Tag Archives: Revelation

The New Nazis – Mormons

Something usually happens to me once or twice each time General Conference rolls around. We’ll be a session or two in, and everything will be rolling smoothly. Then, all of the sudden, a speaker says something and I think, “Yep, that’ll get folks riled up.”

It always makes me smile, in a light eye-rolling sort of way. NEWS FLASH – Mormon Leaders Still Believe Mormon-y Stuff!

I had a similar experience just a few weeks ago, when Elder Neil L. Andersen gave a talk in General Conference called, simply, “Joseph Smith”. Sure enough, people heard him talk about Joseph Smith and immediately went here:

A reenactment of a common scene in the basements of Mormon church buildings.

Someone even wrote, in effect, “I’m not saying that Neil L. Andersen is like Hitler, but… he’s kind of like Hitler.”

Totally not even joking. Continue reading The New Nazis – Mormons

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“This is for the Record”

Geez Cousin you are super into this whole thing.”

I had posted a link to Kate Kelly’s excommunication letter, released by Ordain Women, on Facebook. I thought that it provided an interesting counter to some of the claims that Kelly has made about the process she has gone through. It wasn’t the first time I’d posted or written about the recent controversy, either: Continue reading “This is for the Record”

Sugar and Spice and RIGHTEOUS FURY!!!

Kate Kelly published a commentary on her upcoming disciplinary council. I’d like to comment on that commentary, and I decided the best way to do that was within the text itself. You can find it below, along with my thoughts.

I feel sad, because it sounds like Kelly’s resolved to leaving the Church, and using this as a catalyst to maintain media attention for however long her 15 minutes lasts. Too bad. Continue reading Sugar and Spice and RIGHTEOUS FURY!!!

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

Looking Forward to Mormon Change

In light of yesterday’s Supreme Court case, many people are (understandably) drawing a connection between the Mormon Church’s stance on same-sex marriage and past positions on blacks or polygamy. In doing so, they suggest that a change on gay-marriage is coming in the future.

Now, I’m not the prophet of the Church, so I can’t say what will happen for sure. Still, I’m fairly confident that this position, for better or worse, will not be changing. This FAQ may explain why, and I’m hoping this format makes the issues easier to grapple with.

As a side note, these are my own answers, so I would ask that you excuse any error in them. I don’t presume, and never have, to speak for the Church.

Q: When did Mormons practice polygamy?

A: Latter-day Saints practiced polygamy early in their history. We don’t know exactly when it began, except that it was likely sometime between 1830 and 1840. It ended with Wilford Woodruff’s Manifesto in 1890. Anyone currently practicing polygamy is not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Q: Why did Mormons practice polygamy?

A: There are only a couple scriptures that mention polygamy. Jacob, an early Nephite prophet, mentioned it while teaching about chastity. He said,

“For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people (to practice polygamy); otherwise they shall hearken unto these things (and practice monogamy)” (Jacob 2:30; see whole chapter).

In this verse, and similarly in Doctrine and Covenants 132:63, polygamy is identified as a method to “raise up seed”. We’re never explicitly given reasons beyond that.

Latter-day Saints believe that polygamy is biblical and righteous when it is sanctioned by the Lord. It may have been practiced by Joseph Smith as part of the “restoration of all things” (he never fathered any children by any of his plural wives).

Other reasons have been suggested, but anything else is speculation. For more on this question, see here.

Q: Isn’t polygamy breaking the commandments?

A: Latter-day Saints believe that polygamy is the exception, and monogamy is the rule, but that polygamy is not contrary to the commandments when it is directed by the Lord. There has never been, in the Church, anything like “self-nominated” polygamy – it was always at the direction of the president of the Church.

We believe this position to be biblical. A more in depth answer won’t be provided within this short FAQ.

Q: Why did polygamy end? The timing of Woodruff’s “revelation” is pretty convenient.

A: It’s not difficult to see that Latter-day Saints were willing to follow what they believed to be a divine commandment regardless of the cost. Convenience would have dictated abandoning polygamy much, much earlier. Church leaders did not end the practice until there was literally no other course of action that would prevent dissolution of the Church.

Woodruff later wrote the following about why polygamy ended:

“The Lord has told me to ask the Latter-day Saints a question, and He also told me that if they would listen to what I said to them and answer the question put to them, by the Spirit and power of God, they would all answer alike, and they would all believe alike with regard to this matter.

