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Mormonism and the Temple

I have been working for some months with a group of scholars on a project which I believe to be of value to faithful Latter-day Saints. Today I am pleased to be authorized to provide the following announcement (which will be made through a variety of outlets simultaneously):

2012 Conference

Mormonism and the Temple: Examining an Ancient Religious Tradition

The newly-formed Academy for Temple Studies and the Utah State University Religious Studies program announce an important conference, to be held Monday, October 29, 2012, on the campus of Utah State University, in conjunction with the USU Religious Studies program, and hosted by Professor Philip Barlow
Throughout the history of civilization, diverse societies have used temples and temple-places to both worship, and to commune with deity. This conference examines that tradition and its links with the temple tradition of the Latter-day Saints.

The academic field of Temple Studies has grown in interest and importance among scholars in recent years, with thousands of articles and books focusing on the temple traditions of the Judeo-Christain religions alone. This is conference will interest both academic specialists and other informed students of the ancient temple — as typified by the temple of Solomon in Jerusalem — and its modern significance for and links to Mormonism.
Featured speakers (whose personal religious traditions include Methodism, Catholicism, and Mormonism) are noted for their expertise in these domains. The creative research of keynote speaker Dr. Margaret Barker has drawn attention both of critics and admirers in temple studies in England and the United States during the past generation. Additional speakers include the Reverend Dr. Laurence Hemming, Gary N. Anderson, Frederick M. Huchel, Danel Bachman, John W. Welch, and Drs. Le Grande Davies, John L. Fowles, John F. Hall, and Daniel C. Peterson.
Registration for the day-long conference will be $50.00. Students with a valid student ID will be admitted for $20.00.
This conference marks an important milestone in Temple Studies in the United States. Seating will be limited. Call (435) 797-1300, to reserve your seat.
More detailed information on the conference will soon be made available.

Lehi’s Message

Lehi delivered two separate messages to his generation at Jerusalem. These two messages provoked two separate reactions.

The first message was that they were wicked, and were engaged in abominations before God. (1 Ne. 1: 19.) In other words, these were sinful people needing to repent and return to God.

When the people heard “the things which he testified of them” their reaction was to mock and ridicule him and his message. (Id.) They had the scriptures, the priesthood, the Temple, the ordinances, and they were absolutely certain they were living their religion just as God wanted them to. They were “chosen” and were holy people. This idea of being “wicked” and engaging in abominable practices while they lived devoted lives seemed rediculous to them. Lehi could not be taken seriously. If there was anything to this message, then they would expect it would come from the established hierarchy, not some obscure trader living in Jerusalem. He wasn’t even a Levite for that matter.

The second message was much more serious. He spoke “plainly of the coming of a Messiah, and also the redemption of the world.” (1 Ne. 1: 19.) Since this was an idea the Jews of that day had rejected, Lehi’s testimony of Christ was too much. He was accusing them of apostasy. This aroused anger and even fury. The idea that these holy people, devoted to their religion, practicing the ordinances and preserving the Temple rites could be in a state of apostasy was too much for them to brook.

In response to this second message they had a second reaction: they wanted to kill him. (1 Ne. 1: 20.) They knew what to do with this kind of message. They would excommunicate, or “cast out” anyone who dared to preach this message. It threatened the pretenders who presided. It threatened the order of their day. It challenged the authority of the faith. It was too much.

Lehi would be either cast out (excommunicated). Or he would be “stoned” (an officially sanctioned religious punishment). Or he would be “slain” (a mob reaction not sanctioned by the religion). (Id.) The first two were to be imposed by the religious leaders. The third, however, would be popular reaction. An uncontrolled mob, showing spontaneous religious zeal, having been indoctrinated by their leaders to react in this manner. The leaders would prefer the third remedy. That would show their teaching was having the desired effect. If not, then the first two would be imposed.

Two messages, and two reactions. The popular practices of religion of Lehi’s day were condemning souls. No one was being saved. No leadership existed which would lead men back to God’s presence.

