If you haven't yet read the prior 4 parts of this series, I recommend you read them first, in order, before reading this installment.
We've come to the point in this series where it's time for some introspection. Let me outline the situation.
The church is prospering and succeeding. All the church’s efforts meet with success, the leaders are respected and loved, and the religion is popular and accepted. The people are faithfully living their leaders' teachings that tell them of their relationship with God, and the responsibilities they must live up to as His chosen people. They are busy doing all that is asked of them.
Your tithes are being put to good use; the building program has produced many beautiful and impressive buildings, including a new conference center, office tower, and a gorgeous temple.
Prior attacks by those not of your faith have been put to rest, and you can live and practice your religion in peace, without fear of persecution.
All is well in Zion. Yea, Zion prospereth.
Then in the midst of this comfortable prosperity, out of nowhere, a crazy man begins to publicly level accusations against your church. He says that you are not chosen, but are instead horribly wicked. He tells you your religion is an abomination, and claims that terrible destruction is coming if you don’t repent. What’s worse, he begins attacking your leaders as being corrupt, greedy, ignorant, and uninspired.
The man who makes such accusations has no authority, title or office. He’s a “nobody,” neither known nor respected in the church. He’s so deluded he actually claims God talks to him and tells him to say all these horrible, unkind, and hurtful things about your church and its leadership.
Of course, he is wrong. All the evidence shows that God is pleased with your church and pouring out His choicest blessings on the leadership. Anybody can see that.
Consequently, many are hurt and angered by this man. They feel threatened. They fear him and his message.
Oh, sure, he preaches about God, but he obviously has no idea that a loving God would never say such things and cause such pain. The God that you know delights to pour out blessings, not destruction. He rewards you for proper behavior, rather than punishing you for error. He raises up chosen leaders to show you the right way, and would never allow them to lead you astray. Why would God ever let his church fall into corruption?
The crazy man is deluded, and easily dismissed. Efforts to ignore him ensue, though he just won’t shut up. Ultimately, as one who may potentially mislead, and even eternally damage those who listen to him, he must be stopped in any way possible. He’s threatening the peace and stirring up unrest. Isn’t it better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief?
Unfortunately, efforts to arrest and punish him for his crimes fail, as he gets wind of what’s coming and leaves the country. He makes a clean getaway, and is safe.
But happily, that dark episode seems to have passed—which is why it’s so shocking when, two years later, he comes back and tries it again, only this time—get this—wearing a disguise. The disguise even works for awhile, until he starts in preaching the same stuff as before, evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed and telling all the church members how wicked they are.
But the people aren’t quite so patient this time around. Abinadi is caught, tried, and punished for his crimes, including treason and sedition. He dies an ignominious death, pathetic and screaming. So much for those who dare preach against God’s chosen leaders.
Except the crazy man was right, and destruction comes just as he said.
Now, for the introspection part. Here’s an incredibly important question:
Would you have listened to the crazy man?
In the face of overwhelming voices to the contrary, would you have believed God’s messenger who told you of God’s coming judgment? Despite the opinions of all your friends, family, society and church leaders, would you have recognized and believed God’s messenger? Or would you have stuck with King Noah and his priests, who taught you, after all, flattering things much easier to bear—in exchange for your idolatrous devotion to them.
Fortunately, one man did believe God’s messenger. And if you’re a Mormon, you owe everything to Abinadi and his one convert, Alma.
As you may recall, the Book of Mormon is the continuing record of apostasy and restoration. Time and again, people turn away from God’s true gospel, lapse into apostasy, and practice various forms of wickedness. Oddly, such people are always very religious and devoted to their falsehoods. And time and again, the Lord, ever merciful, sends messengers to call the people back to the truth.
Let me reiterate: this doesn’t just happen once, but continually. There is NO group in the book that manages to maintain fidelity to truth. From the opening verses with Lehi preaching to apostate Jerusalem, through Nephi, Jacob, Mosiah, Benjamin, Abinadi, Alma (both of them), Helaman, more Nephis, Christ Himself, Mormon and Moroni, the Lord gives us so many illustrations we cannot possibly miss the point.
