Jacob’s Ladder: More on Faith Vs. Works

Bored in VernalBible, christianity, doctrine, Early Christianity, evangelicals, faith, grace, inter-faith, Jesus, LDS lessons, mercy, Mormon, religion, scripture, symbols, theology 44 Comments

Avatar-BiVOT SS Lesson #10

Though it’s only an “additional teaching idea” in Lesson 12, Jacob’s ladder has captured my imagination due to some conversations I’ve recently had with Christian evangelicals.

Jacob’s Dream woodcut, Lubeck Bible 1494

The theme of the ladder to heaven is often used by the Early Church Fathers. Their interpretations of Jacob’s symbolic dream in Genesis 28 are similar to those made by Mormon General Authorities. In the 2nd century, Saint Irenaeus described the Christian Church as the ladder of ascent to God. In the 3rd century Origen explained that there are two ladders in the Christian life; one of which is the ladder that the soul climbs on the earth increasing the virtues. In the 4th century Saint Gregory of Nazianzus spoke of ascending Jacob’s Ladder by successive steps towards excellence, interpreting thus the ladder as an ascetic path, while Saint Gregory of Nyssa wrote that Moses climbed on Jacob’s Ladder to reach the heavens where he entered the tabernacle not made with hands, thus giving to the Ladder a clear mystical meaning. The ascetic interpretation is found also in Saint John Chrysostom who wrote:

“And so mounting as it were by steps, let us get to heaven by a Jacob’s ladder. For the ladder seems to me to signify in a riddle by that vision the gradual ascent by means of virtue, by which it is possible for us to ascend from earth to heaven, not using material steps, but improvement and correction of manners.”

The account of Jacob’s Ladder as an analogy for the spiritual ascetic of life is again found in the classical work Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus. The ladder in Jacob’s dream represented a symbolic journey where each of the rungs suggest the steps needed to move upward. Man must climb up one level at a time as he participates in the saving principles and ordinances of the gospel offered by the Lord, who stands at the top. Notice how similar this description is to the quote by Marion G. Romney found in our lesson:

Jacob realized that the covenants he made with the Lord … were the rungs on the ladder that he himself would have to climb in order to obtain the promised blessings—blessings that would entitle him to enter heaven and associate with the Lord (“Temples—The Gates to Heaven,” Ensign, Mar. 1971, 16).

Later Christian interpretation of Jacob’s ladder is quite different than the early Church fathers, and demonstrates the dichotomy of thought between evangelicals and Mormons on the faith and works issue. In this exegesis, Jesus is seen as being the reality to which the ladder points in that he bridges the gap between heaven and earth. According to Martin Luther, Jacob’s vision of the ladder represented the incarnation of Christ. In the Gospel of John 1:51 there is a clear reference to Jacob’s dream pointing towards Jesus Christ, referred to by his title of the Son of Man:

And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

Adam Clarke, an early 19th century Methodist theologian and Bible scholar, elaborated upon this verse:

“That by the angels of God ascending and descending, is to be understood, that a perpetual intercourse should now be opened between heaven and earth, through the medium of Christ, who was God manifested in the flesh. Our blessed Lord is represented in his mediatorial capacity as the ambassador of God to men; and the angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man, is a metaphor taken from the custom of dispatching couriers or messengers from the prince to his ambassador in a foreign court, and from the ambassador back to the prince.”

In this one Biblical symbol we find differing schools of thought over the issue of salvation: One group views the ladder as a way to reach heaven based on their own actions of improvement and obedience to covenants and ordinances. The other group has access to heaven based on the provisions of God through the Mediator, Jesus Christ, who came to earth and became that ladder or stairway for the sinner to reconnect the relationship with God.

In pondering this issue in the past, I have lamented that such a rift exists between our two faith traditions. It often seems to me that we are closer than we think, and that grace and works are both important. Mormons, I explain, emphasize works so much because we fear that if we don’t, the sinner might lapse into laziness or indifference. Christians emphasize the grace aspect of the equation so that no one will mistakenly trust in legalism rather than the Savior for their salvation. Isn’t the truth a balance between Paul and James? However, the evangelicals have labored hard to convince me that salvation must be accepted upon grace alone. Lately I’ve been pondering why I am reluctant to join them in their assurance. I’ve accepted Christ as my Savior, and it certainly would be a lot easier not to worry so much about whether I was paying my tithing, going to the temple regularly, or doing my visiting teaching. But here’s what holds me back: if Jesus offers me the grace they describe, then I’ll be OK whether I’m doing my works or not. But if the Mormon view turns out to be the more accurate description of the will of God for us, I need to be trying my hardest to do all of those works which are in my power.

Am I living my life based on fear rather than faith? Maybe. Will it count against me in the end?  I don’t see how it could.

What’s your take on Jacob’s ladder? Do we walk up, or does God descend to meet us where we are? Can this scriptural metaphor be of any help to us in our faith journey?

