Tag Archives: Apostles

The Parable of the Vegan Conference

I really enjoyed the parable posted on Millennial Star yesterday.

(Side note: I often really enjoy their posts.)

What’s more, the comments (at least, as of the time of me posting this) have been great, and enhance the conversation around the premise of the original post.

I highly recommend it for those who, like me, are new to this whole new world of online Mormonism.

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Camp. With Girls.

I didn’t have many close Mormon friends in high school. There were a few of us, of course – California is no Utah, but neither is it the Eastern U.S. – but us Latter-day Saints didn’t really hang out in the same circles.

This is by no means a lament – I had wonderful friends, inside and outside the Church, and I’m all the better for them. Being part of a diverse crowd, however, did give me the chance to see how other churches did things. Continue reading Camp. With Girls.

A Harmful Address from General Conference

I like to explore the blogosphere after General Conference ends. I’m interested in the reactions that others have to the words of the Church leaders, men who I consider to be prophets, seers, and revelators. This helps me to think more critically about what I’ve heard, which in turn builds my testimony in what they’ve said.

One particular post caught my eye. A marriage and family therapist, and member of the LDS Church, wrote a post on the Saturday morning session of General Conference, dividing each speaker’s comments into (potentially) three sections:

  • Messages I Found to be Healthy and Uplifting
  • Messages I Found to be Needing of Further Nuance/Discussion
  • Messages I Found to be Harmful

The first two sections aren’t anything special – this blog, for example, is a place where I often add my own nuance and discussion (from my perspective, of course) to the words of prophets. That third section, though, piqued my interest, perhaps because it’s an idea that is so foreign to me – it’s a short walk from “harmful” to “dismissible,” and that concerns me ever so slightly.

In the interest of adding to the dialogue, I’d like to look at the “harmful” portions identified by this blogger in Jeffrey R. Holland’s address. Continue reading A Harmful Address from General Conference

Cherry Blossom Faith

It’s beautiful in Washington state right now. Just last weekend, my family and I visited the Quad at the University of Washington, where the cherry blossoms were in full bloom. The winters here are cold and dark – in December, the sun doesn’t rise until 8am and sets as early as 4:30pm – so it’s refreshing to see color and vibrancy return as we meander into spring.

That beauty was offset by some difficult news. I say difficult, because while it doesn’t really affect me directly now, it’s indicative of a culture shift that will impact me in a big way, sooner or later. Continue reading Cherry Blossom Faith

My Thoughts on Today’s Supreme Court Review

Yesterday, you might not have known what was on the Supreme Court’s docket for today.

Today, you know.

You know because you probably have a Facebook account (1 billion of us do, as of October 2012) and your news feed was likely filled up by activists and constitutional “experts” on both sides of the argument, all commenting on news coming out of the Supreme Court.

My Anecdotal Observations of Fellow Latter-day Saints

I’ve written before on the subject of so-called same sex marriage, but I feel like I can contribute to the conversation in one way tonight. I’d like to talk about some of my observations of the LDS community. Certainly I don’t have a good view of all Latter-day Saints, so my observations will be little more than anecdotal. Still, that doesn’t make them invalid. I, at least, think that they’ll be worth considering.

A Diverse Body with An Important Foundation 

We Latter-day Saints are a fairly diverse group of people. You might not think it, getting pop culture hints from “The Book of Mormon” musical and Big Love, but Latter-day Saints are a 14 million member strong group who live all over the earth and have varied levels of activity and belief, and a wide range of personalities, opinions, and mannerisms.

I’ve mused before about what, among such a diverse group of individuals, unites us, and you can read that post for those thoughts. Since then, Elder Robert D. Hales spoke in General Conference about “Being a More Christian Christian”. His criteria for what it means to be Christian (and I think “Christian” here is interchangeable with “Mormon” or “Latter-day Saint”, as will be clear in a moment) is also a fine study about what should be the same among Latter-day Saints. A Latter-day Saint is:

    • Someone who follows the gospel pattern of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end (paragraphs 2 – 4).
    • Someone who believes that God has followed a pattern of calling prophets to teach His children, and that this pattern has continued in our day with Joseph Smith and his successors (paragraph 5).
    • Someone who believes in the Godhead as taught in the scriptures and by modern prophets. This belief regarding the nature of God is at odds with Trinitarian theology (paragraph 6).

There is quite a bit in there that mainstream Christianity would find objectionable, but that should suggest to us that when Elder Hales asks, “With these doctrines as the foundations of our faith, can there be any doubt or disputation that we (Latter-day Saints) are Christian?”, he’s not comparing Latter-day Saints to modern, mainstream, creedal Christianity as much as he’s comparing Latter-day Saints to biblical Christianity.

But that’s a talk for another day and another post.

The point is that Elder Hales highlights a belief in the principle of prophets and a testimony that the leaders of the Mormon Church are the modern-day equivalents of  Peter, Moses, or Paul. That’s not an idle statement to make or believe in. Paul wrote to new church members of his day,

“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone (Ephesians 2:19-20).

