This current topic will continue with two more posts. I don’t normally post on weekends of late, but there will be more on this through Sunday, so I can finish the material.
Donald: I do not think you are guilty of adultery.
This current topic will continue with two more posts. I don’t normally post on weekends of late, but there will be more on this through Sunday, so I can finish the material.
Donald: I do not think you are guilty of adultery.
Before proceeding further, it is important to recognize that this is not an inconsequential matter. If someone guesses they can have plural wives and they are wrong, they have gone too far. They are taking a dangerous step. They risk eternity. Therefore this topic should not be approached casually, or because someone “thinks” this is proper. Either they know because God has instructed them by commandment, exclusively for the limited reasons it is allowed to be practiced, or they are involved in a serious, grievous sin.
In Section 132, words like “he hath broken his vow and hath committed adultery” are included for those who proceed absent the Lord’s command. (D&C 132: 43.) Those who go too far can “fall from his exaltation” when these things are done in violation of God’s will. (D&C 132: 39.)
In Jacob, the improper taking of an additional wife is called “whoredoms and an abomination” by the Lord. (Jacob 2: 28.)
Those who proceed in our dispensation in the absence of the Lord’s direct command to them are included among those the Lord described as gentiles filled with “whoredoms, and of secret abominations.” (3 Ne. 16: 10.) If you are engaged in the practice, and recognize it is an abomination, and you will “repent and return unto [God’s ways], saith the Father, behold they shall be numbered among my people, O house of Israel.” (3 Ne. 16: 13.)
None but fools will trifle with this topic.
Read Section 132 and see if the Lord commands you to either take or be a multiple wife. Don’t impose it in the language. Don’t force it into the revelation. Instead, read it as if the practice is forbidden, an abomination, adultery, or whoredom. Where do you see it demands you to take or be a multiple wife?
Verses 2 through 28 explain celestial marriage without mentioning anything other than a single wife. This explanation of having a single wife sealed to the man is the law which “must be obeyed” or exaltation is impossible. And “if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.” (D&C 132: 3-4.) The law, however, is for a man and woman to be sealed together for eternity and to have that sealing ratified by “the Holy Spirit of Promise.”
But it is a man (singular) and a woman (singular). For example:
“a man” and “a woman” and “he” and “she” and “him” and “her” (132: 15)
“a man” and “a wife” (132: 18)
“a man” and “a wife” (132: 19)
“a man” and “a wife” and “he” and “she” (132: 26)
These verses, from 2 through 28, speak in the singular throughout. One man. One woman. And these verses are the ones that speak of exaltation, thrones, dominions, kindgoms, principalities, all heights and depths. (132: 19.) In fact, the very verse where these things are mentioned is in connection with “a man marry a wife by” the Lord’s word. (Id.)
Celestial marriage and the celestial law of inheriting exaltation is set out in the very revelation that mentions for the first time the eternal marriage covenant. This occurs ONLY in those verses which are describing marriage between “a man” and “a woman” and not elsewhere.
The focus of these verses is not on multiple wives. Rather the focus is on the preservation of marriage into eternity by God and by His word (132: 12) which is “sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise.” (132: 7.)
Therefore, the question is not whether you have multiple wives. The right questions are:
-Are you sealed by God?
-Are you sealed by God’s word?
-Are you sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise?
If you do not obtain this promise sealed to you by God, through His word, sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, then it does not matter. “[I]f a man marry a wife, and make a covenant with her for time and for all eternity, if that covenant is not by me or by my word, which is my law, and is not sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, through him whom I have anointed and appointed unto this power, then it is not valid neither of force when they are out of the world, because they are not joined by me, saith the Lord, neither by my word.” (132: 18.)
Your individual hopes, wishes, aspirations and ambitions are nothing. The only thing which will endure is that which is established by God. Or, more completely, by God, through His word, which is then sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise.
All of this discussion takes place in verses 2 through 28 of the revelation. None of it forces you to read it as referring to multiple wives. You cannot find the multiple wives information anywhere in these verses. If you think it is there, it is because you have put it there by your own interpretation. Multiple wives is NOT included.
The explanation for multiple wives begins after the explanation of what is required for exaltation. These verses permit two exceptions to the prior, mandatory requirement that marriage is limited to a man and a woman who are sealed by God, through His word, by the Holy Spirit of Promise. These two exceptions will be considered next.
To reaffirm the point of this post: If you guess wrong by taking multiple wives, your mistake is called “whoredoms” and “an abomination” and will condemn you. Unless you repent and return to God, you forfeit your exaltation.
Through Joseph Smith we have two scriptural sources dealing with plural wives. Jacob 2, in the Book of Mormon condemns the practice as “an abomination,” but leaves it open to be practiced if the Lord commands. The reason the Lord would command is to “raise up seed unto [Him].”
Section 132, beginning at verse 29, discusses why earlier prophets took more than one wife. It “permits” taking more than one wife under two conditions. But Section 132 should be read in light of what Jacob taught regarding the limitations and purpose of having more than one wife.
