Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Importance of Faith vs Ordinances --

It’s interesting to contemplate the discussion of salvation in the Book of Mormon. You have these multiple consistent expositions of faith that are precursors to LDS temple work. Consider the people of Ammonihah, burned for their beliefs. Consider Nephi, Abinadi, Enos, and Jacob, their faith and their testimonies.

Here are some of my favorite selections from the Book of Mormon on salvation:

2 Ne 9 deserves to be read in its entirety, as it's a wonderful sermon.

Many verses in this point to the orthodox Christian trinity, original sin, and concepts of hell, but for my purposes the meat is here: 2 Ne 9:21 - 26.  I think this states pretty unambiguously that salvation comes through faith, repentance, baptism, and enduring to the end.  All because of the power of the atonement.

Here's another great one: 2 Ne 25:23-30

And how could we not mention the story of Enos? This is a story that warms the evangelical Christians heart.  He wrestles with his faith before God in prayer and receives a remission of his sins because of his faith.  Consider the elegant simplicity of this statement from God:  "wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole."

Compare that with a more modern alternative:  "wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole.  After, of course, you abstain from coffee, alcohol, tobacco, and tea, sustain the apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators, sustain all your other leaders, attend all your church meetings, magnify any and all responsibilities your leaders assign you, get a temple recommend from your bishop, and travel to the nearest temple to receive all the necessary priesthood ordinances".

Consider also the ancient original apostles of Jesus Christ in Israel, martyred for their faith. Consider Peter, Paul, James, their faith and their testimonies.

Consider all the wonderful examples of faith we have considered, from both the New Testament and Book of Mormon, locked outside the door of heaven until a 12 year-old is baptized for them by proxy and a distracted temple recommend holder sits through an endowment session for them, and a gang of temple workers does their sealings. Even Paul, despite his great faith, is locked outside the doors of eternal life without proxy ordinances done by teenagers and distracted adults.

What does that say about the importance of priesthood authority relative to the importance of faith? It essentially says that depth in faith is not that important relative to priesthood authority, considering that the faith of an eight year-old to be baptized and the worthiness of a 12 year-old to go through temple ordinances and the attention of a gang of temple workers doing mass sealings trumps the level of faith of those for whom the work will be done.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

11 August 2009 - Enthusiasm
 (This section was written when I was about a third of the way through and reflects a sense of youthful enthusiasm and rediscovery.  In many ways this is almost an allegory of most people's journey in the church, when it's still new and exciting and fresh)

Being reintroduced to the BoM after four years of studying other things, I find it to be a jewel. It’s an amazingly consistent exposition of the kind of “processed” evangelical thought not found in the Bible. What you get in the New Testament is the raw pieces. The commandments. Mosaic law including the sacrifices. Jesus’ ethical teachings. Paul’s teachings on the divinity of Christ and the doing away with the law by Christ’s coming, how we are no longer justified by the law, how we are saved by grace through Christ. Paul’s ethical teachings.

The Book of Mormon processes this doctrine and assembles it into a coherent outline, an “elevator speech” if you will, that sums it up. In many ways the Book of Mormon is almost like a series of setups for the speeches of the major characters. It begins with the speeches of Nephi, Jacob, Benjamin, and Abinadi on God coming to earth as a man and paying the price for our sins. The basic plan of salvation, repeated as a consistent theme by each speaker. It then moves on to Alma, who introduces the theme of revival and more fully lays out heaven and hell.

Then we have the opponents, like the horsemen of the apocalypse, each of whom represents a form of evil. Sherem, the anti-Christ. Nehor, priestcraft. Korihor, atheism. Amlici, political ambition.

I find tremendous truth in the Book of Mormon, because it’s the most coherent exposition of evangelical thought found in the scriptures. It most clearly lays out the orthodox trinity, which is not even mentioned in the Bible, and connects up God coming to earth in human form to accomplish our salvation.

One of the most difficult things to figure out in Christian thought is the balance between works and grace. On one hand the Bible talks about grace, and on the other hand it talks about works, but it’s never clear just how our thoughts on the toxicity of sin and the importance of ethical behavior impact our salvation by grace, because the subjects are never really dealt with together in the Bible.

We seem to get that in the Book of Mormon, which is repetitively clear that salvation is accomplished by faith and trust in Christ, repentance, which is a turning of our hearts toward God and away from sin, baptism for the remission of sins, and a process of enduring to the end. Keeping our focus on God and away from wickedness. Keeping the commandments to the best of our ability. Remaining strong in the faith and not returning to our self-centered ways. If your viewpoint is that we don’t have eternal security in our salvation, the Book of Mormon is the clearest, most concise, and most consistent summary of what you need to do to be saved and stay saved and to be a person of faith.

