Plan Of Salvation In Latter Day Saints
The plan of salvation in Latter Day Saints (also known as the plan of happiness) is a plan that God created to save, redeem, and exalt humankind, through the atonement of Jesus Christ. The elements of this plan are drawn from various sources, including the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, and numerous statements made by the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). The first appearance of the graphical representation of the plan of salvation is in the 1952 missionary manual entitled A Systematic Program for Teaching the Gospel.
In the 1840s, Joseph Smith stated that the human spirit existed with God before the creation of Earth. Thus, Latter-day Saints believe in a pre-mortal existence, in which people are literally the spirit children of God, though Joseph Smith is explicitly quoted in the King Follett Sermon as saying that “God never had the power to create the spirit of man.” Latter-Day Saints often point to Jeremiah 1:5 as one example of evidence in the Bible for a pre-earth existence. This teaching is primarily based however upon revealed doctrine by Joseph Smith and others in the early years of the Church. Prior to the existence of spirits, some element of the human spirit, called intelligence, existed eternally in the same sense that God existed eternally, but in a less progressed form of energy or matter. This may explain the Church’s teaching that man and God are co-eternal (carefully distinguishing “co-eternal” from “equal”, which is not a part of LDS doctrine). Within Latter-day beliefs, Jesus Christ is looked upon as the creator of the Earth under Heavenly Father’s direction, while Heavenly is the creator of all men, women, and creatures of the Earth.
During this pre-mortal existence, Heavenly Father presented the following plan to His children:
Human beings would be born on Earth. There they would receive a physical body necessary to exaltation and a fullness of joy. On earth, they would be tested through trials of their faith, and be subject to mortality. A “veil” would be set in place to obscure humankind’s memory of its divine origins, thus allowing for “walking by faith” and for greater freedom of choice by enabling individuals to make their own decisions. Latter-day Saints believe that only those who live good lives, prove themselves obedient to Heavenly Father’s commandments, receive the ordinances of salvation, and repent of their sins will be able to return to Heavenly Father’s presence (The Celestial Kingdom). However, because each person’s experience in mortality is unique, every individual will be judged in accordance with the opportunities, knowledge, and blessings they had while living on Earth.
Integral to this Plan was freedom of choice, which Heavenly Father considered an inviolable right of all his children; every individual would have opportunities to make certain choices that would determine the course of their life on Earth and in the hereafter. No human would ever have their freedom taken away in an attempt to force righteous behavior. People would be free to do evil and good, both to themselves and to those around them. Because such freedom would make it possible for Heavenly Father’s children to break commandments and sin, a Savior would be needed to offer them freedom from the just consequences of their sins and allow them to repent: this figure would have to overcome both sin and death, making it possible for obedient and repentant individuals to return to Heavenly Father’s presence through a plan of mercy. The pre-mortal Jesus Christ, then known as Jehovah, volunteered to be this Savior, agreeing to take upon himself infinite suffering for every sin, mistake, and all pain and suffering ever to be experienced throughout all time by all of God’s children. He also agreed to die and be resurrected, thus making it possible for all individuals (obedient or not) to be resurrected. The Holy Spirit would be sent to encourage righteous behavior and guide human beings towards Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father, but would never interfere with freedom.
Also part of the plan was a foreordination of prophets and teachers who would have gifts and callings among men to teach and re-teach correct principles so that freedom could be used wisely. Heavenly Father stressed the important role parents would have to teach their children the path of righteousness and happiness, and the blessing of the holy scriptures that would give a foundation of gospel knowledge, including the knowledge of the saving role of Jesus Christ and the importance of ordinances and covenants in the gospel.
As the plan was explained, God’s spirit children also understood that full gospel truth could be lost on the earth as men and women could choose against living by the truth at any point, and could devise other beliefs and ways to live that would be appealing to the natural mind. Yet they also understood that there would be opportunities before the final judgment for every child of God to hear of Jesus Christ and to either accept Him or reject Him.(see Spirit world for more details.)
Latter-day Saints believe that this plan ordained by Heavenly Father was not contrived arbitrarily, but was designed based on eternal truths to allow for the greatest possible progress toward a fullness of joy, happiness and love for the greatest number of His spirit children. He loves each of them unconditionally and desires that they progress, knowing that this leads to greater happiness and a potential fullness of joy.
