Judgment, Creation, and Destruction

Have you considered that the process of creation and the process of destruction are the same? Both are the processes of separating light from darkness.

Depending on how you experience that process will determine if you are going through a destruction or a creation. If we engage the Lord and come to him and allow darkness to be separated out of us by our own free will and choice we will experience creation. If we flee God, eventually, in mercy, the light catches up with our darkness and the Lord does not allow us to persist in darkness and we have to confront the light of his existence.

This is also the definition of judgment: when the darkness of who we are is confronted by the light and truth and reality of God. In this sense, seeking a baptism of fire is seeking to have the judgment moved into the present. It is to seek judgment now – and be exposed to the fire of God’s presence.

This judgment is what purifies and cleanses and burns from us everything that is not of him. Seeking the baptism of fire is seeking judgment before the established end of our probation. The process of receiving a baptism of fire is to go through a willing destruction – submitting all that is not of God to him so that it may be removed, healed, or shaken from us.

Thus, the baptism of fire is to simultaneously submit to both the process of creation and destruction. It is to bring oneself into judgment by your own free will and choice. It is to choose to come into the presence of God while in the day of your probation.

Three Churches in One

What is a church? The best definition I can come up with is this:

A church is a group of people with a unifying characteristic.

What, then, is the unifying characteristic of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints?

As I ponder on that question, it seems to me the answer is this:

A group of people who have been baptized by water and had their membership confirmed by someone who has been authorized by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

In other words, it doesn’t tell you much about these people. Because there are all sorts of people with all sorts of beliefs that can be included under this enormous umbrella, it is usually not helpful to refer to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) as a homogenous body of people. In fact, it may be more helpful to describe The Church as really being comprosed of three churches in one.

The scriptures describe generally three churches. I believe all of these churches are found in the LDS church and this helps us to understand the variety of experience observable in the church.

1. The first, and largest, is the Great and Abominable Church. These are the defining characteristics of this church.

a. They desire the things of the world (1 Nephi 13:7)

b. Nice clothing (1 Nephi 13: 7,8)

c. Sexual desire outside of sanctified marriage (1 Nephi 13: 8)

d. They desire the praise of the world. They want to be cosmopolitan and in the image of the world. (1 Nephi 13: 9)

e. They oppose the establishment of Zion (through their marriage to the world) (2 Nephi 22: 14; 2 Nephi 26:12)

f. They use their own wisdom to become wealthy (2 Nephi 26:20)

g. They teach their own wisdom and their own learning (2 Nephi 26:20)

h. They marginalize miracles and power of God (2 Nephi 26:20)

i. They enrich themselves on the backs of the poor (2 Nephi 26:20)

j. They set themselves up to get the praise of the world (2 Nephi 26:29)

k. They labor for money (2 Nephi 26:31)

l. They teach that all is well in Zion (2 Nephi 28: 25)

m. They teach to trust in man (2 Nephi 28: 26)

n. They teach that since the church is prospering financially that all is well and the Lord is pleased (2 Nephi 28: 21)

o. They preach false doctrines (2 Nephi 28: 15)

p. They preach whoredoms (2 Nephi 28: 15)

q. Puffed up in pride (2 Nephi 28: 15)

r. They don’t want to receive more of the word of God, they believe they have enough (2 Nephi 28: 29)

It is also interesting, and instructive, to note that Nephi identifies the Great and Abominable Church with the members of the House of Israel.

And the multitude of the earth was gathered together; and I beheld that they were in a large and spacious building, like unto the building which my father saw. And the angel of the Lord spake unto me again, saying: Behold the world and the wisdom thereof; yea, behold the house of Israel hath gathered together to fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (1 Nephi 11: 35).

Even though the people were of the covenant body – they were of the House of Israel, they were also of the Great and Abominable Church.

A defining characteristic of members of the Great and Abominable Church is that they take upon themselves the name of Christ and his gospel but seek to form the church in the image of the world. They seek to dress Babylon up in the clothing of the church so that it becomes justified by religion.

Those that reject Babylon, its structures, and its enticements will always be persecuted by those in the covenant body who seek to conform to the image of the world.

The reality of Zion, the requirements of Zion, and the doctrine of Zion will always offend the membership of the Great and Abominable Church (GAC). Those that are persuaded that they are both of the “true church” and also of the GAC will persecute, marginalize, and do all they can to discourage and preach against the doctrine of Zion.

The GAC will claim that they are Zion. They will teach that they way they live is a state, or stake, of Zion. They will pervert the forms and claim the glory. Nephi uses the term both ironically and condemningly when he prophesies of future Latter-Day Saints who define themselves by the term Zion and at the same time preach that “all is well”.

2. The Second church within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the Church of Christ. 

The Church of Christ is defined in Doctrine and Covenants:

“Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.

Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church” (D&C 10: 67-68).

The Church of Christ is that group of people that have repented. This isn’t the type of repentance where you confess and the church tells you you can take the sacrament so you dont feel that you have any thing to repent of. This is the type of repentance that only comes to those that have a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

Those that repent are those that are born again. They are baptized by fire. They have received the mighty change of heart.

Those that are to be received into baptism are first supposed to demonstrate to the church that they’ve already received a remission of their sins.

And again, by way of commandment to the church concerning the manner of baptism—All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church” (D&C 20:37).

When Nephi gives an interpretation of the Tree of Life dream and teaches the doctrine represented in the account, he identifies the gate through which we enter the path as the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. We aren’t on the covenant path until we are born again (2 Nephi 31:33).

Water baptism, as Joseph Smith reminds us, is only half a baptism. With out the baptism of spirit – without the mighty change of heart – we are not yet baptized a member of Christ’s actual church.

It is when we are Born again and receive the power and influence of the Gift of the Holy Ghost that we are new creatures in Christ, and thus a member of his Church.

3. The Third church is the Church of the Firstborn. This church is rarely spoken of, because entrance into this church is based on principles rarely taught and discussed in the general Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. To be a member of this church you must be sealed up to eternal life. You must have your calling and election made sure. This is to have your baptism sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise.

The Holy Spirit of Promise is not a temporary seal of the spirit on someone who has become born again. Many in the church confuse the reception of the Holy Ghost when they are born again as the Holy Spirit of Promise. The scriptures and the teachings of Joseph Smith are clear: The Holy Spirit of Promise is the sealing of your baptism into exaltation, and/or it is the sealing of your marriage to an exaltation.

Two things are sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise: Baptism and Marriage. Both are fundamental covenants of the New and Everlasting Covenant. Both bring you into degrees of the Celestial Kingdom. Both are received by both the witness of the Holy Ghost, the voice of God from the heavens, and by physical ordinance by key-holders. For the ordinance to be complete, all three conditions must be eventually realized.

“And who overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true.

They are they who are the church of the Firstborn” (D&C 76: 53-54).

Also

Wherefore, I now send upon you another Comforter (the Second Comforter), even upon you my friends, that it may abide in your hearts, even the Holy Spirit of promise; which other Comforter is the same that I promised unto my disciples, as is recorded in the testimony of John.

This Comforter is the promise which I give unto you of eternal life, even the glory of the celestial kingdom;

Which glory is that of the church of the Firstborn, even of God, the holiest of all, through Jesus Christ his Son” (D&C 88:3-5).

Can someone be sealed up to eternal life before they receive the ordinances? Yes, of course. They can receive the revelation of this blessing through faith and directly from the heavens. Must that person also eventually receive the physical ordinances associated with those blessings? Yes.

In the same way that a person qualifies for physical baptism they must first receive the remission of their sins, a person qualifies for the physical ordinances of calling and election by receiving the witness and revelatory experiences required to be sealed up to eternal life.

It is my view that only in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day saints can a person receive these types of promises, and is this type of knowledge available. It is my view that a person can be of the Church of Christ and not be a baptized member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but it is my view at this time to be sealed up to the Church of the Firstborn they must receive it through the priesthood channels established on the earth. I don’t believe the knowledge to do so is available anywhere else.

Can a person be born again without being baptized? I believe so. But they also must receive the physical ordinances of that baptism and laying on of hands when made available to them. It is through the channel of physical ordinances that the power of godliness is made manifest on the earth (this will be the topic of a future post).

Three Degrees of Melchizedek Priesthood and The Holy Order

Understanding the doctrine of priesthood is at the core of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The depth of the doctrine is as deep as the gospel itself. And given the depth and complexity of the gospel, it should be no wonder that there are many different views, opinions, various teachings, and many unanswered questions regarding the doctrine. For example:

1. What exactly is priesthood?

2. Is it a power? Is it an organization?

3. Who receives priesthood? Do women?

4. How does one obtain the priesthood?

5. What is the ultimate purpose of priesthood?

Personally, In the past year, my perceptions of the priesthood have expanded regarding these questions. Of course, I don’t want to make this come across as some sort of definitive answer on these questions, but I hope it drives clarity.

What Exactly Is Priesthood?

The first question is the most fundamentally important starting point. The proposed answer in this essay seems also to not overlap with a traditional LDS definition or explanation of priesthood. I hope that this doesn’t dissuade the reader from carefully considering it.

Really understanding the pure definition of priesthood is absolutely critical. If we aren’t exact and precise in our fundamental understanding of priesthood, every doctrine of the priesthood that we build on that foundation will be distorted and will drive confusion.

This is the current state of the knowledge of the doctrine of the priesthood. As I have informally surveyed large groups of people to distill the doctrine of the priesthood into one sentence, I received almost a hundred different answers and views. This reflected the fact that the fundamental question of “what is priesthood?” is confused and inconsistent. If we don’t have clarity on the fundamental definition of priesthood, when we ask deeper questions like, “do women have priesthood?” or “what is priesthood power?“, we will most likely get those questions distorted and confused as well.

There is one universal definition of priesthood. It is simple and basic and must be settled in our minds in order to clearly understand all doctrines of the priesthood. This is the definition:

Priesthood is an Order

That’s it.

All priesthood means is that there is an order. But what exactly is an order?

An order is a pattern. If you follow a pattern, or embody a pattern, you are after an order. And if you are in an order you are in a priesthood.

Priesthood usually denotes a religious order, but for the purpose of laying this principled definition out, let’s expand our understanding outside of the bounds of formal religion.

For example, if you were to join the military you would be brought into an order. You would make a contract to join, you would take certain oaths, and because of your membership in the military you would be granted certain rights and privileges, and strict rules that people not in that order would not receive. You also would have a purpose, or a mission in general given to you, with many sub-missions that contribute to the over all purpose of your new “priesthood order”. The military is a priesthood order.

Consider that graduating with a degree from a university is also entering into an order. (This very fact inspired Hugh Nibley’s hilarious and controversial prayer that he delivered at a BYU commencement ceremony when he prayed,”We meet here today clothed in the black robes of a false priesthood.”)

When one graduates from a university they enter into a priesthood order. They fulfill conditions and gain knowledge and are recognized by the academy for being a member. They enter into that priesthood order because they fulfill the conditions and pattern of that priesthood. They get the rites, rights, privileges, and power of that priesthood.

It feels weird to refer to orders and patterns as priesthood, because priesthood has a religious feel to it, but it is really important to expand our understanding of priesthood to orders and patterns that are not traditionally considered religious. And there is good reason for doing so – as we explore false orders of God’s true priesthood this will become more obvious as to why we should understand that there are many orders that oppose God and create de facto orders of the priesthood in order to do so.

Priesthood, in the LDS traditional sense of the word, refers to the priesthood of God. Modern scripture reveals its formal name:

Before his day it was called the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God” .

(D&C 107: 3)

Even though this is the formal name, it is universally referred to as Melchizedek Priesthood (There is a reason for that which will be explored later).

But notice that the formal name of the priesthood references its order in the very name. It is the priesthood that is after the order of the Son of God. We can learn much from just the name of the priesthood – that those who are received into this priesthood are patterned after, and are of the order of God.

But to rely on the vast reference within scripture that priesthood is fundamentally an order, let us quickly review many (but not all) of the references to priesthood being an order that are in the scriptures. Consider the following passages. I highlight the common denominator in all of these records.

“Before his day it was called the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God” (D&C 107: 3).

“We are to understand that those who are sealed are high priests, ordained unto the holy order of God, to administer the everlasting gospel; for they are they who are ordained out of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, by the angels to whom is given power over the nations of the earth, to bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn” (D&C 77: 11)

“Unless this is the case, their decisions are not entitled to the same blessings which the decisions of a quorum of three presidents were anciently, who were ordained after the order of Melchizedek, and were righteous and holy men” (D&C 107: 29).

“Behold, my beloved brethren, I, Jacob, having been called of God, and ordained after the manner of his holy order, and having been consecrated by my brother Nephi, unto whom ye look as a king or a protector, and on whom ye depend for safety, behold ye know that I have spoken unto you exceedingly many things” (2 Nephi 6: 2).

“And thus in the commencement of the ninth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, Alma delivered up the judgment-seat to Nephihah, and confined himself wholly to the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to the testimony of the word, according to the spirit of revelation and prophecy” (Alma 4: 20).

“For I am called to speak after this manner, according to the holy order of God, which is in Christ Jesus; yea, I am commanded to stand and testify unto this people the things which have been spoken by our fathers concerning the things which are to come” (Alma 5: 44).

“And Alma went and began to declare the word of God unto the church which was established in the valley of Gideon, according to the revelation of the truth of the word which had been spoken by his fathers, and according to the spirit of prophecy which was in him, according to the testimony of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who should come to redeem his people from their sins, and the holy order by which he was called. And thus it is written. Amen” (Alma 6: 8).

“And he began to teach the people in the land of Melek according to the holy order of God, by which he had been called; and he began to teach the people throughout all the land of Melek” (Alma 8: 4).

“And again, my brethren, I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children; and I would that ye should remember that the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people” (Alma 13: 1).

“And thus being called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest—

 This high priesthood being after the order of his Son, which order was from the foundation of the world; or in other words, being without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity, according to his foreknowledge of all things.

Now they were ordained after this manner—being called with a holy calling, and ordained with a holy ordinance, and taking upon them the high priesthood of the holy order, which calling, and ordinance, and high priesthood, is without beginning or end—

Thus they become high priests forever, after the order of the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, who is without beginning of days or end of years, who is full of grace, equity, and truth. And thus it is. Amen.” (Alma 13: 6-9).

“Now we shall say no more concerning their preaching, except that they preached the word, and the truth, according to the spirit of prophecy and revelation; and they preached after the holy order of God by which they were called” (Alma 43: 2).

“…yea, and by all those who had been ordained by the holy order of God, being baptized unto repentance, and sent forth to preach among the people” (Alma 49: 30).

Behold it was by faith that they of old were called after the holy order of God” (Ether 12: 10).

The Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis 14 is one of the great revelation on the order of priesthood. It will be discussed in greater detail later, but for now I’d like to highlight in the chapter that the priesthood is an order. Consider the following:

And thus, having been approved of God, he was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch,

 It being after the order of the Son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God

For God having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself; that every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course

And men having this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven.

And now, Melchizedek was a priest of this order; therefore he obtained peace in Salem, and was called the Prince of peace (Genesis 14).

Orders and Patterns

An order is a pattern. If you conform to the pattern you receive whatever powers, rites, rights, privileges, knowledge, clothing, and authority associated with the order.

A pattern may be just fulfilling outward requirements, like taking classes in order to get a degree. Other patterns are found in what a person becomes or embodies. As one ascends into the higher degrees of priesthood of God what gives endows them with priesthood is that they fulfill the spiritual forms and nature in their very being.

The Three Degrees of The Melchizedek Priesthood

Many ordinances, principles and doctrines can be understood in terms of them having three degrees. The three degrees of glory give us a pattern to understand many gospel principles, especially priesthood. It follows the pattern of the three degrees of glory very carefully. As we understand each degree of glory associated with the priesthood we understand what power is associated with it and exactly how we can receive it.

What do the three degrees of glory teach us?

The following is a diagram that outlines the degrees of priesthood. This will be explored at length in forthcoming posts.

Three Degrees of Repentance

Like many principles and doctrines of the gospel, repentance has degrees and types. These types of repentance bring us closer to God in the kingdom of which law we abide, and also are preparatory to ascending into greater laws and covenants that bring us into oneness with God.

The three degrees of repentance are what prepare us and bring us into the three kingdoms of glory. There are telestial, terrestrial, and celestial forms of repentance. Each have a different purpose and each prepare us for our next ascension if we have the faith to press forward.

