The Parable of the Merciful Judge

Bruce Nielson Mormons 37 Comments

I came up with the following parable to explain to a Born Again Christian friend why I felt his belief that our actions plays no role in salvation at all was setting up a false dichotomy between influence and merit. It floated like a lead balloon, of course. He didn’t even bother to comment back to me. I later reused it with a carpool of Mormons that all seemed to enjoy it quite a bit more. In case you are wondering, yes, it’s a true story too. (Note: because I’m getting questions about this, I’ll add this – this is not a parable about the atonement nor is the judge here meant to represent Christ. This parable, as with all parables, is limited in scope with the point it makes.)

Once there was a young teenaged boy that was inexperienced at driving and made the mistake of driving home at night without his headlights on. He had turned on his parking lights but had failed to pull the switch just a bit further for the headlights. The roads were well lit, so it was not obvious to such an inexperienced driver that something was wrong.

When a cop pulled him over, he was shocked to find that he had driven the whole way without his lights on. When he was required to go before a judge he immediately admitted his guilt and expressed gladness he had not hurt anyone.

The judge, sensing that this teen would not benefit from having to pay the ticket nor the additional insurance costs, threw the ticket out. The judge added “I’ve made the same mistake before myself. Just be careful in the future.”

Did the teen deserve the ticket? Of course, he was guilty. Would it be justice to have made the teen pay the ticket? Yes, of course.

Was this judge a “bad” judge? I think most of us would agree that he was not a bad judge, nor was he shirking his duties to society.

Did the repentant teen “deserve” the mercy the judge showed him? Of course not. Mercy is never deserved by very definition. This teen was pronounced “not guilty” by a judge due to no merit on his part.

Now pretend, just for a moment, that the same story had taken place, but instead the teen had shouted at the judge “I meant to drive with my headlights off and I’m going to do it again first chance I get!”

Suppose the judge was still in a merciful mood and still decided to throw the ticket out while still adding, “I’ve made the same mistake before myself. Just be careful in the future.”

Do you still believe this judge is a good judge?

What is the difference? In both cases we have the same judge performing the same act of mercy. Isn’t mercy a “good thing?”

It seems to me that we innately understand that for mercy to be “good,” it must only be extended to a person that has repented. The teen was not a threat to society so he could be shown mercy without harming either him or society. On the other hand, our non-repentant teen could be shown no mercy without harming both himself and society.

This example proves that what we do, specifically repentance, can indeed influence the outcome of a judgment. But that “influence” should not be mistaken for “merit.”

Comments

comments

Comments 37

  1. Thanks for this – thoughtful parables provide good food for thought. I’m not sure if we can compare Christ to a forgetful, falliable judge, though… seems a little bit like he let the kid off, to me! lol.

    Perhaps the judge needs to be a little more hardline than ‘just be careful in the future!’. However, I certainly agree inasfar that he shouldn’t throw the kid in burning jail for eternity (the traditional Christian ‘hellfire and brimstone’ view!)

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    Andy,

    As with all parables, they are merely an approximation of a truth. If taken too far, all parables fail at some point. So bear in mind that this parable is NOT attempting to compare the judge to Christ in the slightest. The only point of the parable is to explore how justice and mercy interact with one’s personal actions, i.e. repentance. One’s actions can influence a judgement in real life and we don’t necessarily feel that such mercy destroys justice.

    This really relates to Rom 9:15: For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

    In my discussions with the more conservative (and often more militant) branches of Protestantism I have found that there is a tendency to see this statement as arbitrary in nature. “God is God and he gets to decide who he is going to have mercy on and who not to have mercy on it it’s not our place to say otherwise.” (This idea fits perfectly with deterministic-style Born Again beliefs where God decides who to save and who to damn and we have no say in the matter.)

    What I have found missing in such a discussion is whether or not God intends to use that power of choice in a wise and loving way. If he does, then we must admit that God may well decide that he is going to have mercy on he or she that repents and not have mercy on he or she that does not repent.

    “But that is merit for works!” an Evangelical friend cries.

    But that’s just it: it’s not! It’s influence from works perhaps, but it is not merit by any stretch of the imagination, as the parable demonstrates.

    Bear in mind, I suspect many Protestants would disagree with my deterministic-fundamentalist friends here. I am not trying to peg all of Christianity with such a falsehood. But that false understanding of scripture is certainly real enough in at least a small segment of the Christian population. That’s what led to me creating this parable to explain myself better to a friend. (As I said, it didn’t really work, but it did clarify my own thoughts to myself.)

  3. I think that is perhaps one of the most wonderful ideas I’ve heard on the interplay of mercy and justice. Superb.

    I admit that I have always thought (as a latter-day Saint) that our perspective on works and mercy have always been a little askew. The problem is conveying how exactly that works. After all, it’s different for everyone, but I still think the principles are the same.

    I have always been of the opinion that the way salvation works is far more mercy-oriented than many of us (as latter-day Saints, that is) are ready or willing to admit, that the model of “saved by grace” as applied by many Evangelicals is actually more close to the truth than we realize.

    Granted, of course I believe the “way is straight” and the “gate is narrow.” But even so *in all things* are Christ, meaning that we couldn’t even “do our works,” so to speak, without the power of the atonement. The very ability that makes it possible for us to be baptized or to serve or to move or breathe or do something kind or do a “work” is possible _because_ of Christ’s atonement, for in Christ — literally, physically, and not just spiritually — all are made alive.

    For example, I have thought for a while now that in that scripture in 2nd Nephi 25:23 about works and grace, we generally misplace the emphasis, and miss the whole point. We often emphasize “after all we can do,” meaning we are then saved. But I prefer the reading that _even_ “after all we can do,” it is _yet_ and _entirely_ “by grace that we are saved.” Too often we think we merit because of our works, but no, we merit nothing: it is entirely a gift. Yet (here’s a paradox), we are benefited by doing _all good things_, which (again) are still only possible by grace. And not only that, it is _still_ necessary that we do all good things (read: works) for grace to work.

    In other words, life is the ultimate paradox (i.e., the fall vs. the atonement), and both grace and justice factor into every part of the equation, the great circle of life, the eternal plan.

