Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Fairy Tale Fails

What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols? Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it.
—Habakuk 2:18-19

Elder Jeffrey Holland, when bearing his testimony, is fond of culminating with an emphatic statement similar to the following: “I have not devoted my life to a fairy tale!” This is really a powerful way to phrase it, which is not surprising for Jeff. The man has a knack for turning a phrase.

So what defines a “fairy tale?”

Dictionary definitions include “a children's story about magical and imaginary beings and lands,” and “a fabricated story, especially one intended to deceive.” This got me thinking…which led to the realization that, really, almost all religion consists of fairy tales. Don’t pretty much all religions teach about supernatural, or “magical” beings? Don’t they all deal with places that exist only in the imagination?

But wait, there’s that “fabricated” part. What if the stories are true? What if the magical beings and imaginary lands actually exist? Well, that’s where it starts to get interesting. And that’s why I said “almost” all religion consists of fairy tales. If you happen to have true knowledge about things that actually exist, well then, my friend, you don’t have a fairy tale. You have truth. And it can save you. The trick is to know when you have truth and when you simply have a “fabricated story…intended to deceive.” Because…

…there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth. (1 Nephi 14:10)
If you learn and obey truth, you are part of the group Christ refers to as His church. If you believe ANYTHING else, you are in the other category. It’s pretty straightforward. Truth saves. All else is fairy tales.

This week, I watched people ritually wash, burn incense, throw coins, and pray in sincerity to stone statues, sometimes leaving an offering of food or drink. As I watched, I considered the role of religion in human existence. In my travels, I’ve observed a number of major world religions, and what fascinates me most is that the majority of them hold so many elements in common. In general, most religions consist of beliefs to explain the following:

  • The nature and purpose of life
  • The origin of the world 
  • The origin of humanity
  • Belief in the unseen supernatural or divine, including good and evil forces or beings
  • Belief in a god or gods, as well as a devil or demons who directly interfere and intervene in human life.
  • A connection with or responsibility to ancestors who are dead
  • Behavior and rituals required to please or appease diety, often involving purification to alleviate the effects of misbehavior or unfavorable events
  • Expectation of favors or blessings for in return pleasing diety, often including health, wealth, love, luck, success, better circumstances, or whatever else one desires.
  • Consequences for failure to please or appease diety, including punishments, loss of favor and blessings, uncleanness, etc.
  • A belief in some sort of life after mortality, with favorable or unfavorable circumstances contingent on performance in this life

These common elements exist in the vast majority of religions, and seem to be part of the universal human experience. We hunger for explanations, meaning, purpose and direction. Whether we pray to a stone statue for rain, or to Jesus for money, the underlying principles hold. Though the answers and explanations differ, the universal hunger and need remains so deep seated and closely held that millions will kill or die in the service of their unseen gods, believing such behavior curries favor with the divine. We take our fairy tales VERY seriously.

Even in societies too “civilized” to kill each other over religion, we still find shunning, punishment, anger, fear, and hatred when adherents encounter someone who simply believes a different set of stories than they do.

And yet, the stories all exist to answer the same universal questions. Hugh Nibley referred to these as the “terrible questions” by which he meant the most fundamental perplexities of human existence. “Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? What is the purpose of life?” Which set of stories you prefer ultimately doesn’t matter if you don’t have the correct answers to these questions. For an entire generation, the marketing message of LDS mormonism focused on LDS answers to these questions.

And that’s where Joseph Smith comes in. Beginning as a fourteen-year-old boy, he somehow had the unique ability to see past the commonly accepted fairy tales and find the real thing. Therefore his religion is unique in the modern world, and rare in world history. I summarize Joseph’s unique teachings thusly:

  • God is not unseen; I have seen Him. 
  • God is not unknowable; I know Him. He is a real person with a real body who exists in a real place.
  • The purpose of life is to make humans into gods—not some unknowable, effete spirit sort of dead-ancestor god, but real, living, breathing physical beings who dwell in a family connection or kingdom of gods, in a physical place.
  • And perhaps, most important, you DO NOT have to accept these things merely on faith. You can know them by personal experience. You can and should meet and converse with these divine beings. You can and should meet and know God personally. He will speak with you; he will teach you these things himself.

This principle ought (in its proper place) to be taught, for God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them, for the day must come when no man need say to his neighbor, Know ye the Lord; for all shall know Him (who remain) from the least to the greatest. (TPJS 149)
That is an absolutely revolutionary set of teachings, and it flies in the face of nearly all other world religions, where the gods remain unseen and unseeable, unknown and unknowable, forever the objects of blind devotion or horror until death ends the mystery of the great unknown. Joseph made the astounding claim that these not only AREN’T fairy tales, but that you can obtain actual, physical proof for yourself, as he did.

Unfortunately, we don’t much believe what Joseph taught anymore. Instead, the religion he founded has been hijacked, and revelation has been supplanted with tradition to bring great wealth and power to some few, while requiring the masses to pay, pray, and obey, but never expect to experience what Joseph did. Like all other religions, it has simply devolved into fairy tales, requiring a lifetime of blind faith and ignorant obedience to receive an undefined favorable outcome in the unknown afterlife. This is most certainly NOT the religion Joseph taught.

