Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Adam, Awake and Arise

And they came to him, and awoke him, saying, Master, master, we perish. Then he arose, and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water: and they ceased, and there was a calm.
—Luke 8:24

For whatever reason, He slept through the storm. As the ship took on water, jeopardizing their voyage and their lives, the Master slept. Perhaps He was exhausted, or just that filled with peace. But regardless of the reason, there He remained, "in the hinder part of the ship," unaware of the tempest, "asleep on a pillow."

Terrified fellow travelers awakened Him with the question, "Carest thou not that we perish?" He did care. He arose and took action, rebuking the storm, commanding the sea. And there was great calm.

"Why are ye so fearful?" He asked. "How is it that ye have no faith?"

"What manner of man is this?" they asked one another, bewildered.

"Therefore what manner of men ought you to be?" the Lord later asked his Nephite disciples. "Verily I say unto you, even as I am."

We live in a world tempest tossed. Even a cursory look around ought to alarm us and send us crying to the Lord because "we perish." The political, economic, medical, educational, social, religious, and spiritual condition of this fallen world have reached such a point of depravity and desperation that even the angels are begging the Lord day and night to be allowed to come and reap down the earth.

For all flesh is corrupted before me; and the powers of darkness prevail upon the earth, among the children of men, in the presence of all the hosts of heaven— Which causeth silence to reign, and all eternity is pained, and the angels are waiting the great command to reap down the earth, to gather the tares that they may be burned; and, behold, the enemy is combined. (D&C 38:11-12)
Behold, verily I say unto you, the angels are crying unto the Lord day and night, who are ready and waiting to be sent forth to reap down the fields; (D&C 86:5) 
The day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and yet, we sleep.

Pacified, entertained, well fed and clothed, deceived that we’re invincible, flattered that we’re chosen, and lulled into carnal security, we allow the devil cheat our souls and lead us away, carefully, down to hell. (2 Nephi 28:21) No matter what else may be wrong in the world, all is well in Zion, after all. 

There are no beheadings, bombings, ebola, drought, recession, race riots, unemployment or ISIS here, right? Zion prospereth! Therefore, what need have we to fear?

It’s a lovely, deadly dream.

When you think about it, sleep is a form of death. One who is asleep, though yet alive, is insensitive to all that is happening, non-responsive to the environment, and therefore, symbolically at least, dead. Swept away into a world of dreams, blissful or terrible and seemingly real, the sleeper inhabits a false reality, oblivious to the actuality of the situation.

And so, as we sleep, the ship is overwhelmed with water, tossed in the tempest, and on the verge of sinking. “We perish” is not a fearful exclamation, but a profoundly accurate assessment of our condition.

We Need to Wake Up

Thus far in this blog, I’ve done my best to awaken my brothers and sisters who are sleeping—not because I enjoy distressing them, but because they—and you—and I—“we perish.”

The sermon we need to hear does not need to be preached by me. It's been there all along, right in Second Nephi, where Lehi told Laman and Lemuel what WE needed to hear:

13 O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell, and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains which bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe. 
 21 And now that my soul might have joy in you, and that my heart might leave this world with gladness because of you, that I might not be brought down with grief and sorrow to the grave, arise from the dust, my sons, and be men, and be determined in one mind and in one heart, united in all things, that ye may not come down into captivity; 
 22 That ye may not be cursed with a sore cursing; and also, that ye may not incur the displeasure of a just God upon you, unto the destruction, yea, the eternal destruction of both soul and body. 
 23 Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust. (2 Nephi 1:13, 21-23)
Lehi's words are profound and deserve careful analysis. Here are some points to consider:

Lehi may have been speaking to his sons, but this passage is in the book for US. I don't believe anything ended up in the Book of Mormon by accident. It was all pointed toward us, and toward our day. And in a larger sense, part of the outcome we hope for in this world includes entering into a family relationship with Father Lehi ourselves. But that's another topic. 

Lehi challenges us first, to awaken. (v. 13)  He says it twice: O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep...This mirrors the angel's message to King Benjamin, when he was told twice to awaken:

And the things which I shall tell you are made known unto me by an angel from God. And he said unto me: Awake; and I awoke, and behold he stood before me. And he said unto me: Awake, and hear the words which I shall tell thee; for behold, I am come to declare unto you the glad tidings of great joy. (Mosiah 3:2
The first command brought Benjamin out of sleep and to his senses. But the angel commanded him again to awaken—this time to the word of God. It's not enough to simply become aware of our surroundings. Until we awaken to understanding God's word, we are still spiritually asleep. Until we hearken and obey, we are in eternal peril.

Lehi next pleads for his sons to "shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound."

These chains are helpfully defined for us by Alma:
And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell. (Alma 12:11)
Therefore, by Alma's definition, these chains are ignorance of God's mysteries, caused by the hardness of our hearts! Over a dozen times, the Book of Mormon warns us of these awful chains and the captivity of hell they represent. Ignorance will damn us!