“The question is this: Which is the wisest course for the Latter-day Saints to pursue—to continue to attempt to practice plural marriage, with the laws of the nation against it and the opposition of sixty millions of people, and at the cost of the confiscation and loss of all the Temples, and the stopping of all the ordinances therein, both for the living and the dead, and the imprisonment of the First Presidency and Twelve and the heads of families in the Church, and the confiscation of personal property of the people (all of which of themselves would stop the practice); or, after doing and suffering what we have through our adherence to this principle to cease the practice and submit to the law, and through doing so leave the Prophets, Apostles and fathers at home, so that they can instruct the people and attend to the duties of the Church, and also leave the Temples in the hands of the Saints, so that they can attend to the ordinances of the Gospel, both for the living and the dead?

“The Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice…. I saw exactly what would come to pass if there was not something done. I have had this spirit upon me for a long time. But I want to say this: I should have let all the temples go out of our hands; I should have gone to prison myself, and let every other man go there, had not the God of heaven commanded me to do what I did do; and when the hour came that I was commanded to do that, it was all clear to me. I went before the Lord, and I wrote what the Lord told me to write….

“I leave this with you, for you to contemplate and consider. The Lord is at work with us.”

We may not always understand why the Lord does things, but it’s not difficult to argue that he is often pragmatic, and the dissolution of his church would certainly have been contrary to his will. In that respect, the timing of the revelation was not only convenient, but essential.

Q: What about blacks? They were kept from holding the priesthood or participating in temple ordinances until the 1970’s.

A: During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a number of blacks were ordained to the priesthood. Early in Church history, Church leaders stopped ordaining blacks. No official explanation was given for this practice, and later Church leaders believed that a revelation was needed to alter it. They received this revelation in 1978.

Divinely sanctioned discrimination is not without precedent in biblical history. We don’t know why it was practiced by the Church in modern times. Further, it’s common to find accounts of members, prior to the Church lifting the ban, expecting it on the horizon. Of course there were racist Mormons, too, but many believed intently that the discrimination was going to end – it just hadn’t ended yet.

Many blacks were baptized and remained faithful throughout all of Church history.

I’m white myself, so it may be worth seeking out accounts of active, black Latter-day Saints and seeing what they have to say about their faith.

For more on this subject, see my post about the “Bott-gate” fiasco.

Q: This “revelation” seems awfully convenient, too.

A: It might. Yet much as was the case with polygamy, convenience would have dictated that this change happen much sooner – perhaps as much as 20 years or more sooner – than it did.

Q: So you have no idea why your Church practiced polygamy, and you have no idea why your Church discriminated against blacks. What’s the deal?

A: The deal is that sometimes we’re expected to have faith. We are often not told explicitly why we need to obey one commandment or another. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said,

“It’s not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do we’re on our own. Some people [have] put reasons to [commandments] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong.”

We have seen examples of this in relation to both polygamy and the Church’s dealings with blacks. Sometimes, we just don’t know why the Lord does things.

Q: That’s a cop out, and you’re describing blind obedience. That’s one reason why people think Mormons are a cult.

A: And people are free to think what they want, but there’s quite a difference between blind obedience and faithful obedience. The former is passive, but the latter is quite active.

N. Eldon Tanner said,

“We do not suggest blind obedience, but obedience by faith in those things which may not be fully understood by man’s limited comprehension, but which in the infinite wisdom of God are for man’s benefit and blessing.”

Even though we may not comprehend everything behind the Lord’s commandments, we can still have faith in Jesus Christ and his servants. We gain this faith by actively studying out the issues and praying that God will confirm what we’ve learned and decided.

Brigham Young said,

“I will say a few words in regard to your belief in being led, guided, and directed by one man. …Our enemies hate the fact of our being led by one man. Thousands of times my soul has been lifted to God the Father, in the name of Jesus, to make that verily true in every sense of the word, that we may be led by the man Jesus Christ, through Joseph Smith the Prophet. You may inquire how we are to know that we are so led. I refer you to the exhortation you have heard so frequently from me. Do not be deceived, any of you; if you are deceived, it is because you deceive yourselves. You may know whether you are led right or wrong, as well as you know the way home; for every principle God has revealed carries its own convictions of its truth to the human mind, and there is no calling of God to man on earth but what brings with it the evidences of its authenticity….

“What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually.”

Q: What’s so wrong about expecting the Church to change it’s mind on homosexuality and same-sex marriage? We just talked about how the Church did it before with polygamy and blacks.

A: It may happen. With the changes in 1890 and 1978, there’s certainly precedent. One Latter-day Saint, writing about this same question, argued that change was possible and said,

“For those readers who might argue that it was the Lord that dictated the LDS Church’s positions — pro and con — on polygamy and equal rights for blacks, I argue that they allow themselves to dwell on the possibility that the Lord may also intervene on behalf of gay marriage as well.”

