Archive for the ‘history’ Category

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?

It was all over the world news, ISIS put a Jordanian pilot to death by fire after he was captured in the war against the developing Islamic caliphate.  Here is an example of a religious body (yes, I am willing to call them radical Islamists) which believes so strongly that they are right and have God on their side that taking a life is justified in the ascension toward their sacred goal of world domination. It is of note that a cleric associated with the Islamic state was arrested for objecting to the punishment inflicted on the captured Muslim pilot.

Fire has been used for many years to extinguish the lives of those who were deemed a threat to the religious establishment. Wiki maintains a list of martyrs, including a 19 year-old relapsed heretic by the name of Joan of Arc.

Jeanne au bûcher

In the Book of Mormon, Alma and Amulek were commanded by God to preach to the people of Ammonihah. A minority of the inhabitants of the city believed the words of these missionaries and were subjected to cruelty. The men were stoned and the women and children were burned by fire as described in Alma 14:

“And they brought their wives and children together, and whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God they caused that they should be cast into the fire; and they also brought forth their records which contained the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also, that they might be burned and destroyed by fire.

And it came to pass that they took Alma and Amulek, and carried them forth to the place of martyrdom, that they might witness the destruction of those who were consumed by fire.

And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene?  Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.

But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.”

These acts were committed because those that believed in the words of Alma and Amulek were seen as reviling the people of the city and, more seriously, they taught “that there was but one God, and that he should send his Son among the people, but he should not save them; and many such things did the people testify against Alma and Amulek.” (Alma 14:5) It is interesting to note that they were being punished for adhering to the truth. Ultimately the city of Ammonihah along with its inhabitants were destroyed by the Lamanites… justice served, I presume.

It seems to be a pattern what when a religious body has gone away from God, they take upon themselves the ‘right’ to determine the fate of those that are perceived to hold a different belief within the community. This day we see ‘virtual’ death being inflicted by those who govern the LDS church in the form of excommunication.  The charge is typically apostasy. A charge, which in a number of cases, cannot be specifically defined by those who wield it. In essence, the real offense is one of not following the guidance and direction of the priesthood leaders. The priesthood determines what is currently acceptable from a doctrinal and historical view and then uses this definition in punishing those who disagree with it. It does not seem to matter whether this doctrine is justifiable from a scriptural perspective, not does the fact that historical documentation can be shown to bring into question the efficacy of the church’s doctrinal or historical stance.

Those that are found ‘revile’ against the church by exposing flaws or unsavory aspects in its history or preach doctrine that is not aligned with the current version of church doctrine are to be subjected to the virtual torch. It doesn’t seem to matter whether these historical warts or the fact that these doctrines can find justification in the scriptures, it is not acceptable to speak out against the current version of church doctrine and the ‘correlated’ view of church history. This week, it was John Dehlin’s turn to face the tribunal of stake officers who determined that his public face could not be tolerated by the church that bears the name of Jesus Christ.

As I grieve for those who have found themselves in similar situations, I am reminded of the concise direction that the Lord has given the priesthood in dealing with these situations. Should anyone feel that they are exempt from such instruction; the Lord first reminds us that the probabilities are against the priesthood holder from judging fairly.

“We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. (D&C 121:39)”

I would suggest that the characterization of ‘almost all men’ should be sufficient to ensure that the guidance applies to everyone. Every priesthood holder should be instructed as to what this verse means relative to church governance. I would suggest that this verse implies that it is rare when a person holding the priesthood does not exercise unrighteous dominion as he perceives the purpose and execution of his authority.

What form does unrighteous dominion take in this context? I would suggest that unrighteous dominion can be characterized as the attempt to dominate another in a way that is not righteous or in tune with God. If I attempt to impose my current belief on another, have I attempted to dominate them spiritually? If one’s current view of history or doctrine is used to ‘demand’ obedience from a member of the church, is this unrighteous dominion? Does this apply to the current leadership of the church? Can one holding a position of leadership at the general or stake level be exempt from this charge from the Lord? I think that these questions should be carefully considered when one is called to bring judgment on another’s current spiritual worldview.

The Lord has given direction as to how one should administer in a priesthood position:

“No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy and without guile – reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; that he my know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death. (verses 40-44)”

I would suggest that influence expressing the authority of the priesthood by persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and by love unfeigned is the opposite of unrighteous dominion. Priesthood leaders are instructed in these verses to operate, not by compulsion, but by persuasion; not by swift action but by long suffering; not by authoritarian dictate but by kindness, gentleness and meekness. Have these corrective actions been based on ‘pure knowledge?’ What is pure knowledge when it comes to different interpretation of history and doctrine? And, most important, do not feign love by calling these activities ‘courts of love.’

Have these disciplinary sessions been held based on the movement provided by the Holy Ghost or by the SMTC? Have they been used as an attempt to persuade or dictate?

I can only pray that the next ‘torch’ is replaced by the light of Christ in administering to the spiritual welfare of those that call themselves saints.

What think ye?

Part One

In the October 2013 General Conference, Elder Uchtdorf addressed the topic of doubt:

Some might ask, “But what about my doubts?”

It’s natural to have questions—the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions. One of the purposes of the Church is to nurture and cultivate the seed of faith—even in the sometimes sandy soil of doubt and uncertainty. Faith is to hope for things which are not seen but which are true.7

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters—my dear friends—please, first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. We must never allow doubt to hold us prisoner and keep us from the divine love, peace, and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

I find it interesting that the reference associated with the text ‘doubt your faith.’ is to a book entitled “Christ the Healer” written by F. F. Bosworth.

Christ the Healer cover full

The book, originally published in 1924, was  a compilation of a number of sermons. As the title connotes, the book has continued to be used to promote the idea that Christ is able to redeem us from both our spiritual and physical weakness.

Many, instead of saying, “Pray for me,” should first say, “Teach me God’s Word, so that I can intelligently cooperate for my recovery.” We must know what the benefits of Calvary are before we can appropriate them by faith. David specifies: “Who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases.”

