Friday, September 28, 2012

Your Comments

I do receive the comments that you post.  I read each of them and try to get in touch with those who have asked questions.  If I have overlooked yours, I apologize.  If you're expecting me to respond but don't have an email attached to your comment or profile I have no way of contacting you.

During the last few weeks I've held onto comments deciding whether or not I should continue to post them.  Some are insightful.  Some are unkind.  I'm not opposed to posting your criticism of something I've written for others to consider, but I'm not interested in providing a stage for readers to spur contention.  For now, I'll continue responding in private unless your question is something everyone should know about.    

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fourteen Fundamentals, Part 4

[Words in blue are from this talk.  Commentary follows in black.]

Third: The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.

God’s revelation to Adam did not instruct Noah how to build the Ark. Noah needed his own revelation. Therefore the most important prophet so far as you and I are concerned is the one living in our day and age to whom the Lord is currently revealing His will for us. Therefore the most important reading we can do is any of the words of the prophet contained each month in our Church Magazines. Our instructions about what we should do for each six months are found in the General Conference addresses which are printed in the Church magazine.

Beware of those who would set up the dead prophets against the living prophets, for the living prophets always take precedence.

We have an account of Christ's visit with the Nephites following his resurrection that is instructive.

After extensively quoting Isaiah to the people Christ commanded them to study his words, and not only to study them but to search diligently into the meaning of his words.  He praised his words as "great" (3 Ne. 23:1).  Isaiah's prophecies were true concerning all the house of Israel and the Gentiles, and Christ knew those prophecies would "all" be fulfilled (3 Ne. 23:2-3).

Christ commanded the people to repent of their sins and be baptized (3 Ne. 23:5).  He explained that they should "search the prophets" to see that they've all taught these things (ibid.).  

He "expounded all the scriptures unto them," helping them to understand the words of the prophets (3 Ne. 23:6).  You see, the scriptures were precious to the Lord.  The words of His prophets are precious to him.  He was the one who gave the words that prophets preached and wrote.  There was no reason for him to contradict their words.  

The Lord wondered why the people hadn't recorded the words of his servant Samuel the Lamanite (3 Ne. 23:7-11).  Samuel spoke the words the Lord had commanded him to speak (3 Ne. 23:9).  The people were able to testify that the words of the Lord's servant had all been fulfilled (ibid.).  Christ commanded the people to record Samuel's words.

Christ continued to "expound all the scriptures in one" until they had a unified understanding of the words the prophets had spoken and written.  He went on to expound unto them the writings of the prophet Malachi (3 Ne. 24-25).  Afterwards, he explained that the Father had commanded him to give unto them these scriptures, that they might be given unto future generations (3 Ne. 26:1).   

Christ, like other prophets, does not downplay the importance of dead prophets.  If any man has a right to claim he is more important than other prophets, it is Christ.  Look at his treatment of the prophets, however.  How easily he could have downplayed the vital role of the scriptures.  Yet, see his treatment of the holy word of God.  

There are so many lessons in the scriptures.   

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fourteen Fundamentals, Part 3

[Words in blue are from this talk.  Commentary follows in black.]

Second: The [president of the Church] is more vital to us than the Standard Works.

President Wilford Woodruff tells of an interesting incident that occurred in the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith:

“I will refer to a certain meeting I attended in the town of Kirtland in my early days. At that meeting some remarks were made that have been made here today, with regard to the living prophets and with regard to the written word of God. The same principle was presented, although not as extensively as it has been here, when a leading man in the Church got up and talked upon the subject, and said: ‘You have got the word of God before you here in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants; you have the written word of God, and you who give revelations should give revelations according to those books, as what is written in those books is the word of God. We should confine ourselves to them.’

“When he concluded, Brother Joseph turned to Brother Brigham Young and said, ‘Brother Brigham I want you to go to the podium and tell us your views with regard to the living oracles and the written word of God.’ Brother Brigham took the stand, and he took the Bible, and laid it down; he took the Book of Mormon, and laid it down; and he took the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and laid it down before him, and he said: ‘There is the written word of God to us, concerning the work of God from the beginning of the world, almost, to our day. And now,’ said he, ‘when compared with the living oracles those books are nothing to me; those books do not convey the word of God direct to us now, as do the words of a Prophet or a man bearing the Holy Priesthood in our day and generation. I would rather have the living oracles than all the writing in the books.’ That was the course he pursued. When he was through, Brother Joseph said to the congregation; ‘Brother Brigham has told you the word of the Lord, and he has told you the truth.’” (Conference Report, October 1897, pp. 18–19.)  

