This post has been adapted from a presentation given at the 2016 Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium. I hope that you find it at least somewhat interesting as I have attempted to weave in the idea of faith.
Some people may find this topic so lame. After all, isn’t it correct that only the ignorant and uneducated still hold that evolution is not a law of nature and science. It is taught in our schools as part of the foundational sciences. it is a prerequisite world view for any credible scientific scholar. The evidence is there in the rocks and in the test tube. The tree of life as illuminated by Charles Darwin can be seen in the fossils on every continent. The mechanics of evolution are demonstrated in the genetic processes of every living creature. So why even challenge the prevailing wisdom?
Before I address that question, let me relate it to a discussion often held within a belief system. For one who was once engaged in the Latter Day Saint environment, there are likely elements of doctrine or policy that can cause dissonance. From my experience, a believing, practicing member is likely in need of a ‘shelf” to hold items that are part of the dialogue of the church but may require ‘further light and knowledge’ before the true picture can be illustrated. Items on the ‘shelf’ could be the abandoned practice of polygamy, or the policy change regarding blacks and the priesthood. It could contain doctrinal items such as our role and relevance of our Mother in Heaven or the requirement of membership to hold certain men as ‘prophets, seers, and revelators.’ It could also contain historical quandaries such as the Kinderhook plates and the origin of the Book of Abraham.
For the believer, the items can become too heavy for the shelf and cause a collapse commonly known as a “crisis of faith’ Some who encounter this situation simply continue to outwardly demonstrate allegiance and anesthetize the mind and the heart. Others who walk this path determine to reject everything they once held as ‘true’ from a religious perspective and move on to re-establish a new worldview. The rejection of all things ‘God’ appeals to those who might come to see religion as simply a means of crowd control.
Acceptance of evolution as the cause of ‘us’ can be perceived as liberating; no more checklists, no more corporate-induced guilt, no more cognitive dissonance with answers promised at some point in the future. No more blind obedience. And, relevant to our discussion today, no more need for a shelf to hold items that have not been fully clarified… or is there?
Are there aspects of the evolution narrative that are not fully explained and demonstrable? Do we today have all the answers as to the origin of life and the diversity of living creatures we see around us? Does the embrace of evolution, as conceived by the scientific community, require any amount of what could be defined as ‘faith?’ Does this ‘faith’ bear any similarity to the faith required of believers on other discussions? To quote Alma from the Book of Mormon:
Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” (Alma 32:21)
To bring this around to the question of evolution, are there aspects that are perceived to be true but are not seen or demonstrable? This verse contrasts ‘a perfect knowledge of things’ with a ‘hope for things which are not seen, which are true.’ I would submit that the scientific method is an example of a process to acquire a perfect knowledge. It demands that a proposed hypothesis be validated through testing and relies on repeatable verification. If the original hypothesis is not verified in the testing, one is to modify the hypothesis and continue testing. That is the process of gaining knowledge – or to use another word – the process of coming to the truth.
Many aspects of evolution, unfortunately, are not provable by the scientific method. No one has demonstrated how man, for example, evolved from the apes. There is no repeatable scientific sequence to demonstrate how the first living organism came to exist. Alternatively, the seeker must acquire as much data and information as possible, much like a detective at a crime scene, and infer historical events from the evidence collected. The judicial system uses the standard of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ in the assessment of guilt. However, there is a continual stream of news stories regarding court convictions being overturned by new evidence, such as DNA matching. One must always consider new evidence and assess its impact on the dogma of the day.
My objective in this treatise is twofold. First, I wish to examine evolution of the theory of evolution and, secondly, to provide a reasoned analysis of the areas of evolution that may require some amount of faith from my perspective. Does the information presented take one beyond a reasonable doubt? That will be left to the reader.
But first, a note of clarification. I am approaching this question from a different perspective. I am not a biologist nor a paleontologist. I am trained as an engineer in the area of information technology, networks and systems and have built chips, boards, systems and networks. My area of expertise as applied to the question at hand is what it takes to put a working entity together and the information necessary to achieve the design objective. I will use what remains of this skill in the examination of the evidence gleaned through hundreds of hours of research and analysis of issues pertinent to the topic at hand. Again, let me clearly state that the following discussion points represent items that would find space on my ‘shelf’ as one who believed in evolution. Your mileage may vary.
Natural selection or survival of the fittest
Within two decades of the publishing of Darwin’s book, On the Origin of Species, in 1859, evolution found general acceptance within the scientific community and cleaved science from religion. The essence of the narrative of the book is that the wide variety of species found today are the result of slow, gradual adaptation to the environment from a single ancestor. Those who adapted well to their circumstances were rewarded with continued existence, those who were not able to change were left behind. In his book, Darwin states, “One general law, leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely, multiply, vary, let the stronge live and the weakest die.” (Darwin, 1958 reprint, p. 232) To Darwin’s liking, Herbert Spencer coined the term “survival of the fittest,” representing that those creatures who are best fit for their environment will have the best chance to propagate and continue the species.
An example of evolution utilized by Jerry Coyne in his book ‘Why Evolution is True.’ dealt with the path taken to produce our modern day whale, the large mammal whose ancestors once walked on land. Here is an illustration from his book summarizing the evolution of this beast. One prevailing theory is that an organism becomes isolated and, driven by the available food or other external variables, changes it form to adapt to the environment. In the case of Dorudon, the extinct ancestor of the whale, fossils have been found in North Carolina, Egypt and Pakistan. Not necessarily constrained to a small area.
“The evolution of whales from land animals was remarkably fast; most of the action took place within only 10 million years” (Coyne, 2009, pp. 50-51). Does ‘remarkably fast’ fit the Darwin narrative? There are attempts to explain what ‘triggers’ such rapid evolutionary development but no definitive conclusion has been drawn. The other critical aspect regarding the evolution of the whale is that in there is a need to have a number of significant changes, such as the development of blubber for temperature control, skin smoothing, the movement of the sexual organs into the body along with the associated cooling mechanisms. These changes identified between the Dorudon and the Balaena, or modern whale, would have needed to occur in the last 2.5 million years. Given that this rapid evolution, not entirely in keeping with Darwin’s original hypothesis, has not escaped the attention of the scientific community. Let’s consider what has been developed to address the ‘speed’ of evolution.
Let’s look at the implications of this from a population perspective. There are two sides to this scenario. Nature must select those individuals that exhibit the best traits and also eliminate those weaker entities from the breeding pool needed to create the next generation. J. C. Sanford, a renowned plant geneticist who is responsible for many of the genetically engineered crops in fields today, characterized three aspects of the problem:(Sanford, 2014, p. loc 979)
- Cost of selection
- Recognizing obscured mutations
- Systematic reproductive elimination
The survival of the fittest has to be paired with the removal of the weak. Cost of selection represents the level of aggressiveness in the elimination of members of the group that is needed to achieve the selection of the desired mutated traits. “All selection involves a biological cost – meaning that selection must remove (“spend”) part of the breeding population. Selective elimination is the essence of selection.” (Sanford) In other words, survival of the fittest requires the elimination of those ‘not so fit.’ This selection comes with a biological cost and has to be balanced by the needs of maintaining population levels. The elimination of too many ‘undesirable’ individuals could certain hasten the selection of desirable traits in the survivors but could just as easily lead to extinction. Haldane, who suggested that 10% is the maximum biological spend that can be tolerated, presented the dilemma in this form. “…the number of deaths needed to secure the substitution by natural selection of one gene… is about 30 times the number of organisms in a generation.” (Haldane, 1957, pp. 511-524) Could the early Dorudon become a Balaena in 2.5 million years requiring multiple simultaneous changes to occur? Haldane is not convinced.
Speaking of the work done by Haldane, which has been validated several times since the original publication, Sanford summarized the implications with a specific example:
[Haldane] calculated that, in man, it would require 6 million years to select just 1,000 mutations to fixation (assuming 20 years per generation)… Man and chimp differ by at least 150 million nucleotides representing 40 million hypothetical mutations.” (Sanford, 2014, p. 2459) His conclusion was that natural selection could not claim total responsibility for the speciation that we have today.
The second point Sanford addressed was the need to identify the mutation. Assuming the slow and gradual evolution of the species, how does nature identify and ‘select’ that individual for specific traits? In a purely random environment, this is seen as a daunting challenge. The individual with a typical subtle point mutation, favorable or unfavorable, does not necessarily stand out from the crowd and does not have increased odds of survival and participation on forming the next generation. The issue is even more complicated when there may be multiple traits that are being selected. His conclusion was that the selection based on a particular trait or set of traits does not have sufficient ‘power’ to drive natural selection.
Finally, natural selection would need to restrain non-selected individuals from the breeding population. Otherwise, the offspring would not carry the selected traits and dilute the broader population. Again, subtle changes in the genotype would not be expected to position the individual inside the breeding circle leading to a problematic explanation of how the ‘slow, gradual’ process of evolution.
The next phase of the scientific view of evolution was triggered by a book published by Julian Huxley in 1942 which blended the recent discoveries, at the time, in genetics into the evolution equation. For the next 70 years, science saw the delivery of the DNA model and the decoding of the genome. As the work on the human genome began, scientists expected to find upwards of 2 million genes. Today that number is estimated to be about 22,000. (The shrinking human protein coding complement: are there now fewer than 20,000 genes?, 2014). Still much is to be understood about the operation of DNA and it’s supporting cast within the cell.
Let’s look at one aspect of the gene-centered story of evolution that has developed over the last several decades. As the number of identified genes and the associated content of those genes dropped dramatically, some jumped at the early findings to bolster the case for evolution.
In an article published in the Scientific American in September of 2012, Ashutosh Jogalekar wrote that junk DNA could be attributed to the mess created by millions of years of evolution.
The standard evolutionary picture tells us that evolution is messy, incomplete and inefficient. DNA consists of many kinds of sequences. Some sequences have a bonafide biological function in that they are transcribed and then translated into proteins that have a clear physiological role. Then there are sequences which are only transcribed into RNA which doesn’t do anything. There are also sequences which are only bound by DNA-binding proteins (which was one of the definitions of “functional” the ENCODE scientists subscribed to). Finally, there are sequences which don’t do anything at all. Many of these sequences consist of pseudo genes and transposons and are defective and dysfunctional genes from viruses and other genetic flotsam, inserted into our genome through our long, imperfect and promiscuous genetic history. If we can appreciate that evolution is a flawed, piecemeal, inefficient and patchwork process, we should not be surprised to find this diversity of sequences with varying degrees of function or with no function in our genome.” (Jogalekar, 2012)
Richard Dawkins, in his best seller, The Greatest Show On Earth, suggested that much of the human genome was worthless. “It is a remarkable fact that the greater part (95 percent in the case of humans) of the genome might as well not be there, for all the difference it makes.” (Dawkins, 2009, p. 333)
As research has continued, the adage that one man’s junk can be another man’s treasure seems to be born out. While the vast majority of the genome did not directly produce the proteins, enzymes, and hormones necessary for life, it was becoming apparent that there is much more to the story. These castoffs, now called non-coding DNA, are now being shown to have a significant role in how genes are expressed or managed.
In her book titled, Junk DNA, Nessa Carey observed that “The only genomic features that increased in number as animals become more complicated were the regions of junk DNA. The more sophisticated an organism, the higher the percentage of junk DNA it contains. Only now are scientists really exploring the controversial idea that junk DNA may hold the key to evolutionary complexity.” (Carey, 2015, p. 192).
The complexity of the control mechanisms relative to gene expression is getting considerable attention today as scientists work to unravel the extraordinary activities of the areas of the genome once held to be worthless.
It has been 70 years since the redirection of evolution based on the discoveries of DNA. Is it time for another course correction? Perhaps, yes. Research over the last ten years, as suggested by Carey, is showing that DNA information outside those sequences that are identified as genes, identified as epigenetic, can have a significant impact on how genes are expressed and demonstrate the ability to modify the phenotype, or physical nature, of the organism.
The Finches of Galapagos
During his five weeks on a number of the islands of Galapagos, Darwin collected a significant amount of information regarding the variety of finches found there. Of most note were the color of the feathers and the shape and size of the beak. Finches that found their primary food source in hard-to-crack nuts and seeds had developed heftier beaks while those whose diet tended to softer items and smaller seeds sported slimmer beaks. Along with other examples identified on his voyage, Darwin used the variation of finches as a supporting case for natural selection.
