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Gospel Study

There are issues some Saints believe are fully resolved which, upon closer study, turn out to be much less clear. I’m quite comfortable with investigating claims, history and doctrine even when it creates long periods of uncertainty while I research the topic. I’ve spent years following the trail on some issues before reaching a conclusion.

I’m converted to the restored Gospel. I have absolute confidence in Joseph Smith’s calling as a latter-day Prophet. His life is worth careful study. Even minute details are sometimes quite important. The available material for studying his life has greatly expanded in recent years, and is in the process of expanding further as The Joseph Smith Papers project continues.

Some Saints are anxiety ridden when something new is raised about the Prophet, the church’s history or doctrine which they thought was “settled.” But that is largely because they are insecure about the search into truth. I understand that and even sympathize with it. But I came into the faith as a convert, and therefore it required a search by me in the first place.

When I write about the conclusions I have reached the “audience” is not necessarily intended to include life-long members of the church who have a sedentary approach to their religion and who hope the church’s formal programs represent everything God wants them to know. I am pleased to leave them alone. They aren’t interested in the search, don’t care to learn anything new, and have little in common with the religion I believe. I do not write for them. To the extent my writing causes alarm for them, I understand. But I’m really not trying to tell them anything.

Those who believe the faith, want to explore its depths, and enjoy reading the thoughts of similarly motivated Saints are the only people who should have any interest in what I write.

Mormonism was (originally) intended to include “all truth.” But the available information in 1844 has now transformed. It is transforming now almost daily. But not by sampling opinions– that is completely worthless to the search for truth. It is instead through uncovering history, studying the past and opening the heavens.

The church was intended to be a repository of truth. That does not require wealth, political influence, property or numbers. Truth is alien here and will not be rewarded in this world. When the world welcomes “Mormonism” then you can know compromises have been made to enable it to become popular. The Book of Mormon sounds an alarm on that topic. It is one of the great sources of truth. And it exposes the modern world, and ourselves, to relentless criticism and warning. However comfortable others may become with their faith, I find it serves best as an alarm, warning me of the perils of life in this fallen sphere.

Bloom’s Article

Harold Bloom is a serious student of religion. He one time admired Mormonism. The article I linked to earlier today is a reflection of his disillusionment because of the changes which the faith has undergone since the 1990’s. What he once thought would be a revolutionary religion, with vitality that would revolutionize the world, is now gone.

Mormonism was designed to change the world, not to be changed by it.

Mormonism was intended to alter how people understood and relate to God; not to become an Americanized version of Roman Catholicism with a magisterial hierarchy viewed as God’s “Vicars” holding keys to heaven through which sycophants could obtain Divine favor.

Bloom laments the transition and, because of it, has let the tarnishing recent changes to Mormonism alter his earlier, much more positive assessment of Joseph and the faith founded through him.

Bloom’s conclusion that Mormonism is now just another Protestant religion is a conclusion he was disappointed to reach. But, having reached it, he does not hold back on his disappointment.

When it began, Mormonism denounced the idea of following men. It captured in rapid prose the idea that following men, even inspired men who were authentic prophets who spoke with God, merited damnation to hell alongside the wicked: “For these are they who are of Paul, and of Apollos, and of Cephas. These are they who say they are some of one and some of another—some of Christ and some of John, and some of Moses, and some of Elias, and some of Esaias, and some of Isaiah, and some of Enoch; But received not the gospel… will not be gathered with the saints, to be caught up unto the church of the Firstborn, and received into the cloud. These are they who are liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers, and whosoever loves and makes a lie. These are they who suffer the wrath of God on earth. These are they who suffer the vengeance of eternal fire.” (D&C 76: 99-105.) Joseph Smith elaborated on this idea in a sermon to the Relief Society in Nauvoo, telling them: “the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church — that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls — applied it to the present state [1842] of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall — that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves…” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith p. 238.) Today we have inverted that idea. Now if you do not “depend on the Prophet” you are considered to have a darkened mind.

It is a fundamental principle of fourth phase Mormonism that all anyone needs to do is “Follow the Prophet” (meaning the President of the church) and everything else will take care of itself. There is little else required. Tithing and some dietary restrictions, and a few meetings are needed.

Today if there is the slightest hint by someone that “Following the Prophet” as your primary faith will merit only “the wrath of God on earth” and “the vengeance of eternal fire” because we must not say we follow any man— well that is taken as weakness of faith, or worse. It can be regarded as a substantial error in doctrine or understanding. Or, worse still, as evidence that you don’t believe God at all. You are, therefore, damned.

