The Mormon Chameleon: The Ever-changing Gospel of the LDS Church (Part One)

Posted: July 19, 2020 in Matthew Eklund, Mormon Studies

by Matthew Eklund
I was a member of “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (a.k.a the LDS or Mormon church) from the age of 10 until 30 when I officially resigned in 2017. I served a faithful two-year evangelistic and service mission to Belgium and France between 2007 and 2009. Since God showered grace upon me to learn the truth of the LDS church, that it does not follow the gospel and it does not worship the God as written in the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Scriptures, I have come to receive a knowledge of the true Lord Jesus Christ, God from all eternity to all eternity who took upon flesh to die for my sins, and to exercise saving faith in Him.

In the time since I resigned from the church, I have communicated with those who are still members of the LDS church and attempted to have respectful, loving dialogues with them. I know most of them are moral people who claim to seek truth and follow Jesus. However, they have been blinded by a system that does not accurately teach the Christ that Christianity has worshiped for nearly 2000 years. Their view of who He is, what He actually accomplished on the cross, and how to be in a right relationship with Him has been distorted by teachings given by the first president and “prophet” of their church, Joseph Smith, Jr. He emphatically denied the God from the Bible which says that He is God “from everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 90:2) when Smith said this at a sermon for a funeral ceremony:

“For I am going to tell you how God came to be God and what sort of a being He is. For we have imagined that God was God from the beginning of all eternity. I will refute that idea and take away the veil so you may see… He once was a man like one of us and that God Himself, the Father of us all, once dwelled on an earth the same as Jesus Christ himself did in the flesh and like us.”
(Joseph Smith, Jr., King Follett funeral discourse, April 7, 1844, emphasis mine)

At this moment of time, Joseph Smith eternally severed “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” from biblical and true Christianity and declared war upon those who do believe and follow the Bible. When I evangelize Latter-day Saints and tell them they are not actually Christians, I do so out of love for them and their salvation and not out of spite. However, I do so in acknowledging that we do not have fellowship and they are not yet my brothers in Christ as long as they continue teaching and believing what the LDS church has to say about Christ and the gospel.

When I speak with Latter-day Saints, I try to touch on the most important points of sharing the gospel. They must understand:

1. Who God is.
2. Who Christ is and what He accomplished during His incarnation.
3. What the “good news” of the gospel is.

What makes these tasks difficult is that, in interacting with Latter-day Saints, each has their own description of what the gospel is, how we have a right relationship with our Creator, and how we return to live with God after this life. I’ve heard many different descriptions when speaking with them. The following are some examples of things I’ve heard.

I have heard from various Latter-day Saints that the gospel is:

1. Becoming more like their Heavenly Father.
2. Becoming more like Christ.
3. Receiving eternal life by obedience to the “laws and ordinances of the restored gospel”.
4. The plan of happiness.
5. What Jesus did for us that we couldn’t do ourselves.
6. The way to return to heaven with our families forever.
7. Receiving forgiveness of sins.
8. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

And the way to receive the “restored gospel” is, according to the “Preach My Gospel” handbook that is given to every single missionary:

“Invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.”
(Preach My Gospel, Chapter 1: “What is My Purpose as a Missionary?”)

Yet I hear from Latter-day Saints that the purpose of the gospel or the way to return to live with Heavenly Father differs. Some say:

1. We have to humble ourselves and accept Christ.
2. We are only saved by grace, but we have to receive ordinances and keep the commandments and our covenants to receive them.
3. The gospel is meant to transform us to be more like God; it isn’t a set of rules or “dos” and “don’ts”.
4. We are to prove our faithfulness to God by keeping our “second estate” [the “first estate” being the “pre-mortal life” where Latter-day Saints believe we all lived in heaven with God before coming to earth, and since we came to earth, it shows we were faithful and “kept” our “first estate” faithfully].
5. We are to love God and our neighbor and if we have loved enough, then God will allow us into heaven.
6. We have to love Jesus and keep the commandments as best as we can, we don’t have to be perfect, and Jesus will make up for the rest.

However, if you look at all those various definitions, some of them seem to be theologically shallow (focused more on emotions or not getting into the heart of the matter) and some are even mutually exclusive (meaning they all cannot be simultaneously true). We are either saved by God’s grace, or we must keep the commandments. One is the gift of the gospel, and one is salvation by works [even if God is helping us to keep the commandments, it is still up to us to get to heaven]. Salvation is either entirely a gift, or it is something you work for. According to the Bible, salvation is entirely a gift and not something we receive by any measure of our works:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
(Ephesians 2:8-9, New International Version)

When discussing what the gospel is according to Latter-day Saints, I will usually be given different requirements for attaining eternal life from them than from what previous leaders of the LDS church have provided. In a BYU devotional address titled “Be Ye Therefore Perfect” given on September 17, 1974, LDS President Spencer W. Kimball said:

“Let me say, then, that perfection is still our goal. It is reached by climbing steadily upward, controlling all our desires, impulses, and urges. It is possible. Remember that the Lord gave us Abraham as an example and quoted him often: “Abraham received all things, whatsoever he received, by revelation and commandment, by my word, saith the Lord, and hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne” (D&C 132:29). This is not a promise; it is a reality. “Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham; enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved” (D&C 132:32)…