Isn't it odd that such chains of captivity and death can simply be "shaken off?" There are no locks to pick, no bars to cut, no miraculous bursting strength required. It's almost as if we're voluntarily wearing the chains, and we can "shake them off" whenever we choose to. So how do we do that? 

Well, according to Alma, we soften our hearts and seek God's word. I know, too simple, right?

But hard heartedness is the leading cause of our spiritual blindness. It rejects truth, and causes anger, violence, and destruction. It is one of Satan's greatest and most effective tools, especially among the religious. If you don't fully understand hard heartedness, please read my post on it

When your heart is soft, you are equipped to seek God's word. That means the scriptures, as well as God's word to you, directly, through revelation. BOTH are required for you to shake off the chains. Both must be sought diligently until you receive understanding.

Lehi next counsels his sons to "arise from the dust." How do we do that?

All flesh is of the dust (Jacob 2:21) and in our fallen and sinful state, we are even less than the dust (Mosiah 4:2). The only way, then, to arise from this carnal and fallen state is to apply the atoning blood of Christ:
And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men. (Mosiah 4:2)
This solution works. This is not some metaphorical, abstract concept about repentance. It is literal. When you come to view yourself in your fallen, carnal state, cry to the Lord using those same words. Ask for the atoning blood to be applied to you, personally, and see what happens. How does it feel to arise from the dust?
And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them. (Mosiah 4:3)
According to Lehi, having applied the atonement and arisen from our own dust, we are then prepared to "be determined in one mind and in one heart, united in all things." What's that all about?

And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them. (Moses 7:18)
This is about Zion itself! This is the path leading to the goal the prophets have foreseen for millennia; the goal we all profess to seek in the last days. But Zion will not—and cannot—come until there are people who awaken and arise just as Lehi begged his sons, and continues to plead with us even today.

If we refuse to take his advice, all that remains is "a sore cursing" and "the displeasure of a just God upon you, unto the destruction, yea, the eternal destruction of both soul and body."

And so, for our own sakes, the loving parent Lehi pleads with each of us:
Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust. (2 Nephi 1:23)
Awake and Arise!

What does it mean to arise? In its most basic sense, it simply means to stand up. Take a stand, make a stand; get on your feet, ready to take action, standing for truth and righteousness. Just as Lehi instructed, we must "put on the armor of righteousness." Look at Paul's language:
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. 
Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 
Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; 
And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 
Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. 
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: (Ephesians 6:11-17)
The need to stand comes up again and again:
But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: (Malachi 3:2)
But my disciples shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved; but among the wicked, men shall lift up their voices and curse God and die. (D&C 45:32)
In fact, when you look at it, the Lord's people who are prepared to meet Him when He comes, simply aren't found lounging around, being entertained, calling themselves righteous, and relying on others to teach them what they need to know. 

No, those who are prepared to meet their Master are found following the example of the Master. They arise. 

It is no wonder then, that the first command given to Adam, who represents all of us in the endowment, is to "awake and arise." Until that happens, no other spiritual progress is possible.

Please wake up! Don't wait until it's "everlastingly too late." Don't let the devil lull you away into carnal security, and bind you with his chains, flattering you that "all is well in Zion." All is NOT well in Zion. In fact, Zion doesn't even exist here on this earth. Not even close. And unless enough of us awake and arise, Zion will not come, but destruction will.

There simply is not time to be an "average" or "mainstream" anything. No church can save you; no man can save you; no checklist can save you. Only Christ can save you, and he showed you what to do that day in the boat.

He awoke. More precisely, He was awakened by someone else. You must awaken as well, and if nobody has yet shaken you, I hope to now. 

He arose. He got on His feet, surveyed the situation, and acted. The time for sleeping was past; the crisis was upon them, and if He did not act, danger and death awaited, not only for Him, but for those He could help. 

Our Lord refused to idly let that happen. Faith requires action, and so He acted. And then, as He asked His disciples, He now asks each of us: "Where is your faith?"

I've written a number of blog posts about the unbeliefs that blind us to the truth, prevent our faith, and bind us down to destruction. We have been, and still are taught the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture. We blindly rely upon practice ordinances, convinced we have the real thing. We've destroyed the pure doctrine of Christ, teaching instead the commandments of men. I'm hoping these things alarm you. I'm hoping you'll ask questions, go to the scriptures, hunger and thirst, and cry unto the Lord. I'm hoping you'll wake up.

Please don't simply dismiss all this with blind reliance on mortal leaders. The responsibility is upon YOU. It always has been.

Are you awake? Are you alarmed? Have you fully come to appreciate the boat we're in is old and unrepaired, listing to port, taking on water, broken masted, splintering, and ready to sink with the next wave crash? That the mortal man we call captain can't save the ship or even save you? Have you fully appreciated the last, greatest enemy that confronts us all? We Perish!

If you've awoken and realized your desperate plight, don't despair. Have faith. Stand up and look aroundnot at the waves and the wind, but at that man, ignored, patiently waiting on a pillow in the hinder part of the ship. He can save you if you ask Him. He will save you if you reach out to Him. 

