Archive for the ‘priesthood’ Category

As I pondered the messages of the October 2016 general conference, one talk that stood out to me given my current spiritual worldview was that given by M. Russell Ballard. I found that it spoke to a number of the issues with which believers struggle today. To start, I heartily agree with his plea to those whose faith is ‘faltering.’

Never abandon the great truths revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Never stop reading, pondering, and applying the doctrine of Christ contained in the Book of Mormon.

Never fail to give equal time to the Lord through honest attempts to understand what the Lord has revealed. As my dear friend and former colleague Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, “We should not assume … that just because something is unexplainable by us it is unexplainable.”

Not only should one study the ‘truths revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith,’ but should also seek to understand how those truths are held today by the church and the general administration. Are those truths prominent today in the discourse of the church or are they, as the doctrine of the Doctrine and Covenants (also known as the Lectures on Faith) been excised from the focus of the church and replaced by the traditions of men?

Is the doctrine of Christ as contained in the Book of Mormon truly central to the message of the modern day church? Is the necessity of the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost as prominent in church teachings today as it is in the ‘doctrine of Christ’ found in Second and Third Nephi? The doctrine of Christ presented by the Savior as He taught the Nephites after His resurrection included this warning:

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

Does the doctrine of Christ stand in clarity as the doctrine of the church of Jesus Christ or does it have elements of the traditions of men injected into it or the core components of salvation removed from it? One must study this out and seek the direction of the Spirit or answers.

Elder Ballard then proceeded to ask some important questions that each of us must answer, my response follows:

Where will you go to find others who share your belief in personal, loving Heavenly Parents, who teach us how to return to Their eternal presence?

Are there others outside the Church,  (some by their own choice and some who had no choice) who share a belief in a Father and Mother God? Are there those who literally believe that the doctrine of Christ and other important information found in the scriptures teach us explicitly how to return to their presence? I would offer an emphatic yes. While the church offers a socially supportive environment, it does not place personal salvation in the forefront. Rather, one is called upon to support the brethren, attend the temple, pay tithing and, is time is left, do your home teaching. None of these activities are specifically mentioned in the doctrine of Christ from the scriptures.

Where will you go to be taught about a Savior who is your best friend, who not only suffered for your sins but who also suffered “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind” so “that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities,” including, I believe, the infirmity of loss of faith?

The scriptures speak of our opportunity to know Christ at a personal level. The promise found in D&C 93 encourages us to enter His presence and receive of His comfort. Is the church placing itself as the gate for this privilege? The role of His church should be to help members to establish this relationship on their own efforts and not rely on an intermediary for any communion with Heaven.

Where will you go to learn more about Heavenly Father’s plan for our eternal happiness and peace, a plan that is filled with wondrous possibilities, teachings, and guidance for our mortal and eternal lives? Remember, the plan of salvation gives mortal life meaning, purpose, and direction.

Go to the scriptures, go to your Father in Heaven, seek to fulfill the promise of the doctrine of Christ found in chapter 32 of Second Nephi that after we have ‘entered in by the way,’ we have the ability to speak with the tongues of angels and be guided in all we do. No apostles or general conferences are necessary. The authority to baptize historically given to the church does not extend to all communications with God.

Where will you go to find a detailed and inspired Church organizational structure through which you are taught and supported by men and women who are deeply committed to serving the Lord by serving you and your family?

Where is the inspiration recorded that authorizes this Church organizational structure in the first place? Where does the Lord establish a salaried bureaucracy under His name? Which aspect of the three-fold mission of the church supports the billion plus dollar expenditure of sacred funds for the construction of an upscale mall? Where are we told to only seek instruction from these leaders? Where are we told allegiance to this organizational structure is a pre-requisite to other benefits, such as temple attendance? The traditions of men have taken precedence over the doctrine of Christ. His organization, as characterized in Third Nephi, is made up those who acted as ministers and servants, not as rock stars deserving of the highest of obeisance.

Where will you go to find living prophets and apostles, who are called by God to give you another resource for counsel, understanding, comfort, and inspiration for the challenges of our day?

Recorded in the Old Testament is a story of a gardener who was called as a prophet to preach repentance to the established religious organization. I am sure you recall his famous saying: ‘Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.’ Is it any different today? Should we expect prophets to appear preaching repentance to those who have erred. The secret that Amos carried was that nothing short of sincere repentance would suffice for those to whom he was sent; otherwise the Lord would withdraw His protection. Are there prophets, outside the establishment, among us today who are brought before us by the Lord to preach repentance? I would offer an emphatic YES!

Where will you go to find people who live by a prescribed set of values and standards that you share and want to pass along to your children and grandchildren?

What are these prescribed values and standards that we are encouraged to live by? Do you speak of the Word of Wisdom? Do you speak of white shirts and ties required to meet the community standard? Do these values and standards bring anything other than a feeling of exclusivity to the proponents? While the church may pride itself on teaching values, it is simply not pertinent to the doctrine of Christ. There are good people outside the church who have similar values and standards without the baggage.

And where will you go to experience the joy that comes through the saving ordinances and covenants of the temple?

Which covenants and ordinances of the temple are you referring to – the Joseph Smith version, the Brigham Young version, the pre-1990’s version or today’s version? Each carries with it differences in covenants. True joy comes from the same source as Alma received it. It comes from being born again. It comes from having our sins purged and our hearts changed. No temple is necessary for that profound and life changing experience.

Brothers and sisters, accepting and living the gospel of Christ can be challenging. It has always been thus, and it ever will be. Life can be like hikers ascending a steep and arduous trail. It is a natural and normal thing to occasionally pause on the path to catch our breath, to recalculate our bearings, and to reconsider our pace. Not everyone needs to pause on the path, but there is nothing wrong with doing so when your circumstances require. In fact, it can be a positive thing for those who take full advantage of the opportunity to refresh themselves with the living water of the gospel of Christ.

I would suggest that the church can be likened to a bus that will carry you part of the way on your journey. To climb that steep and arduous trail, one must put on their own shoes (faith) and tread the trail. No bus will take you up the steep incline. I would encourage all to pause on the path they are on. Seek the Lord in humble prayer and receive of His Spirit. There is no value in relying on an organization to save you. There is no value in completing the checklist. The Lord calls upon your heart to be changed. He invites you belong to His church by repenting and coming unto Him. No more, no less.

I join Elder Ballard in this component of his testimony:

I testify that there is “no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ… I further testify that the Lord “inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; … and all are alike unto God.”

What think ye?

This post was adapted from a presentation given at Sunstone Kirtland in May 2016.

