Archive for the ‘baptism by fire’ Category
Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets. (Amos 3:7)
Who is this Amos? What do we make of the message of this man whose words we use as proof that a prophet is needed among the people of God? His story began as a simple shepherd from Tekoa during the time that Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam was king of Israel (Amos 1:1). When challenged by those who kept the temples, he simply stated that he was no prophet nor could he claim to be one by lineage until the Lord called him out of the fields while he tended his flock.
Then Amaziah the priest of Beth-el sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to bear all his words.
For thus Amos saith, Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be led away captive out of their own land.
Also Amaziah said unto Amos, O thou seer, go, flee thee away into the land of Judah, and there eat bread, and prophesy there:
But prophesy not again any more at Beth-el: for it is the king’s chapel, and it is the king’s court.
Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit:
And the LORD took me as I followed the flock, and the LORD said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel. (Amos 8:10-15)
As one could expect, the leadership, in the form of Amaziah the priest, told him to take his message elsewhere, that it wasn’t wanted or needed among Israel. But Amos did not acknowledge his request, rather he proceeded to relay the message that the Lord had given him to deliver. It was a message of warning, not just to the people of Israel, but also to their leadership.
Why is it that we, today, are willing to use a sound byte from Amos to support our misguided characterization of the voice that is held to speak for God but ignore the context and the message he was called to deliver? What is the secret that the Lord would share with His prophet Amos? Was it one regarding how to administer the organization that was called in his name? Was it a message on how to care for the flock? Was it an epistle on the doctrines to use in the government of His church? It was none of these; the message was a call to repent directed at both the leadership and the membership. A careful reading of the message of Amos would suggest that, rather than saying that the Lord would guide and direct his church through a prophet, the message was that He would not chastise His people until He would send a warning voice among them to call them back to Him. Perhaps another more modern interpretation of the often used quote from Amos would be:
Surely the Lord God will not destroy his church until He shares His plan with His prophets and commands them to warn the people.
The secret that Amos was deliver was that the Lord knew the sins of Israel and that he, Amos, was sent to call Israel to repentance. He was called to warn them of the consequences of their idolatrous pattern of living. Here are some elements of his message:
HEAR this word that the LORD hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying,
You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. (Amos 3:1)
Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes;
That pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek: and a man and his father will go in unto the same maid, to profane my holy name:
And they lay themselves down upon clothes laid to pledge by every altar, and they drink the wine of the condemned in the house of their god. (Amos 2:6-8)
WOE to them that are at ease in Zion. (Amos 6:1}
Forasmuch therefore as your treading is upon the poor, and ye take from him burdens of wheat: ye have built houses of hewn stone, but ye shall not dwell in them; ye have planted pleasant vineyards, but ye shall not drink wine of them.
For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right. (Amos 5:11-13)
The message was for the entire house of Israel. The Lord outlined the failings of the people; they were guilty of turning away the righteous and the poor. They did not hold sacred those things which were given by God. And finally, what is it the Lord wanted them to do:
Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the LORD, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken.
Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5: 14-15)
What should we, as modern Israel, take as a learning from Amos? Should we not liken ourselves to ancient Israel and learn from their mistakes? Are we not warned, as they were, that we cannot assume all is well in Zion? Are we safe in assuming that God will not chastise us as he did to His previous chosen people?
The message of Amos 3:7 is clear to me. When correction is needed, God will call prophets and share His counsel with them. They will be called to preach repentance to those that, in their pride and arrogance, dismiss the warnings of the words of the prophets recorded in scripture. The prophets will call His people to repentance and warn them of the removal of God’s protection that will be their lot if they choose not to soften their heart.
Surely the Lord God will not leave us in the midst of ignoring His commandments without warning. When we see a prophet come among us that is not ‘called’ by the organization, that doesn’t have the required pedigree, that isn’t recognizable as a sanctioned authority, should we request that he take his message elsewhere as Amaziah did? What would Amos look like today? What would his message be? What are the consequences of ignoring his words of warning?
What think ye?
Here are the lyrics from ‘Ye Elders of Israel’ written by Cyrus H. Wheelock:
Ye elders of Israel, come join now with me And seek out the righteous, where’er they may be: In desert, on mountain, on land, or on sea, And bring them to Zion, the pure and the free.
The harvest is great, and the laborers are few; But if we’re united, we all things can do; We’ll gather the wheat from the midst of the tares And bring them from bondage, from sorrows and snares.
We’ll go to the poor, like our Captain of old, And visit the weary, the hungry, and cold; We’ll cheer up their hearts with the news that he bore And point them to Zion and life evermore.
O Babylon, O Babylon, we bid thee farewell; We’re going to the mountains of Ephraim to dwell.
This is one of the ‘songs of Zion’ that brings back to memory the days of my mission. It was one of the songs that was fairly easy to sing the bass part, even for a tone-deaf soul like me. We were tasked with finding those who were scattered throughout the world who had the ‘blood of Israel’ in their veins. Here is how Brigham Young characterized the search taken from the Journal of Discourses, Volume 2, page 269:
It is Ephraim that I have been searching for all the days of my preaching, and that is the blood which ran in my veins when I embraced the Gospel. If there are any of the other tribes of Israel mixed with the Gentiles we are also searching for them. Though the Gentiles are cut off, do not suppose that we are not going to preach the Gospel among the Gentile nations, for they are mingled with the house of Israel, and when we send to the nations we do not seek for the Gentiles, because they are disobedient and rebellious. (D&C 64:36) We want the blood of Jacob, and that of his father Isaac and Abraham, which runs in the veins of the people.
My patriarchal blessing echoed this idea where my lineage was declared as coming from Ephraim, therefore, I was of the house of Israel through Ephraim. But it was several years ago I began to experience some dissonance. I read in the words of Isaiah of the drunkards of Ephraim:
WOE to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower, which are on the head of the fat valleys of them that are overcome with wine!
Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one, which as a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, as a flood of mighty waters overflowing, shall cast down to the earth with the hand.
The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, shall be trodden under feet: (Isaiah 28:1-3)
If being an Ephraim-ite meant that I was a ‘fading flower’ and that the crown of pride would cause me to be ‘trodden under feet,’ I felt I needed to understand the broader picture. I was also concerned by the position of the house of Israel in the context of the last days. In reading of the vision of the tree of life given to Lehi and Nephi, I came upon the following:
And it came to pass that the angel spake unto me again, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world; and I saw and bear record.
