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Joseph Smith Quote

I was asked about a quote from Joseph Smith. Thought I’d put it up here, also. It is taken from the journal of Mosiah Hancock, and is Bro. Hancock’s recollection of a statement made by Joseph Smith:

…you will travel west until you come to the valley of the Great Salt Lake. …you will live to see men rise in power in the church who will seek to put down your friends and the friends of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Many will be hoisted because of their money and the worldly learning which they seem to be in possession of; and many who are the true followers of our Lord and Savior will be cast down because of their poverty. (Mosiah Hancock Journal, p.19)

Abraham’s Gospel

Abraham was in possession of the records going back to Adam. All the records of “the fathers” from the beginning came down to him. (Abr. 1: 31.) This would have gone back to the time of Adam. (Moses 6: 5.) It would also have included the record kept by Enoch which contained a prophecy of all things from the beginning to the end of the world. (D&C 107: 53-57.) These are the records he studied to increase his own desire to be a man of greater understanding and to follow greater righteousness and also to possess the singular form of High Priesthood known to the Patriarchs. (Abr. 1: 2.)

It is a mistake to assume Abraham had less of the Gospel than do we. He had more. We have not yet risen to his level of understanding or priesthood. I reject the idea that Abraham’s “Gospel” and priesthood was inferior to ours. He was a peer of Adam, Enoch and Noah in his priesthood and the understanding given to him.

Further, the Lord personally ministered to Abraham and conferred priesthood, sonship, and an everlasting inheritance upon him. (Abr. 1: 17-19.)

I think it is a mistake to believe we have more, or even as much, as Abraham did. Reading his record (which is his endowment) it becomes apparent there is an understanding of the heavens, including a detailed account of the path back to God’s presence through the stars, which has yet to be restored to us.

Knowledge and Indifference

Should the study of church history be limited to the superficial, faith-promoting summaries given through the “official” church publications? Doesn’t that risk accurate histories being tools used by the critics against the church? Should the church accept members who choose to believe in the restoration of the Gospel through Joseph Smith? Who believe in the Book of Mormon, and other scriptures that came through Joseph? Who believe in God’s purposes in starting a new dispensation of the Gospel? Who also recognize the course the saints pursued in the past and are pursuing at present with the restoration has been neglectful, even harmful?

One of our great non-Mormon friends is Harold Bloom. He has written about Joseph Smith and his authentic revelations. He has heaped praise on Joseph’s ability to restore lost ancient, First-Temple era teachings. Yet as an astute observer of Mormonism he has recently written about his complete disappointment with Mormonism, and how badly it has changed in a few short years. He is not being unkind. He has honestly assessed the many radical changes underway with the restored church in the last few years. Since he does not feel any emotional need to defend the church, and is therefore free to give his candid views, his assessment represents an honest way to view the radical alterations currently happening with Mormonism.

If Mormonism is limited to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (and for the most part it is), then the recent changes and radical innovations are so dramatic that our largest denomination now runs the risk of following in the steps of the second-largest “Mormon” denomination. The Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is now just another quasi-Protestant faith bearing almost no resemblance to the movement begun through Joseph.

How much study should be given to the history of the restoration? How carefully should Joseph’s teachings be preserved, studied and followed? When the Lord commanded us to “give heed to all his [meaning Joseph Smith] words and commandments” to what extent are we justified in forgetting his words and teachings? (See D&C 21: 1-6.) In the commandment, Joseph is identified in these words: “thou shalt be called a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the church through the will of God the Father, and the grace of your Lord Jesus Christ[.]” (Id. v. 1, emphasis added.) We know Joseph was called “through the will of God the Father, and the grace of your Lord Jesus Christ” because we have the records before us. For example, Joseph witnessed the Father and Son appearing to him in the Spring of 1820. (JS-H 1: 17.) Again on the 16th of February 1832 Joseph saw the Father and Son. (D&C 76: 20-24.) The description and explanation of why we should “give heed” to Joseph’s words are set out in both scripture and history. Therefore it makes perfect sense we should pay careful attention to them. Subsequent office holders had no similar experiences. (I’ve covered President Brigham Young’s statements about never seeing angels or Christ or the Father in my last book. President Grant thought it was dangerous to encounter such spiritual experiences because they might lead to apostasy. Therefore, he never asked for them, and never experienced them.)

