Mormonism and Christianity/Grace and works/Neglect grace

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The importance of grace versus works

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Question: Do Mormons ignore the doctrine of grace at the expense of "works"?

Some claim that the Church ignores the doctrine of grace at the expense of "works." Critics argue that Church leaders do not teach this doctrine, and as a result most members of the Church do not expect to be saved, since they are not "good enough."

Prophets and teachers must emphasize different parts of that message, depending upon their audience. The repentant sinner needs to hear about Christ’s grace and mercy, so that he or she does not fret about his or her inability to be ‘perfect.’ The arrogant and proud sinner (who does not really believe he or she needs repentance or Jesus) needs to hear about the consequences of continued disobedience. In that moment, a message emphasizing grace may be misplaced, since despite the eventual salvation offered to almost all, the suffering of the unrepentant wicked is terrible beyond understanding.

But, the doctrine of grace is a key part of the gospel of Jesus Christ and, like the Bible prophets, His modern servants teach it. The vocabulary used may vary from other Christian faiths, because the Church does not wish to adopt other aspects of grace theology (such as TULIP) which they do not wish to endorse.

The Book of Mormon teaches the doctrine of grace clearly, and repeatedly

The Book of Mormon teaches the doctrine of grace clearly, and repeatedly. It insists that it is one of the most important of all:

Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise. (2 Nephi 2:8.)

And, the Book of Mormon's final verses teach a similar key doctrine:

32 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

33 And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot. (Moroni 10:32-33.)

Joseph often taught about the principles of mercy and grace

Joseph often taught about the principles of mercy and grace. In one address to the Nauvoo Lyceum, he was recorded as saying:

Joseph said...that...the Lord apointed us to fall & also Redeemed us—for where sin a bounded Grace did Much more a bound 3—for Paul says Rom—5. 10 for if—when were enemys we were Reconciled to God by the Death of his Son, much more, being Reconciled, we shall be saved by his Life[1]

Bruce R. McConkie: "if you’re working zealously in this life—though you haven’t fully overcome the world and you haven’t done all you hoped you might do—you’re still going to be saved"

Elder McConkie is not known for his "soft" take on doctrinal issues, yet he teaches this doctrine clearly and full of hope:

Everyone in the Church who is on the straight and narrow path, who is striving and struggling and desiring to do what is right, though far from perfect in this life; if he passes out of this life while he’s on the straight and narrow, he’s going to go on to eternal reward in his Father’s kingdom.

We don’t need to get a complex or get a feeling that you have to be perfect to be saved. … The way it operates is this: you get on the path that’s named the ‘straight and narrow.’ You do it by entering the gate of repentance and baptism. The straight and narrow path leads from the gate of repentance and baptism, a very great distance, to a reward that’s called eternal life. … Now is the time and the day of your salvation, so if you’re working zealously in this life—though you haven’t fully overcome the world and you haven’t done all you hoped you might do—you’re still going to be saved.[2]

And, elsewhere, Elder McConkie taught:

As members of the Church, if we chart a course leading to eternal life; if we begin the processes of spiritual rebirth, and are going in the right direction; if we chart a course of sanctifying our souls, and degree by degree are going in that direction; and if we chart a course of becoming perfect, and, step by step and phase by phase, are perfecting our souls by overcoming the world, then it is absolutely guaranteed—there is no question whatever about it—we shall gain eternal life. Even though we have spiritual rebirth ahead of us, perfection ahead of us, the full degree of sanctification ahead of us, if we chart a course and follow it to the best of our ability in this life, then when we go out of this life we'll continue in exactly that same course. We'll no longer be subject to the passions and the appetites of the flesh. We will have passed successfully the tests of this mortal probation and in due course we'll get the fulness of our Father's kingdom—and that means eternal life in his everlasting presence.[3]

Many recent conference talks address this doctrine specifically

Finally, many recent conference talks address this doctrine specifically. (See below). For example, after describing the many ways in which the term 'saved' is used in LDS theology, Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught:

...all should answer: “Yes, I have been saved. Glory to God for the gospel and gift and grace of His Son!”[4]

Often members of the Church do not use the same type of theological language to speak about grace

Two LDS authors noted that often members of the Church do not use the same type of theological language to speak about grace, because such language also includes concepts with which they do not agree:

...Latter-day Saints reject all five principles of the Calvinistic doctrine of grace enunciated at the Council of Dort and represented by the acronym TULIP (Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and the Perseverance of the saints). To the extent that Latter-day Saints avoid some traditional Christian locutions (such as being "born again" or "grace alone" or even "saved") for expressing their doctrine of grace, it is because objectionable theological baggage has unfortunately become associated with the terms. However, this avoidance does not constitute (nor has it ever constituted) an avoidance of a doctrine of grace nor the rejection of a resource on which church members can rely when they "feel themselves lacking." Any avoidance of "grace" has been merely nominal and not doctrinal...

Latter-day Saints do not accept the Protestant assumption that faith/grace and human agency/actions/works constitute two separate grammars of discourse. To the contrary, we believe that it is false and that James and even Paul, as well as living prophets, make it clear that faith/grace and human agency/actions/works are actually inseparable.[5]

Other Christians may misunderstand the Latter-day Saints because of different language, but the concept and doctrine of grace (as illustrated above) is a firm and vital part of the LDS doctrine of salvation.


Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb: Joseph Smith does not reject the efficacy or necessity of grace

Non-LDS Christian Stephen H. Webb wrote:[6]

Two corrections of common misrepresentations of Smith’s theology need to be made at this point. First, Mormons are often charged with denying the efficacy of grace and thus making salvation dependent upon the exercise of the individual’s free will. All theologians use the language of effort, reform, and growth, so this is not a fair charge.... In any case, Smith describes the process of sanctification as being “from grace to grace.” Rather than replicating Pelagianism, Smith is siding with that aspect of the Christian tradition best represented by Thomas Aquinas, which says we can and must cooperate with divine grace in order to permit it to actualize our potential for divinization. [7]:96–97


To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. Joseph Smith, McIntire Minute Book, 9 February 1841, cited in Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of Joseph Smith, 2nd Edition, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996), 63.GL direct link
  2. }Bruce R. McConkie, “The Probationary Test of Mortality,” Salt Lake Institute of Religion devotional, 10 January 1982, 12.
  3. Bruce R. McConkie, "Jesus Christ and Him Crucified," (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1977), 400–401.
  4. Dallin H. Oaks, "Have You Been Saved?," Ensign (May 1998), 55.
  5. David L. Paulsen and Cory G. Walker, "Work, Worship, and Grace: Review of The Mormon Culture of Salvation: Force, Grace and Glory by Douglas J. Davies," FARMS Review 18/2 (2006): 83–177. off-site wiki (Key source)
  6. "Webb is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He is a graduate of Wabash College and earned his PhD at the University of Chicago before returning to his alma mater to teach. Born in 1961 he grew up at Englewood Christian Church, an evangelical church. He joined the Disciples of Christ during He was briefly a Lutheran, and on Easter Sunday, 2007, he officially came into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church."
  7. Stephen H. Webb, "Godbodied: The Matter of the Latter-day Saints (reprint from his book Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter (Oxford University Press, 2012)," Brigham Young University Studies 50 no. 3 (2011).