Sunday, July 15, 2018

What is the Iron Rod? (Part 3)

Is there a living man or a group of men or an organization/institution that you trust to tell you the will of God? What is that trust based upon? Is it based upon an office or status held within the church you belong to?

How would you respond if a trusted leader commanded that you give to him your money to support him as he does the work of God? Is that a reasonable request? What if that man, with the money given him by you and others, buys a huge house, an expensive car, and other luxuries? Would that cause any doubt in your mind?

What would you do if, as a man, a trusted leader told you that God had commanded that you must take a second wife. What would you do if, as a woman, you were told God had commanded that you must become the wife of another man? What if that man was already married? Would you go through with it? What kind of confirmation would you need first before you were certain it was the will of God?

What if that trusted leader told you it was God’s will that he marry your underage daughter? Would you trust that, as a man of God, he really was speaking God’s will?

What if, as a man, that trusted leader told you that you were no longer allowed to have sexual relations with your wife, but instead other men, called “seedbearers”, would have the responsibility to bear children with her while you looked on. Would you have enough faith in that command to obey? If you were the wife, would you humbly submit?

What if your trusted leader commanded you to kill one of his critics or opponents? Would you do it? Would you consider yourself as Nephi, slaying Laban in order to fulfill the purposes of the Lord? Would your faith waver at any point?

What if your trusted leader commanded you to kill your family and then commit suicide for the better good? Would you meekly accept your fate? Would there be any hesitation on your part?

These are all things that have been asked of followers of different religious sects in the relatively recent past. Many of those sects were break-offs from the restoration began through Joseph Smith.

It may seem obvious to you that such commands were of men and not of God, and that those men were acting as false prophets. Yet, untold thousands have believed such men. As humans, we seem to believe our own ability to discern truth from error is greater than that of others. Yet, how much trust have you put into a man who claims to speak for God? How do you know he speaks for God? Has God told you so?

Christ prophesied that many would be deceived in our day.
And again, beware of false prophets that come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. You shall know them by their fruits...Truly I say unto you, it is not everyone that says unto me, Lord, Lord, that shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that does the will of my Father who is in heaven. For the day soon comes that men shall come before me to judgment, to be judged according to their works. And many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, and in your name have cast out devils, and in your name done many wonderful works? And then will I say, You never knew me. Depart from me, you that work iniquity.
So, even those who prophesy in the name of Christ and cast out devils and do many wonderful works can be considered workers of iniquity in the eyes of God. The Lord said there will be many of those. How could so many be deceived? Someone who is prophesying in Christ’s name is not an atheist or an inactive member of some church. That sounds like someone who is actually attempting to serve God. Yet, they could be deceived and ultimately rejected by the Lord at the day of judgement.

Every volume of scripture, including the Book of Mormon, condemns placing trust in man. Therefore, no leader, even a well meaning one, can act as the "word of God" that leads to the tree of life. All men err. The iron rod does not.

Monday, July 9, 2018

What is the Iron Rod? (Part 2)

It has always seemed obvious to me that the scriptures, or standard works, are the word of God. After all, that is what was taught in Church. They do contain a great amount of light and truth and should be used as a standard or measure by which to judge other purported revelations. Yet, as I have studied them, I’ve found that problems arise when they are considered the pure and unspoiled word of God.

Most Mormons are familiar with the early history of the Restoration. It begins with the 14 year old Joseph Smith pondering his salvation amidst the religious excitement that was prevalent where he lived. Different sects were competing for converts, and he was left to wonder which of them was right. He concluded at the time that it was impossible to discern the truth from the established scriptures “for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passage of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible”.

Indeed, Joseph later taught: "that many important points touching the salvation of men, had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled" (TPJS p. 9-10) Also, “I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors.” (DHC, vol. 6, p. 57.)

In the Book of Mormon, Nephi gives a similar description for how the written word was corrupted.
Wherefore, these things go forth from the Jews in purity unto the gentiles according to the truth which is in God. And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb from the Jews unto the gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church which is the most abominable of all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away. And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord; that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men. Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and most precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God. And after these plain and precious things were taken away it goeth forth unto all the nations of the gentiles.
Therefore, though the original documents from which the Bible came may have been inspired and even correctly called the “word of God”, yet it had passed through so many hands, and undergone so many changes and uninspired revisions, that it could no longer be considered the pure word of God. It had become corrupted and today contains many errors. Joseph Smith did restore many things that were lost when he undertook his inspired revision of the Bible, but he was killed before was able to complete it.

But what about the restored scriptures? They are still pure, right?

Unfortunately, many of the saints in Joseph’s day, like the Jews after Moses and the Christians after Christ, were not as careful as they should have been with the oracles they received. By careful comparison, one can find numerous additions, deletions, and revisions in the revelations contained in the Doctrine & Covenants. One notable example is D&C 27. Here is the original text of D&C 27 from the Joseph Smith papers website. It was received August of 1830 and recorded in Revelation Book 1. Compare the transcript there with the version contained in the modern-day Doctrine & Covenants. Do you notice anything different?

If you paid any attention at all, you’ll notice that the version in the modern D&C is much longer. It is assumed that Sidney Rigdon was responsible for putting in the "extended edition" around 1834 or 1835. What was the justification for the additional text? Did Sidney claim to receive a revelation to modify or add to an existing revelation? There is no record of any such claim. There is also no indication that Joseph was made aware of these changes. Yet, the longer version of the revelation appeared in the 1835 Doctrine & Covenants (see here) and has remained that way until today.