Distance from Modern Prophets

Whether or not you’re familiar with the LDS position on the issue of so-called same-sex marriage, consider these posts from some of my Latter-day Saint Facebook friends:

“Hopefully today is the first step towards increasing equality in our nation.”

“Real equality would be government that is not in charge of marriage.”

“taking agency away from a group of people is what satan (sic) wants…..”

And many of them posted graphics, like these:

Posts like these really confuse me. They confuse me because, for example, the leadership of our Church said just today:

Today the Supreme Court of the United States heard arguments regarding the definition of marriage in this country.

We firmly support the divinely appointed definition of marriage as the union between a man and a woman because it is the single most important institution for strengthening children, families, and society.

We hope the court will agree, and we look forward to the decision on this important matter.

That’s not even the least of all they’ve said, but it suffices for this post. It’s not difficult for the sincere student to learn more about the LDS position (try here, at Mormons and Gays, which then links to other legitimate sources at the bottom of the page). This position is in direct conflict with many of the sentiments and graphics above.

Something seems off….

A Story with a Moral – Faithful Obedience

I’m reminded of the story of Martin Harris and the lost 116 pages. For those who are unfamiliar with the story, here is a refresher.

Joseph Smith began translating the Book of Mormon plates in the late 1820s. He had a scant education, and enlisted the help of Martin Harris, a local of Palmyra, New York, to act as scribe. Harris’ help was invaluable – not only was Harris a respected member of the community, but he also gave significant resources to help finance the translation and publication of the Book of Mormon.

By the middle of 1828, Joseph had dictated 116 pages to Harris. Unfortunately, Harris’ relationship with his wife was tenuous at the time. Additionally, she was suspicious of Joseph, and opposed to the resources her husband was devoting to Joseph’s cause. Harris asked Joseph if he could take the manuscript home to show his wife. He thought this would help encourage her support and help heal some of their strained relationship.

Joseph asked the Lord if Harris could take the manuscript. The Lord refused. Still, Harris pressured Joseph to ask a second time. Again, the Lord refused. Harris pressured Joseph once more, and the Lord agreed to let him take the manuscript as long as he showed it to only a few specified family members.

Tragically, Harris lost the 116 pages of the manuscript. They were never recovered, and Joseph was commanded not to re-translate those pages (the thieves who had stolen them had changed the words so that, were Joseph to re-translate, the two versions would not agree – see Doctrine and Covenants 10).

The Lord, with his omniscient foresight, had prepared for this loss. He told Nephi, one of the primary authors of the Book of Mormon, to make two sets of records covering the same time period.

And the reason for making two sets of records? Nephi didn’t have a clue. He tells us,

“Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me to make these plates for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not.

“But the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men” (see 1 Nephi 9).

Mormon, who almost 1,000 years later would be inspired to include Nephi’s record in concert with his abridgment, would write,

“And I do this for a wise purpose; for thus it whispereth me, according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord which is in me. And now, I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore, he worketh in me to do according to his will” (see Words of Mormon 1:3-7).

Joseph continued to translate, but from this additional record instead of the material he’d previously translated. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has said,

“We got back more than we lost. And it was known from the beginning that it would be so.”

For more on that story, you can also read my post, “God’s Divine Backup Plan”.

Some Principles to Follow

Often when we hear this story, we focus on Martin Harris and Joseph Smith. There’s nothing wrong with this – there’s an important lesson to be learned from them. But I’d like to focus on two different individuals. I’d like to focus on Nephi and Mormon, and particularly Nephi.

Nephi, as we saw, was commanded to make a second record detailing the same period he’d just covered. Keep in mind that this is an age before copy-and-paste, before xerox, before the printing press. Nephi was making records on metal plates while traveling as a nomad through uninhabited Arabia and (likely) South America. That would have been extremely arduous and tedious. Yet he did it.

Nephi did this, all without (as far as we know) ever knowing why. He never received any indication of what the Lord’s “wise purpose” was, what fruit would be born from his laborious seed planting. Not even Mormon, who spent his life protecting and abridging these records, ever knew the end from the beginning in regards to these records. Yet they obeyed. And because they obeyed, we have the Book of Mormon today, complete with the powerful testimony of early Nephite prophets.

What’s the connection for Latter-day Saints to same-sex marriage?

In 1995, then president Gordon B. Hinckley presented “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”. It highlighted the vital family values that our Church stands for, and called for members and citizens to support measures aimed at upholding the traditional family unit. This proclamation reads, in part,

“We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children….

“We warn that… the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.

We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.

When Prop 8 was prepared as a ballot measure, the First Presidency, led by current president Thomas S. Monson, sent a letter to California congregations. It encouraged Latter-day Saints to do all that they could to support the measure. It read,

“Preserving Traditional Marriage and Strengthening Families:

“In March 2000 California voters overwhelmingly approved a state law providing that “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” The California Supreme Court recently reversed this vote of the people. On November 4, 2008, Californians will vote on a proposed amendment to the California state constitution that will now restore the March 2000 definition of marriage approved by the voters.

“The Church’s teachings and position on this moral issue are unequivocal. Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, and the formation of families is central to the Creator’s plan for His children. Children are entitled to be born within this bond of marriage.

