John the Baptist

John the Baptist was the last messenger sent by God in the dispensation of Moses. (John 1:6.) He represents the end of one dispensation and the beginning of another. He overthrew the kingdom of the Jews and wrested all the authority that remained with the Jews from the original commission delivered through Moses.

John the Baptist’s message was to repent, warning that the “kingdom of heaven” was at hand. (Matt. 3:2.) The Jews were concerned at his message and sent representatives to inquire from him about the authority he had to start something new. (John 1:21-25.)

John the Baptist’s authority to baptize was recognized and accepted by Jesus Christ. He came to John and submitted to baptism because only by doing so would Jesus follow the requirements of righteousness. (Matt. 3:14-16.)

John was sent by God (John 1:6) and his right and authority was undisputed by both Jesus and the early Christians. Ignatius wrote about Christ’s baptism: “[He] was baptized by John, that He might ratify the institution committed to that prophet.” (Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chapter XVIII.) And, “was baptized by John, that all righteousness may be fulfilled.” (Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, Chapter I.)

Jesus posed the question to Jewish leaders of John the Baptist’s authority. He asked, “The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men?” A question that the Jewish leaders knew if they answered would expose the problem of rejecting John. “And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?” (Matt. 21:25.) They concluded that they could not answer this question. (Id., v. 26.)

Jesus Christ described John the Baptist in these words: “Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist[.]” (Luke 7:28.) Jesus said of him: “He was a burning and a shining light[.]” (John 5:35.)

John was born to a Levite father. (Luke 1:5.) But he was taken into the Judaean wilderness and hidden there to protect him from the authorities. (Luke 1:80.) When he returned from the wilderness, he came dressed in camel hair, wearing a leather girdle, eating locusts and wild honey. (Matt. 3:4.) These details suggest he lived without employment, home, or wealth, surviving on what God provided, as if Christ had John in mind when He taught in the Sermon on the Mount:

And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. (Matt. 6:28-34.)

These things, which describe the life of John the Baptist, seem to us both fanatical and impractical. When cast out of the Garden, mankind was doomed to obtain bread by the sweat of our labor. (Gen. 3:19.) We are commanded to labor for our support (2 Thes. 3:11) and not steal (Eph. 4:28) nor expect another man’s bread to be given to us (2 Thes. 3:8). If a man will not labor, he should not eat what others produce through their labor (2 Thes. 3:10). Yet John seems to have abandoned everything to serve God, and in turn lived only on what God provided for him.

Would we have recognized and accepted John as a messenger sent by God? How would we have determined that this “homeless’ man was “‘sent by God”? If he had no pulpit, how could we know, that for a brief time, he alone could perform an ordinance required for salvation? If he was not part of the established system of religion, why would we give him any heed? If there was an existing temple, a presiding high priest, a governing board in the Sanhedrin, and established synagogues where scripture was recited and messages were delivered each week, why would we expect John to be more relevant to our salvation than the religious system in place? If the entire religious landscape was attributed to Moses, who was known to be a prophet (John 9:29), what makes us think we would choose to believe God sent the outsider, John? Why think salvation today will require anything less of a test than was required when John first appeared and began to preach? Why think we are any different than the Jews who rejected both John and Jesus? If our religion is a comfortable part of our lives, then what is its value?

Christ described what is required to follow Him:

Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. (Luke 12:51-53.)

And again, the Lord taught:

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Matt. 5:10-12.)

If our religion does not cause others to revile us, members of our families to be offended, or help us understand the life of Christ and the prophets, it is not Christ’s religion. If religion takes us to a comfortable church each week where we are assured we will be saved in heaven, it is not truly Christian. If it does not require sacrifice, then we have nothing in common with either Christ or the prophets.

It is still possible to practice Christianity, but not in comfortable pews, listening to flattery and praise. The Bible warns that the time will come when God will: “Render the hearts of this people insensitive, Their ears dull, And their eyes dim, Otherwise they might see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, Understand with their hearts, And return and be healed.” (Isa. 6:10; New American Standard version.) This happens every week in most “Christian” churches throughout the world.

Would we have recognized John the Baptist as a burning and shining light? How?

Nephi’s Brother Jacob, Part 9

Jacob remarked about the great holiness of God: “O how great the holiness of our God!” (2 Ne. 9: 20.) He makes this exclamation after explaining the “mercy of our God, the Holy One of Israel!” Jacob is taken by the enormity of God’s mercy. It is proven beyond any dispute in that “he delivereth his saints from that awful monster the devil, and death, and hell, and that lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment.” (2 Ne. 9: 19.) Having seen what awaits the unrepentant, Jacob marvels at God’s great mercy. The Lord’s “saints” will be spared this torment.

