Friday, August 14, 2009

The Issue is Not Faith vs. Works: It is Fruits vs. Works

Mormon theology is centered on grace, we just don't use that word much - not nearly enough, in my opinion, although we are using it more and more. We believe in grace completely, but we don't believe in effortless exaltation. Bluntly, we believe the preponderance of the Biblical canon, not just the few verses that seem to imply our effort is pointless.

I approach this topic in a very Biblical way - by distinguishing between "works" (the action of following the law without any conscious thought - "blind obedience" to general counsel given to all) and "fruit" (actions motivated and energized by a connection to the Vine). Our actual theology does NOT preach "works" in this sense; it preaches "fruits". We generally do a lousy job understanding and explaining the difference. We hear "works" and think "fruits" - so we struggle to address the central distinction properly.

In other words, we "waste our lives working" if those works are not what He would want from us - and if those works do not lead us to become more Christ-like. However, if we truly are connected to Him through the Holy Ghost (experiencing what many Protestants would call an "in-dwelling of the Spirit"), our effort to become as He is will transform our actions from "dead works" to "living fruits".


Eric Nielson said...

I find your characterization of 'works' odd and different from my experienece. It doesn't seem realistic to me to consider somebody following the principles and ordinances of the gospel, obeying the commandment, and providing charitable service being done without any conscious thought. Does this ever really happen? I do not think I have seen it, and have a hard time imagining it.

I would think a title of 'The Issus is Not Faith vs. Works: It is Faith vs. Fruits' would make more sense to me. This may point to a difference in what you and I might choose to emphasize. Your title and post seem to suggest that it is those who are more toward the grace-alone side are the ones who are most likely to bear fruit. Again, I can't even imagine anyone really believing a works-alone view. Do those people even exist?

I continue to be baffled by those Mormons who seem to want to make the church seem more Protestant like. I just don't get that at all. Probably something I am missing somewhere.

(This should not be read as a criticism, but wondering why I seem to see these things so differently.)

Papa D said...

Wow; it really is interesting how the same words can mean polar opposite things to people who read them. Frankly, Eric, it kind of blew me away that you read this post as you did. I certainly didn't mean in ANY way to imply a grace-alone outlook - nor do I want the LDS Church to become more like Protestantism. I am totally open to recognizing similarities between what we teach and what other religions and denominations teach, but I am adamantly opposed to compormising our own beliefs to be more like others - absolutely and adamantly opposed to that.

I think perhaps the confusion is that I am addressing the idea that we can "work our way into heaven" and the tendency to cheapen the Atonement of Jesus (his "grace") as nothing more than a natural result of what we earn by what we do. I agree totally with you that the VAST majority of LDS members don't see it that way - but that is the mis-characterization of our belief that gets criticized by others, and there is a degree of validity to the complaint when members appear to believe in a checklist view of exaltation.

At the most basic level, I'm just saying that doing everything possible in a lockstep fashion without trying to determine if there is anything in particular that God wants ME to do is nothing more than a modern-day Law of Moses approach. It's a fine line, but doing ONLY what we are told to do gets us classified as "slothful" according to our own modern scriptures - that the connection we have to the Spirit and its directives to us as individuals is a necessary, "next level" aspect of exaltation.

Does that make more sense to you?

Eric Nielson said...

Thank you so much for your charitable and understanding reply.

I think there may be something to the idea that some Mormons appear to be trying to checklist their way to heaven, but I think this comes from the 'fact' that most Mormons believe so completely in the atonement of Christ as a given, that we focus on our progress knowing the atonement is foundational. My perspective is that this (atonement as a given) is more the case than really believing we work our way through on our own.

I am still trying to figure out why I get so sensitive to this type of thing. Again, thanks for your explanation and charitable response.

Papa D said...

This is a tricky discussion, Eric - mostly because it is butchered so badly within much of Protestantism. "Easy grace" is an abomination, imo - and that colors our discussions greatly.

You said something with which I agree completely:

"I think this comes from the 'fact' that most Mormons believe so completely in the atonement of Christ as a given, that we focus on our progress knowing the atonement is foundational. My perspective is that this (atonement as a given) is more the case than really believing we work our way through on our own."

You might be interested in something I wrote back in November 2007 about "Embracing Grace" - that says almost exactly what you just said, only in FAR more words. (*grin*)

Papa D said...

Oh, and you also might be interested in my weekly New Year's Resolution posts. I publish them each Saturday, and the intro posts are on January 1st of 2008 and 2009 in the archives. I think you will see quite clearly that I believe in "works" and not grace alone.

Eric Nielson said...

Whenever I see any variation of faith/works what I see in my mind is (unconditional grace)/(conditional grace). This may be different to what other people see.

I have read and heard some people implying that there are Mormons running around who believe in some type of works-alone salvation. This seems like a straw man to me. It would seem insane for anyone to believe that. A completely hands-off God who has done, is doing, or will do NOTHING for us whatsoever? I don't know if this belief even exists.

I think the most anyone could reasonably say about Mormons on this topic is that they believe that some aspects of the atonement are conditional.

On the other side, my perception is that there are millions of protestants on the more conservative/fundamental end who do believe in an unconditional salvation by grace-alone. This is why I see the issue to be unconditional grace vs. conditional grace.

Of course to really make sense of Mormonism one must include degrees of glory with possible exaltation in the mix.

by the way, the word varification for this comment was 'garaste'. Thought that was interesting.

Papa D said...

Yup. *grin*

It appears we agree almost completely, if not completely, when all is said and done.

Christy said...

Your post and especially the comments following remind me of an experience I had.

In relief society one Sunday, I was asked to briefly explain the parable of the ten virgins. My brief explanation centered on the comparison of the need for oil for the lamps to our need to nourish ourselves spiritually. Well, there was an investigator there and she became a little upset and commented that her understanding was that the parable was about Christ.

I pondered her reaction for awhile, feeling badly that my comments upset her. I realized that my comments were addressed to the sisters that were members, and focused on what Christ was telling us we need to do to prepare for Him. The fact that the parable was about Christ and our relationship to Him was a given, in my mind. I felt terrible that I did not address my comments more to the sister who was investigating, especially since I had previously pointed out to the teacher that this woman was investigating and perhaps needed further explanation about something that was mentioned earlier. My whole point of this drawn out comment is that we often don't address our basic beliefs, and I hope to be more mindful of the need to do so in the future in order to be a better missionary.

Papa D said...

That is a wonderful example, Christy. Thanks for sharing it.

I hear all the time that we only teach the milk and not the meat in our classes - but I think many people don't realize that the real milk often is assumed, and what we discuss often is termed milk when it is meat for those who have not been taught it all their lives.