Mormons, Jews, Christians and Future Holocausts

September 19, 2011

For years I have watched a change of attitude in the Church towards traditional Christianity.  I haven’t understood the reason for it, nor have I been comfortable with it.  I joined the Church from a Baptist background, and if I had wanted to be a Protestant, I would have just remained a Baptist.  After all, we are the true Church, the only true Church.  A true church strongly implies false churches.  Sure, there is truth in all of them, but so what?  Even Satan worshippers have some truth.  They believe there is a Satan, just as we do.  They believe in keeping the commandments even though they are the devil’s commandments rather than the Lord’s.  They have scriptures just as we do.  And my guess is that their scriptures are just as inspired as ours even though the inspiration is from below.  There is truth in Buddhism, Islam, the Hindu faith, and Judaism.  There is even some truth in atheism.  I do not see how the denominations of traditional Christianity can be justified merely by asserting that they contain some truth.  They do not have the priesthood, revelation or prophets.  They teach copious amounts of false doctrine.  Perhaps of greatest importance is the undeniable fact that without the priesthood, they are unable to perform those essential ordinances without which it is impossible to obtain eternal life.  In the denominations of traditional Christianity there is no salvation.

But of greater significance to me, is the fact that the attitude of the Prophet Joseph Smith was negative concerning the “sectarians.” That was his term for the many denominations of traditional Christianity.  Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie, the primary inspiration of this blog, did not use the term “sectarian” so much as they referred to “apostate Christendom.”  But although the terms they used were not the same, their negative view of the Protestant and Catholic denominations were in the tradition of Joseph Smith as was my own because of the reasons for which I joined the Church.  I had obtained a testimony of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.

After all, is not this a passage from our scripture?

I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all awrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those bprofessors were all ccorrupt; that: “they ddraw near to me with their lips, but their ehearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the fcommandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the gpower thereof.” (Joseph Smith–History)

If traditional Christianity had not gone astray, there would have been no Great Apostasy and no need for a Restoration. Because of this teaching, and the attitudes of Joseph Smith and the early latter-day prophets, this change in LDS understanding and attitude towards the false churches has been a puzzle to me to me and a source of no small amount of distress.  Are these changes from God, or are they just false attitudes creeping into the Church?

Well, yesterday I had a thought that may have been from the Lord because I never thought it before, and it answered all my questions and set my heart at rest on this matter.  A young and brilliant attorney in my ward spoke in Sacrament Meeting, and at one point he spoke about the claim some sectarians make that we are not Christians.  I thought his remarks excellent.  Whether we are Christian or not depends on how one defines the term “Christian.”  If in the course of conversation with a Gentile we are using different definitions, of course there will be little or no true communication or understanding.

Whenever this topic of who is and is not Christian comes up, a nagging question comes up in my mind.  Why do we care what the they think?  There is a sense in which we are not Christians.  We are not heirs to the false doctrines and philosophies of traditional Christianity.   On the other hand, there is a sense in which they are not Christians.  How can one follow Jesus Christ while rejecting his prophets? That is exactly what the Protestants and Catholics do.  There is a sense in which we are the only Christians.  So why do we care what they think?  Joseph Smith didn’t.  He denounced those denominations as false churches all the days of his short life.  So did his successors until recently.

After the meeting I went up to this fellow and asked, “Why do we care?  Why do we care whether or not the false churches consider us to be Christian?  We are in this life to please God, not man.  His are the only opinions that matter.  He told me what I thought he would, something I have heard from dozens of other saints when I pose this question.  “We want the other churches to accepts us as Christians because of our missionary work.”  But that makes no sense.  When others join us from a Catholic or Protestant background as I did, we are ripe to become members of the Church because we have begun to doubt the teachings of the church in which we grew up.   Do our missionaries have a lot of success in baptizing nonmembers who are still convinced their church is right?  I doubt it very much.

Then during the Sunday School part of the block, I thought something I have never thought before.  We are living in a very difficult time for people of all faiths.  Just as the other churches are being persecuted on all sides by the atheists, agnostics and secularists, so are we.  The gays are mad at us, as are those who believe there can be a legitimate “choice” to kill an unborn child.  Others hate us because we love and defend our God-inspired Constitution.  Many despise religious tea party people because they remind the wicked that there is a difference between right and wrong.  The government controlled media portray those who believe in a far more negative light than those who keep their mouths shut about God.

