Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Before His Return

President Ezra Taft Benson taught that “the record of the Nephite history just prior to the Savior’s visit reveals many parallels to our own day as we anticipate the Savior’s second coming” (Conference Report, April 1987, 3; or Ensign, May 1987,4).

Though President Benson's message was primarily centered in 3 Nephi, I considered those words as I began reading through the Book of Helaman last week.

About three decades prior to the coming of Christ there were wars and rumors of wars among the Nephites and Lamanites.  Because of "their wickedness and their abomination"among those "who professed to belong to the church of God," they experienced a "great loss" and "great slaughter" (Hel. 4:11).  The great loss they experienced was that of "cities," "lands," and "possessions" (Hel. 4:5-10).

Like ancient Israel, they professed to know God, and with their lips did honor him, but their hearts were far from him.  They had become rich and proud.  They were absorbed in Babylon.  In all of their abundance, they regarded not the poor that were among them.  Having both the poor and the rich among them, they "saith unto the one: Be thou clothed in robes and sit thou here; and to the other: Be thou clothed in rags and sit thou there," and yet thought themselves just (D&C 38:26).

They mocked that which was sacred by professing God but denying the spirit of prophecy and revelation; speaking in his name, but not having obtained his voice.  They thereby took the Lord's name in vain.  

They murdered and plundered.  They were dishonest thieves, stealing that which belonged to other men and women, including their spouses.  They were full of great contentions, and not unified in the faith.  Since they were not one, they could not belong to the Lord (D&C 38:27).

And after all this kind of conduct they "boasted in their own strength."  Therefore, God left them to themselves, and their prosperity could not last.  They were "afflicted and smitten, and driven" before their enemies until they had lost all they thought no man could take.  They stored up for themselves treasures on earth, which things must come to an end.

Moronihah, and Nephi and Lehi, the sons of Helaman, came among the people preaching repentance (Hel. 4:14).  The message that needed to be preached to this people was indeed repentance.  Would we expect something else?  They were warned what would "come unto them" if they chose not to repent of their sins (ibid.).

"And it came to pass that they did repent, and inasmuch as they did repent they did begin to prosper" (Hel. 4:15).

In the year that followed, during their time of softening and repentance, they began to awake to their awful situation.  They recognized that they were in jeopardy of being "overpowered, and trodden down, and slain, and destroyed" by their enemies, which were more numerous than they (Hel. 4:20).

During this time they "began to remember the prophecies"of the holy prophets.  They knew they had been stiffnecked, and that they had "set at naught the commandments of God" (ibid.).  They then realized they had "altered and trampled under their feet" the laws they had received, which God had commanded a prophet to give unto them (Hel. 4:22).  They recognized the corruption that surrounded them, "and that they had become a wicked people," so much that they were like unto those they considered their enemies (ibid.).  They saw that they had become weak like their enemies, God having withdrawn the protection of his Spirit.  They recognized the Spirit did not dwell with them, because "the Spirit of the Lord doth not dwell in unholy temples" (Hel. 4:24).  They had "fallen into a state of unbelief and awful wickedness," which thing they could not before see (Hel. 4:25).

Sadly, their repentance was not permanent, and the voices of those "who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction" (Hel. 5:1-3).  Because of "transgression" they had "fallen" (Hel. 4:26).  

All these things happened in the space of not many years" (ibid.).

In that same address President Benson went on to say, "The Nephite civilization had reached great heights. They were prosperous and industrious. They had built many cities with great highways connecting them. They engaged in shipping and trade. They built temples and palaces. ...But, as so often happens, the people rejected the Lord. Pride became commonplace. Dishonesty and immorality were widespread" (April Conference, 1978).

I take President Benson's message as a prophetic warning.  He warned us frequently.  He preached Christ and the Book of Mormon often.  He invited the Church to repent and take the Book of Mormon more seriously, and reminded us we are still under condemnation.  

How quick we are to forget.  It's too easy to ignore these things.  

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Same Yesterday, Today, and Forever

It wasn’t generally evident the Jews were blind until they began fighting against God’s prophets.  Until then, many presumed the situation was not all that dire.  Surely, even some of the very elect almost could not perceive the condition of darkness in which the people stirred.  It took hearing the message of repentance from true prophets to begin opening their eyes, and unstopping their deaf ears (JST Isa. 42:19).  It was that message that began to cause the anger.  

Once the people fought against God’s prophets, it became clear to those who were paying attention that they had been drawing nigh unto God with their mouths, and honoring him with their lips, but their hearts were far from him (Matt. 15:8-9).  They had been “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (ibid.).

The leaders, whom the people followed, and in whom the people had placed their faith, by and large rejected and cast out those God had sent among them with an authentic message.  They led many souls to “the ditch” (Matt. 15:14).  Those who presided were fearful of what was perceived as opposition to their high and honored standing.  Because they weren’t teaching an authentic message, received via an authentic experience, they necessarily took offense when prophets claimed to speak with and for God (Matt. 15:12; 26:33).  These leaders wondered at where these prophets had received their authority (Mark 11:27-33).

