The Most Fundamental Christian Doctrine

(The following article was written by Hal Mitchell, 1957-2019, a contributor and original co-founder of the LAMP website.)

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the contrite spirit.” (Psalms 34:18)

In Hebrew, “the broken heart” is translated to nishbar lev. Per the website Hebrew for  Christians, the author, John Parsons describes the Hebrew meaning behind the Psalms passage by saying the word lev also means house or inner life. The inner life is the life of our thoughts. Our fears, hopes prejudices, insecurities, our concept of morality and reality, our source of what is most important to us, our real intent, and our weaknesses are all contained in our inner selves or our hearts.  

Parsons goes on eloquently: “This seems to be the divine pattern. Truly, Truly, I say unto you, unless a grain of wheat fall to earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John12:24) The hard outer shell of seed must be broken so that the life of the spirit can come through . . . plainly put, God (and only God) can ‘deconstruct’ the self so that life’s priorities, focus, and passions are redirected to hin, and him alone, the true Source of Life.”

A broken heart, therefore, in this context, does not mean profound disappointment as common usage suggests, but that your heart is broken open. Open to the influence of Christ and his input, or to live “openhearted.”

In the second half of Psalms 34:18, where it says and saves the contrite spirit, the Hebrew word “dakka” means contrite or crushed. In Parson’s comment, he says that the soul that needs contrition is the chaotic, carnal ego trying to run our lives without Godly insight. How essential is this to see for those seeking closeness to God? Many times we misjudge people, even our loved ones, because we don’t take the time to consider our biases, our infantile exposure to the world around us, or to realize we only know our own life’s experience and make judgments exclusively based on that limited worldview?

In the same verse quoted above, the word “near” in Hebrew, is “karov,” which means close enough to touch. The word “korban” uses the same root which is an offering that draws us near to God, as well as karov, a near kinsman, which implies intimacy. In other words, God desires a close relationship with those willing to have a broken heart and contrite spirit.

These teachings of the Psalmist were mirrored in the teachings of Isaiah.   In Isaiah 57:15 it says the God, who inhabits eternity, who is the essence of Holy, dwelling in the high and holy place, dwells in this realm uniquely with him that is of a contrite spirit. In Isaiah 66:1-2, the Lord declares that heaven is his throne and the earth is his footstool. He asks where there is a place, built by man, where he can dwell. He goes on to explain that all the things a man might use to construct a structure worthy of God were all made by God anyway, so what structure or house could a man possibly offer God as a worthy dwelling place? He then says he will look to dwell with the man whose spirit is contrite.

This teaching of contrition is found scattered throughout the Book of Mormon and Bible, and I suggest, therefore, that the concept of open-heartedness is the fundamental Christian doctrine.

The Book of Mormon and the Bible refer to “hard-heartedness” in multiple places, which is the opposite of openheartedness. Found in the sixth chapter of the gospel of Mark is, I believe, the most illustrative example of the definition of the phrase. Jesus’ apostles had just witnessed him walking on the surface of the Sea of Galilee, and his calming influence over the wind.  Mark states they were “sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered.” In verse 52, Mark explains why they were amazed when they shouldn’t have been:

“For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened.”

Before seeing Jesus walk on water and calm the wind, they had just witnessed his miraculous feeding of 5000 men with five loaves and two fishes with many bushels of food left over.

In Alma 33:20, where Alma refers to the engraved bronze serpent on the pole, to which the children of Israel could look to save their lives:

But few understood the meaning of those things, and this because of the hardness of their hearts. But there were many who were so hardened that they would not look, therefore they perished. Now the reason they would not look is that they did not believe that it would heal them.

These are beautiful scriptural examples of what it means to have a hard heart. Mark mentioned the word “considered.” Jesus’ disciples did not “consider” that just a few hours earlier he had fed a considerable multitude with food sufficient for two or three people only. If they had thought or considered a little more deeply, they would have expected Jesus to perform more miracles and not be amazed at him being the miracle-performing Messiah, the Son of God.

