Archive for October, 2010

What does it mean to be a convert, as Elder Costa professed in October conference? We typically use it to identify someone who was not ‘born in the covenant;’ who joined the church based on their own spiritual quest. We know that 280,106 converts joined the church in 2009 (I can’t hazard a guess as to how many of those who joined last year are still active).

Let’s consider Simon Peter. Here is a man who had spent the better part of three years following Christ, seeing the miracles, and hearing the sermons. He was likely there when Christ cleansed the temple and when he confounded the scribes and Pharisees. He had a testimony; when Christ asked him “whom say ye that I am?” Peter answered “Thou art the Christ (Mark 8:29).” Yet, with all this firsthand knowledge, Peter was still not converted. At the last supper, Christ told Simon Peter that “when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren (Luke 22:32).”

So what does it mean to be converted? It appears from the above example that we can have a testimony; we can dedicate our lives to Christ and strive, in faith, to do all that is asked of us, yet still not be truly converted. In the original Greek, the word translated as ‘converted’ means to turn, turn about, or return. To me, it signifies a change in direction with us now moving in the direction of God rather than away from Him.

I would suggest that Simon Peter’s conversion occurred on the day of Pentecost when he was baptized by fire. Following that event, the apostles began to speak in tongues followed shortly by the healing of the lame man at the gates of the temple. As people gathered in awe at this event, Peter took the opportunity to preach; “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out. (Acts 3:19).” Conversion, by this guide, is how one’s sins can be blotted out; how one can receive a remission of sins ‘by fire and by the Holy Ghost.’ (2 Nephi 31:17)

Conversion, in a scriptural sense, differs from its use in the church vernacular. We are not truly converted when we are baptized and confirmed. We are converted when a mighty change has been wrought in our hearts.

The people who came to the temple and set up their tents to listen to King Benjamin were likely good ‘members’ of the spiritual community at the time. They were faithful in their community and family and came at the call of the leadership to hear the words of their leader. But, they were not yet converted. It was not until

“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)

It was at this point that the people of King Benjamin were truly converted. It was through this unforgettable experience that their hearts were changed; that they turned to God and were spiritually born again.

After all that he witnessed, Simon Peter was converted by the Holy Spirit and went on the strengthen his brethren.

What does it mean when we call someone a ‘convert?’

What think ye?

Before moving on to day two, I should touch on the evening priesthood session. I hadn’t planned to address this session because I thought I could not access the session on line to verify what I heard. Lo and behold, the priesthood session is now archived on line along with the other sessions.

I found the priesthood session to have some good moments and some questionable items. The first of which was Elder Maxwell’s reference to the gathering of Israel. He noted that the Book of Mormon will be the instrument to gather scattered Israel. While on the surface this comment seems to be recognition of the goal of the restoration. As I thought about it, I would suspect that Maxwell was using the redefined gathering which simply means bringing people into the church where ever they are.

Of all the conference talks, I felt that Elders Uceda’s and Uchtdorf’s treatment of humility and pride were well worth the price of admission. How powerful are the simple words, “I’m sorry?” So much effort is expended to defend at all costs our right to always be right. It would surely be a different world if humility were a prerequisite to leadership.

I was encouraged by Maxwell’s story of his trip with Elder Faust. Elder Faust told him that the members treat GAs very well; they extend great kindness and admiration. Faust told Maxwell to ‘be thankful for the kindness but don’t inhale it.’ It would be very easy for men in this position to use this adoration to inflate their egos and vacate the spirit.

Elder Maxwell clearly dealt with the idea that humility does not mean self deprecation. “We don’t discover humility by thinking less of ourselves; we discover humility by thinking less about ourselves.

Elder Eyring sought to differentiate between the gift of the Holy Ghost and companionship of the Holy Ghost. I was heartened to hear his words of encouragement to the members to not just study, but ponder the scriptures, by which we invite the revelation of the Holy Spirit.

Does President Monson believe that theatrics make up for a lack of the spirit? His talks in both the priesthood and Sunday sessions seemed to affirm this idea.

On Sunday morning, Elder Eyring talked of examples of faith and the lack thereof. I have long held the example of Peter walking on the water as an example of our need to rely on the Savior. This painting by Edmond Oliveros captured the moment from a unique perspective.

