Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Name of Jesus Christ, Part 2:
Agents and Power

Wherefore, let all men beware how they take my name in their lips—

For behold, verily I say, that many there be who are under this condemnation, who use the name of the Lord, and use it in vain, having not authority.
—D&C 63:61-62

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

You know what a power of attorney is, don’t you? 

In its simplest form, it’s a document authorizing someone to speak or act for someone else. The one so authorized is legally called an “agent” for the other, who is called the “grantor.” Such documents can be brief or lengthy, general or limited in scope, and called by various names. They are commonly used in personal and business affairs; for example, here’s one signed by President Monson, giving Robert Cantwell financial control over the LDS church:

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An agent, authorized in this way, can act in the name of the grantor, even to the point of speaking, entering into contracts, issuing instructions, and signing legal documents in behalf of the grantor. This is serious business, because the agent could even act against the wishes of the grantor, and still legally bind the grantor to the outcome. This is why most powers of attorney are limited in scope and specify the sorts of actions an agent can take.

Obviously, power of attorney is not automatic, but must be specifically granted. One who presumes to act in the name of another, but without authorization, commits the crime of fraud.

I think you can see where this is headed, so let’s discuss speaking in Christ’s name. 

What does it actually mean when you speak, teach, or act “In the Name of Jesus Christ?” There’s no shortage of people in the world who claim to do so—ranging from popes and presidents to pastors and pedophiles. The use of Christ’s name is so common, in fact, and associated with so many contradictory teachings, that it’s no wonder Christianity in general is a hodgepodge of confusion. Such was the case in Joseph Smith’s day, as well:
In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it? (JSH 1:10)
The Lord’s response to Joseph Smith’s inquiry is telling:
I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” (JSH 1:19)
And there it is. Through 1,800 years of Christianity, and millions professing to speak in Christ’s name, the Lord claimed exactly none of them. They were all frauds.

When you get right down to it, if  you claim to speak in the name of Jesus Christ, you are asserting the following:

—that He authorized you to speak for Him,
—that you are accurately representing Him,
—that He gave you the words to speak, 
—and therefore, that your words are, in fact, His words.

If the above items are true, then the one speaking is indeed the Lord’s servant, delivering the Lord’s word. Such is a worthy goal for us all, and is exactly how the Lord operates:
What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same. (D&C 1:38)
Note that in the above verse, the Lord honors HIS word. If HE has spoken it, then it will be fulfilled, even if it is delivered by the mouth of His agent. 

On the other hand, if one presumes to speak or act in the name of the Lord, without receiving His word and authorization, that person commits fraud. Anyone who does so will be rejected by Him:
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 pretty clear that the use of Christ’s name is reserved only for those He authorizes (and “knows.”) Furthermore, whether you’re authorized or not, if you speak in Christ’s name, you will be accountable to Him for what you say. Those who claim to speak Christ’s words, but do not, bring shame upon his name and damnation upon themselves.

It Ain’t Priesthood, Folks.

So who is authorized? Well, the common belief in LDS circles is that priesthood is the authorization to act and speak in Christ’s name. Therefore, anyone ordained to priesthood is automatically authorized, and anyone else is not. Or so the story goes.

Trouble is, ordaining someone to priesthood doesn’t automatically put him in touch with the Lord’s voice, or give understanding of the Lord’s will. I’ve witnessed many priesthood holders teaching utter falsehoods “in the name of Jesus Christ” out of sheer ignorance. 

Similarly, holding an office in the church doesn’t convey the automatic authorization to speak for Jesus. Whether that office is deacon, seventy, patriarch, apostle, or church president, the duty to first obtain the Lord’s word is the same. It is, and always has been, exactly as the Lord told Hyrum:
Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men. (D&C 11:21)
The Lord will authorize and send whomever he chooses. But it’s never automatic with an office, position, or ordination. Even the president of the church can speak falsehoods, and the Lord is not in any way bound to honor what he says. The fact that the LDS church now openly accuses past presidents of teaching falsehoods only drives home the point.
God will not acknowledge that which He has not called, ordained, and chosen. In the beginning God called Adam by His own voice. “And the Lord called unto Adam and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, and hid myself.” (See Genesis 3:9-10.) Adam received commandments and instructions from God: this was the order from the beginning. TPJS 168
Look at the third commandment: 
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. (Exodus 20:7)
Isn’t it interesting that the verb used is to TAKE the Lord’s name in vain? To “take” implies to lay hold on, or seize, rather than to simply receive what is offered. To claim Christ’s name without His authorization is to take what isn’t yours. It’s deceptive. It’s stealing. And it has powerful potential to mislead others. Is it any wonder the Lord put this sin on His top ten list?