    Here’s a partially thread-hijacking question, though, along these lines: if it was necessary for CHRIST TO BE BAPTIZED to fulfill all righteousness, and Christ, being perfect, had no need of repentance BUT STILL NEEDED BAPTISM, why is it that little children (who are alive in Christ) DON’T NEED BAPTISM? Put shortly, why Christ, and why *not* little children? Also, along those lines, if Christ needed no repentance, and all grace flows from him, where does grace begin? Silly questions, but thought provoking. 🙂

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    >>> Granted, of course I believe the “way is straight” and the “gate is narrow.” But even so *in all things* are Christ, meaning that we couldn’t even “do our works,” so to speak, without the power of the atonement. The very ability that makes it possible for us to be baptized or to serve or to move or breathe or do something kind or do a “work” is possible _because_ of Christ’s atonement, for in Christ — literally, physically, and not just spiritually — all are made alive

    Amen.

    Your question about why Christ needed baptism is very interesting. I doubt that answer is relevant to my salvation, thus I feel any number of answers will probably suffice BUT…

    I can’t resist your challenge, so here it goes (cracks up his dominate intellectual side):

    1. Little children only don’t need baptism because they have the atonment of Christ and Christ did not.
    2. Christ was not a little child, he was an adult. So he could choose baptism whereas little children can’t. (Not really.)
    3. Little children aren’t “perfect” in the sense that Christ was perfect. Indeed, they really aren’t perfect at all. They are merely innocent.
    4. I do not know that little children won’t, in the resurrection, perhaps needs baptism themselves. I’m not saying that they do. I’m just unwilling to say that they don’t. I’m really only convinced they don’t need it in this life and that we have no current commandment to do temple work for them at this time. I simply won’t assume anything beyond that one way or the other.
    5. Christ needed to be an example to everyone, including in getting baptized. Little children do not.

    Thread-jack away.

  5. I was discussing grace vs works once with a Christian friend and gave this example: a young man wanted to become a doctor but couldn’t afford medical school. A kind and generous benefactor offered to pay the tuition. The young man went to school and graduated. Did he become a doctor because of his own work? No, because his work wouldn’t have mattered if the tuition had not been paid. But the tuition is meaningless if the boy didn’t do the work required. Grace and works go hand in hand.
    My friend was unable to formulate much of a response, but he didn’t change his view that grace is all that is needed.

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    Sally,

    Thanks for sharing your own parable about this. I have an upcoming post (probably months from now) where I’ll make my own attempt to clarify grace vs. works better (from my own point of view anyhow.)

    What I find interesting is that I believe that (depending on how you define the terms) Mormons do indeed believe in “grace alone” in much the same way some more orthodox Christians do (particularly Arminians.)

    But then again, I think even a term like “grace alone” is somewhat misleading. After all, does your creedal Christian friend honestly believe that he can do nothing at all and be saved from spiritual death in the same way he can do nothing at all and be saved from physical death? In other words, does he believe spiritual salvation is completely by “grace alone” in the same sense that he believes the resurrection is? I would suspect not.

    At a minimum he probably believes salvation only comes to those that choose Christ. But that’s a work, isn’t it?

  7. The merciful judge is He who extends mercy to those who recognize in faith their total dependence on His mercy for their salvation. To the extent Bruce’s parable emphasizes this I think it is “scriptural”; to the extent it doesn’t, the story doesn’t accord to how God states His grace is extended.

    By “grace alone” it means that salvation — from physical and spiritual death (this is not divided in Christian doctrine the way LDS often do) — is a gift made possible through the gift of Christ alone. Now if one leans Wesleyan-Arminian, then one believes the exercise of human will to confess total dependence upon and faith in the Lordship of Christ begins the state of justification and salvation as one of the adopted children of God. (Therefore salvation is a state of real-life and next-life.) If one leans Calvinist then one tends to believe that those who are saved are God’s elect predestined for salvation. Most Protestants, because the Bible describes salvation as very “Calvinist” at times and, more commonly, very “Wesleyan” at others, tend to believe that God more commonly works with His foreknowledge and human choice to save those who are His own. Yet with others he radically intervenes, and his irresistible grace redeems those predestined to be His elect (like Saul/Paul). This is not contradictory because he doesn’t work with multiple ways with the same individual.

    While there are those Christians who hold very extreme positions to either of these poles, this is not the most common. Hence the importance of sanctification doctrines. Here, as a new creation in Christ, the Christian seeks to magnify God’s glory through good deeds and holy living. None of this “good fruit” merits God’s salvation, but is the fruit borne by being grafted to the Living Tree. As Ray has aptly described elsewhere, this doctrinal perspective of works manifesting from the grace-sanctified Christian is not incompatible with the LDS perspective. Sometimes it is a matter of word choices and emphasis.

    Where the divide becomes harder to breach are those Mormons — indeed any Christian — who believe that good deeds merits salvation, and particular that LDS ordinances are salvific or necessary for salvation. But even with this disagreement, mainstream traditional Christians still believe there are heavenly and earthly rewards for those who embrace their new life in Christ; such Christians are just apt to always be clear to emphasize these rewards are not salvation. And without good fruit, this is certainly evidence that saving faith in Christ may never have never possessed. Ultimately, it is only God who judges and knows who had saving faith. We mortals have the more common weakness not to trust in God’s power to save His own, and look to our works and acts as proof that God’s work is being accomplished.

  8. What if we claim ordinances are “necessary works” simply because God said so and that these ordinances will be done for all? If they will be done for all, are they *really* necessary *in the sense that we often define “necessary”*? Iow, we believe that God is going to ensure that the ordinances get done, no matter that we will never be able to reconstruct our genealogical records well enough to do it on our own. Therefore, it is going to take miraculous intervention on His part for us to perform the ordinances – meaning even that is not necessary for US to do on our own. Even that is done through His grace.

    I believe DEEPLY in the concept of eternal, saving ordinances, but I see them as “necessary” for US – a physical, visible, tangible token or sign of our determination and faith – an outward manifestation of our inner commitment. I believe they are necessary not for some checklist in the Book of Life, but rather to put our actions in harmony with our feelings and beliefs – to marry the physical with the spiritual in a real way – to embed our beliefs in practice – to be true “fruits” of our faith. Temple ordinances are a way to continually affirm, in a very physical way, that we truly are willing to turn our hearts to all God’s children – not just those with whom we currently share this planet. I see them as a powerfully humbling framework that changes our very attitudes and perspectives in a way that merely intellectual or spiritual things simply cannot.

