This blog is dedicated to sharing some of the things I have learned and am learning in order to strengthen faith in the face of questions and opposition–addressing the "strong reasons" given by critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (D&C 71:7-8).
The Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price starts by recounting a remarkable vision wherein Moses “saw God face to face” and “talked with him” (Moses 1:2). God showed Moses “the workmanship of [his] hands” (1:4). As God always does, He also testified of his Son, saying “mine Only Begotten is and shall be the Savior, for he is full of grace and truth” (1:6).
This vision came to a climax with Moses seeing “the world and the ends thereof, and all the children of men which are, and which were created,” and “he greatly marveled and wondered” (1:8).
After taking several hours to recover from this overwhelming experience, “Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me” (1:12)! Satan was unable to deceive Moses because God’s “Spirit hath not altogether withdrawn from [him]” (1:15). Moses could discern between God’s glory and the darkness of the adversary (1:15, 17).
After an intense struggle, and only after calling upon the name of God’s Only Begotten Son, Moses was able to cast Satan out. He was then “filled with the Holy Ghost” and, “calling upon the name of God, he beheld his glory again” (1:24-25). A vision of much greater scope and power was then unfolded to his view. “There was not a particle of [the earth] which he did not behold, discerning it by the Spirit of God” (1:27). He also saw other worlds and their inhabitants (1:29). God then disclosed his own ultimate purpose–the very reason for everything!– “This is my work and my glory–to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (1:39).
From Moses’ experience we learn that the adversary comes to distract, tempt, and deceive both before and after powerful spiritual experiences. This is a persistent pattern throughout the scriptures. For example, Satan sought to destroy Joseph Smith before his first vision (Joseph Smith–History 1:15-16). And, after the Nephites saw the marvelous signs prophesied by Samuel the Lamanite, “there began to be lyings sent forth among the people, by Satan, to harden their hearts, to the intent that they might not believe in those signs and wonders which they had seen” (3 Nephi 1:22). Sadly, some of the Nephites were persuaded by these “lyings” to the point that they “began to disbelieve all which they had heard and seen” (3 Nephi 2:1-2)!
When you have powerful and sweet experiences with God, you can always expect them to be followed by opposition, temptation, and confusion from the “father of lies.” As you work through these challenges to your faith, always remember and never discount the experiences you’ve already had! As we learn to overcome temptation and doubt with our faith in Jesus Christ, God will give us greater and more powerful experiences confirming our faith.
Critics of the restored Church of Jesus Christ have had a lot to say about certain symbolic gestures that used to be part of the temple endowment representing the execution of “penalties” for the violation of covenants. More accurately, these symbolic gestures were intended to emphasize the gravity and solemnity of the covenants, and were not meant to demonstrate actual penalties to be inflicted on those who violated their covenants. In essence, endowed members were symbolically stating that they would rather die a gruesome death than to break the solemn covenants they were then entering into with God.
Probably in part due to widespread misunderstanding of their meaning, these symbolic penalties were removed from the endowment ceremony in 1990.
Critics often claim that these symbolic penalties were plagiarized from the three degrees or rituals of Freemasonry by Joseph Smith after he was initiated as a Freemason. It is beyond the scope of this post to sort out the relationship between the endowment ceremony and masonic ritual (though I do have some ideas on the topic).
Let it suffice for now to say that although it is apparently true that the symbolic temple penalties were nearly identical to some of the penal signs used in Freemasonry, the use of gestures to represent penalties is much more ancient than both masonic ritual and Joseph Smith’s 1842 introduction of the temple endowment.
When swearing an oath or entering into a covenant with God, ancient people would sometimes make symbolic gestures representing various gruesome ways in which life might be taken. The implication was that the person would rather voluntarily allow their own life to be taken than to violate their solemn promises or obligations.
This appears in the Old Testament in the Book of Ruth, wherein Ruth swore an oath to stay with her mother-in-law Naomi:
And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me (Ruth 1:16-17).
The Pulpit Commentary states:
[Ruth] appeals to the God of the Israelites, the one universal God. She puts herself on oath, and invokes his severest penal displeasure if she should suffer anything less uncontrollable than death to part her from her mother-in-law. ‘So may Yahveh do to me.’ It was thus that the Hebrews made their most awful appeals to Yahveh. They signified their willingness to suffer some dire calamity if they should either do the evil deed repudiated or fail to do the good deed promised. So stands…a kind of euphemism, or cloudy veil, two-thirds concealing, and one-third revealing, whatever horrid infliction could by dramatic sign be represented or hinted.