After being sufficiently enlightened, our attitude toward sickness should be the same as our attitude toward sin. Our purpose to have our body healed should be as definite as our purpose to have our soul healed. We should not ignore any part of the Gospel. Our Substitute bore both our sins and our sicknesses that we might be delivered from them. Christ’s bearing of our sins and sicknesses is surely a valid reason for trusting Him now for deliverance from both. When, in prayer, we definitely commit to God the forgiveness of our sins, we are to believe, on the authority of His Word, that our prayer is heard. We are to do the same when praying for healing. (Christ the Healer, F.F. Bosworth, 2000 edition, pp 17-18)

The forward of the 2000 edition of the book speaks of a ‘flood of testimonies’ of those who were benefitted spiritually and physically by the book. The premise being that we should have just as much faith in Christ that He can take away our sins as in His ability to take away our sickness. Reverend Bosworth’s message was that we should not doubt that Christ has this ability; to cleanse us of sin as well as sickness. He encouraged the reader to show faith in the ability of the Savior to take upon Him our physical and spiritual impairments.

Here is the statement regarding doubt  by Rev. Bosworth from the 2000 edition of the book:

Any man or woman can get rid of his or her doubts by looking steadfastly and only at the evidence that God has given for our faith. Seeing only what God says will produce and increase faith. This will make it easier to believe than to doubt. The evidences for faith are so much stronger than those for doubting. Don’t doubt your faith; doubt your doubts, for they are unreliable. (ibid, pp 21-22)

As I read this, the author is entreating us not to doubt that Christ can heal our sicknesses. He encourages us plant the seed which can develop the faith to heal our physical ailments. We have been taught that it is by faith that we can be healed. Do we, today, exhibit that kind of faith? Or, do we believe that we can simply request a blessing and we have done sufficient work to overcome a physical malady? Some of these things are more difficult than others, in many ways, because of our lack of faith, prayer, and fasting. As I see it, the scriptures speak of the healings of the twelve, in the New Testament and in the Book of Mormon, as signs of the truth. These are to be expected but do not represent the sum of our ability to gain the upper hand over physical maladies. Reverend Bosworth puts forth the case that we can receive a remittance of our physical troubles. Do we have that level of faith among us?

Part Two

This begs the question: can the doubt, as characterized by F. F. Bosworth, that Christ can heal us physically as well as spiritually be on equal plane with the doubts, alluded to by Elder Uchtdorf, largely driven by the historical inconsistencies in doctrine and policy of the LDS church?

I, personally, do not believe this is the case. Our faith in Christ is separate and not reliant on from our faith in the works of men; in our case, the corporation commonly known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  I do believe that we should ‘doubt our doubts’ regarding the gospel and message of Jesus Christ. I do not believe the same attitude should be taken regarding the inconsistencies of the policies of men running any religious organization, even those claiming to be the only true church.

We should first make the effort to understand and integrate the gospel of Jesus Christ into our minds and heart. It is the gospel that provides the assurance  to seek and receive answers on all else.  We are promised that if we will seek Him, He will provide direction, even to the truth of all things.

Pierre Abelard, a noted philosopher of the eleventh century saw it this way: “By doubting we are led to question; by questioning we arrive at the truth.” I see this message consistent with Paul as he spoke to the Thessalonians:

Prove all things, hold fast to that which is good. (1 Thess. 5:9)

It is our right and responsibility to ask questions and seek the Lord for direction and confirmation. There is a power in this world that demands that we blindly obey, that gives us assurances that they can lead us through to the glories that await us, that seeks to act as arbiter of our destiny and salvation. That voice is not the one we should follow.

There is also a power to has promised us that He will open the door if we knock. Doubts lead to questions which, through the Holy Ghost, can be answered.

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:4-5)

It is our challenge to first develop the requisite faith in Christ.  By so doing, we will have access, through the Holy Ghost, to the truth of all things.

What think ye?

Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets. (Amos 3:7)

Who is this Amos? What do we make of the message of this man whose words we use as proof that a prophet is needed among the people of God? His story began as a simple shepherd from Tekoa during the time that Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam was king of Israel (Amos 1:1). When challenged by those who kept the temples, he simply stated that he was no prophet nor could he claim to be one by lineage until the Lord called him out of the fields while he tended his flock.

Then Amaziah the priest of Beth-el sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to bear all his words.

For thus Amos saith, Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of their own land.

Also Amaziah said unto Amos, O thou seer, go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there:

But prophesy not again any more at Beth-el: for it is the king’s chapel, and it is the king’s court.

Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit:

And the LORD took me as I followed the flock, and the LORD said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel. (Amos 8:10-15)

As one could expect, the leadership, in the form of Amaziah the priest, told him to take his message elsewhere, that it wasn’t wanted or needed among Israel. But Amos did not acknowledge his request, rather he proceeded to relay the message that the Lord had given him to deliver. It was a message of warning, not just to the people of Israel, but also to their leadership.

Why is it that we, today, are willing to use a sound byte from Amos to support our misguided characterization of the voice that is held to speak for God but ignore the context and the message he was called to deliver? What is the secret that the Lord would share with His prophet Amos? Was it one regarding how to administer the organization that was called in his name? Was it a message on how to care for the flock? Was it an epistle on the doctrines to use in the government of His church? It was none of these; the message was a call to repent directed at both the leadership and the membership. A careful reading of the message of Amos would suggest that, rather than saying that the Lord would guide and direct his church through a prophet, the message was that He would not chastise His people until He would send a warning voice among them to call them back to Him. Perhaps another more modern interpretation of the often used quote from Amos would be:

Surely the Lord God will not destroy his church until He shares His plan with His prophets and commands them to warn the people.