Before carefully examining the scriptures, a bit of history is necessary. Joseph first learned about the subject during the translation of Jacob sometime in 1829. Oliver was with him when the answer was first received. Therefore, at least two people knew about the subject as early as 1829.
As the earlier post on William Clayton’s Journal shows, Joseph did not put the revelation into writing until July 1843. Between 1829 and 1843, any explanation by Joseph (or Oliver) would have been verbal, private, and not necessarily understood properly, recorded correctly, or practiced openly. In other words, whatever happened between 1829 and 1843 is bound to be extremely difficult to accurately recreate. Those involved were trying to cover it up, and make it difficult and hopefully impossible to know it took place. They did not want it public.
Moreover, not everyone who was taken into confidence by Joseph was trustworthy, or honorable. Some men were predisposed to exploitation of vulnerable women. John C. Bennett, for example, was a sexual predator before coming to Nauvoo. When he became the Mayor and a member of the First Presidency, he learned about these unrecorded teachings and began to behave in a contemptable manner.
John Bennett would later publish salacious details of sexual misconduct in Nauvoo, attributing to Joseph some of his (Bennett’s) own conduct. Some of what Bennett wrote was true (i.e., private taking of multiple wives) and some of it was sensational, untrue, and was a reflection of his own behavior projected onto others, most notably Joseph Smith.
The Bennett expose of Nauvoo underground sexual practices acquired increased credibility years later when Brigham Young began to openly practice and advocate taking plural wives. Some people who had not believed Bennett at first, changed their minds and took him as a credible source once the public revelation of plural marriage became international news.
Section 132 was not revealed publicly in 1843. When it was finally made public, it also seemed to vindicate Bennett’s accusations about Nauvoo private behavior. The revelation was attributed (I think correctly) to Joseph Smith, and therefore it established a religious basis for the Bennett accusations stemming directly from Joseph.
In addition to Bennett, others also knew of the private taking of additional wives. The most vocal parties with inside information were critics of Joseph Smith who left the church. These disaffected former Mormons had little reason to tell an accurate story. They were trying to discredit the church, not to defend it. Even if they attempted to be “fair” in retelling what they knew, their accounts are colored by:
-Disaffection for Joseph Smith.
-Hostility to the religion.
-Questions about whether or not they fully understood the matter.
-Issues about how “hidden” and “secret” practices were explained.
-Their attempts to make themselves appear more moral than their private conduct actually reflected.
All of this strongly suggests to me that the words of Jacob and Section 132 need to be carefully studied, and the history of how the practice was conducted by the few who knew what was happening must be taken with some careful skepticism about its accuracy.
When characters like John Bennett and William Law were involved in seducing women and claiming there was a secret teaching allowing “spiritual wives” because Joseph Smith had actually discussed the principle with them, it becomes apparent that whatever Section 132 permits or does not permit, the principle can be abused. It was abused by these men, and other insiders. Joseph’s public statements condemning adultery, and denouncing polygamy can be reconciled with Section 132. But to reconcile it all requires some knowledge about these events. It also requires recognition that the neat, tidy history that ignores these rather messy interpersonal conflicts and betrayals of trust is inadequate.
Plural wives is as unpleasant a topic as you encounter in our religion. However, its unpleasantness does not detract from the importance of sorting it out. Given the various conflicting charges and countercharges, it is a relief to just accept a superficial account and hope it is true. That applies to BOTH sides. BOTH those who reject the practice, as well as those who welcome it, need to be willing to sort through it and reach the correct conclusion.
Just because the fundamentalists have recognized more of the truth about the history does not mean they have sorted it out aright, nor that they are living a “higher” law. It may mean they are just as wrong about their conclusions as they think the church is for abandoning the practice.
I’ve taken the topic seriously. I’ve accorded the advocates’ arguments respect. I think they are wrong. As I continue this discussion I’m hoping some of them may be persuaded there is still some of the story they haven’t yet sorted out correctly.
Section 132 of the Doctrine & Covenants is not universally accepted as a revelation received by Joseph Smith. When the discussion cannot proceed beyond whether this originated from Joseph Smith, by revelation, the discussion goes nowhere. Therefore, the first step must be to resolve whether the revelation came through Joseph Smith, or was a later fabrication of Brigham Young and his inner circle of polygamists.
The following information persuades me Section 132 came through Joseph Smith and was reduced to writing on July 12, 1843:
The Nauvoo Diaries of William Clayton were written chronologically and have the following entries (exactly as in original):
In addition to the foregoing, I checked surrounding public events, and the diary is consistent with other records of those days. For example, the event on July 16th is recorded as having taken place “At Stand in Grove, West of Temple” and appears in a letter of Willard Richards to Brigham Young, the Joseph Smith diary kept by Willard Richards, the Levi Richards Diary and the Willard Richards Diary. The afternoon of the 16th also records a public meeting on the “Temple Stand” in the Franklin Richards, William Clayton, and Levi Richards diaries and in the Letter of Willard Richards to Brigham Young, as well as in the Joseph Smith diary kept by Willard Richards.
