Levels of Law and Mormonism

Steve F. and I were delighted to have three young Mormons at Steve’s place Friday afternoon. This was our second meeting with two of these missionaries. The topic of conversation: prophets. We talked for about an hour and a half or so, thus I will only share a brief summary with some reflections scattered throughout.

They said that each prophet brings a new law which is a higher level of law. Though they ultimately wanted to culminate our discussion with Joseph Smith and the new law offered by him, the two prophets we talked about most were Moses and Jesus. We spent much time talking about the relationship between the Mosaic Law and the person and work of Jesus Christ, which was a great stage upon which to preach the glorious riches of the true gospel of God’s grace.

I was able to read to them texts such as 1 Peter 1:10-12, Luke 24:25-27 and John 5:39, which all teach that the central role of the Law and the Prophets is to point people to Christ. I tried to explain that Jesus came to obey the Mosaic Law which Israel had broken. They seemed to be riveted on the fact that Jesus came to teach a new law because of the apostasy of Israel; however, they spoke without due attention to the fulfillment dynamic of Christ’s work and ministry. What I found especially interesting was their distinction between what they called higher law and lower law. This distinction is worthy of much attention. Is there such a thing as higher law and lower law? We know that Jesus spoke of the greatest commandments (Matthew 22:37-40) and that he gave a “new commandment” (John 13:34), but have God’s standards changed? What did they mean by levels of law? They did not offer a clear explanation of the different levels of law, but assured us that they will be able to better explain this doctrine at our next meeting.

We talked about God’s standards for a while. I was uneasy with the idea that Jesus came to fulfill a lower law. My uneasiness quickened me to talk about the person of Christ and his perfect work on our behalf. The more I think about the standards of the Old and New Covenant, the more convinced I am that both demand perfection (consider Galatians 3:10 and Matthew 5:48). However, as one of my Pastors (Julian Freeman) explained to me today, though God’s standards are always the same – with greater revelation comes increased accountability. In other words, as he said, “you are only accountable for what has been revealed.” So, since the coming of Christ, who is the fullness of God’s revelation (cf. Hebrews 1:3), there is a sense in which we are more accountable to that standard of perfection, which was not revealed with the same degree of clarity in the past as has now been displayed in Jesus Christ and his New Covenant. When the Mormons spoke of levels of law, they seemed to have another explanation in mind; but I will wait to hear them further on this point.

Though I was unable to explain these distinctions to the Mormons during our meeting, I took the occasion to highlight the glorious work of Christ. Since they had also brought up the topic of the Sabbath (and incorrectly mentioned that it is commanded in the New Testament), I read to them Hebrews 4:10, preaching Christ as our rest. By God’s grace I explained how the Sabbath, the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets all point to Jesus Christ. I preached that Jesus is the fulfillment of all of these things and tried to help them understand why Jesus said, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” They had explained that this command is a call to hard work. I tried to explain that this statement functions (in context) to help people see their sin, and thus, to look to Jesus as the One who came to live a perfect life on their behalf (not that these commands are not binding on New Covenant believers; they are binding, but only by faith alone in Christ alone by the power of the Spirit are we to heed these commands). Accordingly, Matthew 5:48 functions to point us to fullness of faith in Christ and his perfect work. This passage is not a call to gaining God’s acceptance through Jesus + hard work. This topic of faith alone vs. faith + works was the major point of difference in our last meeting; thus, I took the opportunity to re-preach the truth of justification by faith alone in Christ alone.

Well, that is all I shall share for now. Steve F. and I were both encouraged as we contemplated the perfect work of Christ on our behalf – what a glorious gospel! We enjoyed seeing these men again. They are very friendly and a joy to see. May the Lord help us to continue to love these men and preach Christ to them. May the Lord grant us wisdom to know how to best converse with them to the glory of His Name.

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3 responses to “Levels of Law and Mormonism

  1. ……And then of course, you are going to feel really silly when you find that the Mormans had it right all along – and YOU were the one who got it wrong. The most likely scenario is that you are all wrong and barking up the wrong tree. The God hypothesis is an Iron-Age notion which has no place in the twenty First century, no matter how you try to dress it up with “scholarly insight”.

  2. Paul McDonald

    Steve, thank you for shooting straight with me. I like that. Now, if Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, I certainly will “feel really silly.” In fact, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, I am an absolute fool, I am still in my sins and I am most to be pitied. Now, with that being said, the “if” is a big “if.” I am persuaded that there is good reason to believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Whatever the case, I have four questions for you. These are sincere questions and carry not even an ounce of sarcasm or hostililty toward you (in fact, I am glad you responded, and I would be sincerely delighted to have ongoing dialogue with you). Here are my questions: 1) what exactly do you mean by “the God hypothesis is an iron-age notion”? 2) have you ever had beliefs (about God, Jesus Christ, salvation, etc.) that were at least more similar to my beliefs? If so, what factors caused your beliefs to change? 3) Do you believe that Jesus rose from the dead? and 4) My authority is the Bible; I am curious to know – what is your ulimate authority, that is, what is it that ultimately guides your certainty (confidence) pertaining to your idea of God?

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