Letters to a Mormon Family Member

The_Church_of_Jesus_Christ_of_Latter-Day_Saints_in_Houston,_Texas,_2012Dear Aunt Debbi,

Of all the people I expected to comment on an intramural conversation between folks that are Presbyterian or Reformed, your comment was the most surprising.

I know that you have been raised in the LDS faith from your very birth, and we’ve rarely had the opportunity to discuss the differences between your faith and the faith of orthodox Protestants; I need to apologize to you for that. Some of my best memories are of visiting you and Uncle Johnny in Ludawici when we came to Georgia to visit Mimi and Papa. Because I didn’t want to create controversy within the family, I’ve been negligent in speaking as clearly (or as forcefully) as the situation requires. I hope you understand that I love you and Johnny very much. The fact that we have a massive disagreement where our mutual faiths are concerned doesn’t change that at all.

One of the things I’ve already mentioned is that my concern in attempting to reply to you is that the Latter-Day Saints and Christians use the same words, but the definition of those words is very, very different.

In our earlier conversation, I was mentioned the “covenant of redemption.” That phrase is used in a very specific fashion in Presbyterian and Reformed theology to refer to a pact within the Trinity regarding the particular relationships to one another in connection with the plan of salvation. We speak of these as the economic relations of the Trinity as established by this pact. Without getting too technical, this involves a promise on part of the First Person of the Trinity (God the Father) to elect (or choose) a fixed number of persons to salvation. The Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, is sent by God the Father to accomplish the salvation of the elect. (You can see this aspect of Christ’s work in Isaiah 53:12 and Acts 2:33-36). The Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is sent by the Father and the Son to apply this redemption to the elect in time.

While I assent to the features or actions described by the phrase “covenant of redemption,” I’m not so sure that the phrase itself is helpful. Personally, I think the terminology “counsel of salvation,” (Pactum salutis) is more helpful, and that was the conversation that you found yourself in the middle of.

Now, you mentioned that

…the covenant of redemption is needed for the repentance of our sins.

and I responded by saying that I was concerned that we were defining our terms so differently that unless we were both very clear about what we meant by terms like “covenant” and “redemption,” we would wind up talking past each other.

First, let me thank you for referring me to several passages of Scripture that inform your concept of redemption. I know that, despite our differences, we both want to be informed by the clear teaching of Scripture. And it is precisely at this point that I began to see just how differently we were defining our terms.

The passages you referred me to (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; Leviticus 25:48; Psalms 130:7; Luke 2:38; 1 Peter 1:18-19, 3:18; Hebrews 9:11-15; Revelation 5:9; Acts 20:28) all speak of our need for redemption from sin, and that this redemption from sin is found only in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. All of the passages you listed are part of what Presbyterian and Reformed Christians refer to as the covenant of grace, which is a phrase we use to refer to the gracious plan of salvation that God the Father has given to us in Jesus Christ.

But our differences at this point go deeper than just terminology. What we believe about redemption (or salvation) is worlds apart.

Bruce R. McCrokie says,

To atone is to ransom, reconcile, expiate, redeem, reclaim, absolve, propitiate, make amends, pay the penalty. Thus the atonement of Christ is designed to ransom men from the effects of the fall of Adam in that both spiritual and temporal death are conquered; their lasting effect is nullified. . . .Immortality comes as a free gift, by the grace of God alone, without works of righteousness. Eternal life is the reward for continued obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel. Because of the atonement and by obedience to gospel law men have power to become the sons of God in that they are spiritually begotten of God and adopted as members of his family.  —Bruce R. McConkie, “Mormon Doctrine,” 62, 65.

What I am paying special attention to here is the concept that the atonement of the Lord Jesus, according to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, does not bring about full and complete salvation outside of the works of man. Things such as baptism and “continued obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel” are required for the atonement to be effective.

Whole books have been written on this topic, and I don’t want to turn this letter into yet another book, so I’ll limit myself to those points where our differences are greatest.

Please do write me and let me know if you have any questions,

Ben.

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One thought on “Letters to a Mormon Family Member

  1. Your explanation on the “covenant of redemption.” was simple clear and to the point, volumes have been written on this subject you summed it up nice in a paragraph.
    Greg

"I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve." (Romans 16:17-18) Please read "The Comments Policy."

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