As a follow up to the original research done by Darwin on the Galapagos Islands, Peter and Rosemary Grant spent three decades in a detailed study of the environment/ecological impact on two varieties of the Finch originally identified by Darwin. Over the course of their observation, the finches changed significantly in beak shape and thickness as well as body size.
“Natural selection occurred frequently in our study, occasionally strongly, unidirectionally in one species and oscillating in direction in the other as a result of their dependence on different food supplies.” (Grant, 2002) Interestingly, the two finch varieties studied changed their beak thickness in opposite directions with the beak size of the G. fortis actually ‘oscillating’ over several generations. It only took a few generations of finch to see significant changes to the beak, again, not the slow gradual process held as the fundamental core of evolution. So what was really happening with these birds?
Subsequent study of these finches along with the analysis of their DNA has yielded some interesting information as recorded in a recent paper, entitled ‘Epigenetics and the Evolution of Darwin’s Finches’, found in the proceedings of Genome Biology and Evolution based on a parameter called ‘copy number variations,’ which measures the changes in DNA.
There were relatively more epimutations than genetic CNV [copy number variations] mutations among the five species of Darwin’s finches, which suggests that epimutations are a major component of genome variation during evolutionary change. There was also a statistically significant correlation between the number of epigenetic differences and phylogenetic distance between finches indicating that the number of epigenetic changes continues to accumulate over long periods of evolutionary time (2–3 Myr). In contrast, there was no significant relationship between the number of genetic CNV changes and phylogenetic distance.” (Skinner, 2014, pp. 15-16)
In other words, the changes in the phenotype, or the physical characteristics, of the finches in the study were more closely linked to the epigenetic or non-coding changes as opposed to the changes in the genes. The genes of the bird affecting the size and shape of the beak did not change, rather the non-coding area of the DNA saw changes. Again, these rapid changes within a few generations is not in keeping with the premise of survival of the fittest.
It is certainly interesting to trace of evolution of the theory of evolution since its inception in the 19th century. I would suggest that the original ‘survival of the fittest’ as characterized by Darwin, followed by the era of the gene, may well give way to yet another phase in the study of evolution, that of one centered on the implications of epigenetics.
Gene management versus the gene
The study of epigenetics represents a fascinating new avenue of research into the mechanisms employed by the cell to enable change. Dr. Assad Meymandi, an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, defined epigenetics as operating “very much like a switch on the outside of the genetic circuits and genome that influences the behaviors of a gene. The very prefix epi, which means to lie outside of the root structure, helps explains that, while not an integral part of an organism’s genetic code, epigenetics can influence the gene’s activities from the outside.” (Meymandi, 2010, p. 41).
One of the first characterizations of heritable genetic change came from a study of a small northern Swedish community of Norbotten that was subjected to cycles of feast and famine. The study found that males who had been exposed to famine during their pre-pubescent period produced offspring that had lower incidence of heart disease. Similarly, females who experienced famine while they were in the womb produced daughters who exhibited the same characteristic. (Marcus E Pembrey, 2006, p. 159)
A wide variety of research is now providing corroborative evidence that there are chemical genetic links between generations. For example, can alcoholic fathers influence the well-being of their offspring? The answer appears to be yes.
In the Journal of Animal Cells and Systems we find that “…paternal alcohol exposure prior to conception causes teratogenic and developmental defects in the next generation at pre- and postnatal stage. Furthermore, specific abnormalities such as agenesis [failure in the development of a body part] and exencephaly [defects in the development of the skull] were determined at the fetal stage. Transgenerational toxicity caused by paternal alcohol exposure is possibly mediated through alcohol-induced changes in sperm at the level of the sperm genome. However, the mechanisms of paternal alcohol exposure causing certain transgenerational toxicities remain to be defined.” (Hye Jeong Lee, 2013) Children born to parents, where the father was an alcoholic, showed traits of fetal alcohol syndrome just as if the mother was an alcoholic. The point? The life style of both parents can affect the offspring for several generations. The choices of the fathers can influence the health and well being of children for several generations. These changes can also be reversed as the environment of the second generation is ’embedded’ in the formation of the next generation. It is interesting to note the passage from Exodus, chapter 34, verse 7, which seems to align with this idea. “…visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.”
Dr. Meymandi goes on the provide his assessment of the new field of study.
What is new, however, is the epidemiologic studies from Norrbotten and their defiance of Darwin’s assertion in his seminal work On the Origin of Species (1859) that evolution takes place over millions of years. The Norrbotten studies suggest that evolution and environmental influence affect genes within one or two generations. It does not take millions of years. This is heretical. Suddenly, we have evidence that Darwin was wrong. It takes only 25 to 75 years, 1 to 3 generations, not millennia, for evolution of genes to take place.” (Meymandi, 2010, p. 41)
Research into epigenetics stands to change the prevailing structure and understanding of evolution. Current findings demonstrate that the non-coding areas of DNA have a significant influence on the phenotype of an organism. However, as in the case of the Galapagos finches, that change may not have extended influence beyond several generations. Perhaps Richard Dawkins should consider writing a sequel to his book “The Selfish Gene.” An appropriate title could be “The Subservient Gene.”
Epigenetics may provide answers to a number of maladies from cancer, to lupus and diabetes, even to the effects of poor parenting. (Weinhold, 2006)
My purpose in this discussion regarding the evolution of evolution is to assert that what is espoused by the scientific community today is subject to change with new information. What our grandparents were taught regarding the origin and diversity of life diverged from what we are taught today. Likewise our grandchildren will likely be presented with new and modified theories on this topic.
Let me change direction somewhat now and address the second topic of areas that still remain uncharted from a genetic perspective. But first, a little perspective. Is it appropriate to apply aspects of engineering to the origin and development of an organism? I would suggest that it is. If evolution is to be fully endorsed as the origin of the diversity seen in all life, there must be a clear technical developmental path that can be illustrated and validated for all the required parts and functions. Any device manufactured today has detailed plans and components, a bill of materials. The device requires a defined sequence of activities in order to produce the end product. Random actions will not suffice in the process. I suggest the same is true for biological organisms.
DNA – a library of information
DNA can be considered a cookbook for proteins, enzymes, and hormones; the building blocks of our bodies. These proteins generated by transcribing the code in our DNA are used to support cellular differentiation and function. We, humans, have two strands of DNA, each of which contain about 3 billion base pairs. The analysis of the human genome has produced a variety of estimates of the number of encoding areas, or genes, typically ranging around 22,000. Comparatively, a chicken is believed to have about 17,000 genes and a grape leads with over 30,000. For us, genes represents about 2.5% of the genetic material. About 80%, perhaps going to 100%, of the remainder is identified as non-coding DNA, the stuff of epigenetics. (Parrington, 2015)
All life shares the same fundamental structure within the cell. All living share a common language in how these coding areas of the genome are represented. It is a sequence consisting of four bases, adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine, arranged along a sugar-phosphate backbone of DNA.
As an information technologist, the area that is intriguing is the coding of DNA. In order to generate a protein, a defined sequence of the DNA string is transcribed to what is called messenger RNA. The messenger RNA string is then excised of non-coding items called ‘introns.’ The ribosome is then employed to translate the sequence of bases contained in the RNA string, by sets of three, specifying a lineup of 20 amino acids which is then folded into a specific protein. Genes embedded in DNA can be represented as a data base; it is information that is stored, replicated, repaired and transcribed as needed. (Bruce Alberts, 2008) This particular database contains the information necessary to build itself; an aspect that is perplexing to an engineer. Yet, this multi-step sophisticated process is necessary for all organisms to sustain life. Click on the image below to see a snippit of a Nova presentation on protein production in the cell.
Consider the complexity of a three component code of a sequence of DNA being translated into a specific amino acid. These amino acids are then connected into a string and folded in a specific manner to assemble a protein, one sequence for each of the known genes now numbered around 22,000. The information content of our DNA represents about 18 Gigabytes of information. This multi level translation represents a level of sophistication that, from the perspective of an engineer represents a significant challenge. Could this type of process be generated by a random chemical reaction? Wow, please show me how this developed in a random gradual process over hundreds of millions of years.
Another puzzling aspect of DNA is that, within the gene, there can be multiple transcriptions from a single gene sequence. James A. Shapiro, professor of Microbiology at the University of Chicago characterizes this as a mystery. (Shapiro, 2012). Much like a crossword puzzle requires an overlapping of function, the multiple encodings found within a significant number of genes represents a significant increase in complexity. This complication would also significantly reduce the potential for a beneficial mutation given that mutation would disrupt more than one protein coding sequence. (George Montañez, 2012)
Whether it be the recent discoveries around epigenetics or the research indicating the presence of multiple encodings from genes, research continues to add to the complexity of the genome. Simultaneously, the increase in complexity demands even more of the theory of natural or chemical evolution.
We have spent some time discussing DNA at a cellular level. Let us now extend out into our world. As an organism, we are more than just a collection of cells. In his book Genetic Entropy, John Sanford describes it in this way:
“A human being contains over 100 trillion cells, but we are not 100 trillion cells. I repeat – that is not what we are. we are each truly a singular entity, united in form and function and being. We are the nearly perfect integration of countless components, and as such we comprise a singular new level of reality. The separateness of our existence as people – apart from our molecules- is both wonderfully profound and childishly obvious.” (Sanford, 2014, p. LOC 2796)
We are more than the sum of our parts; the 22 square feet of skin, the 206 bones, the variety of organs, the 100,000 miles of veins and arteries or the 90,000 miles of nerves. While each of us is unique, we do share these and other common characteristics in body shape and function. This prompts the question: Where is the template stored that governs the development of our body?
Neil Shubin, in his book, The Inner Fish, asserts this answer:
It is hard not to feel awestruck watching an animal assemble itself. Just like a brick house, a limb is built by smaller pieces joining to make a larger structure. But there is a huge difference. Houses have a builder, somebody who actually knows where all the bricks need to go; limbs and bodies do not. The information that builds limbs is not in some architectural plan but is contained within each cell. Imagine a house coming together spontaneously from all the information contained in the bricks: that is how animal bodies are made. (Shubin, 2009)
Let me expand on this analogy. if a brick has all the information to build a house, and has the ability to change its characteristics to meet the needs of the structure we have a similar environment to the cellular development of the body. The brick in this case would need to modify its characteristics to meet the particular requirement. Not only would it need to make more bricks, but also plumbing, electrical, plaster and drywall, floor joists, etc. While each house may be slightly different in size, each has the same floors, walls, kitchen appliances, and furnace. Anyone walking through the neighborhood and seeing the houses developed in this fashion could easily spot the consistency of design. While the roof and brick may vary in color, the general layout of the house would be the same. One would easily assume that the same ‘template’ or plan was used in the construction of each house. Similarly, humans all have the same general characteristics; strongly suggesting that there is a single template for each organism. This single template is then ‘customized’ by the DNA to address physical attributes.
As has been described before most, if not all, of our genome is dedicated to the development, manufacture and control of proteins. Our DNA contains information sequences that have been analyzed for their contribution in building each type of cell needed to build and maintain our bodies. It contains information that makes our eyes brown and our hair black. But, to bring all these cells into unity of purpose, much more information is required. If the cell does contain, as Shubin states, all the information necessary to construct our bodies, where does that information reside?
In his book, Life Unfolding, Jamie A. Davis, describes one segment of the early development of the human embryo.
In organizing themselves into different specialized groups, the cells of the neural tube and somite also use cues from an asymmetrical environment. By the stage, though, most of the information involved comes, not from the geometrical properties such as a free surface, but from signaling molecules released by the other tissues. Using these molecules, adjacent tissues engage in a remarkable conversation that allows cells to organize one another into many different types, all precisely arranged.” (Davies, 2014, p. 83)
Later, Davis describes the formulation of the physical body in these terms, speaking of the development of the nervous system and the optical subsystem:
It is all very well to list the guidance cues that a particular set of growth cones [of the eye] uses to navigate, but this begs the question of how the guidance cues come to be made in such an intricate pattern in the first place. The answer – what little we yet understand of it – mirrors a process that has already been described in the context of the embryo as a whole. As cells in the central nervous system develop, a combination of cues provided by neighbouring tissues and the proteins already present in the cells determine which of their genes will be switched on and off. Some of these genes specify the production of signalling molecules that act as cues for other neighbouring cells and can affect their gene expression. In this way an initially simple and homogeneous system can organize itself to become very complicated and heterogeneous. (Davis, 2014, p. 172)
Is it simply a vastly complex choreography, sequence within sequence, of HOX genes, cell migration, and signaling proteins? The human hand, the brain, and the eye, all represent structures of sufficient complexity to require a significant amount of direction. Yet, we humans, in large part end up with finger nails on the correct side of the finger, and amazingly, five appendages that can be trained to work in harmony.