Disputes after Joseph’s death also confirm a disagreement between Emma and the church over ownership in the Steamboat the Maid of Iowa.
These entries seem credible, and therefore I believe they show Section 132 was recorded on July 12, 1843 and originated from Joseph Smith. In addition, the August 12, 1843 meeting of the Nauvoo High Council records there was “teaching by Hyrum Smith” which four witnesses later confirmed included reading Section 132. These witnesses were Austin Cowles (who rejected the doctrine and left the church), David Fulmer, Thomas Grover, James Allred and Aaron Johnson. Hosea Stout was absent when Hyrum read the document, but was later told about the revelation. When Section 132 became public, Hosea Stout confirmed it “corresponded to what” he was told about the reading in August 1843.
It is possible to believe it a fabrication of Brigham Young. It was not made public until the 1850’s, and the public disclosure was on Brigham Young’s watch. But the document came into existence while Joseph was church president, and came through him. As much as a person may wish the document did not originate with Joseph Smith, the evidence appears to be more than adequate to show it did. It came from Joseph and was reduced to written form in July 1843.
The topic of Mormonism’s past practice/teaching of taking plural wives puts you squarely in the middle of problems in church history. Deliberate deception and public statements which contradict private behavior is a fact of Mormon history. This fact complicates the difficulty of knowing what is true and right, false and wrong, and whether something is a bona fide required part of “real” Mormonism.
The authenticity of the revelation (Section 132 of the Doctrine & Covenants) is debated. This debate is possible because of these problems with Mormon history.
To understand Mormonism requires a level of tolerance for deceit which some modern Mormons refuse to acknowledge. It is a natural reaction to want to put men on a pedestal. We resist any notion that would reduce them to anything less than completely truthful, honest in their dealings, and trustworthy in every statement they made. Therefore, when you encounter deliberate dis-information campaigns designed to mislead others, it is natural to react with disbelief.
The truth matters more than our reaction to it. Whether we find it troubling or not, the truth is valuable enough to warrant study even if it causes discomfort. The practice of taking plural wives is one of those topics requiring discomfort to wade through it and reach a conclusion.
There are some major themes in the argument advanced by those who claim it is essential to salvation. These include the sometimes inconsistent arguments that:
-It is required for exaltation.
-Those who live it are living a “higher law” and those who do not are living a lower law.
-Those living a “higher law” cannot submit to authority by those who live a lower law.
-President Taylor foresaw the discontinuance of the practice, and he gave “keys” to allow it to continue, outside the church.
-The Manifesto was merely a public relations document and did not reflect a serious abandonment of the practice.
-Plural marriages were performed by the church, including the president of the church after the 1890 Manifesto.
-The church’s final abandonment occurred because of the Smoot Senate Hearings, and the pressure brought through interrogating President Joseph F. Smith.
-The “second manifesto” written in 1904 was the real basis for discontinuing the practice.
-Apostles Cowley and Taylor were forced to resign because of the “second manifesto” and the church never sustained it as binding; therefore it is not binding.
-The “fundamentalists” were allowed to use church Temples, including the Salt Lake Temple, to conduct plural marriages through the administration of David O. McKay.
-Several unpublished revelations, including to John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff, show the Lord’s insistence on continuing the practice.
Those who utterly reject the practice claim the sometimes inconsistent arguments that:
-Joseph Smith’s public declarations are more reliable than a secret revelation.
-Joseph Smith is not responsible for Section 132.
-Brigham Young fabricated the revelation, and pawned if off as an authentic revelation from Joseph Smith, but it was never made public in Joseph’s lifetime.
-The church’s declaration on marriage was sustained by the church membership and precludes multiple wives.
-The Book of Mormon condemns the practice.
-Taking multiple wives is an “abomination” which the Lord condemns.
-The First Presidency and Quorum of the 12 have “keys’ and they will never be lost.
-The affidavits from putative plural wives were given long after the fact, and in a time when the practice was being challenged by the RLDS movement.
-Emma Smith denies it was practiced.
-Joseph “repented” and changed his mind; claiming he had been deceived in practicing plural wives.
-There are no children proven to have been Joseph’s other than those born through Emma Smith.
This is not exhaustive of the positions, but a reasonable starting point. All of the foregoing arguments have some historical basis to support them. People who make these and other arguments are not ignoring history. They are choosing sources; sometimes between what a single source said in one place and in another.
It is not possible to accept what everyone said in every instance and come out with a single version of the events. Hence the problem of history, lies, good faith and myths which cloud this topic.
I’m going to try this week to explain why the practice is, in my view, not a necessary (or advisable) part of Mormonism. Those who care intensely about this topic can find material to both support and oppose the explanation I give.
If we convert someone who has a tattoo we do not refuse to baptize them. If a person born in the church leaves and returns again covered with tattoos, we don’t refuse them fellowship. Nor do we expect anyone to undergo the painful process of having them burned away using a laser.
When the church finally abandoned the practice of taking plural wives, one of the concessions the church wanted the government to make was to allow all existing plural marriages to become legal. No new ones could be contracted, but the existing ones needed to be tolerated under the law.
