Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mormon Interpretation of 1 Cor 15:29

Why do Mormons draw support for the practice of baptism for the dead from 1 Corinthians 15:29? First of all, the practice of baptizing on behalf of the dead was not revealed to the LDS Church until 1841. So when Joseph Smith was reading the Bible and performing what has come to be called his Inspired Translation, he did expound on the concept of performing temple work as a proxy for those who had passed away. In other words, the verse is not the basis of the doctrine, but rather is evidence of past practice of a doctrine which has now been restored.

But let's look at two technical points about how this verse is to be correctly understood. The verse speaks in the third person, as written by Paul, about "they" who are baptizing for the dead. Anti-Mormon literature frequently assails this as proof Paul is not saying it accomplishes anything, since he was not sent to baptize. As the reasoning goes, if Paul was not baptizing, then it must not be essential to salvation.

Two points show the folly of the anti-Mormon argument.

1. Paul says he is not baptizing people not because it was unnecessary, but because the people in the Church at Corinth were bragging about who had baptized them (1 Cor. 1:10-17). He notes that by the Spirit "All are baptized into one body," and through that baptism are made partakers of the Spirit.(1 Cor. 12:13). We know from Paul's other letters he believes water baptism is essential to putting on Christ (Romans 6:3-4; Titus 3:5, which uses the word washing, a word which in Greek means to thrust into water to clean something!)

So Paul's point is not that baptism is unimportant so he does not do it, but rather everyone there is baptized, and it does not matter who does it as they are all baptized into Christ's body.

2. Paul is very careful about the words he uses. So re-read 1 Cor. 15, and note the following: Whenever Paul uses a first person or third person pronoun(I, we, they, them), he always is speaking positively about those people, noting they have true faith (see 1 Cor 15:1-3, 9-11, 15, 18-20, 23, 29-32, 34-35, 48-52).

But those to whom he speaks to directly in the 2nd person (ye, you, your) he speaks in rebuke. Starting in verse two (after reminding them in verse 1 he had preached the Gospel to them), he notes their faith may be "vain" because they forget what he preached. He notes among "you" are those doubting the resurrection (vs. 12). He continues a rhetorical approach to their lack of faith by asserting their faith is in vain if Christ did not rise from the dead (vs. 17), and they are still in their sins.

Now comes the critical point of the argument. After discussing the resurrection of all the dead by Christ's atonement (vs 21-22), he notes the order of the resurrection is they who are righteous in Christ, then the rest, until Christ subdues everything (vss. 23-28). And the very next three verses compares everyone he is discussing:

Vs. 29 is about the faith of "they" who are baptizing for the dead, whose faith would be in vain if there really is not a resurrection. So he is identifying these people as faithful in Christ.

Vs. 30 Paul now notes "we" all stand in jeopardy constantly because of our true faith.

Vs. 31 notes "your" rejoicing is flawed because you do not actually believe in the resurrection of the dead, and such non-faith means a consistent response would be to live each day as the pagans, who feed their bellies (vss. 32-33).

Vs. 34 notes Paul is speaking to "your" shame. They need to awake to righteousness and sin not. This goes to the heart of the point that Paul started this passage by noting that "ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain." (1 Cor 15:2)

So Paul affirms the correctness of baptizing for the dead, explains why he is not doing so, and reaffirms that belief can save us at this moment, but it is through repentance and righteous living, relying in faith upon the atonement of Christ, by which we will be saved in eternity.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Justification, Works, Deeds and My Salvation

When I hear Shawn McCraney, Bill McKeever, James the screamer or a myriad of other critics talk about the LDS beliefs, either intentionally or otherwise, they get them wrong. I showed an ex-Mormon person I meet with weekly, to discuss LDS doctrine, notes from Shawn McCraney's show on the First Vision. I had added my responses and references, and he turned to an anti-Mormon fellow sitting there with us and said "Shawn should not claim to be an expert on Mormonism." Nearly every "fact" he asserted in his notes was documentably false. What makes one chuckle is McCraney's repeated assertions that Mormons never challenge his facts, they are just frustrated with his doctrinal analysis and Biblical expertise. Of course, that is it.

Not to pick on McCraney exclusively, it is precisely such assertions that make having a conversation with anti-Mormons and some brainwashed ex-Mormons about actual history and doctrine so difficult to carry out.

One problem is that there is no canonized dictionary of the definitions which often get drawn into the contention. So let's pick on what a few critical words mean.

I love the Evangelical argument that Ephesians 2:5, 8-9 that you are saved by Grace through faith. What does that mean? I fail to see the words confession there (Romans 10:9). I don't see believe in your heart. In fact, Ephesians 2:10 basically restates what Romans 5-8 teaches, that we are saved by Grace, but we are required to be obedient to Christ's teaching, thus we must "walk in [good works]". Grace is a gift which is not conditioned on any act of our own. Thus Romans 5:9-10 tells us that everyone was reconciled to God, through the death of Jesus, but "being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life." The idea here is that we put on the life of Jesus by ceasing from sin and being obedient to the commandments of God.