In contrast, Jacob points out that there is nothing but woes awaiting the unrepentant. “But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their god. And behold their treasure shall perish with them also.” (2 Ne. 9: 30.) It is a marvel we can read these verses and have no concern for the multi-billion dollar church renovation project underway in downtown Salt Lake City. Upscale housing, retail and office space are being built to stimulate investment in the downtown economy. This is all under the supervision of the Presiding Bishop and First Presidency, using a for-profit corporation. Though Jacob seems to speak about individuals, it leaves us wondering if the same might be said of institutions as well.

Jacob said, “Yea, who unto those that worship idols, for the devil of all devils delighteth in them.” (2 Ne. 9: 38.) That is why we are never to allow any man or group of men to get between us and God. God alone is worthy of worship. If you put another man or institution between you and God, you are the delight of the devil of all devils, for he has made you his. You will suffer the wrath of God (D&C 76: 104-106), and not qualify for the mercy which Jacob taught proved God’s holiness.

Jacob anticipated there would be those who would reject, even become angry by what he taught. But he cautioned them: “Do not say that I have spoken hard things against you, for if ye do, ye will revile against the truth; for I have spoken the words of your Maker. I know that the words of truth are hard against all uncleanness; but the righteous fear them not, for they love the truth and are not shaken.” (2 Ne. 9: 40.) This is another proof we are reading the words of an actual prophet. They speak the truth. They cry repentance. They point to the Holy One of Israel. Prophets do not fear the anger which others will hold toward them. They know they speak what the Lord would have said.

Jacob observes “if ye were holy I would speak unto you of holiness; but as ye are not holy, and ye look upon me as a teacher, it must needs be expedient that I teach you the consequences of sin.” (2 Ne. 9: 48.) How marvelous it would be if Jacob had been freed up to speak only of holiness. What great things might this prophet-teacher have given us? How might he who stood in Christ’s presence have taught us if we were holy and not in need of repentance?

With almost every new revelation from heaven, mankind learns first and foremost that there is more work to be done to tear down false tradition and error in doctrine. Building Zion will never begin until the errors of teaching for commandments the doctrines of men has been subdued. Jacob is a reminder that great things must be preceded by repentance, and repentance must be preceded by an awakening to the awful situation in which we find ourselves.

Nephi’s Brother Jacob, Part 8

Jacob uses Isaiah Chapter 50 to establish the reality of a coming Messiah, in addition the centrality of Israel to the Lord’s plans. Israel is forever backsliding and wayward. Yet the decision to “divorce” Israel is the Lord’s and He refuses to do so. (2 Ne. 7: 1.) It was always in His mind to preserve a remnant of Israel as His “fruit” or the product of His mission and ministry. Jacob will return to this theme in his own book. We will look at that later. Here we are just becoming acquainted with Jacob as a teacher.

Even at the end of days, the Lord will continue to focus on redeeming Israel. The “rock” from which they were hewn was Abraham and Sarah, the father of the righteous and his beloved wife. (2 Ne. 8: 1-2.) The problem with Israel is the slumber that keeps them from awakening to their awful situation and repenting of their sins. Jacob sees the end of time, and Israel still slumbers and cannot establish Zion because of their deep sleep. They must awake, put on the strength of salvation or priesthood, shed their filth for beautiful garments, and cease association with the unclean and uncircumcised. (2 Ne. 8: 24.) Zion will not otherwise come to pass.

Zion will never emerge from those who slumber in the dust, whose necks are bound with iron. (2 Ne. 8: 25.)

Zion evades those who desire it because they are too ill-educated, thinking their scholarship has merit and the Holy Spirit does not. (2 Ne. 9: 29.) They are rich, and think it a good thing rather than a hindrance. (2 Ne. 9: 30.) They will not hear, and therefore are as good as deaf. This form of deafness prevents them from hearing the warning and so they will perish in their ignorance of the truth. (2 Ne. 9: 31.) They are also deliberately blind, refusing to see the truth when it is presented to them. (2 Ne. 9: 32.) They are uncircumcised, liars, whoring after other gods, and worshiping idols. (2 Ne. 9: 33-37.)

It is Jacob who testifies the “keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel” and “he employeth no servant there.” (2 Ne. 9: 41.) Jacob entered through that gate and met the Gatekeeper. He reminds us that He “cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.” (Id.)

