Personal Opinion or Revelation?

August 4, 2013

Many years ago in 1968 someone at  Church told me how to tell whether a teaching is “personal opinion” or “revelation.”  If you agree with the opinion, then that is revelation.  If you don’t agree, then it is personal opinion.  And so it is with following the prophets, at least for many.  If you agree with the prophet’s teaching, then he is “speaking as a prophet.”  If you do not agree, then that is his personal opinion.

And of course, the Church has let MORMON DOCTRINE by Elder Bruce R. McConkie go out of print.  Why?  Other doctrinal works that have had far less impact on the Church have continued in print throughout the fifty years that I have been a member.   I think it might be the result of this difference between personal opinion and revelation.  A lot of saints were offended by Elder McConkie’s book because he included his personal opinions?  So?  What else could a person put into such a book?  Unless he is authorized by God to bring forth scripture such as the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, it has to be personal opinion.  Elder McConkie included a disclaimer stating as much in the beginning of his book.  Maybe we don’t agree with him about evolution.  Maybe he was wrong about blacks and the priesthood.  So what?  Wasn’t he as entitled to his opinions as much as the next man?

Of greater interest to me is the assumption that a “personal opinion” on the part of a prophet means that it is not true.  Who would have a better informed opinion than a true prophet of God?  I know that on the matters of evolution and the black priesthood ban, McConkie’s opinions were not popular.  Are all of mine?  Are all of yours?  Are we not entitled to a personal opinion even though others don’t agree with it?

Besides, cannot a person have a personal opinion that is also true?  The fact that it is merely an opinion does not automatically make it false, does it?  In my opinion, most of the personal opinions of Bruce R. McConkie and his father-in-law Joseph Fielding Smith were correct opinions, that is, they were true.  Does that make them “official Church doctrine?”  No, but so what?  I’m not aware that the Church has much “official Church doctrine,” just the opinions of true prophets.  “But they are not binding upon the Church,” some say.  Hey… the truth isn’t binding either, not on most of us, and not on most churches.  You can say that whatever is in the standard works is official Church doctrine, but what does that mean?  A hundred different scriptorians will tell you a hundred different meanings for the same verses.  Isn’t that supposedly why we need living prophets?  Isn’t that why we rely upon personal revelation by the power of the Holy Ghost?

I think that the personal opinions of Elder McConkie and President Smith are more likely to be true than not.  And even if I am wrong about that, I think they are entitled to have such opinions regardless.  In fact, that is one of the best ways to learn whether your opinions are good.  Voice the opinion, and listen carefully to the reasons people give you that they are wrong.  I learn from that, on occasion.


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 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.


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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Orson Scott Card on Evolution vs. Intelligent Design

February 14, 2006

Ever since I read Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card has been one of my favorite science fiction authors. I think his ability to tell a story clearly and to communicate ideas is extraordinary. Here he talks about the debate between those who believe in Darwinian evolution and those who believe in so-called Intelligent Design. I like his thinking on the subject because it points out what has long been clear to me, that many advocates of Darwinism defend it as they would a religion rather than as a scientist would defend a scientific theory.

That some kind of evolution is a fact is certainly true. Even Bruce R. McConkie admits to the existence of a form of evolution in his article on the subject in his famous book Mormon Doctrine. But to claim more for Darwinian evolution than it can produce in the way of explanation for observable phenomenon is patently unscientific. And it is undeniably true that Darwinism has problems which cannot be answered with current scientific understanding. Of course, that doesn’t “prove” intelligent design either. It just proves that mankind is still in its infancy when explaining the universe around it. What we know is vastly overwhelmed by what we have yet to learn.


Do We Still Believe in “Believing Blood?”

May 27, 2005

While using the new beta version of Google Print last night, I ran across something that Jan Shipps wrote about Mormon history that I found interesting. She said:

By revelation, he [Joseph Smith] called his own father to be the patriarch of the church, and Father Smith instituted the practice of giving individual Saints spiritual messages called patriarchal blessings. Among much else, these blessings informed Mormons of their Hebrew tribal heritage, that is, through which of his progeny they were related to Father Abraham. From this, a concept of “believing blood” developed, and a powerful symbol system gradually grew up to support the notion that people who responded positively when they read the Book of Mormon or heard LDS gospel claims already had the blood of Abraham flowing in their veins. […]For more than a century, this “believing blood” concept was extremely important. In the wake of the explosion in LDS Church membership that followed World War II, however, less has been heard of it. Even the importance of the patriarachy as a connection to Israel appears to be decreasing. Still, for almost a hundred years, Gentile had a particular meaning in the Mormon world. (Shipps, Jan. Sojourner in the Promised Land: Forty Years Among the Mormons, p. 25, 2000)

Do we still believe this, that we are literal descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?

Checking Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie, we read:

Believing BloodSee ADOPTION, BELIEF, FAITH, FOREORDINATION, ISRAEL, PRE-EXISTENCE. This is a figurative expression commonly used to designate the aptitude and inclination of certain persons to accept and believe the principles of revealed religion. In general the Lord sends to earth in the lineage of Jacob those spirits who in pre-existence developed an especial talent for spirituality and for recognizing truth. Those born in this lineage, having the blood of Israel in their veins and finding it easy to accept the gospel, are said to have believing blood.

Since much of Israel has been scattered among the Gentile nations, it follows that millions of people have mixed blood, blood that is part Israel and part Gentile. The more of the blood of Israel that an individual has, the easier it is for him to believe the message of salvation as taught by the authorized agents of the Lord. This principle is the one our Lord had in mind when he said to certain Jews: “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:14, 26-27.)

I have discussed this on a number of email lists that I belong to, and most of those I have heard from do not believe it. It just isn’t scientific enough, I guess. Certainly it is not “official” Church doctrine. But is it true?

For myself, I do believe it. Why? Because it has been taught by the leadership of our church, and I believe they are true prophets of God. And while it has not been taught for many years from our General Conference pulpit, no prophet has taught that it is false, to the best of my knowledge. Has there been a revelation to overturn this teaching? Or is it just one of those early Mormon beliefs that is being allowed to die a natural death by neglect?