And I, Nephi, saw that he was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world.
And after he was slain I saw the multitudes of the earth, that they were gathered together to fight against the apostles of the Lamb; for thus were the twelve called by the angel of the Lord.
And the multitude of the earth was gathered together; and I beheld that they were in a large and spacious building, like unto the building which my father saw. And the angel of the Lord spake unto me again, saying: Behold the world and the wisdom thereof; yea, behold the house of Israel hath gathered together to fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (1 Nephi 11:32-35)
Does this not imply that the house of Israel occupied and, possibly, still occupies that large and spacious building and were/are fighting against the Gospel of Jesus Christ? It was because of their pride that the gospel was taken from them and extended to the Gentiles. It is similar pride that will be demonstrated by the Gentiles that will cause the Lord to withdraw His Gospel from them and extend it once again to the house of Israel. “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” (1 Nephi 13:42)
In my last post which contains the presentation at the Sunstone Symposium, I spoke of the Gentiles who were blessed ‘because of their belief in [Christ], in and of the Holy Ghost, which witnesses unto them of me and of the Father.’ (3 Nephi 16:6) The core question central to this feeble attempt at a post is to answer the question; who am I relative to the warnings of the Book of Mormon? Am I of Ephraim which, outside of the writings of Isaiah, is only represented by the name of a hill in the Book? Am I of the house of Israel that will receive the gospel only after the Gentiles reject it? Or am I a Gentile who can hope that through repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost can be numbered with those of the church?
Is the right answer all of the above? Let’s go back to the blessing that Ephraim received at the hands of his grandfather.
And Joseph took them both, Ephraim in his right hand toward Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh in his left hand toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them near unto him.
And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn.
And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day.
The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.
And when Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand upon the head of Ephraim, it displeased him: and he held up his father’s hand, to remove it from Ephraim’s head unto Manasseh’s head.
And Joseph said unto his father, Not so, my father: for this is the firstborn; put thy right hand upon his head.
And his father refused, and said, I know it, my son, I know it: he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great: but truly his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.
And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Manasseh. (Genesis 48:13-20)
So Israel/Jacob had his two grandchildren, Manasseh and Ephraim, brought before him for a blessing. Joseph positioned Manasseh, the elder child on the right side of Israel and Ephraim on the left side. Much to his dismay, Israel crossed his hands and laid his right hand upon Ephraim and his left hand upon Manasseh. Israel persisted and pronounced blessings upon both children. He blessed Manasseh that he would ‘become a people,’ but for the younger son, Ephraim, he blessed to ‘become a multitude of nations.’
Here is where an understanding of the original Hebrew is of benefit, but alas, I am not a Hebrew scholar. What I do have at my disposal is the Interlinear Bible and Strong’s Concordance. The blessing given to Ephraim notes, in the Interlinear Bible, that ‘his seed shall become the fullness of the nations.’ The word used in Genesis, chapter 48, verse 18, for ‘nations’ is ‘goy,’ the same Hebrew word used in many places to denote ‘Gentiles.’ So, in effect, Ephraim was blessed to fill the Gentile nations. The progeny of Ephraim is both of the house of Israel and identified as the Gentiles. Here is how Joseph Smith treated the topic in the Kirtland Temple dedicatory prayer:
We ask thee to appoint unto Zion other stakes besides this one which thou hast appointed, that the gathering of thy people may roll on in great power and majesty, that thy work may be cut short in righteousness.
Now these words, O Lord, we have spoken before thee, concerning the revelations and commandments which thou hast given unto us, who are identified with the Gentiles. (D&C 109:59-60)
We are the Gentiles, we are those who are of the house of Israel. The challenge comes in that the ‘nations’ no longer remember their roots, nor are they able to link themselves with the house of Israel. When Moses brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, the Lord commanded him to ‘number’ the house of Israel before they could be introduced into their promised land. Each tribe was counted and each member had to be linked to his clan.
These were the numbered of the children of Israel, six hundred thousand and a thousand seven hundred and thirty.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Unto these the land shall be divided for an inheritance according to the number of names.
To many thou shalt give the more inheritance, and to few thou shalt give the less inheritance: to every one shall his inheritance be given according to those that were numbered of him.
Notwithstanding the land shall be divided by lot: according to the names of the tribes of their fathers they shall inherit.
According to the lot shall the possession thereof be divided between many and few. (Numbers 26:51-56)
In order to receive an inheritance, each person had to be numbered according to tribe. Those that were not able to link themselves to Israel were not given any place in the land. They were deemed outsiders. The same is true today for those who wish to be part of the kingdom of God. Here is the plea from the Lord to the Gentiles:
Turn, all ye Gentiles, from your wicked ways; and repent of your evil doings, of your lyings and deceivings, and of your whoredoms, and of your secret abominations, and your idolatries, and of your murders, and your priestcrafts, and your envyings, and your strifes, and from all your wickedness and abominations, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, that ye may receive a remission of your sins, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, that ye may be numbered with my people who are of the house of Israel. (3 Nephi 30:2)
Given that we cannot literally prove of lineage back to the Fathers, we are given an alternative. If we are willing to repent, be baptized, receive a remission of our sins and be filled with the Holy Ghost; we are then promised that we, even as Gentiles, can be ‘numbered’ with the house of Israel.
In the end, though, it really doesn’t matter whether we consider ourselves as coming from the loins of Ephraim or as a Gentile that fought against our mother Gentiles in establishing this land of freedom and bounty.
AND now behold, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you; for I, Nephi, would not suffer that ye should suppose that ye are more righteous than the Gentiles shall be. For behold, except ye shall keep the commandments of God ye shall all likewise perish; and because of the words which have been spoken ye need not suppose that the Gentiles are utterly destroyed.
For behold, I say unto you that as many of the Gentiles as will repent are the covenant people of the Lord; and as many of the Jews as will not repent shall be cast off; for the Lord covenanteth with none save it be with them that repent and believe in his Son, who is the Holy One of Israel. (2 Nephi 30:1-2)
We should all be rightly concerned about the warnings in the Book of Mormon, not only to the house of Israel, but more importantly, to the Gentiles. We should seek to be numbered among His people. We should seek to receive the same blessing taught by Moroni relative to the church of Christ:
AND now I speak concerning baptism. Behold, elders, priests, and teachers were baptized; and they were not baptized save they brought forth fruit meet that they were worthy of it.