Well, Bloom’s criticism is biting, to be sure. But it is borne from his disappointment in what we’ve become in only a few short years of transition. The pace of the changes are accelerating, too. In another two decades it will be even more difficult to recognize Mormonism as the faith restored through Joseph. The caretakers now point to change as evidence of inspiration; instead of worrying change may be provoking ire. (See, e.g., Isa. 24: 5; also Malachi 3: 7.) Fortunately, for us, there is no need to really consider the ideas which arise from anywhere other than the recognized authorities. We can always trust that God will protect us with a mighty hand. Our freedom to err has literally been circumscribed by His power and commitment to save us. We are not free to apostatize from His ways, but are instead guaranteed we cannot fall away as was the case with every earlier dispensation of God’s Gospel. Any idea we can do the same thing as every earlier era of man’s interaction with God belittles God’s power. It challenges His overriding hand which has restored the truth for the last time to the earth, and nothing can ever change His determination to keep it here. Even our neglect, rebellion, sins and stupidity is nothing compared to God’s commitment to letting us keep the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We got it. We’ve got keys that cannot tarnish. And, all of this is to the envy of every other Christian denomination; because there’s just nothing anyone can do to change that. Not even us. Right?

Harold Bloom Article

Harold Bloom has written an interesting article in the New York Times titled “Will This Election Be the Mormon Breakthrough“– it includes Professor Bloom’s observations about how dramatically Mormonism has changed from its origins.

Reactions to Passing the Heavenly Gift

I had a conversation this morning with a friend whose years-long alienation from the church has been healed through reading Passing the Heavenly Gift. I have also had a discussion yesterday about how another man was deeply offended by the content and thought it was nearly apostate to have written it. One man who withdrew from membership in the church told me he could not finish reading it because it was too “faith promoting” and “apologetic” and could not be regarded as true history because of its pro-church bias.  Another man told me that it finally told the truth and liberated him to continue in church activity while feeling at home again among the Saints. I also heard a woman bear her testimony for the first time in years, in part because of the book’s effect upon her heart.

The book has been praised as inspired, by a reader who told me they felt close to the Holy Ghost as they read every page; and it has been denounced as the product of an evil and aspiring man.

Well, I’m not going to react to the reactions. But I want it clear that first, the only motive I have is to deal honestly with what I know is a current problem friends I know are struggling to solve. People who want to believe in the Restoration, but who cannot find any peace in the details of the history. I have looked at the problems and the book is an honest explanation of how I cope with the issues.

No one needs to read the book. Anyone who does read it is put to the inconvenience of buying or borrowing a copy. I do not advocate it, but only offer it. If you are untroubled by church history issues, then go your way and give it no thought. If you struggle with problems from the church’s past, then I offer it to help.

I do not advocate any position. I offer my understanding for whatever value someone may take from it. I never speak up in church and argue my views. I sit silent for the most part and leave people to enjoy their own understanding. On occasion I’m asked to teach or talk in Sacrament. When asked, I teach the assigned topic in the way I think brings the greatest understanding to the topic. As far as I know, there are only a very few people in my home Ward who are even aware I have written a single book. And of those who may know, I believe most have not read anything I’ve written.

I have no following, as far as I am aware. If there is anyone who claims to be following me, the only advice I would give them is to quit. I do not want a follower. Like any other Latter-day Saint, I offer my testimony and I give what I hope will help others understand difficult issues. If there is anyone worth following it is the Lord alone. I know of no man who can help anyone be saved. It does no good to claim you are “of Paul” or are “of Cephas” or you are “of Moses” or “Apollos” or some other man. That merits a Telestial condemnation comparable to what is merited by the liars, and whoremongers and adulters. (D&C 76: 98-105.) Therefore I do not commend any man as someone to claim you follow.

Draper Temple Visit

Last week we took our Priests to the Draper Temple to do baptisms. It was a busy evening. I talked the Bishop into doing baptisms, and I was able to do confirmations. This left me dry.

Then I rushed home to pick up my wife and we returned to attend the last endowment session of the evening with her brother. He was taking out his own endowment for the first time in a “live session.”

A neighbor of mine was in the Celestial Room as a worker and he told me the temples were all overbooked for weddings last Friday. The 11-11-11 date was in high demand for weddings. He had a sheet with numbers on it. I forget the totals, but it was to be the largest single day of weddings in the Draper Temple history. Apparently there was a lottery for the 11:00 time frame.

