Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Christ Clarifies His Role

I've been reading the 1830 Book of Commandments as reprinted in The Joseph Smith Papers: Revelations and Translations, Vol. 2. I've been struck by how many clarifications Christ made of His role to the early saints. It is apparent there were a number of false notions in circulation about who Christ was and what His future role would include.

The Lord clarifies that the saints should: "look not for a Messiah to come which has already come." (Chapter XVI, verse 27.)

He later adds that when He does return: "they shall see me in the clouds of heaven, clothed with power and great glory, with all the holy angels." (Chapter XLVIII, verse 37.)

If that were not enough to remove the question about His return, He further explains: "the Son of Man cometh not in the form of a woman, neither of a man travelling on the earth." (Chapter LII, verse 21.)

He mentions Enoch, telling us that Enoch and his brethren "were separated from the earth, and were reserved unto [God], a city reserved until a day of righteouensss shall come, a day which was sought for by all holy men, and they found it not because of wickedness and abominations." (Chapter XLVIII, verse 14.) Since "all holy men" sought for this city, but found it not, it is apparent that the rule is failure because holy men cannot teach righteousness to the wicked who prefer their abominations, pride, vanity and errors. The exception is success.

The Lord clarifies there will be success before the world will see Him. He will have a holy city built, which He will call "the New Jerusalem." There, His glory will rest upon these few inhabitants: "it shall be called the New Jerusalem, a land of peace, a city of refuge, a place of safety for the saints of the most high God. And the glory of the Lord shall be there, and the terror of the Lord also shall be there, insomuch that the wicked will not come unto it: And it shall be called Zion." (Chapter XLVIII, verses 59-61.)

When He does show Himself to the world again, it will be in judgment: "I the Lord ...will come down in heaven from the presence of God, and consume the wicked with unquenchable fire." (Chapter LXIV, verse 36.)

I've heard some of the same errors discussed among Latter-day Saints who would know better if they read the scriptures. As early as 1830 the Lord explained He was the Messiah, and had already come. He will not return as a man walking on the earth, but will come in glory and judgment when He returns, and that we need not look for another to come in that way.

I am surprised at how difficult it is to hold on to doctrine. It evaporates almost before our eyes. Perhaps the greatest miracle of the ages will be this latter day New Jerusalem. For, despite all the wickedness and abominable beliefs of mankind urging them to vanity and faithless pride, there will be some small group willing to learn and walk in the way of God. That will be a miracle indeed among the people living in this generation.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Questions From This Week

Since mentioning it, I've gotten a number of questions about President Eyring's General Conference talk: Families Under Covenant. Part of his remarks are particularly insightful. After talking about the church's ordinance, he elaborated:

The way to do that is clear. The Holy Spirit of Promise, through our obedience and sacrifice, must seal our temple covenants in order to be realized in the world to come. President Harold B. Lee explained what it means to be sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise by quoting Elder Melvin J. Ballard: “We may deceive men but we cannot deceive the Holy Ghost, and our blessings will not be eternal unless they are also sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise. The Holy Ghost is one who reads the thoughts and hearts of men, and gives his sealing approval to the blessings pronounced upon their heads. Then it is binding, efficacious, and of full force.”

When Sister Eyring and I were sealed in the Logan Utah Temple, I did not understand then the full significance of that promise. I am still trying to understand all that it means, but my wife and I decided at the start of our nearly 50 years of marriage to invite the Holy Ghost as much as we could into our lives and into our family.
I agree that men may be and often are deceived about who is worthy and who is not. But the Lord alone will judge righteously. Therefore, He decides who will be sealed and who will not. President Eyring is teaching true doctrine.

The portion of the scroll (which was quite long and included different segments) Joseph translated the Book of Abraham from is described in church history. There are three critical features to this text:

The record of Abraham and Joseph, found with the mummies, is (1) beautifully written on papyrus, with black, and (2) a small part red, ink or paint, (3) in perfect preservation. (DHC Vol. 2; 348.)

Color Plates of the Hor Book of Breathings are available in Appendix A, starting on page 33 of The Hor Book of Breathings: A Translation and Commentary, Studies in the Book of Abraham, Vol 2; (FARMS/BYU Press 2002). The contrast between Joseph's description in church history and the photographs of the recovered papyrus requires nothing more than looking at it.

The description "a strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness" (Moroni 7:30) involves at a minimum the following:
-Strong faith is obtained by obedience and sacrifice, as explained in the Lectures on Faith. It requries the sacrifice of all things to obtain favor with God. No one attains to this by cowardice or respecting the views of men above the commandments of God.
-Every form includes not merely passing acquaintance with the Lord's will, but an earnest search into the things God wants from you. And, as you find His will, then to obey it. Everything must be put on the altar. Whether it be friends, property, or life itself, it must be every form.
-Godliness is different from virtue. It is even different from righteousness. I've explained both previously and won't repeat it. Godliness requires you to become godlike in your sentiments and in your meekness before Him. Whether men understand you or attribute motives to you, the relationship is between you and the Lord. Godliness is when your walk here is along the path He has chosen for you.