You cannot stop the waves and wind, but He can. He is the God who subdues all enemies under His feet, including the water upon which He walks. He knows what to do; He has calmed tempests before. He has subdued death, hell and the devil. He is our only hope. 

He is your only hope.
"What manner of man is this! for He commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey Him." (Luke 8:25)
Will you obey Him?
Adam, awake and arise!

[UPDATE 10/16/14: I posted this entry several days before October General Conference. I think Elder Ballard's address, "Stay in the Boat and Hold On!" provides important food for thought. He recommends we focus thus: “Keep the eyes of the mission on the leaders of the Church. … We will not and … cannot lead [you] astray." He further recommends, "teach your missionaries to keep their eyes on us"

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Destroying the Doctrine of Christ

I'm a fool--I'll admit it--and I believe I can prove it mathematically. Or at least I can use a math analogy to show what a fool I've been. Even if you don't like math, hang in there with me for a minute and let me show you what I mean.

Remember the constant known as Pi?

It's officially defined as the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. You probably learned it as 3.14; and that's close enough for middle-school math.

But there's more to it than that. Much more. Here are a few of Pi's attributes:

Infinite: Pi is an infinite number, meaning it goes on forever without end. Computers have calculated pie to over 12 trillion digits, with no end in sight. (I'm pretty sure those are the same computers they use to compute the national debt, which has been computed to nearly 18 trillion dollars with no end in sight.)

Fixed: Pi is a specific ratio and cannot be changed. Obviously, if you change Pi through addition or subtraction, it's no longer Pi. 

Constant: No matter the size of a circle, Pi will always apply in exactly the same way. It never changes.

Universal: Pi is THE ratio used when relating circumference to diameter and therefore is used in trigonometry, geometry, cosmology, number theory, statistics, fractals, thermodynamics, mechanics and electromagnetism. It's everywhere. And if properly applied, Pi is the basis of wonderful, even seemingly miraculous, achievements.

But that's not the fun part, right? The fun part is hearing about those crazy people who memorize and recite Pi to several thousand digits. The current record for memorizing Pi is over 67,000 digits, which took over 24 hours just to recite. It's completely pointless! It's nothing more than an exercise in record setting. 

Having an incredible memory may be useful, but being able to recite Pi to thousands of digits conveys no practical advantage to anyone at all. You may know a long string of numbers, but unless you know how to apply the numbers, it does you no good to know them.

And so this brings us back to the fool who writes this blog. 

I used to memorize whole chapters of scripture. I had a pretty good memory, and I thought it was fun to wow people by rattling off an entire chapter like a circus side show. I could recite, pointlessly, for minutes on end, words I had memorized, but to which I paid little attention. I thought this somehow pleased God. But it was just a pointless exercise in regurgitating words I had crammed into my head. And showing off.

That changed a few years ago when I started to pay attention to those words, and actually believe them.

One of the first chapters I ever memorized was 3 Nephi 11. You may recall, this is the chapter that opens Christ's visit to the Nephites in Bountiful. I'd like to focus on some of those words I once ignored and talk about what Christ actually taught. 

When Christ visited the Nephites, His first order of business after proving His identity was to establish His doctrine. This is not surprising because the doctrine of Christ is the most important thing you can understand in this world. It is the only way to salvation, and is the culmination of what you and I came here to learn and apply. It not only matters, but in the end, it is the only thing that matters.

I've written about this previously, but it is so important I'll repeat it here, and expand on some ideas.

Here is Christ's doctrine. (Look at the number of times Christ uses the word "doctrine" as he emphatically declares the doctrine that he claims as his own):
3 Nephi 11:31-40
31 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, I will declare unto you my doctrine. 
32 And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me. 
33 And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God. 
34 And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned. 
35 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost. 
36 And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one. 
37 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. 
38 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. 
39 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. 
40 And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.
So let's take a look at what Christ emphatically declares to be His doctrine--the doctrine that the Father gave to Him. It consists of the following items:
  1. Repent
  2. Believe in Christ
  3. Be baptized
  4. Be visited by fire and the Holy Ghost as the Father's witness of His son.
These are all concepts we think we understand. But each is a sermon of its own, particularly in light of the meanings we've overlaid upon these words, contrasted with their scriptural meanings. Like memorizing and reciting words without understanding, it's possible to look at this doctrine and assume we are following it when we're not.

For today, I'd like to focus on verse 40: 

And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.
Christ makes it pretty clear, doesn't he? We are not to add to, subtract from, or tamper in any way with what he has just taught. There are to be no disputations about this (3 Nephi 11:28.) It is fixed, set and permanent. Don't even try to mess with it. 

Anything else, no matter what it is, and no matter what we call it, is NOT Christ's doctrine. I don't know how he could make it more clear.

Of course, there are other things that are part of Christ's gospel. There are tenets, principles, teachings, commandments, and covenants. He expects us to learn and apply these things, but they are not what saves us. Christ only has one doctrine, it has the power of salvation, and it is listed right there in 3 Nephi. Period. If you don't believe that, you don't believe the scriptures. 