Lehi listened to the “many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent” (1 Ne. 1: 4). He learned for himself, directly from God that this was a true message. He took up the message and he delivered his own testimony.

This was a message from God, whom He had met. This was authorized and, whether the Jews of his day would acknowledge it or not, it was binding upon them. Therefore, when they rejected his testimony against them and his message requiring them to repent, they rejected God’s word.

These deeply religious peers of Lehi’s were astonished at the idea an obscure merchant could speak with and for God. Once again the first chapter of the Book of Mormon introduces us to a world where God alone decides who He will call. Then, after a private audience with the Lord, the commissioned spokesman proceeds to cry repentance. These are radical ideas, and prove the Book of Mormon is no ordinary text. It is a warning from God, and its precepts will bring mankind closer to the truth than the precepts you will find in any other volume of sacred text.

Lehi’s Message

Lehi delivered two separate messages to his generation at Jerusalem. These two messages provoked two separate reactions.

The first message was that they were wicked, and were engaged in abominations before God. (1 Ne. 1: 19.) In other words, these were sinful people needing to repent and return to God.

When the people heard “the things which he testified of them” their reaction was to mock and ridicule him and his message. (Id.) They had the scriptures, the priesthood, the Temple, the ordinances, and they were absolutely certain they were living their religion just as God wanted them to. They were “chosen” and were holy people. This idea of being “wicked” and engaging in abominable practices while they lived devoted lives seemed rediculous to them. Lehi could not be taken seriously. If there was anything to this message, then they would expect it would come from the established hierarchy, not some obscure trader living in Jerusalem. He wasn’t even a Levite for that matter.

The second message was much more serious. He spoke “plainly of the coming of a Messiah, and also the redemption of the world.” (1 Ne. 1: 19.) Since this was an idea the Jews of that day had rejected, Lehi’s testimony of Christ was too much. He was accusing them of apostasy. This aroused anger and even fury. The idea that these holy people, devoted to their religion, practicing the ordinances and preserving the Temple rites could be in a state of apostasy was too much for them to brook.

In response to this second message they had a second reaction: they wanted to kill him. (1 Ne. 1: 20.) They knew what to do with this kind of message. They would excommunicate, or “cast out” anyone who dared to preach this message. It threatened the pretenders who presided. It threatened the order of their day. It challenged the authority of the faith. It was too much.

Lehi would be either cast out (excommunicated). Or he would be “stoned” (an officially sanctioned religious punishment). Or he would be “slain” (a mob reaction not sanctioned by the religion). (Id.) The first two were to be imposed by the religious leaders. The third, however, would be popular reaction. An uncontrolled mob, showing spontaneous religious zeal, having been indoctrinated by their leaders to react in this manner. The leaders would prefer the third remedy. That would show their teaching was having the desired effect. If not, then the first two would be imposed.

Two messages, and two reactions. The popular practices of religion of Lehi’s day were condemning souls. No one was being saved. No leadership existed which would lead men back to God’s presence.

Lehi listened to the “many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent” (1 Ne. 1: 4). He learned for himself, directly from God that this was a true message. He took up the message and he delivered his own testimony.

This was a message from God, whom He had met. This was authorized and, whether the Jews of his day would acknowledge it or not, it was binding upon them. Therefore, when they rejected his testimony against them and his message requiring them to repent, they rejected God’s word.

These deeply religious peers of Lehi’s were astonished at the idea an obscure merchant could speak with and for God. Once again the first chapter of the Book of Mormon introduces us to a world where God alone decides who He will call. Then, after a private audience with the Lord, the commissioned spokesman proceeds to cry repentance. These are radical ideas, and prove the Book of Mormon is no ordinary text. It is a warning from God, and its precepts will bring mankind closer to the truth than the precepts you will find in any other volume of sacred text.

