Friday, May 27, 2016

The Name of Jesus Christ, Part 6: Obtaining His Word

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.

—James 1:5

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

In the last installment of this series I concluded with the idea that we shouldn’t teach anything as God’s word unless it is actually obtained from God. I also made the point that scholarly study alone isn’t enough to obtain God’s word.

However, because ignorance of the things of God is our greatest sin, and scripture study is absolutely vital, in today’s installment I’ll examine scripture study itself and share some thoughts about an effective approach to it.

We must begin with the realization that scripture has two roles. The first, obviously, is to inform us. The search for truth starts with scripture, and if successful, leads to personal knowledge of God.

The second role of scripture is much less obvious, but every bit as important.

It is to keep things from us.

Now I realize such a statement may be surprising, so we’ll spend some time on it. Let’s start with a good understanding of how our scriptures are limited when it comes to teaching the things of God. It’s important we keep these limitations in mind as we consider scriptures and scripture study:

1. The scriptural record is VERY incomplete. For example, we have almost no information about events between Eden and the Flood. We know almost nothing at all about God’s dealings with people other than a particular family line that became a nation, and was ultimately scattered and destroyed. We are informed that the Lord ministered to other sheep, but we know nothing about them. And so on. Even great examples featured in scripture, like Enoch, Melchizedek, or Abraham have precious little written about them. Therefore, we must keep in mind the idea that the scriptures are not a very complete history—nor are they designed to be. They are a series of vignettes intended to teach specific lessons.

2. The Biblical record has been BADLY corrupted—and the most plain and precious parts of the gospel, as well as vital information about the covenants of the Lord, have been intentionally removed. The pieces of truth that remain lack proper context, and are therefore widely used to promote a false gospel, based on the assumption that these tattered vestiges of the true gospel are the complete picture. They are not.

 If you rely most heavily on the Bible as your source of truth, you are relying on the weakest link in the scriptural chain. Referring to my previous allegory, the Bible talks a bit about cars, but it will never make you a driver.

According to the Book of Mormon:

And the angel of the Lord said unto me: Thou hast beheld that the book proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew; and when it proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew it contained the fulness of the gospel of the Lord, of whom the twelve apostles bear record; and they bear record according to the truth which is in the Lamb of God. 
Wherefore, these things go forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles, according to the truth which is in God. 
And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away. (1 Nephi 13:24-26)
Plain and precious truths and covenants were removed by the great and abominable church for a reason: to keep people dependent upon the church and its leaders, rather than seeking the Lord themselves. After all, those who practice priestcraft must maintain a market for their services, and the solution is to blind eyes and harden hearts by withholding the true gospel. What remains essentially amounts to grace and gospel platitudes with no saving power.
...because of the many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the book, which were plain unto the understanding of the children of men, according to the plainness which is in the Lamb of God—because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them. (1 Nephi 13:29)
The Bible actually gives Satan great power. Those who preach solely from the Bible cannot and do not preach enough truth to lead to salvation. Period. The covenants are gone, and with them, the fundamental understanding of the gospel. Increasingly, Biblical preaching amounts to the Prosperity Gospel of good feelings and unlimited blessings. But it is a false gospel.

Intercourse with the whore never produces fruit.

Joseph Smith made some attempts to correct the Bible, but his effort was not exhaustive and was not published during his lifetime. The work he did shed remarkable new light on the Bible, but barely scratched the surface. The Bible remains severely impaired as a source of saving truth.

3. The Doctrine and Covenants has been tampered with. Sections have been expanded and altered; important revelations have been removed or never included; and the ENTIRE “Doctrine” portion of the Doctrine and Covenants was removed in 1921 when the Lectures on Faith were stripped out of the D&C by an ignorant committee without authorization. What remains is incomplete, and even misleading. It is NOT what Joseph intended.