Growing up as a faithful Mormon, I never recall any discussion about being born again. The message I received was that my path would be to accept my water baptism when I turned eight years old. In this baptism, I would be washed and cleansed of sin.  Then, being confirmed a member of the church by the laying on of hands, I would have the gift of the presence of the Holy Ghost as long as I maintained my worthiness. It was implied to me that no one outside the church would have access to this special bestowal. Today, as you may understand from my earlier blog posts, I hold that the remission of sins is a product of sincere repentance, the baptism of water followed by the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. Thus, as defined in the doctrine of Christ, we are told that steps represent the gate which we must pass through in order to be on the strait and narrow path to eternal life (2 Nephi 31:17-18). Nephi states that ‘there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God’ (2 Nephi 31:21).

So, what does it mean to be born again in the context of Mormonism? Do we have it ‘covered’ within our spiritual practice and can, therefore, leave the concept of being born again to the evangelical Christians? I have been prompted to examine the aspects of being born again from both a scriptural and ritual perspective. What is it that we are asked to do in order to enter the kingdom of God?  Please allow me to start from what could be considered mainstream evangelical Christianity. What does it mean to be born again?

Who better to rely on for a traditional evangelical Christian definition of being ‘born again’ than Billy Graham:

My prayer is that you too may be born again and become part of God’s family. By a simple prayer of faith, tell God that you know you are a sinner, and you are sorry for your sins. Then ask Christ to come into your life and save you. When you do, God will come to live within you by His Spirit, and you will be born again. (Billy Graham, http://billygraham.org/answer/what-is-your-definition-of-a-born-again-christian/)

As an evangelical Christian, being saved (cleansed of sin) is a result of being born again – the act of acknowledging one’s sinful nature, expressing sorrow and inviting Christ to save us. Is that sufficient from a Biblical perspective? Let me primarily center on what we can learn from the Bible and latter-day scriptures relative to this spiritual experience, where being born again fits and how it relates to the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost.

 I hold that there are many terms that are used in the scriptures that convey the same meaning and experience; born again, becoming a new creature, a mighty change, filled with the spirit, born of God, converted, sanctified, cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, purified, receive a remission of sins, receive the Holy Ghost, become sons and daughters of God, baptized by fire and by the Holy Ghost, redeemed of God. All of these phrases speak to the specific event in our lives and the associated implications on our spiritual well-being.

Have you been born again, born of water and of the spirit? Let’s examine the topic from the perspective of the New Testament.

There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:

The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old?  can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:1-5)

According to the words of the Lord found in John, being born again is needed to comprehend the kingdom of God. Could it be that we must be born again to understand what the kingdom of God means, to be able to comprehend it? Secondly this dual baptism of both water and of the spirit is necessary to enter the kingdom of God. While these verses represent the core of the experience of the evangelical, what should they teach us in the larger context of the scriptures?

I would suggest that there are other scriptures in the New Testament that should be considered on this topic. First, let’s start with a comment by John the Baptist:

I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire. (Matthew 3:11)

These words, spoken by John during his ministry (also recorded in Luke 3:16) represent the only instance of the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost found in the Bible. I would suggest that the response to Nicodemus and the comment by John are talking about the same concept. That the words ‘being born again’ and the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost are speaking of the same event.

To understand how I came to this, let me start with Peter. We are all familiar of the event where Peter, as a disciple, stated the depths of his allegiance to Christ.

And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:

But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.

And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death.

And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me. (Luke 22:31-34)

I would suggest that there is a difference between having a testimony and being ‘converted.’ Peter had a testimony but, according to Christ, he was not converted. When was Peter converted and what are the implications on us?

For Peter and the rest of the twelve, I would suggest that this conversion occurred on the Day of Pentecost.

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.

And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1-4)

The apostles and those with them were baptized by fire and by the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost. I believe this was in fulfillment of the words of John the Baptist.  They were then converted, their hearts were changed, they were born again. It was with the power of this experience that Peter was able to heal the lame man, the next event described in the Acts of the Apostles. What kind of spiritual experience is sufficient to ‘convert’ us? Is it enough for us to be shuttled into the water when we are eight years old and be confirmed a member of the church, or is there more to this? Is it different from what Peter and the apostles experienced?

 I would suggest that the introduction of the gospel to the gentiles provides an additional description of the baptism component in the conversion process. Cornelius was a centurion, a non-Jew, who had a vision of an angel of God. The angel told Cornelius to send for Simon Peter. As the men Cornelius sent neared the city, Peter, while praying on the roof, had a vision where he was told to kill and eat a variety of clean and unclean animals. When Peter objected, he was told “what God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” (Acts 10:15) Peter was led by the spirit to return with the men to Cornelius. Peter began to preach to those who had assembled with Cornelius of their witness of Jesus Christ.

And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.

To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.

While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.”

And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.

For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God.  Then answered Peter,

Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?

And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.  Then prayed they him to tarry certain days. (Acts 10:42-48)

It is important to note that Peter spoke of the remission of sins. It was when he, Peter, spoke these words that the Holy Ghost came upon those that were listening. I hold that the reason for the timing is that this baptism of the Holy Ghost, as we learn in the Book of Mormon, is the conduit for a remission of sins. It is also interesting to note that though Cornelius had been baptized by fire, he was subsequently baptized with water. Also note that those with Peter equated the experience that Cornelius with what they had experienced on the day of Pentecost when they received the Holy Ghost. Cornelius has been converted and baptized by fire and by the Holy Ghost, just as Peter had been ‘converted.’

What is the Mormon version of being born again? I would suggest that the latter-day scriptures contain a significant amount of dialog around the concept of being born again.

And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God?  Have ye received his image in your countenances?  Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? (Alma 5:14)

What is the change of heart discussed here? What is it to be spiritually born of God? Let us turn to the Book of Mormon.

It is interesting to note that Alma the younger was likely present at the sermon of King Benjamin but may have been too young to fully appreciate the experience. By the way, what does that tell us of what age we need to be to be accountable? Here is part of Alma’s story from the Book of Mosiah.

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

And as I said unto you, as they were going about rebelling against God, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto them; and he descended as it were in a cloud; and he spake as it were with a voice of thunder, which caused the earth to shake upon which they stood;

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

And now behold, can ye dispute the power of God?  For behold, doth not my voice shake the earth?  And can ye not also behold me before you?  And I am sent from God.

Now I say unto thee: Go, and remember the captivity of thy fathers in the land of Helam, and in the land of Nephi; and remember how great things he has done for them; for they were in bondage, and he has delivered them.  And now I say unto thee, Alma, go thy way, and seek to destroy the church no more, that their prayers may be answered, and this even if thou wilt of thyself be cast off.

And now it came to pass that these were the last words which the angel spake unto Alma, and he departed.