This makes it clear that Ruth made some sort of symbolic sign denoting that she would rather die in a gruesome manner than to violate her oath. “May the Lord do this [makes a sign] and even more to me” if I break my promise!
This idea also is alluded to in Jeremiah 34:18, 20–
And I will give the men that have transgressed my covenant, which have not performed the words of the covenant which they had made before me, when they cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts thereof….I will even give them into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of them that seek their life: and their dead bodies shall be for meat unto the fowls of heaven, and to the beasts of the earth.
Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers says the following about this passage–
The passage is interesting, as showing the survival of one of the oldest rites of Patriarchal times. So, when Jehovah made a covenant with Abraham, the victims that had been slain were cut up and arranged opposite each other, and when the “burning lamp” passed between the pieces it was the token that Jehovah had completed the covenant, even as men complete it (Genesis 15:10-17).
The implied thought thus symbolised was that the parties to the contract prayed, as in the analogous case of 1 Samuel 11:7, that they might be torn limb from limb like the victims if they broke the covenant. The antiquity and wide extent of the symbolism is shown by its appearing in the ritual of Greece, as in the phrase ὅρκια τέμνον–to ratify (literally, to cut) oaths, in Homer (Iliad, ii. 124, Od. xxiv. 483, and elsewhere), and the Latin fœdus ferire. In Livy (i. 24) we have both the phrase, the act which it implied, and the prayer which accompanied it, that if the Roman people proved unfaithful to their covenant Jupiter would slay them as the priest slew the victim. “Tu illo die, Jupiter, populum Romanum sic ferito, ut ego hunc porcum hic hodie feriam, tantoque magis ferito, quanto magis potes pollesque.” (“Do thou, Jupiter, on that day so smite the Roman people [if they break the covenant] as I this day smite this swine–yea, so much the more smite them as thou art mightier and more prevailing.”)
Robert Alter in The Hebrew Bible: A Translation and Commentary states:
This is a covenant-making ritual well attested in the ancient Near East and reflected in Abraham’s covenant with God in Genesis 15. The evident idea was that if a party to the pact violated it, his fate should be like that of the cloven animal. The verb “cut” picks up on the Hebrew idiom for sealing a covenant, which is literally “to cut a covenant.”
As explained in the commentaries above, in ancient times, covenants or oaths weren’t “made,” they were “cut” (see “Karath“). This made for many interesting puns in the Hebrew Bible such as this: “And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off (karath) from his people; he hath broken my covenant” (Genesis 17:14). In the case of circumcision, the symbol of the covenant was literally cut into the foreskin. Those who rejected this token of the covenant would themselves be “cut off” from the covenant people.
Interestingly, the ancient use of symbolical penalties associated with covenants also appears in the Book of Mormon in Alma 46:21-23:
And it came to pass that when Moroni had proclaimed these words, behold, the people came running together with their armor girded about their loins, rending their garments in token, or as a covenant, that they would not forsake the Lord their God; or, in other words, if they should transgress the commandments of God, or fall into transgression, and be ashamed to take upon them the name of Christ, the Lord should rend them even as they had rent their garments. Now this was the covenant which they made, and they cast their garments at the feet of Moroni, saying: We covenant with our God, that we shall be destroyed, even as our brethren in the land northward, if we shall fall into transgression; yea, he may cast us at the feet of our enemies, even as we have cast our garments at thy feet to be trodden under foot, if we shall fall into transgression. Moroni said unto them: Behold, we are a remnant of the seed of Jacob; yea, we are a remnant of the seed of Joseph, whose coat was rent by his brethren into many pieces; yea, and now behold, let us remember to keep the commandments of God, or our garments shall be rent by our brethren, and we be cast into prison, or be sold, or be slain.
Whatever a modern person may feel about the idea of making gruesome signs or gestures in token of a solemn covenant with God, the concept is authentically ancient and, when properly understood, can be powerfully motivating.
Samuel the Lamanite and others prophesied many specific and marvelous signs that would precede Christ’s birth. As the time of Christ’s coming approached, there were “great signs given unto the people, and wonders; and the words of the prophets began to be fulfilled…. Nevertheless, the people began to harden their hearts…, saying, Some things [the prophets] may have guessed right among so many, but…it is not reasonable that such a being as a Christ shall come” (Helaman 16:13-18).