“A broad-based coalition of churches and other organizations placed the proposed amendment on the ballot. The Church will participate with this coalition in seeking its passage. Local Church leaders will provide information about how you may become involved in this important cause.

We ask that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage in California is legally defined as being between a man and a woman. Our best efforts are required to preserve the sacred institution of marriage.

Regardless of the other issues at work here – and make no mistake, this is a highly complex and controversial issue – the Church leaders have been very clear about what is expected of faithful Latter-day Saints. After that, the decision is ours to decide which way we face.

The choice is, of course, ours to make. But let’s make no mistake about what’s happening when we follow personal whims, lean on political correctness, or disregard prophetic counsel. Perhaps President Brigham Young said it best:

“You cannot destroy the appointment of a prophet of God, but you can cut the thread that binds you to the prophet of God, and sink yourselves to hell.”

Stand with the prophets, even if you don’t understand why. You may never understand – we learn that much from Nephi and Mormon – but you can have faith that the Lord knows what he’s doing.

Simon Peter and Joseph Smith

One of the most prominent differences between Latter-day Saints and mainstream Christianity is in how we each view the role of prophets. This in turn affects how we each view the scriptural cannon, where true doctrine comes from, and a score of other differences that are actually just different manifestations of this same issues. For members of the LDS Church, the concept of a modern prophet is perfectly acceptable and logical, and many bear testimony of how modern prophets have blessed their lives. Yet for some mainstream Christians, the LDS concept of a modern prophet can be anything from dangerous to absurd to just plain wrong.

Simon Peter and Joseph Smith

Ross Baron, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, set up what he called Community Firesides in his community of southern California, to respond to some anti-Mormon activities that were taking place in the area. His firesides were so successful that he has boiled his method down to ten principles that others can use to be successful.

He made a very important point in one of these firesides, a point that may help Christians not only see how Latter-day Saints view prophets, but also accept that the idea may not be as absurd or dangerous as they originally believed.  Baron said,

“We were getting near the end of [a question and answer session]. The head pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church… stood up, and he said this:

He prefaced it by saying, “Well, I have the quote here that will definitively tell all of you here” –this is what he’s saying, kind of his opening statement– “about Mormonism and about how it’s false.”  And he pulls out the quote from Brigham Young where [Young] said that unless we accept Joseph Smith, that we cannot gain salvation. And he said, “That’s utter blasphemy, and they claim to be Christians, but we know that that is absolutely false. How do you respond to that, Mr. Baron?”

I looked at him, and I said, “Well, can I ask you a question?”

And he said, “Certainly.”

And I said, “Imagine you’re living in AD 34.  You’re in Jerusalem.  It’s Acts chapter two.  Peter is preaching about Christ and him crucified. You feel the spirit. Can you, sir,  reject Peter’s testimony and accept Christ?

And he went, “Um.”

And I knew I had him.

And I said, “That’s exactly how we feel about Joseph Smith: He’s a modern-day Peter. That’s exactly how we feel.”

Now, think about that. If he had said, “Yes, we can reject Peter and accept Christ,” then we throw the Bible out, right? If he says, “No, we can’t [reject Peter and accept Christ],” then he knows exactly the position Joseph Smith’s in.

The New Testament and General Conference

Twice a year, Latter-day Saints from all over the world will gather in meetinghouses and listen to the words from modern day prophets and apostles. It happens every six months, and it’s called General Conference. Members of the Church use this as an opportunity to, as David O. McKay said, “worship the Lord in sincerity and reverence, and to give and to receive encouragement, exhortation, and instruction” (see “General Conferences Are Held for Specific Purposes“).

You can find similar purposes behind many of the books in the New Testament. In fact, most of the latter books in the New Testament are letters written to the various congregations scattered across the old world. The apostles on the earth at that time wrote those letters in order to do the exact same thing that modern apostles are doing with General Conference – to give and receive encouragement, exhortation, and instruction. Latter-day Saints will look to their leaders who will declare, as did Peter of old, that “there is none other name under heaven given among men” than Jesus Christ “whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

And because we believe that they, like Peter, are special witnesses of Jesus Christ, we cannot accept the Savior while rejecting their counsel. We view them no differently than the original church viewed the apostles.

Accepting Joseph Smith

I thought it might be worthwhile to include a likely candidate for the quote reference by the Lighthouse Baptist Church above. In it’s entirely, it can be seen to be perfectly appropriate, and in line with the principles already discussed.

Brigham Young said,

“The time was when the test of a Christian was his confession of Christ. In the first Epistle of John 1 is written,

‘Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God; every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God, and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is not of God. And this is that spirit of anti-Christ, whereof ye have heard that it should come, and even now already is in the world.’

This is no test to this generation, for all men of the Christian world confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. This generation, however, is not left without a test. I have taught for thirty years, and still teach, that he that believeth in his heart and confesseth with his mouth that Jesus is the Christ and that Joseph Smith is his Prophet to this generation, is of God; and he that confesseth not that Jesus has come in the flesh and sent Joseph Smith with the fulness of the Gospel to this generation, is not of God, but is anti-Christ (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 9, pg 312-313).