“Perfection is a long, hard journey with many pitfalls. It’s not attainable overnight. Eternal vigilance is the price of victory. Eternal vigilance is required in the subduing of enemies and in becoming the master of oneself. It cannot be accomplished in little spurts and disconnected efforts. There must be constant and valiant, purposeful living—righteous living. The glory of the Lord can be had only through correct and worthy marriage and living a clean, worthy life.”
(emphasis mine)

In a book titled “The Miracle of Forgiveness”, written by future LDS President Spencer W. Kimball*, he writes that perfection is not only a commandment, but it is an attainable goal for Latter-day Saints:

Eternal life hangs in the balance awaiting the works of men. This progress toward eternal life is a matter of achieving perfection. Living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sins and assures one of exaltation through that perfection which comes by complying with the formula the Lord gave us. In his Sermon on the Mount he made the command to all men: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48.) being perfect means to triumph over sin. This is a mandate from the Lord. He is just and wise and kind. He would never require anything from his children which was not for their benefit and which was not attainable. Perfection therefore is an achievable goal.
(Spencer W. Kimball, Miracle of Forgiveness, chapter 15, “Keeping God’s Commandments Bring Forgiveness”, pages 208-209, emphasis mine)

Kimball adds, on page 210 of the aforementioned book, “only as we overcome shall we become perfect and move toward godhood. As I have indicated previously, the time to do this is now, in mortality.” (emphasis mine)

Here, President Kimball states that you actually can attain perfection according to your obedience and that the time to reach for perfection by your own obedience is now. This is done by climbing the ladder of obedience, and that obedience and submission to the law is how Abraham received his inheritance (quoting the “Doctrine and Covenants”, a.k.a. D&C, a book of scripture used by the LDS church). Doesn’t this go against what other Latter-day Saints have said personally where they say it isn’t about being perfect, but about doing our best? Or those who say our works actually don’t give us eternal life, but we are saved by grace?

To quote another LDS leader, Apostle (now President) Russell M. Nelson said the following:

“If I were to ask which of the Lord’s commandments is most difficult to keep, many of us might cite Matt. 5:48: ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’…

“Keeping this commandment can be a concern because each of us is far from perfect, both spiritually and temporally…

“When comparing one’s personal performance with the supreme standard of the Lord’s expectation, the reality of imperfection can at times be depressing. My heart goes out to conscientious Saints who, because of their shortcomings, allow feelings of depression to rob them of happiness in life…

Mortal perfection can be achieved as we try to perform every duty, keep every law, and strive to be as perfect in our sphere as our Heavenly Father is in his. If we do the best we can, the Lord will bless us according to our deeds and the desires of our hearts.”
(Russell M. Nelson, “Perfection Pending”, October 1995 Semi-Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, text in parentheses added by speaker, emphasis mine)

Here, Nelson paints a slightly less grim picture than Kimball does of what it requires to attain perfection as a Latter-day Saint, but I think he does so inconsistently. He recognizes that Jesus commands perfection in Matthew 5:48 and that we are capable of being perfect in “our sphere as our Heavenly Father is in his” and that we need only “do the best we can”. But you cannot be “keeping the commandments”, including the command to maintain perfection, and fulfill this requirement by simply doing “the best [you] can”. That is not good enough. Perfection is perfection. Even if you were capable of keeping all of the law (which isn’t possible) but sin in one area, you are found guilty. James wrote in his epistle, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” (James 2:10, English Standard Version). It is not about doing what we can and having Jesus “make up the rest” (as many Latter-day Saints will say).

If you say your eternal life hinges on perfection, and keeping all of the commandments, as the LDS scriptures and leaders have said, you must keep all of them perfectly. Just as a college student will mourn over that single “A-” grade which ruins their perfect GPA, only one sin is required to break the law. Even repentance cannot simply undo that mistake. This is why salvation cannot be based on our keeping the commandments. Even if this were possible, and the Atonement undoes all of our previous sins, this would mean our salvation is still dependent on ourselves and none of our future sins would be covered. We would be completely dependent on our ability to keep the commandments for our salvation. We would have no assurance. We could be doing well for our entire lives and all it takes is one sin for which we have not repented sin to keep us out of heaven.

If our eternal life depends on us and on how well we keep the commandments, how can we believe the Bible that says that we are saved by grace? How can both of these propositions be true simultaneously when they are so completely irreconcilable? The Bible says that if salvation has anything to do with us and our works, it is not grace, but it is a payment (even if the payment is much higher than what we did to earn it, that doesn’t make it grace). In speaking of a remnant of people in Israel saved by God, Paul describes them being chosen not by what they did, but according to the grace of God alone:

“In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise, grace is no longer grace.
(Romans 11:5-6, New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition, emphasis mine)

Many times when showing a Latter-day Saint a quote from a President of their church (who they sustain as a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and speaks directly with God) with which they disagree, they often say that he was “speaking as a man”, made a mistake, or employ some other explanation to avoid the fact he disagrees with what they say or what they believe. But President Kimball quoted their own scriptures in the D&C as justification for what he said. Is the D&C wrong in this case, also?