4. Ambiguity is a significant challenge. Take the Book of Abraham, for instance. The truths it contains are remarkable, yet its provenance gives scholars no end of fits. Most scholars stand in the shallow end of the pool, claiming it is an absolute forgery and that Joseph Smith was a fool and a charlatan. Even the LDS Church concludes that the book didn’t come from the papyrus. And yet, Joseph’s teachings correlate amazingly well with the earliest histories and records about Abraham. What is easily dismissed when knowledge is shallow, becomes astonishingly powerful, even life changing, when the depth of the picture is revealed. The greatest truths only yield to the diligent and faithful.

5. Fake and corrupt records abound. There is no shortage of apocryphal and even fictional books tantalizingly posing as scripture. Seeking after them because they contain SOME truth makes about as much sense as eating a banjo because its metal strings contain the important nutrient iron. In both cases, we’re well advised to stick with the purest sources we can find. Don’t eat the banjo.

6. True records have been withheld. For example, Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Joseph, from the Abraham Papyri, is purportedly held by the LDS church but has never been published. Joseph also kept extensive notes and expanded explanations of the Book of Abraham that have yet to see the light of day.

What’s The Solution?

The Book of Mormon was provided as the Lord’s cure for the problems with our canon of scripture. It sidestepped the Babylonian invasion of Israel and subsequent Babylonian influence found in all our other scripture. It survived by miraculous means through a thousand years of recording, prophetic selection and abridgment, and fourteen hundred years of burial, to finally be translated by the power of God for our use, targeted for our day.

And after all that, we’ve stripped it of its power through misuse and neglect. In the early days after its publication, the Book of Mormon was mostly used to prove the truth of the Bible, even though its very text says the Bible is so corrupt it actually leads into darkness. Otherwise, the Book of Mormon was mostly regarded as a group of inspiring stories for children. Its gospel truths were strictly interpreted through the corrupt lens of existent Bible teachings.

Less than three years after the Book of Mormon was printed, the Lord pointedly condemned the whole church for treating it lightly. (See D&C 84:54-57) We have no record of the Lord lifting that condemnation. Until we make the effort to comprehend the Book of Mormon and place it in its proper role, we remain condemned. The good news is that we can individually shed the condemnation, even if our group or church does not.

As we seek to elevate the Book of Mormon to its rightful place in our lives, it’s important that we understand the book’s role and limitations. So here are some tips:

The Book of Mormon likely doesn’t say what you think it does. Since it was first published, people have attempted to overlay Biblical Christianity on the Book of Mormon, claiming ideas and events are portrayed in the text that simply aren’t there. The first step to understanding the Book of Mormon is to read it for what it actually says, independent of any other book.

If you manage to drop your traditions and understand what’s actually written in the book, you’ll find it shocking, amazing, and unparalleled in its proclamation of life-changing truth.

The Book of Mormon doesn’t say what it should. By that, I mean the text has been tampered and tinkered with here and there, attempting to clarify ideas that weren’t quite comfortable to those doing the tinkering. Even the punctuation is completely invented, and was not contained in the original manuscript. Therefore, its important to look past the punctuation, and in some cases even the text changes, to get the original meaning.

The Book of Mormon is intentionally incomplete, and only contains the “lesser” things. Mormon informs us of this fact and what we must do about it:

And now there cannot be written in this book even a hundredth part of the things which Jesus did truly teach unto the people; But behold the plates of Nephi do contain the more part of the things which he taught the people. 
And these things have I written, which are a lesser part of the things which he taught the people; and I have written them to the intent that they may be brought again unto this people, from the Gentiles, according to the words which Jesus hath spoken. 
And when they shall have received this, which is expedient that they should have first, to try their faith, and if it shall so be that they shall believe these things then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them. And if it so be that they will not believe these things, then shall the greater things be withheld from them, unto their condemnation.
Behold, I was about to write them, all which were engraven upon the plates of Nephi, but the Lord forbade it, saying: I will try the faith of my people. (3 Nephi 26:6-11)
Whether we receive any more is entirely dependent on how we respond to what we have. As Moroni mentioned, our faith is what’s on trial. Therefore, a faithful response to the Book of Mormon is vital if we want to receive more truth. But unfortunately, our response has not gone well. Remember the Lord’s condemnation that still rests on the church?

So what is the proper response to the Book of Mormon? 