To break open our hearts, as Jesus mentioned regarding the seed, we need merely to consider other possibilities than those we have previously assumed were correct, and then ask God to guide our open hearts. Jesus’ apostles in being amazed at his control over the elements were not evil, but still partially closed to the full understanding of who Jesus was, and that he possessed God’s power. Their conversion was still developing.

In Matthew 10: 34-39 Jesus illustrates this point by saying that we are expected to reject mother and father (traditional beliefs) in our quest to find Him. Just because we believe old ways and supposed truths, if we never question them by exposing them to scrutiny, they can never be considered valid. Our witness of legitimate truth can only come when we have dared to challenge it thoroughly, looking at both sides objectively. He is the way, the truth, and the life. So, fact has to entail more than an individual merely accepting established teachings, even though his community allows him wholeheartedly into their fold. Only the open-hearted are willing take the vital step of objectively analyzing their beliefs and thereby making the essential action necessary to be a real disciple of Christ.

Jesus taught this again in the parable of the rich man, with some added insights, in Mark 10:17-27.

17 ¶ And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?

18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God.

19 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.

20 And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.

21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

22 And he was sad at that saying and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.

23 ¶ And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!

24 And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!

25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

26 And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved?

27 And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men, it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.

When the young rich man had left, Jesus said it was hard for rich people to go to heaven. His disciples were shocked. He then clarified, essentially saying, it is difficult for those that trust in riches to go to heaven. In fact, if you don’t live your life having faith that what God teaches will make you more happy than riches, but think you are going to heaven, Jesus says it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than that you will be right. Or in other words, it is impossible!  One should believe in Him and His teachings, not in anything else, and the belief must be rooted in a genuine search as Matthew 10 teaches.

Why were his disciples astonished at Jesus’ rebuke of what seemed like a righteous man, keeping the commandments? Jesus used the young, rich man to demonstrate that he asked more of his would-be followers than mere compliance with the law of Moses.  One can keep the law of Moses and still not believe in Jesus. In Ether 11:12 of the Book of Mormon it states:  “Wherefore, by faith was the law of Moses given. But in the gift of his Son hath God prepared a more excellent way; and it is by faith that it hath been fulfilled.” The law of Moses says to honor parents, not commit adultery, not lie, etc., which teachings the young rich man had complied with. Judaism does not accept Jesus as the Christ but keeps the commandments of Moses. Living the law of Moses does not require opening your heart to Jesus and sacrificing your ego or spirit to the influence of the Holy Ghost, which is the core doctrine of Christ. The law of Moses, therefore, doesn’t bring salvation and was superseded by Christ. We cannot open our hearts to Christ until we consider the more “excellent way,” and open our hearts to it. The rich young man wasn’t ready for eternal life because he was not ready to open his heart enough despite his habit of living the Mosaic commandments. His riches were more important.

Sacrificing riches is not necessary, but one must place them at a lower priority than one’s relationship to God, which only happens by opening one’s heart to Jesus’ higher teachings. Keeping the law of Moses does not do that, and this is what shocked the budding disciples. The story ends with the disciples not understanding the difference between the law of Moses and Jesus’ new doctrine when they ask, “Who then can be saved?” since they heard Jesus exclude those who merely kept the law of Moses. Jesus clarified by saying that life with God is impossible by only following men and their ways, but by following God, his Son and his new doctrine, all things are possible, even passing a camel through the eye of a needle.

An interesting note is Jesus’ mention of “taking up the cross and following him” in verse 21. The Christian website adds insight into the meaning of the phrase, stating:

When Jesus carried His cross up Golgotha to be crucified, no one was thinking of the cross as symbolic of a burden to carry. To a person in the first-century, the cross meant one thing and one thing only: death by the most painful and humiliating means human beings could develop.

Two thousand years later, Christians view the cross as a cherished symbol of atonement, forgiveness, grace, and love. But in Jesus’ day, the cross represented nothing but torturous death. Because the Romans forced convicted criminals to carry their own crosses to the place of crucifixion, bearing a cross meant carrying their own execution device while facing ridicule along the way to death.

