Sunday, July 16, 2017

Fools and Foundations: Beyond the Doctrine of Christ

And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay. 
—2 Nephi 31:19

Recently, I’ve encountered arguments that we ought not attempt to recover a more correct set of scriptures, or seek a covenant from God, or build a temple, because these things are not part of the doctrine of Christ. Because such things are not mentioned in Christ’s doctrine, as the reasoning goes, their pursuit serves the purposes of the evil one and will lead to ruin.

Those who make such arguments misapply, of course, Christ’s own words to promote these false notions. To wit:
And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them. (3 Nephi 11:40)
Now, to be fair, the Lord certainly does say that declaring more or less than He has declared, and establishing it for His doctrine, comes of evil. And I’m not questioning that assertion. But His wording is quite specific; nothing else is to be established as the doctrine of Christ. This does not, however, say that there is nothing else to be learned, believed, performed, or received in Christ’s gospel. Indeed, the apostles, dozens of prophets, and even the Lord Himself, have taught many other principles, tenets, teachings, obligations, and commandments as part of the Godly walk required of those who would follow the Savior.

How can this be? How can there be anything required other than faith, repentance and baptism? Especially given the Lord’s binary statement concerning salvation and damnation:
And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God. And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned. (3 Nephi 11:33-34)
Such a statement as this, unexamined, may lead one to believe that the whole of the scriptures really ought to occupy one paragraph, that religion ought to take an hour out of a lifetime, and that having been dunked, all is finished and a glorious reward awaits. Such a leap undoubtedly breaks all olympic records, but is nevertheless engaged in too frequently, and then used as a club to assault any who dare suggest the gospel of our Lord requires anything further.

We wouldn’t want to fall into such a foolish error, so, let’s examine things more carefully—and in context.

Cut Off

Our examination begins with recognizing our situation here in this fallen world. Because of the fall, we are cut off from the presence of the Lord (2 Nephi 9:6). We are in the grasp of “that awful monster…death and hell” and only have hope because God has prepared a way for our escape (v. 10). Because of this offered deliverance, “they who have believed in the Holy One of Israel, they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world, and their joy shall be full forever” (v. 18).

God’s purpose is to return us to the relationship we enjoyed before the fall; to reconnect us to Him (Them) in a family relationship of personal association. He wants to return us not only to His presence, but also to His household and family, which are often called His kingdom in scripture.
And he commandeth all men that they must repent, and be baptized in his name, having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God. And if they will not repent and believe in his name, and be baptized in his name, and endure to the end, they must be damned; for the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has spoken it. (2 Nephi 9:23-24)
Faith, repentance, baptism. You’ll no doubt recognize the pattern from the doctrine of Christ. The requirement to “endure to the end” is also included, and it may not mean what you think. The typical LDS definition can be more or less summarized as “put up with all the hardships of this world until you die.” This gives “enduring” the connotation of bearing suffering without resistance, in a grit-your-teeth-until-you-die sort of way. But the more correct definition has to do with abiding; remaining unchanged; staying true to what and who you are. Make the change permanent. This is what it means to endure.

The Return

The requirements to believe, repent, and then remain in the repentant state—these are the prerequisites for salvation in God’s kingdom. Repentance requires seeking and obtaining knowledge. So the progression is to believe, repent, receive baptism, and then continue repenting and seeking knowledge. This is the beginning of the walk back to God’s presence. Or, as Nephi put it, this is the “gate by which you should enter.”
Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. (2 Nephi 31:17)
Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost. (3 Nephi 11:35)

The doctrine of Christ has one, very specific purpose. Just one. The promise, from the Father Himself, is that He will send the Holy Ghost to those who obey His Son’s doctrine. And the purpose of the Holy Ghost is to get you back in touch with the source of all truth, so you can obtain more knowledge and continue your repentance. The Holy Ghost “will show unto you all things what ye should do.” (Note: this has nothing to do with “feeling the Holy Ghost.” It has ONLY to do with gaining light and knowledge. See this post for more information.)
For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do. Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and there will be no more doctrine given until after he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh. And when he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh, the things which he shall say unto you shall ye observe to do. (2 Nephi 32:5-6)
Continually receiving and obeying truth from the Holy Ghost will eventually bring you into contact with Christ, while yet in the flesh, and He will teach you further doctrine. But nobody ever gets to that point without first entering in at the gate. 

The Beginning

Therefore, it’s clear the doctrine of Christ is meant as a beginning, not an end. It is the gate by which we all must enter to BEGIN the journey back to God. Christ Himself calls it the foundation upon which we must build:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them. (3 Nephi 11:39)
Nephi seems surprised that anyone would teach that the doctrine of Christ is the end, and that there’s no more to do:
And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save. 
Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. (2 Nephi 31:19-20)
You MUST press forward. You MUST feast upon Christ’s words, you MUST remain repentant. You MUST endure to the end. (2 Nephi 31:15) Nephi finally ends his sermon in frustration with those who insist on misinterpreting Christ’s doctrine:
Wherefore, now after I have spoken these words, if ye cannot understand them it will be because ye ask not, neither do ye knock; wherefore, ye are not brought into the light, but must perish in the dark. 
And now I, Nephi, cannot say more; the Spirit stoppeth mine utterance, and I am left to mourn because of the unbelief, and the wickedness, and the ignorance, and the stiffneckedness of men; for they will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be. And now, my beloved brethren, I perceive that ye ponder still in your hearts; and it grieveth me that I must speak concerning this thing. (2 Nephi 32:4, 7-8)
Nephi calls it unbelief, wickedness, ignorance and stiffneckedness when we refuse to progress past the gateway of the doctrine of Christ. Those who attempt to use Christ’s words to fight against Christ’s further teachings “must perish in the dark.”