Jacob then reminds us of his role – the prophet’s role: “Would I harrow up your souls if your minds were pure? Would I be plain unto you according to the plainness of the truth if you were free from sin?” (2 Ne. 47.) The prophet’s role is always to cry repentance. Priests may preside, and kings may rule, but the prophet’s voice is always crying repentance. Prophets have almost never presided over a congregation (other than occasionally a small inner-circle). They always speak from the sidelines crying for a return to God’s ways. Even when there were cities who repented in response to the message of repentance, the prophets who gathered them taught repentance and left it to the assembly to govern themselves. So it was with Enoch, and Melchizedek, and similarly Joseph attempted to teach repentance to his people. Enoch and Melchizedek were able to teach the people who wanted so desperately to repent (and did so) that they had angels and the Lord come dwell among them. Joseph sought to accomplish the same, but the Lord never dwelt among the Saints of this dispensation. Jacob bids his brethren and us to repent, hoping his teaching will eventually lead to a latter-day Zion. Apparently there will be a small group who will eventually repent and qualify for the Lord to come dwell among them. It remains a distant possibility, without any concrete progress underway as yet.

Nephi’s Brother Jacob, Part 2

Jacob’s first recorded sermon is not his first sermon. Quite the contrary. He admits he was given to a lot of preaching. Jacob records this: “ye know that I have spoken unto you exceedingly many things. Nevertheless, I speak unto you again; for I am desirous for the welfare of your souls. Yea, mine anxiety is great for you; and ye yourselves know that it ever has been. For I have exhorted you with all diligence; and I have taught you the words of my father; and I have spoken unto you concerning all things which are written, from the creation of the world.” (2 Ne. 6: 2-3.)
Jacob’s preaching was plentiful, and always based on two things: First, the words of Lehi. Second, the scriptures. In other words, he was not an innovator. He was a custodian of truth. He wanted to preserve the revelations entrusted to the Nephites; not to add to them, or stray from them.
It is interesting he had this strict orientation in his teaching, because give his background, he could have ventured into a great many other thing. We know his knowledge reached beyond the veil. As Nephi put it: “[Isaiah] verily saw my Redeemer, even as I have seen him. And my brother, Jacob, also has seen him as I have seen him[.]” (2 Ne. 11: 2-3.) In their knowledge of the Redeemer, Isaiah, Nephi and Jacob were peers. Notice how distinct they were from one another in what they revealed. Although Nephi revealed some of what he learned, he used Isaiah as the primary source for his prophetic teaching. Jacob was even more discreet in how he ministered. Isaiah, on the other hand, wrote an extensive prophecy about all of history.
In his earliest recorded sermon Jacob reminds the audience how strictly he confined himself to the two categories above. Then, after Nephi’s death, when he took over as the primary prophetic leader of the Nephites, he still displayed the same caution about the text he took for his material. He told the people to come to the Temple and he would prophesy to them. (Jacob 2: 2.) Then in his sermon he quoted at length an allegory from the Prophet Zenos. (Jacob 5.) When he finished the lengthy quote he added his prophecy: “as I said unto you that I would prophesy, behold, this is my prophecy—that the things which this prophet Zenos spake, concerning the house of Israel, in the which he likened them unto a tame olive tree, must surely come to pass.” (Jacob 6: 1.) It goes by quickly, but there it is. Jacob’s prophecy is that what he read, the account Zenos wrote, was true. Jacob knew it was true. He had seen it, just like Isaiah had seen it, just like Nephi had seen it, and could tell you that Zenos also saw it and recorded the truth concerning the Lord’s unfolding work among the chosen house of Israel.
There is so much about Nephi’s younger brother which is a model of the true prophet. His ministry reflects the very things which we should expect to see from a messenger sent by the Lord.

2 Nephi 33: 13

“And now, my beloved brethren, all those who are of the house of Israel, and all ye ends of the earth, I speak unto you as the voice of one crying from the dust: Farewell until that great day shall come.”

When Nephi paraphrased Isaiah 29 in the 2 Nephi 27, he appropriated Isaiah’s words to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. He adapted them making a paraphrase rather than a quote. (I explain the reasons for this in Nephi’s Isaiah.) Here he uses the Isaiah materials again to identify who he (Nephi) is: “the voice of one crying from the dust.” The primary audience for his writings will be those who come to read the book in the last days; when mankind will be in possession of the record which has been printed and distributed to the masses.

Nephi’s primary audience for his teachings are those who, like us, live in the last days after the Book of Mormon has come to light. Although Nephi’s descendants would have access to these same records, their greatest work and worth would be in the last days. Hence Nephi identifying himself as a “voice of one crying from the dust.”