President Young was correct. In this sectarian age, confession of Jesus Christ is not necessarily an indication that one has avoided false prophets, or that the church is of God. In this generation, the true test is whether or not we accept Joseph Smith, God’s chosen mouthpiece in this age, and each successive prophet since his day.

A Speaking God

One of the core tenants of mainstream Christianity is that the Bible is sufficient, or in other words, that it contains everything that God would want us to know. Latter-day Saints, on the other hand, not only have other sources of scripture, but believe that God continues to speak through prophets like Moses or Paul.

Is the Bible Really Sufficient?

Is the Bible really sufficient? It’s hard to answer such a question in the affirmative. Even the Bible itself makes no such claim, and we wouldn’t want to add to the word of God, would we?

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Christian sects on the earth today. Were the Bible complete and sufficient, there would be but one faith, and one baptism, for there is only one Lord (Ephesians 4:5). God is not a God of confusion or contention.

Other Scripture

What’s more, there are many known “lost books” that are referred to within the Bible itself in such a way that we know they are authoritative, and yet we know not where they are. These include the book of the Wars of the Lord, the book of Jasher, and many others (see Lost Books).  In addition to these lost books, Christianity itself cannot agree on which books should be accepted in the canon, and there are several different sets of canonical books.

Latter-day Saints love and revere the Bible and it’s teachings. That should not be forgotten. Yet we also recognize that there is potential for other revelation that could be of great benefit. Think about, for example, what actually makes up most of the New Testament. It is a collection of letters written to the early Christians that lived two thousand years ago. While the principles taught therein are still applicable, and we can learn much on how to live our lives, circumstances have changed drastically in two millenia, and the things that God emphasized back then may be different from what He would emphasize now. That doesn’t even take into consideration how different some of the epistles are. If congregations in the same time needed such different instruction and focus, why would that change in today’s world where Christian churches dot the globe? How much better would it be if we had both the letters written to Christians two thousand years ago, and apostles to write us letters today, letters from God meant for and designed for us!

A God Who Speaks

Hugh B. Brown was in Europe on the eve of World War II, and was having a conversation with a judge about the need for modern revelation in addition to the writings of the ancient prophets. He records this conversation as follows:

I began by asking, “May I proceed, sir, on the assumption that you are a Christian?”

“I am.”

“I assume you believe in the Bible—the Old and New Testaments?”

“I do!”

“Do you believe in prayer?”

“I do!”

“You say that my belief that God spoke to a man in this age is fantastic and absurd?”

“To me it is.”

“Do you believe that God ever did speak to anyone?”

“Certainly, all through the Bible we have evidence of that.”

“Did He speak to Adam?”

“Yes.”

“To Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Joseph, and on through the prophets?”

“I believe He spoke to each of them.”

“Do you believe that contact between God and man ceased when Jesus appeared on the earth?”

“No, such communication reached its climax, its apex, at that time.”

“Do you believe that Jesus was the Son of God?”

“He was.”

“Do you believe, sir, that after Jesus was resurrected, a certain lawyer—who was also a tentmaker by the name of Saul of Tarsus—when on his way to Damascus talked with Jesus of Nazareth, who had been crucified, resurrected, and had ascended into heaven?”

“I do.”

“Whose voice did Saul hear?”

“It was the voice of Jesus Christ, for He so introduced Himself.”

“Then, my Lord—that is the way we address judges in the British Commonwealth—I am submitting to you in all seriousness that it was standard procedure in Bible times for God to talk to man.”

“I think I will admit that, but it stopped shortly after the first century of the Christian era.”

“Why do you think it stopped?”

“I can’t say.”

“You think that God hasn’t spoken since then?”

“I am sure He hasn’t.”

“There must be a reason. Can you give me a reason?”

“I do not know.”

“May I suggest some possible reasons? Perhaps God does not speak to man anymore because He cannot. He has lost the power.

He said, “Of course that would be blasphemous.

“Well, then, if you don’t accept that, perhaps He doesn’t speak to men because He doesn’t love us anymore and He is no longer interested in the affairs of men.

“No,” he said, “God loves all men, and He is no respecter of persons.”

“Well, then, if He could speak, and if He loves us, then the only other possible answer, as I see it, is that we don’t need Him. We have made such rapid strides in science and we are so well educated that we don’t need God anymore.

And then he said—and his voice trembled as he thought of impending war—“Mr. Brown, there never was a time in the history of the world when the voice of God was needed as it is needed now. Perhaps you can tell me why He doesn’t speak.

My answer was: “He does speak, He has spoken; but men need faith to hear Him” (Profile of a Prophet).

Conclusion

I echo the feeling of that judge so many years ago – that there was never a time in the history of the world where we needed to hear God’s voice more. I love and cherish the Bible, for it helps me know my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. But there is more that he continues to say, just for me, and for you, and for all those living in 2012. The Bible, as wonderful as it is, was never meant to be a complete collection of all God’s words.

You can request a copy of The Book of Mormon here. Read and test it for yourself. It truly is God’s word, and evidence that God continues to speak today.