And now Alma and those that were with him fell again to the earth, for great was their astonishment; for with their own eyes they had beheld an angel of the Lord; and his voice was as thunder, which shook the earth; and they knew that there was nothing save the power of God that could shake the earth and cause it to tremble as though it would part asunder.

And now the astonishment of Alma was so great that he became dumb, that he could not open his mouth; yea, and he became weak, even that he could not move his hands; therefore he was taken by those that were with him, and carried helpless, even until he was laid before his father. (Mosiah 27:8,11,14-19)

Alma the younger, along with the sons of Mosiah, were leading people away from God. The prayers of his father appear to be, at least partially, responsible for his angelic experience. His father, Alma, sought to restore strength to his son through prayer and fasting.

And he caused that the priests should assemble themselves together; and they began to fast, and to pray to the Lord their God that he would open the mouth of Alma, that he might speak, and also that his limbs might receive their strength—that the eyes of the people might be opened to see and know of the goodness and glory of God.

And it came to pass after they had fasted and prayed for the space of two days and two nights, the limbs of Alma received their strength, and he stood up and began to speak unto them, bidding them to be of good comfort:

For, said he, I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit.

And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;

And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. (Mosiah 27:22-26)

 Alma was a changed man, he became a new creature. He defined his experience as being born of the Spirit and being redeemed of the Lord. From this event, I would suggest that being born again is how we are invited into the family of the Lord, how we become sons and daughters of God and inherit the kingdom of God

Later as recorded in Alma 38, Alma talks of his experience with his son Shiblon.

 And it came to pass that I was three days and three nights in the most bitter pain and anguish of soul; and never, until I did cry out unto the Lord Jesus Christ for mercy, did I receive a remission of my sins.  But behold, I did cry unto him and I did find peace to my soul. (Alma 38:8)

What should we take from Alma’s experience? All mankind must be born again; this mighty change is accompanied by a remission of our sins. We are a new creature; we have cast off the natural man. What is this experience supposed to be like for us. Are we all challenged to seek the same kind of experience that Alma had? Here is the response given by a current general authority of the Church from a recent fireside.

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?

As I contemplated the recent passing of both Elder Perry and Elder Packer, I was reminded of the council given to the leaders of the church regarding their function and purpose. That thought led me back to the scriptures, the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Doctrinal History of the Church.

Here is what the Doctrine and Covenants states regarding the officers of the Church:

22  Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church.

23  The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.

24  And they form a quorum, equal in authority and power to the three presidents previously mentioned.

25  The Seventy are also called to preach the gospel, and to be especial witnesses unto the Gentiles and in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.

26  And they form a quorum, equal in authority to that of the Twelve special witnesses or Apostles just named.

27  And every decision made by either of these quorums must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions, in order to make their decisions of the same power or validity one with the other— (D&C, section 107)

Do we today have three quorums that are equal in authority and power? Does the body of sanctioned officers known as the Seventy, represent, in their unanimity, an equal weight, in terms of their decision, to what comes from the First Presidency or the Twelve traveling apostles? Where is the revelation that changed this order of things?

Of course, it gets better:

37  The high council in Zion form a quorum equal in authority in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the councils of the Twelve at the stakes of Zion.

Are the standing high councils in a stake today equal in authority to the Salt Lake based ‘general authorities?’

39  It is the duty of the Twelve, in all large branches of the church, to ordain evangelical ministers, as they shall be designated unto them by revelation—

So, the traveling High Council, the Twelve, here have the duty to manage the affairs of the branches? What about the organized stakes? Here is what is found in the history of the church within weeks of when section 107 was penned:

President Smith proposed the following question. What importance is there attached to the calling of the Twelve Apostles, different from the other callings or offices of the Church?

After the question was discussed by Councilors Patten, Young, Smith and M’Lelllin, President Joseph Smith, Jun., gave the following decision:

They are the Twelve Apostles, who are called to the office of the Traveling High Council, who are to preside over the churches of the Saints, among the Gentiles, where there is no presidency established; and they are to travel and preach among the Gentiles, until the Lord shall command them to go to the Jews. They are to hold the keys of this ministry, to unlock the door of the Kingdom of Heaven unto all nations, and to preach the Gospel to every creature. This is the power, authority, and virtue of their apostleship (TPJS, page 79, DHC 2:200, Feb. 27, 1835)

The second quote is also from TPJS entitled Items of Instruction to the Twelve and the Seventy Order of Councils:

President Joseph Smith stated that the Twelve will have no right to go into Zion, or any of the stakes, and there undertake to regulate the affairs thereof, where there is a standing high council, but its is their duty to go abroad and regulate all matters relative to the different branches of the Church. When the Twelve are together, or a quorum of them, in any church, they will have authority to act independently, and make decisions, and those decisions will be valid. But where there is not a quorum, they will have to do business by the voice of the Church. No standing High Council has the authority to go into the churches abroad, and regulate the matters thereof, for this belongs to the Twelve. No standing High Council will ever be established only in Zion, or one of her stakes. When the Twelve pass a decision, it is in the name of the Church, therefore it is valid.

It is amazing to me how broad a change has been instituted in the Church (with a capital C) and the impact it has had on the churches (with a small c). What would the worship environment if this directive were carefully followed in the intervening years between 1835 and the present? If the standing High Council had jurisdiction over the organized stakes of Zion, there would be no central coordination and no uniform direction from Salt Lake City. The Twelve would be focused on the less developed areas of the spread of the gospel and would be helping the branches grow and strengthen. The stakes would be largely autonomous entities focused on the spiritual growth and well-being of the saints.

No official member of the Church has the authority to go into any branch thereof, and ordain any minister for the church, unless it is by the voice of that branch. No Elder has authority to go into any branch of the Church, and appoint meetings, or attempt to regulate the affairs of the Church, without the advice and consent of the presiding Elder of that branch.The Twelve and the Seventy have particularly to depend upon their ministry for their support, and that of their families; and they have a right, by virtue of their offices, to call upon the churches to assist them. (TPJS, page 74)

What kind of a world would it be if those in leadership positions within the Church were expected to be ‘ministers and servants’ as the Lord directed the Nephites (see 3 Nephi 12:1). The twelve apostles would have to rely on the branches for their financial support? Wow, I would think the line for applications would shorten considerably if this were the case. But, on the other hand, what humility would be spawned when those who serve in the highest of church callings were to rely on the branches for their physical needs?

So what am I to make of this? Obviously, the Church is directed by revelation. That any directive found in the scriptures can be overridden by the inspiration of the leaders of the church. I just thought that when such things were to occur, the changes were to be ratified by the body of the church. Surely, I must have missed the ratification vote for the Church Handbook of Instruction.

What think ye?

I 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?

