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