As I see it, there are two choices. One can choose to accept the idea that the cell is ‘smart’ enough to manage the complex development of the organism, or that there is a source of information providing the extracellular guidance needed construct the complex organs from the toenail, on to the intricate functionality of organs such as the eye and the heart, to the hair of one’s head.
Here is where the engineer in me kicks in. Information does not magically appear. Each developing cell responds in a particular fashion to stimulus, expressing or hindering the expression of genes. If the working assumption for how an organism develops, and this information resides within the cell, one should be able to find the ‘game plan’ embedded within the cell. Again, where is it? If the current view of DNA is correct, with about 2.5% dedicated to genes and an estimated 80% associated with the epigenetic control of these genes, little or no room can be ‘assigned’ to the template of the body of the organism. If this template does reside within the cell, as Shubin and other evolutionists assert, no one has found this information.
From a genetic perspective, research indicates that the common genes between chimpanzees and humans is characterized as nearly identical at 99%, but does that tell the whole story?
Quoting from the Deeper Genome: “When used to compare the protein-coding porting of the genome, humans are seen to be 99 per cent similar to a chimpanzee, 85 per cent similar to a mouse, and, confirming the link between all life forms on the planet, even 50 percent similar to a banana. But if the whole human genome is compared to that of a mouse, the similarity is far less, only around 5%. (Parrington, 2015, p. 94)
Most of the differentiation of the genome is found in the non-coding areas, the areas that are not being identified as managing the expression or suppression of the genes. We find in the genome the information to build proteins; where do we find the information on how to construct a body?
Hardware and Software
Just as a personal computer is useless without an operating system, so is most life on earth. For example, a dolphin born in the ocean must be able to swim and understand that air is required on a regular basis. In human beings, there are a variety of systems that need control such as the auditory, visual, respiratory, lymphatic, circulatory, reproductive, digestive and urinary systems.
Each of these require sensory information as well as control information in order to operate correctly. One response is that these systems are trained while the organism is in development. If so, where is the structure to direct and accumulate the control information? One example of the coordination needed to survive is the process of swallowing which requires the closely timed sequence in the activation of 50 pairs of muscles and a number of nerves to accomplish the task. (Med Central) Without such ‘software,’ as represented by the coordination needed to swallow, infants could not survive.
Where does this information, or alternatively, where is the mechanism to gather and catalog the various processed needed to maintain life? If it is housed within the cell, then, where is it?
In his book, The Origin of Species, Darwin titled Chapter 8 as ‘Instinct,’ with this description:
“I will not attempt any definition of instinct. It would be easy to show that several distinct mental actions are commonly embraced by this term; but everyone understands what is meant, when it is said that instinct impels the cuckoo to migrate and lay her eggs in other birds’ nests.” (Darwin, 1958 reprint, p. 233)
Perhaps, this trait could be defined as “an innate, typically fixed pattern of behavior in animals in response to certain stimuli.” I would like to use the Cuckoo bird as an example of different aspect of information management. (Richard Dawkins used the same bird as a representation of ‘stealth survival’ patterns, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dy8Yy9nyi74) Here is a picture of a reed warbler, following its natural instincts to feed a cuckoo chick that hatched in its nest.
There are a number of varieties of Cuckoo that do not build its own nests, rather it is what is called a ‘brood parasite.’ About 40% of the species of cuckoo demonstrate this trait where the female Cuckoo will extract a single egg, while the parents are away, from the nest of a Reed Warbler, or other surrogate, and replace it with a Cuckoo egg while the Warbler is away. When the Cuckoo hatches, it pushes the other eggs or chicks out of the nest and is fed by the Reed Warbler as if it were the true chick. (Davies N. , 2015)
While this is an interesting example of adaptation, I would ask a different question. Somehow, the complex action and physical process of emptying the next was imprinted in the Cuckoo before the chick hatched. Given that the Cuckoo chick never saw its mother, where did the knowledge imprint come from which drives the behavior? Who taught the chick to push the other occupants out of the nest and how was this information transferred to the next generation?
This again demands that information be made available in the young that represents a significant amount of complex multicellular processes. Yet another mystery that would need to be addressed by the scientific community. Again, this information, according to the scientists of evolution, must be found within the cell. But, information does not magically appear. These types of complex behavior or processes, if indeed are housed within the cell, the ‘knowledge’ must somehow transfer from the cell to the brain of the organism. There is no logical explanation within evolution to address the inception and transfer of the knowledge to the entity.
From the perspective of the scientific community, all this information must be found within the cell. There can be no external influence needed in the development and continuation of life. The alternative, which is anathema to a scientist, is that there is an external source of information in the development of an organism’s physical template, control structure, and imbedded information. That external source could be the ‘spirit,’ that non-physical element that, in some unknown process, provides not only the template for the physical body (customized by DNA), but also the control processes and embedded intelligence. From the Doctrine and Covenants, section 88, verse 15, we read that “… the spirit and the body are the soul of man.” If this is the case, no answer will be forthcoming from the scientific perspective on life and the development of complex structures from a single cell.
Origin of Life
How life began on earth is not typically treated by evolutionary theory. Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True, comments on the situation:
“Evolutionary biology deals only with what happens after life (which I’ll define as self reproducing organisms or molecules) came into being. The origin of life itself is the remit not of evolutionary biology, but of abiogenesis, a scientific field that encompasses chemistry, geology, and molecular biology. Because this field is in its infancy, and has yet given few answers, I’ve omitted from this book any discussion on how life on earth began.” (Coyne, 2009, p. 231)
While Coyne may feel justified in avoiding this fundamental question, the topic needs to be addressed. Perhaps, the best place to start is to ask the question: Have the key components of a living cell been replicated in the laboratory under conditions that could resemble the primitive earth? The answer is yes and no. Most, but not all, of the amino acids used in the assembly of proteins have been manufactured in the laboratory. All of the basic components of RNA, as an assumed precursor to DNA, including ribose have been produced, typically in a combination of hydrogen sulfide and hydrogen cyanide excited by ultraviolet light. The manufacture of the basic components represent only the first step on the process of reaching the point where evolution is stated to take over. Ward and Kirschvink captures the essence of the problem:
…RNA is a fragile molecule, large and complicated, and thus very easily destroyed. Water attacks and breaks up the nucleic acid polymers (strings of smaller molecules) that make up RNA. In fact, it appears that there are many steps required in making RNA, and each step would require different conditions, or a different chemical environment. (Ward, 2015, p. 55)
The coordinated development of long RNA molecules and a cellular structure to protect the easily damaged nucleotides is the theorized path in the creation of life from non-life. These molecules would then need to replicate along with the cell structure. While theories abound, there is no clear validated path to a cell capable of replication that carried sufficient information and energy management to be considered ‘live.’
Most experiments have been done in the absence of oxygen, known to degrade these molecules fairly quickly. Likewise, most scientist hold that life developed initially in a world with little oxygen, otherwise the fundamental molecules would not have persisted.
Nick Lane, in his book, Oxygen – The Molecule that Made the World, states:
Free oxygen would have been an insurmountable problem, because any organic molecules, or incipient forms of life, would have been shredded if much oxygen was present. The fact that life did start can only mean that oxygen was not present in any abundance. (Lane, 2003, p. 18)
Yet, oxygen forms the basis for energy utilization in all multi-cellular life today. The quandary still exists today. We couldn’t begin life with it and we can’t live without it.
To overcome these obstacles, Kirschvink has championed ‘panspermia,’ supporting the ‘radical notion that life not only formed on Mars more than 4 billion years ago, but that it came to Earth on meteorites..’ (Ward, 2015, p. 57) The authors came to this conclusion after a detailed review of the current range of alternatives. Unfortunately, if abiogenesis, to the development of life from non-life requires the early protocells hitchhiking on a meteor from Mars, we need to find another story.
From an evolution standpoint as a law of nature, I would have a number of items on my shelf.
The theory of evolution continues to evolve as new information is gathered and analyzed. From Darwin’s natural selection to today’s emerging epigenetic research, the complexity and information content of the genome continues to expand. It now appears the there is more to the process than the slow gradual survival of the fittest.
DNA represents a managed database of information to produce and manage the proteins necessary for sustaining life. Information doesn’t simply spring into existence.
The structure of life, as demonstrated by human beings, exhibits a significant organization and compartmentalization in the migration from a zygote to a full featured organism. How that process is guided begs for something more than the production of signaling molecules.
There is a need for both hardware and software in the development of life. We come into this life with the basic operating system and equipped with the ability to gather and process information. If this ‘software’ can only find its source within the cell, where is it located and how does it drive development?
Finally, plausible scenarios for the origin of life require both the presence and absence of oxygen. A feat that will challenge scientists for years to come.
As I look at the circumstances surrounding the theory of evolution, I do submit that there is plenty of room for something akin to faith as one considers the breadth of information necessary to build an organism relying solely on the information contained within the originating cell. As an engineer, the gaps in the story present a significant impediment to holding the theory of evolution as ‘true.’ One may reason that the scientific community has simply not determined that answers yet, but each successive discovery seems to require an answer even more difficult to achieve.
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One of the reasons I still listen to conference is for the music. These are the songs I came to love as I grew up in the church. I am, by no means, a singer but I do try to sing parts to some of the songs. Music has a way to calm the soul and deflect the cares and tribulations of the world. Songs can evoke emotion which, I believe, is a method of communication with heaven, perhaps represented by the harps of God.
As my spiritual world shifted, my appreciation for songs and lyrics also began to broaden. I, recently, came across a song that has touched my spirit and buoyed my soul. It is called “Glory and Honor” written by Keith Lancaster, and is found, among other places, on the album Heaven and Earth by Acappella. If you haven’t heard the song, take a moment to listen.
Here are the words:
When I’m there with You in heaven
What a wondrous joy will be
Gathered with the angel chorus
Standing by the glassy sea
Such a thought is hard to fathom
In the presence of my King
And with countless ones forgiven
Gathered round the throne to sing
Glory and honor, worthy is the Lamb (worthy is the Lamb)
Glory and honor, worthy is the Lamb (worthy is the Lamb)
Mortal words cannot express it
All the ways You reign supreme
Even death can’t hold the vastness
Nor approach this awesome theme
You are God and to Your glory
We will worship and abide
In Your presence there forever
We’ll be happy to reside
Ooh… (worthy is the Lamb)
Worthy is the Lamb (worthy is the Lamb), worthy is the Lamb
The reference, of course, comes from Revelations, chapter 15. Here is the quote from the King James Bible:
And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God.
And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.
Some of us may have a different interpretation of the ‘glassy sea’ reverenced in the song, as section 130 of the Doctrine and Covenants illuminates.
The angels do not reside on a planet like this earth.
They reside in the presence of God, on a glove like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord.
The place where God resides is a great Urim and Thummim.
This earth, in its sanctified and immortal state, will be made like unto a crystal and will be a Urim and Thummim to the inhabitants who dwell thereon, whereby all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom, or all kingdoms of a lower order, will be manifest to those who dwell on it; and this earth will be Christ’s.
While there is much that can be discussed on this topic, my point is the song carries a deeper understanding of the need for us to overcome the beast in our lives and the preparations needed to live on the flaming glassy sea, in the presence of the Lord.
As I pondered the messages of the October 2016 general conference, one talk that stood out to me given my current spiritual worldview was that given by M. Russell Ballard. I found that it spoke to a number of the issues with which believers struggle today. To start, I heartily agree with his plea to those whose faith is ‘faltering.’
Never abandon the great truths revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Never stop reading, pondering, and applying the doctrine of Christ contained in the Book of Mormon.
Never fail to give equal time to the Lord through honest attempts to understand what the Lord has revealed. As my dear friend and former colleague Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, “We should not assume … that just because something is unexplainable by us it is unexplainable.”
Not only should one study the ‘truths revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith,’ but should also seek to understand how those truths are held today by the church and the general administration. Are those truths prominent today in the discourse of the church or are they, as the doctrine of the Doctrine and Covenants (also known as the Lectures on Faith) been excised from the focus of the church and replaced by the traditions of men?
