Archive for the ‘Aggregators’ Category
One of the reasons I still listen to conference is for the music. These are the songs I came to love as I grew up in the church. I am, by no means, a singer but I do try to sing parts to some of the songs. Music has a way to calm the soul and deflect the cares and tribulations of the world. Songs can evoke emotion which, I believe, is a method of communication with heaven, perhaps represented by the harps of God.
As my spiritual world shifted, my appreciation for songs and lyrics also began to broaden. I, recently, came across a song that has touched my spirit and buoyed my soul. It is called “Glory and Honor” written by Keith Lancaster, and is found, among other places, on the album Heaven and Earth by Acappella. If you haven’t heard the song, take a moment to listen.
Here are the words:
When I’m there with You in heaven
What a wondrous joy will be
Gathered with the angel chorus
Standing by the glassy sea
Such a thought is hard to fathom
In the presence of my King
And with countless ones forgiven
Gathered round the throne to sing
Glory and honor, worthy is the Lamb (worthy is the Lamb)
Glory and honor, worthy is the Lamb (worthy is the Lamb)
Mortal words cannot express it
All the ways You reign supreme
Even death can’t hold the vastness
Nor approach this awesome theme
You are God and to Your glory
We will worship and abide
In Your presence there forever
We’ll be happy to reside
Ooh… (worthy is the Lamb)
Worthy is the Lamb (worthy is the Lamb), worthy is the Lamb
The reference, of course, comes from Revelations, chapter 15. Here is the quote from the King James Bible:
And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God.
And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.
Some of us may have a different interpretation of the ‘glassy sea’ reverenced in the song, as section 130 of the Doctrine and Covenants illuminates.
The angels do not reside on a planet like this earth.
They reside in the presence of God, on a glove like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord.
The place where God resides is a great Urim and Thummim.
This earth, in its sanctified and immortal state, will be made like unto a crystal and will be a Urim and Thummim to the inhabitants who dwell thereon, whereby all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom, or all kingdoms of a lower order, will be manifest to those who dwell on it; and this earth will be Christ’s.
While there is much that can be discussed on this topic, my point is the song carries a deeper understanding of the need for us to overcome the beast in our lives and the preparations needed to live on the flaming glassy sea, in the presence of the Lord.
This post was adapted from a presentation given at Sunstone Kirtland in May 2016.
Growing up as a faithful Mormon, I never recall any discussion about being born again. The message I received was that my path would be to accept my water baptism when I turned eight years old. In this baptism, I would be washed and cleansed of sin. Then, being confirmed a member of the church by the laying on of hands, I would have the gift of the presence of the Holy Ghost as long as I maintained my worthiness. It was implied to me that no one outside the church would have access to this special bestowal. Today, as you may understand from my earlier blog posts, I hold that the remission of sins is a product of sincere repentance, the baptism of water followed by the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. Thus, as defined in the doctrine of Christ, we are told that steps represent the gate which we must pass through in order to be on the strait and narrow path to eternal life (2 Nephi 31:17-18). Nephi states that ‘there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God’ (2 Nephi 31:21).
So, what does it mean to be born again in the context of Mormonism? Do we have it ‘covered’ within our spiritual practice and can, therefore, leave the concept of being born again to the evangelical Christians? I have been prompted to examine the aspects of being born again from both a scriptural and ritual perspective. What is it that we are asked to do in order to enter the kingdom of God? Please allow me to start from what could be considered mainstream evangelical Christianity. What does it mean to be born again?
Who better to rely on for a traditional evangelical Christian definition of being ‘born again’ than Billy Graham:
My prayer is that you too may be born again and become part of God’s family. By a simple prayer of faith, tell God that you know you are a sinner, and you are sorry for your sins. Then ask Christ to come into your life and save you. When you do, God will come to live within you by His Spirit, and you will be born again. (Billy Graham, http://billygraham.org/answer/what-is-your-definition-of-a-born-again-christian/)
As an evangelical Christian, being saved (cleansed of sin) is a result of being born again – the act of acknowledging one’s sinful nature, expressing sorrow and inviting Christ to save us. Is that sufficient from a Biblical perspective? Let me primarily center on what we can learn from the Bible and latter-day scriptures relative to this spiritual experience, where being born again fits and how it relates to the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost.
I hold that there are many terms that are used in the scriptures that convey the same meaning and experience; born again, becoming a new creature, a mighty change, filled with the spirit, born of God, converted, sanctified, cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, purified, receive a remission of sins, receive the Holy Ghost, become sons and daughters of God, baptized by fire and by the Holy Ghost, redeemed of God. All of these phrases speak to the specific event in our lives and the associated implications on our spiritual well-being.
Have you been born again, born of water and of the spirit? Let’s examine the topic from the perspective of the New Testament.
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.
Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?
Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:1-5)
According to the words of the Lord found in John, being born again is needed to comprehend the kingdom of God. Could it be that we must be born again to understand what the kingdom of God means, to be able to comprehend it? Secondly this dual baptism of both water and of the spirit is necessary to enter the kingdom of God. While these verses represent the core of the experience of the evangelical, what should they teach us in the larger context of the scriptures?
I would suggest that there are other scriptures in the New Testament that should be considered on this topic. First, let’s start with a comment by John the Baptist:
I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire. (Matthew 3:11)
These words, spoken by John during his ministry (also recorded in Luke 3:16) represent the only instance of the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost found in the Bible. I would suggest that the response to Nicodemus and the comment by John are talking about the same concept. That the words ‘being born again’ and the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost are speaking of the same event.
To understand how I came to this, let me start with Peter. We are all familiar of the event where Peter, as a disciple, stated the depths of his allegiance to Christ.
And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:
But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.
And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death.
And he said, I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me. (Luke 22:31-34)
I would suggest that there is a difference between having a testimony and being ‘converted.’ Peter had a testimony but, according to Christ, he was not converted. When was Peter converted and what are the implications on us?
For Peter and the rest of the twelve, I would suggest that this conversion occurred on the Day of Pentecost.
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1-4)
The apostles and those with them were baptized by fire and by the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost. I believe this was in fulfillment of the words of John the Baptist. They were then converted, their hearts were changed, they were born again. It was with the power of this experience that Peter was able to heal the lame man, the next event described in the Acts of the Apostles. What kind of spiritual experience is sufficient to ‘convert’ us? Is it enough for us to be shuttled into the water when we are eight years old and be confirmed a member of the church, or is there more to this? Is it different from what Peter and the apostles experienced?
I would suggest that the introduction of the gospel to the gentiles provides an additional description of the baptism component in the conversion process. Cornelius was a centurion, a non-Jew, who had a vision of an angel of God. The angel told Cornelius to send for Simon Peter. As the men Cornelius sent neared the city, Peter, while praying on the roof, had a vision where he was told to kill and eat a variety of clean and unclean animals. When Peter objected, he was told “what God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.” (Acts 10:15) Peter was led by the spirit to return with the men to Cornelius. Peter began to preach to those who had assembled with Cornelius of their witness of Jesus Christ.
And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.
To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.
While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.”
And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.
For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,
Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days. (Acts 10:42-48)
It is important to note that Peter spoke of the remission of sins. It was when he, Peter, spoke these words that the Holy Ghost came upon those that were listening. I hold that the reason for the timing is that this baptism of the Holy Ghost, as we learn in the Book of Mormon, is the conduit for a remission of sins. It is also interesting to note that though Cornelius had been baptized by fire, he was subsequently baptized with water. Also note that those with Peter equated the experience that Cornelius with what they had experienced on the day of Pentecost when they received the Holy Ghost. Cornelius has been converted and baptized by fire and by the Holy Ghost, just as Peter had been ‘converted.’
What is the Mormon version of being born again? I would suggest that the latter-day scriptures contain a significant amount of dialog around the concept of being born again.
And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? (Alma 5:14)
What is the change of heart discussed here? What is it to be spiritually born of God? Let us turn to the Book of Mormon.
It is interesting to note that Alma the younger was likely present at the sermon of King Benjamin but may have been too young to fully appreciate the experience. By the way, what does that tell us of what age we need to be to be accountable? Here is part of Alma’s story from the Book of Mosiah.
Now the sons of Mosiah were numbered among the unbelievers; and also one of the sons of Alma was numbered among them, he being called Alma, after his father; nevertheless, he became a very wicked and an idolatrous man. And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities.
And as I said unto you, as they were going about rebelling against God, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto them; and he descended as it were in a cloud; and he spake as it were with a voice of thunder, which caused the earth to shake upon which they stood;
And again, the angel said: Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith.
And now behold, can ye dispute the power of God? For behold, doth not my voice shake the earth? And can ye not also behold me before you? And I am sent from God.
Now I say unto thee: Go, and remember the captivity of thy fathers in the land of Helam, and in the land of Nephi; and remember how great things he has done for them; for they were in bondage, and he has delivered them. And now I say unto thee, Alma, go thy way, and seek to destroy the church no more, that their prayers may be answered, and this even if thou wilt of thyself be cast off.
And now it came to pass that these were the last words which the angel spake unto Alma, and he departed.
And now Alma and those that were with him fell again to the earth, for great was their astonishment; for with their own eyes they had beheld an angel of the Lord; and his voice was as thunder, which shook the earth; and they knew that there was nothing save the power of God that could shake the earth and cause it to tremble as though it would part asunder.