Comments 44

  1. Great post, and great question. Particularly since participating more in the blogosphere and engaging Christian friends on this very subject, I’ve felt as you describe that we are indeed closer than we think. As I was walking home last night, in fact, I found myself annoyed that my “Christian” friends reject my flavor of Christianity, wondering how that was consistent with the Savior’s message of love. (I mean, if in their view I’m saved by Grace anyway, then what should it matter if I do my home teaching, too??)

    For me, the Grace is in the Plan itself; that there is a ladder is evidence of Grace, that there is a path Home is evidence of Grace, that repentance is even an option is evidence of Grace. And availing myself of that Grace allows me to honor Him who made it possible.

  2. I always thought it was a vision for or (proto)type of an endowment with God at the top sending angels constantly traveling back and for to administer the covenants then return and report.

  3. Paul, I think the Protestant nervousness with “works” arises out of an ancient suspicion (often confirmed) that Christianity can easily be made a means by which men set themselves up as authorities over others, and use people’s anxiety to be sure they are doing all that is required to work out their salvation as a means to immoral ends — “the silks, the satins, the fine-twined linens, and the harlots.” Although largely forgotten, Protestantism did have a long tradition of focusing on the worldly, dissolute, power- and luxury-loving Renaissance popes and cardinals, who seem to have spent more time *not* wearing their red robes than wearing them, if you get the drift. The art of the Roman Renaissance was splendid, but the hardscrabble German peasants didn’t quite appreciate being spiritually bullied into paying for them.

    So I think the Protestant absolutism about “works” reflects a concern that once you start making salvation dependent on performing tasks on a checklist, there’s nothing to stop the proverbial corrupt and designing priests to keep adding more items to the checklist — and pretty soon you have an aristocratic priestly class. The pattern has repeated across virtually all of human history, so this thinking isn’t entirely paranoid.

    Now, I certainly don’t buy into the extreme “grace gone wild” evangelical understanding of grace. You need to make at least a good-faith effort to live righteously, and most of us could probably do better. But I wonder sometimes — as we can be driven to despair by our inabiity to check off all the boxes Church culture demands of us — if it’s not truly possible to be so fixated on these things that we lose sight of the saving aspects of the Gospel, “look beyond the mark,” and lose our spiritual way.

  4. Post

    Good point, Thomas.
    Readers, do you think that by our Mormon emphasis on works we are disqualifying ourselves from the grace that Christ offers us?

    My evangelical friend told me today that God justifies the ungodly by faith apart from works. “Apart from first doing that,” he told me, “our good works—our really good works—only end up functioning like filthy rags 🙁 (frowny face his). The greatest commandments are to love God and then to love people. The only authentic way to do that is to receive God’s loving gift of free grace. Then we are liberated to love others in a way we never thought possible. ‘as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive’ (Col 3:13) — Because I have free and full forgiveness, I am more enabled to keep this command than Mormons.”

    I’m really not trying to stir things up, I’m just trying to understand where they are coming from. Why isn’t the forgiveness I am offered by the Savior as full and free as his, just because I am a Mormon?

  5. I just wanted to say that I always look forward to reading your post. I always learn something new, and or challenged to think about something in a different way. Thank you for a great post

  6. Post
  7. BiV, I acknowledge that there is a range of Mormon views on this, but the 2009 Gospel Principles essentially promotes a repentance-that-bring-forgiveness paradigm that is similar to Spencer Kimball’s six steps. Even with a selective, partial adherence to this standard, the sum-total effect I see it having on Mormon culture is to foster a view of forgiveness that is not free and full.

    I understand that neo-orthodox Mormons (often silently and ambiguously) reject traditional Mormonism’s harsher repentance-unto-forgiveness paradigm, but even with a softer Mormon view of the repentance that brings forgiveness I see a a problem still. Real forgiveness removes from me any condemnation forever. Whereas degrees of rewards for traditional Christians are not differentiated by any degrees of condemnation, Mormonism’s three-kingdom (and even three-CK-sublevel) partitioning ends up functioning as condemnation. Even if one approaches the issue of bottom kingdoms as self-imposed limitations, it still seems like a big problem because surely in forgiveness God promises to eventually free his people from their self-condemnation and self-imposed limitations.

    All that to say there are two problems: 1) The traditional repentance-paradigm for achieving forgiveness in Mormonism is far from free, as prerequisite requirements are often tacked onto a broken heart and an desperate faith. 2) Mormonism doesn’t necessarily promise the “forgiven” complete freedom from condemnation (self-condemnation included) or endless ever-increasing joy.

