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!