I once visited China, and in the course of business, went shopping for a watch. A friend had a connection who knew a guy who could get us past security and into a secret room in the back of a nondescript building, behind a guarded door.
The cramped, windowless room contained fake watches. Thousands of them.
Every luxury watch brand imaginable was represented in that room, in three levels of fidelity to the original. A cheap copy of a $10,000 watch might cost $50. A better copy might cost $100. And a part-by-part, exact copy, made of premium materials, might cost $1,000. The whole operation lived constantly on the verge of destruction, and would fold and disappear in moments if the authorities came knocking.
The salesman who showed me the watches called every deal "special."
I saw wide-eyed tourists eagerly buy two, three, even ten watches to take home and wear in imitation of worldly wealth, in hopes of worldly prestige. The eager buyers thought they had died and gone to fake-watch heaven, because they could imply, by imitation and deception, that they had something they did not.
Me? I walked out with just one watch, a gift for my wife. It stopped working in less than a week.
If you’ve read this series thus far, you’ve no doubt detected my theme: Real vs. imitation; the genuine article vs. the mere appearance. Satan, the great imitator, offers enticing mimics of the real thing, whether the category is scripture, messengers, marriage, righteousness, or religion.
This should not surprise us, because nearly all facets of our rapidly crumbling culture have their basis in clever, or not-so-clever fakes, appearing as real. Manufactured performances substitute for real talent, easy credit imitates true wealth, politicians pretend to be everything they’re not, popularity is confused with courage, camouflaged slavery substitutes for true freedom, indoctrination displaces education, and manufactured emotion mimics divine communication. Whether in politics, pop culture, education or religion, a deceptive agenda tells us what to think, what to believe, and how to act. All else is defined as “evil.”
We are so immersed in, and enamored with imitations, that many of us have lost all ability to discern between the true article and the fake.
Religion is no different. Imitations, appearing as real, tempt us to accept fool’s gold instead of the real thing. Such a bargain leaves one feeling rich, until the day of reckoning, when all such fakery will be revealed, counterfeits rejected, and unpaid debts settled. In that coming day, only the genuine article will have any power to save. All else will be cast out, bound in bundles, and burned as stubble. (Matthew 7:23, D&C 101:66, Malachi 4:1) False religion will have no more value than fake watches in that day.
Who will stand rejected of the Lord at that coming day of reckoning? Christ offered the following prediction that will befall the falsely religious:
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Matthew 7:21-23)
It’s worth noting that Joseph Smith changed this passage to read “And then will I say, Ye never knew me…”
Those who profess His name without actually knowing Him, are the counterfeits He rejects.
For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart? And again, doth a man take an ass which belongeth to his neighbor, and keep him? I say unto you, Nay; he will not even suffer that he shall feed among his flocks, but will drive him away, and cast him out. I say unto you, that even so shall it be among you if ye know not the name by which ye are called. (Mosiah 5:13-14)
So unless you want your ass driven out, you’d better not be a stranger to the Lord.
For behold, in my name are they called; and if they know me they shall come forth, and shall have a place eternally at my right hand.
And it shall come to pass that when the second trump shall sound then shall they that never knew me come forth and shall stand before me. And then shall they know that I am the Lord their God, that I am their Redeemer; but they would not be redeemed. And then I will confess unto them that I never knew them; and they shall depart into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Mosiah 26:24-27)
And so, it comes down to a question of knowing Christ.
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3)
Who is a witness of the Lord? Who can truthfully bear witness of His resurrection? Who can reliably tell us the way back into His presence?
Those who know Him.
Due to language in D&C 107, we assume members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are automatically such men. Indeed, they are known to sometimes bear their “special witness” of the Lord. Many church members assume this is a personal witness born from having met the risen Lord.
I believe the words they use are carefully chosen, and ought to be carefully reviewed if we are to understand what they are saying, and what they are not saying. Here are some examples:
Boyd K. Packer:
Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon recorded the following after a sacred experience: “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
“For we saw him” (D&C 76:22–23).