The Draper Temple is quite lovely. I liked the Jordan River Temple (which was our district before the Draper Temple was built). It was very efficient. With six session rooms you can get a session every 20 minutes. I liked the convenience of that. When we lost that district assignment, the Draper Temple was so busy that I started going to the Oquirrh Temple. That is an amazingly beautiful facility. It was the temple I attended temporarily. It had a wonderful spirit about it. Then the police shot and killed that fellow on the temple grounds and I haven’t been back. It’s a personal thing, I suppose.

We helped with the Draper Temple Open House as a stake and as a family when it was first open. We enjoyed that experience.

The Temple I like most is the Manti Temple. Like Salt Lake, it is live with real people instead of a film. It is not crowded. The pioneer workmanship is interesting and beautiful. I also think the outside architecture is among the most beautiful of any of the Temples.

The Priests were taught today about how to find ancestors for whom work can be done through the “Ancestry.com” website. The hope is that between the visit this week and the information provided in today’s lesson, these young men will find themselves interested in finding their ancestors. That would be good. Our lives are not ours alone. Our ancestors have an interest in how we live and what we do with the time we have allotted to us in mortality. As Joseph put it: “The spirits of the just are enveloped in flaming fire,…are not far from us, and know and understand our thoughts, feelings, and emotions.. and are often pained therewith.” (Joseph Smith, Teachings, p. 326.)

Temples can remind us we are not living for our own interests, but also owe an obligation to those who went before in our family lines.

Jesus’ Doctrine

Jesus complained to the Nephites about their religious arguments. He called such disagreements over religion “contention” and said it was His doctrine that “such things should be done away.” (3 Ne. 11: 30.) Seems we want to believe in Christ, but reject His doctrine. He was quite unrelenting on the point: “Verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.” (3 Ne. 11: 29.)

It is interesting how He did it. Because He disagreed with the presiding authorities of His day on almost every particular of their then-current religious observances. But He managed to declare what He believed, to teach what He thought comprised the higher, underlying purpose of the law, without contending. He answered their oftentimes hostile questions forthrightly, and unequivocally but not through contention.

He goes on to declare His doctrine, which is the doctrine given to Him by the Father: “I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everwhere, to repent and believe in me. And whosoever believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God. And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned. Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost. And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one.” (3 Ne. 11: 32-36.)

His doctrine is to “bear record of the Father.” And His doctrine is the “Father will bear record of Him.” And the “Holy Ghost will bear record of both Him and the Father.” For they are all one.

It is nice, I suppose, when someone bears their testimony. I do it. I hear others do it. I see some folks swooning when they hear someone they think holds an important office in the church bearing a testimony. But we are supposed to get our testimony from Christ and from the Father and from the Holy Ghost.

We are all told by Christ that “all men everywhere” are commanded to repent. That is all inclusive. There isn’t some special, elect few who are so nigh to heaven they are not required to repent. Everyone. Relentlessly. We are all in desperate need of repentance. We don’t need a healthy self-image. We don’t need reassurance that we are loved, even doted upon by God. We don’t need to be indulged in our sins, told we are just born with problems we should accept, or given any excuse to turn away from facing our weaknesses. They are, after all, gifts from Him to humble us. (Ether 12: 27.) They were given to humble us, to drive us onto our knees, and to commend us to Christ. We are commanded to repent from them, and they are a gift to remind us of our dependence upon Him.

When someone cries out that we are in desperate need of repentance today, however, they are called “negative” and “unkind” and “not at all like Christ.” They imagine Christ as a limp-wristed, happy-go-lucky chap who is indulgent and promiscuously forgiving. I do not imagine such a being; but instead a Counselor of Righteousness, whose every word is designed to make me become more like Him. Whose every sacrifice was designed to bring greater light into my mind and heart. Who stretches and pulls me relentlessly forward and upward, bringing me to my knees as I view in horror my many failings. I see a Man of Holiness who cannot tolerate any degree of unrighteousness; but who is ever ready to heal and instruct. A God indeed. Who works to bring others to become like Him.

“Wait!” shouts someone, “I have a testimony of ‘the church’!” Well, that’s nice, I suppose. I find the church important, too. I fellowship there every Sunday. I enjoy immensely my ward. But that isn’t Christ’s doctrine. My testimony should come from Christ bearing record to me of the Father, and the Father then bearing testimony or record to me of the Son, and the Holy Ghost bearing testimony to me of the Father and the Son. That is His doctrine. And Christ is quite emphatic on that point, as well: “And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.” (3 Ne. 11: 40.)