    Does getting dunked in water miraculously cleanse me? Perhaps and perhaps not, but I KNOW it gives me an actual, physical experience which I can “remember” – that can form the foundation of my attempts to model and emulate and become like Christ. Likewise, does my getting dunked miraculously cleanse someone else? Perhaps and perhaps not, but I KNOW it gives me an actual, physical experience which I can “remember” (especially through regular reenactment) – that can keep me focused on humbly and symbolically bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man – that can keep me from the natural arrogance of focusing strictly on myself.

  9. Grace and works always seems like a chicken and egg argument to me. If you have faith, you will do good works and you will be saved by grace, not because of the works, but because of your intentions and faith. The correlation of good works, faith and being saved by grace is only part of the picture and doesn’t describe causation. Good works can cause your faith to grow, which can lead to being saved by grace (and a byproduct of more good works). Being saved by grace doesn’t necessarily lead to faith or good works. And good works doesn’t cause one to be saved by grace. If faith doesn’t lead to good works, is it actually faith or just hope? Even the devils (in the NT story) bore testimony of Jesus, but they clearly didn’t have good works. So perhaps theirs was not faith but knowledge.

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    >>> What if we claim ordinances are “necessary works” simply because God said so and that these ordinances will be done for all? If they will be done for all, are they *really* necessary *in the sense that we often define “necessary”*? Iow, we believe that God is going to ensure that the ordinances get done, no matter that we will never be able to reconstruct our genealogical records well enough to do it on our own.

    An excellent point, Ray.

    Another way to possibly look at it is that Mormons believe that salvation in the Terrestrial kingdom (which is equivalent to all other Christian’s views of heaven) does not require ordinances and thus ordinances and the accompanying covenants are only necessary for additional rewards in heaven. I do not think this is in inconsistent view with how outside Christians should be viewing Mormon doctrine using thier own world view.

    On the other hand, once one realizes that the bible authors unanimously thought of baptism as how one accepts Christ, the whole point sort of becomes moot. Baptism is a necessary “act” for salvation in the same sense that accpeting Christ is necessary “act” for salvation.

    >>> Does getting dunked in water miraculously cleanse me? Perhaps and perhaps not, but I KNOW it gives me an actual, physical experience which I can “remember” – that can form the foundation of my attempts to model and emulate and become like Christ

    Interestingly, Martin Luther (who believed baptism was necessary for salvation), made something very close to this very argument.

    Quotes from http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther/catechism/web/cat-13.html

    But as our would-be wise, new spirits assert that faith alone saves, and that works and external things avail nothing, we answer: It is true, indeed, that nothing in us is of any avail but faith, as we shall hear still further. But these blind guides are unwilling to see this, namely, that faith must have something which it believes, that is, of which it takes hold, and upon which it stands and rests. Thus faith clings to the water, and believes that it is Baptism, in which there is pure salvation and life; not through the water (as we have sufficiently stated), but through the fact that it is embodied in the Word and institution of God, and the name of God inheres in it. Now, if I believe this, what else is it than believing in God as in Him who has given and planted His Word into this ordinance, and proposes to us this external thing wherein we may apprehend such a treasure?

    My personal belief is that the Christian denominations that did away with the concept of baptism as the way one accepts Christ were forced to institute their own “ordinance” to replace it — “getting saved” (i.e. where one announces out loud, usually to a minister, that they accept Christ.) So I think this proves Luther right, that God knew it was not possible to have faith in nothing at all. We have to mark out faith and acceptance of Christ with an act of some sort. We all do it. Just some of us still do it in the way the Bible specified to do so. (I don’t mean just Mormons here.)

    I also like Luther’s argument that belief in the necessity of God given ordinances in no way means one is meriting salvation:

    Hence it follows that whoever rejects Baptism rejects the Word of God, faith, and Christ, who directs us thither and binds us to Baptism. … But if they say, as they are accustomed: Still Baptism is itself a work, and you say works are of no avail for salvation; what then, becomes of faith? Answer: Yes, our works, indeed, avail nothing for salvation; Baptism, however, is not our work, but God’s (for, as was stated, you must put Christ-baptism far away from a bath-keeper’s baptism). God’s works, however, are saving and necessary for salvation, and do not exclude, but demand, faith; for without faith they could not be apprehended. For by suffering the water to be poured upon you, you have not yet received Baptism in such a manner that it benefits you anything; but it becomes beneficial to you if you have yourself baptized with the thought that this is according to God’s command and ordinance, and besides in God’s name, in order that you may receive in the water the promised salvation. Now, this the fist cannot do, nor the body; but the heart must believe it.

    I would think this argument sufficient for most Christians to realize that the argument that Mormons believe their ordinances are merit for works is null and void lest they throw Luther to hell with us. (I don’t mean you JFQ, I’m thinking of my Calvinist friend.)

    JFQ,

    My friend that I invented this parable for was a strongly strongly Calvaninistic Christian. He once even told me that there is no such thing as searching for God because the whole idea of searching for God was really a form of merit for works. My parable was just to prove that notion logically unsound. It wasn’t meant to go further than that. It is not a parable of how grace works. (If it were, I’d have to be a Muslim.)

    >>> The merciful judge is He who extends mercy to those who recognize in faith their total dependence on His mercy for their salvation

    JFQ, I’m going to partially challenge you on this. Obviously, strictly speaking, you are right that we must eventually comprehend our total dependence on God’s grace (you said mercy). But can anyone really do that without a lot of santification and real life experience first? I agree with C.S. Lewis that it’s impossible.

    Besides, I could also play with your words (which I hate when people do to me) and point out that this (if understood in a certain way) might be taken to mean that God chooses only to save people that acknowledge they are nothing next to God because that pleases God to hear such an acknowledgement. (I get the feeling that my Calvinistic friend believes this.) But that feels wrong to me. No, I think God requires our eventually recognition of our total dependence on Him for a very different reason than that. My belief is the same as C.S. Lewis’ here, that God only asks this of us because He loves us so much that He wishes to share Himself with us and this is the only way.