In a word, it is repentance. Repentance is how we exercise faith—and faith is what’s on trial.

Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance, that ye begin to call upon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you. (Alma 34:17)
Repentance is a whole topic by itself. It doesn’t mean we feel guilty, confess, get punished, make restitution, wait for time to pass, or any other such nonsense. Repentance simply means we recognize the course we’re following is ineffective and will not lead where we want to go. So we change course. To repent is to turn and face God, and pursue the course that leads to Him. Until we do this, we cannot receive more truth—a fact also made known by Moroni:
For the Lord said unto me: They shall not go forth unto the Gentiles until the day that they shall repent of their iniquity, and become clean before the Lord. 
And in that day that they shall exercise faith in me, saith the Lord, even as the brother of Jared did, that they may become sanctified in me, then will I manifest unto them the things which the brother of Jared saw, even to the unfolding unto them all my revelations, saith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of the heavens and of the earth, and all things that in them are. (Ether 4:6-7)
In fact, the notion of repentance necessarily requires that we come to know more than we do now. To repent is to come to understand enough to want to change course. And scripture study is where that understanding begins. 

How Not to Study

So, now that we’ve faced the very real limitations of the canon of scripture available to us, coupled with the necessity of overcoming our ignorance and gaining understanding, let’s talk about the most common mistakes we make when we attempt to “study” the scriptures. Don’t do these:

Proof texting: This is when you start with a conclusion and then “cherry pick” a snippet of scripture here and there to “prove” it. This is easy to do, and if your goal is to support what you already believe, you will. The problem is that your initial premise may be false. And if so, you will only succeed in “proving” a falsehood. This is no way to search for truth.

I’ll add that proof texting is most common in lesson manuals and conference talks that start with a premise and then use fragments of scripture to “prove” what has already been stated as truth, though the scripture may actually mean something very different.

Cherry picking snippets of scripture to establish your proposition is NOT scripture study.

Faulty logic: Sometimes true ideas are presented as proof for other ideas that aren’t true. One of the simplest to recognize is taught by missionaries throughout the world every day. It goes like this:

The Book of Mormon is true, so therefore Joseph Smith was a prophet, so therefore we have a prophet today, so therefore the church is “true,” So therefore you must get baptized. It’s all or nothing.

Of course, the truth may not be remotely close to all the assumptions strung together in that chain. The Book of Mormon is indeed true, but it has nothing to do with whether we have a prophet today. And you should get baptized because Christ has invited you to, not because the church is “true.”

It’s incorrect to assume something is true just because something else is. Check your assumptions.

“Reading” the scriptures: Have you ever encountered someone who attempts to substantiate his knowledge by telling you how many times he’s read the Book of Mormon? Obviously, it’s possible to read the book a hundred times and never understand it. A proper study of the Book of Mormon may take a lifetime, and may not encompass “reading” the book from cover to cover even once. You won’t find the gold by scratching at the surface.

Scholarship as a source of truth: As I covered previously in this series, a lifetime of scholarly study and research may not lead to one iota of saving truth. Scholarship and research are NOT the tools that will lead you to God.

Corrupt vocabulary: The words of scripture have particular meanings, many of which have changed over the years. When we speak of priesthood, temples, grace, atonement, sin, repentance, iniquity, or a thousand other terms, we may assume we know what they mean, when in fact the original authors ascribed a very different meaning to those words. Even the right vocabulary will get us nowhere if we have the wrong understanding. 

Only God knows the meaning HE had in mind when he caused the scriptures to be written. Therefore, to understand what is written, you MUST access the mind of God. And what is the mind of God? According to Lectures on Faith 5:2, the mind of God is the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, any correct understanding of scripture MUST come by the Holy Spirit. As Joseph Smith said, “Thou must commune with God.”