1 Hearken and listen to the voice of him who is from all eternity to all eternity, the Great I Am, even Jesus Christ

How long has it been since we were privileged to hear the voice of the Lord? I have heard  the refrain many times regarding the paucity of revelation in this generation. Rightly so, we should desire to have prophets in our midst giving us the mind and will of the Lord. Many times, however,  the words spoken by these messengers were calls to repent if scripture is any indication of the true calling of a prophet. Are we, as participants in the restoration that is now nearly 200 years old, of such caliber that we have no need for warnings and hard words? I think not.

On the other hand, should we not take the examples of prophetic voice in the scriptures as a pattern we should establish in our own lives and develop our own, our individual, conduit to heaven? Should we not cleave to the circumstance where our sons and our daughters shall prophesy, our old men shall dream dreams, our young men shall see visions? We should be looking for the fulfillment of this prophecy found in the second chapter of Joel.

The children of Israel, when confronted with the terrifying prospect of coming face to face with God opted rather to have Moses operate as an intermediary. In Exodus, chapter 19, we read of the Lord’s request that the people be sanctified in preparation to meeting their God face-to-face. Instead of preparing for this event, the people collectively chose another course. “And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” (Exodus 20:19) Is today’s mantra of ‘follow the prophet’ any different? Are we, as the earlier children of Israel, comfortable with concept allowing our leaders to speak with God and listening to them? If so, we are going to face the same result as the people of Moses – we will be given the lesser law and will forfeit the opportunity to live with God in our midst.

There could also be those who fear the idea of individual revelation. What does one do when two or more receive contradictory ‘revelation?’ Does this not have the potential to breed chaos and confusion? There are examples in the scriptures of those who, like Hiram Page, claim they were the recipients of revelation.  The explanation was given that they were not tuned to the correct source. I have come to believe that we must find a way to reconcile divergent personal revelation to reach the point where we are of one mind and one heart – the definition of Zion.

We are not all on the same path and, therefore, are not likely to receive the same direction from the Lord. But how do we, as members of communities who are seeking to be equal in all things, reconcile the opportunity for individual inspiration with the need to collective agreement. We must become skilled at understanding the difference between individual and collective inspiration and apply it in our spiritual community.

2 The light and the life of the world; a light which shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not;

3 The same which came in the meridian of time unto mine own, and mine own received me not;

4 But to as many as received me, gave I power to become my sons; and even so will I give unto as many as will receive me, power to become my sons.

In these verses, Christ speaks first of those who rejected His message. They did not comprehend the light contained in the message of the Savior. As a result, they did not accept the invitation to walk into the light preferring rather to remain in the comfort of their own manufactured darkness.  Is there a light attempting to be shown today? Having been there, I realize now how difficult it is to perceive the darkness within which we reside. We can easily convince ourselves that our favorite rituals, such as home teaching, temple attendance, paying tithing, and attending our meeting block, represent the light when it is the opposite. Such items, once they become rote, impede rather than impel our sanctification. I could do all these things and still be ‘in the dark.’ It is our challenge to break out of the ritual observance of our religion and seek to imbue ourselves with that light that is being offered.

I would suggest that, just as we find in the Book of Mormon, pride is the major contributor to the inability to see the light. I have come to recognize that the public relations campaign is a misdirected activity which only attempts to gratify our pride and to stoke our vain ambition, believing that the church will eventually ‘fill the whole earth.’ When we slide into the belief that the works of men have built the kingdom, we are in for an unpleasant surprise.

And if it so be that the church is built upon my gospel then will the Father show forth his own works in it.

But if it be not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return. (3 Nephi 27:10-11)

It is pride that contributes to the idea that we can build the kingdom of God ourselves.

Those who receive the light are given the power to become His sons and daughters. I find the phrasing of keen interest. It was after the people of King Benjamin had received a remission of their sins through the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost and accepted the covenant of the Lord that they became the sons and daughters of God. (see Mosiah, chapter 5) Now back to section thirty nine.

5 And verily, verily, I say unto you, he that receiveth my gospel receiveth me; and he that receiveth not my gospel receiveth not me.

6 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.

We either receive or reject the Lord by receiving or rejecting His gospel. As described in these verses, we must accept a gospel that requires us to repent, be baptized by water and by fire and the Holy Ghost. Clearly we must understand each of these components and apply them correctly in our lives. We must understand what we are doing that is incorrect or not conducive to the spirit and turn (repent) from these practices. We must demonstrate our willingness to be obedient to the commandments and seek a baptism that is acceptable to the Lord, and of great importance, we must develop a correct understanding of the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost and seek this sanctifying power directly from Him who is the administrator of this ordinance, even Jesus Christ. (3 Nephi 12:1)

7 And now, behold, I say unto you, my servant James, I have looked upon thy works and I know thee.

8 And verily I say unto thee, thine heart is now right before me at this time; and, behold, I have bestowed great blessings upon thy head;

9 Nevertheless, thou hast seen great sorrow, for thou hast rejected me many times because of pride and the cares of the world.

I often find myself in the same position as James Covel – realizing that I, also, have frequently ignored the promptings of the spirit and, instead, chose actions that gratified my pride or satisfied desires that are described by the world as acceptable, even necessary.

I can only hope that I can receive the assurance from the Lord that he finds my heart acceptable to Him. I long to be as stalwart was James Covel was at that particular time and be the recipient of the promise of a great blessing from the Lord. At the same time, I fear that I could fall victim to the same call to abandon my familiar and comfortable connections for the unknown, as did Mr. Covel, if I am not focused on the Lord.

10 But, behold, the days of thy deliverance are come, if thou wilt hearken to my voice, which saith unto thee: Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on my name, and you shall receive my Spirit, and a blessing so great as you never have known.

11 And if thou do this, I have prepared thee for a greater work. Thou shalt preach the fulness of my gospel, which I have sent forth in these last days, the covenant which I have sent forth to recover my people, which are of the house of Israel.

I believe that the charge to preach the ‘fulness of the gospel’ circumscribes the same message today as it did in 1831. In Joseph Smith – History, verse 34, we find that the fulness of the gospel is found in the narrative of  Christ’s visit to the Nephites as found in Third Nephi. Chapter twenty seven contains the definition of the gospel as it came from the mouth of the Lord. It is the means by which we can become Saints – sanctified by His blood and prepared to enter His presence.

12 And it shall come to pass that power shall rest upon thee; thou shalt have great faith, and I will be with thee and go before thy face.

13 Thou art called to labor in my vineyard, and to build up my church, and to bring forth Zion, that it may rejoice upon the hills and flourish.