But then, just in case we did miss it, we have the Jaredite record inserted to show us yet again that when apostasy prevails, the Lord sends prophets to preach before destruction.
There is not ONE single example of a group of believers that managed to hold onto truth. They ALL slipped into apostasy.
The same is true of the Bible record, with the mysterious exceptions of Enoch and Melchizedek, who both managed to establish Zion societies that were taken away from Earth. These are certainly the exception, not the rule. And we're still here, aren't we?
Now, getting back to the example at hand, if there had been no Abinadi, there would have been no Alma, no Nephite restoration, and ultimately no Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith or Mormon church.
Of course, the Lord could have tried again with another messenger—but that’s exactly my point. It’s a pattern. The Lord ALWAYS sends prophetic messengers when there is apostasy.
And so, to the question again. If you had lived in those days, would you have recognized God’s messenger?
If yes, why? And how?
What makes you think that you would have been among the very small number of believers who accept the Lord's messengers? Belief in the Lord's messengers is a very rare thing, after all.
John the Baptist preached outside the church, had no recognized authority, railed against the religious leaders of the true religion, and had strange personal habits. He was "the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." (Matthew 3:3)
Would you have submitted to John's baptism? According to Joseph Smith, John wrested the keys of the kingdom from the Jewish leaders, and they didn’t even know they had lost their authority (TPJS 276.) They still had the temple, the ordinances, the fine trappings of wealth and prestige that came with priesthood office. And they were rejected by God. Yet the multitudes still followed them and John was killed.
Jesus came out of obscurity, preached against the legitimate leaders of the true religion, broke the traditions and rules of His faith, and was ultimately killed for His message. Would you have recognized Him? Few did. His own disciples were so shocked when He died, they gave up and went back to fishing. They had thought He would redeem Israel, but now He was dead.
Even after He rose, they were slow to understand that the most important event in the history of the world had just taken place before their eyes. Israel had been redeemed, and Israel didn’t even know it. His own disciples were slow to recognize God's marvelous work.
But God's work is seldom ever recognized until after it is complete. Obscure men and women labor against persecution and rejection to accomplish God's will, and the world rejects them while alive, and honors them when dead. These are the "weak things" spoken of:
The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh—(D&C 1:19)Would history have found you in the desert worshipping the golden calf, or on the mount with Moses, talking to God? The odds overwhelmingly favor the calf, not the climb. And so the people rejected the invitation offered through Moses, and both Moses and the fulness of the priesthood were taken out of their midst. They were left with something lesser.
Therefore, he took Moses out of their midst, and the Holy Priesthood also;We sit in Sunday school, wagging the finger and clicking the tongue at those apostate Israelites who rejected and killed the prophets over and over. How could they have been so blind?
And the lesser priesthood continued, which priesthood holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel; (D&C 84:25-26)
And yet our own scriptures tell us WE lost the Fulness of the Priesthood over 174 years ago. It has not returned.
For there is not a place found on earth that he may come to and restore again that which was lost unto you, or which he hath taken away, even the fulness of the priesthood. (D&C 124:28)We, like the Israelites of old, are left with something lesser. And like the Israelites of old, we insist we certainly would not fall into the same error as our predecessors. Said the Lord:
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. (Matthew 23:29-32 emphasis mine)And then, just to drive the point home, WHY, exactly, do you suppose Mormon chose to include the following warning in his book, and WHO, exactly, do you suppose he was attempting to warn? Those who would never read his book, or us, who the Lord showed to him in detail and who claim to believe the book he gave us? Read this carefully:
And now when ye talk, ye say: If our days had been in the days of our fathers of old, we would not have slain the prophets; we would not have stoned them, and cast them out.
Behold ye are worse than they; for as the Lord liveth, if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil.
But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet.
Yea, ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel; and because he speaketh flattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well, then ye will not find fault with him.
O ye wicked and ye perverse generation; ye hardened and ye stiffnecked people, how long will ye suppose that the Lord will suffer you? Yea, how long will ye suffer yourselves to be led by foolish and blind guides? Yea, how long will ye choose darkness rather than light? (Helaman 13:25-29 emphasis mine)More introspection: Suppose you had lived in the days of Joseph Smith. Would you have recognized him as a prophet? What makes you think so? He was an obscure and little-noted farm boy who eventually led the church for 14 years, mostly through persecution and hardship, and was ultimately killed because of the actions of current and former church members. Yet through it all, there were many more who considered him an impostor or worse, than there ever were that believed him.