Prophecy requires someone to fulfill it before you can know who was being identified. Until the work is done I think it is a foolish thing to speculate about identities. There's probably been hundreds of potential individuals, living and dead, who might have done a greater work than they accomplished here. However, they are blinded by the craftiness of other men, or they fall victim to those who deceive, or they allow traditions to control their understanding and fall short of the glory they might have obtained. Hence the saying that many are called, but few are chosen. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Ignorance Enshrined

A purported group of "over 260 active and disaffected Mormons" claims responsibility for a "95 Theses" document released recently. (The quotes in the preceding sentence are theirs. This is how they self-describe.)

Unlike Martin Luther, they choose to categorize themselves rather than to expose themselves by using their identities. There are only a few who identified themselves. For the most part, they remain unidentified. That betrays a weakness of character and leads to the conclusion they want to complain, but they do not want to be responsible for complaining. A "reform" movement must be made of sterner stuff. They appear only willing to whine; not to do the work or take the risk Martin Luther took when he wrote the document they mimic.

I've looked at the 95 Theses. They are largely based on upset stemming from astounding ignorance of our history, scriptures, doctrine and teachings. However, this is a relatively common condition we find ourselves.  As a community of believers in the restoration through Joseph Smith, we've neglected to teach and/or learn the very things that would benefit these "260 active and disaffected Mormons." These people may well be of good faith and honest intent. I'll assume that of them. But they are unable to reconcile some of the things from our past with the things they thought they knew about Mormonism. The problem is that what they thought they knew about Mormonism is not at all what I know and what they should have known about Mormonism. That may not be entirely their fault, but they must shoulder part of the blame.

I understand it from a different perspective because I've paid a price in study, prayer, practice and devotion. In The Second Comforter I said: "The truth will scratch your eyes out, and then scratch them in again." I've been through both. These "260" have been only through the first.

They have 11 troubling points about the Book of Mormon. I've discovered many more. I've reconciled them all in my mind.

They have 5 troubling points on the Book of Abraham. I've discovered many, many more. This is a vital topic for study. I've gathered a library of materials on this text. When I was teaching the Priests' Quorum in my ward, I took 4 weeks with them teaching on the Book of Abraham. I wasn't going to let any of them get "poached" by critics because they didn't have enough background information to understand the issues and history. Using the Documentary History of the Church, they were shown what Joseph described he translated as the Book of Abraham. They were shown the photographic reproductions of the papyri returned from the Metropolitan Museum of New York to the church. The difference between these scroll documents and Joseph's description did not require a commentary. They saw with their own eyes the difference between the two. No one is ever going to convince them using an argument based on misinformation.

These "260 active and disaffected Mormons" have 11 troubling points about Polygamy and Polyandry. Again, it betrays a shallow understanding of our history and comprises only a fraction of what we should all know about this issue. Until we face this, discuss it openly, and put history and context together in a forthright and honest way, we are vulnerable to upset and distress anytime someone who knows a little more than we know comes along with a "fact" from our history we can't put into context.

This raises enough to make the point:

We're losing the battle with many of these souls. The more honest and intellectually open of our members are being taken in traps precisely because their greatest strengths (confidence and openness) allow the critics to show them our weaknesses. This should not be allowed to happen. Narrow-mindedness and dogmatism, as a result of fierce and unrelenting loyalty to an institution, should not rule the day. The winnowing out, if allowed to continue, will produce a frightening form of Mormonism akin to the more radical political movements currently underway in the world.

When Joseph Smith was alive, Mormonism embraced all truth. "The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men, or by the dominations of one another, when that truth is clearly demonstrated to our minds." (Letter from Joseph Smith to Isaac Galland, March 22, 1839; The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, Dean C. Jesse, editor; Deseret Book, p. 421-22.) I'd like to see that be the case once again.

I've never found a problem in the faith for which I could not ultimately find a solution or answer. The faith is quite resilient. But, oddly, some of the actual answers are thought to be so fearful that they must be ignored, suppressed or denounced. Fear is not only the opposite of faith, but it contains within it the bitterness of hell. (Moses 1: 20.) We have become too fearful.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Tradition's Grip

Assume you are taking a course at the local university on William Faulkner. The book for study this semester is The Sound and The Fury. This course does not require you to actually read the book. Instead, the information in this class will come exclusively from your professor. To begin the semester, she will be lecturing and instructing you on 'all things Faulkner.' She will discuss biographical information, including everything she could find about his personal life. She will give lectures on his writing. There will be discussions about literary criticism given his writings and awards he has won. You will listen to audio recordings of Mr. Faulkner reading passages of The Sound and The Fury. 

