LDS Professor James Faulconer recently posed and answered the question, “How Do Mormons Understand the Gospel?” After exploring a few ideas, he concluded,
“Mormons differ from other Christians in significant ways, but there is little difference between us in our understanding of the gospel.”
I won’t speak to how Mormons-in-the-pew “understand the gospel,” but regarding the “gospel” as understood and taught by Mormon leadership, Dr. Faulconer is dead wrong.
In defining “the gospel,” Dr. Faulconer began with a quote from the LDS Bible Dictionary:
“The LDS Bible Dictionary, an appendix to the LDS edition of the King James translation of the Bible, defines the gospel as ‘The good news that Jesus Christ has made a perfect atonement for mankind that will redeem all mankind from the grave and reward each individual according to his / her works.’”
On the surface this sounds at least partially compatible with the Christian Gospel, but it should be noted that the quote Dr. Faulconer chose from the LDS Bible Dictionary is not a definition for “the gospel.” Rather, it is part of the definition for “Gospels” — the group of four books of the Bible that records the good news of Christ’s “mortal life and the events pertaining to his ministry.” This dictionary entry focuses on the definition of the word (as the definition begins, “The word gospel means good news”) rather than the doctrinal content of the gospel. Dr. Faulconer agreed that this definition was “incomplete.”
The LDS Bible Dictionary does not contain an entry for “The Gospel,” but the Mormon Church defines it elsewhere. At the LDS website, “Gospel” is defined as “…our Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness…” Additionally, “In its fulness, the gospel includes all the doctrines, principles, laws, ordinances, and covenants necessary for us to be exalted in the celestial kingdom.”
This definition is consistent with that found in Bruce McConkie’s book, Mormon Doctrine:
“The gospel of Jesus Christ is the plan of salvation. It embraces all of the laws, principles, doctrines, rites, ordinances, acts, powers, authorities, and keys necessary to save and exalt men in the highest heaven hereafter.” (“Gospel,” 331)
In his article, Dr. Faulconer mentioned the inclusion of “laws and ordinances” in a gospel context. He quoted articles 3 and 4 from the Mormon Articles of Faith and included his own commentary:
“’We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.’ (Article of Faith 3)
“The laws and ordinances of the gospel are those that the resurrected Jesus teaches us: have faith, repent, be baptized, and receive and live by the direction of the Holy Ghost. And the next Article of Faith tells us that those four things are what the previous Article of Faith meant by ‘laws and ordinances’:
“’We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.’ (Article of Faith 4)”
Therefore, Dr. Faulconer wrote, “the fundamental meaning of gospel for Mormons is that if we wish to receive the gift of atonement offered by Christ, we must repent, be born again in baptism, and receive the Holy Ghost (all of which, of course, presume that we have faith, in other words, trust in Jesus Christ).”
It was this reasoning that led Dr. Faulconer to claim that there is little difference between how Mormons and Christians understand the gospel. Indeed, who could find fault with holding to a trusting faith in Christ, lived out in repentance, baptism and reception of the Holy Ghost?
Yet again, this definition is incomplete. Fourteenth LDS President Howard W. Hunter, while still an apostle, explained that these same “first principles” are merely a “preparatory” gospel. He wrote,
“These four are only the first of all the principles and ordinances of the gospel. Returning to the words of the Savior to the Nephites, we learn that after complying with these four, there must be a lifetime of compliance with the laws and commandments of the Lord, for he said, ‘… and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.’ (3 Ne[phi] 27:16.)
“The first principles alone are not sufficient: man is thereafter accountable in the eternal judgment for what he has done in life, whether good or evil. The atonement was for this very purpose, to bring about the resurrection and subsequent judgment of all men.” (“This Is My Gospel,” Ensign, July 1973)
While Dr. Faulconer would like to restrict the Mormon “gospel” to something he believes Christians might be willing to embrace (if we don’t look too closely), his definition is not true to Mormonism.
The Mormon “gospel” is human-centered and laden with laws and ordinances. Contrary to Dr. Faulconer’s conclusion, this “gospel” bears no actual resemblance to the Christ-centered Christian Gospel, expressed here by Pastor Jeff Purswell of Sovereign Grace Ministries:
“The gospel is the good news of God’s saving activity in the person and work of Christ. This includes his incarnation in which he took to himself full (yet sinless) human nature; his sinless life which fulfilled the perfect law of God; his substitutionary death which paid the penalty for man’s sin and satisfied the righteous wrath of God; his resurrection demonstrating God’s satisfaction with his sacrifice; and his glorification and ascension to the right hand of the Father where he now reigns and intercedes for the church.”
Put simply, “…the gospel announces ‘God’s gift of righteousness through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 3:21-32). The [Mormon gospel] is unyielding. It commands, but doesn’t give. The [Mormon gospel] says, ‘Do!’, but the [Christian] gospel says, ‘Done!’” *
To be continued…
* I have here substituted “Mormon gospel” in place of “law” in Michael Horton’s helpful comment on the distinction between the law and the gospel.