I can’t disagree, and this is why I gave my brief disclaimer early on. The Lord, through his prophet, may absolutely change the Church’s stance on same-sex marriage and homosexuality. If that happens, I doubt that we’ll know any more about the reasons why than we know now about the reasons behind changes with polygamy and priesthood discrimination.

Q: But you’re not sold on that idea.

A: No, I’m not. I think that, at best, our understanding of the principles behind polygamy and the priesthood ban is vague. Additionally, neither was related to sinful behavior. With homosexuality, it’s different. The principles behind that position are not only well understood, but central doctrines to Latter-day Saints and core to the Plan of Salvation. Let me explain.

Look at polygamy, for example. It was never practiced widely in the Church, nor do Latter-day Saints believe that polygamy is essential to salvation. Additionally, even today it’s not recognized as a “mistake” by modern Latter-day Saints; it’s culturally and socially abhorrent to us, as it was to those in the early days of the church, but we believe it was a divine principle initiated by revelation and discontinued by revelation. The purposes for that initiation or discontinuation are unclear, but Latter-day Saints do not believe that its legitimate practice was ever contrary to the commandments.

And what of the racial discrimination? President David O. McKay, in 1954, said,

“There is not now, and there never has been a doctrine in this church that the negroes (sic) are under a divine curse. There is no doctrine in the church of any kind pertaining to the negro. We believe that we have a scriptural precedent for withholding the priesthood from the negro. It is a practice, not a doctrine, and the practice someday will be changed. And that’s all there is to it.”

Why was the policy in place? We’ve already discussed that we don’t know. The same President McKay said that, while blacks were children of our Heavenly Father, they

“were not yet to receive the priesthood, for reasons which we believe are known to God, but which He has not made fully known to man.”

Whether we know the reasons or not, it remains that while the ban was practiced, it was not founded in any doctrine.

The Church’s position on same-sex marriage is borne of much more fundamental doctrines that will not change.

Many of those doctrines are found within The Family: A Proclamation to the World. It reads,

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.

ALL HUMAN BEINGS—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.

IN THE PREMORTAL REALM, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshipped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life. The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.

THE FIRST COMMANDMENT that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.

WE DECLARE the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed. We affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God’s eternal plan.

HUSBAND AND WIFE have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.

THE FAMILY is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.

WE WARN that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, 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.

A number of the fundamental doctrines covered in this proclamation include the eternal nature of families, the rights of children to a home with mothers and fathers, and the eternal nature of gender. These principles, which are not subject to change, are not the product of an individual church leader’s musings or theorizing. This proclamation represents the testimony of the unified body of men that lead the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and as such, commands a much greater influence over gospel cannon than “that one thing Bruce R. McConkie said that one time” or “that sermon Brigham Young gave way back when”.

Additionally, the law of chastity is applied to everyone, not just homosexuals. True, homosexual Latter-day Saints are expected to be celibate, but so are single heterosexual Latter-day Saints who don’t marry, whether it’s because they are just plain goofy or it’s because they have some physical or mental handicap that prevents it.

This is an unimaginably difficult circumstance for those who feel same-gender attraction, and I will never fully understand that plight. Perhaps Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ words apply here. When asked if he could describe this enormously complex question in a couple of basic principles, he said,

“God loves all of His children. He has provided a plan for His children to enjoy the choicest blessings that He has to offer in eternity. Those choicest blessings are associated with marriage between a man and a woman by appropriate priesthood authority to bring together a family unit for creation and happiness in this life and in the life to come.

“We urge persons with same-gender attractions to control those and to refrain from acting upon them, which is a sin, just as we urge persons with heterosexual attractions to refrain from acting upon them until they have the opportunity for a marriage recognized by God as well as by the law of the land. That is the way to happiness and eternal life. God has given us no commandment that He will not give us the strength and power to observe. That is the Plan of Salvation for His children, and it is our duty to proclaim that plan, to teach its truth, and to praise God for the mission of His Son Jesus Christ. It is Christ’s atonement that makes it possible for us to be forgiven of our sins and His resurrection that gives us the assurance of immortality and the life to come. It is that life to come that orients our views in mortality and reinforces our determination to live the laws of God so that we can qualify for His blessings in immortality.”

For more on this complex issue, see Mormons and Gays and the Interview with Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Lance B. Wickman on Same-Gender Attraction.

More Discussion About Spiritual Truth

I just mentioned in my last post that I’d had two recent discussions dealing with spiritual truth. The first discussion, and the one that peaked my curiosity in the first place, was with a non-Mormon who (among other things) berated my testimony for relying on “feelings” (you can read our conversation in my post, “An Apple Not Quite Ripe”).