The secret that Amos was deliver was that the Lord knew the sins of Israel and that he, Amos, was sent to call Israel to repentance. He was called to warn them of the consequences of their idolatrous pattern of living. Here are some elements of his message:

HEAR this word that the LORD hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying,

You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. (Amos 3:1)

Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes;

That pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek: and a man and his father will go in unto the same maid, to profane my holy name:

And they lay themselves down upon clothes laid to pledge by every altar, and they drink the wine of the condemned in the house of their god. (Amos 2:6-8)

WOE to them that are at ease in Zion. (Amos 6:1}

Forasmuch therefore as your treading is upon the poor, and ye take from him burdens of wheat: ye have built houses of hewn stone, but ye shall not dwell in them; ye have planted pleasant vineyards, but ye shall not drink wine of them.

For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right. (Amos 5:11-13)

The message was for the entire house of Israel. The Lord outlined the failings of the people; they were guilty of turning away the righteous and the poor. They did not hold sacred those things which were given by God. And finally, what is it the Lord wanted them to do:

Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the LORD, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken.

Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5: 14-15)

What should we, as modern Israel, take as a learning from Amos? Should we not liken ourselves to ancient Israel and learn from their mistakes? Are we not warned, as they were, that we cannot assume all is well in Zion? Are we safe in assuming that God will not chastise us as he did to His previous chosen people?

The message of Amos 3:7 is clear to me. When correction is needed, God will call prophets and share His counsel with them. They will be called to preach repentance to those that, in their pride and arrogance, dismiss the warnings of the words of the prophets recorded in scripture. The prophets will call His people to repentance and warn them of the removal of God’s protection that will be their lot if they choose not to soften their heart.

Surely the Lord God will not leave us in the midst of ignoring His commandments without warning. When we see a prophet come among us that is not ‘called’ by the organization, that doesn’t have the required pedigree, that isn’t recognizable as a sanctioned authority, should we request that he take his message elsewhere as Amaziah did? What would Amos look like today? What would his message be? What are the consequences of ignoring his words of warning?

What think ye?

One can only assume that this week, somewhere in the halls and spacious offices of the Church Office Building, concerned voices echoed with the sound of anxious conversation subsequent to Denver Snuffer’s final lecture in Mesa this week. Well, he has gone and done it now. He is calling for a new church. He says that the Lord has wrested the last vestiges of the priesthood from the church and he is stirring up the saints to follow him into this egregious error he calls communities. He is telling these poor misguided followers that men can actually perform baptisms upon receiving permission from the WOMEN in the community as long as the man has also received authority directly from God. He reaffirmed his call to those who listened to him to hold their tithes and offerings and spend them on the poor, how dare he challenge our use of the sacred funds donated to the church?!!

He had the audacity of telling people to conduct the sacrament in their own homes regardless of whether they have sought permission from the bishop or not. He has finally showed his true colors and ego as he applied the Lord’s warning to himself that He would bless them that bless Denver and curse them that curse him. He has been divorced, we all know that God would not call such a damaged individual to speak for Him. He is just another Jim Harmston, you’ll see.

The fury of the orthodoxy was quickly manifest as these attacks were launched in the blogosphere against both the message and the messenger. Blog sites, such as Tim Malone’s Latter-day Commentary, were bombarded with naysayers spewing criticism of both the supposed inconsistencies of the message and the deviance of the man claiming to be on a mission from God.

Putting the anticipated cacophony aside, what did I hear as I sat in that Mesa hotel ballroom Tuesday morning? I heard more about how to become a Zion people than I have heard in twenty years of general conference platitudes. I heard words of compassion for the poor. I heard a man speak who demonstrated a strong interest in defending those who have been spiritually and socially abused by an organization claiming to represent the Lord Jesus Christ. I heard a call for transparency in the operation of God’s organization and a need to refocus on the core objectives of the restoration of the gospel.

As I pondered the events of this week, questions formed in my mind such as the one I have used as the title for this blog post:

How many malls do we need to construct to bring again Zion?

Billions of dollars have been spent on high end shopping malls in Salt Lake and now another project has begun in Philadelphia. Is it even conceivable that when the Lord returns, He will stop off a Burberrys to pick up an overcoat in case of inclement weather? How does this major economic effort driven by the church bring us closer to being a Zion community? What were you thinking???

How is it that the Church has drifted so far away from the original intention of the restoration that it is now shunning those people who yearn for Zion? As I see it, the purpose of the restoration was to prepare a people to live in the city of God. Instead of threatening those who still hold to that objective, why can’t the leadership recognize the shift that has occurred and find an accommodation? Are we not still under a commandment to both individually and collectively establish Zion?

I am reminded of an event recorded in the New Testament:

And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is on our part. For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward. (Mark 9:38-41)

Be it casting out devils or preaching preparation for Zion, can we not recognize ‘he that is not against’ the church mission is on our part? The cup of water that I received on September ninth was regenerative. It was pure and cool and satisfying. Even at the time of Christ, there were others who were blessed with the ability to cast out devils who were not linked to the disciples gathered to the Savior but used His name. The Lord’s reaction to John’s rebuke should tell us something about how those people should be treated today who are eager to apply the message of the Book of Mormon.

When Brigham Young attempted to establish the United Order as preparation for Zion, he met with failure. Perhaps his top-down approach contributed to the demise of the effort. Is there not room to try a ‘bottom-up’ approach to building a Zion people? That is what I see in the message of communities; let us organize ourselves. Let us prepare our hearts and practice the principles of a Zion community.

And let every man esteem his brother as himself, and practise virtue and holiness before me. And again I say unto you, let every man esteem his brother as himself. For what man among you having twelve sons, and is no respecter of them, and they serve him obediently, and he saith unto the one: Be thou clothed in robes and sit thou here; and to the other: Be thou clothed in rags and sit thou there—and looketh upon his sons and saith I am just? Behold, this I have given unto you as a parable, and it is even as I am. I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine. (D&C 38:24-27)

This is wise council at many levels. If I esteem my brother as myself, I give room for my brother to express his devotion, just as I expect him to honor my practice of worship.  How many of the sons and daughters of the church have been told to sit elsewhere? If we cannot figure out how to love and support one another, how can we possibly claim to be on the Lord’s side, to be one? If not, then we must separate to become one.

