Archive for September, 2010

We shall soon again sit at the feet of the prophets, seers, and revelators to receive inspiration. According to Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, the word inspiring means “having an animating or exalting effect.” I take this to mean we should feel good as we listen to the conference talks. We talk of being uplifted by the messages and stories. I have to say that in most cases, this is true. We are uplifted by the words of inspiration. The talks are well prepared and delivered with the seasoned experience of a master elocutionist.

The question lingers in my mind. Is this what we are supposed to gain from conference weekend? Are we simply spending the time to be elevated in our minds and commit to being a better person?

I want to draw a distinction between ‘inspiration’ and “prophecy and revelation.” When King Limhi sought Ammon’s advice on how to translate the record that his people found, Ammon expounded on this topic. We read in Mosiah, chapter 8:

16  And Ammon said that a seer is a revelator and a prophet also; and a gift which is greater can no man have, except he should possess the power of God, which no man can; yet a man may have great power given him from God.

17  But a seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known.

18  Thus God has provided a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles; therefore he becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings.

I would suggest that a seer should be able to tell us what happened in the past, reveal hidden secrets in the present, and speak of the things in the future. Ammon concludes by telling us that it is through revelation that man can benefit others.

Have we, as a church, traded revelation for inspiration? Do we choose to hear things that make us feel good as opposed to the things that are true yesterday, today, and tomorrow?

Regarding the children of Israel, Isaiah has weighed in on the matter in chapter 30:

9  That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the LORD:

10  Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits:

Are we in danger of having the same pronouncement placed upon us? Do we, as a people, choose to avoid the mysteries in favor of hearing what wonderful condition the church is in? Do our leaders fill the lack of revelation with smooth things that are simply inspiring?

Next week, keep a tally of these things:

  • What was delivered that can be defined as prophecy?

  • What was delivered that can be defined as a vision?

  • What did we hear that can be defined as revelation?

  • What words did we receive that can be considered inspiring or uplifting?

  • How many times are we called to repentance and for what reason?

As I see it, we are either moving in the right direction or not. Are we closer to having the sealed portion (for real) delivered for translation? Are we closer to living the law of consecration? Are we moving toward a Zion community?

Are we choosing inspiration or revelation?

What think ye?

In the business world, most contracts have what is called a ‘severability’ clause. The language in this clause is designed, as explained to a non-lawyer like me, to protect the remainder of the contract should any section be declared illegal or unconstitutional. Without this specific contract language, the entire document can be voided because of one flaw.

This has bearing in the political world as the version of the health care bill which was passed by the U. S. Senate did not have the appropriate severability language. Because of the politics, this version of the bill was also passed by the U. S. House of Representatives and became law. The same condition now applies to the legislation. If any part of the bill is determined to be unconstitutional, the entire bill is declared null and void. This weakness is being exploited by a number of states where challenges have been launched. It is expected that these challenges will ultimately reach the Supreme Court for a final decision.

Why would a blog that is focused on the spiritual be concerned with such matters? I would suggest that severability should be applied to our religious worldview. Let me explain. I have heard many stories regarding individuals who are active in the church only to discover some flaw, such as Joseph Smith’s polygamy, and abandon their support. Many go so far as to cease to believe in God because they feel they had been deceived. You may have someone, as I do, who went down this path of leaving the church, and all things spiritual, because they found an historical anomaly that was not addressed in the pristine history presented by our correlated instruction. In this case, their entire spiritual ‘contract’ was thrown out because one flaw was found.

This same problem is widely promoted in the missionary effort. Prospective converts are taught that if they pray and receive an answer that the Book of Mormon is true, then they must also accept that the church is true, that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet, etc. In this case, they are being led to believe that if one aspect of the message is true, then all things related to the message are also true.

I would suggest that, just as our dealings in the commercial world, our path in the religious world should be protected by a severability clause. We should never blindly assume that because any part of the implied religious contract is found to be invalid, the rest should be thrown out. Nor should one assume that all the principles espoused by the church are true because they receive confirmation on one aspect.

If we are to learn ‘line upon line and precept upon precept,’ then we should rightly seek a spiritual confirmation for each of these steps in our spiritual journey. In 1 Thessalonians, chapter 5, verse 21, Paul told us that we should

“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”

I suggest that this principle should be followed in all of our spiritual dealings. Each precept of the message should be prayerfully considered and not simply draw the assumption that one must accept all because we have received spiritual confirmation in part. This should apply both on the way in and, if necessary, on the way out.

When I was first confronted with my religious crisis, I teetered on the cliff for a while. I felt betrayed and isolated. The best way I can explain my feelings was from an experience in my youth. As a child, I was once playing with a loose tooth. I wiggled and played with it for days until it finally came out. I immediately decided that I wanted to keep the tooth in place for a little longer but as I tried to replace the tooth in my mouth, it was no longer ‘part of me.’ Only seconds after leaving my mouth, this object, which had been in my mouth for years and had grown with me, was now a foreign object.