Because of honesty and open hearts, some believed the message sent by God (Acts 28:24).  Because of humility, some of those chose to repent and work righteousness.  Because of pride, many cursed God, and the servants God had sent, and damned themselves. 

God even sent his Son among them.  They despised and rejected Him (Isa. 53:3). They esteemed Him not, and hid their faces from Him, as was prophesied (Ibid.).  They were offended because of Him.  They were angry at His message and slew their Lord. 

God’s children in all generations, and in every dispensation, have had a difficult time recognizing true prophets when they are sent.  Joseph Smith taught us that:

“The world always mistook false prophets for true ones, and those that were sent of God, they considered to be false prophets, and hence they killed, stoned, punished and imprisoned the true prophets, and these had to hide themselves ‘in deserts and dens, and caves of the earth,’ and though the most honorable men of the earth, they banished them from their society as vagabonds, whilst they cherished, honored and supported knaves, vagabonds, hypocrites, impostors, and the basest of men” ( Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 206).

Why didn’t God make it as easy for all those previous dispensations as he has for us?  Is He not the same yesterday, today, and forever (Morm. 9:9)?

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Fulness of the Gospel

Long ago a remnant of Jews was "scattered among all nations" (D&C 45:16-24).  Christ prophesied this would happen.  When this dispensation opened, they remained in their scattered condition.  That group remains scattered today, and will so remain, until “the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (D&C 45:24-25). 

Before the times of the Gentiles were to be fulfilled, however, the Lord said he would make a last effort to extend unto them the fullness of the gospel.

“And in that day shall be heard of wars and rumors of wars, and the whole earth shall be in commotion, and men’s hearts shall fail them, and they shall say that Christ delayeth his coming until the end of the earth.

“And the love of men shall wax cold, and iniquity shall abound.

“And when the times of the Gentiles is come in, a light shall break forth among them that sit in darkness, and it shall be the fullness of my gospel;

“But they receive it not; for they perceive not the light, and they turn their hearts from me because of the precepts of men.

“And in that generation shall the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.

“And there shall be men standing in that generation, that shall not pass until they shall see an overflowing scourge; for a desolating sickness shall cover the land.

“But my disciples shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved; but among the wicked, men shall lift up their voices and curse God and die.

“And there shall be earthquakes also in divers places, and many desolations; yet men will harden their hearts against me, and they will take up the sword, one against another, and they will kill one another” (D&C 45:26-33).

The "times of the Gentiles is come in."  When the fullness has been offered and rejected, the times of the Gentiles shall be fulfilled.  That rejection will be a prelude to the “overflowing scourge,” and the “desolating sickness” that shall cover the land.  Christ will spare his disciples, but the wicked will be destroyed.

This prophecy ties in with the prophecy Joseph Smith later gave on 23 July 1837 that I mentioned earlier (This Day in History). 

These things ought to be considered and should provide us encouragement to take our discipleship seriously.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Danger of Infallibility, Conclusion

But behold, a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people, yea, the account of the Lamanites and of the Nephites, and their wars, and contentions, and dissensions, and their preaching, and their prophecies, and their shipping and their building of ships, and their building of temples, and of synagogues and their sanctuaries, and their righteousness, and their wickedness, and their murders, and their robbings, and their plundering, and all manner of abominations and whoredoms, cannot be contained in this work" (Hel 3:14).

If a prophet-writer were presently writing scripture concerning our day - and there very well may be - a hundredth part could not be written concerning "the proceedings of this people."  A hundredth part cannot be written concerning all these things in our history.  Not a hundredth part of our building projects, our righteousness, our wickedness, etc.

Though the ideas and examples I put forth in the previous posts are not comprehensive, they should make a point if considered carefully.  The Adam-God teachings were used as an example because they make the point very well.  One church President believed it, taught it for over 20 years from the pulpit, and threatened another apostle with excommunication for his refusal to believe in it.  Another church President didn't believe it, and taught that it was false and should be avoided.  An apostle, contemporary with the latter, taught those who do believe in it are cultists, and will be damned.

There are not just a few, but many other examples that students of our history are required to confront.  The issue of Adam-God tends to be skirted aside by those unwilling to confront it.  It's of such a nature so as to enable us to do so for the time-being.  There will soon be other issues, ones that cannot be pushed aside or ignored.  You will be forced to confront them head on.  It will be a sore test.  Don't hang onto this idea of infallibility.  It will cause you more heartache than will be necessary.   

My purpose was to show that it is incompatible with reason, our spiritual foundation established by Joseph Smith, and the holy scriptures, to believe in the false notion of infallibility.  The foolish idea that a man will never lead you astray, is damnable.  It cannot be believed by those who claim to worship God and not men.  Leaders should point to Christ.  True messengers refuse inappropriate adoration, and are quick to acknowledge they are not the object of our worship (Rev. 19:10).