As the time of Christ’s coming drew nearer, “the prophecies of the prophets began to be fulfilled more fully; for there began to be greater signs and greater miracles wrought among the people” (3 Nephi 1:4). And yet, unconvinced, the unbelievers continued to reject those signs (3 Nephi 1:5-6). Finally, the unbelievers set apart a day “that all those who believed…should be put to death except the sign should come to pass” of the night without darkness “which had been given by Samuel the prophet” (3 Nephi 1:9). In a marvelous display of God’s dramatically perfect timing and goodness, the sign came on the very day of the scheduled genocide.
Because of this undeniable sign, even the murderous unbelievers came “to know that the Son of God must shortly appear; yea, in fine, all the people…were so exceedingly astonished that they fell to the earth…. And they began to fear because of their iniquity and unbelief” (3 Nephi 1:17-18). However, “from this time forth there began to be lyings sent forth among the people, by Satan, to harden their hearts, to the intent that they might not believe in those signs and wonders which they had seen” (3 Nephi 1:22).
Of course, it seems incredible that anyone could forget what they knewor deny the marvelous signs they had seen with their own eyes, but yet, only a few short years later, “the people began to forget those signs and wonders which they had heard, and…they began to be hard in their hearts, and blind in their minds, and began to disbelieve all which they had heard and seen–Imagining up some vain things in their hearts, that it was wrought by men and by the power of the devil, to lead away and deceive the hearts of the people; and thus did Satan get possession of the hearts of the people again insomuch that he did blind their eyes and lead them away to believe that the doctrine of Christ was a foolish and a vain thing” (3 Nephi 2:1-2).
These passages and this story deserve a close reading and rereading. They contain profound lessons about faith, testimony, and the tactics of the adversary.
Please consider: what spiritual “signs and wonders” have you experienced in your life? Has Satan sent forth “lyings” to try and convince you to not believe in what you’ve personally witnessed and know to be true? Is Satan still in the business of trying to convince us that it isn’t “reasonable” to believe in the gospel, and that it is “a foolish and vain thing?” Has he even gone so far as to suggest that the miracles you’ve witnessed were “wrought by men and by the power of the devil” or are “the effect of a frenzied mind” (See Alma 30:16)? How ironic that the devil would convince us that he is the source of divine miracles in order to get us to reject them! If he hasn’t tried to convince you to reject what you know to be true, he surely has tried to lull you away into spiritual slumber and forgetfulness (See Alma 46:8; Helaman 7:20; 12:1-4).
As you study and wrestle with issues of faith, doubt, questions, and testimony, it is critical to not take lightly the signs and wonders God has already given to you personally. Please don’t dismiss them. Don’t forget them, either.
We generally tend to think of Satan as a tempter who tries to lead us into sin. Although it is true that this is one of his characteristics, the Book of Mormon makes it clear that Satan is first and foremost a deceiver who seeks to harden our hearts and blind our minds. As the time of Christ’s second coming draws near, I invite you to not disbelieve or forget “the great signs and wonders” you’ve already seen nor reject the “greater signs and greater miracles” that are yet to come.
“Our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, will perform some of His mightiest works between now and when He comes again. We will see miraculous indications that God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, preside over this Church in majesty and glory. But in coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost” (Russell M. Nelson, Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives)
Many a pretender to the prophetic office has claimed to entertain angels or to have spoken with God, but who other than Joseph Smith introduced his angels to others? Joseph Smith introduced Moroni to Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris. He was never alone when priesthood or keys were restored…. He and Sydney Rigdon received the revelation on the degrees of glory together. Together they saw legions of angels, along with the Father and the Son (see D&C 76:21–23). Oliver Cowdery was with Joseph Smith when John the Baptist came to restore the Aaronic Priesthood, and when Peter, James, and John came to restore the Melchizedek Priesthood. Oliver was also with Joseph Smith when Christ came to accept the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, and Moses, Elias, and Elijah restored their keys, powers, and authorities (Joseph Fielding McConkie).
“Endure” certainly carries a negative connotation in our language. It sounds tedious, difficult, unbearable, or worse, boring! Sometimes it is even associated with suffering. For example, listen to these statements and how easily you could substitute the idea of “suffering” for “enduring.”
‘I endured one hour of the 6th grade band concert.’
‘She endured a 10 surgery on her back and 6 months of recovery.’
‘We endured Thanksgiving dinner with all our relatives.’
‘Mom endured watching “Frozen” for the 43rd time.’
So, does “enduring to the end” mean “suffering to the end?” We have passed through the gate on the path to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, our repentance and baptism and then have received the right to the gift of the Holy Ghost. Now is our task to just suffer day by day until finally the end comes?
Well, in part.