Therefore, “Take up your cross and follow Me” means being willing to die in order to follow Jesus. This is called “dying to self.” It’s a call to absolute surrender. After each time Jesus commanded cross-bearing, He said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:24-25). Although the call is tough, the reward is matchless.

So Jesus again refers to the death of self (like the opening of the seed referred to in John) and to receive him into your heart as the essential ingredient of discipleship.

In 3 Nephi 15, when Jesus informed the Nephites that the Law of Moses was fulfilled (he said it nine times in the first few verses), they marveled. If Mark were around, he might have used his peculiar mode of expression to say that the Nephites were still a tiny bit “hard-hearted.” He would have then explained that they had yet failed to consider that Jesus has just descended out of heaven, fulfilling many ancient prophecies, and had been announced as the very Son of God.  He had shown himself to be a resurrected being and had taught them his gospel.  He’d thus left them no reason to marvel at losing the law of Moses, having just described to them the more excellent way. Why would they marvel when he had gone to such pains, as we read in chapters 11 and 12 of 3 Nephi, to teach them his doctrine? Six times he referred to His doctrine in chapter 11, then gave greater details in chapter 12 telling how his doctrine was different than the old law of Moses, but the Nephites still marveled.  They were slow to grasp the whole picture, as had been the disciples in the old world, and Jesus could see that they still needed to have their hearts softened. He worked with them, showing them amazing miracles and visitations of himself and angels, and giving them probably the most amazing spiritual experiences in world history. After those experiences, the Nephites easily opened their hearts without amazement or surprise to his elegant doctrine he had been teaching through ancient and recent prophets and had now repeated in their presence.  From 3 Nephi 12 we read:

19 And behold, I have given you the law and the commandments of my Father, that ye shall believe in me, and that ye shall repent of your sins, and come unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Behold, ye have the commandments before you, and the law is fulfilled.

20 Therefore come unto me and be ye saved; for verily I say unto you, that except ye shall keep my commandments, which I have commanded you at this time, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Here Jesus states that the law of Moses is not a doctrine leading to salvation, saying the new commandments he gave at that time were essential to enter the kingdom of heaven. Note he mentions nothing in these verses resembling the commandments on Sinai at that time but declared that not keeping his new commandments would prevent entrance into his kingdom.

With an awareness of this truth, one may wonder why Mormons still promote Mosaic-like doctrines with lists, goals, and guidelines that have nothing to do with the principles of Jesus? Mormons love to live by extremely well-defined laws. How long to fast under the “law”of the fast, how much of our gross or net income to pay under the “law” of tithing, which acts are permitted and which are not under the “law” of chastity, what activities are allowed or forbidden under the “law” of the Sabbath. I had a stake president tell me once of the law of return and report when he was trying to teach me the importance of sending in home-teaching reports each month. How can a report tell if someone has repented, or believes in Christ, or has a broken heart and a contrite spirit? Sadly, the tenets of the doctrine of Christ remain mostly unknown to church leaders and to members, despite its presence in the Book of Mormon and Bible and Section 10 of the Doctrine and Covenants, where it is mentioned very briefly in verses 55, 67 and 68.

If the reader of this article doesn’t believe LDS church leaders are almost uniformly ignorant of the doctrine of Christ, I challenge you to approach any Mormon leader at any level and ask him the to explain what constitutes the doctrine of Christ. You may hear a few “ums” and “uhs,” and then he’ll begin saying things like, read your scriptures, come to church, worship in the temple, pray, pay your tithing, stay morally clean, keep the ten commandments, etc. You may think his answer is a good one because those are all good things, but ironic as it may sound, they are not the doctrine of Christ.  This is genuinely cause for great concern.  Remember, the Lord said in Third Nephi 11 and 12 that those who choose not to follow his new commandments he taught the Nephites on that occasion shall in no case inherit the kingdom of God.