Sheep’s Clothing

Christ is the lamb of God—so the wolves will always be willing to clothe themselves in His name, attempting to appear as something they’re not. Of course this isn’t unique to Christ. Fraudsters and deceivers clothe themselves with false titles, credentials, and names—even impersonating doctors or apostles to get some respect or make a buck. It seems that when some people find they aren’t convincing enough on their own, they’ll lay hold on the identity of someone more convincing. Whether it’s innocent name dropping, or outright criminal impersonation, the purpose of the ruse is always the same. 

People don the sheep’s clothing to get what they want—whether it’s acceptance, money, power, fame, or sex, the unscrupulous find Christ’s name profitable.

Speaking of Name Dropping...

The correct name for the Melchizedek Priesthood is “the Holy Priesthood after the order of the Son of God. But out of respect or reverence to the name of the Supreme Being, to avoid the too frequent repetition of his name, they, the church, in ancient days, called that priesthood after Melchizedek, or the Melchizedek Priesthood.” (D&C 107:3-4)

Our Lord’s name was so respected and reverenced that early saints hesitated to even use it when it was proper to do so. Those who knew the Lord best were the most hesitant to cheapen His name by making it common. I notice the same pattern today. Those who know Him best reverence Him most, and generally refer to Him by one of his many, honorific titles, rather than his personal name. Therefore, isn’t it ironic when mortal men who lead religious institutions try to imitate God in their insistence on being called by honorific titles?

At the other end of the spectrum are those who use the name of Jesus as a sort of calling card, almost intentionally trying to see how frequently they can use His name in casual conversation, or in association with their own good works—as if using it in such a familiar manner will somehow lend authority to their statements, or convince others (or themselves) they’re intimate and familiar with the Ruler of Heaven. Thus, they not only take His name in vain, but seem to relish doing so as frequently as possible. Throw in a pitch for donations, and you’re ready for the high-dollar world of selling Him for money. Those who know Him least drop His name the most.

Don’t believe me? Go watch a TV preacher sometime.

Doubling Down

The message taught most often, by those who name drop most often, is a message of reassurance. In an effort to make the gospel palatable, easy, and popular, the emphasis shifts from repentance and humility to prosperity, rejoicing and celebration. Whether among LDS people, or other types of Christians, there’s a growing shift toward a gospel of ease, enjoyment, comfort and endless blessings. Sacrifice is for suckers.

Those who teach such messages doubly dishonor our Lord by both stealing his name, and claiming He said something he never did. They bear false witness against Him, lie about Him, and in essence, join the throngs in Jerusalem, shouting “crucify him!” in preference of a false Christ. We’ll go further into this idea next time.

What Should we Do? 

In my opinion, we ought to be much more careful with the name of Christ. Teaching vain, idle or foolish words in His name condemns both the teacher, and those who believe what is taught. There IS NO blanket authorization for just anyone to step up and use Christ’s name when teaching. Those who do so without His permission take His name in vain. 

It’s a grave responsibility to claim to speak in His name. We ought not mislead others by claiming to speak Christ’s words if they weren’t received from him. We ought not desecrate the God of truth by associating his name with falsehood.

On the other hand, truth needs to be taught. We therefore ought to do just as the Lord advised Hyrum Smith: Seek to obtain His word, then declare it. 

Christ does, in fact, give power of attorney. He does send servants. We can, and should seek to become those servants—to properly speak and act in His name:

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. 
—D&C 50:17-22

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Name of Jesus Christ, Part 1:
Praying in Vain

Now it came to pass that after Alma and his brethren and his sons had heard these prayers, they were astonished beyond all measure. For behold, every man did go forth and offer up these same prayers.

Now, after the people had all offered up thanks after this manner, they returned to their homes, never speaking of their God again until they had assembled themselves together again to the holy stand, to offer up thanks after their manner. 
—Alma 31:19, 20, 23

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

If you’re LDS, you’re well familiar with our cultural tradition of saying “in the name of Jesus Christ” after nearly everything we pray, say, or do. Some even desecrate His name with a mechanical “innanamajeezchrisamen.” But either way, the tradition is set in concrete. In any LDS gathering, anyone who speaks or prays, and does not close with at least a gratuitous nod to the name of Jesus Christ, will almost certainly be corrected on the spot, or at least considered a fool.

