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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.

Youth Asks:

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?

 From James:

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 8:1–2100:5–8.)”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 7:152 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?

I took the opportunity to read the Third Nephi version of the Sermon on the Mount this morning and came upon something that intrigued me. As the Lord was giving these words to the multitude of the Nephites, He paused, as described in chapter 13, verse 25:

And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he looked upon the twelve whom he had chosen, and said unto them: Remember the words which I have spoken.  For behold, ye are they whom I have chosen to minister unto this people.  Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on.  Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

Unlike what is found in the New Testament which suggests He spoke these words to the multitude, the Lord directs His words to the twelve and, I assume, lets that multitude listen in. After speaking to the twelve, we read in the first verse of chapter 14, that the Savior once again turns to the multitude to continue speaking.

As I pondered the words found here, I came to understand that this section of the Sermon on the Mount was directed specifically to those that that Lord had called to serve.

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. (3 Nephi 12:1)

As noted here,  the Lord had called twelve to be ministers and servants unto those who would accept His words. They were given specific  ‘power’ to baptize candidates with water. After the first baptism with water, the Lord would baptize ‘with fire and with the Holy Ghost.’ This is a subject that I have earnestly attempted to understand in previous posts.

What I want to address in this post is the segment of the Sermon on the Mount that the Lord directed to those who He had called to serve His flock. What did the Lord expect from these twelve that were called from among the Nephites? And through association what would the Lord expect from those that are called to fill a similar position in today’s church of Jesus Christ?

As I read verses 25 through 34 of chapter 13, I understand that the Savior had called on these men to leave behind the normal cares and bothers of life. They were to take no thought about food, clothing, shelter, or any other ‘material’ vestment. They were told that the Lord knows that they will need these things but they are to ‘seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.’ (verse 33)

If I were to stop there, I could understand these words to say that when a minister or servant of the Lord puts the kingdom of God first, he will then receive what he needs from a physical perspective; food, clothing, housing, etc. But how much should these leaders expend in acquiring these material possessions as they pursue the kingdom of God?

In the next verse, the Lord closes his words directed to the twelve with this:

Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.  Sufficient is the day unto the evil thereof. (verse 34)

As I see it, these men were told to ‘take no thought’ as to what they were to eat, or drink, or where their clothing was to come from. They were told to take no thought for what may happen tomorrow. They were to make no plans for what they may need in the future, beginning with tomorrow. They were only to follow the Spirit and the Lord would take care of their needs.

As I pondered this, I had to first ask myself if I would be willing to give up my material possessions, my home, my refrigerator, my freezer, my cupboards stuffed with the things that I will need tomorrow. Do I have the spiritual fortitude to give these things up in pursuit of the kingdom of God? Wow, I would struggle to gain even a small portion of the faith I would need to meet these words. I am too comfortable, I am too aligned with Mammon, I am too materially focused to yield to this command of the Savior. I must assess what I am willing to give up to pursue the kingdom of God…

And what of those who are called to serve as the twelve (or fifteen) today? Are they to be placed under the same direction as those twelve selected from among the Nephites? I wonder if today’s equivalent is an unlimited church credit card? Is the Lord providing a million dollar penthouse for the longest living apostle?

I cannot judge (which conveniently is the next topic that the Savior treats in the Sermon on the Mount). I can only address what I believe is the scope of the Lord’s direction to me. But as I view the scope of the Sermon on the Mount, it is filled with guidance on how we are to treat one another, how we are to honor our Father, how we are not to allow the things of this world get in the road of our eternal path.

As I look at the chapters in Third Nephi, I can now draw the distinction between the Lord’s council to the multitude to ‘do alms unto the poor’ (assuming we have material that can benefit them)  and the direction given to the twelve to not worry about their own sustenance as the Lord will provide for them. We are to give to the poor in secret; we are to serve others without expectation of recognition (no bright t-shirts?). We are to turn the other cheek, we are to give more than is asked. We are to forgive all trespasses. Wow… do I have a long way to go.

I have come away with a much deeper appreciation for what the Lord is asking of us in the Sermon on the Mount. I can only hope that He has patience as I make a feeble attempt to be part of His flock.

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?