Communing with God

And now, finally, we’ve come full circle to the point of this post. Let’s review:

  • Scripture is here to inform us, but is also designed to withhold information.
  • Our current canon of scripture has important limitations that do, indeed, withhold or conceal information. 
  • Scholarship, poor logic, and improper study are incapable of arriving at truth.
  • The only correct way to understand scripture is to access the Holy Spirit, or mind of God. You must commune with God. 
  • According to Webster’s 1828 dictionary, to “commune” means “To converse; to talk together familiarly; to impart sentiments mutually, in private or familiar discourse.”
  • Therefore, the fact that information is withheld should entice us to seek what is missing.
And so, here’s the most important thing I can tell you about studying scripture:

The purpose of scripture is to cause you to ask questions.

Did you get that? It’s really that simple. All the limitations, difficulties, and even corruption ought to cause us to question. Our ignorance and foolishness ought to cause us to question. Our desperate need for redemption ought to cause us to question desperately. And we must bring those questions to God. Faced with such a limited canon in our lost and fallen state, we ought to be desperately seeking answers from God.

Joseph modeled it perfectly when, as a boy of 14, he could not settle the most important of questions with an appeal to scripture, “for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.” (JSH 1:12) So he took James’s advice and appealed directly to God. 

And that’s why our Lord’s brother James wrote what he did. That’s how it works. That’s what it’s for. That’s how God is revealed. We must ask.

Said our Lord to His disciples:

Say unto them, Ask of God; ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and unto him that knocketh, it shall be opened. (JST Matthew 7:12-13)
Do you know of any other statements in scripture about how to receive, how to find, or how to have truth opened to you that don’t entail asking, seeking, knocking? It doesn’t happen by accident; it happens by effort.

Receiving Answers

If the purpose of scripture is to cause us to ask questions, we shouldn’t be surprised when the Lord also uses scripture to provide the answers. When Joseph asked his question at age 14, the Lord’s answer primarily consisted of quoting scripture.

When the angel visited Joseph in his bedroom and spent the entire night in conversation, the discussion consisted primarily of expounding scripture.

The pattern is no different today. The scriptures are both the puzzle and the solution, and are properly used as a Urim and Thummim. The Hebrew words “urim” and “thummim” are plurals meaning “lights” and “perfections.” When our lack of light causes us to seek God, his answers bring perfect understanding. Ask and ye shall receive. Seek and ye shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you. Seek light to gain perfection in your understanding.

One of the first times I recognized this process at work, I was studying the Book of Mormon, and I encountered an odd phrase that contradicted my current understanding. As I thought it over, I formed a question in my mind, along the lines of “Lord, what does that mean?” And instantly, an inner voice answered, in a sentence, quoting scripture.

The experienced shocked me because I wasn’t expecting to hear a voice, and didn’t even realize God was listening to my question. But that answer unmistakably came from God and led me into a further search, leading in turn to more questions, more answers, more light, and a more perfect understanding.

Do you want to receive revelation? Do you want to commune with God? Ask Him questions about scripture. You have your very own Urim and Thummim, right there on your shelf. It has been carefully designed to both conceal, and in due time, reveal, lights and perfections.

We have now clearly set forth how it is, and how it was, that God became an object of faith for rational beings; and also, upon what foundation the testimony was based, which excited the enquiry and diligent search of the ancient saints, to seek after and obtain a knowledge of the glory of God: and we have seen that it was human testimony, and human testimony only, that excited this enquiry, in the first instance in their minds—it was the credence they gave to the testimony of their fathers—this testimony having aroused their minds to enquire after the knowledge of God, the enquiry frequently terminated, indeed, always terminated, when rightly pursued, in the most glorious discoveries, and eternal certainty. 

—Lectures on Faith 2:56

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Why did God Kill Moroni?

And also cometh the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests, and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds.
—D&C 88:90

As I’ve written about previously, Louis Naegle was excommunicated 10 days ago for his testimony of the Savior and his second witness of the book, Preserving the Restoration.

Today, at Louis’s former ward in Bountiful, sacrament meeting started at as usual 11:00 am. A stake high councilor—one of those involved in Louis’s excommunication—spoke at sacrament meeting. In his talk, he bore down in fervent testimony against apostates, declaring that there were those close to home who were attempting to tear down the Lord’s church and undermine the Lord’s prophets. This message is not surprising, given the recent excommunication of a ward member and the perceived danger that other ward members might follow a similar path. There was little doubt who the subject of the talk was. 