Of Paradigms and Prophets

Reasoning from Different Premises

In 1987, an American economist named Thomas Sowell wrote a book titled A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles. In it, Sowell tries to answer the question of why the same people align so closely on a host of issues, even though those issues aren’t interconnected and cover a wide range of subject matter. He says:

One of the curious things about opinions is how often the same people line up on opposite sides of the issues…. [Issues] may range from military spending to drug laws to monetary policy and education. Yet the same familiar faces can be found glaring at each other from opposite sides of the fence, again and again.”

Okay, I know I probably lost you at “military spending,” but stay with me, because this absolutely has application beyond politics to religion, including Mormonism (in all its flavors). Instead of concerns over military spending or education reform, Latter-day Saints are discussing female ordination, same-sex marriage, and other elements of progressive orthodoxy – and that’s even before considering extra-Mormon doctrinal issues like the need of formal congregations, the importance of baptism, the role of judgment and tolerance, or even the nature of God. Familiar Mormon (and Christian) faces can be consistently found on opposite sides of the fence on these, and numerous other, issues.

But it’s not that people we disagree with “just don’t get it.” Sowell continues,

A closer look at the arguments on both sides often shows that they are reasoning from fundamentally different premises…. They have different visions of how the world works” (emphasis added).

Having different visions of how the world works, different paradigms, is actually a pretty big problem when it comes to having productive discussions. Given that difficulty, can’t we just ditch these visions? Or, at least, can’t we just ditch the inaccurate ones?

Not really. Sowell concludes,

It would be good to be able to say that we should dispense with visions entirely, and deal only with reality. But that may be the most Utopian vision of all. Reality is far too complex to be comprehended by any given mind. Visions are like maps that guide us through a tangle of bewildering complexities. Like maps, visions have to leave out concrete features in order to enable us to focus on a few key paths to our goals. Visions are indispensable – but dangerous, precisely to the extent that we confuse them with reality itself” (emphasis added).

Mind Maps

Each of us has a vision, a paradigm upon which we operate. As Sowell suggests, this paradigm is like a map. As we grow and learn and generally experience life, we form our map. We also leave out certain realities because they muddle our view and would otherwise confuse our understanding.

This isn’t malicious, though. In fact, it’s essential.

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re wandering through downtown Seattle using a satellite image to guide you. The photographic detail might be cumbersome, but you can probably manage.

But don’t stop there. In addition to the image itself, this map includes other information – the street names, the business names, and perhaps even a transcription of billboards and storefront advertisements. It includes current weather conditions, historical seasonal averages, and air quality details. It includes street grading and geological information. It includes pedestrian and vehicle traffic patterns (with live updates). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Oh, and don’t forget – this is not a map of the city of Seattle, or even the Pacific Northwest, or even the United States. This is a map of the entire earth.

Such a map would be overwhelming, and ultimately useless.

It’s true that we leave out realities that we deem unnecessary – consciously and subconsciously – but that is why. There is nothing immoral or wrong about leaving details out; our mind simply includes only those details it deems necessary to function.

Here’s a visual example, with not-so-subtle religious overtones. Below are two maps, each detailing the route from Pike’s Place Market in Seattle to the Seattle temple.

MapSat

The first image is much more useful. It leaves out the useless details of the terrain, and even includes notable street/highway labels and a route I could take. If I get lost, there is enough detail that I could probably get back on course.

But the top map is not reality. Neither is the bottom map, for that matter. Each leaves certain “concrete features” out. I’ve engaged in selective editing to ensure that I can make my way.

With our personal paradigms, this presents a very real risk. Without exception, details are left out of our maps, our paradigms, our guides that help us to see the world and thus help determine our actions. We may have left out something small, akin to an inconsequential street name here or there. On the other hand, it is quite possible, even probable, that we have left out something important, effectively leaving us a map of downtown Los Angeles as we wander through uptown Manhattan.

Paradigms and Prophets

Knowing that our paradigms are flawed, but also recognizing that they help determine our actions, we should be certain that they are as accurate as possible, at least in the most vital areas. But how do we even start?

There is only one mind that comprehends all truth, or in other words, has a paradigm that is reality. God, who is omnipotent, has the perfect vision and is perfect in all He does. President Uchtdorf, in the Women’s Meeting of the October 2014 General Conference, said,

“We might find ourselves asking, “Do we really need to obey all of God’s commandments?”

“My response to this question is simple:

“I think God knows something we don’t—things that are beyond our capacity to comprehend! Our Father in Heaven is an eternal being whose experience, wisdom, and intelligence are infinitely greater than ours.4 Not only that, but He is also eternally loving, compassionate, and focused on one blessed goal: to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life.5

“In other words, He not only knows what is best for you; He also anxiously wants you to choose what is best for you” (emphasis in original).

Luckily for us, God shares from His infinite wisdom and capacity those concrete details that He deems vital for us. On a large scale, God has historically done this through prophets.

Having a prophet doesn’t mean that we will be able to understand all that God understands. Man’s mind is still finite and our maps need to be simple. Rather, having a prophet means that we can be taught the most important concrete features to include in our maps. This ensures we make better decisions and we wander throughout life. From a Mormon perspective, modern prophets can tell us which concrete features are vital for us right now, in our day.

