For those who have heard that Mormons live in fear, I'd like to introduce you to one of my favorite Christian fearmongers, in fact, an early Christian fearmonger whose words rightly caused the great Apostle Peter to feel concerned. Indeed, Peter warned that this particular man wrote things that confused many people about the Gospel, for his writings contained "some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction" (2 Peter 3:16). So with that caveat, recognizing that there may be risk in relying too heavily on his sometimes confusing words, allow me to introduce you to the fearmonger named Paul.
Here is some of his fearsome preaching in Hebrews 4:
1 Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it....In other words, "Folks, be afraid, be very afraid, for you can fall and depart from the promised rest God offers to his people. So don't slack off, but labor diligently to enter into that rest, lest you fall."
9 There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.
10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.
11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.
Paul was big on fear. In Acts 13:26, he told his audience that "whosoever among you feareth God, to you is the word of this salvation sent." And after his conversion, when he joined up with the Christians in Judea and neighboring regions, they were soon "walking in the fear of the Lord" (Acts 9:31). I bet it was his fault.
But plain old fear was not enough for Paul. He wanted something more dramatic, namely, fear and trembling. Wow. Thus, in Phil. 2:12, we have this extreme example of fear-based emphasis on obedience: "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Read the words in bold out loud, slowly, and then ask yourself if this man could possibly be a Christian? It was no mistake--he used that same phrase in Eph. 6:5 and 2 Cor. 7:15. I know, I know, with all that talk of works, obedience, and fear, he has no more right to be called Christian than any Mormon does.
Naturally, I recognize such doctrine is a horrible departure from historic Christianity (here I use the generally accepted definition of "historic Christianity," namely, "that particular branch of Christianity that developed in a portion of northern Europe about 600 years ago"). But frankly, I still rather like the man. Guess it's my life of fear as a Mormon that helps me appreciate Paul's words.
So when Paul tells us to cleanse ourselves and seek "holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1), when he praises those who respond to his preaching with repentance and fear (2 Cor. 7:11), when he tells us to submit "in the fear of God" (Eph. 5:21), when he encourages Church leaders to rebuke sinners so "that others also may fear" (1 Tim. 5:20), when he warns that willful sin will bring "a certain fearful looking" for the judgment of God (Heb. 10:27), and even says that it is a "fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:27), I'm willing to take his words with a grain of salt and, frankly, am still willing to accept him as a fellow Christian, in spite of Peter's warning about his words.
Peter, like many authentic early Christians, apparently had his own Mormonesque fear-based issues, as we see in 1 Peter 1:17: "And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear". Wow, Peter was also into that whole "fear God and obey him" Mormon-like thing. In fact, after warning his readers about Paul and the destruction that came upon some who misapplied Paul's words, he then tells them to "therefore ... beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness" (2 Peter 3:17). Beware, be afraid, lest ye fall and face destruction. Yep, Peter was something of a fearmonger himself.
But in the end, I know that both Peter and Paul also understood the love and grace of God. They both realized that we can fall from grace and depart from the living God (1 Cor. 10:12), and that we needed to endure to the end to receive the full blessings of grace (1 Peter 1:3-10, though Peter sounds way too Mormon there, so, uh, beware). So telling us to not slack off, to "fear" or respect God, and to have some healthy fear about the grim alternatives if we depart from Christ, all was actually intended as a kind, loving thing to help us. I think their heart was in the right place, so I'm willing to give both of them a pass on this. Hope the rest of you will soften your hearts and give them a break as well.