Much has changed since Joseph lived, and falsehoods have turned truths into myths. We have intentionally and unintentionally added “fabricated stories…intended to deceive.” Here’s an illustration:

On the Autumn equinox in 1823, Joseph Smith went to bed and besought the Lord in supplication and prayer. In response, an angel visited him in his bedroom. Throughout Joseph’s life, and in at least 4 direct, written accounts, he specifically identified that angel as “Nephi.” But somewhere along the line, after Joseph’s death, someone wrote “Moroni” to replace Nephi. The change stuck, the history became a myth, and now a golden statue named “Moroni” tops most LDS temples. The LDS church continues to tell the false story that Moroni visited Joseph Smith on the night of September 21, 1823, even though the historical information that has come to light—and is published by the church—clearly demonstrates the error. (See here, here, here (page 753), and here (page 53).

But in the end, does the identity of the angel really matter? It seems a small error, really, and doesn’t much change your quest for redemption. Does it?

I’d like to suggest at least three reasons why something even as seemingly insignificant as the angel’s identity matters.

1. Resurrection

The identity is significant because it bears directly on understanding the gospel principle of resurrection. Nephi and Moroni lived a thousand years apart, at opposite ends of the Nephite dispensation. Between their lifetimes, Christ performed His mortal mission and attained to the resurrection of the dead. Nephi was resurrected at the time Christ was, and therefore appeared to Joseph as a resurrected being with a body. Moroni lived hundreds of years after Christ and therefore has not yet been resurrected. If he appeared, it would have been in spirit form only.

Joseph’s detailed explanation of the angel’s appearance therefore properly applies to a resurrected being, and not to a disembodied spirit. There was a physical being with a physical body standing in the air above the floor in Joseph’s bedroom. The fact that Nephi had a body would have been necessary to his ability to handle physical things in this world, like the gold plates. Nephi’s visit provides us the vital information that resurrected beings come here and minister, foreshadowing John the Baptist’s later visit, when he laid physical hands on Joseph and Oliver.

A proper understanding of the resurrection is indispensable to understanding the gospel. In fact, Joseph grouped it with what he termed the “first principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The Doctrines of the Resurrection of the Dead and the Eternal Judgment are necessary to preach among the first principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (TPJS 149)
By corrupting the angel’s identity, we fundamentally impair understanding, not only of the resurrection, but also of the covenants and connections that govern early resurrection, embodying Nephi in flesh while Moroni yet waits for that opportunity. These covenants and principles have become largely lost to us, and we therefore fundamentally misunderstand the “first principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”  A “small” error in identity has major ramifications.

2. Altered Records

Joseph’s records were altered after his death. In the Joseph Smith papers, you can see the alteration, where someone wrote in Moroni’s name. There is no explanation as to who did this or why, but the record has undeniably been altered.

Since this is the case for something as seemingly insignificant as a name, what happens when even more significant records have been demonstrably altered? Such is the case with polygamy, where Joseph’s clear and ardent teachings against the practice, were altered to promote polygamy.

Those who made this alteration in the written record attempted to turn their adultery into something sanctioned by God and taught by Joseph, and by so doing, they led thousands into significant error and gross sin. By altering Joseph’s words, they showed contempt for God, who said:

Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith. (D&C 21:4-5)
The records were changed to establish a false tradition, which is a nice way of saying “a fairy tale.” Will you continue to believe that fairy tale now that you have more reliable information about what Joseph actually taught?

3. In a Corner

In each case, faced with clear evidence that Joseph’s teachings have been altered, the LDS church has been required to make a choice: Admit the error, correct it, and move forward more closely aligned with truth, or double down and continue teaching the false tradition as if the real records simply don’t exist.

The trouble is that the false tradition also claims that the prophet, and by extension the church, cannot lead you astray. Therefore, any concession and error correction would also be an admission that the prophet and the church do indeed make significant errors, which admission would threaten the power structure built on the foundation of the false tradition. Sadly, because of this “all or nothing” facet of the tradition, the majority of those who discover errors, walk away from it all—concluding that Joseph Smith, Jesus Christ, God the Father, angels, demons, and the rest are all just fairy tales. When it’s “all or nothing” many simply check the box next to nothing, and head off into atheism. Secular humanism becomes their new preferred set of stories. This is the most pernicious result of the all-or-nothing fairy tale.

The LDS church has painted itself into a corner. They—quite literally—rely on church members’ ignorance to keep the organization staffed and funded, and the leadership in power. They know they teach fairy tales, and hope to keep doing so, because admitting error is unthinkable, and produces disastrous results.

But reliance on ignorance doesn’t work so well in the information age. The truth is readily available and easily accessed. Many cherished LDS stories are turning out to only be fairy tales after all. The transfiguration of Brigham Young, the seagulls and locusts, false quotes from Joseph Smith, manufactured modern revelation…the list goes on. Here’s another one—and a quite important one—that has recently come to light:

Joseph’s Final Charge

It’s a well-known and undisputed historical fact that the original twelve LDS apostles were never ordained by Joseph Smith, and therefore could not claim, as Brigham Young attempted to, Joseph’s authority by virtue of the apostleship alone. The continuation of Joseph’s gifts, keys, and authority is, of course, foundational to the current LDS church claims to authority, which is a problem if you can’t quite explain how other men got what God gave to Joseph.