And yet, how many things do we call doctrine? I own McConkie's Mormon Doctrine. It is nearly 900 pages long. Joseph Fielding Smith wrote Doctrines of Salvation. It is three volumes. I got an email from an LDS book club, offering me a two-volume set that contains, according to their ad, "Over 900 Gospel Doctrines" and "Over 8,500 Doctrinal Statements." That's a whole lot of salvation for only fifty bucks. And a whole lot of doctrine Christ didn't teach.

O the wise, and the learned, and the rich, that are puffed up in the pride of their hearts, and all those who preach false doctrines, and all those who commit whoredoms, and pervert the right way of the Lord, wo, wo, wo be unto them, saith the Lord God Almighty, for they shall be thrust down to hell! (2 Nephi 28:15)
There is a three-fold wo pronounced upon anyone who dares teach false doctrines (notice "doctrines" is plural.) Not surprisingly, this particular abomination appears directly next to the abomination of whoredoms, which doesn't mean what you think.

In scripture, whoredoms are not only sexual sins, but commonly indicate sins of infidelity to God. Noah Webster's 1828 dictionary defines "whoredom" as follows: 

In Scripture, idolatry; the desertion of the worship of the true God, for the worship of idols.
So, is it surprising that the teaching of false doctrines appears right next to whoredoms in the list? If you teach a way of salvation that is false, you are promoting a false form of worship, or the worship of a false god. This is idolatry. 

And the three-fold "wo" is pronounced by the three-named "Lord God Almighty." This is serious stuff. Do not mess with the doctrine of Christ. Got it?

OK, but maybe we're a little fast and loose with the word "doctrine." Maybe we should talk about teachings, tenets, and beliefs. But that's just semantics. I mean, the actual doctrine, the stuff Jesus calls HIS doctrine, we certainly haven't messed with that, right? Have we?

Well, unfortunately, we have. And rather badly, I'm afraid.

The Preconditions of Men, Mingled with Scripture

Look at Mormon 9:29:
See that ye are not baptized unworthily; see that ye partake not of the sacrament of Christ unworthily; but see that ye do all things in worthiness, and do it in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God; and if ye do this, and endure to the end, ye will in nowise be cast out.
So there's a worthiness requirement for baptism. What is it? What must one do to qualify for baptism? Let's refer to the words of Christ in the 3 Nephi verses above. Go take another look.

Let's see...repent, believe in Christ, be baptized. 

That's it. 

Now, let's look at the baptismal requirements we place upon those who request baptism from the LDS church. The following is from Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service, an official publication of the LDS church. 

  • Make sufficient changes in their lives to qualify as commanded in Doctrine and Covenants 20:37.
  • Develop faith in Christ.
  • Repent of transgressions.
  • Live the principles of moral worthiness.
  • Live the Word of Wisdom.
  • Commit to pay tithing.
  • Receive all the missionary lessons [lessons 1–4 on the Teaching Record and associated commitments].
  • Meet the bishop or branch president.
  • Attend several sacrament meetings.
("Statement on Missionary Work," First Presidency letter, 11 Dec. 2002)

Teaching for Doctrines the Commandments of Men

I suppose it should be obvious that the above list goes WAY beyond what Christ set forth as His doctrine, but just in case the familiarity of the above requirements blinds us to the facts involved, let's talk about that list a bit.
  • Make sufficient changes in their lives to qualify as commanded in Doctrine and Covenants 20:37.
D&C 20:37 does not require any changes in your life. You simply must witness to the church that you have repented, and demonstrate the works of repentance. You may still be a terrible person, but one who wants to not be. 
  • Develop faith in Christ.
The scripture requires "belief" in Christ. Not faith yet. These are two different things. And if one is willing to go down into the water in Christ's name, this is evidence enough of belief. Doing so is an act of faith.
  • Repent of transgressions.
Adding "of transgressions" is a bit arbitrary, but maybe we can let this one slide. We'll talk about what it means to repent another day.
  • Live the principles of moral worthiness.
Nope, Jesus didn't say that. Moral worthiness is a good thing, but Jesus never made it a requirement before baptism. If you were morally worthy, you wouldn't need baptism.
  • Live the Word of Wisdom.
Section 89 says the word of wisdom is not a commandment, but a principle with promise. We are substituting a principle for a doctrine. This is a no-no. Furthermore, Jesus not only drank wine, but made a high-quality vintage. Joseph Smith drank wine and beer, before and after baptism. The Word of Wisdom is a good thing, but it has NOTHING to do with qualifying for baptism.
  • Commit to pay tithing.
Tithing is a good thing, and even a law (not a doctrine). But it's not a requirement for baptism. Is it? Moroni?
Yea, it shall come in a day when there shall be churches built up that shall say: Come unto me, and for your money you shall be forgiven of your sins. O ye wicked and perverse and stiffnecked people, why have ye built up churches unto yourselves to get gain? Why have ye transfigured the holy word of God, that ye might bring damnation upon your souls? (Mormon 8:32-33)
  • Receive all the missionary lessons [lessons 1–4 on the Teaching Record and associated commitments].
So, if I understand correctly, if somebody knocks on the missionaries' door one day, proclaims their repentance  and belief in Christ, and requests baptism, the missionaries must refuse them, and insist that they first sit through a set of missionary lessons and make associated commitments? Then we can schedule a date, but make it a few weeks out because first they must also:
  • Meet the bishop or branch president.
  • Attend several sacrament meetings.
This is starting to sound like we're trying to baptize them unto the church, culture, and behaviors of LDS Mormonism, NOT to repentance and belief in Jesus Christ. I'm kind of surprised a white shirt for men is not listed there somewhere as well.