Neither did they receive any unto baptism save they came forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and witnessed unto the church that they truly repented of all their sins.
And none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end.
And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith. (Moroni 6:1-4)
Those who bring forth fruit; those who approach God with a broken heart and a contrite spirit; those who have repents of their sins; those who take upon them the name of Christ and are cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost. These are the one who will be numbered ‘among the people of the church of Christ.’
What think ye?
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.
News reports coming out of Italy has Pope Francis visiting the Calabria region in the ‘toe’ of that country. During his homily, he addressed an organization that represents the “adoration of evil and contempt for the common good.”
The ‘Ndrangheta, also known as the Sicilian Mafia, makes an estimated $75 billion in business dealings ranging from Austria to Germany through extortion and a range of other unsavory mechanisms. This group wields significant power in this region of Italy as described by the USA Today:
“The ‘Ndrangheta is also highly religious, often paying for Roman Catholic Church initiatives and seeking the blessings of local priests, who will change their plans on short notice to officiate at mob weddings, funerals and baptisms. Sometimes, religious processions will pause in front of the homes of ‘Ndrangheta leaders in order to bless the inhabitants.”
In addressing this Italian version of the Gadianton robbers, the Pope stated that “Those who go down the evil path, as the Mafiosi do, are not in communion with God. They are excommunicated.”
In a strange twist, the Catholic Pope is excommunicating murderers and thieves while the LDS Church is excommunicating people who have committed horrendous crimes such as asking the church leadership for a revelation on the role of women in the priesthood and attempting to gain entry to a priesthood meeting.
Recent excommunications, such as Denver Snuffer and Will Carter, were of a similar ilk as one is worthy of excommunication in the LDS Church for disagreeing with the church version of historical events and citing the historical failings of the organization to meet the expectations of God.
In a response to the uproar that the current spate of excommunications as well as the threatened church discipline of Kelly and Dehlin, the church released a statement which in part reads:
What causes concern for Church leaders is when personal motivations drive those conversations beyond discussion, and a person or group begins recruiting others to insist on changes in Church doctrines or structure. When it goes so far as creating organized groups, staging public events to further a cause or creating literature for members to share in their local congregations, the Church has to protect the integrity of its doctrine as well as other members from being misled.
So the church needs to protect its members from being mislead? Isn’t that what the adversary’s plan was; to protect us from making bad decisions? Sad but true, the church views it role as protecting members from hearing challenges to the current version of the doctrines of the church.
The purpose of the restored church is NOT to protect its members from influences that may or may not be in line with the current slate of doctrine or history. The purpose of the church is to preach the gospel and provide access to the necessary ordinances.
And of tenets thou shalt not talk, but thou shalt declare repentance and faith on the Savior, and remission of sins by baptism, and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost. (D&C 19:31)
Until the church returns to the core objective given to it by Christ, the doctrines of men will continue to wreak havoc on the souls of men and women who seek to know more than the “correlated’ church is able to give.
This season, in which we commemorate the resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ, comes as the earth passes into another renewal. This winter has been tough and long in the Midwest, so spring is certainly welcome. For me, Easter is not about bunnies and eggs, although I am partial to marshmallow bunnies. It is not about a shortened Sunday program. To each of us, it should have significant meaning.
On Good Friday, as I traveled back from a meeting, I was able to pass by the processional of the cross conducted by several of the local Catholic churches. Behind the cross, as it traveled down the street, was a line of parishioners waiting patiently for their turn to bear the similar burden to that which was laid upon the shoulder of Christ as He was led to His crucifixion. It was a solemn occasion as I pondered the meaning of the cross in my life.
For much of my religious life, I was instructed that the cross was not the central theme of the ministry of our Savior. instead, the focus was placed on His emergence from the tomb. It made sense since it also allowed us to differentiate ourselves from the Catholic and Protestant churches.
Since my awakening, I have been led to question everything I had been taught; everything that I had taken for granted. It has been an interesting journey these last years as I re-trod ground that was once unquestioned. I have taken the admonition of Paul to “prove all things, hold fast to that which is good.” (1 Thess. 5:21)
As I reviewed the procession, my mind was drawn to a thought that I had never considered before. It was almost as if the question was placed in my feeble mind and the answer was played out before my eyes. What is the importance of the cross to me? Immediately, my mind was connected to a scripture that I had never associated with that question, found in the 27th chapter of Third Nephi where Christ defines His gospel.
13 Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.
14 And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—
15 And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.
As I rehearsed this in my mind and then later re-read the scripture, I came away with a change in perspective. According to the gospel as delivered to the Nephites by Jesus Christ, he was sent by the Father to be ‘lifted up upon the cross.’ I had never considered the crucifixion as part of the central theme of the restored gospel, but there it was in the words of our Savior. This act of laying down one’s life for a friend is placed as the central theme, in my opinion, of the gospel. There is no mention of the resurrection in this summary of the gospel. There is no reference to the tomb. The focal point of the gospel is that Christ was crucified on the cross to draw all men to Him. We then are to be lifted up, crucified as it is, by the Father to be judged of our works.
So what place should the cross be in our lives? At least one should consider the weight it is given in this exposition of the gospel. What better source than the words recorded of the Savior Himself?
The remainder of the description of the gospel is as follows in the same chapter:
16 And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.
17 And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father.
18 And this is the word which he hath given unto the children of men. And for this cause he fulfilleth the words which he hath given, and he lieth not, but fulfilleth all his words.
19 And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.
20 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.
21 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;
We are told that those who repent and are baptized in His name will be filled and sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost. If we accomplish this, then when we are lifted up upon our own cross, we will enjoy the sanctification that comes from the cleansing of the Holy Ghost.
That is the gospel, the whole gospel and nothing but the gospel. At least if you believe, as I do, that the Book of Mormon contains the words of Christ and contains the fulness of the gospel. The message of the cross is carried in the restored gospel, the image of the cross as the means to draw all men unto Christ is played out in these words.