Fortunately, the practice of speaking and praying in Christ’s name is scriptural. Among many examples, we might cite these:
Therefore, whatsoever ye shall do, ye shall do it in my name; therefore ye shall call the church in my name; and ye shall call upon the Father in my name that he will bless the church for my sake. (3 Nephi 27:7) 
And they shall believe in me, that I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and shall pray unto the Father in my name. (3 Nephi 20:31)
Pray in your families unto the Father, always in my name, that your wives and your children may be blessed. (3 Nephi 18:21)
So, clearly, the practice of ministering, praying, and speaking in Christ’s name is exactly what He intends us to do. But as we do so, it’s worth considering both the meaning and importance of this practice. What does “in the name of Jesus Christ” really mean? 

In this post, we’ll examine the practice of using Christ’s name in prayer. 

A Blank Check?

Praying to the Father in Christ’s name highlights the notion that we can only approach the Father through the grace and worthiness of Christ, and not through any of our own. It’s only through Christ’s grace that we can approach the Father’s throne. In fact, He even assures us that we must use His name for the Father to hear us:
Verily I say unto you, that ye are built upon my gospel; therefore ye shall call whatsoever things ye do call, in my name; therefore if ye call upon the Father, for the church, if it be in my name the Father will hear you (3 Nephi 27:9)

And yet, though Christ invites, and even commands us to use His name in prayer, He doesn’t offer it as a blank check to be written as we desire. In fact, though we may ask in His name, there’s no obligation at all for the Father to provide what is requested, when it is requested, simply because we requested it. Christ includes a condition for what we ought to ask:
And whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you. (3 Nephi 18:20)
If we’re going to use Christ’s name to make a request of the Father, we’re well advised to make sure we’re asking for what is right. And what is right? It’s interesting that the following verses, promoting the same idea, use slightly different wording:
Whatsoever ye ask the Father in my name it shall be given unto you, that is expedient for you; And if ye ask anything that is not expedient for you, it shall turn unto your condemnation. (D&C 88:64-65)
So we’re to ask for that which is expedient for us. The word “expedient” isn’t used all that commonly, so let’s take a look at how it was used at the time of this revelation. According to Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary, “expedient” is defined as follows:
Expedient: Literally, hastening; urging forward. Hence, tending to promote the object proposed; fit or suitable for the purpose; proper under the circumstances.
This takes us back to the statement that we should ask for what is right—because what is right for us will tend to promote us in the suitable purpose of the Lord, which is to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life. (See Moses 1:39.) Anything contrary to that purpose is not right, no matter how badly we may think we want it.

Now, it should be obvious that God knows more than us, sees from a different perspective, and knows how to do His work. Therefore, what we think is right and what He knows to be right, may not necessarily agree. In fact, they most often won’t agree, being that our natures have become carnal, sensual and devilish. (Alma 42:10, Mosiah 16:3, and others.) 

And quite often, we may ask for something good, but which we’re not yet ready to receive. In such a case it’s our timing that’s not right.

Getting it Right

So how do you know what is expedient, or in other words, right to pray for? How do you avoid praying for that which will condemn you? 

I think there are a couple of answers. The first is to stick with praying for items we already know from scripture are included in the Lord's will for us. Such items might include expressions of gratitude, asking for our daily needs, protection from temptation, forgiveness, or wisdom, for example. But these are all rather general petitions that aren’t particularly personal and won’t bring all the growth and knowledge we lack. 

What about our more personal, intimate, needs that aren
t generally addressed in scripture? The Lord told us in a revelation directed to Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer:
Ask the Father in my name in faith, believing that you shall receive, and you shall have the Holy Ghost, which manifesteth all things which are expedient unto the children of men. (D&C 18:18)
Therefore, if you want to pray correctly, using Christ’s name to petition the Father for that which is most appropriate and needful for you personally, the first order of business is to ask for and receive the Holy Ghost, which will reveal to you the things expedient to you, and prevent you from asking amiss:
Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God. (2 Nephi 4:35)
This process is well illustrated in 3 Nephi 19:
And they did pray for that which they most desired; and they desired that the Holy Ghost should be given unto them.
And it came to pass when they were all baptized and had come up out of the water, the Holy Ghost did fall upon them, and they were filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus prayed unto the Father, he came unto his disciples, and behold, they did still continue, without ceasing, to pray unto him; and they did not multiply many words, for it was given unto them what they should pray, and they were filled with desire. (3 Nephi 19: 9, 13, 24)
So there’s the process. First, obtain the Holy Ghost by following the Doctrine of Christ and asking the Father in the name of Jesus Christ. Then, rely on the Holy Ghost to teach you what is expedient, or give you what to pray. Then pray for exactly that, in faith, and in the name of Jesus Christ. 