Heber J. Grant was the last church president with plural wives. He was church president until his death in May 1945. The church was led by a polygamist well into World War II.
Even though we abandoned the practice publicly in 1890 and privately in 1904, we were led by polygamists at the head until respectively, 55 and 41 years later.
The argument used to persuade the government was that it was absolutely cruel to deprive children born into these plural wife families of both parents. Breaking up families was unkind, unnecessary and would cause more harm than good.
Today there are many people who are in plural marriages who ought to be the target of efforts to reconvert them to the Gospel. We stay away from them because they have relationships we condemn. They are, in a sense, tattooed and we are unwilling to accept them back unless they will undergo the painful ordeal of disengaging from their unapproved relationship. We ask more of them than we were willing to allow the government to ask of us when we abandoned the practice.
If a polygamist family is willing to return, we should welcome them. We should allow them full fellowship, and admit them back to practice faith with us. They should know we condemn the practice and we will preach against it. We will encourage and teach their children to discontinue the practice, but we should accept them back into fellowship.
With Warren Jeffs’ latest decree limiting all fathering of children to his fifteen chosen inner circle, I suspect there will be a great number willing to abandon his leadership and who would reconsider fellowship with the church. The conditions we have set for reentry are so cruel, so damaging to these families, that we are essentially saying they can never return.
I would like to see polygamy ended. I would like to see those who practice it reconverted. I do not think we can reasonably expect to break apart their families. We should not break up families as a condition of return.
I’ve written about Section 132 in my last book. This week I’m going to return to that topic and spend a few days discussing plural marriage. I hope it will be a friendly invitation to those who practice it to reconsider whether they can get closer to God by returning to faith among the Latter-day Saints. I, for one, would be willing to fellowship with them. Though I condemn the practice and believe it should never have continued, I am not unrealistic about any existing obligations.
We began this week with the topic of apostasy. That is where we will end. It is easy to distract and fool people. It is also easy to keep in mind what is essential and will save, and what is distracting and cannot save. Here are a few thoughts that can prevent apostasy:
Never confuse the symbol for the reality.
Never accept a man as your Lord, but reserve worship for Christ alone. Everything and everyone else is idolatry.
Always bear in mind that Christ alone is the keeper of the gate, and He cannot be misled.
Always participate fully in the rites given to you as a gift from God, performed by the priests, and be worthy before God when you do so.
Take every gift from God in gratitude, and recognize His hand in what you receive.
Be grateful for what you are given, and never think yourself better than another because you think you understand more. You are measured against perfection, not your fellow man.
Forgive if you want to be forgiven.
Leaders deserve your best efforts to support them in the heavy burdens they carry. Uphold, rather than criticize them.
Most errors deserve your pity and forgiveness – not your judgment.
It is not criticism to search for truth, even if the truth exposes mistakes and errors of men. Be gracious with failure, and not distracted or preoccupied by it.
Nobody’s failure can prevent your success. No other organization or person can bring you along in their success. You are required to connect with God independent of all others. Life eternal is to know Him and His Son.
Love your spouse, because this is your own flesh. There was never a saved man without a woman, nor a saved woman without a man. Adam and Eve are “the image of God” for “in the image of God created He him, male and female created He them.”
It is in the private, unobserved moments when you learn the most about yourself. What you think, what you do, how you act when you think you are alone reveals more about your heart than anything else. If you are distant from God, begin to return in those moments alone.
God does live. Never doubt that. Just accept it and move forward to know Him.
It is a thin veil, not a wall, that separates you from God. Do not let it become insurmountable. It was always meant to be parted.
Fear is the opposite of faith.
Do not let borrowed fears become the barrier to your faith.
Men cannot save you, but they can condemn you. You cannot respect men too much without respecting God too little.
Religion has been the source of most of mankind’s cruelty, rebellion and apostasy. Never think your own religious observances can or will connect you with God. They are only habits until you reach out and speak with God directly. Ministers, priests, Rabbis, Elders, preachers, Fathers, Presidents, Apostles and even prophets are not God. Nor should any of these roles be allowed to distance you from God.
Saving belief requires you to accept the truth. Saving faith requires you to act in conformity with correct belief. Saving knowledge comes from contact with God.
There are “signs” that show a person is not apostate. Mormon’s teachings to his son recount the signs which show God is saving souls. These teachings are in Chapter 7 of Moroni’s book. The whole text is worth careful study.
Moroni records that God will let all mankind know with power and great glory at the last day that “the day of miracles” has never ceased. (Moroni 7: 35.) Nor have angels ceased to appear and teach those who are in need of instruction. (Moroni 7: 36.) Nor has the “power” of the Holy Ghost receded. (Id.) This is because these things are required for “one man upon the face [of the earth] to be saved.” (Id.)
If the time comes when there are no more miracles and there are no more angels ministering to mankind, then it is because of “unbelief, and all is lost.” (Id.)
Moroni explains in simplicity and clarity: “For no man can be saved, according to the words of Christ, save they shall have faith in his name; wherefore, if these things have ceased, then has faith ceased also; and awful is the state of man, for they are as though there had been no redemption made.” (Moroni 7: 38.)