May you all take time this holy week to consider the message of Easter and the central theme of the gospel of Jesus Christ. May we all come to understand what we must do to carry our own cross up our own hill to be lifted up by the Father.
What think ye?
In the fifteenth chapter of Matthew, Jesus Christ is confronted by the scribes and Pharisees who asked him this question:
Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? (Matthew 15:2)
The Jews, at the time of Christ, carried forward many traditions which had been developed to augment their worship of God. There were rules regarding cleanliness, rules regarding acceptable activities on the Sabbath, rules regarding travel. All of which were a vain attempt to ‘improve’ on the core principle of their religion. Today, many of these practices survive in the rabbinic halakhah.
Bruce McConkie characterized it this way:
Rabbinical ordinances and interpretations were added to the Mosaic law by scribes and teachers over the years. These traditions were actually and formally deemed to be more important and have greater binding force than the law itself. Among them as supposed guards against ceremonial uncleanness, were the ritualistic washings which Jesus and His disciples had ignored. (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, page 366)
Christ responded with His own question to the scribes and Pharisees:
Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? (Matthew 15:3)
The example Christ used in His response was based on one of the laws of Moses:
4 For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.
5 But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me;
6 And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.
7 Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,
8 This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.
9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men
10 And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand:
11 Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. (Matthew 15:4-11)
Verse five was difficult to understand until I did some research. This same event was captured in Mark, chapter 7 where the equivalent verse states
11 But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free.
12 And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother;
13 Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.(Mark 7:11-13)
Corban is derived from the word related to the temple treasury. The idea originally was that the son could avoid providing support for his parents, which was inherently part of the commandment to honor your father and mother, by pledging all of his wealth to God. Once this was done, the son no longer was deemed to have any responsibility regarding his parents support. By the meridian of time, this had simply become a vow that could be made and the son was then free of the need to meet the commandment.
As Christ indicated in verse thirteen above, there were many other ‘traditions’ that were inserted by man into the practice of a believer. It is interesting to note the a number of the accusations launched by the scribes and Pharisees were based on the apparent violation of these ‘traditions.’ such as appropriate activities for the Sabbath and others.
The scribes and Pharisees sought to accuse Christ of violating the law and found themselves charged with supplanting the commandments of God with the doctrines of men. Those who defended these traditions – the doctrines of men – lost the opportunity to participate in the gospel as delivered by Christ. They were found to be hard hearted and lovers of their position and power, they were not receptive of the message brought to them by the Son of God.
As history dictates, the gentiles did not fare significantly better. As the Holy Roman church began to assert its position, a similar set of traditions began to dominate the lives of the pious. Here is how Bruce McConkie described the situation with the early church:
To the pure and simple doctrines of Christ, the scribes and priests of early Christianity added such things as: selling indulgences, which freed the wicked from past sins and authorized them to commit future crimes without divine penalty; forgiving sins (supposedly) through repeated and perfunctory confessions; praying departed persons out of purgatory; burning candles for the dead; praying to Mary and other so-called saints, rather than to the Lord; worshiping of images; turning of the sacramental emblems into the literal flesh and blood of Jesus (transubstantiation); laying up a reservoir of good works in heaven which the so-called Church can sell to those who need them; forbidding priests and other church official to marry; doing penance to gain forgiveness of sins; adorning houses of worship with costly materials; wearing of expensive robes and costumes by priests and other church officers; using elaborate ministerial titles; augmenting the Church treasury by gambling; and so forth.
All these, and many other like traditions, are counted of more importance by some than the law of God as originally given by the Master. Indeed, the so-called Christian Church today is founded in large part on the traditions of the “elders’ rather than on the revelations from heaven. (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, page 367)
Many of the simple and pure aspects of the gospel as delivered by the Savior and the apostles were replaced by the traditions and doctrines of men. The following is an example from the life of Martin Luther;
He at first gave himself up to all the observances which the Church enjoined for the expiation of sin. One day, wishing to obtain an indulgence promised by the pope to all who should ascend on their knees what is called Pilate’s Staircase, the Saxon monk was humbly creeping up those steps, which he was told had been miraculously transported from Jerusalem to Rome. While he was performing this meritorious act, he though he heard a voice of thunder crying from the bottom of his heart, as at Wittenberg and Bologna, “The just shall live by faith.” These words twice before struck him like the voice of an angel from God. They now resounded unceasingly and powerfully within him. He rose in amazement from the steps up which he was dragging his body; he shuddered at himself; he was ashamed of seeing to what a depth superstition had plunged him. therefore he fled far from the scene of his folly. (The Life and Times of Martin Luther, pp 54-55)
Would we today believe that by climbing a series of steps on our knees, we would be able to free someone from Purgatory? Acts such as those prescribed for the Jews as well as those that found their way into the church established after the original apostles carried the gospel to the gentiles represent the doctrines of men mingled with scripture.
The Jews of the birthright had the opportunity to accept the gospel of Christ and, through the covenant, receive the blessings of the Kingdom of God. In their rejection, the gospel was then taken to the gentiles. These too had the opportunity to build the kingdom. As described in the Book of Mormon, we can see that “they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.” (1 Nephi 13:26) These ‘plain and precious’ parts were supplanted by the doctrines of men. Practices which could easily lead the practitioner to focus on the ritual rather than the message.
The stage is set for the restoration of the gospel. As characterized by Nephi, those parts, plain and precious, will once again be made available.
For, behold, saith the Lamb: I will manifest myself unto thy seed, that they shall write many things which I shall minister unto them, which shall be plain and precious; and after thy seed shall be destroyed, and dwindle in unbelief, and also the seed of thy brethren, behold, these things shall be hid up, to come forth unto the Gentiles, by the gift and power of the Lamb. (1 Nephi 13:35)
As a result of the restoration, we, the Gentiles, now have a book which contains the ‘fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.’ What should we consider as the fulness of the gospel? Should we believe that it is incomplete in any way? Should it be the bellwether regarding the doctrines by which we should govern spiritual lives? I believe this is the case. I have long held a testimony of the Book of Mormon as the mechanism that the Lord utilized to announce His doctrine. This testimony was not drilled into me by repetition, I had a singular profound experience that left me with a knowledge that the book was God-breathed.