Telestial Repentance

The telestial kingdom is the kingdom in which we all reside. In a state of nature, this earth is both a place of death and a place where the light of Christ sheds itself abroad to the hearts of all people. As we choose to yield to light we are able to grow in light and become brighter individuals with a greater sense of what is light and darkness. As we yield to darkness we lose light and have less ability to discern between light and darkness. We are beings that are in flux. We are divided. There is a war in our hearts and a struggle over territory for light and darkness.

Telestial repentance is the decision to follow light instead of darkness. It is to choose to add light to the current condition. This is articulated a number of ways – but telestial repentance is the path of incremental improvement.

“Do better today than you did yesterday,” is a summary of the approach of this type or repentance. It produces light. It produces progress. It is the type of progress that betters individuals and betters a telestial kingdom. As a telestial kingdom becomes a kingdom of glory, it will be inherited by numberless people of different varieties and intensities of light according to how well they succeeded at gathering light to themselves and spreading it in this kingdom.

The Lord blesses those that desire this path. “Doing better, and being better” is a path of light, and if it is followed it can lead to greater heights and greater levels of repentance (terrestrial/celestial). This path is articulate well by President Nelson.

All of us can do better and be better than ever before… Nothing is more liberating, more ennobling, or more crucial to our individual progression than is a regular, daily focus on repentance. Repentance is not an event; it is a process. It is the key to happiness and peace of mind. When coupled with faith, repentance opens our access to the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ

President Nelson, April 4, 2019 General Conference

Choosing light over darkness will lead a person into greater and greater levels of power in the light of Christ.

This process of receiving light is often described in this manner. This is from Elder Bednar’s talk discussing the pickle and the brine of how to become born again. It is framed from a telestial repentance perspective.

The spiritual rebirth,… does not occur quickly or all at once; it is an ongoing process – not a single event. Line upon line and precept upon precept, gradually and almost imperceptibly, our motives, our thoughts, our words, and our deeds become aligned with the will of God. This phase of the transformation process requires time, persistence, and patience.

Elder Bednar, April, 2004 General Conference

The telestial path of transition and rebirth is long, slow, and almost imperceptible for a fundamental reason. Telestial paths or repentance bring light, but they can also be exhausting, slow, and deeply discouraging. The reason for this is simple and described many ways in the scriptures. It is almost impossible to both build a kingdom on earth and also a kingdom in heaven. The slow pace of telestial repentance is due to the reality that your heart is always in competition with the world. Never really leaving it, you try to both be a star citizen in Babylon and a builder of the kingdom of God. It is tiring, exhausing, long, and almost imperceptible to live the gospel in a way that neither wants to offend the world nor God.

It’s not to say it doesn’t work, it just takes a really long time. If fact, it takes precisely the amount of time that small decisions to follow light ultimately bring you to the decision point of loving God with all of your heart, or not.

Telestial repentance brings light, and it can lead a person to transition to terestrial repentance, which is the ideal, but in and of itself it only produces varying degrees of light in a telestial kingdom. Without transitioning, telestial repentance produces telestial glory.

Unfortunately, many have, in good faith, tried to reconcile this level of repentance with celestial reward. Formulations of this repentance vary, but one of the more popular teaching goes something like, “Do your best and let God do the rest.” Although this sentiment is intended to take the pressure off of someone seeking God that they carry when they believe Telestial repentance is the path to the Celestial Kingdom, the inherent untruth in reality does not provide relief. This will be explained later.

The Covenant Path

As a person learns the gospel, this type of obedience is often associated with other laws of the telestial kingdom, which are physical ordinances of the priesthood. Being baptized by water, receiving the physical ordinance of priesthood endowment, and receiving the physical sealing of marriage are all telestial rites of the priesthood as they are currently administered on earth. Telestial compliance is the price of entry. One need only comply with outward forms of obedience to be qualified to have these ordinances administered. As we receive these physical ordinances they can orient us to new levels of repentance and preparation for us to realize these blessings and higher covenants.

Receiving physical ordinances in a telestial spiritual state is what seems to be the implicit definition of the “covenant path”. It is receiving the covenants and ordinances of higher kingdoms of heaven without qualifying for the actual blessing and revelatory experiences of those ordinances and kingdoms. The covenants outline the path, but they are yet to be realized in reality.

Consider the following three covenants and ordinances and what they represent:

  1. Baptism – Becoming fully born again and a new creature in Christ
  2. Endowment – Receiving your calling and election made sure
  3. Marriage Sealing – The calling and election made sure of your marriage

Those that are administered these physical ordinances rarely comply with the terms of those covenants when they are received in their physical form. Very few, if any, are receiving their calling and election made sure when they receive their endowment in the temple. Very few, if any, are having their marriage sealed in the heavens when they are married (How could it be? They haven’t been married yet to be tested according to the covenant. Can you receive the calling and election of your marriage before you have received your own personal calling and election made sure?)

So, we administer celestial and terrestrial ordinances to those that only qualify for telestial light. This seems to be the way of the covenant path.

Both Lehi and Nephi saw this in their respective visions of the tree of life. There is a distinction to be made between the covenant path and the straight and narrow path. The straight and narrow path is the actual path of realizing both the physical and spiritual manifestation of ordinances and and covenants. The covenant path is the receiving of the phyical ordinances without the endowment of power that comes when an ordinance is completely fulfilled. Those blessings occur when passed through the repentance of the terrestrial and celestial kingdoms, which will be described in preceding sections.

Lehi described seeing this in his dream when he recorded:

“And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree which I stood.”

1 Nephi 8: 21

This is a description of the covenant path: It is those that are seeking to obtain the straight and narrow path. It is those that have received higher ordinances but have yet to repent and qualify for the spiritual manifestations and power of Godliness that MUST accompany those ordinances for them to be true and complete (D&C 84: 20-21).

Please do not mistake this as a criticism of administering physical ordinances to those that qualify on a telestial level. There is power in learning the physical representation of what should be happening spiritually. What we should be cautioned of, however, is to not mistake the physical ordinance for the real thing if the power of God associated with that ordinance is not being made manifest.

Baptism of water is an ordinance that is authorized to be fully received and administered in a telestial kingdom. It is an Aaronic order, which order of the priesthood is telestial. It is preparatory for the terrestrial and celestial orders. Baptism is the ordinance of making a sign to God that one has received a forgiveness of sins (D&C 20: 37)

But, as Joseph Smith taught, water baptism is just half a baptism.

You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half—that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost. The Savior says, ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’

Joseph Smith

Terrestrial Repentance

As telestial repentance is the decision to choose to follow light in an incremental process, terestrial repentance is represented in the ordinance of baptism. It is full and immersive repentance. It is the movement of going “all in”.

Just as wading through water doesn’t baptise you, doing your best everyday to follow the light of Christ without the full commitment of one’s heart to follow Christ at any cost or sacrifice does not qualify you for a terrestrial kingdom.

The process of baptism represents this. Baptism of water and the Holy Ghost is the transition from telestial to terrestrial. But we should be very careful and precise what we mean by baptism. As noted by Joseph Smith, water baptism is half a baptism. We must also receive the baptism of sprit, which is the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost.

If we confuse the ordinance of the laying on of hands as the reception of the Holy ghost we will be greatly mistaken about this ordinance and its full completion. One’s baptism is not complete until they are born again and wrought upon by the spirit and become a new creature in Christ. The Book of Mormon teaches this clearly and often. It is a primary message of the scriptural record.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel” (2 Nephi 31: 16)

The physical portion of the ordinance is conducted by the laying on of hands, but the portion that completes the ordinance is the spiritual endowment and experience that transforms someone from the natural man to a new creature in Christ.

This is the event of becoming born again. It is a spiritual transition. It is what is being described by King Benjamin.

And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters” (Mosiah 5:7).

Alma gives the charge that we repent and become born again. He declares, “Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if you are not born again ye cannot inhert the kingdom of heaven…” (Alma 7: 14).

Christ declares this doctrine as a voice from the heavens to the Nephites.

“And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not” (3 Nephi 9: 20).

Some misinterpret this verse to mean the baptism of fire can be so imperceptible that you do not always recognize your baptism of fire. If we understand contextually that Christ was referring the experience at the temple in Helaman chapter 5, we understand that this was not at all the case. The Lamanites were endowed with a mighty change of heart; they most likely just didn’t know what to call it.

The baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost is an experience of transformation. It is the total transformation of the heart and mind to a new creature in Christ. You become in nature a son and daughter of Christ.

This transformation occurs when someone exercises terrestrial level repentance. When a person decides to come to Christ with their entire being and hold nothing back, when they fully commit at whatever sacrifice is asked of them, they enter into a state of having a broken heart and contrite spirit. This is the condition of becoming born again.

In telestial repentance, a person may commit to following Christ, but they also may not commit to having a heart fully broken of desiring things of this world. They desire further light, but not at the expense of telestial gifts and desires.

In order to become fully born again, a person must cease to desire to build their own kingdom on earth. This is a key point. It doesn’t mean that they cease their labors on this earth, but they no longer consecrate their labors to their own glory. They consecrate their labors to God and his purposes. This is the natural desire of someone who is born again; they no longer desire to build a kingdom for themselves in this world. They no longer see their wealth or status or accomplishments as evidence of their greatness. They don’t want to build that kingdom. They desire to consecrate the resources and talents they possess to making this telestial world into Zion.

This principle may be best demonstrated by the account of King Lamoni’s father. He was Aaron how he mary receive the joy of his redemption. He desired to become a new creature in Christ. He pleaded with Aaron the following:

What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy” (Alma 22: 15).

This desire to forsake his kingdom and give up all that he possessed is what triggered the experience that brought him into a fully redeemed state.

If Lamoni’s father had committed to a path of incremental improvement, following the light of Christ but at the same time trying to retain and keep his kingdom for his glory, he would not have experienced the dramatic transformation that the scriptures record.

And so it is with our own repentance. If we desire to become born again as an event in our lives, in the same way that baptism of water is an event, we must fully commit everything in our hearts to God and perform the sacrifices required at our hands.

Telestial repentance can prepare us and bring us to this point over time – but that is the path of the lower road. It is long, and more painful, and carries a heavy burden. Christ says that his burden is light. This is true only when one fully accepts the burden of Christ. What is difficult is both retaining a foothold in a telestial kingdom and order, and also negotiating with the light of Christ. This becomes very onerous very quickly. If we cast off the telestial kingdom and submit to the death of the natural man in a single movement, then we receive the powerful blessings of being baptized by fire.

Those that choose the path of telestial repentance certainly can find that their path ultimately leads to this place of having to decide if they are going to go “all in” or not. No matter how slowly we take the path, we must face the decision point at some time or another to make the move from incremental improvement to complete and total immersion.

C.S. Lewis described this when he wrote the following two passages.

“The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self–all your wishes and precautions–to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call “ourselves,” to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be “good.”

“Christ says give me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work. I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent, as well as the ones you think wicked; the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you myself; my own will shall become yours.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

The Gift of the Holy Ghost

When someone desires to completely come to Christ with a broken heart and contrite spirit, and they are baptized with the Holy Ghost, this is what is actually meant by the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

A person who is in a born again condition is animated by the Holy Ghost in a way that their nature is changed. They no longer desire to do evil. They are full of love. They sing the song of redeeming love. They make manifest the gifts of the spirit (Alma chapter 5).

When one possesses the Gift of the Holy Ghost they are in a spiritual condition. This condition is in a state of comfort. It is the first comforter. They are in a terrestrial state of rest. In this condition they are sanctified according to the knowledge they possess. They are also in a condition of being preparatory for the Holy Ghost to reveal to them knowledge, mysteries, and their own unique path to the presence of the Savior. They are now on the straight and narrow path.

The Gift of the Holy Ghost is often confused with the light of Christ. As we are prompted by light we can increase and be warned and know the truth of things by the light of Christ. The Gift of the Holy Ghost, however, is entirely different. It is being in a sanctified state where the Holy Ghost has complete influence. It is in this state that we are endowed with knowledge and mysteries that can only come through the channel of the Holy Ghost. The Gift of the Holy Ghost is being in a born again condition.

It should also be understood that being in a born again condition is the straight and narrow path. The reason the path is straight and narrow is because it is very difficult to retain the born again disposition. We must learn how to endure to the end, which means, we must learn how to endure in this elevated, spiritual state.

Because becoming born again is not a one-time event, someone who enters the gate will learn that they must repent often, continually yielding their entire hearts back to God, again and again. They must repent continually on this path, but they must repent according to terrestrial repentance – they must be consumed over and over.

When someone is on the path they are also being taught higher covenants, laws, and principles. This comes by the tutoring of the Holy Ghost and is also patterned in the temple endowment. Each time they enter into a higher covenant structure on this path they are sanctified into a higher level of light, truth, and obedience. Each one of these ascension experiences is its own baptism of fire. Thus, along the path, as one ascends into higher covenants and understanding, they will be baptized many times. Sanctification increases as we are sanctified into higher laws.

The terrestrial kingdom is a probationary state. It is the state of being in which we will prove faithful as sons and daughters of Christ. The terrestrial kingdom is the straight and narrow path.

Water, Spirit, and Blood

I would like to suggest a reason why it is the case that as someone is baptized by fire, experiences a born again experience, and tastes the peace and love of being a new creature in Christ, how such a person could ever fall back to their old, fallen and natural ways. Because amongst those that receive a baptism of spirit, this is an inevitability.

The reason for this is that even though our spirits become sanctified and we can become full of the spirit, our bodies are still fallen and our blood has yet to transform from a fallen state to a redeemed state. Our spirits may become born again, but our flesh must go through its own transition. Until that transition is complete, one must continue to repent and submit their spirits completely to God so that it may rule over the flesh. This explains, however, why it is that even though an individual may experience a dramatic and true transformation, they will inevitably experience a fall back to their natural state. They then begin the journey of learning how to continually submit to this higher state of existing and prepare themselves to complete the full blood transformation.

Please consider the following scripture in the record of Moses. He describes three levels of baptism. There is a water level, a spirit, and a blood.

That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory;For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified” (Moses 6: 59-60).

Moses identifies three elements of being reborn. Water, is the baptism of water. Spirit, is the baptism of fire – the sanctification of the spirit. And then there is blood. What is interesting is that Moses identifies the cleansing of blood as what ultimately sanctifies you from all sin. The product of this sanctification is the enjoying of the words of eternal life in this world. This is the blessing of receiving one’s calling and election made sure.

Celestial Repentance

In a technical way, when one is born again they are brought into a probationary terrestrial state. This is where Zion is first being built in preparation to living a celestial law. Similarly, an individual is born again through a baptism of fire they are also in a probationary state. If they endure in this state and receive increasing endowments of sanctification along the straight and narrow path they will enter into that place where their spirit, blood and flesh is also transformed for a complete sanctified state.

How does one repent so that their blood also transforms? I’d like to suggest one aspect of this process, and that is repenting of multi-generational iniquity. When we are born on this earth we inherit the DNA, habits, culture, and flesh of our extended family. We carry the weight of thousands of years of fallen matter in our bodies. We inherit generational sins and iniquities of our past family generations.

Coming clean from the blood and sins of this generation is part of this process. We cease the continuance of these iniquities and we subject the fallen matter of our flesh to the spirit, causing a physical transformation on this earth to reflect the reality and higher glory of a terrestrial kingdom. As we seek to come clean every wit of our inherited family lines we become, as the scriptures describe, saviors on Mt. Zion.

As the physical matter of our bodies starts to take the form of our sanctified spirits we receive priesthood power, which is in one sense, the process of matter begining to yield to our words as we become sanctified and the Father and Son hearken to our words as we have hearkened to their words. The transformation of blood occurs when our sanctified spirits invite our physical bodies to elevate to a singular and unified state. It is in this state that we receive a fullness of priesthood power. This is the process of Celestial repentance.

Conclusion

Understanding how each kingdom has its own level of repentance, that is sufficient for the kingdom in which glory it provides, but also how each kingdom’s repentance is preparatory to ascend into the next kingdom should prove extremely helpful in understanding what state of being we are receiving and according to what laws. Difficulty, confusion, and condemnation occurs when we confuse one type or repentance for another. For example, it is commonplace to mistake telestial repentance of incremental improvement as the type of repentance that occurs on the straight and narrow path. In this state, the vast majority of people mistakenly believe they are on the straight and narrow path whereas in reality they are actually striving to obtain the gate that leads to the path.

It is also not uncommon for someone to have a born again experience and then mistakenly believe they are permanently on the path, not understanding the level of repentance and focus required to stay on the path.

Another common mistake is to believe that one is not born again until they have experiences that are in reality at the level of having their calling and election made sure. Some believe and teach that the born again experience must be so dramatic that very few (if any) are actually receiving these experiences. Instead, they are conjuring up false experiences and vain imaginations in their desire to become baptized by fire.