The priestly tradition mentioned here can provide the rites, teach the doctrine and preserve the truth, but the underlying reality must be pursued for salvation. Moroni explains how we must push beyond the mere symbol to the reality.
Rites may teach us about conversing with the Lord through the veil. However, when the rite is over it leaves you with only the idea, the outline, the admonition of how the Gospel operates. Then it is up to you to pursue the practice of the rites by your life, your faithfulness, and calling upon God to know Him.
Signs do not produce faith and never have. Signs do, always, and will forever, follow faith. (D&C 63: 9.) Moroni taught sound doctrine.
For each of us, the priestly tradition is never enough. Ancient Israel had their rites, observances, feasts and rituals. They could acquire ceremonial cleanliness by following the rules for purification. But, as the Lord observed, outward cleanliness can belie the inward filth if they failed to connect with God. (Matt. 23: 25-28.) It is always easier to be ritually clean and religiously pure than it is to be approved of God. It is much easier to rise inside an organization than it is to part the veil.
However, for those who seek God, no amount of praise in this world can tempt them to ignore the path of faith where they encounter the Holy Ghost, angels, the Lord, and the Father. (John 14: 23; D&C 130: 3.)
When God begins work with people, the group becomes “chosen,” and therefore the focus of His continuing efforts to save mankind. Although “chosen people” do not always remain faithful to Him, they do remain the center of His work.
A good illustration of this was during the Second Temple period in ancient Israel. Throughout this time, the people were apostate. Margaret Barker’s work reconstructing the era is perhaps as good a job as any scholar has been able to accomplish to date. Israel was led by corrupt and uninspired priests. The nation descended generation by generation until, by the time the New Testament era opened, the nation’s “king” was appointed by Rome from a well-connected family having only quasi-Jewish lineage and no real devotion to their faith. The High Priest was also a political appointment, based on family patronage and bribery.
Into this corrupt society, the dawn of a new Dispensation conformed to the old patterns of the fallen, idolatrous religion. The angel Gabriel came to Zacharias in the place and time that honored the ceremonies established by Moses.
Zacharias was in the Holy Place, before the veil of the Temple, burning incense and offering the morning prayer. The prayer asked for the light of God’s presence to return to Israel. As the cloud of incense ascended from the altar upward, symbolizing the ascent of prayers to God, Gabriel appeared on the right side of the altar. (Luke 1: 11.) This is the exact spot a person would stand if they emerged from the Holy of Holies of the Temple, conforming to the then existing religious pattern. The angel announced to Zacharias that “thy prayer is heard” (Luke 1: 13), meaning that the set prayer for God’s presence to return to Israel was accepted. The religious pattern was vindicated.
Though Israel had endured hundreds of years of apostate decline, when the time to refresh and restore arrived, the work resumed inside the existing pattern. God honored the religion of His chosen people, even though the religion was at the time fallen, worldly and apostate.
Zacharias lived among this apostate people and yet was unhindered by it. His prayer was heard, the angel was sent, and God’s promise to return to Israel was not only vindicated, but Zacharias was told he would have a son who would “go before [the Lord] in the spirit and power of Elias.” (Luke 1: 13, 17.)
Similarly, the prophet Simeon and the prophetess Anna lived among a fallen and apostate people, but honored the traditions, kept the faith, and saw beyond the evil of their day. Each received by revelation a promise they would live to see their Lord come into the flesh. (Luke 2: 25-38.) These faithful believers, both male and female, were not hindered by the apostasy then underway.
The Lord follows the same pattern throughout, because He is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Moroni 10: 19.) Therefore, once the work recommenced through Joseph Smith, and there was a “chosen people,” the work will always continue, or if necessary begin anew among the same “chosen people.” Though the gentiles will fail, as Christ prophesied would eventually occur (3 Ne. 16: 10), the work will not be abandoned.
General apostasy, therefore, cannot prevent individual participation in the fullness of God’s promises. Though it may be interrupted for three or four generations when there is rebellion (Ex. 20: 5), when it resumes it will begin among the same people where it left off.
This is the pattern of the Lord. And mankind’s failure does nothing to prevent eventual fulfillment of the Lord’s promises. (D&C 1: 38.)
There are two approaches to preserving a belief system. Scholars refer to these as “sophic” and “mantic,” but the scriptural language would be “the priestly” and “the prophetic.”
Priests deal with rites, ordinances, commandments and procedures. This durable approach to preserving a belief system allows a dispensation of the Gospel to continue to have a presence, long after a founder has died. Moses, for example, established a system of rites and observances which then became the religious fare of priests who perpetuated the system from the time of Moses until the coming of Christ.
Prophets deal with God and angels. They receive new insight, promises and covenants. Their conduct can even appear to violate the traditions of the religion they follow, but that is only because they are not bound to the tradition as practiced by the priests. Instead they have penetrated into the underlying meaning, the original power, the purpose of the rites.