By getting a man to believe that he can place his trust in another man, and not in Christ, Satan will effectively destroy that man's testimony and faith in the very moment he can show him that the very men in whom his faith has been placed have failed him.  Our leaders have the capacity, and demonstrated disposition, to contradict one another, the scriptures, and the revelations of God to our dispensation head.  Inasmuch as their teachings invite men to repent and come unto Christ, and do not contradict God's word, their messages are sent forth by the Spirit of God.  When messages come that teach you to trust in men, or trust that you will never be led astray because of the "virtue of the priesthood" office they hold, it is by compulsion that their message is sent forth, and you should recognize that the source of such is not of God (D&C 121:41).

We should pray for our leaders (D&C 107:22).  Many are good men.  We are a benefit to them, and to the Church, when we discard false notions and unitedly seek Christ.  

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Danger of Infallibility, Part 4

“It is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men; For although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him…How oft you have transgressed the commandments and the laws of God, and have gone on in the persuasions of men…Because of transgression, if thou art not aware thou wilt fall.” – The Lord to Joseph Smith (D&C 3:3-4, 6, 9)

Here is a revelation given to the head of this dispensation.  Joseph was warned by the Lord that if he was "not aware" he would fall.  The Lord taught Joseph that the "work of men" can be frustrated.  In plain language the Lord offers a few reasons that would cause a man to fall:
  • Boasting in his own strength
  • Setting at naught God's counsels
  • Following the dictates of his own will
  • Following the dictates of his carnal desires
  • Going on in the persuasions of men
  • Transgression
If Joseph Smith had to be "aware" lest he fall, that should tell you something about every other person who's been called to lead in this Church.  The reasons given by the Lord that a man may fall seem to me to be general problems we all face, and not problems that were specific to the Prophet.

Brigham Young described the attitude of humble diligence demonstrated by the prophet Joseph Smith:

“I recollect many times when brother Joseph, reflecting upon how many would come into the Kingdom of God and go out again, would say, ‘Brethren, I have not apostatized yet, and don't feel like doing so.’ Many of you, no doubt, can call to mind his words. Joseph had to pray all the time, exercise faith, live his religion, and magnify his calling, to obtain the manifestations of the Lord, and to keep him steadfast in the faith" (Discourse by Brigham Young, JD 2:257).

It appears times have changed since the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith.  We, at least, impose an unfair standard upon those who have been called to be leaders in the Lord's Church.  They don't deserve such an inappropriate imposition.  We've got what we wanted, however.  It's so much easier to place our trust in the arm of flesh.      

Prophets are given to the children of men to point them from the darkened, apostate mess they find themselves in back to Christ.  That is their purpose.  Repentance is their message (Moro. 7:29-32).  Their calling is to point us to Christ.

Nephi warned Latter-day Saints to beware of those that say, “All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well" (2 Ne 28:21).  This doctrine is among the greatest threats of deception we face today.  This is the message that keeps us sleeping.  This doctrine leadeth souls carefully down to hell (ibid.).  This is a doctrine of the devil that will damn us if we teach it, and listeners if they believe it (2 Ne 28:21-24).  The message that we cannot be led astray only facilitates the doctrine that all is well.  We have been forewarned.

“Modern revelation is what Joseph Smith said, unless Spencer W. Kimball says otherwise" (S. Dilworth Young, BYU fireside, 5 May 1974).
We love what Joseph Smith said about anything and everything under the sun, unless our current leaders change it.  This pretty well typifies our attitude.  We were recently taught "not to question", or even to consider “whether it makes sense" (Bennett, supra, “Follow the Prophet," see part 1).
Such obedience is worse than folly.  A man of God would despise the idea (Joseph Smith, part 1).
All that matters now is that you can trust in man.  Those who believe such a thing are perhaps worse off than those of other Christian sects who know nothing about the restoration of the gospel in the last days, but who strive to “follow him" (John 10:4).

We will remain asleep and unredeemed believing in that flattery.  We must awake and arise to our awful situation.

This Day in History

On this day in 1837, Joseph Smith received a revelation in Kirtland, Ohio that has been preserved for us in the Doctrine and Covenants.  In it the Lord says:

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, darkness covereth the earth, and gross darkness the minds of the people, and all flesh has become corrupt before my face.

“Behold, vengeance cometh speedily upon the inhabitants of the earth, a day of wrath, a day of burning, a day of desolation, of weeping, of mourning, and of lamentation; and as a whirlwind it shall come upon all the face of the earth, saith the Lord;

“And upon my house shall it begin, and from my house shall it go forth, saith the Lord;

“First among those among you, saith the Lord, who have professed to know my name and have not known me, and have blasphemed against me in the midst of my house, saith the Lord” (D&C 112:23-26).

I’d like to take time to talk about this later.  

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Danger of Infallibility, Part 3

“How, it may be asked, was this known to be a bad angel?  By His contradicting a former revelation.”  -Joseph Smith (TPJS, p. 214).

It is important to examine the time period after President Woodruff’s death. His statement that the President would never lead the saints astray becomes problematic to any serious student of Church history.  It is problematic retrospectively, as we have discussed, but also prospectively.  It later becomes problematic, for instance, when President Heber J. Grant changes the way the priesthood is given to the men in the Church.  That change remained in place for over two decades until a future president of the Church changed it back. 