    Grace and peace in Christ,


    PS Five years later Marion G. Romney taught:

    “The truth is that we are saved by grace only after all we ourselves can do. (See 2 Ne. 25:23.) There will be no government dole which can get us through the pearly gates. Nor will anybody go into the celestial kingdom who wants to go there on the works of someone else. Every man must go through on his own merits. We might just as well learn this here and now.” (“In Mine Own Way,” Ensign, Nov. 1976, p. 123)

  8. Great post! Here’s my two cents: The Book of Mormon thoroughly (and I emphasize thoroughly) teaches that salvation is through Jesus Christ alone. Period. We have no power in and of ourselves to *earn* salvation (remember King Benjamin’s discourse? we are nothing…) We don’t have that kind of power. The works that we must do (i.e., ordinances, tithing, living the commandments) are mandatory behaviors to teach us to change our character and our ways of thinking so that we can understand, learn and eventually become Christlike.

    It’s a lot of work to change one’s character, which is the whole point and purpose of living the Gospel. Salvation was taken care of before the foundation of the world.

  9. It seems to me that the evangelical and Mormon definitions of “salvation” are similar. Saved from Hell. Resurrected to a place of joy where you can praise God forever. All because of the Grace. “Exaltation” on the other hand, requires works, according to Mormonism.

    So when Evangelicals say that Mormons think you need works to be “saved”, I don’t think that’s correct. Mormons think you need works to be “exalted”.

    I don’t think that the presence of the “exalted” option necessarily means that “salvation” isn’t “free and full”.

    But I still maintain that it doesn’t seem very “grace-full” to me to “eternally damn” (stop the progression) of a soul who could continue to grow in truth, wisdom, and merit.

  10. There is never a debate on grace vs. redemption. We are all saved by grace before being born because Christ fulfilled the atonement. That means we can’t do anything of our own merit to be saved (Alma 22:14). However, the Redeemer cannot redeem the unrepentant. That means we can only have a claim on mercy if we show our repentance (Mosiah 15:27). We can enter the Telestial Kingdom without our repentance, but we cannot enter the Celestial or Terrestial without our repentance. BTW, the atonement has no redeeming affect on Telestial people. They will suffer as Christ did.

  11. Post

    Ecumenigal, Because of the LDS Church’s unprecedented efforts in this new millennium to place themselves within the spectrum of views that are generally accepted as Christian, the necessity of “grace” has been emphasized in a different way than it was in nineteenth and twentieth-century Mormon teachings. Stephen L. Robinson has been in the vanguard of this redefinition, most notably in his book Believing Christ, and his atonement model The Parable of the Bicycle. Robinson claims that Mormons believe in salvation by grace and not by works. He teaches:

    “We participate in our salvation as we attempt to keep the commandments of God, but we can never earn it ourselves or bring it to pass on our own merits, no matter how well we may think we are doing.”

    This view is subtly different than traditional Mormon teachings, as exemplified by this quote by Bruce R. McConkie:

    “…one of the untrue doctrines found in modern Christendom is the concept that man can gain salvation (meaning in the kingdom of God) by grace alone and without obedience. This soul-destroying doctrine has the obvious effect of lessening the determination of an individual to conform to all of the laws and ordinances of the gospel, such conformity being essential if the sought for reward is in reality to be gained. Immortality is a free gift and comes without works or righteousness of any sort; all men will come forth in the resurrection because of the atoning sacrifice of Christ. (I Corin 15:22) In and of itself the resurrection is a form of salvation meaning that men are thereby saved from death, hell, the devil, and endless torment. (2 Ne. 9:17-27)… Salvation in the celestial kingdom of God, however, is not salvation by grace alone. Rather, it is salvation by grace coupled with obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.” (see also LDS Bible Dictionary, “Grace.”)

    Whereas the word “salvation” as an unmerited gift through Jesus’ atonement previously referred simply to resurrection, the new Mormon evangelists are now including exaltation in their definition of salvation by grace. That Robinson is extending salvation by grace to include exaltation is made very clear at the conclusion of his parable:

    “The truth is, there’s something we all want, and we want it more than any child ever wanted any bicycle. We want the kingdom of God. We want to go home to our Father in Heaven worthy and clean. At some point in that spiritual voyage, we recognize the full price of admission into that kingdom, and we also realize we cannot pay it. We’ll never have enough – – never. The tremendous price of perfect performance is hopelessly beyond our means.”

    In today’s Mormon atonement model, we are asked to give all that we can give and that Jesus will make up the shortfall. It’s subtly different than the salvation vs exaltation model you mention. It’s more like how Mitch #10 is describing it, however, I’m not sure just what to do with that little tidbit on the Telestialites not being able to access the atonement…

  12. If I may pop in again… (I’m new here so please pardon my abrupt and unannounced entrance but this is a topic that interests me) Tbe dichotomy of thought between Mormons and Evangelicals concerning works vs. grace is just as peculiar as the dichotomy of thought between Mormons themselves on the issue. There’s a vast differing of opinion…and I have to ask if it should be so and why it is so?