And now the astonishment of Alma was so great that he became dumb, that he could not open his mouth; yea, and he became weak, even that he could not move his hands; therefore he was taken by those that were with him, and carried helpless, even until he was laid before his father. (Mosiah 27:8,11,14-19)
Alma the younger, along with the sons of Mosiah, were leading people away from God. The prayers of his father appear to be, at least partially, responsible for his angelic experience. His father, Alma, sought to restore strength to his son through prayer and fasting.
And he caused that the priests should assemble themselves together; and they began to fast, and to pray to the Lord their God that he would open the mouth of Alma, that he might speak, and also that his limbs might receive their strength—that the eyes of the people might be opened to see and know of the goodness and glory of God.
And it came to pass after they had fasted and prayed for the space of two days and two nights, the limbs of Alma received their strength, and he stood up and began to speak unto them, bidding them to be of good comfort:
For, said he, I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit.
And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;
And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. (Mosiah 27:22-26)
Alma was a changed man, he became a new creature. He defined his experience as being born of the Spirit and being redeemed of the Lord. From this event, I would suggest that being born again is how we are invited into the family of the Lord, how we become sons and daughters of God and inherit the kingdom of God
Later as recorded in Alma 38, Alma talks of his experience with his son Shiblon.
And it came to pass that I was three days and three nights in the most bitter pain and anguish of soul; and never, until I did cry out unto the Lord Jesus Christ for mercy, did I receive a remission of my sins. But behold, I did cry unto him and I did find peace to my soul. (Alma 38:8)
What should we take from Alma’s experience? All mankind must be born again; this mighty change is accompanied by a remission of our sins. We are a new creature; we have cast off the natural man. What is this experience supposed to be like for us. Are we all challenged to seek the same kind of experience that Alma had? Here is the response given by a current general authority of the Church from a recent fireside.
What should we pray for to receive the same testimony if not conversion that Alma the Younger experienced??
Elder Oaks answers:
What should you pray for to have the kind of experience that Alma the Younger had? I don’t think you are likely to have the kind of experience that Alma the Younger had, remember he had a miraculous appearance of an angel and really got hit over the head, spiritually. Most of us don’t have that kind of experience, but I interpret your question, Heather, as being ‘how can we get the kind of testimony that he received.’ I don’t think we will get it like Paul did on the road to [Damascus] where an angel appeared to him, where Alma the younger had that startling experience. The Lord gives a few of those kinds of experiences and they are recorded in the scriptures to catch our attention and teach us the answer.
But, I’ve never had an experience like that and I don’t know anyone among the 1st Presidency or Quorum of the 12 who’ve had that kind of experience. Yet everyone of us knows of a certainty the things that Alma knew. But it’s just that unless the Lord chooses to do it another way, as he sometimes does; for millions and millions of His children the testimony settles upon us gradually, like so much dust on the windowsill, or so much dew on the grass. One day you didn’t have it and another day you did and you don’t know which day it happened. That’s the way I got my testimony.
And then I knew it was true when it continued to grow. And what you have to do to get that is, first of all, is to desire it, and as I explained earlier, when I was your age, I don’t think I had the level of desire that I wish I had had. We desire it and then we do our best to keep the commandments so the Lord can fulfill for us that promise that if you keep the commandments, you will come to know that it is true. (Dallin H. Oaks, multi-stake youth fireside in Bellevue, Washington on 1/23/2016)
Is getting a testimony, as Peter had when he was challenged by Christ, sufficient to enter his kingdom? I do not find scriptural support for that idea. Just has Peter was told that his testimony was not complete; that he was still to be converted, so should we seek this complete conversion to Him.
How should we treat the examples on the latter day scriptures of being born again, and of receiving a remission of our sins? What does it take to be ‘saved’ according to latter day scripture? I would suggest being born again and receiving a remission of our sins. If you call yourself a ‘Latter-day Saint, is this not the equivalent to being sanctified, as the name of the church signifies?
I would suggest we take Alma at his word. He states that he had been ‘born of the Spirit,’ Further he said that ‘ all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again. What better witness does one need to encourage us to seek to understand what baptism is and the role that baptism plays in our spiritual development.
From a Mormon perspective, let me start with this question: What is baptism?
As we read earlier in John chapter 3, to enter the kingdom of God, one must be born of water and of the Spirit. Here is what I feel is the equivalent statement from the Book of Mormon:
And ye will also know that ye are a remnant of the seed of Jacob; therefore ye are numbered among the people of the first covenant; and if it so be that ye believe in Christ, and are baptized, first with water, then with fire and with the Holy Ghost, following the example of our Savior, according to that which he hath commanded us, it shall be well with you in the day of judgment. (Mormon 7:10)
I would suggest that the definitions are consistent between the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. Baptism has two components, water and spirit. If one adopts this definition, throughout the scriptures ‘baptism’ takes on a new meaning.
Elder Bednar, in the April 2016 general conference reinforced this point with several statements by the Prophet Joseph Smith which emphasize the vital linkage between the ordinances of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Statement 1: “Baptism is a holy ordinance preparatory to the reception of the Holy Ghost; it is the channel and key by which the Holy Ghost will be administered.”21
Statement 2: “You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half—that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost.”22
Statement 3: “The baptism of water, without the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost attending it, is of no use. They are necessarily and inseparably connected.”23 Bednar, April Conference 2016, Always Retain a Remission of our Sins
Let’s look at some of the other events found in the Book of Mormon that relate to being born again, receiving a remission of our sins, and the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. First, let’s consider the teachings of the Savior as he was among the Nephites.
And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words unto Nephi, and to those who had been called, (now the number of them who had been called, and received power and authority to baptize, was twelve) and behold, he stretched forth his hand unto the multitude, and cried unto them, saying: Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants; and unto them I have given power that they may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost; therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am.
And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am. Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins. (3 Nephi 12:1-2)
The disciples that Christ picked were given the power to baptize with water those who accepted His message. But, Christ also promised to baptize the Nephites with fire and the Holy Ghost. Through that experience they would receive a remission of their sins. I would suggest that this is a critical element in identifying other born again narratives in the scriptures. The baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost the mechanism to receive a remission of one’s sins.
In an act of obedience, the disciples were the first to partake of the baptism through the power granted by the Lord.
And it came to pass that Nephi went down into the water and was baptized.
And he came up out of the water and began to baptize. And he baptized all those whom Jesus had chosen.
And it came to pass when they were all baptized and had come up out of the water, the Holy Ghost did fall upon them, and they were filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
And behold, they were encircled about as if it were by fire; and it came down from heaven, and the multitude did witness it, and did bear record; and angels did come down out of heaven and did minister unto them. (3 Nephi 19:11-14)
Again, the baptism by water, following by the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost were demonstrated among the disciples of Christ among the Nephites. I also find it interesting that this experience followed the administration of the sacrament.
How about Enos and his effort to receive a remission of his sins?
And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.
Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.
And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.
And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.
And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.
And I said: Lord, how is it done?
And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen. And many years pass away before he shall manifest himself in the flesh; wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole. (Enos 1:2-8)
For some, the experience will come as with Alma. For others, it may require a humility-induced prayer that lasts into the night. Enos received a remission of his sins, implicit in this is that he was baptized by fire and by the Holy Ghost; his guilt was replaced with joy.
The preceding events, those of Alma and Enos, recount the experience of being born again as an individual. Let’s look at the group experience. As we read in Mosiah, King Benjamin given a message by an angel to deliver to his people.
And the Lord God hath sent his holy prophets among all the children of men, to declare these things to every kindred, nation, and tongue, that thereby whosoever should believe that Christ should come, the same might receive remission of their sins, and rejoice with exceedingly great joy, even as though he had already come among them. (Mosiah 3:13)
Mosiah taught the people that they had to humble themselves before God.
For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 3:19)
The people of King Benjamin were instructed that they needed to ‘become a saint through the enticings of the Holy Spirit.’ If you call yourself a Saint, you should seek to be sanctified, cleansed of sin. They were told that they gift of joy was available to the through the reception of a remission of their sin. There appears to be two key two things that are needed – humility and earnest prayer. The people took this instruction to heart as we read in Mosiah, chapter 4:
And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.
And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them. (Mosiah 4:2-3)
Note that these people asked for their hearts to be purified. The resulting experience filled them with joy and they received a remission of their sins. This is their response:
And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually. (Mosiah 5:2)
The people of King Benjamin experienced a mighty change in their hearts. They no longer held a disposition to do evil. This experience changed them in a fundamental manner, they were converted, they were, in their hearts, a different and new creature and they received a remission of their sins.
Not only did they have the experience, but they were taught how to retain a remission of their sins. In effect, how one can preserve the sanctifying power in their lives going forward.
And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.
And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true. (Mosiah 4:11-12)
Humility and prayer are, given what we gather from the experience of the people of King Benjamin, the keys to retaining a remission of our sins. But, this is not all, we must also act upon what we have received. The was an inner change but also an outer change.
And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants. (Mosiah 4:26)
Being born of God changes how we treat those around us. We are to demonstrate that all people are to share in the gifts of the spirit as well as in the material of this world. We are taught from this example, that we can retain a remission of our sins. I take this to mean that we can remain sinless going forward through humility, prayer, and service to others. The New Testament appears to agree:
Whosoever is born of God doth not continue in sin, for the Spirit of God remaineth in him; for he cannot continue in sin, because he is born of God, having received the holy Spirit of promise. (JST 1 John 3:9)
Let’s now look at another ‘mass conversion event from the Book of Mormon. In Helaman we find the story of the two missionaries, Nephi and Lehi, who are imprisoned by the Lamanites and are facing death.