Woodruff’s statement is also troubling when considering the changes that are subsequently made to the temple ordinances; not additions to, or clarifications only, but the removal of certain of the higher ordinances, and alterations to portions that we are taught are most sacred.
The Church leadership later returned to the original way in which priesthood was conferred, fearing the procedure had been changed in error.  It also once again began administering the higher ordinances of the temple after much concern among some of the apostles and a temple president.  Their concerns were a matter of continued discussion in meetings of the twelve.

I’ve wondered what President Woodruff would say about President Kimball’s statement regarding Brigham Young’s Adam-God teachings.

“We warn you against the dissemination of doctrines which are not according to the scriptures and which are alleged to have been taught by some General Authorities of past generations, such, for instance is the Adam-God theory. We denounce that theory and hope that everyone will be cautioned against this and other kinds of false doctrine" (President Spencer W. Kimball during Priesthood session of general conference, Church News, 9 Oct 1976).

I’d be particularly interested to hear how President Woodruff would respond (I have a good idea how Brigham Young might respond) to this statement from Bruce R. McConkie:

“Brigham Young erred in some of his statements on the nature and kind of being that God is and as to the position of Adam in the plan of salvation…If we choose to believe and teach the false portions of his doctrines we are making an election that will damn us" (From a letter to Eugene England dated 19 Feb 1981, p. 6).

I cannot presume to speak for him, but I cannot believe that President Woodruff would have agreed with these statements.  He had actually taken part in disciplinary councils considering the excommunication of Elder Orson Pratt for teaching the very same things that President Kimball and Elder McConkie taught (These trials and controversies cover an extended time frame and are well documented in Bergera’s Conflict in the Quorum).  

If, therefore, what President Woodruff intended to convey by saying that the Church President would never lead the saints astray was that no Church President would ever teach false doctrine, then he himself (and you and me) would have to conclude that he was wrong.  For, regardless of who was right or wrong, two Presidents taught two completely opposing ideas, and declared authoritatively what they were teaching to be the truth.  They cannot both be correct.  There are many other examples that could have been chosen.     

It’s also interesting to note that Bruce R. McConkie very apparently did not believe that the Church President was necessarily always going to be doctrinally accurate.  He believed and taught that Brigham Young was in error (noted above).  He also said that if we "choose to believe and teach the false portions of [Brigham Young's] doctrines we are making an election that will damn us."  Eliza R. Snow, Heber C. Kimball, and Brigham Young are among the group who are, therefore, damned.  Yet, surprisingly, Elder McConkie didn’t teach that Brigham Young had led the Church astray by teaching false doctrine.  How is it that the Church President can teach a thing which, if believed, will damn a man, and not be leading the Church astray?  How far then would one have to go to lead the Church astray?  Who is the judge of this?  Can we really believe in this idea?

In using these examples from our history, I am not siding with one leader over another, or faulting one or the other, but illustrating contradictions.  The contradictions were real - they happened - are well-documented, and can teach you a whole lot about your religion.  They are the ones who were critical of and faulted one another's teachings.  

It may be difficult to some reading this to consider this discussion.  The reason that it is difficult is because we are confronted by the truth about these things, and the truth is not consistent with our expectations.  Our expectation is that we're led by men who will never lead us astray.  We should reconsider this belief.  It has no potential of bearing good fruit.  Christ has never advocated it.  It is called "trusting in the arm of flesh" in the scriptures.  Joseph Smith taught that when men advocate such "extreme notions" it is usually because they have it in their heart to do wrong themselves (Millennial Star, Volume 14, No. 38, Pages 593-595).

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Confronting Truth

"Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness" (2 Ne. 15:20). 

For those who are not used to confronting the truth of difficult issues within Mormon history, it may be easy to pass quick judgment upon those who have decided to do so with candor.  Because something seems contrary to your assumptions does not mean it is unimportant, or untrue.  Be humble enough to at least consider whether or not these things are important.  If you decide they're unimportant, fine.      

The truth is not always kind in its confrontation with error (2 Ne. 9:40).  My intent is not to be critical of the Church or its leaders.  I sustain the leaders.  But there remains things to which you must draw your attention.  I'm not the only one singing out about these things.  It's really unfortunate that we cannot candidly discuss our own history in an attempt to better understand our faith, without being considered suspect by those who share our faith.  It's really a shame.  I accept that's the way it is and will remain for now.         

It is important to bring up these issues.  It is important because in order to grow in truth, you at some point need to begin shedding error. You cannot gain further light and knowledge building upon a false foundation.

It is important to consider these things, because it allows you to step outside of your present world, and view the history that has created the Mormonism you've inherited.  What you have inherited is not what Joseph Smith intended to create.

We read, memorize, and parrot many gospel precepts that we do not understand correctly.  It's easy to use the words of scripture and have no idea what the prophet-author had in mind when he penned the words.  Words written by the power of the Spirit of God can only be fully understood by that same Spirit.  We are blind.  We are gone into captivity, because we have no knowledge (2 Ne. 15:13).  Our honorable men are famished, and the multitude dried up with thirst (Ibid.).  

