Archive for the ‘baptism of fire’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Youth Asks:

What should we pray for to receive the same testimony if not conversion that Alma the Younger experienced??

Elder Oaks answers:
What should you pray for to have the kind of experience that Alma the Younger had? I don’t think you are likely to have the kind of experience that Alma the Younger had, remember he had a miraculous appearance of an angel and really got hit over the head, spiritually. Most of us don’t have that kind of experience, but I interpret your question, Heather, as being ‘how can we get the kind of testimony that he received.’ I don’t think we will get it like Paul did on the road to [Damascus] where an angel appeared to him, where Alma the younger had that startling experience. The Lord gives a few of those kinds of experiences and they are recorded in the scriptures to catch our attention and teach us the answer.

But, I’ve never had an experience like that and I don’t know anyone among the 1st Presidency or Quorum of the 12 who’ve had that kind of experience. Yet everyone of us knows of a certainty the things that Alma knew. But it’s just that unless the Lord chooses to do it another way, as he sometimes does; for millions and millions of His children the testimony settles upon us gradually, like so much dust on the windowsill, or so much dew on the grass. One day you didn’t have it and another day you did and you don’t know which day it happened. That’s the way I got my testimony.

And then I knew it was true when it continued to grow. And what you have to do to get that is, first of all, is to desire it, and as I explained earlier, when I was your age, I don’t think I had the level of desire that I wish I had had. We desire it and then we do our best to keep the commandments so the Lord can fulfill for us that promise that if you keep the commandments, you will come to know that it is true. (Dallin H. Oaks, multi-stake youth fireside in Bellevue, Washington on 1/23/2016)

Is getting a testimony, as Peter had when he was challenged by Christ, sufficient to enter his kingdom? I do not find scriptural support for that idea. Just has Peter was told that his testimony was not complete;  that he was still to be converted, so should we seek this complete conversion to Him.

How should we treat the examples on the latter day scriptures of being born again, and of receiving a remission of our sins? What does it take to be ‘saved’ according to latter day scripture? I would suggest being born again and receiving a remission of our sins. If you call yourself a ‘Latter-day Saint, is this not the equivalent to being sanctified, as the name of the church signifies?

I would suggest we take Alma at his word. He states that he had been ‘born of the Spirit,’ Further he said that ‘ all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again. What better witness does one need to encourage us to seek to understand what baptism is and the role that baptism plays in our spiritual development.

 From a Mormon perspective, let me start with this question: What is baptism?

As we read earlier in John chapter 3, to enter the kingdom of God, one must be born of water and of the Spirit. Here is what I feel is the equivalent statement from the Book of Mormon:

And ye will also know that ye are a remnant of the seed of Jacob; therefore ye are numbered among the people of the first covenant; and if it so be that ye believe in Christ, and are baptized, first with water, then with fire and with the Holy Ghost, following the example of our Savior, according to that which he hath commanded us, it shall be well with you in the day of judgment. (Mormon 7:10)

I would suggest that the definitions are consistent between the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. Baptism has two components, water and spirit. If one adopts this definition, throughout the scriptures ‘baptism’ takes on a new meaning.

 Elder Bednar, in the April 2016 general conference reinforced this point with several statements by the Prophet Joseph Smith which emphasize the vital linkage between the ordinances of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Statement 1: “Baptism is a holy ordinance preparatory to the reception of the Holy Ghost; it is the channel and key by which the Holy Ghost will be administered.”21

Statement 2: “You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half—that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost.”22

Statement 3: “The baptism of water, without the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost attending it, is of no use. They are necessarily and inseparably connected.”23 Bednar, April Conference 2016, Always Retain a Remission of our Sins

Let’s look at some of the other events found in the Book of Mormon that relate to being born again, receiving a remission of our sins, and the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. First, let’s consider the teachings of the Savior as he was among the Nephites.

And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words unto Nephi, and to those who had been called, (now the number of them who had been called, and received power and authority to baptize, was twelve) and behold, he stretched forth his hand unto the multitude, and cried unto them, saying: Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants; and unto them I have given power that they may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost; therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am.

And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am.  Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins. (3 Nephi 12:1-2)

The disciples that Christ picked were given the power to baptize with water those who accepted His message. But, Christ also promised to baptize the Nephites with fire and the Holy Ghost. Through that experience they would receive a remission of their sins. I would suggest that this is a critical element in identifying other born again narratives in the scriptures. The baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost the mechanism to receive a remission of one’s sins.

In an act of obedience, the disciples were the first to partake of the baptism through the power granted by the Lord.

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

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

And it came to pass when they were all baptized and had come up out of the water, the Holy Ghost did fall upon them, and they were filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire.

And behold, they were encircled about as if it were by fire; and it came down from heaven, and the multitude did witness it, and did bear record; and angels did come down out of heaven and did minister unto them. (3 Nephi 19:11-14)

Again, the baptism by water, following by the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost were demonstrated among the disciples of Christ among the Nephites. I also find it interesting that this experience followed the administration of the sacrament.

How about Enos and his effort to receive a remission of his sins?

And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.

Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.

And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.

And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.

And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.

And I said: Lord, how is it done?

And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen.  And many years pass away before he shall manifest himself in the flesh; wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole. (Enos 1:2-8)

For some, the experience will come as with Alma. For others, it may require a humility-induced prayer that lasts into the night. Enos received a remission of his sins, implicit in this is that he was baptized by fire and by the Holy Ghost; his guilt was replaced with joy.

 The preceding events, those of Alma and Enos, recount the experience of being born again as an individual. Let’s look at the group experience. As we read in Mosiah, King Benjamin given a message by an angel to deliver to his people.

And the Lord God hath sent his holy prophets among all the children of men, to declare these things to every kindred, nation, and tongue, that thereby whosoever should believe that Christ should come, the same might receive remission of their sins, and rejoice with exceedingly great joy, even as though he had already come among them. (Mosiah 3:13)

Mosiah taught the people that they had to humble themselves before God.

