Missing the Point

Helping Hand by popofatticus

During the April 2010 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President Dieter F. Uchtdorf (Second Counselor in the First Presidency) talked about Mormons being the “hands” of Christ. Mr. Uchtdorf provided lots of good ideas on how people can (and should) emulate Christ by embracing, comforting, serving and loving one another. But in two parts of the talk, Mr. Uchtdorf chose odd passages of scripture as support for his instructions. As the talk is transcribed in the May 2010 Ensign magazine, Mr. Uchtdorf said,

“We can spend our days obsessing about the finest details of life, the law, and long lists of things to do; but should we neglect the great commandments [love God and love your neighbor, Matthew 22:36-40], we are missing the point and we are clouds without water, drifting in the winds, and trees without fruit. [Followed by a footnote referencing Jude 1:12]”

The Bible passage Mr. Uchtdorf referenced speaks of waterless clouds swept along by the wind, and fruitless trees, but it’s not talking about love.

Earlier in his talk, Mr. Uchtdorf said,

“True love requires action. We can speak of love all day long…but until we manifest that love in action, our words are nothing but ‘sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.’ [Followed by a footnote referencing 1 Corinthians 13:1]”

Again, the Bible passage Mr. Uchtdorf referenced speaks of noisy gongs and clanging cymbals, but it’s not talking about love without action.

I have no complaint regarding the ideas Mr. Uchtdorf was endeavoring to communicate; we should demonstrate our love through active service and we should give high priority to the greatest commandments. Indeed, in keeping those two commandments all others are naturally kept as well. What caught my attention was Mr. Uchtdorf’s misapplication of biblical scripture.

As I understand Mr. Uchtdorf’s words in which he referenced 1 Corinthians 13:1, he was saying that all our talk of love is just so much noise (sounding brass, etc.) if we do not demonstrate that love by our actions. But in 1 Corinthians Paul is saying that regardless of what we do (our actions), if we are not motivated by love it is all worthless. Paul says even if he does excellent things (i.e., prophesies, gives away all of his worldly goods, even sacrifices his very life), without love it is nothing. Do you see the difference between Mr. Uchtdorf’s use of the passage and what the passage actually means?

John Calvin wrote of 1 Corinthians 13,

“It is not then to be wondered, if all our deeds are estimated by this test–their appearing to proceed from love. It is also not to be wondered, if gifts, otherwise excellent, come to have their true value only when they are made subservient to love.” (Calvin’s Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 419)

A few paragraphs later in his talk, Mr. Uchtdorf referenced Jude 1:12. As I understand it, he was suggesting that Latter-day Saints who focus on the details of living while failing to give proper attention to the two great commandments on love are “missing the point” and are “clouds without water…and trees without fruit.” But when Jude writes about waterless clouds he has something entirely different in mind. He writes,

“For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God … These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.” (Jude 1:4, 12-13)

The bulk of Jude’s epistle is a judgment against false teachers. John Calvin explained,

“[Jude] only shows that they [the false teachers] were vessels of wrath appointed to destruction, and that they could not escape the hand of God, but that he would some time or another make them examples of his vengeance. For his design was to terrify the godly to whom he was writing, lest they should entangle themselves in their society.” (Calvin’s Commentaries on the Epistle of Jude, [Calvin's Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles, p. 437])

It seems that Mr. Uchtdorf, in applying Jude’s frightening words to people who miss the point, was himself “missing the point.” Nevertheless, later in his talk Mr. Uchtdorf went on to ask rhetorically, “What good is [service in the Church] without love?” This is where he could have rightly appealed to 1 Corinthians 13:1 for the biblical answer. And perhaps he could have also pointed out that the remainder of 1 Corinthians 13 describes love as–first and foremost–about being (e.g., patient, kind, hopeful, etc.), not about doing. Love is the “more excellent way,” Paul says. “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
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24 Responses to Missing the Point

  1. I have said this to LDS more than a few hundred times between this blog, My blog, some other blogs and face too face.
    Mormons can come to my house and clean all day long, they can buy me food or give me money, they can do all this stuff to as many people as they want, that is not love, and doing these things does not save me or them.

    Knowing the truth about Jesus and who He is and believing that, then asking Jesus to forgive our sins is what saves us. Many many times I ask the LDS, Wheres your love? I ask for answers to questions, yet cannot get honest answers. They ignore the question or give some lame answer that really does not answer my question. According to LDS scripture and JS, A man cannot be saved in Ignorance. If this is true, then feeding me, giving me money, clothing me or doing things for me will not and cannot save me.

