Is The Church Still True? Post #2

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.

Is the Church Still True? Post #1

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.

Priesthood Authority, the Gospel, and the Church

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 will address this in my next post.

The Book of Mormon as a Magnifying Glass

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.

Merry Christmas

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!

Defending Apologetics

I apologize (pun intended) in advance for the rambling nature of this post. I have a lot of thoughts in my mind about the topic, and it’s hard to bring them all together in a way is meaningful and flowing. Of course, I welcome (and love!) your comments and perspectives. So, please post your comments to this post.

Defining “Mormon Apologetics”

This blog deals somewhat with Mormon apologetics (if you’re not sure what Mormon apologetics refers to, read this first and then this). Apologetics refers to not apologizing, but defending a position (taken from the Greek word apologia which means “defense”). A person who is involved in apologetics is an apologist.

I’m an apologist. I’m not a professional. I don’t guess there really are any professional Mormon apologists, although there are some who are quite expert at it such as Daniel C. Peterson.

There are some great apologetic resources available  online for those who are struggling with their faith in the face of criticism. The most visible and helpful organization is called FairMormon which was established in 1997. Years ago as a teenager I turned to FairMormon to help me strengthen my faith and overcome doubts.  Today I volunteer as one of the apologists who responds to inquiries submitted to “Ask the Apologist” by people who have questions about criticisms of the Church. There is also an amazing wiki run by FairMormon volunteers that has tons of information on nearly any and every topic related to Church history, doctrine, and criticisms leveled against the Church. I’ve contributed a tiny bit to the wiki effort including doing most of the translation of the wiki into a Spanish version (it’s a slow work in progress).

I’m not a very expert apologist, but I do defend my faith with reason and argument (not in the sense of “fight” but in the sense of rational persuasion). I believe in apologetics. I know there are many people who feel like trying to defend the Church against criticism or to “contend” over the meaning of scripture and so forth is pointless. Worse, some even suggest that it is “of the devil” since Jesus said that “contention is of the devil!” I think that’s a misunderstanding of Jesus’ meaning and of apologetics. After all, Jude urged the ancient Saints to “contend for the faith” (verse 3). So, in this post, I wish to be an apologist Mormon apologetics.

So what do we hope to do by engaging in apologetics? What is the goal of an apologist? Commenting on the apologetic work of C. S. Lewis, Austin Farrer said:

Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows that ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish (Austin Farrer, “Grete Clerk,” in Light on C. S. Lewis, comp. Jocelyn Gibb (New York: Harcourt and Brace, 1965), 26.).

I believe this is true. Our hope as apologists is not to convince someone that the Church is true or that Joseph Smith was a prophet, but rather to create an environment in which faith can flourish or in which the seed of faith can be planted. Ultimately, apologetics is not about proving that our position is right (or even worse, that someone else is wrong!). It is about sustaining and defending the kingdom of God in a meaningful and articulate way.  In other words, apologetics is necessary to 1) maintain faith in the face of criticism and doubt and 2) create an environment where faith can take hold.

Creating an Environment Where Faith can Take Hold

First, let’s talk about a common scenario where apologetics are necessary to create an environment where faith can take hold. You are talking to your very sincere and devout Christian friend about Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the restoration of the gospel. She seems receptive to what you are saying and interested. So, you offer her a copy of the Book of Mormon and invite her to read it and pray about it.

Then the crap hits the fan.

She responds by saying that although she appreciates your offer, there can be no more scripture other than the Bible. She has no need to read it to know if it is true since her pastor explained that Revelation 22:18 was written with the Mormons in mind. She also adds that she was taught that the warning in Galatians 1:8 was about the angel Moroni who would bring “another” gospel. This is especially obvious since the Book of Mormon is subtitled “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.”

Sound familiar?  Have you ever had this discussion or one like it? Can you expect her to gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon if she can’t believe in the first place that God could even possibly give us more scripture? Are you likely to convince her to read the Book of Mormon by just sharing your testimony that it is true?

If you decide to engage her doubt, or explain why her pastor’s anti-Mormon remarks are misguided, you have engaged in apologetics. If you can convince her that she has been misled on these points, you might then be able to convince her to read the Book of Mormon. Having resolved your friend’s doubt, the seed of faith is given place in her heart and it begins to grow into a testimony of the Book of Mormon as she reads and ponders its message. “Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish.”  So, you see, everyone who has done any missionary work has probably engaged in apologetics. 

Maintaining Faith in the Face of Criticism and Doubt

The other use for apologetics is to help maintain faith in the face of doubt and criticism. Another scenario: a young man sits down to speak with his Bishop about some concerns he has about church history. He recently found out from his non-Mormon friend that Joseph Smith was a polygamist and that he apparently had married some women without Emma’s knowledge or consent. He is really shaken by this.