Excommunicating people, like Will Carter, for seeking to adhere to scripture and promoting the cause of Zion is a travesty. Forcing people, like Tim Malone, to choose between affiliation with the church and their allegiance to God is a damaging blow to the inspired model of the church of God.

Today we are not ‘one.’ Tomorrow, may we be one, that is my hope and prayer.

What think ye?

Ye Elders of Israel top

Here are the lyrics from ‘Ye Elders of Israel’ written by Cyrus H. Wheelock:

Ye elders of Israel, come join now with me  And seek out the righteous, where’er they may be:  In desert, on mountain, on land, or on sea,  And bring them to Zion, the pure and the free.

The harvest is great, and the laborers are few;  But if we’re united, we all things can do;  We’ll gather the wheat from the midst of the tares  And bring them from bondage, from sorrows and snares.

We’ll go to the poor, like our Captain of old,  And visit the weary, the hungry, and cold;  We’ll cheer up their hearts with the news that he bore  And point them to Zion and life evermore.

Chorus:

O Babylon, O Babylon, we bid thee farewell;  We’re going to the mountains of Ephraim to dwell.

This is one of the ‘songs of Zion’ that brings back to memory the days of my mission. It was one of the songs that was fairly easy to sing the bass part, even for a tone-deaf soul like me.  We were tasked with finding those who were scattered throughout the world who had the ‘blood of Israel’ in their veins. Here is how Brigham Young characterized the search taken from the Journal of Discourses, Volume 2, page 269:

It is Ephraim that I have been searching for all the days of my preaching, and that is the blood which ran in my veins when I embraced the Gospel. If there are any of the other tribes of Israel mixed with the Gentiles we are also searching for them. Though the Gentiles are cut off, do not suppose that we are not going to preach the Gospel among the Gentile nations, for they are mingled with the house of Israel, and when we send to the nations we do not seek for the Gentiles, because they are disobedient and rebellious. (D&C 64:36) We want the blood of Jacob, and that of his father Isaac and Abraham, which runs in the veins of the people.

Loins of Ephraim

My patriarchal blessing echoed this idea where my lineage was declared as coming from Ephraim, therefore, I was of the house of Israel through Ephraim. But it was several years ago I began to experience some dissonance. I read in the words of Isaiah of the drunkards of Ephraim:

WOE to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine!

Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one, which as a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, as a flood of mighty waters overflowing, shall cast down to the earth with the hand.

The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet: (Isaiah 28:1-3)

If being an Ephraim-ite meant that I was a ‘fading flower’ and that the crown of pride would cause me to be ‘trodden under feet,’ I felt I needed to understand the broader picture. I was also concerned by the position of the house of Israel in the context of the last days.  In reading of the vision of the tree of life given to Lehi and Nephi, I came upon the following:

And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record.

And I, Nephi, saw that he was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world.

And after he was slain I saw the multitudes of the earth, that they were gathered together to fight against the apostles of the Lamb; for thus were the twelve called by the angel of the Lord.

And the multitude of the earth was gathered together; and I beheld that they were in a large and spacious building, like unto the building which my father saw.  And the angel of the Lord spake unto me again, saying: Behold the world and the wisdom thereof; yea, behold the house of Israel hath gathered together to fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (1 Nephi 11:32-35)

Does this not imply that the house of Israel occupied and, possibly, still occupies that large and spacious building and were/are fighting against the Gospel of Jesus Christ? It was because of their pride that the gospel was taken from them and extended to the Gentiles. It is similar pride that will be demonstrated by the Gentiles that will cause the Lord to withdraw His Gospel from them and extend it once again to the house of Israel. “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” (1 Nephi 13:42)

In my last post which contains the presentation at the Sunstone Symposium, I spoke of the Gentiles who were blessed  ‘because of their belief in [Christ], in and of the Holy Ghost, which witnesses unto them of me and of the Father.’ (3 Nephi 16:6) The core question central to this feeble attempt at a post is to answer the question; who am I relative to the warnings of the Book of Mormon? Am I of Ephraim which, outside of the writings of Isaiah, is only represented by the name of a hill in the Book? Am I of the house of Israel that will receive the gospel only after the Gentiles reject it? Or am I a Gentile who can hope that through repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost can be numbered with those of the church?

Is the right answer all of the above? Let’s go back to the blessing that Ephraim received at the hands of his grandfather.

And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near unto him.

And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn.

And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day.

The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.

And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father’s hand, to remove it from Ephraim’s head unto Manasseh’s head.

And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head.

And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.

And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Manasseh. (Genesis 48:13-20)

So Israel/Jacob had his two grandchildren, Manasseh and Ephraim, brought before him for a blessing. Joseph positioned Manasseh, the elder child on the right side of Israel and Ephraim on the left side. Much to his dismay, Israel crossed his hands and laid his right hand upon Ephraim and his left hand upon Manasseh. Israel persisted and pronounced blessings upon both children. He blessed Manasseh that he would ‘become a people,’ but for the younger son, Ephraim, he blessed to ‘become a multitude of nations.’

Here is where an understanding of the original Hebrew is of benefit, but alas, I am not a Hebrew scholar. What I do have at my disposal is the Interlinear Bible and Strong’s Concordance. The blessing given to Ephraim notes, in the Interlinear Bible, that ‘his seed shall become the fullness of the nations.’ The word used in Genesis, chapter 48, verse 18, for ‘nations’ is ‘goy,’ the same Hebrew word used in many places to denote ‘Gentiles.’ So, in effect, Ephraim was blessed to fill the Gentile nations. The progeny of  Ephraim is both of the house of Israel and identified as the Gentiles. Here is how Joseph Smith treated the topic in the Kirtland Temple dedicatory prayer:

We ask thee to appoint unto Zion other stakes besides this one which thou hast appointed, that the gathering of thy people may roll on in great power and majesty, that thy work may be cut short in righteousness.

Now these words, O Lord, we have spoken before thee, concerning the revelations and commandments which thou hast given unto us, who are identified with the Gentiles. (D&C 109:59-60)

We are the Gentiles, we are those who are of the house of Israel. The challenge comes in that the ‘nations’ no longer remember their roots, nor are they able to link themselves with the house of Israel. When Moses brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, the Lord commanded him to ‘number’ the house of Israel before they could be introduced into their promised land. Each tribe was counted and each member had to be linked to his clan.