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 3:19)

The people of King Benjamin were instructed that they needed to ‘become a saint through the enticings of the Holy Spirit.’ If you call yourself a Saint, you should seek to be sanctified, cleansed of sin. They were told that they gift of joy was available to the through the reception of a remission of their sin. There appears to be two key two things that are needed – humility and earnest prayer. The people took this instruction to heart as we read in Mosiah, chapter 4:

And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth.  And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.

And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them. (Mosiah 4:2-3)

Note that these people asked for their hearts to be purified. The resulting experience filled them with joy and they received a remission of their sins. This is their response:

And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually. (Mosiah 5:2)

The people of King Benjamin experienced a mighty change in their hearts. They no longer held a disposition to do evil. This experience changed them in a fundamental manner, they were converted, they were, in their hearts, a different and new creature and they received a remission of their sins.

Not only did they have the experience, but they were taught how to retain a remission of their sins. In effect, how one can preserve the sanctifying power in their lives going forward.

And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.

And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true. (Mosiah 4:11-12)

Humility and prayer are, given what we gather from the experience of the people of King Benjamin, the keys to retaining a remission of our sins. But, this is not all, we must also act upon what we have received. The was an inner change but also an outer change.

And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants. (Mosiah 4:26)

Being born of God changes how we treat those around us. We are to demonstrate that all people are to share in the gifts of the spirit as well as in the material of this world. We are taught from this example, that we can retain a remission of our sins. I take this to mean that we can remain sinless going forward through humility, prayer, and service to others. The New Testament appears to agree:

Whosoever is born of God doth not continue in sin, for the Spirit of God remaineth in him; for he cannot continue in sin, because he is born of God, having received the holy Spirit of promise. (JST 1 John 3:9)

Let’s now look at another ‘mass conversion event from the Book of Mormon. In Helaman we find the story of the two missionaries, Nephi and Lehi, who are imprisoned by the Lamanites and are facing death.

And after they had been cast into prison many days without food, behold, they went forth into the prison to take them that they might slay them.

And it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi were encircled about as if by fire, even insomuch that they durst not lay their hands upon them for fear lest they should be burned.  Nevertheless, Nephi and Lehi were not burned; and they were as standing in the midst of fire and were not burned. (Helaman 5:22-23)

Nephi and Lehi were ‘encircled about as if by fire,’ for the benefit of the Lamanites who had come to put them to death. As the event transpired, they were stopped by the darkness and sought to understand what they were seeing.

 And they said unto the man: Behold, what do all these things mean, and who is it with whom these men do converse?

 

Now the man’s name was Aminadab.  And Aminadab said unto them: They do converse with the angels of God.

And it came to pass that the Lamanites said unto him: What shall we do, that this cloud of darkness may be removed from overshadowing us?

And Aminadab said unto them: You must repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you.

And it came to pass that they all did begin to cry unto the voice of him who had shaken the earth; yea, they did cry even until the cloud of darkness was dispersed.

And it came to pass that when they cast their eyes about, and saw that the cloud of darkness was dispersed from overshadowing them, behold, they saw that they were encircled about, yea every soul, by a pillar of fire.

And Nephi and Lehi were in the midst of them; yea, they were encircled about; yea, they were as if in the midst of a flaming fire, yet it did harm them not, neither did it take hold upon the walls of the prison; and they were filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.

And behold, the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire, and they could speak forth marvelous words. (Helaman 5:38-45)

 The three hundred Lamanites were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost. But they began the process not understanding what was happening. They were instructed to pray until the darkness as dispersed. They were freed from the cloud of darkness and exhibited the gifts of the spirit. These Lamanites were able to receive this gift because of the faith of Nephi and Lehi. They were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost as we read in Ether 12:

Behold, it was the faith of Nephi and Lehi that wrought the change upon the Lamanites, that they were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost. (Ether 12:14)

The footnote in Helaman 5:45 points to 3 Nephi 9. This scripture has been used to suggest that the baptism of fire can be an imperceptible change over time. I find no support for that concept in the examples in the scriptures.

And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.  And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not. (3 Nephi 9:20)

I would submit that the change that occurred to the 300 Lamanites was not imperceptible, rather, they did not understand what was happening to them until they were taught. Examples in the scriptures all characterize the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost as an event, not as a process. In each case, humility and fervent prayer were the qualifiers for the experience. Being born of the spirit enabled a remission of their sins and was a source of great joy. An experience that all mankind should seek.

What is the connection between the gospel and being born again or receiving the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost? Here are two definitions of the gospel from the Doctrine and Covenants:

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

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

 

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

In these two definitions of the gospel, we come to understand the centrality of the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost.  Two aspects of baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, first is a remission of sins as the drought is burned out of us as is by fire. And, second, the words of Christ that teach us all things that we should do. Baptism is both a cleansing and an enlightening experience. (2 Nephi 32:3)

In 3 Nephi, chapter 27, Christ defined his gospel and summed it up in this way:

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

Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do; (3 Nephi 27:20-21)

Shouldn’t being called a saint suggest that we have been sanctified, or cleansed of sin? Shouldn’t we be, as the people of King Benjamin, able to exhibit the traits and characteristics of new creatures, those who have been redeemed of God?

Let’s look at the doctrine of Christ. In 2 Nephi:31:2, Nephi states that he was to ‘speak concerning the doctrine of Christ’ – he described that we are to follow the example of the Savior and receive the baptism of water and the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost.

Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter.  For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.

And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive. (2 Nephi 31:17-18)

According to the doctrine of Christ as expounded upon by Nephi, we are not on the strait and narrow path to eternal life until we have received the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. In a similar vein, Moroni tells us that we are to have this experience before we are to be numbered with the church of Christ

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

And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith. (Moroni 6:3-4)

What would our congregations look like today if only those who had been cleansed of sin through the power of the Holy Ghost were a included? I would suggest that being ‘numbered among the people of the church of Christ’ is equivalent to membership in his church today. Could one say that the reception of both a baptism of water and of the spirit are required today to be a member of His church?

What does Christ say of His doctrine regarding the baptism of fire when He was among the Nephites?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baptism, first by water, and then by fire and the Holy Ghost, is core to the gospel of Jesus Christ. These principles are also present, and central to the doctrine of Jesus Christ, even to the point of no other doctrine shall be permitted. It is important to consider the weight of this statement that ‘whoso declare more or less than this’ is not aligned with the doctrine of Christ. Could the doctrine of Christ be so simple yet so complete?