This now brings me to the core question of this post. I have attempted to outline the circumstance under which both the Jews, or the house of Israel, and also early Christianity lost their way and adopted the traditions and doctrines of men instead of the doctrine of Christ. It can happen gradually, as imperfect men attempt to improve on the word of God.
Are we, today, as keepers of the fulness of the gospel, susceptible to the same shift from the pure doctrine of Christ into the quagmire represented by the doctrines of men? Are the doctrines held by the so-called Church of Jesus Christ still after these nearly 200 years still in perfect alignment with the doctrine of God?
To answer these questions, we should first clearly define the doctrine of Christ. Secondly, we should examine our own traditions and doctrines to determine that the two are in alignment.
Following His identification of the twelve disciples in His visit to the Nephites, the Lord set forward His doctrine:
35 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.
36 And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one.
37 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.
38 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.
39 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
40 And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them. (3 Nephi 11:35-40)
If I were to attempt to place this in my own words, the doctrine of Christ is that those who believe in Christ will be visited by fire and the Holy Ghost. To receive this, we must repent and be baptized. We must become as little children, humble and teachable. Anyone who says that the doctrine of Christ is “more or less” than this and establishes a different doctrine is of evil.
Should the doctrine of the church that bears His name be different than the doctrine defined by Christ in these verses? The answer should be a resounding No!
Are there rituals and activities that are promoted as the doctrine of the church that do not align with the doctrine of Christ? I would suggest that we each individually and collectively as followers of Christ should assess our actions to determine if they are aligned with the doctrine of Christ or if they are manufactured by men. Have we allowed our traditions become the doctrine of the church?
Ask any active member of the LDS church what is required of them and you will probably get a list such as:
- Pay tithing
- Accept callings in the church
- Do your home and visiting teaching
- Attend your meetings
- Hold Family Home Evening
I could carry the list on for many pages. This is the Mormon version of halakhah. The list of guidelines that a good Mormon must follow. I am sure that obedience to the list will give us, today, the same satisfaction, pride, and arrogance demonstrated by the scribes and Pharisees.
I will say it again. Hark, all ye who claim to be saints. Are these traditions in alignment with the doctrine of Christ? I respond with a resounding “NO.” Just as with the scribes and Pharisees at the time of the mortal ministry of Christ, just as it was with the gentiles in the Holy Roman Church, the acts and actions that should be spawned by our acceptance and implementation of the doctrine of Christ have replaced it. Once we believe that the list of traditions we have come to live by as ‘the gospel,’ we are no better than the Jews in the meridian of time. And we will face the same fate. It is very sad to consider that people who hold to the pure doctrine of Christ are considered apostate, just as Christ was condemned by the religious rulers of his time.
Even in this enlightened age of the restored gospel, we are susceptible to being “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine?” (Eph 4:14) Should plural marriage be a requirement to hold high office in the church, as it was at the time of Brigham Young, or be an offence worthy of excommunication, as it is today? Tossed to and fro… We need to identify the traditions of men in our own worldview and strip them away. We need to gauge our process along the strait and narrow path by the doctrine of Christ, no more, no less.
I implore you to search the words of Christ, to seek knowledge regarding the doctrine of Christ as contained in the restored scriptures. Look in your heart and determine if your personal halakhah is a stumbling block to employing the real doctrine of Christ in your life.
What think ye?
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)
How long is a little season? What are the things that we, collectively and individually, must learn to be better prepared to establish Zion, the pure in heart? Will it still happen in Jackson County, Missouri or will there be some other place for those who are truly converted to collect?
In the Sunday School lesson conducted about one year ago, the teacher made it clear that we are to stay where we are at; that we are no longer required to gather. I cannot find any commandment to that effect. There was no mention made that we are to be preparing for the gathering? Is this yet another example of the revelation, the word, that has been taken from us?
The Mysteries of God
So this brings me back to the start of this blog entry. As members, we are told today that we are not to seek after the mysteries of God. We are told that we place our membership in jeopardy if we stray outside of the correlated church. We have recent examples of people who have been excised from the fabric of the corporate church because they dared to share their concerns with others. We find that they were not charged with apostasy against the gospel but that they were excommunicated because they spoke words that were at odds with the current version of the church doctrine. How do the chains of hell feel? There are surely people around you that have no desire to seek after the mysteries. They are fully committed to following man rather than God.
In closing, my plea is for us all to ‘come unto Christ.’ Seek to prepare ourselves for the commandments that we have received. Prepare our hearts for the word that the Spirit will deliver.
What think ye?
This morning I see the first glint of the morning sun spilling across the tall pines outside my window. I came to the mountains this weekend seeking peace and some needed rest for the whirring machinery of today’s life. As I read the words recorded in our scripture, I was reminded of the invitation, repeated oft in the words of the prophets, to enter the rest of the Lord. Is this rest only found as we leave this life, as I have often heard repeated as we honor the passing of our loved ones? Nay, it is available to each of us today and all the remaining days of our lives.
Wherefore, I would speak unto you that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ, and that have obtained a sufficient hope by which ye can enter into the rest of the Lord, from this time henceforth until ye shall rest with him in heaven. (Moroni 7:3)
The phrase, ’entering into the rest of the Lord,’ to me, means leaving the anxieties of the world behind. It means having the hope that we are right with the Lord and that we have had our hearts softened by His word. But the scriptures tell us it is more than just this hope. The rest of the Lord is a state of our being. It is a spiritual cloud that envelops us and speaks peace to our soul.
Therefore, whosoever repenteth, and hardeneth not his heart, he shall have claim on mercy through mine Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of his sins, and these shall enter into my rest. (Alma 12:34)
We receive, as is told in 2 Nephi, chapter 31, a remission of our sins through the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. This sacred experience is what welcomes us into the rest of the Lord. This baptism of fire should be the goal of each of us. The objective is to expunge from our hearts and our souls all the dross of the world around us. The experience lifts us above the realm of the mortal and gives us but a taste of what awaits us in the kingdom of God.
Those of the true high priesthood have, according to the scriptures, already partaken of this gift from God.