I recently had a conversation with the bishop of our ward when we crossed paths at a community event. He was elated that the recent troop surge, sorry, missionary expansion, had increased the elders and sisters from a historical two pairs to five pairs of missionaries in the ward. He warned me that I, as a lost sheep, may be seeing more visits by these young men and women, as their efforts would include re-activation in addition to finding those who can be taught the gospel.

When I am visited by the missionaries, I usually have several simple questions that I ask them. They are questions that I would hope each one of us have answered, in the context of the latter-day scriptures.

  • Who are the Gentiles?

  • What is the definition of the gospel?

  • What is the definition of the doctrine of Christ?

  • What is the definition of the church of Christ and how does one become a member?

  • What does it mean to be ‘born again?’

Unfortunately, I have not met a single missionary that could answer these questions with specific scriptural references. One would think that those who are called to preach the gospel would be able to clearly define these answers, but to such end I have been disappointed. To me, these questions form the core of my spiritual worldview. They represent the crucial information for which the restoration occurred. Let me attempt to concisely answer these questions, based on my study of the scriptures.

Who are the Gentiles?

According to the title page of the Book of Mormon, the book was written to three specific groups – “Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile” To which group do most of the current members of the Church belong? I would suggest the church today is made up of mainly Gentiles, as characterized in the Book of Mormon.

The house of Israel lost the truth because of their unbelief. The Gentiles will receive a testimony through the Holy Ghost (3 Nephi 16:6-7)

The Gentiles are the ones that receive the ‘fulness of the gospel’ in the latter days (1 Nephi 15:13)

They are also the ones who sin against the gospel and have it taken from them. (3 Nephi 16:10-13)

What is the definition of the gospel?

I believe that operating under the correct definition of the gospel of Jesus Christ is critical to one’s stature with God. Paul told the Galatians that “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” It was the contamination of the gospel that prompted the restoration. Should we not make sure that we are, indeed, preaching the gospel that we have received?

Christ defined the gospel during His visit to the Nephites. (3 Nephi 27:13-21)

There are also three instances where the gospel is defined in the Doctrine and Covenants. (D&C 33:11-13, D&C 39:6, D&C 76:40-42) The essence of the gospel as I gleaned from these references is the we are to repent and be sanctified by baptism, first with water, then with fire and the Holy Ghost. These steps are necessary for us to enter His kingdom.

What is  the definition of the doctrine of Christ?

Paul told the Ephesians that we should not be ‘tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men.’ (Eph 4:14) We should be equally diligent with respect to the restored doctrine of Christ.

Nephi brings us the first specific reference to this doctrine of Christ. ( 2 Nephi 31:2 – 32:6) He also tells us that ‘there will be no more doctrine given’ until Christ is manifest in the flesh.

When Christ appeared to the Nephites, he added to His doctrine. (3 Nephi 11:31-41) In this treatise, Christ states that anyone who declares ‘more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil.’

I have often pondered what the impact is of this comment. Are we today awash with the doctrines of men rather than holding to the specific aspects of the doctrine of Christ found in the scriptures? What are the potential consequences of expanding the doctrine of Christ to include things that don’t belong?

Both the twelve selected from among the Nephites to be disciples as well as those of the current restoration were told to speak only the words that they received from Christ. “…of tenets thou shalt not talk, but thou shalt declare repentance and faith on the Savior, and remission of sins by baptism and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost.” (D&C 19:31)

In the tenth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord states:

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.

Again we are told that we must not add to or take away from the doctrine of Christ.  I believe the warnings are very clear. If we do not adhere strictly to the doctrine of Christ in our teachings we are built on the sandy foundation and risk being washed away.  I wonder if this is not why we are seeing such an outflow from the church. We are to be firmly grounded on the doctrine of Christ if we are to maintain our ability to attract those who seek the truth.

What is the definition of the church of Christ and how does one become a member?

The above quotation from D&C, section 10, represents the specific definition of the church directly from the Savior. In light of the current ‘church,’ is there both a corporate and a spiritual church? What would our organization look like if the church consisted of only those who repented and came unto Christ?