 Descriptions of the experience can also be found in the annals of the membership. Here we find a description from the journal of Parley P. Pratt.

My dear  wife [Thankful Halsey Pratt] had now lived to accomplish her destiny; and  when the child  was dressed, and  she  had  looked  upon it and embraced it, she ceased to live in the flesh.  Her death happened about three hours after the  birth  of this  child  of promise. A few days previous to her death she had a vision in open day while sitting in her room. She was overwhelmed or immersed in a pillar of fire, which seemed to fill the whole room, as if it would consume it and all things therein; and the Spirit whispered to her mind, saying: “Thou art baptized with fire and the Holy Ghost.” It also intimated to her that she should have the privilege of departing from this world of sorrow and pain, and of going to the Paradise of rest as soon  as she  had fulfilled  the prophecy in relation  to the promised son. This vision was repeated on the next day at the same hour, viz:­ twelve  o’clock. She was overwhelmed with a joy and peace indescribable, and seemed changed in her whole nature from that time forth. (Autobiography of  Parley P. Pratt, Salt  Lake City:  Deseret Book Co.,  1972.  p. 166; italics  added.)

President Lorenzo Snow also relates the choice experience of his rebirth:

Some two or three weeks after I was baptized, one day while engaged  in my studies, I began to reflect upon the fact that  I   had  not  obtained   a knowledge of  the  truth  of  the work … and  I  began  to feel very  uneasy. I   laid aside my books, left the house, and  wandered around through the fields under  the oppressive influence of a gloomy,  dis­consolate  spirit,  while an indescribable cloud  of darkness seemed  to envelope  me. I had been accustomed, at the close of the day, to retire for secret prayer, to a grove … but at this time I felt no inclination to do so. The spirit of prayer had departed and the heavens seemed like brass over my head. At length, realizing that the usual time had come for secret prayer, I concluded I would not forego my evening service, and, as a matter of formality,  knelt as I was in the habit of doing,  and in my accustomed  retired place, but not feeling as I  was wont  to feel.

I had no sooner opened my lips in an effort to pray, than I heard a sound, just above my head, like the rustling of silken robes, and immediately the Spirit of God descended upon me, completely enveloping my whole person, filling me, from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and 0, the joy and happiness I felt! No language can describe the almost instantaneous transition from a dense cloud of mental and spiritual darkness into a refulgence  of light and  knowledge, as it was at that  time imparted  to my understanding…. It was a complete baptism­ a tangible immersion in the heavenly principle or element, the Holy Ghost; and even more real and physical in its effects upon every part of my system than the immersion by water; dispelling forever, so long as reason and memory last, all possibility of doubt. …

I cannot tell how long I remained in the full flow of the blissful enjoyment and divine enlightenment, but it was several minutes before the celestial element which filled and surrounded me began gradually to withdraw. On arising from my kneeling posture, … I knew.’  that He had conferred on me what only an omnipotent being can confer – that which is of greater value than  all the  wealth  and  honors worlds can bestow. That night, as I retired to rest, the same wonderful manifestations were repeated, and continued to be for several successive nights. The sweet remembrance of those glorious experiences … impart[s] an inspiring   in­fluence … and  I  trust  will to the close of my earthly  ex­istence.

(Biography – Family  Record of Lorenzo Snow, comp. Eliza R. Snow,  Salt Lake City: Deseret  Book Co., 1884, pp. 7-9; most italics added.) http://jesus.christ.org/teachings-of-jesus-christ/born-of-the-spirit-baptism-by-fire

We have examples of the baptism of fire in scripture, we find them infused in the testimonies of several of the early saints. Are there modern day occurrences of being born again?

 From James:

I wanted a spiritual experience, so I prayed and fasted the next day, Sunday. I broke my fast because we were invited to eat at someone’s house that night.  On Monday I decided to do as Enos and Nephi and fast and pray all day. I went out into a bungalow and prayed vocally for as long as I could. When I couldn’t think of things to pray about I read my scriptures. I prayed until the afternoon, but nothing happened. I was really discouraged. That night I went to my … friend’s house to talk about things. He gave me a blessing.

The next day was Tuesday. … I decided to give it another go. I broke my fast and went out to the bungalow to pray again. I prayed for about an hour and this happened:

From my journal:

I knelt down and was praying to the Lord with all my heart that I might receive evidence that what I was doing was right.    I could feel the spirit in my chest and my face was tingling.  While   feeling this I pleaded that I might have greater evidence.  All of a sudden I felt power come into my body.  As Nephi said it consumed my flesh.  So much so that I felt that my hands were out stretched and my chest was pulled up and power surged through me like I have never felt in all   my life. It was so powerful that I could hardly control myself.  I   felt like I was being shocked with energy.  I knew it was the energy of God.  I felt His power!

At the time I wasn’t sure what had happened, but it wasn’t long after that Heavenly Father began to help me understand that I had experienced the baptism of fire.

 

Is the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost an event or process? I would emphatically state that it can definitely occur as an event.

What I have attempted to accomplish in this treatise is to synthesize the understanding I received from the scriptures, both Biblical and from the latter day restoration. I submit that it is incumbent upon each of us to seek and receive the both elements of baptism, both water and spirit. As Billy Graham stated:

By a simple prayer of faith, tell God that you know you are a sinner, and you are sorry for your sins. Then ask Christ to come into your life and save you. When you do, God will come to live within you by His Spirit, and you will be born again.

As I see it, the key ingredients are: humility, and a deep felt sorrow for our sins, prayer and ask for Christ to accept your repentance, the spirit comes and you are cleansed of sin – you are born again. The Book of Mormon adds a lot of color to the answer. But there is a fundamental agreement between Billy Graham’s definition of being born again and the latter day scriptures. Being born again is to be born of water and of the spirit. It is a baptism first by water, and then by fire and the Holy Ghost. It is core to the gospel of Jesus Christ as contained in the scriptures of the restoration. I believe that it is something that we should all strive for. It is required of all, as Alma stated:

 … all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters; (Mosiah 28:25)

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

Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you.

Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely; (Alma 5:14,33-34)

Repentance, baptism by water and the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost represent the gate of entry onto the strait and narrow path to eternal life. It is the beginning and the a gate to the remainder of our journey. Let’s go back to 2 Nephi, chapter 31.

And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done?  Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.

Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.  Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. (2 Nephi 31:19-21)

May we all seek this eternal life made available through the complete baptism defined in the scripture. It is achieved by following the the example of Jesus Christ; we are to be born of water and spirit to enter the kingdom of God, even, as taught by Moroni, to be numbered among those of His church.

What think ye?

My apologies to any regular Just and True blog readers that are left. This last year has produced a number of events that pulled my attention toward other pressing issues. I now, some fifteen months after the first of several life stretching episodes, feel I have a short respite from the challenges of life before the next onslaught begins.

The topic that has often rested on my mind these last few months has been the way we receive guidance from the heavens. We are taught of a mechanism, given to us, that can be used to receive direction from God; the burning of the bosom (hence the title for this article, my apologies to the Bernie Sanders supporters who may be offended by my use of the tag line) as described in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 9:

7  Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

8  But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.

9  But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.

Oliver was told to study the problem, form a solution, and then ask God if it is the correct translation. He, unfortunately, appears to have simply opened his mind and waited for the Lord to provide the translated text.  The section has been used often, in a general context, as instruction how we can receive revelation. We are told to ponder the question and formulate a plan which is then presented to the Lord. If it is correct, we can expect to receive a confirmation that is characterized as a warmth in the chest. If our proposal is not aligned with what God would have us do, we should expect to have our thoughts mangled.

Does the gift of being a translator, as Oliver aspired to, something that we are all considered recipients? Consider what Ammon taught of seership found in Mosiah, chapter 6:

13  Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God.  And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish.  And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.

We do not have our own set of interpreters and it isn’t clear whether Oliver employed the Urim and Thummin in his attempt to translate, although the device was available in April, 1829 after the loss of the 116 page manuscript. We read here that anyone who used them lacking a commandment would perish but permission of the Lord was given to Oliver.

I would suggest that the attempt at seership by Oliver Cowdery may not constitute an appropriate mechanism of communication for non-seers. With that said, let’s at least consider the topic in the context of our implied common spiritual worldview

Dallin H. Oaks, in the March 1997 Ensign, described what he considered as revelation:

What does a “burning in the bosom” mean? Does it need to be a feeling of caloric heat, like the burning produced by combustion? If that is the meaning, I have never had a burning in the bosom. Surely, the word “burning” in this scripture signifies a feeling of comfort and serenity. That is the witness many receive. That is the way revelation works.

The burning in the bosom is characterized as a feeling of comfort and serenity by this apostle. I do have some anxiety in presenting the idea of ‘burning’ fitting the description but that does seem to be the prevailing wisdom.

In the June 2014 issue of the New Era, a similar message was presented. In an article entitled “What If I Don’t Feel a Burning in the Bosom,” Rachel Nielsen wrote:

If you’ve never felt a burning in the bosom, don’t worry. There are many people who recognize the influence of the Holy Ghost in this way, but He also speaks in many other ways too, and you don’t have to feel a burning in the bosom to feel His presence. In fact, as you learn the ways the Holy Ghost inspires you and look for them in your life, you may find that He is communicating with you more than you realized.

“The spirit of revelation typically functions as thoughts and feelings that come into our minds and hearts by the power of the Holy Ghost. (See D&C 8:1–2100:5–8.)”2 The Holy Ghost can speak to you through:

  • Feelings of love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faith, meekness (see Galatians 5:22–23).
  • Thoughts that occupy the mind or press on your feelings (see D&C 128:1).
  • A desire to do good and obey the commandments (see Mosiah 5:2).
  • A feeling that something is right (see D&C 9:8).
  • Feelings of comfort (see John 14:26).
  • Feelings that “enlarge [your] soul” (Alma 32:28).
  • Thoughts that “enlighten [your] understanding” (Alma 32:28).
  • A hunger for more truth (see Alma 32:28).
  • Feeling constrained (encouraged) to take an action or restrained (held back) from doing something (see 1 Nephi 7:152 Nephi 32:7).

While the author, in this statement, doesn’t eliminate the opportunity to experience a fire in the bosom, it is suggested that feelings of peace, a desire to do good and a feeling that enlarges your soul are characteristic of the communication with the Holy Ghost.

I would note that the above reference to a ‘desire to do good and obey the commandments’ contains a link to Mosiah 5:2 speaking of the people of King Benjamin at the time of their remission of sins through the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. Does this suggest, in the mind of the above author, that the baptism fire is an example of the burning in the bosom? I would certainly assert that there is a distinction between the communication of the Holy Ghost and the baptism of fire but it should be included in the list. Does the communication of the Holy Spirit as we exercise the faith to believe constitute an example as found in Alma, chapter 32? Yes, of course.

In my feeble mind, however, this begs the question: How does one draw the distinction between the guidance of the Holy Ghost, something that is only conferred upon righteous members of the church and the ‘light of Christ’ that is available to all?

According to the Bible Dictionary:

The light of Christ is just what the words imply: enlightenment, knowledge, and an uplifting, ennobling, persevering influence that comes upon mankind because of Jesus Christ. For instance, Christ is “the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (D&C 93:2; see John 1:9). The light of Christ fills the “immensity of space” and is the means by which Christ is able to be “in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things.” It “giveth life to all things” and is “the law by which all things are governed.” It is also “the light that quickeneth” man’s understanding (see D&C 88:6–13, 41). In this manner, the light of Christ is related to man’s conscience and tells him right from wrong (Moro. 7:12–19).

The light of Christ should not be confused with the personage of the Holy Ghost, for the light of Christ is not a personage at all. Its influence is preliminary to and preparatory to one’s receiving the Holy Ghost. The light of Christ will lead the honest soul who “hearkeneth to the voice” to find the true gospel and the true Church and thereby receive the Holy Ghost (see D&C 84:46–48).