What does the Bishop do? What should the Bishop do? Sometimes in situations like this the response is entirely inadequate (e.g., “Don’t worry about it, just read your scriptures and pray;” or “Really? I didn’t know that;” or “That’s not true!;” or “That was just to take care of the poor old widows”).

What happens to the young man who receives little by the way of specific answers or perhaps even incorrect information from his well-meaning Bishop? Sometimes he is overcome by his doubts until he slips away into inactivity, temptation, or even out-right rebellion and apostasy. After all, “what no one shows that ability to defend is quickly abandoned.”  Much of this can probably be avoided through apologetics. As stated by Neal A. Maxwell:

Let us be articulate, for while our defense of the kingdom may not stir all hearers, the absence of thoughtful response may cause fledglings among the faithful to falter. What we assert may not be accepted, but unasserted convictions soon become deserted convictions. (The Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book, p. 343)

Others Affected by Apologetics

It is important to realize that often there are “innocent by-standers” to all of these conversations. It isn’t usually just a discussion between you and your Bishop or you and your friend. Often there is a wife, a parent, another friend, looking on and listening (or on the Internet/Facebook/Twitter the whole world!). What about them? They are making judgments about our beliefs based on what you say.

A story from my mission in Argentina to illustrate this point: I once got caught up in a somewhat heated exchange with an anti-Mormon in the middle of the down town plaza. The main question at had was the veracity of the Book of Mormon. As this debate went on, people gathered around to listen. There were probably 20-30 people standing in a circle around us listening in. As I needed my hands to flip through the scriptures, I placed my missionary copy of the Book of Mormon on the ground (blue cover type meant for giving away). Needless to say, by the end of the conversation he resorted to making anti-American statements since he ran out of defensible things to say against the Book of Mormon. I had him thoroughly backed into a corner and he was very mad (I was calm and in control, however). Once he stormed off, I bent over to pick up my missionary copy of the Book of Mormon to discover that someone had already taken it. I would like to think that whoever took it did it not for its monetary value (which is practically nothing), but because they had gained an understanding of its potential true value and wanted to read it.

Apologetics, even the “rough and tumble” variety, can have a positive impact indirectly.

Scriptural Mandates

There are clear scriptural precedents and mandates for practicing apologetics. First, we are expected to worship God with all our hearts, mights, minds, and strength. Yes, God does expect us to think and use our intellect even at Church, even during Sunday School and Elders Quorum! But, I digress… The point is that we should not be afraid about engaging our minds, or the minds of others, in pursuit of gospel topics. It’s ok (even good!) to challenge our assumptions, ask difficult questions, and explore the deep things of God. It is, in my view, a form of worship and discipleship.

A very influential early convert to the Church by the name of Ezra Booth apostatized in 1831. He immediately went out and started publishing newspaper articles against the church. He was the first highly visible ex/anti-Mormon. He was causing considerable problems for the church’s missionary efforts in the area.

At this time, Joseph Smith was fully engaged in the very important task of translating the Bible by inspiration with Sidney Rigdon as his scribe.  They inquired of the Lord as to what to do about the Ezra Booth situation. The response they received is recorded as Doctrine and Covenants 71.

Behold, thus saith the Lord unto you my servants Joseph Smith, Jun., and Sidney Rigdon, that the time has verily come that it is necessary and expedient in me that you should open your mouths

The command was to temporarily set aside the translation of the Bible and to open their mouths and preach the gospel. How were they to preach?

Wherefore, confound your enemies; call upon them to meet you both in public and in private; and inasmuch as ye are faithful their shame shall be made manifest. Wherefore, let them bring forth their strong reasons against the Lord. Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you–there is no weapon that is formed against you shall prosper.

The Lord expected them to address the critics head on–face to face–in public and in private. He didn’t say “get them to shut their mouths” but “let them bring forth their strong reasons.” In other words, “bring it on!”  He didn’t say “ignore them.” While there may be times to “ignore” our critics, there often are times when we need to “open our mouths” and “confound [our] enemies.”

Perhaps the most famous scripture about apologetics is from the New Testament:

“Be ready always to give an answer [Greek: apologia, a defense) to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear [Greek: reverence].” (1 Peter 3:15)

In other words, we need not always be ready to just share our testimony, but to give a defense to those who want a “reason” for our belief.

Example from Church History

I am currently reading “Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism” by Terryl L. Givens and Matthew J. Grow. I highly recommend it. In fact, it was something I read in this book last night that sparked my idea for this post. All the information below can be found on pp. 185-191.

The first (quite successful) LDS mission to England came to a close in April 1838 with the departure of Elders Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde with around 2,000 members baptized. The leadership of the mission was transferred to Joseph Fielding.

