Archive for the ‘Grace’ Category

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)

A Critique of Brad Wilcox’s “His Grace is Sufficient”

“And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”
(Matthew 12:7 ESV) 

by Michael Flournoy
I was born and raised in the Mormon Church, and in early 2015 I began a serious study on the topic of grace. One of the first videos I watched was a BYU devotional given by Brad Wilcox called “His Grace is Sufficient”. Not only did Mr. Wilcox revolutionize the way I viewed grace, his talk was largely responsible for my journey out of Mormonism and into mainstream Christianity.

I was surprised when I listened to it recently, to see how it sounded to my Protestant ears. I caught myself saying “amen” half a dozen times. I was struck by how useful his catchphrases were for explaining my own transition. He says for instance, that we aren’t earning heaven, we’re “learning heaven.” He uses a piano analogy where Mom pays for lessons and requires us to practice. Practicing does not pay for the lessons, nor does it pay back Mom. He goes on to say that we’re keeping the commandments for a different reason, “it’s like paying a mortgage instead of rent, making deposits in a savings account instead of paying off debt…”

To this day Brad Wilcox is a favorite LDS speaker of mine. However, I found a few problems with his speech. Namely, the way he describes Evangelical Christians is mostly false. He says his Born Again friends often ask him if he has been saved by the grace of Christ, and he replies with a question they haven’t fully considered: “Have you been changed by grace?”

This is a common misconception about Evangelical Christianity. Having been LDS, I recall thinking the Christian model of salvation was very 2-dimensional. Having passed through the veil so to speak, to the other side, I see now that Christianity is not what Brad portrays it to be.

In fact, as an Evangelical, my day to day lifestyle is not so different from how I lived as a Mormon. What has changed is my motivation for living the way I do: before, I was trying to earn heaven, and now I’m learning it. I was obeying from a place of condemnation, but now it’s from a place of acceptance. Before it was about fear, now it’s about appreciation. When I embraced Brad Wilcox’s grace, I found that I fit in with Evangelicals much more than my fellow Latter-day Saints. So in answer to his unconsidered question, here is my unexpected answer: yes, the grace of Christ is changing me.

As a Latter-day Saint, I scoffed at the idea that we were created for God’s glory alone. As I mentioned previously, it seemed 2-dimensional. I thought those who were “saved” would have no motivation to be better spouses, parents, employees, and disciples. I assumed as Brad stated, that Christians believed “God required nothing of [them]”. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, God’s abundant grace motivates Christians to improve and give their lives to Jesus.

He goes on to explain that Latter-day Saints can sometimes view God’s commandments as overbearing and say, “Gosh, none of the other Christians have to tithe. Gosh, none of the other Christians have to go on missions…” Actually, we do. To set the record straight, “other Christians” do understand the importance of obedience.

I was shocked the first time tithing was discussed at my Protestant church. I thought I had gotten away from all that! My pastor explained that we don’t pay tithing to get into heaven, but because we’re free. As a Latter-day Saint, my perception was that Christians viewed grace as a license to sin. I see now that grace is better described as insurance, covering us in case we sin.

In his speech, Brad Wilcox mentions several people who don’t understand grace: there are those who are giving up on the LDS church because they are tired of falling short, young men and women who graduate from high school and slip up time and again and think it’s over, return missionaries who slip back into bad habits and break temple covenants and give up on hope, and married couples who go through divorce.

He chides anyone who thinks there are only two options: perfection, or giving up. He does not seem concerned that such a huge swath of Latter-day Saints are ignorant about grace, even after admitting he used to picture himself begging to be let into heaven after falling short by two points. My idea of grace was not dissimilar to his. Ironically, he belittles Christians for having the same view of grace he has now, while turning a blind eye to Latter-day Saints who hold an opposing view, as if it were a coincidence.

However, these views against grace are not a coincidence, but a byproduct. My diagnosis is that Brad Wilcox understands grace, but he doesn’t understand Mormonism.

After all, Alma 5:28-29 in The Book of Mormon says if we are not stripped of pride and envy we are not prepared to meet God, nor do we have eternal life. Where’s the grace in that? Doctrine and Covenants 82:7 says if we sin our former sins return to us. Where’s the grace in that? Moroni 8:14 states that should someone die while thinking children need baptism, his destination is hell. Where’s the grace in that? Alma 11:37 says that Jesus cannot save us in our sins. My friends, there is no grace in a religion that says we must amputate all sin from our lives before Jesus can save us.

Mr. Wilcox conveniently leaves out covenants in his speech, which form the foundation of eternal life in Mormonism. According to LDS doctrine, covenants like baptism and temple sealings are required to enter the Celestial Kingdom. These covenants are two-way promises where God gives us eternal life if we keep our end of the bargain. The temple covenants include keeping the commandments, so a Latter-day Saint who fails by 2 points on judgment day will have no right to plead for grace. In Mormonism, grace is not enough.

I do love Brad Wilcox’s speech. I would not be where I am today without it. That said, I call upon him to repent for his false witness against Evangelical Christians and I pray he will see the error in defending an organization that tramples the grace of God. I can say from experience that coming into Protestant Christianity from Mormonism is like “…paying a mortgage instead of rent, making deposits in a savings account instead of paying off debt…”, it’s the difference between being a servant of your own free will, and being a slave.

mercy-and-grace-heat-map

About the Author
Michael Flournoy served a two-year mission for the LDS Church where he helped organize three Mormon/Evangelical dialogues and has participated in debate at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Born into Mormonism, Mr. Flournoy converted to Evangelical Christianity in 2016.