We have the same charge today; to labor in His vineyard, build up His Church, and to bring forth His Zion. We will not be given power from on high unless this direction from the Lord is our agenda also. I am certain that building up His church has no reference to buildings and land. It has reference to what the Lord has defined as his church, they that repent and come unto Him. Zion can only be brought about  collectively when we have been prepared individually.

14 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto thee, thou art not called to go into the eastern countries, but thou art called to go to the Ohio.

The message to James Covel was that he would not be called to the familiar lands of the east, rather, he was to go to the Ohio. We are not always called to serve where our own skills assessment would place us. We are on this journey to develop the talents and abilities needed to further the cause of the Lord.

Also, I am convinced that we must carry in our hearts that the greatest of all is the servant of all. Seeking position is counter to the message of the Savior.

15 And inasmuch as my people shall assemble themselves at the Ohio, I have kept in store a blessing such as is not known among the children of men, and it shall be poured forth upon their heads. And from thence men shall go forth into all nations.

16 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, that the people in Ohio call upon me in much faith, thinking I will stay my hand in judgment upon the nations, but I cannot deny my word.

What is our Ohio? Where are we called to gather? The same is true today, if we are prepared, a blessing will be poured out upon our heads while the judgments of the Lord await those who cling to the world.

17 Wherefore lay to with your might and call faithful laborers into my vineyard, that it may be pruned for the last time.

18 And inasmuch as they do repent and receive the fulness of my gospel, and become sanctified, I will stay mine hand in judgment.

The fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ is critical to our salvation and sanctification. Those who repent and are cleansed of their sins, just as described in the Lord’s presentation of the gospel in 3 Nephi, chapter 27 have received the gospel and therefore, have received Christ. In my opinion, the gospel is the core of the message we have been given; the gospel is encompassed by the doctrine of Christ which in turn is surrounded by the mysteries of God. Could it be that each of these components expand as our knowledge and wisdom expands? Or is the gospel and doctrine of Christ delivered in its fulness and we are to expand in all directions and topics from the gospel and doctrine into the mysteries? One of what I consider choice examples of this idea is the description of a mystery that Alma gives to his son Corianton in Alma, chapter 40:3

Behold, he bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead.  But behold, my son, the resurrection is not yet.  Now, I unfold unto you a mystery; nevertheless, there are many mysteries which are kept, that no one knoweth them save God himself.  But I show unto you one thing which I have inquired diligently of God that I might know—that is concerning the resurrection.

So… is the resurrection of the dead a component of the gospel or is it a mystery of God? I would suggest that Alma should be taken as a witness; he gives us all an example of a mystery that is now available to those who diligent seek them. Again, back to section 39:

19 Wherefore, go forth, crying with a loud voice, saying: The kingdom of heaven is at hand; crying: Hosanna! blessed be the name of the Most High God.

20 Go forth baptizing with water, preparing the way before my face for the time of my coming;

21 For the time is at hand; the day or the hour no man knoweth; but it surely shall come.

22 And he that receiveth these things receiveth me; and they shall be gathered unto me in time and in eternity.

I may be the stranger in a strange land but I truly believe that it is not correct to ‘reformulate’ the commandments of God into something that is palatable to our current worldview. We cannot simply state, for example, that the church welfare system is today’s equivalent of the law of consecration. It just doesn’t work that way. We who are awakened need to fulfill the commandment, here, now, to prepare the way for His coming.

The gathering of those who receive Him is still a commandment. I believe that this is a requirement both spiritually and temporally. As I have traveled around the fringes of Mormonism, there is a constant need expressed to come together with those who are like-minded; to have a community with which we can ‘commune.’ I don’t know when and I don’t know how, but I do know that the Lord is expecting his people to gather. There will be false starts, there will be attempts to develop a power structure. I can only say that those who wish to be a part of the eventual gathering must maintain a soft heart. We must learn that we are only there to serve others. We must learn to look past the human imperfections that plague us all. Zion will come as we embrace the fulness of the gospel and have, individually, had that change of heart that represents the gate to the strait and narrow path to eternal life.

23 And again, it shall come to pass that on as many as ye shall baptize with water, ye shall lay your hands, and they shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and shall be looking forth for the signs of my coming, and shall know me.

24 Behold, I come quickly. Even so. Amen.

I have been drawn to these verses several times this week as I pondered my weaknesses and contemplated the need to strip myself of pride and the cares of the world. It is so difficult to retrain my mind to act instead of allowing myself to be acted upon. I will continue to exert all the effort I can muster to prepare myself spiritually that my heart may be right before the Lord

We are, in these last verses, again presented with the promise that if we embrace the gospel of repentance, baptism by water, and baptism by fire and the Holy Ghost, we will come to know Christ. It is through that same path that we will come to understand and watch for the signs of His coming. That was the message that James Covel abandoned. That is the message that each of us must stitch into our hearts and support with all our might, mind and strength.

What think ye?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What think ye?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What think ye?

The scriptures are replete with examples of apostates and dissidents, people who seek to correct or destroy the religious establishment. They, in some instances, are striving to establish their own ‘brand’ of worship. Some have taken a particular aspect of religious observance and attempted to build salvation using that as the nucleus. Others have sensed the error that had become enmeshed in the orthodox church and set off to correct the path. Throughout the scriptures there are examples of the ‘good’ reformers and the ‘bad’ actors. This paper will review examples of those who would be labeled as apostates or dissenters and glean the characteristics of both the individual and corporate apostasy. Along the way we will also analyze the response to dissidents by the organization and assess the current approach to discipline.

Nehor the Apostate

Alma the younger, during his first year in the combined role of both the civic and religious leader encountered a heretofore unknown situation; a man came among the people who preached what he called the ‘word of God’ and sought to undermine the church that was established by his father, Alma. This challenge to authority came in the person of a man of commanding appearance, Nehor the apostate. Nehor sought to establish a new regime; one that created a challenge to the incumbent church with an alternative view on the premise of salvation.

Nehor is the only person in the index of the LDS Scriptures to be branded an apostate, quite a feat for a character that is introduced and executed in a short fourteen verses.

According to the narrative in Alma, chapter one, Nehor taught these precepts:

  • The leadership of the church
    • should be popular
    • ought not labor with their hands
    • ought to be supported by the people
  • The doctrine of the churchofNehor was
    • All mankind would be saved at the last day
    • Rejoice for the Lord created all men and redeemed all men
    • All men would receive eternal life

Alma notes, in the description of the event, that ‘this is the first time that priestcraft has been introduced among the people’ (Alma 1:12). Nephi, in speaking of the pride of the gentile, defined the concept; ‘priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion’ (2 Nephi 26:29). As an aside, the phrase, ‘follow the brethren’ suggests they have set themselves up as a ‘light unto the world.’