I would suggest that Moroni, in the sixth chapter of the book that carries his name, gave us clarity on what it means to come unto Christ and the criteria for membership in his church. We must bring forth fruit as a demonstration that we are worthy to receive baptism. We must come forward ‘with a broken heart and a contrite spirit,’ and witness unto the church that we have repented of all our sins. We must take upon us the name of Christ, determined to serve him to the end. What does it mean to take upon us the name of Christ before we are baptized? There must be this level of commitment in order to be a candidate for baptism.

After one is baptized, they are to be ‘wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost’ before they are considered a member of the church of Christ. How should this apply to us today? The scriptures tell us that the gospel of Christ outlines the principle of a remission of sins through the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. This gate, as defined by the doctrine of Christ, is how we are to gain access to the ‘strait and narrow path that leads to eternal life.’ How many of us have entered the gate, being cleansed of our sins  – having them remitted by the second baptism? This is what is required of us to be considered members of His spiritual church.

What does it mean to be born again?

Nicodemus was told by Christ that we all must be born again and have been privileged to have more witnesses given us relative to this critical element of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Alma stated that “… 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.” (Mosiah 27:25) We have the examples given us in the scriptures of the people of Benjamin, of Enos, of the three hundred Lamanites, of our father Adam. All of these stand as beacons of the gate to the strait and narrow path.

Among many of the Christian denominations, one is expected to become a new creature in order to be received into His fellowship. Many have used the opportunity at revival meetings to come forward with their commitment to Christ. Is this a legitimate baptism of fire? I will let God be the judge.

I regret that, for much of my life, I looked at those who claimed to be a ‘born again Christian.’ with pity. Oh, how sad it is that they have missed the mark. I now know that, for many years, the pride of my heart blinded me to the fact that the latter-day scriptures bear witness to the necessity of this second baptism – the one that cleanses of our sins and grants us access to the strait and narrow path and membership in His church.

Those are the five simple questions that set me on the path I am now treading. When I had my crisis of faith back in 2000, I had to rebuild my spiritual worldview. I had to sift out of my many life experiences those events which were ’emotional’ and those that were incontrovertible expressions of the spirit. When I was done, I had only two that I was determined to build upon. I had received a strong witness that the Book of Mormon contained the word of God as a young man and I had my amazing experience at the age of 19 when I was lifted out of deep and dark despair and infused with indescribable joy and peace.

These two experiences confirmed to me that there was something outside this mortality. I could not deny the existence of some spiritual world even though I could not see, touch, or hear it within the context of my physical senses.  I began a quest to understand what I was supposed to do. I purchased and devoured hundreds of books containing the words of men. I sought the Lord in prayer and fasting for answers. These answers did not come quickly and easily. I came to realize that I was looking in the wrong place. I would not find my Lord through any other man, nor the words that are written by man. I would only find Him by reading the scriptures and applying them in my life.  I could only find Christ by coming unto Him.

I still struggle in my quest for eternal life, which is at the end of the strait and narrow path. I take solace in the words of Nephi when he said

O wretched man that I am!  Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.

I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.

And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.

My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep.

He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh.

He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me.

Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the night-time. (2 Nephi 4:17-23)

In spite of my sins and weaknesses, I have a full heart because of the bits of knowledge I have received. I do not yet know where my journey will take me. I am grateful for the opportunity to express the thoughts of my heart here and hope that I may have some sliver of influence on those who have walked a similar path.

To those who seek the truth, I can only offer my feeble example as a proposed course. Shed the words and works of man. Do not trust in the arm of flesh. Seek God with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Ask the simple questions.

What think ye?

What is the purpose of the priesthood? As I pondered that question, my thoughts went back to the many times I sat in priesthood meeting or in a priesthood class and was taught that we are privileged to hold the power to act in the name of God. We have many stations in our organization today, deacons, priests, teachers as classes within the lower, or Aaronic, priesthood and elders, seventies, and high priests accounted in the higher, or Melchizedek, priesthood.

In Section 107 of the Doctrine and Covenants, we find this description of these two priesthoods:

18  The power and authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church—

19  To have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.

20  The power and authority of the lesser, or Aaronic Priesthood, is to hold the keys of the ministering of angels, and to administer in outward ordinances, the letter of the gospel, the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, agreeable to the covenants and commandments.

