In Monday’s post, I quoted from an article found in the July 2014 Ensign magazine titled “Becoming Perfect in Christ” that was written by Seventy Gerrit W. Gong. When Gong’s words are put next to the teachings of the LDS leaders, there seems to be a disconnect. I will continue to quote from the section of his article titled “Perfectionism” and then provide citations from LDS manuals and leaders—which I’ll indent—that I believe shows another side.
Gong: “Faith acknowledges that, through repentance and the power of the Atonement, weakness can be made strong and repented sins can truly be forgiven.”
“This progress toward eternal life is a matter of achieving perfection. Living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sins and assures one of exaltation through that perfection which comes by complying with the formula the Lord gave us. In his Sermon on the Mount he made the command to all men: ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ (Matt. 5:48.) Being perfect means to triumph over sin. This is a mandate from the Lord. He is just and wise and kind. He would never require anything from his children which was not for their benefit and which was not attainable. Perfection therefore is an achievable goal.” (President Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 208-209).
Gong: “Happy marriages are not the result of two perfect people saying vows. Rather, devotion and love grow as two imperfect people build, bless, help, encourage, and forgive along the way. The wife of a modern prophet was once asked what it was like being married to a prophet. She wisely replied that she had not married a prophet; she had simply married a man who was completely dedicated to the Church no matter what calling he received. In other words, in process of time, husbands and wives grow together—individually and as a couple. The wait for a perfect spouse, perfect education, perfect job, or perfect house will be long and lonely. We are wise to follow the Spirit in life’s important decisions and not let doubts spawned by perfectionist demands hinder our progress.”
“There is not one requirement of the Lord that is non-essential; every requirement that He has made of us is essential to our perfection and sanctification, to prepare us to enjoy celestial glory” (President Brigham Young, November 6, 1863, Journal of Discourses, 10:284).
Gong: “For those who may feel chronically burdened or anxious, sincerely ask yourself, “Do I define perfection and success by the doctrines of the Savior’s atoning love or by the world’s standards? Do I measure success or failure by the Holy Ghost confirming my righteous desires or by some worldly standard?” For those who feel physically or emotionally exhausted, start getting regular sleep and rest, and make time to eat and relax. Recognize that being busy is not the same as being worthy, and being worthy does not require perfection.”
“I would emphasize that the teachings of Christ that we should become perfect were not mere rhetoric. He meant literally that it is the right of mankind to become like the Father and like the Son, having overcome human weaknesses and developed attributes of divinity” (President Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 26).
Gong: “For those prone to see their own weaknesses or shortcomings, celebrate with gratitude the things you do well, however large or small. For those who fear failure and who procrastinate, sometimes by overpreparing, be assured and encouraged that there is no need to withdraw from challenging activities that may bring great growth! Where needed and appropriate, seek spiritual counsel or competent medical attention to help you relax, develop positive ways to think and structure your life, reduce self-defeating behaviors, and experience and express more gratitude. Impatience impedes faith. Faith and patience will help missionaries understand a new language or culture, students to master new subjects, and young single adults to begin building relationships rather than waiting for everything to be perfect. Faith and patience will also help those waiting for temple sealing clearances or restoration of priesthood blessings.”
“Christ came not only into the world to make an atonement for the sins of mankind but to set an example before the world of the standard of perfection of God’s law and the obedience to the Father. In his Sermon on the Mount the Master has given us somewhat of a revelation of his own character, which was perfect, or that might be said to be an autobiography, every syllable of which he had written down in deeds,’ and in so doing has given us a blueprint for our own lives” (President Harold B. Lee, The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles manual, p. 57).
Gong: “As we act and are not acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:14), we can navigate between complementary virtues and achieve much of life’s growth. These can appear in “an opposition,” being “a compound in one” (2 Nephi 2:11). For example, we can cease to be idle (see D&C 88:124) without running faster than we have strength (see Mosiah 4:27). We can be “anxiously engaged in a good cause” (D&C 58:27) while also periodically pausing to “be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10; see also D&C 101:16). We can find our lives by losing our lives for the Savior’s sake (see Matthew 10:39; 16:25). We can be “not weary in well-doing” (D&C 64:33; see also Galatians 6:9) while taking appropriate time to refresh spiritually and physically. We can be lighthearted without being light-minded. We can laugh heartily with but not haughtily at. Our Savior and His Atonement invite us to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him.” As we do so, He promises that His grace is “sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ” (Moroni 10:32).”
(Eric Johnson’s analysis of this part): The heart of this verse is conveniently left out. In context, Moroni 10:32 says, “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.” In other words, the grace of God can come only after a person denies himself “of all ungodliness and lov(ing) God with all your might, mind, and strength.” This has a much different connotation than “His grace is ‘sufficient for you.’”
Gong: “For those burdened by cares to find perfection or to be perfect now, our Savior’s freely given atoning love assures us: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. “… For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28, 30).”
“In the context of the spirit of forgiveness, one good brother asked me, ‘Yes, that is what ought to be done, but how do you do it? Doesn’t that take a superman?’ ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but we are commanded to be supermen. Said the Lord, ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ (Matt. 5:48.) We are gods in embryo, and the Lord demands perfection of us’” (President Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 286).
So there you have it. Mormonism’s current version of “perfection” versus the way a number of other LDS leaders took it to mean. According to Gong, as long as a person is doing his or her best, the Savior is apparently standing by and applauding in a reassuring manner. However, presidents such as Young, Lee, and Kimball seemed to have a different perspective. No wonder it’s so confusing for anyone to understand just what the religion of Mormonism teaches about just what is required for the celestial kingdom.