As I was looking into the LDS Church’s second anointing (which I wrote about yesterday), I came across a response to the idea (written by a Mormon), which I think illustrates very well the problem I described in my post—that is, the difficulty we (Mormons and Christians) have in communicating theological ideas to each other because we use the same terms so differently.
As I explained yesterday, it seems that most LDS Church members are not aware of the second Endowment (a temple ceremony where members who have been deemed worthy are sealed to all the highest rewards of exaltation in the afterlife—godhood, etc.—that they’ve been striving for), and this anonymous blogger was expressing his skepticism about the validity of such a ceremony, even if it exists. Listen to how he explains his objection:
I personally believe that a person's calling and election is NOT made sure through a second endowment. I believe this because we are saved by grace, and not works, lest any man should boast because of works. Thus, Prophets cannot seal this great blessing through temple work. This blessing only comes from Jesus Christ himself verbally telling you that you are sealed up in promise….
I want you to know that only Jesus Christ is the fountain of living waters. I believe these living waters represent total forgiveness of all sins and the love of God.
This doesn’t sound so far off from something we might say, right? Christ gives total forgiveness. We’re saved by grace, not works. Were we to stop there and not dig deeper, we might leave thinking we’re in agreement. But then he continues:
I do not think that [Jesus] would count any ordinance sealing a person's calling and election made sure as valid. A man is not saved by his works or his covenants, we are saved by grace after we have faith enough to live. A person whose calling and election is made sure still has debts to pay, but it is made sure because Christ knows most assuredly by the person's faith that they will pay their debts most absolutely.
Achieving the same greatness as God has is not instant, it is a process even after you are promised to become greater than anything you can imagine.
Do you see the problem? How is “saved by grace, not works” and “total forgiveness of sins” compatible with the idea that a person “still has debts to pay” and “will pay his debts most absolutely”?
When this blogger says, “A man is not saved by his works or his covenants,” he can’t mean it’s not possible for a ceremony in the temple to be required, because the covenants Mormons make in the first Endowment, along with the ceremony in which they’re sealed to their spouse for eternity, are all necessary for exaltation to the highest level of heaven and godhood. And every day, baptisms are performed for the dead so that they will be able to progress to a higher level of heaven. Clearly, works are done, by people, in temples, that count towards their becoming worthy of exaltation. So what can he mean?
Here’s what I suspect he’s thinking: It’s not a work of man that awards our blessings. Rather, only Christ can bestow blessings on us—both the blessing of having the commandments and ordinances we need to follow and the blessings that we receive if we follow them. The giving of the laws we need to follow is called grace, and the giving of the reward is called grace, simply because they come from God and we couldn’t have come up with them on our own. The fact that works must be done in order for God to deem a person worthy of receiving a blessing does not contradict their idea of grace. The works themselves didn’t create the blessings, only God creates and gives the blessings. That is what they call grace. This is how they reconcile the talk of grace in the Bible with the list of works in the “plan of salvation” they follow.
So conditional covenant-making (making promises and fulfilling requirements) in the temple does not violate the idea of grace for them. I don’t think it would have bothered this blogger at all if there were an additional covenant ceremony God required in order for us to be found worthy of the ultimate blessings. What he objects to is the idea that a ceremony performed by men can seal (i.e., guarantee) the receipt of blessings when only God can announce the giving of such a thing. As long as God gives the blessing, as long as the reward itself is not something we could create on our own, regardless of what works are required to be worthy of receiving it, their idea of grace is preserved.
As for the term “faith,” when he says, “We are saved by grace after we have faith enough to live,” he’s talking about faith that the plan of salvation is the God-given way to live and progress to exaltation, not faith in Christ’s sacrifice (except as far as it makes the plan of salvation possible). As he explains, Christ knows we will continue to pay our debts through the plan of salvation if we have sincere faith in His intention to reward the followers of this plan.
You can see the communication problem.