    Sharing the gospel with me can. Yet that is the one thing they will not do, they judge me and say, Your just looking for problems. Or you dont want to hear the truth. Why can you judge my heart and say that? Then when I tell them I really want to know, they accuse me of lying, again, where's the love? So they are missing more than they care to admit.

  2. Violet says:

    My friend is a deep believer in karma but also in 'doing good, equals blessings.' Both of these I believe she is using incorrectly. I thought the true definition of karma was if you clean your kitchen today, you will have a clean kitchen tomorrow. Not, if you are a good person, your son will go to Harvard and be a doctor. I understand if you plant good seeds, good things will happen. What I disagree with is building up a heavenly treasury so that you and your family are protected from bad. I think this is missing the point of Christ. There ain't no list. We love because we are loved, not to be loved by God.

  3. Dale says:

    I often find this blog interesting and educational, but this is one of the most anal critiques I've heard. Yes, Corinthians describes love as "being" patient, kind, etc,. but do you really expect us to believe that God doesn't want us to practice being patient, kind, etc?

    I respect this blog, and I hope in the future you don't demean it with lame critiques about something that was said at a conference six months ago. There are enough real issues with Mormonism that can be addressed without inventing one.

  4. Jon B says:

    Interesting analysis, Sharon; thanks for posting it. Yeah, if Uchtdorf was attempting to say that the message he was conveying was what those verses are conveying, he was simply wrong and thus misusing Scripture. On the other hand, I do have to concede the possibility that he simply found the biblical language in those verses to be apt to the sense he wanted to get across, and thus was using the phrasing without making a statement about what the phrases referred to in their original biblical context.

  5. falcon says:

    This is probably a good time for me to repost the basic fundamental points of Biblical interpretation. This along with the basic tenants of the orthodox Christian faith form the bedrock of (Christianity) and clearly points to the significant differences our faith has with Mormonism. Mormonism is kind of in a constant state of free-fall where anything that passes through the minds of the apostles and prophets is made to fit into the revolving door of Mormon doctrine, beliefs and practices. In Mormonism, doctrine has a shelf-life with an expiration date on it. What was previously embraced as God's revealed truth can be dismissed along with the embarrassing utterances of past leaders.

    The first guideline on accurately interpreting the Bible is:
    Context rules. Context is that which goes with the text. Consider the surrounding verses, the book in which the text is found, and the entire Word of God. We need to ask if what we think the text is saying is consistent with the theme, purpose and structure of the book in which it is found? Is the interpretation consistent with other scripture about the same subject. Have the historic and cultural context been considered? So here's the big point: Never take a verse or verses out of their context to make it say what you want it to say. We are to discover the meaning not add to it.

  6. falcon says:

    Well you see Dale, I'm sure that a lot of Mormons see we Christians, with our insistence on accuracy and precision of methodology in interpreting the Bible, as real buzz kills. So if we seem to be over-doing it, it's because Mormons tend to take flights of fancy with their on-going continuous revelation. They don't let a little thing like principles of Biblical interpretation get in their way when they wax eloquent on their latest feel-good message from the Mormon deity. I believe the point Sharon is making here is two fold. One the verses that the Mormon speaker used where pretty much pulled out of context and used to make an unrelated point. I guess since it really didn't have anything to do with actual doctrine we could simply say, "No harm, no foul."
    But what we attempt to do here is use a situation like this to make a point about the fact that in Mormonism, what the scriptures say makes little difference in light of Mormon progressive revelation.
    In fact Joseph Smith was of the opinion that what the prophet says is more important than what the established Scriptures say.
    This is where Mormonism jerks off the path of established doctrine. This is true whether we are discussing Christianity or the internal mish-mash of Mormon doctrine itself.
    The purpose of the article is to once again get the attention of Mormons and provide a forum for discussing an important topic like the principles of Biblical interpretation.

