December 22, 2005
This morning, on my Zion email list where I discuss things Mormon with my closest online friends, a member pointed out that many saints “never had a real testimony to begin with.” He was speaking of those poor souls who accept the nonsense that the Book of Mormon is true only in the sense that it contains many inspired truths, but that it is not historical and that there never was an actual Lehi colony as related in First Nephi.
I responded by writing this:
Absolutely true! But we must not misunderstand the extent of the problem of false doctrine, and the importance of good teaching. Many people who do not have strong testimonies have been retarded in their spiritual growth by false doctrine that they were taught and embraced as non-Mormon Christians before they joined the Church, and by inadequate instruction since they became members of the Savior’s true Church. How many talks in Sacrament Meeting do we hear each Sunday that fail to teach correct doctrine from the scriptures? How many lessons do we hear that wander far afield from the scriptures they are supposed to focus on? Ineffective teaching is a big problem in the Church, especially in the most important meeting that many saints attend as their only gospel instruction: Sacrament Meeting. Many of our apostles have spoken on this problem of poor teaching in General Conference. Some of it has been quite recent.
Consider these words of Elder Jeffrey Holland in a recent General Conference:
When crises come in our lives–and they will–the philosophies of men interlaced with a few scriptures and poems just won’t do. Are we really nurturing our youth and our new members in a way that will sustain them when the stresses of life appear? Or are we giving them a kind of theological Twinkie–spiritually empty calories? President John Taylor once called such teaching “fried froth,” the kind of thing you could eat all day and yet finish feeling totally unsatisfied. –Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, General Conference, April 1998
He made the point, and other prophets have recently made the point in General Conference, that our retention problem with new members is partly and perhaps largely the result of people coming to Church and not being spiritually fed. They are not being taught the scriptures. They are not learning true doctrine at Church. Instead, they are being fed a lot of feel-good stories with bits and pieces of personal “testimony” that consist largely of telling Church stories about “when I was on vacation” or “when I was on my mission” or “when we first moved into the ward” or “when I met Elder So-and-so” or “I knew a woman once who…” and so forth. All of these personal stories are good. We need them to “liken the scriptures unto ourselves.” But they are of little use in building testimonies if we leave out or under emphasize the “scriptures” part of that phrase. Telling Church stories is no better than stories about “what I did on my vacation” unless we teach the underlying scriptures and doctrines that we are supposed to be learning from such stories.
Next time you are at Church, listen carefully. Judge for yourselves how effectively we saints are teaching the underlying doctrine contained in the scriptures. From my experience we are not doing very well. It is far too obvious from those who speak in our meetings that many or perhaps even most of us are not spending much time studying the scriptures daily as our leaders have asked us to do. As a result the teaching is inadequate. And we are partly to blame for the poor testimonies that leave new members and poorly converted born-in-the-Church members exposed and vulnerable to such false ideas as the non-historicity of the Book of Mormon.
December 17, 2005
On various Internet forums I repeatedly hear the charge that Joseph Smith not only practiced plural marriage, but that some of those marriages were polyandrous rather than polygynous. That is to say, he shared some of his plural wives with other men. This seems highly unlikely to me because I do not believe the Lord would authorize such a thing. I have never seen any doctrinal justification for such a practice. And I believe that Joseph Smith was truly chosen by Jesus Christ by prophecy and revelation as His spokesman charged with restoring his ancient gospel in modern times. I cannot believe that the Lord would have chosen a blatantly immoral man to accomplish such a work when there are so many good men upon the earth that he could have chosen. I believe that most of the charges of immorality made against Joseph Smith are lies without any basis in fact.
I suggest that we all find out from the Lord whether or not Joseph Smith was his chosen prophet commissioned to restore the ancient, authorized Church of Jesus Christ. And if he was, then we be loyal to him as he expected the saints to be. And being loyal means that we “sanitize” history wherever needed to minimize the possibility of repeating lies that have been and are continually being told about Joseph Smith. The truth is, the “facts” of history are not so easily verified as some people foolishly imagine. And as a result of this, many people accept as “facts” things that are not facts. Lies enter the stream of recorded, written history. And once accepted as facts they are endlessly repeated even though they are untrue. It is a human tendency to “fill in the gaps” in our knowledge with assumptions, suppositions, hypotheses, theories, guesses and wild speculations. People just naturally do not like to admit to their ignorance. It is a matter of pride, and we all have such pride to one degree or another. As a result of this lamentable human failing, history is often just repeated gossip and rumor. Some of it is true. Some of it is false. And it is almost impossible to tell the difference because historians are as susceptible to viewing the “facts” of history through a subjective lens as anyone else.
If Joseph Smith was a true prophet, we should be loyal to him and give him the benefit of the doubt in all matters. Satan is a liar with enormous motive for propagating lies about Joseph Smith, and he has many mortal followers who are highly intelligent and competent in falsifying the record. Mark Hoffman is but one example of how lies can be inserted into the “facts” of history. I’m sure that there are many others that have gone undetected.
If the Book of Mormon can be believed, only a true seer can actually know the past or the future. We fool ourselves if we think that we know the past. We don’t. History is largely a fiction written by historians and based upon false primary evidence, records created by people who either had an axe to grind or were merely mistaken.
December 17, 2005
This recent news story suggests further evidence that Mitt Romney might run for the presidency of the United States. That might be good for the country, but would it be good for the Church?
When Christianity became the religion of the head of state in ancient times, it had a very negative effect on Christianity because the doctrines were modified to please the government. I don’t suppose any such thing could happen to Mormon Christianity, do you? I fear that having a Mormon president might increase the temptation modern Mormons face in thinking their faith is mainstream and just like the other Christians. As our doctrines become less objectionable to mainstream Christianity, theirs become less objectionable to us. And some of their doctrines, such as salvation by grace alone without works, and the incorporeal, immaterial nature of God are truly evil, highly damaging to true, revealed religion. No matter how mainstream the saints become, the revealed truth remains the same. But the saints, and perhaps even some of the prophets, can embrace false doctrine. And the more mainstream we think of ourselves, the more likely that is to happen.
Are we converting the traditional Christian world, or are they converting us?