There is also a secondary meaning. Because Nephi was mortal, he was made of the “dust of the ground.” (Moses 3: 7.) He was a man testifying to the truthfulness, as a witness in mortality, of the great things which exist beyond the veil. He is one of us, and yet able to tell us of things to come. Therefore, his witness is given in mortal weakness, but with the power of God behind it. His own strength is dust. The power of Christ to redeem, however, is without limit.

Three distinct groups are addressed in the message: Nephi’s descendants, called his “beloved brethren.” They are “brethren” rather than “children” because they would descend primarily from his brother’s seed who would overcome his. But there would be a mixture of his among them. So they were his “brethren.”

The second are called “those who are of the house of Israel.” These are the Jews, or others who keep their identity with Israel. Not the gentiles, who have been lost and must gain covenant status one by one, and thereafter live true to the covenant in order to be redeemed. “Those who are of the house of Israel” have been previously identified and discussed by Nephi in the Nephi 28.

The final group is “all ye ends of the earth.” That is, the gentiles, heathen, and those who are not otherwise included even in prophetic mention. All mankind. All the ends of the earth may receive what is offered and attain to covenant status, if they repent, acting no deception, without hypocrisy, following Christ. And all are included in the broad sweep of Nephi’s invitation to come to Christ.

His “farewell” is “until that great day shall come.” That day is when you see the Lord in judgment with Nephi there beside Him. At that time you will be “face to face” with Nephi, accounting for your heed or neglect of his message. He just mentioned that in the prior verses. He now bids you good-by until that moment. So you should look forward to meeting Nephi at this point. Although you need to take his message seriously if you intend to enjoy the moment.

What other prophets have warned us that their message will confront us in the presence of Christ while he, the prophet-messenger, is there with us at the moment of judgment? Nephi is in a very small group of qualified messengers whose words should be taken with soberness and respect. He is a towering figure when measured by the correct standard. We seldom encounter such a man. When we do, we would be well advised to take counsel from him.

What more can he have said to alert us to the importance of his message?

2 Nephi 31: 1

 
And now I, Nephi, make an end of my prophesying unto you, my beloved brethren. And I cannot write but a few things, which I know must surely come to pass; neither can I write but a few of the words of my brother Jacob.”
 
Don’t make any mistakes, Nephi was a prophet. He knew he was a prophet. He also knew his testimony and explanations were indeed prophesy. So, in case you were wondering, here he removes any doubt. He is “making an end of my prophesying unto you.” And he identifies “you” to mean his “beloved brethren.” Who would that be? Could gentiles be included as his “beloved brethren?” What would a gentile have to do or be in order to qualify for that description? They why aren’t you doing that?
 
Why “cannot” he “write but a few things” further? Is there a limit put upon his prophecy for us? (1 Nephi 14: 28.) Would he have liked to have said more? Does he assure us what he did write is true and complete as far as permitted to be written? (1 Nephi 14: 30.)
 
What does it mean that he knows it “must surely come to pass?”  How can he know that? What does it mean about the information we have in his record? How closely was the information given in conformity with what the Lord wanted him to reveal? How seriously should we take the record or prophecy of Nephi?
 
Why does Nephi refer again to his brother Jacob? What did Nephi and Jacob have in common in their faith and knowledge? (2 Nephi 11: 2-3.) What does this imply about the validity of their testimony, their prophecy, their commission to deliver words of warning? What level of attention should their words attract from us? If we give them strict heed, will they lead us in the way of life and salvation?
 
As he ends his record, an aging and dying prophet, whose journey began on another continent is pleading to us to save ourselves. He has been such a significant source of faith in moments of despair, that when the Lord was reminding Joseph Smith of faith in troubled times, He drew directly from Nephi’s life. Joseph was in Liberty Jail, abandoned by force of arms by his people, who had been evicted from Missouri. The governor had ordered the extermination of Mormons if they remained. Joseph’s people had been killed, mobbed, evicted, driven in the snow from Missouri, their property pillaged, their women abused, and their houses burned. In a dungeon cell, Joseph was lamenting his plight. He felt abandoned by the Saints, and by God. As he pled for relief, the Lord told him to face adversity without complaint, because it would ultimately be for his good. When the Lord spoke and reminded Joseph of moments of despair over which faith and hope triumphed, one of the moments used was taken from Nephi’s life:

“if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” (See, 1 Nephi 18: 13-16.)
 
