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`Building bridges of understanding'

Latter-day Saints can "agree to disagree without being disagreeable" when encountering those who may misunderstand the Church's fundamental doctrinal teachings, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve said Feb. 17.

He spoke at the Logan Institute of Religion adjacent to Utah State University as part of the institute's "Religion in Life" series. Some 1,200 people packed the institute building cultural hall, with another 1,200 seated in overflow areas throughout the building."As members of the Church, we need to be kind and gentle in our conversations as we express our convictions and feelings that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth in its fullness through the Prophet Joseph Smith," Elder Ballard counseled. "As appropriate, we need to teach and testify and discern when it might be helpful to give the Book of Mormon and other Church literature to those who show interest."

He urged his listeners to build bridges of understanding with others not of the LDS faith, to know the true doctrines for themselves and know how to courteously share their testimony and beliefs with others while maintaining friendship and goodwill.

"Can you see the great opportunity that is ours and yours to build bridges of understanding among the peoples of the world?" he asked. "While we as Latter-day Saints are pleased to share the good news of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ with any and all who would hear our message, there are times when helping those who are not members of the Church to understand our basic beliefs will be all that we accomplish. We must remember that the Lord expects us to peacefully co-exist with others not of our faith. We can pleasantly agree to disagree with them on certain points of doctrine, even while we unite with them in the great common denominators of faith in God and benevolent service to others."

He discussed five subjects that often lend themselves to misunderstanding when the Church's doctrinal position is shared with others:

- Acceptance of other books of scripture beside the Bible. "To others who question the need for these scriptures, we can explain that the bedrock doctrines of the restored Church are based on revelation to a modern prophet of God. "

The message to be shared with all mankind is that the Church is the same as that which Jesus Christ established during His mortal ministry, restored in fulness in the latter days, Elder Ballard declared.

"Thus we can say to our friends, `Yes, without question, we believe in revelation and scripture in addition to that contained within the Holy Bible.' We can kindly explain that while we accept the Bible as the word of God as far as it is translated correctly, we believe that this generation has as much, if not more of a need for God's guidance and direction than generations of former times. Our belief that our Heavenly Father has sent prophets and apostles and has given us additional scripture for our day and time is a manifestation of His great love and concern for His children."

- Misperception that Latter-day Saints are not Christian in that they do not accept the doctrine of salvation through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. "Wise are the members of the Church who can visit with those who have this misunderstanding and in kind and factual ways build bridges of understanding by teaching that we accept the doctrine of salvation through the grace of God and His beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ," Elder Ballard said.

He then spoke of what the Book of Mormon calls the "plan of happiness" (Alma 42:16) involving the gift of agency through which one chooses between pathways leading to happiness or misery (see 2 Ne. 2:27). Elder Ballard said Heavenly Father's love for His children was such that He sent to earth Jesus Christ as Savior and Redeemer. He mentioned two of many things that Jesus accomplished for mortals that they could not do for themselves: He suffered the Atonement through which He took upon Himself the sins and infirmities of mankind that they might not suffer if they would repent, and He broke the bands of death and made it possible for all mankind to be resurrected.

"With great emphasis, I want to say that all of this is made possible through the grace of Jesus Christ," Elder Ballard affirmed.

"In the Christian world, there has been much debate regarding the relationship of grace and works," he said. "To The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, both are core doctrines. Just as a pair of scissors requires two blades to function, the Lord's grace and our works of faith in Christ, personal repentance and receiving saving ordinances are required for eternal life in God's presence.

He added, "No matter how hard we work, no matter how much we obey, no matter how many good things we do in this life, it would not be enough were it not for Jesus Christ and His loving grace."

- LDS belief regarding one's relationship to Christ. "We occasionally hear some members refer to Jesus as our Elder Brother, which is a true concept based on our understanding of the premortal life with our Father in Heaven. But like many points of gospel doctrine, that simple truth doesn't go far enough in terms of describing the Savior's role in our present lives and His great position as a member of the Godhead. Thus, some non-LDS Christians are uncomfortable with what they perceive as a secondary role for Christ in our theology. They feel that we view Jesus as a spiritual peer, . . . as an implementor, if you will, for God, but that we don't view Him as God to us and to all mankind, which, of course, is counter to Biblical testimony about Christ's divinity."

Elder Ballard then emphasized: "We declare He is the King of kings, Lord of lords, the Creator, the Savior, the Captain of our Salvation, the Bright and Morning Star. He has taught that He is in all things, above all things, through all things and round about all things, that He is Alpha and Omega, the Lord of the Universe, the first and the last relative to our salvation, and that His name is above every name and is in fact the only name under heaven by which we can be saved."

Elder Ballard explained, "It is true that Jesus was our Elder Brother in the premortal life, but we believe that in this life it is crucial that we become `born again' as His sons and daughters in the gospel covenant."

Acknowledging that many in the Christian world say Latter-day Saints believe in a "different Jesus" than do other Christians and therefore are not Christian, Elder Ballard explained: "We do believe things about Jesus that other Christians do not believe, but that is because we know, through revelation, things about Jesus that others do not know. It is a twisting of language to call this a `different Jesus,' as though we have created some other individual by that name."

- Belief in a plurality of Gods. "Much misunderstanding would be avoided if [others] understood that we worship only one Godhead, consisting of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost," Elder Ballard said.

A related dimension of the scriptures that causes discomfort for many traditional Christians, Elder Ballard noted, is the belief that God's faithful sons and daughters are promised "all things" and that they will be as "gods, even the sons of God" and will dwell in the presence of God and Christ forever. (See D&C 76:55, 58, 62.) "Although we do not know the full detail of these promises . . . we do accept these promises as revealed doctrine. Yet notwithstanding these promises, we say that for us there is indeed no other object of worship than God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost."

- Belief that "the Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; the Son also" (D&C 130:22). "God the Father and His only Begotten Son Jesus Christ are glorified, exalted, resurrected beings, and from the moment of the appearance of the Father and the Son to Joseph Smith, we have known their true nature," Elder Ballard declared.

Concluding, Elder Ballard said what is most desirable is for Christian and non-Christian alike to understand that Church members love the Lord Jesus Christ. "Further," he continued, "just because people of other faiths don't believe everything that we believe about Jesus Christ and His eternal ministry, we don't deny that they are Christian. They are simply different from us in some of their beliefs. Although we may differ in points of doctrine, and although we may wish to share with them marvelous truths that we believe the Lord Himself has revealed in these last days, we will and must respect their Christianity and ask only that they likewise respect ours."