After Joseph died, the church fractured. There were many who stepped forward to lead the now leaderless saints. Because of competing claims, some found it necessary to control access to or even modify history in order to present a more faithful view of things (translation: more faithful to their view of things). Here is how one writer described this time period:
The official History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was published in book form under the direction of the First Presidency in 1902. The introductory assurance that “no historical or doctrinal statement has been changed” is demonstrably wrong. Overshadowed by editorial censorship, hundreds of deletions, additions, and alterations, these seven volumes are not always reliable. …The nineteenth-century propaganda mill was so adroit that few outside Brigham Young’s inner circle were aware of the behind the scenes alterations so seamlessly stitched into church history. Charles Wesley Wandell, an assistant church historian, was aghast at these emendations. Commenting on the many changes made in the historical work as it was being serialized in the Deseret News, Wandell noted in his diary: “I notice the interpolations because having been employed in the Historian’s office at Nauvoo by Doctor Richards, and employed, too, in 1845, in compiling this very autobiography, I know that after Joseph’s death his memoir was ‘doctored’ to suit the new order of things, and this, too, by the direct order of Brigham Young to Doctor Richards and systematically by Richards.” The Quorum of the Twelve, under Brigham Young’s leadership, began altering the historical record shortly after Smith’s death. Contrary to the introduction’s claim, Smith did not author the History of the Church. At the time of his 1844 death, the narrative had been written up to 5 August 1838. (Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess, Signature Books (Salt Lake City, 1004), p.322.
If there were some who conspired to alter recorded history in their favor, then what are the odds that scripture remained untouched?

Even the Book of Mormon is not devoid of errors. Royal Skousen, a professor of Linguistics and English at Brigham Young University, has published a book called The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text. From pouring over what remains of the original manuscripts written by Joseph Smith’s scribes and the printer's manuscript used in E. B. Grandin's print shop, Mr. Skousen claims to have found over 600 textual errors that still remain in standard editions of the Book of Mormon published by the various branches of Mormonism. Of those, over 250 of them affect the meaning of the passage. Unfortunately, less than a third of the original manuscript still exists. So, one could assume that there are many more errors that have changed the meaning of the text. This number of 600 only accounts for scribal errors after translating the record. Mormon admits there may be errors by him and others that were etched onto the plates. He wrote on the title page: “And now if there are faults, they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment seat of Christ.” So, even Mormon did not claim that the record he left us was free of errors.

Therefore, despite the many precious truths that come to us from our present-day scriptures, do they qualify as an unerring guide to eternal life? Can we truthfully claim that they are the rod of iron, which will lead all who lay hold upon them to the tree of life? Though others may make that assumption, I cannot. If the scriptures were enough by themselves to lead men to Christ, then why is Mormonism (not to mention Christianity as a whole) so fractured? There are tens of thousands of different Christian denominations. All of them have the same Bible. Likewise, within Mormonism there have been roughly 100 different branches or sects (whether still in existence or not) that have descended from the restoration through Joseph Smith .  They also all have had access to the same revelations and scripture that Joseph received. How could there be so many diverse and contradictory ideas among them if the scriptures were enough? Is God the author of all this? Heaven forbid. The scriptures, by themselves, cannot be the iron rod shown in Lehi's dream.

In writing this, I don't mean to dismiss or denigrate the scriptures. They should be studied by anyone who wishes to come unto Christ and be saved. To me, they have served as a great key of discernment, helping me to learn how to recognize God's hand in my life and in my generation. Yet, because of their many errors, I don't see how they can qualify to be the thing that will, without fail, lead me (and anyone else who trusts them) to the tree of life.

Next, I will examine modern-day revelation, whether personal or otherwise, and see how faithful of a guide it can be.


Sunday, July 1, 2018

What is the Iron Rod? (Part 1)

In the beginning of the Book of Mormon, readers are presented with a dream wherein is depicted a "large and spacious field". Within this field, there is a "straight and narrow" path leading to a tree "whose fruit was desirable to make one happy". Multitudes would begin to walk on the path, but invariably an "exceeding great mist of darkness" would arise, so that many of those walking on the path would wander off and get lost.

However, there was also a "rod of iron" that led to the tree. In fact, the description says the path "came along by the rod of iron".

How would you describe an iron rod like the one in this dream?

I might use adjectives like: strong, firm, steadfast, unerring, and unwavering. To someone walking on a path, but impeded by mists of darkness and the confusion of the masses, I would think a rod of iron would be a welcome sight. It would be something you could lean upon and trust to guide you. In the dream, there were multitudes who "caught hold" of the rod of iron, and by "clinging" to it or "continually holding fast" to it, they were able to arrive at the tree, despite the mists of darkness that covered the path. It appears that it was only those who attempted to walk on the path without holding on to the iron rod who wandered off and got lost. All those who held to the rod and allowed it to guide them arrived at the tree.

This dream uses powerful symbols to show the spiritual path upon which everyone alive is walking, whether they know it or not. Later in the Book of Mormon, we are given an interpretation of these elements:

the tree = "the love of God" (1 Nephi 11:21-22)
the mists of darkness =  "the temptations of the devil" (1 Nephi 12:17)
the rod of iron = "the word of God" (1 Nephi 11:25)

The tree is the obvious focal point of the scene in the dream. Many multitudes are laboring to arrive at the tree and partake of the fruit. Lehi desired that his whole family would come to the tree and partake. Yet, getting there is not easy. There are so many obstacles along the way, including other paths leading to unknown destinations, mists of darkness that cause you to get lost, a fountain and river of water where many are drowned, and a great and spacious building filled with people mocking, deriding, and attempting to mislead those on the path.