It was no accident that the 116 pages were lost, compelling the use of Nephi’s full record to begin the Book of Mormon. It was a “wise purpose” indeed. (Wds. of Mormon 1: 6-7.) These words were always destined to come to us unabridged, from the hand of Nephi unaltered, translated by the gift and power of God into our language by Joseph Smith. Now they confront us, inform us, elevate us, warn us and deliver to us the means of obtaining the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

3 Nephi 21: 10-11

 
“But behold, the life of my servant shall be in my hand; therefore they shall not hurt him, although he shall be marred because of them. Yet I will heal him, for I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil.  Therefore it shall come to pass that whosoever will not believe in my words, who am Jesus Christ, which the Father shall cause him to bring forth unto the Gentiles, and shall give unto him power that he shall bring them forth unto the Gentiles, (it shall be done even as Moses said) they shall be cut off from among my people who are of the covenant.”
 
This statement has caused endless conjecture. Who is the “servant?” Was this Joseph Smith? Wasn’t it Joseph who was “given power to bring forth the words to the gentiles?” If Joseph was this “servant,” then what does it mean he will be “marred,” but the Lord will “heal him?” Is he coming back? Will Joseph be resurrected? Will he be born again?
 
Although Christ is speaking, this raises a matter worth addressing in connection with the statement. Therefore we’ll take a bit of a detour and address it. First, the purpose of prophecy is not always to make a matter clear before it happens. Prophecy may not have a clear meaning before an event happens, but once it has happened it becomes apparent that the event was foretold. This keeps the prophecy from controlling the event, but allows those who have faith to see the Lord’s hand in operation. Therefore, having some difficulty in attaching specific meaning to the prophecy is exactly in keeping with prophecy’s traditional way of communicating an event.
 
Second, the words of prophecy are not always established in the same way. In fact, there are a variety of ways in which the language is fixed. Below are descriptions of the various ways the language of a prophecy comes about:
 
The Lord may give, announce or dictate the language and the prophet takes it down word for word. If this is the case, then the one who receives the language may not understand their meaning, even though they received the message. (In this case it is Christ who is speaking. We assume He would know fully the word’s meaning.  However, Christ has explained that His Father knows things that have been withheld from Him. See, e.g., Mark 13: 32. So, you cannot rule out that even in this case the language was given and the meaning withheld.)
 
Sometimes it is not the language or the words that are given to the prophet, but a vision is shown or opened and then the prophet is left to craft a description. In such cases the words are the prophet’s, but the underlying meaning is the Lord’s.
 
Sometimes a vision may be shown or opened, but when the prophet takes to write the description, the language is prescribed, or limited by inspiration. In this instance, the prophet’s understanding may be greater than the words used, and the language will be designed to accomplish the Lord’s purposes rather than to make what the prophet understands clear to the recipient.
 
With respect to when one or another form of language is in scripture, we may not always be able to tell. Section 76 is one example we know how the language came to us. There was a vision, opened to both Joseph Smith and Sydney Rigdon, and as the vision proceeded Joseph would dictate the words given to him by the Lord to describe what he and Sydney beheld. The words were the Lord’s.The vision was greater or included more understanding for Joseph and Sydney than the words of the revelation. Hence Joseph’s comment: “I could explain a hundred fold more than I ever have of the glories of the kingdoms manifested to me in the vision, were I permitted, and were the people prepared to receive them.” (TPJS p. 304.)
 
It is not important to fully understand the statement of Christ in this prophecy until AFTER it is fulfilled. Before it is fulfilled the following questions are interesting to contemplate as you think about its meaning:
 
Is the “servant” who will be “marred” and then “healed” a single individual, or a people with whom the Lord is working?  If a people rather than an individual, then who is this servant?
 
If the ones who will cause the servant to be “marred” are plural, who are they? Are they a group, or groups? If groups, which are they? What is their affiliation with the “great and abominable church?”
 
What does it mean that the “servant” will not be “hurt” but will be “marred?” How can one be “marred” without being “hurt?”
 
Is the “servant” in verse 10 the same as the “him” in verse 11? Have the subjects changed? That is, can verse 10 be speaking about a people, but verse 11 be addressing a person whose work it was (or is) to bring forth Christ’s words?  If an individual, is Joseph Smith the only one who can qualify? Can others also bring forth words of Christ to the gentiles, and the gentiles given an opportunity to accept or reject the words at their peril?
 
If they risk being cut off by rejecting the words, then can more than Joseph Smith be qualified to be “(even as Moses said) they shall be cut off from among my people who are of the covenant.” That is, when the latter-day prophets are sounding alarms and warning, is the message from Christ–no matter who speaks it– something, if rejected, will cause people to be cut off from the covenant?
 
How does one cut themselves off from the covenant? If you will not listen to Christ’s words, do you thereby cut yourself off by not listening? Would that be true if Joseph Smith is a prophet and you reject him? Would that be true if Brigham Young were a prophet and you rejected him? What about an angel sent to you? What about someone like Abinadi, or John the Baptist, or some other unexpected messenger? Would the same be true anytime someone decided to reject a message authorized or sent from the Lord?
 