And after they had been cast into prison many days without food, behold, they went forth into the prison to take them that they might slay them.
And it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi were encircled about as if by fire, even insomuch that they durst not lay their hands upon them for fear lest they should be burned. Nevertheless, Nephi and Lehi were not burned; and they were as standing in the midst of fire and were not burned. (Helaman 5:22-23)
Nephi and Lehi were ‘encircled about as if by fire,’ for the benefit of the Lamanites who had come to put them to death. As the event transpired, they were stopped by the darkness and sought to understand what they were seeing.
And they said unto the man: Behold, what do all these things mean, and who is it with whom these men do converse?
Now the man’s name was Aminadab. And Aminadab said unto them: They do converse with the angels of God.
And it came to pass that the Lamanites said unto him: What shall we do, that this cloud of darkness may be removed from overshadowing us?
And Aminadab said unto them: You must repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you.
And it came to pass that they all did begin to cry unto the voice of him who had shaken the earth; yea, they did cry even until the cloud of darkness was dispersed.
And it came to pass that when they cast their eyes about, and saw that the cloud of darkness was dispersed from overshadowing them, behold, they saw that they were encircled about, yea every soul, by a pillar of fire.
And Nephi and Lehi were in the midst of them; yea, they were encircled about; yea, they were as if in the midst of a flaming fire, yet it did harm them not, neither did it take hold upon the walls of the prison; and they were filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.
And behold, the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire, and they could speak forth marvelous words. (Helaman 5:38-45)
The three hundred Lamanites were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost. But they began the process not understanding what was happening. They were instructed to pray until the darkness as dispersed. They were freed from the cloud of darkness and exhibited the gifts of the spirit. These Lamanites were able to receive this gift because of the faith of Nephi and Lehi. They were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost as we read in Ether 12:
Behold, it was the faith of Nephi and Lehi that wrought the change upon the Lamanites, that they were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost. (Ether 12:14)
The footnote in Helaman 5:45 points to 3 Nephi 9. This scripture has been used to suggest that the baptism of fire can be an imperceptible change over time. I find no support for that concept in the examples in the scriptures.
And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not. (3 Nephi 9:20)
I would submit that the change that occurred to the 300 Lamanites was not imperceptible, rather, they did not understand what was happening to them until they were taught. Examples in the scriptures all characterize the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost as an event, not as a process. In each case, humility and fervent prayer were the qualifiers for the experience. Being born of the spirit enabled a remission of their sins and was a source of great joy. An experience that all mankind should seek.
What is the connection between the gospel and being born again or receiving the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost? Here are two definitions of the gospel from the Doctrine and Covenants:
Yea, repent and be baptized, every one of you, for a remission of your sins; yea, be baptized even by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost.
Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and remember that they shall have faith in me or they can in nowise be saved; (D&C 33:11-12)
And this is my gospel—repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and teacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom. (D&C 39:6)
In these two definitions of the gospel, we come to understand the centrality of the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. Two aspects of baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, first is a remission of sins as the drought is burned out of us as is by fire. And, second, the words of Christ that teach us all things that we should do. Baptism is both a cleansing and an enlightening experience. (2 Nephi 32:3)
In 3 Nephi, chapter 27, Christ defined his gospel and summed it up in this way:
Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do; (3 Nephi 27:20-21)
Shouldn’t being called a saint suggest that we have been sanctified, or cleansed of sin? Shouldn’t we be, as the people of King Benjamin, able to exhibit the traits and characteristics of new creatures, those who have been redeemed of God?
Let’s look at the doctrine of Christ. In 2 Nephi:31:2, Nephi states that he was to ‘speak concerning the doctrine of Christ’ – he described that we are to follow the example of the Savior and receive the baptism of water and the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost.
Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.
And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive. (2 Nephi 31:17-18)
According to the doctrine of Christ as expounded upon by Nephi, we are not on the strait and narrow path to eternal life until we have received the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. In a similar vein, Moroni tells us that we are to have this experience before we are to be numbered with the church of Christ
And none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end.
And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith. (Moroni 6:3-4)
What would our congregations look like today if only those who had been cleansed of sin through the power of the Holy Ghost were a included? I would suggest that being ‘numbered among the people of the church of Christ’ is equivalent to membership in his church today. Could one say that the reception of both a baptism of water and of the spirit are required today to be a member of His church?
What does Christ say of His doctrine regarding the baptism of fire when He was among the Nephites?
Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.
And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one.
And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.
And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them. (3 Nephi 11:35-40)
Baptism, first by water, and then by fire and the Holy Ghost, is core to the gospel of Jesus Christ. These principles are also present, and central to the doctrine of Jesus Christ, even to the point of no other doctrine shall be permitted. It is important to consider the weight of this statement that ‘whoso declare more or less than this’ is not aligned with the doctrine of Christ. Could the doctrine of Christ be so simple yet so complete?
Descriptions of the experience can also be found in the annals of the membership. Here we find a description from the journal of Parley P. Pratt.
My dear wife [Thankful Halsey Pratt] had now lived to accomplish her destiny; and when the child was dressed, and she had looked upon it and embraced it, she ceased to live in the flesh. Her death happened about three hours after the birth of this child of promise. A few days previous to her death she had a vision in open day while sitting in her room. She was overwhelmed or immersed in a pillar of fire, which seemed to fill the whole room, as if it would consume it and all things therein; and the Spirit whispered to her mind, saying: “Thou art baptized with fire and the Holy Ghost.” It also intimated to her that she should have the privilege of departing from this world of sorrow and pain, and of going to the Paradise of rest as soon as she had fulfilled the prophecy in relation to the promised son. This vision was repeated on the next day at the same hour, viz: twelve o’clock. She was overwhelmed with a joy and peace indescribable, and seemed changed in her whole nature from that time forth. (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972. p. 166; italics added.)
President Lorenzo Snow also relates the choice experience of his rebirth:
Some two or three weeks after I was baptized, one day while engaged in my studies, I began to reflect upon the fact that I had not obtained a knowledge of the truth of the work … and I began to feel very uneasy. I laid aside my books, left the house, and wandered around through the fields under the oppressive influence of a gloomy, disconsolate spirit, while an indescribable cloud of darkness seemed to envelope me. I had been accustomed, at the close of the day, to retire for secret prayer, to a grove … but at this time I felt no inclination to do so. The spirit of prayer had departed and the heavens seemed like brass over my head. At length, realizing that the usual time had come for secret prayer, I concluded I would not forego my evening service, and, as a matter of formality, knelt as I was in the habit of doing, and in my accustomed retired place, but not feeling as I was wont to feel.
I had no sooner opened my lips in an effort to pray, than I heard a sound, just above my head, like the rustling of silken robes, and immediately the Spirit of God descended upon me, completely enveloping my whole person, filling me, from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and 0, the joy and happiness I felt! No language can describe the almost instantaneous transition from a dense cloud of mental and spiritual darkness into a refulgence of light and knowledge, as it was at that time imparted to my understanding…. It was a complete baptism a tangible immersion in the heavenly principle or element, the Holy Ghost; and even more real and physical in its effects upon every part of my system than the immersion by water; dispelling forever, so long as reason and memory last, all possibility of doubt. …
I cannot tell how long I remained in the full flow of the blissful enjoyment and divine enlightenment, but it was several minutes before the celestial element which filled and surrounded me began gradually to withdraw. On arising from my kneeling posture, … I knew.’ that He had conferred on me what only an omnipotent being can confer – that which is of greater value than all the wealth and honors worlds can bestow. That night, as I retired to rest, the same wonderful manifestations were repeated, and continued to be for several successive nights. The sweet remembrance of those glorious experiences … impart[s] an inspiring influence … and I trust will to the close of my earthly existence.
(Biography – Family Record of Lorenzo Snow, comp. Eliza R. Snow, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1884, pp. 7-9; most italics added.) http://jesus.christ.org/teachings-of-jesus-christ/born-of-the-spirit-baptism-by-fire
We have examples of the baptism of fire in scripture, we find them infused in the testimonies of several of the early saints. Are there modern day occurrences of being born again?
I wanted a spiritual experience, so I prayed and fasted the next day, Sunday. I broke my fast because we were invited to eat at someone’s house that night. On Monday I decided to do as Enos and Nephi and fast and pray all day. I went out into a bungalow and prayed vocally for as long as I could. When I couldn’t think of things to pray about I read my scriptures. I prayed until the afternoon, but nothing happened. I was really discouraged. That night I went to my … friend’s house to talk about things. He gave me a blessing.
The next day was Tuesday. … I decided to give it another go. I broke my fast and went out to the bungalow to pray again. I prayed for about an hour and this happened:
From my journal:
I knelt down and was praying to the Lord with all my heart that I might receive evidence that what I was doing was right. I could feel the spirit in my chest and my face was tingling. While feeling this I pleaded that I might have greater evidence. All of a sudden I felt power come into my body. As Nephi said it consumed my flesh. So much so that I felt that my hands were out stretched and my chest was pulled up and power surged through me like I have never felt in all my life. It was so powerful that I could hardly control myself. I felt like I was being shocked with energy. I knew it was the energy of God. I felt His power!
At the time I wasn’t sure what had happened, but it wasn’t long after that Heavenly Father began to help me understand that I had experienced the baptism of fire.
Is the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost an event or process? I would emphatically state that it can definitely occur as an event.