Imagine being an individual in the multitude and being subject to the uncertainty caused by the cacophony of voices and the darkness. Wouldn’t this be a frightening place to be?

Amidst all of this, the one thing that stands out to me is the iron rod. Despite all the chaos, it is the one thing that appears to be solid, grounded, firm, and steadfast. It doesn’t yield to criticism, get confused, or change course. It will not discriminate against those who hold onto it. It can be trusted.

So, in our time, place, and culture, how do we identify the iron rod? What is it? How do we lay hold upon it? Where does one go to find the word of God? It may seem obvious at first, but my experiences have shown me it is not. In fact, this is a topic that has troubled me for a long time. I want to share what I have recently learned that has changed the way I look at this dream and my life.

Until recently, my understanding was that there were two places where one could find the word of God (and thus, lay hold on the iron rod).
  1. In the scriptures or standard works, or
  2. From revelation (either personal or through an accepted source, such as a prophet)
In future posts, I would like to examine these two candidates and see whether they do indeed provide the same unwavering and reliable support to humble followers of the path as would naturally occur with an iron rod.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The World Always Mistook False Prophets For True Ones

Who was John the Baptist to the people of his time? He wasn't like one of the Jews from the cities of Judea. He was only "the voice of one crying in the wilderness". He wore clothes made of camel's hair and ate locusts and wild honey. So, why did so many from the cities come out to him, hear his message, and get baptized?

Who was Abinadi to the people of King Noah? He possessed no credentials or office to make him worth listening to. Indeed, he spoke out against the established religious officers of his day. One might say that he was a failure, if not for one named Alma who heard his message and believed.

Who was Mary Magdalene to claim that she had seen the Lord when none of the 12 disciples had seen him? Why would the Lord appear first to a woman? Did they not follow him throughout his ministry? Why would a woman receive such an honor?

Who was Joseph Smith to the Christian ministers of his time? Why would God speak to a boy when He had not spoken to them? Who could believe such a strange tale from such a boy about an angel and gold plates?

Who was Christ to the religious scribes and Pharisees of his day? Was he not just a lowly Galilean? What right did he have to criticize the leaders of the Church who sat in Moses' seat?

Similar things could be said about Enoch, Noah, Samuel the Lamanite, and many more.

Isn't it strange how so often the messengers God sends come without honors, titles, or position? It is not hard to find this pattern in the scriptures. Perhaps it is the message they bear, and not the office they hold, that really matters. As the Lord taught, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me."

The Lord is testing us when He sends His words through those who are unusual and without recognized authority. We reveal the condition of our hearts by how we react. In this way, the wheat and the tares are identified.

Would you have accepted John the Baptist's message, even though he was strange and came without authority? If you had lived in Joseph Smith's time, how would you have responded if someone told you a crazy story about a boy who had seen angels and received a gold bible? If God sent such a messenger today, how would you recognize him?

"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, p. 205)

Friday, May 26, 2017

My Awakening, Part 5 - Conclusion

I started this series of posts to put down in writing some of my beliefs and the understanding that I've arrived at while studying the Gospel and praying for further light and knowledge. It began when I read Moroni 7:33-38 and realized that the course of my life was not manifesting the abundant miracles and blessings promised to believers in the scriptures. Moroni's words sunk deep into my heart and I knew that something was amiss. Moroni equates the presence of signs and miracles with faith and redemption, and the lack of these signs and miracles with a lack of faith and redemption. In Moroni's own words, the lack of these things means "awful is the state of [that] man". Over time, as I continued to interact with others at Church, it became apparent to me that I was not the only one who lacked these blessings. This is a problem that has become pervasive among members of the LDS Church, not to mention all of Christianity.

In my quest to understand why these things were missing from my life, I found Moroni's explanation in Mormon 9:15-21, which bears repeating here:
15 And now, O all ye that have imagined up unto yourselves a god who can do no miracles, I would ask of you, have all these things passed, of which I have spoken? Has the end come yet? Behold I say unto you, Nay; and God has not ceased to be a God of miracles.
16 Behold, are not the things that God hath wrought marvelous in our eyes? Yea, and who can comprehend the marvelous works of God?
17 Who shall say that it was not a miracle that by his word the heaven and the earth should be; and by the power of his word man was created of the dust of the earth; and by the power of his word have miracles been wrought?
18 And who shall say that Jesus Christ did not do many mighty miracles? And there were many mighty miracles wrought by the hands of the apostles.
19 And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles.
20 And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust.
21 Behold, I say unto you that whoso believeth in Christ, doubting nothing, whatsoever he shall ask the Father in the name of Christ it shall be granted him; and this promise is unto all, even unto the ends of the earth.
Moroni wrote plainly that there are 3 reasons why God ceases to do miracles among a people, because:
  1. they dwindle in unbelief
  2. they depart from the right way
  3. they know not the God in whom they should trust
I decided to take Moroni's explanation to heart and see if these three things could be found among us. In this series of posts, I've tried to present evidence to make the case for Moroni. The evidence was by no means comprehensive. However, it was sufficient for me to accept what Moroni wrote. I believe he was correct in what he said and it has manifested itself today in myself and among the Latter-day Saints in general.