Here the light of Christ is characterized by some of the same descriptors as the revelation associated with the burning in the bosom, including enlightenment and the feelings of an uplifting and ennobling influence. The New Era article referenced the Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, with this description:

How do we recognize the promptings of the Spirit? I don’t think that’s too difficult, really. … Does it persuade one to do good, to rise, to stand tall, to do the right thing, to be kind, to be generous? Then it is of the Spirit of God. If it is dark, sinister, ugly, not good, then you may know that it is of the adversary.

Similarly, President Hinckley’s message suggests that the Spirit of God engenders feelings encouraging us to do good, of doing the right things, of loving and supporting one another. This suggests a somewhat murky line between the light of Christ given to all and the Holy Spirit suggested as a gift only to members. Is a feeling of peace or a desire to do good related to the light of Christ or a revelation through the Holy Ghost?

Recent physiological research also adds to the complexity of understandings the communications with the Spirit discussed here. Jonathan Haidt coined the term ‘elevation’ to describe the uplifting feeling when witnessing acts of kindness. Here is his description from a 2009 research paper coauthored with Sara B. Algoe entitled ‘Witnessing excellence in action: the ‘other-praising’ emotions of elevation, gratitude, and admiration

“Elevation is elicited by acts of charity, gratitude, fidelity, generosity, or any other strong display of virtue. It leads to distinctive physical feelings; a feeling of ‘dilation’ or opening in the chest, combined with the feeling that one has been uplifted or ‘elevated’ in some way. It gives rise to a specific motivation or action tendency: emulation, the desire ‘of doing charitable and grateful acts also.’ It is the opposite of the disgust reaction towards vice. In sum, elevation is a response to acts of moral beauty in which we feel as though we have become (for a moment) less selfish, and we want to act accordingly”.

The event of elevation is characterized by feelings of a physical nature including a swelling of the chest and incites one to join in doing charitable acts.  In another paper published in 2001 entitled Elevation and the Positive Psychology of Morality, Haidt added more to this aspect:

“In the Japanese interviews, as in the Indian interviews, the same elements are conjoined; the perception of compassionate or courageous behavior by others causes a pleasurable physical feeling in the chest of movement, warmth, or opening, coupled with a desire to engage in virtuous action oneself.”

Here Haidt characterized this feeling of elevation with some of the same descriptors as could be applied to the burning of the bosom and other spiritual manifestations I have discussed earlier. In my opinion, his description fits reasonably nicely with both the light of Christ and the experience those who are confirmed members of the Church. They all suggest the experience a feeling of uplift, a feeling of warmth in the chest, a desire to act with charity and do good.

Are we possibly conflating the gift of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost conferred upon members of the Church with the innate response to seeing good, or hearing an inspiring talk recently coined as ‘elevation?’ What is this thing called revelation? How does one communicate with the heavens?

There have been only a handful of cases in my life that I can honestly say were of the caliber of a ‘revelation.’ They could not all be characterized as presenting a question to the Lord and waiting for a confirmation. They were times when I heard what I could best describe as a voice that spoke words that revealed a course of action.

I am reminded of the description in 2 Nephi discussing the doctrine of Christ in chapter 32:

2  Do ye not remember that I said unto you that after ye had received the Holy Ghost ye could speak with the tongue of angels?  And now, how could ye speak with the tongue of angels save it were by the Holy Ghost?

3  Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ.  Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.

4  Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark.

5  For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.

These words were recorded after the description where the baptism of water followed by the  baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost was pictured as the gate to the strait and narrow path. We were told to follow the example of our Savior and be baptized, both with water and with the spirit. This gift described above is a result of employing the doctrine of Christ in our individual lives.

Could the ability to speak with the tongue of angels be the ability to hear and understand angelic discourse? We are told here to feast on the words of Christ that are spoken by angels. We are encouraged to trust in these words as they will tell us all things that we should do. Is that not what revelation should be?

We are all blessed with an innate desire to seek after things that are lovely and of good report. We may call this revelation or the light of Christ but, in the end, we need to seek after the discourse of angels and receive the words of Christ that they have to offer.

What think ye?

The loss of a relationship can be a very stressful situation. As human beings, we seem to have a inherent need to belong, to be able to identify ourselves as part of a larger group. Losing that identity can be a painful and trying experience. Some research has noted that the loss of group identity can be as disruptive as the death of a loved one.

As the circumstances of my relationship with the LDS Church changed, I felt a need to answer the question: Do I still consider myself a Mormon? Yes, but my definition of Mormon has changed. What do I answer when I am asked of my religion?

For a number of years, I responded that I considered myself a ‘unaffiliated Christian restorationist.’ This seemed to fit as I did not formally belong to any religious entity. I held myself as a follower of Christ, but a special version that believed in a restoration subsequent to the sojourn of the Savior. That restoration was accomplished through Joseph Smith and is embodied in the Book of Mormon and other latter day scriptures. In some ways that phrase was not sufficient in description. It lacked to linkage to the faith of my youth that I felt was still important to recognize.

I decided to look for an alternative and had, for some period, chosen ‘free-range Mormon.’ This had its descriptive value also. Free-range signified that I chose to nourish my spirit on the natural (pure) and unadulterated milk and meat of the scriptures rather than the processed (correlated) foods found in the lesson plans of the church. It meant that I sought knowledge from the original source through direct revelation rather than relying on material being filtered and manipulated by others. This name also noted the heritage within Mormonism reaching back for multiple generations.

This presented the larger question, for those who find themselves in this situation, by what name should we be called. As I pondered this question, my mind was taken back to the statement by King Benjamin:

And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ. (Mosiah 5:9)

In this statement, King Benjamin was addressing the people who had listened to his sermon found in the early chapters of Mosiah. They had humbled themselves and were blessed by the Spirit, receiving great joy and a remission of their sins. It was this experience that ‘wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.’ (Mosiah 5:2)

What was the thing that the people did to qualify for being called ‘by the name of Christ?’ The answer, as I understand it, is that they agreed to enter into a covenant as described in these verse of chapter 5

4  And it is the faith which we have had on the things which our king has spoken unto us that has brought us to this great knowledge, whereby we do rejoice with such exceedingly great joy.