But wait, there's more! Let's not forget the baptismal interview (though I didn't see Christ mention an interview...)

Baptismal Interview Questions

  1. Do you believe that God is our Eternal Father? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer of the world?
  2. Do you believe the Church and gospel of Jesus Christ have been restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith? Do you believe that [current Church President] is a prophet of God? What does this mean to you?
  3. What does it mean to you to repent? Do you feel that you have repented of your past transgressions?
  4. Have you ever committed a serious crime? If so, are you now on probation or parole? Have you ever participated in an abortion? a homosexual relationship?
  5. You have been taught that membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints includes living gospel standards. What do you understand of the following standards? Are you willing to obey them?
a. The law of chastity, which prohibits any sexual relationship outside the bonds of a legal marriage between a man and a woman. 
b. The law of tithing. 
c. The Word of Wisdom. 
d. The Sabbath day, including partaking of the sacrament weekly and rendering service to fellow members.

  1. When you are baptized, you covenant with God that you are willing to take upon yourself the name of Christ and keep His commandments throughout your life. Are you ready to make this covenant and strive to be faithful to it?
Question 1, at least the second half of it, is entirely in keeping with Christ's doctrine. And question 6 is in the spirit of Christ's doctrine, particularly as taught in 2 Nephi 31:15-16. The rest are additions of men, pretended requirements, and clearly outside Christ's doctrine.

Fact is, we've set up such tremendously high boundaries around baptism, we actually discourage people from receiving this all-important saving ordinance. We hedge up the way and we turn them away from the Lord who can save them.

Now, I know some might think, "But wait, the prophet can add those requirements. He's the Prophet and he speaks for God!" I think Jesus foresaw this very excuse and made it clear that NOBODY is authorized to change His doctrine. "And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock."

Hey, don't shoot the messenger, but did Christ just call five-sixths of the LDS baptism interview "evil?" Is there any way He is pleased that we refuse baptism to anyone who will not agree to attend our meetings, pay money to the church, abstain from coffee, or declare that [insert name of current Church President here] is a prophet of God? 

"But wait! Baptism is how one joins the LDS church, and therefore they have to learn the practices and keep the rules of the church."

Well, no. That's not true. Baptism doesn't make you a member of the LDS church. Confirmation does. And you'll note, Christ doesn't mention confirmation in His doctrine. So it's a different matter, subject to different rules. When you read what the scriptures actually say, sometimes things may surprise you. 

Like, for instance, the definition of Christ's church:
Yea, if they will come, they may, and partake of the waters of life freely. Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church. Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church. (D&C 10:66-68)
There's that pesky reminder again--that declaring more or less than Christ's doctrine is against Christ, or in other words, anti-Christ. It should give us serious pause and cause careful reflection. 

Like the mathematical constant Pi, Christ's Doctrine is infinite--it never ends and is broad enough to encompass the entire human family. 

It is fixed and adding to it or subtracting from it only destroys it. 

It is constant and applies in exactly the same way to everyone--the greatest or the least, the saint or the sinner.

It is universal in that belief in and following of Christ's doctrine is required of everyone. There are no exceptions and there is no other way to salvation. Everyone must enter at the gate, and that gate is repentance and baptism. 

The doctrine of Christ is powerful when properly applied. It is the power of God unto salvation. If the doctrine of Christ is followed, the promised result occurs. "For he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost." This is real, this is true. This happens.

And like Pi, it's possible to memorize the doctrine of Christ, recite it, and never benefit at all from doing so. Until we believe and apply Christ's doctrine, it's just empty words. Adding to or altering those words to forbid baptism only damns us.
For behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you that the Lord God worketh not in darkness. 
He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation.
Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price.
Behold, hath he commanded any that they should depart out of the synagogues, or out of the houses of worship? Behold, I say unto you, Nay. 
Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance. 
Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden. (2 Nephi 26:23-28)
If you believe the doctrine of Christ and desire baptism, nobody has the right to refuse you. I certainly wouldn't refuse you. All are invited. You are invited. 
Come, my brethren, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price. (2 Nephi 9:50)
I know a sacred spot where the water runs deep
Where the Lord wakens those who are still asleep
And new life comes as the old is laid low
Oh, down to the river I want to go-
Lord, down to the river I'll go.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Finding Fault or Feeding Faith?

For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. 
—Malachi 4:1

Some people, who misunderstand my motives, have accused me of attacking the church. I suppose I see why they might feel this way, because I understand we come from an LDS culture in which questioning is taboo. 