The narrative that solves this problem is now known as the “final charge.” The story goes that in March, 1844 Joseph Smith met in council with the twelve and gave them all the ordinances, keys, covenants, endowments, and sealing powers of the priesthood, and that he rolled off onto their shoulders the responsibility to lead and govern the kingdom of God on earth. Various accounts of this meeting exist, though it was never mentioned until well after Joseph had died and the twelve needed a way to claim Joseph’s authority.

The trouble is that the minutes of those meetings are now available—and they tell no such story. Neither do contemporary journal entries of those in attendance. There’s no indication anything particularly significant happened at all. But as with other fables like Brigham Young’s transfiguration, the tale has gotten better and better through the years, until various versions have Joseph glowing as he spoke, threatening the twelve with damnation if they failed, and jumping up and down, clapping like a schoolboy as he rejoiced that he was off the hook as the only one carrying God’s authority.

Such is the tradition by which the LDS church claims rights to Joseph’s keys, powers, gifts and position. The historical record indicates it never happened. The church insists it somehow did—and thus the leaders must be obeyed and believed, even as they teach tall tales opposite what Joseph taught. Like I said, they’ve painted themselves into a corner, and they believe their only option is to double down on the lies, telling members not to look too closely, nor ask too many questions.

In other words, we ain’t gonna see a press release any time soon—not about Nephi, not about polygamy, not about Joseph’s final charge. We’ll just see more sound bites and general conference memes, pushing platitudes as if they had power to redeem. Those who point out the truth in the LDS church’s own published materials will continue to be accused of trying to “destroy faith” by telling you the truth.

And in the end it comes down to a question of truth. Joseph taught truth, including the reality of God and the opportunity to know Him. Others have traded truth for fairy tales, and continue to not only teach them, but insist you not question them. Do you want to hitch your wagon to that? Are you loyal to truth or to something else?

“I have not devoted my life to a fairy tale!” 

I’m sorry Jeff, but you have. We all have in some way or another. The Book of Mormon goes to some trouble to warn us against believing “the traditions of our fathers” when those traditions have no foundation in truth. That’s not the issue. The issue is how we respond when the traditions are unmasked as false.

Turn to God and alter your view to align with truth—this is the appropriate response. In fact, this is the very definition of repentance. It doesn’t matter if you used to believe a fairy tale; it matters how you respond when confronted with truth. If you refuse to change course, your heart is hard. And it will damn you.

It’s one thing to believe ignorantly, but once you see the written proof of the fabrication, will you still prefer tales over truth? Is it worth knowing what Joseph knew, and experiencing what he experienced? Or are you satisfied throwing a few coins, making a wish, and praying to gods of stone?

And so this brings us back to where we started. The religion of Joseph Smith—which is the religion of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Enoch, Elijah, Nephi and Jesus Christ—brings men into literal contact with Gods. It worked for ancient believers. It worked for Joseph Smith. It has worked for people now living who can testify first hand. God wants it to work for you, as well.

If your chosen set of fairy tales doesn’t produce this result, then it matters not if you pray to a stone, a cloud, an elephant, or an emperor. Though your need for fables may be satisfied, your soul never will be. Nothing but actual knowledge of truth can adequately fill that void.

Thy graven images I will also cut off, and thy standing images out of the midst of thee, and thou shalt no more worship the works of thy hands; And it shall come to pass that all lyings, and deceivings, and envyings, and strifes, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, shall be done away. For it shall come to pass, saith the Father, that at that day whosoever will not repent and come unto my Beloved Son, them will I cut off from among my people, O house of Israel.

—3 Nephi 21:17-20

Saturday, October 1, 2016

How to Receive God’s Word

And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way?

—D&C 50:19

In my last post, we discussed the preparation process behind the talks presented at LDS General Conference. (Does the phrase “laws and sausages” come to mind?) We then contrasted that process with the way God intends for His word to be delivered. In this post we’ll take the next step by discussing how to receive God’s word.

Feeling the Spirit

The common Mormon expectation, as taught by the LDS church is that you recognize God’s word because you “feel the spirit” when truth is being taught. This feeling may take the form of chills, tears, emotion, warmth, or a myriad of other positive feelings meant to convince you what you’re hearing is true because you feel good about it.

Contrastingly, if you feel doubt, fear, darkness, sorrow, anger, or any other negative emotion, this is perceived as a sign that what you are hearing is false.

The above notions are, unfortunately, lies. Your feelings are NOT the way to distinguish truth, and attempting to do so will lead you down the path of deception. I wrote at length about this previously, but thought it worth mentioning again. If you haven’t read that previous piece, I highly recommend it. It’s one of the most important things I’ve written. Here’s the link, if you need it.

Emotion as a Substitute for Truth

The purpose of the Lord’s Spirit is to enlighten and teach; to give you new knowledge; to provide “sudden strokes of ideas;” to bring truth to your remembrance, and to help you overcome your profound ignorance of the things of God. The Holy Spirit is the source of light and truth, not chills and tears.

An authentic message from God will most often call you to repentance. You may be convicted in your heart. You will likely feel distress, fear, or even anger when a true message convinces you of your need to repent.