On the other hand, current Mormonism as practiced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has shied away from its history, abandoned many of Joseph Smith’s key teachings, altered some of the most important ordinances restored through him, and so heavily edited the latest study guide on his teachings that the results sometimes contradict what he originally said. I have a friend who has compiled a list of abandoned teachings of Joseph Smith. The list is now nearly two-hundred separate items long. This friend retains his believe in Joseph, the Book of Mormon, other restored scriptures, and in Jesus Christ. But he is alarmed by and alienated from the church. I think his approach in voluntarily withdrawing from fellowship is wrong. I think he has a duty to remain in fellowship with the saints. But what happens as shifting demographics lead to changes such as open acceptance of homosexual marriages? The leadership model implemented during Gordon B. Hinckley’s long tenure in leadership (which began long before he was president) uses opinion polling to guide decision-making. Using the current format, the church is helpless to resist changing public opinion trends.

The church draws leadership from successful internal leader-pools. Young bishops become high councilors and stake presidents. Those with wealth and business acumen become mission presidents. Before long a resume of church service attracts higher office and such men are called as a general authorities. These men are drawn from business, law, banking, education and government. Oftentimes their business acumen is the overwhelming forte’ and their knowledge of the church’s history and doctrine are lacking. In fact, knowledge of doctrine and history is not required for higher church office. (If you study the history and journals, you will find there are those who didn’t even believe in the Gospel who were called to be members of the Twelve. They were great businessmen, and the church’s many assets and interests required that talent.)

Oftentimes the reality is that leaders know far less about the religion than members who have devoted themselves to studying the Gospel and the church’s history. The results are sometimes interesting, because doctrinal or historic errors are made by those we sustain as our leaders. How big an issue this becomes for some very devoted believers is up to each individual. I choose to cover their shortcomings with charity, and to remember how difficult a challenge it is to manage a 14 million-member all-volunteer organization spanning cultures and languages across most of the world. But that does not mean their mistakes go unnoticed, just that I accept human-limitations as inevitable. There is a difference between not knowing something and being indifferent to it. I try to keep that in mind.

Whose Church is it?

To whom does The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints belong? To us, or to the Lord?

That seems like an easy question, but it isn’t. Because to answer it requires a great deal of understanding of both history and doctrine. The Lord told the Nephites a church had to bear His name or it wasn’t His. (3 Ne. 27: 8.) At the beginning our church was originally called “The Church of Christ.” By a vote of a conference on May 3, 1834 the name was changed to “The Church of the Latter-day Saints.” (DHC 2: 62-63.) By 1838 the Lord put His name back into the title by revelation, but approved adding our names when the name changed to “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (D&C 115: 4.) So our name is in the title. The Lord told the Nephites that if named after someone, then it is their church. His name is in our title, but so is ours.

If the church belongs to us, then we can do as we like. Our sustaining votes are all that are required to implement any changes we choose to make.

If, on the other hand, the church belongs to the Lord, then we have no right to make any change to it. We conform to what He tells us. We cannot make a change, and must keep what He chooses to give us intact, awaiting His instruction before altering anything.

One of the most remarkable differences between Joseph’s era, or the first phase of Mormonism, is the direction we received from the Lord. The outpouring of revelation established not only three new volumes of scripture, but control was in the Lord’s hand, not Joseph’s nor the church’s. Direction came, and we conformed.

The absence of that Divine control since Joseph’s passing has been covered over by insistence that keys were given from Joseph to successors, and with those keys the right to direct everything remains intact. So much so that we can vote new “prophets, seers and revelators” and their decisions are God’s. God’s will is obtained by proxy, decided by councils, and accepted as if it were His.

If this is our church, proxies work fine. We are supposed to carry things on in the absence of Divine direction. Sentiments and feelings that we are going in the right direction is all we need. When good men acting in good faith make a unanimous decision prayerfully, we should feel good about it. Is that enough? If it is our church, I think it is.

What if the church is the Lord’s, though? I mean what if it is only His, and we have no right to implement any alteration? What if it is our obligation to listen, then conform, and only to obey? Do our good faith, honest desires, prayerful discussions, hopeful changes, and best feelings then matter? Do we get the right to change anything if the Lord alone owns the exclusive right?