As cited here, a person holding the higher priesthood holds the “keys of all spiritual blessings of the church.” These spiritual blessings are associated with the knowledge which comes from receiving information relative to the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.

In Alma, chapter 12, we are told that we are to seek after the mysteries of God:

9  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.

10  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.

Are these ‘many’ who are privileged to acquire knowledge of the mysteries of God fulfilling the directive of the Melchizedek priesthood? Should we not follow Alma’s direction as well as take advantage of the blessings associated with this priesthood?

The second spiritual blessing offered through the Melchizedek Priesthood is to ‘have the heavens opened to them.’ How many of us truly believe that we can have the heavens opened to us? That we could receive knowledge and wisdom directly from heaven? That we can receive visions and revelations from this spiritual blessing of the priesthood?

The next spiritual blessing comes from being able to associate with those who are of the church of the Firstborn. Speaking of those who would come forth in the first resurrection, Joseph Smith stated in Doctrine and Covenants, Section 76:

51  They are they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name, and this according to the commandment which he has given—

52  That by keeping the commandments they might be washed and cleansed from all their sins, and receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power;

53  And who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true.

54  They are they who are the church of the Firstborn.

55  They are they into whose hands the Father has given all things—

56  They are they who are priests and kings, who have received of his fulness, and of his glory;

57  And are priests of the Most High, after the order of Melchizedek, which was after the order of Enoch, which was after the order of the Only Begotten Son.

I would suggest that the church of the Firstborn is made up of people who have been sanctified. Something of which we have had considerable discussion in this forum. Is this not one of the spiritual blessings of the priesthood? Are we not taught that we must be baptized by water and by the spirit to be washed and cleansed of our sins? The name of this blog, Just and True, is a reminder of this spiritual blessing offered to all who seek to receive the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Wouldn’t it make sense that those who have been blessed to receive the baptism of fire would seek to commune with others who have been given the same experience?

Finally we are told that the last spiritual blessing of the higher priesthood is to be able to commune with God and Jesus Christ. This promise is reinforced in the ninety-third section of the Doctrine and Covenants

1  VERILY, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am;

It should be known to all that the spiritual blessings availed to those who are benefactors of the higher priesthood include the right and ability to converse with God. Are we prepared individually and collectively to have this occur? What we are offered here is the right and privilege to interact directly with heaven without any proscription by any priesthood leader.

The lesser or Aaronic priesthood hold keys also. The first key mentioned is relative to the ministering of angels. How many of us have sought to be taught the words of Christ? Do we individually or collectively have the faith to call down angels to minister and teach us?

The duty to administer the outward ordinances is the next blessing of the lesser priesthood. We are called by the scriptures to repent and be baptized as Mormon dictates in Mormon, chapter 7:

…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,

It is the duty of the lesser priesthood to make sure these outward ordinance are performed in accordance with  the ‘letter of the gospel.’ I would suggest that the phrasing here is to encourage that which is being taught to tightly concur with the gospel as is defined in the scriptures. Are we taught today based on the letter of the gospel? Do we hold tightly to what Christ defined as His gospel? Do we adhere with what has been clearly defined as faith,  repentance, and baptism?

What does it mean to ‘hold the keys’ as cited in Doctrine and Covenants, section 107? This should be a matter prayerful study for all who seek to understand the spiritual  blessings defined above. I would suggest that the answer is found in the scriptures. In one of the two chapters in the Book of Mormon that mentions ‘priesthood.’ we find the following from Alma, chapter 13:

6  And thus being called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest—

While the entire chapter is certainly worth reading, I would want to focus on the definition of the ‘key’ as I understand it. The key is the knowledge that is to be given the seeker relative to how they may enter the rest of God. I would suggest that the priesthood key, in this case, represents knowledge to be shared. These high priests were selected only because they had themselves received of this blessing and had the ability to now communicate that path to others who sought the rest of God. These men held the keys to the spiritual blessings as described in Doctrine and Covenants, section 107.

What are we to make of these men who were called and ordained to this high priesthood?