    I’ve never read in the scriptures nor have I heard in General Conference in the last ten years (since my baptism) anything that remotely instructs me to use any “power” I have been given of myself to “save myself” and then Christ will make up the difference. If I could save myself 20% and that’s all I could do, then I would only need 80% of Christ…when in reality I need 100% of Christ. (In fact, in our stake we were told by our Stake President in our last Stake Conference that the bicycle parable is a misnomer…I almost jumped up and shouted “YES!!” when I heard that.)

    Repenting is a requirement to access the atonement, and it is the only thing we can do. The only thing we can do on our own. It’s the only “work” we can do, if you will, but isn’t it also a demonstration of obedience to living the commandments since we are commanded to repent and to likewise forgive others? In spite of everything we can do it remains Jesus Christ who saves us. We have to be firmly attached to Him by our obedience and keep ourselves attached to Him by our obedience and He will see to it that we get to the promised land. Isn’t this the whole message of the Endowment?

  13. Mitch,

    You are wrong.

    If you live the Celestial Law, you will receive Celestial Glory; if you live the Terrestrial law, you will receive Terrestrial Glory; if you live the Telestial Law, you will receive Telestial Glory. If you cannot abide the Telestial law, you will receive NO glory. (See D&C 88:22-25)

    The Celestial, Terrestrial and the Telestial Kingdoms are the Kingdoms of GLORY there are an infinite number of other kingdoms. And there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in the which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom (D&C 88:37)

  14. Bored in Vernal,

    I would say that “today’s atonement model” is closer to what is “true”, but only because I believe in it. What I believe today may change tomorrow if I get better information than I had today. I think the word belief is flawed, because it implies a commitment to a piece of information. I seriously don’t believe there is much of anything in Mormon doctrine that is actual doctrine, because it continually evolves, and is subject to revision. There is only teachings that are popular at the time, teachings that in 100 years time from now may well be considered “folk” doctrines. I seriously question whether I have to worry too much about anything that comes from the pulpit or the Ensign. Not because there isn’t a lot of truth in it, but because

    (1) the Church leads us to Christ, but Christ and ourselves are responsible for our own progress once we personally come to him and are personally taught by him through revelation. My relationship with Jesus Christ, which is my personal relationship transcends anything that I could gain from “doctrine,” and

    (2) I am the one responsible for my own progression and I’m responsible to find out what is true by the Spirit of the Lord anyway myself, because the spirit will testify of truth when I hear or read it, and

    (3) Anything that the spirit does not testify of to me as true, I’m not bound by it.

    (4) everything is in such flux doctrine-wise and people get too caught up in the details of it. So if everybody would relax and just believe what their heart leads them to believe on salvation and all that, and just keep their covenants and serve in the church, then they will do what they need to do, and Christ will make their calling and election sure in a day to come anyway. I seriously question whether Christ cares what we believe about the details of salvation. If they would just answer “yes” to all their temple recommend questions unless they have some transgression to deal with and not worry so much about details, then their lives would be simpler.

  15. Post

    Skeptic: I worry about the details.
    I agree with you on the changing nature of doctrine in the Church. However, Christian doctrine does the same, as evidenced by the above post. The commenters here today show that there continues to be differences of opinion on the exact relationship of works to salvation. I have found this to be true in the Christian world as well. Even prophets (biblical and otherwise) seem to have a tough time making these things crystal clear.

  16. Ken, sorry to burst your bubble,but I never said anything about the kindgdoms having the same glory. All I ask is for you to share your concern with more clarity. Read the quoted scriptures and then make a comment. Your reference about space is a bit odd.

  17. Like #2, its fun to look at LDS endowment symbology with respect to the dream of Jacob’s ladder and see how many things can be matched. I appreciate BiV’s advice to step back and look more basically at the messages that can be learned from the dream. I appreciated the quotes from early Saints.

    I googled Jacob’s Ladder symbolism and found some interesting quotes from St Jerome, a Christian Priest born in the late 300s. In the work “Letters of St Jerome, there are a few references to Jacob’s ladder. The first is very interesing from the LDS perspective:

    “Lucifer, who arose in the morning, is fallen from heaven; and he who was reared in the paradise of pleasure deserved to hear: Though thou be exalted as an eagle, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord. For he has said in his heart: I will exalt my throne above the stars of heaven, I will be like the Most High. That is why God daily says to those who descend by the ladder while Jacob dreams: I have said: you are gods and all of you the sons of the Most High. But you like men shall die and shall fall like one of the princes. For the devil fell first and when God stands in the assemblage of the gods and publicly passes judgment on gods, the Apostle writes to those that cease to be gods: For when there are among you contentions and envyings, are you not men and walk according to man?”