Ask yourself: Did Samuel’s message bring good feelings? What about Nephi’s? Or the other Nephi’s? Abinadi? Elijah? John the Baptist? Jonah? Alma? Paul? Do you think the listeners commented afterwards about how good the message made them feel?

“Boy, wasn’t that a great talk ol’ Abinadi gave? What, about how King Noah is wicked and we’re all about to be destroyed and everything? The spirit was SO strong! I just loved it! I bet we’ll be hearing that again in stake conference!

Sell it with the Heart

The LDS church is, of course, very aware of the confusion between emotion and truth, and actively promotes this confusion. This is because emotions are easily manipulated. In fact, Bonneville International, the church’s communications arm that produces and broadcasts General Conference, once developed and marketed a whole process of emotional-manipulation-based advertising called “HeartSell.” Here’s the description from their website:

Affecting Change by Reaching the Hearts and Minds of our Audiences 
At Bonneville Communications, our ability to touch the hearts and minds of audiences makes us an essential resource for organizations with vital messages. 
For more than 30 years, our creative professionals have designed public service and direct response messages for national nonprofit organizations such as the Huntsman Cancer Institute, Boy Scouts of America, National Hospice Foundation, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and The Salvation Army. 
Our unique strength is the ability to touch the hearts and minds of our audiences, evoking first feeling, then thought and, finally, action. We call this uniquely powerful brand of creative “HeartSell”® - strategic emotional advertising that stimulates response. 
Our people not only create effective messages; we get them out effectively. We maintain an ongoing public service relationship with more than 11,000 radio and TV stations and networks, and cable networks and systems in North America alone. We distribute public service and paid media campaigns directly from our offices in Salt Lake City. 
We provide all pre-production, production, and post-production services, as well as state-of-the-art special effects and post-production facilities, closed captioning, electronic tagging, and video and audio duplication.
Think about it. The old Mormon TV spots. The 1990’s smarmy church videos. The current online, feel-good video offerings. The new temple endowment films. The orchestrated PR events. General Conference. Are they not all designed to “evoke first feeling?” And will the church then eagerly tell you that you’ve “felt the spirit” as a result of what you were shown? It’s highly effective manipulation, honed over the last 30 years by experts in the craft. And good grief, they’ve laid it all out right there! Don’t be fooled. 

Well, the marketing industry has moved on, and HeartSell is no longer a current buzzword, or even listed any more on the Bonneville website. So it has been quietly retired. You won’t even find it in internet archives of their site. But despite the jargon moving on, the practice yet continues, and the church still employs “Strategic Emotional Advertising That Stimulates Response.”

Come to think of it, there’s a pretty good acronym there: SEATS Response. As in, if you want to keep butts in seats on Sundays, you better keep serving up the emotional fuzzies and calling it the Spirit. It’s the creative, professional substitute for truth—that you can buy for money!

The more current trend is now market research. Polling, testing, focus groups, market surveys—these are the tools those calling themselves prophets employ to craft God’s message and resonate with audiences. Rather than seeking God’s word by revelation, they seek success through popularity. The church does a massive amount of this sort of market research—far more than typical corporations. I suppose when the only product you sell is your message, you spare no expense or effort to make it popular. 

What to Look For

Let’s get back to conference now, and discard the emotions, the costumes, the lights, the teleprompters, and the other distractions accompanying the messages. Instead, let’s focus on the messages themselves. If these are God’s words, how are we to tell?

We’ll start with the most complete statement on the process anywhere in scripture. In D&C 50, we find the following:

Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? And if it be by some other way it is not of God. 
And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? If it be some other way it is not of God. 
Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth? Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together. 
And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.  
That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day. (D&C 50:17-24)
So God’s word must be both preached and received by the spirit of truth, not by emotion. And what is the spirit of truth?
But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: (John 15:26)
And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come; And whatsoever is more or less than this is the spirit of that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning. The Spirit of truth is of God. I am the Spirit of truth, and John bore record of me, saying: He received a fulness of truth, yea, even of all truth; (D&C 93:24-26)
So we should be looking for “knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.” Anything beyond that, including attempts at emotional manipulation, are the spirit of that wicked one.

The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth. (D&C 93:36). Any authentic message from God will always impart light and truth. This means you will know, understand, comprehend, or remember something you didn’t a few moments before you received the message. You will be more informed, and therefore more intelligent as a result.

Note also the requirement that God’s word will edify you. To edify means to instruct and improve the mind in knowledge generally, and particularly in moral and religious knowledge, in faith and holiness.

Does the message make you more faithful and holy? Do you find yourself more perfectly instructed and your mind improved in the things of God? Are you more filled with light, truth and intelligence as a result of the message? Or are you only somewhat entertained but ultimately no different?

Wake Up!

God’s word is lively and interesting. It is stimulating, challenging, exciting, and even surprising. It’s not easy to sleep through. It is food to the starving soul. It may cause you despair as you realize your awful, unredeemed situation. But it will always lead to greater understanding of, and reliance upon, Christ. It will lead you to new insights about God and yourself. It will change you.