Clarity of doctrine and the plan of salvation is critical. If the paths aren’t clear then there is a good chance that we will make the mistake of believing we are experiencing something that we aren’t. Understanding how telestial, terrestrial, and celestial repentance works will help us understand where we are on the path(s) to God and what it will take for us to make our next ascension.

On Theories, Doctrine, and The Sustainability of the Kingdom

I have a deep desire to defend the church and sustain the Kingdom of God. The sense is that difficult days are ahead for the church. My generation has known no difficulty in being a Latter-Day Saint. We sit at ease on the shoulders of previous generations that endured and suffered greatly for the continuance of the restoration.

Because of this, and because I want to be as prepared and strong to carry any burden asked of me in order to sustain the kingdom, I am making an appeal to the leadership of the church to act now in truth, so that the burden is not increased in the future. The more we embrace truth, the stronger we will be.

And the inverse is true – if we fail to act truthfully now, the future will be weaker. And we will have less power of God to sustain us in our responsibility to sustain and build the church in preparation for the second coming of Christ.

Understanding our complicated past with race, racial doctrines, and attitudes that were produced by those doctrines, it is really important that we act with both precision and integrity in identifying our past mistakes. Not doing so only makes things worse. It doesn’t do anyone any favors.

With a laudable attempt to produce a transparent and frank explanation of the church’s racial history, the church produced an essay that explains and summarizes the church’s history on race and doctrine of the priesthood. In this essay the church chose to frame its 150 years of racial doctrine as a theory. Here are the excerpts from that essay.

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else…

Following the death of Brigham Young, subsequent Church presidents restricted blacks from receiving the temple endowment or being married in the temple. Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.

(Race and Priesthood)

It also frames its prohibition of priesthood as a policy.

In two speeches delivered before the Utah territorial legislature in January and February 1852, Brigham Young announced a policy restricting men of black African descent from priesthood ordination….

Nevertheless, given the long history of withholding the priesthood from men of black African descent, Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter the policy, and they made ongoing efforts to understand what should be done.

(Race and Priesthood)

Calling something that was taught as a doctrine of the church for 125 years a “theory” is a mistake that cannot be ignored. Referring to the ban as a policy runs contradictory to three generations of saints were taught formally that it had a doctrinal justification. These were not theories. These were not simply policies. They were teachings that were repeated by apostles and church presidents alike for three generations. It was doctrine that was ingrained in the hearts and minds of saints for over a century. It was core to our doctrinal understanding of priesthood.

To emphasize that these doctrines were more than theories and policies, consider the following teachings by the highest authoritative sources of Latter-Day Saint doctrine and thought. This first statement is from the First Presidency Statement (President George Albert Smith).

August 17, 1949 

The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: “Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to.” 

President Wilford Woodruff made the following statement: “The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have.” 

The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes. 

Statement of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, August 17, 1949, Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City

The doctrinal position of the church in inescapable. Not only was it settled by every President of the Church from Brigham Young to President Kimball, it was articulated by the most vocal and authoritative General Authorities from the church. President Joseph Fielding Smith, and Elders Bruce McConkie and Mark E. Peterson taught it authoritatively, broadly, and in texts that the church still draws upon widely even today. The most famously referenced book the LDS use for doctrinal instruction has been Mormon Doctrine. Even though McConkie was required to make revisions, one that was not required of him was the following.

 “the whole negro race have been cursed with a black skin, the mark of Cain, so they can be identified as a caste apart, a people with whom the other descendants of Adam should not intermarry.

Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine

When he told Enoch not to preach the gospel to the descendants of Cain who were black, the Lord engaged in segregation.

From Mark E. Peterson:

I think the Lord segregated the Negro and who is man to change that segregation?

Is there reason then why the type of birth we receive in this life is not a reflection of our worthiness or lack of it in the pre-existent life?…can we account in any other way for the birth of some of the children of God in darkest Africa, or in flood-ridden China, or among the starving hordes of India, while some of the rest of us are born here in the United States? We cannot escape the conclusion that because of performance in our pre-existence some of us are born as Chinese, some as Japanese, some as Latter-day Saints. There are rewards and punishments, fully in harmony with His established policy in dealing with sinners and saints, rewarding all according to their deeds….

Let us consider the great mercy of God for a moment. A Chinese, born in China with a dark skin, and with all the handicaps of that race, seems to have little opportunity. But think of the mercy of God to Chinese people who are willing to accept the gospel. In spite of whatever they might have done in the pre-existence to justify being born over there as Chinamen, if they now, in this life, accept the gospel and live it the rest of their lives they can have the Priesthood, go to the temple and receive endowments and sealings, and that means they can have exaltation. Isn’t the mercy of God marvelous? Think of the Negro, cursed as to the Priesthood…. This Negro, who, in the pre-existence lived the type of life which justified the Lord in sending him to the earth in the lineage of Cain with a black skin, and possibly being born in darkest Africa – if that Negro is willing when he hears the gospel to accept it, he may have many of the blessings of the gospel. In spite of all he did in the pre-existent life, the Lord is willing…. to give him the blessings of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the Celestial Kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get celestial glory.

We must not inter-marry with the Negro. Why? If I were to marry a Negro woman and have children by her, my children would oil be cursed as to the priesthood. Do I want my children cursed as to the priesthood? If there is one drop of Negro blood in my children, as I have read to you, they receive the curse. There isn’t any argument, therefore, as to inter-marriage with the Negro, is there?

Mark E. Peterson  “Race Problems – As They Affect the Church,” Address given at the Convention of Teachers of Religion on the College Level, delivered at BYU, August 27, 1954.

From Joseph Fielding Smith, with the assistance of his son-in-law, Bruce R. McConkie, who was more influential in crafting 20th century doctrine than any of his predecessors.

There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we come here, and were obedient, more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less.

Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, p. 61

Not only was Cain called to suffer, but because of his wickedness he became the father of an inferior race. A curse was placed upon him and that curse has been continued through his lineage and must do so while time endures…. they have been made to feel their inferiority and have been separated from the rest of mankind from the beginning.

Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection, p. 101, 1935

The documentation is overwhelming.

The purpose of sharing these quotes (and there are many, many more) is not to shame the church over its doctrinal history regarding race – it is to show that these teachings were very much considered doctrinal, that they were from the Lord, and that in no way were they presented as “theories” to the church.

According to the church’s current standard for accepting doctrine they would unconditionally qualify. The church now declares that, in order to be considered authoritative, doctrine must fulfill the following conditions.

  1. The doctrine [of the Church] is taught by all 15 members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve.
  2. It is not hidden in an obscure paragraph of one talk.
  3. True principles are taught frequently and by many. (see Church’s Website)

The church cannot escape the fact that it taught what it now declares as theories and policy something that was doctrinal and rooted in revelation.

Why does this matter?

It matters because the church was either wrong in its doctrinal teachings, or because it was right and now is embarrassed by its doctrine and wants to distance itself from it.

The purpose of this post is not to argue for or against a doctrine. It is to argue for doctrine itself. The church cannot be so dismissive in having taught a doctrine, from multiple presidents of the church, in many publications, establishing as fundamental in the hearts and minds of the members of the church, and then dismiss it out of hand as being “theoretical”.

If we don’t own the fact that we were taught false doctrines (which is the position of the church) how can we as a people repent of them?

If we don’t own our history we can’t sufficiently understand why we were wrong and how it came to be that we were wrong.

If we were doctrinally wrong on race, let us own it. Let’s call it for what it was. Let’s go through a collective repentance process and be taught the principles of how to detect false doctrine. This is the discussion we should be having in the church. It will make us stronger. And if the church collectively asked the question how to avoid this mistake again, perhaps the Lord would give us an actual revelation on the matter. It’s not a irrational request in a dispensation of “continuing revelation”.

I understand the resistance for the church to admit that these were false doctrines taught for 125 years. It’s not about race. It’s about undermining the central premise of the restored church – that you cannot be led astray.

But it is well established that the Latter-Day-Saints were led astray in core priesthood doctrine for many generations. In an effort to save a current false doctrine, a former false doctrine has to be cast as only a theory.

So we treat lightly and dismissively a former false doctrine, for a current one.

This undermines the actual authority and moral integrity of the modern church. If we want to have confidence in our leaders, and that they are leading us right, they need to take responsibility for their words and not throw them at the feet of the Lord unconditionally. They have to be responsible for revelation and their own actions, and stop appealing to the church that they will never be led astray. This teaching has been sufficiently disproven in light of our traditional doctrine on race.

If we don’t take responsibility for our words and teachings we undermine our integrity. Let me suggest an example.

How can the Latter-Day-Saints have faith in the current doctrinal views of the church when, with ease, they can be discounted as theoretical?

What if, in the coming years, the church announces that it disavows the theories of leaders in the 20th century regarding the nuclear family and marriage – that the Proclamation on the Family was just a product of the culture of the time.

The precedent is now established that the leadership of the church can easily disavow earlier teachings on family, sexual relations, and same-sex marriage and that all doctrinal declarations were simply, theoretical.

At what point does marriage between man and woman as God’s law become simply a “former policy”?

For those of us who are committed to defending the Kingdom of God into the future, who will fight for its truth and make the public case for its doctrine – we must be clear on something: The more we accept false doctrines to prevail and shape our views of teachings and our history, we will be weakened and exposed to greater difficulty and will lose members. Many people who leave the church do so because they cannot reconcile the dishonest positions the leadership takes.

Our moral authority to invite our people to repent is as strong only to the degree that the church collectively repents as an institution. If we don’t take seriously our failings, how as a people can we expect individuals to have courage to take seriously their own personal failings?

Because we want to maintain the doctrine that the brethren cannot lead us astray, ironically we’ve submitted the church to a deeper problem – the destabilization of all of its core doctrinal assertions.

In an attempt to secure the faith of the members of the church that they are being led right, generations of members now do not believe they carry the collective responsibility to also receive the same revelation and either sustain – or not sustain the current doctrine. It cannot be submitted to the church on the condition that the Lord cannot guide the leaders wrong. This core teaching has undermined the the church and will have continuing consequences that will prove much worse than we have seen up until now.

Can we not repent of the things we’ve taught are wrong? Can we not also receive redemption without the need to continue to perpetuate new falsehoods to cover for former ones?

These things may not ultimately kill us, but many are leaving the church because of this nonsense. The Lord has warned us that that which is not of him will shaken and destroyed. How much shaking will we choose to endure before we let go of all those doctrines that are not of him?

A Primer on Liberalism, Leftism, and our American Existential Crisis

Is it true that debating politics is usually just two people who want the same result but just disagree on how to get there?

It depends on who is having the debate. Here’s a quick summary of the political movements and their origins:

(This is very, very simplified, but I think it still works)

  1. The founding philosophy of America was Classical Liberalism

There are three primary premises of Classical Liberalism

  1. The individual is sovereign and paramount. Individual freedom is the most important thing in society. Individuals are greater than the group.
  2. Truth is not relative, but is rooted in nature. It is objective and universal as a phenomena. . (You may disagree wildly on what that truth is, but truth is a universal, nonetheless – it just needs to be discovered).
  3. Free societies require economic freedom. Capitalism is the economic twin of Classical Liberalism

    Even though the term “classical liberalism” was coined after the American revolution, this new-world view was it was born from the prominent Christian/Judaic religious tradition, and was advanced in ways the world had never seen by philosophical revolutionaries like Thomas Jefferson (even though he rejected the mystical tenets of Christianity). Natural rights. Individualism. Free Market Capitalism.

                Think Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Barry Goldwater

  1. Big Government Liberalism (for lack of a better term) emerges roughly in the early to mid 20th century.

BGL is a traditional Democrat. But they are the old-school Democrats. This is my grandpa. They accept the basic tenets of Classical Liberalism (natural rights, free markets, individualism), but are committed to addressing some of the natural challenges and problems that free societies face: Poverty, advocating for workers, economic mobility… etc. and they believe that greater government intervention and spending is the solution.

The Democratic Party has a great tradition and has been a great party.

Think JFK, LBJ, MLK; even Bill Clinton. These are roughly in this group.

In America in the 20th century Classical Liberals became to be known as conservatives, and BGL’s became to be known just as liberals.

So, to answer the question – can two people have the same aim but believe there are different ways to achieve it? Yes. If the two people that are talking are a classical liberal and a big-government liberal. They share a fundamental philosophy.

BUT…..

Enter a third category of political social philosophy. It is born out of the Marxist movements of the 20th century – both economic and cultural Marxism. And Marxism has an odd bedfellow, but a political ally in post-modernism.

3.  Marxism and Post-Modernism – “Leftism” just for convenience. (I know that it appears to be a sloppy connection at this point.)

Leftism rejects the basic tenets of classical liberalism, and big-government liberalism which again are, natural rights, individualism, and free markets. Not only does it reject those pillars, it advocates for the philosophical inverse.

1. The group is paramount and the individual is annihilated.

2. There is no such thing as objective truth – only relative truths rooted in social power structures (herein lies the marriage of Marxism and post-modernism).

3. And free markets are only oppressive economic regimes by the patriarchal, economic classes used to oppress other vulnerable classes of people (women/minorities/marginalized members of society). Economic systems should be ultimately centralized so that wealth is distributed evenly.

Leftism is an aggressive opponent to the founding philosophy of the United States, legal structure, government, and core values of freedom of speech, religion, and due process.

So, what happened? How does this third movement of Leftism infect the American tradition of natural rights and rugged individualism?

Because it carries the same language and, ostensibly, and what appears as the same aims of traditional Big Government Liberalism. BGL morphed in large part, over time into Leftism. But to do so, it had to very carefully and overtime make the case to reject the tenets of individualism, natural rights, and economic freedom.

It was subtle. And attractive to young people in Academia not equipped to reject its romantic, but egregious tenets.

 It was from the 70’s to the current era. Leftists took over the universities and thereby overtime have infected the media classes and governing classes. It also has philosophically consumed the Democratic Party. Once a great party and institution (even though I disagree with the party in the 20th century) – it has become the host and political vehicle for Marxist/Post-Modern Leftism.

What is also interesting as a phenomena, unlike Classical and Big-Government Liberalism, Leftism has taken upon itself a unique religious nature. Classical Liberals and BGL’s find religion as a natural compliment to their political and social vision. Leftists, however, naturally abandon their religious traditions for this new Marxist/Post-Modern religion.

Now, are all Democrats, Leftists? Of course not. And this is why it is so confusing for so many Democrats (and Republicans) to make this distinction in the philosophical movement. There are traditional Democrats out there that still believe in BGL; but are unaware how Leftism has become the dominant philosophy of the Democratic Party. Many, if not most, people in the Democratic party do not make a distinction between Liberalism and Leftism. They conflate the terms and ideas.

They can’t see these distinctions because Leftism is such a close counterfeit to liberalism.

This is why the modern Democratic Party rejects the philosophy of Martin Luther King, JFK, and all of their heroes 20th century. (But good-luck getting them to be honest about that one). They have divorced their 20th century heroes for the likes of with the counterfeit movements of social justice, identity politics, and political correctness. They reject the individual as paramount. They reject natural law. They reject free market capitalism. They are fundamentally racist and use legitimate racial problems as a way to advance their Marxist and Post-Modern world view – race is not a primary concern for the Collectivist.

Liberalism has the ability to ultimately defeat racism. Leftism creates and increases racism.

Failing to make a distinction between Leftism and Liberalism, the movement has a deceptive quality. Many good people fall for its tenets.

For this reason, some of the best people I know believe some of the worst things.

Can a Liberal (either classical or big government) and a Leftist agree upon the same goals but have different views of how to get there?

No, they cannot. Because the aim of a Leftistism is not freedom, the advancement of individualism, or the protection of natural rights. Their goal is equality of outcome. This, upon deep consideration, contradicts the very moral fabric of America. It will shred us apart – as we can already see. Equality of outcome as an aim requires the suspension of natural rights, freedom, and the death of individualism. It requires to oppression, totalitarianism, and the suspension of freedom. It’s produces every type of evil and murderous outcome, as we witnessed over and over when these experiments were had in the 20th century. Leftism has claimed the lives of at least 100 million people in the last century. Why does it still persist? Are we so foolish to allow one of our great American Political parties become possessed with its alluring, but ultimately lethal ideology?

The question is, can we root this ideology out before it reaches critical mass? It seems to me that we have Stage 3 Leftism in this country. Is it too late? Will the Democratic Party stop breathing life into this movement that is about to consume us?




