Monday, 22 August 2011

Who goes to heaven?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is often accused of claiming that "only Mormons go to heaven". We as members of the Church tend to argue vehemently against this, and rightly so. Our argument usually consists of the following points:

  • We believe that after this life everyone goes to the Spirit World to await the resurrection. There those who did not join the Church in this life have a chance to.
  • We perform proxy ordinances on behalf of the dead, so that if they accept them, they can reach the Celestial Kingdom.
... which technically comes out as "Actually, yes, only Mormons do go to heaven, but you get so many chances to become one that it's hard not to". However, on rereading the relevant scriptures, I'm not convinced this view is entirely accurate.

To understand what I'm talking about, a broad understanding of the afterlife in LDS theology is necessary. After we die, there is a Spirit World, and this is split into two halves. The names we use for these are Spirit Paradise and Spirit Prison - that's the same prison as we find in 1 Peter 3:19, "By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison". Those in Spirit Paradise act as missionaries for those in Prison - they go down and try to convert them to the gospel. One of the important stages in this is baptism, which is done by proxy - and since we here in mortality don't know who's accepted and who hasn't, we're working hard to baptise everyone.

(Again - when we perform a proxy ordinance, it makes it available for the deceased person in question - it does not mean they are automatically baptised, and it certainly doesn't make them a member of the Church)

After the Second Coming, the Millennium and everything comes Judgement Day. By this time everyone - everyone - has been resurrected, at one time or another. We are judged by Christ according to a range of things - but that's another story - and receive our part in a Kingdom of Glory, of which there are three.
  • The Celestial Kingdom is probably what most people think of when they hear the word "heaven" - paradise, eternal families, dwelling in the presence of our Heavenly Father. Very likely there are free harps on entry. This is where the faithful go.
  • The Terrestrial Kingdom is the next step down. It's where those who didn't accept the Gospel but were pretty good people go. They dwell in the presence of Jesus Christ.
  • The Telestial Kingdom, at the bottom of the stack, is where the truly wicked go. Nevertheless it is still a Kingdom of Glory. Those who live there have no access to Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ, but the Holy Ghost still ministers to them. This is the closest analogue to our own Earth (which is sometimes called a Telestial world), and it's also the closest we have to Hell - living for all eternity out of the presence of God.
  • The one we barely mention in the Outer Darkness, which is true Hell - not even the Holy Ghost goes here. This is where Satan and his angels are cast, and also the so-called Sons of Perdition. You aren't one, so you don't need to worry about it. This is Hell in the classical sense, but it is stupidly hard to be sent there.
Now come the scriptures. We have two main sources to look at: Alma 40, in the Book of Mormon, and Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

In Alma we can read a fantastic description of the Spirit World, in verses 11-14. However, when it comes to how we are divided between Paradise and Prison, Alma is a bit vague.

"The spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life. And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness... And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evil—for behold, they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord; for behold, they chose evil works rather than good; therefore the spirit of the devil did enter into them, and take possession of their house—and these shall be cast out into outer darkness... until the time of their resurrection."

There is a clear distinction between "righteous" and "wicked", but the only actual information on what distinguishes the two is that "they chose evil works rather than good". It doesn't talk about faith, or belief, but about what they did. Can I quote C.S. Lewis here?

"I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn... and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted." (Aslan, speaking in The Last Battle)

But, charismatic authors notwithstanding, we need a little more to build a theology on. Let's move on to D&C 76, the Resurrection, and the Kingdoms of Glory.
  • The Celestial Kingdom (v. 50-70): This is the testimony of the gospel of Christ concerning them who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just— They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized... These are they who are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood. These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all.
  • The Terrestrial Kingdom (v. 71-80): Behold, these are they who died without law; And also they who are the spirits of men kept in prison, whom the Son visited, and preached the gospel unto them, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh; Who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it. These are they who are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men.
  • The Telestial Kingdom (v. 81-86, 99-106): These are they who received not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus... These are they who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie. These are they who suffer the wrath of God on earth. These are they who suffer the vengeance of eternal fire. These are they who are cast down to hell and suffer the wrath of Almighty God, until the fulness of times, when Christ shall have subdued all enemies under his feet, and shall have perfected his work;
To summarise: The Celestial Kingdom is for those who received the Testimony of Jesus when they were first offered it, and have been baptised. The Terrestrial Kingdom is for those who had a chance to receive the Testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but were blinded by the craftiness of men, and only received the Gospel when preached to them in the Spirit World. The Telestial Kingdom is those who accepted neither the Testimony of Jesus nor the Gospel, and who - unlike the other two - were not resurrected until the Judgement.

What is the difference between the Testimony of Jesus and the Gospel of Christ? Because they clearly are different things. My understanding is that the Gospel is, well, the Gospel - the message held by the restored Church. The Testimony of Jesus is something simpler - the acceptance of Christ as your Lord and Saviour. If you have the Testimony of Jesus in this life, you are going to the Celestial Kingdom - whether or not you were in the Church at the time. You are going to Spirit Paradise when you die. Then, since you will have completed your test - will have kept your second estate - you won't have to wonder whether it's true when your proxy baptism comes through. You're in Paradise - you've got a guaranteed ticket to the First Resurrection and Eternal Life - you know it's true.

Do only Mormons go to heaven? You can be non-Mormon in this life and still make it, and you don't have to be converted in the Spirit World, so... I'd say no.