There was rampant anti-Mormonism during this period. In 1837 Orson Hyde published the first missionary broadside in England in part to combat some of the anti-Mormon claims. However, Joseph Fielding had a different approach. After Elders Kimball and Hyde left, he wrote that “It appears they [the anti-Mormons] want to provoke us to controversy, but we have washed our feet against them all so they may talk and write until they are tired, or till the Lord puts a stop to them.” In other words, he decided it was not worth the energy or effort to respond to the anti-Mormons.

During the time that Joseph Fielding presided and took this approach, there was no real growth of the church in England. It was stagnant.

In early 1840, the second mission in England got underway. Elder Parley P. Pratt, upon arriving, immediately started printing rebuttals of the anti-Mormon publications. He responded to their criticisms with somewhat biting sarcasm and even threw in some of his own criticisms toward them. He went so far as to call the Methodist beliefs of one anti-Mormon “a bundle of nonsense, contradiction and absurdity.” Elder Woodruff recorded that they had distributed around 50,000 such tracts that year alone.

That year, about 5,000 individuals were baptized whereas the previous two years with a “hands-off” approach to criticisms from anti-Mormons resulted in basically no real growth for the Church.

There probably are many reasons there was so much growth after the apostles arrived in England in 1840. However, I don’t think we can discount the effect of the articulate apologetics of Elder Pratt and others during that time.

Likewise, today, I don’t think we can or should discredit the need for strong, vibrant apologetics for defending the Church. I think there can even be danger in building “goodwill” with people of other faiths if we do it at the expense of not declaring our beliefs with firmness and articulate conviction. Perhaps we could learn from the experience of the early apostles in England?

EDIT: I found this fabulous video this morning that I think is relevant to the topic at hand. Notice that this is an official spokesman for the church who commends FAIR (though he gets the URL wrong. It is http://www.fairlds.org).

Click here to see it: Michael Otterson, Managing Director of the Public Affairs Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

O Remember, Remember!–Personal Musings

Every once in a while, I will read something in the scriptures that almost startles or shocks me. Usually it’s because it is something I need to hear. I recently had that experience again. The context of the scripture is the miraculous deliverance of the believers from the wicked in 3 Nephi at the time of Christ’s birth.

About 5 years before the birth of Christ, a Lamanite prophet named Samuel came among the people and prophesied that Christ would come in 5 years. He then predicted the sign that would be shown the day Christ was born, namely, a day and a night and a day where there would be no darkness. The account of what happened in the coming years is as follows:

“…behold, 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. But there were some who began to say that the time was past for the words to be fulfilled which were spoken by Samuel, the Lamanite. And they began to rejoice over their brethren, saying: Behold the time is past, and the words of Samuel are not fulfilled; therefore, your joy and your faith concerning this thing hath been vain…

“But behold, they did watch steadfastly for that day and that night and that day which should be as one day as if there were no night, that they might know that their faith had not been vain. Now it came to pass that there was a day set apart by the unbelievers, that all those who believed in those traditions should be put to death except the sign should come to pass, which has been given by Samuel the prophet” (3 Nephi 1:4-9).

When the day arrived for the believers to be put to death, the sign came. “And there were many who had not believed the words of the prophets who fell to the earth and became as if they were dead, for they knew that the great plan of destruction which they had laid for those who believe in the words of the prophets had been frustrated; for the sign which had been given was already at hand” (3 Nephi 1:16).

This lead, of course, to universal belief for a while. Can you imagine such a sign? How could anyone dismiss it? And yet, within just a few short years, it was dismissed. This is the scripture that startled me–

“And it came to pass that thus passed away the ninety and fifth year also, and the people began to forget those signs and wonders which they had heard, and began to be less and less astonished at a sign or a wonder from heaven, insomuch that 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 thing 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).

It seems incredible that such wonderful signs could be so easily dismissed, and yet it is true. I have since read over this passage again and again and pondered it’s meaning. I can’t seem to get it out of my mind. Am I like this? Aren’t we all like this? How many miracles have I seen and yet “begin to forget” and to be “less and less astonished at a sign or a wonder from heaven” or even to some extent “begin to disbelieve all which [I] have heard and seen.” This, to me, is frightening. It’s frightening because of how true it is.

For example, I have witnessed priesthood blessings given that have resulted in miraculous healings. And yet, I have at times been quick to give the credit to a good doctor or medicine or just luck–“that it was wrought by the power of men.” I could multiply my own personal experiences over and over to demonstrate that I am a lot like the people described in this scripture. And it scares me.

Stories like this in the Book of Mormon, for me, help reaffirm my faith that it is divinely inspired and true. The Book of Mormon contains so many “plain and precious” insights that it becomes self-evident to the sincere seeker after truth that it is true.  It also encourages me to try and live my life better and to remember what the Lord has done and is doing for me.