The Sacrament: If Ye are Not One Ye are Not Mine

One thing that I’ve been interested to observe about ” home church” is how often I hear people admit that they really don’t want to go back to meeting with their ward. Of course there are exceptions to this – but how often I hear people secretly admit that they love home sacrament meeting so much more than going to church, and will be disappointed when they have to return, has been genuinely interesting to me.

I’ve thought a lot about this. Why is home sacrament meeting so great? Why don’t we, in general, have the same experience and joy in our ward families?

When thinking about the sacrament there are some things that makes it a very unique ordinance. First, it is not an ordinance that is administered generally to a singe individual. We don’t insert our individual names into the sacrament prayers. It is a collective ordinance – blessed and administered to all who gather to take it together.

As a collective ordinance, we can also look at our practices and ordinances and see if there is anything else we do that is also a collective ordinance. What’s interesting is that there is another ordinance/practice that can be used to inform our practice of the sacrament.

In our temple worship we are taught the true order of prayer. As another collective ordinance, in which once again we are not individually named but are treated as a unified body, we can learn about the principles taught about how that ordinance works.

The true order of prayer is predicated on the principle of unity of feeling. We are not to have any unkind feelings towards each other. If they exist, we are invited to not participate in the prayer. This is a fantastic principle that teaches us how we need to have a condition of heart before the desired blessing of the true order of prayer can be realized.

It strikes me that the same principle applies to the sacrament. Why would it be any different? If we are coming together to collectively partake of the sacrament why wouldn’t the same principle of not having any unkind feelings between each other make the difference between having a collective spiritual experience and not?

This insight into how those that partake the sacrament together need to have the best of feelings towards each other informs our initial question. Perhaps it is because within the family unit you will find the environment where the best of feelings are felt. We feel unity. Coming together in a living room, making the choice to worship without a social expectation. Controlling the content and spirit of the meeting – all of these things are preferred to meeting in a large group of people when there is no guarantee of a unified spiritual feeling.

So this unplanned social experiment perhaps teaches us about a principle that should have been on the forefront of our minds all along. What would happen if we started keeping the principles that govern the collective ordinances we regularly practice? What would happen if a ward was able to rid themselves of unkind feelings of any kind before they came together and partook of the sacrament?

What kind of spiritual outpouring would be experienced in a ward that truly repented of their judgment, unkind feelings, backbiting, gossip, and disunity? What would that testimony meeting look like?

Impossible? Possible? Perhaps we should seriously pause before we jump back in and start taking this sacred ordinance without the qualifying spiritual unity the Lord requires for his people to possess before they partake of his emblems in his name.

Too high of a bar? How can we embrace the very real warning that “if you are not one you are not mine”?


The Passover, Repentance and Becoming Born Again

Once a year it is wisdom for us to remember and retell the stories that are relived in every generation. The Passover is once again upon us, and even though it is no longer (unfortunately) the center-piece of our tradition, we would be wise to remember and consume its patterns and teachings.

Departing Egypt and venturing into the wilderness is the great archetype of the doctrine of Christ. It is the pattern and archetype of Nephi and Lehi’s dreams. It is also the pattern in the account of the Brother of Jared.  The journeys of all of these covenant families are the pattern that we all must also go through as individuals.

Nephi and Lehi’s dream, the children of Israel fleeing Egypt, and Lehi and Nephi fleeing Jerusalem are all enactments of the doctrine of Christ. Their journey is the physical pattern of the process of salvation. All of these scriptural accounts demonstrate the pattern of the doctrine of Christ most clearly taught in 2 Nephi chapters 30-33.

Lehi’s family fleeing Jerusalem and the children of Israel fleeing Egypt is a type of baptism. It represents the complete and full commitment of leaving the world; removing oneself completely from a telestial structure and departing an old life. A baptism requires full immersion. It is not a partial commitment, it is the death of the old life and beginning a journey into a new life .

When the Lord is going to deliver us from our old life, our carnal nature, and our telestial comforts he commands us to leave and to do it in haste. It is not an invitation to take our time, to not rush, and to slowly make the preparations to leave our old selves. The command is clear: repent now and repent quickly.

For this exact reason the children of Israel were commanded to eat unleavened bread. They were not to wait for their bread to rise through the natural and slow process of leavening. They were to flee Egypt in haste. The command was for a quick departure. If they waited for the bread to leaven they put themselves in danger of not being delivered.

As we make the covenant of baptism the Lord is also making a way for our escape from our own Egypt or Jerusalem. The Lord is making a way for our escape from our fallen nature. It is not a process that requires leavening.

Leavening and yielding to the natural process of change is a slow, natural process of transition that takes a long period of time. Like repentance, if we decide to make our own spiritual transitions a long, slow, almost imperceptible change over a lifetime we choose the path of not fleeing Egypt until we are fully comfortable. It is to wait for our bread to rise before we depart.

If we depend on our own timeline for repentance, and put the burden of transformation on our own long-term habits and works we will seek to rely on ourselves for change and not the Lord’s miraculous deliverance. The baptism of fire, becoming born again, the mighty change of heart are all processes that take place miraculously in a very short period of time if we have the faith to repent with all that we have and completely.

It is the slow process method of becoming born again that puts our mortal probation in imminent danger. It is to linger in Egypt until it may not be possible to escape. It is to, as Laman and Lemuel desired, to reside in Jerusalem and enjoy our possessions all the while living out the self-delusion of believing we are righteous because we keep the statutes and law (1 Nephi 17:22).

To believe that becoming born again is a slow process over a lifetime is  like unto waiting for our bread to rise before we leave our own Babylon. We must make the decision to repent and make it conclusively for us to experience the baptism of fire and Holy Ghost. Otherwise we never really leave Egypt. We never really leave Jersusalem. If we sort-of follow the gospel and mistakenly believe we are a traveler on the strait and narrow path by virture of water baptism alone, we make the mistake of Laman and Lemuel that we have left Jerusalem in body but not in spirit – therefore we really haven’t left Jerusalem at all. Thus, we become tortured souls – fighting to be good and keep the commandments all the while suffering because our hearts are still in Jerusalem – we may still long for Egypt.

C.S. Lewis articulated this problem in his own formulation of this spiritual dilemma:

The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self—all your wishes and precautions—to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call ‘ourselves’, to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be ‘good’. We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way—centred on money or pleasure or ambition—and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. As He said, a thistle cannot produce figs. If I am a field that contains nothing but grass-seed, I cannot produce wheat. Cutting the grass may keep it short: but I shall still produce grass and no wheat. If I want to produce wheat, the change must go deeper than the surface. I must be ploughed up and re-sown” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).

When declaring the repentance sufficient to become born again Alma the Younger could not be clearer in his message (as are all true prophets that declare repentance). He warned and invited the people

And now I say unto you that this is the order after which I am called, yea, to preach unto my beloved brethren, yea, and every one that dwelleth in the land; yea, to preach unto all, both old and young, both bond and free; yea, I say unto you the aged, and also the middle aged, and the rising generation; yea, to cry unto them that they must repent and be born again.

Yea, thus saith the Spirit: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand; yea, the Son of God cometh in his glory, in his might, majesty, power, and dominion. Yea, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, that the Spirit saith: Behold the glory of the King of all the earth; and also the King of heaven shall very soon shine forth among all the children of men.

And also the Spirit saith unto me, yea, crieth unto me with a mighty voice, saying: Go forth and say unto this people—Repent, for except ye repent ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of heaven.

And again I say unto you, the Spirit saith: Behold, the ax is laid at the root of the tree; therefore every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be hewn down and cast into the fire, yea, a fire which cannot be consumed, even an unquenchable fire. Behold, and remember, the Holy One hath spoken it” (Alma 5: 49-52).

The message is inescapable. It is not a soft declaration nor is it an easy and comfortable invitation. It is to repent and to repent quickly. The fruit of those obeying this message is the miracle of transformation and becoming born again. It is powerful and it is swift.

We must reject the false prophets of our own making – those that prophesy to us according to the desires of Egypt and Jerusalem. Isaiah foresaw this day and the yielding to this temptation:

That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord:

Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits.

Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us (Isaiah 30: 9-11).

We must hear the invitation and warning of true prophets. They will always come with the same message: Repent now, repent quickly, and repent completely. Those that do will be filled with the love and redemption of the Lord. They will receive the miraculous power of Christ unto salvation. They will be delivered from Egypt and Jerusalem.

We do not have time to wait until our bread is leavened. We can receive the redemptive power of Christ now and as soon as we are willing to repent and sacrifice everything we have to receive this mighty change of heart. The passover should be a reminder that this is a time of choosing and a time of rescue. With the chaos of Egypt and destruction of Jerusalem intensifying around us, this passover message needs to be heeded now and in haste.

The Happiness of Laman and Lemuel

When the family of Lehi fled Jerusalem they provided both a literal account of a divided family following the gospel path and it presents also as an archetype of the covenant people in the last days. From this covenant family comes a great division that creating the two great nations in the promise land. We can learn much from these archetypical characters recorded in this ancient record.

One of many patterns and types we can take from the early account is that of the happiness of Laman and Lemuel. Much like the children of Israel after fleeing Egypt (Numbers 14: 4), they desired to return to the land and live in comfort and happiness of Babylon. It is important to really digest that this happens after they have been called into the wilderness.

When Nephi was receiving revelation to build a ship his brothers lamented and exclaimed:

Behold, these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea, and we might have been happy” (1 Nephi 17: 21).

Laman and Lemuel define happiness as enjoying possessions in the land of their home. Their comforts, their home and their tradition, and the comforting cultural assumption that they are an accepted people by the Lord because they are both prospered and living ostensibly the terms of the covenant. Their priests told them so. And so they were ripe for destruction.

Laman and Lemuel defended the wicked members of the covenant who remained in Jerusalem that they were righteous because they kept the statutes of God. They argued the following:

And we know that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people; for they kept the statutes and judgments of the Lord, and all his commandments, according to the law of Moses; wherefore, we know that they are a righteous people; and our father hath judged them, and hath led us away because we would hearken unto his words; yea, and our brother is like unto him. And after this manner of language did my brethren murmur and complain against us” (1 Nephi 17: 22).

The happiness of Laman and Lemuel was found in possessing their material wealth and at the same time considering themselves a favored covenant people because they judged themselves as keeping the statutes and and commandments of the law of Moses.

They were blessed to be invited out of Jerusalem, as were the Children of Israel out of Egypt. What was that path? It was very difficult. Both the children of Lehi and the children of Israel were invited out of their telestial comfort and down a path of being stripped of things telestial in order to be prepared to ascend into the Celestial. The children of Israel rejected the invitation to ascend the mount into the presence of the Lord and were thus left to learn obedience and faith by the things they suffered in the wilderness.

It was in the wilderness that the children of Lehi could make the same decision. Nephi ascended the mount into the presence of the Lord and thus had power to deliver his family to the promise land (2 Nephi 4: 25).

The choice of two paths are before us today. Will we seek to be comfortable in Egypt? Do we seek to sit in self-satisfied righteousness in Jerusalem, believing that we are keepers of covenants all the while relying on the strength and comfort of a telestial kingdom?

Do we desire to walk into the wilderness and yield to the stripping away of those things that keep us from the presence of God, or do we pray and desire return to Egypt?

We are invited by a myriad of witnesses – if we reject the warnings sent to us (see President Kimball’s The False God’s We Worship and President Benson’s A Witness and a Warning as two great examples), and these latter-day warnings fade into the distant memory of this generation, the Lord warns and awakens through the witnesses of the earth – earthquakes, plagues, economic desolation and pestilence.

We should consider ourselves all as Nephi or Laman and Lemuel. Will we seek to leave the trappings and comforts of Jerusalem and accept the invitation and venture into the wilderness – sacrificing all things so that we can partake of the Tree of Life, or will we make the case that the covenant people is righteous and keeping the statutes and we long to return to the comforts of our normal life?

What type of happiness will we seek?

Thoughts on End-of-Times Prophecy

Couple of thoughts on end-of-times prophecy – sort of thinking out loud here.

It seems that every generation could make a case that the events of their day satisfy the prophesies of Isaiah, John’s Revelation, and other ancient prophecies. Consider what it would have been like to live in Europe in 1942; during the Civil War; during the Saints’ expulsion from Illinois and fleeing to the west; the Vietnam War and Cold War era; or when the great plagues swept across the earth.  In all of these generations the Saints could make a case that the end is on our doorstep.

It seems to me that prophesy is more useful looking backwards than it is forwards. In other words, when a prophesy is fulfilled, it is usually understood after the fact and so the people can look backwards and understand the meaning of transpired events.

Looking forward, we certainly can use future prophesies to look to predict events but the temptation and mistakes of fitting events into prophesies multiply. It’s too easy to always see what is around you as fulfillment of prophesy. It can be done in any generation with any set of events. For this reason, many err in their interpretation of current events and the vast amount of predictions using prophesies as a marker are rendered false. This leaves the faith of many deflated because things did not transpire in the way they thought the prophesy should be read.

However, I want to point out that there is one unique characteristic about this generation that may qualify us as candidates for the great destructions and revelations that have been anciently prophesied. Our day is unique in that we are a people that have broken covenants that may have been preservatives in past generations.

Never before has the Order of Nehor flourished as a dominant ideology as it does now in both the western world (namely the U.S),  and even within the covenant people. Consider how many in both the church and society now support gay marriage, abortion, and the moral relativism of Leftism. This Leftism is the modern day order of Nehor. It infects us as a country as one of the two dominant political parties has adopted its philosophy as its guiding premise. Many in the church also have adopted this view and it is now starting to metastasize into some of our policies.  I have to wonder, are we salt losing its savor? Are we salt losing its preservative power?

If what marks us as different from past generations is our inability to preserve the land through the keeping of covenants, perhaps it will be our generation, or the next, that will require the vineyard to be burned (Jacob 5). Will it be this generation that will experience the great division and cleansing preparatory for the Second Coming?  The thought that keeps moving through my mind is that I must, and we must, repent on a level deeper than we ever thought. This is what preserved the people in the scriptures, and the scriptures and the Holy Ghost are the two primary sources of guidance today. I hope their messages and warnings are absorbed.

 

Repenting of Our Vain Imaginations

We see the world through the prism of our nature. If our nature is full of light, then we will see the world with light – which enables us to carefully discern darkness from light. The more light we possess, the more we can discern really sophisticated dark counterfeits and deceptions.

If our nature is carnal, and we wander in the twilight in between light and darkness, we will see the world through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12). We don’t see the world as it is. We see it through the dark cell of our own darkened nature. It becomes an imagination to us. Or, as the scriptures, describe – a vain imagination.

Seeing and knowing ourselves, the people around us, the church, our society, our government – everything in our awareness – is a function of the light and darkness within us.

Even information, as logically and immovably true as we may think it is, can be twisted and warped depending on the darkness we carry. What we think is rational, or logical, will always be painted by the light in our nature. In other words, everyone believes they are acting rationally. Most people believe they see clearly. And this is what is so dangerous.

We should never trust our vision, our interpretation of our world, our comprehension of truth, unless we first achieve the state of being completely filled with light. If we are not filled with light, we will be acting in a deception.

This is also why repentance – turning our entire mind and heart to God until it is filled with divine light – is the first step to any effort. If we can’t get the light, everything will be painted with our deceptions, great or small.

This is why the world, the church, our society, our government is filled with vain imagination. It is seen through the lens of deception, and through the collusion of collective deceptions. Until we are a people filled with the light of God and there is no darkness in us at all, we will be a people guided by our vain imaginations.

Our vain imaginations cause us to act out our facades that conform to our vain views. It also makes us to make of our institutions Potemkin villages – propping up the view of perfection on the outside – hiding the corruption and impoverished spirit on the inside.

The only way to fix ourselves, our families, our institutions, and our communities is through deep, focused, whole-hearted and immediate repentance.

Sustaining Through Discernment

I believe in sustaining the authorities of the church both local and general with all of my heart. Those in church leadership have had tremendous influence over my life and I am eternally grateful for the teachings of prophets that have shaped me and my religious education. As Joseph Smith taught, “Faith comes by hearing the word of God through the testimony of the Servants of God” (Words of Joseph Smith, page 3).

My son is named after Elder Neal Maxwell. I was present in the audience when he gave his timeless address “The Inexhaustible Gospel” at BYU Education Week in 1992. It was during that talk when the spirit revealed to me that every question I had about life could be answered through the gospel. This came as a surprise to me at the time. Elder Maxwell said in this address, “our being saved by gaining knowledge obviously refers to a particular form of knowledge, a “knowledge of God” and knowledge of the things of God.”