War in Heaven
After Heavenly Father presented this plan, Lucifer volunteered to save mankind by taking away man’s agency. Nobody would be able to fail the test and so, Lucifer claimed, everyone would be able to return to the presence of Heavenly Father. As recompense for the implementation of his plan, Lucifer demanded that the power and the glory which Heavenly Father possessed be transferred to him, effectively making him “God.” However, as Lucifer alone would have complete freedom of choice under his plan, no other spirit could achieve exaltation. Heavenly Father countered that this would make the test worthless, and knew Lucifer sought only power and glory for himself – as a result he rejected Lucifer’s plan.
Enraged, Lucifer chose to rebel against Heavenly Father and rallied to him “a third part” of Heavenly Father’s children who also preferred Lucifer’s plan. The two factions warred, and Lucifer and his followers were cast out of Heaven; Lucifer became Satan, and those who followed him became fallen (also referred to as sons of perdition), and his servants. They were denied the right to have their own physical bodies (and, consequently, the ability to procreate) but were not affected by the “veil”. Latter-Day Saints believe that Satan and his servants have since sought to undo or counteract Heavenly Father’s plan by tempting mortal individuals to evil actions, gaining power over them and their bodies, and by attempting to restrict their freedom of choice by whatever means possible.
See also: Baptism for the dead
Latter-day Saint beliefs include the general Christian belief in a spirit world between death and the resurrection. They believe that the “veil of forgetfulness” will be removed before they are judged thereafter, and that the spirits of all of mankind continue to prepare for judgment day and their eventual resurrection where they will receive a reward according to their faith and works. They believe that righteous individuals continue to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in the Spirit World, teaching others and offering them the opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as their Saviour and follow Heavenly Father’s plan.
The Latter-day Saints believe that the Final Judgment of mankind will occur after the final resurrection, and that Jesus Christ is ultimately the Judge of all men. Joseph Smith taught:
He will judge them, ‘not according to what they have not, but according to what they have,’ those who have lived without law will be judged without law, and those who have a law will be judged by that law. We need not doubt the wisdom and intelligence of the Great Jehovah; He will award judgment or mercy to all nations according to their several deserts, their means of obtaining intelligence, the laws by which they are governed, the facilities afforded them of obtaining correct information, and His inscrutable designs in relation to the human family; and when the designs of God shall be made manifest, and the curtain of futurity be withdrawn, we shall all of us eventually have to confess that the Judge of all the earth has done right.
Another description of the benevolence of the final judgment was presented by President George Q. Cannon of the First Presidency of the LDS Church in 1884:
God’s providence is over all His children, and He will reward every man and every woman according to his or her works, and He will reward those who have lived exemplary lives, those who have been moral, whether they be heathen or Christian, whether they have known the name of Jesus or not, whether they have the Bible or the Koran or some other book or no book at all; whatever may have been their condition and circumstances, if they have lived according to the light that God has given them and to laws that they understood, God will reward them and will eventually bestow every blessing upon them which they are capable of receiving.
Unlike Nicene Christianity, Latter-day Saints believe that the scriptures teach of multiple types or levels of salvation:
- Immortality is explained as a gift freely given to everyone, made possible by Jesus’ death and resurrection. The church teaches that “The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form…even as we now are at this time. …This restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame.”
- After everyone has been resurrected, all will be judged by God with Jesus Christ as our advocate. As part of this judgment, each person is assigned to one of three heavenly kingdoms (sometimes called Degrees of Glory): the Celestial Kingdom, the Terrestrial Kingdom, and the Telestial Kingdom. The kingdom within heaven for which each person has qualified is conditional upon acceptance of, and true faith in, Jesus Christ as the Savior and Redeemer of mankind – this is demonstrated through baptism and obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, including repentance.
- In order to achieve “eternal life”, the highest quality and happiest of the degrees of salvation, one must enter into the Celestial Kingdom.
Each level of salvation as explained above relies upon Christ’s grace through His infinite atonement, and is conditional upon each person’s eventual acceptance of Jesus Christ as their personal Savior from the consequence of sin and spiritual death. Through His physical and spiritual suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, He makes it possible for each person to be made clean from the metaphorical stains of human imperfections, and justifies and sanctifies each righteous person for admission into the glory that they have merited as they come unto Him with “full purpose of heart.”