These were the numbered of the children of Israel, six hundred thousand and a thousand seven hundred and thirty.

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

Unto these the land shall be divided for an inheritance according to the number of names.

To many thou shalt give the more inheritance, and to few thou shalt give the less inheritance: to every one shall his inheritance be given according to those that were numbered of him.

Notwithstanding the land shall be divided by lot: according to the names of the tribes of their fathers they shall inherit.

According to the lot shall the possession thereof be divided between many and few. (Numbers 26:51-56)

In order to receive an inheritance, each person had to be numbered according to tribe. Those that were not able to link themselves to Israel were not given any place in the land. They were deemed outsiders. The same is true today for those who wish to be part of the kingdom of God. Here is the plea from the Lord to the Gentiles:

Turn, all ye Gentiles, from your wicked ways; and repent of your evil doings, of your lyings and deceivings, and of your whoredoms, and of your secret abominations, and your idolatries, and of your murders, and your priestcrafts, and your envyings, and your strifes, and from all your wickedness and abominations, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, that ye may receive a remission of your sins, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, that ye may be numbered with my people who are of the house of Israel. (3 Nephi 30:2)

Given that we cannot literally prove of lineage back to the Fathers, we are given an alternative. If we are willing to repent, be baptized, receive a remission of our sins and be filled with the Holy Ghost; we are then promised that we, even as Gentiles, can be ‘numbered’ with the house of Israel.

In the end, though, it really doesn’t matter whether we consider ourselves as coming from the loins of Ephraim or as a Gentile that fought against our mother Gentiles in establishing this land of freedom and bounty.

AND now behold, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you; for I, Nephi, would not suffer that ye should suppose that ye are more righteous than the Gentiles shall be.  For behold, except ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall all likewise perish; and because of the words which have been spoken ye need not suppose that the Gentiles are utterly destroyed.

For behold, I say unto you that as many of the Gentiles as will repent are the covenant people of the Lord; and as many of the Jews as will not repent shall be cast off; for the Lord covenanteth with none save it be with them that repent and believe in his Son, who is the Holy One of Israel. (2 Nephi 30:1-2)

We should all be rightly concerned about the warnings in the Book of Mormon, not only to the house of Israel, but more importantly, to the Gentiles. We should seek to be numbered among His people. We should seek to receive the same blessing taught by Moroni relative to the church of Christ:

AND now I speak concerning baptism.  Behold, elders, priests, and teachers were baptized; and they were not baptized save they brought forth fruit meet that they were worthy of it.

Neither did they receive any unto baptism save they came forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and witnessed unto the church that they truly repented of all their sins.

And none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end.

And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith. (Moroni 6:1-4)

Those who bring forth fruit; those who approach God with a broken heart and a contrite spirit; those who have repents of their sins; those who take upon them the name of Christ and are cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost. These are the one who will be numbered ‘among the people of the church of Christ.’

What think ye?

 

In a response to the growing visibility of recent church disciplinary actions, the LDS church released a statement regarding church discipline; the discussion is found on the church information website. The charge of apostasy has been used repeatedly to stigmatize and label those who have stood out in their efforts to question and challenge the some of the current doctrines and leadership of the church.

Here is an excerpt from the press release:

What are the purposes of Church discipline?

The purpose of Church discipline is not to punish but to facilitate full repentance and fellowship for a person who has made serious mistakes.

Written instructions for lay Church leaders outline three purposes for Church discipline:

To help the individual repent and return

Repentance brings peace when we place our lives in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Church discipline is a process that helps the individual feel that change of heart and change of behavior necessary to bring full forgiveness and peace. Someone who has fulfilled the requirements of Church discipline can be completely forgiven and return to full participation in the Church.

To protect the innocent

When someone poses a physical threat to others or a spiritual threat to other members, Church discipline is conducted to provide protection to potential victims. This includes predatory practices, physical harm, abuse, fraud and apostasy.

To protect the integrity of the Church

The Church teaches its members to follow the example of Jesus Christ in leading moral, faith-centered lives. Anyone who does not meet these standards and significantly harms the integrity of the Church by their actions may face Church discipline.

To help the individual repent and return

It is illuminating to compare the discussion here with the descriptions of events in the scriptures as it pertains to the situation when ‘apostasy’ is identified as the prime factor in church discipline. While the desire to assist members to repent and return is a noble objective, how does one repent from holding an alternative view of church history? How does one repent from holding an opinion that is different from the church leadership on topics that are not in the core message of the gospel?

Alma, the elder, could have used church discipline in addressing the actions of his son, Alma, and the sons of Mosiah in their efforts to undermine the church.

Now the sons of Mosiah were numbered among the unbelievers; and also one of the sons of Alma was numbered among them, he being called Alma, after his father; nevertheless, he became a very wicked and an idolatrous man.  And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities.

And he became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God; stealing away the hearts of the people; causing much dissension among the people; giving a chance for the enemy of God to exercise his power over them. (Mosiah 27:8-9)

These men were ‘seeking to destroy the church, and to lead astray the people of the Lord.’ Certainly not the normal path for the offspring of the church leadership. As Alma was confronted by an angel we find out the motivation of the angel’s intervention:

And again, the angel said: Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith. (Mosiah 27: 14)

It was the earnest and faithful prayers of the people, as well as his father, that were answered with the visitation of the angel to bring into question the actions of Alma and his cohorts. Instead of excommunication, those who have been a target of church discipline in these recent months could have been the subject of prayer and fasting by the leaders of the church and concerned membership.

The scriptures are clear that the option exists to blot out the names of those who refuse to have faith, pray, and repent. Action that should be reserved for those who have rejected the gospel. For those who have voiced questions regarding church practices, gospel adherence should be sufficient ‘protection.’  The actions illuminated in this scriptural event show that there are alternatives.