I didn’t really understand this teaching then, but would come to learn more about this principle as I got older – that “a man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge”. And that it is knowledge, endowed by the spirit and learning the things of God, that we have power to put all darkness under our feet.

And so we as Latter-Day Saints are to seek knowledge. Knowledge is the fruit of the Holy Ghost. It is knowledge that binds the adversary and gives us greater endowments of faith.

Prophets are to be revelators to the people, according to their faithfulness and according to the faithfulness of the people. Prophets are also charged with declaring repentance so that we become a people full of knowledge and power. But, as President Kimball pointed out, prophets exercise their agency the same way the members of the church do. And the responsibility rests upon both prophets and the people to seek the things of God and to be in a constant state of preparation to receive greater light and truth.

President Kimball remarked in a General Conference address:

However, it is the sad truth that if prophets and people are unreachable, the Lord generally does nothing for them. Having given them free agency, their Heavenly Father calls, persuades, and directs aright his children, but waits for their upreaching hands, their solemn prayers, their sincere, dedicated approach to him. If they are heedless, they are left floundering in midnight’s darkness when they could have the noonday sun” (President Spencer W. Kimball, April 1977 General Conference).

Because it is the charge to both prophets and the people to be “reachable,” we must all take responsibility for our own lives to receive the knowledge from heaven that will draw light into fog, confusion, and even darkness. As Brigham Young taught, we must gain the “independence of heaven”.

Who will? (become Gods) Those who are valiant and inspired with the true independence of heaven, who will go forth boldly in the service of their God, leaving others to do as they please, determined to do right, though all mankind besides should take the opposite course. Will this apply to any of you? Your own hearts can answer.” (Brigham Young, J.D. 1:312)

Sustaining Our Leaders Through Discernment

So, how does this relate to the way in which we should sustain leaders?  We should sustain them with the light of heaven. And what I mean by this is we should gain the light of God in such a degree that we know if we are being taught truth or falsehood at all times. This is not to say that we pray until we get an answer to follow, and if we don’t get an answer that affirms the authorities we are just not getting the right answer and it’s our fault. That is not the case. We are to get the knowledge that governs the instruction given to us so that we may discern our leaders.

As Brigham Young taught:

What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually. (JD 9:151)

I sustain my leaders through discerning them. A prophet or a priesthood leader has the responsibility to come clean from the blood and sins of the people over which he has stewardship. If they do not come clean from that blood, they have to answer for the sins of the people. Consider the following passages.

“Verily, I say unto you, let those who are not the first elders continue in the vineyard until the mouth of the Lord shall call them, for their time is not yet come; their garments are not clean from the blood of this generation” (D&C 88:85).

“And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day” (Jacob 1:19).

“Therefore, as I said unto you that I had served you, walking with a clear conscience before God, even so I at this time have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together, that I might be found blameless, and that your blood should not come upon me, when I shall stand to be judged of God of the things whereof he hath commanded me concerning you” (Mosiah 2:27).

“And now I, Moroni, bid farewell unto the Gentiles, yea, and also unto my brethren whom I love, until we shall meet before the judgment-seat of Christ, where all men shall know that my garments are not spotted with your blood” (Ether 12: 28).

O, my beloved brethren, remember my words. Behold, I take off my garments, and I shake them before you; I pray the God of my salvation that he view me with his all-searching eye; wherefore, ye shall know at the last day, when all men shall be judged of their works, that the God of Israel did witness that I shook your iniquities from my soul, and that I stand with brightness before him, and am rid of your blood” (2 Nephi 9: 44).

Because church leadership on every level carries a very heavy burden of coming clean from the blood and sins of the people over which they have stewardship, when they teach us something wrong they carry the weight of justice for doing so. If someone comes under a level of deception through abiding a false teaching or command both the person that obeyed something false and the leader who taught it both receive the condemnation for doing so.

Because of this, if we as a people carefully discern through the Holy Ghost whether what is being taught is true or not, we actually lessen the burden a leader carries to come clean from our sins. If an authority teaches a falsehood, and a member discerns and rejects it, then the authority is that much less condemned for teaching something in error.

For this reason, the best way we can sustain our leadership is to discern them and relieve them of the burden of carrying our sins that they themselves may have caused. If I were in a leadership position on a local or general level I would hope that all those in my stewardship would approach my words this way. I would hope that they would relate to me through the discerning power of the spirit in order to come to a greater truth together.

President James Faust advocated for this view when he wrote:

As a means of coming to truth, people in the Church are encouraged by their
leaders to think and find out for themselves. They are encouraged to ponder, to search, to evaluate, and thereby to come to such knowledge of the truth as their own consciences, assisted by the Spirit of God, lead them to discover. Brigham Young said: “I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security. . . . Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe [1941], 135). In this manner no one need be deceived.

Since each one of us has his free agency, the ultimate determination of what is
inspired of the Lord, what is right and wrong, true or false, can be made by each of us. President J. Reuben Clark Jr. (1871-1961) made this statement: “The Church will know by the testimony of the Holy Ghost in the body of the members [themselves], whether the brethren in voicing their views are ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost’; and in due time that knowledge will be made manifest” (“When Are Church Leaders’ Words Entitled to claim of Scripture?” Church News, 31 July 1954, 10). Each must bear the accountability of accepting or discarding the values of truth, which values if followed will produce his greatest happiness. (James Faust, First Presidency Message, “The Truth Shall Make You Free,” Ensign (Sept. 1998), 4-5)

The allegory of the seed in Alma 32 is a great discourse on how to discern the words of leaders. We are to consume the seed and then discern if we are tasting light. We test the words given to us to see if our “understanding doth begin to be enlightened, and [our] minds doth begin to expand” (Alma 32: 34). The effects of falsehood, sin, and “the traditions of our fathers” is that light and truth is taken from us. This has the opposite effect of receiving truth (D&C 93:39).

President Harold B. Lee gave another key of discernment.

It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everything they speak and write. Now you keep that in mind. I don’t care what his position is, if he writes something or speaks something that goes beyond anything that you can find in the standard works, unless that one be the prophet, seer, and revelator—please note that one exception—you may immediately say, “Well, that is his own idea!” And if he says something that contradicts what is found in the standard works (I think that is why we call them “standard”—it is the standard measure of all that men teach), you may know by that same token that it is false; regardless of the position of the man who says it.

Humility is the order of the day. Both members and leaders should always be humble about the revelatory burden each holds. Just as members are accustomed to being  humble about the revelation received in the church from local and general leaders, so should leaders be humble about the revelatory responsibility members have to discern their words.

Joseph Smith taught with this spirit when he declared the following.

“If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way” (History of the Church, 5:498–99).

We have a great responsibility to sustain the leadership of the church. This is not a requirement to rubber stamp instruction and teaching, but to carry the burden of humbling ourselves before God, getting revelation, and bearing the great burden that all leadership has to come clean from the blood and sins of this generation.

 

The God that Divides

The love of Christ appeals to the light within us and expands it, and his light divides the darkness from us. He loves truth, and invites us into truth, that we may embody is nature and his like-ness.

But his love not only embraces, fulfills, and expands all that is good, it also divides separates, and deconstructs all that is dark and in the form of falsehood. That which is in us and is not of him shall be shaken and destroyed

If you are of the truth, if you seek to speak the truth, and keep it and become informed, or, in-the-form of truth, he will expand that within you. His great love will redeem you and fashion you in the form of truth

But if you lie, and love a lie, and cling to your deceptions, and love darkness more than light, then he will divide that out of you.

In this way Christ is a paradox. He comes to both comfort and to discomfort. He both heals and destroys. He both unifies and divides.

Consider the scripture:

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10: 34).

He divided the light from the darkness in the creation. And as he creates us, he will divide the light from the darkness within us. This can be painful and harsh, and merciful and gracious.

But his aim is always the highest in us. If we desire not the highest in us, and learn to love and live a lie, in mercy he will have you confront truth and that can create almost immeasurable sorrow. But his grace heals all that yield to truth and his reality.

His aim is not suffering. It is to bring his creation into the fullness of being. It is bring all of us to fulfill the measure of our creation.

But we must all yield to to the great cosmic paradox: new life requires death. With division comes ascension. Destruction is predicate to creation. We must experience a death every day if we want to receive a newness of life.

Christ in his mercy will invite us with the persuasion of an Eternal Father to ascend and path through the deaths so that we may be possessors of a fullness of life. It is his justice that will discriminately divide the light from the darkness within us as he brings us through the days of our own creation.

Ideology and Knowledge

I’ve been thinking a lot about ideology vs. knowledge. This distinction was brought to my attention by Jordan Peterson. His argument is that ideology is the adoption of world-view, learning how to talk in the manner of the ideology – knowing the right things to say in every circumstance – but at the same time having a thin understanding of fundamental issues and doctrines. An ideologue is very predictable. Bring up an issue and you can with precision anticipate exactly what will be said and argued.

Rigidly holding to an ideology allows for a person to morally define themselves without the investment of time and hard work of earning the right to their views, opinions, and convictions. Instead of being invested in being possessors of great knowledge, the temptation is to learn the pat-answers. The ideologue believes the gospel should be simple and easy – because they believe religion should be simple and easy and they want to feel that they are on God’s side by virtue of association and not transformation and knowledge. Membership is the gate to salvation. The belief is exaltation through association – not the nature and knowledge obtained by passing through the true gate.

This general critique of political ideology applies as much to Mormonism as it does anything else. I feel a general sense of frustration often in church meetings, and particularly in many LDS forums because ideology is pursued above knowledge. In other words, for a great many Mormons (and Catholics, Baptists, Jews, Socialists, etc…. we are no different) the attraction to the church is the belief that it is the true vehicle that can deliver us to exaltation. But this is an ideological view. In perspective, the church can do very little for you. What it does do for you is critical and vital, but it is in no way, shape, or form sufficient. The vast responsibility of your exaltation depends on your ability to become a possessor of great knowledge. This is no easy task and requires the vast majority of your time and attention.

Mormon ideology, in my current view, is the greatest enemy to the church. It is also the dominant impulse of the many church classes I’ve sat through in my 44 years of active Mormon participation. It is also the dominant impulse of the Facebook LDS forums. Righteousness seems to be how well we can articulate and recite Mormon platitudes – not the commitment to become possessors of great knowledge – the mystery offered through the restoration.


Mormon ideology starves the gospel of its greatest gift: the knowledge of how to know and come into the presence of God while in the flesh. This is the sole purpose of the priesthood and restored doctrine. Anything less is a product of Mormon ideology designed to make one feel good about their standing with God without the making the sacrifice of all things.

Knowledge is the exalting factor of the Gospel. It is becoming a possessor of knowledge that empowers you to overcome all forms of darkness. It is what puts you into possession of glory. We are saved no faster than we gain knowledge. Ideological forms are just that – they are the forms of godliness that deny the power thereof. Rejecting ideological Mormonism may feel like leaving the safety of the harbor. But that safety is an illusion. The storms come into the harbors as much as they are at sea, and ultimately the harbor of ideology helps no one, and is not worth protecting.

 

Can the Prophet Lead Us Astray? (It’s up to us)

Can the President of the Church lead us astray? It’s a question asked by many Latter-Day Saints. For many others, to even ask the questions suggests a spirit of faithlessness and even potential apostasy.

But what is the doctrine of prophets? Is the president of the church really able to lead a people wrong? Can they teach error? Is it possible for the leadership of the church to take the members down a path that does not increase in light? Or should we rest assured that being taught incorrect doctrine is an impossibility, or that the Lord will never allow the church to be led in paths not approved of the Lord?

I’ve thought long about this question, trying to reconcile the scriptures, statements from leaders, the doctrine, and inner conflict regarding this teaching. First, I’m not convinced it is scriptural. Yes, it is found in the preamble to Official Declaration 1 in the Doctrine and Covenants in a quote from a sermon by Wilford Woodruff. But this addition to the 1981 D&C was not presented to the church as scripture, nor does it seem to take the spirit or even form of scripture. The quote, as presented in the D&C, is actually truncated, omitting the words “I say to Israel”. Here is the quote in it’s entirety with the omitted portion italicized.

I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty” (Sixty-first Semiannual General Conference of the Church, Monday, October 6, 1890, Salt Lake City, Utah. Reported in Deseret Evening News, October 11, 1890, p. 2).

To a people accustomed to receiving revelatory and prophetic guidance by the authoritative qualifier, “thus sayeth the Lord”, hearing the words “I say to Israel” would be clear to them that this statement is the opinion and view, perhaps even the hope, of the man uttering those words. They knew exactly what he was saying and exactly what he meant. It was a language they all shared and it was clear in context of his address: we are ceasing the practice of plural marriage so that our enemies do not destroy us.

This doctrinal sentiment has been occasionally expressed through out the latter years of the 19th century, but crescendos in the latter part of the 20th century and becomes the core doctrine of the restored gospel.

A Conditional Promise

I’d like to suggest a way that this blessing may be made available to the covenant body of the church. Since all blessings are premised upon keeping a law (D&C 130: 20-121), what is the law that must be kept in order to have the guarantee that church leadership will not lead you astray? Is it a guarantee by virtue of membership in the church? After collecting teachings of Latter-Day prophets on this question, it does not seem so.

What seems much more probable, and what should be emphasized to the church, is that the guarantee that the people will not be led astray seems conditional upon the obedience of both the people and the prophets themselves.

Let’s consider the following teachings form the prophets themselves. First, this from President Kimball. His warning is that both prophets and the people must be open to instruction and are both responsible for opening the heavens.

President Spencer W. Kimball

However, it is the sad truth that if prophets and people are unreachable, the Lord generally does nothing for them. Having given them free agency, their Heavenly Father calls, persuades, and directs aright his children, but waits for their upreaching hands, their solemn prayers, their sincere, dedicated approach to him. If they are heedless, they are left floundering in midnight’s darkness when they could have the noonday sun” (President Spencer W. Kimball, April 1977 General Conference).

Brigham Young points out that the LDS will not be led astray only if they are endowed with the power of the Holy Ghost. This is for the purpose of discernment. If a people are going to be promised they won’t be led astray, it is because they have the actual power to detect if they are being taught something in error. Brigham taught on many occasions the principle that the people were responsible for not being led astray – that it was not a guarantee by virtue of unquestioned obedience to church leaders.

Brigham Young

The First Presidency have of right a great influence over this people; and if we should get out of the way and lead this people to destruction, what a pity it would be! How can you know whether we lead you correctly or not? Can you know by any other power than that of the Holy Ghost? I have uniformly exhorted the people to obtain this living witness each for themselves; then no man on earth can lead them astray. It is my calling and office to dictate in the affairs of the Church and kingdom of God on earth (JD 6:100).

He taught this also in another sermon:

Brigham Young

What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually. (JD 9:151)

Brigham Young asked the question:

“How do you know but I will bring in false doctrine and teach the people lies that they may be damned?”  if I were to preach false doctrine here, it would not be an hour after the people got out, before it would begin to fly from one to another, and they would remark, ‘I do not quite like that! It does not look exactly right! What did Brother Brigham mean? That did not sound quite right, it was not exactly the thing!’ All these observations would be made by the people, yes, even by the sisters. It would not sit well on the stomach, that is, on the spiritual stomach, if you think you have one. It would not sit well on the mind, for you are seeking after the things of God; you have started out for life and salvation, and with all their ignorance, wickedness and failings, the majority of this people are doing just as well as they know how; and I will defy any man to preach false doctrine without being detected; and we need not go to the Elders of Israel, the children who have been born in these mountains possess enough of the Spirit to detect it. But be careful that you do not lose it! Live so that you will know the moment the Spirit of the Almighty is grieved within you” (JD 14:205-06).

As recorded in the Wilford Woodruff journal, Brigham Young taught this principle again so clearly.

Brigham Young:

Their is a doctrin taught from the stand & freequently taught in Public that we should follow Brother Joseph or Brother Brigham or any man who leads & do as they say & Obey them & that is all that is required. But this is a fals doctrin in one sense. For I will say that no man should trust to the testimony of another but he should go to God & get the testimony for himself. This evry man & woman should do. I might have heard Joseph Smith preache & testify of the truth of the Book of mormon & of this work untill he had been as old as Methuselah & in the end I should have snaped my fingers at him & said to him you are a foolish old man & turned upon my heels & walked off if I had not have had some other testimony besides his. But I went to the Lord & the Lord revealed to me that it was true & that it was his word & I received it upon that principle, & I have lived upon that principle from that day untill now & it is the right privilege & Duty of evry man & woman to get the revelation of Jesus Christ for themselves & evry person should get the spirit of God & live by it” (Wilford Woodruff Journal, 11 Jan. 1857; Scott G. Kenney, ed., Wilford Woodruff Journal (Signature Books 1983-1985), 5:6 (hereinafter “Wilford Woodruff Journal”), spelling in original (emphasis added).

