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MrShorty

The "born again" experience -- LDS style

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On some occasions when the topics of being "born again" or "conversion" or similar come up, it is sometimes suggested that we as Latter-day Saints have a different vocabulary than other "Born Again" Christians. Sometimes we worry that those vocabulary differences interfere with our ability to talk to each other about the experience of being born again (and various consequences of the born again experience). My goal in this post is to talk about the "born again" experience from an LDS perspective without getting bogged down in some of these word choices and definitions that maybe interfere with understanding. My goal is more about better understanding and less about debating the correctness of anyone's theology.

This week's reading assignment in our Sunday School classes is Mosiah 4 to 6 in the Book of Mormon (link to the BoM text: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/bofm/mosiah/4?lang=eng). As I read these chapters, it occurred to me that they contain a fairly straightforward account of one "born again" experience that I think demonstrates the "born again" experience. Because it is a story/history of a group of people experiencing being "born again", I hope that it will not get bogged down in word choices, because readers could choose their own words/terms to identify each part of the process -- words/terms that will make sense to them. My outline of the events in chapters 4 to 6 as I see this particular anecdote of a "born again" experience:

0) Context -- In chapters 2 and 3, we have the Nephite King Benjamin giving a discourse covering a variety of topics, including prophecies of the Savior. Chapter 4 begins with the people's reaction to this discourse.
1) Ch 4: vs 1 and 2 -- The people recognize their need for redemption.
2) Ch 4 vs 2 -- they call upon God for forgiveness.
3) Ch 4 vs 3 -- they receive a remission of their sins.
4) Ch 4 vs 4 to 30 -- King Benjamin takes up a commentary on this process, including what he calls "retaining a remission of your sins" (see vs. 12). This commentary culminates in verse 30 with caution against sin in general. As it pertains to some of the bitter debates over what happens after "being saved", I want to highlight here that, to us as LDS, retaining (the word Benjamin uses here) a remission of sins is just as essential as obtaining a remission of sin. As Benjamin describes it here, one retains a remission of sins through a lifetime of service and obedience (and not sinning).
5) Ch 5 vs 5 -- A covenant of obedience. In the today's LDS church, this covenant is associated with the rite/sacrament/ordinance of baptism. I am not certain why baptism is not mentioned here (perhaps because the people were already born and raised in something like the Church and had previously received the rite/sacrament/ordinance but not fully understood it or perhaps because, for some reason, the priesthood authority for such an ordinance is down in the Land of Nephi with Zeniff/Noah's priests and will be brought back with Alma (the Elder) later in the Book of Mosiah). Benjamin then comments in the rest of Chapter 5 on the nature of this covenant and what it means to "take Christ's name upon them".
6) Ch 6 -- Names of those present are recorded, perhaps as a part of remembering who entered the covenant in order to organize "churches" to help each other in keeping their covenant.

It is just one people's experience, so I don't know that it is necessarily theologically rigorous, or that everyone who has a born again experience will go through all of the same steps or in necessarily the same order and all kinds of other cautions against trying to make this more than I think it is.

For my fellow LDS -- anything else you would point out that I may have missed or glossed over? For other "Born Again" Christians -- How does this compare to your own "born again" experience (using your own words/terms/concepts)?

Edited by MrShorty

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I wonder if the aversion of some LDS to the term "born again" is similar to some not wanting to sing Amazing Grace. These belong to "the born agains"  -- or even "the Baptists"-- … let them have those. Given that Jesus said we must be born again, I find it healthy and positive to see this string, and look forward to reading more posts to see how those at this site work through the issue.

Edited by prisonchaplain

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@prisonchaplain That could be. I have seen streak of "Mormon Exceptionalism" that runs through us that, I think, sometimes objects to Christian concepts merely because we don't want to be too much like other Christians. It's unfortunate, because when our sole objection to something is so we don't look too much like other Christians, I think we miss an opportunity for true understanding. On the other hand, on a couple of occasions, it has seemed to me that other Christian's objections to Mormonism sometimes feel the same -- they are making more of an effort to appear different -- to appear nothing like those apostate Latter-day Saints -- that they object to a discussion like this only because they don't want to acknowledge any kind of common ground. I think it is unfortunate when our dialogue features this kind of exceptionalism, because it interferes with our ability to truly engage and learn from each other. I think part of my motivation is to hopefully get beyond the exceptionalist tendencies and find ways to learn from and about each other.

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13 minutes ago, MrShorty said:

@prisonchaplain That could be. I have seen streak of "Mormon Exceptionalism" that runs through us that, I think, sometimes objects to Christian concepts merely because we don't want to be too much like other Christians. It's unfortunate, because when our sole objection to something is so we don't look too much like other Christians, I think we miss an opportunity for true understanding. On the other hand, on a couple of occasions, it has seemed to me that other Christian's objections to Mormonism sometimes feel the same -- they are making more of an effort to appear different -- to appear nothing like those apostate Latter-day Saints -- that they object to a discussion like this only because they don't want to acknowledge any kind of common ground. I think it is unfortunate when our dialogue features this kind of exceptionalism, because it interferes with our ability to truly engage and learn from each other. I think part of my motivation is to hopefully get beyond the exceptionalist tendencies and find ways to learn from and about each other.