In the same way, as my crisis unfolded, my many years in the church and my entire religious worldview, now seemed to be alien. Just as my tooth, in a matter of seconds, changed from being part of me to an object that no longer belonged in my head, my spiritual ‘tooth’ was now outside of me and could not be put back. (For a treatment of this topic, I would suggest reading ‘Stages of Faith’ by James W. Fowler)

Thinking back ten years, it would have been very easy to simply reject it all and walk away.  Initially, I faulted God for my religious collapse. How could He have led me along this path for so many years and then dump this on me? I went through a period of strong feelings of anger and betrayal. But, as I pondered my painful situation, I began to consider that it was not God that did this to me, but it was man.

I began to take an assessment of my situation. I decided I needed to completely rebuild my, not religious, but spiritual worldview. I began by re-asking the question: Do I believe in God? Fortunately, as I sincerely pondered that question, I was able to start separating the man-induced beliefs with those that were God-induced. I considered all my recollections of my spiritual experiences and began to note what I could deduce from them. An essence, I began a process to examine every clause in my spiritual contract and determine which of them did not meet with my spiritual constitution. Because I was able to apply the severability clause, I was able to keep the parts of my contract that were still intact.

As my journey progressed, I slowly began to rebuild my spiritual worldview. I began reading my scriptures with a new perspective and found many items that I had not perceived in all my previous readings. I thirsted for knowledge and information and began buying books on church history and doctrine. I explored other aspects of man’s relationship with God which took me along some interesting paths.

At this time, I continue to rebuild my relationship with all things spiritual.  My anchors continue to be my testimony of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s role in the restoration. I found that my extensive search through the volumes of words published by man brought marginal value although I did get clues on where to find answers.

In summary, my message is to not throw out the baby with the bath water when it comes to the difficulties around the dissonance that occurs between the stated agenda of the corporate church and the principles found in the scriptures and in our heavenly confirmations. I believe we each must seek to understand the precepts of the message of the gospel and the restoration and build a spiritual worldview, not based on the ideas of man, but on the confirmation of the Spirit.

What think ye?

A little more than a year after the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ by Joseph Smith, the Lord announced, through His prophet, that there would be a place for the Saints to gather (D&C 57).

1  HEARKEN, O ye elders of my church, saith the Lord your God, who have assembled yourselves together, according to my commandments, in this land, which is the land of Missouri, which is the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the saints.

2  Wherefore, this is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion.

3  And thus saith the Lord your God, if you will receive wisdom here is wisdom.  Behold, the place which is now called Independence is the center place; and a spot for the temple is lying westward, upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse.

This place was to be the center and the home of the temple. The faithful were told that they were to gather to this site and build a city (D&C 84).

2  Yea, the word of the Lord concerning his church, established in the last days for the restoration of his people, as he has spoken by the mouth of his prophets, and for the gathering of his saints to stand upon Mount Zion, which shall be the city of New Jerusalem.

3  Which city shall be built, beginning at the temple lot, which is appointed by the finger of the Lord, in the western boundaries of the State of Missouri, and dedicated by the hand of Joseph Smith, Jun., and others with whom the Lord was well pleased.

4  Verily this is the word of the Lord, that the city New Jerusalem shall be built by the gathering of the saints, beginning at this place, even the place of the temple, which temple shall be reared in this generation.

As the story goes, those who gathered to this sacred site were not allowed to stay and fulfill the command of the Lord in the building of a great city surrounding the temple. They were chastised for pride and selfishness and were forcibly removed from the area.. After an attempt by Zion’s Camp to recover that what was lost, the Lord informed the members that the redemption would not happen immediately (D&C 100).

13  And now I give unto you a word concerning Zion.  Zion shall be redeemed, although she is chastened for a little season.

After the Saints were exiled from Missouri, their journey to safety took them from Nauvoo, Illinois to the land of the Great Salt Lake. As the community of believers began to grow, they still did not lose sight of the need to fulfill the commandment of the Lord. It is said that some of those who settled the Provo/Orem area questioned why trees should even be planted given the imminent return to Independence. The message was clear that the Saints needed to prepare themselves if they were to accomplish the building of the New Jerusalem.

Brigham Young stated the following (J of D 9:136, 138-9).

When will Zion be redeemed? When will the Saviour make his appearance in the midst of his people? When will the vail be taken away, that we may behold the glory of God? Can any of you answer these questions? Yes, readily, when I tell you. The redemption of Zion is the first step preparatory to the two last-named events. Just as soon as the Latter-day Saints are ready and prepared to return to Independence, Jackson County, in the State of Missouri, North America, just so soon will the voice of the Lord be heard, “Arise now, Israel, and make your way to the centre Stake of Zion.” Do you think there is any danger of our being ready before the Lord prepares the other end of the route? Do you believe that we, as Latter-day Saints, are preparing our own hearts, our own lives, to return to take possession of the centre Stake of Zion, as fast as the Lord is preparing to cleanse the land from those ungodly persons who dwell there? You can read, reflect, and make your own calculations. If we are not very careful, the earth will be cleansed from wickedness before we are prepared to take possession of it. We must be pure to be prepared to build up Zion. To all appearance, the Lord is preparing that end of the route faster than we are preparing ourselves to go there.

