Say that Again?
In Mormonism, sometimes it’s hard to tell what people are talking about.
I suppose it’s inevitable.
We’re a young religion. Thus, our vocabulary is young. We’re just two centuries into this–a mere blink of an eye compared to Christianity as a whole, which has had more than two millenia to hone its message. Throw in lay teachers and lay leadership at even the highest levels, and the result is a jumbled, imprecise, sometimes incoherent mess of terms and theology that are heavily influenced by culture and folklore. 
Here are some “Mormonisms” I’ve come across lately that have had me puzzling. So I’m going to try my hand at defining them.
I think I’ve heard this 3 or 4 times over the past few weeks in church–and every time it gives me pause. Just how does one “utilize” the atonement? The atonement isn’t a resource, like a company’s personnel corp or the earth’s supply of fossil fuels; it’s God’s transcendent sacrifice, intended to reconcile sinners to the Divine.
Having said that, I think this one means “repentance.”
2. “The Church is True.” Google reveals mostly Mormon sources. 90% Mormonspeak.
I think when people use this phrase, they mean “the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s authorized organization; Joseph Smith was a prophet; the LDS scriptures are the revealed word of God; God has given members of the LDS church special authority to act in His name; and LDS church leaders speak for God in a special authorized way that no one else can fully claim.”
Whew, that’s a heckuva lot of stuff crammed into one little phrase.
3. “Become like our Heavenly Father.” Google reveals all Mormon sources. 100% Mormonspeak.
My guess is that when people use this phrase, the majority mean that we will literally become like the Father: we will become Gods. A smaller percentage probably use it to mean that we will take upon ourselves divine characteristics and become more godlike, but would stop short of claiming we’ll reach equivalency with God. My guess is that the second group is much, much smaller than the first…but I’ve got nuthin’ but my gut instinct to prove it.
4. “Personal Revelation.” Google reveals mostly Mormon sources. 80% Mormonspeak.
I think when people mean a couple of things when they use the phrase “personal revelation.”
First, they mean that individuals can receive specific guidance, direction, and insight from the Holy Spirit regarding how to live their lives on a day-to-day basis.
Second, by including “personal” as a qualifier, they are implying that there are types of revelation which are NOT personal. In other words, I think this hints at the teaching that a person is allowed to receive revelation for himself (and perhaps his family), but not for others; and not for larger groups of people for whom he doesn’t have immediate oversight.
5. “Return to Live with Him Again.” Google reveals all Mormon sources. 100% Mormonspeak.
There’s so much rolled into this little phrase it’s tough to know where to start.
First, when people say this, they are clearly referring to the doctrine of pre-existence–the idea that we lived with God BEFORE coming to earth, and will at some future point RETURN to His presence.
Second, consider the word “live.” I think it hints at the Mormon concept of heaven. It seems to imply that the afterlife will be a lot like this one, just better. It speaks to the distinct LDS doctrine of the eternal nature of the nuclear family. Somehow the word “live” seems to argue that we will become part of God’s household in a literal way, similar to how one might live with one’s parents or in-laws here on earth.
Third, the entire phrase is wrapped up in the idea of exaltation. Set against a backdrop of doctrine that teaches one can only enjoy God’s presence in the “highest heaven,” when someone says “we can return to live with Him again,” they are referring to the highest reward God offers His children within the LDS framework.
So those are some of the Mormon phrases I’ve been playing around with lately. If anyone has alternative translations, I’d love to hear them. 🙂
1. This isn’t meant as a criticism. There are tremendous benefits to the lay clergy system. But like anything, it has its drawbacks. This is one of them.
2. These percentages are incredibly loose. I made them up based on what I generally observed glancing over results on the first couple pages of Google.
Posted on August 8, 2009, in Mormonism and tagged atonement, church, culture, exaltation, folklore, heavenly father, mormon speak, Mormonism, revelation, vocabulary. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.