We lost much when we lost Joseph (and Hyrum) and I’ve attempted to illustrate as much with this series on prophets. Four generations have passed without that same light, while we ignorantly declare to each other that nothing at all has changed, that we have not lost the fulness, and that it is impossible for us to be led astray.
Yet God always works in patterns. His house is a house of order.
When faced with “prophets” that do not, in any way, meet the scriptural definition or follow the scriptural pattern, and yet who preach to us that we must follow them because they are incapable of leading us astray…and tell us that our very salvation depends upon following them, what do we think?
Let's review the prophetic pattern in history and scripture:
- Prophets aren’t sent to the non-religious. The pattern is to send prophets when religion has become corrupt. The most religious people on earth killed the Savior.
- Prophets come in times of apostasy to bring a restoration.
- Prophets come before destruction.
- Though there may be a legitimate priesthood hierarchy, God's messengers are almost never part of it. Instead, they are outsiders, without title, position or church authority.
- True messengers fearlessly preach repentance.
- They openly declare their witness of having met the Lord and received their commission from Him.
- True prophets are not popular, widely recognized or generally accepted.
- They are often cast out or killed. They are nearly always rejected.
And now to the point of today’s post.
What if the Lord repeated His pattern today? What if we indeed lost much light with Joseph, and what was left has continually dwindled since, to the point that the religion we practice now bears little resemblance to the one Joseph taught, and is left barren of any saving power? And what if God, seeing this condition and knowing of the coming destruction, sent another true messenger to warn us?
Would you recognize God’s messenger? Would you have the courage to listen and believe? Would you have the fortitude to fearlessly evaluate your religious traditions against the light of scripture and consider the possibility you might be lacking something important?
Or would you speak, nay, shout your testimony that we follow a living “prophet” and we CANNOT ever be led astray? In the face of prophets who do not prophesy, seers who cannot see, and revelators who reveal nothing, would you be humble enough to go to the Lord and seek answers for yourself?
Every dispensation has been led astray. They’ve all lapsed into darkness. What on earth makes us think we are any different? Do we not have exhaustive records before us, attempting to inoculate us against this deadly lie told by the enemy of our souls—that we’re somehow different, special, better than those who went before? Though THEY were mistaken, WE cannot possibly be?
Suppose God sent a messenger today who had been in His presence, was empowered with a message, and sent to cry repentance.
How would the church respond to such a messenger? History tells us such a messenger would be rejected.
But the more important question—the MOST important question is how will YOU respond?
My next post will deal with how God is following His pattern in our day.
(And for those who are determined to jump to the wrong conclusion, this has nothing to do with me. I am not a prophet, nor do I intend to proclaim anything about myself at all.)
I don't expect you to believe me, but I hope you will believe God. I hope you'll spend some time asking God if the things written here so far are true. Ask if He is indeed following His pattern in our day. Ask that your heart may be softened to recognize and accept God's works. There is no danger in asking God, and you have nothing to fear.
Trust God, not me. Stop seeking to be "right" and instead seek to know where you may be wrong. Become as a little child as Christ counseled.
If you truly want to understand the role and meaning of prophets in the Lord's plan, I recommend you download and read this article. It's long, at 48 pages, but it's also the most cogent, well-researched and documented statement on prophets I've found. I realize few will want to put in the effort to read this article, but that's expected. Some will. I hope you will.
Until then, here's some food for thought:
It happens the same way EVERY TIME. Here's how it happened last time:
Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments; (D&C 1:17)If it happens again; if the Lord does indeed call and empower another "voice crying in the wilderness" in our day, will you recognize him? How?
Yea, wo be unto him that saith: We have received, and we need no more! And in fine, wo unto all those who tremble, and are angry because of the truth of God! For behold, he that is built upon the rock receiveth it with gladness; and he that is built upon a sandy foundation trembleth lest he shall fall. Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough!
—2 Nephi 28:27-29