This terrible dilemma we find ourselves in is not completely our fault.  We've inherited many ideas about the gospel.  Some are correct and have their roots in the restoration the Prophet was trying to accomplish.  Others are innovations from more recent history.  But you shouldn't be surprised you didn't know that.  How could you?  When a man walks into a room that is painted blue, he does not naturally begin wondering what color the room used to be painted.  Not until the paint begins to peel away does he entertain questions about the original.  

When we are born into a culture that teaches reliance upon the arm of flesh, it's easy to adopt unbelief, and to persist in spreading the disease.  We do so without malice, and even good intention.  It's so difficult to break the cycle.  It's too comfortable to pursue our present course and think all is well.     

There are many people looking for answers. People are beginning to ask important questions. Not everybody, however, is interested right now in shedding their biases, and traditions.  Not everybody is willing to be burdened with correction.  All things must be done in wisdom.  God wants to save his children, not harm them.   

It is easy to allow yourself to become a critic of the Church, or an "accuser" of the brethren, when you've seen enough of the weakness and failings of men.  It's unfortunate that some decide to become critics and to indulge in the spirit of the evil one.  The critic attempts to destroy faith and unity.  

Criticism is addictive.  This is a new challenge that folks face when they begin to wake up from that awful slumber, and shake off the dust that covers them.  The natural man would have you point a finger of scorn and condemnation at a brother.  Christ would have us cover another in the cloak of charity.

"I do not dwell upon your faults, and you shall not upon mine.  Charity, which is love, covereth a multitude of sins, and I have often covered up all the faults among you...We should cultivate a meek, quiet and peaceable spirit" (Joseph Smith, TPJS, Section Six 1843-1844, p. 316)

I see a day coming in which many people will lose their faith.  Those who have placed their faith in men will lose it, while those who have developed faith in Christ will save it.  My effort is to reach out to those who desire to come unto Christ.  Inasmuch as the Spirit of the Lord will guide me, I will continue the effort.

Here's something to remember: sometimes wicked people are very nice; and very good people, deceived.

The Danger of Infallibility, Part 2

“Cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh.  Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man.”  -Nephi (2 Ne. 4:34).

First consider this.  President Woodruff made his now too-long-promulgated statement while he was the 4th President of the Church.  It was made at a time when the saints were sore afraid he had taken actions contrary to the will of the Lord by issuing the manifesto.  

By and large, faithful Latter-day Saints believed what they had been taught by Brigham Young and his counselors.  They believed what had been taught by John Taylor and his associates.  They believed what had been taught them by President Woodruff.  The doctrine these men taught the saints was that plural marriage was restored in these last times by the Prophet Joseph Smith and that it was here to stay; that no power on earth or in hell could remove the practice.  They learned that it was required for their exaltation.  They were taught that you were a coward if you abandoned the practice because of ungodly pressures from a wicked world.  They made eternal covenants in the temples to live it.  The saints were terrified that this was now the course that their own leaders were taking, contrary to everything that had been "revealed" concerning the matter.  

Woodruff wrote the following in his journal about the principle of plural marriage:

“God our heavenly Father, knowing that this is the only law, ordained by the Gods of eternity, that would exalt immortal beings to kingdoms, thrones, principalities, powers and dominions…commanded Joseph Smith the prophet, and all Latter-day Saints, to obey this law, ‘or you shall be damned,’ saith the Lord.
“Now who shall we obey?  God or man?  My voice is that we obey God. …So say I as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, I will not desert my wives and my children and disobey the commandments of God, for the sake of accommodating the public clamor of a nation steeped in sin and ripened in the damnation of hell.  I would rather go to prison and to death" (21 April 1879, in Wilford Woodruff’s Journal.  Taken from Briney’s Silencing Mormon Polygamy, p. 7).

Both John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff made claims that a revelation ending plural marriage would "never" come forth.  Heber J. Grant recorded a statement made to him by Wilford Woodruff:

“Had we yielded to that document every man of us would have been under condemnation before God.  The Lord never will give a revelation to abandon plural marriage" (Ibid, p. 31.  An excerpt from the Journals of Heber J. Grant.  The "document" referred to was proposed as a public declaration that the Mormons would no longer practice plural marriage.  Saints, including apostles, had requested that President Taylor issue a "revelation" or declaration that the saints would no longer continue the practice as a ploy to end federal persecution.  This same request was later made of President Woodruff.  Both men refused, stating the Lord would never issue such a revelation, and that they would be condemned by God if they signed such a document.).

There are many more details about all of this.  These are just snippets.  It is easier to get at a clear understanding of what President Woodruff believed about what he was saying, when you consider all of those details.  There are over fifty years of context that need to be understood before really understanding the situation he found himself in, and what he meant when he said neither he nor any other President of the Church would lead the saints astray.  Among other possible meanings, he was at very least trying to calm the hearts of the general membership of the Church during a time of tumult and severe change.  By revoking the practice of plural marriage he was contradicting the previous Church Presidents, and the saints were afraid he'd succumbed to political pressure.  

