Friday, April 22, 2011

CGtM: The Not-So-Wonderful Cross?

      Jews have the Star of David.  Muslims have the Crescent Moon and Star.  Taoists have Yin and Yang.  Christians have a Roman public execution tool.
      The Christian God incarnate, Jesus, was killed by crucifixion, and his future followers would use the instrument of his death as their symbol.  That's only a little morbid.  Perhaps this is why Mormons are so strongly opposed to it.  You can usually spot a Mormon Ward or Stake (aside from the bold letters "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints") because it will look similar to a Protestant Christian church minus any sign of the cross.  They reject the symbol of the cross on the basis of its very nature of being that which killed Christ.  "If Jesus was killed by a shotgun, would you wear it around your neck?"  I think it is important, especially on this Good Friday, to reflect upon what the cross means and why Christians adopt it as their symbol.
      First, let's look at why Mormons prefer not to have the cross as their symbol.  The cross, obviously, represents Jesus' death.  Mormons claim to celebrate his life, not his death.  Former President Hinckley stated, "And so, because our Savior lives, we do not use the symbol of His death as the symbol of our faith. But what shall we use? No sign, no work of art, no representation of form is adequate to express the glory and the wonder of the Living Christ. He told us what that symbol should be when He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15)."  There are two important things we can draw from this: the inadequacy of the cross as a symbol of Christ, and that the apparent symbol of Mormons is "keeping the commandments".  It is on the second of these that I will focus.
      Jesus lived a life of perfection.  He overcame temptation, he performed amazing miracles, he was a great teacher, he was morally perfect.  He is the greatest role model a person can have.  It's no wonder why Mormons, who attain eternal life through works, would want to celebrate his life.  He is the model for future Mormons to become exalted beings, or gods.
      But that's not enough.
      Jesus didn't just live a good life.  He didn't preach the gospel then say "hope you get it this time!"  He was tortured and executed by his own people.  People who accused him of heresy, of claiming that he, Jesus, was God.  He died an innocent man, taking the punishment for, not his sins, but ours.  The burden he boar, the cross he carried was the punishment for the wrongs we have done.  We've heard "Jesus died for you" so often that perhaps it has lost its meaning.  Allow me to explain what it really means.  All humans, ALL of them (Romans 2:9-12, 3:23) have sinned against God, have willfully violated His laws, and because we sinned against the Everlasting, our just punishment is everlasting.  "For the wages of sin is death..." states Romans 6:23.  Christ died in our place.  He was punished so that we don't have to be punished.  That is what "Jesus died for you" means.  Are you glad Jesus died?  I am.
      But. That's. Not. Enough.
      Jesus didn't stay dead.  If he would have died, The End, that would mean nothing.  Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:14 says, "and if Christ be not risen, then our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain."  For if death had truly overcome Jesus, then how could he be able to save us from death?  But he is risen ("He is risen indeed!" the congregation responds).  He showed his power over death.  Christ was raised from the dead and made appearances to many people over 40 days.  He is more than a role model; he is our one and only savior.  The fire-and-brimstone of the previous paragraph doesn't just stop with our condemnation.  Take Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death..."  If we stopped here we would have no hope in heaven.  We are all worthy of death and no matter what we do, we cannot overcome our sinfulness.  But the verse does not stop there.  It goes on, "...But the gift of God is Eternal Life through Jesus Christ our Lord."  We have Eternal Life, living in the presence of God the Father forever, only through Jesus Christ our Risen Lord and Savior, who died on the cross to take our punishments in our stead, and who resurrected, conquering death to save us from eternal damnation.
      So I ask you, in light of what I've written about what this weekend of Good Friday and Easter Sunday is about, in light of what Christ did on the cross, in light of Jesus telling many people "take up your cross and follow me" (Matthew 10:38,16:24; Mark 8:34,10:28; Luke 9:23,14:27), and in light of the following verses in which the word "cross" is used: (1 Corinthians 1:17,18; Galatians 5:11,6:12,14; Ephesians 2:16; Philippians 2:8,3:18; Colossians 1:20,2:14; and Hebrews 12:2), how should we view the cross of Christ?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Christian Exclusivity (And Why It Doesn't Matter)