  11. Hawkgrrrl (9): I agree with what you have to say. Perhaps there is only a faith vs. works “issue” when we think that works merit our salvation or are required for “salvation from spiritual death”. (Then salvation would become a wage — which the bible says it isn’t — and not a gift,) On the opposite spectrum there’s the belief that once someone professes faith then works are not “needed” or discussion of merits of good fruit is “sinful” or “evil.” (This position taken to extreme leads some “born again” Christians to pardon sinful living without remorse.) Either extreme, IMO, is heretical. Good works, like you said, can cause saving faith to grow (like Cornelius). Similarly, faith can spring suddenly and miraculously, and works/fruit will manifest thereafter. Most common it’s a bit of both. In Christianity, traditional or LDS, these two heresies can pop up. But within both traditions a healthy understanding of the ultimate Source of salvation and our complete submission to that Source for saving Grace can be found.

    This reminded me of a discussion we had in our theology class about whether, once saved, we can lose our salvation. Here, we can find scripture to support both conclusions, yes or no. On one hand, if salvation could be lost little by little through sin, then it can be fairly argued that through choice and works, salvation is earned little by little. This is free will “Armenian-Wesleyan” thinking taken to too great a stride; Scripture predominantly testifies to the contrary: of the lengths God will go to to stick with His own who have been saved and adopted. On the other hand there are those scriptures — admittedly fewer — which make it sound like salvation can be lost; taken to too great an end it could make one conclude “What’s the use of following God, of sinning or not? How do I know when I’m really saved? If God has really accepted me into His family?” Or the worse: to believe that once saved, one’s behavior matters not at all. Again, like these extreme bifurcations that theological studies can often get down to, I think the answer is more moderate, a little of both. One probably can use free will to completely reject God once saved — to jump out of his embrace. On the other hand, God is extremely patient and long-suffering with His adopted children, and will go to great effort to help us, to forgive us, if we submit to Him, so that we transform and grow into all that He would have us become.

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    >>> One probably can use free will to completely reject God once saved — to jump out of his embrace. On the other hand, God is extremely patient and long-suffering with His adopted children, and will go to great effort to help us, to forgive us, if we submit to Him, so that we transform and grow into all that He would have us become.

    I like that.

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  14. I think the parable is a great example of justice and mercy, but not of works and faith. The young man demonstrated a “broken heart and contrite” spirit as opposed to a rebellious one and was then a candidate for forgiveness/mercy. Maybe you’re saying that is the “work” he performed?

    I really think the main problem we have in this argument with evangelicals is more in the area of earning and deserving, which we can never do. We can only supplicate and be willing. THEY get that part of it, but a lot of US don’t seem to. But part of the offering we make (along with the broken heart, etc.) is our best effort at obedience. That’s the part most of US get and THEY have trouble with.

    What would the story be like if the young man had quite willfully and knowingly broken the law, but was now penitent before the judge? I don’t think most people have any issues with a rather easy mercy being extended for honest mistakes. What we struggle with more is forgiving acts done with malicious intent, even when repentance afterward is genuine. Even harder are the situations where no reticence at all is displayed (see the April 23 post by Stephen Wellington).

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    >>> What would the story be like if the young man had quite willfully and knowingly broken the law, but was now penitent before the judge? I don’t think most people have any issues with a rather easy mercy being extended for honest mistakes. What we struggle with more is forgiving acts done with malicious intent, even when repentance afterward is genuine. Even harder are the situations where no reticence at all is displayed (see the April 23 post by Stephen Wellington).

    I love it. Good thoughts. (Out outside the scope of this parable, however.)

  16. Bruce (10): In summary, your response is a very excellent post that I hadn’t yet read when I was writing my response to Hawkgrrrl’s point.

    There are a few things I wish to say:
    1) Luther’s thoughts on baptism. Though you likely didn’t intend, that wasn’t a thorough summary of Luther’s thoughts considering baptism or even the topic of ordinances. Based on Calvinists I have met, and what I have studied of Four Points and Five Points Calvinism, I think the statement “I would think this argument sufficient for most Christians to realize that the argument that Mormons believe their ordinances are merit for works is null and void lest they throw Luther to hell with us,” is a little strong and not accurate. But I couldn’t say that summarily since I cannot speak for Calvinism, with which I disagree in its more extreme incarnations.

    Though your quote here from Luther about baptism being God’s Work, not our merits-based works, is a very good one, from my readings of Luther it appears he believed strongly that baptism is not a salvific ordinance, yet baptism is such an integral and symbolic initiatory rite to the Body of Christ that for one to reject it would call into question whether the potential initiate truly had saving faith in Christ. Now this position could be taken to extreme, but in general I think it seems a scripturally sound one. (I believe baptism is a valuable rite though not salvific of its own.) I think it should just never be misconstrued that Luther believed that sacraments or ordinances are salvific — they are part of the liturgy of Christian faith experience — yet I don’t think that is the point that you were making. If I understand correctly you were saying that those who even reject this moderate Lutheran position still find ways to “liturgize” the profession of faith and initiation into the Body. I think this is true, but speaks more to the deep human need for mystical ceremony rather than to doctrinal necessity.

    2) The scriptural imperative for baptism (or even extra-biblical ordinances, sacraments or rites). It is a bit problematic, in my opinion, to follow from the reading of John 3 that baptism is a necessary ordinance for salvation. (This is the most common biblical LDS citation in my experience.) Not only does Jesus speak obliquely of the topic of baptism — moving right into greater volume of teaching about the necessary issue of spiritual rebirth with Nicodemus — but in my opinion the crux revolves on the interpretation of the Kingdom of God / Reign of God. While words credited to Jesus on the topic of the Kingdom often are interpreted soteriologically (post mortal salvation and heaven), in more cases I think the subject of the Kingdom is a very foundational statement about God’s Reign in the here and now, and what one does to belong and grow within that Kingdom.