The second discussion, which hasn’t concluded yet, is with a good friend and pastor in a central California Christian congregation. I thought it might be an interesting read for Latter-day Saints and non-Mormons alike, and I will update this post as the dialogue continues.

________________________________________________________________

From: Me
To: Pastor, Good Friend

I have another question for you! I hope it’s not bothersome. You’re always great about answering.

And thanks for those resources from last time. (I had asked him about the video “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” on YouTube before doing a post in response.) That was really interesting.

But anyways, I’m having this discussion with someone who found my blog (she’s from the UK – how cool is that?). Long story short, she brought up the common criticism that we can’t base our testimony off of feelings because feelings change all the time, and different people feel different things, etc (I’m sure you’re familiar with it – it’s a response to how Mormons often talk about a testimony from the Holy Ghost that gives them feelings of peace).

My question is this. It’s irrefutable that scriptures in the New Testament talk about knowing truth through the Holy Ghost (some of them from the Savior’s own words!). Now, Mormon’s don’t believe that the only way the Holy Ghost talks to us is by using warm fuzzies, but I wanted to know how normal Christians might answer the question, “How does the Holy Ghost teach us truth?”

No rush on this at all. I’m sure you’re busy.

Oh, and one last thing. I listened to your sermon! That was really cool. Let me know if there are any other Sunday’s that you’re recorded.

________________________________________________________________

(This was early on a Sunday morning, and he was good enough to send a quick response before heading into his service.)

From: Pastor, Good Friend
To: Me

Hey hey!

First of all, thanks for listening to the sermon. Glad you enjoyed it!

As far as the testimony question (which is awesome that the girl found your blog, and I have about 10 minutes to answer, so I’ll do my best) I tend to initially agree, but then again not completely.

Initially, I 100% completely believe that we can base everything off of our testimony. That’s how we came to know Jesus as our Savior. If you don’t have your testimony then what do you have? Your testimony can be emotional, and that’s great! Sometimes we have to get to a super low point before we can break and the Holy Spirit is able to work in our lives (when everything is great, we tend to not be sensitive to the Holy Spirit; at least that’s my experience). 

But I tend to slightly agree that our entire testimony can’t be just emotional. If we have no knowledge, no truth in our testimony, then the testimony is shallow and some would even say less meaningful. I disagree that it’s less meaningful. I think that someone’s testimony who has known Christ for a week is just as powerful (sometimes more so) as someone like you or me.

As far as your question goes about “How does the Holy Ghost teach us truth?”, I’d say that it is in our worst, most vulnerable place in life. Not always, but more often than not when I hear about the Holy Spirit working in someone’s life, it’s always “I was at rock bottom” or “I had nowhere to go but up”.

I think if every believer talked like this that there would be something wrong with the church and Christianity. It’s not just about emotional response, but that’s typically where it begins.

I need to go now, but I think you can get my basic thought process. If you have any more questions, please feel free to ask me. I love some good dialogue to start my morning. Hope you’re well and that the move goes smoothly! You’re the man!

________________________________________________________________

From: Me
To: Pastor, Good Friend

I’m not sure that you answered my question, but I think I could have set it up better. I’ll give it another shot if you don’t mind.

Again, don’t feel rushed by this.

Let’s distance the discussion, for the moment, from the LDS position on emotion and the Holy Ghost. I think we’re talking past each other, and we can definitely take some time to get on the same page later, but you know how long winded I can get when I clarify LDS theology. If you don’t mind, let’s shelf that for now as far as it doesn’t interfere with the answers you have.

I have my own opinions about the first two questions, but I’m really interested in the Christian perspective on them (if there is one in this case). The third question, I want your thoughts on; I just started really thinking about it recently and would like you to weigh in.

Okay…

Question 1 – How does someone come to know spiritual truth?

For example, how can someone come to know the Bible is true? We can’t use the circular logic of “The Bible is true because it says in the Bible that the Bible is true” (that’d be like saying the Book of Mormon is true because it says in the BoM that the BoM is true).

Or, as another example, how can someone come to know that a specific principle is true, something you teach over the pulpit to your congregants? Again, we can’t say something is true because it’s in the Bible unless we first settle how someone comes to know the Bible is true.

Question 2 – How does the Holy Ghost teach us truth?

This questions assumes that one of the answers to the above question is “through the Holy Ghost”. I think that’s a fair assumption, and I’ll defend it briefly:

John 14:26 (see also 1 John 5:6 and John 15:26) – “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”

“All things” is pretty all-inclusive. There are these other references, too, that suggest the Holy Ghost is involved in teaching us truth (this is not meant to be exhaustive):

• Teaches us the “things of God” – 1 Corinthians 2:9-11
• Guides us to truth – John 16:13
• Testifies of the Son – John 16:14
• Gifts of the Spirit include faith – 1 Corinthians 12:3,8-9
• Answers when we lack wisdom – James 1:5-6

So, the Holy Ghost can teach us truth, but how?