Protecting the Innocent

Protecting the innocent is again a worthy objective. It is interesting that the church missionary effort puts heavy emphasis on the need for an investigator to apply to the promise of Moroni regarding the acquisition of a testimony of truthfulness of the church:

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things (Moroni 10:4-5)

Is it the responsibility of the church to ‘protect’ members from those accused of apostasy? Alternatively, should the members be taught to use the same powerful tool described in these verses from Moroni to ascertain ‘the truth of all things?’ Alma, in the context of the challenge from Nehor, can be argued that he took the same approach as Joseph Smith’s statement: ‘I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.’

The Integrity of the Church

Finally, are those who are brought up for church discipline and accused of apostasy impugning the integrity of the church? The leadership of the church do not seem to recognize that the integrity of the church has long been compromised by the doctrinal shifts and policy changes that have occurred over time.

On another tangent regarding the integrity of the church is found in a recent news article. In the June 29 issue of LDS Living (http://ldsliving.com/story/76205-sister-missionaries-assigned-to-proselyte-at-book-of-mormon-musical), we read of sister missionaries being assigned to proselyte outside the performances of ‘Book of Mormon Musical.’

Sister used at BOM Musical

Those of you who have seen the musical would likely agree with the content of this news article:

Not just any musical. The rollicking, raunchy and irreverent “Book of Mormon,” which takes potshots at the faith they practice.

Their goal from the area mission president was simple: Hand out cards to people heading to the theater directing them to a website (Mormon.org) that explains the religion and its practices. And to deliver the message, “Now that you’ve seen the play, read the book.”

I have attended a performance and, while it did have its good moments, it succeeded in using humor to attack some of the doctrines of the church. Is it appropriate to use such an event as a missionary opportunity, yet excommunicate faithful members who are seeking to build up the faith of individuals through a message centered on seeking God.

To apply an alternative approach, instead of excommunicating those who publically question practices, they could have deployed missionaries to the venues where these people were meeting to promote the church view on the topics at issue. Of course, that kind of activity is reserved for raunchy exploitations such as the Book of Mormon Musical.

Church discipline has become a tool to enforce orthodoxy for a wide set of issues that are completely outside the scope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. While the public pronouncement of the purpose of church discipline seems rational, the actions are harsh and dictatorial. If there is any guide for the implementation of these practice of correcting members who express concerns in public, it would be found in Doctrine and Covenants, section 121:

41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—

43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

44 That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.

45 Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.

46 The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.

In the end, a person’s salvation is solely dependent on their relationship with God. No bishop, no stake president, no general authority can act as a proxy for the Savior. Nor can any church leader interpose when a person is truly applying the gospel in their lives.  The purpose of  the gospel of Jesus Christ, as found in 3 Nephi, chapter 27,  is to sanctify us in preparation for entering the presence of our God through our faith and repentance.

Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.

As individuals and as the collective group seeking Zion, we should focus on the gospel. All this noise that is being generated detracts from that mission.

What think ye?

 

It was five years ago this month that this blog became a reality. I had been commenting on blogs for a number of months when LDS Anarchist invited me to guest post on his blog. I found it presented an outlet that I had been searching for; an opportunity to virtually commune with others who had similar views but also hear the alternative perspectives that were graciously provided. I am grateful to Adam and JR for their early support. I am grateful for Jack who brought his ‘orthodox’ views to the pages. I appreciate the handful of people who stopped by to offer words of challenge as well as encouragement. Each word, each comment that landed on the littered landscape I call my worldview, tilted it in various directions. I am a better man because of these interactions.

The blog was originally entitled “The Fulness” and was housed at 2k12.net. I decided to change the name because I had another website by the same name and I was beginning to see confusion. The original Fulness site (fulness.com) was stood up in December of 2008. I can best describe it as the summary of my spiritual perspective after struggling through eight years of the trial of my faith. Today, it is as close to a ‘shrine’ as I am willing to go. The words on that site poured out of my feeble brain over the Christmas holidays. I had finally put the sequence of ideas and topics in an order that appeared logical to me (your mileage may vary). It represented my first attempt to understand what the gospel meant, what doctrine was of most worth, and what Christ expected of His church. It was a site where I first captured the broader consequences of being a Gentile in this day. And finally, it was where I began to understand what the true future of the restored church was to be.

Kindred Spirits

This month has been a time of building associations with others who share concerns about the direction of the restored church. To my delight, I was able to have dinner with Tim of the blog entitled ‘Latter Day Commentary,’ Will (and children) of the blog  ‘In 200 Words or Less’, and Log who has been prolific in this comments on various topics.

This was followed by an opportunity to rub shoulders with the people behind Mormon Heretic and Pure Mormonism. It is such a refreshing and buoying experience to break bread and discuss spiritual matters not constrained by correlation. I found we were all seeking further light and knowledge. It was reconfirmed to me that there are people who are seeking to come unto Christ and fulfill the definition of His church in D&C, section 10:

65  For, behold, I will gather them as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if they will not harden their hearts;

66  Yea, if they will come, they may, and partake of the waters of life freely.

67  Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.

68  Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.

69  And now, behold, whosoever is of my church, and endureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.

I take the Lord at his word. I espouse the idea presented in this scripture that His church is made up of those who repent and come unto Christ, no more and no less. Anyone who attempts of redirect our attention to the works and words of men is not of His church.

The Mormon Inquisition

It now appears that, in order to be a member in good standing, one must not only support and sustain the brethren, but also conform to their view of the current version of doctrine and, amazingly, of historic events. Straying outside the acceptable bounds of the narrative currently espoused by the leadership of the church  is met with decisive action of ‘eternal’ consequences. The excommunication of Denver Snuffer, and the ongoing questioning of anyone who publicly supports the scriptural basis for his teaching claimed another victim recently. Will, the proprietor of the blog “in 200 Words or Less” was excommunicated for apostasy. This action represents a gross injustice, in my opinion. The idea that people can use the internet to express legitimate concerns regarding the historicity of church claims and doctrine and suffer excommunication without any dialogue seems to follow the same path of other inquisitions. Is there a significant difference between the actions of the Spanish Inquisition where non-believers were given the choice of either conforming to the precepts of the Holy Roman Church or be dragged through the streets until they were dead and the virtual ‘slaughter’ of one’s eternal salvation that is represented in excommunication?