10  Now, as I said concerning the holy order, or this high priesthood, there were many who were ordained and became high priests of God; and it was on account of their exceeding faith and repentance, and their righteousness before God, they choosing to repent and work righteousness rather than to perish;

11  Therefore they were called after this holy order, and were sanctified, and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb.

12  Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God.

It does not appear that these righteous individuals were called to preside and receive adoration of the masses. They were called to be servants and ministers of the people just as the disciples called from among the Nephites at the visitation of Christ.

1  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.

These twelve disciples were also given the keys of the spiritual blessings of the priesthood. They were to teach the gospel to those who sought the knowledge, they were to administer the outward ordinances in accordance to the letter of the gospel

8  And when they had ministered those same words which Jesus had spoken—nothing varying from the words which Jesus had spoken—behold, they knelt again and prayed to the Father in the name of Jesus.

These men understood that the key to bringing the multitude to the state of readiness for spiritual blessings was to teach them the words of Christ, and only those words.

11  And it came to pass that Nephi went down into the water and was baptized.

12  And he came up out of the water and began to baptize.  And he baptized all those whom Jesus had chosen.

13  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.

14  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.

15  And it came to pass that while the angels were ministering unto the disciples, behold, Jesus came and stood in the midst and ministered unto them.

Here we have a representation of all the spiritual blessings of the priesthood. Thus we also see in these verses the purpose of the priesthood – to bring people to commune with heaven. Should it be any different in this day and age? Should we not expect and endeavor to acquire these spiritual blessings?

Finally, what manner of people should we see as the holders of these keys (knowledge)?

I would suggest that a concise reading of Doctrine and Covenants, section 121, would be appropriate

34  Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen.  And why are they not chosen?

35  Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—

36  That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.

Can a person have their hearts set upon the things of this world and be in a position to teach the appropriate knowledge of the spiritual blessings of the priesthood? I would suggest that this verse speaks otherwise. What are the things of this world that would qualify in leading them away from being able to exercise their priesthood?

37  That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.

38  Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.

39  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.

40  Hence many are called, but few are chosen.

The moment a person succumbs to pride or ambition in the slightest degree; the moment that a person attempts to exercise any unrighteous control, or dominion or compulsion on others, the authority of that person is withdrawn. Is there any pride or ambition among the priesthood leadership? If so, they have no authority. Is there any who use their leadership to control and compel others? If so, they cannot exercise the true priesthood. Is this the situation with just a few, or is it the unenviable lot of almost all?

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—

So these are the traits of those who have truly been ordained to the priesthood and can legitimately convey the keys to the spiritual blessings. They are long suffering, gentle, meek, and loving. They deliver the message of the letter of the gospel with kindness and pure knowledge. Such are those who truly called and chosen as we read from Alma, chapter 13:

11  Therefore they were called after this holy order, and were sanctified, and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb.

12  Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God.

I would suggest that the holy priesthood described in this chapter of Alma cannot be attained simply by reaching a certain age and having hands placed upon your head. To be called, and chosen, one must seek and receive that cleansing power of the baptism of fire and be sanctified. They are then called to provide the key to unlock this experience for those who seek communion with God. Having ones heart, even minimally, set upon the things of this world can invalidate one’s priesthood. Any attempt to coerce, compel, or dictate the path of another person will lead to the loss of the ability to exercise the priesthood.

May we all be able to recognize those who are called, ordained, and sanctified as ministers and servants to lead us into the rest of the Lord.

What think ye?

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)

I remember very little about my water baptism when I was eight years old. The ward we recently moved into, at the time, was located in a small farming and ranching community with members scattered across a wide area. In my recollection, the ward had a monthly baptismal ceremony for all the BIC, born in the covenant, candidates to be presented for the ordinance. There was a preparation class for all the seven-year-olds in which I recall my teacher warning me that I needed to know all the Articles of Faith because I had to have an interview with the bishop. He would ask me to recite an Article of Faith at random, so I needed to be prepared. I apparently passed the interview.

My father was not active when I was growing up, so the duty of performing the ordinance fell to someone I did not know since we did not have any family in the area. I don’t have any specific recollection of the event other than being embarrassed getting dressed in the locker room following the ordinance.

