Wednesday, May 26, 2010

“The Only True and Living Church”

When I was a missionary we were still using the 6 discussion program, where the apostasy and restoration were taught in the 3rd discussion. After explaining the restoration of the Church through Joseph Smith, the discussion directed us missionaries to read D&C 1:30 where it stresses that the LDS Church is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased.”

Was it just me, or did this make anyone else cringe a little when we read this to investigators? I mean, much of the time we barely knew the investigator, and then we essentially denounce their religion as false by referring to a scripture unique to our faith. It’s akin to a Jehovah’s Witness declaring Charles Taze Russell as a prophet of God by quoting one of Mr. Russell’s numerous written works.

While I agree entirely with the text of D&C 1:30, and there are no doubt occasions where this scripture could be effectively used in a missionary setting, I always thought background details, history, and common sense reasoning could have proffered a more tactful and gentle approach. Such an approach can be found in “Revelations of the Restoration,” by Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler. In the following text, the authors delineate a glaring salvific disconnect between Catholicism and Protestantism. I took the liberty of highlighting a few of the points I thought to be of most interest:

Catholicism is founded on the idea that authority is necessary to represent God and that certain ordinances are essential to salvation. Those principles in turn dictate that there can be but one true church, meaning one church that has the right to speak for God and perform the ordinances of salvation. Protestantism, on the other hand, in breaking with the mother church, takes the only remaining position–rejecting the need for authority and ordinances. Having done so, Protestantism must of necessity argue that neither ordinances nor church membership is a tenet of salvation and that ‘the one true church doctrine’ is narrow minded, bigoted, and even unchristian. This, of course, is what Protestantism does. Out of this chain of thought grows the popularized notion that it is not what you believe but how you believe that counts and the attendant idea that somehow all churches, even though they teach contradictory doctrines, are true–assuming, of course, that they are Protestant Churches.

The idea that all churches are true, though satisfying to those who seek salvation on their own terms, defies every principle of truth and logic known to humankind. Let us briefly consider some of the ways it does so.

First, the essence of Christianity centers on the idea that salvation is in Christ. That being the case, everyone who truly embraces the Christian faith must at the same time embrace the idea that it is only in and through Christ that salvation comes. Christ himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). The doctrine of all the holy prophets has been that there is “none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12; see also D&C 18:23; 2 Nephi 25:20; 31:21). Within the ranks of those professing to be Christians may be differences on the requirements of salvation, but all must agree on the acceptance of Christ as the source of salvation. At issue here is not whether a line must be drawn between the believer and the nonbeliever but simply where that line should be drawn. Historically Protestants do not hesitate to draw that line in such a manner as to exclude Catholics, Latter-day Saints, Seventh-day Adventists, and Jehovah Witnesses. In practice, then, it becomes a Christian duty for Protestants to draw that line, doing so in such a manner as to exclude all who dare disagree with them. It only becomes an unchristian practice when someone suggests that they are on the wrong side of the line.

Second, to argue that the power of salvation rests in the Protestant world is to argue that a live branch can be cut from a dead tree…. Protestants claim to have rejected corrupt Catholic traditions in a return to Bible religion. This argument raises two great difficulties. The first is that they simply do not do it. They have retained as foundational to their faith the most corrupting traditions of the old mother church, namely her creeds. The second great difficulty is that Bible religion is itself unbiblical because no one within the covers of the Bible ever had a Bible. Their religion was one of prophets, apostles, and continuous revelation. Never in Bible times was the Church and kingdom of God governed by a book. Now it is important to get our history straight. Christian existence predates the Bible by more than three centuries. The great Christian creeds, the very foundation upon which Protestantism’s whole concept of Deity rests, are Bible free. Their creation predates that of the Bible. Protestantism holds fast to these creeds, refusing to acknowledge that they are part of the Catholic tradition that they claim to have rejected. It is allegiance to these creeds that predetermines the manner in which they interpret the Bible. At the same time they claim the Bible to be the last word on all things. Thus traditions rooted in historical creeds rather than the Bible have been retained as the guiding revelations of the Protestant faith.

Third, the notion that salvation can be found in any of a host of contradictory doctrines defies reason and argues that God’s kingdom is one of chaos and disorder. We are being asked to believe that if a dozen people add a column of figures and each arrives at a different sum, we must accept each of them as right. It is not the sum that you come to that matters but the zeal with which you add the figures that counts. Similarly, this notion argues that all men, women, and children who receive a prescription from a doctor are entitled to go to the pharmacists and concoct their own mixture of drugs….

To maintain that all churches are true—meaning that they possess the power of salvation and the authority to act as the agent of God—may have some resemblance to Christian tolerance. But upon examination such a notion reveals itself to be a deceptive ploy lulling people into the belief that it is for them to dictate the terms of salvation and to determine the nature and character of God. In such a god we have no interest” (pp. 53-55) (emphasis added).


Anonymous said...

I loved stating that this is the only true church. By the time missionaries get to that point in the lesson they have set the context for it (restoration of priesthood etc). By declaring it with boldness it provides an opportunity for the Spirit to testify. I prefer a straightforward message and I never knew an investigator who was offended by it. Most investigators are not stupid, they know where these discussions are going and are not surprised by the announcement that we believe to be the only true church. Also, it is a mistake to think that we can only used scripture that they already accept (ie the Bible). Our mission is to introduce them to latter-day revelation so that they can gain a testimony of it. By the time they get to the 3rd discussion they should have already read and gained a testimony of the Book of Mormon. If they had, then using the DC is not out of bounds as you suggest.

Bookslinger said...

Jeremy, your approach is fine if you're looking to promote a scholarly or intellectual approach to an investigator's conversion.

And your approach is fine if you're trying to sell someone (a scholarly or intellectual type person) on the idea of initiating a spiritual investigation.

But intellectual/scholarly/history-based conversion isn't what I think we're actually looking for.

The approach is great for apologetics, and for those situations where you first need to create a space in which faith can exist. Some people need to see some plausibility before they will investigate.

But "proving" (or illustrating) that Protestantism (and Catholicism) is wrong is just attacking someone else's faith and trying to break it down just so we can offer them something better.

And... that is how the discussions were oriented back in the 1950's.

I'm not saying McConkie's and Ostler's work doesn't have a place. But my understanding is that it shouldn't be in the repertoire of full-time badge-wearing missionaries.

I think Anon in comment #1 made a good comment.

kh said...

Anon's comment is excellent. We are to seek out and find those pure in heart searhing for the truth. The noble and great who covenanted before this life to accept and live the fulness of the gospel in this life. I would tell them by the 3rd discussion,"Search no more, you found it." In my mission we were admonished to challenge for baptism (If so prompted by the Spirit)after this discussion.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the first comment too...
ps: you should think about changing the color of some of your font, the yellow is nearly impossible to read unless one highlights, but is this is what you were aiming for then never mind.