  7. falcon says:

    The next principle is: always seek the full counsel of the Word of God. A couple of verses here and there don't cut it especially if someone is trying to make a doctrinal point. When a person submerges themselves in the Word of God and become intimately fimiliar with it, they will be able to tell if a teaching is Biblical or not.
    Scripture will never contradict Scripture. Since Scripture is God-breathed, it can't contradict itself. We may not understand something, but we have finite minds.
    Don't base your convictions on an obscure passage of Scripture.
    Interpret Scripture literally. Look at the Word of God in its natural, normal sense. Scripture needs to be interpreted by its literary style; historical, prophetic, biographical, didactic, poetic, epistle or proverbial.
    Look for the single meaning of the passage. Don't twist verses to support a meaning that is not clearly taught.

  8. Dale said

    I respect this blog, and I hope in the future you don't demean it with lame critiques about something that was said at a conference six months ago.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but did you say on another post your not an LDS member? If you are not, then why get so worked up over a post you dont like or agree with? I like this post, as I said before, LDS really dodge the bigger issue on love, they refuse to answer questions. Then as I quoted you saying dont worry about something said 6 months ago. So then should we not bother with anything said by mormons period? Define a time frame we can work with, we can only talk about things they said, 2 weeks ago and no longer? I mean seriously, how can we decide how far to go back or not go back?

  9. Dale says:

    Falcon, I absolutely agree with your assessment that Mormonism places more value on the words of the prophets than it does scripture. However, the irony of this post is that it emphasizes being patient, kind, and loving, when itself is not patient, kind,loving etc, but rather overly nit-picky and critical.

    The only people who would praise this critique are those who agree with its central concept already

  10. falcon says:

    Dale,
    Here's a question: Is it possible to be overly nit-picky and critical when it comes to religious sects that are claiming to be the restoration of first century Christianity? The Book of Jude which was quoted by the Mormon authority and then pointed out by Sharon to not be a proper application of the text, was written specifically to charge Christians to contend earnestly for the faith. In a one of his letters to Timothy, the apostle Paul continually exhorts him (Timothy) to stick to strong doctrine and to correct those who are teaching strange doctrine.
    There is a saying about love that I can't remember right now but it has to do with love not really being love if it is permissive in nature. I don't think Sharon's article is mean spirited or nasty. Mormons are not known to be Biblical scholars at any level. So in pointing out the misapplication of the Biblical text in this instance is demonstrating a feature of Mormon leadership that is quite common within the religion.
    In his book, " Beyond Mormonism" Jim Spencer gives a couple of accounts of interactions that he had with Mormon leaders, including at his excommunication hearing, that shows their lack of Biblical knowledge. Jim figured that at his "trial", it might be the only time these men would get a good clear Biblical presentation of the Gospel.
    It seems that to Mormon leaders, Biblical text are nothing more than stickers attached to a presentation, meant to decorate it, rather than a process of exegesis.

  11. Violet,

    I think you've scored a bullseye in the difference between karma (or any other therapism) and the Christian Gospel. I do good, not because I might get some payback, but because, heck, it's good and it benefits the other person.

    As you rightly put it, we loved because we are loved, not to get love.

    Christ, again, sets the prime example here. There's absolutely no way that he could have got himself some sort of benefit by getting himself executed in a slow, agonizing and humiliating death on a cross.

  12. I have to agree with Dale, to a degree.

    Uchtdorf's knowledge of the scriptures he was quoting is lamentably poor, but at least he's using them to communicate a worthy sentiment. I guess what's more bizarre is the LDS penchant for quoting from the Bible, then doing everything they can to rubbish it whenever they find something in it that they don't like. That's just schizophrenic. Oh, and someone who holds a position of High Church leadership should know better. Shame on the LDS movement for such shallow leadership.

    I'd really like to encourage all readers here to read through the whole of Jude. It only takes a couple of minutes. The question that intrigues me is what makes the "bad guys" that Jude describes that "bad".

    They've obviously got into the Church somehow, so they must have come in with some sort of Christian-sounding rationale and attraction.

    There are a couple of clues there, like

    They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

    (Verse 4). The fact that they are in the fellowship suggests that they have not denied Christ outright, but possibly they have denied his sole ownership of the Church (the "only Sovereign"). This would make sense if they had relegated him down from being wholly and fully God, as the Arians did three centuries later. Thus they could say "this Church belongs to Heavenly Father, and Jesus is our peer and equal". Being Jesus' equal means they have the right to modify the Church's mandate. Does it sound familiar yet?

    Another clue is in verse 19

    These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.