    I think this is generally more sound, because Jesus obviously began with initiating a here-and-now spiritual transformation, not merely asking His Children to bide time till the afterlife. It appears certain from the Bible that this earth will not be completely transformed to God’s Kingdom without first His Second Coming, and it certainly is not “bad”, per se, to take after-life soteriological readings from Jesus’ teachings about the Kingdom. However, those Christians who view baptism as a valuable, symbolic and necessary rite of induction as Christian into the Body — the here-and-now Reign of God — and do not interpret an after-life soteriological efficacy to the rite are quite sound in scriptural backing for such a position, in my opinion. Yet I am apt to not agree with those who reject baptism outright, even if it is “just an initiation rite” because it is clear from the NT that believers considered this an important step into Christianity. I don’t necessarily oppose ceremony and liturgy that even steps beyond baptism. Here I think Luther’s cautionary position, among others, helps us keep the non-salvific nature of such in perspective. Is this a “limit” which LDS are willing to place on the ordinances they consider necessary? (I’ve found some do, but most don’t.)

    3) Thoughts about C.S. Lewis. You said, “I’m going to partially challenge you on this. Obviously, strictly speaking, you are right that we must eventually comprehend our total dependence on God’s grace (you said mercy). But can anyone really do that without a lot of santification and real life experience first? I agree with C.S. Lewis that it’s impossible.” You are correct: mercy is a part of Grace, and I should have said Grace. I said mercy merely to stay consistent with wording for your parable.

    Regarding C.S. Lewis, he is certainly a writer who I respect. Are you referring to Mere Christianity where he argued that the Christian becomes completely humble, reliant and accepting of God’s Grace — indeed possesses saving faith — after they give up in despair after trying to save themselves, as it were, through a life of merit-based living? Where it is only after we realize that we’ve tried to do it all that it isn’t enough, and then we submit and accept this Gift? If so, I agree that this can be often true. It certainly was true for Lewis’ life experience. Yet I think we shouldn’t go so far as to think that good work (and possibly despair) is required before having saving faith. Scripture gives us counter examples to show it can happen in other ways, too.

    I believe that sanctification is a manifestation of God working through mankind to transform His into who He wants them to become. Where sanctification exists, is a demonstration of the good fruits of the synergy of Grace sparking thru saving faith. Where good deeds lead us to building faith I think we should not call this “sanctification” as this would imply that sanctification could be accomplished merely through our own efforts. Even with good intentions on our part, scripture is clear that we become righteous in Him because, even minimally, we have accepted in faith God’s testament in Nature. Sometimes it is a more conscious response to His drawing unto all who will accept unto Him. Either way, I think the emphasis should always be on Glory to God, not on our own merit. First it is scriptural: we are lost, sinful and separated even when living as our best selves were it not for Him. Second, it is empowering and hopeful to even the most lost of sinners to accept that a “checklist” of behavior isn’t first “required” to be drawn and transformed in Him. That is a scary step — sometimes an “unfair doctrine” — for we humans, prone to raising ourselves above others who we think are more lost and sinful than us. Third, fully embraced, Grace is the only humbling and empowering doctrine to ultimately help all us Christians — traditional and LDS — to build a Christian fellowship.

  17. (Sorry for the whole bolded Point #2 — not always easy to get those tags right when one can’t fix one’s posts.)

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    JFQ: Luther wasn’t necessarily a “Calvinist” nor was “Calvin” so it’s it hard to say how a “Calvinist” would feel about my statement. But keep in mind that Calvin did not believe baptism was necessary for salvation if the person only failed to not receive it due to no sloth on their part whereas Luther doesn’t tell us his feelings (as far as I know) on that one exception and thus leaves the impression he didn’t allow for it (or possibly hadn’t thought of it).

    JFQ said: “Though your quote here from Luther about baptism being God’s Work, not our merits-based works, is a very good one, from my readings of Luther it appears he believed strongly that baptism is not a salvific ordinance, yet baptism is such an integral and symbolic initiatory rite to the Body of Christ that for one to reject it would call into question whether the potential initiate truly had saving faith in Christ. Now this position could be taken to extreme, but in general I think it seems a scripturally sound one. (I believe baptism is a valuable rite though not salvific of its own.) I think it should just never be misconstrued that Luther believed that sacraments or ordinances are salvific ”

    JFQ, it’s hard to express myself through words, so bear with me until we come to a meeting of the minds. I believe what I am saying is that while Mormons would call baptism “salvific” that shouldn’t mean much to a non-Mormon Christian because Mormons would call Luther’s view of baptism “salvific” too (even if Luther wouldn’t use that term.)

    I do not personally see any difference, expect in what words are chosen, in the Mormon view of saving ordinances and Luther’s view. I think the underlying ideas are pretty much identitical, personally. At least to the way I undertand both.

    To put it the other way, if a Christian that is not a Mormon were to look at the way Mormons actually view baptism, I’m not so sure that non-Mormon Christians would call the Mormon view of baptism “salvific” either. (Assuming we’re talking about the most intelligent interpretations of the Mormons vs. the less thought out interpretations of individual lay members that haven’t studied it much… but *that would be true of absolutely ANY demonination* so I think that is a fair test)

    I will have to read the rest of what you said later. Got to run.

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    JFQ says: “I don’t necessarily oppose ceremony and liturgy that even steps beyond baptism. Here I think Luther’s cautionary position, among others, helps us keep the non-salvific nature of such in perspective. Is this a “limit” which LDS are willing to place on the ordinances they consider necessary? (I’ve found some do, but most don’t.)”

    As per my previous post, I think the issue here is not necessarily whether the LDS person would see baptism as ‘salvific’ or not, but how they might define that or a related term differently from non-Mormon Christians. Again, if there is a difference between the Luther view and what I understand as the Mormon view, I absolutely have no idea what it is and would be very interested in someone explaining it to me. To me Luther’s view is in fact ‘salvific’ in the way I understand the term ‘salvific.’

    Indeed, I see Calvin’s view on baptism as being ‘salvific’ in the way I think of that term. It really isn’t until modern Christianity that you really start to see sects that treat baptism so lightly that I stop seeing it as ‘salvific’ in the way I think of that term.