Now go back and re-read verses 10 and 11 with these questions in mind and see if you get a different meaning from them.

Prophet, Seer, Revelator

I was asked this question:

“If the first presidency and the twelve really operate much like the lay members do, how then do you reconcile the MEANING of the words: Prophet; Seer; and Revelator. Aren’t these gifts unusual and set apart for the highest positions of the church? Wouldn’t one necessarily receive visions and dreams to qualify as a Prophet, Seer, or Revelator? How else would one SEE into the past, or the future, let alone clearly understanding the present? How do you reconcile the current revelatory state of the leadership with the meaning of the words, prophet, seer, and revelator?”

Inside the Church the current interpretation is that the “office” has associated with it a “title” set out in scripture.  The “office” of the President of the High Priesthood (D&C 107: 65-66) , who is the President of the Church, also bears the “title” of “prophet, seer and revelator.”  (D&C 107: 91-92.)  The current interpretation of these verses is that the possessor of the office is entitled to the title of “prophet, seer and revelator” by virtue of office alone.  Therefore, nothing more is needed in current church usage other than possession of the office, which alone gives the possessor of the office the title accorded to the office.  So, no, our current terminology does not require something other than office.

It is possible to read the words of the verses differently, of course.  First, the words we have adopted as they appear in scripture are not actually “prophet, seer and revelator” but are instead: “a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet.”  Those are different words and include in the phrase “a translator” in addition to “seer, revelator and a prophet.”  We have dropped the word “translator” from the title we now use.

Second, it is possible that the following words may be viewed to mean something different than the way we currently read them, “to be like unto Moses— Behold, here is wisdom; yea, to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet,”  (D&C 107: 91-92).  They could be read to mean that before you fill the office of President of the High Priesthood you must first locate “a seer” who is also, by definition, “a revelator” and “a translator” who is undoubtedly therefore “a prophet” and, having found such a person, you are to sustain him into the office.  The office doesn’t make the man, but the Lord makes a man into such an instrument, and having done so then the church is to put him into the office.  There are of course those who have these gifts.  Many of them have no church office involving priesthood, because they are female.  They may possess gifts, but they are disqualified for office.  Then there are men who possess such gifts, but they may be living in South America, serving in a small branch, and completely unnoticed by the leadership, and therefore, never called.

The problem with the second point is that it invites near chaos.  You would have dozens, hundreds or perhaps thousands of people who would step forward and make the claim that they are entitled to the office.  Ambitious men who are either deceived or, worse still, cunning and dishonest, would seek to gain the office to further their ambitions.  Such a parade of the deluded or the dishonest would be foisted upon the Saints every time the President died.  Therefore, no matter how much merit you may think the second interpretation holds, it would be far more problematic to implement than the current interpretation and method.

The advantage of the current system is that the man who fills the vacancy is distinguished by how long he has held the church’s office of Apostle.  Generally that means an elderly man, often suffering from the decline of advanced years and poor health.  That means you are likely to have a man whose ambitions and exuberance are tempered by the maturity of age and the wisdom that comes from long life’s experience.  It gives stability to the decision, as well as the person chosen.

If the second approach were to be adopted, then the choice would need to be made by the serving President before he left office (died), by making the choice of his successor as part of his official service.  This is the method that the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith. (D&C 43: 3-4.) Joseph attempted this, but the one he chose to succeed him died with him (his brother Hyrum). So the office was left vacant and we had to sort it out.

There is another method that we haven’t tried, so far as I know.  That would be to use “lots” to choose from every male in the church.  This method was used to fill Judas’ vacancy in the original Twelve in Jerusalem.  (Acts 1: 21-26.)  The description there is ambiguous, but was intended to be random, unpredictable and not just a vote.  It was a recognized way to choose someone.  (See, e.g., 1 Ne. 3: 11.)  It has been used to sort through the entire nation of Israel when all twelve tribes were assembled.  Someone had stolen an idol, resulting in the withdrawal of the Lord’s Spirit from them in battle.  The result was defeat for Israel and the death of many men.  They needed to find the one who committed the offense.  So they had to choose from the entire gathering of all twelve tribes.   Beginning at the tribe level, they sorted through to find the right tribe (Judah).  Then proceeded to sort through the tribe to locate the larger family involved (Zarhites).  Then went through the family to find the individual involved (Achan).  The whole thing is in the scriptures.  (Joshua 7: 13-23.)  