You must judge for yourself whether you accept Moroni's diagnosis. Do you see a lack of frequent miracles in your life and the lives of members of the Church you live among? Is your life full of signs such as inspired dreams and visions, angelic ministrations, hearing the voice of God, prophecy, revelation, miraculous healings, etc.? These blessings were common among the saints in the days of the early apostles as well as in the days of Joseph Smith. If they are not common now, then that should give us pause. We should be asking God why they are missing. If God does not favor us like He did them, why is that?

Our relationship with God is not a binary state. In other words, I expect none of us are perfect, nor are we inheritors of perdition. Therefore, our state and standing before God must fall somewhere along a spectrum between those two extremes. However, the Lord has provided markers or milestones along the way that can be used to give us an idea of how well He favors us. The scriptures are clear that there are some that are highly favored of Him, because of their righteousness, whereas there are others who, because of wickedness, inherit curses, wrath, and destruction. How can we know how He views us? I would never want to assume that I'm favored with Him when that is not the case.

In the sixth Lecture on Faith, we learn that one of the principle elements of faith is to obtain a knowledge that the course of your life is according to God's will.
11 All the saints of whom we have account in all the revelations of God which are extant, obtained the knowledge which they had of their acceptance in his sight, through the sacrifice which they offered unto him: and through the knowledge thus obtained, their faith became sufficiently strong to lay hold upon the promise of eternal life, and to endure us seeing him who is invisible; and were enabled, through faith, to combat the powers of darkness, contend against the wiles of the adversary, overcome the world, and obtain the end of their faith, even the salvation of their souls.
12 But those who have not made this sacrifice to God, do not know that the course which they pursue is well pleasing in his sight; for whatever may be their belief or their opinion, it is a matter of doubt and uncertainty in their mind; and where doubt and uncertainty is, there faith is not, nor can it be. For doubt and faith do not exist in the same person at the same time. So that persons whose minds are under doubts and fears cannot have unshaken confidence, and where unshaken confidence is not, there faith is weak, and where faith is weak, the persons will not be able to contend against all the opposition, tribulations and afflictions which they will have to encounter in order to be heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ Jesus; and they will grow weary in their minds, and the adversary will have power over them and destroy them. (LoF 6:11-12)
Can you say that you know, with a perfect knowledge, that the course of your life is "well pleasing in [God's] sight"? If not, then your faith is imperfect, and will not be sufficient for you to obtain eternal life.
8 It is in vain for persons to fancy to themselves that they are heirs with those, or can be heirs with them, who have offered their all in sacrifice, and by this means obtained faith in God and favor with him so as to obtain eternal life, unless they in like manner offer unto him the same sacrifice, and through that offering obtain the knowledge that they are accepted of him. (LoF 6:8)
It would be presumptuous of me to expect to inherit the blessings of Abraham without doing the works of Abraham and offering a sacrifice similar in scope to Abraham's sacrifice. Should I expect to inherit the blessings of Lehi or Nephi without being as faithful through trials as they were? If God is "no respecter of persons", then why would he bless them so abundantly with visions, ministering angels, and His own voice, and not me if I live to the same degree of faithfulness that they did?
26 For what man among you having twelve sons, and is no respecter of them, and they serve him obediently, and he 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 looketh upon his sons and saith I am just? (D&C 38:26)
God is just. Therefore, any difference in blessings between myself (or yourself) and Nephi or any other blessed individual in scripture must be a difference in the degree of faithfulness (i.e. how full of faith someone is).
...this is the reason that the Former Day Saints knew more, and understood more of heaven, and of heavenly things than all others beside, because this information is the effect of faith-to be obtained by no other means. And this is the reason, that men, as soon as they lose their faith, run into strifes, contentions, darkness and difficulties; for the knowledge which tends to life disappears with faith, but returns when faith returns; for when faith comes, it brings its train of attendants with it—apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, gifts, wisdom, knowledge, miracles, healings, tongues, interpretation of tongues, etc. All these appear when faith appears on the earth, and disappear when it disappears from the earth. For these are the effects of faith and always have, and always will attend it. For where faith is, there will the knowledge of God be also, with all things which pertain thereto—revelations, visions, and dreams, as well as every other necessary thing in order that the possessors of faith may be perfected and obtain salvation; for God must change, otherwise faith will prevail with him. (LoF 7:20)
Moroni wrote that a lack of signs and miracles means a lack of faith and "without faith it is impossible to please [God]". Therefore, what should we do? If there is unbelief among us, how do we cast it off? If we have departed from the right way, how do we get back on the strait and narrow? If we know not the God in whom we should trust, how do we begin to know Him?

The first step is to recognize that there is a problem. If you don't believe anything is wrong, then you will never take the next step to begin to fix it. The scriptures are full of examples of people who believed they were righteous even while they were ripening for destruction.

Laman & Lemuel were convinced that the people in Jerusalem were righteous, even after God had already decreed destruction for that wicked city. The Zoramites believed themselves to be a "chosen and holy people", even while Alma knew that they were a wicked and perverse people. Perhaps the point is that it is dangerous to trust in your own estimation of yourself.

If there is even a chance that what you believe and have faith in is accounted as unbelief to God, wouldn't you want to know about it? If there is a chance that your church is adrift and no longer able to help you draw nearer to God, wouldn't that be important to understand?