I’ve been bearing testimony of Christ in books I have written for some time now. But the testimony I bear is that He lives and is altogether willing to bear testimony to you. And the Father, also, is willing to do so. And also the Holy Ghost.

I do not believe God was meant to be experienced second and third-hand. I do not believe we are supposed to “know about God” but were instead, according to Christ’s doctrine, to “know God.” He will make Himself known to you. Not vicariously through a Pope, or a Bishop, or an Archbishop, or a Cardinal, or a Stake President, or some other preacher. He, Christ, and He, the Father and the Holy Ghost are the ones who are to declare themselves to you. Then you aren’t building on the sandy, unstable foundation comprised of the many varieties of the hireling intermediary who gets acclaim here, praise and adoration here, as an inappropriate surrogate for He alone who can save. When men get put between the individual and God almost every individual immediately begins to exercise control, and dominion and compulsion over others. It is a wise God who restricts His delegation of “power” to such a degree that it cannot be exercised unrighteously. (D&C 121: 41.)

God is knowable. He comforts.

Our Many Cares

Our many cares often focus on things which do not matter. Christ told us what matters. It is not what we can get from God, but what we do for Him, what we give up for His sake, that has value. If we lose our fathers and mothers–are rejected by those we are closest to in this life– for His sake, we are in the right way. (Matt. 10: 35-39.) When we are entrusted with something by Him, it is not for our benefit, but for the benefit of others while in His service. (Matt. 25: 14-30.) In the parable about the talents, the talents were given for the Lord’s sake, not the servants. The servant was accountable for what he did for the Lord with what was given. It was not about the servant, nor the pride of being entrusted, nor the praise of men. It was only about doing the will of the Lord and glorifying Him.

When we claim we’ve done great things in the Lord’s name, we miss the point. (Matt. 7: 21-23.) The kingdom, and the power and the glory is the Fathers, not ours. (Matt. 6: 13.)

What little we have must all be given to Him if we hope to please our Lord. (Luke 21: 1-4.) Until we give all we have to Him, we have nothing.

This is more than enough to occupy all our days. How is it then we have time to fret about so much else? How do we have time for endless debate and group discussions which circle about but fail to reach the truth; without ever noticing how little we have given to Him? Why do we ever contemplate with pride what we’ve received, what we own, what office or station we occupy, or how great we have become down in this dark well? What use is it to succeed here? What great thing is it you have here that will endure for even a thousand years? “And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8: 34-37.)

Borrowed Doctrine

I’ve just finished a conversation with a daughter who is in college in another state. Some doctrinal issues were on the agenda stemming from interpretations of the Book of Revelation. She had an encounter with a Relief Society teacher who introduced her to some ideas which are largely borrowed from Evangelical sources, adopted by Mormon writers, and now being repeated as if they were true. That conversation provokes this post.

We should be careful about importing doctrine and interpretations from other traditional Christian sources. The reason “the professors [of traditional Christianity] are all corrupt” is not because they are bad people. (JS-H 1: 19.) It is because their doctrine is wrong. They do not have the truth. They entertain ideas which are not informed by heaven, and rely upon men to speculate about meaning, without knowing a thing about heaven.

Joseph remarked that “A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world.” (TPJS p. 217.) The meaning of “knowledge” is, of course, the key to that statement. For the only “knowledge” which can save it to “know God” for yourself. (See, John 17: 3; D&C 132: 24.) The means of knowing this God is, of course, revelation and His personal ministry. His personal ministry will bring the faithful to the Father, as well. Both the Son and the Father will take their abode with you. (John 14: 18, 23.) This is the knowledge that saves.

The Christian world cannot save, their doctrines are corrupt, because they do not have the required knowledge to be able to teach. Therefore, they are “all corrupt” because their minds are corrupt. They cannot save themselves, much less inform us of anything which will aid us in knowing God.

Even reading Joseph’s teachings will not save us. His knowledge and his covenant is not ours. We must find the required knowledge for ourselves. “Reading the experience of others, or the revelations given to them, can never give us a comprehensive view of our condition and true relation to God.” (TPJS p. 324.) Even Joseph’s revelations, and Joseph’s scriptures are inadequate. They must be obtained by each individual or they will be left without saving knowledge.

How do we get good doctrine, good information and a valid covenant with God for ourselves? It is through knowledge from Him. “could you gaze into heaven five minutes you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject.” (TPJS p. 324.) This is true because we then gain knowledge that saves us. We know God.