    I think that when you say ‘salvific’ you might be thinking of an act that creates redemption through that act itself (sort of the way I understand my Calvinistic friend’s view of “getting saved”) and if this is how you think of it then I would agree with you that Luther did not believe baptism to be ‘salvific’ but then I also don’t believe Mormons do either. Do you see my point? I both believe baptism is salvific and not salvific depending on how you define the term.

    That’s why I see your statement “I’ve found some do, but most don’t” as basically meaningless. The odds that you presented the situation in such a way that all the Mormons understood you in the same way that you meant it are probably slim to none. And I suspect that if I had been present, that “most” would have quickly admited Baptism is “not salvific” if I posed the question in a different way.

    JFQ said: “Are you referring to Mere Christianity where he argued that the Christian becomes completely humble, reliant and accepting of God’s Grace — indeed possesses saving faith — after they give up in despair after trying to save themselves, as it were, through a life of merit-based living?”

    Yes, this is what I’m refering to, except that I apparently understood it somewhat differently than you did. Specifically, I do not read into Lewis that one must reach a point of despair (though often people will) to be able to comprehend real faith. I also did not read into him that this faith is ‘saving faith’ and that all faith prior to that is ‘non-saving faith.’

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    JFQ: I didn’t respond to your discussion of John 3. To be honest, I like your interpretation of John 3 a lot (that’s a new interpretation for me) and I think I’m going to be going with yours now until a better one comes along.

    Be that as it may, when I think of Bible scriptures to show that Baptism was anciently how the Bible authors saw one as accepting Christ, I actually don’t think of John 3. John 3 never actually mentions baptism by name and the Evangelical Christians have some very clever ways to re-interpret it so that it doesn’t mean baptism. So I gave up on that scripture a long time ago even though I still very much believe it was talking about baptism.

    I was thinking of more of the general assumption from the Bible authors that there simply was no such thing as a living “unbaptized Christian.” Like Romans 6:3 and a lot of others. If you’re a Christian, you were baptized. There was never never a hint of an exception to this amongst the New Testament authors (other than the over used thief on the cross, of course, which *at best* presents the Calvin exception that you don’t have to be baptized if you didn’t get a chance to but would have.)

    The New Testament authors’ assumption of baptism matches well with how you and Luther seem to understand baptism, but it flies in the face of the doctrines of a great number of Christians I’ve talked to.

  21. “It seems to me that we innately understand that for mercy to be “good,” it must only be extended to a person that has repented.”

    Do we really innately understand this, or does it reflect our Mormon theology of the importance of works?

    “This example proves that what we do, specifically repentance, can indeed influence the outcome of a judgment. But that “influence” should not be mistaken for “merit.””

    Once we have influenced a judgment can we really say that mercy was extended, particularly if we are going to use this parable in any way to relate to God’s grace (mercy)? And how do you separate “influence” from “merit”? It seems to me that in either case you are arguing that the recipient is somehow deserving – either of mercy for the penitent or full punishment for the scofflaw. And once we judge someone as being “deserving” then isn’t that just a function of the balances of justice.

    In this parable, as with most laws in the US justice system, there is no law that that mandates a punishment for this crime, it is within the judges discretion as to what the punishment will be. He balances the facts (of which penitence is one) and renders a decision that he believes to be fair. He can choose to be lenient, or he can choose to be harsh, but his decision ultimately is made from the facts at hand.

    Unfortunately, the parable fails for evangelicals because their concept of grace (mercy) is fundamentally different in that penitent or not we cannot influence God in extending his mercy. For the evangelicals I know and have discussed this with, grace is not at all contingent on the facts at hand, as it is with the judge in the parable (or in Mormon theology). Grace is granted based only upon God’s will. Seems random and capricious to Mormons, but makes sense to them.

  22. Kari said, “Unfortunately, the parable fails for evangelicals because their concept of grace (mercy) is fundamentally different in that penitent or not we cannot influence God in extending his mercy. For the evangelicals I know and have discussed this with, grace is not at all contingent on the facts at hand, as it is with the judge in the parable (or in Mormon theology). Grace is granted based only upon God’s will. Seems random and capricious to Mormons, but makes sense to them.”

    This parable doesn’t necessarily fail for evangelicals or mainliners, but may; This depends on how much theology leans toward Arminian-Wesleyan or Calvinist theology. Wesleyan-Arminian belief postures that God’s Grace enables Mankind to elevate just enough above its sinful, depraved and separated nature to respond through free will to God’s drawing of His Elect. Therefore, God makes mankind’s free choice a necessary delimiter to His Sovereignty — part of His plan. On the other spectrum is Calvinist leaning, of which there are several flavors, which places God’s Sovereignty penultimate, and hence He affirmatively saves or damns as He predestinates in order to accomplish His will and Glory. The rub is where the theology sublimates Jesus’ ultimate atonement for all because it is, therefore, extended (and intended) only to God’s predestined Elect. (This last point is the major sticky wicket dividing Five Points and Four Points Calvinists.)

    But as in any theological act to constrain scripture to complete rational and philosophical subservience, it tends to bifurcate positions to radical poles. Any “random capriciousness” that Mormons may perceive in Christian doctrines of the Elect is usually doctrine that falls more toward the Calvinist pole, and only tends to “make sense” to Christians with a Calvinist/Reformed bent. Those Christians who lean Arminian-Wesleyan naturally think human will can submit itself to God’s Will, and in doing so saving Grace is enabled. It is also a metter of the emotional attraction to the scriptural teaching that Christ’s atonement is for all, and God desires all of mankind to be saved (even though He knows many may not). The Christian’s faith doesn’t bind God, nor “influence” per se, but enables the beginning of mutual transformation in Christ that begins with His drawing unto those for whom he foreknows will accept Him. (The most extreme of such is Nazarene churches which become seen as very “merit-oriented” because they subscribe strictly to a “continued faith, continued holiness” theology that postures if someone can sin themselves away from salvation, once gifted, then it procedes that one can “earn” their way into salvation by strict observance to holiness practices.)

    Most Protestant Christians, especially evangelicals, embrace a theology that attempts to reconcile what is seen as the most scripturally sound, beneficial, enabling and pragmatic factors of each of these poles, and such “compromised” theology doesn’t always divide cleanly along denominational lines. Therefore, Mormons will usually feel a little less alien to theology embraced by such Christians.