I’m not sure that you’re response really answers the question I meant (again, totally my fault). Sure, we’re more receptive when we’re humble, and we’re more humble when going through tough times, but that seems to answer more “when are we most receptive” rather than “in what manner does the Holy Ghost communicate”.

Also, wouldn’t that limit the scope somewhat? Surely “all things” includes more than just the truths that strengthen us in hard times, truths like ‘God loves us and is with us’. How does the Holy Ghost teach us other spiritual truth?

Question 3 – What does it mean to “not be seen”?

The definition of faith given in Hebrews 11:1 is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”.

Other scriptures (like 2 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Peter 1:7-9; and John 20:29) contrast faith and belief with “sight”.

What does “sight” mean? Like I said, I don’t know if I’m settled either way on this yet, but I’m leaning towards “sight” being equated with other physical senses – hearing and touch, for example.

By extension, I’m persuaded to extend this definition of “sight” to other empirical evidence or proofs (how often sign seekers are condemned in scripture!). Latter-day Saints believe, as you probably do, that “signs follow those that believe”, but we don’t believe that faith *comes* by signs or empiric proof. Some Latter-day Saints pump a lot of resources into scholarly efforts (like FAIR and FARMS), but still this is not what we preach on doorsteps or in Sunday school.

So that’s it for now. I hope it’s not too much. Thanks!

________________________________________________________________

(Awaiting reply)

If there are any mainstream Christians out there who want to take a stab at answering one or more of those last questions, feel free!

Coming to Know Spiritual Truth – “Come, Feel and See”

I’ve recently been engaging in discussions with two friends (you can find one of those discussions in my post “An Apple Not Quite Ripe”, and the other in my post “More Discussion About Spiritual Truth”) where the subject of knowing truth came up. I thought I might share my thoughts with you.

How do we answer the question,

“How can I come to know truth? How can I come to know spiritual truth?”

A Cunning Plan, A Vicious Murder

The portion of Nephite history covered by the book of Alma was tumultuous and violent. Not only were the Nephites engaged in a bitter, long-lasting war with the Lamanites, but they were experiencing political turmoil from within as wicked men sought to usurp power.

In chapter 47, a Nephite dissenter named Amalickiah takes control of the Lamanite army at the direction of the Lamanite king (you can read of the takeover in verses 1-19). With control of the army, Amalickiah marched back to the Lamanite capital to meet the king. The scriptures tell us,

“And the king came out to meet [Amalickiah] with his guards, for he supposed that Amalickiah had fulfilled his commands, and that Amalickiah had gathered together so great an army to go against the Nephites to battle.

“But behold, as the king came out to meet him Amalickiah caused that his servants should go forth to meet the king. And they went and bowed themselves before the king, as if to reverence him because of his greatness.

“And it came to pass that the king put forth his hand to raise them, as was the custom with the Lamanites, as a token of peace, which custom they had taken from the Nephites.

“And it came to pass that when he had raised the first from the ground, behold he stabbed the king to the heart; and he fell to the earth” (Alma 47:21-24).

With the king dead, Amalickiah and his men needed to fabricate a scenario to give the appearance that they were innocent. The scriptures continue,

“Now the servants of the king fled; and the servants of Amalickiah raised a cry, saying:

Behold, the servants of the king have stabbed him to the heart, and he has fallen and they have fled; behold, come and see.

“And it came to pass that Amalickiah commanded that his armies should march forth and see what had happened to the king; and when they had come to the spot, and found the king lying in his gore, Amalickiah pretended to be wroth, and said: Whosoever loved the king, let him go forth, and pursue his servants that they may be slain.

“And it came to pass that all they who loved the king, when they heard these words, came forth and pursued after the servants of the king….

“And the army which pursued after them returned, having pursued after them in vain; and thus Amalickiah, by his fraud, gained the hearts of the people” (Alma 47:25-30).

I find the invitation of Amalickiah’s men, to “come and see” the physical evidence of the fabricated version of the murder, very interesting. By all appearances, and according to eye-witness testimony, Amalickiah was telling the truth. And because the Lamanites relied on evidence that was readily and easily seen, the deception worked.

A Precious Gospel, A Loving Invitation

Decades after Amalickiah, the Nephites were blessed by the personal visitation of the Lord Jesus Christ. After his resurrection, he appeared to and taught members of the lost tribes of Israel, including the people who authored the Book of Mormon (you can see this post on the song “Hello” from the Book of Mormon musical for more).

