Jeffrey R. Holland v. The Book of Mormon

Posted: April 1, 2018 in Book of Mormon, Grace, Michael Flournoy, Mormon Studies

Elder Jeffery R. Holland speaking at the October 2017 General Conference.
(click image to watch the full address)

by Michael Flournoy
During last Fall’s General Conference, I had two Latter-day Saints recommend that I listen to the talk given by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, an apostle of the Mormon faith. The talk, entitled “Be Ye Therefore Perfect- Eventually” was rumored to put the nail in the coffin of the argument levied against the church that it holds to an impossible gospel.

Holland begins his speech by ripping Matthew 5:48 out of context, saying we are to be “…perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect,” and continues, “yet surely the Lord would never give us a commandment He knew we could not keep.” His main idea throughout the talk is that we can be content with steady improvement. The ironic part is even in the out of context version embraced by the LDS church, Jesus did not say to be perfect- eventually. He simply said to be perfect – that is, right here, right now.

The talk’s title, which I was not aware of until recently, called to mind Alma 13:27 which says, “And now, my brethren, I wish from the inmost part of my heart, yea, with great anxiety even unto pain, that ye would hearken unto my words, and cast off your sins, and not procrastinate the day of your repentance.” Alma did not suggest shaving off our sins, little by little. I would argue (and I think Alma would agree) that steady improvement is just a fancy word for procrastination.

Now lest any of you get the wrong idea and think I do not like Elder Holland, let me set the record straight. He is far and away my favorite LDS apostle. As far as public speakers go, he is probably the most powerful man in the entire church. And if he showed up at my door on a stormy night, looking for food and shelter, he would have it. No questions asked.

As I listened to his speech, I felt like a hopeless romantic who was peeling petals off a flower. But instead of saying, “She loves me, she loves me not,” I found myself thinking, “he gets the gospel of Christ. He gets it not. He gets it. He gets it not…” Some of his statements were nothing short of inspirational. My favorite quotes from the talk are as follows:

“Every one of us is a debtor, and the verdict was imprisonment for every one of us. And there we would all have remained were it not for the grace of a King who sets us free because He loves us and is ‘moved with compassion toward us.’”

“Our only hope for true perfection is in receiving it as a gift from heaven- we can’t ‘earn’ it.”

“I am grateful to know that in spite of my imperfections, at least God is perfect—that at least He is, for example, able to love His enemies, because too often, due to the ‘natural man’ and woman in us, you and I are sometimes that enemy. How grateful I am that at least God can bless those who despitefully use Him because, without wanting or intending to do so, we all despitefully use Him sometimes. I am grateful that God is merciful and a peacemaker because I need mercy and the world needs peace.”
(Jeffrey R. Holland, “Be Ye Therefore Perfect—Eventually”, General Conference, October 2017 on the official LDS Church website) 

This final quote hits the nail on the head and is the hope of all Christians everywhere. And while I do appreciate his humility in admitting he needs mercy and is sometimes an enemy of God who despitefully uses Him, it makes me wonder how any Latter-day Saint can expect to eventually gain perfection. Because if Elder Holland, an apostle, has not obtained it at the age of 77, then seriously, who can?

Things take a particularly precarious turn when Jeffrey R. Holland attempts to explain the parable of the Unmerciful Servant. In the parable, a man is forgiven a 10,000 talent debt, only to harshly punish a debtor who owes him a mere 100 pence. It’s a pointed story about the importance of forgiveness.

Holland, however, puts an unusual twist on the meaning of the parable, rendering it not only unbiblical but contrary to The Book of Mormon as well. First, he compares the debts to what they might be in modern U.S. currency. The debt the man was forgiven would be roughly equivalent to 1 billion dollars, while the amount he refused to forgive would be 100 dollars.

After joking that 1 billion dollars is an incomprehensible personal debt (because no one can shop that much) he states,

“Jesus uses an unfathomable measurement here because His Atonement is an unfathomable gift given at an incomprehensible cost. That, it seems to me, is at least part of the meaning behind Jesus’s charge to be perfect. We may not be able to demonstrate yet the 10,000-talent perfection the Father and the Son have achieved, but it is not too much for Them to ask us to be a little more godlike in little things, that we speak and act, love and forgive, repent and improve at least at the 100-pence level of perfection, which it is clearly within our ability to do.”
(Ibid, bolding added for emphasis, italics in original) 

The implication is that we are capable of making a down payment of 100 pence to God and go from there to eventually come to pay the remaining 10,000 talents.

King Benjamin in The Book of Mormon vehemently opposes the gospel taught by Elder Holland. “Are we not all beggars?” he first asks and then expounds on in Mosiah 4:19-20,

“For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?

And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy.”

According to King Benjamin, we are all beggars. And do beggars have the ability to pay 100 pence? No, we do not. Even the servant in the parable used by Jeffrey R. Holland could not pay the 100 pence. What Latter-day Saints are being asked to do essentially, is to be able to leap out of earth’s atmosphere by the end of their lives. But not to worry, a six foot vertical will suffice for now, as it is clearly within our ability to do.

The fact remains that for we fallen, broken, and sin-corrupted children of Adam, perfection is indeed an impossible gospel. Whether it is now, or 50 years down the road, not one of us is up to the challenge – no, not one. We are all beggars.

Perfection has to be granted as a gift – it must be imputed to us. How grateful I am that at least Jesus is impossibly strong and perfect and that He has given me that perfection as a gift. Because if I were trying to obtain it through my own merits, all the time since the creation would not be near enough.

Yes, we are all beggars, but Jesus’ gift of imputed perfection is enough. It is finished.

King Benjamin’s response to Jeffrey R. Holland.
(Mosiah 4:19)

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