    So in this usage, St Jerome seems to suggest that the ladder is the means of communication from God with the messengers instructing the recipients to cease walking according to man and become sons of the Most High…or “gods”. This follows the general pattern that BiV showed was the teaching of the early Christian fathers.

    In another letter, he uses the ladder symbol in a different way:

    “Bonosus, your good friend, rather–he is my friend too–our good friend, is now climbing the ladder foreshown in Jacob’s dream. He is bearing the cross. He takes no thought for the morrow. He does not look back. He is sowing in tears, that he may reap in joy. Adopting the symbol of Moses, he has hung up the serpent in the Wilderness.”

    Here he equilibrates climbing the ladder with bearing the cross. If I knew more about Bonosus, then it would make more sense. It sounds like he is in the service of the Lord, making sacrifices of personal comfort for the cause, perhaps. In so doing, he is becoming more like Christ, which is resulting in an ascent. Still a lot of emphasis on works or repentance.

    I also like this quote I found on another site from a work that is unfamiliar to me:

    “Ladders are considered places where heaven and earth or humans and gods can meet. Some legends relate that such a ladder existed in the Garden of Eden which God descended daily in order to walk with Adam and Eve. Its removal at the Fall represents the loss of easy communication between Adam and his God. Christ and the Cross are our ladders. Through these we regain access to our God and our heavenly home. In Christ heaven and earth meet. He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” There is no way to approach the Father except through Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Jesus used the symbolism of Jacob’s ladder to describe His intercessory role to Nathanael when He said, “hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1:51 NKJV). The monastery, and the Church are considered ladders as they assist people in the attainment of heaven. Sometimes Cisterian and Carthusian religious houses called themselves “Scala Dei” or “Ladder of God.” In the Byzantium Church, the Virgin Mary is considered a ladder since through her God descended to become a Man and through her intercession He grants sinners the graces necessary to reach heaven. St. John Chrysostom taught that the Mosaic Law was like a ladder which allowed God’s people to ascend to the position of spiritual adoption and freedom they currently enjoyed in Christ. Having reached the top of the ladder, the climber no longer required it to attain his goals (The Commentary and Homilies of St. John Chrysostom on Galatians, Philippians, Homily 11 – Philippians 3:7-10).”

    I think this is a good way to connect the two faith traditions. The ladder is a meeting of Heaven and Earth through Christ. Christ’s atonement encompasses the ladder as the way, the repentance process, and sanctification in order to draw near spiritually and receive divine teaching.

  18. Nothing really insightful to say other than I see works as a bad way of framing the debate, especially now they have become so laden with meaning. If I am seeking a relationship with God that is unified and ennobling I can’t see how I can approach him with anything other than a determination to love and reciprocate the love and fellowship which he offers by grace. I see covenants and commandments as important ways to actively break down the barriers to this type of loving relationship with him and with other people. Are we saved by grace? Certainly. Do we reciprocate such love with our own? Yes. Does this some effort? Yes. Am I saved by this effort? Not in the sense that we could merit the love offered but there is a real sense that our relationship with God enables us to become divine.

    Thanks, as always, BiV.

  19. I’ve never really understood the Evangelicals’ position against Mormonism either. For some reason, according to them, if they accept Christ they are saved but if we accept Christ we are not saved (because we’re Mormon). I just don’t get it. Maybe an Evangelical could explain that to us on here. The closest thing to an explanation I’ve heard is that this is true because we don’t believe in the same Christ that Evangelicals believe in. So, when we accept our Christ, it’s not the true Christ so we’re not saved. I just don’t get that either. That’s kind of like saying, “I believe that BiV wrote this post. You also believe that BiV wrote this post but the BiV who you believe wrote this post is not the true BiV so you don’t believe in the person who actually wrote this post.” Did I mention that I just don’t get it?

    One major factor in this debate is of course that Evangelical and all other Christian doctrines have a much more limited view of the after life than our own. When heaven and hell are the only choices available, it’s really difficult to understand how works fit in. The scriptures clearly teach that mankind is saved by grace alone. If grace gets you into heaven and the only other choice is hell, what’s the point in works? I think all Christians know that good works are important but there’s really no place to fit them into their doctrine. It must be very frustrating for them – maybe that’s where the antagonism towards Mormonism comes from. Mormon doctrine also teaches that mankind is saved by grace alone but because we have an expanded view of the after life, our doctrine is able to accommodate works. Grace saves us from hell (we won’t be banished to Satan’s realm for all eternity) but beyond that our ultimate destination will be determined by the choices we make here (all of which is available because of Christ and are received through Christ).

    Semantics is another factor in this debate that Mormonism has never solved. What exactly does it mean to be saved? Ask a hundred Mormons this question and you’ll get a hundred different answers. For non-Mormon Christians it’s easy – saved means you go to heaven instead of hell. I think this is a major contributor to the grace vs. works debate among Mormons. If we don’t have a common definition for salvation we’ll never have consensus on whether grace, works, both, or neither are required to obtain it. When one Mormon says that works are required to be saved and another says that we are saved by grace alone, are they disagreeing with each other? Only in their definition of what it means to be saved.

