LDS Zeal for Law

LDS Zeal for Law November 25, 2007

While some of my fellow bloggers here at FPR conclude their probably ecstatic SBL experience, I thought I’d make a post about a topic that I’ve been musing on for the past while. A realization that I’ve had recently is connected to just how legalistic we are with respect to the attaining of salvation, even exaltation. Just a quick perusal of our modernly revealed scriptures reinforced this idea to me: the LDS salvific model (as fluid a concept as that is) has a very strong legalistic flavor to it.

Most of you probably are already tuned into the idea I’m trying to describe. In a nutshell, the attainment of salvation (and exaltation) is often described or explained in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants in legalistic terms, in terms of the fulfilling of a law set forth by God.

This was so ingrained in me that I was pretty surprised in college when I was briefly (very briefly) introduced to the concept of multiple salvific models given by Paul. What I was told was that Paul describes the attainment of salvation in several different ways, using various metaphors. And some, maybe even many, of them had no reference to law. I confess that I have not done the research on this topic yet. I’m buried in rural southern Alberta with little to no access to non-LDS scholarship (where this sort of thing is more easily found). Even my own books are packed away in storage in Utah. I promise to return to this idea later, probably much later, when I get back into my academic groove.

But for the purposes of this post, I’ve said enough already. What is important is that I learned that not every way of viewing salvation is connected with law. This makes many of us Mormons pretty uncomfortable. For example, Paul often speaks about salvation in terms of simply having faith. Most of us don’t like this. Our immediate reaction is to start shouting about Paul not saying everything he meant and knew about the subject, or that “yeah but faith without works is dead, didn’t you read James?” or other such things. Ok, maybe. I know I’ve been there before and argued that myself, but are we right? Can we view the attainment of salvation without considering law? Is it really so interconnected that we cannot separate the two?

I said earlier that our modern scriptures reinforce, or perhaps I should say gave birth to, our distinctly legalistic view of salvation. In the Book of Mormon, Nephi starts this sort of thinking right off the bat. It is he who gave us the very familiar pattern for salvation of faith, repentance, baptism, holy ghost, endure to the end. This is our legalistic view of salvation in its simplest form. 2 Nephi in general is filled with legalistic terms, right down to the very last words where Nephi promises that when we are judged before the bar of God that he will stand as a witness that we had been made aware of the law and its full implications. Even the word testimony is taken from legal jargon.

This theme continues throughout the Book of Mormon. Seemingly each writer hinges their teachings on the concepts of keeping the law and being rewarded for our actions in relation to that law either to our ultimate salvation and prosperity or damnation and destruction. Jacob, Benjamin, Alma, Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni all take this view. Read the last 3 verses of Moroni, the last three of the whole Book of Mormon:

32 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

33 And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.

34 And now I bid unto all, farewell. I soon go to rest in the paradise of God, until my spirit and body shall again reunite, and I am brought forth triumphant through the air, to meet you before the pleasing bar of the great Jehovah, the Eternal Judge of both quick and dead. Amen.

The legalism is implicit in the first two verses and explicit in the last, much like we see with Nephi. In the first two the implication is that one must pass through a complex system of actions that include deny ungodliness and becoming perfect in Christ through his grace to the attainment of sanctification. It seems to me that this legalistic view of salvation is not only present and flourishing but has been developed and expanded upon. I see it filing the book from cover to cover.

The D&C is similarly filled. When the Vision was given it taught us that every kingdom has a law given and that those who may inhabit those kingdoms will be those who are able to abide that law. When exaltation to the highest degree of glory in the Celestial Kingdom is taught it contains reference to obeying the law pertaining to the New and Everlasting Covenant of marriage. But I have not yet thought of any good examples in either of these books of scripture where a salvific model is presented that doesn’t involve some law being fulfilled.

So my question is: Is the LDS view of salvation so law-centered that no other model is tenable? What other salvific models have you all been exposed to and do you find them to be tenable?

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