To see how mis-aligned our culture has become on issues like this requires more writing than I can manage.  We are like the citizens of Clarity.  Generations have come and gone, and come and gone again since the Lord offered to establish Zion, but we would not.  We are by and large blinded to the history of the past 180 years, even when we study it.  We live in one moment of time and cannot see afar off (Moses 6:27).

Joseph Smith taught what you need is an administrator who "has the power of calling down the oracles of God."  When you've got that, and "subjects to receive those oracles," though their number may be few, there is the kingdom of God (William Clayton Journal, January 22, 1843).  Joseph Smith was such a man.  

The restoration of the gospel had its beginnings in visitations from the Lord and other heavenly angels.  It was very much unlike other Christian faiths.  The creeds of Christianity are an abomination in the sight of the Lord (JSH 1:19).  They tout the scriptures, profess to know God with their lips, but have no connection with the heavens.  When angels cease to minister unto the latter-day Saints it is because there is no faith, and the religion becomes vain (Moro. 7:37).  It then becomes like all other Christian denominations.  It is having a form of godliness, but denying God's power.  The whole purpose of the restoration of the gospel was to fix all this.

During Mormonism's beginnings the Priesthood of God was associated with divine communication (D&C 107:18-19).  Those who held the holy priesthood were given power to see the face of God.  
We have a difficult time understanding what is meant by "oracles" because the word has been used in a number of different ways.  For example, Joseph F. Smith believed and taught those who are called to presiding offices in the Church are your oracles:

"... We have the written word for example, for instruction, for admonition, for reproof, for counsel and for exhortation. Every man should read and understand them, and then all will know that the oracles of God are in their midst. But when they do not read the word of God nor understand it, when the oracles speak they may not listen to them. The Stake Presidency are your oracles here. They are chosen of the Lord. … You ought to sustain and uphold them, and listen to their counsels. They will not guide you wrong; they will not direct you in wickedness; they will make no mistake in their counsel to you..." (Teachings of Presidents of the Church, ch. 24, p. 216, emphasis mine). 

When Joseph Smith spoke of the oracles of God he did not have in mind men holding church offices, who were considered by the people to be 'practically' infallible, and who were good for counsel and direction.  His understanding and aspirations were not so base.   

The revelations Joseph Smith received from the Lord did not replace or nullify the existing cannon of scripture.  His revelations were added to that cannon.  When Joseph F. Smith saw in vision the world of spirits it did not contradict former revelation and scripture; it was added to them.  Their revelations supplemented, not supplanted, the existing body of revelation.  Their revelations added clarification to the existing body of revelation.  It is not that their revelations were more vital to the Saints than the standard works, their words became a part of the standard works.  It is valuable to you to listen to the words of those who have a message from God.    

What do you believe about this?  What are the oracles of God?  Are revelations from heaven oracles?  Are men who hold offices of leadership in the Church?  What qualifies them as oracles?  Office?  Revelation?  Kindness?  The fact that they will never lead you astray?  Does the president of the Church become the living oracle because of his office?  What if he does not believe there is a need for continuing revelation?  What other information do you know about this incident mentioned above from Wilford Woodruff's 1897 conference report?  Where did it occur?  When?  Who was the unnamed brother?  Where else can you find record of it?    

There are so many questions this teaching raises it is worth your time to search out these things.   

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Discourse From Brigham Young

I found the following reading through Wilford Woodruff's journals looking for something else:

"[July] 28 Sunday...President Young Preached one of the most interesting discourses ever Delivered to the people.  It was a sermon of sermons.  Contained much interesting doctrin, Revelation & principle.  He said the Lord would not permit him nor any other man to lead this people astray.  If the leaders were to do wrong the Lord would take them away.  If an Apostle did not magnify his Calling the Lord would remove him & not permit him to lead the people astray.  But I shall not apostatize.  You need not any of you look for that for I had the promise long ago that I should not do that.  Neither shall I go to hell" (Staker, Waiting for World's End, p. 262-63; journal entry for 28 July 1861).

This discourse had a lasting impact on Wilford Woodruff.

Brigham Young also said he had never given any sermon to the latter-day Saints but what they could call scripture (JD 13:95).

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fourteen Fundamentals, Part 2

[Words in blue are from this talk.  Commentary follows in black.]

To help you pass the crucial tests which lie ahead, I am going to give you today several aspects of a grand key which, if you will honor, will crown you with God’s glory and bring you out victorious in spite of Satan’s fury. …Here then is the grand key – Follow the prophet.

First: The [president of the Church] is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything.

