It has been far too long since I have posted about Theo1689 — the infamous Canadian Christian apologist who is on a one-man message board mission to convince Mormons of the theological “error of their ways.”
Here is Theo’s question:
Why do you believe hat you need to do “works” for salvation, when the Bible repeatedly teaches that salvation is “not by works” (Eph. 2:8-9, 2 Tim 1:9, Tit. 3:5, Rom. 4:1-5, Rom. 9:11,16, etc.)?
This is a very “tried and true” criticism of LDS theology and practice (at least in Evangelical circles), which teaches that in addition to having faith, one must also strive to live a good life in order to “qualify” for Christ’s salvation.
Let’s first take a look a the verses Theo cites (NRSV):
Eph. 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast.
2Tim. 1:9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,
Titus 3:5 he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
Rom. 4:1 What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. 5 But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.
Rom. 9:11 Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose of election might continue, Rom. 9:16 So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy.
Again we see that Theo makes a claim that “The Bible” argues for some position yet, at least in this case, he cites only one author: Paul. Any student of the New Testament will readily admit that Paul was not a fan of “the law.” Indeed, it was Paul who led the effort in the early Church to remove the Jewish requirement of circumcision on conversion to Christianity. Paul, even though himself an educated Jew, was truly the Apostle to the “gentiles” or non-Jews. In his letter to the Galatians he chastises that congregation for being swayed by so-called “circumcision faction” (Gal. 2:12) from the Jerusalem Church who, as far as we can tell, were preaching that certain aspects of the Mosaic law be kept as a part of Christian worship. So, often when Paul is railing against “the law” he is referring to the Law of Moses, and not the simple act of doing good works of kindness charity etc.
It seems clear to me that Paul is not arguing that a Christian should not engage in good works but rather, that according to the theology of Paul, Christ’s salvific efforts nullify the Law of Moses completely.
I don’t believe that Paul would disagree with his contemporary Apostle James (Jam. 2:14-20):
James 2:14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. James 2:18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. 20 Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren?
Clearly James is advocating that a Christian’s faith is shown through his/her good works. Indeed, “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” James’ position is the Mormon position.
After all, Jesus did say “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)
LDS theology teaches that Christ suffered and died in order to atone for the sins of the world and to enable the physical resurrection of the dead. This theme runs throughout the entire Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants. As an act of contrition and as a sign that a person has accepted Christ Mormonism teaches that doing good works is an important part of exercising faith. The two are inexorably intertwined.
Now, speaking culturally — and not theologically — Mormonism has some issues here. In my view, Mormon culture is far to concerned with individual behavior rather than the faith that motivates this behavior. As a result, some Mormons have felt overwhelmed and have taken on themselves an unnecessary spiritual burden. Fortunately, modern LDS theologians such as Stephen Robinson have begun to address this as have members of the LDS Church’s governing hierarchy.
Again we see here that Theo sets up a Mormon straw man in order to tear it down. Unfortunately, if Theo would read beyond the writings of Paul and look perhaps, at the words of Jesus or even James, he might see that faith and works go hand-in-hand. In Christianity they cannot be separated. Faith should lead to good works and good works in turn, lead back to faith.
Without reservation I can state that Matthew 11:28-30 are my favorite verses in all the Christian canon.
The King James Version (KJV) reads:
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV):
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
I find these verses inspiring and have, on many occasions, seen people exercise faith in the promise these verses contain. So often, their burdens have been lifted as they have found “rest for [their] souls.”
Readers of this blog know that I view metaphysics as unknowable. This is not to say that metaphysics do not exist; I personally believe that they do. However, if metaphysics do exist, it is impossible for us, as human beings limited to five senses, to discern and state that a particular metaphysical axiom is the Truth. Thus, when I say that I believe in God, for example, I am not stating, axiomatically, that God exists. I am merely stating that according to my own religious experience, I have faith that there is a God. Thus, as I cannot know there is a God, my personal belief compels me to hope there is a God; that there is a purpose to life beyond sheer randomness. I cannot know this, but I hope for it.