Such a system was uncontrolled by man, done by lot, completely random, but produced the right person.  Left to God, it obtained God’s answer.  Did with the sons of Lehi, and with the vacancy in the Twelve in the Book of Acts, too.  There is no reason why such a system wouldn’t generate the Lord’s choice today.  

If the President died without a successor having been designated, then random choosing using a lot system would put the choice in the Lord’s hands.  But I suppose we don’t have the stomach to try it, particularly when we already have a system that seems to work for us.

Your question raises the issue of “authority” or office on the one hand, and “power” or gifts of the Spirit on the other hand.  You should read President Packer’s talk in last General Conference for a recent statement by a respected church leader on that subject.  I think I’ve commented on that talk enough already.  As I re-read it this week I was again stirred by President Packer’s sagacity.  I believe he is being candid, honest and giving the Saints the absolute best advice and counsel he can at this time.

Interesting subject.  Something worth contemplating.  Perhaps there will come a time when we are able to implement the system in D&C 43. Or when we put the Lord’s hand to work by using lots to choose a President.  Though I do not expect to see any change made during my life.

Micah Chapter 3

O heads of Jacob, and ye princes of the house of Israel; Is it not for you to know judgment? 

Who hate the good, and love the evil; who pluck off their skin from off them, and their flesh from off their bones;  Who also eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them; and they break their bones, and chop them in pieces, as for the pot, and as flesh within the caldron.
 

Then shall they cry unto the Lord, but he will not hear them: he will even hide his face from them at that time, as they have behaved themselves ill in their doings. 
 

Thus saith the Lord concerning the prophets that make my people err, that bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace; and he that putteth not into their mouths, they even prepare war against him.  
 
Therefore night shall be unto you, that ye shall not have a vision; and it shall be dark unto you, that ye shall not divine; and the sun shall go down over the prophets, and the day shall be dark over them. 
 

Then shall the seers be ashamed, and the diviners confounded: yea, they shall all cover their lips; for there is no answer of God. 
 

But truly I am full of power by the spirit of the Lord, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin. 
 

Hear this, I pray you, ye heads of the house of Jacob, and princes of the house of Israel, that abhor judgment, and pervert all equity.
 
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. 
 

Therefore shall Zion for your sake be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of the forest.

The traditions of men, part 1

I received this question in a comment: “You often refer to incorrect traditions that you see members following. Can you give me a few specifics?”
This is a potentially sensitive question and I want to answer it with care.  Before doing so, however, I want to clarify some initial matters:  First, I sustain the church’s leaders and I do not challenge their right to preside, make decisions, direct the affairs of the church, control tithing and call leadership.  I “fall in line” behind them and do not question their right to lead.  Second, I have a testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and of President Monson as the only one authorized to exercise all the keys within the church.  Third, I do not think that observations about the church, even if they are critical of it, are proof that someone is misled, under Satan’s influence, or on the road to apostasy.  In fact, there are many active Latter-day Saints who have concerns, but who are content to remain active, faithful and supportive members of the church.  Concerns are not the same thing as rebellion or rejection.  Fourth, I do not either expect or advocate any changes being made.  When or if changes are made they will happen as a result of someone else’s actions, more than likely someone who would be in a position of authority within the church.  I am not such a person.  

Also, I want to be clear that I may personally make a value judgment about what has changed and mourn the loss, but another person may look at the same events and say they are good, developmental and preferred to what was there before.  So these are MY opinions, and not necessarily the view you should adopt as your own view.  You will have to decide such things for yourself.  That having been clarified, here are some of the things which have changed dramatically and are the product of accepted tradition now, but were entirely innovative when they happened.