In section 132 verse 7 of the Doctrine and Covenants [D&C 132:7] the Lord speaks of the prophet—the president—and says:

“There is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power and the keys of this priesthood are conferred.”

Then in section 21 verses 4–6 [D&C 21:4–6], the Lord states:

“Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;

“For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.

“For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.”

You have to understand Ezra Taft Benson's feelings about obedience to the brethren before analyzing his talk.  It seems his ideas about this are akin to Marion G. Romney's feelings mentioned here.  You'll remember that Joseph Smith felt differently.  

A grandson of President Benson recalls his grandfather's idea of obedience to the leaders, and the status that should be given to their words: 

"Still, he told me that obedience to the General Authorities--even if what they claimed to be true was, in fact, wrong--constituted a fundamental principle of the Gospel.

"He assured me that God would bless those who followed the Brethren, even when the Brethren were in error"
 (Steve Benson, article written 11 Feb 2008).

Understanding this was his belief is helpful in understanding the intended meaning of his "fundamentals."  The first "fundamental" states that the president of the Church is the only man who speaks for God in all things.  This is written in such a way that it could be interpreted a number of ways.  However, the way this statement is succinctly worded could be mistaken to mean: "In everything the president of the church says, he is speaking for the Lord."  The scriptures chosen to support his main point seem to indicate he wouldn't mind listeners to believe that's what he meant.     

Elder Benson used D&C 132:7 in the talk to demonstrate the president of the church “is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything,” but it doesn’t prove the point. 

That verse teaches about the power to seal on earth and in heaven.  It says Joseph Smith was appointed by the Lord to hold this power in the last days.  It says there is never but one on the earth at a time who holds that power.  It says that all things will pass away with this earth unless sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise.

Elder Benson also used D&C 21:4-6 in support of the idea that the president of the Church is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything.  Those verses are speaking about Joseph Smith, plain and simple.

The church was to give "heed unto all his words and commandments," meaning Joseph Smith.  "His word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth" meaning Joseph Smith.  "For thus saith the Lord God: Him have I inspired to move the cause of Zion in mighty power for good, and his diligence I know, and his prayers I have heard," meaning Joseph Smith (D&C 21:7).  

This kind of approbation from the Lord to a prophet cannot be passed on from generation to generation like hand-me-down pantaloons.  An examination of the Book of Mormon alone would reveal that one man's approval with God is not inherently a part of the conferral of a kingdom (Zeniff and Noah are one good example).   Though we've chosen through vote or consent who to sustain as presidents of the Church after Joseph's passing, it does not mean every divine sanction Joseph was given passes to each of them.      

These are examples of using the scriptures to make a point that the scriptures themselves do not make.  It sets a precedent for the haphazard application of scriptures to broader groups than the revelations themselves intended.

A prophet is only a prophet when he is acting as such.  Joseph taught that.  He believed that was true even of him; he to whom the verses just quoted actually applied.  That means that if he is revealing the mind and will of the Lord about a matter we are bound to receive that witness.  Nephi made it very clear to his audience that he delivered his message as a prophet with authority from God (2 Ne. 33:14-15).  

You cannot be nearly as interested in the opinions of men as you are the voice of God.  When God's servants speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost then there is something to pay attention to (D&C 68:2-4; D&C 1:38).  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fourteen Fundamentals

President J. Reuben Clark taught: "If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation.  If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed" (Quinn, The Church Years, p 24.)

Many of the revelations that were given to Joseph Smith, and which we’ve preserved in the Doctrine and Covenants, were specific to him or to another person or group of people.  We’ve taken too much liberty in applying many of those scriptures to those who lead the church today.  

Examples of this can be found in a talk that was given in 1980 by Ezra Taft Benson (found here).  In that talk he used many scriptures to teach principles about the president of the Church that were revelations speaking specifically about Joseph Smith.  Though it is possible the Lord had every successive generation and its leaders in mind when the revelations were given, that is not indicated by the scriptures themselves.

His talk was given before he became the president of the Church, and not given in general conference.  Those seem to be two things many members of the Church like to call upon in attempts at establishing the authority of statements made by their leaders.  Statements made by general authorities in general conference have somewhere along the way taken on the status of scripture.  Since this talk was given to a group of BYU students it shouldn't conflict anybody's soul for me to point out areas with which I disagree.  You are as free as any other person to discern the truth or error of a message.                

The talk, entitled "Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet," contains misleading ideas and false doctrines.  During the next few posts I'd like to focus on several parts of that talk to discuss some of those ideas.  This talk gave roots to ideas that have grown in popularity in the Church for a number of years.  It is still quoted in our conferences today (see here for just one example).