But more importantly, this intolerance for those who are religious is increasing rapidly.  What will happen in the future?  Does persecution lie ahead, not only for the Mormons but for all those who believe in God?  Could there ever be another holocaust or genocide, this time not just targeting Jews but all who believe? I think it could happen.  There are a couple of reasons.

First, our scriptures proclaim that when Christ comes at the Second Coming, there will be few left upon the earth.

Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall akill you: and ye shall be bhated of all nations cfor my name’s sake.

And then shall many be aoffended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.

And many afalse prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.

And because ainiquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax bcold. (Matthew 24:9-12)

[…]

For then shall be great atribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.

And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those adays shall be shortened. (Matthew 24:21-22)

Also, the latter-day Prophet Bruce R. McConkie and others have said that the saints will endure greater persecutions ahead than those they have known in the past:

Nor are the days of our greatest sorrows and our deepest sufferings all behind us. They too lie ahead. We shall yet face greater perils, we shall yet be tested with more severe trials, and we shall yet weep more tears of sorrow than we have ever known before. (Bruce R. McConkie.  The Coming Tests and Trials and Glory.  General Conference, April 1980)

If these prophecies are true, and I believe they are.  Then all we who believe in God must stick together.  We need to forget our differences and focus on our mutual belief in God and his love for us.  For only his love and our faith in him will get us through the difficult times ahead.  Those who have taken the part of Satan, with or without realizing it,  can persecute all of us regardless of religious persuasion.  And they can persecute us with a great persecution, possibly unto death.  But as long as we remain faithful, we need not worry.  As long as we keep the promises we have made to God, he will protect us and sustain us in this life and in the life to come.

The bottom line for me, and what I learned from my contemplation is that because very difficult times lie ahead for all of us, we Latter-day Saints do not want to be alone against the terrors that evil men seek to inflict upon us.  We are all children of the same Heavenly Father, brothers and sisters.  And we need to love and care for each other amidst all the machinations of the secular world, the crusading atheists, and the worldly.

But not only that, the Latter-day Saints are very well organized.  They can do much for those of other faiths if they will let us and need our help.  In some cases we can provide some of the leadership that is needed for our spiritual and temporal survival.  We are strong in the Lord and can use that strength to love and serve others.

In any case, I am no longer puzzled or distressed that we are reaching out to the other churches.  We need friends both inside and outside of the Church.  We can help each other.  And we are going to need it.


What Do The Latter-day Saints Think About Knowledge and Education?

September 13, 2011

A number of years ago while I was still living in Ketchikan, Alaska, I taught early morning seminary for three years.  It was perhaps the most richly rewarding service I ever did in the Church.  During those years, I read a statement by President Spencer W. Kimball which I cannot quote verbatim because to date I have been unable to find it.  Basically he said that education was among the most important of all human activities, and the most important education was gospel education.  I was deeply impressed by this. In looking for that passage I happened upon something said by Joseph Smith on the same topic of education and knowledge and its importance.

Spiritual knowledge is the knowledge that saves.

The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “The principle of knowledge is the principle of salvation. This principle can be comprehended by the faithful and diligent; and every one that does not obtain knowledge sufficient to be saved will be condemned. Salvation is nothing more nor less than to triumph over all our enemies and put them under our feet. And when we have power to put all enemies under our feet in this world, and a knowledge to triumph over all evil spirits in the world to come, then we are saved.” (History of the Church 5:387.)

I’ve been a member of the Church for nearly fifty years since I joined from a Baptist background in the early 1960s.  It was the Book of Mormon and the teachings of the prophets that first gave me my  testimony.  I am not one who fits well into groups, and I only have a very small number of very close friends.  So it was not the cultural or social aspects of the gospel that drew me into the fold of Christ.  In the early 1960s the main doctrinal works were Jesus the Christ and The Articles of Faith by James E. Talmage.  There was also a huge appetite in the Church in those days for the writings of Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie, my personal heroes.  I gorged myself on Talmage, Smith and McConkie.  I loved the teachings, teachings primarily bringing to light the sermons and ideas of Joseph Smith.

Today I am alarmed to see there is not as much interest in doctrine as there was then.  And from my perspective it seems like there is a greater number of saints who can be described as cultural or social Mormons, those whose interest in gospel is more about the Church than about what the prophets teach.  Obviously this is just a perception that I have.  It could be completely wrong.  But from where I stand this is what I see.

