Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets. (Amos 3:7)
Who is this Amos? What do we make of the message of this man whose words we use as proof that a prophet is needed among the people of God? His story began as a simple shepherd from Tekoa during the time that Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam was king of Israel (Amos 1:1). When challenged by those who kept the temples, he simply stated that he was no prophet nor could he claim to be one by lineage until the Lord called him out of the fields while he tended his flock.
Then Amaziah the priest of Beth-el sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to bear all his words.
For thus Amos saith, Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of their own land.
Also Amaziah said unto Amos, O thou seer, go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there:
But prophesy not again any more at Beth-el: for it is the king’s chapel, and it is the king’s court.
Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit:
And the LORD took me as I followed the flock, and the LORD said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel. (Amos 8:10-15)
As one could expect, the leadership, in the form of Amaziah the priest, told him to take his message elsewhere, that it wasn’t wanted or needed among Israel. But Amos did not acknowledge his request, rather he proceeded to relay the message that the Lord had given him to deliver. It was a message of warning, not just to the people of Israel, but also to their leadership.
Why is it that we, today, are willing to use a sound byte from Amos to support our misguided characterization of the voice that is held to speak for God but ignore the context and the message he was called to deliver? What is the secret that the Lord would share with His prophet Amos? Was it one regarding how to administer the organization that was called in his name? Was it a message on how to care for the flock? Was it an epistle on the doctrines to use in the government of His church? It was none of these; the message was a call to repent directed at both the leadership and the membership. A careful reading of the message of Amos would suggest that, rather than saying that the Lord would guide and direct his church through a prophet, the message was that He would not chastise His people until He would send a warning voice among them to call them back to Him. Perhaps another more modern interpretation of the often used quote from Amos would be:
Surely the Lord God will not destroy his church until He shares His plan with His prophets and commands them to warn the people.
The secret that Amos was deliver was that the Lord knew the sins of Israel and that he, Amos, was sent to call Israel to repentance. He was called to warn them of the consequences of their idolatrous pattern of living. Here are some elements of his message:
HEAR this word that the LORD hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying,
You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. (Amos 3:1)
Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes;
That pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek: and a man and his father will go in unto the same maid, to profane my holy name:
And they lay themselves down upon clothes laid to pledge by every altar, and they drink the wine of the condemned in the house of their god. (Amos 2:6-8)
WOE to them that are at ease in Zion. (Amos 6:1}
Forasmuch therefore as your treading is upon the poor, and ye take from him burdens of wheat: ye have built houses of hewn stone, but ye shall not dwell in them; ye have planted pleasant vineyards, but ye shall not drink wine of them.
For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right. (Amos 5:11-13)
The message was for the entire house of Israel. The Lord outlined the failings of the people; they were guilty of turning away the righteous and the poor. They did not hold sacred those things which were given by God. And finally, what is it the Lord wanted them to do:
Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the LORD, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken.
Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5: 14-15)
What should we, as modern Israel, take as a learning from Amos? Should we not liken ourselves to ancient Israel and learn from their mistakes? Are we not warned, as they were, that we cannot assume all is well in Zion? Are we safe in assuming that God will not chastise us as he did to His previous chosen people?
The message of Amos 3:7 is clear to me. When correction is needed, God will call prophets and share His counsel with them. They will be called to preach repentance to those that, in their pride and arrogance, dismiss the warnings of the words of the prophets recorded in scripture. The prophets will call His people to repentance and warn them of the removal of God’s protection that will be their lot if they choose not to soften their heart.
Surely the Lord God will not leave us in the midst of ignoring His commandments without warning. When we see a prophet come among us that is not ‘called’ by the organization, that doesn’t have the required pedigree, that isn’t recognizable as a sanctioned authority, should we request that he take his message elsewhere as Amaziah did? What would Amos look like today? What would his message be? What are the consequences of ignoring his words of warning?
What think ye?
One can only assume that this week, somewhere in the halls and spacious offices of the Church Office Building, concerned voices echoed with the sound of anxious conversation subsequent to Denver Snuffer’s final lecture in Mesa this week. Well, he has gone and done it now. He is calling for a new church. He says that the Lord has wrested the last vestiges of the priesthood from the church and he is stirring up the saints to follow him into this egregious error he calls communities. He is telling these poor misguided followers that men can actually perform baptisms upon receiving permission from the WOMEN in the community as long as the man has also received authority directly from God. He reaffirmed his call to those who listened to him to hold their tithes and offerings and spend them on the poor, how dare he challenge our use of the sacred funds donated to the church?!!
He had the audacity of telling people to conduct the sacrament in their own homes regardless of whether they have sought permission from the bishop or not. He has finally showed his true colors and ego as he applied the Lord’s warning to himself that He would bless them that bless Denver and curse them that curse him. He has been divorced, we all know that God would not call such a damaged individual to speak for Him. He is just another Jim Harmston, you’ll see.
The fury of the orthodoxy was quickly manifest as these attacks were launched in the blogosphere against both the message and the messenger. Blog sites, such as Tim Malone’s Latter-day Commentary, were bombarded with naysayers spewing criticism of both the supposed inconsistencies of the message and the deviance of the man claiming to be on a mission from God.
Putting the anticipated cacophony aside, what did I hear as I sat in that Mesa hotel ballroom Tuesday morning? I heard more about how to become a Zion people than I have heard in twenty years of general conference platitudes. I heard words of compassion for the poor. I heard a man speak who demonstrated a strong interest in defending those who have been spiritually and socially abused by an organization claiming to represent the Lord Jesus Christ. I heard a call for transparency in the operation of God’s organization and a need to refocus on the core objectives of the restoration of the gospel.
As I pondered the events of this week, questions formed in my mind such as the one I have used as the title for this blog post:
How many malls do we need to construct to bring again Zion?
Billions of dollars have been spent on high end shopping malls in Salt Lake and now another project has begun in Philadelphia. Is it even conceivable that when the Lord returns, He will stop off a Burberrys to pick up an overcoat in case of inclement weather? How does this major economic effort driven by the church bring us closer to being a Zion community? What were you thinking???
How is it that the Church has drifted so far away from the original intention of the restoration that it is now shunning those people who yearn for Zion? As I see it, the purpose of the restoration was to prepare a people to live in the city of God. Instead of threatening those who still hold to that objective, why can’t the leadership recognize the shift that has occurred and find an accommodation? Are we not still under a commandment to both individually and collectively establish Zion?
I am reminded of an event recorded in the New Testament:
And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part. For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward. (Mark 9:38-41)
Be it casting out devils or preaching preparation for Zion, can we not recognize ‘he that is not against’ the church mission is on our part? The cup of water that I received on September ninth was regenerative. It was pure and cool and satisfying. Even at the time of Christ, there were others who were blessed with the ability to cast out devils who were not linked to the disciples gathered to the Savior but used His name. The Lord’s reaction to John’s rebuke should tell us something about how those people should be treated today who are eager to apply the message of the Book of Mormon.
When Brigham Young attempted to establish the United Order as preparation for Zion, he met with failure. Perhaps his top-down approach contributed to the demise of the effort. Is there not room to try a ‘bottom-up’ approach to building a Zion people? That is what I see in the message of communities; let us organize ourselves. Let us prepare our hearts and practice the principles of a Zion community.
And let every man esteem his brother as himself, and practise virtue and holiness before me. And again I say unto you, let every man esteem his brother as himself. For what man among you having twelve sons, and is no respecter of them, and they serve him obediently, and he saith unto the one: Be thou clothed in robes and sit thou here; and to the other: Be thou clothed in rags and sit thou there—and looketh upon his sons and saith I am just? Behold, this I have given unto you as a parable, and it is even as I am. I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine. (D&C 38:24-27)
This is wise council at many levels. If I esteem my brother as myself, I give room for my brother to express his devotion, just as I expect him to honor my practice of worship. How many of the sons and daughters of the church have been told to sit elsewhere? If we cannot figure out how to love and support one another, how can we possibly claim to be on the Lord’s side, to be one? If not, then we must separate to become one.
Excommunicating people, like Will Carter, for seeking to adhere to scripture and promoting the cause of Zion is a travesty. Forcing people, like Tim Malone, to choose between affiliation with the church and their allegiance to God is a damaging blow to the inspired model of the church of God.
Today we are not ‘one.’ Tomorrow, may we be one, that is my hope and prayer.
What think ye?
Here are the lyrics from ‘Ye Elders of Israel’ written by Cyrus H. Wheelock:
Ye elders of Israel, come join now with me And seek out the righteous, where’er they may be: In desert, on mountain, on land, or on sea, And bring them to Zion, the pure and the free.
The harvest is great, and the laborers are few; But if we’re united, we all things can do; We’ll gather the wheat from the midst of the tares And bring them from bondage, from sorrows and snares.