As I pondered this pathetic situation, I have determined that message delivered by President Uchtdorf in the 2013 October General Conference should be clarified with the necessary caveats. Rather than simply saying to those who have been estranged from the church, “Come, join with us,” his message should include the following ‘fine print.’

All are welcome to join us, except those who differ from the current church leadership on the interpretation of church history. Also, anyone who dares interpret scripture that, in any form, represents a concern regarding the legitimacy of the church claims to authority. Please don’t join us if you believe there is any validity to the warnings in scripture regarding the condemnation or possible apostasy of the church. One can only join is if they accept the non-scriptural guidance that the Lord will not permit the church to go astray. Please leave your desire for meat behind as discussion of the mysteries of God is not permitted. Do not share any misgivings about the doctrinal shifts and the policy changes as these are an affront to the inspired leadership of the church. Please refer to the website lds.org regularly to ensure that you are in compliance with the current version of church history and doctrine.

Mothers Day

Kirtland TempleThis past Mother’s Day was the most unique in memory. I was able to attend a the Sunstone sponsored service in the Kirtland Temple to commemorate the holiday. What made it different? Perhaps the fact that there were only women on the stand; that women gave the opening prayer (my dear wife) and closing prayer and the lone instrumental musical number was presented by the token male on the program. The speakers recited their thoughts of the divine feminine – that oft marginalized Goddess who represents our spiritual beginnings. They spoke of the early beliefs in the church of a ‘shared’ priesthood between a man and a woman.  They shared the frustration with current male domination of the corporate church and the one-sided nature of the eternal relationship as defined by the current leadership. It helped me understand the Ordain Women movement.

But from my, perhaps, unique viewpoint, I am not sure it is worth the effort. Why would any woman want to partake of a corrupt priesthood when she has within herself the ability to accomplish the miracles that have evaded those who claim the keys?

The service on Mother’s day was the culminating event for the Sunstone Kirtland Symposium. This was my first experience with the Symposium and one that offered a richness of thought and provoked my heart with misapplied stereotypes. I was pleased with the diversity of speakers from Jessica Kimball who recited her experience as an intern in Nauvoo to Ross Osmond’s description of the stages of faith as applied to organizations. It was will worth the trip; especially when you consider that I was honored to spend the long weekend and a number of hours in the car discussing doctrine with Rock (Pure Mormonism) and Connie Waterman. Thank you for joining us in the Ohio.

In the fifteenth chapter of Matthew, Jesus Christ is confronted by the scribes and Pharisees who asked him this question:

Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? (Matthew 15:2)

The Jews, at the time of Christ, carried forward many traditions which had been developed to augment their worship of God. There were rules regarding cleanliness, rules regarding acceptable activities on the Sabbath, rules regarding travel. All of which were a vain attempt to ‘improve’ on the core principle of their religion. Today, many of these practices survive in the rabbinic halakhah.

Bruce McConkie characterized it this way:

Rabbinical ordinances and interpretations were added to the Mosaic law by scribes and teachers over the years. These traditions were actually and formally deemed to be more important and have greater binding force than the law itself. Among them as supposed guards against ceremonial uncleanness, were the ritualistic washings which Jesus and His disciples had ignored. (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, page 366)

Christ responded with His own question to the scribes and Pharisees:

Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? (Matthew 15:3)

The example Christ used in His response was based on one of the laws of Moses:

4  For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.

5  But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me;

6  And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free.  Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.

Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,

8  This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.

9  But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men

10  And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand:

11  Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.  (Matthew 15:4-11)

Verse five was difficult to understand until I did some research. This same event was captured in Mark, chapter 7 where the equivalent verse states

11  But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free.

12  And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother;

13  Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.(Mark 7:11-13)

Corban is derived from the word related to the temple treasury. The idea originally was that the son could avoid providing support for his parents, which was inherently part of the commandment to honor your father and mother, by pledging all of his wealth to God. Once this was done, the son no longer was deemed to have any responsibility regarding his parents support. By the meridian of time, this had simply become a vow that could be made and the son was then free of the need to meet the commandment.

As Christ indicated in verse thirteen above, there were many other ‘traditions’ that were inserted by man into the practice of a believer. It is interesting to note the a number of the accusations launched by the scribes and Pharisees were based on the apparent violation of these ‘traditions.’ such as appropriate activities for the Sabbath and others.

The scribes and Pharisees sought to accuse Christ of violating the law and found themselves charged with supplanting the commandments of God with the doctrines of men. Those who defended these traditions – the doctrines of men – lost the opportunity to participate in the gospel as delivered by Christ. They were found to be hard hearted and lovers of their position and power, they were not receptive of the message brought to them by the Son of God.

As history dictates, the gentiles did not fare significantly better. As the Holy Roman church began to assert its position, a similar set of traditions began to dominate the lives of the pious. Here is how Bruce McConkie described the situation with the early church:

To the pure and simple doctrines of Christ, the scribes and priests of early Christianity added such things as: selling indulgences, which freed the wicked from past sins and authorized them to commit future crimes without divine penalty; forgiving sins (supposedly) through repeated and perfunctory confessions; praying departed persons out of purgatory; burning candles for the dead; praying to Mary and other so-called saints, rather than to the Lord; worshiping of images; turning of the sacramental emblems into the literal flesh and blood of Jesus (transubstantiation); laying up a reservoir of good works in heaven which the so-called Church can sell to those who need them; forbidding priests and other church official to marry; doing penance to gain forgiveness of sins; adorning houses of worship with costly materials; wearing of expensive robes and costumes by priests and other church officers; using elaborate ministerial titles; augmenting the Church treasury by gambling; and so forth.