There are generally two ways to respond to a message like this. The most common response, unfortunately, is to harden one's heart and refuse to believe it. When the wandering Israelites were being plagued by the bites of fiery flying serpents, Moses crafted a serpent of brass and fastened it to a pole. The Lord said that any who looked upon the serpent of brass would be healed. Speaking of this, Alma taught:
19 ...and behold a type was raised up in the wilderness, that whosoever would look upon it might live. And many did look and live.
20 But few understood the meaning of those things, and this because of the hardness of their hearts. But there were many who were so hardened that they would not look, therefore they perished. Now the reason they would not look is because they did not believe that it would heal them.
21 O my brethren, if ye could be healed by merely casting about your eyes that ye might be healed, would ye not behold quickly, or would ye rather harden your hearts in unbelief, and be slothful, that ye would not cast about your eyes, that ye might perish? (Alma 33:19-21)
The other way to respond is to do as Nephi did. When Lehi decided to take his family on a permanent camping trip, at first his kids all thought he was crazy. Yet, they responded in different ways.
11 Now this he spake because of the stiffneckedness of Laman and Lemuel; for behold they did murmur in many things against their father, because he was a visionary man, and had led them out of the land of Jerusalem, to leave the land of their inheritance, and their gold, and their silver, and their precious things, to perish in the wilderness. And this they said he had done because of the foolish imaginations of his heart. (1 Nephi 2:11)
Nephi also had trouble believing what his father said, but instead of murmuring and disbelieving, he took it to the Lord.
16 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers. (1 Nephi 2:16)
The Lord wouldn't have needed to soften his heart (so that he could believe) if he already believed it. Thus, he must have been skeptical at first. But, because of his faith in God and his desire to know more about God, he asked in faith and received an answer. He allowed the possibility that what his father said could be true and cried unto the Lord for wisdom.

Alma taught:
10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
11 And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell. (Alma 12:10-11)
I believe the symptoms given in Mormon 9:20 are manifest today; not only in myself, but also generally among the members of the LDS Church. I have delivered this message in good faith, not because I want to, or because I'm anyone special (I'm not), but because I believe the Lord wants me to raise a warning voice. "...it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor." (D&C 88:81)

I invite you to ponder and pray about these things. Ask the Lord if the course of your life is pleasing before Him. Ask him to remove whatever unbelief you may have. Ask for faith in Him. "for God must change, otherwise faith will prevail with him" (LoF 7:20)

When Moroni visited Joseph on that fateful night of September 21, 1823, one of the scriptures he quoted was the following:
28 ¶ And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:
29 And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.
30 And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.
31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come.
32 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call. (Joel 2:28-32)
After quoting the above, Moroni said "that this was not yet fulfilled, but was soon to be." (JS-H 1:41) 194 years later, this prophecy has still not been fulfilled. Therefore, it must be very soon to come. Perhaps the Lord is just waiting for some to rise up, cast off their unbelief, and put their trust fully in Him again.

Friday, April 28, 2017

My Awakening, Part 4 - Knowing Not the God in Whom We Should Trust


Misconceptions About God


Growing up in the church gave me a certain idea of what God was like. I imagined God as a cold and distant executive, delegating authority to others to carry out His work, but never personally interacting with the weak, poor, or unremarkable members of His kingdom. I imagined interaction with God being something like a personal priesthood interview or temple recommend interview, except more stressful.

It was natural for me to think of God this way because that is how things functioned within the Church. Even as a child, going to see the Bishop with my parents was an intimidating thing. He would be imposing in his dark suit, sitting in an plush, leather chair, separated from us by a large wood desk. Despite how charming and pleasant some bishops can be, the whole setup seems designed to make sure you know who is in charge.

This always left me confused, as the scriptures describe a very different kind of God. Consider this example,
13 And behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem threescore furlongs.
14 And they talked together of all these things which had happened.
15 And it came to pass that while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near and went with them.
16 But their eyes were holden or covered, that they could not know him.
17 And he said unto them, What manner of communications are these which ye have one with another as ye walk and are sad?
18 And one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, Art thou a stranger in Jerusalem and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?
19 And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people;
20 And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death and have crucified him.
21 But we trusted that it had been he who should have redeemed Israel. And besides all this, today is the third day since these things were done.
22 Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, who were early at the sepulcher,
23 And when they found not his body they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.
24 And certain of them who were with us went to the sepulcher and found it even so as the women had said, but him they saw not.
25 Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.
26 Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into his glory?
27 And beginning at Moses and all the prophets he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
28 And they drew nigh unto the village whither they went and he made as though he would have gone farther.
29 But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us for it is toward evening and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them.
30 And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed, and brake, and gave to them.
31 And their eyes were opened and they knew him and he was taken up out of their sight.
32 And they said one to another, Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked with us by the way and while he opened to us the scriptures? (JST Luke 24:13-32)
Think of the beautiful irony in this story! Christ, the Lord of Creation, had just successfully completed the most difficult task in human history! He had worked out the atonement and the resurrection. There could be no other being in the universe with greater cause to celebrate or to boast than Him. Yet, here he was, unassuming, unpretentious, appearing to his disciples in disguise as a lowly traveler.. He didn't impress them with power and glory or with a show of great authority. He taught them simply by opening the scriptures. If it had not been for the disciple's persistence, he would have continued on his way and they never would have known his true identity. But, He took the time with two of his disciples to open the scriptures and explain what it all meant. Doesn't this story say something about the personality of Christ?