Suffering is a necessary part of our existence here. Lehi put it this way—“[I]t must needs be that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, […] righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither [happiness] nor misery, neither good nor bad… Wherefore, [man] must needs have been created for a thing of naught; […] there would have been no purpose in the end of [his] creation….but behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things… [A]nd men are that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:11-12, 24-25).
In other words, we have to experience misery and bad things in order to experience and understand happiness and joy. So, yes, we must “suffer” to the end. But we will have joy, too, along the way, and especially in the end.
However, if enduring to the end is just surviving until our last hour of life, then, doesn’t everyone endure to the end? Clearly enduring to the end is more than just suffering along until finally we are released from our mortal calling. It is enduring in faith to the end. Or, as the Lord said to Joseph Smith, ‘endur[ing] it well.” Enduring to the end is, then, much more than just surviving. If the goal was just survival, we could take our cues from cockroaches. Thankfully we don’t have to do that, because enduring to the end is living and walking by faith and in faithfulness.
There are three main hazards to enduring in faith to the end that are mentioned by Jesus as recorded in Matthew 24. Each of us have or will face each of these hazards to some degree or another. The first hazard is affliction and persecution—“then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake. And then shall many be offended…” (vs. 9-10). The second is iniquity—“And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (v. 12). The third hazard is deception—“[I]n those days there shall also arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch, that, if possible, they should deceive the very elect, who are the elect according to the covenant” (JS-Matthew 1:22).
Everyone is well acquainted with affliction and with iniquity. I think we understand those two issues fairly well and how to combat them. Consequently, I will focus on the Savior’s warning against deception.
In modern revelation, the Lord gave a key to help us avoid deception. “And this ye shall know assuredly—that there is none other appointed unto you to receive commandments and revelations until he (Joseph Smith) be taken…And this shall be a law unto you, that ye receive not the teachings of any [other] that shall come before you as revelations or commandments; And this I give unto you that you may not be deceived, that you may know they are not of me. For verily I say unto you, that he that is ordained of me shall come in at the gate and be ordained as I have told you before…” (D&C 43:3, 5-7).
The apparent antecedent to the phrase “as I have told you before” is in the previous revelation in D&C 42:11: “[I]t shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up the church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church.”
If we are to avoid deception, we are commanded by God not to listen to anyone or anything who purports to reveal his doctrine or his will other than the properly called, sustained, and ordained priesthood leadership of the church. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. This includes teachers, authors, neighbors, rumors, newspapers, websites, blogs, podcasts, television, scholars, returned missionaries, a friend of a friend, or anyone else. Nobody talks for God but God and those properly called by God, sustained by the church, and ordained by those in authority.
The insistence of many Latter-day Saints to break this commandment is as prevalent and inexplicable as the compulsion of the ancient Israelites to worship idols in the groves and high places. The stupidity required and the results obtained are basically the same.
Many among us, those who most pride themselves on their spiritual maturity or insight, have itching ears and are constantly looking for other channels of spiritual information. Elder Oaks once called these other channels of information ”alternate voices” (See April 1989 General Conference, “Alternate Voices.”).
Does God reveal things to people who are not priesthood leaders? Yes, with regards to their own stewardships. I can receive revelation for myself. Parents can for their children. Auxiliary leaders can for their organizations.
Does God reveal mysteries to exceptional individuals that are unknown to others and maybe not yet revealed to the church? Yes. However, only on the condition stated in Alma 12:9: “It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men…”
As an example of this: Lorenzo Snow received a revelation on the nature of God and the eternal potential of man in 1840 just before leaving on a mission to England. However, the concept Lorenzo learned had not yet been revealed by the prophet Joseph Smith to the church. Lorenzo Snow wisely discussed his revelation in private with his mission president, Brigham Young. Brigham Young told him that he believed Lorenzo Snow’s revelation was authentic, but that he ought not to teach it or anything like it unless and/or until “brother Joseph” taught it. A few years later, Joseph Smith revealed the same concepts in his famous King Follett Discourse. Subsequently, Lorenzo Snow spoke frequently of his revelation that “As man now is, God once was. As God now is, man may be.”
Until Joseph Smith revealed this doctrine to the church, Lorenzo Snow didn’t talk about his personal revelation in testimony meeting, he didn’t distribute a pamphlet, write a book, publish a blog post, or go on the local TV station, and he wouldn’t have even if they had those forms of media back then. The point is—any individual who proclaims that they have special insight into the mysteries such as the nature of the Spirit World or the events of the Second Coming and then peddle their “Visions of Glory” or their witness of “The Second Comforter” are either deceivers or they are violating the commandment of the Lord. Frankly, I don’t think the Lord would reveal great mysteries to someone who would be so foolish as to then go out and sell books on the topic.