Nehor was able to gather a following who provided support and funding sufficient for his pride and costly apparel but made the mistake of contending against Gideon with the sword rather than the word and was put to death. Those that continued to promote priestcraft carried on as described the Book of Alma:

Nevertheless, this did not put an end to the spreading of priestcraft through the land; for there were many who loved the vain things of the world, and they went forth preaching false doctrines; and this they did for the sake of riches and honor.

Nevertheless, they durst not lie, if it were known, for fear of the law, for liars were punished; therefore they pretended to preach according to their belief; and now the law could have no power on any man for his belief (Alma 1:16-17).

In light of the current spate of excommunications and threats of church discipline, it is interesting to note that the church leadership under Alma allowed these dissenters to not only espouse beliefs that were contrary to the church position but to also ‘preach according to their belief’ without repercussions.

As described in the narrative, the church forbid persecution, ‘…there was a strict law among the people of the church, that there should not any man, belonging to the church, arise and persecute those that did not belong to the church, and that there should be not persecution among themselves’ (verse 21). Persecution, in this context, included both physical and verbal abuse, ‘they did persecute them and afflict them with all manner of words’ (verse 20). There were doctrinal and organizational differences between the church of God and the order of Nehor. Nevertheless, the direction from the church was that there should be no persecution, with words or otherwise, of those who promoted alternative ideas.

Alma the Elder

Alma’s father, once part of the council of high priests under Noah, is also another notable apostate. When Noah became king, he ‘released’ the priests that his father Zeniff had installed and consecrated his own men in their place including Alma. Abinadi was called by the Lord to preach repentance in the kingdom of Noah and was cast into prison.  After hearing the words spoken by the prophet sent to warn the people, Alma sought to influence Noah and his fellow priests but his efforts were viewed as a threat. His decision to side with Abinadi, an apostate, who preached against the leadership at the time made him an outcast and he was forced to flee.

If you look at the situation from the perspective of King Noah and his court, I would suggest that Alma was guilty of the following actions representing apostasy:

  • Misappropriation of church property – high priest garb
  • Continued to follow the teachings of apostate sects (Abinadi) after being corrected by his higher authority.
  • Formally joined another church and advocated its teachings.

The last two offenses would be considered apostasy in today’s church. As a good ‘apostate,’ Alma can be a template for consideration.

A number of years later, Alma the elder also had to deal with dissenters from the church of God. As he was reunited with the main clan of Nephites, ‘king Mosiah granted unto Alma to establish churches throughout the land of Zarahemla’ (Mosiah 25:19) with Alma as the high priest over the church. The church included many who participated in the great outpouring of the Spirit which attended the address by King Benjamin described in Mosiah, chapters 2-5.

The older generation of the people of king Benjamin who had experienced the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost were taught to retain a remission of their sins by maintaining their faith in God, by humility and prayer; they covenanted with God and had become the ‘children of Christ’ through covenant (Mosiah 5:7). They believed in God and had been purified because of their faith in Jesus Christ who was to come (Mosiah 4:2).

Some of their children who were born within the embrace of the church, however, ‘could not understand the words of king Benjamin’ (Mosiah 26:1) and  ‘did not believe what had been said concerning the resurrection of the dead, neither did the believe concerning the coming of Christ’ (verse 2). The narrative in this chapter goes on to say that their ‘hearts were hardened’ (verse 3), like those of the order of Nehor. This younger generation would not pray, would not be baptized nor would they join the church. As in the case of Nehor, the presence of the non-believers induced contention and, through flattery, caused members of the church to sin.  When the priests brought those that had sinned before Alma, he took the case to the Lord, and received the following answer:

“… Go; and whosoever transgresseth against me, him shall ye judge according to the sins which he has committed; and if he confess his sins before thee and me, and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also (Alma 26:29).

Alma proceeded according this direction ‘and those that would not confess their sins and repent of their iniquity, the same were not numbered among the people of the church, and their names were blotted out (verse 36). The people who would not follow Christ, who would not repent of their sins, who would not be baptized; they were the ones whose names were blotted out.

The environment of the church established by Alma is certainly different than what we experience today when one considered the blended role of the leadership in both the community and the church. These examples from scripture provide us with insight into how the modern church could, or perhaps, should deal with apostasy and dissent. The freedom to express alternate beliefs was supported by the church of God established by Alma. Those alternate beliefs could also be preached without censure. The members were given the opportunity to consider these alternatives and act according to their own conscience. Should we expect the same treatment today?

In a recent press release by the LDS Church, the topic of church discipline was addressed (http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-discipline).  One of the reasons for church discipline was ‘to protect the innocent’ from apostasy. This suggests that the current church has assumed the responsibility to protect the members from variant ideas. This approach is at odds with the concept of personal revelation.  The missionary effort of the church relies heavily on the confirmation that can be received by and through the Holy Ghost.

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

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

Investigators are encouraged to ask God about the truth of the things that are presented to them. The promise is that the truth will be manifest by the power of the Holy Ghost. Should this same technique be applied by members who are confronted with what the church may consider to be apostate doctrine? Teaching the members to rely on this same promise allows the individual to seek and receive confirmation about any ‘truth’ that is being promoted and stands as a better alternative than the effort to ‘protect the innocent.’

Modern Apostasy

Let us now look at how apostasy is defined today. The LDS church website, (www.lds.org/topics/apostasy) under the tag line ‘Gospel Topics,’ contains this description of apostasy:

When individuals or groups of people turn away from the principles of the gospel, they are in a state of apostasy.

The idea here, as collaborated in the scriptures, is that apostasy is the mindful departure from the gospel. The Nehors and those who rejected the church in the time of Alma were cited for their dissent from the gospel.

In contrast to the gospel as the barometer of adherence, the Church Handbook of Instruction (CHI), Handbook 1, page 57 contains the following definition of apostasy:

  • Repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders.
  • Persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine after they have been corrected by their bishop or a higher authority.
  • Continue to follow the teachings of apostate sects (such as those that advocate plural marriage) after being corrected by their bishop or a higher authority.
  • Formally join another church and advocate its teaching

As one can see from the CHI, the use of the boundaries of the gospel in the determination of dissent has been supplanted with adherence to and alignment with the church, church doctrine, and its leadership. There appears to be one definition of apostasy for public consumption and another private directive to church leadership. The use of the term Church doctrine and opposition to church leaders does not necessarily align with the gospel, a term that will be explored shortly.

Of note is the reference to apostate sects that advocate plural marriage; a doctrine that at one time in the church was viewed as a requirement for the highest degree of heaven.  Reliance on ‘church doctrine’ to determine dissent creates confusion when those doctrines, such as plural marriage or the issue of blacks and the priesthood, change over time.  Consideration should also be given to the definition of the doctrine of Christ found in 2nd Nephi, chapters 31 and 32 and 3rd Nephi, chapter 11.