“Lord, save me” by Edmond Oliveros (www.edmondoliveros.com)

However, I was also disappointed that he chose to link a spiritual confirmation of Joseph Smith to a confirmation that all prophets since that time are called as such. As I have indicated in past posts, this sort of automatic extension is not something I consider spiritually healthy. I have a testimony that Joseph Smith was called to be a prophet; that doesn’t automagically equate to a testimony that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet today.

Elder Packer enlightened us as to modern revelation. He announced that the proclamation on the family was indeed revelation. Is this purported revelation one that will stand the test of time or will it become another statement by a dead prophet? If it is indeed revelation, why is it not included in the canon of scripture?

I have to wonder if Mary Cook is long in the Primary General Presidency. She stated that we must be an example that our children will imitate. Does that include going on a mission before one make the statement that all young men are obligated to serve a mission?

Elder Oaks treated the subjects of a personal line and a priesthood line of revelation. Yes, Martin Luther did espouse the idea of a priesthood of all believers but he did that because the established religion to which he belonged denied that revelation could exist outside the pope. Elder Oaks stated that personal revelation cannot exist if it is at odds with priesthood revelation. I counter that when priesthood revelation does not exist or has morphed into the precepts of men, all an individual can depend on is personal revelation.

I also take issue with the idea that rejecting organized religion is rejecting Jesus Christ. As I have read, studied and pondered the narrative of Christ’s visit to the Nephites. I see a completely different approach to that of ‘organized’ religion. The emphasis in Third Nephi was that the organization that could be loosely defined as the church had a singular mission – to facilitate the individual’s efforts to come unto Christ.

We, today, have this bloated bureaucracy which employs full time ‘administrators.’ These administrators spend their time solving the problem for which they were created. It is in their best interests to maintain the problem; if it goes away, so does their position and livelihood. I am talking about the corporate church, not the U.S. government although it could apply to both.

So… President Monson’s widow count is now up to 102?

Elder Perry also was following a theme set earlier in the conference. Elder Christofferson redefined the law of consecration as items of personal progress and Elder Perry followed this up with a redefinition of the meaning of the ministering of angels. What I heard was the description of deacons collecting fast offerings, and a priest helping a disabled person partake of the sacrament as examples of the ministering of angels. That is not the case. Elder Perry has taken what is the potential for a personal sacred experience and turned it once again into the works of men.

How long, O Lord, must we be confronted with the holy and sacred being reduced to the precepts of man? Will the general membership blindly absorb these changes? What hope can we have when living prophets can and do wrest the words of the scriptures?

While I could go on about hollow trees, bloated cows and artificial flies, let me end with some limited positive insights. Several years ago, I was heartened by Elder Bednar’s words about the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. It was, I felt, a core component of the gospel that had rare mention from the pulpit of general conference. He continued with that topic in the afternoon session of conference.

I do believe, as Elder Bednar stated, that the words we hear in confirmation, “receive the Holy Ghost,” is a priesthood admonition. It is not an automatic dispensation. We must work to receive what he characterized as the companionship of the Holy Ghost. There is nothing of greater consequence in our mortality than the baptism of the Holy Spirit and it’s continued companionship. As Elder Bednar stated, all we do in the church is to bring us to companionship with the Holy Ghost. At least that is what the church is supposed to do…

What think ye?

President Monson opened the conference with the announcement of five new temples. From a scriptural perspective, building temples is considered the ‘works of men.’ (See 3 Nephi 27:10-11, 23). A church based on the works of men shall ‘have joy in their works for a season’ but then will be hewn down. The foundation of strength in the church should not be in bricks and mortar but in the efforts to bring people unto Christ.

He also cited that missionary work is an obligation for the young men of the church. When did this become an ‘obligation?’ Was it just recently or should it apply to all of us? Would President Monson care to explain why he was exempt from this obligation? Of course, back in his day, missionary work was not considered a requirement of the body of the church. I do suggest that this is somewhat hypocritical to place an obligation on others that we ourselves did not complete.

When I went back to the lds.org site this morning to make sure I heard his words correctly, I found that the morning session began, not with the words of President Monson but with Elder Holland. What happened there?

Elder Holland’s words on gratitude were timely and worth an emphasis. We live in day when the ‘love of men shall wax cold.’ I have encountered many who are not grateful but feel entitlement. The people of King Benjamin did not receive the baptism of fire until they expressed humility and gratitude for what God had given them.