There is, however, important additional context for President Woodruff’s 1890 statement that is worth consideration.  This additional context is important not because it helps you understand the immediate circumstances that led to President Woodruff’s making the statement, or even what the statement itself may mean, but because this context helps you begin to consider some of the implications of what he said.

Wilford Woodruff had served faithfully beside Brigham Young during the 40 years previous to issuing the manifesto, and making this statement.  He loved President Young, and he loved what he taught.

“Every man in this room who has a particle of the Spirit of God knows that President Young is a Prophet of God and that God sustains him and he has the Holy Spirit and his doctrines are true" (27 Jan 1860, Minutes of Meeting with the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency, The Office Journal of President Brigham Young, 1858-1863 Book D, Appendix A.  Taken from Collier’s President Brigham Young’s Doctrine on Deity, p. xxx)

At President Young’s funeral Wilford Woodruff said:

“I have often felt in listening to the glorious principles of President Young, that the people here heard him so much that they hardly prized the beauty and the extent of the results and virtues of His teachings…Let us not forget the precious words of truth and wisdom he has taught us” (Ibid.).

To that point in history, President Woodruff had not found fault with the doctrines of Brigham Young.  Some of these doctrines are incredibly contrary to the feelings of contemporary Latter-day Saints. These doctrines at least include a denial of priesthood to the blacks, blood atonement, Adam-God, the law of adoption, and plural marriage.  Did President Woodruff have these doctrines in mind when he said the President of the Church would never lead the saints astray?  

At the time President Woodruff made this statement there had not been statements from either President Taylor or President Woodruff contradicting or correcting Brigham Young’s teachings, with the very recent exception of plural marriage, which the saints were outwardly (but not privately) abandoning.  In fact, when President Woodruff made his statement after issuing the manifesto he still had no intention of altogether abandoning the practice of plural marriage.  We must ask why President Young’s ideas went uncorrected, if what he was teaching was incorrect in their view?  Consider the following statement Wilford Woodruff made while he was President of the Church regarding the various teachings of President Young: 

“President Young led us a great many years.  He was a man of God, filled with revelation.  His teachings were attended by the inspirations of Almighty God…and in all his counsels the word of the Lord was with him.  He had but few revelations that were written and published to the world.  But we had the word of the Lord through him day by day" (Deseret Evening News, 21 April 1890.  Ibid. xxxiii.).

These are just a few of many examples that could be cited indicating Wilford Woodruff’s support of the teachings of his predecessors.  If he disagreed with their doctrines he did not express so either in public or in his private journals (After a meeting with the school of the prophets, for example, President Woodruff wrote in his journal: “President Young spoke of the first organization of this school by Joseph Smith the Prophet.  The word of wisdom was given in this school.  President Young said Adam was Michael the Ark angel & he was the Father of Jesus Christ & and was our God & that Joseph taught this principle.” (WWJ, 16 Dec. 1867).  Nothing in the full journal entry indicates Woodruff’s acceptance or rejection of the teaching.).

Are those doctrines true or false?  What did Wilford Woodruff think of them?  What are the implications of his statement that it isn't in the programme for the church President to lead us astray?  How do today's leaders feel about the doctrines that were taught in 19th century Mormonism?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Danger of Infallibility, Part 1

“In the Catholic church everyone says the pope is infallible but nobody believes it; and in the Mormon church everybody says the prophet is fallible but nobody believes it.”              - Wendy Ulrich

Heber J. Grant once said to Marion G. Romney, “My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it" (Conference Report, October 1960, p. 78).

However, Joseph Smith said, “We have heard men who hold the priesthood remark that they would do anything they were told to do by those who preside over them even if they knew it was wrong; but such obedience is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself, should not claim a rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from his folly. A man of God would despise the idea. Others, in the extreme exercise of their almighty authority have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the saints were told to do by their presidents, they should do it without any questions. When Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their hearts to do wrong themselves" (Millennial Star, Volume 14, No. 38, Pages 593-595).

It should sit as a curiosity to you that we continually return to the sentiment expressed so long ago by President Woodruff that the President of the Church would never “lead you astray" (See Official Declaration-1).

We think it is unreasonable that the Catholic church considers its pope to be infallible.  We scoff the idea of infallibility, but then fervently believe that the President of the Church will never lead us astray. 

Why do we take such solace in President Woodruff’s statement?  Why has that taken such a pre-eminent stance in Mormon teachings through time?  It appears everywhere.  It was just in a recent Ensign magazine yet again: 

“Some might call our actions blind obedience. But we have the Lord’s personal promise that the prophets will never lead us astray" (by Elder Randall Bennett titled “Follow the Prophet.”).  

What does this statement mean?  Is it true?  Is it "the Lord's personal promise?"  What did President Woodruff mean in saying what he did?  Does it mean the Church President would never believe in or teach anything that is false, as some folks might interpret it today?  Or that he would never teach us anything that would cause us to err in doctrine?