Is the doctrine of Christ as contained in the Book of Mormon truly central to the message of the modern day church? Is the necessity of the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost as prominent in church teachings today as it is in the ‘doctrine of Christ’ found in Second and Third Nephi? The doctrine of Christ presented by the Savior as He taught the Nephites after His resurrection included this warning:
…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.
Does the doctrine of Christ stand in clarity as the doctrine of the church of Jesus Christ or does it have elements of the traditions of men injected into it or the core components of salvation removed from it? One must study this out and seek the direction of the Spirit or answers.
Elder Ballard then proceeded to ask some important questions that each of us must answer, my response follows:
Where will you go to find others who share your belief in personal, loving Heavenly Parents, who teach us how to return to Their eternal presence?
Are there others outside the Church, (some by their own choice and some who had no choice) who share a belief in a Father and Mother God? Are there those who literally believe that the doctrine of Christ and other important information found in the scriptures teach us explicitly how to return to their presence? I would offer an emphatic yes. While the church offers a socially supportive environment, it does not place personal salvation in the forefront. Rather, one is called upon to support the brethren, attend the temple, pay tithing and, is time is left, do your home teaching. None of these activities are specifically mentioned in the doctrine of Christ from the scriptures.
Where will you go to be taught about a Savior who is your best friend, who not only suffered for your sins but who also suffered “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind” so “that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities,” including, I believe, the infirmity of loss of faith?
The scriptures speak of our opportunity to know Christ at a personal level. The promise found in D&C 93 encourages us to enter His presence and receive of His comfort. Is the church placing itself as the gate for this privilege? The role of His church should be to help members to establish this relationship on their own efforts and not rely on an intermediary for any communion with Heaven.
Where will you go to learn more about Heavenly Father’s plan for our eternal happiness and peace, a plan that is filled with wondrous possibilities, teachings, and guidance for our mortal and eternal lives? Remember, the plan of salvation gives mortal life meaning, purpose, and direction.
Go to the scriptures, go to your Father in Heaven, seek to fulfill the promise of the doctrine of Christ found in chapter 32 of Second Nephi that after we have ‘entered in by the way,’ we have the ability to speak with the tongues of angels and be guided in all we do. No apostles or general conferences are necessary. The authority to baptize historically given to the church does not extend to all communications with God.
Where will you go to find a detailed and inspired Church organizational structure through which you are taught and supported by men and women who are deeply committed to serving the Lord by serving you and your family?
Where is the inspiration recorded that authorizes this Church organizational structure in the first place? Where does the Lord establish a salaried bureaucracy under His name? Which aspect of the three-fold mission of the church supports the billion plus dollar expenditure of sacred funds for the construction of an upscale mall? Where are we told to only seek instruction from these leaders? Where are we told allegiance to this organizational structure is a pre-requisite to other benefits, such as temple attendance? The traditions of men have taken precedence over the doctrine of Christ. His organization, as characterized in Third Nephi, is made up those who acted as ministers and servants, not as rock stars deserving of the highest of obeisance.
Where will you go to find living prophets and apostles, who are called by God to give you another resource for counsel, understanding, comfort, and inspiration for the challenges of our day?
Recorded in the Old Testament is a story of a gardener who was called as a prophet to preach repentance to the established religious organization. I am sure you recall his famous saying: ‘Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.’ Is it any different today? Should we expect prophets to appear preaching repentance to those who have erred. The secret that Amos carried was that nothing short of sincere repentance would suffice for those to whom he was sent; otherwise the Lord would withdraw His protection. Are there prophets, outside the establishment, among us today who are brought before us by the Lord to preach repentance? I would offer an emphatic YES!
Where will you go to find people who live by a prescribed set of values and standards that you share and want to pass along to your children and grandchildren?
What are these prescribed values and standards that we are encouraged to live by? Do you speak of the Word of Wisdom? Do you speak of white shirts and ties required to meet the community standard? Do these values and standards bring anything other than a feeling of exclusivity to the proponents? While the church may pride itself on teaching values, it is simply not pertinent to the doctrine of Christ. There are good people outside the church who have similar values and standards without the baggage.
And where will you go to experience the joy that comes through the saving ordinances and covenants of the temple?
Which covenants and ordinances of the temple are you referring to – the Joseph Smith version, the Brigham Young version, the pre-1990’s version or today’s version? Each carries with it differences in covenants. True joy comes from the same source as Alma received it. It comes from being born again. It comes from having our sins purged and our hearts changed. No temple is necessary for that profound and life changing experience.
Brothers and sisters, accepting and living the gospel of Christ can be challenging. It has always been thus, and it ever will be. Life can be like hikers ascending a steep and arduous trail. It is a natural and normal thing to occasionally pause on the path to catch our breath, to recalculate our bearings, and to reconsider our pace. Not everyone needs to pause on the path, but there is nothing wrong with doing so when your circumstances require. In fact, it can be a positive thing for those who take full advantage of the opportunity to refresh themselves with the living water of the gospel of Christ.
I would suggest that the church can be likened to a bus that will carry you part of the way on your journey. To climb that steep and arduous trail, one must put on their own shoes (faith) and tread the trail. No bus will take you up the steep incline. I would encourage all to pause on the path they are on. Seek the Lord in humble prayer and receive of His Spirit. There is no value in relying on an organization to save you. There is no value in completing the checklist. The Lord calls upon your heart to be changed. He invites you belong to His church by repenting and coming unto Him. No more, no less.
I join Elder Ballard in this component of his testimony:
I testify that there is “no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ… I further testify that the Lord “inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; … and all are alike unto God.”
What think ye?
This post was adapted from a presentation given at Sunstone Kirtland in May 2016.
Growing up as a faithful Mormon, I never recall any discussion about being born again. The message I received was that my path would be to accept my water baptism when I turned eight years old. In this baptism, I would be washed and cleansed of sin. Then, being confirmed a member of the church by the laying on of hands, I would have the gift of the presence of the Holy Ghost as long as I maintained my worthiness. It was implied to me that no one outside the church would have access to this special bestowal. Today, as you may understand from my earlier blog posts, I hold that the remission of sins is a product of sincere repentance, the baptism of water followed by the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. Thus, as defined in the doctrine of Christ, we are told that steps represent the gate which we must pass through in order to be on the strait and narrow path to eternal life (2 Nephi 31:17-18). Nephi states that ‘there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God’ (2 Nephi 31:21).
So, what does it mean to be born again in the context of Mormonism? Do we have it ‘covered’ within our spiritual practice and can, therefore, leave the concept of being born again to the evangelical Christians? I have been prompted to examine the aspects of being born again from both a scriptural and ritual perspective. What is it that we are asked to do in order to enter the kingdom of God? Please allow me to start from what could be considered mainstream evangelical Christianity. What does it mean to be born again?
Who better to rely on for a traditional evangelical Christian definition of being ‘born again’ than Billy Graham:
My prayer is that you too may be born again and become part of God’s family. By a simple prayer of faith, tell God that you know you are a sinner, and you are sorry for your sins. Then ask Christ to come into your life and save you. When you do, God will come to live within you by His Spirit, and you will be born again. (Billy Graham, http://billygraham.org/answer/what-is-your-definition-of-a-born-again-christian/)
As an evangelical Christian, being saved (cleansed of sin) is a result of being born again – the act of acknowledging one’s sinful nature, expressing sorrow and inviting Christ to save us. Is that sufficient from a Biblical perspective? Let me primarily center on what we can learn from the Bible and latter-day scriptures relative to this spiritual experience, where being born again fits and how it relates to the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost.
I hold that there are many terms that are used in the scriptures that convey the same meaning and experience; born again, becoming a new creature, a mighty change, filled with the spirit, born of God, converted, sanctified, cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, purified, receive a remission of sins, receive the Holy Ghost, become sons and daughters of God, baptized by fire and by the Holy Ghost, redeemed of God. All of these phrases speak to the specific event in our lives and the associated implications on our spiritual well-being.
Have you been born again, born of water and of the spirit? Let’s examine the topic from the perspective of the New Testament.
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:1-5)
According to the words of the Lord found in John, being born again is needed to comprehend the kingdom of God. Could it be that we must be born again to understand what the kingdom of God means, to be able to comprehend it? Secondly this dual baptism of both water and of the spirit is necessary to enter the kingdom of God. While these verses represent the core of the experience of the evangelical, what should they teach us in the larger context of the scriptures?
I would suggest that there are other scriptures in the New Testament that should be considered on this topic. First, let’s start with a comment by John the Baptist:
I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire. (Matthew 3:11)
These words, spoken by John during his ministry (also recorded in Luke 3:16) represent the only instance of the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost found in the Bible. I would suggest that the response to Nicodemus and the comment by John are talking about the same concept. That the words ‘being born again’ and the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost are speaking of the same event.
To understand how I came to this, let me start with Peter. We are all familiar of the event where Peter, as a disciple, stated the depths of his allegiance to Christ.
And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:
But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.
And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death.
And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me. (Luke 22:31-34)
I would suggest that there is a difference between having a testimony and being ‘converted.’ Peter had a testimony but, according to Christ, he was not converted. When was Peter converted and what are the implications on us?
For Peter and the rest of the twelve, I would suggest that this conversion occurred on the Day of Pentecost.
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1-4)
The apostles and those with them were baptized by fire and by the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost. I believe this was in fulfillment of the words of John the Baptist. They were then converted, their hearts were changed, they were born again. It was with the power of this experience that Peter was able to heal the lame man, the next event described in the Acts of the Apostles. What kind of spiritual experience is sufficient to ‘convert’ us? Is it enough for us to be shuttled into the water when we are eight years old and be confirmed a member of the church, or is there more to this? Is it different from what Peter and the apostles experienced?
I would suggest that the introduction of the gospel to the gentiles provides an additional description of the baptism component in the conversion process. Cornelius was a centurion, a non-Jew, who had a vision of an angel of God. The angel told Cornelius to send for Simon Peter. As the men Cornelius sent neared the city, Peter, while praying on the roof, had a vision where he was told to kill and eat a variety of clean and unclean animals. When Peter objected, he was told “what God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” (Acts 10:15) Peter was led by the spirit to return with the men to Cornelius. Peter began to preach to those who had assembled with Cornelius of their witness of Jesus Christ.
And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.
To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.”
And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.
For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,
Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days. (Acts 10:42-48)
It is important to note that Peter spoke of the remission of sins. It was when he, Peter, spoke these words that the Holy Ghost came upon those that were listening. I hold that the reason for the timing is that this baptism of the Holy Ghost, as we learn in the Book of Mormon, is the conduit for a remission of sins. It is also interesting to note that though Cornelius had been baptized by fire, he was subsequently baptized with water. Also note that those with Peter equated the experience that Cornelius with what they had experienced on the day of Pentecost when they received the Holy Ghost. Cornelius has been converted and baptized by fire and by the Holy Ghost, just as Peter had been ‘converted.’
What is the Mormon version of being born again? I would suggest that the latter-day scriptures contain a significant amount of dialog around the concept of being born again.
And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? (Alma 5:14)
What is the change of heart discussed here? What is it to be spiritually born of God? Let us turn to the Book of Mormon.
It is interesting to note that Alma the younger was likely present at the sermon of King Benjamin but may have been too young to fully appreciate the experience. By the way, what does that tell us of what age we need to be to be accountable? Here is part of Alma’s story from the Book of Mosiah.
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 as I said unto you, as they were going about rebelling against God, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto them; and he descended as it were in a cloud; and he spake as it were with a voice of thunder, which caused the earth to shake upon which they stood;
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.
And now behold, can ye dispute the power of God? For behold, doth not my voice shake the earth? And can ye not also behold me before you? And I am sent from God.
Now I say unto thee: Go, and remember the captivity of thy fathers in the land of Helam, and in the land of Nephi; and remember how great things he has done for them; for they were in bondage, and he has delivered them. And now I say unto thee, Alma, go thy way, and seek to destroy the church no more, that their prayers may be answered, and this even if thou wilt of thyself be cast off.
And now it came to pass that these were the last words which the angel spake unto Alma, and he departed.
And now Alma and those that were with him fell again to the earth, for great was their astonishment; for with their own eyes they had beheld an angel of the Lord; and his voice was as thunder, which shook the earth; and they knew that there was nothing save the power of God that could shake the earth and cause it to tremble as though it would part asunder.