Furthermore, the unbelief that we cannot be led astray is lent lavishly to all parts of the church at all levels. Therefore, questioning "the church" or "the brethren" is viewed as rebellion. 

So it's time I clarified what I'm trying to do, and why I'm trying to do it. As you can see from the index at the right, I haven't been blogging for long. But that doesn't mean I haven't already been accused of mal-intent and called a few choice names. Therefore, I need to make myself and my motives perfectly clear. 

Keep in mind, I am not important. Frankly, what people think of me is of little consequence. I'm far more concerned with what the Lord thinks of me. But what I'm writing is important, and why I'm writing is important.  So I'll begin with a short, fictional story:

"Stop it!" screamed the tenant as he ran out of the building to confront the man with the powerful hose. "Why are you spraying water all over the building?"

      "Because it's on fire," replied the firefighter.

"What? You're crazy! You need to stop spraying or you're going to cause damage."

      "But look! Don't you see the flames? And the smoke? The roof is going to cave in!"

"You're misinterpreting what you're seeing. Those can't be flames because this building is fireproof. You need to stop attacking it!"

      "What? It's clearly on fire!"

"No, I have the architect's personal promise that this building can never burn."

      "Seriously? The architect actually promised that?"

"Well, no, but one of the sub-contractors said it somewhere along the line. He seemed serious about it. In fact, he was so confident, he even removed the fire sprinklers. So clearly, this building is not, and cannot be burning."

      "But it is!"

"That's ridiculous! If the building were to ever catch fire, the building manager would tell us. Now stop spraying or I'll have you removed from the property! You're damaging the building! Don't you care about the building? Why won't you stop?"

      "Because there are people inside."

The posts on this blog are about one thing only: Teaching truth. 

In the process of doing that, long-held traditions and false beliefs will come under attack. But attacking falsehood is NOT the same thing as attacking the church, any more than attacking flames is the same as attacking the building they are burning.

Only if you believe the ridiculous assertion that the church is error free would you ever conflate attacking falsehood with attacking the church. By the way, if you do believe this outlandish assertion, Elder Uchtdorf disagrees with you:

And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine. (Come, Join With Us. October 2013 General Conference.)

Truth Matters

 The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth. (D&C 93:36)
And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come; (D&C 93:24)
Therefore, to receive the glory of God, we must receive truth. And to receive truth, we must receive correct knowledge. There is no salvation in falsehoods, no matter how compelling, how well accepted, how comfortable or how flattering they are. It doesn't matter who believes a proposition, or who teaches it. If it is false, it has no saving power. 

Even if it is partially false, it will damn you. You cannot come unto Christ through falsehoods. He is a God of truth.

As I wrote in a previous post, you can't even have faith until you have a correct understanding of God's character, perfections and attributes. (Lectures on Faith, 3:4) And without faith, you cannot be saved. 

Therefore, this is a matter of life and death for all of us. You and I MUST acquire correct knowledge so we can be filled with light and truth, or the glory of God. The alternative is damnation.

Said Joseph Smith:

"As far as we degenerate from God, we descend to the devil and lose knowledge, and without knowledge we cannot be saved, and while our hearts are filled with evil, and we are studying evil, there is no room in our hearts for good, or studying good. Is not God good? Then you be good; if He is faithful, then you be faithful. Add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, and seek for every good thing.
The Church must be cleansed, and I proclaim against all iniquity. A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world, as evil spirits will have more knowledge, and consequently more power than many men who are on the earth. Hence it needs revelation to assist us, and give us knowledge of the things of God. (TPJS, 217)
Seeking truth is NOT optional if we want salvation. As I have said before, God actually expects to us expend some effort to gain knowledge of Him by study and by faith. 
I advise all to go on to perfection, and search deeper and deeper into the mysteries of Godliness. (TPJS 364)
Discovering the mysteries of Godliness requires not only a diligent search, but also a soft heart:
And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell. (Alma 12:10-11)
Ultimately, eternal life itself depends upon gaining the right kind of knowledge:
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3)
Unfortunately, truth is not particularly welcome in this fallen world, where he who was a deceiver from the beginning would fain claim lordship by his deception.

Even among the religious--especially among the religious--truth is an unwelcome intruder. Joseph Smith had no end of trouble trying to teach true principles to the early Saints:

But there has been a great difficulty in getting anything into the heads of this generation. It has been like splitting hemlock knots [tough logs] with a corn-dodger [cornbread] for a wedge, and a pumpkin for a beetle [hammer]. Even the Saints are slow to understand.
I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen. (TPJS 331)
Sources of Truth

In this information-saturated world, the sheer volume of what's available for study can easily overwhelm our ability to learn and process what we need. Since there's no way to study it all, I have a personal hierarchy I use to prioritize when choosing sources in my search for gospel truth. I've organized it into the following three tiers:

Tier One: God

In God the Father and in his Son, Jesus Christ, reside the fulness of all truth. 

And he answered: Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie. (Ether 3:12)
In practicality, this means I believe in God's ability to reveal truth to the honest seeker. Just as James 1:5 opened the restoration, the promise is still just as valid to anyone who will ask of God.