To be clear with words then, when discussing the "fourteen fundamentals" put forth in the talk I will replace the phrase "the prophet" with "the president of the Church," because that is what was meant by Elder Benson.  For example, the first "fundamental" he suggests is a "grand key" is that "The prophet [i.e. the president of the Church] is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything."  It should be clear to the reader that none of his points are referring to Joseph Smith when "the prophet" is used.  He is referring instead to the president of the Church.    

Whether you sustain the church presidents as prophets or not this distinction is helpful in understanding the ideas in the talk.  It will aide in your interpretation of the scriptures that he used to support his points.  

Before looking at this talk I will say this - President Benson's talks on the importance of the Book of Mormon are the best we have on record from any president of the Church.  Prayerfully considering those talks changed my life while I was serving as a missionary.  It is apparent to me he loved the Book of Mormon.  From those talks it appears he took seriously the warnings contained in the Book of Mormon given to the latter-day Gentile church.  It eludes me, however, how someone who appears to have taken the message in the Book of Mormon so seriously could teach so emphatically reliance upon the arm of flesh.    

You can read the talk on your own if you wish.  I will include large quotations from the original talk and offer commentary at the end of each post.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Prayer Circle

Many early non-canonical documents point to events in history that would enrich our understanding of the gospel were they more widely known and considered.  Not all apocryphal writings are beneficial, but those who take the Spirit as their guide "shall obtain benefit therefrom" (D&C 91:5).

We have for instance, from various sources, accounts of Mary leading the ancient apostles in prayer after the death of their Lord.     

On one occasion when the apostles were met together, "Bartholomew . . . said to Peter, Andrew, and John, 'Let us ask [Mary] the favored one how she conceived the Lord and bore him.'" This was an embarrassing question, and no one was willing to approach Mary on the subject. "And Bartholomew said to Peter, 'You are the President and my teacher, you go and ask her!'" But Peter says Bartholomew himself should ask, and after much hesitation he approaches Mary on behalf of the other apostles, and she agrees to enlighten them.

They form a prayer circle, "and Mary, standing before them, raised her hands to heaven" and began to call upon the Father in an unknown language, a number of versions of which are given.

When she finished the prayer, she said, "Let us sit on the ground [or stand quietly, kathisomen, at the prepared place, edaphos—since it is plain that they remain standing]; come Peter, you are in charge. Stand at my right hand and place your left hand under my forearm; and you, Andrew, you do the same thing on my left side."

John and Bartholomew are instructed to support or catch Mary if she faints, "lest my bones fail me when I start to speak." This mutual support in the circle is necessary where some may be caught away in the Spirit and pass out.

In a variant version, when the brethren are met together on the Mount of Olives, "Peter said to Mary, 'Blessed one, please ask the Lord to tell us about the things that are in heaven.'" But Mary reminds Peter that as Adam has precedence over Eve, so it is his business to take the lead in such things. Having taken position in the circle, Mary begins to speak:

"When I was in the Temple of God [a number of early sources report that Mary served in the Temple, like Samuel, as a child]. . . there appeared to me one day a manifestation like an angel of unfamiliar aspect. . . . And suddenly the veil of the Temple was rent and there was a great earthquake and I fell on my face unable to bear the sight of him. But he stretched forth his hand and raised me up, and I looked up to heaven and a dewy cloud came and [lacuna] moistened me from head to foot; and he wiped me off with his stole (robe, shawl) and said to me, "Greetings, thou favored one, chosen vessel!" and he grasped my right hand. And there was bread in abundance and he set it out on the altar of the Temple [cf. the shewbread], and he ate first and then gave to me. And he put forth his hand from his garment and there was wine in abundance, and he drank first and then gave to me, and I beheld and saw a full cup and bread. And he said to me, "In three years' time I shall send to you my Logos and you will bear a son, and through him all the creation will be saved. . . . Peace to thee, my beloved, forever and ever." And suddenly he was gone from me, and the Temple was as it was before."

At this point the Lord himself appeared and commanded Mary "to utter no more of this mystery," while "the Apostles were sore afraid that the Lord would be angry with them" (Nibley, Mormonism and Early Christianity, pp. 45-99).

The more you seek to understand Mormonism and the gospel you've inherited the more you should be asking questions about how to live your religion.  How is it that you are expected to prevail upon God?  What is the purpose of those things we learn in the temple?  