What I have attempted to accomplish in this treatise is to synthesize the understanding I received from the scriptures, both Biblical and from the latter day restoration. I submit that it is incumbent upon each of us to seek and receive the both elements of baptism, both water and spirit. As Billy Graham stated:
By a simple prayer of faith, tell God that you know you are a sinner, and you are sorry for your sins. Then ask Christ to come into your life and save you. When you do, God will come to live within you by His Spirit, and you will be born again.
As I see it, the key ingredients are: humility, and a deep felt sorrow for our sins, prayer and ask for Christ to accept your repentance, the spirit comes and you are cleansed of sin – you are born again. The Book of Mormon adds a lot of color to the answer. But there is a fundamental agreement between Billy Graham’s definition of being born again and the latter day scriptures. Being born again is to be born of water and of the spirit. It is a baptism first by water, and then by fire and the Holy Ghost. It is core to the gospel of Jesus Christ as contained in the scriptures of the restoration. I believe that it is something that we should all strive for. It is required of all, as Alma stated:
… all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; (Mosiah 28:25)
And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?
Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you.
Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely; (Alma 5:14,33-34)
Repentance, baptism by water and the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost represent the gate of entry onto the strait and narrow path to eternal life. It is the beginning and the a gate to the remainder of our journey. Let’s go back to 2 Nephi, chapter 31.
And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.
Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. (2 Nephi 31:19-21)
May we all seek this eternal life made available through the complete baptism defined in the scripture. It is achieved by following the the example of Jesus Christ; we are to be born of water and spirit to enter the kingdom of God, even, as taught by Moroni, to be numbered among those of His church.
What think ye?
My regrets for not being able to post the thoughts of my heart these last few months. Life’s events have managed to overtake us and we are now beginning to get back to a normal level of chaos.
I did make one major gesture to try to get myself re-oriented. I proposed a presentation for the Kirtland Symposium scheduled for October 17 and 18. The proposal was accepted so I will be on the agenda for the meeting.
The topic? Something new and different. The topic of my 90-minute session is Faith, Evolution, and Intelligent Design. This is a subject that has been working in the back of my mind for a number of years and I felt that it was the right time to speak to the questions and concerns as I worked through my crisis of faith. I plan to provide the perspective of an engineer as I analyze several key aspects of evolution and the ‘un-scientific’ intelligent design. What are the elements of the evolution of life that are problematic to me as I ponder the elements of matter, energy, and information necessary to install and proliferate living organisms? How much faith does it really require to adhere to the doctrine of a designer or to the doctrine of a natural evolution of life?
Hope you can join me in Kirtland for this event.
I recently was prompted to re-read the sermon of King Benjamin found in the book of Mosiah. This time, however, I started at the beginning of the first chapter where I found this interesting aspect. King Benjamin was teaching his three sons of the value of the scriptures described in the first chapter of Mosiah:
My sons, I would that ye should remember that were it not for these plates, which contain these records and these commandments, we must have suffered in ignorance, even at this present time, not knowing the mysteries of God.
For it were not possible that our father, Lehi, could have remembered all these things, to have taught them to his children, except it were for the help of these plates; for he having been taught in the language of the Egyptians therefore he could read these engravings, and teach them to his children, that thereby they could teach them to their children, and so fulfilling the commandments of God, even down to this present time.
I say unto you, my sons, were it not for these things, which have been kept and preserved by the hand of God, that we might read and understand of his mysteries, and have his commandments always before our eyes, that even our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief, and we should have been like unto our brethren, the Lamanites, who know nothing concerning these things, or even do not believe them when they are taught them, because of the traditions of their fathers, which are not correct.
O my sons, I would that ye should remember that these sayings are true, and also that these records are true. And behold, also the plates of Nephi, which contain the records and the sayings of our fathers from the time they left Jerusalem until now, and they are true; and we can know of their surety because we have them before our eyes.
And now, my sons, I would that ye should remember to search them diligently, that ye may profit thereby; and I would that ye should keep the commandments of God, that ye may prosper in the land according to the promises which the Lord made unto our fathers. (Mosiah 1:3-7)
In the first verse, King Benjamin tells his sons that the scriptures contain a record of God’s interaction with men and secondly, they contain the commandments. Then he makes what is, to me, in interesting statement; that without the scriptures they would have been in ignorance, ‘not knowing the mysteries of God.’
We know from Alma, chapter 12 that we are to seek the mysteries of God:
And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell. (Alma 12:9-11)
We are all to seek the mysteries of God, or in other words, we are to seek His word which I believe to be personal revelation. We can only receive a ‘portion of His word’ if we rely on others to supply it because God only will make in known based on the ‘heed and diligence’ demonstrated by the people. If we continue to strive in seeking this personal revelation, we can receive the mysteries of God in full, in a complete form.
I would suggest that the scriptures play a vital role in leading us to the mysteries of God. It is through diligent study of the scriptures that we are able to form the questions that will lead us to the answers that enlighten us as to these mysteries. Are we, individually and collectively, demonstrating the necessary heed and diligence, to receive the portion of His word that is available to us? Are we seeking, through the words of the prophets contained in scripture, to understand the veiled references to His mysteries? If not, we are allowing ourselves to be captured by the chains of hell. Not seeking to know the mysteries of God is placing us in the grasp of the adversary.
I also found another interesting item as I read the things that King Benjamin taught to his sons. Let me again state the quote:
…our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief, and we should have been like unto our brethren, the Lamanites, who know nothing concerning these things, or even do not believe them when they are taught them, because of the traditions of their fathers, which are not correct. (Mosiah 1:5)
Let me paraphrase King Benjamin from this verse, in our context today. There are modern day people who suffer from the same malady as the Lamanites. They know nothing of the scriptures and do not believe them when they are taught from the scriptures because they prefer to hold to the incorrect traditions of their fathers.
What incorrect doctrines and practices do we have among us today that are a result of the traditions of our fathers? I would suggest that the key test is to determine if these doctrines or practices or rituals have foundation in and are consistent with the scriptures. The scriptures should be the rudder of our boat. They should be the lens through which we view our chosen mechanism of devotion to our God. Without the reliance on the scriptures to be our guide and our source, we would be as the Lamanites and left to flounder in what we incorrectly believe was delivered by those who came before us.
You might say that we are led by prophets, seers and revelators and, therefore, the scriptures are of lesser importance than the current dogma. You might even suggest that modern revelation trumps the scriptures. To that assertion, I would respond with the caution given by the Lord Himself. We have been warned several times not to add to or remove from that which we are taught. For example, when Christ described His doctrine to the Nephites, He ended with this warning:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them. (3 Nephi, 11:39-40)
What aspects of our doctrine have been added to our sacred regimen by traditions within the church? Does our day-to-day worship contain aspects that are not founded in scripture? Is the LDS church, today, governed by the scriptures or by the traditions of our fathers, better known as the Church Handbook of Instruction? We are told here explicitly that our adherence to the defined doctrine of Christ is necessary if we are to avoid evil.
The ‘chains of hell’ await those who do not use the scriptures to seek the mysteries of God. The ‘gates of hell’ stand open to receive those who add to or take from the doctrine of Christ as defined in the scriptures. We must, individually and collectively, ensure that we are in line with the direction received from the Lord. We must understand that any modern revelation should not contradict with, but find support in, the scriptures.
What think ye?
It was all over the world news, ISIS put a Jordanian pilot to death by fire after he was captured in the war against the developing Islamic caliphate. Here is an example of a religious body (yes, I am willing to call them radical Islamists) which believes so strongly that they are right and have God on their side that taking a life is justified in the ascension toward their sacred goal of world domination. It is of note that a cleric associated with the Islamic state was arrested for objecting to the punishment inflicted on the captured Muslim pilot.
Fire has been used for many years to extinguish the lives of those who were deemed a threat to the religious establishment. Wiki maintains a list of martyrs, including a 19 year-old relapsed heretic by the name of Joan of Arc.
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?
Some might ask, “But what about my doubts?”
It’s natural to have questions—the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions. One of the purposes of the Church is to nurture and cultivate the seed of faith—even in the sometimes sandy soil of doubt and uncertainty. Faith is to hope for things which are not seen but which are true.7
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters—my dear friends—please, first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. We must never allow doubt to hold us prisoner and keep us from the divine love, peace, and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
I find it interesting that the reference associated with the text ‘doubt your faith.’ is to a book entitled “Christ the Healer” written by F. F. Bosworth.
The book, originally published in 1924, was a compilation of a number of sermons. As the title connotes, the book has continued to be used to promote the idea that Christ is able to redeem us from both our spiritual and physical weakness.
Many, instead of saying, “Pray for me,” should first say, “Teach me God’s Word, so that I can intelligently cooperate for my recovery.” We must know what the benefits of Calvary are before we can appropriate them by faith. David specifies: “Who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases.”
After being sufficiently enlightened, our attitude toward sickness should be the same as our attitude toward sin. Our purpose to have our body healed should be as definite as our purpose to have our soul healed. We should not ignore any part of the Gospel. Our Substitute bore both our sins and our sicknesses that we might be delivered from them. Christ’s bearing of our sins and sicknesses is surely a valid reason for trusting Him now for deliverance from both. When, in prayer, we definitely commit to God the forgiveness of our sins, we are to believe, on the authority of His Word, that our prayer is heard. We are to do the same when praying for healing. (Christ the Healer, F.F. Bosworth, 2000 edition, pp 17-18)
The forward of the 2000 edition of the book speaks of a ‘flood of testimonies’ of those who were benefitted spiritually and physically by the book. The premise being that we should have just as much faith in Christ that He can take away our sins as in His ability to take away our sickness. Reverend Bosworth’s message was that we should not doubt that Christ has this ability; to cleanse us of sin as well as sickness. He encouraged the reader to show faith in the ability of the Savior to take upon Him our physical and spiritual impairments.