We’ll go to the poor, like our Captain of old, And visit the weary, the hungry, and cold; We’ll cheer up their hearts with the news that he bore And point them to Zion and life evermore.
O Babylon, O Babylon, we bid thee farewell; We’re going to the mountains of Ephraim to dwell.
This is one of the ‘songs of Zion’ that brings back to memory the days of my mission. It was one of the songs that was fairly easy to sing the bass part, even for a tone-deaf soul like me. We were tasked with finding those who were scattered throughout the world who had the ‘blood of Israel’ in their veins. Here is how Brigham Young characterized the search taken from the Journal of Discourses, Volume 2, page 269:
It is Ephraim that I have been searching for all the days of my preaching, and that is the blood which ran in my veins when I embraced the Gospel. If there are any of the other tribes of Israel mixed with the Gentiles we are also searching for them. Though the Gentiles are cut off, do not suppose that we are not going to preach the Gospel among the Gentile nations, for they are mingled with the house of Israel, and when we send to the nations we do not seek for the Gentiles, because they are disobedient and rebellious. (D&C 64:36) We want the blood of Jacob, and that of his father Isaac and Abraham, which runs in the veins of the people.
My patriarchal blessing echoed this idea where my lineage was declared as coming from Ephraim, therefore, I was of the house of Israel through Ephraim. But it was several years ago I began to experience some dissonance. I read in the words of Isaiah of the drunkards of Ephraim:
WOE to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine!
Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one, which as a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, as a flood of mighty waters overflowing, shall cast down to the earth with the hand.
The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet: (Isaiah 28:1-3)
If being an Ephraim-ite meant that I was a ‘fading flower’ and that the crown of pride would cause me to be ‘trodden under feet,’ I felt I needed to understand the broader picture. I was also concerned by the position of the house of Israel in the context of the last days. In reading of the vision of the tree of life given to Lehi and Nephi, I came upon the following:
And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record.
And I, Nephi, saw that he was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world.
And after he was slain I saw the multitudes of the earth, that they were gathered together to fight against the apostles of the Lamb; for thus were the twelve called by the angel of the Lord.
And the multitude of the earth was gathered together; and I beheld that they were in a large and spacious building, like unto the building which my father saw. And the angel of the Lord spake unto me again, saying: Behold the world and the wisdom thereof; yea, behold the house of Israel hath gathered together to fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (1 Nephi 11:32-35)
Does this not imply that the house of Israel occupied and, possibly, still occupies that large and spacious building and were/are fighting against the Gospel of Jesus Christ? It was because of their pride that the gospel was taken from them and extended to the Gentiles. It is similar pride that will be demonstrated by the Gentiles that will cause the Lord to withdraw His Gospel from them and extend it once again to the house of Israel. “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” (1 Nephi 13:42)
In my last post which contains the presentation at the Sunstone Symposium, I spoke of the Gentiles who were blessed ‘because of their belief in [Christ], in and of the Holy Ghost, which witnesses unto them of me and of the Father.’ (3 Nephi 16:6) The core question central to this feeble attempt at a post is to answer the question; who am I relative to the warnings of the Book of Mormon? Am I of Ephraim which, outside of the writings of Isaiah, is only represented by the name of a hill in the Book? Am I of the house of Israel that will receive the gospel only after the Gentiles reject it? Or am I a Gentile who can hope that through repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost can be numbered with those of the church?
Is the right answer all of the above? Let’s go back to the blessing that Ephraim received at the hands of his grandfather.
And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near unto him.
And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn.
And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day.
The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.
And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father’s hand, to remove it from Ephraim’s head unto Manasseh’s head.
And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head.
And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.
And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Manasseh. (Genesis 48:13-20)
So Israel/Jacob had his two grandchildren, Manasseh and Ephraim, brought before him for a blessing. Joseph positioned Manasseh, the elder child on the right side of Israel and Ephraim on the left side. Much to his dismay, Israel crossed his hands and laid his right hand upon Ephraim and his left hand upon Manasseh. Israel persisted and pronounced blessings upon both children. He blessed Manasseh that he would ‘become a people,’ but for the younger son, Ephraim, he blessed to ‘become a multitude of nations.’
Here is where an understanding of the original Hebrew is of benefit, but alas, I am not a Hebrew scholar. What I do have at my disposal is the Interlinear Bible and Strong’s Concordance. The blessing given to Ephraim notes, in the Interlinear Bible, that ‘his seed shall become the fullness of the nations.’ The word used in Genesis, chapter 48, verse 18, for ‘nations’ is ‘goy,’ the same Hebrew word used in many places to denote ‘Gentiles.’ So, in effect, Ephraim was blessed to fill the Gentile nations. The progeny of Ephraim is both of the house of Israel and identified as the Gentiles. Here is how Joseph Smith treated the topic in the Kirtland Temple dedicatory prayer:
We ask thee to appoint unto Zion other stakes besides this one which thou hast appointed, that the gathering of thy people may roll on in great power and majesty, that thy work may be cut short in righteousness.
Now these words, O Lord, we have spoken before thee, concerning the revelations and commandments which thou hast given unto us, who are identified with the Gentiles. (D&C 109:59-60)
We are the Gentiles, we are those who are of the house of Israel. The challenge comes in that the ‘nations’ no longer remember their roots, nor are they able to link themselves with the house of Israel. When Moses brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, the Lord commanded him to ‘number’ the house of Israel before they could be introduced into their promised land. Each tribe was counted and each member had to be linked to his clan.
These were the numbered of the children of Israel, six hundred thousand and a thousand seven hundred and thirty.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Unto these the land shall be divided for an inheritance according to the number of names.
To many thou shalt give the more inheritance, and to few thou shalt give the less inheritance: to every one shall his inheritance be given according to those that were numbered of him.
Notwithstanding the land shall be divided by lot: according to the names of the tribes of their fathers they shall inherit.
According to the lot shall the possession thereof be divided between many and few. (Numbers 26:51-56)
In order to receive an inheritance, each person had to be numbered according to tribe. Those that were not able to link themselves to Israel were not given any place in the land. They were deemed outsiders. The same is true today for those who wish to be part of the kingdom of God. Here is the plea from the Lord to the Gentiles:
Turn, all ye Gentiles, from your wicked ways; and repent of your evil doings, of your lyings and deceivings, and of your whoredoms, and of your secret abominations, and your idolatries, and of your murders, and your priestcrafts, and your envyings, and your strifes, and from all your wickedness and abominations, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, that ye may receive a remission of your sins, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, that ye may be numbered with my people who are of the house of Israel. (3 Nephi 30:2)
Given that we cannot literally prove of lineage back to the Fathers, we are given an alternative. If we are willing to repent, be baptized, receive a remission of our sins and be filled with the Holy Ghost; we are then promised that we, even as Gentiles, can be ‘numbered’ with the house of Israel.
In the end, though, it really doesn’t matter whether we consider ourselves as coming from the loins of Ephraim or as a Gentile that fought against our mother Gentiles in establishing this land of freedom and bounty.
AND now behold, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you; for I, Nephi, would not suffer that ye should suppose that ye are more righteous than the Gentiles shall be. For behold, except ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall all likewise perish; and because of the words which have been spoken ye need not suppose that the Gentiles are utterly destroyed.
For behold, I say unto you that as many of the Gentiles as will repent are the covenant people of the Lord; and as many of the Jews as will not repent shall be cast off; for the Lord covenanteth with none save it be with them that repent and believe in his Son, who is the Holy One of Israel. (2 Nephi 30:1-2)
We should all be rightly concerned about the warnings in the Book of Mormon, not only to the house of Israel, but more importantly, to the Gentiles. We should seek to be numbered among His people. We should seek to receive the same blessing taught by Moroni relative to the church of Christ:
AND now I speak concerning baptism. Behold, elders, priests, and teachers were baptized; and they were not baptized save they brought forth fruit meet that they were worthy of it.
Neither did they receive any unto baptism save they came forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and witnessed unto the church that they truly repented of all their sins.
And none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end.
And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith. (Moroni 6:1-4)
Those who bring forth fruit; those who approach God with a broken heart and a contrite spirit; those who have repents of their sins; those who take upon them the name of Christ and are cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost. These are the one who will be numbered ‘among the people of the church of Christ.’
What think ye?
The scriptures are replete with examples of apostates and dissidents, people who seek to correct or destroy the religious establishment. They, in some instances, are striving to establish their own ‘brand’ of worship. Some have taken a particular aspect of religious observance and attempted to build salvation using that as the nucleus. Others have sensed the error that had become enmeshed in the orthodox church and set off to correct the path. Throughout the scriptures there are examples of the ‘good’ reformers and the ‘bad’ actors. This paper will review examples of those who would be labeled as apostates or dissenters and glean the characteristics of both the individual and corporate apostasy. Along the way we will also analyze the response to dissidents by the organization and assess the current approach to discipline.