5  And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God.

It was the fact that they were willing to covenant with God. Their part of the covenant was that they would do His will and be obedient to His commandments for the rest of their lives. In return for this lifelong obedience, these people were to be called the ‘children of Christ’

7  And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.

8  And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free.  There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.

The people of King Benjamin were to be called the sons and daughters of Christ having been spiritually born of Him. Their hearts were changed and they were charged with being obedient to God as they endured to the end through the covenant.

They were to also recognize that there is ‘no other head whereby ye can be made free.’ No man or organization is capable of making them, and us, free, it is only through Christ. There is no other name that can deliver on salvation. We, too, are charged with taking upon us the name of Christ, we are charged to make the same covenant that was found among the people of King Benjamin.

We, by doing so, can be called the sons and daughters of Christ. It requires of us great humility which prepares us to receive His Spirit; that Spirit which brings great joy and a remission of our sins. We then, given the change of heart, are ready to covenant with Him to be obedient to only Christ for the remainder of our lives.

What think ye?

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

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

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

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

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:1.5)

Do you consider yourself a born again Christian? Someone who has recognized that God exists? Someone who is willing to repent and change their lives to the good? Are you a person who has acknowledged that Jesus is the Christ and accepted Him as your personal Savior?

Do I sound like a mainstream Christian? Perhaps, but is the concept of being born again solely the opportunity of those who belong to one of the ‘standard’ churches who claim Christ as their Lord? For many years, I sneered internally as I heard a friend or neighbor, or Mr. Brown speak of being born again. I, of course, had more light and knowledge on the subject having received the Holy Ghost at age 8 and would often return with the thread of living prophets and continuous revelation. I never really considered that any credible thought needed to be put toward the Christian churches definition of being saved; that I simply needed to claim Christ as my personal Savior and become a changed person.

Things are different now. As I have come to understand what the scriptures teach on the topic, I now know more about what that first question above means.

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

Have we been spiritually born of God? Have we had a mighty change come to our hearts? Can we be satisfied that someone, at some time in the past, laid their hands upon our heads, confirmed us members of His church, and told us to receive the Holy Ghost? Is that necessary and sufficient for us to be classified as ‘born again?’ To be a different creature?

As Alma the younger and the sons of Mosiah were going about to destroy the church of God, they were confronted by an angel who told him that his father had prayed mightily in hopes that his son would ‘be brought to a knowledge of the truth.’ For several days, Alma could not move. Then he arose and spoke to his family and brethren:

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

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

And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. (Mosiah 27:24-26)

Alma had been ‘born of the spirit.’ In this statement, he provided more information about the change that was wrought upon him; he had been changed from carnal to righteous; he had been redeemed; he had become a son of God.

More than twenty years later, Alma in speaking to his son, Shiblon, spoke again of this experience. Perhaps the intervening years had added to his understanding of the event.

Now, my son, I would not that ye should think that I know these things of myself, but it is the Spirit of God which is in me which maketh these things known unto me; for if I had not been born of God I should not have known these things.

But behold, the Lord in his great mercy sent his angel to declare unto me that I must stop the work of destruction among his people; yea, and I have seen an angel face to face, and he spake with me, and his voice was as thunder, and it shook the whole earth.

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

And now, my son, I have told you this that ye may learn wisdom, that ye may learn of me that there is no other way or means whereby man can be saved, only in and through Christ.  Behold, he is the life and the light of the world.  Behold, he is the word of truth and righteousness. (Alma 38:6-9)

Of note, Alma teaches us that the experience of being born again opened a conduit of knowledge through presence of the Spirit of God within him. Being born of God, somehow, brought him a link with the heavens that conveyed truth and intelligence. I also find it interesting that Alma now speaks of having received a remission of his sins through his experience. Perhaps it took Alma some time to realize the lasting impact and meaning of his spiritual experience, being taught by the Spirit of God. He speaks of being released from ‘the most bitter pain and anguish of the soul’ only when he began to cry unto the Lord. He then bore testimony of salvation coming ‘only in and through Christ.’

Alma is not the only example, in the scriptures, of someone receiving a remission of their sins through a glorious interaction with heaven.  After Joseph Smith was identified by the Lord as first elder, we find the following words in scripture:

After it was truly manifested unto this first elder that he had received a remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world;

But after repenting, and humbling himself sincerely, through faith, God ministered unto him by an holy angel, whose countenance was as lightning, and whose garments were pure and white above all other whiteness;

And gave unto him commandments which inspired him;

And gave him power from on high, by the means which were before prepared, to translate the Book of Mormon;

Which contains a record of a fallen people, and the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to the Jews also; (D&C 20:5-9)

Joseph Smith, in his experience wrought in the sacred grove, had received a remission of his sins. He was cleansed and purified so that he could endure the presence of God. Another important lesson is derived from this passage. Joseph apparently lost what he had received in that first encounter with the Lord, due to the ‘vanities of the world,’  and had to repent and ‘humble himself sincerely’ before he could regain his purified state in preparation to receive the visitation of the angel Moroni.

This suggests that one can receive a remission of sins and lose it again. Fortunately, the loss can be resolved through mighty repentance and humility. How many times, though, would one want to test the patience of the Lord?

What is this remission of sins and what is its relationship to the gospel of Christ? In the Doctrine and Covenants one can find several places where the Lord declares his gospel. One such instance is found here where the Lord is speaking to Northrup Sweet and Ezra Thayer as they prepared for their mission:

Yea, open your mouths and spare not, and you shall be laden with sheaves upon your backs, for lo, I am with you.

Yea, open your mouths and they shall be filled, saying: Repent, repent, and prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand;

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 33:9-12)

The Lord states here that His gospel contains repentance and baptism, first with water and then with fire and with the Holy Ghost. The result of this multi-faceted baptism is a remission of our sins. In a similar vein, Mormon taught that belief and baptism, ‘first with water, and then with fire and the Holy Ghost’ (Mormon 7:10) were required of those who wish to follow Christ. To see the kingdom of God, one must be baptized by water and by the spirit. To receive a remission of sins, one must be baptized by water and by fire and the Holy Ghost.

Is there any reason why one should not equate being born again with receiving a remission of their sins by baptism, water and spirit?