The next day, I was confirmed a member of the church. Again, I remember little of the event other than I had many ‘heavy’ hands placed on my head. The duty of voice for the confirmation fell to a stranger.

I surmise that my baptism would have meant much more to me had I been a ‘real’ convert. Someone who had to make a serious choice on the matter, rather than simply reaching some specific age. The event, my being born of water, followed by my confirmation was sufficient to classify me as a member in full fellowship.

My baptism of the Spirit is a different matter. I have, in a past post, recited my recollection of the event. In that post, I told of the circumstances that led to the event. I talked of the marvelous feeling and ‘cleansing’ I received when I was nineteen years old.

It still stands today as the most significant event of my six decades in mortality. As I reflected on this event in light of the recent activity on this blog on the topic, my mind went back to that time and a portion of that same peace returned. At the time, I did not understand what had happened to me. I transitioned, in a matter of seconds, from being enveloped in despair and gloom, carrying a heavy burden to an incredible feeling of joy, peace, and lightness.

In my case, I had never been instructed as to the meaning of the second birth. I simply assumed that I had received an incredible answer to a prayer. My life, however, had changed. I had not been contemplating a mission before the event. Several days after the experience, I returned home to my ward and asked to begin the process to serve a mission. After a couple weeks, I no longer felt I was walking on air and the peace and joy subsided, but I was changed. I was a different person. I just didn’t know why.

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)

It was not until many years later that I came to understand what had happened to me. This scripture from Third Nephi, spoke to me, There were others who were similarly blessed with this baptism and did not understand what had happened. They had to be instructed as to what had happened to them. In my case, the scriptures were the medium. This learning didn’t happen until many years later.

As I write this today, there are fundamental nuggets of knowledge that my experience instilled in my world view. The first was an unshakable knowledge of the existence of a Supreme Being. What happened to me that night, so many years ago, could not have been generated by my distressed mind. I knew that what I experienced had come from God. I had, and have to this day, no doubt in His existence. The spiritual world had invaded my physical world and left an indelible mark on my soul. I could no more disregard my experience as I could deny my own existence.

I also came away from my experience with a new perspective on the character of this spiritual world. I had never before, nor since, experienced such an overwhelming infusion of love and acceptance. So much of our physical world demonstrates conditional love. I will love you if you do these things. The church presents a similar message. You are not acceptable unless you do the checklist.

My takeaway, however, was just the opposite. I felt, through the experience, and many days after, an unconditional love beyond anything in this material world. While I have fallen short, at times, I have never lost that feeling. As my miserable self was accepted through that event, so does God accept us for who we are. We are the ones who wish to distance ourselves from Him.

I also learned that we can hear a spiritual voice, just as we can hear a physical voice. Since that time, I have had the incredible experience of ‘hearing’ the voice of the spirit direct me on several other occasions. Again, I don’t know how my physical mind could have manufactured this.

So, why do I bring these things to this blog? It is not to boast or attempt to set myself apart. I do this, as prompted by the Spirit, to give others hope in things spiritual. I wish I had someone, when I was truly seeking, help me understand what is available from God and where one can go for guidance in the scriptures.

This second birth is offered to all who come with a ‘broken heart and a contrite spirit’ to Christ. It can be for anyone, as it was for myself, the pinnacle of a life experience.

What think ye?

The kids are all raised and out of the house now. They are in various stages of establishing their own families and gaining that wisdom that comes from life’s experience. We brought our children up in the church. Our Sundays found us in the embrace of the Saints. The kids were taught to dress nicely and to be quiet in Sacrament. They attended Primary and were taught to follow the prophet, pay tithing, and prepare for missions. They went to Young Men’s and Young Women’s to learn how to tie knots, to create service projects. With the help of diligent parents they got up early and regularly attended seminary where they were presented with the correlated message of the restored gospel – to be happy you must avoid sin and faithfully attend to all your church assignments. You must prepare to enter the temple where you will be taught the keys to salvation.

Our children were taught that the true church was restored through Joseph Smith and that the truthfulness continued unabated to this present day. That the leadership of the church were prophets, seers, and revelators. That they would guide the church just as Christ will do when He returns. They were encouraged to bear their testimonies that the church was true, that Joseph Smith was a prophet and (current prophet) was called by God to lead his people today.

