As it is the current tradition of the Church to publish the majority of itâ€™s texts online, The Church has now done so with Preach My Gospel, the current Guide to Missionary Work in the Church. As this Manual will shape the thoughts and feelings of missionaries and converts for years to come, and thus, arguably, the majority of the future leadership of the church, Iâ€™d like to take the opportunity to examine the definition of the atonement as given in this important text.
While the book is permeated with references to the atonement, it also conveniently presents a concise definition of the same:
Atonement: As used in the scriptures, to atone is to suffer the penalty for an act
of sin, thereby removing the effects of sin from the repentant sinners and allowing
them to be reconciled to God. Jesus Christ suffered in Gethsemane and on the
cross. He was the only one capable of making a perfect Atonement for all
mankind. He suffered the penalty for our sins in Gethsemane and died on the
cross. He took upon Himself the pains, sicknesses, temptations, afflictions, and
infirmities of us all (see Alma 7:11â€“12).
Some may immediately assume the official Church position falls into the category of penal substitution. I do not believe this to be the case. In fact, the above definition is fleshed out in the following manner within the text:
â€¦God sent His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to overcome the obstacle of sin in addition to the obstacle of physical death. We are not responsible for the Fall of Adam and Eve, but we are responsible for our own sins. God cannot look on sin with any degree of allowance, and sin prevents us from living in His presence. Only through the Saviorâ€™s grace and mercy can we become clean from sin so that we can live with God again. This is possible through exercising faith in Jesus Christ, repenting, being baptized, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. To fulfill the plan of salvation, Christ paid the penalty for our sins. He alone was able to do thatâ€¦ This triumph of Jesus Christ over spiritual death by His suffering â€¦ is called the Atonement. Christ promises to forgive our sins on the condition that we accept Him by exercising faith in Him, repenting, receiving baptism by immersion, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, and striving faithfully to keep His commandments to the end of our lives. Through continuing repentance, we may obtain forgiveness and be cleansed of our sins by the power of the Holy Ghost. We are relieved of the burden of guilt and shame, and through Jesus Christ we become worthy to return to the presence of God. As we rely on the Atonement of Jesus Christ, He can help us endure our trials, sicknesses, and pain. We can be filled with joy, peace, and consolation. All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
In paying the penalty for our sins, Jesus did not, however, eliminate our personal responsibility. We must show that we accept Him and that we will follow His commandments. Only through the gift of the Atonement can we return to live with God.
So the text clearly elaborates that the penalty Christ paid does not remove our responsibility, that our forgiveness is conditional, and that it is â€œonly through the Saviorâ€™s grace and mercyâ€ that we are freed from the effects (the burden of guilt and shame) of sin.
There are really two ways this introductory concept of the atonement can by applied.
Christ suffered the penalties of our sins and thus gained â€œgrace and mercyâ€ sufficient enough to cleanse us of our sins.
Christ, because of his grace and mercy, suffered for our sins to thus offer us freedom from the same.
The First opens up possibilities for atonement theories such as those proposed by J. Stapley and Geoff Johnson. The Latter allows for theories such as Blake Ostler and Jacob Morganâ€™s.
In either case, neither leaves room for a view of penal substitution in the traditional sense.
Note:- The atonementâ€™s relationship to the resurrection is not here covered for the sake of brevity. It should be noted that the original text goes well into this point, for any interested party.