Here is the statement regarding doubt by Rev. Bosworth from the 2000 edition of the book:
Any man or woman can get rid of his or her doubts by looking steadfastly and only at the evidence that God has given for our faith. Seeing only what God says will produce and increase faith. This will make it easier to believe than to doubt. The evidences for faith are so much stronger than those for doubting. Don’t doubt your faith; doubt your doubts, for they are unreliable. (ibid, pp 21-22)
As I read this, the author is entreating us not to doubt that Christ can heal our sicknesses. He encourages us plant the seed which can develop the faith to heal our physical ailments. We have been taught that it is by faith that we can be healed. Do we, today, exhibit that kind of faith? Or, do we believe that we can simply request a blessing and we have done sufficient work to overcome a physical malady? Some of these things are more difficult than others, in many ways, because of our lack of faith, prayer, and fasting. As I see it, the scriptures speak of the healings of the twelve, in the New Testament and in the Book of Mormon, as signs of the truth. These are to be expected but do not represent the sum of our ability to gain the upper hand over physical maladies. Reverend Bosworth puts forth the case that we can receive a remittance of our physical troubles. Do we have that level of faith among us?
This begs the question: can the doubt, as characterized by F. F. Bosworth, that Christ can heal us physically as well as spiritually be on equal plane with the doubts, alluded to by Elder Uchtdorf, largely driven by the historical inconsistencies in doctrine and policy of the LDS church?
I, personally, do not believe this is the case. Our faith in Christ is separate and not reliant on from our faith in the works of men; in our case, the corporation commonly known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I do believe that we should ‘doubt our doubts’ regarding the gospel and message of Jesus Christ. I do not believe the same attitude should be taken regarding the inconsistencies of the policies of men running any religious organization, even those claiming to be the only true church.
We should first make the effort to understand and integrate the gospel of Jesus Christ into our minds and heart. It is the gospel that provides the assurance to seek and receive answers on all else. We are promised that if we will seek Him, He will provide direction, even to the truth of all things.
Pierre Abelard, a noted philosopher of the eleventh century saw it this way: “By doubting we are led to question; by questioning we arrive at the truth.” I see this message consistent with Paul as he spoke to the Thessalonians:
Prove all things, hold fast to that which is good. (1 Thess. 5:9)
It is our right and responsibility to ask questions and seek the Lord for direction and confirmation. There is a power in this world that demands that we blindly obey, that gives us assurances that they can lead us through to the glories that await us, that seeks to act as arbiter of our destiny and salvation. That voice is not the one we should follow.
There is also a power to has promised us that He will open the door if we knock. Doubts lead to questions which, through the Holy Ghost, can be answered.
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:4-5)
It is our challenge to first develop the requisite faith in Christ. By so doing, we will have access, through the Holy Ghost, to the truth of all things.
What think ye?
The scriptures are replete with examples of apostates and dissidents, people who seek to correct or destroy the religious establishment. They, in some instances, are striving to establish their own ‘brand’ of worship. Some have taken a particular aspect of religious observance and attempted to build salvation using that as the nucleus. Others have sensed the error that had become enmeshed in the orthodox church and set off to correct the path. Throughout the scriptures there are examples of the ‘good’ reformers and the ‘bad’ actors. This paper will review examples of those who would be labeled as apostates or dissenters and glean the characteristics of both the individual and corporate apostasy. Along the way we will also analyze the response to dissidents by the organization and assess the current approach to discipline.
Nehor the Apostate
Alma the younger, during his first year in the combined role of both the civic and religious leader encountered a heretofore unknown situation; a man came among the people who preached what he called the ‘word of God’ and sought to undermine the church that was established by his father, Alma. This challenge to authority came in the person of a man of commanding appearance, Nehor the apostate. Nehor sought to establish a new regime; one that created a challenge to the incumbent church with an alternative view on the premise of salvation.
Nehor is the only person in the index of the LDS Scriptures to be branded an apostate, quite a feat for a character that is introduced and executed in a short fourteen verses.
According to the narrative in Alma, chapter one, Nehor taught these precepts:
- The leadership of the church
- should be popular
- ought not labor with their hands
- ought to be supported by the people
- The doctrine of the churchofNehor was
- All mankind would be saved at the last day
- Rejoice for the Lord created all men and redeemed all men
- All men would receive eternal life
Alma notes, in the description of the event, that ‘this is the first time that priestcraft has been introduced among the people’ (Alma 1:12). Nephi, in speaking of the pride of the gentile, defined the concept; ‘priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion’ (2 Nephi 26:29). As an aside, the phrase, ‘follow the brethren’ suggests they have set themselves up as a ‘light unto the world.’
Nehor was able to gather a following who provided support and funding sufficient for his pride and costly apparel but made the mistake of contending against Gideon with the sword rather than the word and was put to death. Those that continued to promote priestcraft carried on as described the Book of Alma:
Nevertheless, this did not put an end to the spreading of priestcraft through the land; for there were many who loved the vain things of the world, and they went forth preaching false doctrines; and this they did for the sake of riches and honor.
Nevertheless, they durst not lie, if it were known, for fear of the law, for liars were punished; therefore they pretended to preach according to their belief; and now the law could have no power on any man for his belief (Alma 1:16-17).
In light of the current spate of excommunications and threats of church discipline, it is interesting to note that the church leadership under Alma allowed these dissenters to not only espouse beliefs that were contrary to the church position but to also ‘preach according to their belief’ without repercussions.
As described in the narrative, the church forbid persecution, ‘…there was a strict law among the people of the church, that there should not any man, belonging to the church, arise and persecute those that did not belong to the church, and that there should be not persecution among themselves’ (verse 21). Persecution, in this context, included both physical and verbal abuse, ‘they did persecute them and afflict them with all manner of words’ (verse 20). There were doctrinal and organizational differences between the church of God and the order of Nehor. Nevertheless, the direction from the church was that there should be no persecution, with words or otherwise, of those who promoted alternative ideas.
Alma the Elder
Alma’s father, once part of the council of high priests under Noah, is also another notable apostate. When Noah became king, he ‘released’ the priests that his father Zeniff had installed and consecrated his own men in their place including Alma. Abinadi was called by the Lord to preach repentance in the kingdom of Noah and was cast into prison. After hearing the words spoken by the prophet sent to warn the people, Alma sought to influence Noah and his fellow priests but his efforts were viewed as a threat. His decision to side with Abinadi, an apostate, who preached against the leadership at the time made him an outcast and he was forced to flee.
If you look at the situation from the perspective of King Noah and his court, I would suggest that Alma was guilty of the following actions representing apostasy:
- Misappropriation of church property – high priest garb
- Continued to follow the teachings of apostate sects (Abinadi) after being corrected by his higher authority.
- Formally joined another church and advocated its teachings.
The last two offenses would be considered apostasy in today’s church. As a good ‘apostate,’ Alma can be a template for consideration.
A number of years later, Alma the elder also had to deal with dissenters from the church of God. As he was reunited with the main clan of Nephites, ‘king Mosiah granted unto Alma to establish churches throughout the land of Zarahemla’ (Mosiah 25:19) with Alma as the high priest over the church. The church included many who participated in the great outpouring of the Spirit which attended the address by King Benjamin described in Mosiah, chapters 2-5.
The older generation of the people of king Benjamin who had experienced the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost were taught to retain a remission of their sins by maintaining their faith in God, by humility and prayer; they covenanted with God and had become the ‘children of Christ’ through covenant (Mosiah 5:7). They believed in God and had been purified because of their faith in Jesus Christ who was to come (Mosiah 4:2).
Some of their children who were born within the embrace of the church, however, ‘could not understand the words of king Benjamin’ (Mosiah 26:1) and ‘did not believe what had been said concerning the resurrection of the dead, neither did the believe concerning the coming of Christ’ (verse 2). The narrative in this chapter goes on to say that their ‘hearts were hardened’ (verse 3), like those of the order of Nehor. This younger generation would not pray, would not be baptized nor would they join the church. As in the case of Nehor, the presence of the non-believers induced contention and, through flattery, caused members of the church to sin. When the priests brought those that had sinned before Alma, he took the case to the Lord, and received the following answer:
“… Go; and whosoever transgresseth against me, him shall ye judge according to the sins which he has committed; and if he confess his sins before thee and me, and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also (Alma 26:29).
Alma proceeded according this direction ‘and those that would not confess their sins and repent of their iniquity, the same were not numbered among the people of the church, and their names were blotted out (verse 36). The people who would not follow Christ, who would not repent of their sins, who would not be baptized; they were the ones whose names were blotted out.
The environment of the church established by Alma is certainly different than what we experience today when one considered the blended role of the leadership in both the community and the church. These examples from scripture provide us with insight into how the modern church could, or perhaps, should deal with apostasy and dissent. The freedom to express alternate beliefs was supported by the church of God established by Alma. Those alternate beliefs could also be preached without censure. The members were given the opportunity to consider these alternatives and act according to their own conscience. Should we expect the same treatment today?
In a recent press release by the LDS Church, the topic of church discipline was addressed (http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-discipline). One of the reasons for church discipline was ‘to protect the innocent’ from apostasy. This suggests that the current church has assumed the responsibility to protect the members from variant ideas. This approach is at odds with the concept of personal revelation. The missionary effort of the church relies heavily on the confirmation that can be received by and through the Holy Ghost.
