Exactly 500 years ago today, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to a church door that started the Protestant Reformation (31 October 1517). What were those “theses” or propositions? Might they have any application today?
In the Theses, Luther claimed that the repentance required by Christ in order for sins to be forgiven involves inner spiritual repentance rather than merely external sacramental confession. He argued that indulgences led Christians to avoid true repentance and sorrow for sin, believing that they can forgo it by purchasing an indulgence.
What are our “indulgences” in the Church today, that keep us from experiencing that inner spiritual repentance? (The Greek word for repentance in the New Testament is μετάνοια or metanoia, meaning a “change of mind,” a turning back towards God in our consciousness.)
What “indulgences” do we “buy” into today in the Church that cause us to avoid true inner spiritual work?
The following is one significant “indulgence” that we have in Mormonism, and perhaps more generally in Christianity, I perceive.
We often believe we can make our way to heaven, bring ourselves to God, through ever more strict obedience and conformity to the commandments and teachings of the Church, all the rules and regulations and stipulations and laws and ordinances and callings and requirements and assignments and sacraments and rituals, and following the prophets’ every word. In the LDS Church, this is inculcated in our children beginning early in Primary as they sing repeatedly fifty-seven times “Follow the Prophet.”
Why does it surprise us then that we have so many young people who grow up believing that the Church and prophets are infallible, and that it is by following the prophets and stringently obeying every word that the Church teaches that we will be able to return back to God? (A few years ago, I too was compelled to create and manage a website at FollowTheProphet.net, reporting on the Mormon prophet’s every single last move and word, quite literally).
Why is it a wonder that so many of us spend lifetimes dedicated to sincere honest service in the Church, ever more precise observance, but at the end of life we inwardly do not feel that much closer to God’s actual Presence? Many seem to write it off as doing their God-given duty, “enduring to the end,” and that they will meet God after they die, in the afterlife, where they will receive their “reward.”
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Jesus taught, in very strong language, that outward performances do not purify us, but that we must first cleanse the inward vessel (Matthew 23:23-39; Alma 60:23). Then the outer person will also be cleansed.
The Apostle Paul similarly taught that perfect obedience to outward laws and ordinances will never bring perfection. We need to look for the law inside us, inside our hearts, written directly on our minds (Hebrews 8; Hebrews 10). Once this law is realized inwardly, this “new covenant,” then our sins will vanish and we are cleansed.
I propose that such rigorous compliance with the outward commandments of the Church leads precisely to an avoidance of that true inner spiritual work that we each need to do, individually, that leads us directly back into the Presence of God while we are still in this life.
How do we do inner spiritual work today? I perceive it may be done through deep centering prayer, silent prayer, contemplation, introspection, meditation, and other technological means of “changing one’s mind.” I’m confident that there are many types of tools we can design and develop using modern science that will assist us in this effort.
For example, I recently backed Mindset, a headphones product that uses EEG sensors to help improve mindfulness and concentration, reaching a deeper focus and attention in one’s consciousness. If that sounds like a strange way to perceive things spiritual, please consider, if you will, that the scriptures themselves are also a tool, a technology, that is trying to help us return to God, to “change our minds,” to repent.
There are already many other such “tools” in the Church, even now, such as the Sacrament (Eucharist or Communion), that help turn our minds back towards God. Joseph Smith also used several unique physical “tools,” instruments, implements, that helped him alter his consciousness to perceive Divine spiritual realities, even the visions and voice of God, such as the use of seer stones (which is how the entire extant Book of Mormon was “translated”). We are just now coming to a deeper understanding of these “technologies” that can help us change consciousness, “change our minds” (again, repentance).
This is true Communion and Mysticism (meaning “union with God”) that I have come to discover in my own experiences over the last few years, even far more spiritually powerful than anything else I have done throughout my life in the Church since birth.
As President David O. McKay once explained at length (but which seems to have not been repeated or taught much since), “Meditation is one of the most secret, most sacred doors through which we pass into the presence of the Lord. Jesus set the example for us.” This door into the Presence of God does not need to be so “secret.” It is here, right here, waiting for us, ready for each one of us to pass through it and behold the face of God. Will we knock on that door, the door of our own mind and consciousness?
Do you agree or disagree? What “indulgences” do you see us “buying” into today in the Church?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below, or on Facebook.