Lehi’s Commission

When the first chapter of Nephi opens, Lehi is among those who listened to “many prophets prophesying” about the coming judgments against Jerusalem. (1 Ne. 1: 4.) Their message was not Lehi’s. Their message was apparently upsetting to him because he responded by praying on behalf of Jerusalem. (1 Ne. 1: 5.) His prayer is interesting. He offers it on behalf of what he regarded as “his people.” (Id.)

The result of his compassionate prayer for others was a calling by God the Father, delivered by His Son, Jehovah. (1 Ne. 1: 8-13.) God takes note of those who have compassion for others and whose charity seeks the best interests of their fellow-man. Such people possess love, and it is “unfeigned.” (D&C 121: 41.) It is precisely because of their love of their fellow man that they are called to render priestly service. (Id.)

Lehi was a man like Christ. Just like Christ, Lehi would intercede on behalf  of “his people” and did so “with all his heart.” (1 Ne. 1: 5.)

In response to this, Lehi’s vision endowed him with knowledge about the Lord’s great plan of mercy. He knew that the Lord would overrule everything for the good. Even the suffering that would be inflicted on the inhabitants of Jerusalem would be merciful, and would be predicated on the “goodness” of God. (1 Ne. 1: 14.) Lehi understood. Because he had this knowledge, he was able to see how God’s plans were always done for the benefit and ultimate salvation of man.

Before this encounter with God, Lehi was in the audience listening to the prophets cry repentance. After this encounter with God, he joined the prophets and also “began to prophesy and to declare” a message to Jerusalem. (1 Ne. 1: 18.) He could not “begin” to prophesy if he had been among the prophets previously. If that were the case, he would have “resumed” or “continued” to prophesy. He “began” only after encountering God. Therefore, we can know Lehi’s ministry to call others to repent did not start before encountering God and receiving his commission from the Lord.

This is what true prophets do. They do not advance their own agenda. They do not volunteer. They do not deliver a message of their own. They don’t look for witty quotes, or clever stories to retell. They receive a commission from God, and the result of their work is to offer those who will listen a chance to repent and return to God.

These individuals do not take the Lord’s name in vain. They cannot. They have been authorized to speak in the Lord’s name, and therefore their words are His. (D&C 1: 38.) He will vindicate the words of His servants because they do not speak an idle thing in their own behalf. They speak with His authority, and deliver His message.

So with the first chapter of the Book of Mormon we also get an example of how prophets are called: alone, in God’s presence, with an endowment of knowledge of God’s ways sufficient to enable them to deliver a message of repentance.

And this is only the first chapter! Imagine if we took the entire book to heart what we might find!

Lehi’s Priesthood

There is a key verse which passes by quickly. It establishes an important identity for Lehi. The verse confirms that Lehi saw God the Father sitting on His throne. (1 Ne. 1: 8.) In other words, Lehi beheld the face of God, the Father. This key verse identifies Lehi’s authority.

Following immediately after this view of the Father, sitting on His throne, Christ descended in His glory and ministered to him. His glory was above the brightness of the sun. (1 Ne. 1: 11-13.)

After Christ ministered to him, Lehi put the Father’s activities into perspective, declaring “unto the Lord: Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty!” (1 Ne. 1: 13.)

He saw the face of the Father. He was ministered to by the Son. This cannot occur unless Lehi had the highest form of priesthood. This is required for a man to see the face of the Father and live. (D&C 84: 19-22.)


Lehi required priesthood: “without… the authority of the priesthood, and the power of godliness…no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.” (D&C 84: 21-22.) Lehi saw Him. Therefore part of the ministry of Christ to him necessarily included conferring priesthood.

Joseph Smith explained it like this: “All Priesthood is Melchizedek, but there are different portions or degrees of it. That portion which brought Moses to speak with God face to face was taken away; but that which brought the ministry of angels remained. All the prophets had the Melchizedek Priesthood and were ordained by God himself.” (TPJS, pp. 180–81.)

In Lehi we have an instance of an Old Testament era prophet being “ordained by God himself” in the very first chapter of the Book of Mormon.