Now, as I said concerning the holy order or this high priesthood, there were many who were ordained and become high priests of God; and it was on account of their exceeding faith and repentance, and their righteousness before God, they choosing to repent and work righteousness rather than to perish. Therefore, they were called after this holy order, and were sanctified, and their garments were washed white through the blood of the Lamb. Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God. (Alma 13:10-12)
The purpose that these men were called to this high priesthood was to teach others how to receive the same blessing.
And thus being called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest. (Alma 13:6)
According to the Book of Mormon, high priests are called to teach us how to enter into the rest of the Lord; something that they themselves have experienced. It is a call to set aside the things of the world. It beckons us to soften our hearts and make our spirits contrite and accept the words of Christ. It is how we become the sons and daughters of God. It is how we are sanctified and prepared to enter into the presence of the Lord. It is the gate by which we enter the strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life. It is the rest of the Lord.
What think ye?
Dear President Uchtdorf,
In your Saturday morning talk at conference, you began by telling a story of a man who had a dream. The man dreamed that ‘he was in great hall where all the religions of the world were gathered.’ The story continued with this man meeting a nice couple who represented the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and asked “What do you require of your members?” Their response was that ‘we do not require anything, but the Lord asks that we consecrate all.’ The couple went on to explain about ‘church callings, home and visiting teaching, full-time missions, weekly family home evenings, temple work, welfare, and humanitarian service and assignments to teach.’ The list was expanded with ‘family history, youth camps, devotionals, scripture study, leadership training, youth activities, early morning seminary, maintaining church buildings. And, of course, there is the Lord’s law of health, the monthly fast to help the poor, and tithing.
Upon hearing of all that is required of members and the fact that none locally were paid for these contributions of time and talent, the man responded, “Why would anyone want to join such a church?” The couple’s response was, “We thought you would never ask.”
The story reminded me of a talk given by Boyd K. Packer in the Sunday morning session of conference in October of 1974. I was not privileged to hear this talk directly as I was serving a mission in Finland at the time, but the words sunk deeply into my soul. It was not easy for us, my father had passed away when I was in high school but, at a sacrifice, my mother easily agreed to help cover the costs of my mission. It was she who sent me a copy of the conference proceedings as well as a tape of the session.
In this talk, Elder Packer referenced an event that occurred while he was a mission president as found here. A family receiving the discussions had requested no more visits. The man had heard of tithing and had decided that was too much to pay. When visited by the branch president, he was asked if he knew about fast offering, building fund (remember those days?), welfare and teaching assignments. The story ends with these words
As they departed, almost as an afterthought, he turned and said, “Have you ever wondered why people will do all of these things willingly? I have never received a bill for tithing. No one has ever called to collect it. But we pay it—and all of the rest—and count it a great privilege.
“If you could discover why, you would be within reach of the pearl of great price, which the Lord said the merchant man was willing to sell all that he had that he might obtain it.
“But,” said the branch president, “It is your decision. I only hope you will pray about it.”
A few days later the man appeared at the branch president’s home. No, he did not want to reschedule the missionaries. That would not be necessary. He wanted to schedule the baptism of his family. They had been praying, fervently praying.
For many years, the story helped validate the work I was doing and justified the many church assignments and activities that made up the agenda of an active member. Are we not to be busily engaged in a good cause? Are not all these things expected of us in order to gain salvation? Doesn’t paying tithing, attending our meetings and the temple regularly, contributing to fast offering, and fulfilling our assignments represent what is expected of a member in good standing? Is this not how we are measured in the church?
I no longer hold that view. I now understand that relying on these works of men can only give us ‘joy in our works for a season.’ (3 Nephi 27:11) These outward acts – tithing, buildings, assignments and other works of man requiring our time and energy, do not gain us anything but a short lived satisfaction without the correct foundation. Checking all the boxes is not the prerequisite to entering into the rest of the Lord.
In a marvelous display of the workings of the Holy Ghost, the people of King Benjamin were baptized by fire and received a remission of their sins. They were cautioned to ‘humble themselves even in the depths of humility’ in order to retain a remission of their sins. (Mosiah 4)
They were also taught that, in order to retain a remission of their sins, they were to consider the needs of those around them as described in verse 26:
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.
The pattern that the Lord has set here is that we are to first seek a remission of our sins through the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. We are then to maintain humility and seek to serve those around us in order to retain a remission of our sins. We must cleanse ourselves before we can truly serve others. Through that service, we are able to retain a remission of our sins from day to day.
But, let me know turn to the message you delivered to those who are estranged from the church. I quote from your talk:
There are some who leave the church they once loved. One might ask, if the gospel is so wonderful, why would anyone leave? Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended, or lazy, or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations. Some of our dear members struggle for years with the question of whether they should separate themselves from the church.
I am gratified that there is at least some recognition that offense and sin are not the general cause of people leaving the church. Yet, in the pamphlet the church sends to those who have asked to have their names removed, that attitude is still apparent, at least as of last year.
In this church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers. We respect those who honestly search for truth. It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the church we love and the truth we have found but we honor their right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience just as we claim the privilege for ourselves.
Does this church truly honor personal agency? What would you say to the September Six who were honestly seeking truth, albeit outside the bounds of the lesson manual? Are we not told we must seek the mysteries of God or be bound by the chains of Hell? (Alma 12:9-11) Are we not to share these mysteries as guided by the Holy Spirit? Who is to judge from the outside which of us are to share and which to keep to ourselves?
What is the message to Denver Snuffer now that he was involuntarily separated (excommunicated) from the church? Is that how the church honors personal agency? Is that how you show respect for those who are honestly seeking for truth from the scriptures and historical records of the church. It seems that the church is doing the exact opposite. It is dictating what are the acceptable bounds of personal agency – bounds drawn by the currently accepted view of historical events and filtered by the need to justify the abandonment of practices and doctrines of the past.
Do not the people who travel to listen to people like Denver Snuffer deserve the same protection of personal agency for themselves? Can a person who differs in the perspective message they derive from the scriptures versus the correlated message of the church be shunned and cast away. Can’t truth stand on its own?
In the past, I was a casual reader of Denver Snuffer’s blog. When his notice of pending church discipline was published, I ordered his book, Passing the Heavenly Gift, to see for myself what would get a person excommunicated these days. Having recently finished the book, here is my perspective. I found someone who had put many painstaking hours into rationalizing the scriptures and the documented history of the church with the current church practices and doctrines. I found many of the same scriptures and information that I had independently found on my journey. I would suggest that the message delivered in the writings of Denver Snuffer are as worthy of the sanctity of personal agency as the result of any other prayerful search for truth.
