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Heeding the warning

There is an interesting article in Meridian Magazine about the Chilean earthquake.  The Mission President and his wife went about preparing the missionaries for the earthquake before it happened.  This was because they had received a prior warning.  The article can be read here:  http://www.ldsmag.com/churchupdate/100303chile.html

What is most interesting to me is that the warning came to the wife, not the husband.  He respected her revelation, and they went together to proclaim the warning.  Meridian Magazine, which is a Church-owned website published this article.  It delights me when there is recognition of the entirely democratic way in which revelation comes to us.  And when we find a married couple without jealousy about such things.

A lifetime of service

I do not know President Monson personally.  But his history is well known to all of us.  He was a Bishop while in his 20’s, a Stake President shortly thereafter, and then called in his late 30’s to be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.  He worked for Deseret News before becoming a full time General Authority.  Essentially his entire life has been church service, both in his profession and in his calling.
 
If you want to see what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would produce if a life were entirely the product of the institution and experiences derived from serving in and under that institution, you have that in President Monson.
 
It is clear to me that he absolutely trusts the system which produced all his significant life experiences.  The last two vacancies in the Twelve were filled by the senior president of the Seventy.  This would make Elder Ron Rasband the next one in line to fill a vacancy in the Twelve.  He (Elder Rasband) is a member of my stake.

An emphasis on doctrine

In addition to what I posted earlier about baptism rates, there is another number which is somewhat misleading.  The total member numbers reported in General Conference never deducts for those who are excommunicated or who voluntarily ask to have their membership terminated.  There is likely a doctrinal reason for that.  When a person is excommunicated they are re-baptized to return to membership, but they are not re-ordained to the priesthood.  They are given a blessing to reinstate their covenants and blessings, including authorization to begin using priesthood again.  But they are not re-ordained.  Although they are excommunicated, they retain some affiliation despite the severance.  Nevertheless, most people do not assume someone who has been excommunicated would be counted in the number of total members, but it is my understanding that they are.
Also, I’ve heard estimates from as little as 25% to much more than that as the percentage of members for whom the Church has completely lost contact.  That is, there is some significant number of members whose membership is so tenuous that the Church has nothing but a record.  There is no address, no way to contact them, and no information about whether they are living or deceased.  These people continue to be counted in the total membership number despite their complete absence of contact with or from the Church.
With the significantly lower fertility rate, and an aging population, the Church’s future will not be anything like the projections of Professor Stark.  That is, unless something changes.  

I agree that there may be many reasons for the decline.  However, the most prominent of reasons in my view is the de-emphasis on doctrine.  As a convert to the Church I know what attracted me to become a Mormon.  It had nothing to do with the formulaic discussions of the missionaries, slick marketing or good arguments.  It had to do with doctrine.  I DIDN’T WANT to be a Mormon.  Quite the contrary.  But I knew I should become a Mormon because their doctrines came from God and answered questions other faiths could not begin to answer.

I’d like to see the trend return to a dramatic increase of numbers.  In fact, I think there are many millions in the United States alone who are only kept from the truth because they do not know where to find it.  (D&C 123: 12.)  We won’t attract them to the Church until we begin again to emphasize doctrine.

True blue, through and through

I’ve been thinking about an incident in the young life of Joseph F. Smith.  He was outside a camp gathering firewood when a group of Mormon-haters rode into camp and scattered all the men.  Joseph F. considered running for a moment, but then decided to go confront them.  He walked with his armful of firewood back into the camp, right up to an armed man who was cursing the Mormons.

The man bellowed at Joseph F.: “Are you a Mormon?”



Joseph responded: “Yes siree; dyed in the wool, true blue, through and through.”


The man was so disarmed that he grabbed Joseph F.’s hand and told him he was the “pleasantest man I ever met!” (with a few obscenities mixed in.)


I like that story.  I consider myself a “true blue, through and through Mormon.”  Despite that, I know we have problems and many flaws.  The scriptures foretell our many deficiencies.  But human weaknesses and shortcomings are no impediment to the Divine origin of Mormonism; nor its ultimate destiny.


I think it is an error to have an unreasonably high opinion of ourselves. Conversely, it is an error to conclude that all is lost because of our shortcomings.  We are full of sins and errors, slogging along making institutional and individual errors daily.  But we are also, institutionally and individually, called to be involved in God’s work to redeem His children.  He loves us all, with a love which can overcome our many failures.

How beautiful upon the mountains

The feet of those who walk upon the mountains crying peace are beautiful (Isa. 52:7) because they are clean from the blood and sins of their generation.
In the ancient ceremonies involving animal sacrifice, blood was shed upon the ground and the feet of those involved in the rites became bloody.  The blood of the sacrifice upon the feet became a symbol of the sins for which the sacrifice was offered.
The feet of those who walk upon the mountains crying peace are cleansed from that blood.  Christ’s washing of His Apostles’ feet was to symbolize this cleansing which He alone could provide.  He employs no servant to provide such a cleansing. (2 Ne. 9: 41.)  These feet, washed by Him are, therefore, beautiful because they connote the sanctity of the one crying peace.
 
