Saturday, July 28, 2007

Loyalty to Jesus?

A man stopped by our office, curious about our religious research on different new American religious groups like Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. Within minutes he identified himself as a Jehovah's Witness and wanted to know what I thought about them. I replied that most Witnesses I knew were sincere, dedicated people, but I was concerned for them spiritually. When he asked why, I explained it was because they had been brought to a point where they were more loyal to the religious organization than they were to Jesus Christ.

He protested immediately and vehemently that this was not the case, that Witnesses were loyal to Jesus and Jehovah God, not to an earthly organization. I explained that I was familiar with JWs and had even attended their District Convention in my state a couple of weeks ago. He was surprised, and perhaps even a bit impressed, and as we talked I asked permission to ask a rather personal question. He graciously agreed.

"Suppose you in the course of studying your Bible," I began, "were to realize that the WT Society teaching on say, holidays like Christmas and Easter was in error. You realized that their reasoning on the subject was inconsistent and their interpretation of Scripture was incorrect. Because of this, you became convinced that celebrating holidays should be a matter of individual conscience and you now felt free to begin to celebrate Christmas or Easter with your family. None of your other doctrinal beliefs have changed, nor has your commitment to Jehovah God and Jesus Christ. You still accept the Bible as the authoritative word of God for your life. However, when the elders at the kingdom hall discover your change in belief on this matter, they disfellowship you from the organization. You are no longer in good standing with the Watchtower Society. Will this place you in spiritual danger for when Armageddon comes? Are you now at risk of being rejected by Jehovah God, simply because the WT Society has decided they should disfellowship you?"

His countenance grew serious and troubled and he asked, "You mean I would no longer be in good standing with Jehovah's organization?"

"Yes," I replied. Your relationship with God and Jesus and your loyalty to them hasn't changed, only the acceptance of the WT Society."

He declared immediately, "Then yes, if I was no longer one of Jehovah's Witnesses I would not have Jehovah God's approval. This would seriously affect my spiritual standing with Jehovah."

"So then," I said quietly, "your allegiance is primarily to the WT Society as an organization."

This led our dialogue into the realm of bad associations, and how important it was to have no association with anything worldly or pagan or evil, and so the WT Society as Jehovah's organization was the only place with which to associate for they were the only organization to keep themselves from such evil assocations. I asked him if he was aware that for many years the WT Society had been associated with the United Nations as an NGO (non-governmental organization) and had used that official relationship to help them with relations with other foreign governments. He was not aware. In fact he was disbelievingly not aware. I offered to get him a packet on this subject, and asked for his name and address so I could send it to him, but he refused to give it to me, saying he needed to be going, his wife was waiting outside for him (and indeed she had stuck her head in the door minutes before asking if he was almost done).

He did say I had piqued his curiousity on this subject, which he found very hard to believe, so he would do some research and would come back again to get more information on this.

I hope he does. I hope he pursues truth. I hope he is troubled enough by his loyalty to an organization that one day his loyalty will be first and foremost to Jesus Christ. I hope, because until that happens, he will continue to be the puppet shadow of a mannish, manipulative religious org. He will be unable to enter the sphere of reality where Jesus is his only Way, his only Truth, his only Life. But, once the strings to the org are cut, allegiance to Jesus will free him to life, love and relationships that are lived from the deep center of spiritual freedom and divine intimacy that he was created to know and share. That we all were created to know and share.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Taken to task & Repentance

An LDS reader took issue with the subject matter of my previous blog and cared enough to take the time to let me know about it. The interchange led to the topic of repentance - pretty hefty subject and one of the most important if you believe that man's biggest problem is sin. Afterall, sin is what separates us from God, makes us unworthy of His presence, makes us deserve eternal judgment and separation from the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We all sin, we're all guilty, so what are we supposed to do about it? --Repent!

But repentance in the Mormon scheme of things is no simple matter, at least not according to top Mormon leaders - their prophets. One of the most comprehensive articles on the subject I found on the official Mormon website - (gotta love how simple that is):

The Message:What Is True Repentance?
by President Spencer W. Kimball

According to the article, written by LDS President and Prophet Spencer W. Kimball, who in turn quotes former Mormon Prophet and President Joseph F. Smith, there are a number of essential elements to true repentance. In no particular order they are:

  • sorrow for sins and humble penitence and contrition before God
  • the necessity of turning away from them
  • a discontinuance of all evil practices and deeds
  • a thorough reformation of life, a vital change from evil to good
  • make restitution so far as is possible for all the wrongs that we have done
  • to pay our debts and restore to God and man their rights, that which is due them from us
  • consciousness of guilt that brings one to his knees in humbleness with “a broken heart and a contrite spirit” and in “sack cloth and ashes.”
  • remorse and deep sorrow - preliminary to repentance
  • the element of shame
  • pain and suffering for the errors
  • no repeating of the sin

According to the article, "repentance must be consistent and continuous. To repent of a sin and then to tamper with it again or permit it to invade, even slightly, is to lose the repentance and its beneficent effects, and “the former sins return, saith the Lord God.” (D&C 82:7.)"