Some struggle with unanswered questions about things that have been done or said in the past. We openly acknowledge that in nearly 200 years of church history along with an uninterrupted line of inspired, honorable, and divine events there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question.
Sometimes questions arise because we simply don’t have all the information and we just need a bit more patience. When the entire truth is eventually known, things that didn’t make sense to us before will be resolved to our satisfaction.
Patience appears to be the only rational response to the cognitive dissonance that prompts many of these questions. Will patience answer the question why the ordinance of the sacrament differs in practice from the scriptural dictate? Will patience explain why the call to gather to Zion is now ignored? Must we wait to understand the core aspects of the gospel and the true meaning of the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost? Must we wait for a season to understand why the works of God have been replaced by the works of men in the validation of the mission of the church?
Sometimes there is a difference of opinion as to what the facts really mean. The question that creates doubt in some can. after careful investigation, build faith in others. And to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.
Is the difference of opinion as to the ‘facts,’ even after careful investigation, sufficient to threaten church discipline if that opinion runs counter to the current correlated version of church history? How does one resolve which events are mistakes and which are ‘inspired?’ Are we not encouraged to seek the confirmation of the Spirit in these matters? Should that not be the encouragement given to members when confronted by these differences in opinion, rather than threats and coercion?
As an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ and as one who has seen firsthand the counsels and workings of this church, I bear solemn witness that no decision of significance affecting this church or its members is ever made without earnestly seeking inspiration, guidance, and the approbation of our Eternal Father. This is the Church of Jesus Christ. God will not allow His church to drift from its appointed course not fail to fulfill its divine destiny.
To this comment, I would ask where in the scriptures do we find that God would not allow the church to fail? On the other hand, is the church still under the condemnation identified in D&C 84:56 and reinforced by the voice of President Benson? What is the vengeance directed to His house as decribed in D&C 112:23-26? Are we not the Gentiles who have received their belief, in and of the Holy Ghost, and then reject the fulness of the gospel? (3 Nephi 16:6-12)
Joseph Smith stated “…for if Zion will not purify 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 is gathered, and they who will not hear His voice, must expect to feel his wrath. (TPJS p. 18) Has Zion purified herself in all things, may I ask? We face the same bitter end as the Jews at the meridian of time should we choose to ignore this warning.
The Church of Jesus Christ seems to attract the kind and the caring, the honest and the industrious. If you expect to find perfect people here, you will be disappointed. But if you seek the pure doctrine of Christ, the word of God which healeth the wounded soul and the sanctifying influence of the Holy Ghost, then here you will find them.
Does the church promote the pure doctrine of Christ as found in the scriptures (ex. 3 Nephi 11:31-40) or has it added to church doctrine, many doctrines of men? Does the church teach, as doctrine, the scriptural representation of sanctification or has it adapted doctrine of Christ to be more palatable to the average member (see 2 Nephi 31:17-20) Is it not the definition of some of these core doctrinal questions that cause some people to waver with regards to the church?
I am reminded of a time in the Savior’s life when many abandoned Him. Jesus asked His twelve disciples – “Will you also go away?” Then Simon Peter answered Him – “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.
There are times we have to answer the same question. Will we also go away? Or will we like Peter hold fast to the words of eternal life.
We stand across a gulf from one another, each pointing an accusing finger toward the other shouting “apostate!!” Has the church itself not gone away from the original teachings of the Savior and the core revelations of the restoration? Have we not rationalized our condemnation by pointing proudly to the fact that we now have 15 million members across the globe and are building many fine structures? Do we, as a church, offer a pittance to the suffering around us while an investment in a shopping mall dwarfs decades of humanitarian efforts by the church?
I have seen how strongly the church values personal agency. I watched, a number of years ago, a good friend excommunicated for apostasy when the underlying issue was their belief and acquisition of personal revelation (and it repeats to this day). I watched the friends and associates of this person grilled and threatened with the same punishment. I saw a stake president abruptly released because he would not proceed with church discipline in one case. I listened to the father of one of these targets confide that the general authority who was leading the charge admitted candidly that this could have been a mistake.
This entire scenario is what prompted me to begin my search for truth. How was I supposed to rationalize what had transpired before me with the undeniable witness of the Book of Mormon and the existence of God I had received in my youth? In the process, I purchased a large library of literature touching on the topics of church history and doctrine. I read voraciously and studied all sources available to me. I sought the Lord in prayer and fasting to help guide me on this journey and felt the confirmation of His Spirit in my acquisition of knowledge.
I can say, Come, join with us, rings hollow when I contemplate the gap between the promise of Zion and the lesser law that the church has embraced this day. I seek to see Zion established. I seek to prepare myself spiritually and emotionally that I may be worthy to someday enter the gate to the community of God; to be in close association with His sons and daughters.
While I cannot attest that my path is the appropriate direction for anyone else to take; what I can say is that the Spirit has guided me to the place I now stand. I know not where this will lead but I can only express my gratitude to my Father for the knowledge and understanding I have received. I carry with me to this day a testament of the spiritual nuggets available to those who search the scriptures and seek to receive the words of Christ.
I recently had a conversation with the bishop of our ward when we crossed paths at a community event. He was elated that the recent troop surge, sorry, missionary expansion, had increased the elders and sisters from a historical two pairs to five pairs of missionaries in the ward. He warned me that I, as a lost sheep, may be seeing more visits by these young men and women, as their efforts would include re-activation in addition to finding those who can be taught the gospel.
When I am visited by the missionaries, I usually have several simple questions that I ask them. They are questions that I would hope each one of us have answered, in the context of the latter-day scriptures.
Who are the Gentiles?
What is the definition of the gospel?
What is the definition of the doctrine of Christ?
What is the definition of the church of Christ and how does one become a member?
What does it mean to be ‘born again?’
Unfortunately, I have not met a single missionary that could answer these questions with specific scriptural references. One would think that those who are called to preach the gospel would be able to clearly define these answers, but to such end I have been disappointed. To me, these questions form the core of my spiritual worldview. They represent the crucial information for which the restoration occurred. Let me attempt to concisely answer these questions, based on my study of the scriptures.