Nehor the Apostate
Alma the younger, during his first year in the combined role of both the civic and religious leader encountered a heretofore unknown situation; a man came among the people who preached what he called the ‘word of God’ and sought to undermine the church that was established by his father, Alma. This challenge to authority came in the person of a man of commanding appearance, Nehor the apostate. Nehor sought to establish a new regime; one that created a challenge to the incumbent church with an alternative view on the premise of salvation.
Nehor is the only person in the index of the LDS Scriptures to be branded an apostate, quite a feat for a character that is introduced and executed in a short fourteen verses.
According to the narrative in Alma, chapter one, Nehor taught these precepts:
- The leadership of the church
- should be popular
- ought not labor with their hands
- ought to be supported by the people
- The doctrine of the churchofNehor was
- All mankind would be saved at the last day
- Rejoice for the Lord created all men and redeemed all men
- All men would receive eternal life
Alma notes, in the description of the event, that ‘this is the first time that priestcraft has been introduced among the people’ (Alma 1:12). Nephi, in speaking of the pride of the gentile, defined the concept; ‘priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion’ (2 Nephi 26:29). As an aside, the phrase, ‘follow the brethren’ suggests they have set themselves up as a ‘light unto the world.’
Nehor was able to gather a following who provided support and funding sufficient for his pride and costly apparel but made the mistake of contending against Gideon with the sword rather than the word and was put to death. Those that continued to promote priestcraft carried on as described the Book of Alma:
Nevertheless, this did not put an end to the spreading of priestcraft through the land; for there were many who loved the vain things of the world, and they went forth preaching false doctrines; and this they did for the sake of riches and honor.
Nevertheless, they durst not lie, if it were known, for fear of the law, for liars were punished; therefore they pretended to preach according to their belief; and now the law could have no power on any man for his belief (Alma 1:16-17).
In light of the current spate of excommunications and threats of church discipline, it is interesting to note that the church leadership under Alma allowed these dissenters to not only espouse beliefs that were contrary to the church position but to also ‘preach according to their belief’ without repercussions.
As described in the narrative, the church forbid persecution, ‘…there was a strict law among the people of the church, that there should not any man, belonging to the church, arise and persecute those that did not belong to the church, and that there should be not persecution among themselves’ (verse 21). Persecution, in this context, included both physical and verbal abuse, ‘they did persecute them and afflict them with all manner of words’ (verse 20). There were doctrinal and organizational differences between the church of God and the order of Nehor. Nevertheless, the direction from the church was that there should be no persecution, with words or otherwise, of those who promoted alternative ideas.
Alma the Elder
Alma’s father, once part of the council of high priests under Noah, is also another notable apostate. When Noah became king, he ‘released’ the priests that his father Zeniff had installed and consecrated his own men in their place including Alma. Abinadi was called by the Lord to preach repentance in the kingdom of Noah and was cast into prison. After hearing the words spoken by the prophet sent to warn the people, Alma sought to influence Noah and his fellow priests but his efforts were viewed as a threat. His decision to side with Abinadi, an apostate, who preached against the leadership at the time made him an outcast and he was forced to flee.
If you look at the situation from the perspective of King Noah and his court, I would suggest that Alma was guilty of the following actions representing apostasy:
- Misappropriation of church property – high priest garb
- Continued to follow the teachings of apostate sects (Abinadi) after being corrected by his higher authority.
- Formally joined another church and advocated its teachings.
The last two offenses would be considered apostasy in today’s church. As a good ‘apostate,’ Alma can be a template for consideration.
A number of years later, Alma the elder also had to deal with dissenters from the church of God. As he was reunited with the main clan of Nephites, ‘king Mosiah granted unto Alma to establish churches throughout the land of Zarahemla’ (Mosiah 25:19) with Alma as the high priest over the church. The church included many who participated in the great outpouring of the Spirit which attended the address by King Benjamin described in Mosiah, chapters 2-5.
The older generation of the people of king Benjamin who had experienced the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost were taught to retain a remission of their sins by maintaining their faith in God, by humility and prayer; they covenanted with God and had become the ‘children of Christ’ through covenant (Mosiah 5:7). They believed in God and had been purified because of their faith in Jesus Christ who was to come (Mosiah 4:2).
Some of their children who were born within the embrace of the church, however, ‘could not understand the words of king Benjamin’ (Mosiah 26:1) and ‘did not believe what had been said concerning the resurrection of the dead, neither did the believe concerning the coming of Christ’ (verse 2). The narrative in this chapter goes on to say that their ‘hearts were hardened’ (verse 3), like those of the order of Nehor. This younger generation would not pray, would not be baptized nor would they join the church. As in the case of Nehor, the presence of the non-believers induced contention and, through flattery, caused members of the church to sin. When the priests brought those that had sinned before Alma, he took the case to the Lord, and received the following answer:
“… Go; and whosoever transgresseth against me, him shall ye judge according to the sins which he has committed; and if he confess his sins before thee and me, and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also (Alma 26:29).
Alma proceeded according this direction ‘and those that would not confess their sins and repent of their iniquity, the same were not numbered among the people of the church, and their names were blotted out (verse 36). The people who would not follow Christ, who would not repent of their sins, who would not be baptized; they were the ones whose names were blotted out.
The environment of the church established by Alma is certainly different than what we experience today when one considered the blended role of the leadership in both the community and the church. These examples from scripture provide us with insight into how the modern church could, or perhaps, should deal with apostasy and dissent. The freedom to express alternate beliefs was supported by the church of God established by Alma. Those alternate beliefs could also be preached without censure. The members were given the opportunity to consider these alternatives and act according to their own conscience. Should we expect the same treatment today?
In a recent press release by the LDS Church, the topic of church discipline was addressed (http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-discipline). One of the reasons for church discipline was ‘to protect the innocent’ from apostasy. This suggests that the current church has assumed the responsibility to protect the members from variant ideas. This approach is at odds with the concept of personal revelation. The missionary effort of the church relies heavily on the confirmation that can be received by and through the Holy Ghost.
I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:4-5)
Investigators are encouraged to ask God about the truth of the things that are presented to them. The promise is that the truth will be manifest by the power of the Holy Ghost. Should this same technique be applied by members who are confronted with what the church may consider to be apostate doctrine? Teaching the members to rely on this same promise allows the individual to seek and receive confirmation about any ‘truth’ that is being promoted and stands as a better alternative than the effort to ‘protect the innocent.’
Let us now look at how apostasy is defined today. The LDS church website, (www.lds.org/topics/apostasy) under the tag line ‘Gospel Topics,’ contains this description of apostasy:
When individuals or groups of people turn away from the principles of the gospel, they are in a state of apostasy.
The idea here, as collaborated in the scriptures, is that apostasy is the mindful departure from the gospel. The Nehors and those who rejected the church in the time of Alma were cited for their dissent from the gospel.
In contrast to the gospel as the barometer of adherence, the Church Handbook of Instruction (CHI), Handbook 1, page 57 contains the following definition of apostasy:
- Repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders.
- Persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine after they have been corrected by their bishop or a higher authority.
- Continue to follow the teachings of apostate sects (such as those that advocate plural marriage) after being corrected by their bishop or a higher authority.
- Formally join another church and advocate its teaching
As one can see from the CHI, the use of the boundaries of the gospel in the determination of dissent has been supplanted with adherence to and alignment with the church, church doctrine, and its leadership. There appears to be one definition of apostasy for public consumption and another private directive to church leadership. The use of the term Church doctrine and opposition to church leaders does not necessarily align with the gospel, a term that will be explored shortly.
Of note is the reference to apostate sects that advocate plural marriage; a doctrine that at one time in the church was viewed as a requirement for the highest degree of heaven. Reliance on ‘church doctrine’ to determine dissent creates confusion when those doctrines, such as plural marriage or the issue of blacks and the priesthood, change over time. Consideration should also be given to the definition of the doctrine of Christ found in 2nd Nephi, chapters 31 and 32 and 3rd Nephi, chapter 11.
If the definition of the gospel is immutable, then the definition of apostasy or dissent is also unchanging. Membership in the church is determined by obedience to the gospel, by the same logic, church discipline should be governed by the same precepts.
The Lord’s Criteria for His Church
Let’s turn our attention now to the use of the term apostasy as it applies to organizations. As cited earlier, when individuals or groups of people turn away from the principles of the gospel, they are in a state of apostasy. The Lord, in defining the criteria by which a church can be considered His can be found in the 27th chapter of 3 Nephi.
The disciples chosen by Christ, as He labored among the Nephites, were sent out to teach and baptize for the purpose of re-establishing the church of Christ. After some period of time, these men then met together and were ‘united in mighty prayer and fasting’ (3 Nephi 27:1), when the Lord appeared in their midst. Their request was to know by what name the church should be called. The Lord proceeded to lay out the criteria for the organization to be considered His Church. The key points of the discussion are:
- ‘if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel’ (3 Nephi 27:8)
- ‘If it so be that the church is built upon my gospel then will the Father show forth his own works in it’ (verse 10)
To be His church, the organization must be called by His name, be built upon His gospel and demonstrate the works of God. As stated earlier, the gospel is the basis for both individual and corporate acceptance by the Lord. The scriptures reaffirm that linkage. The following is an analysis of how well these items can be applied to the restored church today.
