This month’s chapter is hard to critique and that is no bad thing. There is no spite in what we are doing here, we don’t find fault for the sake of it. The truth is the truth whoever speaks it and a call to selfless service is no bad thing. There is much here to be commended.
There is the call to rejoice in seeing others prosper in ministry (p 217); the reminder that leaders serve a greater good and the good of others (p218); the call to be sacrificial in service (p.219); to appreciate and nurture the gifts of others (p 220) and to lead by example (p 221);
Of course, it does depend on who you are serving. Selfless service to false gods is as much sin as selfishness in service to the true God. It is as wrong to be a Hananiah (Jeremiah 28) as a Diosphenes (3 John 9-10) and I believe this ministry, among many others, has shown over time that Mormonism does not stand up to scrutiny in its claims to having Christian credentials – and the apostle John explains that we are to love “in the truth” (3 Jn.1-4)
Testing the Prophets
True prophets correctly understand and interpret Scripture and I question this “prophet’s” understanding and application of Jesus’ words in John’s gospel. This is really important because if a prophet does not speak according to God’s established word he is not God’s prophet. Lets take a closer look at John’s text and how Lorenzo Snow uses it. He writes (p 218):
“Let every man who stands in an official station, on whom God has bestowed his holy and divine priesthood* think of what the Savior said to the Twelve Apostles just before he went into the presence of his Father—“Feed my sheep.” [John 21:16–17.] And he continued to say this until his apostles felt sorrowful that he should continue to call upon them in this manner. But said he—“Feed my sheep.” That is, “Go forth with your whole heart, be devoted wholly to my cause. These people in the world are my brethren and sisters. My feelings are exercised towards them. Take care of my people. Feed my flock. Go forth and preach the gospel. I will reward you for all your sacrifices. Do not think that you can make too great a sacrifice in accomplishing this work.” He called upon them in the fervor of his heart to do this work.”
Firstly, where Snow has Jesus having this conversation with the twelve, John clearly tells us it was a conversation with Peter, “When they had finished eating. Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, Son of John, do you truly love me more than these?’” (Jn.21:15) “These” are the other apostles. Jesus is either asking, “do you love me more than you love these men,” or, “do you love me more than these men love me?” Either way, he is not talking to the disciples but to Peter about them.
There is an intimacy here rather like the one we find between Jesus and “the disciple Jesus loved” (Jn.13:23-26). While it is true the others might have overheard, much as we “overhear” today through Scripture, nevertheless this is a private conversation with a quite different purpose to that given it by Lorenzo Snow.
The familiar teaching tells of Jesus restoring Peter after Peter’s previous betrayal of his Saviour. You will recall how Jesus had prophesied, “You will all fall away,” (Mk.14:27) Brash Peter loudly protested, “Even if all fall away, I will not…Even if I have to die with you I will never disown you.” (Mk.14:29 & 31)
Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today – yes, tonight – before the cock crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” (Mk.14:30) And we know Peter disowned Jesus, as prophesied. (Mk.14:66-72) Jesus’ conversation with Peter by the sea shore repeated the charge to “feed my sheep” three times, just as Peter had denied him three times. This was a restoration to fellowship and mission of a fallen disciple. It demonstrates the incredible grace of Jesus that he should so receive his betrayer again. But something else is going on here too.
Three times Jesus asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love me…?” The Greek word for love Jesus uses the first two times is different from the word he uses the third time. You can see the difference in English in the New International Version if you know to look for it.
“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?’
‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘You know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’
Again Jesus said, ‘Simon, son of John, do you truly love me?’
He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep.;
The third time he said to him, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him a third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord you know all things; you know that I love you.’”
Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep.’”
Did you see it?
“Do you truly love me?”
“Do you truly love me?”
Do you love me?”
The Greek in the first two instances is agape, a word that denotes unconditional love, a love we will to give, obedient, God’s love. Peter’s answer uses the more prosaic phileo meaning spontaneous, romantic love, fondness, the product of emotion rather than an act of the will.
“Peter, do you agape me?”
“Yes, Lord, you know I phileo you.”
The third time Jesus comes down to Peter’s level, asking, “Peter, do you phileo me?” to which Peter replies, “Yes, Lord, you know I phileo you?”
Here is the love Jesus required, and here is the love of which Peter was capable, and here is Jesus condescending to accept what is offered no matter its inadequacy. The message here is one of grace in restoring Peter and infinite patience and condescension in meeting the apostle where he is. This is our God, meeting us in our inadequacy and need.
The example of service is here in the text but this is no didactic from which we take instruction on leadership, no self-help formula, but a story illustrating the intimacy we, fallen sinners, can have with the Saviour because of his amazing condescension and grace. The leadership lesson comes from the confidence that knowledge of his grace gives us, and from imitating him as we deal with others as much in need of grace as we are.
Studies such as this demonstrate the huge gulf between the Mormon Church and the Christian Church. Not only does Mormonism misunderstand Christian doctrine, but Mormonism derives from Scripture instruction that departs dramatically from what would be emphasised in a Christian Church. What is deceptive is that a chapter on selfless service sounds so right that many would not think to question it.
This prophet represents an opportunity lost to speak of grace and one has to question his credentials as he so mishandles a familiar and beloved portion of the Bible.
*Gary wrote last time about priesthood and how Mormons understand it compared with what the Bible has to say: Priesthood – ‘for the Salvation of the Human Family’ It is well worth your time to read it.