And now the astonishment of Alma was so great that he became dumb, that he could not open his mouth; yea, and he became weak, even that he could not move his hands; therefore he was taken by those that were with him, and carried helpless, even until he was laid before his father. (Mosiah 27:8,11,14-19)
Alma the younger, along with the sons of Mosiah, were leading people away from God. The prayers of his father appear to be, at least partially, responsible for his angelic experience. His father, Alma, sought to restore strength to his son through prayer and fasting.
And he caused that the priests should assemble themselves together; and they began to fast, and to pray to the Lord their God that he would open the mouth of Alma, that he might speak, and also that his limbs might receive their strength—that the eyes of the people might be opened to see and know of the goodness and glory of God.
And it came to pass after they had fasted and prayed for the space of two days and two nights, the limbs of Alma received their strength, and he stood up and began to speak unto them, bidding them to be of good comfort:
For, said he, I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit.
And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;
And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. (Mosiah 27:22-26)
Alma was a changed man, he became a new creature. He defined his experience as being born of the Spirit and being redeemed of the Lord. From this event, I would suggest that being born again is how we are invited into the family of the Lord, how we become sons and daughters of God and inherit the kingdom of God
Later as recorded in Alma 38, Alma talks of his experience with his son Shiblon.
And it came to pass that I was three days and three nights in the most bitter pain and anguish of soul; and never, until I did cry out unto the Lord Jesus Christ for mercy, did I receive a remission of my sins. But behold, I did cry unto him and I did find peace to my soul. (Alma 38:8)
What should we take from Alma’s experience? All mankind must be born again; this mighty change is accompanied by a remission of our sins. We are a new creature; we have cast off the natural man. What is this experience supposed to be like for us. Are we all challenged to seek the same kind of experience that Alma had? Here is the response given by a current general authority of the Church from a recent fireside.
What should we pray for to receive the same testimony if not conversion that Alma the Younger experienced??
Elder Oaks answers:
What should you pray for to have the kind of experience that Alma the Younger had? I don’t think you are likely to have the kind of experience that Alma the Younger had, remember he had a miraculous appearance of an angel and really got hit over the head, spiritually. Most of us don’t have that kind of experience, but I interpret your question, Heather, as being ‘how can we get the kind of testimony that he received.’ I don’t think we will get it like Paul did on the road to [Damascus] where an angel appeared to him, where Alma the younger had that startling experience. The Lord gives a few of those kinds of experiences and they are recorded in the scriptures to catch our attention and teach us the answer.
But, I’ve never had an experience like that and I don’t know anyone among the 1st Presidency or Quorum of the 12 who’ve had that kind of experience. Yet everyone of us knows of a certainty the things that Alma knew. But it’s just that unless the Lord chooses to do it another way, as he sometimes does; for millions and millions of His children the testimony settles upon us gradually, like so much dust on the windowsill, or so much dew on the grass. One day you didn’t have it and another day you did and you don’t know which day it happened. That’s the way I got my testimony.
And then I knew it was true when it continued to grow. And what you have to do to get that is, first of all, is to desire it, and as I explained earlier, when I was your age, I don’t think I had the level of desire that I wish I had had. We desire it and then we do our best to keep the commandments so the Lord can fulfill for us that promise that if you keep the commandments, you will come to know that it is true. (Dallin H. Oaks, multi-stake youth fireside in Bellevue, Washington on 1/23/2016)
Is getting a testimony, as Peter had when he was challenged by Christ, sufficient to enter his kingdom? I do not find scriptural support for that idea. Just has Peter was told that his testimony was not complete; that he was still to be converted, so should we seek this complete conversion to Him.
How should we treat the examples on the latter day scriptures of being born again, and of receiving a remission of our sins? What does it take to be ‘saved’ according to latter day scripture? I would suggest being born again and receiving a remission of our sins. If you call yourself a ‘Latter-day Saint, is this not the equivalent to being sanctified, as the name of the church signifies?
I would suggest we take Alma at his word. He states that he had been ‘born of the Spirit,’ Further he said that ‘ all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again. What better witness does one need to encourage us to seek to understand what baptism is and the role that baptism plays in our spiritual development.
From a Mormon perspective, let me start with this question: What is baptism?
As we read earlier in John chapter 3, to enter the kingdom of God, one must be born of water and of the Spirit. Here is what I feel is the equivalent statement from the Book of Mormon:
And ye will also know that ye are a remnant of the seed of Jacob; therefore ye are numbered among the people of the first covenant; and if it so be that ye believe in Christ, and are baptized, first with water, then with fire and with the Holy Ghost, following the example of our Savior, according to that which he hath commanded us, it shall be well with you in the day of judgment. (Mormon 7:10)
I would suggest that the definitions are consistent between the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. Baptism has two components, water and spirit. If one adopts this definition, throughout the scriptures ‘baptism’ takes on a new meaning.
Elder Bednar, in the April 2016 general conference reinforced this point with several statements by the Prophet Joseph Smith which emphasize the vital linkage between the ordinances of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Statement 1: “Baptism is a holy ordinance preparatory to the reception of the Holy Ghost; it is the channel and key by which the Holy Ghost will be administered.”21
Statement 2: “You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half—that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost.”22
Statement 3: “The baptism of water, without the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost attending it, is of no use. They are necessarily and inseparably connected.”23 Bednar, April Conference 2016, Always Retain a Remission of our Sins
Let’s look at some of the other events found in the Book of Mormon that relate to being born again, receiving a remission of our sins, and the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. First, let’s consider the teachings of the Savior as he was among the Nephites.
And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words unto Nephi, and to those who had been called, (now the number of them who had been called, and received power and authority to baptize, was twelve) and behold, he stretched forth his hand unto the multitude, and cried unto them, saying: Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants; and unto them I have given power that they may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost; therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am.
And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am. Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins. (3 Nephi 12:1-2)
The disciples that Christ picked were given the power to baptize with water those who accepted His message. But, Christ also promised to baptize the Nephites with fire and the Holy Ghost. Through that experience they would receive a remission of their sins. I would suggest that this is a critical element in identifying other born again narratives in the scriptures. The baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost the mechanism to receive a remission of one’s sins.
In an act of obedience, the disciples were the first to partake of the baptism through the power granted by the Lord.
And it came to pass that Nephi went down into the water and was baptized.
And he came up out of the water and began to baptize. And he baptized all those whom Jesus had chosen.
And it came to pass when they were all baptized and had come up out of the water, the Holy Ghost did fall upon them, and they were filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
And behold, they were encircled about as if it were by fire; and it came down from heaven, and the multitude did witness it, and did bear record; and angels did come down out of heaven and did minister unto them. (3 Nephi 19:11-14)
Again, the baptism by water, following by the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost were demonstrated among the disciples of Christ among the Nephites. I also find it interesting that this experience followed the administration of the sacrament.
How about Enos and his effort to receive a remission of his sins?
And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.
Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.
And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.
And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.
And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.
And I said: Lord, how is it done?
And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen. And many years pass away before he shall manifest himself in the flesh; wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole. (Enos 1:2-8)
For some, the experience will come as with Alma. For others, it may require a humility-induced prayer that lasts into the night. Enos received a remission of his sins, implicit in this is that he was baptized by fire and by the Holy Ghost; his guilt was replaced with joy.
The preceding events, those of Alma and Enos, recount the experience of being born again as an individual. Let’s look at the group experience. As we read in Mosiah, King Benjamin given a message by an angel to deliver to his people.
And the Lord God hath sent his holy prophets among all the children of men, to declare these things to every kindred, nation, and tongue, that thereby whosoever should believe that Christ should come, the same might receive remission of their sins, and rejoice with exceedingly great joy, even as though he had already come among them. (Mosiah 3:13)
Mosiah taught the people that they had to humble themselves before God.
For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 3:19)
The people of King Benjamin were instructed that they needed to ‘become a saint through the enticings of the Holy Spirit.’ If you call yourself a Saint, you should seek to be sanctified, cleansed of sin. They were told that they gift of joy was available to the through the reception of a remission of their sin. There appears to be two key two things that are needed – humility and earnest prayer. The people took this instruction to heart as we read in Mosiah, chapter 4:
And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.
And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them. (Mosiah 4:2-3)
Note that these people asked for their hearts to be purified. The resulting experience filled them with joy and they received a remission of their sins. This is their response:
And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually. (Mosiah 5:2)
The people of King Benjamin experienced a mighty change in their hearts. They no longer held a disposition to do evil. This experience changed them in a fundamental manner, they were converted, they were, in their hearts, a different and new creature and they received a remission of their sins.
Not only did they have the experience, but they were taught how to retain a remission of their sins. In effect, how one can preserve the sanctifying power in their lives going forward.
And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.
And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true. (Mosiah 4:11-12)
Humility and prayer are, given what we gather from the experience of the people of King Benjamin, the keys to retaining a remission of our sins. But, this is not all, we must also act upon what we have received. The was an inner change but also an outer change.
And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants. (Mosiah 4:26)
Being born of God changes how we treat those around us. We are to demonstrate that all people are to share in the gifts of the spirit as well as in the material of this world. We are taught from this example, that we can retain a remission of our sins. I take this to mean that we can remain sinless going forward through humility, prayer, and service to others. The New Testament appears to agree:
Whosoever is born of God doth not continue in sin, for the Spirit of God remaineth in him; for he cannot continue in sin, because he is born of God, having received the holy Spirit of promise. (JST 1 John 3:9)
Let’s now look at another ‘mass conversion event from the Book of Mormon. In Helaman we find the story of the two missionaries, Nephi and Lehi, who are imprisoned by the Lamanites and are facing death.
And after they had been cast into prison many days without food, behold, they went forth into the prison to take them that they might slay them.
And it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi were encircled about as if by fire, even insomuch that they durst not lay their hands upon them for fear lest they should be burned. Nevertheless, Nephi and Lehi were not burned; and they were as standing in the midst of fire and were not burned. (Helaman 5:22-23)
Nephi and Lehi were ‘encircled about as if by fire,’ for the benefit of the Lamanites who had come to put them to death. As the event transpired, they were stopped by the darkness and sought to understand what they were seeing.
And they said unto the man: Behold, what do all these things mean, and who is it with whom these men do converse?
Now the man’s name was Aminadab. And Aminadab said unto them: They do converse with the angels of God.
And it came to pass that the Lamanites said unto him: What shall we do, that this cloud of darkness may be removed from overshadowing us?
And Aminadab said unto them: You must repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you.
And it came to pass that they all did begin to cry unto the voice of him who had shaken the earth; yea, they did cry even until the cloud of darkness was dispersed.
And it came to pass that when they cast their eyes about, and saw that the cloud of darkness was dispersed from overshadowing them, behold, they saw that they were encircled about, yea every soul, by a pillar of fire.
And Nephi and Lehi were in the midst of them; yea, they were encircled about; yea, they were as if in the midst of a flaming fire, yet it did harm them not, neither did it take hold upon the walls of the prison; and they were filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.
And behold, the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire, and they could speak forth marvelous words. (Helaman 5:38-45)
The three hundred Lamanites were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost. But they began the process not understanding what was happening. They were instructed to pray until the darkness as dispersed. They were freed from the cloud of darkness and exhibited the gifts of the spirit. These Lamanites were able to receive this gift because of the faith of Nephi and Lehi. They were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost as we read in Ether 12:
Behold, it was the faith of Nephi and Lehi that wrought the change upon the Lamanites, that they were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost. (Ether 12:14)
The footnote in Helaman 5:45 points to 3 Nephi 9. This scripture has been used to suggest that the baptism of fire can be an imperceptible change over time. I find no support for that concept in the examples in the scriptures.
And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not. (3 Nephi 9:20)
I would submit that the change that occurred to the 300 Lamanites was not imperceptible, rather, they did not understand what was happening to them until they were taught. Examples in the scriptures all characterize the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost as an event, not as a process. In each case, humility and fervent prayer were the qualifiers for the experience. Being born of the spirit enabled a remission of their sins and was a source of great joy. An experience that all mankind should seek.
