We saw last time that missionary lessons/discussions were not uniform until 1952. Different missions provided different schemes for presenting Mormonism. Yet the central themes of Mormonism were always there and, in content, there was a high degree of uniformity and consistency.
Prompted by increasing Mormon/Evangelical dialogue and the challenge it posed to the Mormon claim to being a Christian Church the lessons were significantly rearranged in 1986 to de-emphasise the traditional Joseph-centred story of Apostasy and Restoration and emphasise a Christ-centred narrative and similarities with other churches. The Book of Mormon became Another Testament of Jesus Christ instead of evidence of the Restoration and the church that always insisted that it was neither Catholic nor Protestant now insisted it was “a Christian denomination.”
With the introduction of Preach my Gospel in 2004/5 the missionary lessons reverted to the pre-1986 programme and emphasised again the story of Joseph Smith, Apostasy and Restoration and claims of exclusive authority for Mormonism. The change in order can be seen here:
1. The Restoration
2. The “Plan of Salvation”
3. The Gospel
1. The “Plan of Salvation”
2. The Gospel
3. The Restoration
4. Eternal Progression
The “Gospel” has been relegated to third position. By the time you get to it the idea has been firmly established that it is Joseph Smith we have to thank for the gospel. Even the all-embracing “Plan of Salvation” takes second place now to the message of the Restoration.
Lesson 1 – The Restoration
The emphasis of every evangelist is the “evangel”, the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul declared:
“We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor.1:23)
“I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor.2:2)
In stark contrast, the emphasis of this opening presentation of Mormonism is Dispensationalism, the role of Prophets, the Apostasy and the person of Joseph Smith. The Lesson outline is reproduced here:
Missionary Lesson 1: The Message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
2 God Is Our Loving Heavenly Father
2 The Gospel blesses Families
6 Heavenly Father Reveals His Gospel in Every Dispensation
2 The Saviour's Earthly Ministry
9 The Great Apostasy
10 The Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through Joseph Smith
3 The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ
3 Pray to Know the Truth through the Holy Ghost
Note the highlighted words. The numbers down the left-hand side represent the number of paragraphs dedicated to each subject. Out of 37 paragraphs fully 25 are dedicated to the message of Joseph – 6 on dispensations, 9 on apostasy and 10 on restoration. Note only 2 on “The Saviour’s Earthly Ministry”.
Lesson 2 – The Plan
The Bible makes plain that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen.1:1); that Adam, a created being, broke his covenant with God (Hosea 6:7); that this resulted in sin and death (Ro.5:12-14); that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn.3:16) and that “It is by grace you [are] saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph.2:9)
Before the Mormon “gospel” is presented in lesson 3 it is first put into the context of Mormon Cosmology (the study of the universe) and Cosmogony (the theory of origins); the Plan of Salvation. Mormonism teaches that from a pre-mortal existence as spirit children of God we come to earth to gain a body (like God’s) and pass through the test of mortal life, walking by faith. In Mormonism this is how God came to be God. Because of the fall of Adam we are subject to death but Jesus overcame death for us and so we will all be resurrected.
According to how faithful we are to God we will spend eternity in one of three kingdoms. The highest is reserved for those most faithful Mormons who will go on to become gods and start the process over again. It is important to realise that everything, even God himself, is subservient to the Plan. It is also important to realise that our future hope is based upon the degree of our faithfulness to the Plan.
Lesson 3 – The Gospel
The Christian gospel is a matter of being kept by Christ. Jesus said:
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
Jesus also declared:
I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. (John 5:24)
The apostle Paul wrote:
You also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14)
The Mormon “gospel” is a matter of keeping covenants. Jesus is part of the way but The Plan is the way and we must be prepared to follow it.
“The atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ made it possible for us to overcome the effects of the Fall…Christ promises to forgive our sins on the condition that we accept Him by exercising faith in Him, repenting, receiving baptism by immersion, and laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, and striving faithfully to keep His commandments to the end of our lives.”
(Preach My Gospel, p.52)
The lesson manual gives a guide to key but unfamiliar words and phrases used by missionaries. This list underlines the importance of defining your terms in any conversation with a Mormon.
“Covenant: An agreement between God and his children…God gives the conditions for the covenant, and we agree to do what he asks us to do. God then promises us certain blessings for our obedience…”
“Gospel: God’s plan of salvation, made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The gospel includes the eternal truths or laws, covenants, and ordinances needed for mankind to return to the presence of God.”
“Grace: The enabling power from Jesus Christ that allows us to obtain blessings in this life and to gain eternal life and exaltation after we have exercised faith, repented, and given our best effort to keep the commandments.”
“Eternal Life: To live forever as families in God’s presence. Eternal life is God’s greatest gift to man.”
Note that the atonement puts into effect the plan but it is obedience to the plan that determines our future state. The Doctrine and Covenants states:
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)
And they who are not sanctified through the Law which I have given unto you, the law of Christ, must inherit another kingdom, even that of a terrestrial kingdom, or that of a telestial kingdom. (D&C 88:21)
Where the Bible teaches that we are saved by grace, through faith in Christ, Mormons enter into a covenant with God based on law. The gospel itself “includes the eternal truths or laws, covenants, and ordinances needed for mankind to return to the presence of God.” Every blessing they receive is recompense for keeping the law on which it is predicated, i.e. if they keep the law God is bound to bless. The law they keep determines the estate they inherit in the afterlife.
To gain a celestial inheritance (Eternal Life) they must keep a celestial law. Note the words in the second quote above, “sanctified through the Law” It makes you wonder how they can go on to state that, “Eternal life is God’s greatest gift to man”! But the Bible clearly teaches that sin pays wages, eternal life is a gift (Ro.6:23)
Lesson 4 – The Commandments & Lesson 5 – Laws and Ordinances
Both these reinforce the idea of Covenants, Commandments, and Ordinances being the route to get us to God. They unpack, if you like, how Mormons are to conduct themselves in order to prove their worthiness and faithfulness to the church. Christians believe in obedience but have a completely different understanding of where commandments fit into the scheme of things. Where Mormons strive to be worthy of salvation Christians see the commandments as instruction on how a saved people live. We are saved by grace for works. Paul writes about this:
“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith...not by works...For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus [the new birth Jn.3:3] to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph.2:10)
The Lessons comprise a total of 60 pages. The “Gospel” section comprises 12 pages. To a Mormon it is all, “the gospel” and Mormons believe they are bringing good news when they share it. This is not good news; it is news of the worse kind. Their striving to be worthy is like the burden of Sisyphus, a Greek king who was punished by being compelled to roll a huge boulder up a hill only for it to roll down again when he would start his labour over again.
Paul captured the heart-cry of Sisyphus when he wrote: “Who will rescue me from this body of death” (Ro.7:24); Paul of course referring to death through sin, the state of fallen man, his subject for the previous seven chapters. His answer is equally heart-felt and clear, “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”