Sunday, May 17, 2015

Why Doctrine Matters

In his magnum opus Reasonable Faith Christian Philosopher and Theologian William Lane Craig makes a statement that is worthy of discussion. On page 19 of the book he writes "If parents are not intellectually engaged with their faith and do not have sound arguments for Christian theism and good answers to their children's questions, then we are in real danger of losing our youth. It's no longer enough to teach our children bible stories; they need doctrine and apologetics. Frankly, I find it hard to understand how people today can risk parenthood without having studied apologetics." Perhaps Dr. Craig should add the title of prophet to his job description, as this statement is now proving to be prophetic.

This week the Salt Lake Tribune published an article titled Christianity shrinking in U.S.; Mormon numbers essentially flat. In the article it showed that number of adults who considered themselves Christian feel from 78.4 percent in 2007 to 70.6 in 2014. Among my faith (Mormonism) it went nearly unchanged, going from 1.7 percent to 1.6 percent. But even this is quite stunning, since the number of missionaries in this country nearly doubled after the announcement of changes in missionary age in 2012. As political scientist David Campbell said in the article While many Mormons are coming in the front door......many others are leaving out the back door."

There is some good news however. Among the people who now identify as "None" 6.9 said that religion is still important to them. So, while these statistics are alarming, it does not mean that people are just leaving religion for atheism, agnosticism, and humanism; it is a bit more nuanced than that. The reason sighted is that people are feeling that the Church has nothing much to offer, so they stay at home.

May I offer a solution to this problem? Let's follow the counsel of Dr. Craig and emphasize doctrine in our meetings and not just playful banter. Let me give you an example of what I mean. At the last General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints not much if any of the unique doctrine of the Restoration was mentioned. Most of what was mentioned was about same-sex marriage; and the argument was not engaged at all. None of the people who talked about this issue mentioned any scientific data or thought of the issue in that way, they just kept repeating that same-sex marriage was wrong. While this is true, this is not a unique doctrine of Mormonism. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians are also strong on this issue, as are many protestant churches. So there really is no reason to over emphasize the issue; anyone who knows anything about Mormons knows that they are not on board with gay marriage. Let's stop acting as if this is the Church's only doctrine.

No one joins the Church because of its culture; they join because if its doctrine. As a convert I can say this is the only reason I joined; there are many aspects of Mormon culture I find silly. But the doctrine is true and life changing. Where else can a man go to find the true nature and character of God? Where else can he go to find the true nature of the atonement of Jesus Christ and the true path of repentance? Where else can he go to find his divine destiny; to find that one day he will become as God is? Where else can he go to find that the ones he loves can be his now and in the eternities? Where else can he go to find that his loved ones who have passed on can be saved through vicarious ordinances? Is there another church that teaches any of these things? No, these are issues that puzzle other religions. The message of the Restoration has the power to heal the world; but it won't happen if it is not the focus of our meetings and our time at home during personal study.

May I invite those people who have not done so to not only read the scriptures, but also the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Lectures on Faith. These are two crown jewels that are hidden from our view because they do not have the reverence that they should among the general Mormon population. Both teach clearly the doctrines of the Restoration, which the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Patriarch Hyrum Smith died for in Carthage Jail. If we do not study these doctrines, teach them, and apply them, then they both died in vain. Let's not let that be the case.

The bottom line is this. The religious community is dying in this country and in others because we to often think of religion as a social club rather than as a system through which mankind can reconcile itself to God and put on the divine nature. This will not change if we continue as we are currently. We will drift from year to year with people leaving the Church, and the ones who stay think of doing the same. Lets teach doctrine and not let that happen.