Of course, the best source of doctrine is the scriptures themselves, the standard works.  But I really miss the interest in doctrine of my early days in the Church.  The scriptures themselves tell us that anything a man speaks by the power of the Holy Ghost is scripture.  Many saints including myself consider the conference talks to be scripture when the Holy Ghost testifies to us that what we are hearing is true and from God.  I wonder, did LeGrand Richards write Marvelous Work and a Wonder while under the influence of the Holy Ghost?  I hope so.  That book was the manual for the Gospel Essentials class for many years.  How about the writings of Talmage, Smith and McConkie?  Were they writing under the influence of the Holy Ghost?  If so, then their works contain scripture as well.  Are there errors and personal opinion included?  I imagine that is a possibility.  But a great deal of their writing they wrote as moved upon  by  the Holy Ghost, ie. scripture.

Now I am fairly certain that today a decision has been made to focus on the standard works and discourage the publishing and reading of doctrinal works by individual apostles.  We are encouraged to get our doctrine straight from the standard works themselves.  I believe this is from God through his true prophets.  But it brings with it some unique problems.  First, is reading level.  Many of the scriptures are very hard to understand even if one has a huge vocabulary and highly developed reading skills.  Normally this would not be a problem if an honest seeker of the truth is prepared to receive personal revelation as he reads the scriptures.  But the second problem is this: People with inadequate reading skills will have a more difficult time enjoying the study of the scriptures, and as all of us have a tendency to intellectual laziness, this will discourage many from reading the scriptures.  I may be completely wrong, but it seems to me that average reading skills are declining in our society because of television, movies, DVDs, surfing the Web, computer and video games, etc.  Reading is no longer a highly popular form of entertainment as it once was.  And since reading is a skill that improves with practice, if people read less, over time they will not read as well.

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that there are far more Sacrament talks today than ever before which do not include any scriptural references, and even fewer that are focused on the scriptures.  Many of the talks I hear in Sacrament don’t seem to have anything to do with the gospel at all.  Telling temple stories, BYU stories, mission stories, and other Church stories can include some aspects of faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.  But often they don’t.  If a Sacrament talk does not include any of the doctrines, scriptures or principles of the gospel, in what sense is it a gospel talk?  Such a talk would be more appropriate for a weekly meeting of the local Toastmaster’s Club.

I was recently in a Gospel Doctrine class when to my horror I heard the teacher say that knowledge of the gospel was not necessary to have a powerful testimony.  Perhaps he meant that being a gospel scholar such as Elder McConkie was not a prerequisite, but it didn’t come out that way.  He seemed to be saying that a deep understanding of the gospel was not needed.

I immediately raised my hand and said, “That can’t be true.  If gospel knowledge is not important, how do we account for the passage in the Doctrine and Covenants that says, “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.” (D&C 131:6)  This is possibly among the favorite scriptures of Elder Bruce R. McConkie and he quoted it often.  I also mentioned the fact that a person cannot study the scriptures without gaining knowledge.  And our prophets are continually asking us to study the scriptures.  If a person does not know the scriptures and hence the doctrines, it means he hasn’t been studying the scriptures.

Unfortunately, I was fairly new in the branch, and the Branch President was in the class.  Perhaps he thought my class comment was contentious.   I don’t know.  Be he called me into his office after the meeting and chastised me.  From that moment on I did my best not to say anything in class.  And a few weeks later he was released.

How important is gospel knowledge? How can we get it unless we search the scriptures?  If we do not use our knowledge of the scriptures in the talks and lessons we give, is that not a fairly good indication that we are not studying the scriptures as we should?  Perhaps I am being judgemental, but when I hear a talk in Sacrament that includes no scriptural references or does not focus on a scriptural theme, I just assume the speaker doesn’t know his scriptures very well because he is violating the commandment we have all received from Jesus Christ to “search the scriptures.”

It grieves me to see an interest in doctrine decline in the Church if that is in fact happening.  I hope I’m wrong about this, but it really frustrates me to attend Church week after week and hear many stories told in Sacrament meeting without hearing any of the parables of Jesus or other stories from the Bible and Book of Mormon.  Often the youngest speakers fresh out of Primary do a better job of sticking to the gospel in their talks than the adults do.

Have you ever heard a conference talk that did not include the scriptures?  I don’t think I have.  We need to follow the example of our prophet-leaders, not just their counsel.


What Is Our Doctrine?