In addition to being a repository of some of the best preaching in the scriptures, outside the Sermon on the Mount, which is mostly concerned with ethical behavior, the Book of Mormon also has the best stories and the most inspiring characters.

Nephi and his persistent faith in the face of opposition by his brothers and the family of Ishmael. Enos and his coming to Christ for the forgiveness of sins. The martyrdom of Abinadi and his lecturing of the priests of Noah. The impact of Abinadi’s one convert, Alma. The radical turnaround of Alma the Younger, which is an inspiration for any father of a wayward son. The martyrdom of the Christians in Ammonihah and the conversion of Zeezrom. The servanthood of Ammon and his mission to the Lamanites, becoming a servant to a bloodthirsty people in order to bring them to Christ. The faith of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis as they are slaughtered by their brother Lamanites, and their example that brings even more of the Lamanites to faith in Christ.

And more will be added to this list as I finish the book. It would be much harder to be a Christian without these examples of faith to look to for inspiration.

As to the authorship of the Book of Mormon, I definitely believe it’s inspired of God. Even with notes in front of them and a reference library of evangelical preaching to draw from, it would be difficult to write a book like this. Imagine having to craft it and then repeat it back to a scribe while looking at a rock in a hat, never going back to correct words or to re-craft a story line. Think about J. K. Rowling having to dictate the Harry Potter books like this, and the Book of Mormon is much more carefully crafted in terms of the themes it teaches than those books. It’s clearly a masterpiece of some kind of revelation.

Is the Book of Mormon historical? I don’t think so. The story lines are too carefully crafted to represent real people. The characters are too perfect, and the crowds are too consistent. When anyone preaches, all are converted. All reform. To a man and woman they all respond, and human nature just isn’t like that. Just where are the women in the Book of Mormon also? The Old and New Testaments are from a very patriarchal Hebrew society, yet women have consistently important roles to play. In the Book of Mormon women are very much on the sidelines, yet personal experience tells us that women are always the first to respond in faith.

There is positively no Hebrew influence on Native American culture or language, nor is there any remnant of the Hebrew or “reformed Egyptian” language to be found, yet people could consistently read the writings on the plates for a thousand years, up until at least 400 A.D. The Nephites and Lamanites had very complex cultures based on trading, they had written language, they had records, and absolutely none of this survives. Not one artifact with Hebrew or Egyptian language survives. Not one word in any Native American language that can be traced to Hebrew.

Does that mean it’s not “true”? Just what is truth, anyway? Does something need to be historically true to be “true”? I think the truth of the Book of Mormon is in its content and the fact that we read the Book of Mormon and come to Christ and salvation as a result. The Book of Mormon is true in the sense that it’s another testament of Jesus Christ, perhaps the most consistent one found in the scriptures. It’s true in the sense that it leads us to greater faith and commitment. It leads us to greater faith and perseverance. It inspires us to endure to the end in the hopes of achieving the salvation that was the goal of the main characters in the Book of Mormon. That is the ultimate truth.

Intro to Book of Mormon summary --

Over the summer I re-read the Book of Mormon for the 17th time.  Typically what I did for times 1 - 15 was to try to read the Book of Mormon over a longer period of time.  Say, a year.  At least one time was in Spanish, and one time was over a multi-year period as part of our family scripture study, which gives you a window into how regular our family scripture study was at the time.

The 16th time was as part of Gordon B Hinckley's "Book of Mormon Challenge" in 2005, which was extremely appropriate for me because I was beginning my real crisis of LDS faith.

The last two times have probably been the best, because I think re-reading it in a shorter period of time allowed me a broader scope of it.  I can still remember the beginning while reading the end, and the themes show up better.

Periodically I wrote summaries of my thoughts at the time.

I wanted to put these down for awhile in order to filter them through more perspective.  (Of course involving no procrastination at all.  No, not any)  I have the time now at the end of the year, so this seemed like a good time to start to post them.

My initial idea was to post one large writeup, but in re-reading my entries they become less positive over the course of the book.  In retrospect I think it's better to post them as I wrote them, so my feelings about each section are a little less "processed".  So, over the next few days I'll put them up, as I get time to do a little editing.

As always, just my thoughts, worth what you paid for them.  I don't include specific citations for much of what I claim.  If that was useful I guess I could probably assemble that for the last entry, so as not to distract from the flow of the rest.  Let me know if somehow that would be useful.