Dispensations are founded by those who combine both traditions. Moses was a prophet, and established priestly rites. Christ was a prophet and more, and He also established priestly rites. Similarly, Joseph Smith was an authentic Dispensation Head who was both a prophet and established priestly rites.
The reason an apostasy can be concealed from the view of religious believers is because they confuse the presence of continuing priestly tradition with both. They do not notice the prophetic presence has left. Concealing the fact that the prophetic presence is gone is possible because priests focus on authority and make that idea the central, even controlling issue for salvation.
Catholics held a monopoly for a thousand years using the idea of “keys from St. Peter” as the foundation upon which the religion was built. Not until the eastern Orthodox faith departed was there any choice to be made between “keys” in Rome and “keys” in Constantinople. It took Martin Luther to finally peel away the fraud of “keys” independent from righteousness. His expositions on the “priesthood of faith” allowed a divorce between claims of priestly “keys” and faith in God.
It took Martin Luther’s revolution in thinking several hundred years to create a religious landscape where Joseph Smith and a new Dispensation of the Gospel could be introduced. These things move slowly because mankind is generally imprisoned by their traditions and are incapable of seeing the difference between the priestly and the prophetic traditions. This blindness becomes the tool through which the priestly tradition controls mankind.
Priestly tradition is stable, authoritarian, controlling, focused on outward conduct, amasses wealth, power and prestige. Priestly tradition can continue in the absence of spirit, revelation or even godliness. Priestly tradition can become the friend of government, business and empires, and can work hand-in-hand with the powers of this world.
Prophetic tradition is unruly, unpredictable, and challenges the god of this world. It cannot work with the powers of this world, but strikes at its authority. It cannot exist without the direct involvement of God and angels and it cannot be divorced from continuing revelation.
You can have both without an apostasy. You can have the prophetic without an apostasy. You can have a priestly tradition exist without an apostasy, but that is much less likely. In any complete apostasy, the presence of the priestly tradition is essential to be able to accomplish the “trick” referred to in the post yesterday.
The trick to successfully pulling off an apostasy is to distract people into thinking there hasn’t been one. The “believers” need to think everything remains intact.
So the issue of “apostasy” becomes a discussion about individuals and individual conformity to the expectations of the group. The subject can then be a topic that polite, fellow-believers can discuss without ever searching into the overall condition of a fallen people.
The Jews mocked efforts to tell them they were apostate. They thought it was humorous when Lehi preached the idea. (1 Ne. 1: 19.) Because they were so very religious, so devout, so unassailably active in following God, the idea was absolutely laughable that they were apostate.
The Apostle Paul said the problem would begin at the top with the shepherds, who would teach them falsehoods as truth. (Acts 20: 29-30.) These new leaders would have only a form of godliness, without any real power to save. (2 Tim. 3: 5.)
The Christian world adopted another, false replacement of the original church. It became so universal it was hailed as the Universal, or Catholic Church. It ruled from the rivers to the ends of the earth as the only official form of the faith established by Christ.
To pull this off Satan must be concerned with the “macro” institutional failure, not just individuals falling away. It is the small, minor spirits who follow Lucifer who engage in petty tempting of individuals to sin. Success for the Adversary is not accomplished in petty enterprises. He wants failure for the whole, so none can be saved. For that, apostasy must be universal.
He has never succeeded by admitting there has been a failure. The trick is always to have the apostasy come unnoticed, unacknowledged and from within. (See 3 Ne. 16: 10.)
The topic is worth studying. When apostasy is noticed, acknowledged and exposed, then it is possible to repent and return. Until then, it progresses apace, discarding and rejecting what might have been given. All the while being happily ignored by “believers” whose devotion will not save.
Since Christ predicted that at some point the latter-day gentiles would reject the fullness (Id.), we probably should consider what the Book of Mormon has to say about the subject.
To finish the thought about the “trick to apostasy” the D&C has a remarkable statement. Lucifer succeeds when he manages to get us NOT to reject ordinances, but to change them. As soon as they are changed, they are broken. (D&C 1: 15.) That is an important step. Because then religious people can continue to claim they follow a true religion, while practicing one that has been broken. These practitioners become like the ancient Jews, who mocked Lehi because they knew they were still righteous. They knew Lehi was foolish, even fraudulent. They still had the truth, the ordinances, the temple, and the priesthood. Lehi was just a mistaken crank.
Mosiah 3: 26-27
“Therefore, they have drunk out of the cup of the wrath of God, which justice could no more deny unto them than it could deny that Adam should fall because of his partaking of the forbidden fruit; therefore, mercy could have claim on then no more forever.
And their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever. Thus has the Lord commanded me. Amen.”
The strong, direful, terrible warnings continue from the angel:
Those who ignore the obligation will, in the afterlife, have:
“drank out of the cup of the wrath of God…”
Notice this is phrased in almost identical language to Christ’s terrible suffering in the atonement. (See 3 Ne. 11: 11; D&C 19: 18.) This is so awful an experience the Lord cannot capture adequately in revelation the words to describe it. (D&C 19: 15.)