Declaring More or Less than This

Now that we’ve got the pathway laid out, let’s get back to Christ’s emphatic statement about adding to His doctrine.
And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them. (3 Nephi 11:40) 
Christ specifically stated that attempting to establish anything more or less as His doctrine is the problem. If you add qualifications before one is allowed to enter in at the gate, or if you claim there is another gate, or another way to get the Holy Ghost, or additional actions, beliefs or ordinances required to enter the path of salvation, you are doing exactly what Christ said cometh of evil. Don’t mischaracterize the gate. Recognize that it’s the beginning of the return to God, and that more will most definitely be required of those who enter.

Don’t build on a sandy foundation of falsehood. Find the rock, and build upon it. 
And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. (Helaman 5:12)
Christ is, literally, the “stone of help” or “Ebenezer” raised by Samuel and memorialized in Robert Robinson’s classic hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, which has not survived more recent tampering to obscure the original intent of the hymn. Robinson’s original inspired words, penned at age 22, spoke directly of the journey back to God’s presence, starting with the “Ebenezer” or “stone of help.” Here are a couple of the original verses:
2. Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I'll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home. 
5. O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Cloth-ed then in blood-washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.
Saved and Damned

This brings us to Christ’s other oft-abused statement:
And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God. And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned. (3 Nephi 11:33-34)
Our Lord offers two opposite outcomes, based on your obedience to His doctrine, namely, salvation and damnation. These are actually two sides to the same coin. Damnation halts your progress in the path; salvation allows your progress to continue. Both can be reversed. Salvation, therefore, is not an end, but rather is the definition of the path you must walk. No matter how you may wish to define what it is to be “saved,” Christ has clearly defined it as entering and progressing in the correct path. It is a process, not a final outcome. It is designed to lead somewhere.
And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive. (2 Nephi 30:18)
Gaining knowledge IS the path of salvation. Hence Joseph Smith’s statement:
“… A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world, as evil spirits will have more knowledge, and consequently more power than many men who are on the earth. Hence it needs revelation to assist us, and give us knowledge of the things of God.” (HC, 4:588)
The saving knowledge path requires the testimony of one authorized and sent by the Lord as His messenger. This has always been the pattern, since the days of Adam, who taught his posterity the words of God. The two Zion successes in scripture both directly resulted from the teachings of mortal ministers, and are so inextricably linked to the ministers that to this day we still call them the cities of Enoch and Melchizedek—not the cities of a bunch of people who independently figured things out on their own.

Joseph Smith taught this principle in the Lectures on Faith:
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, emphasis mine)
Salvation comes from hearing, and believing, God’s actual word, as delivered by one He sends:
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? (Romans 10:13-15)
One of the most striking examples of this principle is the case of Lehi and Nephi, the sons of Helaman, in the Book of Mormon. They learned truth from their father (Hel. 5:13), received authority and power from God (v. 18), and preached with such power that they converted thousands of their enemies to the path of salvation (v. 19). These two messengers alone accomplished what the entire armies of the Nephites could not, and in the process brought salvation to many thousands of souls. 

Alma knew this principle:
And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God. (Alma 31:5) 
Salvation is a path, and it is pointed out by God’s messengers. If your unbelief requires you to define salvation in some other way, it puts you at odds with Christ. Those who cannot find the path, or will not follow the path, are damned.

Where the Path Leads

The path of salvation does lead to an event—which the scriptures call “redemption.” And the Lord specifically connects redemption to having acquired knowledge:
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)
Redemption from the fall is the completion of the path back to God’s presence, and beholding Him in the flesh. It is the return to Eden, where God walks and talks with men in the flesh.

Fighting Against Zion

Zion will come. Scripture clearly shows it will require a covenant people willing to labor, a temple where Christ can come, a holy city comprised of those who will obey the Lord, and quite a bit more light and knowledge than we currently enjoy. Recovering the most accurate scriptural record possible is part of the process needed to gain further light and knowledge, as are receiving God’s covenant and building a temple. These are all part of the path of continued repentance for those who have entered in at the gate.

Zion will come. The God of heaven has said He will fulfill his covenants, and His word will NOT return empty. Only a fool would attempt to fight against God. Only a great fool would attempt to use God’s own words to oppose Him.
Wherefore, he that fighteth against Zion, both Jew and Gentile, both bond and free, both male and female, shall perish; for they are they who are the whore of all the earth; for they who are not for me are against me, saith our God. For I will fulfill my promises which I have made unto the children of men, that I will do unto them while they are in the flesh. (2 Nephi 10:16-17)
Don’t be fooled by those who fight against Zion. Anti-Christ deceivers claim the need for Christ, while opposing His commandments, rejecting his messengers, and refusing to walk in His path. Anyone who preaches that you should enter in at the gate, then refuse to do anything more, is literally preaching damnation. The gates of hell prevail against all who embrace such sophistry, and stand open to receive them at the last day.

Press forward. 

Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
—3 Nephi 11:39