In just a few days, we get the chance to hear from those leaders that we sustain as prophets, seers, revelators, and (if I can be so bold) map-makers. May we actively listen and find out which “concrete features” we most need to include in our maps as we navigate through life.

The Priesthood Part 2 – Restored Priesthood Authority

Is there priesthood authority on the earth right now? Yes! We can perform ordinances that God will recognize, we can preach the gospel, and we can perform miracles. Below I will discuss the restoration of the priesthood. I will also show how I can trace my authority, through this restoration, back to Peter, James, and John who received their authority from Jesus Christ. I will also give some reasons as to why priesthood is so essential to the church.

The Restoration of the Priesthood

Priesthood authority was given by Christ to the apostles while he was still on earth. This authority allowed the apostles to preside over the growing church and to baptize, confirm, and ordain others.

After the death of Judas, the apostles called Matthias to fill the vacancy in the Twelve (Acts 1:20-26). Paul was called as an apostle as well. Yet persecution increased, and it became harder and harder to keep the church together. Eventually the apostles were all gone, and the church fell into the Great Apostasy. The priesthood was lost from the earth till the early 1800s.

In 1820, Joseph Smith prayed to know which church he should join. In response to his prayer, God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph. They said that there were no true churches on the earth at the time and that through him the Church of Jesus Christ would be restored.

Divine visitations did not end there. Joseph was visited by other angels who restored priesthood power and keys. John the Baptist appeared to restore the lesser, preparatory priesthood.

Later, Peter, James, and John appeared to restore the higher priesthood. This is the same priesthood power that allowed the apostles to preside over the church and perform other priesthood duties.

Because of these appearances, the priesthood power that was lost with the death of the apostles was restored. Every priesthood holder in the LDS Church can trace his authority back to the appearance of Peter, James, and John, and from them to Jesus Christ. This trace is called a Line of Authority.

My Line of Authority

Like other priesthood holders in the LDS Church, I can trace my authority all the way to the Savior via this ordination of Joseph Smith by Peter, James and John.

I was ordained on 22 August 2004 by Douglas Larsen (my father), a high priest.

He was ordained on 27 January 1996 by J. Richard Larsen (my grandfather), a high priest.

He was ordained on 26 June 1951 by Delbert L. Stapley, an apostle.

He was ordained on 5 October 1950 by George Albert Smith, an apostle.

He was ordained on 8 October 1903 by Joseph Fielding Smith, an apostle.

He was ordained on 1 July 1866 by Brigham Young, an apostle.

He was ordained on 14 February 1835 by the Three Witnesses to the truthfulness of Book of Mormon: Oliver CowderyDavid Whitmer, and Martin Harris.

They were ordained on 14 February 1835 by Joseph Smith, Jr.

Joseph Smith was ordained in 1829 by Peter James, and John, who were ordained apostles by the Savior during His earthly ministry.

Why Authority?

You can find a Gospel Principles lesson on the priesthood here and a family home evening lesson on the priesthood here.

You can see many reasons for why priesthood authority is so important before reading any lessons, though. All it takes is an honest look at the Christian world after the turn of the first century.

One of the first casualties of the lost priesthood authority was the corruption of doctrine. Greek philosophy became mixed with Christian teachings. This is known as Hellenization.

Another thing to notice is the abundance of Christian sects today. As much as Christians like C. S. Lewis like to stress Christian unity, we are far from united. The Bible can be, and usually is, interpreted hundreds of different ways, and without the apostles to clarify God’s word we are left with enough Christian denominations to fill eight or ten pages in most phone books. They can’t all be true. They are not all true.

Yet another thing to notice are that great atrocities have been committed in the name of the Church. The Crusades and the Inquisitions were violent and left graves upon graves of innocent people. Bad feelings from those events still exist today among the ancestors of their participants. Are such events really examples of a church led by the Prince of Peace?

And yet another thing to notice is the corruption that has taken place in positions of power and leadership. The Catholic papacy has seen it’s share, as have the leadership positions of other churches. People ascend hierarchal ladders, and once there serve their own selfish interests. The teaching of the gospel, and the saving of souls, is put on the back-burner. Instead, leaders forward their own agendas, unchecked by missing apostles.

There are many, many reasons as to why authority is so essential, and perhaps I will leave the subject to you. Give it more careful thought. Think of the benefits of authority in secular institutions, like the law enforcement example we examined in Part I.  As you do, you will find similar reasons why authority would be important to the government of God, and you will see problems in modern Christianity that have arisen from lost authority.

Hugh B. Brown’s Authority from the King

Hugh B. Brown, who later became an apostle and member of the First Presidency, related this story on the subject of authority.

“I was at one time an army officer. As such, I became accustomed to having men stand at attention and salute me and call me ‘sir,’ and frankly, I liked it.

“Often men came and asked for favors—perhaps a furlough or a leave or some thing that they thought I could grant—because they knew that I was an officer of the King [of England] and that I had the right to speak in his name. And so as they came I handed the ‘blessings’ down to them and I became more haughty and self-important with each event.