The saints need to learn to better detect spiritual snake-oil dealers, especially in our day of mass media and information overload. On one hand there are alternate voices that loudly clamor that the brethren are old fashioned and out-of-touch. They insist that the church will eventually “get with the times” and embrace things like same-sex marriage and homosexual behavior or radical feminism. On the other hand there are alternate voices that whisper the brethren are too progressive on whatever their particular pet view is. In the end, it doesn’t matter too much whether you fall off the path to the left or to the right; either way you’ve abandoned the straight and narrow and haven’t endured to the end.
On the Day of Judgment there will be some who will wish to excuse their straying from the path on bad information. Satan is a deceiver. He lies. We can’t place blame on him for our willingness to listen to his lies. We will all be held accountable for allowing ourselves to be deceived and for listening to alternate voices. We have the apostles and prophets, the scriptures, other church leaders, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. If we don’t hearken unto these voices, we have no one to blame but ourselves. “Whoso treasureth up my word, shall not be deceived” (JS-Matthew 1:37).
Satan is a liar “from the beginning.” Of course, it isn’t hard to believe that Satan lies. The difficulty for many is they are so proud that they are unwilling to accept that even they could be deceived. “Me? Deceived? The very elect perhaps, but me? I’m special.” It is these people, of course, that are the most prone to be deceived as they trust in their own ability to detect truth from error instead of turning to the sources God has given us. Some are particularly vulnerable to lies told by scholars, others to lies told by the news or on social media, some are especially vulnerable to lies told by political candidates and parties, and still others seem the most vulnerable to lies told by friends, family and peers. Tragically, who the messenger of Satan’s lies is doesn’t particularly matter. The end result is the same—some of the saints are fooled and don’t endure in faith to the end.
This shouldn’t be a difficult concept for us: The church is true. Not everything is always well in Zion, but the Church is still true. It isn’t anemic; it doesn’t need supplements. The church isn’t true if, and it’s not true but or except. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is just true. The old ship Zion isn’t going too slow, and it’s not going too fast. The leaders are not out of touch or asleep. They don’t need help from the passengers in steering the boat. Knowing this is what is means to have a testimony of the restored gospel. Those who proclaim otherwise are simply the deceivers or the deceived. They haven’t endured to the end.
Occasionally there will be scandals. There’s a Judas or a John C. Bennett. There’s a Massacre at Mountain Meadows or a puzzling historical practice or event. As President Uchtdorf said, “[T]here have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine. I suppose the Church would be perfect only if it were run by perfect beings. God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure. But He works through us—His imperfect children—and imperfect people make mistakes.”
Elder Holland once said, “[I]mperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we. And when you see imperfection, remember that the limitation is not in the divinity of the work. As one gifted writer has suggested, when the infinite fulness is poured forth, it is not the oil’s fault if there is some loss because finite vessels can’t quite contain it all.”
Don’t let the occasional scandal scandalize you.
Of course, there are some truly difficult issues in church doctrine, practice, and history. I do not wish to minimize these difficulties. No one should feel ashamed for having questions or for not fully understanding the will of the Lord. Enduring to the end means we strive to exercise faith even in the face of questions, difficulties, and trials. God expects us to be obedient even when we don’t fully understand. Sometimes when faced with questions we must respond like Adam did to the angel who asked him why he was offering sacrifices: “I know not, save the Lord commanded me” (Moses 5:6). The hope is that we will one day receive a “witness” “after the trial of [our] faith” (Ether 12:6). Patience is central to faith. And, faith, to be faith, requires some things to be unknown to us.
In conclusion, the keys of the kingdom are here. There fullness of salvation cannot be found elsewhere. May we “feast upon” and “treasure up” the words of Christ and not be deceived.
There are at least two Book of Mormon passages that imply a restoration of the Church and a continuance of the Church until the second coming.
1 Nephi 14:12-14–Nephi sees in vision the “church of the Lamb of God” in the last days. Although “its numbers were few,” “the saints of God, were also upon all the face of the earth.” In time “the power of the Lamb of God…descend[s] upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the lord, who [are] scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they [are] armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.” Subsequently he sees the destruction of the wicked in preparation for the Second Coming.