If someone is His, what does that mean? What does it mean to be “His people?” Can “His people” act independently of Him? Does independent action constitute rebellion or rejection of Him? After all, didn’t He tell us it wasn’t necessary to command us in all things? (D&C 58: 26.) How far does that commandment extend? Because He also warned us to give heed to everything revealed to Joseph Smith (D&C 21: 4; 50: 35.)

What if a church president spends many long hours in the upper room of the temple praying for an answer, and can’t get one? The Lord won’t even give a “yes” or a “no” despite repeated prayers, for months, even years; what then? Can a decision be made because frustrated church leaders all feel good about going forward? Is “feeling good” about going forward a “revelation” from God?

What does it mean to “take the Lord’s name in vain?” Clearly we sustain leaders, follow them, trust them to do what is right, and all have testimonies this is the Lord’s great work. How much latitude do we possess?

Who then owns the church? Him or us? 

Parables

I just got asked for help with the Parables. It was a nice request, so I’m responding here. I’m worried about giving a complete answer. The joy of a parable is the discovery by the reader for herself (himself) of the hidden meanings. I rob you when I take away the discovery from you. Someone asked for some help, and I’m willing to give a few things. You really need to discover for yourself because the exercise is important. It unlocks the scriptures, also. This is the language of the Lord. He gives us parables far more often than we’re willing to consider.

For “A Busy Young Man” ask yourself:

Why “busy?” What does it imply? How are “the cares of this world” and “business” connected? What does it mean to be laden with business here? Don’t we respect this kind of thing? Aren’t we looking to elect someone who understands business to be our next US President, because the current one doesn’t do enough to keep us busy in a profitable way?

Why “young man” rather than an elderly one? What is it about relative youth that makes a person more open to consider something new? Can anyone be a “young man” even if they are a child? Elderly? What was Christ at 12 when visiting the Temple? Was He a child or a “young man” at the time? Do the words convey something apart from age itself?

What does it mean to be “on his way?” What do we mean when we say someone is “on their way” to the top? If a person is “really on their way” is that economic? Political? Is there a worldliness about the phrase? Why?

When someone is “sitting” what is implied? Why would the person sitting be “beside the road” rather than on it? The road is for movement, and getting somewhere. But here is someone beside the road, almost as if they were rejecting it. Why? Does sitting make them at rest? But here is someone both sitting and busy in their own small way. Why?

What does a tree symbolize? Why would the one sitting be under the tree? How do the images of sitting and being under the tree combine to present an identity for the one there? When we think of a person meditating, where would we expect to find them in relation to nature? In relation to a tree?

Why were there three days in the initial transition? Then why years? Then cycles of seven years? Then enlightenment? Why did the identity, once it was discovered, no longer result in any requests, demands or inquiries? Why was there only contentment?

The tediousness of the activity, and the narrow confinement to the hands of the one who left the road to help the man under the tree suggests something deeply personal and within the grasp of any person. Why is that? Why would the activity be so little, so narrow, possible for anyone with hands to accomplish?

Think about the descriptions of the hands of both the Busy Young Man and the Master. Words convey messages about the person, and the hands are where these individual’s souls are on display.

Think of the braiding, and how that conveys an image. How are lives “braided” as they are lived? To whom are you “braided” as you go through your own life? Why? What little things are repeated day-by-day to braid you together with your immediate peers?

Well, this could go on for many pages. But already I’m cheating you. You don’t need me, you have the parables.

I like parables. You can accomplish so much with so few words, and you can put so much on display for someone with the eyes to see it.

I’d say the parables are the best writing form to be used if there could only be a single form. Interestingly, they seem to have attracted little attention, except for a handful of quite exceptional people I’ve encountered. Most people are far more interested in volume and scope, rather than the still, quite intensity possible by meditating on a parable. Too busy. They think they can get further on their way by amassing a great volume of material, rather than pausing to think deeply, sitting beside the way, on short tales containing hidden wisdom. They’re probably right. Most people will get a lot more of life’s business done if they stay on the road they’ve already chosen.

2 Nephi 2: 21-22

I was asked about the application of 2 Ne. 2: 21-22 to the fall and man’s condition here, in contrast to what would have happened if Adam and Eve had awaited the command to partake of the fruit.