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    >>> Do we really innately understand this, or does it reflect our Mormon theology of the importance of works?

    I think pop culture (like maybe TV or movies) does in fact reflect the idea that forgiveness, personal forgiveness in any case, is a good thing particularly when we feel certain the person has changed. So yes, I think this seems to be a non-Mormon point of view as well. This is almost a cliche in storytelling because it’s so universal.

    >>> It seems to me that in either case you are arguing that the recipient is somehow deserving…

    I completely disagree. I believe I’m saying nothing even close to this. i.e. “Did the repentant teen “deserve” the mercy the judge showed him? Of course not. Mercy is never deserved by very definition. This teen was pronounced “not guilty” by a judge due to no merit on his part.”

    >>> In this parable, as with most laws in the US justice system, there is no law that that mandates a punishment for this crime, it is within the judges discretion as to what the punishment will be. He balances the facts (of which penitence is one) and renders a decision that he believes to be fair. He can choose to be lenient, or he can choose to be harsh, but his decision ultimately is made from the facts at hand.

    If what you were saying was true, then the reverse shouldn’t be true. If this same boy was indeed extended no mercy and was given the ticket still, would that be “unfair” in your view? Not in mine. This was undeserved mercy then.

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    Kari said: “Unfortunately, the parable fails for evangelicals because their concept of grace (mercy) is fundamentally different in that penitent or not we cannot influence God in extending his mercy”

    Actually, I do have to agree with you that for a strongly Calvinistic Evangelical (they tend to be the more vocal ones) that this parable does fail. After talking with some at length, I’m quite convinced that they believe that if God makes his decision based on repentance then this means “merit” and thus they are convinced the only non-merit way for God to make a decision is arbitarily and capriciously.

    But that is just one type of Christian, not all.

  25. “I think pop culture (like maybe TV or movies) does in fact reflect the idea that forgiveness, personal forgiveness in any case, is a good thing particularly when we feel certain the person has changed. So yes, I think this seems to be a non-Mormon point of view as well. This is almost a cliche in storytelling because it’s so universal.”

    Maybe this a reflection of the natural man that King Benjamin warns us about? While it may be innate to us as humans, it certainly seems to me as not in line with what I have been taught in church and the scriptures, that we should forgive independently of the actions or penitence given by those who have sinned against us. One could consider this idea (of forgiveness being good when the person has changed) as mere justification for our not forgiving the non-penitent. Which is why I find it difficult to apply to God’s grace and mercy, for the scriptures would indicate that His judgments and mercy are not ours.

    “I completely disagree. I believe I’m saying nothing even close to this. i.e. “Did the repentant teen “deserve” the mercy the judge showed him? Of course not. Mercy is never deserved by very definition. This teen was pronounced “not guilty” by a judge due to no merit on his part.””

    and

    “If what you were saying was true, then the reverse shouldn’t be true. If this same boy was indeed extended no mercy and was given the ticket still, would that be “unfair” in your view? Not in mine. This was undeserved mercy then.”

    While it may not be your intention to make this argument, it feels to me that semantically you are; that “influence” and “merit” really aren’t any different. Particularly when you argue the innateness of our feeling that forgiveness is a good thing when someone is penitent. Would we really feel it was “fair” if the penitent teen in your parable got the maximum fine and points on his license, or would we feel angry at the judge for not recognizing an honest error and penitence for that error? While you may not feel this way, and believe it is “fair” for him to get the maximum possible punishment, my friends and family would say, as do I, that it isn’t.

    Also, I don’t think I know anyone personally who would feel that the judge was being “fair” if he granted mercy to the scofflaw by finding him not-guilty and made the penitent pay a fine/points. It would offend our innate sense of fairness, and we would think the judge capricious and arbitrary. Which is why we find the Calvinistic Evangelical theology of grace so difficult.

    Lastly, you may not feel that penitence is merit, but I would argue that in a sense it is. It is merit in that it reflects the likelihood of repeat offense, which is certainly consistent with the Mormon concept of repentance, that we have not truly repented until we have also forsaken the sin.

    This is why I struggle with the whole concept of grace and mercy, because I do agree with you that we have some innate sense of fairness, but that I often find that sense of fairness to be contradictory to the teachings of Christ, at least with regards to how we are to treat our fellow man. And if that innate sense is contradictory, can I apply my feelings of fairness to God’s final judgment and reward? If I can, then I should be able to apply this sense of fairness to my actions towards my fellow beings, and be justified in not forgiving the non-penitent. And if I can’t then I need some other construct to understand God’s mercy. Yes, it is circular reasoning, and maybe some day I’ll find a personally satisfactory answer to break the circle.

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    >>> If I can, then I should be able to apply this sense of fairness to my actions towards my fellow beings, and be justified in not forgiving the non-penitent. And if I can’t then I need some other construct to understand God’s mercy. Yes, it is circular reasoning, and maybe some day I’ll find a personally satisfactory answer to break the circle.

    This is way outside the scope of my parable now. But it’s in interesting topic and of itself.

    I have struggled with this very issue and I have a personal answer that works for me. I don’t have time to formulate a whole essay on how I think it all fits together nicely… but let me give you the basics of my personal answer (your results may vary.)

    1. Read my comment here: http://mormonmatters.org/2008/04/26/gods-hit-list-in-the-book-of-mormon/#comment-13950 I believe human beings have a generally working sense of right and wrong, as I believe Doug G does. But I don’t believe we are nearly as good as discerning right and wrong as we think we are because we have sever problems with jumping to conclusions before we know everything. Or, more to the point, we NEVER know enough to make a final judgement like God would. However, I believe that when God does make a final judgement, we will all innately see that it was in fact good, loving, just, and merciful for all of us. I do not believe God will have to hand us a new sense of right and wrong for us to see that He is in fact good! Thus I do not see our sense of right and wrong as having a problem, only our overt faith in ourselves as being a problem.

    2. God commands us all to forgive for a number of reasons. But God DOES NOT forgive everyone Himself! Vengeance is His! So this is the ultimate and highest standard of goodness, ultimately. But it’s God’s role, not ours, at this point in time. So in reality I do not see the contradiction you see. I think you are conflating a temporary condition meant for here and now with the ultimate form goodness takes in God Himself.