A converted heart is the hallmark of the doctrine of Christ. One may argue by saying, “So in Jesus’ doctrine it is okay to commit adultery, kill, lie, dishonor parents, etc.?” The answer is, of course not, Jesus’ way is more excellent. He asks to have our hearts, which require we not think lascivious thoughts, or speak rudely to others, that we be honest in our dealings with others, and generally respect our fellow beings by treating them as we would like to be treated. As discussed above, one can follow the law of Moses and reject Christ.  For example, the Mosaic law allows one to tell lewd jokes and refer to women as sex objects, but not to commit adultery. Jesus requires us to frequently and systematically examine the desires of our hearts, so we not even allow our hearts or minds to lust after another woman, let alone commit adultery with her. One who internalizes the spirit of Christ’s teachings has a broken, open heart and is a real disciple, and shows no interest in knowing how far he can technically go before he’s broken a commandment. A disciple sees the vision of Christ, is wholly vested, is converted, needs no stimulus or motivation to perform his duty. No artificial incentive is necessary. He/she believes in his/her heart and can be trusted to do his/her best. Which is better, the soul who acts only after being prodded, or the converted soul? Which is the legitimate disciple?

Repentance is not a law. Having a broken heart and a contrite spirit is not a law. Jesus did not present the Beatitudes as laws. These are the attitudes, the approaches to life, Jesus asks of us. His doctrine requires an open heart to himself, a living purpose for us that can never fail us, one that builds faith, character, and a genuine sensitivity to the promptings of the Holy Ghost. Mosaic principles do not accomplish this. Remembering the history of the Jews provides instructive evidence of how successfully the checklists of the Mosaic law did or didn’t make them close to God.

In a letter dated November 1, 2016, Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy announced the Area Plan for the United States and Canada. Please analyze this document as an example of how different Mormon principles of living are from the teachings of Christ in the Book of Mormon and the Bible. Ask yourself from where these strange doctrines come, when He declares his gospel with the simple phrase: “This is my doctrine,” three times in the passage of 3 Nephi 11: 32-40. 

The seven presidents of the quorum of Seventy presented this statement, signed by all of them. 

The plan focuses on the divinely appointed priorities of living the gospel of Jesus Christ, gathering Israel through missionary work, caring for the poor and needy, and enabling the salvation of the dead. (See Church Handbook : Administering the Church: Chapter 2, Section2.2). We encourage you to study the plan as individuals and families. As we participate in this inspired vision, we will become, and help others become faithful followers of Christ and enjoy the blessing of the holy temple.

The area plan is as follows:

Live the gospel of Jesus Christ. This means:

  • Strengthen ourselves and our families by receiving the ordinances of salvation and exaltation and keeping the associated covenants.
  • Strengthen our faith in Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ and His Atonement by regularly studying the Book of Mormon and by honoring the Sabbath day.

Gather Israel through missionary work, which means:

  • Teach repentance and baptize converts.
  • Rescue less-active members.

Care for the poor and needy, which means:

  • Build spiritual and temporal self-reliance.
  • Live the law of the fast and serve others.

Enable the salvation of the dead by identifying ancestors and performing vicarious temple ordinances for them, which means:

  • Find family names.
  • Take family names to the temple for ordinances and teach others to do the same.

Indicators of progress for each goal:  Select from the following indicators of conversion and Church growth from the Quarterly Report to measure progress . . .

It is astounding, in many ways, that the gospel of Jesus Christ could be somehow so distorted that it has no resemblance to his original words in the Book of Mormon, which Mormons claim is the most correct of books. Seven leaders proclaim this an inspired plan. How is it inspired? It is clear that these men who wrote this are unfamiliar with the doctrine of Christ. The plan claims to help live the gospel of Jesus Christ, but it contains little of his gospel as he himself proclaimed it. The plan says to read the Book of Mormon, but unlike the above plan, the Book of Mormon does not contain the phrase or concept of the plan’s “ordinances of exaltation.” If the seven leaders who wrote this plan have read the Book of Mormon, they chose to omit the core doctrine of Christ contained within it. There are no ordinances associated with the notion of exaltation in the Book of Mormon, and the Sabbath day is a Mosaic commandment that was done away with in Christ’s gospel as illustrated in the Book of Mormon and Bible. What is meant by spiritual and temporal self-reliance, and how does a member do this for an inactive member? It is odd that the plan encourages spiritual self-reliance, but LDS members are instructed to follow the prophet, a fellow man.