According to the Mormon who wrote me, one of the purposes of Sacrament every week is so people can repent of their sins. My question in light of that and the extensive requirements for true repentance is, can you truly repent in a Sacrament meeting?

You may become aware of the sin and confess it even, but according to the LDS Prophet Kimball you have not truly repented until you have done all the things listed above. The process Kimball describes would take at the very least hours, if not days, weeks, even months or years. If these things are happening, Sacrament must be a very mournful, tearful time every week as people reflect on and grieve over their sins. To be honest, I’ve attended firesides at my local ward but never Sacrament, so I don't know how much of this goes on.

The hugest contrast for me in all this is how repentance is talked about in Acts 5:31 "God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel;" and 2 Timothy 2:25, "Those who oppose him [the Lord's servant] he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance, leading them to a knowledge of the truth." There is a clear sense that repentance and forgiveness are gifts from God, something God grants to sinners because of His grace and mercy.

Quite a contrast to the conditional forgiveness that can only be earned by accomplishing true Mormon repentance, which in essence says, if you are still repenting you haven't truly repented.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Are we missing the heart here?

BYU has had a string of its athletes run into problems with the law. The latest, according to the Salt Lake Tribune of 7/5/07 was junior running back Manase Tonga arrested a couple of days ago. SLT reported: Posted: 4:40 PM

Brigham Young junior running back Manase Tonga was arrested and booked in the Utah County Jail after a routine traffic stop in Provo early Tuesday morning. Tonga was cited by the Provo Police Department at 1:30 a.m. for failure to stop at a stop sign, driving with an expired car registration and providing false personal nformation to an officer.
Tonga, 23, had a warrant out for his arrest for a prior minor traffic violation and gave a false name to the arresting officer during Tuesday's incident. "It was just a totally average traffic stop for a moving violation," said Provo Police Sargent Richard Dewey. "The officer stopped the ehicle and asked the driver for his name, and he didn't have an ID. He gave a name back to the officer and he ran it on the computer and it didn't come back to any real person." Tonga was released at 2:50 a.m. to Daniel Turagavou, who paid $207 in cash bail for the warrant and $2,150 in bonds for the citations. Tonga then left for Los Angeles to get married in the LDS temple, said Jeff Reynolds, BYU's assistant director for athletic communications.

Now maybe its because I'm a non-Mormon, an outsider looking in, but this troubled me. Here's a young Mormon man, returned missionary, star athlete, temple recommend holder, about to be married in a Mormon temple - as for spiritual externals by Mormon church standards he's got it all. And yet his behavior - dare I say the fruit of his life - shows a contempt for the laws of the land, disrespect for civil authorities, a lack of personal integrity and boldfaced lying. Now lest I judge the young man too harshly, let me say my concern is far less the offenses - none of which are that serious in and of themselves - but more the Mormon religious system that encourages external covenant keeping over deeper issues of the heart.So despite the lying to a police officer and refusing to pay a fine for breaking the law he's off to enter the most sacred of Mormon spaces - a temple. Interestingly, I'm not the only one to see the incongruity of this. A fellow BYU student posted the following in response to a SLT article:

I am so embarrassed to be a BYU fan. One stupid thing after another. And this guy actually thinks he's worthy to go to the temple after lying to the cops? Crazy!

Then consider this: Should Tonga have family members who are Christians, living Christ-honoring, God-fearing lives, but they happen to be non-Mormons, they would not be worthy to enter the temple and be a part of or witness the wedding ceremony. All non-Mormon family members would be excluded from his marriage simply because they were not members of the correct religious organization.

The spiritual danger is this: Man looks on the outward appearance, God looks on the heart. LDS members like Tonga may not realize the state of their hearts so long as their church emphasizes external ritual over inward purity. This will keep them from authentic relationships with God and fellow men to the detriment of their spiritual lives both now and in eternity.