Thursday, August 9, 2012

Refuting the "Path to Perfection"

Recently, Mormon apologist and current BYU professor Dan Peterson wrote an article entitled: Perfection Is a Very Long Path, in which he lays out his case for striving to obtain perfection, to which Petersen say, "...long distance races require ... long distances".

After reading the article, which include proof texts from the Bible to support his argument, along with a few easily answered objections, I felt it was needed to respond to this article, and correct what I find as error. So below I will answer these objections.

Dan Peterson writes, "Beginning with my mission to Switzerland, I've sometimes encountered a response to Latter-day Saint claims of additional scripture that asks, rhetorically, "We're unable to live up to what we already have in the Bible, so what good would it do us to have more?" But this seems a pretty flimsy reason for dismissing the possibility, at least, of further revelation."

The very response of, "we're unable to live up to what we already have in the Bible" is itself a bad argument, especially if this is the only argument on which someone is rejecting the addition of an entire set of extra Biblical writings, claiming to be truth. The claim makes it seem as if the Bible has already laid out an impossible mission for us to achieve, and since the Bible already makes us hopeless, why add more judgement? This of course is a false claim, and is a straw man. 

What does the Bible say? Are all men sinners? Absolutely yes, which we see in Romans 3:23, Ecclesiastes 7:20, Proverbs 20:9, 1 John 1:8, Romans 3:10, and Romans 3:11 just to name a few. 

Is this however the end of our condition? Absolutely not, which several passages make clear. Christ died to redeem His people, to purchase the elect with His blood, and to forgive the sins of all those who belong to Him. We see this in Romans 5:8, Romans 4:25, Romans 8:32, 1 John 4:10, John 3:16-17, Romans 5:10, John 17:8-9, and many many others. 

So are we unable to, in and of our own selves, live up to that which the Holy Spirit inspired to be written in the Bible? Emphatically no. We are all on the way to the judgement of God if it is through our own works or righteousness that we can escape the wrath of God. However, through the drawing of God, and regeneration, we are made alive in Christ, though we were dead in our sins, as Ephesians 2:5 states clearly. So through the righteousness of Christ, and not our own, we are reconciled to God, through which we can boast in the Lord alone, as Corinthians 1:30 states so well.

Not only this, but to use the argument that we are unable to live up to the standard the Bible has set, as a means to reject additional revelation is just flawed from the very beginning. So it is a little confusing to me why this would even be put in to this article in the way it was. But the way Petersen responds does not seem to indicate he follows the line of reasoning I just laid out, as he says this is "a pretty flimsy reason for dismissing the possibility, at least, of further revelation". To me, I am struggling to truly connect the two. 

Continuing on, Peterson writes, "After all, most of us haven't yet fully mastered even Matthew 5-7, the three chapters of Christ's Sermon on the Mount. (Perhaps, of course, you're an exception.) In fact, strictly speaking, I can't live up to Matthew 5:48 ("Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect"). But this scarcely means that all of the other verses of the Bible, to say nothing of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and, for that matter, the teachings of modern prophets and apostles, are superfluous."

And here we get to the famous proof text used over and over by Mormon leaders, with absolutely no additional information given, no context, no exposition, just a command. And so, it is with that I turn to one of the best short refutations written on this by two leaders in the area of counter-cult apologetics, and offer their argument. Dr. Norman Geisler, and Ron Rhodes. 

"This verse does not mean human beings can actually become perfect in this life. This is clear from the context. The context of this verse is that the Jewish leaders had taught that we should love those near and dear to us (Lev.19:18), but hate our enemies. Jesus, however, said we should love even our enemies. After all, Jesus said, God's love extends to all people (Matt. 5:45). And since God is our righteous standard, we should seek to be as he is in this regard. We are to be "perfect" (or "complete") in loving others as he is perfect. Furthermore, the Bible certainly does not give support to the idea that we can actually attain sinless perfection in this life, for all of us are fallen and sin continually (1 John 1:8). The good news is that by trusting in Jesus, his perfection becomes ours: "For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified" (Heb 10:14 NASB)." Correcting the Cults, Geisler, Rhodes

Now that we have dealt with the proof text, I should note that no one who understands the Bible would conclude by the proper context of Matthew 5:48, that since perfection is impossible, we should give up even striving for personal holiness, or grow and mature in our walk. In fact, one only need look to Romans 6:1-3 states quite clearly. But we put it in proper context, since we are born into this world as sinners, through sin being imputed to all as Romans 5:12 says, we have already failed perfection. We were born imperfect, sinful, enemies of righteousness, and lovers of the dark. Humans cannot undo what was already. We cannot change that we were born in sin and enemies of God, we can only look to God for mercy.

Next, Peterson give some overview of the word perfect, including some of the original text:

"Nevertheless, Matthew 5:48 remains an extraordinarily important verse. We are, it says, supposed to become "perfect." And this seems to suggest something more than mere (!) moral flawlessness or being error-free. The Greek word translated into English as "perfect" is "teleoi," which can mean both "initiated"— in that sense, the term was applied to those who had experienced the ancient Greek "mystery" rituals — and "mature" or "fully grown." I'll concentrate on the second meaning: A related Greek word is "telos," which refers to the natural end, goal or purpose of a thing. Thus, for example, the "telos" of an acorn is to become an oak. Grammarians speak of "perfect" verbs, which refer to actions that are done, completed, finished. It's in that sense, I think, that we should understand the King James Version's "perfect" at the end of Matthew 5. German translations of the passage commonly use "vollkommen" — which means, roughly, "fully come" — to render it; Arabic translations tend to use "kaamil," which means "complete." We're to become "perfect and entire, wanting nothing" (James 1:4)."

