A few days before he left the comforts of Appleton, Wisconsin, he was approached by one of his friends from high school, a friend who had known my son and seen his example as a Christian for years (recognizing parental bias, it's still fairly objective to say that my son is a popular and well-liked young man who is widely noted for being religious and for having high standards). This friend, a devout Protestant, just wanted to reach out and let my son know that his soul was lost and that he wasn't a Christian at all. What, believing in Christ, teaching of Christ, seeking to follow Christ, and putting your life at risk for two years as an ambassador of Christ doesn't count for at least being partly Christian? No, it doesn't count at all. You see, it's one thing to believe in Jesus and be saved, but if you ALSO think you really ought to keep the commandments, then you don't properly understand grace and, naturally, will rot in hell for this gap in theological understanding. In his form of modern Protestant theology, failing the Great Theology Quiz on the semantics of grace, justification, soteriology, and perhaps even esterification is just about the only way that someone who has accepted Jesus Christ can get thrown into hell.
My son was about to put on a name tag bearing the name of Jesus Christ ("The Church of ....") to be a public witness for Christ for two years. My son explained that he fervently believed in and accepted Christ as his savior. But that wasn't good enough. It's good enough for almost everyone else except Mormons, apparently. By coming along and adding an errant belief on the relations between grace, works, and salvation, all is lost. Eternally. So, in the spirit of Christian love, this good Protestant just wanted to reach out to my son and warn him that his soul was toast. Nice way to say good-bye. [Update: Of course, he was trying to be loving and helpful to save my son's soul, and my son recognized this. The intentions were noble, but good intentions can lead to bad outcomes when informed by horrifically flawed teachings.]
That Protestant young man was the victim of bad theology, and that theology, perhaps reinforced by religious bigotry from a pastor, led to an unfortunate result. A friend and fellow Christian was condemned as non-Christian. An entire religion of people seeking to follow Christ have been denounced as a non-Christian threat. That's not just bad theology, it's pernicious theology. Tragic theology.
If that young man is reading this blog, or for those of you who share similar unfortunate views, let me point to one of many passages from Jesus Christ that I hope you'll read and ponder. My son shared a lot of Bible verses that ought to have helped clarify the relationship between grace and our response to it, including the importance of following Jesus not just in word only, but to no avail, so this may not do any good. But this passage takes a different approach that I hope will open some eyes, somewhere. This passage reminds us that to be truly Christian and to truly accept the grace of Jesus and be saved eternally, we need to abide in Jesus. It's not a momentary event, but a journey. Abide. That means we endure, hang on, keep following, and not let go. Read this passage and see if you can possibly resolve what your minister has taught you with what Christ so plainly teaches.
1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.How ironic, how tragically ironic, that a young man striving to be a friend of Christ by not just believing once but by abiding in His grace and keeping His commandments should, for that very reason, be condemned as a non-Christian whose soul was lost. That's pernicious theology. Tragically so.
2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
9 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.
10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.
11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.
15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.
16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
17 These things I command you, that ye love one another.
18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.
19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.
Mormons believe in Christ. We accept Him as our Savior. After accepting Him, we seek to abide in His love. We seek to endure in faith to the end. We seek to do keep His commandments and do what He said. That great God who said, "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments" may have a lot of issues with our failures and misunderstandings, but I don't believe that salvation inn Christ depends on passing a quiz on modern theology.