These verses state: “And the days of the children of men were prolonged, according to the will of God, that they might repent while in the flesh; wherefore, their state became a state of probation, and their time was lengthened, according to the commandments which the Lord God gave unto the children of men. For he gave commandment that all men must repent; for he showed unto all men that they were lost, because of the transgression of their parents. And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.”

This explanation by Lehi to his son Jacob focuses on what happened. Adam did transgress. As a consequence he, and his posterity fell. Therefore we find ourselves in the present conditions.

Lehi is not focused on what would have happened if Adam had not transgressed, only what did happen because Adam did transgress. The reference to “all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created,” is speaking about the condition prior to the transgression. The explanation does not focus on what would have happened if, instead of a transgression, Adam partook under a commandment to do so.

Adam needed to partake. Man needed to transition from the Garden. It was never intended for mankind to “remain in the same state in which they were after they were created…forever.” This world was designed to be a place where mankind would come, experience mortality, and die. This is something done on other worlds, as well. It did not need to be done in transgression, for it is more often done by mankind on other worlds in obedience to a commandment to partake. During the Millennium there will be millions who live in such a world. But Adam was tempted, as was Eve, and together they partook in transgression of a commandment to not partake.

The resulting fall distinguishes this world, as I showed earlier and will not repeat again. We are in the worst place of all the Father’s creations. (Moses 7: 36.) Here alone, in the worst place, among the worst people of that place, the Son of God came to die. This is the only people who would kill Him. (2 Ne. 10: 3.) The sacrifice of the Son was ordained before the foundation of the world. That is one of His names, “the Lamb Slain from the Foundation of the World.” (Rev. 13: 8.)

God was not surprised by Adam’s transgression. He always anticipated it. The conditions necessary for Christ’s sacrifice could only come about in that way. But foreknowledge does not remove other possibilities. There is ALWAYS choice, and the choice is real. It could be taken. If it could not be taken, then by definition there is no choice. Had the transgression not happened, there would have been a commandment, as in other worlds, to partake. Mortality would have happened, as it does on other worlds. (D&C 76: 24.)

Understanding what might have been is far less important than understanding what is. We are faced with a fallen world, into which the Lamb Slain from the Foundation of the World came to rescue us. Adam did transgress. The repair for that will come through and from the Lamb.

Marlin Jensen’s Release

The church has released Marlin K. Jensen as the Church Historian. I knew him when he practiced law in Ogden, many years ago before he became a General Authority. He was an honorable man then, and has provided a long and honorable service to the church as the Church Historian. The policy of releasing General Authorities and making them emeritus is costing us a valuable resource. I hate to see him go.

Brother Steven Snow, an attorney from St. George and current member of the Seven Presidents of the Seventy will replace him. I wish him well in his new assignment. The Church Historian’s job is challenging, to say the least. It would be wonderful if there is a continuation of the Joseph Smith Papers project, a second volume of the Mountain Meadows Massacre work (which was promised when the first came out), and a more open-door policy about our history.

I do not think we have anything to fear by letting more information flow into the public arena from our history. The more the better, in my view. What may be viewed as an embarrassing revelation from one vantage point, may be a hopeful declaration that God’s work can be done despite human weaknesses by another. Some of our grandiose claims will necessarily become more modest, but that will only help, not hurt, people of faith.

Some of the greatest figures in the Bible are flawed, craven people. David’s triumphs and failures are exposed to full view and we are not the worse for it. Quite the opposite, we are the better for it. Solomon’s legendary wisdom sank into a mire of foolishness in old age, and we are blessed to read about it all.

Perhaps if we let our own heroic figures reveal themselves in more a complete and complex light, it would help us de-mythologize the way we treat our living leaders. They might be able to get more done if we let them make mistakes from time to time. When they are forced to defend every action as “truly inspired” we have a much harder time fixing our many problems.

Our history is great, even glorious. It doesn’t need to be fiction to be edifying. Scriptural characters like Sampson, Job and Jonah are as valuable to us as Elijah, Nephi and Christ. Who among us would want to hide Aaron’s golden-calf building? Who would eliminate Lot’s residency in Sodom? When we edit our history to remove the shadows, we lose more than contrast. Sometimes we lose context as well.