Jacob 5:70-72, 75–Zenos sees that before “the end cometh” the Lord of the vineyard sends “his servant” down who “brought other servants; and they were few. And the Lord of the vineyard said unto them: Go to, and labor in the vineyard, with your might. For behold,this is the last time that I shall nourish my vineyard; for the end is nigh at hand, and the season speedily cometh; and if ye labor with your might with me ye shall have joy in the fruit which I shall lay up unto myself against the time which will soon come. And it came to pass that the servants did go and labor with their mights; and the Lord of the vineyard labored also with them; and they did obey the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard in all things...And it came to pass that when the Lord of the vineyard saw that his fruit was good, and that his vineyard was no more corrupt, he called up his servants, and said unto them: Behold, for this last time have we nourished my vineyard; and thou beholdest that I have done according to my will...”
I think this passage is clearly speaking of what started in 1820 and continues until this day. God sent his servant and a few others with him and he has been nourishing his vineyard for the last time in preparation for “the end” which “is nigh.” His servants are “obey[ing] the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard in all things” and He is “do[ing] according to [his] will.” He is laboring with them. Does this mean that his servants can’t occasionally miss a branch that should be pruned or a weed that should be pulled? Or, on the other hand, that sometimes a branch is loped off that shouldn’t be? I don’t think we can expect that kind of perfection out of humans, but they are doing a good job taking care of the vineyard and preparing it for the harvest which is soon to come.
There is another interesting scripture found in the Doctrine and Covenants regarding the kingdom of God. Section 65 should be read in its entirety, but verse 2 is particularly meaningful in this context: “The keys of the kingdom of God are committed unto man on the earth, and from thence shall the gospel roll forth unto the ends of the earth, as the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands shall roll forth, until it has filled the whole earth.” This should be compared to Joseph Smith’s bold statement commonly called “the Standard of Truth:”
“[T]he Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear; till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.”
Yes, the Church is still true. Yes, it will continue to be so until the work is done and Christ reigns personally on the earth.
Wilford Woodruff famously said that the Lord would not allow him or any other man appointed as President of the Church to lead the church astray (See commentary after Official Declaration 1 in the Doctrine and Covenants). This statement, of course, is somewhat circular. Specifically, how can we know that his statement is true? How do we know that this statement itself isn’t “leading astray?” Just because someone says they are right doesn’t mean they are, last time I checked. So, couldn’t he have just said this to get people to swallow the hard pill of ending plural marriage?
Well, you can’t claim this was a concept first taught by Wilford Woodruff. The historical record is clear on this point: others taught this decades before him. Here are a few examples:
“The Lord Almighty leads this Church, and he will never suffer you to be led astray if you are found doing your duty. You may go home and sleep as sweetly as a babe in its mother’s arms, as to any danger of your leaders leading you astray, for if they should try to do so the Lord would quickly sweep them from the earth” (Brigham Young, February 23, 1862. Journal of Discourses, 9:289).
“I think when we have learned that lesson, we will be willing to take the counsel of those who are set to direct us, the officers who are over us; and if they are not just, true, holy, upright and men of God in every respect, just have faith enough so that the Lord Almighty will remove them out of the way, and do not undertake to remove them yourselves. This is the way we should live. There should be faith enough in the midst of this people that if your humble servants were to attempt to guide them in the ways of error, false doctrine, wickedness or corruption of any kind, he would be stopped in his career in twenty-four hours so that he would not be able to speak to them, and if he were not laid in the grave, he would have no power nor influence whatever. There ought to faith enough in a Ward, if the Bishop is wicked, if he is doing wrong and serving himself and the enemy instead of the Lord and his kingdom, to stop him in his career, so that the Lord would remove him out of the way. This has been the case in some few instances, and it ought to be every time and in every place” ( Brigham Young, August 18, 1872. Journal of Discourses 15:133-134).
“If I were to reject [the privileges and blessings of my calling as President] and take a course to deprive myself of the spirit of revelation . . . I would be taken forthwith from this world, I would not remain here at all to darken the minds of, or to lead astray, any of the members of the kingdom of God. According to the revelations that I and others of my brethren and sisters have received . . . If I observe my duty, I shall have the privilege of living and enjoying the society of my brethren and sisters, and of instructing them; but let me neglect this and I shall be removed out of my place forthwith” (Brigham Young, August 31, 1875. Journal of Discourses 18:70).
