Christian Rejection

I received an email rejecting a request for a speaking venue. The rejection included the writer’s assessment that I was “not a Christian” because of her narrow, Evangelical interpretation of the word. I responded as follows:

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As one who, like the Apostle Paul, has stood in the presence of Christ, and likewise been caught up into heaven and been taught unspeakable things, I know from the Lord’s own voice my standing before Him. Whether others regard me as a “Christian,” I know that Christ regards me as His devoted follower and faithful servant.

I likewise comprehend His grace for others, including those who would exclude me from being defined as “Christian,” and therefore exclude me from salvation itself.
 
Rather than debate, deny, or judge the “Christianity” of others using any criteria, Bible verse, or Protestant hope for salvation, I accept any person’s claim to be “Christian” as welcome news. Whether they lived for the first millennium and a half of Christian history when only the Catholic Church existed, or they divide themselves into groups claiming to hold the exclusive qualifications to be saved today.
 
I judge no man. I encourage them all to hold fast to the hope of salvation offered by Christ, even if they hold beliefs by which they judge and reject me as a fellow Christian.
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This intolerant and anti-Christian view rejects as un-Christian all those who think there is a necessary role for works in addition to faith. (See James 2:20 & 26: “Faith without works is dead”.) They ignore two verses penned by James. They reject three chapters of Christ’s teachings. (Matt. 5 through 7.) They reject Christ’s own submission to the ordinance of baptism “to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matt. 3:15.) These dogmatic and blind guides base their entire false construction on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians which states in passing: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9.) It is a mistake to interpret Paul to be in conflict with Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, and if there is a conflict, we ought to obey Christ.
Paul taught in Ephesus, resided there for a time, and was acquainted with the arguments going on in that community when he wrote his letter to them. The document is literally “reading someone else’s mail” without the benefit of knowing the background of weeks of Paul’s teaching and information related to him from visitors to the city. We cannot now have any confidence that these two verses represent Paul’s understanding or even Paul’s oral teachings.
What we do know for certain, however, is that Christ instructed us to be the salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13) and light of the world (Matt. 5:14). It is anti-Christ to deny the obligation to be salt and to provide light. It is anti-Christ to reject Christ’s admonition to let the world “see your good works” if we are to follow Him. (Matt. 5:16.)
Christ warned us to “keep the commandments.” He cursed those who proclaim we are merely saved by grace and have no obligation to obey His commandments. He declared, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:19.)
Christ then elevated the commandment to not kill, by warning Christians to “not be angry” with their brothers. (Matt. 5:21-22.) He explained that His followers would not even engage in Christian giving without first forgiving all those who offended them. (Matt. 5:23-24.)
Christ commanded us to agree with disputants, and not oppose them. We are to give what they demand of us rather than withhold even our cloak. (Matt. 5:25-26; 39-42.)
Christ elevated the commandment against committing adultery by commanding His followers to not entertain “lust in your heart.” (Matt. 5:27-28.)
Christ revoked divorce as an option for His followers, except in the case adultery. (Matt. 5:31-32.)
Christ commanded us to love even our enemies and return good for evil. (Matt. 5:43-47.)
Christ commanded us to “be perfect” as a follower and believer in Him. (Matt. 5:48.)
This is only the first of the three chapters of Christ’s instructions about what following Him requires.
James explained how a Christian is to follow Christ: “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” (James 2:14-18.)

Forgiving to be Forgiven

Once you begin to repent the real work commences. God forgives, but retaining forgiveness requires that we follow Him. We are not going to develop into His children until we have become acquainted with His way. He tells us what we must do to learn of Him. We must do His work, join in His labor to save souls:

“And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” (Luke 6: 31-38.)

Once forgiven, we forgive. We take on ourselves the role of the intercessor by accepting the shame and abuse of this world, and both forgive and pray for those who give offenses. Through this, we come to understand our Lord because we are like Him.

This is what we see in Lehi. After learning of God’s impending judgments against Jerusalem, he prayed on behalf of “his people” (those who were condemned) with “all his heart.” 1 Ne. 1: 5. His example can be found mirrored in all who repent. They display His grace by what they suffer for His cause.

Christ taught who He was, then lived the example of what a redeemed life would be. He sacrificed Himself. Similarly His followers sacrifice themselves. Perhaps not by dying, as He did and as Joseph did, and as Steven did, and Paul, and Peter, and Abinadi and Hyrum. But by the way they live – taking offenses and forgiving. This is how we obtain broken hearts and contrite spirits, because this world is always at war with the Saints of God. Here the Children of God are strangers and sojourners.