September 12, 2011
I ran across this today.  It is not from Bruce R. McConkie but from his son, Joseph Fielding McConkie.  It says in a far more eloquent way something I have been saying for years, something that I testify is true:

IT IS NOT UNCOMMON IN gospel discussions for someone to challenge what is being said with the question, “Is that official Church doctrine?” This question often means the one asking it does not like what is being said and is seeking a reason not to be bound by it. The question is generally successful in putting the one being challenged on the defensive because of the difficulties associated with defining “official Church doctrine.” In telling the story of the Creation, for instance, teachers are commonly challenged with the question, “Does the Church have an official position on the theory of evolution?” The answer is no, it does not. On the other hand, and this is certainly very important in such a discussion, the Church does have an official position on the doctrine of the origin of man. The way questions are framed is very important. On the one hand, the Church is not in the business of evaluating scientific theories; on the other, it is in the business of teaching that all humankind are the offspring of divine parents and thus not the product of an evolutionary process. The knowledge that we obtain in the temple, knowledge required for us to enter into the presence of the Lord, and the ordinances performed there do not permit the notion that our blood line traces to animals.

If the body of “official doctrine” is to be limited to formal declarations by the First Presidency, the Church has precious little doctrine. From the time of its organization in the spring of 1830 to the present, there have been very few instances in which the First Presidency has issued “official” doctrinal declarations. These have included the statement on the origin of man, a doctrinal exposition on the Father and the Son, and most recently the proclamation on the family. Each of these declarations is marvelous in its own right, but if our definition of “official doctrines” is defined so narrowly that it is limited to these declarations and the few others we have received, we could not even declare faith, repentance, and baptism as doctrines of the Church. Indeed, most of what we understand to be the doctrine of the Church finds no mention in such documents. Certainly the standard works, the temple ceremony, and much instruction that has come to us by those whom we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators is also “official doctrine.”

I was only 16 when I first learned from the Holy Ghost that the Church is true, but prior to that I had been engaged in a desperate search for something, anything that I could believe in.  It certainly wasn’t the teachings of the churches I grew up in.  When the missionaries first began giving me the lessons, I quickly realized that they were speaking the truth, something that one does not hear very often.  I did not join the Church because these teachings were and were not “official Church doctrine.”  I joined because I knew it was true, and I loved it because it was true.

I am not and never have been interested in what is or is not “official Church doctrine.”  I am interested in truth if I can find it.  Thank heaven I found some of it in the summer of 1962.  The official Church doctrines are true, but not all that is true is official Church doctrine.  If we limit our understanding of truth to official Church doctrine, we are limited indeed.  After all, what is truth anyway?  The Savior said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (John 14:6)  The truth is Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ is the truth.  Really, in sense he is all there is in the universe.  He created it.


Book of Mormon Foretells The End Of The United States

September 9, 2011

Today my post will be brief because I am working on a project that I have not finished.  I plan to post on those passages in the Book of Mormon that seem to prophesy the end of the United States if we become ripe in wickedness.  I will show from the scriptures the Lord’s promise that he will allow this nation to be “swept” off” if we fail to repent as a nation.

What does “swept off” mean in this context?  What does “ripe” mean?   How we understand that word determines how much time we have left.  Here is a passage from Mosiah 29.  I recommend it to you as food for thought as we approach another national election:

And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land. (Mosiah 29:27)

It will be a while before I  finish this project.   I will post it here when I am done.

 


Can A Latter-day Saint Be Too Patriotic Or Defend The Constitution Too Much?

September 7, 2011

My wife and I try with limited success to study the scriptures together every morning.  We usually read the Book of Mormon, but today we were thinking about Elder Oaks famous talks, “Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall,” so we read that for our scripture study.  It is truly a great talk from a true prophet.

One of the things Elder Oaks does is point out how an excessive strength in patriotism, freedom and patriotism can be our spiritual downfall.  As we read, I had a curious thought, something I have never thought before: God who already knows the future may know that the American people are doomed by their wickedness and the wickedness they allow, and he may have other plans for the minority of righteous that remain.  After all, as the scriptures assure us, the Holy Ghost will not always strive with us.  If we persist in our wickedness He will withdraw his protection and leave us to ourselves.  If this is actually the case, we ought to be more balanced in our efforts by spending less time agonizing over the fate of freedom and the USA, and spend more time building for our glorious future.

If the Constitution cannot be saved in the present situation, maybe it can be saved by resurrecting it in a new country, Zion or the New Jerusalem.  The Church has been buying up property in Jackson County on a major scale and doing the same in Daviess County, Missouri at Adam-ondi-ahman.  Maybe there are things we could do to aid that effort by improving the order and righteousness in our families, attending the temple more often, and preparing ourselves to be good citizens in a new land.