Their words are my words.
I believe and I am sure that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that He lives. He is the Only Begotten of the Father, and “by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (D&C 76:24).
I bear my witness that the Savior lives. I know the Lord. I am His witness. I know of His great sacrifice and eternal love for all of Heavenly Father’s children. I bear my special witness in all humility but with absolute certainty, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Though Elder Packer bears both his “witness” and his “special witness” he still borrows the words of others rather than declaring anything he has seen or experienced himself. He "believes," and is "sure," and "knows," the things he claims (thought these are mutually exclusive ideas) but does not explain how or why he knows.
Are we not all to stand as witnesses? (Mosiah 18:9) What makes Elder Packer’s witness unique? He doesn't say.
Henry B. Eyring:
I am a witness of the Resurrection of the Lord as surely as if I had been there in the evening with the two disciples in the house on Emmaus road. I know that He lives as surely as did Joseph Smith when he saw the Father and the Son in the light of a brilliant morning in a grove of trees in Palmyra.
Elder Eyring points to the experiences of others as the source of his knowledge, just as we all can. He does not state anything that would make him an independent witness. He relies on others. "It's as if I've been there" is not the same as "I've been there."
Both of these apostles borrow from those who are actually willing to state they have seen the Lord. They compare themselves to those who know. They state they are witnesses without stating what they have witnessed.
That watch may be a Rolex, or it may be a knock off. They won't tell you which.
Bruce R. McConkie
And now, as pertaining to this perfect atonement, wrought by the shedding of the blood of God—I testify that it took place in Gethsemane and at Golgotha, and as pertaining to Jesus Christ, I testify that he is the Son of the Living God and was crucified for the sins of the world. He is our Lord, our God, and our King. This I know of myself independent of any other person.
I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears.
But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God’s Almighty Son, that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way.
Elder McConkie admits he has NOT felt the nail marks in the Lord’s hands and feet, but expects to do so “in a coming day.” And yet, this ceremony of physical proof is the first order of business when the resurrected Lord appears to mortals. (3 Nephi 11:14, Luke 24:39) In other words, Elder McConkie's witness is that he looks forward to meeting the Lord in a coming day (and he died 13 days later.)
Using the words of others to imply what one is not willing to say does not make one a witness, any more than copying a Rolex makes a genuine article. An actual witness states his testimony clearly and unequivocally. If you are called as a witness to give testimony in court, you are expected to state clearly and publicly that which you actually saw, then defend it when questioned. Mere implication will never stand.
With that in mind, compare the above “special witness” testimonies with the following words of normal LDS people, without rank or position, who have actually met the risen Lord in person:
I know He lives, for I have seen Him. He has ministered to me.
I have spoken with Him as a man speaks to another. He speaks in plain humility, reasoning as one man with another. He will reason with you.
On April 14, 2012, I was carried away into the heavenly temple. I shook the hand of the angel that was my guide. I saw and heard the Father and the Son speak to me. This experience involved sight, touch, sound, and smell. It was as real as anything I have experienced in my day-to-day life, only the glory and intelligence conveyed is indescribable. This was not my last encounter beyond the veil.
I am a witness that Jesus Christ lives. He is a real, knowable person.
I’ve been told by God, that I have received my Calling and Election. I have received many visitations by angels and have been taught by them. I have met my Savior more than once. I have spoken to other heavenly beings. I do not say these things to brag – and I am certainly not perfect in the eyes of man and have much to overcome, but to testify of them so others can see that if someone like me (a big huge nobody who has been “spiritually retarded” my entire life) can obtain them, then you certainly can too.
—Linda Jules Martindale
Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink
Perhaps the most appalling, implied “special witness” I’ve heard recently came from Elder Russell M. Nelson. He recently visited a mission where a friend of mine lives, and met with the missionaries there. As part of the missionary meeting, he took questions from the audience. One of the missionaries asked him if he had seen the Savior. The following is his response, as reported by one who was there:
“Well, let me answer your question by asking you some questions. How many of you have been to the temple?”
