Say that Again?

In Mormonism, sometimes it’s hard to tell what people are talking about.

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Say Wha--?

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. [1]

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.

1. “Utilize the atonement.” Google reveals solely LDS sources.  100% Mormonspeak. [2]

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.

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About Katie L

A doubter by nature, a believer by grace.

Posted on August 8, 2009, in Mormonism and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Can I use #2 in my testimony next fast sunday? I can only imagine the look on people faces when I start out by saying, “I’d like to bear my testimony, I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s authorized organization…etc”
    No, I don’t usually start my testimonies with “I’d like to bear my testimony, I know this church is true” anymore, but I would, just so that I could use that whole thing.

    I like the rest of it, too. I just like that one best. 😉

  2. Do I bear my testimony or do I bare it? I’m usually better at English than this, I promise. I just don’t remember right now.

  3. I’ve never heard “utilize the atonement.” Maybe that’s a regionalism (or maybe I’m not doing a good job of listening). I would guess it means more than “repentance,” although repentance would be part of that.

    Your definitions seem pretty good to me. There’s quite a bit of theology and soteriology packed into those simple phrases.

  4. psychochemiker

    Great post, Katie. Part of loving people involves understanding what they actually connote. Your post invites better understanding.

    But, I agree I’ve never heard ‘utilize the atonement” but I haven’t been in Provo since August 2005. I usually did hear ‘apply the atonement’ but I think that that phrase is very closely scirptural: “2 And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.” Mosiah 4:2.

    It’s certainly related to forgiveness and repentance, penitence and humility. And just not sure I’d be good at being completely clear at describing it well.

  5. psychochemiker

    Rae, for whatever reason one “bear’s one’s testimony.”

    Share is a more common less archaic word that I think people would still understand….

  6. PC – I think it would actually be ‘bears one’s testimony’… unless a bear is actually doing the bearing, or the bear is someone’s testimony.

    Katie, I think another aspect of calling it ‘personal’ revelation is that it theoretically makes it harder for someone to disagree, because it was personal to that person. Unless, of course, you received personal revelation to not go to church, because then your mother-in-law will tell you that that was actually revelation from Satan.

  7. I don’t know that I’ve heard “utilize the atonement” as such, but in addition to repentance it could mean “cast your burden on the Lord.” Notice that in both cases, we are the actors.

    To me a burden could be a sin, but it could also be anger, fear, depression, sorrow, pain, etc. The Savior’s atonement offers us so much more than freedom from sin. Just as we must learn how to access His grace to cleanse us from sin, we also need to learn to allow His grace to affect our lives in other ways.

  8. psychochemiker

    Tomchik.
    We have to be careful that we emphasize that although the next important action happens as we (human actors) choose to act, that we do not take the first step. This fact (that God takes the first step) is often something we have to be careful to emphasize else our critics automatically awesome that LDS believe We act first. In reality, God acts first. Now the ball’s in our court.

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