I grew up in the South; The Bible Belt; Evangelical Christian Conservative Country. People in this part of America are passionate about their beliefs. They are feisty and even obnoxious at times. Anyone who has been in the Southern US for more than a few minutes has no doubt encountered someone willing to share their religious beliefs and invite them to be saved.
This phrase "being saved" had been the cause of much contention and misunderstanding between these zealous Christians and Latter-Day Saints. I have spent much time pondering the difference between the LDS concept of salvation and that of my protestant peers.
In case you are not familiar with this subject let me start by clarifying the usual arguments of each side. The Protestants will say that we are saved by grace alone, that nothing we do matters as long as we have faith in Christ. If we have accepted Jesus as our Savior we are saved and will never lose that salvation, no matter what. They often accuse Latter-Day Saints of denying the Atonement and believe we can "work our way to Heaven" by keeping commandments, participating in certain ordinances and doing good.
Latter-Day Saints tend to bristle at this idea that you can do whatever you want and still go to Heaven. We perceive the “once saved, always saved” concept as a license to sin without consequences. This can be seen as simply misguided or arrogant and offensive.
To be fair, many sincere followers of Christ believe that to truly be "saved" you must make a complete change of heart, change of life, and commit yourself to following Christ. If you don't make a change, you have not been saved. Latter-Day Saints believe this as well.
I have come to see that much of the argument between these two parties, LDS and Evangelicals, is word usage. Here are a few terms that seem to be misunderstood by both sides.
In the Latter-Day Saint community, we use the word "testimony" to describe our personal, spiritual belief in something. We might have a testimony of prayer or a testimony of paying tithing. This means that we have practiced this act and received a witness from the Holy Ghost that it is a true principle. We have experienced blessings because of it. The most important kind of testimony is a testimony of Jesus Christ as our Savior. This, to me, is the equivalent of "being saved" in the Protestant world. Gaining a testimony is different for each person. For some it comes as a single, intense experience that changes them instantly. We might look at Paul for an example of this. But for most of us it comes over time. It is a process of study, exercise of faith and small spiritual moments over a lifetime. One is not better than another. The results are the same. Even those who have a “big moment” must continue to develop spiritually.
2: Faith and Works
I believe these are very misunderstood words between our two cultures. Protestants believe that faith is simply belief. That isn't to say that they are not motivated by their faith but if they are not, that is okay. That faith is sufficient for salvation.
For Latter-Day Saints faith is much more. Faith is a living thing. It is a verb, an action. In the Book of Mormon faith is compared to a seed. It can grow into a healthy plant or wither and die. Our faith is strengthened by our obedience to commandments. We show our faith by participating in ordinances like baptism and by our actions towards others. It is a gross misconception that we believe if you do X, Y, and Z you will be saved. That isn’t true. All of these principles work together for our benefit. James said “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead…” (James 2:17). He explains that faith and works not only complement one another but both are essential for salvation.
I have often heard Latter-Day Saints accused of not believing in grace. This is not true. We do not labor under the illusion that we are somehow capable of being "good enough" to go to Heaven all by ourselves. We know well the need for the Savior and His sacrifice for us. We know that we can do nothing without His grace and mercy. We also know that this grace is freely available to us. The difference is that we believe we must do something to get it.
It is like inheriting a large sum of money. It is ours but we must go to the lawyer and sign the paperwork. We must go to the bank and deposit the money. We cannot benefit from our inheritance without taking certain steps to procure it. We have not earend it nor done something to deserve it. We have claimed it by our actions. Even when we have that inheritance we must use wise judgment.
I have come to understand that one of the key differences between our two religious parties is the definition of this word. Most Christians believe that we are all saved both from death and sin by the grace of Christ. Latter-Day Saint belief differs from this. We believe that we are all saved from death without any action on our part. Everyone who has ever been born will be resurrected.
But our salvation from sin does require action. We must repent when we make mistakes. We must keep commandments. These commandments are not ticks on a checklist to worthiness. They are designed to make us worthy to live in God's presence. They help us learn to control ourselves, make correct choices, strengthen our faith, and grow closer to our Heavenly Father.
During my conversations with friends of other faiths one concept has always caused shock and even anger. That is the idea that you can be “unsaved”. As you can see from the LDS perspective on faith and testimony one can certainly lose their salvation, that is, we can lose our faith and turn from the gift God has offered us. In my opinion this isn’t because we never had those spiritual moments but, like the foolish virgins, we did not ensure that our light source was replenished. Those who foolishly believe that a onetime event in their life is sufficient to save them will be sorely disappointed. But there is hope. That gift is always available. We can come back when we have turned away. We can repent. That is part of the process. Salvation is not lost to us until the final judgment has been made. That has not happened yet.
I know this is probably a little simplistic. Much more could be said on this subject. My purpose has only been to encourage each of us to open our minds and hearts to better understand one another. I know there are differences but they are not as great as some would have us believe.