I agree with this. I don't think that exceptionalism is, per se, a bad philosophy. Heaven knows Americans have traditionally held an exceptionalist philosophy, which at its worst has been expressed as an attitude of "'Murca's the only real country, you losers!" But at its best, it's a much more benign and even humble feeling of, "We have been given much by the sacrifice of our ancestors and others, and it's our sacred duty to keep this flame alive and spread it to the rest of the world." I think analogous things can be said about what we might call LDS exceptionalism.

I understand that such an exceptionalist attitude can be and often is seen as condescension. That's unfortunate. But for those who honestly believe they have the truths of eternity brought back in the Restored Kingdom of God, I don't see how any reasonable person could avoid taking an exceptionalist viewpoint, unless he were a truly selfish, unloving person.

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Is it a fair summary @Vort and @MrShorty to suggest that LDS sometimes want to create distance to underline the distinction of the restored gospel, whereas traditional Christians do the same to protect boundaries against groups that they deem heretical? In other words, if we look to much like each other why the restoration? If we look too much like each other then we're all redeemed, so why heresy seminars?

Edited by prisonchaplain

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22 minutes ago, prisonchaplain said:

Is it a fair summary @Vort and @MrShorty to suggest that LDS sometimes want to create distance to underline the distinction of the restored gospel, whereas traditional Christians do the same to protect boundaries against groups that they deem heretical? In other words, if we look to much like each other why the restoration? If we look too much like each other then we're all redeemed, so why heresy seminars?

I think that's reasonable. Non-LDS Christians often consider Latter-day Saint teachings to be heretical, so they consider it important to warn against what they see as non-Christian doctrine. For our part, Latter-day Saints view larger Christianity in all its sects to be in a state of apostasy, which in LDS-speak basically means a loss of all divine Priesthood authority to act in God's name or perform any "sacraments" (which we call "ordinances"). So there is an almost built-in mutual antagonism there, which might reasonably be attributed to the foundational doctrines of the Restored Church. (I would probably disagree with that analysis, but I think it's reasonable.)

The Restored Church has zero interest or less in institutional ecumenism, though we're all about cooperative enterprise. With some notable exceptions, most other Christian churches seem not to cotton to the idea of close cooperation with a Church that they consider well outside the acceptable bounds of Christianity. From our (LDS) perspective, this is not about Latter-day Saint intransigence, but rather is simple, unabashed, open anti-Mormon bigotry. The other churches might possibly see it differently, but that's what it looks like from my perspective.

Edited by Vort

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53 minutes ago, prisonchaplain said:

Is it a fair summary @Vort and @MrShorty to suggest that LDS sometimes want to create distance to underline the distinction of the restored gospel, whereas traditional Christians do the same to protect boundaries against groups that they deem heretical? In other words, if we look to much like each other why the restoration? If we look too much like each other then we're all redeemed, so why heresy seminars?

I would 100% agree, and also see such as a general human short coming.  It's a base human things to want to draw lines in the sand and "us vs them".  Understanding that we are alike AND different from each others requires a level of individual maturity and deeper understanding of both ourselves and the other person.

 

Adding my voice to @Vort's. 

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1 hour ago, prisonchaplain said:

Is it a fair summary @Vort and @MrShorty to suggest that LDS sometimes want to create distance to underline the distinction of the restored gospel, whereas traditional Christians do the same to protect boundaries against groups that they deem heretical? In other words, if we look to much like each other why the restoration? If we look too much like each other then we're all redeemed, so why heresy seminars?

Fair? I don't know about "fair". I think it is accurate to say that such exceptionalism and boundary maintenance occurs, and there are good reasons for it.

I am reminded of an anecdote about Robert Millet (if memory serves). If I recall the anecdote correctly, about the time the junior Millet was preparing to serve a mission, he mentioned to his father that he had noticed a lot of scriptures in the Book of Mormon talking about grace. To which the senior Millet replied -- we don't believe in grace, that's something Baptists believe. Was the senior Millet expressing some kind of religious truth, or was he blinded by exceptionalism and boundary maintenance so that he could not see that grace is a true principle? How did his adherence to excepionalism and boundary maintenance make it easier or harder for him to understand those around him and their experience with God and faith and religion?

As one who frequently listens to Christian radio, I often remark how many of these pastors will end a broadcast/sermon with some kind of "if in response to this you feel to acknowledge your sinfulness and would like to pray some kind of sinner's prayer to invite Christ to forgive your sin, please do so and receive the forgiveness that only Christ can offer." What stood out to me was how similar these radio pastors' descriptions are to the process I see in step 0 to 3 that I outlined in the OP. Back when I was young and immature and steeped in exceptionalism and boundary maintenance, I doubt I would have been in any good position to see the parallel.

I know there are differences and I have no delusions of completely merging my own beliefs with that of broader Christianity. At the same time, I think there can be more overlap than we often acknowledge.

Edited by MrShorty

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On 4/19/2020 at 12:28 PM, anatess2 said:

Elder Christofferson said it best - For a lot of people, being Born Again is a gradual, lifelong process that started with Faith in Christ that leads to repentance with a change of heart.

Elder Bednar offered the following:

Whether revelation or the change of the soul, the metaphor is the same.

Not all of us are like Alma (either one) or Paul.  But it does happen.  And if it does not happen, it does not mean it isn't happening.

Edited by Carborendum

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