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Elder Oaks at Harvard

Elder Oaks spoke to law and divinity students at Harvard this week.  The talk was recorded and may be broadcast between General Conference sessions.  He spoke for about 45 minutes then took questions.  Among the comments he made was that neither the Church nor Evangelicals would identify Mormons as Evangelicals.  He also noted the hostility of higher education to religious values and beliefs, despite the widespread religious convictions of Americans.

A Tennesse Ward and the Lord

I have a friend in Tennessee who emailed me this week about a Latter-day Saint congregation he visited a few Sunday’s ago.  The congregation was of mixed races, and the meetings were louder, more animated and lively than the “typical” ward.  He quite enjoyed it.  His description of the visit made me long for the mission field again. In the mission field there are widely divergent congregations.  But the Wasatch Front is far different in texture and tone than anywhere else.  I think there are people here who believe a stoic face is required to be reverent.

My impression of the mortal Lord is that He was gregarious, lively, filled with life, and given to smiling often.  He surely was challenged by serious men involved in conspiracies to have Him killed, and for them His responses were serious.  But He was filled with life, and love and humor.  His many analogies drew from the common man’s experience to teach with simplicity the deepest of ideas.  I think He would have fit into the Tennessee ward my friend told me about.

I think when the scriptures note “He wept” it was because His normal demeanor was so upbeat, so positive and hope-filled that weeping stood out by contrast.

I’ve only sensed that I genuinely offended Him once.  All other errors and mistakes have merely “bemused” Him, even though I have felt terrible from my end.  He is a patient Teacher.  Who knows exactly when you are ready and then how best to teach.

Argument

I’ve never won an argument with the Lord.

The Telestrial

Here’s a troubling thought to ponder:  The Telestrial are those who have received and bear testimony of their faith in prophets, such as Paul, John, Moses, Elias, Isaiah, Enoch, and Joseph Smith, but who “received not the gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus.”  (See D&C 76: 98-102.)

Security therefore lies not in following men, even men identified in the verses who are true prophets, but only in following Christ and receiving His Gospel and testimony.  What an absolutely uniform, individual obligation the Gospel imposes upon everyone. 

Popularity or Persecution?

A recent trend with Latter-day Saint scholars has been the publishing of several books that try to make Mormonism seem like Protestant Evangelicalism.  I do not believe the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is much akin to anything in Historic Christianity, and thankfully very different from Protestant Evangelicals.  It is instead a return of Primitive Christianity as found in the New Testament.  That is quite a different thing than what Historic Christianity has become, and almost altogether alien to Evangelicalism.  

I believe the Church will advance only by acknowledging the differences, explaining them and showing what great things Historic Christianity has lost.  Unless we have something different and important to offer, there is no reason for anyone to become a Latter-day Saint. 



The opening statement of Christ to Joseph Smith in the First Vision ought to be the point we most emphasize.  It was the many defects with Historic Christianity and its creeds which provoked the Lord to open the heavens again and start this great, final work.  When we neglect that message, and try to seem like another brand of Protestantism we are neglecting the only reason for our Church’s existence.

I know it is not up to me.  And I do not challenge the right of the leaders, whom I sustain, to make decisions.  But, if I could make a scourge of ropes and drive the social scientists out of the Church Office Building, I would.  I think opinion polling and focus group results are worse than meaningless, they are misleading.  It is an exercise in followship, not in leadership.  If you see a trend through polling, and jump in front of it, that does not make you a leader.  It makes you a clever follower.  

I suppose this post is nothing more than proof of my tendency to err in judgment.  But it is an honest and well meaning error which isn’t being tried by the Church at present.  When it was tried, in the early years, the newspapers railed against us, editorial cartoons mocked us, mobs persecuted us, and in turn the Church grew in numbers so dramatic that a single set of missionaries sent to England baptized nearly 7,000 converts.  The distinction caused by the persecution was valuable. Certainly not in a public relations sense, but very much in a “harvesting of souls” sense.

Sharp distinctions give the disinterested a reason to consider our message.  Persecution attracts the honest who want to know why the persecution is happening.  Joseph believed, and history has proven that persecution is the heritage of the righteous.  Its absence may not really be a good thing.  The cost of trying to avoid it is at the expense of forward progress. This is evidenced by the decrease in convert baptisms we see at present.



I have never seen any statement in scripture affirming that becoming popular in the eyes of the world was good or desirable.  On the contrary, I see the Book of Mormon listing that as one of the great evils.  (See e.g., 1 Ne. 22: 23.)

Baptism of Fire

The question has come up about how the Lamanites could receive the baptism of fire and “know it not” when it happened.  Whole books have been written on this subject and I can’t do it justice in a blog.  So I won’t try.  I’ll make a brief comment:

The alternatives are:

1.  They knew something happened, but didn’t know what it was or what it should be called.
2.  They didn’t realize something had happened at all.

If the reason is 1, then the result is un-troubling because without a vocabulary to label the event it is easy to to understand whey they “know it not.”

Much more troubling is reason 2.  What if the baptism of fire is an event so subtle it could escape detection?  And if that is the case, then how is one to know when or if they have experienced it?