I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:4-5)
Investigators are encouraged to ask God about the truth of the things that are presented to them. The promise is that the truth will be manifest by the power of the Holy Ghost. Should this same technique be applied by members who are confronted with what the church may consider to be apostate doctrine? Teaching the members to rely on this same promise allows the individual to seek and receive confirmation about any ‘truth’ that is being promoted and stands as a better alternative than the effort to ‘protect the innocent.’
Let us now look at how apostasy is defined today. The LDS church website, (www.lds.org/topics/apostasy) under the tag line ‘Gospel Topics,’ contains this description of apostasy:
When individuals or groups of people turn away from the principles of the gospel, they are in a state of apostasy.
The idea here, as collaborated in the scriptures, is that apostasy is the mindful departure from the gospel. The Nehors and those who rejected the church in the time of Alma were cited for their dissent from the gospel.
In contrast to the gospel as the barometer of adherence, the Church Handbook of Instruction (CHI), Handbook 1, page 57 contains the following definition of apostasy:
- Repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders.
- Persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine after they have been corrected by their bishop or a higher authority.
- Continue to follow the teachings of apostate sects (such as those that advocate plural marriage) after being corrected by their bishop or a higher authority.
- Formally join another church and advocate its teaching
As one can see from the CHI, the use of the boundaries of the gospel in the determination of dissent has been supplanted with adherence to and alignment with the church, church doctrine, and its leadership. There appears to be one definition of apostasy for public consumption and another private directive to church leadership. The use of the term Church doctrine and opposition to church leaders does not necessarily align with the gospel, a term that will be explored shortly.
Of note is the reference to apostate sects that advocate plural marriage; a doctrine that at one time in the church was viewed as a requirement for the highest degree of heaven. Reliance on ‘church doctrine’ to determine dissent creates confusion when those doctrines, such as plural marriage or the issue of blacks and the priesthood, change over time. Consideration should also be given to the definition of the doctrine of Christ found in 2nd Nephi, chapters 31 and 32 and 3rd Nephi, chapter 11.
If the definition of the gospel is immutable, then the definition of apostasy or dissent is also unchanging. Membership in the church is determined by obedience to the gospel, by the same logic, church discipline should be governed by the same precepts.
The Lord’s Criteria for His Church
Let’s turn our attention now to the use of the term apostasy as it applies to organizations. As cited earlier, when individuals or groups of people turn away from the principles of the gospel, they are in a state of apostasy. The Lord, in defining the criteria by which a church can be considered His can be found in the 27th chapter of 3 Nephi.
The disciples chosen by Christ, as He labored among the Nephites, were sent out to teach and baptize for the purpose of re-establishing the church of Christ. After some period of time, these men then met together and were ‘united in mighty prayer and fasting’ (3 Nephi 27:1), when the Lord appeared in their midst. Their request was to know by what name the church should be called. The Lord proceeded to lay out the criteria for the organization to be considered His Church. The key points of the discussion are:
- ‘if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel’ (3 Nephi 27:8)
- ‘If it so be that the church is built upon my gospel then will the Father show forth his own works in it’ (verse 10)
To be His church, the organization must be called by His name, be built upon His gospel and demonstrate the works of God. As stated earlier, the gospel is the basis for both individual and corporate acceptance by the Lord. The scriptures reaffirm that linkage. The following is an analysis of how well these items can be applied to the restored church today.
The Name of the Church
The current formal name is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This seems to fit the requirement although this is only the trademark. The legal name of the organization is The Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; the holder of the copyright of my triple combination. Buildings and facilities typically show ownership as the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop or other entities. Does this meet the Lords requirement? I will leave that answer up to the reader.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ
An important issue is the specific definition of the gospel. Many, today, use the term very broadly to include the tenets and practices of the church; the term ‘living the gospel’ means adhering to the life style of a believing, practicing Mormon, including attending the weekly meetings, paying tithing, fulfilling callings, temple work for the dead, etc. Let’s examine the scriptural definition of the gospel.
Following the elaboration of the criteria for His church, the Lord proceeded to define His gospel in chapter 27 of 3rd Nephi. While I will not recite the entire text, I would encourage the reader to prayerfully consider the full text of the Savior’s definition of His gospel. Let me summarize.
The Lord came into the world to do the will of his Father, to be lifted up upon the cross that he may draw all men unto him. All men will be judged of their works. Whosoever repents, is baptized, and endures to the end will be found guiltless at the judgment. No unclean thing can enter the kingdom of God; therefore we must have our garments washed in His blood. Let me now quote from the last verses of 3 Nephi, chapter 27 where the Lord completes His description of the gospel:
Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do; (verses 20-21)
That is the sum of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It contains the information we need to gain salvation and prepare ourselves to enter His kingdom clean from our sins. Those who call themselves Saints need to be sanctified through the application of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In addition to this treatment of the gospel of Jesus Christ in chapter 27 of 3 Nephi, there are other places in the scriptures of the restoration where the Lord states: “This is My Gospel.” Let me include two additional recitations from the scriptures where the Lord defines His gospel:
Yea, repent and be baptized, every one of you, for a remission of your sins; yea, be baptized even by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost.
Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and remember that they shall have faith in me or they can in nowise be saved; (D&C 33:11-12)
And this is my gospel—repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and teacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom. (D&C 39:6)
The baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, as an event, is the mechanism by which we receive a remission of our sins.”For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. And then are ye on the strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life.” (2 Nephi 31:17-18) Rarely discussed in the correlated church, these latter two scripture references emphasize a critical yet marginalized component of the gospel. If the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost is the mechanism by which we are sanctified, the obfuscation of the principle could be considered a rejection of the gospel. If the gospel presented is not the gospel that Christ defined in during His appearance among the Nephites nor is it the gospel defined in these two references from the Doctrine and Covenants, then what Gospel is it?
Works of God, Works of men
As noted above, the third requirement of the church of Jesus Christ is to demonstrate the ‘works of the Father’ in the church. These works are contrasted in the next verse with the works of men:
‘But if it be not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return’ (3 Nephi 27:11).
The works of God are referenced at the end of the discussion of the gospel when Christ stated ‘for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye do also’ (verse 21). As documented in the earlier chapter, while Christ was among the Nephites, these activities were recorded:
And it came to pass that after he had ascended into heaven—the second time that he showed himself unto them, and had gone unto the Father, after having healed all their sick, and their lame, and opened the eyes of their blind and unstopped the ears of the deaf, and even had done all manner of cures among them, and raised a man from the dead, and had shown forth his power unto them, and had ascended unto the Father— (3 Nephi 26:15)
As was noted earlier, Christ’s appearance, where these criteria were discussed, was to the twelve disciples, not an engagement with the broader church. In this directive to the twelve, they were to demonstrate the works of the Father, just as Christ had done while He was among them. The scriptures attest that the disciples of Christ did indeed fulfill this charge.
And there were great and marvelous works wrought by the disciples of Jesus, insomuch that they did heal the sick, and raise the dead, and cause the lame to walk, and the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear; and all manner of miracles did they work among the children of men; and in nothing did they work miracles save it were in the name of Jesus. (4 Nephi 1:5)
Are these works of God demonstrated by those who lead this church today? Consider this warning:
And who shall say that Jesus Christ did not do many mighty miracles? And there were many mighty miracles wrought by the hands of the apostles.
And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles.
And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust (Mormon 9:18-20)
As noted in all these verses, the miracles, the healings, the raising of the dead are to be demonstrated by the twelve, those who have been called to lead His church. These miracles stand in stark contrast to the works of men, the buildings, the books, the banks, the malls, and the rest of the activities than can be done by the hands of men. The lack of these miracles demonstrated by those who are called to lead the church along with the emphasis of the works of men, indicates that the church does not meet the Lords criteria.
In fact, can any organization which purports to be the church of Jesus Christ measure up to the criteria established by Him? Or… are they all apostates?
Rejecting the Gospel
Another element critical to the understanding of the message of the restoration is the identification of who is the intended recipient of the warnings in the latter-day scriptures. On the title page of the Book of Mormon, we find more about the intention of the book.
Wherefore, it is an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites—Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile—Written by way of commandment, and also by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation—Written and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed—To come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof—Sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile—The interpretation thereof by the gift of God.
As is noted here, the book was written to
- the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel
For most readers, it is safe to assume they would be designated as ‘gentiles’ in the context of the Book of Mormon. Also noted on the title page is reference to the book which is ‘to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile.’ The book did indeed come to the gentiles.
And now, the thing which our father meaneth concerning the grafting in of the natural branches through the fulness of the Gentiles, is, that in the latter days, when our seed shall have dwindled in unbelief, yea, for the space of many years, and many generations after the Messiah shall be manifested in body unto the children of men, then shall the fulness of the gospel of the Messiah come unto the Gentiles, and from the Gentiles unto the remnant of our seed…(1 Nephi 15:13)
This passage clearly states that the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ will be given to the gentiles and from the gentiles to the remnant. Throughout the Book of Mormon, the message to the gentiles is the one to which we should pay attention. But, this manifestation of the fulness of the gospel to the gentiles is not the last, as shown in this reference; the gospel is then to be extended to the Jews, or house of Israel.