“Crying peace” because the only thing which stills the mind of man, and brings rest from the trouble of this world, is the atonement of Christ.  That is why it is called “the rest of the Lord.”  When cleansed, it becomes the consuming desire of those who are clean to bring others to partake.  Just like Lehi’s dream, when  those who had eaten of the fruit of the tree of life ate, they immediately invited others to come and join them.
“Upon the mountains” because the mountain is nature’s symbol of the ascent to God.  The climb represents repentance and purification of the soul.  When a person stands upon the top of the mountain, she appears to be part of heaven itself and no longer earthbound.  Her profile is with the sky, symbolizing the completion of the ascent back to God.
It is beautiful.  All of it is beautiful.  All of it is a reflection of the purity and intelligence of God, whose ways are higher than man’s ways as the heavens are higher than the earth. (Isa. 55: 8-9.)

Repent and Come Unto Me

There is this interesting statement by the Lord found in D&C 10:67-68: Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.  Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.
 
The statement requires us to
1. Repent, and then
2. Come unto Christ.
 
Repentance is a lifelong process.  As we get further light and knowledge we have to incorporate it into our lives and change behavior.  Over a lifetime, this should be dynamic, not static.
 
The more difficult explanation is to “Come unto Him.”  It is my view that this includes fully receiving Him into your life as did the brother of Jared, Nephi, Enos, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Joseph Smith, Daniel, Isaiah, Jacob, Mormon, Moroni, Alma the Younger, Paul, and so many others who have testified of Him.  That is a subject so great that the entire body of scriptures exist to help us accomplish it.
 
Significant, too, is that whatever is “more or less” than this is not “of my church” according to the Lord.  So we have to take great care to not overstate or understate this doctrine of His.  Adding endless requirements by the commandments of men is “against Him.”  Similarly, any failure to declare the essential nature of coming to Him is also “against Him.”  I think the first verse of D&C 93 is a formula for coming to Him.  That formula declares that, when it is followed, you will see His face and know that He is.

Declining Numbers

There was an article on Mormon Times about the declining baptism rate the Church is experiencing. The article can be found at: http://www.mormontimes.com/mormon_voices/mckay_coppins/?id=12892.  I thought it was odd to approach this subject in an article which maintains there is nothing unusual about a declining rate of baptisms. 

The prophecy of Daniel was that the stone cut out of the mountains without hands would roll forth, grind to dust the prior world orders, become a great mountain, and fill the whole earth. (Daniel 2: 34-35.)  Daniel’s interpretation included that God will establish a kingdom in the latter days which shall never be destroyed, nor left to other people.  It will break into pieces and consume all other kingdoms and stand forever.  (Id. verses 44-45.)
To the extent the Church claims to be this kingdom, or rock rolling forth, it should be expected to increase in size, and momentum, as it rolls forth to fill the earth. 
The Church ceased to distinguish between baptisms for “children of record” and “converts” some years ago.  Numbers are given in April General Conference.  Last April’s conference statistical report included this statement: “Converts Baptized: 265,593.”  There was a separate category for “Children of Record.” but there was no separate category for “Baptisms of Children of Record.”  That used to be a separate category.  Since it’s elimination, I have had the impression that “Converts Baptized” included all numbers, including baptisms of “Children of Record.”  If that is so, then for the last recorded numbers of baptisms you would need to go back to eight years earlier, take the number of Children of Record, and subtract that number from the “Converts Baptized number to get the actual number of Converts.  Eight years earlier from the number given in last General Conference, the statistical report announced that there was an increase of 81,450 Children of Record.  So the actual number of baptisms of Converts alone would be 184,143.  That appears to me to be the real number of Converts, exclusive of baptisms of Children of Record.
Now the Church hasn’t provided this separate number for Children of Record for about a decade now.  And I can’t be certain that the “Converts Baptized” category is actually an amalgamation of the two.  But I think it is.  If so, the decline from the time of President Kimball to today is more than significant, it is catastrophic.
I believe the only reason to convert to our faith is our doctrine.  Since the Church has de-emphasized doctrine, the trend of lowering missionary success has confirmed my belief in the necessity of teaching doctrine.  Not just in the Teach My Gospel program, but in every aspect of the Church, from Sunday School and Primary to Stake and General Conferences.  Doctrine is what distinguishes us.
Deseret Book has actually told me that “doctrine books do not sell.”  They are interested in fiction, which can be read in one or two settings. 

Judging

When Christ made His Twelve Disciples in the Americas “judges” over those people in the great Day of Judgment, He did not empower them to use their own discretion to reward or punish others.  He said they would judge others “according to the judgment which I shall give unto you, which shall be just.”  (3 Ne. 27: 27.)  That same standard would apply to His Twelve Apostles in the New Testament.  (See Matt. 19: 28.)  Christ Himself will provide the decision for us all; those Twelve will have the honor of announcing it.

I’ve often thought that with the standard set by the Lord in the Sermon on the Mount (“Judge not, that ye be not judged, for with what judgment ye judge ye shall be judged” – Matt. 2: 1-2), that any time a person is given the opportunity, they should forgive others, just as Christ admonished us. (See Matt. 6: 14-15.)

Those who think presiding over a ward or stake gives them an opportunity to dominate others are taking an extraordinary risk against their own eternal interests.  My counsel would be to err on the side of forgiving, and never on the side of condemning.  Even the woman taken in the act of adultery was told by the Lord: “neither do I condemn thee.”  (See John 8: 1-11.)

Christ’s teachings were meant to be applied internally to check our own behavior.  Not externally as a means to judge or condemn others.  If you see something amiss in other’s conduct, then persuade them by your example to be better.  Lectures are almost always useless.  An example is compelling.

Temple Work

In relation to the world’s population there are statistically fewer LDS each year.  Our birth rate is declining and our baptism rate does not even begin to keep up with world population growth.  In other words, each year there is far more temple work to be done than there was the year before.