If I read all the main "Born Again" or "Grace Only" verses, there is no commonality across all of them. In 1 Cor 15:1 Paul specifically says that he is declaring the Gospel. And what does he declare? That IF they remember that Jesus died according to the scriptures, was buried and rose we will be saved. Where is our faith? Where is confession? Where is the sinners prayer?

In Romans 10:9 Paul teaches that if we believe in our heart and confess with our mouth, we will be saved. He goes on in verse 16 to explain that belief and obedience are equivalent terms. Where is Grace? Where is the discussion of Jesus dying?

Justification means to make us right before God in a legal sense. We are declared "not guilty" of whatever we did. But Justification is not a pardon of future actions. It is not a blank check to sin. In fact, in Romans 5:18-21, which declares ALL people are made righteous in God's sight through the atonement of Christ, is immediately followed by the very specific teaching of Romans 6 that we must cease sinning, or we are condemned to death. He asks the question:
15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.
16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?
17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Rom 6:15-17
It is hard to imagine a more "Mormon" passage anywhere in scripture, and there is stands in the middle of Romans.

Works are confused between the "Works of Moses" and just being obedient to Christ. Paul does not say we should not obey, he says the idea of "earning" heaven is impossible. You can never get God in debt to you (Mosiah 2:21-25). No matter what you do, God gives us more than we can give him, so there is no way to put him into debt to us and earn salvation.

Moreover, "Works of the Law" is a technical term, and saying "works" (Greek "ergon") in a context of salvation is short hand for works of the Law of Moses. Ergon is also perfectly good to be used in a context outside of the "works of the Law" of Moses, but context makes such usage clear, such as Romans 2:6, 7 ("deeds" and "doing"). Romans 3:27 uses the shorthand "of works" in reference to the Law, and Romans 4:2 is clearly referring back to works of the Law as cited just two verses earlier in Romans 3:31.

This is probably a good point to mention the cultural teaching style was to read the letters to the congregation in a continuous reading. Chapters and verses were not added to the scriptures for hundreds of years. We now routinely see people dividing thoughts into sub-thoughts as if they were detached from the context.

So for a Mormon, myself, I am confident of my Justification. I am equally convinced that I cannot earn salvation, but that I know that as long as I am acting in faith, I am saved. I still have my shortcomings, but that is why Christ asks only for my obedience, not my human perfection.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Romans on Grace, Works and Justification

As a Latter-day Saint, there was a time when the letter to the Romans in the New Testament seemed like a theological maze. Whenever I spoke with non-LDS, they would point to verses in it to support their claim that "Grace only" or "Believe and Confess" were the theological underpinnings.

I took up Romans as my own special project, to try to get my arms around it. After many years of study, I have reached several conclusions which I think are helpful to people of all faiths.

1. The letter to the Romans was primarily written to the Jews of the Church at Rome. Romans 2:17, 4:1, 7:1-2. There are parts written to everyone, but Paul repeatedly quotes from the Old Testament and illuminates what the proper understanding of the role of "works" are in salvation.

2. "Works" are almost always meant to be understood as works or deeds of the Law of Moses. There was an article from Biblical Archeology Review in Nov/Dec 1994 which demonstrated that Paul is almost always using the phrase "works/deeds of the Law" as a technical defined term closely corresponding to writings by the same name in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

3. Paul requires obedience as a fundamental condition of faith. Romans 10:16 literally defines it as such.

4. Works differ from obedience and walking or living in Christ because of the intent. Paul talks about works as a way of earning salvation, without a requirement of exercising faith. Obedience not only expresses our faith, but grows it as well.

5. Probably the most fascinating point in Paul's writings, and continuously ignored by those who advocate a "Grace Only" salvation scheme, is Paul's central teachings that through Jesus Christ, ALL people are already saved and justified in the sight of God (Romans 5:18; 7:9); that they retain this state of salvation only by refraining from sin and walking in faith (Rom 6:15-18; 8:1,4) , and failure to do so results in damnation (Rom 8:5-6).

Paul teaches that God is no respector (2:11) of people, and that all have sinned(3:23). He elaborates on this in Romans 5 by pointing out that through Adam, sin entered the world to all people(5:12). He points out, though, that Christ's atonement covers all of mankind's sins, not just those of the believers(5:18). The gift of the Atonement is on all mankind for justification unto life. This becomes the foundational teaching for why we must obey, because the only thing which differentiates believers from non-believers is their attempt to follow Christ and be led by the Spirit. Otherwise they are worthy of damnation, just as the unfaithful are (1:32).

6. Paul's teachings on Election and predestination are exclusively about God's selection of Israel as the channel to deliver prophets and ultimately Christ. This an area of Paul's teachings where he heavily draws on Old Testament verses (Isa 29:16; Jer 18:6) to show it is the corporate body of the children of Israel which God had chosen, and now he had chosen the New Testament Church as the same vehicle for dispensing salvation.