3 Nephi 12: 20

Therefore come unto me and be ye saved; for verily I say unto you, that except ye shall keep my commandments, which I have commanded you at this time, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
There goes the argument that all you need do to be saved is “confess Jesus.” It doesn’t work that way. You must keep His commandments. If you don’t, then “ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” It is not possible to “come unto [Him]” and “be saved” without also keeping His commandments. It is the only true measure of coming to Him. And “except ye shall keep [His] commandments… ye can in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Entry is barred unless you follow Him. If He needed baptism to enter, then clearly we do as well. (2 Nephi 31: 5.)
There is no space between faith in Christ and behavior evidencing that faith. There is no dichotomy between “grace” and “works” because it is by our conduct we merit grace. Christ received grace by the things He did. (D&C 93: 11-14.) The manner by which we receive grace is through keeping His commandments. (D&C 93: 19-20.)
Grace, or power to move closer to God, is also an increase of light. Light grows only as you move closer to it. But you have choice, and must elect to move closer to the light. (D&C 93: 27-28; D&C 50: 23-25.) The great proof text for salvation by confession of faith alone is Romans 10: 9: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” This is offered as if Paul had priority over Christ, if the two conflict. However, Paul does not conflict, for in the same letter he teaches: “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?  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.” (Romans 6: 16-17.) Righteousness comes by obedience. Obedience requires action. Without conforming conduct to the Lord’s commandments, it is impossible to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Paul understood this, and lived his life accordingly. Who worked more than Paul to spread the Gospel? If his life was filled with works from the time of his conversion to the time of his martyrdom, then does not his example prove the necessity of obedience to the Lord’s commandments? How then are his words twisted to mean confession alone, without obedience, can save? Even if someone were mistaken and in good faith sincerely believed Paul to justify salvation by confession alone, how did Paul become greater than Christ?
The Lord’s instructions are clear and obedience to His and the Father’s commandments are a threshold requirement for salvation. Without obedience to them you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. 
Grace is a gift, but the gift must be received. Only those willing to “receive” it, merit grace. (D&C 88: 32-35.) It is “received” in the way the Lord ordained and in no other way. (D&C 130: 21.) 
Only the deceived or the wicked would contradict the Lord’s teaching that “except ye keep [His] commandments” then “ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Yet there are those who both make this claim in the various Protestant denominations, and are trying to advance this position into the LDS faith, as well. We would be better served by forgetting how to make ourselves seem more Protestant, and instead accepting and teaching what Christ established as the sole basis for entering the kingdom of heaven.

3 Nephi 12: 2

 
“And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am. Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins.” 
 
Some people are given knowledge. (D&C 46: 13.)  This would include the Prophet Joseph Smith. Others believe on their words and trust in Christ through what they have learned from witnesses of Him. (D&C 46: 14.) This would include President Thomas S. Monson, who in last General Conference testified he has no question about the testimonies of those who have seen Him. As President Monson testified: “I have read—and I believe—the testimonies of those who experienced the grief of Christ’s Crucifixion and the joy of His Resurrection. I have read—and I believe—the testimonies of those in the New World who were visited by the same risen Lord. I believe the testimony of one who, in this dispensation, spoke with the Father and the Son in a grove now called sacred and who gave his life, sealing that testimony with his blood. Declared he: ‘And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father.’ The darkness of death can always be dispelled by the light of revealed truth. ‘I am the resurrection, and the life,’ spoke the Master.Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.’ Over the years I have heard and read testimonies too numerous to count, shared with me by individuals who testify of the reality of the Resurrection and who have received, in their hours of greatest need, the peace and comfort promised by the Savior.” (He is Risen!, Sunday Morning Session, April, 2010 Session; footnotes omitted.)
 
Why would someone be “more blessed” because they “believe in the words” of those who have “seen Christ” than those who have seen Him? What is it about believing on the words of those who have seen which is “more blessed” than the ones who see Him?
 
Notice once again the connection between having seen the Lord and “ye know that I am.” Notice the use of “I am” in the statement of the Lord about Himself.
 
Now note too how the “believing in the words” is not enough, because He adds action to the belief. That is, those who “believe in your words” are required then to “come down into the depths of humility and be baptized” for the “blessing” to have any effect. It is not enough for someone to be moved to believe when they hear a witness of Christ, they must also respond to His invitation to be baptized. Before being baptized they need also to “come down into the depths of humility.” The intention and inner meaning are everything. But the outward act confirms the inner change which takes place.
 
Action is married to belief and intent. Both are necessary.
 
When it is done in faith, sincerity, complying with the steps the Lord has prescribed, He promises to visit the obedient “with fire and with the Holy Ghost.” This is how a person will know they have received “a remission of their sins.”
 
The instructions of the Lord are intended to change lives. Change is repentance. And repentance leads to redemption. He expects our behavior to mirror our beliefs, because if behavior does not model our professed beliefs then we are hypocrites – not converts.

This is why commandments are given to us. They tell us how we can continue to receive and renew a continuing conversion to Christ’s way of life.  Commandments are not a burden to bear but a roadmap to follow. They are not a measuring stick to judge and then abuse others. It is a light for us to follow.

These explanations by Christ are beyond the question of “faith verses works” because Christ is telling us we act from our heart in faith, receive ordinances because of our faith, then have our hearts filled again. We proceed from grace to grace. This is how Christ received the fullness, and the only way we may receive the fullness. (D&C 93: 12-14, 19-29.)

 
The task of knowing God always begins by trusting on the words of those who have seen Him. But it should never end there. Everyone is invited to lay aside their sins, call upon God in faith, obey His commandments, listen to the voice of inspiration and do as you are told, thereby coming to see Him face-to-face. (D&C 93: 1.) This is the reason for the book The Second Comforter. It is a manual for how any person can come back into the presence of the Lord and join those witnesses who can testify they have seen Him.
 
He lives. And He is the same, yesterday, today and forever.