I don’t give a fig for lengthy quotes of man’s speculation about the “truth” as they understand it. I care only for the revelations from heaven. Men who have never gazed into heaven simply do not know the truth. Good men, honest men, and men of the highest intent who know nothing about the heavens cannot help anyone to find their way to God.

There are, of course, disappointments along the way when you gain knowledge. You find that you learn things you do not want to know. You become disconnected with this world as you attach to the higher world. I read the Doctrines of Salvation from Joseph Fielding Smith as a convert to the church, believing it to be filled with truth. I accepted the notion he advances that “Christ has himself declared that the manifestations we might have of the Spirit of Christ, or from a visitation from an angel, a tangible resurrected being, would not leave the impression and would not convince us and place within us that something which we cannot get away from which we receive through a manifestation of the Holy Ghost. Personal visitations might become dim as time goes on, but this guidance of the Holy Ghost is renewed and continued, day after day, year after year, if we live to be worthy of it.” (Doctrines of Salvation, vol 1, p. 44.) I believed that at one point. I thought it good doctrine. I was troubled and disappointed to learn this was wrong. I did not want to know Joseph Fielding Smith was in error. But I learned it. Visitations are more, not less, powerful than the Holy Ghost.The scriptures prove it. For an angel will not come to visit you without being fully armed by the power of the Holy Ghost. Indeed, they speak by the power of the Holy Ghost when they visit. (2 Nephi 32: 2-3.) I wish I did not know Joseph Fielding Smith was wrong. I wish I did not realize he had never been visited by an angel, for only by lacking such an experience could he make this error. But we seek “knowledge” to be saved, and therefore we should find ourselves informed by heaven alone, and not men, even very good men, trying to tell us about things they can only guess to be true.

There is a great deal of difference between saving knowledge, which comes from heaven, and error, speculation and man’s own doctrine, which cannot help us. We should never find ourselves among those who “teach for doctrine the commandments of men.” (JS-H 1: 19.) Get connected to heaven and you needn’t be dependent upon any MAN for your salvation. Not even Joseph Smith wanted you to do that by depending on him. Such things make you darkened in your mind, because you neglect the duty which God has imposed upon you. (TPJS p. 238.)

I do not point to me, or to another man, or to any group of men, no matter how well intentioned. I point to Christ, who alone can save you. You will not be rescued by another. No office can do it. No ordinance can do it. Only Christ has the power to save. (Mosiah 3: 17; Mosiah 5: 8.)

The most dogmatic and well studied Mormons are often the furthest away from heaven. Proud, confident, insistent they possess great knowledge, all the while little more than a child of hell, bound in darkness, and unable to recognize the truth. They will, as Joseph put it, “be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world,” (TPJS p. 217.) because they are already captive by a spirit of contention, which Christ told us all is of the devil. (3 Nephi 11: 29.)

We should declare the truth, point to Christ, and say what we know to be true from our knowledge. It is up to others to accept or reject what is true. We cannot be saved; NONE of us can be saved unless we have saving knowledge which comes from Christ. You would know this if the heavens were opened to you and angels ministered to you. This is why the Book of Mormon authors so often confirmed their message did not originate from them, but came as a result of the Lord or His angels requiring the message to be delivered.

I do not care if anyone believes a thing I have ever said or written. But I do care if someone decides they will close the gate of heaven by the false things they preach, all the while declaring they are Christ’s. How can they know the Master when they oppose knowledge of Him? It is more than an enigma. It is a tragedy.

The Power of God’s Word

I’ve been reflecting on the power of God’s word. It is so remarkable a source of power that Christ was called the Word of God, because He embodies the Father’s will so completely. (John 1:1.)
 
God’s word alone is what ordains to Melchizedek Priesthood. See JST Genesis 14:27-29. “It was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice…”
 
God’s word alone conferred sealing authority upon Nephi. Helaman 10:3, Helaman 10: 5-10.
 
God’s word along conferred the sealing authority upon Joseph Smith. D&C 132:46.
 
God’s word is the only constant, which will never fail, whether He speaks it or He authorizes someone else to speak it, it is the same. D&C 1:38.
 
In a very real sense, the power of the priesthood consists in obtaining God’s word. For when He will answer you it is possible to have His word on all things. D&C 132:45 (for Joseph); D&C 124:95 (for Hyrum); Helaman 10: 5 (for Nephi).
 
Those who have God’s word know how to proceed in all things. Those who do not are always uncertain what they should do and what their standing is before Him.