The Name of the Church
The current formal name is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This seems to fit the requirement although this is only the trademark. The legal name of the organization is The Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; the holder of the copyright of my triple combination. Buildings and facilities typically show ownership as the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop or other entities. Does this meet the Lords requirement? I will leave that answer up to the reader.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ
An important issue is the specific definition of the gospel. Many, today, use the term very broadly to include the tenets and practices of the church; the term ‘living the gospel’ means adhering to the life style of a believing, practicing Mormon, including attending the weekly meetings, paying tithing, fulfilling callings, temple work for the dead, etc. Let’s examine the scriptural definition of the gospel.
Following the elaboration of the criteria for His church, the Lord proceeded to define His gospel in chapter 27 of 3rd Nephi. While I will not recite the entire text, I would encourage the reader to prayerfully consider the full text of the Savior’s definition of His gospel. Let me summarize.
The Lord came into the world to do the will of his Father, to be lifted up upon the cross that he may draw all men unto him. All men will be judged of their works. Whosoever repents, is baptized, and endures to the end will be found guiltless at the judgment. No unclean thing can enter the kingdom of God; therefore we must have our garments washed in His blood. Let me now quote from the last verses of 3 Nephi, chapter 27 where the Lord completes His description of the gospel:
Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do; (verses 20-21)
That is the sum of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It contains the information we need to gain salvation and prepare ourselves to enter His kingdom clean from our sins. Those who call themselves Saints need to be sanctified through the application of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In addition to this treatment of the gospel of Jesus Christ in chapter 27 of 3 Nephi, there are other places in the scriptures of the restoration where the Lord states: “This is My Gospel.” Let me include two additional recitations from the scriptures where the Lord defines His gospel:
Yea, repent and be baptized, every one of you, for a remission of your sins; yea, be baptized even by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost.
Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and remember that they shall have faith in me or they can in nowise be saved; (D&C 33:11-12)
And this is my gospel—repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and teacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom. (D&C 39:6)
The baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, as an event, is the mechanism by which we receive a remission of our sins.”For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. And then are ye on the strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life.” (2 Nephi 31:17-18) Rarely discussed in the correlated church, these latter two scripture references emphasize a critical yet marginalized component of the gospel. If the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost is the mechanism by which we are sanctified, the obfuscation of the principle could be considered a rejection of the gospel. If the gospel presented is not the gospel that Christ defined in during His appearance among the Nephites nor is it the gospel defined in these two references from the Doctrine and Covenants, then what Gospel is it?
Works of God, Works of men
As noted above, the third requirement of the church of Jesus Christ is to demonstrate the ‘works of the Father’ in the church. These works are contrasted in the next verse with the works of men:
‘But if it be not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return’ (3 Nephi 27:11).
The works of God are referenced at the end of the discussion of the gospel when Christ stated ‘for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye do also’ (verse 21). As documented in the earlier chapter, while Christ was among the Nephites, these activities were recorded:
And it came to pass that after he had ascended into heaven—the second time that he showed himself unto them, and had gone unto the Father, after having healed all their sick, and their lame, and opened the eyes of their blind and unstopped the ears of the deaf, and even had done all manner of cures among them, and raised a man from the dead, and had shown forth his power unto them, and had ascended unto the Father— (3 Nephi 26:15)
As was noted earlier, Christ’s appearance, where these criteria were discussed, was to the twelve disciples, not an engagement with the broader church. In this directive to the twelve, they were to demonstrate the works of the Father, just as Christ had done while He was among them. The scriptures attest that the disciples of Christ did indeed fulfill this charge.
And there were great and marvelous works wrought by the disciples of Jesus, insomuch that they did heal the sick, and raise the dead, and cause the lame to walk, and the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear; and all manner of miracles did they work among the children of men; and in nothing did they work miracles save it were in the name of Jesus. (4 Nephi 1:5)
Are these works of God demonstrated by those who lead this church today? Consider this warning:
And who shall say that Jesus Christ did not do many mighty miracles? And there were many mighty miracles wrought by the hands of the apostles.
And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles.
And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust (Mormon 9:18-20)
As noted in all these verses, the miracles, the healings, the raising of the dead are to be demonstrated by the twelve, those who have been called to lead His church. These miracles stand in stark contrast to the works of men, the buildings, the books, the banks, the malls, and the rest of the activities than can be done by the hands of men. The lack of these miracles demonstrated by those who are called to lead the church along with the emphasis of the works of men, indicates that the church does not meet the Lords criteria.
In fact, can any organization which purports to be the church of Jesus Christ measure up to the criteria established by Him? Or… are they all apostates?
Rejecting the Gospel
Another element critical to the understanding of the message of the restoration is the identification of who is the intended recipient of the warnings in the latter-day scriptures. On the title page of the Book of Mormon, we find more about the intention of the book.
Wherefore, it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites—Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile—Written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation—Written and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed—To come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof—Sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile—The interpretation thereof by the gift of God.
As is noted here, the book was written to
- the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel
For most readers, it is safe to assume they would be designated as ‘gentiles’ in the context of the Book of Mormon. Also noted on the title page is reference to the book which is ‘to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile.’ The book did indeed come to the gentiles.
And now, the thing which our father meaneth concerning the grafting in of the natural branches through the fulness of the Gentiles, is, that in the latter days, when our seed shall have dwindled in unbelief, yea, for the space of many years, and many generations after the Messiah shall be manifested in body unto the children of men, then shall the fulness of the gospel of the Messiah come unto the Gentiles, and from the Gentiles unto the remnant of our seed…(1 Nephi 15:13)
This passage clearly states that the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ will be given to the gentiles and from the gentiles to the remnant. Throughout the Book of Mormon, the message to the gentiles is the one to which we should pay attention. But, this manifestation of the fulness of the gospel to the gentiles is not the last, as shown in this reference; the gospel is then to be extended to the Jews, or house of Israel.
And the time cometh that he shall manifest himself unto all nations, both unto the Jews and also unto the Gentiles; and after he has manifested himself unto the Jews and also unto the Gentiles, then he shall manifest himself unto the Gentiles and also unto the Jews, and the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. (1 Nephi 13:42)
Christ first showed himself to the Jews at the meridian of time. When He was rejected by the Jews, the gospel was extended to the Gentiles.
Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.
For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth.
And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:46-48)
The second time that the Lord was manifest to the gentiles came forth with the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith. In 1830, the Book of Mormon was published and sent to the world; a book that contains the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ (D&C 20:9).
As the scriptures indicate above, the Lord has established a sequence of events leading up to His return in glory. The gentiles now are given the opportunity to individually and collectively embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ. The first time around, the Jews counted themselves unworthy of the gospel message. The outcome of this opportunity is prophesied in the latter-day scriptures.
In the parable of the wicked husbandman found in Matthew, chapter 21 of the New Testament, Christ warned the Pharisees that they were to lose the kingdom of God. In the Joseph Smith translation of Matthew, additional information was presented regarding the gentiles ‘opportunity.’ Here is the text found in the Joseph Smith Translation of the New Testament:
And now his disciples came to him, and Jesus said unto them, Marvel ye at the words of the parable which I spake unto them?
Verily, I say unto you, I am the stone, and those wicked ones reject me.
I am the head of the corner. These Jews shall fall upon me, and shall be broken.
And the kingdom of God shall be taken from them, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof; (meaning the Gentiles.)
Wherefore, on whomsoever this stone shall fall, it shall grind him to powder.
And when the Lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, he will destroy those miserable, wicked men, and will let again his vineyard unto other husbandmen, even in the last days, who shall render him the fruits in their seasons.
And then understood they the parable which he spake unto them, that the Gentiles should be destroyed also, when the Lord should descend out of heaven to reign in his vineyard, which is the earth and the inhabitants thereof (JST Matthew 21:50-56)
The warning to the gentiles is that the same rock upon which the Jews were broken, would grind them to powder. That rock is Jesus Christ. Who are the husbandmen in these last days that were tasked with keeping the vineyard? These will find a worse fate than that delivered to the scribes and Pharisees in the meridian of time.
In the sixteenth chapter of Third Nephi, the Lord speaks of the gentiles and their opportunity to accept the gospel.
And blessed are the Gentiles, because of their belief in me, in and of the Holy Ghost, which witnesses unto them of me and of the Father.
Behold, because of their belief in me, saith the Father, and because of the unbelief of you, O house of Israel, in the latter day shall the truth come unto the Gentiles, that the fulness of these things shall be made known unto them (3 Nephi 16:6-7)
In the next verse, the believing gentiles are contrasted to the unbelieving gentiles who are to scatter and plague the house of Israel.