I was in my Islam class the other night, and my professor, heavily influenced by postmodern ideals of “tolerance”, multiculturalism, and even religious pluralism, was attempting to show that Islam promotes tolerance and pluralism.  Whether her defense of Islam was adequate or not, she was trying to defend a particular religion with the underlying assumption that religious pluralism is good.  This theory has pervaded society as people, generally secular, point fingers at religions, generally Christianity, and exclaim, “They think they have the only way to heaven!  How dare they be so arrogant!”  Religious exclusivity is seen as this evil created by religious institutions to claim superiority over the plebeians.  I’m not so sure that this is an inherent part of religious exclusivity.  After all, each religion makes truth claims about the ultimate nature of reality.  These truth claims are analogous to the type of claims we make all the time.  For instance, “Great Aunt Dorothy is wearing a blue blouse.”  This means that we are claiming that the blouse is exclusively blue, because it is blue, it is therefore not red or green or maroon.  Hindu’s claim, in truth, that all things are a manifestation of Brahman.  It necessarily follows that, if Hinduism is true, there is not a deity substantially separated from physical reality (as most monotheistic faiths claim).  Religiously exclusive?  Yes.  Wrong?  No.  “Exclusivity” is just a necessary byproduct of such a truth claim.
            Let’s critique religious pluralism a little more.  Religious pluralism essentially arose from the idea of multiculturalism; we should look at different cultures, without the assumption that our own is true, gleaning ideas from other kinds of peoples that we may want to incorporate into our own worldviews.  In theory, multiculturalism fosters an open outlook on the lives of humans across the world.  In practice, however, multiculturalism leads to cultural and moral relativism (which is a whole other can o’ worms).  When this concept is applied to religious study, I think it can offer a healthy way to examine religious traditions for their own sake.  Unfortunately, this also has lead to people to believe that all, or at least multiple, religions can be simultaneously true.
Any logician will tell you that two opposing claims cannot be simultaneously true.  This violates the Law of Non-contradiction, which is one of the foundations of logic.  Take the statements, “Man A is a bachelor” and “Man A is married”.  The qualifiers “bachelor” and “married” are opposing.  Therefore, according to the Law of Non-contradiction, Man A cannot be both a bachelor, and married.  A “married bachelor” is a logical impossibility.  I would argue that the same can be said for religions who have opposing claims.  They both cannot be right.  Either one is wrong, or both are wrong, but it can never be that both are right in making opposing truth claims.
Returning to the main point, Christians do claim that Jesus is the only way to heaven.  And if Christianity is true, then Jesus is the only way to heaven.  Likewise, if Islam is true, then Jesus is not a way to heaven, but rather submitting to God and His Law is the way to heaven.  Both truth claims cannot be simultaneously true.  One truth claim or the other can be true, or both truth claims are wrong.  Perhaps the atheist is right and there is no heaven.
A small aside on atheism.  Many atheists like to quip, “All people are atheists about every other god but theirs.  We just go one god further.”  This is a flawed way of looking at theism.  No theist is an “atheist” about any other gods.  By making the claim, “God is the transcendent, omniscient, incomprehensibly powerful divine being who inspired the Bible and sent Jesus Christ, who died and was resurrected, as the savior of the world,” the Christian is not making a denial statement about the Muslim God, or the gods of Classical Greece.  Instead, the Christian makes a positive claim that automatically and necessarily excludes the existence of any god that does not match such a description.
Returning to the original, original point, I don’t think religions should sacrifice their “exclusivity” to make themselves look better in the eyes of secular society.  Showing the truth and love of God ought to be enough.
So, now that I’ve explained Christian “exclusivity”, I think it’s appropriate to speak of Christian “inclusivity”, that is, the message that Paul espoused.  In Galatians, he claims to be the apostle of the Gentiles, which, in the original Greek, means “nations”, or everyone who is not a Jew.  Paul explained that Christ came to redeem everyone, not just a particular group of people.  Romans 10:9,13 states, “if you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  It’s verses like these that make me question those who point fingers at Christian “exclusivity”.  Because, as we know, the word “everyone” is the epitome of exclusive.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

CGtM: Church of Whom?