(All the missionaries raised their hands)
“And while there, how many of you saw and heard sacred things?”
(All the missionaries kept their hands raised.)
“And how many of you covenanted you would not speak about the sacred things you saw and heard?”
(Hands still raised)
And that was it. Elder Nelson’s “special witness” consisted of the implication that he had special, sacred knowledge he promised he wouldn’t share. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Say no more!
So what is he saying? He has seen the Lord, but promised not to talk about it? But he’s still free to imply it, just as long as he doesn’t come right out and say it like Joseph Smith did? (Because, why on earth would a special witness actually bear witness of seeing the Lord, right?) Does this qualify for some apostolic loophole that allows him to keep confidences by merely implying something without actually saying it?
Or was he hedging his bets, by maintaining plausible deniability that he had ever claimed to see what he has not? Does he assume an implied false witness is not actually a false witness, and does not violate both the third and ninth commandments?
Why not just come right out and say what you mean? A “yes” or “no” will do. (Matthew 5:37) Why leave us in confusion when your job is to bear witness?
Compare Elder Nelson’s deceptive farce to the Savior’s admonition to his newly called Nephite disciples:
And again, more blessed are they who shall believe in your words because that ye shall testify that ye have seen me, and that ye know that I am. Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins. (3 Nephi 12:2)
How can we receive the promised blessings, unless there are those who will testify that they have seen Him and know that He is?
Why will lay members willingly testify of meeting the Lord, while the Apostles will not? (Incidentally, Elder Nelson is the one who personally insisted on the excommunication of Denver Snuffer, whose testimony of seeing the Savior is given above.)
Denying the Christ
In the recent fireside given by Elder Dallin Oaks and assistant church historian Richard Turley (now dubbed “The Boise Rescue”) the speakers simulated a question and answer session by providing their own pre-canned questions and answers.
In one of his answers, Elder Oaks called the idea that we must seek the face of our Savior while in mortality a “familiar tactic of the adversary.” (1:00:36)
That’s right—that old Devil is always encouraging people to seek the Savior’s face. But don’t worry, we won’t fall for that old trick! Why, seeking the Savior’s face, that’s crazy talk. I mean, that’s the very definition of redemption after all (Ether 3:13), and who in their right mind would want to be redeemed? So what if a bunch of guys in the Book of Mormon got suckered into meeting Christ face to face—we know better and we won’t go there!
(Sorry, but Elder Oaks’s assertion is so far beyond reason, that I'm only left with sarcasm to highlight its absurdity. The fact that he makes such an assertion presumes his audience is preposterously uninformed and utterly gullible. Wanna buy a watch?)
Here’s what Joseph Smith taught on the matter:
The other Comforter spoken of is a subject of great interest, and perhaps understood by few of this generation...When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and his election made sure, then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter, which the Lord hath promised the Saints, as is recorded in the testimony of St. John, in the 14th chapter, from the 12th to the 27th verses...
Now what is this other Comforter? It is no more nor less than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself; and this is the sum and substance of the whole matter; that when any man obtains this last Comforter, he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even He will manifest the Father unto him, and they will take up their abode with him, and the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him, and the Lord will teach him face to face, and he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. (TPJS 150-151)
I could back this idea with numerous scriptures, but to save space, I'll offer just this one:
Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am (D&C 93:1)
Joseph Smith or Dallin Oaks. One teaches you to seek the Lord's face, one teaches you not to. Pick your prophet.
Later in the same presentation we hear this canned question and answer: (1:03:55)
Another claim that we sometimes hear is that current apostles have no right to run the affairs of the church since they do not meet the New Testament standard of apostles because they do not testify of having seen Christ.
The first answer to this claim is that modern apostles are called to be witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world, Doctrine and Covenants 107:23. This is not to witness of a personal manifestation. To witness of the name is to witness of the plan, the work, or mission such as the atonement and the authority or priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ, which an apostle who holds the keys is uniquely responsible to do.