In a second definition of the gospel, the Lord illuminates another attribute:

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

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 39:5-6)

Here again, the Lord defines His gospel as being inclusive of both the baptism of water and the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. The benefit highlighted here is not a remission of sins given by the previous example but the benefit of being taught by the Comforter. The baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost opens up, as it did for Alma in an earlier reference, the flow of knowledge and intelligence from heaven.

Perhaps I wasn’t paying sufficient attention, but I don’t recall that any time during my several decades as an active member of the LDS church did I ever hear in any meeting either of these two definitions of the gospel. Why is that? Why, in my many attempts to read through the Doctrine and Covenants, did this not present itself to my understanding? I don’t have an answer… other than I must have been asleep.

As the resurrected Lord stood among the Nephites, he took the occasion to rehearse to those listening to him the definition of the gospel. The full rendition can be found in the 27th chapter of Third Nephi. I will quote from the end of that discussion:

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.

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

Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do; (3 Nephi 27:19-21)

We again find in verse 20 that repentance and baptism are components of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Here we are taught that these two items are necessary for sanctification. Being sanctified by having our garments washed in the blood of Christ. Can one not assume, then, that sanctification is delivered by the remission of our sins? That repentance and baptism, with both water, fire, and the Holy Ghost, are items that redeem us, that sanctify us and remit our sins?

My attempt here as been to illuminate the overlap between being born again and receiving the complete baptism, consisting of both water and spirit. Can one be surprised, then, when it is noted that the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost is mentioned three times within the doctrine of Christ found in Second Nephi, chapter 31, and again in the 11th chapter of Third Nephi where the Lord speaks of His doctrine?

Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter.  For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.

And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive.

And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done?  Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.

Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.  Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. (2 Nephi 31:17-20)

I consider this segment from the doctrine of Christ, as delivered by Nephi, to be the one of the best guides for a spiritual life that I have found in the scriptures. It contains the same references to a ‘remission of sins’ and to a life opened up to ‘feasting on the word of Christ.’ Are these not the same components that Alma indicated were a result of his ‘born again’ experience?

And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.

And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned.

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. (3 Nephi 11:33-35)

Should we not consider the fact that the ‘baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost’ is mentioned four times within the doctrine of Christ found in the latter-day scriptures sufficient to make it a key component in our search for godliness? I believe it is incumbent upon each of us who truly seek God to understand and apply the doctrine of Christ to its fullest extent in our lives.

Back to the point of this post. Can I be permitted to interchangeably use the phrases ‘born again’ and ‘baptized by water and by fire and the Holy Ghost? From a scriptural perspective these two described events deliver the same results, a remission of sins and the words of Christ.

I would like to return to the Alma words as he regained his strength. He noted that being born again was needed by all men and women in order to become the ‘sons and daughters of God.’ (Mosiah 27:25). I find that there was another occasion where this blessing was bestowed upon a people who had experienced a mighty change. After the people of King Benjamin has received a remission of their sins, they were taught regarding how they were to conduct themselves as recipients of this sanctification (Mosiah, chapter 5). They were to teach and govern their children, they were to take care of the poor without judgment.

Then King Benjamin asked is they believed the words that he had spoken. Here is the reference that details their response:

And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.

And we, ourselves, also, through the infinite goodness of God, and the manifestations of his Spirit, have great views of that which is to come; and were it expedient, we could prophesy of all things.

And it is the faith which we have had on the things which our king has spoken unto us that has brought us to this great knowledge, whereby we do rejoice with such exceedingly great joy.

And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God.

And now, these are the words which king Benjamin desired of them; and therefore he said unto them: Ye have spoken the words that I desired; and the covenant which ye have made is a righteous covenant.

And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters. (Mosiah 5:2-5)

The people of King Benjamin were willing to make a covenant to obey God in all things. King Benjamin then tells them that because of this covenant, they have been born spiritually of God and in the process have become His sons and daughters.

When we are born of God, we have the opportunity to become His offspring. We have joined the family of God by a remission of our sins through the baptism of water, ‘and then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost.’

I cannot stress sufficiently what I believe to be the importance of a clear understanding of what it means to be born of God, to be born of water and of the spirit, to be baptized by water and then by fire and by the Holy Ghost, to be redeemed of God, to be sanctified, to become, by covenant, His sons and His daughters.

I ask of you, my brothers and sisters,

Have you been spiritually born of God?

Have you received His image on your countenances?

Have you experienced this mighty change in your hearts?

Have you been redeemed of God?

Have you become His sons and daughters?

I offer the same encouragement that Alma did for ‘there can no man be saved except his garments are washed white; yes, his garments must be purified until they are cleansed from all stain, through the blood of Him of whom it has been spoken by our fathers, who should come to redeem his people from his sins.’ (Alma 5:21)

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)

What think ye?

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

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

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

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

AND it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words unto Nephi, and to those who had been called, (now the number of them who had been called, and received power and authority to baptize, was twelve) and behold, he stretched forth his hand unto the multitude, and cried unto them, saying: Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants; and unto them I have given power that they may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost; therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am. (3 Nephi 12:1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In my last post, I highlighted the idea that the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost is a core component of the gospel of Jesus Christ as prescribed by the latter day scriptures (D&C 33:11-12 and D&C 39:6). In my reading of the scriptures, one of the core messages of the Book of Mormon is the opportunity to receive a remission of our sins through the marvelous power delivered through the baptism of water followed by the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost.

Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter.  For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.

And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive. (2 Nephi 31:17-18).

It is through a remission of our sins that we are sanctified (truly become saints) in preparation for entering the presence of God. The gospel of Jesus Christ as He defined during His visit to the Nephites described why this is a necessity:

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.

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. (3 Nephi 27:19-20)

There are several examples provided in the book including the experiences of the people of King Benjamin, Alma the younger, Enos, and the 300 Lamanites in the Book of Helaman. Each of these depictions of ‘being born again’ have, within this group, unique characteristics. Here is how I would characterize them.

Enos

We are not given a significant amount of information about this man. We know that he characterized his quest for a remission of his sins as a ‘wrestle [he] had before God.’ We understand that he allowed the words which he received from his father sink deep into his heart. He went out to hunt and used the solitude to seek a remission of his sins.