And the time cometh that he shall manifest himself unto all nations, both unto the Jews and also unto the Gentiles; and after he has manifested himself unto the Jews and also unto the Gentiles, then he shall manifest himself unto the Gentiles and also unto the Jews, and the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. (1 Nephi 13:42)
Christ first showed himself to the Jews at the meridian of time. When He was rejected by the Jews, the gospel was extended to the Gentiles.
Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.
For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth.
And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:46-48)
The second time that the Lord was manifest to the gentiles came forth with the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith. In 1830, the Book of Mormon was published and sent to the world; a book that contains the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ (D&C 20:9).
As the scriptures indicate above, the Lord has established a sequence of events leading up to His return in glory. The gentiles now are given the opportunity to individually and collectively embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ. The first time around, the Jews counted themselves unworthy of the gospel message. The outcome of this opportunity is prophesied in the latter-day scriptures.
In the parable of the wicked husbandman found in Matthew, chapter 21 of the New Testament, Christ warned the Pharisees that they were to lose the kingdom of God. In the Joseph Smith translation of Matthew, additional information was presented regarding the gentiles ‘opportunity.’ Here is the text found in the Joseph Smith Translation of the New Testament:
And now his disciples came to him, and Jesus said unto them, Marvel ye at the words of the parable which I spake unto them?
Verily, I say unto you, I am the stone, and those wicked ones reject me.
I am the head of the corner. These Jews shall fall upon me, and shall be broken.
And the kingdom of God shall be taken from them, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof; (meaning the Gentiles.)
Wherefore, on whomsoever this stone shall fall, it shall grind him to powder.
And when the Lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, he will destroy those miserable, wicked men, and will let again his vineyard unto other husbandmen, even in the last days, who shall render him the fruits in their seasons.
And then understood they the parable which he spake unto them, that the Gentiles should be destroyed also, when the Lord should descend out of heaven to reign in his vineyard, which is the earth and the inhabitants thereof (JST Matthew 21:50-56)
The warning to the gentiles is that the same rock upon which the Jews were broken, would grind them to powder. That rock is Jesus Christ. Who are the husbandmen in these last days that were tasked with keeping the vineyard? These will find a worse fate than that delivered to the scribes and Pharisees in the meridian of time.
In the sixteenth chapter of Third Nephi, the Lord speaks of the gentiles and their opportunity to accept the gospel.
And blessed are the Gentiles, because of their belief in me, in and of the Holy Ghost, which witnesses unto them of me and of the Father.
Behold, because of their belief in me, saith the Father, and because of the unbelief of you, O house of Israel, in the latter day shall the truth come unto the Gentiles, that the fulness of these things shall be made known unto them (3 Nephi 16:6-7)
In the next verse, the believing gentiles are contrasted to the unbelieving gentiles who are to scatter and plague the house of Israel.
But wo, saith the Father, unto the unbelieving of the Gentiles—for notwithstanding they have come forth upon the face of this land, and have scattered my people who are of the house of Israel; and my people who are of the house of Israel have been cast out from among them, and have been trodden under feet by them; (verse 8)
In these verses, the believing and the unbelieving of the gentiles are represented. The believing having received a testimony through the Holy Ghost and the unbelieving scattering the people God calls His.
And thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you: At that day when the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, and shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts above all nations, and above all the people of the whole earth, and shall be filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations; and if they shall do all those things, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, behold, saith the Father, I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them (3 Nephi 16:10)
The gentiles, of the same group that received a witness of the Holy Ghost, are now prophesied to sin against the gospel of Jesus Christ and reject the same. They stand accused of a variety of sins and transgressions, including pride and priestcrafts, and face the loss of the fulness of the gospel.
And then will I remember my covenant which I have made unto my people, O house of Israel, and I will bring my gospel unto them.
And I will show unto thee, O house of Israel, that the Gentiles shall not have power over you; but I will remember my covenant unto you, O house of Israel, and ye shall come unto the knowledge of the fulness of my gospel (verses 11-12)
Here we find, again, that the fulness of the gospel is rejected by the gentiles and extended to the house of Israel as a future event. This scripture speaks of the gentiles collectively and, as shown above, includes the LDS Church as represented by the faithful believers that were given the truth.
Again, in the next verse, we see the Lord reaching out to the Gentiles:
But if the Gentiles will repent and return unto me, saith the Father, behold they shall be numbered among my people, O house of Israel (verse 13)
We, individually and collectively, have the opportunity to repent and return to God. How does one return to a place that they have never been? This implies that we once embraced the gospel but then rejected it. God is asking us to return. Several times during his tenure as a church leader, President Ezra Taft Benson warned us that the condemnation found in section 84, verses 54 through 57, of the Doctrine and Covenants still applies to us today. Should a people who are under condemnation expect that this liability will simply fade away? Has this condemnation ever been lifted? I believe the correct answer is no. There are other scripture references that would lend concern about the current status of the church. Is ‘all well in Zion?’
So there it is… We, gentiles, are all called to embrace the fulness of the gospel – to repent and be baptized, to receive a remission of our sins through the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, to be sanctified and made holy. By so doing, we can assist in the establishment of Zion, the pure in heart and prepare for the return of our Lord and Savior. Such is the message of the gospel.
In summary, apostasy can come in many flavors, but only one definition fits with the scriptures, that of rejecting the gospel. The scriptures give us clear examples of both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ apostates from an individual and corporate perspective and provides guidance regarding how the church should respond to those who hold and publicly express alternative viewpoints. That response should respect the rights of individuals to speak according to their beliefs without persecution.
The scriptures also address the possibility and inevitability of corporate apostasy in the last days. If the church cannot meet the requirements laid out by the Lord to be called the ‘church of Christ,’ then it is not His church.
Let me close by reciting from the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 18:
“…for if Zion will not purity herself, so as to be approved in all things, in His sight, He will seek another people, for His work will go on until Israel be gathered, and they who will not hear His voice, must expect to feel His wrath.
It was five years ago this month that this blog became a reality. I had been commenting on blogs for a number of months when LDS Anarchist invited me to guest post on his blog. I found it presented an outlet that I had been searching for; an opportunity to virtually commune with others who had similar views but also hear the alternative perspectives that were graciously provided. I am grateful to Adam and JR for their early support. I am grateful for Jack who brought his ‘orthodox’ views to the pages. I appreciate the handful of people who stopped by to offer words of challenge as well as encouragement. Each word, each comment that landed on the littered landscape I call my worldview, tilted it in various directions. I am a better man because of these interactions.
The blog was originally entitled “The Fulness” and was housed at 2k12.net. I decided to change the name because I had another website by the same name and I was beginning to see confusion. The original Fulness site (fulness.com) was stood up in December of 2008. I can best describe it as the summary of my spiritual perspective after struggling through eight years of the trial of my faith. Today, it is as close to a ‘shrine’ as I am willing to go. The words on that site poured out of my feeble brain over the Christmas holidays. I had finally put the sequence of ideas and topics in an order that appeared logical to me (your mileage may vary). It represented my first attempt to understand what the gospel meant, what doctrine was of most worth, and what Christ expected of His church. It was a site where I first captured the broader consequences of being a Gentile in this day. And finally, it was where I began to understand what the true future of the restored church was to be.
This month has been a time of building associations with others who share concerns about the direction of the restored church. To my delight, I was able to have dinner with Tim of the blog entitled ‘Latter Day Commentary,’ Will (and children) of the blog ‘In 200 Words or Less’, and Log who has been prolific in this comments on various topics.
This was followed by an opportunity to rub shoulders with the people behind Mormon Heretic and Pure Mormonism. It is such a refreshing and buoying experience to break bread and discuss spiritual matters not constrained by correlation. I found we were all seeking further light and knowledge. It was reconfirmed to me that there are people who are seeking to come unto Christ and fulfill the definition of His church in D&C, section 10:
65 For, behold, I will gather them as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if they will not harden their hearts;
66 Yea, if they will come, they may, and partake of the waters of life freely.
67 Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.
68 Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.
69 And now, behold, whosoever is of my church, and endureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
I take the Lord at his word. I espouse the idea presented in this scripture that His church is made up of those who repent and come unto Christ, no more and no less. Anyone who attempts of redirect our attention to the works and words of men is not of His church.
The Mormon Inquisition
It now appears that, in order to be a member in good standing, one must not only support and sustain the brethren, but also conform to their view of the current version of doctrine and, amazingly, of historic events. Straying outside the acceptable bounds of the narrative currently espoused by the leadership of the church is met with decisive action of ‘eternal’ consequences. The excommunication of Denver Snuffer, and the ongoing questioning of anyone who publicly supports the scriptural basis for his teaching claimed another victim recently. Will, the proprietor of the blog “in 200 Words or Less” was excommunicated for apostasy. This action represents a gross injustice, in my opinion. The idea that people can use the internet to express legitimate concerns regarding the historicity of church claims and doctrine and suffer excommunication without any dialogue seems to follow the same path of other inquisitions. Is there a significant difference between the actions of the Spanish Inquisition where non-believers were given the choice of either conforming to the precepts of the Holy Roman Church or be dragged through the streets until they were dead and the virtual ‘slaughter’ of one’s eternal salvation that is represented in excommunication?
As I pondered this pathetic situation, I have determined that message delivered by President Uchtdorf in the 2013 October General Conference should be clarified with the necessary caveats. Rather than simply saying to those who have been estranged from the church, “Come, join with us,” his message should include the following ‘fine print.’