The phrasing in verse 8 (“he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne”) is an art form, or a formula. Alma would later use the same phrasing. (Alma 36: 22.) The best way to understand this formulation is found in Paul’s writings: “whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell; God knoweth.” (2 Cor. 12: 2.) Similarly, Joseph Smith’s encounter in the First Vision was either in the body or not, and during the vision he became physically incapacitated. (JS-H 1: 20: “When I came to myself again, I found myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven.”) Daniel also physically collapsed when the Lord visited with him. (Dan. 10: 5-19.)

How much that book teaches us! It is only our neglect which renders it unable to teach us the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is only the first chapter of the book (1 Ne. 1) and it has an example of a vision of God the Father sitting on His throne, and the Lord Jehovah ministering to and strengthening a prophet of God! What great promise this book holds indeed if that is only the first chapter! Perhaps we should take it more seriously. (D&C 84: 54-57.) No wonder President Packer can lament in General Conference about the absence of priesthood power in the church. (The Power of the Priesthood.)

Lehi’s God

When Lehi first saw the Father sitting upon His throne, the description is as follows: “he thought he saw God, sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God.” (1 Ne. 1: 8.)

After being ministered to by Christ, (1 Ne. 1: 11) the description changes as Lehi reacts to his endowment of knowledge from the Lord. The record says: “And after this manner was the language of my father in the praising of his God.” (1 Ne. 1: 15.) God the Father has ceased to be the impersonal “God” of verse 8, and has become Lehi’s God by verse 15.

It is in this sense that God becomes “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” (Matt. 22: 32.) God established His covenant with Abraham. Then He renewed and established His covenant again with Isaac. Then He renewed it again with Jacob. He was each of their God, by covenanting with each of them. None relied on a covenant given to their father, or grandfather, but each received directly from God a covenant in their own name.

Lehi also covenanted with God. He also knew the Father as “his God.” If you read what happened between verses 8 and 15, you will see how Christ ministers to a man and brings them into a relationship with the Father.

Compare 1 Ne. 1: 11-14 with Revelation 5: 1-8. In both there is a book, and it is Christ who is able to access the book. In both, a prophet, (Lehi and John) are able to then get access to the information which would be otherwise hidden from the world.

Lehi, as a recipient of the covenant directly from God, joined those who could call God “his God.”
It is the God of Lehi in the same way it is the God of Abraham; and the God of Isaac; and the God of Jacob; and the God of Nephi; and the God of Joseph.

Look at 2 Kings 2: 14 and you will see Elisha acknowledging that Elijah also knew God; and Elisha wanted to likewise come to know Him.

Is He also your God? If not, why will you not have Him to be your God? (1Ne. 17: 40.)

Faithfulness to the Church

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was established by the Lord through Joseph Smith to deliver more information/revelation to mankind. The institution was authorized, or commissioned, to perform a variety of ordinances.

It was this church that baptized me. I’ve never belonged to another church. It was this church that delivered the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine & Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price to me. It offered the temple rites, and other blessings which I received willingly.

For all of those who are similarly situated, it seems to me that we all have an obligation to remain faithful to the church. Jesus was faithful, even observing the rites of the Passover in Jerusalem with His disciples on the week of His atoning sacrifice. He admonished His followers to respect those who “sat in Moses’ seat” even though they would ultimately crucify Him.

I believe covenants should be honored. We do not have the right to discard them. Therefore, we proceed with honor to follow what we agreed to follow.

The Lord wanted the church to remain together. The splintering began even before Joseph’s death. When he died the splintering accelerated, but there was and is an obligation to remain together. No matter what you learn, how far you progress, or what great blessings you obtain from the Lord, there is an honorable obligation to remain ‘gathered’ with the saints.

There is still a great deal left to restore. The work is terribly incomplete and when it resumes it will be among the saints, not among the Methodists, or the Hindus. The restoration will add to the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants and Pearl of Great Price. It will not begin over again with people unacquainted with this latest body of revelation from the Lord.