What is the connection between the gospel and being born again or receiving the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost? Here are two definitions of the gospel from the Doctrine and Covenants:
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)
In these two definitions of the gospel, we come to understand the centrality of the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. Two aspects of baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, first is a remission of sins as the drought is burned out of us as is by fire. And, second, the words of Christ that teach us all things that we should do. Baptism is both a cleansing and an enlightening experience. (2 Nephi 32:3)
In 3 Nephi, chapter 27, Christ defined his gospel and summed it up in this way:
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; (3 Nephi 27:20-21)
Shouldn’t being called a saint suggest that we have been sanctified, or cleansed of sin? Shouldn’t we be, as the people of King Benjamin, able to exhibit the traits and characteristics of new creatures, those who have been redeemed of God?
Let’s look at the doctrine of Christ. In 2 Nephi:31:2, Nephi states that he was to ‘speak concerning the doctrine of Christ’ – he described that we are to follow the example of the Savior and receive the baptism of water and the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost.
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)
According to the doctrine of Christ as expounded upon by Nephi, we are not on the strait and narrow path to eternal life until we have received the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. In a similar vein, Moroni tells us that we are to have this experience before we are to be numbered with the church of Christ
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 6:3-4)
What would our congregations look like today if only those who had been cleansed of sin through the power of the Holy Ghost were a included? I would suggest that being ‘numbered among the people of the church of Christ’ is equivalent to membership in his church today. Could one say that the reception of both a baptism of water and of the spirit are required today to be a member of His church?
What does Christ say of His doctrine regarding the baptism of fire when He was among the Nephites?
Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.
And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Baptism, first by water, and then by fire and the Holy Ghost, is core to the gospel of Jesus Christ. These principles are also present, and central to the doctrine of Jesus Christ, even to the point of no other doctrine shall be permitted. It is important to consider the weight of this statement that ‘whoso declare more or less than this’ is not aligned with the doctrine of Christ. Could the doctrine of Christ be so simple yet so complete?
Descriptions of the experience can also be found in the annals of the membership. Here we find a description from the journal of Parley P. Pratt.
My dear wife [Thankful Halsey Pratt] had now lived to accomplish her destiny; and when the child was dressed, and she had looked upon it and embraced it, she ceased to live in the flesh. Her death happened about three hours after the birth of this child of promise. A few days previous to her death she had a vision in open day while sitting in her room. She was overwhelmed or immersed in a pillar of fire, which seemed to fill the whole room, as if it would consume it and all things therein; and the Spirit whispered to her mind, saying: “Thou art baptized with fire and the Holy Ghost.” It also intimated to her that she should have the privilege of departing from this world of sorrow and pain, and of going to the Paradise of rest as soon as she had fulfilled the prophecy in relation to the promised son. This vision was repeated on the next day at the same hour, viz: twelve o’clock. She was overwhelmed with a joy and peace indescribable, and seemed changed in her whole nature from that time forth. (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972. p. 166; italics added.)
President Lorenzo Snow also relates the choice experience of his rebirth:
Some two or three weeks after I was baptized, one day while engaged in my studies, I began to reflect upon the fact that I had not obtained a knowledge of the truth of the work … and I began to feel very uneasy. I laid aside my books, left the house, and wandered around through the fields under the oppressive influence of a gloomy, disconsolate spirit, while an indescribable cloud of darkness seemed to envelope me. I had been accustomed, at the close of the day, to retire for secret prayer, to a grove … but at this time I felt no inclination to do so. The spirit of prayer had departed and the heavens seemed like brass over my head. At length, realizing that the usual time had come for secret prayer, I concluded I would not forego my evening service, and, as a matter of formality, knelt as I was in the habit of doing, and in my accustomed retired place, but not feeling as I was wont to feel.
I had no sooner opened my lips in an effort to pray, than I heard a sound, just above my head, like the rustling of silken robes, and immediately the Spirit of God descended upon me, completely enveloping my whole person, filling me, from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and 0, the joy and happiness I felt! No language can describe the almost instantaneous transition from a dense cloud of mental and spiritual darkness into a refulgence of light and knowledge, as it was at that time imparted to my understanding…. It was a complete baptism a tangible immersion in the heavenly principle or element, the Holy Ghost; and even more real and physical in its effects upon every part of my system than the immersion by water; dispelling forever, so long as reason and memory last, all possibility of doubt. …
I cannot tell how long I remained in the full flow of the blissful enjoyment and divine enlightenment, but it was several minutes before the celestial element which filled and surrounded me began gradually to withdraw. On arising from my kneeling posture, … I knew.’ that He had conferred on me what only an omnipotent being can confer – that which is of greater value than all the wealth and honors worlds can bestow. That night, as I retired to rest, the same wonderful manifestations were repeated, and continued to be for several successive nights. The sweet remembrance of those glorious experiences … impart[s] an inspiring influence … and I trust will to the close of my earthly existence.
(Biography – Family Record of Lorenzo Snow, comp. Eliza R. Snow, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1884, pp. 7-9; most italics added.) http://jesus.christ.org/teachings-of-jesus-christ/born-of-the-spirit-baptism-by-fire
We have examples of the baptism of fire in scripture, we find them infused in the testimonies of several of the early saints. Are there modern day occurrences of being born again?
I wanted a spiritual experience, so I prayed and fasted the next day, Sunday. I broke my fast because we were invited to eat at someone’s house that night. On Monday I decided to do as Enos and Nephi and fast and pray all day. I went out into a bungalow and prayed vocally for as long as I could. When I couldn’t think of things to pray about I read my scriptures. I prayed until the afternoon, but nothing happened. I was really discouraged. That night I went to my … friend’s house to talk about things. He gave me a blessing.
The next day was Tuesday. … I decided to give it another go. I broke my fast and went out to the bungalow to pray again. I prayed for about an hour and this happened:
From my journal:
I knelt down and was praying to the Lord with all my heart that I might receive evidence that what I was doing was right. I could feel the spirit in my chest and my face was tingling. While feeling this I pleaded that I might have greater evidence. All of a sudden I felt power come into my body. As Nephi said it consumed my flesh. So much so that I felt that my hands were out stretched and my chest was pulled up and power surged through me like I have never felt in all my life. It was so powerful that I could hardly control myself. I felt like I was being shocked with energy. I knew it was the energy of God. I felt His power!
At the time I wasn’t sure what had happened, but it wasn’t long after that Heavenly Father began to help me understand that I had experienced the baptism of fire.
Is the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost an event or process? I would emphatically state that it can definitely occur as an event.
What I have attempted to accomplish in this treatise is to synthesize the understanding I received from the scriptures, both Biblical and from the latter day restoration. I submit that it is incumbent upon each of us to seek and receive the both elements of baptism, both water and spirit. As Billy Graham stated:
By a simple prayer of faith, tell God that you know you are a sinner, and you are sorry for your sins. Then ask Christ to come into your life and save you. When you do, God will come to live within you by His Spirit, and you will be born again.
As I see it, the key ingredients are: humility, and a deep felt sorrow for our sins, prayer and ask for Christ to accept your repentance, the spirit comes and you are cleansed of sin – you are born again. The Book of Mormon adds a lot of color to the answer. But there is a fundamental agreement between Billy Graham’s definition of being born again and the latter day scriptures. Being born again is to be born of water and of the spirit. It is a baptism first by water, and then by fire and the Holy Ghost. It is core to the gospel of Jesus Christ as contained in the scriptures of the restoration. I believe that it is something that we should all strive for. It is required of all, as Alma stated:
… all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; (Mosiah 28:25)
And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?
Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you.
Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely; (Alma 5:14,33-34)
Repentance, baptism by water and the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost represent the gate of entry onto the strait and narrow path to eternal life. It is the beginning and the a gate to the remainder of our journey. Let’s go back to 2 Nephi, chapter 31.
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 31:19-21)
May we all seek this eternal life made available through the complete baptism defined in the scripture. It is achieved by following the the example of Jesus Christ; we are to be born of water and spirit to enter the kingdom of God, even, as taught by Moroni, to be numbered among those of His church.
What think ye?
My apologies to any regular Just and True blog readers that are left. This last year has produced a number of events that pulled my attention toward other pressing issues. I now, some fifteen months after the first of several life stretching episodes, feel I have a short respite from the challenges of life before the next onslaught begins.
The topic that has often rested on my mind these last few months has been the way we receive guidance from the heavens. We are taught of a mechanism, given to us, that can be used to receive direction from God; the burning of the bosom (hence the title for this article, my apologies to the Bernie Sanders supporters who may be offended by my use of the tag line) as described in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 9:
7 Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
9 But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.
Oliver was told to study the problem, form a solution, and then ask God if it is the correct translation. He, unfortunately, appears to have simply opened his mind and waited for the Lord to provide the translated text. The section has been used often, in a general context, as instruction how we can receive revelation. We are told to ponder the question and formulate a plan which is then presented to the Lord. If it is correct, we can expect to receive a confirmation that is characterized as a warmth in the chest. If our proposal is not aligned with what God would have us do, we should expect to have our thoughts mangled.
Does the gift of being a translator, as Oliver aspired to, something that we are all considered recipients? Consider what Ammon taught of seership found in Mosiah, chapter 6:
13 Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.
We do not have our own set of interpreters and it isn’t clear whether Oliver employed the Urim and Thummin in his attempt to translate, although the device was available in April, 1829 after the loss of the 116 page manuscript. We read here that anyone who used them lacking a commandment would perish but permission of the Lord was given to Oliver.
I would suggest that the attempt at seership by Oliver Cowdery may not constitute an appropriate mechanism of communication for non-seers. With that said, let’s at least consider the topic in the context of our implied common spiritual worldview
Dallin H. Oaks, in the March 1997 Ensign, described what he considered as revelation:
What does a “burning in the bosom” mean? Does it need to be a feeling of caloric heat, like the burning produced by combustion? If that is the meaning, I have never had a burning in the bosom. Surely, the word “burning” in this scripture signifies a feeling of comfort and serenity. That is the witness many receive. That is the way revelation works.
The burning in the bosom is characterized as a feeling of comfort and serenity by this apostle. I do have some anxiety in presenting the idea of ‘burning’ fitting the description but that does seem to be the prevailing wisdom.
In the June 2014 issue of the New Era, a similar message was presented. In an article entitled “What If I Don’t Feel a Burning in the Bosom,” Rachel Nielsen wrote:
If you’ve never felt a burning in the bosom, don’t worry. There are many people who recognize the influence of the Holy Ghost in this way, but He also speaks in many other ways too, and you don’t have to feel a burning in the bosom to feel His presence. In fact, as you learn the ways the Holy Ghost inspires you and look for them in your life, you may find that He is communicating with you more than you realized.
“The spirit of revelation typically functions as thoughts and feelings that come into our minds and hearts by the power of the Holy Ghost. (See D&C 8:1–2; 100:5–8.)”2 The Holy Ghost can speak to you through:
- Feelings of love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faith, meekness (see Galatians 5:22–23).
- Thoughts that occupy the mind or press on your feelings (see D&C 128:1).
- A desire to do good and obey the commandments (see Mosiah 5:2).
- A feeling that something is right (see D&C 9:8).
- Feelings of comfort (see John 14:26).
- Feelings that “enlarge [your] soul” (Alma 32:28).
- Thoughts that “enlighten [your] understanding” (Alma 32:28).
- A hunger for more truth (see Alma 32:28).
- Feeling constrained (encouraged) to take an action or restrained (held back) from doing something (see 1 Nephi 7:15; 2 Nephi 32:7).
While the author, in this statement, doesn’t eliminate the opportunity to experience a fire in the bosom, it is suggested that feelings of peace, a desire to do good and a feeling that enlarges your soul are characteristic of the communication with the Holy Ghost.
I would note that the above reference to a ‘desire to do good and obey the commandments’ contains a link to Mosiah 5:2 speaking of the people of King Benjamin at the time of their remission of sins through the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. Does this suggest, in the mind of the above author, that the baptism fire is an example of the burning in the bosom? I would certainly assert that there is a distinction between the communication of the Holy Ghost and the baptism of fire but it should be included in the list. Does the communication of the Holy Spirit as we exercise the faith to believe constitute an example as found in Alma, chapter 32? Yes, of course.
In my feeble mind, however, this begs the question: How does one draw the distinction between the guidance of the Holy Ghost, something that is only conferred upon righteous members of the church and the ‘light of Christ’ that is available to all?