I’d like to see the church’s history become the thing of wonder it was meant to be, rather than the sometimes plastic imitation we’ve allowed it to become. It will still be more than enough, even if it is merely the truth.

Why Here?

I got an inquiry asking: “I am interested in any thought you would be willing to share about why we were willing to sacrifice to come to this earth. I don’t think that this earth is the only place in all of creation where one can learn to return to the presence of the Lord, so what is the purpose of the righteous in the preexistence coming here? Why not take an ‘easier’ route and go to a different terrestrial mortal state?”

Because we saw great benefit in coming. In fact, the opportunity was greeted with shouts of joy. (Job 38: 4-7.) Perspective from here is not the same as perspective from above. There is a required opposition in “all things.” (2 Ne. 2: 11.) To ascend you must first descend. The path to the highest state runs through the lowest. (See, e.g., Moses 1: 18-20; see also JS-H 1: 15-17.) You will not see the Father and Son (D&C 76: 20-21) without also seeing the fallen angel cast out for rebellion (D&C 76: 25-26).  Nor will you behold the Celestial Kingdom (D&C 76: 50-58) without also seeing the horror of outer darkness (D&C 76: 44-48).

To comprehend you must become acquainted with both glory and darkness. You cannot receive the one without also the other. Joseph put it this way: ” Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God.” (TPJS, p. 137.) You do not get to behold glory without also beholding the darkest abyss. There is a parallel to comprehension, a symmetry to understanding.

You came here to increase your understanding of truth, and to broaden your capacity to appreciate what is good. For that, you wanted and now are receiving, exposure to the brackets which allow your comprehension to expand.

You will eventually leave here. But you will depart with an expanded capacity which could come in no other way.

Read the perils through which Abraham passed, and know this was necessary for him to become the Father of the Righteous. There is no path back to heaven apart from walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Your understanding of eternal life will come from suffering death. Your appreciation of eternal glory will come from having been first composed of the decaying dust of this earth.

You wanted this. You shouted for joy when it was offered.

Politics

I’m not very political. Unlike the rabid who believe political salvation is possible for the United States, I believe if the “Elders of Israel” are going to have any effect on the Constitution, it will not be through litigation, legislation or elected office. It will be through preaching the Gospel and converting Americans to the truth. When people agree on fundamental principles, they will elect to office those who reflect those fundamental principles. But you don’t elect someone whose values are alien to a corrupt population and thereby “save” the population. If you want to have a lasting effect on the government, preach the truth and convert people. If you want to occupy your time in a temporary effort, then push a single candidate in an election.

I believe it is good for Mormonism to have two LDS candidates running for the Presidency who disagree with and criticize one another. It is good to have the leader of the US Senate be a Democrat. It is good to have radio personality Glen Beck criticize and disagree with Mitt Romney. One of the fears inspired in others by Mormonism is the apparent monolithic appearance of the faith. These public splits among the Saints shows there is intellectual flexibility on political matters, which gives hope to non-Mormons that an LDS leader can be persuaded by something other than their religious affiliation. I believe that is a good thing.

I also believe the church is subject to the government, and not the government subject to the church. Our scriptures declare: “We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man[.]” (D&C 134: 1.)  In the same section, “We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest[.]” (Id. v. 5.) 

Perhaps more importantly, we declare as a matter of scripture that government should not have religious influence mingled with political power, nor to benefit one religion over another: “We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.” (Id. v. 9.)

Also, as an Article of Faith, the church has adopted the following statement: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” (12th Article of Faith.) This is so absolute a proposition that the church surrendered what it claimed to be a duty imposed by God once the law of the land required it. “Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.” (OD 1: Paragraph 4.) In other words, the rule of law required submission, even in the face of doctrine declaring otherwise. There is no question the US Government commands the LDS Church’s submission.

I believe the submission to government to be so doctrinally established, that if a Mormon were elected President of the United States, he would “preside” over the church’s President. This is not just a New Testament principle (Titus 3: 1), but also a matter of Latter-day revelation, as well. (D&C 58: 21-22.) This is so compelling a point that, if there were a General Conference at which a sitting LDS US President attended, correct doctrine would require the announcement that the US President was “presiding” at that Conference, rather than the church’s President. The church’s President is “sustained” by the members of the church alone; while the US President is “sustained” by the entire nation to which the church is subject.