False Understanding of the Atonement


JesusInGardenI have some special feelings in my heart about the Savior. I have been taught all my life about Jesus Christ and have come to look to Him as one who will save me. From what, you ask? Well, the answers are obvious for those raised in the church – from death and hell. Those are Book of Mormon phrases. I have had some experience with both and frankly, I find them frightening.

I have documented my experience with death in several previous essays, but most clearly in my post on Dealing with Evil and Unclean Spirits written 6 Aug 2012. I suppose that is also the post that most clearly documents my experiences with evil as well. Since that time, I have had more recent experiences that caused me to feel the closeness of death and hell in my life once more.

My point is, like most men as they age, I think more and more about what the next life will be like and if I will enjoy it. My encounters with evil and feelings of death in this life convince me that there are parts of the next life – the spirit world – of which I do not want to be associated. In other words, I am a prime candidate for one of the purposes of religion – to prepare to meet God.

Spiritual Counsel from My Youth

In a recent post here on my blog, I wrote about some advice I was given by my Bishop as a youth nearly thirty-seven years ago as I prepared for my mission. I confessed sins common to many young men and hinted that perhaps the advice given by my bishop may have been unsound, or at least less than perfect. I shared that any mention of this particular sin continues to bother me.

In other words, I was expressing that I was perhaps not yet fully healed from youthful mistakes and wondered if any of my readers might have some advice for me to bring me greater peace. In particular, I discussed the process of being born of the spirit, of a book I had read on the subject that greatly influenced me and then included some troubling quotes from Miracle of Forgiveness.

Frankly, I was both delighted and surprised by the number and type of answers I received, both public and private. Some brethren expressed their gratitude that I had said something publically that they also felt – the ongoing sense of guilt when priesthood leaders mention the need to be free from this common indiscretion of youth, confess the sin to get counsel on how to proceed.

Duty to Call Others to Repent

I’ve never been a Bishop or Stake President, but I know I would say the same thing were I in their position. I’ve worked closely with such men over the past twenty-five years and sat in many disciplinary councils where I have seen the results of sin, especially sexual sin, in the lives of our members. Many of the brethren, and one sister, noted their problems began with pornography.

My point is I’m not finding fault with the over-the-pulpit call from the Stake President to the brethren of the priesthood to free themselves from these sins (pornography and masturbation). The point of my essay was how to deal with the twinge of guilt that one feels if one has been a past participant in such sins but has now repented and should feel clean and forgiven by God.

I’d like to offer some additional thoughts on the subject that I hope will be more uplifting and helpful to those who find themselves in a similar situation. I think I was under the mistaken impression that I was supposed to be perfect in regards to this particular sin once I had taken care of it with the Bishop of my youth. This was confirmed by many of you in the advice you offered.

Best advice – Lighten up

The most common advice I received was “Lighten up. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Nobody’s perfect.” Right next to that was the point made that even after being born of the spirit or for that matter, having one’s calling and election sure, man is going to sin, just because he is mortal. I guess I knew that intellectually but I think it has now sunk much deeper into my hard heart.

By hard heart – I mean towards myself. I was being overly tough on myself. I’ve related on this blog how I’ve had some wonderful spiritual experiences. I have felt like Nephi, “Oh wretched man that I am. When I want to rejoice, I remember my sins. (I’m paraphrasing).” The idea that a man can reach spiritual heights then fall back into weakness was a difficult one for me to accept.

Let’s be clear. I’m not advocating that one go indulging in all kinds of lasciviousness, but if one, in a moment of melancholy or loneliness, engages in this sin, the idea is to not beat yourself up about it to the point of becoming discouraged and losing hope. That’s what Satan wants. The idea is to pick yourself up (repent), ask for forgiveness, take the sacrament and try, try again.

Still Seeking Baptism of Fire

I know this is common sense and something I should understand and have dealt with long time ago. After all, I’ve been a member of this church for most of my 56 years, but for some reason, I have been laboring under the impression that one must be perfectly clean and pure in order to feel the spirit of the Lord. No so. One must simply be humble and willing to make greater effort.

Yes, I mean make a greater effort. We grow line upon line. Each time we pick ourselves up from some sin – and we all have sin – we must commit ourselves to dig a little deeper into the gospel, to understand it better. We must be willing to pray with more intensity and heartfelt sincerity, and find the strength the Lord has promised to those who turn unto him in spite of a sinful nature.

I am still on a quest. This blog will continue to document that journey. I intend to either receive the baptism of fire – perhaps I already have and don’t know it – or receive an audience with the Lord. I intend to receive angels, be taught what I must do to prepare for this interview and then to go and do. I readily confess I am deeply influenced by the writings of Denver Snuffer here.

Scholarly Approach to the Gospel

Now I’d like to move on the real point of this post. One good brother who responded to my previous post invited me to engage in a private dialog on the doctrine of the atonement. He indicated that I do not really understand the atonement and because of that, I am laboring under a false impression about the nature of sin, how repentance works and what the atonement is all about.