  20. DB, another way to look at the flawed reasoning of Mormons not being saved is to see the atonement as an infinite atonement. It has no limits to all people; no limits to all time. If one were to say that Mormons cannot be saved, they are saying that the atonement of Christ cannot be infinite. It’s silly to say that Catholics and Baptists are saved, but not Mormons when Catholics and Baptists are two very different churches.

  21. “if they accept Christ they are saved but if we accept Christ we are not saved (because we’re Mormon). I just don’t get it. Maybe an Evangelical could explain that to us on here.”

    1st Mormonism is a polytheistic religion, they don’t worship the Christ that True Christians Worship.

    2nd They don’t recognise the true divinity of God (saying God was once a man)

    3rd When Mormons focus on works as a means to gain “exaltation” they put the proverbial cart before the horse, they are not saved because they remove the focus from the Atoning blood of Christ and place it upon there own works (“because I’m sealed to my family we can live together forever in the presence of Heavenly Father”).

    DB I think with all the misunderstanding that is tossed too and fro between the Evangelicals and the Mormons, I can see where they are coming from.

  22. Whoever out there who wants to be judged according to there works, I say good luck to them. Who ever that does not feel that God has a place for them within his many Mansions, I feel sorry for.

    I can be absolved of Guilt through the Grace of Christ repentance is a part of that, but the work Christ requires is a broken heart and a contrite spirit, whilst I have that I’m in full confidence of where my eternal soul will reside. Whilst I have that Broken heart and contrite spirit I’m striving to overcome the natural man by doing those things that bind the natural man Service, Tithing, Covenant making, obedience to leadership. Whilst not one of those things saves me or exalts me they aid in humbling my natural tendencies overcoming the natural man, I also believe that God provides similar experiences for the majority of mankind to help them become humble, child like, meek and submissive if they will listen.

  23. #19 — I think the argument would be that only true faith is saving faith — and just as Mormons tend to believe that the “faith” of the proverbial heedless once-saved-always-saved slumming boozehound evangelical is something other than the real thing, so might evangelicals argue that Mormons’ continued anxiety to make sure they have all the spiritual tasks on their Franklin Planners checked off, betrays a lack of true conviction that Christ’s grace really is sufficient to save. Mormons (go this argument) have a form of apparent faith, but it’s a simulacrum, that’s all the more dangerous for seeming so close to the real thing.

    Back in my lifeguard days, I ran across a Vietnamese kid floundering in the surf, clinging desperately to a tennis ball in panic. He wouldn’t take my rescue buoy, despite that the tennis ball wasn’t really working out for him as a floatation device. I think that’s the comparison evangelicals would make.

    If I were an evangelical honestly reading Paul’s writings, I would distinguish between the “works of the law” — the ritual commandments that have no connection with “love thy neighbor as thyself” and basic personal integrity — and the basic moral requirement to try to be a decent person. To the extent Paul warned against turning away from Christian liberty into the bondage of the Law, the text and context of his writings strongly suggest that he’s talking about ritual commandments — like circumcision, abstaining from meat offered to idols, Sabbath observance, Jewish dietary laws and rules against associating with Gentiles — not personal righteousness, which he repeatedly urges.

  24. For some reason, according to them, if they accept Christ they are saved but if we accept Christ we are not saved (because we’re Mormon). I just don’t get it. Maybe an Evangelical could explain that to us on here. The closest thing to an explanation I’ve heard is that this is true because we don’t believe in the same Christ that Evangelicals believe in. So, when we accept our Christ, it’s not the true Christ so we’re not saved.


    Rastas believe that Haile Selassie (Ras Tafari) is Christ. (Everybody else believes that he was just some guy who was the king of Ethiopia, and that he died 35 years ago.) They worship him as Christ and believe that he saves them.

    Since Selassie isn’t really Christ (so we all assume), what does their worship mean? Are Rastas Christians? Are they something else because they worship someone who isn’t really Christ? If worshiping Christ saves people, are they saved? Are they OK because they get the name (Christ) right, even though they direct it at the wrong person? Or do they have to find the right “target” for worship?

  25. #24 — The analogy isn’t exact, because there’s no dispute that Mormons and evangelicals believe in the same historical Jesus — that is, the man born to Mary and Joseph somewhere in Palestine somewhere between 7 BC and 3 AD, Roman social security number CXX-VI-MCIV.

    Evangelical’s (lame) argument that Mormons worship a “different Jesus” is actually the idea that Mormons and evangelicals believe different things about Jesus’ attributes — for example, his relationship with his Father (ontological or social oneness? Inferior or equal?)

