pre-mortal spirit – no idea, really, what that means other than “created” (embodied?) by exalted parents or what process was used in that creation
3) Mortal human – a combination of “immortal” spirit (relative, since the spirit used to be an intelligence?) and mortal body
4) post-mortal spirit – a pre-mortal spirit with more memories (*grin*)
5) post-resurrection being, which might or might not be “separated” (sorry for the pun) from
6) post-judgment, “glorified” being – assigned to a kingdom of God (Father, Son OR HG)
The 7th stage would be Heavenly Parent.
It is noteworthy that the first SIX stages are universal in our theology. The only one that is not universalist in every way is #7. It also is instructive to note that those who accuse Mormons of being arrogant exclusionists almost “universally” are LESS universalist than we are. That is one of the most ironic aspects of religious debate I can imagine – and it influences my frustration with conversations with others about temple ordinances. Those discussions generally are couched in terms of the arrogance such ordinances illuminate, when, in fact, they are the PRACTICAL core of our universalism.