In order to educate me, he has proposed that I read a private document on the subject authored by Daymon M. Smith. You may be familiar with the man. He self-published a humorous book a few years back about working in the Church Office Building called The Book of Mammon. I thought about purchasing and reading it but reviews indicated my conservative side might not enjoy it.

I’ve read some of Daymon’s blog and frankly, he is way over my head. I like to think of myself as a pretty smart guy, but I’m no PhD. Put me in a room full of Microsoft networking equipment and I’m right at home. Ask me to write a scholarly paper that contributes a greater understanding to the commonly accepted literature on a subject like the atonement and I’m out of my league.

False Understanding of Atonement

However, I promised I would accept his challenge so I have committed to read this 45-page paper and write my response. My point is that the Book of Mormon teaches that God offered His Son as a sacrifice for sin. We call that the atonement. He contends that this is a false teaching called penal substitution that comes from Sidney Rigdon, Alexander Campbell and Calvinites.

He says it is a teaching of the Great and Abominable Church and that it binds men down and brings them into captivity with a yoke of iron. He indicates that this false teaching needs to be purged in order to see clearly and understand the mission of Jesus Christ. I told him I could offer quite a few Book of Mormon scriptures that teach Heavenly Father sacrificed His Son for us.

Perhaps I can share a few of them here as a start to my gospel study this week but it just seems a little ludicrous. I’ve been teaching the doctrine of the Atonement since I was seventeen years old and was first called to teach a Sunday school class. So I’ve been teaching false doctrine for the past forty years? Maybe you can join in and tell me what you think of a few of these scriptures.

A Few Scriptures on Sacrifice

2 Ne 2:7 – “Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.” OK, this doesn’t say the Father offered the Son. It says the Son offered Himself. Score one for Daymon and my unnamed friend. This is only the first scripture that came to mine.

Jacob 4:5 – “…it was accounted unto Abraham in the wilderness to be obedient unto the commands of God in offering up his son Isaac, which is a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son.” OK, this one to me seems pretty clear. It says Abraham offering Isaac is a similitude of God offering his Son. I believe the point should go to me on that one. What say ye?

Alma 34:10 – “For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice.” Score two for Daymon. This scripture does not specifically say that the Father shall offer the son as a sacrifice for sin as I thought.

Alma 34:14 – “And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal.” This one is debatable. It refers to the Son of God being the great and last sacrifice, but doesn’t specifically say that it is the Father that sacrifices the son. So I’ll call this one a draw.

Melvin J Ballard on Father’s sacrifice

In the case of our Father, the knife was not stayed, but it fell, and the life’s blood of his Beloved Son went out. His Father looked on with great grief and agony over his Beloved Son, until there seems to have come a moment when even our Savior cried out in despair: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

In that hour I think I can see our dear Father behind the veil looking upon these dying struggles until even he could not endure it any longer; and, like the mother who bids farewell to her dying child, has to be taken out of the room, so as not to look upon the last struggles, so he bowed his head, and hid in some part of his universe, his great heart almost breaking for the love that he had for his Son.

Oh, in that moment when he might have saved his Son, I thank him and praise him that he did not fail us, for he had not only the love of his Son in mind, but he also had love for us. I rejoice that he did not interfere, and that his love for us made it possible for him to endure to look upon the sufferings of his Son and give him finally to us, our Savior and our Redeemer.

Without him, without his sacrifice, we would have remained, and we would never have come glorified into his presence. And so this is what it cost, in part, for our Father in Heaven to give the gift of his Son unto men.

Source: New Era Jan 76 Classic Discourses, Sacramental Covenant

Penal Substitution is the Difficulty

I’m not quite sure what my friend is trying to teach me or why he wanted to point out that my / our understanding of the atonement is wrong or false doctrine. I will read Daymon’s essay on the atonement and see what points I can derive that will help draw me closer to my Savior. I desire a true understanding of what He has done for me and what exactly it is that He requires of me.

From our email dialog I think he is trying to say that the Atonement has nothing to do with paying a debt, but that did not enter into the dialog from my side. I wanted to focus on the idea of the Atonement being a sacrifice – both on the part of the Son and from the Father. That’s why I included Elder Ballard’s classic talk on the feelings of the Father as he watched His son’s death.

The paper seems to focus on the idea of penal substitution. Yes, I get that. It seems to be part of our doctrine that Christ paid for our sins. In other words he suffered things such as guilt and shame so we would not have to. For some reason, if I understand the paper correctly from a quick review, this is supposedly a false doctrine. I’ll write my summary when I complete it.

By the way, I’ve been asked if this 45-page PDF draft paper is available for sharing. My source has indicated that it will be published later this year but asked that I not share it for now. Sorry about that..

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