All are welcome to join us, except those who differ from the current church leadership on the interpretation of church history. Also, anyone who dares interpret scripture that, in any form, represents a concern regarding the legitimacy of the church claims to authority. Please don’t join us if you believe there is any validity to the warnings in scripture regarding the condemnation or possible apostasy of the church. One can only join is if they accept the non-scriptural guidance that the Lord will not permit the church to go astray. Please leave your desire for meat behind as discussion of the mysteries of God is not permitted. Do not share any misgivings about the doctrinal shifts and the policy changes as these are an affront to the inspired leadership of the church. Please refer to the website lds.org regularly to ensure that you are in compliance with the current version of church history and doctrine.
This past Mother’s Day was the most unique in memory. I was able to attend a the Sunstone sponsored service in the Kirtland Temple to commemorate the holiday. What made it different? Perhaps the fact that there were only women on the stand; that women gave the opening prayer (my dear wife) and closing prayer and the lone instrumental musical number was presented by the token male on the program. The speakers recited their thoughts of the divine feminine – that oft marginalized Goddess who represents our spiritual beginnings. They spoke of the early beliefs in the church of a ‘shared’ priesthood between a man and a woman. They shared the frustration with current male domination of the corporate church and the one-sided nature of the eternal relationship as defined by the current leadership. It helped me understand the Ordain Women movement.
But from my, perhaps, unique viewpoint, I am not sure it is worth the effort. Why would any woman want to partake of a corrupt priesthood when she has within herself the ability to accomplish the miracles that have evaded those who claim the keys?
The service on Mother’s day was the culminating event for the Sunstone Kirtland Symposium. This was my first experience with the Symposium and one that offered a richness of thought and provoked my heart with misapplied stereotypes. I was pleased with the diversity of speakers from Jessica Kimball who recited her experience as an intern in Nauvoo to Ross Osmond’s description of the stages of faith as applied to organizations. It was will worth the trip; especially when you consider that I was honored to spend the long weekend and a number of hours in the car discussing doctrine with Rock (Pure Mormonism) and Connie Waterman. Thank you for joining us in the Ohio.
The title for this blog is taken from the twelfth chapter of Alma in the Book of Mormon. Amulek and Alma were confronted by Zeezrom, who was a lawyer and “was the foremost to accuse Amulek and Alma, he being one of the most expert among them, having much business to do among the people.” (Alma 10:31) Zeezrom intended to catch the missionaries in their words but was stymied by the knowledge that Amulek and Alma had received of his intentions. When this became apparent, Zeezrom trembled and was apparently humbled enough to change the tone of his questions from accusation to a search for understanding. His question dealt with the resurrection of the dead.
In response to the question posed by Zeezrom, Alma stated the following found in the twelfth chapter:
9 And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
11 And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.
12 And Amulek hath spoken plainly concerning death, and being raised from this mortality to a state of immortality, and being brought before the bar of God, to be judged according to our works.
13 Then if our hearts have been hardened, yea, if we have hardened our hearts against the word, insomuch that it has not been found in us, then will our state be awful, for then we shall be condemned. (Alma 12:9-13)
Before Alma was ready to answer the question regarding the resurrection, he first defined the importance and structure of the knowledge that was going to be discussed. We first learn that many have been given the opportunity to gain knowledge and wisdom from the Lord. The way that one receives this information is through the word of God – revelation. The mysteries of God are given to us “according to heed and diligence” that we demonstrate unto God.
There are those who, through pride or other impediments, “harden their hearts” toward this available information are not given the mysteries of God through revelation. I have come to believe that ‘hardening our hearts’ is a product of a misplaced desire to achieve salvation based on our own knowledge and understanding.
On the other hand, those who exhibit of ‘soft’ heart, one that allows the words of God to penetrate, are given the opportunity to receive great knowledge, even to the point of receiving this knowledge in its fullness. There are other demonstrations of this idea in the scriptures. I find it of note that Nephi, in the first chapter and verse of the Book of Mormon, chose to reference this idea with these words: …having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God.., (1 Nephi 1:1. Nephi received visions and revelation to the extent of seeing the entire history of the world. He is not the only one who was able to receive this glorious revelation.
In the seventy-sixth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord states:
5 For thus saith the Lord—I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end.
6 Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory.
7 And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom. (D&C 76:5-7)
While these citations contain sufficient material for a wide variety of discussions, I want to simply point to the multiple references that encourage, no, command us to individually and collectively seek the mysteries of God. You and I are encouraged and should be compelled by our desire to serve God in righteousness, to seek the knowledge He is willing to share with us.
But what of those who “harden” their hearts? The description found in Alma tells us that they are ‘given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning His mysteries.’ As I pondered this phrase, I came to understand that two elements are described. The first indicates that continuing revelation will not happen. There will be no pronouncements of “Thus sayeth the Lord” by those who are not seeking the mysteries of God. While the mantra may continue that there are prophets, seers, and revelators upon the earth, there is no meat delivered in terms of revelation. Those who harden their hearts will not be privy to the revelation of God.
And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; (Alma 12:11)
Secondly, the past revelations will be lost in terms of understanding. This verse suggests that there will be a, perhaps gradual, slide downward in terms of understanding revelation that was given in the past until nothing is understood regarding His mysteries – His word delivered by revelation.
Do we see evidence of the gradual loss of the knowledge of God that we have already received from Him? In my mind, there are a number of potential examples. You are certainly to accept or reject them as evidence that there is a chronic hardness of the heart among us individually and collectively.
After Jesus Christ was resurrected, He appeared to His disciples as described in Mark:
14 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.
15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them: they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. (Mark 16:14-18)
First, I find it interesting that the apostles of the Lord were chastised because of the hardness of their hearts. More importantly, they, the twelve, were to take the message of the gospel to the world. They were to do this accompanied by the signs that they were doing this in His name. Shortly thereafter, as described in Acts, chapter three, Peter healed a man lame since birth.
6 Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.
7 And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.
8 And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.
This same behavior was exhibited by the disciples of Christ in the Book of Mormon:
5 And there were great and marvelous works wrought by the disciples of Jesus, insomuch that they did heal the sick, and raise the dead, and cause the lame to walk, and the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear; and all manner of miracles did they work among the children of men; and in nothing did they work miracles save it were in the name of Jesus. (4 Nephi 1:5)
Why don’t we see the apostles of the Lord demonstrating miracles in the name of the Lord? Do they not carry the same pronouncement as the apostles of Christ in Jerusalem and among the Nephites?
Today, miracles have been defined around many things that I would consider as short of the description of miracles found in the scriptures. Is it a miracle when a change in the age requirement boosts the missionary ranks to over 75,000? Can the church efforts in genealogy be considered miraculous? I suggest you ponder these questions in your heart. What should be considered a miracle? What have we lost by redefining what ‘miracle’ mean among the body of believers?
Law of Consecration
The Law of Consecration is laid out in the forty-second section of the Doctrine and Covenants (see D&C 42:30-39).
31 And inasmuch as ye impart of your substance unto the poor, ye will do it unto me; and they shall be laid before the bishop of my church and his counselors, two of the elders, or high priests, such as he shall appoint or has appointed and set apart for that purpose. (D&C 42:31)
The members were instructed to consecrate their property to the church and then receive an inheritance from which they were to extract their living. This commandment of the Lord also has roots back into the meridian of time. Following the Savior’s death and resurrection, we find his followers practicing a similar way of life:
42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.
44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.
46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, (Acts 2:42-46)
Note that there is another reference to the signs or miracles done by the apostles. The followers of Christ lived as one, their possessions were pooled together for the benefit of all. The same appears to be the case for the Nephites after the visit by the Savior:
3 And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift. (4 Nephi 1:3)
If we were indeed given revelation as to how the followers of Christ were to conduct their daily lives, why do we seem to be satisfied today with the temporal law of tithing? Have we lost our collective memory of the revelation given by God?
Here is how President Eyring described the method by which the followers of Christ have been directed to care for one another:
His way of helping has at times been called living the law of consecration. In another period His way was called the united order. In our time it is called the Church welfare program. His way of helping has at times been called living the law of consecration. In another period His way was called the united order. In our time it is called the Church welfare program. (2011 April General Conference Saturday morning session)
Does the church welfare program equate to the law of consecration? Or is it possibly an example of how the word, the purpose of the original revelation, has been taken from us due to our hard hearts?
Gathering to Zion
I have a friend who ended every communication with the phrase, “next year in Zion.’ There was a time in this church when people still talked of preparing to return to Missouri. There was a time when the saints were told to gather that they could be ‘one.’ Speaking to the apostles of the restoration, the Lord said:
7 And ye shall go forth baptizing with water, saying: Repent ye, repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
8 And from this place ye shall go forth into the regions westward; and inasmuch as ye shall find them that will receive you ye shall build up my church in every region—
9 Until the time shall come when it shall be revealed unto you from on high, when the city of the New Jerusalem shall be prepared, that ye may be gathered in one, that ye may be my people and I will be your God. (D&C 42:7-9)
We now know where the Lord originally intended to have His Saints gathered. We also know that the people who attempted to establish Zion were thwarted by their own actions.
9 Therefore, in consequence of the transgressions of my people, it is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion—
10 That they themselves may be prepared, and that my people may be taught more perfectly, and have experience, and know more perfectly concerning their duty, and the things which I require at their hands.
11 And this cannot be brought to pass until mine elders are endowed with power from on high.
12 For behold, I have prepared a great endowment and blessing to be poured out upon them, inasmuch as they are faithful and continue in humility before me.
13 Therefore it is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season, for the redemption of Zion. (D&C 105:9-13)