If the definition of the gospel is immutable, then the definition of apostasy or dissent is also unchanging. Membership in the church is determined by obedience to the gospel, by the same logic, church discipline should be governed by the same precepts.

The Lord’s Criteria for His Church

Let’s turn our attention now to the use of the term apostasy as it applies to organizations. As cited earlier, when individuals or groups of people turn away from the principles of the gospel, they are in a state of apostasy. The Lord, in defining the criteria by which a church can be considered His can be found in the 27th chapter of 3 Nephi.

The disciples chosen by Christ, as He labored among the Nephites, were sent out to teach and baptize for the purpose of re-establishing the church of Christ. After some period of time, these men then met together and were ‘united in mighty prayer and fasting’ (3 Nephi 27:1), when the Lord appeared in their midst. Their request was to know by what name the church should be called. The Lord proceeded to lay out the criteria for the organization to be considered His Church. The key points of the discussion are:

  • ‘if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel’ (3 Nephi 27:8)
  • ‘If it so be that the church is built upon my gospel then will the Father show forth his own works in it’ (verse 10)

To be His church, the organization must be called by His name, be built upon His gospel and demonstrate the works of God. As stated earlier, the gospel is the basis for both individual and corporate acceptance by the Lord. The scriptures reaffirm that linkage. The following is an analysis of how well these items can be applied to the restored church today.

The Name of the Church

The current formal name is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This seems to fit the requirement although this is only the trademark. The legal name of the organization is The Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; the holder of the copyright of my triple combination. Buildings and facilities typically show ownership as the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop or other entities. Does this meet the Lords requirement? I will leave that answer up to the reader.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ

An important issue is the specific definition of the gospel. Many, today, use the term very broadly to include the tenets and practices of the church; the term ‘living the gospel’ means adhering to the life style of a believing, practicing Mormon, including attending the weekly meetings, paying tithing, fulfilling callings, temple work for the dead, etc.  Let’s examine the scriptural definition of the gospel.

Following the elaboration of the criteria for His church, the Lord proceeded to define His gospel in chapter 27 of 3rd Nephi. While I will not recite the entire text, I would encourage the reader to prayerfully consider the full text of the Savior’s definition of His gospel. Let me summarize.

The Lord came into the world to do the will of his Father, to be lifted up upon the cross that he may draw all men unto him. All men will be judged of their works. Whosoever repents, is baptized, and endures to the end will be found guiltless at the judgment. No unclean thing can enter the kingdom of God; therefore we must have our garments washed in His blood. Let me now quote from the last verses of 3 Nephi, chapter 27 where the Lord completes His description of the gospel:

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

Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do; (verses 20-21)

That is the sum of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It contains the information we need to gain salvation and prepare ourselves to enter His kingdom clean from our sins. Those who call themselves Saints need to be sanctified through the application of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In addition to this treatment of the gospel of Jesus Christ in chapter 27 of 3 Nephi, there are other places in the scriptures of the restoration where the Lord states: “This is My Gospel.” Let me include two additional recitations from the scriptures where the Lord defines His gospel:

Yea, repent and be baptized, every one of you, for a remission of your sins; yea, be baptized even by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost.

Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and remember that they shall have faith in me or they can in nowise be saved; (D&C 33:11-12)

And this is my gospel—repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and teacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom. (D&C 39:6)

The baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, as an event, is the mechanism by which we receive a remission of our sins.”For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. And then are ye on the strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life.” (2 Nephi 31:17-18) Rarely discussed in the correlated church, these latter two scripture references emphasize a critical yet marginalized component of the gospel. If the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost is the mechanism by which we are sanctified, the obfuscation of the principle could be considered a rejection of the gospel. If the gospel presented is not the gospel that Christ defined in during His appearance among the Nephites nor is it the gospel defined in these two references from the Doctrine and Covenants, then what Gospel is it?

Works of God, Works of men

As noted above, the third requirement of the church of Jesus Christ is to demonstrate the ‘works of the Father’ in the church. These works are contrasted in the next verse with the works of men:

‘But if it be not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return’ (3 Nephi 27:11).

The works of God are referenced at the end of the discussion of the gospel when Christ stated ‘for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye do also’ (verse 21). As documented in the earlier chapter, while Christ was among the Nephites, these activities were recorded:

And it came to pass that after he had ascended into heaven—the second time that he showed himself unto them, and had gone unto the Father, after having healed all their sick, and their lame, and opened the eyes of their blind and unstopped the ears of the deaf, and even had done all manner of cures among them, and raised a man from the dead, and had shown forth his power unto them, and had ascended unto the Father— (3 Nephi 26:15)

As was noted earlier, Christ’s appearance, where these criteria were discussed, was to the twelve disciples, not an engagement with the broader church. In this directive to the twelve, they were to demonstrate the works of the Father, just as Christ had done while He was among them. The scriptures attest that the disciples of Christ did indeed fulfill this charge.

And there were great and marvelous works wrought by the disciples of Jesus, insomuch that they did heal the sick, and raise the dead, and cause the lame to walk, and the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear; and all manner of miracles did they work among the children of men; and in nothing did they work miracles save it were in the name of Jesus. (4 Nephi 1:5)

Are these works of God demonstrated by those who lead this church today? Consider this warning:

And who shall say that Jesus Christ did not do many mighty miracles?  And there were many mighty miracles wrought by the hands of the apostles.

And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being?  And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles.

And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust (Mormon 9:18-20)

As noted in all these verses, the miracles, the healings, the raising of the dead are to be demonstrated by the twelve, those who have been called to lead His church. These miracles stand in stark contrast to the works of men, the buildings, the books, the banks, the malls, and the rest of the activities than can be done by the hands of men. The lack of these miracles demonstrated by those who are called to lead the church along with the emphasis of the works of men, indicates that the church does not meet the Lords criteria.

In fact, can any organization which purports to be the church of Jesus Christ measure up to the criteria established by Him? Or… are they all apostates?

Rejecting the Gospel

Another element critical to the understanding of the message of the restoration is the identification of who is the intended recipient of the warnings in the latter-day scriptures. On the title page of the Book of Mormon, we find more about the intention of the book.

Wherefore, it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites—Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile—Written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation—Written and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed—To come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof—Sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile—The interpretation thereof by the gift of God.

As is noted here, the book was written to

  • the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel
  • Jew
  • Gentile

For most readers, it is safe to assume they would be designated as ‘gentiles’ in the context of the Book of Mormon. Also noted on the title page is reference to the book which is ‘to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile.’ The book did indeed come to the gentiles.