Sister Wixom reminded us that we are to ‘hold tight to the Iron Rod.’ The Book of Mormon tells us in 1 Nephi 11:25 that the ‘rod of iron…was the word of God.’ If one searches the Book of Mormon for the phrase ‘word of God.’ The first reference in the index to the entry of ‘word of God/word of the Lord’ is 1 Nephi 2:3 where we read of Lehi being ‘obedient to the word of the Lord.’ The word of the Lord, in this case, was personal revelation received in a dream.

Later in the same chapter, verse 13, we read that Laman and Lemuel did not ‘believe that Jerusalem, that great city, could be destroyed according to the words of the prophets.’ It is interesting to note that in this chapter, both the word of God and the words of the prophets are cited. I would strongly suggest that the ‘word of God’ applies specifically to personal revelation and that this is differentiated in the First Nephi from the scriptures which represent the ‘words of the prophets.’ We are told to hold fast to the rod – that rod being personal revelation.

Sister Wixom also recited the story of a youngster’s soccer match where the spectators formed a ‘victory tunnel’ for both the winners and the losers. Is there value in teaching our children that it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, you will get the same treatment? Wasn’t that the plan of Lucifer to make sure that we all got back to the Father, winners and losers?

Elder Costa told us of his prayers to receive confirmation that Joseph Smith was a prophet. He talked of how he had read of the history of Joseph Smith and prayed after each paragraph. He said that the Lord ‘gave me the assurance that Joseph Smith was his prophet’ and went on to say that because he received this answer, ‘I know that all of his successors are prophets, too.’ Does this mean that if I prayed to gain an assurance that Peter, James and John were prophets, that all of their successors are prophets, also? (Wouldn’t I be a Catholic, then?) Can one assume that because the church started out correctly that it will always remain so? The latter day scriptures are replete with warnings of the circle of apostasy and prophesy of the rejection of the gospel. Are we so proud as a people that we believe we are exempt from this path?

Much of Elder Costa’s address was taken from a 1980 talk by Ezra Taft Benson at BYU on obedience to the prophets (The talk is found at http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=6751). As I remember, this original talk was quite controversial and there was talk that President Kimball asked Benson to apologize to the twelve for his words. Of the points that Costa reiterated, here are some of them. Living prophets are more vital than the scriptures, living prophets are more important than dead prophets, the prophet will never lead the church astray. We must make our own decisions on this but for me, I cannot flush the scriptures because a ‘prophet’ has provided a new direction in a talk. If such is the case, why wouldn’t it be called revelation and added to the canon of scripture? I believe that the scriptures provide an anchor with whch to assess whether purported revelation is consistent with the current word of God. Giving man the ability to replace scripture is exactly what led to the apostasy in the meridian of time.

All living prophets became dead prophets, so the words we hear from prophets today will soon become the words of dead prophets. I have come to be very sensitive to this idea. Can we assume that the further away we get from the restoration the more ‘truth’ we have? Could it also be possible that the more likely scenario is that we stray from the ‘truth’ over time? As we see today, can’t we be tossed to and fro by the words of men?

The most deflating talk to me had to be that of Elder Christofferson where he talked of the law of consecration as a celestial law that can be applied to life here and now. He identified five elements of a consecrated life, including purity, work, respect for one’s physical body, service and integrity. What I heard was a redefinition of the law of consecration. We were presented with the idea that the law of consecration as it applies to us here and now is not a structure of a community of God, but a set of personal expectations.

We have seen the idea of the gathering to Zion replaced with the idea that we can build the kingdom of God wherever we are. Zion is now all the world, not a specific place. With this talk, we are now to accept consecration of all we have, something to which we covenant in the temple, relegated to a set of personal objectives. Congratulations, the law of consecration no longer requires you to give your wealth and riches to the kingdom, just purity and integrity.

In the same vein that Hinckley transfigured the gospel into six be’s, we now have the basis of a Zion community reduced to five elements of personal progress. I have a hard time accepting these ideas, so fundamental to the latter day scriptures, can be redefined and restrained to the individual rather than the community of God.

We have lost our way. The central theme of the restoration was to gather a people together who could lay the foundation for the city of God – Zion. This is now an artifact of one of those dead prophets, cast aside by the precepts of men.

What think ye?