The day had started out sunny and cool with morning temperatures in the 50’s. By 11:00 when church started, there were clouds, but no rain. By the time church let out at 2:00, a thunderstorm had developed, and at approximately 2:12 pm, just as church was letting out and people were running for their cars to drive home, a lightning blast struck 1.3 miles away from the church building, targeting the Moroni statue on the pinnacle of the Bountiful Temple. 

The Actual Strike (click to enlarge)

As you can see, half of Moroni’s head was blown completely off, as was a significant portion of his back, and his left hand.

The weather then rapidly cleared, as you can see from the photos taken later the same day, with the destroyed Moroni statue under beautiful, blue skies with a few fluffy clouds.

Ask yourself why the Lord would blow up the golden statue at the pinnacle of his own house. I hope it gives us all something to think about.

Some LDS faithful will argue this was a random act of nature, and is meaningless. After all, it’s only an act of God when it’s in your favor, right?

But given God’s history of using storms to accomplish His purposes, it’s worth considering the timing, location, suddenness, destructive force, and target of this storm. This was precise. 

No, this was surgical. 

Look at the weather radar map below. Not much happened until 1:45 PM when a powerful squall came out of nowhere, brained poor Moroni, then rapidly cleared up. 

When other temples have been hit by lightning in the past, I don’t recall ever seeing Moroni blown to pieces. So maybe God is mad at Moroni? 

I doubt it.

Want my opinion? 

This is a sign. 

As I wrote in another blog post, God testified of the book, Preserving the Restoration, by placing the blood moon Sign of the Dove in the eastern sky. That’s a pretty bold witness in favor of the book. Louis Naegle stood as a second witness of that very book, publishing his testimony to the world in the book’s preface. But, like so many others, his witness was rejected and he was cast out. 


Even if you chalk this up to a random act of nature, you are in effect saying, God isn’t in control, or doesn’t even care enough about his own temple to protect it. Either way, it’s a tough proposition to defend if you support the LDS church.

No, God did this. And He did it for a reason.

Suppose, just for a minute, God really IS working in these days, to preserve the restoration and prepare for Zion, just as the revelations say He will. Suppose He actually HAS sent authorized messengers, but they keep getting rejected and thrown out. He has been incredibly patient, but at some point would you expect His warnings to start matching the words of scripture? When is enough, enough? What would you expect God to do to get our attention? Is it better to listen and consider now, before the fulness of His wrath is manifest?

The stake center where Louis Naegle’s excommunication took place is the closest LDS church building to the Bountiful Temple. It’s less than half a mile. I don’t know how the Lord could have been more precise and emphatic in this witness. 

It’s mind blowing. (Sorry, Moroni.)

That stake high councilor may have spoken emphatically, but his thunderings are no match for God’s lightning. 

If you haven’t yet read Preserving the Restoration, I highly suggest you do. Those gold Moroni statues aren’t cheap, and God went to some expense to make his point. I recommend you read Louis Naegle’s testimony and see what the storm is about.

His lightnings enlightened the world: the earth saw, and trembled. The hills melted like wax at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. The heavens declare his righteousness, and all the people see his glory.

Confounded be all they that serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols: worship him, all ye gods.
—Psalms 97:4-7

Update June 1, 2016: The angel statue was replaced with a new one. Here's my favorite comment from the newspaper article about the new statue:

"I have to think the Angel Moroni is pleased having his image used to help protect the Temples of God and their faithful patrons from lightning strikes."

So wait...does God control the lightning strikes? Does Moroni's image therefore protect the temples from God's careless use of lightning? The mental gymnastics you have to go through...I just can't even.

Update August 26, 2016: The following paragraph is quoted from the dedicatory prayer for the Bountiful Temple:

We dedicate the ground on which the temple stands, sensing it was reserved for this purpose. We dedicate the beautiful structure, from the unseen footings to the majestic figure of Moroni crowning its highest point. We dedicate the baptistry, all of the facilities for administering the sacred ordinances, the endowment rooms, the sealing rooms with their sacred altars, and the lovely celestial room, together with all ancillary facilities and the beautiful grounds with their lawns, flowers, trees, and shrubs. Protect all from any devastating influence, destruction, or defacement.