And now, the thing which our father meaneth concerning the grafting in of the natural branches through the fulness of the Gentiles, is, that in the latter days,   when our seed shall have dwindled in unbelief, yea, for the space of many years, and many generations after the Messiah shall be manifested in body unto the children of men, then shall the fulness of the gospel of the Messiah come unto the Gentiles, and from the Gentiles unto the remnant of our seed…(1 Nephi 15:13)

This passage clearly states that the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ will be given to the gentiles and from the gentiles to the remnant. Throughout the Book of Mormon, the message to the gentiles is the one to which we should pay attention.  But, this manifestation of the fulness of the gospel to the gentiles is not the last, as shown in this reference; the gospel is then to be extended to the Jews, or house of Israel.

And the time cometh that he shall manifest himself unto all nations, both unto the Jews and also unto the Gentiles; and after he has manifested himself unto the Jews and also unto the Gentiles, then he shall manifest himself unto the Gentiles and also unto the Jews, and the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. (1 Nephi 13:42)

Christ first showed himself to the Jews at the meridian of time. When He was rejected by the Jews, the gospel was extended to the Gentiles.

Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.

For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth.

And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:46-48)

The second time that the Lord was manifest to the gentiles came forth with the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith. In 1830, the Book of Mormon was published and sent to the world; a book that contains the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ (D&C 20:9).

As the scriptures indicate above, the Lord has established a sequence of events leading up to His return in glory. The gentiles now are given the opportunity to individually and collectively embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ. The first time around, the Jews counted themselves unworthy of the gospel message. The outcome of this opportunity is prophesied in the latter-day scriptures.

In the parable of the wicked husbandman found in Matthew, chapter 21 of the New Testament, Christ warned the Pharisees that they were to lose the kingdom of God. In the Joseph Smith translation of Matthew, additional information was presented regarding the gentiles ‘opportunity.’ Here is the text found in the Joseph Smith Translation of the New Testament:

And now his disciples came to him, and Jesus said unto them, Marvel ye at the words of the parable which I spake unto them?

Verily, I say unto you, I am the stone, and those wicked ones reject me.

I am the head of the corner. These Jews shall fall upon me, and shall be broken.

And the kingdom of God shall be taken from them, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof; (meaning the Gentiles.)

Wherefore, on whomsoever this stone shall fall, it shall grind him to powder.

And when the Lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, he will destroy those miserable, wicked men, and will let again his vineyard unto other husbandmen, even in the last days, who shall render him the fruits in their seasons.

And then understood they the parable which he spake unto them, that the Gentiles should be destroyed also, when the Lord should descend out of heaven to reign in his vineyard, which is the earth and the inhabitants thereof (JST Matthew 21:50-56)

The warning to the gentiles is that the same rock upon which the Jews were broken, would grind them to powder. That rock is Jesus Christ. Who are the husbandmen in these last days that were tasked with keeping the vineyard? These will find a worse fate than that delivered to the scribes and Pharisees in the meridian of time.

In the sixteenth chapter of Third Nephi, the Lord speaks of the gentiles and their opportunity to accept the gospel.

And blessed are the Gentiles, because of their belief in me, in and of the Holy Ghost, which witnesses unto them of me and of the Father.

Behold, because of their belief in me, saith the Father, and because of the unbelief of you, O house of Israel, in the latter day shall the truth come unto the Gentiles, that the fulness of these things shall be made known unto them (3 Nephi 16:6-7)

In the next verse, the believing gentiles are contrasted to the unbelieving gentiles who are to scatter and plague the house of Israel.

But wo, saith the Father, unto the unbelieving of the Gentiles—for notwithstanding they have come forth upon the face of this land, and have scattered my people who are of the house of Israel; and my people who are of the house of Israel have been cast out from among them, and have been trodden under feet by them; (verse 8)

In these verses, the believing and the unbelieving of the gentiles are represented. The believing having received a testimony through the Holy Ghost and the unbelieving scattering the people God calls His.

And thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you: At that day when the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, and shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts above all nations, and above all the people of the whole earth, and shall be filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations; and if they shall do all those things, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, behold, saith the Father, I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them (3 Nephi 16:10)

The gentiles, of the same group that received a witness of the Holy Ghost, are now prophesied to sin against the gospel of Jesus Christ and reject the same. They stand accused of a variety of sins and transgressions, including pride and priestcrafts, and face the loss of the fulness of the gospel.

 And then will I remember my covenant which I have made unto my people, O house of Israel, and I will bring my gospel unto them.

And I will show unto thee, O house of Israel, that the Gentiles shall not have power over you; but I will remember my covenant unto you, O house of Israel, and ye shall come unto the knowledge of the fulness of my gospel (verses 11-12)

Here we find, again, that the fulness of the gospel is rejected by the gentiles and extended to the house of Israel as a future event. This scripture speaks of the gentiles collectively and, as shown above, includes the LDS Church as represented by the faithful believers that were given the truth.

Again, in the next verse, we see the Lord reaching out to the Gentiles:

But if the Gentiles will repent and return unto me, saith the Father, behold they shall be numbered among my people, O house of Israel (verse 13)

We, individually and collectively, have the opportunity to repent and return to God. How does one return to a place that they have never been? This implies that we once embraced the gospel but then rejected it. God is asking us to return. Several times during his tenure as a church leader, President Ezra Taft Benson warned us that the condemnation found in section 84, verses 54 through 57, of the Doctrine and Covenants still applies to us today. Should a people who are under condemnation expect that this liability will simply fade away? Has this condemnation ever been lifted? I believe the correct answer is no. There are  other scripture references that would lend concern about the current status of the church. Is ‘all well in Zion?’

So there it is… We, gentiles, are all called to embrace the fulness of the gospel – to repent and be baptized, to receive a remission of our sins through the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, to be sanctified and made holy. By so doing, we can assist in the establishment of Zion, the pure in heart and prepare for the return of our Lord and Savior. Such is the message of the gospel.

In summary, apostasy can come in many flavors, but only one definition fits with the scriptures, that of rejecting the gospel. The scriptures give us clear examples of both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ apostates from an individual and corporate perspective and provides guidance regarding how the church should respond to those who hold and publicly express alternative viewpoints. That response should respect the rights of individuals to speak according to their beliefs without persecution.

The scriptures also address the possibility and inevitability of corporate apostasy in the last days. If the church cannot meet the requirements laid out by the Lord to be called the ‘church of Christ,’ then it is not His church.

Let me close by reciting from the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 18:

“…for if Zion will not purity herself, so as to be approved in all things, in His sight, He will seek another people, for His work will go on until Israel be gathered, and they who will not hear His voice, must expect to feel His wrath.

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

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

Kindred Spirits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mormon Inquisition

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

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

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

Mothers Day

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

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

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