But wo, saith the Father, unto the unbelieving of the Gentiles—for notwithstanding they have come forth upon the face of this land, and have scattered my people who are of the house of Israel; and my people who are of the house of Israel have been cast out from among them, and have been trodden under feet by them; (verse 8)
In these verses, the believing and the unbelieving of the gentiles are represented. The believing having received a testimony through the Holy Ghost and the unbelieving scattering the people God calls His.
And thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you: At that day when the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, and shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts above all nations, and above all the people of the whole earth, and shall be filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations; and if they shall do all those things, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, behold, saith the Father, I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them (3 Nephi 16:10)
The gentiles, of the same group that received a witness of the Holy Ghost, are now prophesied to sin against the gospel of Jesus Christ and reject the same. They stand accused of a variety of sins and transgressions, including pride and priestcrafts, and face the loss of the fulness of the gospel.
And then will I remember my covenant which I have made unto my people, O house of Israel, and I will bring my gospel unto them.
And I will show unto thee, O house of Israel, that the Gentiles shall not have power over you; but I will remember my covenant unto you, O house of Israel, and ye shall come unto the knowledge of the fulness of my gospel (verses 11-12)
Here we find, again, that the fulness of the gospel is rejected by the gentiles and extended to the house of Israel as a future event. This scripture speaks of the gentiles collectively and, as shown above, includes the LDS Church as represented by the faithful believers that were given the truth.
Again, in the next verse, we see the Lord reaching out to the Gentiles:
But if the Gentiles will repent and return unto me, saith the Father, behold they shall be numbered among my people, O house of Israel (verse 13)
We, individually and collectively, have the opportunity to repent and return to God. How does one return to a place that they have never been? This implies that we once embraced the gospel but then rejected it. God is asking us to return. Several times during his tenure as a church leader, President Ezra Taft Benson warned us that the condemnation found in section 84, verses 54 through 57, of the Doctrine and Covenants still applies to us today. Should a people who are under condemnation expect that this liability will simply fade away? Has this condemnation ever been lifted? I believe the correct answer is no. There are other scripture references that would lend concern about the current status of the church. Is ‘all well in Zion?’
So there it is… We, gentiles, are all called to embrace the fulness of the gospel – to repent and be baptized, to receive a remission of our sins through the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, to be sanctified and made holy. By so doing, we can assist in the establishment of Zion, the pure in heart and prepare for the return of our Lord and Savior. Such is the message of the gospel.
In summary, apostasy can come in many flavors, but only one definition fits with the scriptures, that of rejecting the gospel. The scriptures give us clear examples of both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ apostates from an individual and corporate perspective and provides guidance regarding how the church should respond to those who hold and publicly express alternative viewpoints. That response should respect the rights of individuals to speak according to their beliefs without persecution.
The scriptures also address the possibility and inevitability of corporate apostasy in the last days. If the church cannot meet the requirements laid out by the Lord to be called the ‘church of Christ,’ then it is not His church.
Let me close by reciting from the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 18:
“…for if Zion will not purity herself, so as to be approved in all things, in His sight, He will seek another people, for His work will go on until Israel be gathered, and they who will not hear His voice, must expect to feel His wrath.
In a response to the growing visibility of recent church disciplinary actions, the LDS church released a statement regarding church discipline; the discussion is found on the church information website. The charge of apostasy has been used repeatedly to stigmatize and label those who have stood out in their efforts to question and challenge the some of the current doctrines and leadership of the church.
Here is an excerpt from the press release:
What are the purposes of Church discipline?
The purpose of Church discipline is not to punish but to facilitate full repentance and fellowship for a person who has made serious mistakes.
Written instructions for lay Church leaders outline three purposes for Church discipline:
To help the individual repent and return
Repentance brings peace when we place our lives in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Church discipline is a process that helps the individual feel that change of heart and change of behavior necessary to bring full forgiveness and peace. Someone who has fulfilled the requirements of Church discipline can be completely forgiven and return to full participation in the Church.
To protect the innocent
When someone poses a physical threat to others or a spiritual threat to other members, Church discipline is conducted to provide protection to potential victims. This includes predatory practices, physical harm, abuse, fraud and apostasy.
To protect the integrity of the Church
The Church teaches its members to follow the example of Jesus Christ in leading moral, faith-centered lives. Anyone who does not meet these standards and significantly harms the integrity of the Church by their actions may face Church discipline.
To help the individual repent and return
It is illuminating to compare the discussion here with the descriptions of events in the scriptures as it pertains to the situation when ‘apostasy’ is identified as the prime factor in church discipline. While the desire to assist members to repent and return is a noble objective, how does one repent from holding an alternative view of church history? How does one repent from holding an opinion that is different from the church leadership on topics that are not in the core message of the gospel?
Alma, the elder, could have used church discipline in addressing the actions of his son, Alma, and the sons of Mosiah in their efforts to undermine the church.
Now the sons of Mosiah were numbered among the unbelievers; and also one of the sons of Alma was numbered among them, he being called Alma, after his father; nevertheless, he became a very wicked and an idolatrous man. And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities.
And he became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God; stealing away the hearts of the people; causing much dissension among the people; giving a chance for the enemy of God to exercise his power over them. (Mosiah 27:8-9)
These men were ‘seeking to destroy the church, and to lead astray the people of the Lord.’ Certainly not the normal path for the offspring of the church leadership. As Alma was confronted by an angel we find out the motivation of the angel’s intervention:
And again, the angel said: Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith. (Mosiah 27: 14)
It was the earnest and faithful prayers of the people, as well as his father, that were answered with the visitation of the angel to bring into question the actions of Alma and his cohorts. Instead of excommunication, those who have been a target of church discipline in these recent months could have been the subject of prayer and fasting by the leaders of the church and concerned membership.
The scriptures are clear that the option exists to blot out the names of those who refuse to have faith, pray, and repent. Action that should be reserved for those who have rejected the gospel. For those who have voiced questions regarding church practices, gospel adherence should be sufficient ‘protection.’ The actions illuminated in this scriptural event show that there are alternatives.
Protecting the Innocent
Protecting the innocent is again a worthy objective. It is interesting that the church missionary effort puts heavy emphasis on the need for an investigator to apply to the promise of Moroni regarding the acquisition of a testimony of truthfulness of the church:
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things (Moroni 10:4-5)
Is it the responsibility of the church to ‘protect’ members from those accused of apostasy? Alternatively, should the members be taught to use the same powerful tool described in these verses from Moroni to ascertain ‘the truth of all things?’ Alma, in the context of the challenge from Nehor, can be argued that he took the same approach as Joseph Smith’s statement: ‘I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.’
The Integrity of the Church
Finally, are those who are brought up for church discipline and accused of apostasy impugning the integrity of the church? The leadership of the church do not seem to recognize that the integrity of the church has long been compromised by the doctrinal shifts and policy changes that have occurred over time.
On another tangent regarding the integrity of the church is found in a recent news article. In the June 29 issue of LDS Living (http://ldsliving.com/story/76205-sister-missionaries-assigned-to-proselyte-at-book-of-mormon-musical), we read of sister missionaries being assigned to proselyte outside the performances of ‘Book of Mormon Musical.’
Those of you who have seen the musical would likely agree with the content of this news article:
Not just any musical. The rollicking, raunchy and irreverent “Book of Mormon,” which takes potshots at the faith they practice.
Their goal from the area mission president was simple: Hand out cards to people heading to the theater directing them to a website (Mormon.org) that explains the religion and its practices. And to deliver the message, “Now that you’ve seen the play, read the book.”
I have attended a performance and, while it did have its good moments, it succeeded in using humor to attack some of the doctrines of the church. Is it appropriate to use such an event as a missionary opportunity, yet excommunicate faithful members who are seeking to build up the faith of individuals through a message centered on seeking God.
To apply an alternative approach, instead of excommunicating those who publically question practices, they could have deployed missionaries to the venues where these people were meeting to promote the church view on the topics at issue. Of course, that kind of activity is reserved for raunchy exploitations such as the Book of Mormon Musical.
Church discipline has become a tool to enforce orthodoxy for a wide set of issues that are completely outside the scope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. While the public pronouncement of the purpose of church discipline seems rational, the actions are harsh and dictatorial. If there is any guide for the implementation of these practice of correcting members who express concerns in public, it would be found in Doctrine and Covenants, section 121:
41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—
43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;
44 That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.
45 Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
46 The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.
In the end, a person’s salvation is solely dependent on their relationship with God. No bishop, no stake president, no general authority can act as a proxy for the Savior. Nor can any church leader interpose when a person is truly applying the gospel in their lives. The purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as found in 3 Nephi, chapter 27, is to sanctify us in preparation for entering the presence of our God through our faith and repentance.
Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.
As individuals and as the collective group seeking Zion, we should focus on the gospel. All this noise that is being generated detracts from that mission.
What think ye?
In the 31st and 32nd chapter of Second Nephi, we are given a treatise by Nephi of the doctrine of Christ. Nephi describes the Savior fulfilling the requirements of righteousness by being baptized of John and receiving the Holy Ghost ‘in the form of a dove.’ We are urged to take this as an example of our own need to be baptized by water and receive the Holy Ghost.
Nephi tells us that ‘it showeth unto the children of men the straitness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, he having set the example before them’ ( 2 Nephi 31:9). The promise then follows:
And he said unto the children of men: Follow thou me. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father?
And the Father said: Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son.
And also, the voice of the Son came unto me, saying: He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like unto me; wherefore, follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do.
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel. (2 Nephi 31:10-13)
The narrow gate and the strait way is to repent, take upon ourselves the name of Christ through baptism, first by water, and then by fire and the Holy Ghost. We are again encouraged to apply this in our own lives:
Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.
And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive. (2 Nephi 31:17-18)
The gate is repentance, baptism by water, and baptism by fire and the Holy Ghost. This latter baptism is the conduit through which we receive a remission of our sins. Once this is accomplished, we are then on the strait and narrow path to eternal life.
And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.
Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. (2 Nephi 31:19-20)
Once we are on the path, we are to ‘feast upon the word of Christ’ and endure to the end. This description of the doctrine of Christ is not the only place where we are introduced to the ‘strait and narrow path.’
Over the last few days, my mind has dwelled on this doctrine of Christ as well as other places in the scriptures where the strait and narrow are represented.
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)
The word ‘strait’ comes from the Greek meaning ‘narrow’ while ‘narrow’ in the translation from the Greek word, thlibo, which can also be translated as afflicted, troubled, narrow, or constrained. Wide was translated from the Greek word ‘platys’ and carries the meaning wide or broad. Broad, as used in this scripture comes the Greek word, eurychoros, and, at least according to Strong’s concordance, can be translated as broad or spacious.
The gate and the way, in this portion of the Beatitudes leads to life. The message I receive here is that to way to this life described by Christ requires a specific constrained entry point, the gate. The way is one that can also be considered narrow and may lead to affliction as one moves toward life.
Of course, this is not these are not the only scripture that alludes to a gate and a path. In Lehi’s dream, we also find the reference:
And I beheld a rod of iron, and it extended along the bank of the river, and led to the tree by which I stood.
And I also beheld a strait and narrow path, which came along by the rod of iron, even to the tree by which I stood; and it also led by the head of the fountain, unto a large and spacious field, as if it had been a world.
And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which I stood.
And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree.
And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost.
And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.
But, to be short in writing, behold, he saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.
And he also saw other multitudes feeling their way towards that great and spacious building.
And it came to pass that many were drowned in the depths of the fountain; and many were lost from his view, wandering in strange roads.
And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building. And after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also; but we heeded them not. (1 Nephi 8:19-24, 30-33)
Again, we are presented with the image of the strait and narrow. This time both adjectives are applied to the path. I believe it is reasonable to assume that we can treat both circumstances, in the doctrine of Christ of Second Nephi, chapter 31 and Lehi’s vision of the tree of life as delivering a consistent message regarding the strait and narrow path.
When we are on the strait and narrow path and are encouraged to feast upon the words of Christ; the message is consistent with the strait and narrow path and the rod of iron in Lehi’s dream. While the, perhaps, standard interpretation of the rod of iron is that it refers to the scriptures, I would like to present an alternative viewpoint. Nephi was told as he received the same vision as his father that the rod of iron was the word of God.
If one looks at other references to the word of God, the first in the Book of Mormon comes in reference to the dream that Lehi received with the message to leave Jerusalem:
And it came to pass that the Lord commanded my father, even in a dream, that he should take his family and depart into the wilderness.
And it came to pass that he was obedient unto the word of the Lord, wherefore he did as the Lord commanded him. (1 Nephi 2:2-3)
In this case, the word of the Lord came as personal revelation to Lehi. Later in the same chapter, Nephi refers to scripture as the words of the prophets:
And thus Laman and Lemuel, being the eldest, did murmur against their father. And they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them.
Neither did they believe that Jerusalem, that great city, could be destroyed according to the words of the prophets. And they were like unto the Jews who were at Jerusalem, who sought to take away the life of my father.( 1 Nephi 2:12-13)
Here in the same chapter, Nephi draws a clear distinction between the word of God as personal revelation to Lehi and the words of the prophets as scripture recited to Laman and Lemuel. Likewise we should all have the faith that we are entitled to the same word of God as described here. Once we have made our way to the strait narrow path, we are told we can hold on to and feast upon the words of Christ. We are, each, entitled to receive the word of God for ourselves. We are each promised that by enduring to the end on the strait and narrow path, we will be able to receive eternal life or eternal lives as described here:
For strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it, because ye receive me not in the world neither do ye know me.
But if ye receive me in the world, then shall ye know me, and shall receive your exaltation; that where I am ye shall be also.
This is eternal lives—to know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent. I am he. Receive ye, therefore, my law. (D&C 132:22-24)
No one, even the least of those who call themselves Saints, should doubt that the Lord will keep His word. If we repent and take upon ourselves the name of Christ and receive both the baptism of water and the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, we will be able to hold to the iron rod, personal revelation from Jesus Christ. As we endure to the end, we will be the recipients of eternal life. This is the strait and narrow path of which these scriptures speak.
Yea, thus we see that the gate of heaven is open unto all, even to those who will believe on the name of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God.
Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked—
And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out. (Helaman 3:28-30)
What think ye?
As a side note, the preliminary program is out for this year’s Sunstone Symposium the end of July. There great list of notables are included in the program. Not so notable is that I will be giving a presentation entitled ‘The Latter Day Apostasy – A Scriptural Perspective on Friday morning. Hope to carve off some time for the Wasatch Front like minded. Also planning to be in Las Vegas and Saint George the week before…
News reports coming out of Italy has Pope Francis visiting the Calabria region in the ‘toe’ of that country. During his homily, he addressed an organization that represents the “adoration of evil and contempt for the common good.”
The ‘Ndrangheta, also known as the Sicilian Mafia, makes an estimated $75 billion in business dealings ranging from Austria to Germany through extortion and a range of other unsavory mechanisms. This group wields significant power in this region of Italy as described by the USA Today:
“The ‘Ndrangheta is also highly religious, often paying for Roman Catholic Church initiatives and seeking the blessings of local priests, who will change their plans on short notice to officiate at mob weddings, funerals and baptisms. Sometimes, religious processions will pause in front of the homes of ‘Ndrangheta leaders in order to bless the inhabitants.”
In addressing this Italian version of the Gadianton robbers, the Pope stated that “Those who go down the evil path, as the Mafiosi do, are not in communion with God. They are excommunicated.”
In a strange twist, the Catholic Pope is excommunicating murderers and thieves while the LDS Church is excommunicating people who have committed horrendous crimes such as asking the church leadership for a revelation on the role of women in the priesthood and attempting to gain entry to a priesthood meeting.
Recent excommunications, such as Denver Snuffer and Will Carter, were of a similar ilk as one is worthy of excommunication in the LDS Church for disagreeing with the church version of historical events and citing the historical failings of the organization to meet the expectations of God.
In a response to the uproar that the current spate of excommunications as well as the threatened church discipline of Kelly and Dehlin, the church released a statement which in part reads:
What causes concern for Church leaders is when personal motivations drive those conversations beyond discussion, and a person or group begins recruiting others to insist on changes in Church doctrines or structure. When it goes so far as creating organized groups, staging public events to further a cause or creating literature for members to share in their local congregations, the Church has to protect the integrity of its doctrine as well as other members from being misled.
So the church needs to protect its members from being mislead? Isn’t that what the adversary’s plan was; to protect us from making bad decisions? Sad but true, the church views it role as protecting members from hearing challenges to the current version of the doctrines of the church.
The purpose of the restored church is NOT to protect its members from influences that may or may not be in line with the current slate of doctrine or history. The purpose of the church is to preach the gospel and provide access to the necessary ordinances.
And of tenets thou shalt not talk, but thou shalt declare repentance and faith on the Savior, and remission of sins by baptism, and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost. (D&C 19:31)
Until the church returns to the core objective given to it by Christ, the doctrines of men will continue to wreak havoc on the souls of men and women who seek to know more than the “correlated’ church is able to give.
It was five years ago this month that this blog became a reality. I had been commenting on blogs for a number of months when LDS Anarchist invited me to guest post on his blog. I found it presented an outlet that I had been searching for; an opportunity to virtually commune with others who had similar views but also hear the alternative perspectives that were graciously provided. I am grateful to Adam and JR for their early support. I am grateful for Jack who brought his ‘orthodox’ views to the pages. I appreciate the handful of people who stopped by to offer words of challenge as well as encouragement. Each word, each comment that landed on the littered landscape I call my worldview, tilted it in various directions. I am a better man because of these interactions.