Update June 13, 2017: It appears the damage was far more extensive than just the statue. The entire spire has been removed all the way down to the structural steel framing. There currently is no spire on the building, and it is being completely rebuilt. 

Update July 22, 2017: Still heavily under construction (over 90 days now). Obviously, quite a bit more work left to do. Quite a bit of damage for a single lightning bolt. Imagine the destruction when God is really provoked. Here are some photos from today:

Update December, 2017: Reports suggest that after a year and a half, work on the spire is nearly complete. I've been told by those who claim to know that work took place clear down to the footings of the building, which is interesting, given the language of the dedicatory prayer. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Automotivism: Detours on the Drive to Heaven

And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. 
—2 Nephi 31:21

Before we can move on with the Name of Jesus Christ series, we need to get clear on something, which is best conveyed through allegory. Therefore I’ll liken the plan of salvation to the process of learning to drive a car.

Becoming a Driver

Before you can learn to drive, you must reach a certain age. The idea is that your cognitive ability, decision making, self-control, understanding and maturity must all reach a certain level before you can become a responsible driver. This growth process takes many years.

Next, you must be trained by those who already know how to drive. You will study in a classroom setting, becoming versed in the laws that govern driving. You will learn from the experiences of others and analyze the decisions made in various situations. And you will study a manual of laws and procedures that apply to driving.

But it’s not just about study. At some point you must receive not only knowledge, but also skill. You will need to practice in various settings, with increasing levels of autonomy and responsibility until you've mastered the nuances of driving in any situation that may arise. You won’t just need to know how to operate the car, but you must internalize the “big picture” of how the laws of driving, the laws of physics, the feel of the vehicle, the actions of other drivers, road and weather conditions, safety measures, and routes and obstacles all unify in the driving experience.

Ultimately, you must not merely learn about driving; rather you must become a driver yourself, mastering all that driving entails.

At a certain point, you will reach a level of mastery at which you are ready to be tested. You will be tested for your knowledge of the laws, mastery of the skills, and competence in various driving situations. During your testing, a qualified tester will observe you closely and give you direction. Having passed the tests, you will be awarded a license—which also serves as your new identity—and you will join the ranks of the drivers who have gone before you.

This process is important, of course, and proven to produce qualified drivers. It has been refined over many years, and improved by experience with many millions of drivers. Though some take longer than others to succeed, the process can be trusted to eventually produce the correct results.

Putting someone behind the wheel of a car without first requiring this process would only produce imitation drivers, with all the power of an automobile, but none of the knowledge and skills in place to make them safe. Such imitation drivers, with power but no knowledge, would be dangerous to themselves and others.

None of the above surprises any of us. It’s completely familiar and expected. We’re all comfortable with the process, and don’t even question it. Becoming a driver is a normal goal and nearly all achieve it.

But what if it weren’t so familiar? What if the whole idea of driving was perceived very differently?

The Religions of Automotivism

Imagine for a moment, a world in which people don’t drive, or even understand much about driving, though many claim to “believe” in it. What if driving were considered some imaginary, magical mode of transportation with various legends, myths, folk tales and fables surrounding it. What power! What magic! What a mystical experience it must be to move about with such speed, freedom and power!

Perhaps some would believe they might one day qualify to be passengers in a car, though they could never be drivers themselves.

Others may deny the existence of drivers or cars altogether.

Some might say that people used to drive in the old days, but nobody can drive today because those days are over, and anyone who claims to drive is a liar.

Others might teach that you already are a driver and that you’re already driving—if you just believe it sincerely enough. There’s no need to learn, study or practice, and certainly no need to become anything other than what you already are. (Try not to notice you’re still walking, not driving.)

Yet others might form a driving club and say they have the only true path to one day become a driver. They will require you to study road maps and gas prices, read fanciful stories about legendary drivers, and keep a variety of rules that aren't related to driving. They will seek to control all the following (as recently stated by one of the club leaders):
Where you go, where you don't go.
What you think, what you don't think. 