President James E. Faust also taught this same principle that the membership of the church bears the responsibility of not being deceived.

James Faust:

As a means of coming to truth, people in the Church are encouraged by their
leaders to think and find out for themselves. They are encouraged to ponder, to search, to evaluate, and thereby to come to such knowledge of the truth as their own consciences, assisted by the Spirit of God, lead them to discover. Brigham Young said: “I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security. . . . Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe [1941], 135). In this manner no one need be deceived.

Since each one of us has his free agency, the ultimate determination of what is
inspired of the Lord, what is right and wrong, true or false, can be made by each of us. President J. Reuben Clark Jr. (1871-1961) made this statement: “The Church will know by the testimony of the Holy Ghost in the body of the members [themselves], whether the brethren in voicing their views are ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost’; and in due time that knowledge will be made manifest” (“When Are Church Leaders’ Words Entitled to claim of Scripture?” Church News, 31 July 1954, 10). Each must bear the accountability of accepting or discarding the values of truth, which values if followed will produce his greatest happiness. (James Faust, First Presidency Message, “The Truth Shall Make You Free,” Ensign (Sept. 1998), 4-5)

President James E. Faust quotes J. Reuben Clark in a First Presidency Address:

“There have been rare occasions when even the President of the Church in his
preaching and teaching has not been “moved upon by the Holy Ghost.” You will recall the Prophet Joseph declared that a prophet is not always a prophet.
To this point runs a simple story my father told me as a boy, I do not know on
what authority, but it illustrates the point. His story was that during the excitement
incident to the coming of Johnson’s [sic] Army, Brother Brigham preached to the people in a morning meeting a sermon vibrant with defiance to the approaching army, and declaring an intention to oppose and drive them back. In the afternoon meeting he arose and said that Brigham Young had been talking in the morning, but the Lord was going to talk now. He then delivered an address, the tempo of which was the opposite from the morning talk. I do not know if this ever happened, but I say it illustrates a principle–that even the President of the Church, himself, may not always be “moved upon by the Holy Ghost,” when he addresses the people. This has happened about matters of doctrine (usually of a highly speculative character) where subsequent Presidents of the Church and the peoples themselves have felt that in declaring the doctrine, the announcer was not “moved upon by the Holy Ghost.”
How shall the Church know when these adventurous expeditions of the brethren into these highly speculative principles and doctrines meet the requirements of the statutes that the announcers thereof have been “moved upon by the Holy Ghost”? The Church will know by the testimony of the Holy Ghost in the body of the members, whether the brethren in voicing their views are “moved upon by the Holy Ghost”; and in due time that knowledge will be made manifest” (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., “When Are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture?” Church News, 31 July 1954, republished in Dialogue 12, no. 2 (Summer 1979), 73 (emphasis added). Elder D. Todd Christopherson quoted President Clark’s article in the April 2012 general conference. See D. Todd Christopherson, “The Doctrine of Christ,” Ensign (May 2012).

Some may say, “Brethren, you who lead the Church, we have all confidence in
you, we are not in the least afraid but what everything will go right under your
superintendence; all the business matters will be transacted right; and if brother Brigham is satisfied with it, I am.” I do not wish any Latter-day Saint in this world, nor in heaven, to be satisfied with anything I do, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of revelation, makes them satisfied. I wish them to know for themselves and understand for themselves, for this would strengthen the faith that is within them. Suppose that the people were heedless, that they manifested no concern with regard to the things of the kingdom of God, but threw the whole burden upon the leaders of the people, saying, “If the brethren who take charge of matters are satisfied, we are,” this is not pleasing in the sight of the Lord. Every man and woman in this kingdom ought to be satisfied what we do, but they never should be satisfied without asking the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, whether what we do is right. When you are inspired by the Holy Ghost you can understandingly say, that you are satisfied; and that is the only power that should cause you to exclaim that you are satisfied, for without that you do not know whether you should be satisfied or not. You may say that you are satisfied and believe that all is right, and your confidence may be almost unbounded in the authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ, but if you asked God, in the name of Jesus, and received knowledge for yourself, through the Holy Spirit, would it not strengthen your faith? It would” JD 3:45 (emphasis added).

Brigham Young counseled the Saints that it is possible that they could be led wrong.

“Do as you are counseled to do by the spirit of revelation from the Lord. . . . Go to with your might, seek unto the Lord your God until you have the revelations of the Lord Jesus Christ upon you, until your minds are open, and the visions of heaven are plain to you. Then follow the dictations of the spirit, and watch Brother Brigham, and see if he counsels you wrong” (Thomas Bullock minutes, 8 May 1854, Church Historical Department, quoted in D. Charles Pyle, “Questions to Ask Your Mormon Friend: Challenging the Claims of Latter-day Saints in a Constructive Manner,” FARMS Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, 8, no. 2 (1996), 238
(emphasis added).

Another warning from Brigham:

How many hundreds and hundreds of times have you been taught that if people neglect their prayers and other daily duties, that they quickly begin to love the world, become vain in their imaginations, and liable to go astray, loving all the day long to do those things that the Lord hates, and leaving undone those things that the Lord requires at their hands? When people neglect their private duties, should their leaders lead them astray, they will go blindfolded, will be subject to the devil, and be led captive at his will. How useless this would be! How unnatural, unreasonable, and unlike the Gospel and those who believe it! (JD 4:298 (emphasis added)

President Harold B. Lee also taught this principle. It is upon the heads of the church members to determine if they are being led astray or not.

President Harold B. Lee

It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everything they write. I don’t care what his position is, if he writes something or speaks something that goes beyond anything that you can find in the standard church works, unless that one be the prophet, seer, and revelator—please note that one exception—you may immediately say, “Well, that is his own idea.” And if he says something that contradicts what is found in the standard church works, you may know by that same token that it is false, regardless of the position of the man who says it. We can know or have the assurance that they are speaking under inspiration if we so live that we can have a witness that what they are speaking is the word of the Lord. There is only one safety, and that is that we shall live to have the witness to know. President Brigham Young said something to the effect that “the greatest fear I have is that the people of this Church will accept what we say as the will of the Lord without first praying about it and getting the witness within their own hearts that what we say is the word of the Lord. (Harold B. Lee, Stand Ye In Holy Places (Deseret Book 1988), 162-63 (emphasis added)

President George Q. Cannon was a powerful teacher of this principle.

George Q. Cannon:

The Lord designs that the principle of knowledge shall be developed in every heart, that all may stand before Him in the dignity of their manhood, doing understandingly what He requires of them, not depending upon nor being blindly led by their priests or leaders, as is the universal custom, and one of the most fruitful sources of evil to the people on the face of the earth. . . . If we, in our experience, have not yet proved the truth of the words of the prophet – “Cursed is he that trusteth in man, or maketh flesh his arm” – probably we will do if we live long enough. There is a curse attending every man and woman who does this. . . . We must all learn to depend upon God and upon Him alone. Why, the very man upon whom we think we can rely with unbounded confidence, and trust with all we possess, may disappoint us sometimes, but trust in God and He never fails. We can go before Him at all times, and upon all occasions, and pour out our souls and desires before Him, and we feel that we lean upon a rock that will not fail, and upon a friend that will not desert us in the day of trial” (JD 12:45-46 (emphasis added).

George Q. Cannon:

Now if we were left without any testimony of our own, and had to receive the
ipse dixit of some man in authority, and to act blindly upon that, it would be very
different, it would require a much greater degree of faith than we have to exercise at the present time. But how was it in the days of Joseph? Was there a doctrine taught which was not accompanied by the testimony of the Spirit to the minds of the people? Certainly not. How has it been in the days of the Prophet Brigham? It has been the same. When the servants of God proclaimed that God had established his Church, that he had restored the everlasting Priesthood and its ordinances, they were told to go and ask God for themselves, and they had an opportunity of testing the truth of that which was taught unto them, and there was no chance for imposture. Many think that the people called Latter-day Saints are a deluded, ignorant set, led by cunning priestly leaders, who exercise power over them because of their shrewdness and ability, and that the people are a blind herd led at the will of these shrewd deceivers. We know that this is not the case. We know that the most frequent appeals that have been made to the Latter-day Saints have been to investigate for themselves and to know for themselves. When we started out from Illinois and traveled over these plains, were we following President Young because he said, “Come on?” Were we striking out blindly into the wilderness, hoping that he would find some place, and trusting to his sagacity and shrewdness? Certainly not, that was not the feeling; but every Latter-day Saint who crossed the Mississippi river, who was indeed a Latter-day Saint, had a testimony that he or she was going in a direction that God was leading, and when night came each was as confident that he was in the path that God required him to walk in as ever the children of Israel were when led out of Egypt. When I look back at those days, and consider the circumstances that surrounded the people, I wonder and am astonished at the faith, calmness and confidence they manifested” (JD 17:341-42).

President J. Reuben Clark also taught this principle:

“We can tell when the speakers are moved upon by the Holy Ghost only when we, ourselves, are moved upon by the Holy Ghost. In a way, this completely shifts the responsibility from them to us to determine when they so speak.” (President J. Rueben Clark, 1954 CN-7/31/54)

President Benson provides an insight as to why the Lord has allowed so many fallen men to become apostles. His observation, echoing President George Q. Cannon, is to teach the people to trust in Christ, and not in the flesh. It is interesting that he also emphatically connects trusting in the arm of flesh as trusting in church leadership.

President Ezra Taft Benson:

“Six of the original twelve apostles selected by Joseph Smith were excommunicated. The three witnesses to the Book of Mormon left the Church. Three of Joseph Smith’s counselors fell–one even helped plot the Prophet’s death. A natural question that might arise would be, if the Lord knew in advance that these men would fall, as he undoubtedly did, why did he have his prophet call them to such high office? The answer is, to fill the Lord’s purposes. For even the Master followed the will of the Father by selecting Judas. President George Q. Cannon suggested an explanation, too, when he stated, “Perhaps it is His own design that faults and weaknesses should appear in high places IN ORDER THAT HIS SAINTS MAY LEARN TO TRUST IN HIM and NOT in ANY man or men.” And this would parallel Lehi’s warning: ‘put not your trust in the arm of flesh’ (2 Nephi 4:35)… It is from WITHIN the church that the greatest hindrance comes. And so, it seems, it has been. Now the question arises, WILL WE STICK WITH THE KINGDOM AND CAN WE AVOID BEING DECEIVED?…Brigham Young said: The Adversary presents his principles and arguments in the most approved style, and in the most winning tone, attended with the most graceful attitudes; and he is very careful to ingratiate himself into the favour of the powerful and influential of mankind…Such characters put on the manners of an angel, appearing as nigh like angels of light as they possibly can,…The good which they do, they do it to bring to pass an evil purpose… Those of us who think ‘all is well in zion’ in spite of Book of Mormon warnings might ponder the words of Heber C. Kimball, who said:… “the time is coming when we will be mixed up in these now peaceful valleys to that extent that it will be difficult to tell the face of a Saint from the face of an enemy to the people of God. Then, brethren look out for the great sieve, for there will be a great sifting time, and many will fall; for I say unto you there is a test, a Test, a TEST coming.” (Ezra Taft Benson: God, Family, Country p. 335 – 337)

It is important to emphasize that the Lord gives the church revelation in D&C 107 of how to bring discipline to those in the highest offices of the church. If there was no chance that they would lead to error, why would such a revelatory provision be made? Once again, Brigham Young sheds insight into this possibility. Note the responsibility of the church to take action upon it.

Brigham stated:

“It is written in the book of Doctrine and Covenants, that the president can be tried before a bishop and twelve high priests, or the high council of the church. There are many present this morning who were present at the organization of that quorum in Kirtland. We have here before us this morning, the high council, and bishop Whitney at their head, and we will try Sidney Rigdon before this council and let them take an action on his case this morning; and then we will present it to the church, and let the church also take an action upon it” (Times and Seasons (15 Sept. 1844) 5:647))

B.H. Roberts also makes this case masterfully.

Again, while President Smith, as we believe, has received a divine appointment
to the station he holds, he is dependent for his continuance in that office, as he was
dependent for his elevation to it, upon the votes of the people. He is subject to the laws of the Church, as much so as you or I; and a special provision is made in the laws of God for a tribunal before which, for acts of irregularity and unrighteousness, he can be called to account, testimony taken against him, and if his offenses are of sufficiently serious a nature he may be dismissed from his high office, and excommunicated from the Church; and the revelation which provides these arrangements concerning him says that the decision of the court in question is the end of controversy in his case. I know that some men, in their over-zeal to exalt the office of President of the Church have advanced extravagant ideas upon the subject such as saying that no complaint must be made of those occupying that position; that the people must go on performing their daily duties without question, and then if the President should do wrong, God would look after him. Such teachings have now and then been heard; but I call your attention to the fact that the Church Of God is greater than any one man within that Church, however exalted his station may be; that the Lord has provided means by which the Church can correct every man within it, and can-dismiss the unworthy from power. That right is resident in the Church of Christ; and the Church don’t have to wait till God kills off unworthy servants before a wrong can be righted. The power exists within the Church to correct any evil, of whatever name or nature, that may arise within it, and that without disrupting the Church, or creating anarchy, but all things are to be done in order, and as God has appointed them. I could give you references to the D&C covering all these points, but it is a matter of such common knowledge among you that it is not necessary. Again, the decisions of the First Presidency of the Church are not final in relation to matters of administration and government in the Church, if such decisions are made in unrighteousness, but from such decisions of the First Presidency appeals lie to the general assembly of all the quorums of the Priesthood, which constitute the highest spiritual authority in the Church, that is, all the quorums of the Priesthood are greater than any one quorum, even though it should be the First Presidency. (Doc. and Cov. sec. 107). Neither “monarchy” nor “monarch” can exist where these principles are recognized, as they are recognized in the Church” (B. H. Roberts, Defense of the Faith and the Saints, 2 vols. (Deseret Book 1907), 1:222-23 (emphasis added)

Brigham Young here emphasizes the need to be able to answer for yourself spiritually. That it will not be in obedience to another that will guarantee a celestial inheritance.

Brigham Young

There are those among this people who are influenced, controlled, and biased in
their thoughts, actions, and feelings by some other individual or family, on whom they place their dependence for spiritual and temporal instruction, and for salvation in the end. These persons do not depend upon themselves for salvation, but upon another of their poor, weak, fellow mortals. “I do not depend upon any inherent goodness of my own,” say they, “to introduce me into the kingdom of glory, but I depend upon you, brother Joseph, upon you, brother Brigham, upon you, brother Heber, or upon you, brother James; I believe your judgment is superior to mine, and consequently I let you judge for me; your spirit is better than mine, therefore you can do good for me; I will submit myself wholly to you, and place in you all my confidence for life and salvation; where you go I will go, and where you tarry there I will stay; expecting that you will introduce me through the gates into the heavenly Jerusalem.”
. . . . Now those men, or those women, who know no more about the power of
God, and the influences of the Holy Spirit, than to be led entirely by another person, suspending their own understanding, and pinning their faith upon another’s sleeve, will never be capable of entering into the, celestial glory, to be crowned as they anticipate; they will never be capable of becoming Gods. They cannot rule themselves, to say nothing of ruling others, but they must be dictated to in every trifle, like a child. They cannot control themselves in the least, but James, Peter, or somebody else must control them, They never can become Gods, nor be crowned as rulers with glory, immortality, and eternal lives. They never can hold sceptres of glory, majesty, and power in the celestial kingdom. Who will? Those who are valiant and inspired with the true independence of heaven, who will go forth boldly in the service of their God, leaving others to do as they please, determined to do right, though all mankind besides should take the opposite course. Will this apply to any of you? Your own hearts can answer.”  (JD 1:312 (emphasis added)

Joseph Smith warned the Relief Society sisters that depending too much on a prophet would lead to a darkened mind. That it is a gospel principle to stand for yourself, and to not spiritually depend on another person.

Joseph Smith:

“In a sermon to the Relief Society in May, 1842, Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel and said that “the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church.” He applied the chapter to the “present state” of the church and stated that the people “were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds” ( TPJS 237-38).

We also get this warning from the Joseph Smith Translation of Mark chapter 9.