So, let me get this straight…apostles have a unique responsibility, not to witness of the Lord Himself, but of the plan, the work, and the mission of Jesus Christ? How is that different than any missionary, or for that matter, any other church member?
Of course apostles are also witnesses of Christ just like all members of the Church who have the gift of the Holy Ghost. This is because the mission of the Holy Ghost is to witness of the Father and the Son.
So there’s your answer. There is no difference between an apostle’s testimony and any other church member’s testimony, born of the Holy Ghost. Thanks for clearing that up.
In addition, while some early apostles and other members of the church have had the sublime spiritual experience of seeing the Savior and some have made a public record of this, in the circumstances of today we are counseled not to speak of our most sacred spiritual experiences,
Counseled by whom? Who counsels the apostles?
otherwise with modern technology that can broadcast something all over the world, a remark made in a sacred and a private setting can be said abroad
That would be awful! The world might hear your testimony of Christ! I believe Peter, Paul, Alma or Moroni would have given their lives to receive the opportunity you now dismiss. (See Alma 29:1-2)
in violation of the Savior's commandment not to cast our pearls before swine.
So…testifying that you’ve seen the Savior is casting pearls before swine? Now mind you, we’re not talking about revealing what happens when you meet Him, what He teaches you, what ordinances are performed, or any other sacred knowledge that is revealed. We’re merely speaking of the witness that He lives and is a real person.
It's ironic that Elder Oaks is a lawyer, because he fulfills this scripture in two ways:
Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered. (Luke 11:52)
If testifying of Christ’s reality is “casting pearls before swine” you’ll need to take it up with Peter, James, John, Paul, Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, Alma, Mormon, Moroni, Joseph Smith, and many, many others who have testified of seeing the Lord.
"But those guys were prophets!"
—Exactly. Aren't you?
You’ll also need to take it up with Oliver Cowdery, who gave the following charge to the first apostles called in this dispensation:
You have been indebted to other men, in the first instance, for evidence; on that you have acted; but it is necessary that you receive a testimony from heaven for yourselves; so that you can bear testimony to the truth of the Book of Mormon, and that you have seen the face of God. That is more than the testimony of an angel. When the proper time arrives, you shall be able to bear this testimony to the world. When you bear testimony that you have seen God, this testimony God will never suffer to fall, but will bear you out…
Never cease striving until you have seen God face to face. Strengthen your faith; cast off your doubts, your sins, and all your unbelief; and nothing can prevent you from coming to God. Your ordination is not full and complete till God has laid His hand upon you. We require as much to qualify us as did those who have gone before us; God is the same. If the Savior in former days laid His hands upon His disciples, why not in latter days? (Minutes, Kirtland, OH, 21 Feb. 1835; in Minute Book 1, pp. 158–159)
Witnessing the Name
Elder Oaks rightly points out that D&C 107:23 stipulates that apostles are called to be "special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling."
What does it mean to be a witness of His name?
Elder Oaks states that it implies an obligation to testify of His gospel, plan, priesthood, etc. But there's nothing unique about this; all members carry the same obligation. This does not differ from anyone else in the church.
I'd like to offer a different interpretation.
Witnesses of His name are those who have taken upon themselves His name by being adopted into His family, thus becoming His children.
Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ. (Moroni 7:19)
And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;
And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. (Mosiah 27:25-26)
Those who have a personal witness of the Lord, who meet Him face to face, who become His children and take His name, are those who will know Him at the last day. One who bears the name of Christ has received His name by becoming His child. Such a situation belongs to those who have been in His presence, received redemption, and been accepted into His family, thus becoming His sons and daughters.
Such can then bear witness of His name indeed, because they carry it and He claims them. Such a witness necessarily requires having met the Lord face to face.
Of course, there will be many at the last day who claim the Lord's name as their own, but never knew Him. Such are false witnesses, claiming their fake watches ought to earn them prestige and recognition.
And so, we end where we began:
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.