Why was a woman allowed to lead the prayer circle?  Why is it that only men can act as voice in our prayer circles?  Do we have any evidence in our own history that women have acted as voice?  We know that until only recent Mormon history, mothers and wives joined in circles to give blessings to their family.  What about leading prayers?  

Outside of the temple does your wife sometimes act as voice in the prayer?  Is it only appropriate for a woman to act as voice if it's not "real" or "true" prayer?  Why is that?

Why does Mary have Peter and Andrew support her forearms as she "speaks?"  Is it because she was too old to stand and speak to them, or another reason?  How old was Mary when this happened?

I'm not suggesting we should change the way things are done in the temple.  I actually think there is important symbolism in the way it's done.  I'm not concerned as much about that as I am about how I'm supposed to approach God.  Have you ever wondered what good it does you to learn a certain thing in the temple if it is never to be used in your personal life?  Can men tell you how you should and should not approach your God in prayer?  

We are more closed than we realize.  We are more fearful of men than we are of God.      

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Visit With Missionaries

Yesterday evening my wife and I had six missionaries over for dinner and a fireside.  These young men were from Utah, Idaho, Arkansas, Alaska, and Mexico.  Tomorrow is their transfer day and some of them will be moving away.  

Three months ago I had a conversation with the Elder from Mexico and felt moved to have them over to our place to talk with them about the gospel.  I extended the invitation to him at that time, but never heard back from the Elder until just a few days ago.  He explained that he and some other missionaries wanted to come over for the fireside.    

Since that initial conversation three months ago, all of the other five Elders have moved to other locations and others have replaced them here.  Since this Elder from Mexico is moving away tomorrow it seems he wanted to take me up on my offer before leaving.  He enticed five others to come with the promise of dinner.  I really don't think they knew why they were coming, but I think it was according to the Lord's will that it happened to be this group of missionaries.  

After dinner, I asked if I could share some thoughts with them about the gospel.  They all agreed.  For about 45 minutes I was able to talk about not trusting in the arm of flesh, seeking for true messengers, the search for truth, the information age, the challenges they would face when they return from their mission, the condemnation under which we labor for taking the Book of Mormon lightly, and repentance.  They seemed interested.  

To my delight, four of the six stuck around to hear more after two left for another appointment.  Then two more left for an appointment, and the last two stayed for another 30 minutes discussing the gospel and asking questions.  Overall, it was a terrific evening.

I was pleased at their interest in the gospel.  These guys are studying the gospel every morning and have more questions than they've ever had before.  They listened well, took notes, and learned.  My heart took courage.  Some of them might have actually been interested in looking into our discussion a bit further after they left.  

I was grateful to meet with young men who are sacrificing a portion of their lives to preach the gospel.  They are working hard and the Spirit is working with them as they serve God's children.    

Thursday, September 13, 2012

This Land

The Gentiles were brought to this land by the direction of the Lord.  They are on probation, but the land does not belong to them.

During Christ's visit to this land he told the house of Israel that this was their land.  Quoting Isaiah he prophesied that after the destruction of the Gentiles the remnant would be established once again.  He said:

"Thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles and make the desolate cities to be inhabited" (3 Ne. 22:3).

The Gentiles' cities will become desolate.  The Lord will cause his people Israel to inhabit those cities.  They will forget the shame of their youth (3 Ne. 22:4).  They will remember their reproach no more (ibid.).  The Lord had forsaken them, but will gather them in everlasting kindness (3 Ne. 22:7-8).

The waster will destroy the wicked, but no weapon that is formed against the Lord's people shall prevail (3 Ne. 22:16-17).  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Drunkards of Ephraim

"Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine!

"Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one, which as a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, as a flood of mighty waters overflowing, shall cast down to the earth with the hand.

"The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet:

"And the glorious beauty, which is on the head of the fat valley, shall be a fading flower, and as the hasty fruit before the summer; which when he that looketh upon it seeth, while it is yet in his hand he eateth it up" (Isa. 28:4).

Gileadi's translation of the original Hebrew is helpful:

"Woe to the garlands of glory of the drunkards of Ephraim!  Their crowning splendor has become as fading wreaths on the heads of the opulent overcome with wine.

"My Lord has in store one mighty and strong: as a ravaging hailstorm sweeping down, or like an inundating deluge of mighty waters, he will hurl them to the ground by his hand.

"The proud garlands of the drunkards of Ephraim shall be trodden underfoot.

"And the fading wreaths, the crowns of glory on the heads of the opulent, shall be like the first-ripe fruit before summer harvest: he who sees it devours it the moment he has hold of it" (Gileadi, The Apocalyptic Book of Isaiah 28:1-4).

