Why are there so many doubters in the Bloggernacle?

August 30, 2006

This morning I was reading from The Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, and I ran across the following passage upon which I would like to comment:

Every spring the Christian world celebrates Easter in remembrance of the resurrection, when the risen Lord appeared first to Mary Magdalene, and later that day to the ten apostles, Thomas being absent. When the other disciples told Thomas, “We have seen the Lord,” he, like so many then and now, said, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.”Eight days later the apostles were together again, this time Thomas with them. “Then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.” Singling out Thomas, He said: “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing.”

Thomas, astonished and shaken, answered, “My Lord and my God.” Then Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:25-29.)

Have you not heard others speak as Thomas spoke? “Give us,” they say, “the empirical evidence. Prove before our very eyes, and our ears, and our hands, else we will not believe.” This is the language of the time in which we live. Thomas the Doubter has become the example of men in all ages who refuse to accept other than that which they can physically prove and explain—as if they could prove love, or faith, or even such physical phenomena as electricity.

To all who may have doubts, I repeat the words given Thomas as he felt the wounded hands of the Lord: “Be not faithless, but believing.” Believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the greatest figure of time and eternity. Believe that His matchless life reached back before the world was formed. Believe that He was the Creator of the earth on which we live. Believe that He was Jehovah of the Old Testament, that He was the Messiah of the New Testament, that He died and was resurrected, that He visited these western continents and taught the people here, that He ushered in this final gospel dispensation, and that He lives, the living Son of the living God, our Savior and our Redeemer. (“Be Not Faithless,” in Faith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983], pp. 14-15.)

The words which I have emphasized jumped off the page as I read this passage. A demand for empirical evidence is indeed the “language of the time in which we live,” to use President Hinckley’s words. And perhaps more especially on the Internet than elsewhere in the Church. I speculate that the reason for this is the preponderance of those saints on the Internet who are involved in math and science either professionally, or by virtue of their interest in computer technology. We are not an even cross section of the Church or even of our American culture. We are self-selected because of our interest in and knowledge of computer technology, the Internet, and its uses.

So what is one of the root assumptions underlying both math and science? It is that if it cannot be proven with empirical evidence, it must not be assumed. To assume the reality of things unproven, is contrary to both mathematics and good science. But does this not work against our faith? Does it not tend to make us doubters as Thomas was a doubter in the Upper Room? We want to see the evidence before we will believe. Our interest in math and science, and by extension in computers and computer science, works against the requirement of faith that we believe even though we have not seen. The Savior said, as recorded in the New Testament:

“Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:25-29.)

I believe this is the root of all the disbelief we see everywhere in the Bloggernacle. Because we are a modern, progressive society possessing a technological culture and proud of our scientific advancements, we tend to adopt the prejudices and biases of the science we so admire. We have a culturally induced distrust of anything that might be true which cannot be proven with empirical evidence. And as a result, far too many of us who profess to be believing Latter-day Saints have more trouble than we should believing in the literal occurrence of the First Vision as Joseph Smith relates it in Joseph Smith–History, Chapter 1 in the Pearl of Great Price. We tend to doubt that Gordon B. Hinckley was actually chosen by Jesus Christ to lead His church today. We tend to doubt the process of personal revelation by which the Twelve chose him to be President of the Church upon the death of Howard W. Hunter. We give far too much credence to human interpretations of DNA evidence concerning the literal reality of the Lehite colony in ancient America. Far too many of us just are not men of faith. Just like Thomas, we want to see the proof, the empirical evidence.

Well, perhaps if we were more into literature, history, poetry, philosophy, religion, music, art, drama, and the right-brained subjects and less “scientific” we would have an easier time of believing the unbelievable. What do you think?

I testify that Jesus Christ actually did rise from the grave in an immortal state after his crucifiction. Joseph Smith actually did meet the bodily Father and the Son in the Sacred Grove. These men actually did choose who would be our Church leaders today, and we are led not by mortal men but by Jesus Christ through his chosen representatives. The Book of Mormon is an actual record of an ancient people who immigrated from the area of Jerusalem to the New World hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. I cannot prove any of these things with empirical evidence, but unlike the Apostle Thomas, I choose to believe them. I am a man of faith, not a man of doubt. I am certain that all of these things will be “proven” with empirical evidence in the due time of the Lord. All I have to do, all anyone has to do, is wait upon the Lord for that empirical evidence to be forthcoming. It may not be for a hundred years, or even a thousand. But it will come even more surely than the rising of the sun in the east and its setting in the west.

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Did McConkie Lead The Church Astray?

August 9, 2006

I wonder how many people realize that some of the entries in our Bible Dictionary, the one bound with our LDS Scriptures, are lifted verbatim from Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie? I wonder how many of them know the Chapter Headings in our standard works were written by him and to what extent they constitute a brief commentary on each chapter? In 1968 I was personally told by Hartman Rector, Jr. who was then one of the seven Presidents of Seventy, that whenever Church headquarters received inquiries on doctrinal matters, they were referred to the office of Bruce R. McConkie, and I’m not even sure he was a member of the Twelve at the time.

Apparently with the full approval of the First Presidency and the Twelve, Bruce R. McConkie probably did more to advance our understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ during the 20th century than any other prophet in Church history with the possible exception of James E. Talmage. True, some of Mormon Doctrine is personal opinion and not “official Church doctrine,” but if Bruce R. McConkie’s personal opinions about doctrine were not true, then it might be accurate to say that he led the Church astray because many of the prophets and apostles seem to have believed his personal opinions including some who have since become President of the Church. Yet I have met a number of active, temple attending online saints who believe he did exactly that, and that as a result the Church is now “astray.” I do not agree. Such saints need to receive some personal revelation and get a testimony from the Holy Ghost.