“Therefore,” Jesus taught, “let every man stand or fall, by himself, and not for another; or not trusting another. . . . And if thine eye which seeth for thee, him that is appointed to watch over thee to show thee light, become a transgressor and offend thee, pluck him out” (JST Mark 9:44)

The following is a fascinating sermon from Orson Pratt which is important to note. It is in no way used to diminish or undermine the brethren that are called as apostles, but it should remind us that office alone does not bestow power and authority, nor should we assume that by virtue of holding an office someone fulfills the obligations of that office. It cannot be assumed. It must be discerned.

“This failure to realize all the blessings and powers of the Priesthood does not apply to the elders and lesser Priesthood only; but it applies to the higher quorums, and comes home to ourselves, who are Apostles of Jesus Christ. We are presented before the Church, and sustained as prophets, seers and revelators, and we have received oftentimes the gift of prophecy and revelation, and have received many great and glorious gifts. But have we received the fullness of the blessings to which we are entitled?No, we have not. Who, among the Apostles have become seers, and enjoy all the gifts and powers pertaining to that calling? Still it is our privilege to become prophets, seers and revelators, for these blessings were promised us through the Prophet Joseph, in the year 1836. Now I don’t think many of us have attained to these gifts, but it is not the fault of the Almighty, but the fault is in ourselves. And can they be realized by us? Certainly they can, if we are faithful in seeking for them.The Prophet Joseph would not have attained to these glorious gifts if he had not lived for them, and he would not have held out these inducements to us, unless they could have been obtained.These things were renewed at our last fall Conference, and they are brought home to us, and it is our privilege to live for them and enjoy them in their fullness, according to our faith.Brother Charles C. Rich has had visions from the Lord, and revelations through which he has been forewarned of dangers that threatened him; by which means his life has been preserved from time to time. And these are some of the gifts of God, and should be cultivated in our feelings and in our faith, for God is no respecter of persons, but is willing to give to all men liberally, and upbraid not. . . . And I have thought the reason why we have not enjoyed these gifts more fully is, because we have not sought for them as diligently as we ought.I speak for one, I have not sought as diligently as I might have done.More than forty years have passed away since these promises were made.I have been blessed with some revelations and prophecies, and with dreams of things that have come to pass; but as to seeing things as a seer, and beholding heavenly things in open vision, I have not attained to these things. And who is to blame for this? Not the Lord; not brother Joseph—they are not to blame.And so it is with the promises made to you in your confirmations and endowments, and by the patriarchs, in your patriarchal blessings; we do not live up to our privileges as saints of God and elders of Israel; for though we receive many blessings that are promised to us, we do not receive them in their fullness, because we do not seek for them as diligently and faithfully as we should” (JD 25:145-46 (emphasis added).

Can we lose the priesthood and its power on this earth? Yes, we can. We should not be aware of the principles that keep us in possession of the priesthood, and we should be discerning of our collective standing with the Lord. Once again, Brigham Young warns:

“When Mormonism finds favor with the wicked in this laid it will have gone into the shade; but until the power of the Priesthood is gone, Mormonism will never become popular with the wicked.” (Brigham Young, J.D. 4:38)

Finally, it is true that the members of the church can live so that they are not led astray, but they bear the burden of that promise. If we fail to keep the covenant and be consumed in the Holy Ghost, we are vulnerable to being taught incorrect teachings, and led contrary to the path the Lord would take us.

 

Eye Single to Glory of God in Others

Light attracts light, and darkness attracts darkness. What we are attracted to in others reflects in us the dominant impulse in our own beings. If I find myself judging others, and noticing the worse in others, it reflects my own nature. If my impulse is to find the light in someone else, even if that light is buried deep down, it reflects that charity is becoming the governing aspect of my nature.

I have found myself in recent years really fighting the desire to judge others. Especially those that I feel are judging me. It has been a chastisement to come to realize that this is because I have allowed so much darkness to govern my awareness. It is such a chastisement to come to understand this, but as with all chastisements, it also comes with instruction.

When I feel to judge others and to see darkness in them, and to withhold love because of their darkness, there is a way to shift your focus and awareness. When we encounter someone we are tempted to judge, we can ask the Lord to reveal to us the light within them. All people have the spirit of truth in them. The Lord can reveal that to us and we can single-mindedly learn to focus on it.

In one sense, this seems one way in which we can fulfill the invitation to have our eye single to the glory of God. We make our awareness single to the light of others in those that may be hard to love. If our eyes are single to the glory of God in others, than our whole body can be filled with light, and we can see things as they are, and we can comprehend all things – including the ability to charitably discern other people.

What a blessing and power! To be able to see people as they are, and to begin to love them the way the Lord loves them. This is a game changer. This can radically transform our awareness of others. Our ability to be servants of Christ will exponentially increase. We will be endowed with power to bless and bring others to Christ.

Our eyes can be single to the glory of God in those that are hard to love. Searching for that light invites the Holy Ghost to expand our awareness and to become full of the love of Gods ourselves. Learning to do this will certainly activate the promise of having our eye single:

Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God (in others), and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will. (D&C 88: 68)

Overcoming Spiritual Disorientation

When a pilot is flying an airplane they may experience a frightening phenomena called “vestibular disorientation”. When pilots can’t see outside and aren’t able to orient themselves with physical landmarks they sometimes feel like their plane is turning. Or banking. Or rolling in a way that it is not. A pilot who experiences vestibular disorientation feels in their body something that is happening that isn’t actually happening. Their inner sense of balance, their whole body, may scream at them that they are turning or banking when it in reality it may be completely level. A pilot’s physical senses cannot be trusted when they cannot orient themselves to outside landmarks.

For a pilot to overcome vestibular disorientation they have to focus intensely on their instruments. They focus on exactly what the indicators say are really happening with the plane. They may feel with their whole body that they are rolling but they must trust the instruments that tell them they are flying level. It takes total faith in an instrument when your senses and feelings are sending off alarms and deceiving you to do something that would lead to your destruction.

This is, for example, what is believed to have happened to John Kennedy Jr. when he crashed into the Atlantic ocean. He was flying in zero visibility. He thought that his plane was banking and so he corrected. He didn’t trust his instrument readings. Unfortunately it was his correction that caused him to spiral into the ocean.

The metaphor of vestibular disorientation in aviation is a powerful one. Because our natures are fallen, and because we “see through a glass darkly”, it is easy for us to be overpowered with spiritual disorientation. It is possible that our body – our whole being – can give us false revelation. A body that is not sanctified can be a powerful false revelator.

When we are under the influence of our flesh it can seem like we are getting true revelation. If these senses are so powerfully real, then how is it possible to know if we are getting true or false revelation? We must learn to distinguish between the spirit and the flesh. In other words, we must learn how to taste and recognize light.

The light of Christ is the external instrument panel that can bring us out of our disorientation. The more we learn how to taste and identify the light of Christ, the better we will be at coming out of spiritual disorientation. But just as a pilot has to fight his core physical instincts and trust his instruments, we too, will experience a similar struggle. When abandoning ourselves to the requirements of the light of Christ may feel like an epic struggle. We may want to trust our bodies and desires instead. Having faith to yield to light instead of the flesh can feel like an epic battle.

But if we have faith to do exactly as the light of Christ invites us we can be quickly relieved from the disorientation of our fallen nature. Sometimes for a pilot they have to fight their disorientation and act against their physical instincts for 10-15 minutes before their bodies recalibrate. Likewise, we have to have faith to follow the spirit in exactness for some time before our flesh aligns with the will of the Spirit.

This could be considered “faith unto repentance”. It takes faith to act against our fallen instincts until we become recalibrated to the light of Christ. This “recalibration” is the process of becoming sanctified.

Sanctification is the state of being where our flesh, mind, heart, emotions, desires – all that makes up our very being – becomes aligned with the Spirit of Christ. It is to become one with Christ. Coming into this state requires us to act in faith on the light of Christ, even when it’s promptings and invitations seem to violate our senses. We may falsely believe that if we yield to a prompting that we will become uncomfortable, or unhappy, or become vulnerable to something we have worked hard to protect ourselves from.

I remember one day when I was in graduate school and had a long and tiring day in class. I had a lot of stress and a lot of school work to finish. In the evening, I just wanted to escape. Even though I had hours of work ahead of me I just wanted to go see a movie. I grabbed my keys and was walking out the door when I went to war with myself. The spirit instructed me to stay and do the homework. Everything else in me fought the prompting, making the case that I was tired, overworked, and “deserved” a break. I felt that if I didn’t go to a movie that my whole world would fall apart. It was a very dramatic internal showdown.

I decided to yield to the spirit in this case. Even though my flesh was screaming at me to flee my work and relax in a theater, I acted against my instincts and followed the prompting. It wasn’t 10 minutes later that I felt light, empowered, and full of focus and energy to finish a workload that was nowhere near as overwhelming as I had built it up in my mind.

Imagine if I had instead chosen to go the movie? I am sure that the work that I had put off would later seem unbearable. I would have been consumed in darkness, depression, and probably without hope. When we subject ourselves to our fallen world-view we become overcome with a false sense of the world. Everything gets painted in a distorted way. We do not see things “as they are.”

What’s also interesting is to think about the ripple effect this decision had. If I had resisted the prompting to stay home and study do you think I would have had a greater temptation to see a movie that I shouldn’t? I believe so. That night, when I prayed to the Lord, were my prayers different? The next day, when faced with a greater temptation, did I have more or less strength to be faithful to the spirit?

There are no small decisions. Everything we do has an eternal rippling effect. Thankfully, the invitation to repent is constantly before us. We can always choose to start faithfully following the promptings of the light of Christ.

We are all constantly living in a state where the Lord in his mercy and grace will give us promptings at anytime we want them.  We can always ask the question, what does the light of Christ require of me right at this moment? I believe the Lord will always answer. Even if it’s small. It may be a prompting to simply sit up straighter and take a deep breath. It may be a prompting to continue praying in patience. Be aware of exactly what you are being invited to do.

If  we act on a prompting, and we act without hesitation, the next prompting will be slightly clearer. And it will be more discernable. You will grow in the light of Christ and learn how to follow the Holy Ghost with precision (Alma 32). This process is also explored more in the post, Growing in the Principle of Revelation: How to Discern Between the Spirit and Your Own Thoughts

Here are some questions that we can always ask. If we respond to our first impressions to these questions, our world can transform quickly.

What does the light of Christ require of me right now?

What does love require of me?

What is the loving thing to do?

What is the faithful thing to do?

What can I change that I know I am procrastinating?

The Lord intensely wants us to return to him. If we engage him faithfully he will carve a path through stone and lead us to him. We will become beings full of light. We will become so that we “comprehend all things” (D&C 88:67). We will come to “know the mysteries in full” (Alma 12). We become the kinds of beings that will “shake at the appearance of sin” (2 Nephi 4: 31). We will see him as he is because we will become “pure, even as he is pure” (Moroni 7:49).

 

 

Lusting for Spiritual Experiences

Thinking about the connection between repentance and gaining spiritual knowledge. If we want to gain knowledge we need to seek the requisite repentance for that knowledge. The reason is that the whatever portion of the natural man that is not under the influence of the Holy Ghost – that isn’t sanctified – will be leveraged against us if we are seeking revelation.

For example, if we carry a lust for power or esteem then we can receive false revelations that feeds the desire for esteem or power. We may easily mistake this as being from the Lord if that part of us isn’t sanctified. If we lust for sex, then we may receive false revelations that could satisfy those lusts. Consider that it is possible to lust for spiritual experience, or revelation, or for spiritual blessings. The natural man can desire things that may seem paradoxical – that we can even desire things like our calling and election made sure can be driven by a natural man lust for an experience for an impure reason.

Spiritual lust can be very hard to detect. I sometimes think that blessings are withheld in part because we want them for the wrong reason. Becoming born again, receiving revelation, seeking our calling and election made sure – all have to be sought with an eye single to the glory of God. If not, they are withheld in mercy.

If we continue to seek higher manifestations without purifying ourselves in repentance then we become vulnerable to the Adversary to give us the counterfeit experiences of these revelations. Yes, it is possible to have a counterfeit born again experience, revelation, and especially a counterfeit calling and election made sure experience. Because our lusts can be sophisticated, and the natural man can be sophisticated, the false revelations of knowledge can also be very sophisticated. So how do we protect ourselves against false revelations? We repent completely of the natural man. We must become born again and have all of the impurities burned out of us.

How do we know we have sufficiently repented? The Alma 5 questions are a good guide. Are you full of love? Do you have a disposition to do evil? Are you stripped of pride? Do you have any envy? Do you seek to consume any lusts? Money? Sex? Recognition? Are you willing to sacrifice anything for the Lord? Do you seek to be the least and servant of all? Do you have hope and faith to receive a greater portion?

If we are in a state of being sanctified by the Holy Ghost then we can receive the revelations that are at the level of our state of sanctification. It is only then that the Lord can distill greater and greater knowledge, mysteries, and revelations. We must repent with all of our hearts to be prepared to receive the word of the Lord in its fulness.

Is the Path Strait, or is it Straight?

Is the path strait, or is it straight?

It is both. But what does that mean?

It’s not uncommon for members of the covenant to point out that the use the form of the word “strait” is a winding channel between two bodies of water, or as a mountain pass. This is pointed out to suggest that the course could wind and not be in a straight line. But this would be a misuse of the definition of “strait”. When people reference strait in the sense of a channel between mountains or connecting bodies of water, they are referencing the noun form of the word.

The scriptures use the adjective form of the word. This form of the word simply means: narrow or close; not broad.

When the Lord refers to the strait and narrow path he is emphasizing how narrow the gate is, and how narrow the path remains. We should be careful not to infer that the path is winding, or meanders. The Adversary is working hard to dilute, confuse, counterfeit and teach the philosophies of men regarding the path. These philosophies carry the risk that would lead us off of the strait and narrow path and on to strange paths. We must be vigilant in our rejection of anything that does not comply to the pure doctrine of Christ.

Christ says of his own path:

For God doth not walk in crooked paths, neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left, neither doth he vary from that which he hath said, therefore his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round (D&C 3:2)

When the Lord refers to his paths as being straight. We are commanded to keep them this way. It is upon us to Prepare “the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (D&C 65: 1).

It is a commandment to keep his path straight. We keep it straight by walking on the straight path and by also keeping his doctrine pure.

Nephi uses the term strait and straight interchangeably. This should drive clarity about the path.

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).

Overcoming the world is the process of keeping our paths straight. Nephi again teaches us through the record of his own experiences:

O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before me! Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way—but that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy (2 Nephi 4: 33).

Those that declare the pure gospel of Christ will all echo the same message as Alma who taught the way of the path with precision and purity. And he also reminds us that the path we walk in is the Lord’s path. They both must be straight. This is when we are righteous and in “the way”: It is when we make the Lord’s path our own.

But behold, the Spirit hath said this much unto me, saying: Cry unto this people, saying—Repent ye, and prepare the way of the Lord, and walk in his paths, which are straight; for behold, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and the Son of God cometh upon the face of the earth (Alma 7: 9).

It is us that meander. It is us that wander. We may cross over the strait and narrow path a thousand times in our life – but that does not make the path crooked. We are to come into possession of the path and then learn how to keep the path – we must learn to endure on it.

Truth and Comfort

Telestial comfort is the enemy to truth. If we seek comfort in any form more than we seek truth, we will ultimately end up with neither. Seeking telestial self-comfort as a priority is the great temptation of mortality.

If I am not willing to give up all of my comforts for the pursuit of truth, I will not be capable of receiving the truth. The reason for this is because I will mistaken the receipt of telestial comfort as a form of truth – and will enter into a self-deceived state.

Mistaking telestial comfort for truth keeps us in a state of darkness. We may believe we have comfort, but we deep down know that it is unstable and temporary.

Truth, in its purity, is the great source of true comfort in this life. We have to pass through the ordeals of sacrifice to get there. This is done by sacrifice. One way to look at sacrifice is that we have to be willing to sacrifice all telestial comforts before we can receive of the Lord’s comforter – the Holy Ghost.

When we are filled with the truth of God we come into an eternally comforted state. This is why the New and Everlasting Covenant is the reception of a series of comforters. These comforters are bring us into higher states of rest and comfort. But we must willingly sacrifice all things in order to be capacitated to ascend into the holy comforters.

There are levels of telestial comfort that are helpful to identify. Introspection of this type, when led by the Holy Ghost, can provide insight into what needs to be sacrificed in order to fully receive the Comforters offered by Christ.