The drunkenness with which Ephraim stumbles is not from wine or strong drink.  Rather, it is error and blindness (Isa. 29:9-10).  The sun has gone down over the prophets, and the day is dark over them (Micah 3:6).  There is no answer from God (Micah 3:7).  "They build up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity.  The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the Lord, and say, Is not the Lord among us? none evil can come upon us" (Micah 3:10-11).  "And thus, with the sword and by bloodshed the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn" (D&C 87:6).

The crown of pride is above all, yea is more proud than all the earth (3 Ne. 16:10).  It shall be trodden under foot (Isa. 28:3; 3 Ne. 16:15).  That which was beautiful has become a fading flower.  The valleys are fat.  The consumption decreed shall make an end of all nations (Isa. 28:22; D&C 87:6).

"Is it not yet a very little while, and Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be esteemed as a forest?

"For the terrible one is brought to nought, and the scorner is consumed, and all that watch for iniquity are cut off:

"That make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of nought.

"Therefore thus saith the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob, Jacob shall not now be ashamed, neither shall his face now wax pale" (Isa. 29:17, 20-22).

Monday, September 10, 2012

Have Been and Shall Be

"And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things.  Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah.

"For surely he spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel; therefore it must needs be that he must speak also to the Gentiles.

"And all things that he spake have been and shall be, even according to the words which he spake" (3 Ne. 23:1-3).

There is an interesting parallel we behold in the scriptures.  The first side of it is that the Lord established his covenant anciently with a group of people who were called the house of Israel.  We are fairly familiar with the covenants he gave to that people.  We are familiar with their history; not that we know all the particulars of that history, but we understand and are taught about the perpetual stiffneckedness among a people that had been promised so much.

Though it is clear to us how the prophecies concerning that people played out, the situation in which they found themselves was not always apparent to those living out those prophecies .  Laman and Lemuel for instance thought that the Jews were a righteous people, even on the eve of their destruction and captivity (1 Ne. 17:22).  Their circumstances blinded them.  Tradition, culture, and everyday concerns blinded them.  Their desire to remain in babylon blinded them.  The people who provided us with the record of the Book of Mormon happened to awake and discover their awful situation, and prevailed upon God for guidance.

The other side of this parallel is that the Lord established his covenant in our day with the Gentiles.  This was all prophesied.  Because in the meridian of time Israel was stiffnecked and rejected Christ, and the Gentiles believed, it was promised that in the last days they would be first, and Israel last (3 Ne. 16:7).

We are fairly familiar with the covenants the Lord gave to us.  We are acquainted with stories from our history.  We don't know all the particulars of our history, but believe that we are chosen.  Our view of ourselves is different than the view we have of those Jews with whom God earlier established his covenant.  We think them foolish, and dismiss the idea that we may be like them.  We view them in a more true light than we view ourselves.  We view ourselves through the same lens the Jews used to view themselves.  We are like them in many ways.

The ancient messengers Mormon, Moroni, Nephi, Isaiah, and Christ viewed these two groups of people - the house of Israel and the Gentiles - as similar.  They were to share similar fates.  They are both extended the same covenants and opportunities, ultimately react to the message of the prophets in the same manner, and reap the same rewards.  They share parallel histories.  In other words, history repeats itself.  "All things that [Isaiah] spake have been and shall be."      

Isaiah's writings contain "all things" concerning the Lord's people.  The first group of people, who are the Lord's covenant people and whom he here identifies as the house of Israel, rejected the gospel, cast out the prophets, and couldn't recognized their Lord.  They were scattered and taken captive by their enemies.  Their cities became desolate.  They were considered harlots because they were not faithful to the Bridegroom, their God.  Despite all this, they considered themselves righteous by keeping up outward appearances.  They despised the message of repentance.  The Lord forsook them, and in his wrath hid his face from them (3 Ne. 22:7-8).

Christ prophesied: "therefore it must needs be that [Isaiah] must speak also to the Gentiles.  And all things that he spake have been and shall be, even according to the words which he spake." "Therefore," Christ goes on to say, write all this stuff down because "according to the time and the will of the Father they shall go forth unto the Gentiles" (3 Ne. 23:4).  In mercy, the Lord has given us the Book of Mormon warning us to pay attention to these things.

Much earlier in the Book of Mormon, after Nephi finished reading the words of Isaiah to his people, and recording them for our benefit, he says this to those who heard his message:

"And now behold, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you; for I, Nephi, would not suffer that ye should suppose that ye are more righteous than the Gentiles shall be.  For behold, except ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall all likewise perish; and because of the words which have been spoken ye need not suppose that the Gentiles are utterly destroyed" (2 Ne. 30:1).