    4. But because we do indeed have a God given conscience, I think it only natural that we try to make a determination with others as to whether or not they should be given mercy or not (or as you put it, whether or not they “deserve” mercy). We innately understand that this is a “good” thing, precisely because it is good. What we do NOT innately understand is that we suck at this and shouldn’t be doing it at all in our present form. (I make an exception to societal legal justice, which will get it wrong a lot and is not a final judgement of a person. But there is no choice but for it to exist in all its imperfections.)

    >>> While it may not be your intention to make this argument, it feels to me that semantically you are; that “influence” and “merit” really aren’t any different

    This is a wording issue. Note what I said above: “whether or not they “deserve” mercy.” Can mercy be “deserved?” no, it can’t… or maybe it can…

    As it turns out, it all depends on how you define “deserved!” Technically speaking “mercy” can NEVER be “deserved.” I think we all understand this. But in a weird, but common use of the word “deserved” we do understand that mercy can in fact be “right” or “wrong” and thus “deserved” or “not deserved.”

    This is the mistake I believe you are making with my parable. Legally speaking having the boy receive the punishment for his crime was certainly “fair” in that it was “just.” And it was certainly “mercy” and thus “undeserved” that he got off… but YES in *in a sense* of the word “deserved” mercy can be “deserved” and this is what I believe is throwing you off.

    But please note, and this is really really important, that in *that limited sense of the word “deserved”* all Christians believe that salvation has to be “deserved” because at a minimum all Christians understand that God will only do something that is right and good. (And also because God keeps his promises.) But again, this isn’t really techincally the right way to use the word “deserved.” Furthermore, we need to not equivocate. The word deserved must be applied to my parable only in the way we apply it to salvation. We can’t use one sense of the word “deserved” in my parable and then a different sense of the word when talking about salvation.

    >>> Lastly, you may not feel that penitence is merit, but I would argue that in a sense it is. It is merit in that it reflects the likelihood of repeat offense, which is certainly consistent with the Mormon concept of repentance, that we have not truly repented until we have also forsaken the sin.

    This is a similar word issue as above, but this time with “merit.” I don’t have time to explain fully, but I believe you are equivocating here too. Yes, “influence” might indeed be termed “merit” in a non-standard sense of the words… but in that very same sense all Christians do in fact believe they can “merit” salvation… so the point is moot.

  27. Perhaps the reason for forgiveness is for what spiritual benefit it has for us to forgive, not for what “penalty” or not, whether strict or lenient, that it creates for the violator. Forgiveness ultimately must apply to the act, the sin or violation, since it is only God, not us, who can look on the heart to judge who is His and who is not. Therefore, as forgiveness is a conscious, intentional choice, not a reward for penitence nor an acknowledgement that enough time has passed “to heal all wounds”, Jesus is inviting us into the personal realm of spiritual transformation rather than external judgment by asking us to forgive all who trespass us.

    Easier said than done. I’ve mentioned elsewhere of a deep trespass some friends did to me and my family which I haven’t forgiven. Even though I think more time must pass, distance must numb the sting, or that it would be a lot easier if these persons were remorseful in a persuasive way, I still know in my heart that the bile of anger and hurt can only be gone if I forgive despite all that — if I let God help me heal it. Still I haven’t let myself nor God help me to get to that place.

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    Kari,

    I wrote post 29 in a hurry and it’s a bit sloppy. I think it might confuse things. I have an upcoming post that explain the issue of “wordism” better where we get stuck on words and don’t realize that words can have nuanced meanings.

    What I am really trying to say is that the word “deserved” or “merit” have multiple nunanced meanings. Strictly speaking salvation can ever be “deserved” or “merited.” But in a less strict sense someone could indeed claim they can be.

    For example, we all sometimes used “deserved” to mean that there is a certain rightness to the thing. “Honey, I won the drawing at work!” “Good, you deserve it!” Obviously such a statement isn’t meant in the strict sense of “deserved” as the person did not actually earn the prize. We also use “deserved” to mean we expect someone to keep a promise to us. So if Dad tells Bobby that if he gets straight A’s he will give him a Corvett, we might in one sense say that Bobby did not deserve the car (i.e. he didn’t pay for it himself) but in another sense we might say that he did deserve it because Dad promised it to him on a condition that was fulfilled.

    And yet, that last example is particularly perplexing for Christianity. Acts 16: 31:
    “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” If taken as a statement from God (which is typically how we take scripture) this is stated very much like Dad and Bobby. There is a condition and a promise.

    Christians go to great lengths to show that this does not mean salvation is “deserved” by coming up with complex explanations. I ignore all that and simply accept that the problem is language itself, not the underlying thought. Yes, salvation can be “deserved” or “merit” in non-techincal senses of the words.

    If you can accept this… and I admit it will probably be a difficult thing to accept because it’s never spoken of in this way… then you will realize that we are equivocating if we talk of the boy in my parable “deserving” mercy but speak of salvation as not beind “deserved.”

    >>> Lastly, you may not feel that penitence is merit, but I would argue that in a sense it is. It is merit in that it reflects the likelihood of repeat offense

    To use this as an example of what I am saying… if I grant you that the boy in my parable did “merit” to be declared not guilty because his repentance reflects the reduced likelihood of repeast offense… will you grant me that those that receive salvation “merit” it because they are born again and thus changed and are less likely to repeat offense in this life and won’t repeat the offense in the next?

    This seems like the same thing to me. Thus by that narrow definition of “merit” salvation is “merited” too.

  29. Bruce,

    I appreciate your comments. I don’t have time to comment further, but hopefully will soon. I don’t know how you all have time to comment so much!

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    Kari,

    I’m out of time too. I’m not supposed to comment during the week, but do so anyhow sometimes on my own posts.

    If it’s easier, I could write to you offline as I find this allows the conversation to happen faster and removes the need to keep looking up a website to see if there is a response. 😛 (Oops, exposed my own obsessive complusive behavior there.)

  31. Pingback: Points of interest 5/3 « Mind, Soul, and Body

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