    . I'm on my current hobby on post-modernism here (I can find the truth within me). In context, Jude is talking about licentiousness, but the rationale for licentiousness is that if it feels good, I should do it (because the truth is what I make it – it is within me). This is why a person can justify the following of his or her "natural instincts". It's closely related to only doing stuff that affirms you and denying anything that you find offensive or confronting. Yup, we're at the burning in the bosom again, and it has no place for any external input, be it the Bible or even the words of the Prophet. The trouble is, it strips a person of all points of reference such that they simply wander wherever their instincts take them – "Clouds without rain, blown along by the wind." (verse 12). They are barren and fruitless for exactly this reason. Because they have no connection to the "external" Christ, and their entire existence is inward-looking, they have nothing to offer anyone else.

    Such a mentality needs to be vigorously challenged by the Gospel of Christ.

  13. Falcon said

    There is a saying about love that I can't remember right now but it has to do with love not really being love if it is permissive in nature.

    The header on my mormon blog says, ( Love that tolerates deception is not love at all.)

    I do not know if that is the saying your thinking of or a different one.

  14. falcon says:

    Martin,
    For me the question comes down to how do we as Christians treat a false prophet? I wouldn't let one of these guys off the hook even if the topic appeared somewhat trivial as in his misapplication of the Biblical text. Mormons follow these guys, treat them like rock stars, and hang on their every word. They are false prophets preaching a false gospel and even if they are doing the "love" talk, it's all to support a counterfeit gospel which will lead the Mormon followers to their spiritual destruction.
    So I'm OK with calling them out in this instance because we need to expose them at every turn.

  15. Falcon said

    For me the question comes down to how do we as Christians treat a false prophet?

    I would go one step farther, How does God handle them? What does the Bible say.

  16. Falcon and Rick,

    How do you deal with a false prophet? Jude tells us to shut them out. He also tells us to vigorously and aggressively "…contend for the faith that the Lord has once for all entrusted to us" (verse 3 – yes, Jude really does say that, but I don't need to persuade you guys).

    How can you discern if a prophet is false?

    Jude, again, provides some useful diagnostics;
    * Jude 8 – sexual immorality (like collecting a bevy of 34 or so 'wives')
    * Jude 8 – no respect for authority (like declaring all churches corrupt, so you don't have to submit to any of them)
    * Jude 8 – slandering celestial beings (like declaring that you've done a better job than Jesus at creating a church)
    * Jude 12 – going wherever their instincts take them (like leading the people on a wild goose chase after hidden gold, or flitting from town to town, or changing your doctrine of God to suit your own proclivities)
    * Jude 16 – faultfinders who boast about themselves (see above relationship with the established church)
    * Jude 19 – divisive (like setting up a 'restored' church that shatters into a thousand pieces in its first few decades)

    In a recent blog elsewhere, I had an LDS telling me that I shouldn't judge the LDS movement by how it interpreted the Bible. I kid you not. I cannot believe it, yet it's true.

    What else does a Prophet do. A so-called Prophet who has no use for the Word of God is no prophet at all.

    Here's what a "proper" prophet says…

    The word of the Lord came to me: "What do you see, Jeremiah?"</blockquote)> Jeremiah 1:11.

    A fairly robust definition is that the Prophet receives the word of the Lord, he sees what's going on around him and he tells us about the meaning in the interaction between the two.

    But then, we've got these so-called prophets who have no use for this kind of thing because they've got their inner witness (instinct) that tells them that whatever they think must be the truth. When Jude calls them "twice dead" (Jude 12), he's being generous.

  17. I agree, if only the LDS felt this way, But then they really want to believe what they want to believe.

  18. Sarah says:

    I think what frustrates me more than anything is that Mormons can and do point to Bible scripture to "prove" their doctrine. I'm talking in particular about the verse (excuse me but I can't remember where it is) where Paul mentions "a third heaven" or other verses that apparently show that God was once human, etc. The point they're missing there is that they are taking not only one verse, out of context of the larger work, but also one that has been laid under "private interpretation" by Joseph Smith and furthered through LDS leaders. Additionally, I have seen them fight with that one verse, ignoring then all the other verses that contradict.

    I've had recent frustrations with a friend of mine, and she has done absolutely everything that I have been told Mormons often do. It's like she can't see past this narrow view and interpretation and look at the bigger picture.

    I think an article like this shows exactly what happens quite often, not necessarily just with these verses on love, but with more important verses — verses regarding doctrine. One thing that has frustrated and hurt me more than anything else is my friend's insistence that she's a Christian, but that they don't follow the "traditional Christ" (of the Bible, my added words, not hers).