- Outer Darkness is reserved for those people who, after gaining a full knowledge of the Gospel, willfully deny and contend against the Holy Ghost. (Satan, his followers from the premortal life, and those who were born on earth but chose to become sons of perdition.) These individuals who inherit no glory are called sons of perdition. Although resurrected, and thus immortal, they willfully rebelled and rejected the right to salvation.
Latter-day Saints believe following the plan of salvation entails obedience to God’s commandments. This includes: active faith through emulation of Jesus Christ and adherence to His teachings; worship of God the Father, and of Jesus as the Messiah/Christ and Son of God; constant repentance and abandonment of sinful practices; teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others to aid in their eternal progress; enjoyment of and gratitude for the blessings available to human beings throughout their mortal existences; and resistance to the influence of Satan and his servants.
Latter-day Saints believe that loving kindness, compassion and mercy toward other human beings are integral to the plan, and are an essential part of the growth that human beings experience in this life. Charitable work and relief aid are similarly vital; Latter-day Saints are encouraged to fast for two meals once a month and donate (at least) the cost of those meals as “fast offerings” for support and aid of local members suffering from financial difficulties. Money is also donated to sectarian, non-denominational and secular relief agencies worldwide, and many Latter-day Saints volunteer at soup kitchens, homeless shelters and blood drives, among other things. Latter-day Saints youth organizations frequently include community service among their regular activities in an effort to encourage application of the Christian principles inherent in the plan of salvation.
It is important to note that, as part of the plan, those who are incapable of understanding the consequences of their actions, or who cannot control themselves, or otherwise cannot exercise free will are not held accountable for their actions. They are considered innocents. Thus children who die before they reach “the age of accountability” (in practice, eight years of age) are automatically saved; because they could not understand God’s laws or make choices accordingly, they could not truly sin. Similarly, individuals with severe mental handicaps may be considered innocent.
Agency and theodicy
Additionally, the concept of free will in the plan of salvation (usually referred to as “agency” or “moral agency” by Latter-day Saints) is the basis of Latter-day Saint theodicy. God will not force anyone to obey His laws. Latter-Day Saints believe that, were God to automatically protect the righteous in every instance, people would be universally frustrated in their attempts to sin, thus effectively removing any true opportunity to exercise agency. An individual’s sinful act may have tragic consequences for others, but Heavenly Father will still not deny any individual their freedom to choose good or evil. Latter-day Saints understand that, as a consequence, “bad things” may happen to “good people.” A good person may, for example, be killed by another individual who chose to drive recklessly or while intoxicated; infectious diseases may be spread by a lack of attention to detail in sterilization procedures; bad people may choose to steal the possessions or oppress good people; etc. In the end, it is all seen as part of the Divine plan in which all humanity is given the chance to decide their own courses of action in mortality and in the hereafter.
Hypothesized influence of Emanuel Swedenborg
Historian D. Michael Quinn in his book Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, has speculated that various parts of the plan of salvation were taken by Joseph Smith from Emanuel Swedenborg’s book Heaven and Hell. In the book, Swedenborg wrote that “There are three heavens” that are “entirely distinct from each other.” He called the highest heaven “the Celestial Kingdom,” and stated that the inhabitants of the three heavens corresponded to the “sun, moon and stars.” Swedenborg’s book also mentions a veil, spirit prisonand celestial marriage. Quinn further argues that the book was available to Smith, and that he was familiar with it. One account claims that Smith told Latter Day Saint convert from Swedenborgism Edward Hunter that “Emanuel Swedenborg had a view of the world to come, but for daily food he perished.” Additionally, Quinn asserts that the book was in the Palmyra public library beginning in 1817, and that “[n]ine miles from Smith’s farm, in 1826 the Canandaigua newspaper also advertised Swedenborg’s book for sale. The bookstore offered Swedenborg’s publications for as little as 37 cents.”
Historian Richard Bushman argues that it was more likely that both Swedenborg and Smith were influenced by New Testament scriptures that refer to “celestial” and “terrestrial” bodies that are compared to the sun, moon, and stars, noting fundamental differences between Smith’s and Swedenborg’s versions of heaven. He also notes similarities between the Mormon heavenly organization and post-Calvinism and Universalism.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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