I remember in my youth being plagued with so many doubts and fears about what God thought of me. I feared He didn't care about me or that He was disappointed in me. I assumed He was busy and didn't have enough time for me.

Publishing the Revelations


The Lord often required of the saints to print and publish the revelations that had been given thus far. (See D&C 1:672:2184:104, and 104:58)

This was first attempted with the Book of Commandments in 1833. However, an anti-mormon mob destroyed the printing press and most of the printed pages. You've probably heard the story of Caroline and Mary Elizabeth Rollins who saved some of the pages by grabbing them and running into a cornfield to hide.

The next attempt was in 1835 when the first edition of the Doctrine & Covenants was presented to the Church. This was the only edition published while Joseph was still alive. You can see scans of an original copy here.

Lectures on Faith


The 1835 D&C is a remarkable book, and not only because it is so different from the D&C used in the present-day church. The most notable difference for me was the inclusion of the Lectures on Faith. The Lectures were originally presented to the elders in the school of the prophets. They were later edited by Joseph Smith and included in the D&C.

There can be no doubt to the importance that Joseph attributed to these lectures. The preface to the 1835 D&C reads, in part:

Dear Brethren:
We deem it to be unnecessary  to entertain you with a lengthy preface to the following volume, but merely to say, that it contains in short, the leading items of the religion which we have professed to believe.
The first part of the book will be found to contain a series of Lectures as delivered before a Theological class in this place, and in consequence of their embracing the important doctrine of salvation, we have arranged them into the following work.
The second part contains items or principles for the  regulation of the church, as taken from the revelations  which have been given since its organization, as well as from former ones.
...
We do not present this little volume with any other  expectation than that we are to be called to answer to every principle advanced, in that day when the secrets of all hearts will be revealed, and the reward of every man’s labor be given him.
With sentiments of esteem and sincere respect, we subscribe ourselves your brethren in the bonds of  the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
JOSEPH SMITH jr.
OLIVER COWDERY
SIDNEY RIGDON
F[rederick] G. WILLIAMS
Kirtland, Ohio, February 17, 1835. [p. iv]

In addition, the Lectures were placed first (before the revelations) and printed in a larger font. On the first page of the Lectures, they are presented to be: "On the doctrine of the church of the Latter-Day Saints". The second part of the D&C, which contains the revelations, are presented as "Covenants and commandments of the Lord to his servants of the church of the Latter-Day Saints". Thus, the Lectures were the doctrine of the church, and the revelations were the covenants.

The Historical Introduction on the Joseph Smith papers page linked to above includes the following history:
On 17 August 1835, a general assembly of the church met “for the purpose of Examining a book of commandments and covenants” that had been “compiled and written by” the publication committee. “This Committee having finished said Book according to the instructions given them,” the minutes read, “it was deemed necessary to call the general assembly of the Church to see whether the book be approved or not by the authorities of the church, that it may, if approved, become a law unto the church, and a rule of faith and practice unto the same...Voting on the book proceeded by quorums and groups, with the leader of each group bearing witness of the truth of the volume before his group voted to accept it. After the voting by quorums, the entire church membership present, both male and female, voted to accept the book as “the doctrine and covenants of their faith.

The Character of God


I remember reading the Lectures for the first time as a teenager, but the message was lost on me and I quickly forgot about them. I rediscovered them several years ago. However, this time, because of my experiences, they had a great impact upon me.

Lecture 3, in particular, which discusses the character of God, had a profound influence upon me. I remember as I read it that I could almost feel the darkness in my mind receding and my faith increasing. The doubts and fears that the devil had filled my head with for all those years lost their power over me. I realized they were all lies.

I was about to summarize Lecture 3 here, but I don't want to take away from the experience. Instead, I invite you, no, I implore you to go read the Lectures on Faith. You can find them online here: lecturesonfaith.com


Lost Doctrine


The Lectures on Faith remained a part of the D&C for 86 years. However, in 1921, the Lectures on Faith were dropped from the scriptures by a committee comprised of George F. Richards, Anthony W. Ivins, Melvin J. Ballard, James E. Talmage, John A. Widstoe, and Joseph Fielding Smith. The committee gave the explanation that they "were never presented to nor accepted by the Church as being otherwise than theological lectures or lessons."

As I've shown with the quotes above, that explanation is false. The Lectures on Faith, included with the revelations, was accepted and voted upon in a conference of the church as "a law unto the church and a rule of faith and practice unto the same". They were removed from the scriptures without a vote of consent by the body of the church but rather by fiat from a council of leading authorities. Today, what we call the Doctrine & Covenants, should actually just be called The Covenants, as the Doctrine was removed.


Eternal Scripture


I assume most members today probably haven't read or even heard of the Lectures on Faith. I remember once asking a ward librarian if they carried a copy. The librarian responded, "I'm not sure...Who wrote it?" At that, I knew there was no point in pursuing it any further.

Despite the ignorance of the membership, it has been praised by the leadership in years past. Bruce R. McConkie, in a BYU devotional said:
In my judgment it is the most comprehensive, intelligent, inspired utterance that now exists in the English language that exists in one place defining, interpreting, expounding, announcing, and testifying of what kind of being God is. It was written by the power of the Holy Ghost, by the Spirit of Inspiration. It is in effect, eternal scripture. It is true. ("The Lord God of Joseph Smith", Devotional on Jan. 4, 1972) 
I know for myself that if I had learned and understood the principles taught in the Lectures, that I would not have been prey to the fears and doubts that I am sure plague so many of the youth and adults in the church. I would have had greater confidence in approaching God.

