Answering Questions

By: Stephen Marsh
February 17, 2012

I recently had a non-member who I very much respect and admire, send me some questions, following my post on Truth and Revelation.  Here are the questions, followed by my answers.

  1. What are the principal articles of faith, the immutable ones? Your description in your post makes it seem like all is a moving target. Is there belief in a resurrection, as an example?Jesus divinity? Trinity?
    (if you need me to define these terms in my understanding of them as a catholic, please let me know)
  2. Obedience rule? (i.e. JFK about being president and a catholic
  3. Role of personal conscience?

Those are the starters.  Good questions for anyone to ask once they realize that Mormons are non-creedal.

Question one is easy, since there are thirteen articles of faith (except, it isn’t going to be that simple).

  1. We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.
  2. We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.
  3. We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
  4. We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
  5. We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
  6. We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.
  7. We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.
  8. We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.
  9. We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
  10. We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.
  11. We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
  12. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.
  13. We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.

To be more specific, we believe in a literal resurrection, that Jesus Christ is divine, the son of God who was crucified and raised from the dead. We believe that Jesus Christ is the way the truth and the light, and the only way.  Though what and how the atonement works is still not as well defined as one might hope.

We do not believe in classic trinitarian (or the modern monist versions) approaches, which means we do not believe in the common definitions of three in one trinity doctrines.  We embrace a one in purpose, three in person godhead. But, when we speak of the resurrection, what we really know comes from 1 John 3:2 “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.”  Though see D&C 88.

As for how negotiable things are, see the Temple Recommend discussions we have had on this blog.  It is interesting that you don’t have to believe all thirteen of the articles of faith to qualify for a temple recommend.

The “obedience rule” (which is not how LDS would put it) is pretty loose.  After all, Harry Reid is a member in good standing and there is a steady drum beat of a reminder that membership in the Church does not presuppose a political stance.  For all intents and purposes, there is not one.  But there is a tension between the hierarchy of an organized church and individuals.  The Romney family politically was very engaged in civil rights.  Some LDS leaders have been progressives, some reactionaries.

The role of personal conscience?  I think it is critical.  Others don’t agree with me.  Everyone would agree it is important.  Doctrinally we believe that the conflict over preserving the free agency of mankind is a core conflict between good and evil.  The plan of salvation is grounded in free agency and in salvation through Christ.

There are still issues as to what confession means and how it works, and a number of other points (many of which I’ve blogged about:  http://www.wheatandtares.org/author/ethesis/ ); e.g.:

So, what is confession really about?

So … what is “scripture”

Understanding General Authorities


So, do you think I’ve answered those questions correctly?

How would you have answered the questions differently?

What questions should they have asked, what questions should I really have been answering (looking to what you think they meant to ask rather than the question they actually asked)?

Add to and correct my answers, ask more questions.

6 Responses to Answering Questions

  1. Heber13 on February 17, 2012 at 3:14 PM

    I would think AoF #2 would be an important thing to highlight to a friend of the catholic faith. It is a different doctrinal approach, and I would highlight the point mormons often look at Eve’s choice as a step forward and wise choice, not a mistake or weakness.

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  2. Stephen Marsh on February 17, 2012 at 5:37 PM

    Appreciate your thoughts Heber13 — guess everyone who has read this agrees 100% with me ;)

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  3. ji on February 17, 2012 at 11:09 PM

    Some Mormons (and all of scripture) look at Eve’s choice as transgression.

    But this points out a truth — Mormons are free to believe as they will on these matters, because we don’t have a theological college of philosophers who definitively answers these questions.

    As President Packer pointed out last Saturday in the worldwide training session, we let every man speak in the name of the Lord — a priesthood of all men.

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  4. dba.brotherp on February 18, 2012 at 9:24 AM

    I think the Articles of Faith are a good start. If I was a non-member, AofF #3 would appear to me to say that by works you are saved not by grace. This may something to talk about more.

    But in reality, if you took a hundred Mormons (or any other religion) and asked them what they believed, I think you would get a wide range of answers. This can be confusing to outsiders and insiders. :)

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  5. Jake on February 18, 2012 at 10:31 AM

    Despite having articles of faith, I don’t think we really have a fixed set that are seen as more important or crucial. In a way the question leads to an answer that makes sense to a catholic creed and article of faith religion, even if its not what we actually have.

    But that is not a very adequate answer to a non-member. I guess this is the difficult with a missionary driven church, is that it essentially tries to present something that is harmonious and systematic, when the truth is that it is far from being either of them.

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  6. Badger on February 18, 2012 at 5:46 PM

    I’m not sure exactly what “articles of faith” means to your Catholic inquirer, but I suspect the LDS articles of faith don’t really provide the answer he was looking for. To put them in context for a non-member I think it needs to be mentioned that there are very important aspects of present-day LDS faith and practice that they do not mention at all, such as temple worship, including marriages, sealings, and the doctrine of eternal families. On the other hand, article 10 in particular refers to doctrines that can be safely ignored by an outsider trying to grasp the issues that most Mormons today spend time on.

    With regard to immutability, I think polygamy is by far the best single case study, although the amount of detail available is vast. First practiced in secret, it was proclaimed as an essential of the faith, but eventually abandoned in practice in response to the most intense external pressure the church has ever faced. The character of the modern church, and the approaches it takes to the interaction of doctrine to cultural changes over time, owe as much to this experience as to its better known early history. The kinds of things leaders said about polygamy at its apogee [1] and the kinds of things they say today [2] are very far apart, and yet the principle still stands as part of LDS doctrine, and although today’s leaders would never quote Brigham Young or Joseph F. Smith in general conference on polygamy, they would not say there has been a break with the beliefs of those times, but only an adaptation to changing circumstances (others, notably including fundamentalist Mormons, would disagree).

    [1] E.g., Joseph F. Smith’s “…some of the Saints have said…that a man with one wife…will receive an exaltation as great and glorious…as he possibly could with more than one. I wish here, to enter my solemn protest against this idea, for I know it to be false.”)

    [2] E.g., “The Lord’s law of marriage is monogamy unless he commands otherwise to help establish the House of Israel” (from mormon.org, where the attribution is a little unclear–either Gordon B. Hinkley or the Encylopedia of Mormonism, or both).

    Hinkley’s famous statement to Larry King, “I condemn [polygamy], yes, as a practice, because I think it is not doctrinal” is prone to misunderstanding, but the tone is noteworthy in contrast to the earlier leaders engaged in confrontation with the US government.

    Finally, I found this baffling, in the recent recent response to the Ninth Circuit’s ruling on Proposition 8: “California voters have twice determined…that marriage should be recognized as only between a man and a woman. We have always had that view.” (emphasis added). I’ve seen Mormons online say that there is no inconsistency with history, because polygamy is “marriage between a man and a woman”—the man just gets re-used over and over. It’s a fascinating illustration of the polygamy’s position today as a (theoretical) doctrine: on the one hand, the newsroom statement tries to sweep it under the rug, and on the other a few Mormons attempt to account for it by what looks to me like pure nonsense, when it would be much easier just to disagree with the single word “always” if any believed it could be disavowed as a present-day doctrine.

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