Nephi's hearers were dismayed at the wickedness of the Gentiles.  I'm sure some thought the Gentiles were foolish, and dismissed the idea that they may be like us.  They were tempted to think they were better off than us.  Nephi warned them against that kind of thinking.  He made it clear to them that we're really all on the same awful ground unless we repent.  These groups of people "shall all likewise perish" unless they repent and "keep the commandments of God."  

Though Nephi consoles his contemporary listeners by saying, "don't worry, the Gentiles are not utterly destroyed," it should be no consolation to you.  It's dreadful to me to read.

I would not suffer that ye should suppose that ye are more righteous than the house of Israel had been.  As a people we, like ancient Israel, were promised the fulness and to be able to enter into the rest of the Lord, but would not hear (Isa. 28:12; D&C 84:24; D&C 45:28-29).  Who has obtained it? 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Letter From Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith wrote a letter to the Saints while in Liberty Jail from which have been derived some sections in the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 121-123).  In addition to what we find in the D&C, the letter also contained valuable information that was never canonized and therefore, unfamiliar to many saints today.  In the letter written between 20 and 25 March 1839 Joseph explains the following:

"If anything should have been suggested by us, or any names mentioned, except by commandment, or thus saith the Lord, we do not consider it binding; therefore our hearts shall not be grieved if different arrangements should be entered into.  Nevertheless we would suggest the propriety of being aware of an aspiring spirit...

To Joseph, when a prophet was acting as a prophet he spoke like a prophet.  Joseph made many "thus saith the Lord" pronouncements (D&C 56:14; D&C 86:1, 8; D&C 124:1; etc).  His direction to the saints was that unless the brethren had put forth a "commandment," or spoken "thus saith the Lord," they could make arrangements to suit their needs and circumstances.  They could seek guidance in living their religion according to the dictates of God's Spirit to them and their families.  Joseph was incarcerated and not with the saints, yet they wondered at the continued operation of the church and how to conduct themselves.  Joseph explained that he did not consider even the leaders' opinions "binding" upon the saints.  

In the same letter, Joseph went on to teach that "outward appearance" is not always the best way to judge a man; he must be judged by his words and deeds.  For "lips betray the haughty."

He spoke out against the use of flattery:  

"Flattery also is a deadly poison.  A frank and open rebuke provoketh a good man to emulation; and in the hour of trouble he will be your best friend; but on the other hand, it will draw out all the corruptions of corrupt hearts, and lying and the poison of asps is under their tongues; and they do cause the pure in heart to be cast into prison, because they want them out of their way"
(HC 3:295).

Lastly, there is a verse in D&C 121 which was pulled from Joseph's letter that reads as follows:

"God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, that has not been revealed since the world was until now" (D&C 121:26).

In the original letter there was a sentence that preceded that verse that helps you understand what is actually required to obtain that unspeakable gift and knowledge.  That paragraph of the letter began by saying:

"And now, brethren, after your tribulations, if you do these things, and exercise fervent prayer and faith in the sight of God always, He shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, that has not been revealed since the world was until now" (HC 3:296).

Oh, what we miss out on when we fail to consider context.  

Friday, September 7, 2012

Regularly Ordained

A good question was asked that would be helpful to answer with a post.  The question was about the previous post and how D&C 42:11 fits in.  Here is the scripture and question:

"11 Again I say unto you, that it shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church" (D&C 42:11).

"How do you reconcile that verse with Abinadi, the unnamed prophet who called Eli the high priest to repentance, Samuel the Lamanite, John the Baptist, Lehi, and most of the Old Testament prophets, who were neither ordained by the heads of the church nor did the church know they had authority besides what they claimed God gave them." 

To simplify, I don't think there is a need to 'reconcile that verse' with prophets the Lord chooses independent of men's input.  This may appear contradictory at first glance, but is not.  Read the entire section and ask when, why, and under what circumstances the revelation was given.    

These were instructions to the church.  Specifically, they were instructions given to the church while Joseph was alive.  It duly established a precedent and order by which our missionary work is carried out.  There were to be no secret ordinations performed to offices within the church.  Those who were extending the call to serve and ordaining others to "go forth to preach" were to be "known to the church" to have authority to do so.  We still follow this instruction.