Who are the Gentiles?
According to the title page of the Book of Mormon, the book was written to three specific groups – “Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile” To which group do most of the current members of the Church belong? I would suggest the church today is made up of mainly Gentiles, as characterized in the Book of Mormon.
The house of Israel lost the truth because of their unbelief. The Gentiles will receive a testimony through the Holy Ghost (3 Nephi 16:6-7)
The Gentiles are the ones that receive the ‘fulness of the gospel’ in the latter days (1 Nephi 15:13)
They are also the ones who sin against the gospel and have it taken from them. (3 Nephi 16:10-13)
What is the definition of the gospel?
I believe that operating under the correct definition of the gospel of Jesus Christ is critical to one’s stature with God. Paul told the Galatians that “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” It was the contamination of the gospel that prompted the restoration. Should we not make sure that we are, indeed, preaching the gospel that we have received?
Christ defined the gospel during His visit to the Nephites. (3 Nephi 27:13-21)
There are also three instances where the gospel is defined in the Doctrine and Covenants. (D&C 33:11-13, D&C 39:6, D&C 76:40-42) The essence of the gospel as I gleaned from these references is the we are to repent and be sanctified by baptism, first with water, then with fire and the Holy Ghost. These steps are necessary for us to enter His kingdom.
What is the definition of the doctrine of Christ?
Paul told the Ephesians that we should not be ‘tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men.’ (Eph 4:14) We should be equally diligent with respect to the restored doctrine of Christ.
Nephi brings us the first specific reference to this doctrine of Christ. ( 2 Nephi 31:2 – 32:6) He also tells us that ‘there will be no more doctrine given’ until Christ is manifest in the flesh.
When Christ appeared to the Nephites, he added to His doctrine. (3 Nephi 11:31-41) In this treatise, Christ states that anyone who declares ‘more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil.’
I have often pondered what the impact is of this comment. Are we today awash with the doctrines of men rather than holding to the specific aspects of the doctrine of Christ found in the scriptures? What are the potential consequences of expanding the doctrine of Christ to include things that don’t belong?
Both the twelve selected from among the Nephites to be disciples as well as those of the current restoration were told to speak only the words that they received from Christ. “…of tenets thou shalt not talk, but thou shalt declare repentance and faith on the Savior, and remission of sins by baptism and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost.” (D&C 19:31)
In the tenth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord states:
67 Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.
68 Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.
Again we are told that we must not add to or take away from the doctrine of Christ. I believe the warnings are very clear. If we do not adhere strictly to the doctrine of Christ in our teachings we are built on the sandy foundation and risk being washed away. I wonder if this is not why we are seeing such an outflow from the church. We are to be firmly grounded on the doctrine of Christ if we are to maintain our ability to attract those who seek the truth.
What is the definition of the church of Christ and how does one become a member?
The above quotation from D&C, section 10, represents the specific definition of the church directly from the Savior. In light of the current ‘church,’ is there both a corporate and a spiritual church? What would our organization look like if the church consisted of only those who repented and came unto Christ?
I would suggest that Moroni, in the sixth chapter of the book that carries his name, gave us clarity on what it means to come unto Christ and the criteria for membership in his church. We must bring forth fruit as a demonstration that we are worthy to receive baptism. We must come forward ‘with a broken heart and a contrite spirit,’ and witness unto the church that we have repented of all our sins. We must take upon us the name of Christ, determined to serve him to the end. What does it mean to take upon us the name of Christ before we are baptized? There must be this level of commitment in order to be a candidate for baptism.
After one is baptized, they are to be ‘wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost’ before they are considered a member of the church of Christ. How should this apply to us today? The scriptures tell us that the gospel of Christ outlines the principle of a remission of sins through the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. This gate, as defined by the doctrine of Christ, is how we are to gain access to the ‘strait and narrow path that leads to eternal life.’ How many of us have entered the gate, being cleansed of our sins – having them remitted by the second baptism? This is what is required of us to be considered members of His spiritual church.
What does it mean to be born again?
Nicodemus was told by Christ that we all must be born again and have been privileged to have more witnesses given us relative to this critical element of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Alma stated that “… the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters.” (Mosiah 27:25) We have the examples given us in the scriptures of the people of Benjamin, of Enos, of the three hundred Lamanites, of our father Adam. All of these stand as beacons of the gate to the strait and narrow path.
Among many of the Christian denominations, one is expected to become a new creature in order to be received into His fellowship. Many have used the opportunity at revival meetings to come forward with their commitment to Christ. Is this a legitimate baptism of fire? I will let God be the judge.
I regret that, for much of my life, I looked at those who claimed to be a ‘born again Christian.’ with pity. Oh, how sad it is that they have missed the mark. I now know that, for many years, the pride of my heart blinded me to the fact that the latter-day scriptures bear witness to the necessity of this second baptism – the one that cleanses of our sins and grants us access to the strait and narrow path and membership in His church.
Those are the five simple questions that set me on the path I am now treading. When I had my crisis of faith back in 2000, I had to rebuild my spiritual worldview. I had to sift out of my many life experiences those events which were ’emotional’ and those that were incontrovertible expressions of the spirit. When I was done, I had only two that I was determined to build upon. I had received a strong witness that the Book of Mormon contained the word of God as a young man and I had my amazing experience at the age of 19 when I was lifted out of deep and dark despair and infused with indescribable joy and peace.
These two experiences confirmed to me that there was something outside this mortality. I could not deny the existence of some spiritual world even though I could not see, touch, or hear it within the context of my physical senses. I began a quest to understand what I was supposed to do. I purchased and devoured hundreds of books containing the words of men. I sought the Lord in prayer and fasting for answers. These answers did not come quickly and easily. I came to realize that I was looking in the wrong place. I would not find my Lord through any other man, nor the words that are written by man. I would only find Him by reading the scriptures and applying them in my life. I could only find Christ by coming unto Him.
I still struggle in my quest for eternal life, which is at the end of the strait and narrow path. I take solace in the words of Nephi when he said
O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.
I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.
And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.
My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep.
He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh.
He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me.
Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the night-time. (2 Nephi 4:17-23)