“mercy could have claim on them no more forever.”
Meaning that if they choose this path, they will suffer. There will be nothing to mitigate what they will endure. Mercy will not intervene and lessen the ordeal.
How often has the Lord used such terrible phrases to describe the damned as:
“torment as a lake of fire and brimstone”–because we all know the pain of having our skin burned. It quickly conveys the idea of torment into our minds,
“whose flames are unquenchable”–because it will burn away until nothing impure remains,
“whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever”–because this process is eternal and will be the experience of anyone and everyone, worlds without end, who merit this purging and refining fire.
These words from the angel were delivered to a king, to be taught to his people, in a gathering in which all those who attended then covenanted with God. The audience would “have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” (Mosiah 5: 2.)
Why does it require this message from the angel to produce this result?
Could they be saved by praising them, telling them they were chosen and the elect of God?
Could they be saved by telling them they were a royal priesthood?
Could they be saved by telling them that all was well with them, they prosper in the land because God is with them?
Why is it necessary to tell them of hell?
Of eternal suffering and unquenchable fire?
In The Second Comforter I remarked “there is no veil to our feelings.” That is true, but the feelings one experiences by coming into the presence of God are almost universally fear and dread. The scriptures confirm how fearful this has been to mankind:
To Abraham, it was a “horror” to draw near the Lord. (Gen. 15: 12-13.)
To Isaiah it was woeful, and terrible. (Isa. 6: 5.)
To Daniel and his companions, quaking fell upon them, many fled, leaving Daniel alone. (Dan. 10: 7-8.)
Mormon explains how men react to God’s presence as being “racked with a consciousness of guilt.” (Mormon 9: 3-4.)
When popular mythology constructs fantasies of coming before the Lord, they make it happy – not dreadful. They despise the call to repent because it disagrees with their happy myths. The angel is not overstating the case. He is explaining the great gulf that exists between fallen man and God. (See Moses 1: 10.) The unrepentant and foolish are completely unprepared for God’s presence. (Mormon 9: 2-6.) The words of the angel are attempting to give some indication to the faithful of how deeply, how completely, and how great the scope of repentance must be to avoid the similar pains of death and hell the Lord suffered on our behalf.
We delude ourselves when we think the angel’s message was not meant for all members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If the King Benjamin’s audience acquired their salvation by coming down in the depths of humility and repentance (Mosiah 4: 2), then we fool ourselves if we think anything less will be expected of us.
Was the angel bitter? Angry? Harsh? Unkind? Of the wrong “spirit?” Not the kind of messenger we should expect would be sent from God?
Was his message not kind enough? Not inspiring? Not faith promoting?
Can an angel or a prophet ever save anyone if they do not focus on the great burden left for mankind to repent and return to God? Will flattery ever save a man?
Samuel the Lamanite was sent to cry repentance. He put the case clearly to them and to us, but his words are no more comforting than the angel’s words were to King Benjamin and his people:
“Behold ye are worse than they; for as the Lord liveth, if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil.
The Apostle Paul described such folks as having “itching ears.” (2 Tim. 4: 3-4.) It is a fairly apt description. These folks think themselves righteous, but they are unrepentant, unforgiven, and unsaved. They follow a religion which cannot save them, because it has become nothing more than a false idol, appealing to their vanity.
“And if they be evil they are consigned to an awful view of their own guilt and abominations, which doth cause them to shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment, from whence they can no more return; therefore they have drunk damnation to their own souls.”
The angel now transitions the message to King Benjamin forward to the time of the final judgment. In that setting he suggests a scene to the unrepentant. Before looking at the words, however, why do you suppose the description is from the vantage point of the damned? Why not from the vantage point of the saved? The final three verses of the message are all viewed from failure, rather than from success. Why?
Is this “negative?”
Does this make you think the angel is offensive? He doesn’t “have the Spirit” with him? That you “don’t get a good feeling” when you listen to his words?
Do you think the angel should be ignored because he makes you “feel bad” by the things he speaks? Would you prefer to hear a “more positive message” Things like this just “can’t be from God” because of how they make you “feel?”
If this is an angel from God speaking, and the above questions reflect your attitude about a message warning you to repent, then perhaps it is your attitude that is wrong – not the angel or his message. Perhaps the annoyance of being awakened from your deep sleep is worth the angel telling you in unmistakable and harsh terms that you are about to be lost if you do not repent. Perhaps the angel would prefer to deliver a hopeful, even lighthearted message, but the words orignate from God. God’s efforts are to bring you to immortality and eternal life. (Moses 1: 39.) Maybe God has a better view of our awful state than do we.
The angel speaks in terms of:
-“consigned to an awful view”
What does this suggest? What would be “awful” about failing to repent? Why is it a “view?” What will we “see” in that day?
-“own guilt and abominations”
Why guilt? What “abominations” attach to every soul who does not repent? Why is religious error, pride in believing falsehoods, and failure to repent always an “abomination?”
-“doth cause them to shrink”
Isn’t this the same agony Christ experience in Gethsemane? (D&C 19: 18.) Why would you “shrink” from the presence of God? What does “shrink” mean?