    Can you have a mistaken conception of a person’s attributes, and still be thinking of the same person as one who has a correct understanding of those attributes?

  26. MMitch,
    You missed the whole point of my comment. I did not accuse you of saying that all the kingdoms are the same glory, I am saying you are wrong about you assertion that unrepentant will receive Telestial Glory as a minimum. As indicated in D&C 88: 24, some will receive NO glory.
    As for the space and kingdom quote, this s is word for word from D&C 88: 37. So if you have a problem with it, then take it up with the author.

  27. Thomas,

    It wasn’t meant to be an analogy, exactly. (Although Rastas do believe that Selassie is the same Christ/God as in the Bible, but incarnated as a living man. He’s the “Second Coming,” more or less.) What I was trying to get at is that two different religions’ views of “Christ” can be different enough that reasonable people will question whether they’re referring to the same thing.

    Comparing Rasta beliefs with the mainstream, the difference is large enough to at least make most people consider that they might not be the same thing. The distinctions that Evangelicals draw seem much finer. It’s the same idea though: the differences are so great that (in evangelical opinion) it’s questionable whether what Mormons worship can be considered “Christ.”

    I don’t agree with the Evangelical argument, BTW. I think it’s “lame,” as you say. At it’s heart, I don’t even think it’s as much about theology as it is about power. Some Evangelicals love to set themselves up as arbiters of who is and isn’t a Christian and what is and isn’t Christianity. They do that by portraying themselves as the true Christians with the true Christianity and only admitting people with highly similar beliefs into the club. They try to claim the right to define Christianity even though they’re just one branch of it.

  28. I think what Mormons do (nowadays) is a little different. They don’t try to say that other people aren’t Christians (anymore). They let others into the club, albeit as second-class members.

  29. Ken, again when did I say that all unrepentant will receive the Telestial Glory as a minimum? If you are refering to Outer Darkness, then say it. As for your space comment, I said it was odd for you to post about it. Never said I had a problem with the scripture itself. Could we get back to the topic? Thanks, buddy.

    If you must have the last word, I won’t feel the need to respond for my last word. I can end it here. Peace.

  30. Mitch,

    Your comment “We can enter the Telestial Kingdom without our repentance” suggest you can enter the Telestial Kingdom without us repenting. I am saying this is not true. You have to be able to live the Telestial Law in order to receive Telestial Glory, which requires repentance and obedience to Telestial laws. If you cannot repent, then you will receive NO Glory, which brings up the issue of space and other kingdoms — not necessarily outer darkness. This section of the D&C (88) teaches about an infinite number of kingdoms without glory.

  31. Telestial – These people did not receive the gospel or the testimony of Jesus either on earth or in the spirit world. They will suffer for their own sins in hell until after the Millennium, when they will be resurrected.” – Gospel Principles [2009], p. 272

  32. Aaron S,

    Correct, and they must be able to abide the Telestial Law in order to be resurrected to Telestial Glory.

  33. Aaron, good point. Those who love to make a lie can repent, and do repent, but did not live at least a terrestial life. Therefore, they wail and gnash their teeth from the agony of their sins.

  34. #12 RM — I think you’re on the right track. I would mention, however, that without the atonement, we couldn’t even repent, so even that ‘thing we can do’ we can’t do alone.

    #19 DB — your concern over semantics among Mormons (expressed slightly differently by others) is also something I’ve noticed. Sometimes we draw the distinction between salvation and exaltation, but the Book of Mormon, for instance, doesn’t seem to.

    #21 Mr Q&A — you have crystalized the questions my evangelial friends ask me, too. But I still maintain that the differences are not as great as they seem, particularly as it relates to the importance of works (or the order in which they come).

    The McConkie quote seems to me to be an effort to guard against assuming we don’t need to obey commandments to return to (or live with) God. There’s no disputing that Paul in the New Testament also advocated keeping the commandments!

    I suppose denominations might quibble, but the fact that we are commanded to participate in ordinances seems also true for Christians of other faiths.

    So again I find myself scratching my head an wondering what all the fuss is about.

  35. #35: With respect to ordinances, most Protestants don’t believe they are necessary for salvation. They are considered “outward and tangible symbols of inward and spiritual grace.”

    The idea that ordinances are necessary for salvation is considered by many Protestants to be a return to reliance on “the works of the law,” and a turning away from Christian liberty.

    Historically speaking, ordinances (and the power to administer them) have been the critical foundation for abuse of ecclesiastical power: Withholding communion became an instrument of coercion, by which corrupt ecclesiastical leaders tried to impose their will in matters that went beyond religion’s proper sphere. I can see why Protestants (who came into existence precisely because of those abuses) would be suspicious of the idea that ordinances administered by authorities are necessary for salvation: Power corrupts, and they saw it corrupted.

  36. #36 And yet they perform the ordinances! This is the part I do not understand. I do get the historical abuses of the established church at the time of the reformation, but the protestants also have taught methods of baptism, etc.