The programmed message was repeated until the kids could recite it on demand. They learned what answers were expected of them and regurgitated them as necessary to make it through the current lesson.

There were occasional spiritual/emotional events such as a visit to Adam-ondi-Ahman or the Youth Conference testimony meeting. These seemed to be orchestrated to be inspirational and to reinforce the messages they received in their courses from Primary to seminary.

But, looking back there was something missing; something fundamental to the spiritual wellbeing of my children. They learned all the correct answers but had never been challenged to assemble the questions and seek the answers on their own. They were never given the opportunity to develop their own spiritual drive; their teachers and parents did that for them.

Today, I regret using the church programming that directed the religious upbringing of my children. I feel I missed the mark. When I was teaching them to follow the prophet, I should have been encouraging them to seek out the Savior because no religion is perfect. When they were learning to pay their tithing, I should have been teaching them  the hazards of relying on the works of men as recognition of God’s assent. Instead of injecting them with pride as the ‘one true church.’ I should have taught them that God will commune with the righteous seeker, regardless of their church affiliation. The message of priesthood keys should have been wrapped in the scripure warning that pride would invalidate any man’s priesthood. When they were instructed about the continuous line of apostles and prophets, they should have been learning that they can receive revelation; that they are just as worthy of dreams, visions, and revelations as any one else.

I never questioned the program when we were in the middle of it. I, perhaps, sensed that the church had taken responsibility for the spiritual training of my children and  obviated my responsibility in the matter. My children were fed a pristine view of the church and a distorted definition of the gospel that did not withstand scrutiny.

As a result, the kids grew up in the church and then grew out of it. At the time, we were so busy ‘living the gospel’ through its attendant outward ordinances and rituals  that we didn’t learn to live the gospel – the message to come unto Christ.

I have to wonder if there aren’t other parents and children who have experienced the same thing. The correlated message of the church having left them with a number of answers to the requisite questions but without the spiritual backbone needed to stand up a true child  of God.

What think ye?

I didn’t watch a lot of conference this weekend. I don’t intend to put forth any extensive commentary on specific items, at this time, but I may return to the words of this weekend at some point in the future.  I have been on somewhat of a hiatus these last months as I have explored my life and what mission I may have. When I have figured out what I want to be when I grow up, I will let you know.

Here we are in the middle of the ‘Mormon moment.’ As President Monson stated in his closing words, if effect, the world is watching us. In the light of the additional emphasis of all things Mormon, I had expected that the 182nd General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints would be a concerted effort to convince the general Christian world that we are one of them. Yes, we bring some flavors that may not be familiar to the typical born again Christian, but we worship the same God, we serve in His name and we equally value His children. So, let’s dispel the ‘cult’ thing, link arms and move forward – let’s be friends…

This week,  I made my way up Santa Monica Boulevard to the Los Angeles Temple grounds; spending some time exploring the visitors center located behind the temple. There were the customary missionary couple at the front desk and missionaries keeping watch for the unwashed. I walked around the exhibits and attempted to position my frame of mind as one not exposed to the message of the Mormons. The missive of the visitors center, in summary, that I found was was family and service. Our families are where we learn to serve and we practice it with our neighbor. Not a bad story, one that should be easy for our neighbors to  absorb.

But, was that the purpose of the restoration? Was the mission of Joseph Smith to restore the idea of service to a waiting world? As we vacate our need to gather to Zion, as we morph the law of consecration into the church welfare program, as we sweep the couplets such as God as once a man behind us;  what has the message of the restoration become?

The nagging question remains in my mind: Is it a good thing to be accepted of the world? Are we fulfilling the objective of filling the world with the gospel when we bring ourselves into acceptability by worldly standards, even though they be Christian standards?. Are we the leaven of the earth that will bring about a renewal of the good news? Or, has that leaven lost its ability to raise bread from the dough of man?

I am reminded of the words found in book of James, chapter four:

4  Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?  whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

Is the LDS Church, attempting to become friends, culturally, socially, financially, and politically, with the world? If so, do we face being at enmity with God?