    What Christ, then, are they following? It's not the traditional Christ, obviously, and she flat-out said they follow the Abrahamic laws and more of the OT stuff — rejecting the NT is rejecting Christ.

  19. Sarah,

    The passage you are looking for is 2 Corinthians 12:1-10.

    In context, Paul is relating his knowledge of a person (he could be speaking about himself in the third person) who had "surpassingly great revelations" (2 Corinthians 12:7). Paul doesn't tell us what these "revelations" showed him, but then he goes on to tell us about the "thorn in his side". Again, he doesn't give us details.

    What Paul is doing is showing us the extremes of human experience – the dizzy heights of ecstatic revelation, and the depths of chronic pain. What he tells us is that neither extreme changes his standing before God, because his standing before God is grounded in God's grace, not his own experience.

    It's interesting that of either extreme, Paul would rather we see him at his weakest and most vulnerable.

    Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.

    (1 Corinthians 12:9-10). The reason, I think, is that he wants his experiences, good and bad, to point us to Christ, not to his status as one of the "top" guys in the church.

    So often, we want people to be impressed with our Christianity so much that we only tell them how good things are going with us. It's a mistake, of course. What we're doing, perhaps unwittingly, is telling them that we believe God has made us superior to them. Paul's strategy is quite different, and it's counter-intuitive in a results-oriented culture. He says that if God can love him, the greatest of sinners, then he can certainly love a lesser sinner like you. As James put it "confess your sins to each other" (James 5:16), not your triumphs and successes, so that God's grace can be seen in you.

    So, you're right. Reading this passage as if were a "road map" of the heavenly realms ignores what Paul is actually trying to say through it. Whether there's a second heaven, a third heaven or any other heaven is irrelevant to Paul's message, even if such places or states actually exist. If they do, and someone actually sees into them, so what?

    What's even more incongruous is the use of this passage to establish one's religious credentials on the basis of some heavenly revelation. If anything, the passage instructs us not to go down that road.

  20. Dale says:

    Martin, you've shown me I need to go read Jude! Thank you.

  21. 4fivesolas says:

    Dale – I have a completely different view of this than you do. Scripture should not be taken out of context and twisted into whatever meaning we wish. I have heard Christian Churches doing this same thing – pulling something out of context and then creating a completely different meaning, often at odds with, or at least completely unrelated to the actual meaning. Without proper reading of Scripture within context, we are left with only private interpretation where each person or Church gets to interpret a particular sentence in the Bible in their own way – twisting it into any pretzel shape they want. The Mormon Church leaders willingness to do this points to their overall approach to Scripture – take proof texts out of context to prove what we want and discount the larger meaning that contradicts our teaching. This is one of the biggest, if not the biggest problem with LDS approach to Scripture.

  22. Sarah says:

    Thank you, what a great interpretation! I think that happens a lot of times — Mormon or non-Mormon — that people get caught up in one or two words. Look at the old "faith without works is dead" argument. In James is the ONLY time it's mentioned that works are "needed" (of course depending on the interpretation) and yet that is quoted over and over again despite every verse contrary to it.

    I think the thing that bothers me most is that I DON'T read Greek and therefore can't see what the original words are in the bit about "the third heaven" — which is one of the parts Mormons quote to show that there are three levels of heaven. Another is Paul's discussion of celestial bodies, which also talks of terrestrial bodies and clearly means heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, because terrestrial means "of the earth" but Mormons use terrestrial as the word for the lowest part of heaven. Which of course makes no sense and is another discussion all together…

  23. Dale says:

    4fivesolas, I agree with your basic point, but I don't really see this particular example as taking scripture out of context. There is only a hair of difference between "being patient" and "practicing patience." In fact, I think, you can't have one without the other. So I disagree with the entire premise of this.

    However, I do agree with you that there is too much emphasis on the prophet and not enough on scripture in LDS culture. I often hear people say "they took the verse out of context" but I often hear people quote scripture without providing the entire context. For that matter, how much context must be provided: a paragraph? a page? a whole volume.

    Anything we read, we all look at and see differently. I just find it interesting from both Mormon and mainstream Christians, that when someone quotes a scripture we like, they've obviously taken it in the "right" context, but when they say something we don't like, we quickly accuse someone of cherry-picking.

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