“God will not raise up another prophet and another people to do the work that we have been appointed to do . . . There is no question in my mind of [the leaders] ever proving themselves unfaithful, as a body; for if any of them were to become unworthy in His sight, He would remove them out of their place and call others from the ranks to fill their positions. And thus His Priesthood will ever be found to be composed of the right men for the place, of men whose backs will be fitted for the burden, men through whom He can work and regulate the affairs of His Church according to the counsels of His own will. And the moment that individuals look to any other source, that moment they throw themselves open to the seductive influences of Satan . . . they lose sight of the true order through which the blessings of the Priesthood are to be enjoyed . . . and are on dangerous ground . . . So it was with President Brigham Young, he held it on condition of his faithfulness. If any man in that position should become unfaithful, God would remove him out of his place. I testify in the name of Israel’s God that He will not suffer the head of the Church, him whom He has chosen to stand at the head, to transgress His laws and apostatize; the moment he should take a course that would in time lead to it, God would take him away. Why? Because to suffer a wicked man to occupy that position, would be to allow, as it were, the fountain to become corrupted, which is something He will never permit” (Joseph F. Smith, June 21, 1883. Journal of Discourses 24:189, 192).
So, Wilford Woodruff’s statement can’t be dismissed out of hand as some sort of an excuse to justify his major announcement in Official Declaration 1. His idea that the brethren (or specifically, the prophet) cannot lead us astray was not his idea, it was a view already held in the church for decades prior. The law of witnesses sustains him in his statement. And, as we will see in a subsequent post, the idea of the latter-day church not being led astray has precedence in scripture.
A friend of mine recently asked if there was any reason to believe that 1) the gospel requires a Church and 2) the priesthood is limited to the church? Below is part of my response.
My view is that 1] salvation comes through the gospel (faith, repentance, baptism, gift of the Holy Ghost, faithful endurance, etc), 2] administering gospel ordinances require priesthood authority, and 3] priesthood is only exercised by individuals in the church when the church is organized.
I think 3 Nephi 11 is instructive on these points.
The resurrected Savior appears. After establishing sufficiently who he was and his authority, he “called” Nephi and “others” and gave them “power to baptize” (v.18-22) This was a public event that everyone could witness so there would be “no disputations” among them (v. 22, 28). Their authority to baptize included in it the authority to bring people to repentance (“whose repenteth of his sins though your words” should be baptized [v. 23]).
Now the clincher: “And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God. And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned. Verily, verily, I say unto you that this is my doctrine…And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things. And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine…” (v. 33-39)
In other words, ‘believe, repent, be baptized, and received the Holy Ghost, or be damned. And, these guys over here are the ones who have the power to declare repentance, baptize, and,’ as the Book of Mormon explains later, ‘give the gift of the Holy Ghost.’
I think the above establishes points 1 and 2 very clearly. Point 3 is not as clear in 3 Nephi 11. I think that’s why Moroni included the information in Moroni chapters 2 & 3. It was “his disciples, the twelve whom he had chosen” (2:1) who were also “called the elders of the church,” (3:1) and they ordained others and gave them authority in the church as teachers and priests (3:2-4).
As those disciples died, “there were other disciples ordained in their stead” for some period of time (4 Nephi 14). These weren’t free roaming individuals claiming authority to baptize individuals outside of the church. Nor is there any indication that Christ or an angel had to come and ordained their replacements. Rather, they operated inside of the church and they gave authority to others inside of the church, per the commandments of Christ.
It is the same pattern today. “Again I say unto you, that it shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church” (D&C 42:11). Preaching the gospel requires ordination by someone who who “has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church” and that the ordination is public knowledge (“it is known to the church”). Note also the future tense “it shall not be…” indicates to me that this is a permanent, standing injunction.
Priesthood ordination always happens this way when there is a church that is organized. Joseph Smith pointed out that Cornelius wasn’t taught how to be saved by the angel who appeared to him. Rather, the angel told him to ask for Peter.
“The angel told […] Cornelius that he must send for Peter to learn how to be saved: Peter could baptize, and angels could not, so long as there were legal officers in the flesh holding the keys of the kingdom, or the authority of the priesthood. There is one evidence still further on this point, and that is that Jesus himself when he appeared to Paul on his way to Damascus, did not inform him how he could be saved. He had set in the church firstly Apostles, and secondly prophets for the work of the ministry….[S]o Paul could not learn so much from the Lord relative to his duty in the common salvation of man, as he could from one of Christ’s ambassadors called with the same heavenly calling of the Lord, and endowed with the same power from on high—so that what they loosed on earth, should be loosed in heaven; and what they bound on earth should be bound in heaven” (Times and Seasons, Sept. 1, 1842).
What this all means to me is that there is no functioning priesthood authority outside of the Church, if the church is in existence. We know the Lord organized his church in 1830. So, the only question is whether or not the church is in existence still.* If it is, then the priesthood is with the church.
