The annual general conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is approaching, and, in honor of that, I share one of my favorite moments from among the many conferences I’ve heard:
It was April 1985, he knew that he was dying, and, in fact, he had less than two weeks to live.
Can any reasonable person seriously deny that he was a Christian?
And, while I’m on that theme, let me mention the sacrament service that I attended this morning.
We led off by singing this hymn, which is among my very favorites. I love the music, of course. The melody is originally by Hans Leo Hassler (d. 1612), but it was reworked by the greatest composer of them all, Johann Sebastian Bach (d. 1750). The specific lyrics below, however, were written by Karen Lynn Davidson, a contemporary Latter-day Saint:
O Savior, thou who wearest
A crown of piercing thorn,
The pain thou meekly bearest,
Weigh’d down by grief and scorn.
The soldiers mock and flail thee;
For drink they give thee gall;
Upon the cross they nail thee
To die, O King of all.
No creature is so lowly,
No sinner so depraved,
But feels thy presence holy,
And through thy love is saved.
Though craven friends betray thee,
They feel thy love’s embrace;
The very foes who slay thee
Have access to thy grace.
Thy sacrifice transcended
The mortal law’s demand;
Thy mercy is extended
To ev’ry time and land.
No more can Satan harm us,
Though long the fight may be,
Nor fear of death alarm us;
We live, O Lord, through thee.
What praises can we offer
To thank thee, Lord Most High?
In our place thou didst suffer;
In our place thou didst die,
By heaven’s plan appointed,
To ransom us, our King.
O Jesus, the anointed,
To thee our love we bring!
Can anybody plausibly argue that the sentiments expressed in these wonderful words aren’t Christian?
A few minutes later, while the sacrament (communion), which is the devotional heart of our Sunday worship, was being prepared, we sang these words, written by the early Latter-day Saint poet Eliza Snow (d. 1887):
How great the wisdom and the love
That filled the courts on high
And sent the Savior from above
To suffer, bleed, and die!
His precious blood he freely spilt;
His life he freely gave,
A sinless sacrifice for guilt,
A dying world to save.
By strict obedience Jesus won
The prize with glory rife:
“Thy will, O God, not mine be done,”
Adorned his mortal life.
He marked the path and led the way,
And every point defines
To light and life and endless day
Where God’s full presence shines.
We didn’t sing the fifth and sixth verses, but they expand upon the same thoroughly Christian theme:
How great, how glorious, how complete,
Redemption’s grand design,
Where justice, love, and mercy meet
In harmony divine!
In memory of the broken flesh
We eat the broken bread;
And witness with the cup, afresh,
Our faith in Christ, our Head.
Again, is it even remotely reasonable to describe these lyrics as non-Christian?
Midway through the same service, my wife and I joined with the choir to sing these words:
There is a green hill far away,
Without a city wall,
Where the dear Lord was crucified
Who died to save us all.
We may not know, we cannot tell,
What pains he had to bear.
But we believe it was for us
He hung and suffered there.
There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin.
He only could unlock the gate
Of heav’n and let us in.
Oh, dearly, dearly has he loved,
And we must love him too,
And trust in his redeeming blood
And try his works to do.
These lyrics also sound Christian, do they not? And what about these, from the closing hymn of the sacrament service?
I know that my Redeemer lives.
What comfort this sweet sentence gives.
He lives! He lives who once was dead!
He lives! my ever-living friend!
He lives! To bless me with his love.
He lives! To plead for me above.
He lives! My hungry soul to feed.
He lives! To bless in time of need.
He lives! To grant me rich supply.
He lives! To guide me with his eye.
He lives! To comfort me went faint.
He lives! To hear my soul’s complaint.
He lives! To silence all my fears.
He lives! To wipe away my tears.
He lives! To calm my troubled heart.
He lives! With blessings to impart.
I’ve said nothing whatever about the talks, and nothing about the invocation and the benediction, and nothing about the sacrament prayers, all of which were spoken, explicitly, “in the name of Jesus Christ.”
It’s simply crazy, from my point of view, to claim that Latter-day Saints aren’t Christian.