Tier Two: Those who know God

People who have learned first-hand from God and share what they have learned are my second-tier sources. 

Such sources include ancient and modern scripture, angelic ministers, and the teachings and accounts of those who have been in the presence of the Lord or his divine messengers. Such people have an obligation to testify so that the rest of us can eventually exercise the required faith to receive similar blessings. 

And because he hath done this, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither have angels ceased to minister unto the children of men. For behold, they are subject unto him, to minister according to the word of his command, showing themselves unto them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness. And the office of their ministry is to call men unto repentance, and to fulfil and to do the work of the covenants of the Father, which he hath made unto the children of men, to prepare the way among the children of men, by declaring the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels of the Lord, that they may bear testimony of him. And by so doing, the Lord God prepareth the way that the residue of men may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts, according to the power thereof; and after this manner bringeth to pass the Father, the covenants which he hath made unto the children of men. (Moroni 7:29-32)

I only include those in tier two who will openly declare and testify of their experiences with God or his messengers, as prophets always do. Here are a few examples from the Book of Mormon:
Lehi: And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God. (1 Nephi 1:8) 
Nephi: And I said unto him: To know the interpretation thereof—for I spake unto him as a man speaketh; for I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another. (1 Nephi 11:11) 
Jacob: And my brother, Jacob, also has seen him as I have seen him; wherefore, I will send their words forth unto my children to prove unto them that my words are true. Wherefore, by the words of three, God hath said, I will establish my word. Nevertheless, God sendeth more witnesses, and he proveth all his words. (2 Nephi 11:3) 
Enos: And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed. (Enos 1:5) 
Benjamin:And the things which I shall tell you are made known unto me by an angel from God. And he said unto me: Awake; and I awoke, and behold he stood before me. (Mosiah 3:2) 
Alma: Yea, methought I saw, even as our father Lehi saw, God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God; yea, and my soul did long to be there. (Alma 36:22) 
Amulek: And the angel said unto me he is a holy man; wherefore I know he is a holy man because it was said by an angel of God. (Alma 10:9) 
Nephi (Son of Nephi): And it came to pass that Nephi—having been visited by angels and also the voice of the Lord, therefore having seen angels, and being eye-witness, and having had power given unto him that he might know concerning the ministry of Christ, and also being eye-witness to their quick return from righteousness unto their wickedness and abominations; (3 Nephi 7:15) 
Mormon: And I, being fifteen years of age and being somewhat of a sober mind, therefore I was visited of the Lord, and tasted and knew of the goodness of Jesus. (Mormon 1:15) 
Moroni: And then shall ye know that I have seen Jesus, and that he hath talked with me face to face, and that he told me in plain humility, even as a man telleth another in mine own language, concerning these things; (Ether 12:39)
There are, of course, more examples than this. The point is that those who have received such knowledge will testify of it.

Tier Three: All Other Sources

In this tier, I include other resources like books, general conference talks, teaching manuals, scriptural commentary, scholarly works, etc. Many of these can be very valuable and full of truth, but many are not. These tier-three sources are all "arm of flesh" sources unless they are explicitly claimed to be otherwise. There is great danger in uncritically accepting teachings from these sources. 

Judging a Message

It's easy to succumb to the temptation to judge the message by the messenger. In our LDS culture, we've come to expect certain behavior from those called of God. For example, we expect church leaders to dress a certain way, speak a certain way, behave in certain ways, and generally fit a mold we have cast. 

But in reality, God is not nearly so predictable. Joseph Smith wrestled, pulled sticks, and ran foot races. John the baptist dressed roughly, criticized leaders, and failed to follow expected cultural patterns. Even Christ himself used guttural language, broke man-made rules, and drove the money changers from the temple with a whip. None of these men would be readily accepted as leaders today.

Just as we expect our leaders to fit a certain mold, we expect their messages to conform as well. We will not tolerate a message, for example, that might be viewed as negative, harsh, or offensive. And yet, scripture is replete with true messages that were all that and more. Rather than give a long list of scriptural illustrations, I'll just give a summary:

Signs of a False Message:

  • Flattery (Mosiah 11:7)
  • Allows you to take comfort in sinfulness (2 Nephi 28:8)
  • Informs you that you are in the right way (Alma 30:17)
  • Tries to convince you that you are special, even chosen, and uniquely favored of God (Alma 31:17)
  • Appeals to your pride and vanity (Mosiah 17:12)
  • Tells you all is well (2 Nephi 28:25)

Signs of a True Message:
  • Calls you to repentance (Alma 5:32)
  • Causes the fear of the Lord to come upon you (Mosiah 4:1)
  • Brings you down into the depths of humility, even desperation (Mosiah 4:2)
  • Does not flatter you (Jacob 2:8)
  • Causes anger among the unrepentant (Mosiah 11:26)
  • Often grieves the one who must deliver the message (Jacob 2:6)

Therefore, it's wise to remember that if we don't like the "tone" of a message, this ought to be a warning to search our hearts and ask why.

