Be Ye Therefore Perfect Vicariously: Examining the Gospel Preached by Elder Holland
If you try telling a Mormon that their gospel is impossible or their sins condemn them they’ll shrug their shoulders and laugh it off. In their minds, they have millennia to become perfect. So it doesn’t matter if all their sins have been repented of in mortality.
Perhaps the biggest proponent of this heresy is Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, an apostle of the LDS church. In a talk given during the October conference of 2017 entitled, “Be Ye Therefore Perfect- Eventually,” he rips Matthew 5:48 out of context, saying we are to be perfect, even as our Father in heaven is perfect, and explains, “surely the Lord would never give us a commandment He knew we could not keep.” The theme of his talk is that we can be satisfied with steady improvement.
Even if we assume Matthew 5:48 is talking about sinlessness, it still contradicts what Holland says in his speech. The verse never specified that perfection was an eventual goal, it simply said to be perfect.
Even The Book of Mormon warns against Holland’s ideology. Alma 13:27 says:
And now, my brethren, I wish from the inmost part of my heart, yea, with great anxiety even unto pain, that ye would hearken unto my words, and cast off your sins, and not procrastinate the day of your repentance.
The Book of Mormon does not suggest shaving off our sins, little by little. I would argue that steady improvement is just a fancy word for procrastination.
Lest any of you get the wrong idea and think I have a grudge against Elder Holland, let me set the record straight. He is my favorite LDS apostle. As far as public speakers go, he is the most powerful man in the LDS church. And if he showed up at my door on a stormy night looking for food and shelter, he would have it. No questions asked.
As I listened to his speech, I felt like a hopeless romantic who was peeling petals off a flower. I found myself thinking, “He gets the gospel of grace, he gets it not. He gets it, he gets it not…” Some of his statements were nothing short of inspirational. My favorite quotes from the talk are as follows:
“Every one of us is a debtor, and the verdict was imprisonment for every one of us. And there we would all have remained were it not for the grace of a King who sets us free because He loves us and is ‘moved with compassion toward us.’”
“Our only hope for true perfection is in receiving it as a gift from heaven- we can’t ‘earn’ it.”
“I am grateful to know that in spite of my imperfections, at least God is perfect—that at least He is, for example, able to love His enemies, because too often, due to the ‘natural man’ and woman in us, you and I are sometimes that enemy. How grateful I am that at least God can bless those who despitefully use Him because, without wanting or intending to do so, we all despitefully use Him sometimes. I am grateful that God is merciful and a peacemaker because I need mercy and the world needs peace.”
(Jeffrey R. Holland, “Be Ye Therefore Perfect—Eventually”, General Conference, October 2017)
While these quotes hit the nail on the head, the rest of his talk left me convinced that he espouses a false gospel.
I appreciated him admitting his need for mercy, but he underestimated how much he needed it. He said that he and his audience have despitefully used God without intending to, but that’s not true.
Every time we sin, we do it intentionally. That’s what makes it so horrible. If sin was an unintentional mistake, it would be petty for God to condemn us for it. We wouldn’t need repentance and we certainly wouldn’t need mercy.
I also have to wonder how any Latter-day Saint can hope to gain perfection, because if Elder Holland, an apostle, has not obtained it by the ripe old age of 80, then who can?
Things take a precarious turn when Jeffrey R. Holland attempts to explain the parable of the Unmerciful Servant. In the parable, a man is forgiven a 10,000 talent debt, only to harshly punish a debtor who owes him a mere 100 pence. It’s a pointed story about the importance of forgiveness.
Holland, however, puts a twist on the parable’s meaning, rendering it not only unbiblical but contrary to The Book of Mormon as well. First, he explains what the debts might amount to in modern U.S. currency. The debt the man was forgiven would be equivalent to one billion dollars, while the amount he refused to forgive would be 100 bucks.
After joking that one billion dollars is an incomprehensible personal debt (because no one can shop that much) he states:
“Jesus uses an unfathomable measurement here because His Atonement is an unfathomable gift given at an incomprehensible cost. That, it seems to me, is at least part of the meaning behind Jesus’ charge to be perfect. We may not be able to demonstrate yet the 10,000-talent perfection the Father and the Son have achieved, but it is not too much for Them to ask us to be a little more godlike in little things, that we speak and act, love and forgive, repent and improve at least at the 100-pence level of perfection, which it is clearly within our ability to do.”
The implication is that we are capable of making a down payment of 100 pence now and going from there to eventually pay off the remaining 10,000 talents.
This notion makes a mockery of the atonement. This is not a gospel about a debt that has been paid, but a debt that’s been delayed. The debt of sin has merely been refinanced and the interest rate has decreased, but its adherents remain in bondage.
The Book of Mormon vehemently opposes the gospel taught by Elder Holland. Mosiah 4:19-20 states:
For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?
And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy.
According to The Book of Mormon, we are beggars. And do beggars have the ability to pay 100 pence? No, they do not. Even the servant in the parable couldn’t pay the 100 pence. What Latter-day Saints are essentially being asked to do, is leap out of Earth’s atmosphere by the end of their lives. But not to worry, a six foot vertical will suffice for now, as it is clearly within our ability to do.
The fact remains that for us fallen, broken, and sin-corrupted children of Adam, perfection is indeed an impossible gospel. Whether it is now, or 5,000 years down the road, not one of us is up to the challenge because we’re all beggars.
How are beggars expected to pay their debt if they have no livelihood then? The answer is simple: someone else has to step in and pay the debt in their place.
Let me ask this question: if you saw someone give a homeless person money, but overheard the benefactor saying he would accept incremental payments until he was paid back in full, how would you react?
You would probably be incensed at such a morally reprehensible act. What kind of narcissistic megalomaniac demands money back from someone without the means to do so?
Yet, this is exactly what Latter-day Saints believe the atonement is: a series of payments initiated through life-long repentance.
The Biblical Jesus is not so cruel. He did not offer beggars a lower interest rate on their sin debt. He paid the debt with His own money: the currency of righteousness.
Perfection has to be granted as a gift – it must be imputed to us. How grateful I am that at least Jesus was righteous and that He has given me that righteousness as a gift. Because if I were trying to obtain it through my own merits, all the time since the creation would not be enough.
My friends, what Elder Holland preaches is not the gospel, but a yoke of bondage. Like a credit card with a high interest rate, it promises a delay in paying up, but its intent is enslavement.
Thus I can confidently say that while Jeffrey R. Holland may be the best story teller on earth, and although he appears sincere in his beliefs, he is not an apostle of the Lord.