Many have said that there is no wilderness to flee to as the saints fled from Nauvoo to the Great Basin.  That may be true now, but that could change.  Hugh Nibley in teaching his Book of Mormon class said that wildernesses are man-made.  Almost all of them were peopled and prosperous at one time.  We see ruins of the ancient Anasazi in the wilderness of our desert southwest.  The wilderness of Arabia and the land once referred to as the Fertile Crescent was not alway barren.  There are evidences of high civilization in the Amazon jungle and in portions of Central America.  All over the world we see evidences of wilderness that was not always wilderness.  Maybe Missouri will be such a place in some future day.

If the Lord wants us to focus our efforts on building up a future Zion in some future wilderness, perhaps he has already written off the USA as a free country.   The Book of Mormon repeatedly cautions us that the American Gentile will be “swept off” if it becomes ripe in wickedness.  Perhaps we are seeing the beginning of that.  How wicked do the people of this nation have to be before it is ripe in wickedness?  President Hinckley said that he did not know that we were less wicked than Sodom and Gomorrah. I don’t see how the collapse of freedom and the USA could be far away.

Here are a couple of passages from Elder Oaks talk that inspired me in these new ideas:

1. My first example concerns Satan’s efforts to corrupt a person who has an unusual commitment to one particular doctrine or commandment of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This could be an unusual talent for family history work, an extraordinary commitment to constitutional government, a special gift in the acquisition of knowledge, or any other special talent or commitment.

[…]

17. Leaving the list of dangers peculiar to students, I come to the subject of patriotism. Love of country is surely a strength, but carried to excess it can become the cause of spiritual downfall. There are some citizens whose patriotism (as they define it) is so intense and so all-consuming that it seems to override every other responsibility, including family and church. For example, I caution those patriots who are participating in or provisioning private armies and making private preparations for armed conflict. Their excessive zeal for one aspect of patriotism is causing them to risk spiritual downfall as they withdraw from the society of the Church and from the governance of those civil authorities to whom our article of faith makes all of us subject.

I feel that keeping a proper balance in this matter is part of living the gospel.  We should not altogether neglect patriotism and a desire to defend the Constitution any more than we should neglect family history work, missionary work, or improving our families.  Our scriptures and the gospel that proceeds from them contains all of these elements, and none should be neglected.  We must exercise these strengths in a balanced way that avoids gospel hobbies.

What do you think?


The Doctrine of Jesus Christ And The Faith To Keep His Commandments

September 6, 2011

Many years ago after his resurrection in the Old World, Jesus Christ visited the Americas and taught this simple but amazing doctrine recorded in the eleventh chapter of 3rd Nephi:

32 And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.

33 And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.

34 And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned.

Easy to say. Not so easy to do.

A little further in the chapter the Savior says:

40 And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.

Simple isn’t it? Believe and be saved. Don’t believe and be damned. But I was at first puzzled by verse 40. How could this be? The Church of Jesus Christ teaches a great deal more than this simple doctrine, doesn’t it? Does that mean it “cometh of evil?” I just cannot believe that. Is not this Church the one that brought forth the Book of Mormon and these words in the first place? What would we know about the Savior’s teachings in ancient America if it were not for this Church?

Then it struck me. The gospel as taught by the Savior’s only true Church is 1) Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, 2) Repentance, 3) Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, and 4) receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. Isn’t this just another way of saying the same thing. I think it is.

The Savior said “believe” and ye shall be saved. But what did he mean by believe? He said to be baptized. Could it be that the word “believe” means “believe enough to be baptized?” I have noticed that in the scriptures the word “believe” is sometimes used differently than we use it in 21st century English. The word “believe” carries with it the connotation of having faith. And faith by nature demands action, in this case the action to be baptized. The Savior might just as well have been saying “Have faith in me” and be saved. If a man says he has faith in Christ or that he believes in Christ and then refuses to keep the Savior’s commandments, does he really believe or is he merely giving lip service?

I don’t believe a man has faith in Christ unless he makes his best effort to keep the Savior’s commandments. And the first of those commandments is to be baptized. If a man does not have enough faith in Christ to be baptized, he doesn’t have enough faith to be saved because he doesn’t really believe in Christ. “If ye love me, keep my commandments,” the Savior said in the 14th chapter of John. If we do not do our best to keep his commandments we are proving that we do not love him, that we do not have faith in him, and that we do not believe in him.

The Savior has made his doctrine clear. We cannot deny it or we will be damned by His own words.