All these, and many other like traditions, are counted of more importance by some than the law of God as originally given by the Master. Indeed, the so-called Christian Church today is founded in large part on the traditions of the “elders’ rather than on the revelations from heaven. (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, page 367)

Many of the simple and pure aspects of the gospel as delivered by the Savior and the apostles were replaced by the traditions and doctrines of men. The following is an example from the life of Martin Luther;

He at first gave himself up to all the observances which the Church enjoined for the expiation of sin. One day, wishing to obtain an indulgence promised by the pope to all who should ascend on their knees what is called Pilate’s Staircase, the Saxon monk was humbly creeping up those steps, which he was told had been miraculously transported from Jerusalem to Rome. While he was performing this meritorious act, he though he heard a voice of thunder crying from the bottom of his heart, as at Wittenberg and Bologna, “The just shall live by faith.” These words twice before struck him like the voice of an angel from God. They now resounded unceasingly and powerfully within him. He rose in amazement from the steps up which he was dragging his body; he shuddered at himself; he was ashamed of seeing to what a depth superstition had plunged him. therefore he fled far from the scene of his folly. (The Life and Times of Martin Luther, pp 54-55)

Would we today believe that by climbing a series of steps on our knees, we would be able to free someone from Purgatory? Acts such as those prescribed for the Jews as well as those that found their way into the church established after the original apostles carried the gospel to the gentiles represent the doctrines of men mingled with scripture.

The Jews of the birthright had the opportunity to accept the gospel of Christ and, through the covenant, receive the blessings of the Kingdom of God. In their rejection, the gospel was then taken to the gentiles. These too had the opportunity to build the kingdom.  As described in the Book of Mormon, we can see that “they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.” (1 Nephi 13:26) These ‘plain and precious’ parts were supplanted by the doctrines of men. Practices which could easily lead the practitioner to focus on the ritual rather than the message.

The stage is set for the restoration of the gospel. As characterized by Nephi, those parts,  plain and precious, will once again be made available.

For, behold, saith the Lamb: I will manifest myself unto thy seed, that they shall write many things which I shall minister unto them, which shall be plain and precious; and after thy seed shall be destroyed, and dwindle in unbelief, and also the seed of thy brethren, behold, these things shall be hid up, to come forth unto the Gentiles, by the gift and power of the Lamb. (1 Nephi 13:35)

As a result of the restoration, we, the Gentiles, now have a book which contains the ‘fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.’ What should we consider as the fulness of the gospel? Should we believe that it is incomplete in any way? Should it be the bellwether regarding the doctrines by which we should govern spiritual lives? I believe this is the case. I have long held a testimony of the Book of Mormon as the mechanism that the Lord utilized to announce His doctrine. This testimony was not drilled into me by repetition, I had a singular profound experience that left me with a knowledge that the book was God-breathed.

This now brings me to the core question of this post. I have attempted to outline the circumstance under which both the Jews, or the house of Israel, and also early Christianity lost their way and adopted the traditions and doctrines of men instead of the doctrine of Christ. It can happen gradually, as imperfect men attempt to improve on the word of God.

Are we, today, as keepers of the fulness of the gospel, susceptible to the same shift from the pure doctrine of Christ into the quagmire represented by the doctrines of men? Are the doctrines held by the so-called Church of Jesus Christ still after these nearly 200 years still in perfect alignment with the doctrine of God?

To answer these questions, we should first clearly define the doctrine of Christ. Secondly, we should examine our own traditions and doctrines to determine that the two are in alignment.

Following His identification of the twelve disciples in His visit to the Nephites, the Lord set forward His doctrine:

35  Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.

36  And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one.

37  And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.

38  And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.

39  Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.

40  And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them. (3 Nephi 11:35-40)

If I were to attempt to place this in my own words, the doctrine of Christ is that those who believe in Christ will be visited by fire and the Holy Ghost. To receive this, we must repent and be baptized. We must become as little children, humble and teachable. Anyone who says that the doctrine of Christ is “more or less” than this and establishes a different doctrine is of evil.

Should the doctrine of the church that bears His name be different than the doctrine defined by Christ in these verses? The answer should be a resounding No!

Are there rituals and activities that are promoted as the doctrine of the church that do not align with the doctrine of Christ? I would suggest that we each individually and collectively as followers of Christ should assess our actions to determine if they are aligned with the doctrine of Christ or if they are manufactured by men. Have we allowed our traditions become the doctrine of the church?

Ask any active member of the LDS church what is required of them and you will probably get a list such as:

  1. Pay tithing
  2. Accept callings in the church
  3. Do your home and visiting teaching
  4. Attend your meetings
  5. Hold Family Home Evening

I could carry the list on for many pages. This is the Mormon version of halakhah. The list of guidelines that a good Mormon must follow. I am sure that obedience to the list will give us, today, the same satisfaction, pride, and arrogance demonstrated by the scribes and Pharisees.

I will say it again. Hark, all ye who claim to be saints. Are these traditions in alignment with the doctrine of Christ? I respond with a resounding “NO.” Just as with the scribes and Pharisees at the time of the mortal ministry of Christ, just as it was with the gentiles in the Holy Roman Church, the acts and actions that should be spawned by our acceptance and implementation of the doctrine of Christ have replaced it. Once we believe that the list of traditions we have come to live by as ‘the gospel,’ we are no better than the Jews in the meridian of time. And we will face the same fate. It is very sad to consider that people who hold to the pure doctrine of Christ are considered apostate, just as Christ was condemned by the religious rulers of his time.

Even in this enlightened age of the restored gospel, we are susceptible to being “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine?” (Eph 4:14) Should plural marriage be a requirement to hold high office in the church, as it was at the time of Brigham Young,  or be an offence worthy of excommunication, as it is today? Tossed to and fro… We need to identify the traditions of men in our own worldview and strip them away. We need to gauge our process along the strait and narrow path by the doctrine of Christ, no more, no less.

I implore you to search the words of Christ, to seek knowledge regarding the doctrine of Christ as contained in the restored scriptures. Look in your heart and determine if your personal halakhah is a stumbling block to employing the real doctrine of Christ in your life.

What think ye?

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