The blog was originally entitled “The Fulness” and was housed at 2k12.net. I decided to change the name because I had another website by the same name and I was beginning to see confusion. The original Fulness site (fulness.com) was stood up in December of 2008. I can best describe it as the summary of my spiritual perspective after struggling through eight years of the trial of my faith. Today, it is as close to a ‘shrine’ as I am willing to go. The words on that site poured out of my feeble brain over the Christmas holidays. I had finally put the sequence of ideas and topics in an order that appeared logical to me (your mileage may vary). It represented my first attempt to understand what the gospel meant, what doctrine was of most worth, and what Christ expected of His church. It was a site where I first captured the broader consequences of being a Gentile in this day. And finally, it was where I began to understand what the true future of the restored church was to be.
This month has been a time of building associations with others who share concerns about the direction of the restored church. To my delight, I was able to have dinner with Tim of the blog entitled ‘Latter Day Commentary,’ Will (and children) of the blog ‘In 200 Words or Less’, and Log who has been prolific in this comments on various topics.
This was followed by an opportunity to rub shoulders with the people behind Mormon Heretic and Pure Mormonism. It is such a refreshing and buoying experience to break bread and discuss spiritual matters not constrained by correlation. I found we were all seeking further light and knowledge. It was reconfirmed to me that there are people who are seeking to come unto Christ and fulfill the definition of His church in D&C, section 10:
65 For, behold, I will gather them as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if they will not harden their hearts;
66 Yea, if they will come, they may, and partake of the waters of life freely.
67 Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.
68 Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.
69 And now, behold, whosoever is of my church, and endureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
I take the Lord at his word. I espouse the idea presented in this scripture that His church is made up of those who repent and come unto Christ, no more and no less. Anyone who attempts of redirect our attention to the works and words of men is not of His church.
The Mormon Inquisition
It now appears that, in order to be a member in good standing, one must not only support and sustain the brethren, but also conform to their view of the current version of doctrine and, amazingly, of historic events. Straying outside the acceptable bounds of the narrative currently espoused by the leadership of the church is met with decisive action of ‘eternal’ consequences. The excommunication of Denver Snuffer, and the ongoing questioning of anyone who publicly supports the scriptural basis for his teaching claimed another victim recently. Will, the proprietor of the blog “in 200 Words or Less” was excommunicated for apostasy. This action represents a gross injustice, in my opinion. The idea that people can use the internet to express legitimate concerns regarding the historicity of church claims and doctrine and suffer excommunication without any dialogue seems to follow the same path of other inquisitions. Is there a significant difference between the actions of the Spanish Inquisition where non-believers were given the choice of either conforming to the precepts of the Holy Roman Church or be dragged through the streets until they were dead and the virtual ‘slaughter’ of one’s eternal salvation that is represented in excommunication?
As I pondered this pathetic situation, I have determined that message delivered by President Uchtdorf in the 2013 October General Conference should be clarified with the necessary caveats. Rather than simply saying to those who have been estranged from the church, “Come, join with us,” his message should include the following ‘fine print.’
All are welcome to join us, except those who differ from the current church leadership on the interpretation of church history. Also, anyone who dares interpret scripture that, in any form, represents a concern regarding the legitimacy of the church claims to authority. Please don’t join us if you believe there is any validity to the warnings in scripture regarding the condemnation or possible apostasy of the church. One can only join is if they accept the non-scriptural guidance that the Lord will not permit the church to go astray. Please leave your desire for meat behind as discussion of the mysteries of God is not permitted. Do not share any misgivings about the doctrinal shifts and the policy changes as these are an affront to the inspired leadership of the church. Please refer to the website lds.org regularly to ensure that you are in compliance with the current version of church history and doctrine.
This past Mother’s Day was the most unique in memory. I was able to attend a the Sunstone sponsored service in the Kirtland Temple to commemorate the holiday. What made it different? Perhaps the fact that there were only women on the stand; that women gave the opening prayer (my dear wife) and closing prayer and the lone instrumental musical number was presented by the token male on the program. The speakers recited their thoughts of the divine feminine – that oft marginalized Goddess who represents our spiritual beginnings. They spoke of the early beliefs in the church of a ‘shared’ priesthood between a man and a woman. They shared the frustration with current male domination of the corporate church and the one-sided nature of the eternal relationship as defined by the current leadership. It helped me understand the Ordain Women movement.
But from my, perhaps, unique viewpoint, I am not sure it is worth the effort. Why would any woman want to partake of a corrupt priesthood when she has within herself the ability to accomplish the miracles that have evaded those who claim the keys?
The service on Mother’s day was the culminating event for the Sunstone Kirtland Symposium. This was my first experience with the Symposium and one that offered a richness of thought and provoked my heart with misapplied stereotypes. I was pleased with the diversity of speakers from Jessica Kimball who recited her experience as an intern in Nauvoo to Ross Osmond’s description of the stages of faith as applied to organizations. It was will worth the trip; especially when you consider that I was honored to spend the long weekend and a number of hours in the car discussing doctrine with Rock (Pure Mormonism) and Connie Waterman. Thank you for joining us in the Ohio.
This season, in which we commemorate the resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ, comes as the earth passes into another renewal. This winter has been tough and long in the Midwest, so spring is certainly welcome. For me, Easter is not about bunnies and eggs, although I am partial to marshmallow bunnies. It is not about a shortened Sunday program. To each of us, it should have significant meaning.
On Good Friday, as I traveled back from a meeting, I was able to pass by the processional of the cross conducted by several of the local Catholic churches. Behind the cross, as it traveled down the street, was a line of parishioners waiting patiently for their turn to bear the similar burden to that which was laid upon the shoulder of Christ as He was led to His crucifixion. It was a solemn occasion as I pondered the meaning of the cross in my life.
For much of my religious life, I was instructed that the cross was not the central theme of the ministry of our Savior. instead, the focus was placed on His emergence from the tomb. It made sense since it also allowed us to differentiate ourselves from the Catholic and Protestant churches.
Since my awakening, I have been led to question everything I had been taught; everything that I had taken for granted. It has been an interesting journey these last years as I re-trod ground that was once unquestioned. I have taken the admonition of Paul to “prove all things, hold fast to that which is good.” (1 Thess. 5:21)
As I reviewed the procession, my mind was drawn to a thought that I had never considered before. It was almost as if the question was placed in my feeble mind and the answer was played out before my eyes. What is the importance of the cross to me? Immediately, my mind was connected to a scripture that I had never associated with that question, found in the 27th chapter of Third Nephi where Christ defines His gospel.
13 Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.
14 And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—
15 And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.
As I rehearsed this in my mind and then later re-read the scripture, I came away with a change in perspective. According to the gospel as delivered to the Nephites by Jesus Christ, he was sent by the Father to be ‘lifted up upon the cross.’ I had never considered the crucifixion as part of the central theme of the restored gospel, but there it was in the words of our Savior. This act of laying down one’s life for a friend is placed as the central theme, in my opinion, of the gospel. There is no mention of the resurrection in this summary of the gospel. There is no reference to the tomb. The focal point of the gospel is that Christ was crucified on the cross to draw all men to Him. We then are to be lifted up, crucified as it is, by the Father to be judged of our works.
So what place should the cross be in our lives? At least one should consider the weight it is given in this exposition of the gospel. What better source than the words recorded of the Savior Himself?
The remainder of the description of the gospel is as follows in the same chapter:
16 And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.
17 And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father.
18 And this is the word which he hath given unto the children of men. And for this cause he fulfilleth the words which he hath given, and he lieth not, but fulfilleth all his words.
19 And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.
20 Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.
21 Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do;
We are told that those who repent and are baptized in His name will be filled and sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost. If we accomplish this, then when we are lifted up upon our own cross, we will enjoy the sanctification that comes from the cleansing of the Holy Ghost.
That is the gospel, the whole gospel and nothing but the gospel. At least if you believe, as I do, that the Book of Mormon contains the words of Christ and contains the fulness of the gospel. The message of the cross is carried in the restored gospel, the image of the cross as the means to draw all men unto Christ is played out in these words.
May you all take time this holy week to consider the message of Easter and the central theme of the gospel of Jesus Christ. May we all come to understand what we must do to carry our own cross up our own hill to be lifted up by the Father.
What think ye?
In the fifteenth chapter of Matthew, Jesus Christ is confronted by the scribes and Pharisees who asked him this question:
Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? (Matthew 15:2)
The Jews, at the time of Christ, carried forward many traditions which had been developed to augment their worship of God. There were rules regarding cleanliness, rules regarding acceptable activities on the Sabbath, rules regarding travel. All of which were a vain attempt to ‘improve’ on the core principle of their religion. Today, many of these practices survive in the rabbinic halakhah.