“One day a messenger came to my hotel just off Piccadilly Circus. He said, ‘You are wanted immediately in the hospital.’

“I thought, ‘Well, here is another boy that wants something. I will go down and see what is wanted.’

“I called a taxi and went to the hospital.

“When I arrived the doctors stood at attention and saluted, and that fed my ego. The nurses treated me with great respect and that pleased me even more.

“They directed me to a little room and as I pushed open the door, I saw an emaciated young man lying on a cot. I recognized him as a former Sunday School student of mine in Cardston, Canada.

“When he greeted me, he did not use my rank in his salutation, but simply said, ‘Brother Brown, I sent for you to ask if you would use your authority in my behalf.’ (I thought, ‘Well, this is what I expected. What does he want?’)

“ ‘Brother Brown,’ he said, ‘you know I have a widowed mother; I am her only son; the doctors say I cannot live; will you give me my life!’

“I thought, ‘My goodness, the King of England can’t give him his life. To what is he referring?’

“Then he startled me with a request: ‘Will you administer to me!’

“At that moment … my uniform, with the insignia on it, seemed to melt away, and I stood before that young man in a uniform with insignia indicating authority. I could not have worn that uniform, which was next to my skin, if I had not had some authority given to me. I stood there thinking of that authority, and I was humbled but inspired.

“I went over to his cot and knelt beside him. I put my hands on his head and said, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ and by the authority of the holy priesthood, I bless you and promise you that you will get well and return to your mother.’ God honored that promise.

“I went into that hospital a proud British officer, and I came out a humble Mormon elder. Ever since then I have earnestly tried to remember that there is a power and authority given to man, not from the king or the president, but from the King of Kings, and if we live properly and do not forget that we have been so endowed, we may exercise that authority in behalf of those who need our ministration.”

Continuing the Series

  • Part 1 – Where does priesthood authority not come from?
  • Part 2 – The restoration of the priesthood, and why that restoration is so important.
  • Part 3 – Exercising priesthood power and authority with style – Men in Black style, that is.


The Priesthood Part 1 – The Rogue Ice Cream Man

One weekend while I was in college, my wife and I hosted our good friends Greg and Melissa. Like us, they’re from California, so we decided to take them to see Utah’s “big city”. Because of it’s history Salt Lake City has a lot of attractions having to do with the LDS Church, and invariably we ended up doing a thing or two around Temple Square.

As we walked through the grounds, the subject of temples came up. I explained that Alexa and I could be together forever because our marriage had been performed in the temple by someone holding proper priesthood authority. As long as we kept our covenants and lived righteously, we could have an eternal family through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Greg and Melissa’s marriage, on the other hand, was different. It had been performed in a normal church by his grandfather, a pastor at his local congregation. Having attended the wedding, I remember distinctly that their marriage was designated to last as long as they both would live, and till death do they part. Their marriage, by their own admission, was finite, not eternal.

After death, they will be separated. What a devastating thought!

The Encounter with the Ice Cream Man

Imagine you are late for work. You have barely have left your driveway and already you are speeding through the residential area between your home and the highway. Suddenly, you hear a strange sound behind you. It sounds like ice cream van music, but loader than usual and punctuated with a bleeping horn. Glancing in your rear view mirror, you see the ice cream man following you, honking furiously and flashing his brights. Confused, you slow down and pull over. Instead of speeding past, he pulls over behind you, flips on his hazard lights, exits his van, and walks towards your window. Still somewhat bewildered, you roll the window down so you two can talk.

Hesitantly you ask, “Is there something I can do for you?”

“I was just wondering if you knew how fast you were going?”

You start to giggle, but stifle it when the ice cream man remains stoic. Is this some kind of joke? Who is this guy?

“I actually have no idea, but I don’t see wha-”

“You were going between 34 and 37 mph. This is a residential area, you know. That means a 25 mph speed limit.”

You’re still confused, perhaps more now than ever. “I’m sorry,” you say politely, “but I fail to see the problem. And I’m late for work, so I really don’t have time for this.”

The ice cream man nods. “I’m more than happy to set you on your way. Let me give you this before you go. I’ll meet you about this time tomorrow to collect the fine.”

Fine? You stare in a blank stupor as the ice cream man tears off a piece of receipt paper with a dollar amount scribbled onto it. He gives one last smile as he walks back to his van, flips off his hazard lights, and drives away. You shrug, pull back into traffic, and continue on to work with no intention whatsoever of paying the ice cream man’s fine.

A Matter of Authority

Why would you not pay the ice cream man? You were, after all, technically breaking the law. You were driving much faster than the speed limit allowed. Every time you’re caught by a police officer you have to pay his fine. So why not now?

It’s a matter of authority. The police officer has it and the ice cream man doesn’t.

Authority plays a major part in our everyday lives and so it’s not a concept that is difficult to understand. We obey the authority of parents, teachers, employers, superiors, creditors, government officials, and a host of others in addition to law enforcement officers. And in the cases where we are in charge, we expect other people to obey us.

Why would the government of God be any different? The truth of the matter is that it is not. His church functions based on these same principles of authority and obedience, and for exactly the same reasons. Even though someone may be technically correct in the manner in which they minister or officiate, if they are lacking in authority that ministry will not be valid.