Elsewhere in the D&C, it teaches that every blessing received is through obedience:

“There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated – “And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”
(D&C 130:20-21, emphasis mine)

Here, we see that LDS scripture teaches that any blessing from heaven, which would certainly include the blessing of eternal life, is attained by obedience to that law. This is further reiterated in the LDS “Gospel Topics” manual under the entry of “Eternal Life” (which can be accessed at the LDS church’s website), where it says this:

“Eternal life is the phrase used in scripture to define the quality of life that our Eternal Father lives. The Lord declared, “This is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Immortality is to live forever as a resurrected being. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, everyone will receive this gift. Eternal life, or exaltation, is to live in God’s presence and to continue as families (see Doctrine and Covenants 131:1-4). Like immortality, this gift is made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. However, to inherit eternal life requires our “obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel(Articles of Faith 1:3).

When we are baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, we enter the path that leads to eternal life…

After we are baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, much of our progress toward eternal life depends on our receiving other ordinances of salvation: for men, ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood; for men and women, the temple endowment and marriage sealing. When we receive these ordinances and keep the covenants that accompany them, we prepare ourselves to inherit eternal life.”

What is clear here is that God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ and His finished work on the cross alone (as taught and believed by orthodox Biblical Christianity) are insufficient to bring man to a right relationship with God. You must receive ordinances, keep the associated covenants by obedience, and keep other commandments given by God through obedience to receive eternal life according to LDS doctrine.

In the Book of Mormon, another book of scripture for the Latter-day Saints and the namesake of the common moniker “Mormon”, it reiterates that faith alone is insufficient to reach eternal life. It says:

The gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.

“And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive.

“After ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.

“Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life
(2 Nephi 31:17-20)

The Book of Mormon reiterates that God’s grace alone is insufficient. You need, at a minimum, faith, repentance, baptism by water, and the “gift of the Holy Ghost” to even enter the path to eternal life. But it doesn’t end there, either. You aren’t saved yet (in the sense that Biblical Christians understand the word “saved”, being sealed up unto eternal life and having an assurance of salvation from sins, death, and hell by the blood of Jesus). If you also don’t obey God and “endure to the end”, which includes receiving the ordinances of priesthood for men, temple endowment, and celestial marriage/temple sealing for husband and wife, you will not receive eternal life and exaltation in God, but you will receive a lesser glory. Thus, you must continue in faithfulness and add to your salvation by your own works. Even if God is helping you out, it still depends on you.

Thus, you can’t really ever have an assurance of salvation as a Latter-day Saint because it depends on you and your works. If a Latter-day Saint were to say they do have an absolute assurance of their salvation, I would ask, “And if you commit a sin tomorrow and are excommunicated from the LDS church? Did you lose your salvation, or was your assurance of salvation unfounded to begin with?”

About the Author
Matthew Eklund is a graduate student in nuclear engineering and a Utah native who converted to the LDS faith at the age of 10. He served a faithful two-year mission to Belgium and France and served in various teaching callings prior to being saved by God’s grace through faith in the Biblical Christ in 2016. He is now an active member of a Reformed Baptist Christian congregation in Albany, New York and is passionate about defending and sharing the truth of God’s saving grace to friends and family.

NOTES
* I say “future President” because Spencer W. Kimball was an Apostle when he wrote and published, “The Miracle of Forgiveness”. That said, and for those who say we shouldn’t quote “The Miracle of Forgiveness” because it isn’t in the LDS Standard Works (the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price) and that it doesn’t represent orthodox/accepted LDS doctrine, the book has been recommended by several LDS General Authorities in recent years to be read and followed by LDS members, including Prophets Thomas S. Monson and Ezra Taft Benson, Apostles Richard L. Evans in 1970, Richard G. Scott in 1995 and in the October 2000 General Conference, Boyd K. Packer, and more. “The Miracle of Forgiveness” is also quoted in many LDS church manuals that you can find on the LDS church website today. For a thorough examination of “The Miracle of Forgiveness” and how it teaches forgiveness of sins only comes through obedience to all the commandments, I recommend reading the article by Eric Johnson at the “Mormonism Research Ministry” website at http://www.mrm.org/the-miracle-of-forgiveness which outlines the broad and wide-reaching influence of this book on modern Latter-day Saint soteriology and theology.

 

 

Comments
  1. hisprodigal1 says:

    The moral, disciplined Mormon lifestyle is an attractive alternative to many in today’s chaotic world, and it’s works-based foundation aligns with society’s secular, materialistic, earn-it philosophy. However, it remains a deceptive, empty religion based on achievement, not a personal, vibrant relationship based on saved by grace alone. It’s so heart-rending to witness so many accepting the rigors of ‘earned salvation’ in lieu of the blessed simplicity of Jesus + nothing. They have my prayers to be enlightened in the truth of Eph.2:8-9

    Like

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