Sadly, most are not comfortable with authentic messages. In fact, this is almost always the case because authentic messages are seldom comfortable. So adjustments are made, talks are endlessly rewritten, and the message is reworked until it’s only positive platitudes mingled with scripture. We wouldn’t want to offend or sound negative.

I vividly recall watching an incident from the October, 1990 General Conference, while I was on my mission. Hartman Rector delivered a rousing call to repentance in his talk, pointing out specific behaviors and commanding the guilty to repent. As soon as he finished, Gordon Hinckley, who was conducting the meeting, stood and said words to the effect of, “You’ll have to forgive Elder Rector. He’s from Missouri, and that’s how they talk back there.” The comment got a few laughs and the tension of God’s word dissipated as the choir sang yet another hymn. Nothing to see here. Go back to sleep. (Interestingly, that particular comment never appeared in the official conference report. Because, you know, it was just an offhand joke, right?)

Well, like Hartman Rector, I’m also from Missouri, and I was shocked when Hinckley cut off the call to repent right at the knees. I thought it was a good talk, and a great reminder. Was Hinckley actually apologizing for it?

Either way, the problem has been solved. Now, such a talk would simply not be allowed. Positive messages only, please.

Finding Light with Light

From above: That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.

Remember, your ability to recognize and assimilate light and truth is dependent upon the light and truth already in you. Therefore, it’s imperative that your prayer, scripture study, and efforts to know the Lord be sincere, continuous, and effective. Do you cry out to Him? Do you ask, seek and knock? Do you search the scriptures, or merely read them? Are you familiar enough with them to use them as your standard for whatever you hear? Is it your quest to be redeemed, or are you too busy to bother? Do those who preach to you teach you to look to them, or to find the Lord for yourself?

Behold, that which you hear is as the voice of one crying in the wilderness—in the wilderness, because you cannot see him—my voice, because my voice is Spirit; my Spirit is truth; truth abideth and hath no end; and if it be in you it shall abound. And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things. (D&C 88:66-67)
If you have sufficient light, you can comprehend the truth of all things, including God. If you don’t, you can and will be deceived, and led away to destruction by false traditions and pretenders. Whether by HeartSell or Arts of Hell, it is the same.

If you watch the LDS General Conference, you’ll hear stories and analogies, poetry and prose, philosophy and platitudes. Snippets of scripture will be mingled in but not expounded, and it will all be done in accordance with long-standing traditions, right down to the monotone cadence. When it’s over, you should ask yourself if you’ve become more godly in your understanding, more fortified in knowledge of the gospel, more convinced of your sins, and more determined to see the face of Christ. Don’t bother asking yourself how you feel. Ask what you know.

And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.

—D&C 93:39

Thursday, September 29, 2016

How to Deliver God’s Word

Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? And if it be by some other way it is not of God.
—D&C 50:17-18

Well, it’s that time of year again, when millions will tune into LDS general conference, seeking to hear the word of God, get answers to their questions, and “feel the spirit.” With the world watching, those who speak bear a grave responsibility and heavy burden. How might one go about preparing for and discharging such a duty? 

Here are a few general guidelines, from those with the most experience:
  1. Start 6 months in advance, and spend maybe 2 months deciding on a topic. Go through several false starts and stops until you settle on the topic you’ll prepare.
  2. Begin writing drafts to capture your ideas and thoughts.
  3. Maybe include something someone has written to you in a letter, or perhaps a poem, a snippet of fiction, or a current news item to help make your point.
  4. Continue through a dozen or more distinct revisions, as you run them past your staff, colleagues, and family to get ideas and insights about how well you’ve stated things. Rewrite your speech as they direct, to avoid causing controversy whenever possible.
  5. Maybe use polling or focus group studies to refine your message and ensure it will be well received. A negative message will not rate nearly as highly as a positive one.
  6. Next, run it through the correlation department to make sure you are doctrinally correct and in harmony with approved teachings. 
  7. You should also let the PR department have a look so they can be prepared to head off any negative press and provide the right context for your remarks. Memes must be prepared for social media posts, and sound bites must be harvested for mass distribution. These all must be prepared in advance for maximum immediate impact. The memes will go up as soon as you speak.
  8. Hold a live event in a $450 million theater facility with metal detectors, security people, impressive music, a production crew of hundreds, bright lights, worldwide TV coverage, and simultaneous translation into dozens of languages (but not Hebrew!) A professional makeup artist will ensure you look good, and strict guidelines will ensure your wardrobe and appearance comply with costume requirements.
  9. The sacrament of the Lord’s supper will not be offered at this meeting, though His name will be invoked at every turn.
  10. At the appointed time, you’ll walk to the stand, look into the lights, and read your talk,
    verbatim and unemotionally, off a teleprompter as your name, title and position are flashed on the screen (including the important dignity of a middle initial.) 
  11. You’ll invoke the name of Jesus Christ when you close, with its implicit claim that this process has resulted in you faithfully speaking His words.
  12. OK..Ready? Lights, camera, action!
Oh…and after all that effort, if your statement results in bad PR, please don’t be surprised if your talk is significantly altered before it is published. It’s possible you might have to even re-record a new version of God’s word to comply with the wishes of those in charge.