This portion of the Book of Mormon is one of the most tender sections of scripture you can find. The Savior instructed them about his gospel, baptism, the sacrament, and much more. He also allowed each person to individually feel the marks of the nails in his hands and feet. He prayed for them, and groups were ministered to by angels.

During this visit, he told them,

“And ye see that I have commanded that none of you should go away, but rather have commanded that ye should come unto me, that ye might feel and see; even so shall ye do unto the world; and whosoever breaketh this commandment suffereth himself to be led into temptation” (3 Nephi 18:25).

Doubtless, the Savior’s mention of “feeling” is a reference to the opportunity each person had to feel the evidence of the Atoning sacrifice in his hands, feet, and side. Still, it got me thinking about the manner in which the Lord has provided for us to learn truth. He allows us to study physical and empiric evidence, but he also expects us to seek a witness from the Holy Ghost. It is this witness from the Spirit upon which I base my testimony of the Savior and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Of those who were part of the Savior’s visit to the Americas it is written,

“And it came to pass that the disciples whom Jesus had chosen began from that time forth to baptize and to teach as many as did come unto them; and as many as were baptized in the name of Jesus were filled with the Holy Ghost….

And the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and [Jesus]; and the Father giveth the Holy Ghost unto the children of men, because of [Jesus]” (3 Nephi 26:17; 3 Nephi 28:11)

God doesn’t expect, or even want, us to just rely on physical, empiric evidence. Those who know nothing of linguistics or archaeology can still know, in a very real way, that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the world. This is because the ability to “see” is balanced with the ability to “feel,” not with our hands, but with our hearts.

A Divine Companion, A Burning Heart

The scriptures are replete with accounts of the Spirit’s involvement in testifying of divine truth. It’s not my intent to present a comprehensive list or argue the point ad nauseam, but rather to present the doctrine in a memorable way, and perhaps pave the way for further personal study. With that intent, I’d like to share one more account, this time from the New Testament.

There were many of the Savior’s ancient disciples who did not understand his death. Two of these disciples were journeying to Emmaus when they were joined by the Savior (see Luke 24). He kept his identity hidden from them, and as they walked, they talked of the events in Jerusalem – the “prophet mighty in deed and word”, his trial and crucifixion, and the empty tomb.

Recognizing their astonishment, the Savior taught them, “expound(ing) unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning [Jesus]” (Luke 24:27).

After arriving and sharing supper, the Savior revealed himself to the disciples and then vanished. At this, the two said to each other,

Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24:32).

In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord tells us,

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, that assuredly as the Lord liveth, who is your God and your Redeemer, even so surely shall you receive a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive….

“Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.

“Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation” (Doctrine and Covenants 8:1-3).

Divine Revelation

Learning is by and large a cerebral process, and the Lord does not want us to abandon logic or reason or empiric evidence in our quest for spiritual truth, Yet, the Holy Ghost working in our hearts is an essential element in coming to know spiritual truth, even if it is not the lone element. Both our hearts and minds must be actively involved in the development of faith.

Hugh Nibly commented on this balance between secular learning and divine revelation. He said,

‎”…The words of the prophets cannot be held to the tentative and defective tests that men have devised for them. Science, philosophy, and common sense all have a right to their day in court. But the last word does not lie with them. Every time men in their wisdom have come forth with the last word, other words have promptly followed. The last word is a testimony of the gospel that comes only by direct revelation. Our Father in heaven speaks it, and if it were in perfect agreement with the science of today, it would surely be out of line with the science of tomorrow. Let us not, therefore, seek to hold God to the learned opinions of the moment when he speaks the language of eternity.”

How true are those words! May we remember this as we seek spiritual truth, particularly before we demean others for basing their testimony on “feelings”.

Mormon Observations on “Mere Christianity” – Preface 1

This is a post continuing my analysis of Mere Christianity from an LDS perspective. See my table of contents here.

The Purpose of Mere Christianity

In the Preface, Lewis clearly defines his purpose. He says:

“The reader should be warned that I offer no help to anyone who is hesitating between two Christian ‘denominations’… Ever since I became a Christian I have thought that the best, perhaps the only, service I could do for my unbelieving neighbours was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.

How you feel about Lewis’ decision to forgo any treatment of fragmented Christianity will very much depend on how you view religious truth. Do you believe in religious pluralism? That is to say, can Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all lead men to the same God, and to the same reward in this life and after death? If not, then can Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans, or the host of other Christian sects all lead men to the same God, and to the same reward in this life and after death? Maybe not all of them, but only the Protestant or Evangelical sects? Maybe only one or the other? Is there only one true path?