According to the Bible Dictionary:
The light of Christ is just what the words imply: enlightenment, knowledge, and an uplifting, ennobling, persevering influence that comes upon mankind because of Jesus Christ. For instance, Christ is “the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (D&C 93:2; see John 1:9). The light of Christ fills the “immensity of space” and is the means by which Christ is able to be “in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things.” It “giveth life to all things” and is “the law by which all things are governed.” It is also “the light that quickeneth” man’s understanding (see D&C 88:6–13, 41). In this manner, the light of Christ is related to man’s conscience and tells him right from wrong (Moro. 7:12–19).
The light of Christ should not be confused with the personage of the Holy Ghost, for the light of Christ is not a personage at all. Its influence is preliminary to and preparatory to one’s receiving the Holy Ghost. The light of Christ will lead the honest soul who “hearkeneth to the voice” to find the true gospel and the true Church and thereby receive the Holy Ghost (see D&C 84:46–48).
Here the light of Christ is characterized by some of the same descriptors as the revelation associated with the burning in the bosom, including enlightenment and the feelings of an uplifting and ennobling influence. The New Era article referenced the Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, with this description:
How do we recognize the promptings of the Spirit? I don’t think that’s too difficult, really. … Does it persuade one to do good, to rise, to stand tall, to do the right thing, to be kind, to be generous? Then it is of the Spirit of God. If it is dark, sinister, ugly, not good, then you may know that it is of the adversary.
Similarly, President Hinckley’s message suggests that the Spirit of God engenders feelings encouraging us to do good, of doing the right things, of loving and supporting one another. This suggests a somewhat murky line between the light of Christ given to all and the Holy Spirit suggested as a gift only to members. Is a feeling of peace or a desire to do good related to the light of Christ or a revelation through the Holy Ghost?
Recent physiological research also adds to the complexity of understandings the communications with the Spirit discussed here. Jonathan Haidt coined the term ‘elevation’ to describe the uplifting feeling when witnessing acts of kindness. Here is his description from a 2009 research paper coauthored with Sara B. Algoe entitled ‘Witnessing excellence in action: the ‘other-praising’ emotions of elevation, gratitude, and admiration‘
“Elevation is elicited by acts of charity, gratitude, fidelity, generosity, or any other strong display of virtue. It leads to distinctive physical feelings; a feeling of ‘dilation’ or opening in the chest, combined with the feeling that one has been uplifted or ‘elevated’ in some way. It gives rise to a specific motivation or action tendency: emulation, the desire ‘of doing charitable and grateful acts also.’ It is the opposite of the disgust reaction towards vice. In sum, elevation is a response to acts of moral beauty in which we feel as though we have become (for a moment) less selfish, and we want to act accordingly”.
The event of elevation is characterized by feelings of a physical nature including a swelling of the chest and incites one to join in doing charitable acts. In another paper published in 2001 entitled Elevation and the Positive Psychology of Morality, Haidt added more to this aspect:
“In the Japanese interviews, as in the Indian interviews, the same elements are conjoined; the perception of compassionate or courageous behavior by others causes a pleasurable physical feeling in the chest of movement, warmth, or opening, coupled with a desire to engage in virtuous action oneself.”
Here Haidt characterized this feeling of elevation with some of the same descriptors as could be applied to the burning of the bosom and other spiritual manifestations I have discussed earlier. In my opinion, his description fits reasonably nicely with both the light of Christ and the experience those who are confirmed members of the Church. They all suggest the experience a feeling of uplift, a feeling of warmth in the chest, a desire to act with charity and do good.
Are we possibly conflating the gift of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost conferred upon members of the Church with the innate response to seeing good, or hearing an inspiring talk recently coined as ‘elevation?’ What is this thing called revelation? How does one communicate with the heavens?
There have been only a handful of cases in my life that I can honestly say were of the caliber of a ‘revelation.’ They could not all be characterized as presenting a question to the Lord and waiting for a confirmation. They were times when I heard what I could best describe as a voice that spoke words that revealed a course of action.
I am reminded of the description in 2 Nephi discussing the doctrine of Christ in chapter 32:
2 Do ye not remember that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels? And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost?
3 Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.
4 Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark.
5 For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.
These words were recorded after the description where the baptism of water followed by the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost was pictured as the gate to the strait and narrow path. We were told to follow the example of our Savior and be baptized, both with water and with the spirit. This gift described above is a result of employing the doctrine of Christ in our individual lives.
Could the ability to speak with the tongue of angels be the ability to hear and understand angelic discourse? We are told here to feast on the words of Christ that are spoken by angels. We are encouraged to trust in these words as they will tell us all things that we should do. Is that not what revelation should be?
We are all blessed with an innate desire to seek after things that are lovely and of good report. We may call this revelation or the light of Christ but, in the end, we need to seek after the discourse of angels and receive the words of Christ that they have to offer.
What think ye?
This is a guest post by Log.
Throughout this post, the JST ( http://centerplace.org/hs/iv/ ) is made use of instead of the KJV.
If you agree that Jesus spoke the words attributed to him in the Book of Mormon and in the Bible, and if you agree that by entering into the waters of baptism you have entered into a covenant to be obedient to him until the end of your life, or if you have partaken of the sacrament, then you have witnessed unto God, the Father, that you are willing to keep the commandments of the Lord.
Moroni 4:3 O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it; that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.
JST John 14
15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.
16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever;
17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him; but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.
18 I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you.
19 Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me; because I live, ye shall live also.
20 At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.
21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me; and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
22 Judas saith unto him, (not Iscariot,) Lord, how is it thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?
23 Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.
24 He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings; and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me.
If you love Jesus, keep his commandments. You love Jesus if, and only if, you keep his commandments. If you keep his commandments, he will come to you, and he will bring the Father to you.
Doctrine and Covenants 130:3 John 14:23—The appearing of the Father and the Son, in that verse, is a personal appearance; and the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man’s heart is an old sectarian notion, and is false.
The visit spoken of is literal, and in this world.
21 Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to [my] glory.
22 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.
23 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.
24 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.
25 Broad is the gate, and wide the way that leadeth to the deaths; and many there are that go in thereat, because they receive me not, neither do they abide in my law.
Remember, the idea that one receives Jesus in one’s heart is an old sectarian notion, and is false. To receive Jesus therefore means to take him into your home, or embrace him physically. If you do not thus receive him in the world, then you do not know him, and you do not receive exaltation. If you thus receive him in the world, then you know him, and will receive exaltation.
Putting it all together, you love Jesus if, and only if, you keep his commandments. If you keep his commandments, he will come to you, and you will take him into your home, or embrace him physically. If thus you receive him, he will bring the Father to you, and you will receive your exaltation.
Doctrine and Covenants 82:10 I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.
If you do not keep his commandments, you have no promise of any of these things.
Doctrine and Covenants 130:21 [W]hen we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.
So what are the commandments of the Lord? For brevity, here is the shortest version.
JST Luke 6
20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed are the poor; for theirs is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are they who hunger now; for they shall be filled. Blessed are they who weep now; for they shall laugh.
22 Blessed are ye when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from among them, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake.
23 Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy; for behold your reward shall be great in heaven; for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.
24 But woe unto you that are rich! For ye have received your consolation.
25 Woe unto you who are full! For ye shall hunger. Woe unto you who laugh now! For ye shall mourn and weep.
26 Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! For so did their fathers to the false prophets.
27 But I say unto you who hear my words, Love your enemies, do good to them who hate you.
28 Bless them who curse you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you.
29 And unto him who smiteth thee on the cheek, offer also the other; or, in other words, it is better to offer the other, than to revile again. And him who taketh away thy cloak, forbid not to take thy coat also.
30 For it is better that thou suffer thine enemy to take these things, than to contend with him. Verily I say unto you, Your heavenly Father who seeth in secret, shall bring that wicked one into judgment.
31 Therefore give to every man who asketh of thee; and of him who taketh away thy goods, ask them not again.
32 And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.
33 For if ye love them only who love you, what reward have you? For sinners also do even the same.
34 And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what reward have you? For sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
35 But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great; and ye shall be the children of the Highest; for he is kind unto the unthankful, and to the evil.
36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.
37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned; forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.
38 Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal, it shall be measured to you again.
39 And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch?
40 A disciple is not above his master; but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.
41 And why beholdest thou the mote which is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam which is in thine own eye?
42 Again, how canst thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam which is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote which is in thy brother’s eye.
43 For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit;
44 For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes.
45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart, bringeth forth that which is good. And an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart, bringeth forth that which is evil; for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.
46 And why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?
47 Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings and doeth them, I will show you to whom he is like.
48 He is like a man who built a house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock, and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it; for it was founded upon a rock.
49 But he who heareth and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built a house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.
These teachings are repeated three times throughout scripture. Three times. Thrice.
3 Nephi 12:20 Therefore come unto me and be ye saved; for verily I say unto you, that except ye shall keep my commandments, which I have commanded you at this time, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Are you keeping these sayings of Jesus? Are you performing them daily? Are you giving to every man that asketh? Are you lending to all, not hoping to receive again? Are you returning reviling for reviling, or are you patiently enduring abuse?
These are, after all, the things you witnessed unto God that you are willing to do.
And, remember further, great promises are offered to those who both do and teach.
JST Matthew 5:21 Whosoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so to do, he shall in no wise be saved in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach these commandments of the law until it be fulfilled, the same shall be called great, and shall be saved in the kingdom of heaven.
Whoever breaks the least of these commandments, and teaches men to do likewise, are promised they shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven, while those who both do them and teach them are promised they shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.
JST Luke 14
25 And when he had finished these sayings, he departed thence, and there went great multitudes with him, and he turned and said unto them,
26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, or husband, yea and his own life also; or in other words, is afraid to lay down his life for my sake, cannot be my disciple.
27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
28 Therefore, settle this in your hearts, that ye will do the things which I shall teach, and command you.
29 For which of you intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have money to finish his work?
30 Lest, unhappily, after he has laid the foundation and is not able to finish his work, all who behold, begin to mock him,
31 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. And this he said, signifying there should not any man follow him, unless he was able to continue; saying,
32 Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand, to meet him who cometh against him with twenty thousand.
33 Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an embassage, and desireth conditions of peace.
34 So likewise, whosoever of you forsaketh not all that he hath he cannot be my disciple.
He meant it. And do not think to claim that by your loyalty to the prophets and apostles of the Church, or any others, you can bypass the requirements Jesus has set.
35 Then certain of them came to him saying, Good Master, we have Moses and the prophets, and whosoever shall live by them, shall he not have life?
36 And Jesus answered, saying, Ye know not Moses, neither the prophets; for if ye had known them, ye would have believed on me; for to this intent they were written. For I am sent that ye might have life. Therefore I will liken it unto salt which is good;
37 But if the salt had lost its savor, wherewith shall it be seasoned?
38 It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dung hill; men cast it out. He who hath ears to hear, let him hear. These things he said, signifying that which was written, verily must all be fulfilled.
So likewise if you keep not his sayings, even while claiming loyalty to prophets, you are as salt that has lost its savor, a covenant people claiming Jesus for king yet not obeying the king’s laws, and therefore are covenant-breakers, good for nothing but to be cast out.
Those who teach you that you owe less to the Lord than you have covenanted to do are the unjust steward, who will be sharing lodging with you in everlasting habitations if you agree with them (see JST Luke 16). Time is short, and your bill is coming due.
Therefore, do not procrastinate the day of your fulfillment of your own words, covenants, witnesses, or agreements, but begin today to keep the commandments of the Lord that he delivered by his own voice to his people, that you may be accounted faithful in all things.
Hebrews 13:2 Be not forgetful to entertain [bring into your home] strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
And who knows but that the angel in disguise might be the Lord himself, seeing if you are one of his disciples.
The loss of a relationship can be a very stressful situation. As human beings, we seem to have a inherent need to belong, to be able to identify ourselves as part of a larger group. Losing that identity can be a painful and trying experience. Some research has noted that the loss of group identity can be as disruptive as the death of a loved one.
As the circumstances of my relationship with the LDS Church changed, I felt a need to answer the question: Do I still consider myself a Mormon? Yes, but my definition of Mormon has changed. What do I answer when I am asked of my religion?
For a number of years, I responded that I considered myself a ‘unaffiliated Christian restorationist.’ This seemed to fit as I did not formally belong to any religious entity. I held myself as a follower of Christ, but a special version that believed in a restoration subsequent to the sojourn of the Savior. That restoration was accomplished through Joseph Smith and is embodied in the Book of Mormon and other latter day scriptures. In some ways that phrase was not sufficient in description. It lacked to linkage to the faith of my youth that I felt was still important to recognize.