Another Way

Of course, there’s another approach to delivering God’s word…one that is actually advocated by God, and best summarized as follows:
Therefore, verily I say unto you, lift up your voices unto this people; speak the thoughts that I shall put into your hearts, and you shall not be confounded before men; For it shall be given you in the very hour, yea, in the very moment, what ye shall say. But a commandment I give unto you, that ye shall declare whatsoever thing ye declare in my name, in solemnity of heart, in the spirit of meekness, in all things. And I give unto you this promise, that inasmuch as ye do this the Holy Ghost shall be shed forth in bearing record unto all things whatsoever ye shall say. (D&C 100:5-8, emphasis mine)
Or here:
Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man. (D&C 84:85)
So wait, what? Just stand up there and say whatever the Lord puts into your heart? That’s a tall order for anyone. Doing so requires one who has treasured up continually the words of life in their heart; it requires that the speaker be filled with light and truth; it requires the spirit of prophecy and the spirit of revelation. Or in other words, a prophet and revelator—and those are hard to find. 

But Abinadi did it. Samuel did it. For that matter, so did Nephi, Lehi, Alma, Paul, John, Christ, Joseph Smith, and myriads of other true prophets, in a variety of ways. Benjamin declared the words an angel had given him the night before. Like his namesake before him, Nephi (son of Helaman) declared the words he got directly from the Lord, and he did so fearlessly. The result was that the Lord entrusted him with sealing power, even over the elements. 
Blessed art thou, Nephi, for those things which thou hast done; for I have beheld how thou hast with unwearyingness declared the word, which I have given unto thee, unto this people. And thou hast not feared them, and hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will, and to keep my commandments. And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.  
Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God. Behold, I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels, that ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction, according to the wickedness of this people. Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and thus shall ye have power among this people. (Helaman 10:4-7, emphasis mine)
Note the proof of Nephi’s faithfulness, as cited by God, lay in Nephi’s unwearyingness and fearlessness in declaring the word “which I have given unto thee.” Nephi first obtained God’s word, then declared it. 

This exactly matches the pattern employed by the Nephite disciples who “ministered those same words which Jesus had spoken—nothing varying from the words which Jesus had spoken.” (3 Nephi 19:8) And this pattern matches the advice God gave Hyrum Smith:
Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men...Deny not the spirit of revelation, nor the spirit of prophecy, for wo unto him that denieth these things (D&C 11:21, 25)
Some of the best, most powerful, light-filled sermons I’ve seen or heard were given extemporaneously, by the Comforter, in the spirit of truth, as the spirit gave utterance. 

Writing That Talk

Now, truly, there’s nothing wrong with writing a talk in advance. Studying scripture, seeking inspiration, taking your ideas to the Lord, receiving His word and gaining His approval are all valuable and worthwhile things to do. But this is not a process that needs to involve committees and colleagues, polling and public relations. You don’t need a staff of assistants or department sign off. God’s word doesn’t require production values or theatrics. It simply requires you to have the Holy Ghost:
And as ye shall lift up your voices by the Comforter, ye shall speak and prophesy as seemeth me good; For, behold, the Comforter knoweth all things, and beareth record of the Father and of the Son. (D&C 42:16-17)
Those who claim the titles of prophet, seer and revelator would do well to demonstrate these gifts, or stop claiming them. When you spend months grinding a dozen talk revisions through committees to finally produce fifteen minutes of material, then by all appearances, the whole thing is simply an exercise in PR and image building through corporate speechifying. It sounds a lot more like copywriting than authentic revelation, and the resulting vacuous platitudes are so sanitized and generic, they become indistinguishable from Disney products. They may even contain Disney Stories.

And though all the effort seems impressive, the fact that such an arduous process is required to produce an acceptable final product demonstrates the LACK of revelation involved. I’m frankly surprised that those calling themselves prophets will admit to their immense difficulties in preparing a conference address. I can’t find a single scriptural example of authentic prophets obtaining or delivering God’s word in such a manner. 

Joseph Smith dictated God’s word verbatim, and published it as scripture. First draft. Without memes, HeartSell, correlation, or months of revision. But he was a prophet, after all. And we have not seen his equal since. Those claiming to be prophets in our time, in no way measure up to the standard Joseph set. If you view the modern conference speakers as prophets, you must account for the difference. There’s no point in pretending they are the same. You’re only fooling yourself.

Which brings us full circle to the present exercise. When one claims to speak as a prophet and demands his word be treated as God’s word, it’s incumbent on YOU to judge the matter. Get it right, and you’ll hear the voice of God. Get it wrong, and you’ll be misled down to destruction. It’s happening now, and the show is about to start. The months of arduous production work will culminate in inspiring speeches read from invisible screens. It’s up to you to judge the finished product. 

Is it authentic or just theater?

Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth?
—D&C 50:21

PS: Heres a sample of the corporate product. This gem of a talk summary came from last weeks womens conference. See if you can figure out how in the world flattery shares the light of the gospel:

“We can bring the light of the gospel into our homes, schools, and workplaces if we look for and share positive things about others.”

Sounds great, right? But is it truth?

Saturday, September 24, 2016

What Have You Against Being Baptized?

But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.
—Luke 7:30

Have you ever imagined what it must have been like for the Nephite multitude at the temple in Bountiful when Christ visited? This event is unique in scripture as it simultaneously documents a number of singular occurrences not seen elsewhere with clarity—or at all—and they happen together.