Non-negotiable Truths

In my search for truth, and in what I present here, there are certain foundational truths that are, for me, non-negotiable. They include the following:

  1. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, Savior of the world, and my Lord. I invite all to come unto Him and be saved. This is my primary purpose in blogging. Anything that prevents people from coming unto Christ must be challenged.
  2. Joseph Smith was called of God, was a true prophet, and taught God's truth. If you want to dispute that, go find another blog. This issue is settled in my mind to the degree that there is nothing any mortal can say or do to convince me otherwise. Yes, I'm familiar with your arguments to the contrary. There's no need to repeat them.
  3. The Latter-day Restoration of the gospel began with Joseph Smith and continues today. There is much yet left to be accomplished before the work is complete. God is moving that work forward in our day.
  4. The Scriptures are true. This is settled in my mind as well. If you want to attack the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, or even the Bible for that matter, as works of falsehood or fiction, you can do that elsewhere. Not here.
Why I Blog

I'll summarize it succinctly. I don't enjoy doing this. It's difficult, time consuming, challenging and disheartening. I don't care for the persecution that comes to me and my family because of this blog. And I don't like attention. I don't get any reward from this world for these efforts.

I'm not attacking anything or anyone except falsehood. To the degree an institution, publication or person teaches unbelief, they will be challenged by what I write. This is not an act of belligerence or rebellion on my part, but rather an act of utmost love and devotion to truth, and even to those who think themselves attacked. I don't expect many will understand this, but it is nevertheless true.

I write these things because the Lord has asked me to. I don't know why He chose such an unworthy servant for this work, but I try to be willing, and he magnifies my poor abilities. I believe the truth matters enough that if all my efforts only result in one person overcoming unbelief and finding the Lord, it will have been worth it. 

I have much more to write in the future, but I thought it important to lay this foundation clearly, so there is no question about my motives or intentions going forward.

I started with a fictional story, so I'll end with a true one:

Years ago I was driving home from work one day when something in the corner of my eye caught my attention. I did a double take, then screeched to a stop on the side of the road. 

I was driving past a burning house.

The fire was inside the house, and not visible from the outside. I don't even know how I noticed it in passing, but through the kitchen window, which faced the road, I could clearly see the entire kitchen was engulfed in flames.

When I jumped from my truck and ran across the busy road to get to the house, I darted directly in front of a fire battalion commander's car that just happened to be driving past. (I could tell by the emergency lights on top.) I flagged down the car and pointed out the fire to the vehicle's two occupants.

And that's when it got crazy. 

The two men jumped from the car and started shouting orders--at me! 

"Get that garden hose and turn it on full blast!"

 "What?" I thought to myself. "You're actually going to try to fight this fire yourselves? With a garden hose? Are you nuts? Shouldn't we wait for the fire department?"

"Find a rock and throw it through the kitchen window!"

"Seriously?" I thought. "You want me to start breaking windows in a burning house?"

I ran and did what they asked while the men began checking the front and back doors. Finding them locked, they pounded on the doors to see if there was anyone inside.

Then one of the men took the garden hose from me, climbed up on the air conditioner, and began spraying the flames through the kitchen window I had just broken out. 

The other man yelled at me to kick open the back door, as he ran to his car and opened the trunk. I was still shocked at the actions of these two men, but I did as requested. 

No sooner had I kicked open the door, than I saw that same man charging toward me and strapping an air tank on his back as he ran. 

He didn't even break stride, but ran straight through the back door and into the burning house. Through a wall of thick smoke, I saw him charge up the stairs

My first thought was that he was going the wrong way! He should be heading toward the kitchen, shouldn't he? My second thought was that the upstairs wasn't safe with the kitchen below engulfed in flames.

Only when I heard him shouting did I realize why he did what he did. He wasn't there for the kitchen, or even for the house. He was calling out, looking for people trapped in the burning building, and willing to risk his life to find them.

Well, the story had a happy ending. The house was unoccupied at the time; with the help of an additional garden hose, and much to my surprise, the fire was actually extinguished; and though the kitchen was a total loss, the house was saved.

Now, I don't know why I noticed the flames when hundreds of others were driving by, oblivious, on a busy road. But for whatever reason, I saw the flames in time, and by divine providence, was in a position to help.

Something changed for me that day as I watched two courageous men--who knew more than me--take actions that made no sense within my existing paradigm. Over and over, they did things I did not expect and could not agree with. Only after it was all over did I see the wisdom of their actions and realize they were right all along. I was the one who was ignorant that day as I stood outside a burning house, wondering when the authorities would arrive and do something about it, oblivious to the possibility that there might be people dying inside. 

But a brave man showed me a better way as he taught me a lesson in courage that day. It's no exaggeration to say my life was forever changed when I watched that man--with no more protection than a pair of jeans and a face mask--charge into a burning house--in case there were lives to be saved.

When Moroni visited Joseph Smith in his bedroom, he quoted a prophecy from Malachi that is so important it is now found in all four of our standard works:

For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. 
—Malachi 4:1

There is yet time to save some few from what lies ahead. We must make the effort.