Blogger John Redelfs continues his unique brand of gospel interpretation, arguing in a recent blog post that people not baptized as LDS church members do not have faith in Christ. That idea seems wrong for many reasons.
Redelfs starts with a lengthy quote from President McKay, that includes these paragraphs:
The means of obtaining citizenship in the Church of Jesus Christ are very explicit; so clear, indeed, that it is surprising that so many seemingly intelligent and well-read people â€¦ [assume] that they can gain entrance by other and various means. . . . There are many roads â€¦ leading sincere people toward the church and kingdom of God, but those who would participate in the privileges and blessings of citizenship therein must obey the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
From there, Redelfs adds his own interpretation of President McKay’s remarks:
First, faith in Christ is a direct reference to our willingness to repent of our sins and keep his commandments. Does a man have “faith in Christ” if he is unwilling to repent and keep his commandments? And the first commandment we are required to keep once we have proclaimed a faith in Christ, is to be baptized. This may not be the first commandment in order of importance, but it is absolutely essential. And it is the first commandment we are asked to keep as members of his Church. Without keeping this commandment we cannot obtain eternal life and in that sense we are damned unless we are baptized. One cannot obtain the celestial kingdom without a proper baptism, much less be exalted which is eternal life.
Why is this wrong? Let me count some of the ways.
First, this interpretation renders vast portions of scripture superfluous. If there cannot be faith without baptism, then why break them into separate principles and ordinances at all? There would not be four first principles and ordinances — there would merely be faithrepentancebaptismcomfirmation.
Second, Redelf’s description of faith is problematic. He suggests that there is a divide is between those who have faith and those who do not have faith — and subsequently, that everyone who has faith will be baptized. Redelfs’ yes-or-no, binary approach to faith is not borne out by the scriptures. The most important scriptural explanation of the Mormon concept of faith is found in Alma 32. And what does Alma 32 tell us? Among other things, that faith is not a binary switch that is either on or off; rather, faith is a seed that grows. Because faith is a seed, a person may have faith — a growing seed — but that faith may not yet be sufficiently strong to lead to baptism. Redelfs’ approach ignores the seed analogy. For Redelfs, there is either a strong tree or no tree; there can be no saplings. This idea mocks the nature of faith and contradicts Alma 32.
Third, it is clear that some can have faith without baptism. People may be legally unable to be baptized into the church. These may include a 12 year old without a parent’s permission; a member whose country does not permit baptism; and so forth.
Finally, Redelfs’ entire project is deeply misguided. It is simply not appropriate for him, or for most other people, to be making broad characterizations about the faith of multitudes of others.
There are particular exceptions to this rule, of course. Prophets, guided by the Spirit and acting properly under their stewardship, may validly make such generalizations. But absent this aegis — and it is indeed absent — it is not for Redelfs or others to make such statements. The fact is that only God knows who has or does not have faith.
A follow up question is that, if Redelfs’ interpretation is counter-scriptural, then what are we to do with the David O. McKay text?
The answer is simple: Redelfs’ argument is actually not at all implied by the McKay text. President McKay focuses on the fact that many people who are not church members are coming slowly to God through other routes. He notes that unless they are baptized, they cannot enter God’s kingdom. From this straightforward prophetic statement, Redelfs jumps to the suprising conclusion that President McKay believes that one cannot have faith without baptism. However, Redelfs’ argument is not President McKay’s, but rather a man-made gloss that is counter to well established scriptural principles.
No wonder lots of folks in his high priest’s quorum didn’t agree with him.