I decided to look for an alternative and had, for some period, chosen ‘free-range Mormon.’ This had its descriptive value also. Free-range signified that I chose to nourish my spirit on the natural (pure) and unadulterated milk and meat of the scriptures rather than the processed (correlated) foods found in the lesson plans of the church. It meant that I sought knowledge from the original source through direct revelation rather than relying on material being filtered and manipulated by others. This name also noted the heritage within Mormonism reaching back for multiple generations.
This presented the larger question, for those who find themselves in this situation, by what name should we be called. As I pondered this question, my mind was taken back to the statement by King Benjamin:
And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ. (Mosiah 5:9)
In this statement, King Benjamin was addressing the people who had listened to his sermon found in the early chapters of Mosiah. They had humbled themselves and were blessed by the Spirit, receiving great joy and a remission of their sins. It was this experience that ‘wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.’ (Mosiah 5:2)
What was the thing that the people did to qualify for being called ‘by the name of Christ?’ The answer, as I understand it, is that they agreed to enter into a covenant as described in these verse of chapter 5
4 And it is the faith which we have had on the things which our king has spoken unto us that has brought us to this great knowledge, whereby we do rejoice with such exceedingly great joy.
5 And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God.
It was the fact that they were willing to covenant with God. Their part of the covenant was that they would do His will and be obedient to His commandments for the rest of their lives. In return for this lifelong obedience, these people were to be called the ‘children of Christ’
7 And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.
8 And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.
The people of King Benjamin were to be called the sons and daughters of Christ having been spiritually born of Him. Their hearts were changed and they were charged with being obedient to God as they endured to the end through the covenant.
They were to also recognize that there is ‘no other head whereby ye can be made free.’ No man or organization is capable of making them, and us, free, it is only through Christ. There is no other name that can deliver on salvation. We, too, are charged with taking upon us the name of Christ, we are charged to make the same covenant that was found among the people of King Benjamin.
We, by doing so, can be called the sons and daughters of Christ. It requires of us great humility which prepares us to receive His Spirit; that Spirit which brings great joy and a remission of our sins. We then, given the change of heart, are ready to covenant with Him to be obedient to only Christ for the remainder of our lives.
What think ye?
My regrets for not being able to post the thoughts of my heart these last few months. Life’s events have managed to overtake us and we are now beginning to get back to a normal level of chaos.
I did make one major gesture to try to get myself re-oriented. I proposed a presentation for the Kirtland Symposium scheduled for October 17 and 18. The proposal was accepted so I will be on the agenda for the meeting.
The topic? Something new and different. The topic of my 90-minute session is Faith, Evolution, and Intelligent Design. This is a subject that has been working in the back of my mind for a number of years and I felt that it was the right time to speak to the questions and concerns as I worked through my crisis of faith. I plan to provide the perspective of an engineer as I analyze several key aspects of evolution and the ‘un-scientific’ intelligent design. What are the elements of the evolution of life that are problematic to me as I ponder the elements of matter, energy, and information necessary to install and proliferate living organisms? How much faith does it really require to adhere to the doctrine of a designer or to the doctrine of a natural evolution of life?
Hope you can join me in Kirtland for this event.
As I contemplated the recent passing of both Elder Perry and Elder Packer, I was reminded of the council given to the leaders of the church regarding their function and purpose. That thought led me back to the scriptures, the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Doctrinal History of the Church.
Here is what the Doctrine and Covenants states regarding the officers of the Church:
22 Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church.
23 The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.
24 And they form a quorum, equal in authority and power to the three presidents previously mentioned.
25 The Seventy are also called to preach the gospel, and to be especial witnesses unto the Gentiles and in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.
26 And they form a quorum, equal in authority to that of the Twelve special witnesses or Apostles just named.
27 And every decision made by either of these quorums must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions, in order to make their decisions of the same power or validity one with the other— (D&C, section 107)
Do we today have three quorums that are equal in authority and power? Does the body of sanctioned officers known as the Seventy, represent, in their unanimity, an equal weight, in terms of their decision, to what comes from the First Presidency or the Twelve traveling apostles? Where is the revelation that changed this order of things?
Of course, it gets better:
37 The high council in Zion form a quorum equal in authority in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the councils of the Twelve at the stakes of Zion.
Are the standing high councils in a stake today equal in authority to the Salt Lake based ‘general authorities?’
39 It is the duty of the Twelve, in all large branches of the church, to ordain evangelical ministers, as they shall be designated unto them by revelation—
So, the traveling High Council, the Twelve, here have the duty to manage the affairs of the branches? What about the organized stakes? Here is what is found in the history of the church within weeks of when section 107 was penned:
President Smith proposed the following question. What importance is there attached to the calling of the Twelve Apostles, different from the other callings or offices of the Church?
After the question was discussed by Councilors Patten, Young, Smith and M’Lelllin, President Joseph Smith, Jun., gave the following decision:
They are the Twelve Apostles, who are called to the office of the Traveling High Council, who are to preside over the churches of the Saints, among the Gentiles, where there is no presidency established; and they are to travel and preach among the Gentiles, until the Lord shall command them to go to the Jews. They are to hold the keys of this ministry, to unlock the door of the Kingdom of Heaven unto all nations, and to preach the Gospel to every creature. This is the power, authority, and virtue of their apostleship (TPJS, page 79, DHC 2:200, Feb. 27, 1835)
The second quote is also from TPJS entitled Items of Instruction to the Twelve and the Seventy Order of Councils:
President Joseph Smith stated that the Twelve will have no right to go into Zion, or any of the stakes, and there undertake to regulate the affairs thereof, where there is a standing high council, but its is their duty to go abroad and regulate all matters relative to the different branches of the Church. When the Twelve are together, or a quorum of them, in any church, they will have authority to act independently, and make decisions, and those decisions will be valid. But where there is not a quorum, they will have to do business by the voice of the Church. No standing High Council has the authority to go into the churches abroad, and regulate the matters thereof, for this belongs to the Twelve. No standing High Council will ever be established only in Zion, or one of her stakes. When the Twelve pass a decision, it is in the name of the Church, therefore it is valid.
It is amazing to me how broad a change has been instituted in the Church (with a capital C) and the impact it has had on the churches (with a small c). What would the worship environment if this directive were carefully followed in the intervening years between 1835 and the present? If the standing High Council had jurisdiction over the organized stakes of Zion, there would be no central coordination and no uniform direction from Salt Lake City. The Twelve would be focused on the less developed areas of the spread of the gospel and would be helping the branches grow and strengthen. The stakes would be largely autonomous entities focused on the spiritual growth and well-being of the saints.
No official member of the Church has the authority to go into any branch thereof, and ordain any minister for the church, unless it is by the voice of that branch. No Elder has authority to go into any branch of the Church, and appoint meetings, or attempt to regulate the affairs of the Church, without the advice and consent of the presiding Elder of that branch.The Twelve and the Seventy have particularly to depend upon their ministry for their support, and that of their families; and they have a right, by virtue of their offices, to call upon the churches to assist them. (TPJS, page 74)
What kind of a world would it be if those in leadership positions within the Church were expected to be ‘ministers and servants’ as the Lord directed the Nephites (see 3 Nephi 12:1). The twelve apostles would have to rely on the branches for their financial support? Wow, I would think the line for applications would shorten considerably if this were the case. But, on the other hand, what humility would be spawned when those who serve in the highest of church callings were to rely on the branches for their physical needs?
So what am I to make of this? Obviously, the Church is directed by revelation. That any directive found in the scriptures can be overridden by the inspiration of the leaders of the church. I just thought that when such things were to occur, the changes were to be ratified by the body of the church. Surely, I must have missed the ratification vote for the Church Handbook of Instruction.
What think ye?
I recently was prompted to re-read the sermon of King Benjamin found in the book of Mosiah. This time, however, I started at the beginning of the first chapter where I found this interesting aspect. King Benjamin was teaching his three sons of the value of the scriptures described in the first chapter of Mosiah:
My sons, I would that ye should remember that were it not for these plates, which contain these records and these commandments, we must have suffered in ignorance, even at this present time, not knowing the mysteries of God.
For it were not possible that our father, Lehi, could have remembered all these things, to have taught them to his children, except it were for the help of these plates; for he having been taught in the language of the Egyptians therefore he could read these engravings, and teach them to his children, that thereby they could teach them to their children, and so fulfilling the commandments of God, even down to this present time.
I say unto you, my sons, were it not for these things, which have been kept and preserved by the hand of God, that we might read and understand of his mysteries, and have his commandments always before our eyes, that even our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief, and we should have been like unto our brethren, the Lamanites, who know nothing concerning these things, or even do not believe them when they are taught them, because of the traditions of their fathers, which are not correct.
O my sons, I would that ye should remember that these sayings are true, and also that these records are true. And behold, also the plates of Nephi, which contain the records and the sayings of our fathers from the time they left Jerusalem until now, and they are true; and we can know of their surety because we have them before our eyes.
And now, my sons, I would that ye should remember to search them diligently, that ye may profit thereby; and I would that ye should keep the commandments of God, that ye may prosper in the land according to the promises which the Lord made unto our fathers. (Mosiah 1:3-7)
In the first verse, King Benjamin tells his sons that the scriptures contain a record of God’s interaction with men and secondly, they contain the commandments. Then he makes what is, to me, in interesting statement; that without the scriptures they would have been in ignorance, ‘not knowing the mysteries of God.’
We know from Alma, chapter 12 that we are to seek the mysteries of God:
And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell. (Alma 12:9-11)
We are all to seek the mysteries of God, or in other words, we are to seek His word which I believe to be personal revelation. We can only receive a ‘portion of His word’ if we rely on others to supply it because God only will make in known based on the ‘heed and diligence’ demonstrated by the people. If we continue to strive in seeking this personal revelation, we can receive the mysteries of God in full, in a complete form.
I would suggest that the scriptures play a vital role in leading us to the mysteries of God. It is through diligent study of the scriptures that we are able to form the questions that will lead us to the answers that enlighten us as to these mysteries. Are we, individually and collectively, demonstrating the necessary heed and diligence, to receive the portion of His word that is available to us? Are we seeking, through the words of the prophets contained in scripture, to understand the veiled references to His mysteries? If not, we are allowing ourselves to be captured by the chains of hell. Not seeking to know the mysteries of God is placing us in the grasp of the adversary.
I also found another interesting item as I read the things that King Benjamin taught to his sons. Let me again state the quote:
…our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief, and we should have been like unto our brethren, the Lamanites, who know nothing concerning these things, or even do not believe them when they are taught them, because of the traditions of their fathers, which are not correct. (Mosiah 1:5)
Let me paraphrase King Benjamin from this verse, in our context today. There are modern day people who suffer from the same malady as the Lamanites. They know nothing of the scriptures and do not believe them when they are taught from the scriptures because they prefer to hold to the incorrect traditions of their fathers.
What incorrect doctrines and practices do we have among us today that are a result of the traditions of our fathers? I would suggest that the key test is to determine if these doctrines or practices or rituals have foundation in and are consistent with the scriptures. The scriptures should be the rudder of our boat. They should be the lens through which we view our chosen mechanism of devotion to our God. Without the reliance on the scriptures to be our guide and our source, we would be as the Lamanites and left to flounder in what we incorrectly believe was delivered by those who came before us.
You might say that we are led by prophets, seers and revelators and, therefore, the scriptures are of lesser importance than the current dogma. You might even suggest that modern revelation trumps the scriptures. To that assertion, I would respond with the caution given by the Lord Himself. We have been warned several times not to add to or remove from that which we are taught. For example, when Christ described His doctrine to the Nephites, He ended with this warning:
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.
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, 11:39-40)
What aspects of our doctrine have been added to our sacred regimen by traditions within the church? Does our day-to-day worship contain aspects that are not founded in scripture? Is the LDS church, today, governed by the scriptures or by the traditions of our fathers, better known as the Church Handbook of Instruction? We are told here explicitly that our adherence to the defined doctrine of Christ is necessary if we are to avoid evil.
The ‘chains of hell’ await those who do not use the scriptures to seek the mysteries of God. The ‘gates of hell’ stand open to receive those who add to or take from the doctrine of Christ as defined in the scriptures. We must, individually and collectively, ensure that we are in line with the direction received from the Lord. We must understand that any modern revelation should not contradict with, but find support in, the scriptures.
What think ye?