The reason I am drawn to these particular verses is that while they may be interpreted in terms of metaphysics, they can also be read as pragmatic.
The simple fact is that the human condition makes all of us “weary” from “carrying heavy burdens.” These burdens may be physical, financial, emotional, or spiritual but for every person they exist. Carrying these burdens is part of being a human being. Thus, these verses apply universally.
Consider verse 29. Jesus invites all to take upon themselves his yoke. The use of the word yoke, of course, refers to the mechanism attached to two animals (usually oxen) when these animals are used to pull heavy loads. Thus, Jesus is inviting individuals to join him in a partnership — to be yoked together with him in the struggle of carrying heavy burdens. This verse also makes use of a simple if/then statement. If you take upon the yoke of Jesus, you will find rest.
This is where I see the KJV and NRSV diverge slightly in their meanings. Notice that the KJV invites readers to “learn of [Jesus]” while the NRSV invitation is to “learn from [Jesus].” Through the use of the word of, the KJV implies that simply learning about Jesus, and perhaps developing faith in Jesus — through some sort of metaphysical action — will bring about the ultimate rest and lifting of burden.
Conversely, but subtly, the NRSV translation indicates that listeners/readers should learn from Jesus and implies, but does not explicitly state, that it is the things learned from Jesus that enable a person to “find rest unto their souls.” And what is it, exactly, that Jesus wants listeners to learn from him?; that he is “gentle and humble in heart.” This theme of meekness and humility fits perfectly with the Sermon on the Mount found earlier in Matthew.
I prefer the NRSV translation in this instance because it puts significant onus on the listener/reader to not only learn about Jesus, but to adopt the gentle nature, humility, and meekness of Jesus. Now, I am not saying that the KJV does not encourage the adoption of these traits. However, action on the part of listeners/readers is made a bit more explicit and requisite in the NRSV. Thus, rather than listeners/readers needing to rely on a metaphysical process to bring rest to their souls, the NRSV text requires them to adopt a certain set of traits and characteristics that will bring upon the desired rest. As a Pragmatist, I find this notion incredibly appealing because it is a proposition that can be tested and tried to see if the consequences of adopting Jesus’ qualities does in fact, bring rest to the soul.
Having said that, I cannot discount the importance of hope. When carrying heavy burdens, individuals must maintain hope that their situation can improve. I might add however, borrowing from the words of James, that hope without works is dead. When burdened with emotional, financial, and physical burdens we cannot simply hope that our situation will improve. We must also act. If unemployed, we must actively seek employment. If suffering from emotional or physical stress we must seek out the help of our families, friends, and neighbors. We cannot simply hope for our situations to improve and expect to find rest from our burdens. We must work to overcome our burdens with the encouragement and help of our family and friends.
Too often we are too proud to ask for help when it is genuinely needed. Asking for help requires first, the recognition that we cannot overcome our burdens alone and second, the humility to admit this fact to those who care about us.
Even Jesus, when suffering in the Garden of Gethsemene, asked for the help and support of his friends, the Twelve.
Thus, I believe the message of Jesus here is simple but quite profound: we should not carry our burdens alone. Instead, we should be “gentle and humble in heart” in asking for relief not only from God, but also from our friends, families, congregations, coworkers etc… It is my belief that God most often provides help, not through the miraculous, but through the kindness and charity of those around us.
I have had a long-standing interest in Mormon apologetics which began when I was a teenager. Many of my friends were devout evangelical Christians who, on more than one occasion, “witnessed” to me about the error of Mormon beliefs. Given that at the time I was also quite zealous, such conversations generally involved long discussions on Biblical interpretation. For the most part, these conversations were very friendly. However, on rare occassions I would run into an evangelical Christian who was so adamantly opposed to Mormon belief that they ended up saying something rather stupid over the course of our conversations. Perhaps the most poignant example of this kind of silliness happened during my Senior year of high school when I was told, by someone who I had long-considered to be a friend, that we Mormons should not be allowed to come to the school’s baccalaureate because we weren’t really Christians.