It seems to me that whenever I’ve listened to a discussion of spiritual conversion in the Church, there have been two different and conflicting ways of describing the process. The first was made famous by Elder Bednar in his Conference talk of 2007, Ye Must be Born Again. In this talk, spiritual rebirth is compared to the long process of transforming a cucumber into a pickle. First it is prepared and cleaned, then it is immersed in salt brine for an extended period of time, and finally it is sealed into sterilized and purified jars. Elder Bednar quotes Mosiah 5:7 and then states:
The spiritual rebirth described in this verse typically does not occur quickly or all at once; it is an ongoing process—not a single event. Line upon line and precept upon precept, gradually and almost imperceptibly, our motives, our thoughts, our words, and our deeds become aligned with the will of God. This phase of the transformation process requires time, persistence, and patience.
In this description, Elder Bednar aligns himself with teachings of Bruce R. McConkie, who has said that being “born again” is an experience which will occur over a long period of time for most members:
Except in miraculous and unusual circumstances, as with Alma (Mosiah 27), spiritual rebirth is a process. It does not occur instantaneously. It comes to pass by degrees. Repentant persons become alive to one spiritual reality after another, until they are wholly alive in Christ and are qualified to dwell in his presence forever. (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary , 3:402)
However, Mosiah 5:7, quoted above by Elder Bednar, reads “this day he hath spiritually begotten you.” This, and the many miraculous descriptions of spiritual rebirth in the Book of Mormon as well as the Bible have led some Latter-day Saints to describe the “born again” experience differently. I think this type of conversion can more aptly be compared with the way potatoes are turned into french fries. It’s a quick and fiery immersion in hot oil, miraculously changing ordinary potatoes into a crunchy and irresistible treat.
In Alma 5, this “mighty change” seems to describe a born again experience much like that extolled by the evangelical Christians. I myself had a “born again” experience at age 18. Though I was raised in a Christian home with a father who was a Protestant minister, this was an experience during which I came alive to the things of the Spirit. For me it was a single event, though there has been a process of sanctification including my decision to join the LDS church and the development of testimony of several aspects of the Gospel.
In fact, I believe that more often, the “born again” or conversion experience will manifest as a single event. The “pickle process” seems to me to be a more apt description of sanctification, which takes place over a period of time.
But I see that our Sunday School manual disagrees with me on this. While teaching of the process of spiritual conversion, McConkie’s words have been excerpted to imply that spiritual conversion can ONLY happen through process of time, and not suddenly:
• Elder McConkie also taught that being born again “doesn’t happen in an instant. [It] is a process” (“Jesus Christ and Him Crucified,” in 1976 Devotional Speeches of the Year, 399). What can we do to continue this process throughout our lives? (See 2 Nephi 31:19–20.) How can we overcome discouragement or setbacks in our spiritual progress? What changes have you observed in yourself or someone else during the process of becoming born again?
What do you think? Have you experienced conversion? For you, was it a single event, or a process? Somehow I doubt that my spiritual rebirth is “unusual.” I’ve heard many Mormons, converts and lifelong members, describe a mighty change as a single experience which they can pinpoint. I’ve also wondered how long spiritual conversion has been taught as a process in the Church. Is this another McConkieism which has been adopted as doctrine?
But then at times I wonder if McConkie deserves more credence than I have heretofore supposed. In a FHE, we were speaking to our teenaged daughters about their testimonies of the Book of Mormon. They felt uncomfortable with the admonition of Moroni to pray about the book. They insist that as long as they have been aware, they have known the Book of Mormon was a true scriptural record, and that to pray about it would be a lack of faith. They relate better to a process-oriented approach, where they continue to learn more about the scriptures and develop more skill in applying them to their lives. In their case, and in that of many life-long members, is “conversion” unnecessary?
I continue to worry about this, for the Lord told Alma:
Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.