What you speak, what you don't speak. 

What you eat, what you drink, what you wear.
Further, you must attend all your club meetings, where you’ll learn approved lessons about driver-ish things like pumping gas and installing wiper blades. And you must pay your dues, and believe the club president is a driver, though you’ve never seen him drive. If you do these things faithfully, they say, you’ll one day become a driver yourself and have your own car—though most of what they teach has little to do with driving, and their rules are made up.

Their club president, they say, has keys you’ll need to start the car you’ll one day receive. Without his keys, nobody will ever drive—or that’s how the story goes. Then, oddly, they’ll insist that to learn to drive, you must stay in a boat and wear a life jacket while somebody else does the sailing.

Driven to Distraction

Suppose that in this imaginary world, all the various driving clubs and interest groups have different driver’s manuals from which they hope to learn something about driving. Though the manuals were written by those who have, indeed, become drivers, you might notice that some pages are missing and others are changed, with whole sections crossed out, and extra explanations written in the margins. And even then, few actually study the manuals or take them seriously at all, preferring instead to talk about how to better keep the club rules and recruit more club members.

Occasionally, though, someone might quote a sentence from the manual, just to lend some authority to what they say.

Eventually, you’ll find that many driving clubs become so busy with other pursuits, interests, and businesses that driving is almost never even mentioned.

Would such a society produce any actual drivers? No, quite the opposite. It would tend to prevent people from ever learning to drive or becoming drivers themselves.

In fact, if your goals are to attract loyalty, money, and power, you might use the idea of driving to obtain these things from others. You could sell them on the freedom, speed, and power of driving, while ensuring nobody would ever actually drive. They merely must believe in the idea, you see, and they can be controlled by means of fear, guilt, shame, or threats. You could become wealthy and powerful with such tools.

You Mean You’re Actually Supposed to Become a Driver?

And now we reach the point of the allegory.

There is a real, actual plan of salvation, and it involves gaining knowledge and ability, and eventually becoming something quite different than you are. Unfortunately, that plan has been ignored, distorted, altered and rejected to the point that what is taught bears little resemblance to anything that will save you.

This fact becomes readily apparent when you study scripture. Our understanding has become so distorted and superficial that we fail to comprehend what is written in God’s word. There are many, many examples but I’ll just use a single one to illustrate this point.

After Alma the younger was born again, he taught the following, which he received directly from the Lord:
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)
Let’s take a moment to digest this incredible statement. 

And the Lord said unto me: This is the word of the Lord—not merely Alma’s opinion. He is quoting God. Therefore, what follows is both true and vitally important. We gainsay it at our peril.

Marvel not: Don’t be surprised by what I’m about to say, though you may find it surprising. “Marvel” also means to wonder. Don’t wonder about what follows. It is definite, and I’m stating it as clearly as possible.

that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people: What follows applies to everyone. There are absolutely no exceptions. It applies to YOU.

must be born again; yea, born of God: A birth is a definite event, at which a separate existence begins, born of a mother’s womb. But this passage speaks of a new event that MUST happen in which one is born not of a mortal woman, but of God. One thus born becomes not merely the offspring of a mother, but the offspring of God. More on this in a moment.

changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness: All of us are born into this Telestial world in a carnal and fallen state, separated from God, sinful in our natures, and subject to death. This must change. Something fundamental must take place to rescue us from the fall and change our natures into what the Lord can pronounce “righteous.” We cannot change this ourselves, but rather must BE changed.

being redeemed of God: Note that this also refers to a new state of being. To be redeemed is to be returned to the literal, actual presence of God. This is the definition Jesus Christ gave to the brother of Jared on the mountain, as follows:
And when he had said these words, behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you. (Ether 3:13)
Christ, as the Redeemer, is the one qualified to define redemption. You are not redeemed until you are returned to God’s presence. The gospel is the path to redemption, or the road map back to God’s presence while in the flesh.

becoming his sons and daughters: As I mentioned above, to be born of God is to literally become His child—part of His family. Therefore, according to the Lord, you are NOT a child of God in the fullest sense, until this event takes place—regardless of what the Primary song says. This is a new identity for you, because it is something you “become.”