Section 42 contains instructions for the church in sending forth missionaries and in preaching the gospel, and was revelation given while a particular group of elders was present.  Beginning with verse 1 it is clear the Lord has in mind "ye elders of my church, who have assembled yourselves together" (D&C 42:1).  Specific instructions were given for the elders present, and exception is even made for Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon to some of the instructions that were given (D&C 42:4-5).  The revelation is instructions for "building up" Christ's church (D&C 42:8).  When you get into verses 11, 12, 13 and so on, it remains clear this is instruction for "this church." 

There is an order in the Lord's church.  Joseph followed these instructions and called and sent missionaries to preach the gospel.  Missionary work was to be organized and authorized by the "heads of the church."  It was not to be a free-for-all.  There was order established by the Lord, and the church has done a good job following that order.

The revelation does not bind God, however.  In fact, God's commandments to his children have never been binding on him.  God and his holy prophets do things at times that appear contrary to what is right and holy (I think of Nephi killing his uncle, Abraham sacrificing his son, Elijah slaying hundreds of priests, God killing, etc.).  Those examples are never license for others to break the commandments of God.        

God is not bound to accomplish his work by our standards or expectations, even if they are standards he has established for the conduct of his church.  God has called prophets independent of churches since the beginning.  It makes you wonder if he would choose to do the same in our day as he has in the past. 

God has also established his church, or a covenant people, throughout history.  His covenant people, other than in rare cases that achieved Zion, have generally been slothful, proud, religious and unbelieving.  It seems that when Zion has been established, it was because a people chose to accept what God offered through a true prophet while he was living (i.e. Adam, Enoch, Melchizedek, etc.).  Most often though, the prophets have been killed and the fulness lost.

When Joseph Smith was killed a grand opportunity was lost.  He had come with the fulness and offered to establish Zion.  Generations have passed since then and God is beginning to extend that opportunity again.  There is more to all of this.  This is the beginning of the end. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

John the Baptist's Authority

"And the lesser priesthood continued, which priesthood holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel;

Which gospel is the gospel of repentance and of baptism, and the remission of sins, and the law of carnal commandments, which the Lord in his wrath caused to continue with the house of Aaron among the children of Israel until John, whom God raised up, being filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother's womb" (D&C 84:26-27).

God raised up John the Baptist for a specific mission.  He was Elias (JST Matt. 17:10-14).  He made straight the way of the Lord (Mark 1:3).  He preached repentance, and baptized in the river Jordan (Mark 1:4-5).  He baptized the Lord (Mark 1:9).  He was present on the Mount of Transfiguration with Moses, the full account of which we have not yet received (Mark 9:4; D&C 63:21).  Christ said that, except for himself, there was no greater prophet born among women than John (Luke 7:28).  

"The lesser priesthood" was to continue with the children of Israel "until John."  This the Lord did in his wrath.  The church in the meridian of time made claims to priesthood, but John, independent of the church had authority. The lesser priesthood continued with the church, was bestowed upon men by the church, and was the authority by which they administered the ordinances and the temple rites.

When Christ questioned the chief priests and elders about John's authority, they didn't know how to answer (Matt. 21:23-27).  They hadn't given him his authority.  They falsely believed priesthood could not exist independent of their church, independent of their hands, and independent of their consent.  But God had given authority to John.  He held the priesthood independent of the church. 

How is it that the only legal administrator in the affairs of the kingdom then upon the earth, received not his authority from those presiding in the church?  God is not confined to work within an order we presume to subject him to.  The Lord accomplishes his work in spite of men's efforts to bind him.  He established the kingdom of God through John.  The Jews of the church, including those in the chief seats, had to obey John's instructions or be damned.  Joseph Smith taught:

"Whenever there has been a righteous man on earth unto whom God revealed His word and gave power and authority to administer in His name, and where there is a priest of God - a minister who has power and authority from God to administer in the ordinances of the gospel and officiate in the priesthood of God, there is the kingdom of God" (HC 5:256).


"What constitutes the kingdom of God?  Where there is a prophet, a priest, or a righteous man unto whom God gives His oracles, there is the kingdom of God; and where the oracles of God are not, there the kingdom of God is not" (ibid, p. 257).

"All the prophets had the Melchizedek priesthood and were ordained by God himself" (TPJS, p. 180-81).  Do you suppose Joseph Smith would include John, the greatest prophet in this statement?  Was John the only prophet for whom this was not true?  

The reason John declined to give the Holy Ghost was because it was not his mission as Elias.  His mission was to prepare the way before the Lord.  He understood that he must decrease, but the Lord must increase (John 3:30).  The Lord brought more, but John prepared the way.  John was a mighty prophet, and had the holy priesthood by "anointing" and the "decree of heaven" (HC 5:261).  He chose to work within the bounds the Lord had set, never stepping in front of the Lord.