And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.

And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.

And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away. (Enos 1:4-6)

People of King Benjamin

As he neared death, King Benjamin asked his son to send out a proclamation to the people to assemble themselves at the temple. He spoke words that were made known to him by an angel concerning Jesus Christ, who was to come.

…I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent. (Mosiah 3:17)

He spoke of the need to put ‘off the natural man and [become] a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and  [become] as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord [sees] fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.’ (Mosiah 3:19)

When he had finished speaking the words that were given to him by the angel, he looked around to see that those who had listened to him had fallen to the earth and had begun to petition the Lord:

And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth.  And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.

And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them. (Mosiah 4:2-3)

Alma the Younger

The son of the high priest Alma was not aligned with his father’s desires. He and the sons of Mosiah were going about seeking to ‘destroy the church of God’ that had been established by his father. The party ended abruptly, though, when an angel, prompted by the prayers of his father and others, appeared to them. Alma spent the next three days within himself as his father and others prayed for his safe return (Mosiah 27:22). Alma describes his experience:

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

The 300 Lamanites

The two sons of Helaman, Nephi and Lehi, were having great success preaching among the Lamanites, having baptized eight thousand in the land of Zarahemla. When they then took their efforts into the land of Nephi, they were imprisoned and held many days without food. When the Lamanites came to put them to death, ‘Nephi and Lehi were encircled about as if by fire’ and their captors feared to touch them.

Those Lamanites and dissenting Nephites, who had come to slay these righteous men were then told that what they had seen was from God. They were overshadowed by a cloud of darkness and heard a voice telling them to repent .They were able to see that Nephi and Lehi were conversing with heavenly beings. Aminadab, a dissenting Nephite was able to help these men understand what was transpiring.

And they said unto the man: Behold, what do all these things mean, and who is it with whom these men do converse?

Now the man’s name was Aminadab.  And Aminadab said unto them: They do converse with the angels of God.

And it came to pass that the Lamanites said unto him: What shall we do, that this cloud of darkness may be removed from overshadowing us?

And Aminadab said unto them: You must repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you.

And it came to pass that they all did begin to cry unto the voice of him who had shaken the earth; yea, they did cry even until the cloud of darkness was dispersed.

And it came to pass that when they cast their eyes about, and saw that the cloud of darkness was dispersed from overshadowing them, behold, they saw that they were encircled about, yea every soul, by a pillar of fire.

And Nephi and Lehi were in the midst of them; yea, they were encircled about; yea, they were as if in the midst of a flaming fire, yet it did harm them not, neither did it take hold upon the walls of the prison; and they were filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.

And behold, the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire, and they could speak forth marvelous words.(Helaman 5:38-45)

Continuing the dialog

So we have two individuals and two groups who were blessed the ‘born again’ experience, one righteous and one wicked person and group. I had often wondered why we were given the variety of experiences described here. I believe that the message is found in the common elements of these stories. In each case those involved had to exhibit faith in Jesus Christ and, in each case, had to cry out to the Lord. The message that I derive is that, no matter where we are on the spectrum of goodness or badness, we can reach out to the Lord, in humility, and He will hear our cry.

Some of us may be honest seekers of truth and joy, as was Enos, and find a remission of our sins at the end of a long and fervent prayer. Others may be more like Alma the younger, who must endure a period of anguish and pain which tempers the soul and opens the heart to the Lord. It can happen to an individual or to a group. It can happen no matter where you find yourself relative to God. It CAN happen…and it will as we humble ourselves and seek the Lord.

In D&C, section 10 the Lord defines an interesting doctrine:

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

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

And now, behold, whosoever is of my church, and endureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them. (D&C 10:67-69)

This simple statement speaks very loud to me. The Lord’s church is fashioned from those who come unto him. It is by approaching Him in prayer that the remission of our sins is enjoined. It is the atonement of the Lord which offers the cleansing baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, which is the gate to the strait and narrow path. (2 Nephi 31:17-18)

Just as Jesus Christ did during His visit to the Nephites, he will administer this second baptism.  Here are the words He spoke on that occasion:

Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants; and unto them I have given power that they may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost; therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am. (3 Nephi 12:1)

In order to receive a remission of our sins through the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost, we must petition the Lord for this event. It now makes more sense to me when I read from Moroni, chapter 6 regarding the steps necessary to belong to His church:

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 6:4)

It was not until after they had been cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost that they who brought forth fruit were numbered with the people of the church. It is not until we come unto Christ that we are considered His Church.

There is no prescribed allegiance to the doctrines of men, there is not prerequisite of donation or position, there is no hedging up the way those who wish to maintain the purity of the church, to come unto the Lord. It is between you, individually and collectively, to seek Him in mighty prayer, to come unto Him and to receive of Him the sanctification promised those who repent and show forth faith. Who, again, are those who are called saints? Those who have been cleansed by the fire and by the Holy Ghost and are numbered with the people of Christ, who have come unto Christ, who have passed through the gate onto the strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life.

For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. (Moses 1:39)

It is the work of God to bring to pass the eternal life of mankind. He has established the way. It is simple yet difficult to prepare ourselves to place our footsteps on that path.

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3)

In summary, the scriptures teach that the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost is the gate to the strait and narrow path to eternal life. Eternal life, which is the work and glory of God, is found through knowing God. We have been offered the way, if we will but seek Him. He will know us through the administration of the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost.

THEN shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.

And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.

They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:

But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.

While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.

And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.

Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.

And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.

But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.

And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.

Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.

But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. (Matthew 25:1-12)

I know you not – the relationship is two way, we must know the Lord and the Lord must know us.

What think ye?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What think ye?

Part One

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

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

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

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

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

Christ the Healer cover full

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What think ye?

Ye Elders of Israel top

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

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

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

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

Chorus:

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

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

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

Loins of Ephraim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What think ye?

 

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

Nehor the Apostate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alma the Elder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modern Apostasy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lord’s Criteria for His Church

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

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

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

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

The Name of the Church

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

The Gospel of Jesus Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works of God, Works of men

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rejecting the Gospel

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

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

As is noted here, the book was written to

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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