Other Church Presidents preceding Wilford Woodruff directly expressed the exact opposite view:  

“President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel - said the Lord had declared by the Prophet, that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church - that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls - applied it to the present state of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall – that they were depending on the prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves, envious towards the innocent, while they afflict the virtuous with their shafts of envy" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Five 1842-43,  p. 237-38).

Brigham Young expressed the following in 1874,

“I have often said to the Latter-day Saints – 'Live so that you will know whether I teach you the truth or not.'  Suppose you are careless and unconcerned, and give way to the spirit of the world, and I am led, likewise, to preach the things of this world and to accept things that are NOT of God, how easy it would be for me to lead you astray!  But I say to you, live so that you will know for yourselves whether I tell the truth or not.  That is the way we want all Saints to live" (Brigham Young, JD 18:248).

In the Deseret News the saints read this:

“I told the people that if they would not believe the revelations that God had given, He would suffer the devil to give revelations that they – priest and people – would follow after.  Have I seen this fulfilled?  I have.
“I told the people that as true as God lived, if they would not have truth, they would have error sent unto them and they would believe it" (Brigham Young, Deseret News, June 8, 1873).

Mormon historian, D. Michael Quinn points out that this idea of infallibility “denies the principle of free agency and goes against Joseph Smith's assertion that a prophet is only a prophet when he is acting as such. To ignore the limitations and errors of significant statements of the prophets, Quinn feels, would be as false as to ignore their visions, revelations and testimonies" (The Seventh East Press, November 18, 1981).

We delight in the reassurance that a man will not lead us to hell; the very man, in fact, in whom many of us have been placing our trust for salvation.  It’s as though, in effect, we breathe a sigh of relief when reiterating President Woodruff’s words from so long ago while thinking, “I’m glad to know that that man in whom I’ve placed all of my trust for salvation will not lead me astray.”  

Is this the teaching of the Lord?  Has He invited us to “follow the prophets?”  Verily, we can place all of our trust in another man, even a very good man (a Prophet), and ultimately find that we are not saved.  We must foremost learn to trust in Christ and “follow [Him],” and then receive his servants; otherwise we remain telestial (D&C 76:99-101).

What does it mean that the President of the Church will never lead you astray?  Does it mean that he is perfect?  Does it mean that he knows all truth?  Does it mean that every president and apostle has the same gospel understanding?  Have they all had the same amount of light and truth revealed from heaven?  Have all of them received the “testimony of Jesus" (D&C 76:51; Rev 19:10)?  Does it mean that the President of the Church will have no opinion about the gospel that is incorrect?  What about politics, science, ethics, business, or philosophy?  Do their opinions or statements always reflect the absolute truth in these matters?  

The answer to each of these questions is NO.  

If we’ve assumed his statement allows us to answer in the affirmative to any of the above questions then we’ve misunderstood the relation in which we stand to other men.  How then are we to understand President Woodruff’s statement that these men will never lead us astray?  

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Day of the Lord of Hosts Soon Cometh Upon All Nations

Many are seeking the approval of men and not of God.
Some feel righteous because of their acceptance and good standing before men.  They will be brought low unless they repent.

There are yet others who feel unworthy because they are less popular and not involved in the leadership circles of the church.  They feel unimportant because they feel unnoticed by men.  They will be brought lower unless they repent of their pride and idolatry.

We must feel after the God of Heaven, and not men.  Cease from man, whose breath is in his nostrils.  Cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh.  For men trust in vanity, and speak lies - even Israel.  The Lord has plainly taught us this (Isa 59:1-4; 2 Ne 12:11-22; 28:31-32).

Monday, July 16, 2012

Temple Worship

"Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour" (Acts 3:1).

What function did the temple serve for the apostles at this point?  Was it just a place for prayer, or something more?  It seems they at least went to teach others of the resurrected Christ, which teachings were not well received by those in charge of the temple (Acts 4:1-22).  

What were the purposes for which they went?  Was it still a holy place?  Would the Lord visit his people there?  Indeed, he visited with men and women elsewhere (Luke 24; Matt 28; Acts 9). Christ had overturned tables and cast out the money changers calling it a den of thieves (Matt 21:13).  Among those who ran the temple were those who hated the Lord, despised his teachings, and had him crucified.  He even prophesied that the temple would be destroyed (Matt 24:2).  What was it that desecrated the temple?    

It is also interesting to reflect on the faithful Simeon and prophetess Anna.  These two were temple goers.  God considered them righteous.  The Holy Ghost was upon Simeon and he received revelations thereby (Luke 2:25-27).  Anna served God with fastings and prayers night and day (v. 37).  They both saw the Lord and believed on him.  

What was it about them that made them perceive the voice of God that others working in the temple did not have?  I have to believe that they worked right along side others who would later persecute, spit upon, smite, and curse God.  How is it that these two very different types of people are gathered together in the House of the Lord?       

Perhaps things are different in our day.  I don't believe they are.  A temple recommend does not make a man holy.  Using a recommend does not, independent of true worship and devoted discipleship, make a woman righteous.

We should be grateful for the temples in our midst.  Temple worship is a vital part of Mormonism, as it should be.  We should carefully consider how God can make us more like the righteous, and consider our own perceived righteousness as nothing.