I intend to remain faithful to the church, no matter what the issues are that exist because of human failings or errors.

Because I respect the order of the church, I refuse to get out ahead. No matter what I know, I am unwilling to step outside of my narrowly confined role. This confined role allows me to elaborate on existing scripture, and still limit what I say and do. I am forced to study the existing scriptures and our history to be able to confine what I do inside the existing order, while still explaining what I may be required to explain or declare.

I do not believe I would be of any benefit to the Lord or my fellow man if I were to rebel, abandon covenants I have made, or try to become something separate and independent. The Lord requires us to be meek, to respect authority, and to submit to others. It helps us to understand Him more fully. For me, respecting the order of things inside the church is also a matter of wisdom. It keeps all of us from becoming too much or too little as we follow the Lord.

Received of His Fullness, Part 3

The often quoted verses in Section 84 have an objective event that is consistently ignored. It is not merely “the ordinances” of the priesthood which are of value. The “power of godliness” (D&C 84: 20) is inseperably connected with these ordinances. (D&C 121: 36.) Without the “power of godliness” our rites are much like the apostate world Christ condemned in His initial visit with Joseph. (JS-H 1: 19.)

D&C 84: 20-22 tells us about:
-Power of Godliness
-Authority of the Priesthood
-Seeing the face of God the Father

These verses do not vindicate ordinances as an end in themselves. Far from it. Instead, they commend us to reach upward. If the ordinances alone were enough, there would be no mention of “power of godliness” and “authority of the priesthood” and “seeing the face of God, even the Father.” Therefore, how ought you to view the ordinances? If they have value, what value do they have? Why do we want or need them? What should they inspire within us?

Where and how did Joseph and Sidney “receive of His fullness?” (D&C 76: 20.)

Why, in speaking of “the power of godliness” and “the authority of the priesthood,” does it then connect with “seeing the face of God, even the Father?” (D&C 84: 22.)

Why, in the “oath and covenant of the priesthood” (as we have taken to identifying it), does it mention “receiving Christ?” (D&C 84: 36.) Is this to be taken as descriptive of receiving the priesthood, or as merely some future vague promise for the afterlife? If you read it as the afterlife, where do you find support for that reading in the revelation? Is that reading consistent with mortals having priesthood? If the priesthood is gained in mortality, why then is “receiving Christ” only post-mortality? Or, does the priesthood then become post-mortal as well?

Why does the Lord say if we “receive Him” we will also “receive His Father?” (D&C 84: 37-38.) How is coming into Christ’s presence related to coming into the Father’s presence? Are these connected? How? And how does this connect with “priesthood” since that is the topic of the revelation? Is the priesthood proprietary, meaning that it belongs like a franchise to some group, institution or individuals? Or is the priesthood instead best viewed as a relationship between God and man? If a relationship between God and man, then is it based on trust? Personal trust between God and the specific man? If that is the case, what is required to receive priesthood?

Who are His “servants” He requires you to “receive?” (D&C 84: 36.) How would such a servant aid you in coming to God and receiving priesthood? What is the relationship between receiving a servant, then receiving Christ, then receiving the Father? How is Joseph Smith an example of this?

Does the statement given in 1835 in D&C 107: 1 describe the condition of the church at that time? Or, does it describe a continuing presence of priesthood forever thereafter? Can priesthood be lost? (D&C 121: 37.)

Do you have His fullness? Why not? How do the scriptures say you receive it?

Is this what Nephi said he did in his record? Why does he walk us through his own experience? Is he bragging, or is he instructing and inviting us to do likewise?

Are ordinances enough? Do they testify to an underlying truth? Why receive the testimony of the ordinances and ignore the underlying truth?

No matter what we have received, retained or discarded from Joseph Smith, doesn’t his entire ministry come down to affirming James 1: 5? Can you ask of God also? Will He not “give liberally” to you? Then it is not lack of faith in Joseph’s ministry or your personal lack of keys held by those in higher priesthood offices that keeps you apart from God. Instead it is your unwillingness to do as James instructs, and your failure to ask God in faith.