The discarding of the Presiding Patriarch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  There is no scriptural authority for this change and there was nothing in the original order which suggested that a change would be made.  Now the current state of things is equivocal.  We actually have still a Presiding Patriarch who is still living.  He is emeritus.  Whether the church intends to terminate the office upon his death is unclear.  If they do, that will be an innovation and (in my personal opinion) unfortunate.
The alteration of the Presiding High Priest’s status from “President” to “Prophet.”  From the time of Joseph Smith until 1955 the term “Prophet” was used exclusively to refer to Joseph Smith.  It was changed in 1955 to apply to the living President, David O. McKay.  Before then no living man was ever referred to as “Prophet” within the church, other than Joseph Smith.  When the word “Prophet” was used after Joseph’s death, it was understood the term meant Joseph Smith.
The result of this change was to create a “cult of personality” around the church president in much the same way that the Catholic Church has created a “cult of personality” around Mother Mary.  You need to understand that whole subject before you get too excited by my putting it that way.  If you do not understand this technical description then you need to become acquainted with it to be able to comprehend what I am saying here.  To briefly touch upon the subject, the Catholic view of the “cult of personality” around Mother Mary is positive.  It does not get viewed by them as a defect or some terrible aberration.  Pope John Paul II considered himself a part of that “cult” involving Mary. 
In our context, what has happened as a result of this alteration is that the former significance of the church’s president was administrative, and priestly.  He was a final arbitrator and judge, a presiding authority and a leader whose words were to be considered carefully.  He was NOT considered infallible or to be invariably inspired.  In fact, during the presidencies of the Prophet Joseph Smith, President Brigham Young and President John Taylor, they all spoke against any notion of infallibility of the church’s president.  President Young was particularly cautionary about trusting church leaders instead of the Holy Spirit as your guide.  President Young said too much trust of a church leader would bring the saints to hell.  
President Woodruff was so criticized by members for the Manifesto that he defended himself by claiming that the Lord wouldn’t let him make a mistake on that order.  He said that the Lord just wouldn’t let the church’s president lead the saints astray.  That comment was what would later be used to buttress the notion popularly believed today that the “prophet is infallible.”
President Heber J. Grant was an unpopular church president.  One of the problems with getting the saints to respond to the church president’s counsel was solved when the president of the church became the living “Prophet.”  You can reject or question counsel from an administrative authority.  But to question a “Prophet of God” was to invite the damnation of hell.  So the change in nomenclature worked a mighty change in the perceptions of the Latter-day Saints.  The “cult of personality” was an inevitable result.  Everything the president did would be done as “God’s Living Prophet.”  No matter what decisions were made, no matter their wisdom, goodness or undesirability, the result was the same: “They MUST be inspired.  We may not have the human capacity to see it, but God’s ways are higher than man’s after all.  To question is to lack in faith.”

The change put the president into a league in which at a minimum criticism was disrespectful.  Worse, if you were convinced that he made a mistake, it followed almost as an inevitability that you were absolutely forbidden from saying so because to do so revealed a “weakness in the faith.”  In fact, there are General Conference talks which speak about criticizing the church president (or “Living Prophet”) claiming that the criticism was due to a weak faith, and it would lead to apostasy unless a person repented.

This cult of personality has grown as a result of internal structural changes, including correlation.  The outcome is particularly dramatic with respect to the tolerance of women’s inspiration.  Whereas, in the early years a woman could be regarded as a “prophetess” (Eliza R. Snow, for example), today that recognition would be offensive to correlation, where all functions are combined under priesthood, and all priesthood is subject to the president alone as final authority.

The changes have been evolutionary, and over a single person’s lifetime not all that dramatic.  However the cumulative effect from the start to now is dramatic.  Right now the church views any revelation or miraculous event originating with a woman as suspicious.  It was so markedly contrary to this trend when a mission president’s wife foretold the Chilean earthquake, and the Meridian Magazine covered the event without any notice that the message came through the wife, that I linked to that article on this blog.  The article presumed the propriety of the inspiration.  But the message came to the wife, not the mission president.  That would be an un-correlated event today, and there is an existing infrastructure that would frown on that.  Happily the event was not questioned, but instead celebrated.
The “cult of personality” has been extended to cover everything.  You name it it is now covered.  Take any complaint at all:  The chapel paint is hideous!  Well, there are those who will argue that the chapel’s paint is chosen by the regular authorities of the church, who are chosen by the prophet, and your complaint about the paint color is really questioning the Prophet of God’s authority.  Therefore you are on the road to apostasy….
It doesn’t matter the subject.  The argument works by extension to everything.  The Bishop cheated his business partner:  You shouldn’t question that because … yada, yada, .. you’re questioning the Prophet of God.  Therefore you are on the road to apostasy.
Try: My child was molested by her primary teacher.  Oddly enough it even works there, too.  At least there are many people willing to apply that by extension to every ridiculous proposition advanced.  So the cult of personality has now assumed a front and center position to curtail discussion, debate or consideration of even healthy alternatives to the way things are.  EVERYTHING is inspired.  EVERYTHING, by extension, is happening because a “Prophet of God” has made it so.  Therefore unless you concede that “All is Well in Zion” you are questioning the “Prophet of God” and on the road to apostasy.

The stifling effect of this is pernicious.  It is not a view shared at the top.  In fact, the brethren preach against this notion, but to no avail.  I have coined the term “Brethrenites” to describe the result of this cult of personality in my book Eighteen Verses.  There’s a chapter in there that discusses this problem.

Crap, this is going to take longer than I thought.  Well, here we go again.  This will be “Part One” and I’ll continue this with something more. 

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