As the semester progresses, she will begin to discuss the book. She will tell you about the first time she read it, and what kind of impact it had on her. She will tell you why she decided to teach an entire semester course on this one work of Faulkner's. You will learn what her expectations and preconceptions were before she even began reading. You will hear all her first impressions. She tells you that she thought it was difficult the first time. There will be lectures on the genre, characters, plot, setting, style and structure, point of view, images, symbols, and themes. She will discuss the reception when first published. She will discuss each part of the novel in detail. She will then tell you how her personal reactions have changed as her understanding has deepened. As the semester winds down, she will end with her explanation of the literary significance of this book. With that, the semester is over.

Shortly after the end of the semester, because of this class and the things you learned, you decide to actually read The Sound and The Fury:
Do you suppose, with your first reading, you could formulate any thought about this book independent of what your professor fed you?
Could you make your own critical evaluations about characters, plot, point of view, themes, or symbolism?
Could the biographical information you learned about Mr. Faulkner be extricated from your psyche in order to have a blank slate from which to assess Mr. Faulkner's reason for writing this novel?
Could you read this book through your lense?
How much of your professor's impressions, understanding or analysis would you have to completely discard in order to form your own personal conclusions about this material?
How many times would you have to read it before you began to make your own analysis?
Would the professor's framework control your first reading?
Could you ever escape from her views to discover your own?

The Lamanites were unable to convert, even when taught the truth, because of the traditions of their fathers which were not correct. (Mosiah 1: 5.)

"Becoming as a little child" is necessary, because children are able to be taught. They are still open. They want to be filled. For such is the kingdom. (Luke 18: 16.) None of the arguments our Lord was required to endure with His fellow-man was ever with a child.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Ongoing Battle

Although I know of no one who has left the church or “lost their testimony” as a consequence of reading my book, Passing the Heavenly Gift (“PTHG”), there continue to be accusations that this has/does happen. Therefore, again, I want to reaffirm the purpose of PTHG.  

Let me give some background. I joined the church while in the Air Force, stationed in New Hampshire. After joining, I was a zealous missionary, and there followed over a dozen conversions of other military young folks who would listen to me explain the restoration. I got them open to the idea, then the full-time missionaries and ward members would take over. Mormonism was an exotic religion in New England. Little was known about the faith. So we got to begin with a relatively blank slate and tell the story our way. 
I was transferred to Abilene, Texas shortly after joining the church. In Texas things were very different. At the local Laundromat I used, there were racks of religious tracts on the wall. Included in these were a wide assortment of anti-Mormon pamphlets intended to “prove” Mormonism was false. We went from being exotic to being the devil’s workmanship. Missionary work in Texas was a good deal more difficult. Even though I served as a Stake Missionary, and took the third-Elder (who awaited his Visa to Brazil) every evening and weekend as a companion to tract and teach, the results in Texas were nothing like what had happened in New Hampshire. 
The organized effort in Texas was supported by radio programs, Sunday sermons, and the occasional editorial in the local newspapers. The “Christian” churches were tired of losing their best congregants to the Mormon Elders. So the effort to oppose the church was inter-denominational.  
I joined the church in 1973 and finished my Air Force term in Texas in 1975. This is now long ago. Since then, the growth of the church has left no corner of the United States untouched by wards, stakes, missions, temple districts and advertising. We are no longer exotic anywhere - including New Hampshire. 
The result of church growth has been the increasing awareness of Mormonism’s effect on other religions. It is not a happy thing for other faiths to see our church grow at the expense of their own congregations. The original inter-denominational cooperation I saw in Texas in 1974-75 has now spread. It is now worldwide. All churches are wary of the loss of revenue and participation represented by each Mormon convert who leaves their fold to join ours. 

Today there is widespread sharing of anti-Mormon material among other denominations. The best defense is an organized offense. In many areas, Elders (who are easily identified) are followed in order to discover who they are teaching. Then the investigator is contacted by volunteers who distribute anti-Mormon material to prevent conversions. Some years ago there were ministries who bragged they could not only prevent conversions, but they could take it one step further: They could convert the Mormon Elder! That led to a growth in seminars, literature and preaching about ways to “convert Mormon Elders” while they are on their missions. 
I do not think there has been any significant success in actually converting active Mormon missionaries. But that isn’t the point. It is the Evangelical perception of that success that has fueled two things: First, it has helped insulate converts, because if the Elders can be converted, then Mormonism must not be true (or so the reasoning goes). Second, it creates more confrontation by anti-Mormon forces aimed directly at our missionaries.
The Evangelicals have realized that the best way to practice this kind of undermining of Mormon missionary efforts is to take the soft-sale approach. Instead of Bible-bashing, just ask questions the Elders can’t answer. Make the Elders do the thinking and work to solve the riddles. When they can’t, then they are filled with doubts that linger.