Done properly, the words of the Spirit quite literally pour out of you in a glorious and harmonious duet between you and God, rising in crescendo to become symphonic and delightful. Communication becomes communion of indescribable beauty. Revelation, glory, light, truth, and power flow unimpeded through the veil.

Will you get it wrong? Most certainly. But it’s the effort and recognition that are most important. You will get better at it with practice. Just as Christ, at the moment of His greatest extremity and anguish, deferred His will to the Father’s, so we too must defer our will to His. This is the pattern He set as the perfect example. It is the pattern that allows us to use His atonement as a covering for our sin as we approach the Man of Holiness.

As we bring our will more continually into harmony with His, we will more consistently ask not amiss. Ultimately, with the Holy Ghost as a constant companion, we can continually know His will and use His name properly, and with power.

The Privilege of Prayer

I think it’s time we recognize it’s a privilege to use Christ’s name, and borrow His worthiness, to approach the Father in prayer. It’s not good, right, or appropriate to simply ask for whatever we think we want, oblivious to Gods purposes for us. (Lottery numbers, anyone?) 

It’s not appropriate to teach primary children and potential converts about generic “steps of prayer” when those steps fundamentally ignore our Lord’s most important injunctions and warnings designed to prevent our prayers from turning to our condemnation. Even children can be taught to pray by the power of the Holy Ghost. 

Praying In Vain

We ought to take much more seriously the gravity of the situation when we thoughtlessly invoke His name in vain. (I
m pretty sure Ive heard somewhere he frowns on that.)

“Vain” is a form of the word, “vanity” and shares the Latin root of the word “want.” When we ask for whatever we want, seeking to satisfy our own desires or lusts, disdaining the Lord’s will, we pray in vain. This is the definition of “asking amiss.”
Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. (James 4:3)
Prayer that consists of repeating the “script” modeled and demonstrated to the point of memorization, is also vain prayer. 
But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen, for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. (3 Nephi 13:7)
We’ve got a whole list of nonsense phrases we vainly repeat in Christ’s name because we have nothing meaningful to say. I don’t believe this pleases Him. (Don’t forget to bless the refreshments to “nourish and strengthen our bodies, and do us the good we need.” Seriously? They’re jelly donuts!)

Even when we pray according to His will, we must model His will in our lives, or our prayer is in vain: 
And now behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith. (Alma 34:28)
Praying with Faith

In the Lectures on Faith, Joseph Smith taught:
Let us here observe, that three things are necessary, in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation.
First, The idea that he actually exists.
Secondly, A correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes.
Thirdly, An actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing, is according to his will. (LoF 3:2-5)
Therefore, without an actual knowledge of God’s will, it is impossible to exercise faith unto life and salvation. A prayer that ignores God’s will is a prayer without faith. 

Anytime we put our will before God’s, the effort is without faith and vain: 
This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:8-9)
You may recognize the above language as part of what the Lord told Joseph Smith in the first vision, as an explanation of the need for restoration. Therefore, we would do well to remember the verses from James that initiated that vision:
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. (James 1:5-6)
We cannot ask in faith until we ask according to the Lord’s will. Any other attempt is vain. 

About Intent

Even when we seek after, and learn the Lord’s will, it’s sometimes a challenge to bend our will to match His. It’s possible to say the right things, but not mean them. In scripture, this is called praying without real intent, and it is counted evil:

And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such. (Moroni 7:9)
We all, with Huckleberry Finn, will sooner or later come to realize we can’t pray a lie:
It made me shiver. And I about made up my mind to pray, and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of a boy I was and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him. Nor from ME, neither. I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because I warn’t square; it was because I was playing double. I was letting ON to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth SAY I would do the right thing and the clean thing…but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie, and He knowed it. You can’t pray a lie—I found that out. (Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn)
Have the Courage to Try

I realize this breaks paradigms. I realize it’s likely unfamiliar and even difficult at first. But I also know by experience that prayer in Christ
s name, according to His will, and with real intent, is delightful, powerful, and often surprising. It brings miracles. If you start by admitting your weakness and asking God what you should ask for, you’ll get surprising answers. 

And you’ll find yourself forming a relationship with your Lord as you learn of His personality and desires for you through prayer. Such is, indeed, the souls sincere desire.

And thou didst hear me because of mine afflictions and my sincerity; and it is because of thy Son that thou hast been thus merciful unto me, therefore I will cry unto thee in all mine afflictions, for in thee is my joy; for thou hast turned thy judgments away from me, because of thy Son.

—Alma 33:11