I am constantly impressed how the Book of Mormon throws additional light on Biblical teachings. It acts as a sort of magnifying glass to bring into higher focus passages in the Bible that are at sometimes confusing or vague. Indeed, the Book of Mormon is to “grow together” with the Bible “unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions” (2 Nephi 3:12). The Book of Mormon clarifies some key questions that the Bible raises. Here are a few examples.
Question #1: Will God grant me anything I ask for in faith?
Matthew 21:21-22–Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not…if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.
A straightforward reading of this passage suggests that the only limiting factor in our desires is our faith. In other words, I can do anything, work any miracle, have anything I want, so long as I “have faith, and doubt not.” I can receive “all things” if I only ask in prayer with faith, doubting nothing.
What about the “unanswered” prayers? What of the sick who die in spite of the great faith of family, friends, and strangers? What of the great financial burdens that persist? What of world peace?
A parallel passage in the Book of Mormon adds additional light.
3 Nephi 18:20–And whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you.
God isn’t a genie who gives us whatever we wish for just because we ask; to do so wouldn’t be in his nature since He is perfectly good and perfectly wise. Rather, God can only give us that which is right in his eyes. Understanding what is right can be a little tricky, I admit, but it helps me accept those “unanswered” prayers with patience, humility, and faith as I cry “Thy will, O Lord, be done!”
Answer #1: Yes, but only if it is right.
Question #2: Filled with what?
Matthew 5:6–Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
A very casual reading doesn’t tell you what they’ll be filled with. An intuitive reading would suggest that it’s “righteousness” since that is what they seek. That’s a very reasonable approach to this passage, but it isn’t obvious. The Book of Mormon adds an insight to this.
3 Nephi 12:6–And blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost.
Those who seek after righteousness will be filled with the Holy Ghost, but aren’t they seeking righteousness? On the surface, “with the Holy Ghost” seems like a strange and unnecessary addition to the text. However, there’s more going on here than what is seen on the surface. “Justification” is the scriptural term used for being made “just” or “right.”* In other words, a person who is justified is made righteous. Being justified is possible because of Jesus’ sacrifice, but it is brought about through the Holy Spirit. “[B]y the Spirit ye are justified” (Moses 6:60). In other words, being filled with the Holy Ghost is to be made righteous!
Answer #2: The righteousness imparted by the Holy Ghost.
Question #3: Who will be “drawn” by the Father and “raised up” by Jesus?
John 6:44–No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
This passage is understood by some Christians to mean that God has predestined some (relatively few) individuals to be saved. In other words, those who are saved will go to Heaven simply because the Father chose them while others were not so chosen. You can’t even chose to come to Jesus for salvation unless the Father first chose you. Honestly, a simple reading of this passage taken by itself seems to support that view, but it’s not that simple.
2 Nephi 26:24-25, 27, 33–[The Lord God] doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation. Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price….Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men….[A]nd he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.
So who does the Father draw unto Jesus? Everyone! Interestingly, this is proven by reading further in John.
John 12:32–And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.
So, if the those who “come unto [Jesus]” are drawn by the Father and are those who will be “raised up” at the last day, and if Jesus does this through his being lifted up (on the cross), and if “all men” are those who will be drawn, does this mean that all will be saved?
Yep. Pretty much.
Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon recorded these words after jointly experiencing a vision of heaven, the resurrection, and the eternal destinies of mankind: “And this is the gospel, the glad tidings, which the voice out of the heavens bore record unto us–That he came unto the world, even Jesus, to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness; That through him all might be saved whom the Father had put into his power and made by him; Who glorifies the Father, and saves all the works of his hands, except those sons of perdition who deny the Son after the Father has revealed him” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:41-43).
So, will Jesus only save those whom the Father draws to him? Yes. Who does the Father draw to him? Everyone. Anyone who will. And eventually that will include everyone except those who insist on denying Jesus and become sons of perdition.
Answer #3: Everyone except the sons of perdition.
The Book of Mormon is a remarkable book. It’s depth and beauty are only lost on the casual, indifferent, or willfully blind readers. I know it is inspired of God and draws the honest in heart who pursue its message to Jesus Christ that they might be saved.
Has the Book of Mormon given you any insights into the meaning of Biblical passages? Please, share!
*This is very obvious to a Spanish speaker because “righteousness” is “justicia;” “righteous” is “justo;” and “justified” is “justificado.” English isn’t as straight forward on this point.
I haven’t posted in ages. A lot has happened in my life. I won’t get into details because that’s not the purpose of this blog. However, I do wish to wish you all a Merry Christmas! Also, I’d like to know if anyone is reading this and if you have any interest in me starting to post again on issues related to Mormon Apologetics and scripture? Please comment below!