Tuesday, July 25, 2017

How My Concept of Salvation is More Specific Than Mainstream Christianity

The concept of an afterlife is vague in mainstream christianity because the Bible gives few details. Mostly I hear about grace and glory and choirs of angels.

My religious tradition contains teachings that are exquisitely more specific. I will share with you the original text and then my comments. To set the stage, the afterlife extends through time and space. It is composed of many spaces which are governed by law. The glorified beings who inhabit these spaces are subject to God’s laws and invigorated by his glory.

Speaking of the resurrection of the dead, concerning those who shall hear the voice of the Son of Man: And shall come forth; they who have done good, in the resurrection of the just; and they who have done evil, in the resurrection of the unjust.

I see in this verse a resurrection for all who hear the voice of Christ. It is qualified by some quality of the person which is herein labeled in a unique way as “just” and “unjust.” (so vague - yet it makes me wonder when I’ve heard God use the terms just and unjust before)

For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory.
And he who cannot abide the law of a terrestrial kingdom cannot abide a terrestrial glory.
And he who cannot abide the law of a telestial kingdom cannot abide a telestial glory; therefore he is not meet for a kingdom of glory. Therefore he must abide a kingdom which is not a kingdom of glory.

This tells me that there are three main kingdoms: celestial, terrestrial and telestial. They are governed by law and the inhabitants abide in that law. That word abide makes me think that they choose to obey and are not forced to abide there.

D&C 88:29-32
Ye who are quickened by a portion of the celestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.
And they who are quickened by a portion of the terrestrial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.
And also they who are quickened by a portion of the telestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.
And they who remain shall also be quickened; nevertheless, they shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received.

This tells me that the inhabitants of the kingdoms receive a portion of the glory of that kingdom in which they reside which renews and quickens their body and spirit. The resurrection is a gift of glory and this shows me that it is measured out based on our willingness to receive. The gift of glory is not described as a punishment but rather a reflection of what we are capable of accepting. This is curious to me.

D&C 76:70-71
These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all, whose glory the sun of the firmament is written of as being typical.
And again, we saw the terrestrial world, and behold and lo, these are they who are of the terrestrial, whose glory differs from that of the church of the Firstborn who have received the fulness of the Father, even as that of the moon differs from the sun in the firmament.

I see a little bit clearer what it means to be resurrected by or of a celestial glory as opposed to a terrestrial glory. And yet, the magnitude of the sun’s light as compared to the moon’s light is really hard to compare.

D&C 88:34
And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same.

This tells me that the law is an integral part of the glory of God and the sanctifying influence that emanates from his kingdoms.

D&C 88:37-38
And there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in the which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom.
And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions.

This echoes Christ’s teaching that in his Father’s house there are many mansions. This also tells me that He sets the boundaries. From what I understand of boundaries in this mortal world; they are what gives me a sense of safety and structure. 

D&C 76:98
And the glory of the telestial is one, even as the glory of the stars is one; for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world…

I understand that the third kingdom, here named telestial, is not a group of equal states but a group of unequal states. The idea that God has an infinite number of kingdoms which exist in an infinite array of glory shows me that his judgement will be just. There is only one grace and it glorifies us in a precise way. I think the author of liberty understands freedom.

And in all this discussion of God's kingdoms, the details remain in God’s possession and we are left to imagine His glory from our finite perspective.

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

How My Concept of Salvation Differs from Mainstream Christians

I have noticed that mainstream Christians spend a lot of time talking about whether they are saved. They are always encouraging an audience to declare their faith and be saved even if the audience is mostly Christian. In my faith we don’t worry about whether we are saved and we rarely talk about it in that way. Here’s why…

 I chose this picture because of the subcategories. In my theology there are many subcategories of glory in God's kingdom.
We teach that God has a Plan of Salvation. In this plan, we are born to mortal parents, tested, and die. God sent his Son to redeem us and this makes it possible for us to be resurrected after we die. Our choices here on Earth put us in paradise or prison after death until we are brought before the bar of God to be judged. Our judgement and resurrection precede our reward of a heavenly home in one of God’s many kingdoms which vary in their glory. The best kingdom has the highest glory and there are three degrees of glory in general. But as the stars differ one from another, the worst kingdom is like all the stars of heaven in its variety. In this way, the judgement that is pronounced is rewarded with exactly the right amount of glory in God’s kingdom. The idea that a mortal could declare with certainty someone’s salvation seems ludicrous to us. For all but sons of perdition, we believe that everyone will be saved from death with a resurrected body and from spiritual death with a restoration of the spirit but the glory of that salvation will vary. It doesn’t make sense to us to try to guess what glory someone will receive so we just focus on trying to make good choices and be worthy of the highest glory in God’s kingdom.

People in my faith are criticized for focusing too much on “works.” Our concept of salvation leads to this kind of focus but it doesn’t exclude us from teaching about the great Atonement of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross. What “works” do Mormons do?

  1. I “work” towards unity and oneness with God. This means that ‘I’ll go where you want me to go. … I’ll say what you want me to say. … I’ll be what you want me to be.’” Hymn 270
  2. I “work” on personal religious observances like prayer, scriptures study, fasting and worship.
  3. I “work” on family. I have eight kids that all need my nurturing, instruction and discipline.
  4. I “work” on taking care of the poor, needy, widow and fatherless. I am assigned to look after four sisters in my congregation some of which are single.
  5. I “work” on teaching the rising generation how to worship God. My current assignment is to teach 4 year olds in sunday school, but I spent over five years teaching teenagers.
  6. I “work” on serving in my community. My leaders encouraged me to find a way to help refugees so I now volunteer for the Red Cross in a capacity that directly helps refugees.

Do I think that these “works” save me? Well not exactly. I’m well aware of my sinful nature and the necessity I have for a Redeemer. I also see my “works” as saving me from idleness and sin in this life. I don’t really worry about whether I’m saved or whether I’m doing enough. I don’t know that I’m saved but I don’t need the certainty because I’ve gotten little reassurances from God himself that I’m on the path. Focusing on a path and not the ending is to focus on walking and not arriving. A path requires flexibility because we can’t see where it goes short term even if we know where it leads. 

I hope this clarifies a little what has become a very divisive debate about grace, works and salvation. I have also written about it here and here. I know that Christ is my savior. I have been blessed to receive forgiveness for some of my sins and I continue to ponder, pray and make small incremental changes on others. I don’t expect to be able to change or correct my sinful nature enough to be worthy of redemption but I do intend to work towards purity while I am able.

Image credit: Subcategories of Twilight by TWCarlson 

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