And thus they become new creatures: You literally become a new creation through this process. You have a new identity, a new relationship with God, a new nature, a new status, and a new family. This is between you and God—not between you and an organization. Only God can make you a new creature.

and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. There is no other way. If you do not participate in this process and event, if you do not BECOME what is described here, you CANNOT inherit the kingdom of God. What is an inheritance? That which is bequeathed to a son or daughter by a parent. What is the kingdom of God? That which is owned and governed by the King. Ultimately, it is His family members who will inherit what he offers.

Now, with that understanding, please bear with me as I try to put these same ideas in new language for purposes of discussion.

You were born into a dangerous, sinful state of separation from God, which will end in death and permanent separation. The only escape from this outcome requires following a path that leads to an event best termed a “second birth.” This second birth involves returning to the presence of God, being pronounced righteous, being formally accepted as His son or daughter, and therefore His heir, and becoming a member of His family in heaven. If you don’t do this, you will remain in the fallen, Telestial state of your first birth. You will be damned. 

But if you do follow this path, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, and return to the presence of God, you will be redeemed. This event is designed to happen during mortality. And there is no other way.

The plan of salvation, the Gospel, the good news, is that there is a path back. A way for our escape is prepared! But much like my driving allegory above, almost nobody believes it, or even knows anything about it. The world is filled with religions claiming to offer salvation on some other terms, while insisting the idea that we must literally speak with God, face to face, is heresy. Most of these religions are really about money, power, and control—universally using religion as the tool to achieve these ends.

So we’ve looked at just two verses from the Book of Mormon, examining the required results of effective religion. Having done so, here are some important questions to ask yourself:
  1. Were you surprised by any of what was taught in those two verses? Or were you already fully aware of all these things?
  2. Since you must be born again or be damned, how much does your religion focus on helping you become born again? Do they teach you what it means to be born again? Is it the primary focus of everything in your church?
  3. Do they teach you a definite path that leads to this event?
  4. Does being “born again” entail something more than merely accepting Christ as your personal Savior? 
  5. Does it entail something more than just getting baptized and receiving confirmation? Or another list of ordinances?
  6. How, exactly, do the required changes in your state of being come about?
  7. What else is required? Do you have a definite idea of exactly what you must do?
  8. Will keeping a list of rules lead you to this event? In other words will perfect home teaching, tithing, word of wisdom observance, meeting attendance, temple work, or any other rule keeping cause you to entertain angels or be caught up to meet Christ in the flesh?
  9. How many people do you know who have had this experience? Are there many in your church? Is it a common result of following your chosen religion? Is your driving club producing actual drivers? Do they teach from experience?
  10. How many religions and ministers will absolutely deny what is laid out in Jesus’s own words in these verses? Will yours? And will they ask for your money and obedience while they deny Christ’s own words?

I hope these questions were instructive. I hope they led you to see that what you’ve been told all your life is the “gospel” has almost nothing to do with the Gospel. I hope you realize we’re not here to talk about cars; we’re here to become drivers. There’s a definite, proven process to do this. There are specific skills and knowledge to gain. There must be growth and change. There are specific tests to pass. There is a new identity to receive. Power and freedom await at the end of the process.

And yet, even the most religious tend to deny that cars exist or that you can ever become a driver. Some religions will cast you out for even suggesting as much.

So here’s my point: The gospel likely isn’t what you think it is. It may not even be close. The plan of salvation isn’t circles on a chalkboard and a list of rules to keep. You cannot passively sit in a boat and expect others to sail it there. The Lord Himself has informed you of that in His own words above.

How desperately do you want to to escape from Hell? How relentlessly will you search for what He offers? How carefully will you consider His words? What price is too high to pay? At what point will you humble yourself as a little child—realizing your complete and utter ignorance when it comes to the things of God?

When will you start the ascent?

O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous. Behold, the way for man is narrow, but it lieth in a straight course before him, and the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate; for he cannot be deceived, for the Lord God is his name.
—2 Nephi 9:41