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The Idolatry of Worshipping Dead Prophets

August 8, 2006

The under title of The Iron Rod blog has been updated. It now reads, “Mormon doctrine in the tradition of Joseph Fielding Smith, Bruce R. McConkie and Gordon B. Hinckley.” I have made the change because of some criticism that I have received from people who did not understand the old under title which was “Mormon doctrine in the tradition of Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie.” There was even one mystery man named Area Authority who commented on one of my blog posts calling me to repentance for teaching doctrine “in the tradition of Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie.” He correctly pointed out to me that an undue emphasis on the doctrinal teachings of dead prophets is contrary to the Restored gospel, and that I should only teach as doctrine what is currently being taught by the living prophets, especially the President of the Church. I agree completely with one proviso which needs to be understood by anyone reading The Iron Rod.

That proviso is this: Prophets don’t make up the doctrine as they go along, but they learn it from the same unchangeable God as it is revealed to them by the Holy Ghost in a process that we Mormons call “continuing revelation.” This process is one of our thirteen Articles of Faith, and if we do not believe this fundamental principle, then we are not really believing Latter-day Saints.

Further, since God is an unchangeable God, and truth does not change, true doctrine does not change either. When a doctrine changes, either a mistake was made and false doctrine was taught as a result of that mistake, or the new doctrine is a mistake and is false. What was true once is true forever.

Keeping this in mind, the President of the Church is the only mortal upon the earth with the keys, authority and stewardship to proclaim new doctrine, change old doctrine, or give scriptural interpretation that is authoritative for the whole Church. This principle is clearly revealed by God in the Doctrine and Covenants. Because of this, doctrine cannot be changed by gossip, rumor, scholarly studies, propaganda, grassroots activism on the Internet, the personal opinions of doctrinal commentators such as myself, others with a different opinion, popular authors, influential books, organizations such as FAIR and FARMS, or secret combinations in our midst made up of communists, Signaturi, so-called Fundamentalists, or any other group or faction with a hidden agenda to confuse the saints about the doctrines of Jesus Christ. Only Satan has anything to gain from confusing the saints about the true doctrines of the Restoration that have been revealed to us by Joseph Smith, the Twelve, and all of his successors down to and including Gordon B. Hinckley and the Twelve who are serving in the Quorum of the Twelve today. Lucifer wants to do what he did in ancient times. He wants to lead off the saints into believing a variety of conflicting doctrines so that he can bring about today a repetition of The Great Apostasy that he had so much success with in the early Christian Church.

Therefore, I renounce every doctrine or scriptural interpretation that was ever taught by Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie that can be clearly shown to be false because it has been changed or overturned by Gordon B. Hinckley or his predecessors as President of the Church since the death of Joseph Fielding Smith. But I retain and accept as true doctrine all that these men taught that has not been overturned by Gordon B. Hinckley or his predecessors in the First Presidency. Gospel doctrine is not something that we make up as we go along. We cannot reject true doctrine just because we don’t like it. Nor can we proclaim to be true doctrine some personal opinion or scriptural interpretation just because it appeals to us.

But more than that, we are all bound by the truth whether it is “official Church doctrine” or not. There are many things that are true that are not “official Church doctrine.” The Family: A Proclamation to the World is not official Church doctrine by a strict definition, because it is not in our standard works, and it has not been specifically sustained as scripture by the membership of the Church assembled in General Conference. Neither is much of our temple ritual. Neither were any of the Sections of the Doctrine and Covenants before they were included in our standard works and sustained by the Church membership. But they were just as true before they were added to the standard works and before they were sustained by the Church membership as they were afterwards. The Law of Gravity is also not in our standard works or sustained by the membership of the Church as “official Church doctrine,” but it is just as true and just as binding upon everyone as the truth always is. We don’t have to believe it. We don’t have to agree with it. But we are bound by it nevertheless. The truth, whatever it is, is binding upon everyone whether he likes it or not. And life’s greatest challenge is to find out what the truth is and get our lives in harmony with it. Official Church doctrine is just a beginning, a foundation. The Lord expects all of us to believe it and order our lives by it, but he expects us to go on from there by learning true doctrine until we know as much about the Plan of Salvation as he does. And that will occur long after this life is over for all of us if it happens at all. Because men truly are free, some will choose to follow other paths and to accept as true that which is false.

So my bottom line is this: This blog is my commentary on Mormon doctrine in the tradition of Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie as modified and filtered by the doctrine taught by Gordon B. Hinckley and the prophets living today. Where President Hinckley disagrees with Smith and McConkie, I will not accept as authoritative the earlier teachings. But unless it can be clearly documented otherwise, I will assume that President Hinckley agrees with the teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie, and all of the other prophets of the Restoration for that matter. Where someone claims that I am teaching the dead prophets, they must point to some teaching by living prophets that shows Smith and McConkie to be wrong. In almost every case they cannot do this because all of these men get their understanding of doctrine from the same standard works and revelations from the same Holy Ghost. Teaching Smith and McConkie is teaching Hinckley. They are agreed on matters of doctrine. And only the President of the Church has the authority to declare that they are not.

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