This is not just happenstance. This is an organized and inter-denominational effort that began decades ago. It now bears so much fruit it is is alarming to Mormons. Returned missionaries are falling away. When I was in charge of missionary work in my stake, I attended regional leadership meetings at which the Mission President and a Seventy advised us of the trends underway. The inactive church members were called “low hanging fruit” who could swell our ranks just by returning to activity. One category of the “low hanging fruit” was the returned missionary population. At that time, (years ago now) it was estimated there were 40,000 returned Elders along the Wasatch Front, from Ogden to Provo, who were so inactive we didn’t have a reliable address for them. The suggestion was to contact the families of the inactive, returned missionaries and locate them that way.

This background is part of why PTHG exists. This battle has been underway for decades, and the most successful topic being used to question our members and raise doubts is our history. The anti-Mormon forces know we are generally ignorant of our history. We don’t know enough to answer hard questions. So all that needs to be done is to put the right question to the ignorant, but believing Latter-day Saint, and the doubts will eventually percolate into disbelief and abandonment. I do not think most of those who have and are leaving do so because they know the church is not true. They leave because they no longer think the church has answers to the difficult questions. Part of the reaction of the church has been to run from the hard questions, which reinforces the idea that we don’t know the real answers. 

So, I wrote the book to deal with anything I thought was out there being used or potentially being used against us. I assumed the audience would be those who were already in distress, already having doubts, already aware of these efforts to undermine faith and create doubts. It was intended as relief from anxiety over the battles which have raged for decades now. 
Instead of this audience, there are some who have picked the book up and thought it was intended as a hostile attack on the church, its history, and its doctrine. Thankfully, such readers are already sure they belong to the “only true church” and therefore their ire is only directed at me. They aren’t leaving the church. They’re only interested in damning me for writing something they can’t conceive of as helpful.

Well, I have literally dozens, perhaps hundreds of emails and letters from readers who were the intended audience. Person after person, young and old, male and female, returned missionaries and church leaders have thanked me. Some who left the church have returned. Some who have had their names removed from the records of the church, or were considering it, have written to tell me they were remaining in the church.  At last, they say, they can find faith and answers that enables them to remain in fellowship with the church.

For those who were never intended to read the book, but are now angry at me for having addressed this problem, let me assure you:

First, I believe in the restoration of eternal truths through the prophet Joseph Smith. My testimony of this truth is rock solid. My purpose, and all that I seek to accomplish by writing, is to further this work and be a small contributor to development of God’s work. 
To be clear: 

1.     I sustain today’s church leaders as prophets, seers and revelators.  The scriptures give them the right to use those titles (D&C 107: 92). They preside, and it is their right to do so. They have our common consent and ought to be upheld by our “confidence, faith and prayers” (D&C 107: 22). I uphold them in this way. They carry heavy burdens and have my sympathy, not my judgment, for any human frailties they display.  

2.     It is utterly untrue that I have said the church is apostate. I reject the accusation. If the narrative I suggest in PTHG is true, then the Lord’s post-Nauvoo ire is evidence the Lord is still watching over and intends to further His work with the members of this church. Those whom He loves, He chastens. (Heb. 12: 5-11; Helaman 12: 3; D&C 95: 1.) Mine is not a faithless, but a faith filled history.  I’ve reiterated this before and reiterate it again. (See my post: The Traditions of Men, Part 1, April 21, 2010.) 

3.     I believe the church possesses the right to seal on earth and seal in heaven, and have agreed with President Eyring’s general conference talk on the subject. 

4.     I believe that all organizations, including the church, tend to characterize their history in a light most favorable to them. They have that right. I take no issue with it and think it should be expected. That does not change the divine origin and mission of the church.  

5.     The church provides ordinances required to see and enter into the kingdom of heaven, in addition to providing us with the necessary scriptures. Through the church, we  receive the foundation of faith, repentance, baptism and enduring to the end. I hope to endure to the end myself and I seek to help others do so.   

I am still in the battle to help people find and focus upon Christ. As a faithful Latter-day Saint I owe my knowledge of the Lord to the tools I obtained through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have enjoyed every minute of my association with the church, and I intend to remain a faithful member. The current war we face did not originate with blogs or bloggers. The blogosphere is following the battle, not leading it. It began long ago, and the efforts to deal with it here are because of the many losses we have and are suffering. They are needless losses. We just need to be willing to discuss and recognize there certainly are some tough questions. They don’t go away because we ignore them. They grow.