7. Romans 10:9 about confessing and believing is about being taught the Gospel by authorized preachers (10:15) and upon exercising faith, we must be obedient (10:16). Romans 10:13 is from Joel 3:5, and was quoted by Peter at the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:21). When asked by those listening what they needed to do, as they felt the Spirit testify their preaching was true (Acts 2:37), since they already BELIEVED in Jesus, they were told to "repent and be baptized...for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost...Save yourselves from this untoward generation." (Acts 2:38-40)

Paul teaches in Romans that it is through water baptism that one puts on Jesus Christ and becomes the New Man (Romans 6:3-5). Living our life in obedience is our confession of who we are, that is, we are Christ's (Rom 7:4, 12:5).

8. Lastly, Romans 8 is teaching that mankind can become like God. The phraseology Paul uses, calling those who are saved the "children of God", "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ", to be glorified (vss17-18), of which receipt of the Spirit is just the beginning of the gifts we are to receive(vs 23), but he notes that what we are now, even with the Spirit, not even a glimmer of what we will become (vss 19-21). Again, this is consistent with the teachings of the Old Testament that man's destiny was to rule over all the creations of God (Rom 4:13, Ps 8:6).

Paul begins and ends the letter to the Romans by mentioning obedience (1:5; 16:19,26), and he laces it 10 more times directly in the letter, then uses language such as "do" (48 times), walk (6 times), follow (3 times), keep(twice) to emphasize our part in our salvation.

'Faith' in Romans results in obedience, and obedience results in our continuing salvation. It is possible to have Faith without obedience. The lack of obedience leads us to death. Thus James and Paul completely agree that Faith without works is dead, being alone.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Pervangelical Ignorance

I don't really like name calling. In fact, I try not to do it at all. But this past weekend at LDS General Conference there was such a farcical zoo created by the Street Preachers, that I sort of figure I need a new name for these folks who claim to be Evangelical Christians. Simply speaking, they are not. They pervert the doctrines of the Bible for their own self-aggrandizement.

One fellow named James is a particularly choice piece of Biblical perversion. He is deceptive and rude, and then resorts to the Bible to claim such rights. Jesus must weep extra hard. The funny thing is he likes to dress up in costumes and wear a cape, but then he calls Mormon men "effeminate". Seriously. His family looked to me like a bunch of demoralized troops run into the ground by an oblivious commander. He strutted around wearing a Satan outfit and tried to be sarcastic. I spoke with him on Saturday, and he asked me where the book of Hezekiah is in the Bible. Of course, it is not in the Bible, and I said so. He immediately responded "Oh, you've seen my videos online." Well, truthfully, yes, but I did not recognize him, and I knew the answer from my study of the Bible.

This kind of person is unChristian at so many levels. Peter advised us to have "answers" to questions asked of us, but to answer with gentleness and respect. No one is asking him questions, he just stands around and yells at people. I was speaking with his family, and he comes over to tell them not to speak with me, and then starts asking questions of me, and when I said he was rude and this was not a conversation, he said he was not trying to have a conversation, he was preaching. I guess I should know a guy dressed as Satan and being rude is probably congenitally unable to be honest in his communications with others.

He is literally so proud of his Bible study experience, he refuses to entertain there could be more to learn. He was attacking the LDS position on the Godhead, and I told him that John 1:1-2 was pretty compelling evidence that there is more than 1 real divine being or God in Biblical Christianity. He said let's read it, and I quoted it to him in the Greek. He started saying that I asserted we should be reading the original documents, and of course there are none, and so I was a fool.

I never said let's read the original documents, since their abscence is well known to any LDS person or anyone else who has studied Biblical Greek. I said let's read it in the original language. Since all or nearly all of the New Testament was written in Greek, and the King James Bible was translated from Greek documents, it seems obvious to me that only a person with highly perverted concepts of what the Bible teaches would be afraid to try to understand the nuances of the Greek language. For example, if you understand that the words for righteous and justified are from the same root, it creates some texture to more fully understanding the use of the two words. If you understand the grammar of John 1:1 it completely changes the meaning of the English translation. The English translation is only valid IF you know what the Greek was saying, or else you walk away thinking God and the Word are just different manifestations of the same god. But that is not what the verse teaches. It is teaching the Word fully posses all the attributes of God, and yet is not the God, but is with God and is himself perfectly described as being god, just not The God. In other words, it absolutely says that God and the Word, who is Jesus, are two separate but equally divine beings. Very LDS from a doctrinal standpoint.

There is a certain part of me which is glad Jim and the other Pervangelicals show up. I doubt anyone has left the LDS Church as a result of the protestors for the past 6 years. No one with questions concerning their faith would ever stop, and as a result they get the good advice they need from their Bishop.

Jesus never attacked or yelled at people not of his faith. Neither did Paul. Nor did any other New Testament teacher or leader. They did attack hypocrites within their own faith, Jewish Pharisees and Judaizers. They preach for belief in Jesus, not attacking other faiths. Which is the LDS approach.

I understand more and more why people who get more and more education leave non-LDS faiths, and why the more one is educated, the more likely they are to be active participants if they are LDS. It turns out people who don't think the world is flat can grasp that God still speaks through prophets, even if those prophets have human flaws. There was a time when the institutions of religion were the champions of education. The hijacking of the Evangelical and Protestant faiths has rendered such zeal unpopular, even persecuted.