Yet this is a truth lost in many of today’s congregations, including Greg and Melissa’s. To make this easier to understand, perhaps we can look at where we don’t get priesthood authority, and how this fits into our “speeding” parable.

Great Learning

When the Savior finished his sermon on the mount, the people were amazed. The scriptures tell us that “the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Matthew 7:28-29).

Perhaps one of the biggest differences between the Savior and the scribes is that the Savior was untrained and unlearned in the ways that scribes were. They were lawyers; Jesus was the son of a carpenter. If Jesus had authority in a way that the scribes did not, certainly authority does not come from great learning.

There are many other biblical examples of this principle. John the Baptist was similar in both his recognized authority and lack of formal training. The apostles were ordinary fishermen and tax collectors, and yet the Savior gave them authority despite their scant education in spiritual matters. The prophets throughout the Old Testament were always ordinary men.

There are many sincere men and women serving today in pastoral positions in congregations throughout the country. Yet while they may be sincere, they do not receive authority from a degree from a university or theological seminary.

Such people are like an attorney or retired police officer pulling you over and giving you a ticket – they may know their stuff, but they have no authority. It matters not how well they can recite the law (i.e., scripture or the creeds of Church Fathers).

Great Wealth

In the book of Acts, we have the account of Simon the Magician. He was skilled enough to make people think that he had the priesthood, but he did not, and he knew this. He approached Peter and asked to buy the priesthood. Peter rebuked him, saying, “Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money” (see Acts 8:9-20). Certainly, authority can not be bought.

Simon lives in infamy even today. We call the practice of purchasing positions in a church simonyHopefully, this practice is much less common than it has been in the past, for no one who buys their position holds true authority from God.

Such people are like a wealthy person pulling you over in his Mercedes and giving you a ticket – he may have power and influence elsewhere, but he has no authority. It matters not how well he manages a portfolio or hedge fund (i.e., or buy his way into a favorable position).

Great Desire

In each of the accounts of the Savior choosing his apostles, he always mentions an ordination in connection to their call.

  • “Then [Jesus] called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases. And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:1-2)
  • “And [Jesus] goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him. And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils” (Mark 3:13-15).
  • Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you” (John 15:16).

Some feel a great desire or call to enter the ministry. They want to serve others, and they see a life as an ecclesiastic leader as their way to fulfill this desire. Yet while great desires to serve may lead to callings (Doctrine & Covenants 4:3), they do not, in and of themselves, lead to an authoritative ordination. A calling is only a step in that direction, but more is needed, for “no man taketh this honour unto himself” (Hebrews 5:4).

Such are people ke a concerned citizen pulling you over for speeding in their neighborhood and giving you a ticket – they may be looking out for the interest of the blind child down the street, but they have no authority. It matters not how much they love their children or neighbors.

Apostate Ordination

Watching his brother John ordain priests and ministers according to the dictates of his own whims, Charles Wesley wrote the now famous lines:

So easily are bishops made
By men’s or women’s whim?
Wesley his hands on Coke hath laid
But who laid hands on him?

In the scripture I mentioned above, from Hebrews, we are told that we can take as an example the ordination of Aaron (see Hebrews 5:4). Aaron was ordained by Moses, the authorized priesthood leader, after that calling was made known unto him by God (see Exodus 4:10-16 and Exodus 28:1). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints follows this model. In order to have authority, “we believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority” (Article of Faith 5, emphasis added). Wesley had no authority to ordain Coke, and therefore Coke had no authority.

There are many who recognize that authority does not come from learning, or wealth, or desire. They also recognize the pattern of ordinations in the Bible, and instances where those in authority laid hands on others to give them priesthood power. Wanting to emulate the Savior, they adopt this practice.

Yet they inherited a state of apostasy. When the apostles, the presiding officials in the early church, died, the authority to govern the church died with them. Thus, Christians who perform ordinations do so in vain, for they hold no authority to begin with. They may be recognized by their congregation, but God recognizes no such authority.

Such people are like a Canadian Mountie pulling you over on his horse and giving you a ticket – he may be authorized by Canada to enforce the law, but in the United States he has no authority. It matters not where else he is certified if he is not authorized here in this country (i.e., it matters not if his congregation has authorized him if God does not likewise authorize him).

A Divine Caution

Can we know what God thinks of instances where people try and use authority that they don’t have? For example, what of the people who have great learning, or great wealth, or great desires, or who can trace their authority back to an ordination that may not have been legitimate? What does God think of them acting in his name?

The Savior spoke of such during his Sermon on the Mount. He warned, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven… Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:21-23, emphasis added).

Clearly, the Savior takes the subject of authority very seriously. Why wouldn’t he? Those claiming false authority lead his children away from his true gospel. We should be mindful that we are not exercising authority that we do not have – the scripture is quite clear about that.

Continuing the Series

  • Part 1 – Where does priesthood authority not come from?
  • Part 2 – The restoration of the priesthood, and why that restoration is so important.
  • Part 3 – Exercising priesthood power and authority with style – Men in Black style, that is.