  37. To continue with my thought in #36 — is this a question of motive?

    I perform ordinances as an outward symbol of an inner covenant; they perform them as an outward symbol on inner grace? Again I wonder, what’s the big deal?

    But I also realize that just as I am concerned that “they” reject my Christianity, so I need to find a way to allow them to worship how, when or what they may.

  38. We need to remember that our repentance (including good works) doesn’t save us. The Atonement saves us, and our repentance opens the door for the Atonement to enter into our lives. In the case of those who don’t repent, they suffer as Christ suffered, and then the Atonement enters into their lives and they inherit the Telestial kingdom (D&C 19:16-17). Christ suffered for all. The only persons who aren’t redeemed, i.e. saved by Christ’s atonement, are the sons of perdition (D&C 76:38).

  39. Very well thought through.having grown up Mormon and now as a evangelical pastor, I have concluded that truly the gospel is a finished work of God through Christ. Having struggled myself concerning grace and faith, I have found that my work is out of heart felt gratitude for what He has already done. Grace is risky businee and does seem to make room for complacency if one so chooses. However, o have found that when truly grasped the grace of God overwhelms me towards good works. The secret is not to trust in those works for salvation but for reward.

  40. Very well thought through.having grown up Mormon and now as a evangelical pastor, I have concluded that truly the gospel is a finished work of God through Christ. Having struggled myself concerning grace and faith, I have found that my work is out of heart felt gratitude for what He has already done. Grace is risky businee and does seem to make room for complacency if one so chooses. However, o have found that when truly grasped the grace of God overwhelms me towards good works. The secret is not to trust in those works for salvation but for reward.

  41. The root word of “salvation” is the word salvage. God salvages us from our sinful condition. We should and do good works because we love God and desire to serve God. Not in an attempt to earn one iota of our salvation.

    1. Works are for our benefit. The Lord wants us to do works because they help us learn humility, charity and the joy of work. Works help us become better people but they get us nowhere without grace. I heard a great analogy that helped clarify for me. If you fall overboard a big cruise ship (the Fall) and you want to get to bak to the boat (the Father) they have to throw you a life ring (grace). You might swim a couple strokes (actions) to get to the ring, but your swimming (actions) would do you zero good if no ring (grace) was extended. I too am LDS and hear the works and grace thing often and ponder it. I also agree with the pastor above. If we truly grasp grace works will be the natural outpouring of our appreciation.

  42. I don’t agree with the grace first; works then follow idea…. Too much natural man in the way. We learn the truthfulness of a principle by having the faith to obey it first… grace is there supporting the faith and rewarding the obedience … we discover the grace in our lives through obedience.
    There are so many scriptures about obeying that it seems to me a central theme that cannot be missed and a key component in establishing our relationship with the Redeemer. “…why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” We can argue about Paul’s meanings but the Lord is pretty clear.
    Knowing grace, seems to me a higher spiritual rung on the ladder and our understanding of it grows with our obedience… not before. After all to understand grace our eyes have to be opened…normally through sin and repentance. What is the central theme in Christ’s sermon on the mount and sermon at the temple but obedience? Grace may be implied but obedience is the focus. When the rich man asked the Lord what he needed for Eternal Life the Lord said nothing about grace… but obedience.
    My feeling is that the purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to provide the power to make us fit for heaven. Thus, it is for me the gospel of ‘becoming.’ I cannot of myself change my true nature …. Even though through sheer self-discipline I can cover up my inner shortcomings… I alone cannot alter my inner self. I am wholly dependent on Christ to craft in me a new heavenly self … wherein I have no more desire to do evil but good continually. To be born again. This change comes about through my desire to receive it … submitting to Him with love and faith; trusting that the Savior both can and wants to transform me. It’s just that pesky agency thing is always in the way.
    When Laman and Lemuel responded to Nephi’s question, “Have ye inquired of the Lord?” Their response that the Lord does not reveal such things to them was self-fulfilling prophecy. Because they willed it so… because they exercised their belief so, the Lord could not overrule their agency and so did not reveal it unto them. Willfully deciding not to trust in God leaves us sadly alone and unchanged. Likewise expecting that change with a reliance on grace only with no participation on our part, leaves us unchanged and embittered. The tragedy of a gift offered and not received. No happiness in ignoring our own wickedness … no salvation in “easy grace.” What is “righteousness” after all? Ask Abraham.
    Jacobs ladder shows the relationship of obedience and faith… which are proportionate …and grace is present as the Lord participates all along the way. Angels descending and ascending.
    Strengthen me oh Lord as I climb… look I am higher (happier)… therefore I trust evermore surely that thou wilt continue to sustain me as I climb through thy covenants … being continually strengthened, transformed and ultimately perfected in faithful obedience … by thy grace.

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