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.
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:

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.

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