Your position in regard to religious pluralism will effect how you consider Lewis’ purpose.

It is difficult to know Lewis’ own position from just the content of Mere Christianity. In fact, he purposefully writes so as to hide his own position, and does so effectively. Yet there are a few statements which infer that he might lean towards believing in some sort of Christian pluralism. First, in his analogy of the hall and the rooms, Lewis says that he believes that “the worst of the rooms” is preferable to remaining in the hallway. Second, in another work he commented,

“I couldn’t believe that nine-hundred and ninety-nine religions were completely false, and the remaining one true.”

Still, Lewis says,

“If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all other religions are simply wrong…. You are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of truth.”

What Lewis is saying is that a true church does not necessarily have a monopoly on truth. Other religions are not necessarily completely wrong if there is a single true path.

As someone who believes, as the Bible teaches, in one true church, I am inclined to think that Lewis does not quite go far enough. You can find more about the LDS position on this topic in Part 4, where I cover Lewis’ hallway analogy.

After defining his purpose, Lewis gives the reasons behind his decision, which we’ll discuss below.

Reason 1

“In the first place, the questions which divide Christians from one another often involve points of high Theology or even of ecclesiastical history, which ought never to be treated except by real experts. I should have been out of my depth in such waters: more in need of help myself than able to help others.”

In his first reason, Lewis seemingly downplays the differences between Christian denominations. In his eyes, such questions of “high Theology” and “ecclesiastical history” have little to do with the saving power of Jesus Christ, and need only be treated by “real experts.”

And yet, the contradictions between denominations are anything but minor. How essential is baptism? How are we to administer the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, or other ordinances for that matter? How should we revere important figures in church history? How important is grace in comparison to works? Where does one receive the authority to minister in the name of Jesus Christ?

There are countless questions, and the majority of them have to do with matters that directly influence our salvation and our daily walk with God. If left only to the experts, then almost all of us would find ourselves without knowledge essential to bring us back to God. These are important questions; whether or Lewis knows the answer to them all, they are important to at the very least present.

Who gets to decide what issues are important and what issues are negligible? The question of who gets to decide doctrinal issues is itself one of the most important questions, and a key point when discussing the veracity of the LDS Church. Ours is a church built upon revelation from Jesus Christ, revelation that is received by prophets and apostles in our day. Because of this, we never have to worry that our beliefs are based on the philosophies of men.

Reason 2

“And secondly, I think we must admit that the discussion of these disputed points has no tendency at all to bring an outsider into the Christian fold. So long as we write and talk about them we are much more likely to deter him from entering any Christian communion than to draw him into our own. Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son.”

I take issue with Lewis’ initial statement, that discussing these questions “has no tendency at all to bring an outsider into the Christian fold.” I disagree, and add that discussing these questions can have a positive effect on the Christian world. I see this positive effect coming in two ways.

The first way that this positive effect comes is that it develops an atmosphere of scholarship. The gospel of Jesus Christ has the truth. We have nothing to fear from religious scholarship, and so much to gain – a growing reputation in the eyes of the world, and a more intelligent and faithful group of followers (see my post on faith and philosophy), for starters.

The second way that this positive effect comes is that we can create “genuine options” for of non-believers. The term comes from William James‘ essay “The Will to Believe.” He uses, as an example, the option for us between becoming a follower of Mahdi or not. The option is not genuine, but dead; neither choice has the least bit of appeal for us.

I believe that in discussing these kind of questions, we can potentially make questions genuine for unbelievers even though they may have been previously dead. They can hear something that sparks their interest, a doctrine suddenly appeals to them, and who knows but that the interest may one day be fanned into a faithful flame (I highly recommend that those interested read the essay by James).

What’s more, Lewis’ admonition that these questions be discussed only in the presence of believers seems somewhat deceptive. While it is important to have milk before meat, that needs to be balanced against honestly presenting the case of Christianity in its fullness and letting the hearer decide its validity. At the very least, we cannot exclude questions that are as important as the ones Lewis seems to skirt. Remember, the gospel of Jesus Christ has the truth. We have nothing to fear.

Reason 3

“Finally, I got the impression that far more, and more talented, authors were already engaged in such controversial matters than in the defence of what Baxter calls ‘mere’ Christianity. That part of the line where I thought I could serve best was also the part that seemed to be thinnest. And to it I naturally went.”

Lewis’ third reason is the one that makes the most logical sense. It seems natural to want to go where the need is greatest, or where you can do the most good. This reason would be sufficient for me to accept Lewis’ purpose. And yet by virtue of the fact that Lewis gives the above two reasons when he doesn’t have to shows me that his purpose is an important part of his overall argument.