Moroni told Joseph that Joel had not yet been fulfilled, but would be soon. He linked this to the “fulness of the Gentiles” which signals their end. (JS-H 1: 41; see also Joel 2: 28-32.) Is that time upon us?

Is the reason so few are “chosen” even though many are “called” related to this very subject? (D&C 121: 34.) Would you be better off trying to please God rather than getting noticed by other men?

Does it occur to you that this process in these revelations is the fullness of the Gospel in action? That the fullness of the Father, as well as the fullness of the priesthood, are part of the relationship which you are required to develop with God? Directly between you and Him, and not between you and someone else? If this is so, then what light is shed when the open vision given to Joseph and Sidney where the past rebellion of an angel in a position of authority is revealed, and the future final destiny of man is shown to them? Why is a man saved no faster than he gains knowledge? (TPJS, p. 217.)

Why did Joseph comment on the vision (in Section 76) by stating: “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.)

Received of His Fullness, Part 2

It will only be when the gentiles begin to have faith like the Brother of Jared that the Lord will make the fullness known again. (Ether 4: 6-7.) It was the plan to withhold the fullness from the gentiles, and not confer it upon them. The Lord told Moroni “they shall not go forth unto the Gentiles until the day that they shall repent of their iniquity, and become clean before the Lord.” (Id.)

Joseph and Sidney “received of His fullness” in the vision. (D&C 76: 20.) The Lord once offered it again. Joseph may or may not impress you as a valiant soul (he certainly does me), but almost no one looks at Sidney Rigdon and sees a great, valiant soul. There has been nearly two hundred years of disparaging of Sidney by those who voted to follow Brigham Young and the Twelve and their descendants. It would be well to remember that Sidney “received of His fullness” and Brigham Young died hoping the Lord would visit him if he lived to be 85 years old.

If Sidney, despite all you have heard and read concerning him, and despite his subsequent disaffection from the church, “received of His fullness” then you should recognize this is NOT so great a thing as to be impossible for you. Take heart.

What is it that the Vision tells us about the exalted hosts?

They are the “church of the Firstborn.” (D&C 76: 54.) Meaning they are all sons and daughters of God.

The Father has given “into their hands” what is called “all things.” (D&C 76: 55.) That is, they have handled something.

They have “received of His fullness and of His glory.” (D&C 76: 56.) Both Joseph and Sidney recite this as having taken place. (D&C 76: 19-20.)

Though it would not be until sometime in 1843 before Joseph began to unfurl in private the process of becoming a “king and priest” unto God, Sidney and Joseph were acquainted with this in the Vision in 1832. (D&C 76: 56-57.) This is the only way such kings and priests can be made; although you can have a ceremony which symbolizes it. Joseph and Sidney’s accomplishment was an invitation for others to follow. It was not intended to be the end of the restoration process, but a harbinger of what would follow.

If Joseph and Sidney were the only ones who were to “receive of His fullness” then the prophecies promising a return of Zion could never be fulfilled.

Why are we allowing the restoration to end?
Why are we not looking to see a return of Zion?
Why are we content to trust others will bring it, when each of us has a responsibility to individually prepare to see it return?
What good does it do to study the revelations if we are unwilling to do the works required by the revelations?
Is theoretical knowledge and symbolic ritual enough?
Will Zion only return as a distant symbol in this dispensation?
Will the Lord only symbolically return?
Will the world only symbolically end?
Will the wicked only be symbolically destroyed?

What is it that you find so compelling about your current plight that you won’t awake, arise and look into the matter of the fullness as set out in scripture? To receive it you only need to “love him, and purify yourself before him” and He will “grant this privilege of seeing and knowing for yourself.” (D&C 76: 116-117.) But this must be “while in the flesh” and not after you leave here. (D&C 76: 118.) This is the only way you can then be able to “bear his presence in the world of glory.” (Id.)