As we have just read from the prior rebuttal, this verse in context is not calling us to be free of error, but rather, that we should be complete in the love of our enemies. 

One area I do want to address is the analogy Petersen gives of the acorn who's "telos" is to become an oak. Now, I have no rebuttal of an acorn becoming an oak. It is natural, an acorn has all the information contained within to become an oak. The acorn does not change into something other than it has been created for. It is the natural order, an acorn will become an oak. However, the analogy fails instantly when one attempts to use that for something outsides of the same essence, or being, which is exactly what Peterson does next.

He writes:

"It seems to me that the Lord's command in Matthew 5:48 is suggesting that we should strive to grow up so as to be like our Father in heaven. That's our natural "telos." We are to God, potentially at least, as an acorn is to an oak. Which is, when you think about it, a stunningly powerful doctrine."

The above analogy which was true for the acorn, fails MISERABLY here when Petersen attempts to claim this verse means that our natural "telos" is to grow up as to be "like our Father in heaven", which by the way, translation of that, is to go through the process of exaltation in Mormonism, to attain the highest degree of glory, and become a God, like Heavenly Father is, of your own world. This is Mormon doctrine, so when a Mormon says they wish to become "like heavenly Father", clarify and ask if this is what they mean, because if they are honest, they have no choice but to say yes. Back to the analogy.

Mormonism teaches we are the literal offspring of God, so for Petersen, he fails to recognize he is not comparing anything different. But what does the Bible say? Is God the same essence, the same being as man? Is there even any other God?

Numbers 23:19 - "God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

Isaiah 45:5 - "I am the LORD, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me;"

Deuteronomy 4:35 - "To you it was shown that you might know that the LORD, He is God; there is no other besides Him."

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no one else.

Isaiah 46:9 - "Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me,

Isaiah 45:22 - "Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other.

Isaiah 45:21 - Declare and set forth your case; Indeed, let them consult together. Who has announced this from of old? Who has long since declared it? Is it not I, the LORD? And there is no other God besides Me, A righteous God and a Savior; There is none except Me.

This goes on and on and on. Not only is it clear that God is not a man, but that there is no other God besides He alone. That there is no comparison. Not only this, are we the children of God through flesh and blood, or by adoption? What does the Bible say?

Romans 8:23 - And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

Ephesians 1:5 - He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,

Romans 8:15 - For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!"

Galatians 4:5 - so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

And again, many other verses. So again, the analogy that Petersen uses fails, because man was not born from God, we are dust, and our "telos" is not to have our own planet and become a God, but to glorify God and worship and serve Him alone, for all eternity. 

Continuing on, Peterson writes:

"We are God's "offspring," says the apostle Paul in Acts 17:28-29. He uses the Greek word "genos," which — closely related to our words "genus" and "kin" — can be translated as "offspring," "lineage" or "race." "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit," he also says, "that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ." (See Romans 8:16-17; compare Galatians 4:7."

Peterson is correct that the word is "genos", which means:

genos: family, offspring
Original Word: γένος, ους, τό
Part of Speech: Noun, Neuter
Transliteration: genos
Phonetic Spelling: (ghen'-os)
Short Definition: offspring, family, race, kind
Definition: offspring, family, race, nation, kind.

Given the doctrinally sound teaching that we are children through adoption, this verse poses zero question in the mind of the Christian, that through our adoption, which Paul writes in Romans over and over again, that we are a part of the family of God, the bride, the body of Christ. So again, the exposition provided by Petersen is lacking theological ground. And would be heretical. 

For the remainder of the article, Peterson turns to an emotional appeal that though the path leading to perfection can be filled with trials, it takes time, and brings Nephi (a book in the book of Mormon) in to the mix. 

He states, "When we arrive at the judgment bar of God, we won't be expected to be flawless; we won't be asked to enter heaven on our own merits, as if we could somehow place our Heavenly Father in our debt. If we've accepted the redemptive sacrifice of the Savior, his unique flawlessness will be ascribed to us. "It is by grace that we are saved," testified Nephi, "after all we can do" (2 Nephi 25:23)."

What Peterson fails to understand is when we arrive to the judgement of God, unless we have been regenerated by God, and serve and worship the God of the Bible, and not the polytheistic god of Mormonism, we will spent an eternity in hell, and God is absolutely just in sending us there. One of the most down right disgusting teachings in the religion of Mormonism is that we are saved by grace, after all we can do. To anyone who thinks that this, you, like Petersen, are saying that the blood of the only begotten Son of God is not only not enough for your salvation, but yours is somehow able to add to what His lacks. 

And it is with this I end, the Bible teaches clearly in the verses given above, that man is sinful, none of us are righteous, perfection is not possible, and that we are enemies of God. It is only through God drawing us to Him, and regenerating us, that we can come to God and receive what He has given so freely. There is nothing you can do in and of yourself to earn anything, because our best works are as filthy rags to a Holy and just, and righteous God. And to live life in a lie that states you must always work to attain perfection, is placing yourself outside of what the Bible teaches, and into the hands of the enemy. 

Remember, it is through His (Christ's) righteousness we are accepted and elected, and loved by God, not because of anything we could ever do. And I pray you will look to other resources on this site, find a Bible teaching church, and read your Bible, and that the God of all truth would bring you to repentance.