In these chapters, we witness the opening of a new dispensation; clear teaching of Christ’s doctrine, out of his own mouth; the endowment and opening of the connection with heaven; explanation of other scripture and prophecy, the implementation of the Lord’s supper, and perhaps most important, the ministry of a God among mortals. There’s nothing even remotely like this anywhere else in scripture. 

Those who survived the destructions at the crucifixion were the “more righteous part of the people” who “received the prophets.” (3 Nephi 10:12) And the fact that they made the journey to the temple to observe the required holy days—even though most of the population and many cities had been destroyed less than a year before—shows their commitment to obeying the Lord. They were rewarded with the privilege of beholding Him face to face, feeling his wounds, embracing Him, shouting Hosannah, and bowing before Him.

Immediately after these momentous events, the Lord called forth Nephi and empowered him to provide re-baptism to the people. Likewise, He called 11 others and similarly empowered them. He did this publicly so there would be no question about who was authorized to provide this ordinance, and who was not.

Next, the Lord launched into an explanation of the requirements for who was to be baptized, and exactly how it was to be done—even giving the precise wording and procedure to be used. He explained this as a commandment, to be performed “after this manner” and “according as I have commanded you.” He expressly forbade disputing about this commandment. 

Having thus laid the foundation by clearly teaching the need for, and method of, baptism (or in this case, re-baptism), the Savior then taught His doctrine—culminating with the absolute requirement that His doctrine be obeyed by all those who desire salvation. He taught these things publicly so all could hear and understand. And He taught these things first, giving them absolute primacy in His religion.

The Lord’s actions and teachings make clear the following points:

  1. Performing the ordinance of baptism requires the Lord’s authorization. Though unauthorized others may offer the ordinance, the Lord will not recognize it.
  2. The practice of ordaining priests existed among the Nephites (see 2 Ne. 5:26, Mosiah 18:18, Moroni 3). Therefore, it’s clear that priestly service requires both ordination by man, and empowerment by the Lord. Scripture does not make provision to neglect either step.
  3. Precise qualifications, wording and actions are to be followed in baptism.
  4. There is no other way to salvation. In fact, the Lord repeats four times the requirement for baptism, categorically stating that “whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned.” He leaves no room for exceptions.
  5. In recognition of the new dispensation Christ was establishing, a new baptism was required, even for those who had already been properly baptized.
  6. Water baptism is a prerequisite to receiving the Holy Ghost, both the first time, and at the opening of a new dispensation when re-baptism is required. Baptism by water is the gate to receiving the baptism of fire. 

Christ is not at liberty to change these commandments; they came from His father. Changing them or making arbitrary exceptions would make Christ both disobedient and a liar. 

Too often, we tend to view commandments as limitations, curtailing our freedom, and restricting our behavior. Many chafe at such perceived limitations. But perhaps it’s useful to think of commandments in another way. Suppose you faced the difficult task of diffusing a bomb, under the direction of an experienced bomb expert. Your very life would depend on exactly following the expert’s instructions. This is not a time to improvise. If you follow the directions exactly, you will safely accomplish the task. In such a situation the directions, or commandments, given by the expert are NOT designed to curtail your freedom or restrict your behavior. Rather, they are the actions that will save your life. There’s no point arguing or refusing to obey the expert’s instructions. Your only hope lies in doing exactly as he says.

Well, Christ is the expert. He has trodden the path and knows the way to be redeemed from the fall. Baptism is not an arbitrary commandment He can change or waive at will. Due to the requirements of eternal, immutable laws, there are good reasons baptism must be received, and must be performed in the correct way. Again, even Christ is not at liberty to change these requirements. There’s no point arguing about it. The only safe course is to do as Christ directs.

Nevertheless, some have trouble receiving Christ’s word and some refuse baptism for various reasons. Some seek to argue the points of His doctrine rather than submitting to it.

I have no desire to argue about these things, but I do think it’s worthwhile providing a few points here in response to some objections I’ve encountered to the ideas Christ has expressed. Please don’t think me unkind if I’m direct in what follows. The time is at hand to declare truth with boldness.

My previous baptism was good enough. I know the Lord accepted it.

That may be so, but the validity of your previous baptism is not the question. Whenever the Lord initiates a new dispensation, He invites those who accept His gospel to be baptized, or re-baptized, in recognition of the new covenant He makes available. 

Such a requirement came at the opening of Joseph Smith’s dispensation. However, some felt their prior baptism was adequate and they therefore refused to be re-baptized. In response, the Lord gave the following revelation:

Behold, I say unto you that all old covenants have I caused to be done away in this thing; and this is a new and an everlasting covenant, even that which was from the beginning. Wherefore, although a man should be baptized an hundred times it availeth him nothing, for you cannot enter in at the strait gate by the law of Moses, neither by your dead works. For it is because of your dead works that I have caused this last covenant and this church to be built up unto me, even as in days of old. Wherefore, enter ye in at the gate, as I have commanded, and seek not to counsel your God. Amen. (D&C 22:1-4 emphasis mine)
A new dispensation is upon us. The Lord has renewed the command to obey His doctrine. Those who accept Him will do so.
 Refusal is really rejection of Christ. How can you reject Him now, and yet rely on your previous baptism to be honored? 