Growing up in the Church in the 60’s, perhaps less so in the 70’s, I remember the repeated message of our need to prepare for this journey back to Missouri. As a youth, I recall the images portrayed of the reverse migration from the mountains back to the city of God to establish the kingdom forever and ever. Here is an example of the message from Orson F. Whitney from October 1919 General Conference.

The gathered Saints are up here in the Rocky Mountains, out of harm’s way, comparatively speaking, founding Stakes of Zion, as a preliminary to the establishment of Zion proper; and we shall remain here until our preparation is complete. When the right time comes, and all things are ready, the pure in heart, chosen from the midst of this people, will go down in the might of the Lord and redeem Zion.

In April 1978, President Kimball stated the following relative to this commandment:

In the earliest years of this dispensation the people faltered in attempting to live the full economic plan of Zion, the united order. Because of their transgressions, the Lord chastened them in these words:

“Behold, they have not learned to be obedient to the things which I required at their hands, but are full of all manner of evil, and do not impart of their substance, as becometh saints, to the poor and afflicted among them;

And are not united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom;

And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself.” (D&C 105:3-5.)

The Lord further counsels that we must learn obedience and be developed in character before he can redeem Zion. (See D&C 105:9-10.)

A few verses later in this same revelation, the Lord repeats the law of Zion in these words and with this promise:

And let those commandments which I have given concerning Zion and her law be executed and fulfilled, after her redemption.

And inasmuch as they follow the counsel which they receive, they shall have power after many days to accomplish all things pertaining to Zion.” (D&C 105:34, 37.)

The length of time required “to accomplish all things pertaining to Zion” is strictly up to us and how we live, for creating Zion “commences in the heart of each person.” (Journal of Discourses, 9:283.) That it would take some time to learn our lessons was seen by the prophets. In 1863 Brigham Young stated:

“If the people neglect their duty, turn away from the holy commandments which God has given us, seek their own individual wealth, and neglect the interests of the kingdom of God, we may expect to be here quite a time-perhaps a period that will be far longer than we anticipate.” (Journal of Discourses, 11:102.)

On this topic, a comment from President Ezra Taft Benson delivered in the October 1988 General Conference.

We commend you leaders and teachers of the various Church organizations for your inspired use of the Book of Mormon in helping to rear a generation that can redeem Zion.

This, as far as I have been able to discover, was the last time that a Prophet and President of the Church reminded us of our need to prepare for the redemption of Zion; that we were still obligated by a commandment of God to reclaim that which was taken from us – the physical location defined by the Lord as Zion.

Perhaps my favorite conference quote on the topic comes from J. Golden Kimball in the April, 1898 General Conference:

Now I want to prophesy, as the son of a prophet, that if this people want to be blessed they must labor for Zion; for if you labor for money you shall perish. You are under covenant, and it is a demand that God makes of this people that they redeem Zion. You have got to be generous, and you have got to place all that you have and are upon the altar and learn to live the law of the celestial kingdom.

This begs the question, if this was such a central theme of the restoration – that of establishing Zion as a physical entity – why has this not been mentioned in over 20 years? Has the idea of the redemption of Zion now relegated to the shelf along with other questionable doctrines like Adam-God and polygamy? Did this commandment of God not make the cut in the correlation efforts of the Church? Have we lost our way, as a body of Saints, relative to the establishment of the city of God?

I can only assume that the conference sessions next month will again be filled with discourses on faith and tithing, home teaching and service. Have we lost sight of the goal and have satisfied ourselves that the preparation is all that is important? Should not the establishment of Zion be the core of our heart’s desire? Should we not be working to define ourselves, individually, as “pure of heart?” Can we assume that we must be ready individually before we can be ready collectively?

A number of years ago, as a bishopric, we planned a leadership session around this theme. We generated a ‘letter from Salt Lake’ that called for a new Zion’s camp beginning in Kirtland and travelling to Missouri.  We asked for volunteers from those in attendance to represent the ward in this undertaking. We were met with stunned silence and pale faces. We had effectively asked them to give up their place in Babylon for one in Zion. It is so easy to feign allegiance to such a cause until we are called upon to act.

Some day, this call will come, not as an exercise in leadership meeting but as a call for the faithful. It may come, perhaps from Salt Lake or perhaps from another people, asking us to gather with those who have been sanctified – to assist in the building up of the New Jerusalem. When will it come? Who will issue the call if those of the restoration are not prepared?

What think ye?