Would there be so much unbelief among members of the Church today if we studied and directed our lives by these Lectures that Joseph called "the leading items of the religion which we have professed to believe" because they embrace "the important doctrine of salvation"? Many of the topics discussed by the lectures are never taught in Gospel doctrine and Sunday school lessons. It is apparent to me that the church suffered a loss when the Lectures on Faith were removed from our scriptures. Because of it, there seem to be few today who know the God in whom they should trust.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

My Awakening, Part 3 - Departing From the Right Way

Moroni tells us that one reason why God ceases to do miracles among us is because we "have departed from the right way" (Mormon 9:20).

What is the right way?
 29 And now behold, I say unto you that the right way is to believe in Christ, and deny him not; and Christ is the Holy One of Israel; wherefore ye must bow down before him, and worship him with all your might, mind, and strength, and your whole soul; and if ye do this ye shall in nowise be cast out. (2 Nephi 25:29)
In Joseph's day, belief was more than accepting something as true, it was to "To expect or hope with confidence; to trust." (Webster's 1828 dictionary, believe) Therefore, to believe in Christ is to put your hope and trust in Him. To deny Him is to contradict, gainsay, disown, refuse, neglect to acknowledge, reject, and not receive or embrace Him. (Webster's 1828 dictionary, deny)

Today, it is estimated that there are 40,000 different "Christian" denominations worldwide. Presumably, every one of those denominations professes belief in Jesus Christ. Yet, how many of them actually believe in Him and deny him not? When Joseph asked the Lord which church to join, the Lord described the state of the Christian world.
"...they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof." (JS-H 1:19)
Anyone who believes in the restoration can agree that all Christian sects have departed from the right way, but what about the Latter-day Saints? Do we draw near to Him with our hearts and not just our lips? Do we teach His commandments, or the commandments of men? Do we have the power of godliness, or only a form thereof?

Even a casual reading of the Doctrine & Covenants will show that from the very beginning of the restoration, the Latter-day Saints had departed from the right way. Within two years of the organization of the Church, the Elders received a revelation that said:
54 And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received
55 Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.
56 And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.
57 And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—
58 That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion. (D&C 84:54-58)
The saints in Jackson County, Missouri were commanded to build up Zion, but were suffering under great persecution. The Lord gave them this promise in August of 1833:
25 Nevertheless, Zion shall escape if she observe to do all things whatsoever I have commanded her.
26 But if she observe not to do whatsoever I have commanded her, I will visit her according to all her works, with sore affliction, with pestilence, with plague, with sword, with vengeance, with devouring fire. (D&C 97:25-26)
By December of that same year, the saints had been driven from their homes by mobs. The Lord explained why:
1 Verily I say unto you, concerning your brethren who have been afflicted, and persecuted, and cast out from the land of their inheritance—
2 I, the Lord, have suffered the affliction to come upon them, wherewith they have been afflicted, in consequence of their transgressions;
3 Yet I will own them, and they shall be mine in that day when I shall come to make up my jewels.
4 Therefore, they must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son.
5 For all those who will not endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified.
6 Behold, I say unto you, there were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances.
7 They were slow to hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; therefore, the Lord their God is slow to hearken unto their prayers, to answer them in the day of their trouble.
8 In the day of their peace they esteemed lightly my counsel; but, in the day of their trouble, of necessity they feel after me. (D&C 101:1-8)
The Lord also said the following concerning the saints in Kirtland:
19 Behold, I, the Lord, am not well pleased with many who are in the church at Kirtland;
20 For they do not forsake their sins, and their wicked ways, the pride of their hearts, and their covetousness, and all their detestable things, and observe the words of wisdom and eternal life which I have given unto them.
21 Verily I say unto you, that I, the Lord, will chasten them and will do whatsoever I list, if they do not repent and observe all things whatsoever I have said unto them.
22 And again I say unto you, if ye observe to do whatsoever I command you, I, the Lord, will turn away all wrath and indignation from you, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against you. (D&C 98:19-22)
God always promises to protect His people who keep His commandments, yet the saints were expelled from both Kirtland and Missouri because of their wickedness and hard hearts. The Lord gave them one more chance in Nauvoo. There, they were commanded to build a temple.
28 For there is not a place found on earth that he may come to and restore again that which was lost unto you, or which he hath taken away, even the fulness of the priesthood. (D&C 124:28)
It should be emphasized here that the Lord had taken away the fulness of the priesthood at some time previous to this, because the saints had not lived worthy of it. The Lord now required the temple to be built so that it could be restored.
31 But I command you, all ye my saints, to build a house unto me; and I grant unto you a sufficient time to build a house unto me; and during this time your baptisms shall be acceptable unto me.
32 But behold, at the end of this appointment your baptisms for your dead shall not be acceptable unto me; and if you do not these things at the end of the appointment ye shall be rejected as a church, with your dead, saith the Lord your God. (D&C 124:31-32)
The seriousness of the situation for the saints here cannot be overstated. The Lord gave them sufficient time to build a temple. If they did not build it in that time, then they would be rejected as a church, with all their dead. That means that no amount of family history and temple work will matter, because the Lord would reject it. The Lord even goes on to say:
43 And ye shall build it on the place where you have contemplated building it, for that is the spot which I have chosen for you to build it.
44 If ye labor with all your might, I will consecrate that spot that it shall be made holy.
45 And if my people will hearken unto my voice, and unto the voice of my servants whom I have appointed to lead my people, behold, verily I say unto you, they shall not be moved out of their place.
46 But if they will not hearken to my voice, nor unto the voice of these men whom I have appointed, they shall not be blest, because they pollute mine holy grounds, and mine holy ordinances, and charters, and my holy words which I give unto them.
47 And it shall come to pass that if you build a house unto my name, and do not do the things that I say, I will not perform the oath which I make unto you, neither fulfil the promises which ye expect at my hands, saith the Lord.
48 For instead of blessings, ye, by your own works, bring cursings, wrath, indignation, and judgments upon your own heads, by your follies, and by all your abominations, which you practice before me, saith the Lord. (D&C 124:43-48)
So, what happened? Did they build the temple in the time given them? Did the Lord come to that temple, as promised?