-“into a state of misery”
Why would you want to withdraw into a state of misery? What is it about failing to repent that causes you to behave this way when judged by God?
-“endless torment from which there can be no return”
Why is this the formula to describe the reaction? (D&C 19: 6-12.) What is it about this experience that will last forever in the mind of anyone who suffers it? (D&C 19: 15-18.) Why would this haunt the person forevermore? Even if it came to an end at some point, why are you “unable to return” from that experience? What trauma is caused by this that can be avoided by repenting?
-“drunk damnation to their souls”
Why this graphic description? What is it about this experience that makes the very soul be damned by the ordeal?
Is the angel overreacting? Is this terrible assortment of adjectives necesssary? Why would God send an angel with this message to King Benjamin (and to us)?
Words from God, delivered by someone who is authorized to speak them, “stand as a bright testimony against this people.” (Mosiah 3: 24.) It is a “bright testimony” because it illuminates the wickedness and hard hearts of the people when they reject it. Or, alternatively, it is “bright” because it opens the mind of those who will receive it, and they become enlightened by receiving truth from God. Either way, it is a “bright testimony” and will cut against all who fail to respond by repenting.
The purpose of the message is to make everyone aware of their duty to follow God. That purpose becomes most fully understood “in the judgment day” when the Lord’s messengers stand beside Him. (Moroni 10: 34; 2 Ne. 33: 11.) It will then be obvious who He sent and who pretended to be sent. (Deut. 18: 20.)
The angel then says “every man shall be judged according to his works.” (Mosiah 3: 24.) This means what you “do” in response to the warning to repent is what determines your final fate. Your “works” matter because if you respond by repenting, then you will “work out your salvation.” (Philippians. 2: 12.) If not, then you have procrastinated and will be damned for your failure to work. (Alma 34: 33.)
The symmetry and simplicity of the message is astonishing. Everyone can understand it, but that is never the challenge. The challenge is always whether or not to take it seriously enough to act on it.
Acting on it does not involve a public display. It only involves what goes on inside your heart. You repent before God, and come to Him with a broken heart and contrite spirit and beg for forgiveness. When the Lord forgives, then you change from the inside out. The only real change that matters comes from within. Outward display first is artificial. When a new heart is inside a man, then the outward behavior, and eventually even countenance, will change to reflect what lies within the man.
Given the seriousness of the message, you would think all who hear it would at least consult with God before turning away. However, it has always been the most religious who will not listen to a message of repentance.
Traditions and social reinforcement from others who think alike, all prevent the message to repent from getting through. Instead of a message of repentance, mankind prefers a prophet who tells them they are good. They are justified. They are righteous! They are chosen! God loves them in their sins! They need only pray, pay and obey and all will be well with them! Then people do pay, so that such characters become rich and powerful. (Helaman 13: 26-28.)
There is perhaps no greater revelation of the plan of salvation ever composed than the Book of Mormon. Beginning with Mosiah the text is abridged by Mormon. I think, however, this chapter from Mosiah was left as in the original. What Mormon did here was keep intact the transcript of the angel’s message. I can almost hear it echoing still. Can’t you?
“And now I have spoken the words which the Lord God hath commanded me.” (Mosiah 3: 23.)
The angel added nothing. He hid nothing. He delivered what the Lord told him to deliver.
These are not merely the words of an angel. Becuase the angel certifies they originated from God, they are the words of God. (D&C 1: 38.)
When anyone, man or angel, is entrusted with a message from God, the message is God’s. God makes no distinction between the messenger and Himself. The words “shall all be fulfilled.” (Id.)
This system of empowering a messenger with a message, and then holding mankind to account may seem too slender a thread to have power. The truth is that the power is in the words, not in who speaks them. It does not matter that they come from a frail, elderly King from another time who has no authority over us today. It does not matter that he was alone at night with an unnamed angel without a second witness to vindicate the words. It is true and binding because:
1. It agrees with and does not contradict any other message from God.
2. It preaches repentance and warns us of consequences.
3. The words are independently corrobrated by the Spirit, if we read with the Spirit.
4. The words have been certified to us by our own inquiry (Moroni 10: 4-5.)
This is how the Lord sends His message. Through a solitary figure like John the Baptist, or Samuel the Lamanite, or Abinadi, or Jonah, or Amos, or Isaiah, or so many others. The message is the credential. It puts us to the obligation of then seeking to know if it is true or not. For that we must turn to God.
The message originates with God, and the message drives us to Him to determine if it is true.
The Lord’s ways are ever the same. We get no less a challenge in our own day.
As you reflect on this you can see why Zion will be a “city” and not an intercontinental, multi-million member organization spread throughout the world. It will be small. It will be local. (D&C 133: 12.) The Saints will be gathered from all the world into Zion. (1 Ne. 14: 14.) This is because once a messenger has delivered “the words which the Lord God hath commanded me,” then we are responsible for how we react and whether or not we repent. If we repent, angels will gather us. (D&C 77: 11.) If we do not, they will not gather us.