Some writers have made the baptism of fire such a remarkable event that it connotes salvation, even exaltation itself.  For those who accept that definition of the event, then to reduce it to an undetectable occurrence seems to somehow diminish it.

Joseph described the effects of the Holy Ghost on a Gentile (purges the blood and remakes them into an Israelite), and on a descendant of Israel (pure intelligence).  [I’m not going to give the cite from the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, because I don’t have a copy with me while I’m writing this.  So you look it up.]  Both effects Joseph describes could be felt in a minimal way.  Neither would require it to be dramatic.

“Fire” is a description of quickening, purging sin, and receiving the love of God.  [Beloved Bridegroom gives a great explanation of fire as a symbol of the love of God.]  If you are living in conformity with such light as you have been given, receiving this kind of “fire” would not necessarily be physically detectable.  The real place where it would begin to show would be as a person prays, and then begins to receive answers, or “pure intelligence” as Joseph put it.  “A sudden flow of ideas,” which the recipient knows is beyond their capacity to think of or accomplish, would be another way in which the recipient would recognize its presence.

I think it is altogether possible for either explanation to be true.  No matter which explanation, I don’t believe it diminishes in any way the importance of this baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost.  It is, in my view, the event marking the beginning of the process by which someone becomes ultimately a new creature.  It is not the end of the journey.  I would use other words to describe that.

What’s in a Name?

The site we use for this blog has the unfortunate label of “Followers” for those who read the blog, or receive regular updates on new posts.  The website comment goddess who works to manage this has attempted to change the name to “Readers” but can only do that within the fields open to be changed.

Now I realize those who follow this are “Readers” and only “followers” in the sense that they receive update notices.  I acknowledge the insult given you by the Google label.

As an aside, if you really are a “Follower” then let me make one thing clear:  You don’t want to follow me.  You should be a follower of Christ.  He can really do something for you.  I cannot.

That having been said, now let’s go on being bemused at  Google’s unfortunate choice of monikers for those who read a blog.

I’m really appreciative of the ability this forum has to reduce the need for repetition with many people.  I hope it is convenient for readers, too.

Increasing Light

Teaching is marred by the ineptitude of teachers.  It does not matter how complex a subject being taught is, a good teacher will make is both simple and enjoyable to learn.  When a subject becomes difficult to understand, more often than not it is because the teacher does not understand the subject well enough to make it simple.
 
For the Gospel, teaching is a matter of increasing light in the one learning.  To do that the student must learn how to improve their obedience to true principles.  Only someone’s obedience to truth will lead them to greater truth.  The teacher’s obedience cannot and does not benefit the student of the gospel if the student is unwilling to receive greater light and truth by obedience.
 
The necessary obedience is not obedience to a man, or men, or a set of rules devised by men.  It is not even obedience to a rigid set of commandments. Obedience and fidelity must be directed to the Lord.  No matter how well someone may teach for doctrine the commandments of men, those who hear will never gain more than a form of godliness, without any power.
 
We all must progress in the same way Christ did.  He grew from grace to grace, until as last He was called the Son of God.  He had the fullness of grace and truth. Read John’s testimony again found in the beginning of D&C 93. Pay attention to the first verse of Section 93, because it is the summary of what John’s testimony will include.
The teachings are real.  Increasing light is real.  But each must gain it in the very same way as Christ and all those who have followed Him gained it.

A good teacher will always work himself out of a job by teaching how to find light without him.  A bad teacher will call attention to himself, and try to make others dependent upon him.  The worst teachers are those who want to control those who will listen to them and to dictate what they do, what they think, and how they must follow.  Christ, and the light He brings, liberates, making each person an agent for themselves.  Satan’s plan is to put us into bondage, controlling us and making us fear.

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A comment on Adam-ondi-Ahman

The description in D&C 107: 53 refers to Adam giving a blessing to “them.” You have to determine to whom the word “them” refers.

I wrote elsewhere about Daniel and the way in which the Lord’s appearance was veiled from others who were present, Daniel alone seeing the vision. The same is true of the Lord’s contact with Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. Those with him did not have the same open vision.

When Joseph and Oliver saw the vision in the Kirtland Temple, they were behind a drawn canvas veil, and others were in the building. They didn’t see what Joseph and Oliver saw.

In the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, the visions which were opened to some were not to others.

There was an inner group of high priests for whom the Lord’s appearance would be appropriate and they are named. Naming means something. The rest are referred to as “the residue” and are not named.

These patterns are very real. They are set out in scripture because they are real. There is a great difference between being one of “the residue” of good people and being a clearly named high priest, particularly when you encounter the number of seven for the meeting. The number is also important, as I’ve explained in books I’ve written.

The picture people get into their heads is difficult to remove. But this process is dependent upon the preparation of the individual, not membership in a group. I’ve associated importance with elements of the revelation which others may not think important. I believe naming the seven, the number of them (seven), identifying them as high priests, calling those others “the residue” and leaving their names out of the narrative, and the overall setting takes this incident and puts it into the Daniel/Kirtland Temple/Apostle Paul category of visions of the Lord. Where some present are excluded and only a specific group or individual whose presence was specifically invited by the Lord, are permitted to stand in His presence.

It is a terrible thing to enter into the presence of the Living God. Not all who are righteous are prepared for that. Hence my reading of the verses.