3.5 years after the revelation in D&C 124 was received, Joseph and his brother Hyrum were martyred. According to Wikipedia, by that time the Nauvoo Temple was only 50% complete. The walls were built up to the second floor. You can actually see how far it was completed because of the martyr line. Before the death of Joseph and Hyrum, they used small bricks, but after the martyrdom, they decided to hurry and finish, so they began to use larger bricks so as to complete the walls faster. The new Nauvoo Temple (dedicated in 2002), in order to stay authentic with the original, replicated the martyr line. You can see pictures of it here.

There were buildings that were completed in the 3.5 year time frame, including houses for the church leaders, a Seventies’ Hall, and a Masonic Lodge. Following is an excerpt from Wikipedia on what happened to the temple.
 As mob violence increased during the summer of 1845, [Brigham Young] encouraged the Latter Day Saints to complete the temple even as they prepared to abandon the city, so portions of it could be used for Latter Day Saint ordinance, such as baptisms for the dead in the basement font. During the winter of 1845-46, the temple began to be used for additional ordinances, including the Nauvoo-era endowment, sealings in marriage, and adoptions.
The Nauvoo Temple was in use for less than three months.
Most of the Latter Day Saints left Nauvoo, beginning in February 1846, but a small crew remained to finish the temple's first floor, so that it could be formally dedicated. Once the first floor was finished with pulpits and benches, the building was finally dedicated in private services on 30 April 1846, and in public services on 1 May. In September 1846 the remaining Latter Day Saints were driven from the city and vigilantes from the neighboring region, including Carthage, Illinois, entered the near-empty city and vandalized the temple.
...around midnight on 8–9 October 1848, the temple was set on fire by an unknown arsonist. Nauvoo's residents attempted to put out the fire, but the temple was gutted...
After the fire of 9 October 1848, only the four exterior walls remained standing.
...On 27 May 1850, Nauvoo was struck by a major tornado which toppled one of the walls of the temple. One source claimed the storm seemed to "single out the Temple", felling "the walls with a roar that was heard miles away" (from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nauvoo_Temple#History)
Here are some additional facts taken from historical sources:
  • The endowments performed in 1845-46 were performed in an unfinished attic. Canvas was used as temporary partitions in the attic to separate different areas used for the endowment.
  • On the February 9th, 1846, the roof caught fire and the attic was left badly damaged. It was never fully restored.
  • The public dedication of the temple occurred on May 1, 1846. By this time, most of the saints had already fled Nauvoo. "The Temple was dedicated in the presence of strangers and all who would pay one dollar for admittance."
  • On the third day of dedicatory services, "the Saints approved a resolution to sell the Temple and use the funds to help the poor in their move West."
Based on the above history, here are some questions to consider:

Did the saints build the temple in the sufficient time allotted by the Lord? (D&C 124:31)
Is there any record of the Lord coming to the temple and restoring that "which was lost unto you, or which he hath taken away, even the fulness of the priesthood"? (D&C 124:28)
Were the saints "moved out of their place"? (D&C 124:45)
Considering what you know of what followed for the saints in the following years, would it be easier to characterize what they lived through as "blessings" or "cursings, wrath, indignation, and judgments"? (D&C 124:48)

They say history repeats itself. Perhaps the Lord knew what was going to happen when he said:
23 Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God;
24 But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory.
25 Therefore, he took Moses out of their midst, and the Holy Priesthood also;
26 And the lesser priesthood continued, which priesthood holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel; (D&C 84:23-26)
The Lord wanted the saints to sanctify themselves, so that they could behold His face. They were commanded to build up Zion. Yet, the revelations show that they failed in Kirtland, they failed in Missouri, and they failed again in Nauvoo. Where are we today?

Joseph taught:
The building up of Zion is a cause that has interested the people of God in every age; it is a theme upon which prophets, priests and kings have dwelt with peculiar delight; they have looked forward with joyful anticipation to the day in which we live; and fired with heavenly and joyful anticipations they have sung and written and prophesied of this our day; but they died without the sight; we are the favored people that God has made choice of to bring about the Latter-day glory; it is left for us to see, participate in and help to roll forward the Latter-day glory. (History of the Church, 4:609–10; from “The Temple,” an editorial published in Times and Seasons, May 2, 1842, p. 776; Joseph Smith was the editor of the periodical.)
Are we establishing Zion? Are we any closer to Zion today than the saints in Joseph's day? They attempted to build up Zion but failed. Are we even attempting it anymore? If not, then have we not departed from the right way?