As you well may know, the Mormon Church’s official name is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Oftentimes, they will claim to be Christian, saying, “Look!  Jesus Christ is even in the name of our church!”  I have to object to this, not from a Mormon perspective (obviously each religious tradition believes that they have the attributes of the Divine, etc. correct), but rather from outside all religious traditions, from an outside perspective.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the church of Christ just as the God of Islam is the God of Abraham.  Now, what do I mean by this?  Islam claims to be the third step (much like Mormonism, actually) of the “Abrahamic faiths”, starting with Abraham and Judaism, continuing with Jesus and his followers (Christians), and finally completed with Islam through Mohammad.  Because of this, Muslims claim that the God of Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammad are the same God.  And from a Muslim perspective, that’s true.  However, it would be incorrect to say that, as religious traditions, Christians and Muslims believe in the same God.  For instance, the Christian God is triune, having three personages in one being (see my last post).  The Jesus of Christianity is also different than the Jesus of Islam.  The Jesus of Christianity claimed to be divine and resurrected three days after he died.  The Jesus of Islam, while a prophet of God, was not divine and was ascended into heaven (according to the Qur’an, he will return at the end of days).  Would it to be fair to say that both Christians and Muslims believe in the same Jesus? Of course not!  In the same way, the Jesus of Christianity (a.k.a. the Jesus of Christians) is not the same as the Jesus of Mormonism.

How about an illustration:  Person 1 has a Great Aunt Dorothy.  Person 1 says Great Aunt Dorothy has hazel eyes, white hair, is fairly tan, and is fairly shy.  Person 2 also has a Great Aunt Dorothy.  Person 2 says Great Aunt Dorothy has blue eyes, grey hair, has a fair complexion, and is quite outgoing.  So, does Person 1 have the same Great Aunt Dorothy as Person 2?  No, no they don’t.  They may share a name, but the different attributes of both of them mean they are different individuals.

According to the LDS Church News Week, in June of 1998, “President [of the LDS Church] Hinckley spoke of those outside the Church who say Latter-day Saints ‘do not believe in the traditional Christ.’ ‘No, I don’t.  The traditional Christ [the Christ of Christianity] of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak.  For the Christ of whom I speak has been revealed in this the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times.  He together with His Father, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in the year 1820…”

So, if President Hinckley, said that Mormons believe in a different Christ than the rest of Christendom, why is it that his fellow Mormons are so reluctant to say that they are not Christian?  Notice that the Christ President Hinckley speaks of revealed himself to Joseph Smith, an attribute not given to Christ by ANY Christian denomination.

Why is this so important?  What does it matter that Mormons call themselves “Christian”?  It matters because, frankly, it’s misleading for Christians.  When Mormons go seeking new members, as on their missions, they claim to be Christian, and tell Christians to read the Book of Mormon, which doesn’t depart much from Christianity (as I showed in this post), except for the issue of salvation.  It is only once they become a full-fledged member of the LDS Church that they actually learn about other LDS doctrines not found in the Book of Mormon or Bible, such as there being multiple gods all made of “flesh and bone” (as I showed here).  The LDS Church denies that they keep any doctrinal information from new members, and I’m not saying that they hide anything.  It’s just that many times, LDS members are troubled when they learn certain facts about their religion that they might have wanted to know when they decided to become Mormon.  I’m also not saying that LDS members are lying to anyone joining their church.  It’s more of a misunderstanding, that I would say is analogous to Catholics who say they are not Christian (perhaps also worthy of a blog post).

Let’s get back to the real issue at hand: Christ.  So, as we’ve seen, the Christ of Christianity and Mormonism are different.  The Bible makes it clear that we ought to get Christ right.  This is essentially what doctrine is.  As a side note, or those Christians who say “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship”, my answer is “yes, but no”.  Yes, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is critical.  However, it’s just as critical to have a personal relationship with the correct Jesus Christ.  We know this through correct doctrine, which makes up the Christian religion.  But I digress.  2 Corinthians 11:3-4 states, “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve though his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.  For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.”  So, it is vitally important that we know the correct Jesus, and not another Jesus (whether “traditional” Christian or Mormon).  In the coming posts, I will show more specifically the differences between the LDS Jesus and the Christian Jesus.  Which Jesus do you follow?