Friday, July 13, 2012

JST Gen 14:28-40, an Invitation to Understanding

“We have done very well at distributing the authority of the priesthood.  We have priesthood authority planted nearly everywhere.  We have quorums of elders and high priests worldwide.  But distributing the authority of the priesthood has raced, I think, ahead of distributing the power of the priesthood” (Packer, April 2010 Conference).

“Now Melchizedek was a man of faith who wrought righteousness; and when a child he feared God, and stopped the mouths of lions, and quenched the violence of fire” (v. 26).

Now we learn more about a different man who received the name of Melchizedek, meaning king of righteousness.  We see here that he “wrought righteousness.”  Who determines this righteousness?  Are “faith” and “righteousness” inseparably connected?

“And thus, having been approved of God, he was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch” (v. 27).

What does it mean to be “approved of God?”  Can a man or woman find approval in the eyes of men, even good men, and yet be lacking approval from God?  Or do the two necessarily go hand in hand? 

We learn something else here.  Moses teaches us that Melchizedek was “ordained an high priest after” the order of Enoch.  What does he go on to teach us about Enoch’s order?

“It being after the order of the Son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God” (v. 28).

Enoch’s order is after the order of the Son of God.  This is what we read about in Alma 13.  Alma understood this.  So did Moses.  So did Melchizedek.  So did Enoch.  It appears these righteous prophets knew very well what power it was unto which they were ordained.  They understood their power came from God.  There is no room for any confusion or misunderstanding about it.

Moses teaches here that this “order came, not by man, nor the will of man.”  What does this mean?  It came not by man, “but of God.”  Literally or figuratively?

“And it was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will, unto as many as believed on his name” (v. 29).

Well, here, we aren’t left with much of an out.  Does it really mean what it says, that this high priesthood was conferred unto these men “by the calling of his own voice?”  What does that mean?  Is that different than the way a man is ordained an high priest in the Church?  What does it mean to receive God’s own voice proclaiming your righteousness, and conferring priesthood after this order?  Do we see a type or symbol of this anywhere in the ordinances we receive?

“For God having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself; that every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course” (v. 30).

Did God “swear” unto Enoch through another man, or “with an oath by himself?”  What power did God’s oath bestow upon the man?

“To put at defiance the armies of nations, to divide the earth, to break every band, to stand in the presence of God; to do all things according to his will, according to his command, subdue principalities and powers; and this by the will of the Son of God which was from before the foundation of the world” (v. 31).

In our day, once again, the armies of nations will be gathered for war.  It is by the very power of this priesthood that comes from God that these armies will be “put at defiance.”  It is by the power of this priesthood that men will be spared, and not utterly wasted at his coming. 

Those after this order “stand in the presence of God” and “do all things according to his will, according to his command.”

“And men having this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven” (v. 32).

What does “translation” have to do with this power?  Was it by this power that Enoch was translated?  And Melchizedek?  Moses and Elijah?  What about Alma?  Was it by some other power?

“And now, Melchizedek was a priest of this order; therefore he obtained peace in Salem, and was called the Prince of peace” (v. 33).

How did this power, conferred by God’s own voice, aide Melchizedek in obtaining peace in Salem?  What was it about that which he taught that was so effective in bringing people to God? 

“And his people wrought righteousness, and obtained heaven, and sought for the city of Enoch…” (v. 34).

What about Melchizedek’s message caused a city to seek God, and work “righteousness?”  Why did they seek for “the city of Enoch?”  Enoch’s people achieved Zion.  What is Zion?  Do we see it today? 

Know this, if a man is not seeking to establish Zion, he has no power with God.  “For they who are not for me are against me, saith our God” (2 Ne. 10:16).  “Wherefore, he that fighteth against Zion, both Jew and Gentile, both bond and free, both male and female, shall perish” (ibid.). 

“And he lifted up his voice, and he blessed Abram, being the high priest” (v. 37).

What blessing was it that Abram received?  What was Abram seeking (Abr. 1:2)? 

Who are the “fathers?”  What does it mean to “be a father of many nations?”  A “Prince of peace?” 

What does it mean when Abraham says he desired “to receive instructions?”

Ultimately, Abraham “became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers” (ibid.).  Truly, here is a man who’s heart had turned to the fathers.

“And it came to pass, that God blessed Abram, and gave unto him riches, and honor, and lands for an everlasting possession; according to the covenant which he had made, and according to the blessing wherewith Melchizedek had blessed him” (v. 40).

This seems foreign to our understanding of high priests.  We should be asking questions about these things.  Once again, there’s a reason few seem to understand what high priest in the Church means.  Likewise, there are few who understand what high priest in Alma 13 means.  Because the same words are used to describe both, we tend to think they’re the same.  They’re not.  They are different.  Because we think they’re the same we understand neither as we should.

How can we come to an understanding?  What is truth?  God teaches those who come unto Him and ask a question.  If we come to Him with an empty cup, we are humble enough, open enough, to receive answers.  Those who think they have the answers already, remain full, and there remains no room for truth.