Conclusion

The bottom line, it seems, is this: there is value in not discarding the differences we find between Christian denominations, and when we do discard these questions we do so at our own peril. Besides, in avoiding questions, we have no better standard for what Christianity should be than what the masses have thought it is; and we have no reason to believe that they were correct, or that they were correctly interpreting the words of the apostles and the Savior.

Perhaps it was appropriate to abandon the discussion for this book, but to do so indefinitely is unwise.

Study Questions from this Section

The Purpose of Mere Christianity

  • Do you agree with Lewis’ purpose?
  • What does you think about religious pluralism?
  • Are all Lewis’ reasons behind his purpose valid?
Reason 1
  • Lewis downplays the importance of doctrinal questions. Is it right for him to do so?
  • What type of differences do we find between various Christian denominations today?
  • Is it true that these questions should only be treated by “real experts”?
  • Which differences matter, and which differences don’t? Who gets to decide which is which?

Reason 2

  • Is it true that discussing these questions “has no tendency at all to bring an outsider into the Christian fold?”
  • Is it true that our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of believers?

Reason 3

  • Is it good to go to the areas of discussion that are most unoccupied?
  • How might this relate to 1 Peter 3:15?

Adding to the Bible

When I bring up The Book of Mormon, I’m often confronted with questions like, “Doesn’t the Bible expressly warn people not to add to it or take away from it?  If so, how can the Church claim that The Book of Mormon is the word of God?”

There are several ways to answer this question.  The easiest way (and the focus of this post) is to explain how John, when writing this warning, did not intend refer to the Bible as a whole.

John’s Intent

The scripture in Revelation reads,

“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).

First notice John’s reference to “the words of the prophecy of this book“.  It mirrors the way in which he referred to the Book of Revelation in the beginning chapters.  He says,

“Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy…,” and then then tells of how the Lord told him to “write in a book [what thou seest]…” (Revelation 1:3,11).

From this it is clear that John was referring to the Book of Revelation alone, and not the Bible as a whole.

As a side note, it’s important to realize that the version of the Bible we use today was not compiled until hundreds of years after John’s death. Further, scholars agree that the Gospel of John was written after the book of Revelation. This evidence supports the fact that John referred not to any collection of books, but just the book of Revelation.

What’s more, his condemnation is against man adding to the words of scripture.  Even if John’s prohibition were meant to be applied to the Bible as a whole, that prohibition does not apply to God adding to or taking away from his word (something which he did often in Biblical history). In this case, the only fact any Christian has to settle for themselves is whether or not The Book of Mormon is the word of God, keeping in mind that it is not in any way prohibited by John’s statement. If it is the word of God, then nothing in this scripture represents a warning against its’ use.

Ancient Copyright Protection

Ancient writers must have been wary of having their words changed.  Copies were all made by hand, with no way of enforcing a “copyright”.  Bart Ehrman, a Biblical scholar, wrote:

“The very real danger that [New Testament] texts could be modified at will, by scribes who did not approve of their wording, is evident in other ways as well. We need always to remember that the copyists of the early Christian writings were reproducing their texts in a world in which there were not only no printing presses or publishing houses but also no such thing as copyright law. How could authors guarantee that their texts were not modified once put into circulation? The short answer is that they could not. That explains why authors would sometimes call curses down on any copyists who modified their texts without permission. We find this kind of imprecation already in one early Christian writing that made it into the New Testament, the book of Revelation, whose author, near the end of his text, utters a dire warning. This is not a threat that the reader has to accept or believe everything written in this book of prophecy, as it is sometimes interpreted; rather, it is a typical threat to copyists of the book, that they are not to add to or remove any of its words. Similar imprecations can be found scattered throughout the range of early Christian writings.”

And speaking of New Testament texts being modified at will, perhaps the eager student would do well to investigate what has come to be known as the Johannine comma, a text added to the Bible because there was not any other scripture explicitly teaching the apostate doctrine of the Trinity. No wonder the ancient Biblical writers were so concerned about tampering.

“There Cannot Be Anymore”

Nephi, an ancient prophet, made a prophecy about those who would prohibit God from speaking any more in these latter days.  It is, in essence, the Lord’s reply to those that would condemn Him from adding to his word.  Nephi prophesied,

“And because my words shall hiss forth—many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.

“But thus saith the Lord God: O fools, they shall have a Bible; and it shall proceed forth from the Jews…

Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible.  Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews?

“Know ye not that there are more nations than one?  Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?

“Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.

“And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.

“Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written” (2 Nephi 29:3-10).