The Lord knows my heart. He surely won’t reject me simply because I didn’t get re-baptized.

The Lord does indeed know your heart, and finds there an unwillingness to hear and obey His voice. Your good intentions cannot overcome the Lord’s edict: “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Refusal to obey Him is evidence your love for Him is feigned. Yes, the Lord knows your heart, but perhaps you don’t. Turn your heart to him.

But what about all my good friends who worship Christ? I can’t believe a loving and merciful God would reject a believing soul simply because they didn’t get baptized—or didn’t get baptized in the right way. I cannot accept such a God.

Your refusal to accept the Lord’s commandment doesn’t make His commandment void. Those who sincerely worship Christ will humble themselves and seek His word, wherever it is found. The minute someone starts dictating what God “should” be like, based on their own flawed understanding of mercy, justice, love, or any other principle, they cut themselves off from learning God’s true character, perfections and attributes. And without a correct understanding of these, faith is impossible. (Lectures on Faith 3:4)

In other words, if you want to engage in ultimatums about what you will and will not accept in your God, then by definition you do not and cannot have faith. You simply believe in a fairy-tale Jesus who bends to conform to your will—a false Christ indeed. (See Matthew 24:24)

In the final analysis, God is more intelligent than us all. His work and glory is to exalt us, and He knows how to do it. We ought to trust Him and let Him do His work, in our own lives and in the lives of those around us. Those who will not accept what He offers in this life will require continuing efforts on His part beyond this mortality. Our best course is to receive all he offers here and now, while it’s available.

I believe the commandment applies to others, but I’m the exception. 

Thus making God a respecter of persons, and a liar. Seriously?

But I’ve constructed a complex and nuanced scriptural argument to prove that, although the Lord commanded re-baptism, He really didn’t mean it, and I won’t be deceived into doing it. 

And yet, he says, “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.” (3 Nephi 11:37) Is your complex and nuanced scriptural argument adapted to the capacity of a child? Did you construct your argument as a result of your childlike, humble faith and obedience, or did you construct this argument to avoid doing what the Lord plainly and openly said to do? Is it likely Christ was deceiving us with His commandment? Or is it more likely your wisdom is foolishness?

O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. (2 Nephi 9:28, emphasis mine)
Anyone can go to God and get power to baptize. It is arrogant to claim that only a certain group or lineage has access to that power. If what he says is true, then very few people who ever lived on earth will be saved! 

The Lord instructed us to anticipate only a few would accept His offer. “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) “For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Nephi 31:17)

By broadening Christ’s permissiveness to suit your desires for large numbers, you really just change the parameters of who is excluded. But there will still be exclusions. Whether hundreds, thousands, millions, or billions accept, it is still not everyone. Are you in a position to choose who is excluded? What number would make you happy? Or is it even better to exclude nobody and follow Nehor’s teaching that ALL will be saved at the last day? (Alma 1:4)

There’s no point in arguing about numbers. Even if only one couple is saved and exalted, something infinite has been accomplished. Although few will find and accept the Lord’s offer, it is nevertheless open to all. For those who do not accept, the struggle will continue. We ought to do all we can to raise the warning voice and invite all to come unto Christ. 

You might be able to convince me if you can answer each of my concerns and defeat all my arguments.

Therefore, blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble; or rather, in other words, blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe. (Alma 32:16)
Yes, but...

Now, having talked through a few of these objections, imagine someone present in the multitude at Bountiful, raising their hand during Christ’s sermon, and advancing one of the arguments listed above. Do you suppose the Lord would argue the points of His doctrine? Do you suppose He would offer a series of exceptions to accommodate those who preferred not to obey Him? Do you suppose He would stand there with holes in His hands, feet and side, where He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities, (Isaiah 53:5) and be persuaded by the accusation that He is not a “loving God?”

You and I cannot comprehend the price Christ paid to make our rescue possible. He informs us of the exact steps required to take advantage of His offer. What is there to argue about? If you’re drowning and someone throws you a rope, is there any point in arguing about the color, weave, or length of the rope? Is there any point in refusing to take hold unless everyone else does too? Are you in any position at all to critique the throwing form or pulling power of the one who will save you? Take hold of the rope.

The Prevailing Gate

When Nephi discussed the Doctrine of Christ, he referred to repentance and baptism as the “gate” by which we should enter:
Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. (2 Nephi 31:17)
Until you have entered through that gate, it remains closed to you. Given that you currently reside in a Telestial kingdom, the gate really is the way of escape from Hell. (2 Nephi 9:10). If you do not enter in at the gate, you remain trapped and unredeemed. Or as Christ explained, if the gate remains closed, Hell prevails against you. You must build upon His Rock:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them. (3 Nephi 11:39)
In conclusion, I’ll simply add my personal invitation: Please come unto Christ through repentance and baptism. Turn to Him, obey His word, and let Him fill you with fire and the Holy Ghost. I know from personal experience His words are true. 

Authorized ministers are waiting to help:

And he said unto the children of men: Follow thou me. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father? And the Father said: Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son.

—2 Nephi 31:10-11