Bruce McConkie characterized it this way:
Rabbinical ordinances and interpretations were added to the Mosaic law by scribes and teachers over the years. These traditions were actually and formally deemed to be more important and have greater binding force than the law itself. Among them as supposed guards against ceremonial uncleanness, were the ritualistic washings which Jesus and His disciples had ignored. (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, page 366)
Christ responded with His own question to the scribes and Pharisees:
Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? (Matthew 15:3)
The example Christ used in His response was based on one of the laws of Moses:
4 For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.
5 But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me;
6 And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.
7 Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,
8 This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.
9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men
10 And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand:
11 Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. (Matthew 15:4-11)
Verse five was difficult to understand until I did some research. This same event was captured in Mark, chapter 7 where the equivalent verse states
11 But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free.
12 And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother;
13 Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.(Mark 7:11-13)
Corban is derived from the word related to the temple treasury. The idea originally was that the son could avoid providing support for his parents, which was inherently part of the commandment to honor your father and mother, by pledging all of his wealth to God. Once this was done, the son no longer was deemed to have any responsibility regarding his parents support. By the meridian of time, this had simply become a vow that could be made and the son was then free of the need to meet the commandment.
As Christ indicated in verse thirteen above, there were many other ‘traditions’ that were inserted by man into the practice of a believer. It is interesting to note the a number of the accusations launched by the scribes and Pharisees were based on the apparent violation of these ‘traditions.’ such as appropriate activities for the Sabbath and others.
The scribes and Pharisees sought to accuse Christ of violating the law and found themselves charged with supplanting the commandments of God with the doctrines of men. Those who defended these traditions – the doctrines of men – lost the opportunity to participate in the gospel as delivered by Christ. They were found to be hard hearted and lovers of their position and power, they were not receptive of the message brought to them by the Son of God.
As history dictates, the gentiles did not fare significantly better. As the Holy Roman church began to assert its position, a similar set of traditions began to dominate the lives of the pious. Here is how Bruce McConkie described the situation with the early church:
To the pure and simple doctrines of Christ, the scribes and priests of early Christianity added such things as: selling indulgences, which freed the wicked from past sins and authorized them to commit future crimes without divine penalty; forgiving sins (supposedly) through repeated and perfunctory confessions; praying departed persons out of purgatory; burning candles for the dead; praying to Mary and other so-called saints, rather than to the Lord; worshiping of images; turning of the sacramental emblems into the literal flesh and blood of Jesus (transubstantiation); laying up a reservoir of good works in heaven which the so-called Church can sell to those who need them; forbidding priests and other church official to marry; doing penance to gain forgiveness of sins; adorning houses of worship with costly materials; wearing of expensive robes and costumes by priests and other church officers; using elaborate ministerial titles; augmenting the Church treasury by gambling; and so forth.
All these, and many other like traditions, are counted of more importance by some than the law of God as originally given by the Master. Indeed, the so-called Christian Church today is founded in large part on the traditions of the “elders’ rather than on the revelations from heaven. (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, page 367)
Many of the simple and pure aspects of the gospel as delivered by the Savior and the apostles were replaced by the traditions and doctrines of men. The following is an example from the life of Martin Luther;
He at first gave himself up to all the observances which the Church enjoined for the expiation of sin. One day, wishing to obtain an indulgence promised by the pope to all who should ascend on their knees what is called Pilate’s Staircase, the Saxon monk was humbly creeping up those steps, which he was told had been miraculously transported from Jerusalem to Rome. While he was performing this meritorious act, he though he heard a voice of thunder crying from the bottom of his heart, as at Wittenberg and Bologna, “The just shall live by faith.” These words twice before struck him like the voice of an angel from God. They now resounded unceasingly and powerfully within him. He rose in amazement from the steps up which he was dragging his body; he shuddered at himself; he was ashamed of seeing to what a depth superstition had plunged him. therefore he fled far from the scene of his folly. (The Life and Times of Martin Luther, pp 54-55)
Would we today believe that by climbing a series of steps on our knees, we would be able to free someone from Purgatory? Acts such as those prescribed for the Jews as well as those that found their way into the church established after the original apostles carried the gospel to the gentiles represent the doctrines of men mingled with scripture.
The Jews of the birthright had the opportunity to accept the gospel of Christ and, through the covenant, receive the blessings of the Kingdom of God. In their rejection, the gospel was then taken to the gentiles. These too had the opportunity to build the kingdom. As described in the Book of Mormon, we can see that “they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.” (1 Nephi 13:26) These ‘plain and precious’ parts were supplanted by the doctrines of men. Practices which could easily lead the practitioner to focus on the ritual rather than the message.
The stage is set for the restoration of the gospel. As characterized by Nephi, those parts, plain and precious, will once again be made available.
For, behold, saith the Lamb: I will manifest myself unto thy seed, that they shall write many things which I shall minister unto them, which shall be plain and precious; and after thy seed shall be destroyed, and dwindle in unbelief, and also the seed of thy brethren, behold, these things shall be hid up, to come forth unto the Gentiles, by the gift and power of the Lamb. (1 Nephi 13:35)
As a result of the restoration, we, the Gentiles, now have a book which contains the ‘fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.’ What should we consider as the fulness of the gospel? Should we believe that it is incomplete in any way? Should it be the bellwether regarding the doctrines by which we should govern spiritual lives? I believe this is the case. I have long held a testimony of the Book of Mormon as the mechanism that the Lord utilized to announce His doctrine. This testimony was not drilled into me by repetition, I had a singular profound experience that left me with a knowledge that the book was God-breathed.
This now brings me to the core question of this post. I have attempted to outline the circumstance under which both the Jews, or the house of Israel, and also early Christianity lost their way and adopted the traditions and doctrines of men instead of the doctrine of Christ. It can happen gradually, as imperfect men attempt to improve on the word of God.
Are we, today, as keepers of the fulness of the gospel, susceptible to the same shift from the pure doctrine of Christ into the quagmire represented by the doctrines of men? Are the doctrines held by the so-called Church of Jesus Christ still after these nearly 200 years still in perfect alignment with the doctrine of God?
To answer these questions, we should first clearly define the doctrine of Christ. Secondly, we should examine our own traditions and doctrines to determine that the two are in alignment.
Following His identification of the twelve disciples in His visit to the Nephites, the Lord set forward His doctrine:
35 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.
36 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.
37 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.
38 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.
39 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
40 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 Nephi 11:35-40)
If I were to attempt to place this in my own words, the doctrine of Christ is that those who believe in Christ will be visited by fire and the Holy Ghost. To receive this, we must repent and be baptized. We must become as little children, humble and teachable. Anyone who says that the doctrine of Christ is “more or less” than this and establishes a different doctrine is of evil.
Should the doctrine of the church that bears His name be different than the doctrine defined by Christ in these verses? The answer should be a resounding No!
Are there rituals and activities that are promoted as the doctrine of the church that do not align with the doctrine of Christ? I would suggest that we each individually and collectively as followers of Christ should assess our actions to determine if they are aligned with the doctrine of Christ or if they are manufactured by men. Have we allowed our traditions become the doctrine of the church?
Ask any active member of the LDS church what is required of them and you will probably get a list such as:
- Pay tithing
- Accept callings in the church
- Do your home and visiting teaching
- Attend your meetings
- Hold Family Home Evening
I could carry the list on for many pages. This is the Mormon version of halakhah. The list of guidelines that a good Mormon must follow. I am sure that obedience to the list will give us, today, the same satisfaction, pride, and arrogance demonstrated by the scribes and Pharisees.
I will say it again. Hark, all ye who claim to be saints. Are these traditions in alignment with the doctrine of Christ? I respond with a resounding “NO.” Just as with the scribes and Pharisees at the time of the mortal ministry of Christ, just as it was with the gentiles in the Holy Roman Church, the acts and actions that should be spawned by our acceptance and implementation of the doctrine of Christ have replaced it. Once we believe that the list of traditions we have come to live by as ‘the gospel,’ we are no better than the Jews in the meridian of time. And we will face the same fate. It is very sad to consider that people who hold to the pure doctrine of Christ are considered apostate, just as Christ was condemned by the religious rulers of his time.
Even in this enlightened age of the restored gospel, we are susceptible to being “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine?” (Eph 4:14) Should plural marriage be a requirement to hold high office in the church, as it was at the time of Brigham Young, or be an offence worthy of excommunication, as it is today? Tossed to and fro… We need to identify the traditions of men in our own worldview and strip them away. We need to gauge our process along the strait and narrow path by the doctrine of Christ, no more, no less.
I implore you to search the words of Christ, to seek knowledge regarding the doctrine of Christ as contained in the restored scriptures. Look in your heart and determine if your personal halakhah is a stumbling block to employing the real doctrine of Christ in your life.
What think ye?