Category Archives: Rebuttles

Divinely Inspired

A conversation I had with a friend today reminded me of an Ann Althouse blog post I read a while back.  She’s responding to a Gary Willis article in the New York Review of Books.  Mr. Willis is uncomfortable with the fact that Mormons believe the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were divinely inspired.  It is somehow indefensible to believe that something so hotly debated, amended, and changed could be divinely inspired. There are a few major problems with his objections.

First, Christians in general and Mormons in particular should have no problem believing that something can be divinely inspired AND alterable.  Take the Law of Moses, literally written in stone. It was a preparatory law meant to point the children of Israel towards the Lamb of God, that they might be ready to receive the higher law rejected at Sinai.

When Christ took the believing children of Israel into a different mount during His earthly ministry and declared, “it is written by them of old time…But I say unto you…” He was effectively giving the higher law.  And the New Law of the Gospel was to be written upon our hearts.  As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews put it,

11 If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?

12 For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.

~Hebrews 7:11-12

Second, Mr. Willis clearly has a different understanding of God’s dealings with His children.  See here for more about Providentially directed chaos.  And as Joseph Smith once said,

I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else, striking with accelerated force against religious bigotry, priest-craft, lawyer-craft, doctor-craft, lying editors, suborned judges and jurors, and the authority of perjured executives, backed by mobs, blasphemers, licentious and corrupt men and women—all hell knocking off a corner here and a corner there. Thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty.

~History of the Church, 5:401

We believe in progress, in improvement, and that that process is not neatly linear.  Part of the majesty and inspiration of our Magna Charta is that it can be changed, perhaps even improved.  That process may look like mad chaos, but polishing stones is brutal business.  There’s plenty of room for disagreement about what constitutes improvement to the Constitution, but hot disputes might be just the friction required to make this country better.  Despite popular belief you’ll find Mormons standing on all sides of those debates, and yet they remain faithful Latter-day Saints.

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Truly Amazing Grace

While Mormons are often thought to be soft on Grace, it is traditional Christianity, not Latter-day Saints, that sets limits on the power of the Atonement of Christ.

It is one thing to believe that through Christ we can be cleansed from our sins and made to dwell eternally in worshipful awe of The Divine.  But to believe that we can become like our Father in Heaven requires a categorically different perspective on Grace.

Only an infinite Atonement could bridge the infinite gulf between who we are now and who we may become.  There is no penance mortals can pay to satisfy Justice.  A stone would have an easier time willing itself to become the Pietà without the hand of a sculptor.

But what about all that Mormon talk about works?  A Book of Mormon prophet, Abinadi, illuminates the subject.  He was speaking with a group of corrupted priests and explained the usefulness and the limitations of obeying the law of Moses:

Doth salvation come by the law of Moses?  What say ye?  And they answered and said that salvation did come by the law of Moses.  But now Abinadi said unto them:  I know if ye keep the commandments of God ye shall be saved; yea, if ye keep the commandments which the Lord delivered unto Moses in the mount Sinai….And now ye have said that salvation cometh by the law of Moses.  I say unto you that it is expedient that ye should keep the law of Moses as yet; but I say unto you that salvation doth not come by the law alone; and were it not for the atonement, which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people, that they must unavoidably perish, notwithstanding the law of Moses.

Mosiah 13:27-28

There are conditions for Grace to be sure, and even the most ardent evangelical believes that Faith, at least, is requisite.  But the conditions are not a co-pay; they add no credit to a celestial balance sheet.  We believe in repentance and keeping the commandments, but neither of these do anything to overcome sin and death, they do not earn us salvation, because without Christ all is vain.

“I say unto you, my bretheren,” said King Mosiah to his people,

that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you… I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning…if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.  And behold, all that he requires is to keep his commandments.”

Mosiah 2:20-21

To carry on the financial metaphor, we are never in the black.  Nothing we do shrinks the debt.  Christ paid every senine.  But the conditions of repentance and commandment keeping are necessary to receive The Heavenly Gift.

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