The Plan encourages work for the dead. How in the world can a dead person need a living person they have never met? Does Christ mention this “work” anywhere in the Bible or Book of Mormon?  Also, how small is God if he makes someone else responsible for the salvation of another?  Are the righteous dead kept from the Lord because you and I don’t do ordinances for them? How could a God who refers to himself as a just god (2 Nephi 1:22, Mosiah 2:28, Alma 29:2) be so 100% unfair to his children? How could anyone worship a being, or want to be like a being, who is so small in his divine thinking? The Book of Mormon talks nothing of this, nor does the Bible. Alma 40 refutes the idea, never mentioning a spirit prison, yet discusses what happens to people after they have died after having either rejected or having followed Christ.  If Mormons accept Section 137 of the Doctrine and Covenants as authoritative, they should notice that it says salvation is available to mankind as a result of their works with or without ordinances. Where can anyone find a shred of scriptural evidence that God holds innocent people in prison because of someone else’s inaction?

The most magnificent sign that this is not an inspired plan of the Lord is the last sentence wherein it says that as “indicators of progress for each goal, select from the following indicators of conversion and Church growth from the Quarterly Report to measure progress:” 

How can a number in a report reflect one’s faith in Christ, one’s belief in his truths, or the broken-openness of one’s heart, or the contrition of one’s spirit?

Most of the items mentioned in the plan for Mormons in North America, set forth above, can be accomplished without faith in, or knowledge of, Jesus’ self-proclaimed doctrine or gospel, or also without his presence in individuals’ hearts as mentioned before. It seems like more of a corporate policy checklist than one providing spiritual guidance. When Jesus encountered this same attitude toward religion–as a set of outward rules and procedures–we read in Mark 7: 6-9 what happened next:

6 He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.

7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

8 For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.

9 And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.

(Emphasis added.)

The prophets of the Book of Mormon didn’t make the mistake of the Old World Pharisees.  They used the phrase “a broken heart and contrite spirit” six times in the Book of Mormon. In every case, it was used to describe the necessary attitude a person must have in approaching God:

2 Nephi 2:7: Lehi’s teaching that only the sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit will replace the ritual sacrifices of the law of Moses.

3 Nephi 9:20: Jesus’ voice speaking from heaven before his appearance to  Nephites. “And ye shall come unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and him will I baptize with fire and the Holy Ghost.”

3 Nephi 12:19: Jesus states:  “These are the commandments I give unto you at this time, that you have a broken heart and contrite spirit.”

Mormon 2:14: A reference to the soldiers in Mormon’s army and their spiritually insufficient attempt at repentance, saying they did not come unto Jesus with a broken heart and contrite spirit. 

Ether 4:15: Jesus exhorts Israel to come to God with a broken heart and contrite spirit.

Moroni 6:2: Moroni, speaking of the church of Christ, says that none were received unto baptism unless they had a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

And so, after seeing, feeling and understanding the message Jesus wants to deliver to our hearts, it is easy to see why Jesus chose to visit the Nephites after a massive destruction.  Similarly, a true believer in the Bible and Book of Mormon message can envision Christ’s second coming as a day when temples, churches, shrines, synagogues, doctrines, philosophies, traditions, endless church programs, food storage training, home teaching reporting, Sabbath day observance, tithing, genealogy, priesthood, Friends of Scouting, complex hierarchies of leadership, etc., come crashing down into a vast, tangled, complicated pile of rubble under the crushing weight of these simple words from the Lord:  “Come follow me!”

2 thoughts on “The Most Fundamental Christian Doctrine

  1. Concurrence. This principle does not seem to get the attention it deserves. Broken heart and contrite spirit to me means humble and teachable (a person can be humble but not particularly teachable).


    • While I agree that a person can be humble but not teachable, my interpretation of broken heart and contrite spirit is probably a little different than yours. The term suggests to me great regret over past mistakes, and much grief because of the harm caused by those mistakes. One is not only humble, but devastated and deeply sorry. The person feeling that way has already been taught a very painful lesson, and has learned it the hard way.


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