What enmity is created when we seek friendship of the world? Can we serve two masters? Can we strive with all our might, mind, and effort to build a home and put two cars in the garage and still fulfill the pleadings of Christ to “come unto Him?”

Each of us must arrive at a personal answer. Am I a friend of the world or am I striving to establish the works of man?

What think ye?

L. Tom Perry

The comment regarding the Savior’s dual citizenship, both heaven and earth, speaks to an interesting concept. Do we claim dual citizenship also? As I pondered this topic, I was reminded of what Christ taught Nicodemus. We have to be been born both of the earth and of heaven. The baptism of water can represent the earthly baptism while the baptism of the spirit can be viewed as being ‘born’ from above.

I know of only one place in the scriptures where the idea of what clothing is worn is identified as important to the Sabbath observance. The Zoramites dressed in their fine clothing on this day. The following is Alma’s response to the situation.

“Behold, O my God, their costly apparel, and their ringlets, and their bracelets, and their ornaments of gold, and all their precious things which they are ornamented with; and behold, their hearts are set upon them, and yet they cry unto thee and say—We thank thee, O God, for we are a chosen people unto thee, while others shall perish.” Alma 31:28

Do we indirectly cast people out of our places of worship but placing artificial constraints on what people can wear?

Elder Perry indicated that the young priesthood holders prepare and bless the sacrament in the same way as the Savior did. I beg to differ. I have outlined my thoughts on how the church has deviated from the way that the sacrament is administered by the Lord in Third Nephi.

Is our justification for the differences sufficient?

Jean Stevens

What can we learn from children – humility, obedience, and love… I would have hoped that Sister Stevens could have linked this directly to the doctrine of Christ as found in Third Nephi, chapter 11:

“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.”

We are told that this is the doctrine of Christ and that declaring more or less than this is unsatisfactory.

 

Walter F. Gonzalez

Followers of Christ are loving people and make covenants – sacrament and temple attendance. I find it interesting that the Book of Mormon, which contains the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, speaks clearly on the need to perform the ordinance of the sacrament according to the example of the Savior but says nothing regarding the need to attend the temple. Has this ‘covenant’ been placed by man or by God?

Kent F. Richards

No pain is wasted – adds to our understanding. That is much easier to say after the pain is over…

Elder Richards quotes from the definition of the Gospel of Jesus Christ found in Third Nephi, chapter 21:

“14  And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—

15  And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.”

Is there any conflict between the gospel definition of the purpose to draw all men unto Christ and the dictate to ‘follow the prophet?’ Shouldn’t the mission of the church be to bring people to Christ rather than swear allegiance to a man?

Healed by the power of the lamb of God – where is that healing today? We read in Fourth Nephi, that the church that was established by Christ among the Nephites was led by twelve disciples who performed the miracles as a sign of the veracity of their organization.

“5  And there were great and marvelous works wrought by the disciples of Jesus, insomuch that they did heal the sick, and raise the dead, and cause the lame to walk, and the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear; and all manner of miracles did they work among the children of men; and in nothing did they work miracles save it were in the name of Jesus.”

Why don’t these gifts of the spirit exist among us today? Why aren’t our present day apostles able to perform these works as did their counterparts in this past dispensation?

Quentin L. Cook

What are the contents of our spiritual purse? What would people find if they opened up our clutch and analyzed the contents of what is important to us?

I found it interesting that in the story of the stake council meeting we are taught the lesson that women can ‘facilitate’ revelation. Does this implicitly teach that women cannot directly receive revelation?

Henry Eyring

We are presented with the idea that the doctrine called living the law of consecration, or united order, is, in our time, called church welfare program. Names and details of operation are changed to fit the needs and conditions of people. This is yet another example of redefining the doctrines of the kingdom to match our inferior action.

Eyring told us that the principles of the foundation of the church welfare program are not only  for one time and one place but are for all times and all places; that those principles are spiritual and eternal. Which way is it? How well does the ‘law of consecration’ match up with the principle of the church welfare system?

Are we asked to give all that we have to the church welfare system? Are we to receive back from the church welfare system what we need? Does the church welfare system describe an environment where we have all things common among us?

Yet another doctrine of the kingdom is supplanted by the works of men…