  1. Food, sex, stimulants
  2. Material wealth / possessions
  3. Reputation among others who we respect and desire approval
  4. Social status
  5. Political and social views
  6. The love of our loved-ones
  7. Our belief system (even when we think we are possessors of truth – this can be a sophisticated way of keeping us in a self-comforted state. This is very common amongst the church)
  8. Our belief that we are saved by virtue of having made an outward covenant. The form with out the power.

What is hard, almost impossible, is to identify the depth of self-deception to which we all are subject. Being a member of the church, believing that we are in a safe state of redemption by virtue of membership and activity, can produce the type of self-comfort that keeps someone from fully coming into truth. No matter where we are in our spiritual progression, we must constantly offer up what we think we know for the greater height the Lord wants to bring us to.

One question that is very helpful to ask and be strictly honest about is, what am I willing to sacrifice for the truth? What would I not let go of?

Your family? Your wealth? Your health? Your reputation?

Are you willing to have your understanding of truth reorganized? Are there any sacred cows that you are not willing to put on the alter?

These question can be so helpful to take to the Lord to show us our weakness so that we can come to him in a more direct coarse.

The comfort of the Lord expands us into a peace that is beyond any peace that can be found in this mortal state. But we all have to wrestle with the question: Am I willing to sacrifice my comforts in all of their forms today in order to receive of the fullness the Father has to offer?

In his mercy he usually does not require us to make this move all at once. But sometimes he does. We shouldn’t hedge. We should come to him with all of our hearts every day of our lives. If we sacrifice every telestial comfort with all of our hearts everyday, when the winds blow and this world descends into chaos we will not be shaken nor will we fear. We will already be of a different world.

Rending the Veil of Flesh

Our flesh is a veil, and to rend the veil in this life means, in a way, that we must rend the veil of our flesh. And we do this through the power of the spirit through the process of having a broken heart and contrite spirit. The Sacrament as an ordinance brings us through this process regularly. It’s through the rending of the flesh that we stay on the strait and narrow path.

Taking the sacrament is rending a veil. It represents the veil of the Savior’s body – and as his flesh was torn for us we can pass upwards through the veil back into the Lord’s presence.

We partake of the power of the Lord’s torn flesh insofar as we come prepared having torn our own flesh – meaning we come with a fully broken heart and in a state of our spirits contrite.

What is a broken heart? It is a hear completely divested of desires of a telestial things – and of a complete desire for higher things. It is a heart completely and perfectly softened. A heart willing to sacrifice anything for the Father. It is through this process of receiving a broken heart that we are prepared to pass through the veil.

A contrite spirit is a mind that is completely open to the things of God. It is a mind that is not encumbered with false traditions. It is a mind firm in every form of godliness.

We can rend the veil as we rend our own flesh. This is why we fast before we take the sacrament. Fasting and prayer brings us into this powerful state.

 

Are You on the Covenant Path?

What is the covenant path? It is a new term – and one that seems potentially useful. But what is it?

It seems that the covenant path is the same thing as the strait and narrow path. If you have a different understanding, I’d like to know your thoughts.

Assuming that it is the strait and narrow path, how do we know we are on the covenant path?

First, without question, understanding that the strait and narrow path is a succession of covenants is helpful, but we must be clear about what that means (and I’m not sure that we always are).

Covenants are agreements that produce a spiritual transformation. If there is no revelatory or transformational event, there is no covenant. For example, how does one enter the strait and narrow path? By being baptized by water AND becoming fully born again. You aren’t in the covenant until you experience the spiritual transformation of the mighty change of heart. It is only then you are on the strait and narrow path (and presumably the covenant path).

The strait and narrow path includes every covenant, ordinance, and oath needed for exaltation. The chronology of the path goes something like this:

Exercise faith, repent and receive a remission of sins and then get baptized and have a born again transformation and you are on the strait and narrow path.

Stay on the strait and narrow path through retaining your baptism of fire and born again condition. If you are not born again, you fall off the path. To regain the path, we must repent sufficiently to become born again, again.

This is why it is considered a “strait” and “narrow” path. It is a very narrow channel of being that we retain a born again condition. It requires constant attention and it is very easy to come out of this condition in a moment. This is why I think there is power in calling it “strait” and “narrow”. It is critical to always remember that the path has a strict requirement associated with it: we mush continue in our born again state and learn how to retain it.

While on the path we receive the covenant of the Aaronic Priesthood which is being prepared for the spiritual experiences of the Melchizedek priesthood. When we truly receive the Melchizedek priesthood we have preparatory spiritual manifestations preparatory to being receiving our Second Comforter; which received at the end of the path.

The temple endowment is the sequence of covenants and ordinances in physical form that teach us the manifestations required to be exalted. We have not been fully endowed until our calling and election has been made sure. The endowment is the physical representation of the process of making our calling and election made sure.

After we have made our calling and election made sure we then prove faithful to have our marriage sealed – which is the same thing as having your calling and election made sure for your marriage.

You then receive the fullness of the priesthood, sealing power, and power to seal your posterity to you in the capstone ordinance of the second anointing.

Partaking of the Tree of Life at the end of the strait and narrow path is to receive the sealing blessings of your calling and election made sure, have your marriage sealed, and have the priesthood sealed upon you.

So, this is the covenant path. Are you on it? In other words, are you in that strait and narrow channel of being in a born again condition? And if so, are you pressing forward to make your calling and election made sure? This, I believe, is what they mean by covenant path. It is strait and narrow. “And few be there that find it” (3 Nephi 27: 33).

 

 

Look Where You Want to Go

While in college my Dad took me and my two brothers on a cross-country motorcycle trip. We started in Portland Oregon, rode to Boston, Massachusetts, and then rode the entire way back. A trip like this has a lot of inherent risk, but what amplified the danger was that none of us had ever before ridden a motorcycle.

One of the first lessons I had to learn was to look where I wanted to go. This is actually much harder than it sounds. It’s not natural. For example, when you are riding by an obstacle, and you’re afraid you may hit it, and you stare at it because you don’t want to hit it, the likelihood you will smack into the thing you are staring at increases a lot more than you may think. Likewise, if you concentrate on where you want to go when driving by something potentially dangerous – chances are you will go to the place you are looking instead of hitting the obstacle.

When we were riding through Kansas we decided to take an off-ramp to get some food. When slowing down on the highway to take the exit, there was some construction with a lip on the road that ran parallel to the direction I was riding. I was really nervous about crossing this lip in the road, and because of it I was staring at it intently when I crossed. Sure enough, I hit it wrong and crashed my motorcycle. I did exactly what I didn’t want to do because it was the thing that filled my mind. I am also pretty sure that if I had looked at where I wanted to go instead of the 3-inch lip I would have been fine and crossed it without a problem. A very small obstacle almost killed me because I had given it so much attention.

This principle works when skiing, biking, skateboarding,… pretty much whenever you are in forward motion. And what is life, if not the collective experience of forward motion?

This is a particularly powerful principle when it comes to overcoming sin, weakness, addiction, and destructive behavior. If we focus and fret and are concerned with the thing we want to avoid, chances are, we will fall right into it.

Like a rocket trying to leave the pull of the Earth’s gravity, escaping the natural man can seem similarly impossible. Herculean strength, world-class discipline, and even supreme will power will not ultimately overcome the tendencies of fallen flesh in the long-run.

When overcoming a sin, an addiction, a weakness there is an instinctual tendency to want to fight the thing we are trying to overcome. By fighting, we may believe that it is by the exertion of our own will that we can overcome our weaknesses – that we can pull away from the Earth’s gravity. Even after expending our best efforts, it is not uncommon to continually fall back into natural habits, fundamental weaknesses, spirit-crushing addictions, and, like Nephi,  to feel “encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me” (2 Nephi 4: 18).

It is also a mistaken, but common, belief to assume that Christ really helps, or forgives, or accepts after we conquer our own weaknesses. This may be a result of a commonly taught philosophy of man that reasons Christ helps us only after we expend our best efforts to help ourself. The working assumption being that Christ does not love us unconditionally in our fallen state, but only after we extract ourselves from our fallen tendencies do we earn the right to call upon Christ for his forgiveness and healing.

Precisely because we give our weaknesses attention, thought, and because of our fear of them, they tend to consume us. Lot and his wife fleeing Sodom is almost a perfect metaphor of this problem. As they both left we all know that Lot’s wife turned back to look at Sodom. She was reduced to salt (whatever that means). It is in looking at the thing we are avoiding that we are taken in and consumed by it.

Does overcoming the natural self have to be the war we make it out to be?

First, we know that it is Christ that delivers us and transforms us from our natural and fallen disposition. It is the power of Christ that heals us, and can remake us from the natural self to a child of Christ. It is only through the deliverance of the mighty change of heart, spiritual rebirth, and the baptism of the Holy Ghost are we redeemed from our fallen and carnal state. What King Benjamin taught is worth constantly revisiting:

“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a childsubmissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3: 19).

So, how do we engage Christ in a way so that we can learn to live in a state of  being born again, and maintain the disposition to no more desire evil?

Christ is where we want to go. Instead of squaring off with our weaknesses, obsessing over them, planning our lives around them, and fighting every day “to do a little better than the day before” what would happen if we just abandoned ourself to doing and focusing on the truth which is in Christ?

In other words, instead of fighting our weaknesses, we just ask questions like the following:

  1. What is the Holy Ghost prompting me to do this very moment?
  2. What does the Lord want me to do in the next hour?
  3. How can I seek to be completely full of light today?

Darkness cannot be overcome by force, or attention, or by squaring off and fighting it. It is overcome by casting all of our attention on light and truth. If we wrestle with weakness, weakness will always eventually win. If we are filled with light we win immediately.

This principle is taught very clearly in the scriptures. When the children of Israel were bitten by serpents an easy way was prepared for their deliverance.

And he did straiten them in the wilderness with his rod; for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished” (1 Nephi 17: 41).

What if our sins and weaknesses are our fiery flying serpents that he sends to us to discover the easiness of being healed by Christ if learn how to focus our attention?

Just like riding my motorcycle and being afraid of hitting an obstacle, it may require us fighting every instinct we have to not pay attention to what we are afraid of, but if we can act against the instinct we discover a certain easiness of giving ALL of our attention to Christ.

And when we fully commit to Christ, which includes being obedient to every prompting we receive in every moment, we find ourselves delivered. If we take action to fill our minds with truth, and will our awareness with light and gratitude, we find ourselves very naturally letting go of the natural man. It becomes a paper tiger.

What we give our attention to gives us strength. If our attention is on darkness our strength will be darkened. If we give our attention to light, and only light, our strength becomes light.

The counsel is simple and perfect:

Look unto me in every thoughtdoubt not, fear not! (D&C 6: 36)

 

 

 

Lehi’s Prophecy of Perdition: Who Would Partake of the Tree of Life and then Leave?

Have you ever asked the question about Lehi’s dream regarding those that partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life and then become ashamed and then leave? Partaking of the Tree of Life is the assurance of eternal life – yet it doesn’t make sense that there would be a group that would have this assurance and then fall away. This essay explores this question and suggest that those that partake and then fall way are perdition – and it happens enough to include it in a powerful prophesy.

Nephi and Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life serves as a doctrinal framework for the entire Book of Mormon. It is the revelation of the plain and precious truths of the doctrine of Christ that restores us to a knowledge of how to obtain the presence of the Lord.

If we wrest this revelation by misappropriating the doctrine and assuming that we are experiencing the path in ways that we aren’t, or misinterpreting the doctrine to fit our own experience, we run the risk of once again losing the plain and precious truths of the gospel. There is great power in understanding both the vision and the doctrine of the revelation (found in 2 Nephi 31-32) because we can then know exactly where we are in our journey to Christ, and we can know what to do next.

If we fail to understand where we are personally in this doctrinal structure, then we will fail to make the progress needed to move forward. We will at a minimum be stagnant in our progression; but the greater risk is that we will fail to fulfill the spiritual requirements for real spiritual progress. We must get this right and not wrest the scriptures to our own destruction” (Alma 13: 20).

In order to clearly understand the Lehi and Nephi’s vision, and the doctrine of Christ, we must be really clear about the meaning of the Tree of Life – what it means and who partakes of its fruit. Thankfully, the scriptures are really clear about this point of doctrine.

What is the Tree of Life?

We first encounter the tree in the multiple accounts of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We should note that they were forbidden to partake of the fruit after they partook of the fruit of tree of knowledge of good and evil. Why would this be? Why would the plan of God be thwarted and they would live forever in their sins?

Alma’s Teaching

Of course these questions have depths and layers impossible to explore quickly in a single essay. But at a minimum we should understand that the consequence of eating from the Tree of Life would cause them to “live forever” (Moses 4:28). The Lord protects the tree by placing cherubim and a flaming sword so that those who do not qualify cannot partake and live forever in their sins.

This is the first indication that the Tree of Life is to partake of eternal life. As Alma teaches this doctrine he also makes clarifies the following:

“But behold, it was appointed unto man to die—therefore, as they were cut off from the tree of life they should be cut off from the face of the earth—and man became lost forever, yea, they became fallen man.

And now, ye see by this that our first parents were cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord; and thus we see they became subjects to follow after their own will…

and the fall had brought upon all mankind a spiritual death as well as a temporal, that is, they were cut off from the presence of the Lord,…

And now remember, my son, if it were not for the plan of redemption, (laying it aside) as soon as they were dead their souls were miserable, being cut off from the presence of the Lord.” (Alma 42: 6-23).

Alma makes it clear that the tree of Life is the presence of the Lord. In the 12th chapter of his record he teaches that those who prepare themselves for the Tree of Life enter into the rest of the Lord.

And now behold, if it were possible that our first parents could have gone forth and partaken of the tree of life they would have been forever miserable, having no preparatory state; and thus the plan of redemption would have been frustrated, and the word of God would have been void, taking none effect…

But God did call on men, in the name of his Son, (this being the plan of redemption which was laid) saying: If ye will repent, and harden not your hearts, then will I have mercy upon you, through mine Only Begotten Son;

Therefore, whosoever repenteth, and hardeneth not his heart, he shall have claim on mercy through mine Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of his sins; and these shall enter into my rest.

And whosoever will harden his heart and will do iniquity, behold, I swear in my wrath that he shall not enter into my rest.

And now, my brethren, behold I say unto you, that if ye will harden your hearts ye shall not enter into the rest of the Lord; therefore your iniquity provoketh him that he sendeth down his wrath upon you as in the first provocation, yea, according to his word in the last provocation as well as the first, to the everlasting destruction of your souls; therefore, according to his word, unto the last death, as well as the first.

And now, my brethren, seeing we know these things, and they are true, let us repent, and harden not our hearts, that we provoke not the Lord our God to pull down his wrath upon us in these his second commandments which he has given unto us; but let us enter into the rest of God, which is prepared according to his word” (Alma 12: 26-37).

Why is this sermon from Alma so significant? It is because he includes language and doctrine that we learn from Joseph Smith in his revelation on the Priesthood in D&C 84 that “the rest of the Lord” means something very specific. Joseph revealed about Moses exactly the same thing Alma was referencing – and that is to enter into the rest of the Lord is to enter into his rest. Those that are extended the invitation in this life (by receiving the oath and covenant of the Melchizedek Priesthood) is to enter into his rest in the flesh. Denying this invitation brings the provocation of the Lord, which is both Alma and Joseph’s revelatory warning.

But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory” (D&C 84: 24).

Again, why is this important? Because if we understand the unifying revelation of Moses, Alma, and Joseph Smith, we learn that partaking of the Tree of Life is to enter into the rest of the Lord – which is to enter into his glory while in the flesh. This is the great doctrine of the higher priesthood and the fulness of the priesthood.

In his sermon to the Zoramites in chapter 32 and 33, Alma teaches that partaking of the seed will bring you to a place that the Tree of Life springs up within you, and you partake of the fruit of the tree which is “most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst” (Alma 32: 42). This is the state of those that have regained the presence of the Lord. It is the state of receiving a perfect knowledge of his goodness and reality.

Nephi’s Teaching

Nephi teaches that partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life is the greatest of the gifts of God.

Wherefore, the wicked are rejected from the righteous, and also from that tree of life, whose fruit is most precious and most desirable above all other fruits; yea, and it is the greatest of all the gifts of God”  (1 Nephi 15: 36).

From the D&C we know that the greatest of God’s gifts is eternal life.

“And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14: 7; 6:13).

When he was given an interpretation of the Tree of Life he was taught that it was the love of God.

And it came to pass that I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God, which led to the fountain of living waters, or to the tree of lifewhich waters are a representation of the love of God; and I also beheld that the tree of life was a representation of the love of God” (1 Nephi 11: 25).

This is an extremely important scripture to both consider and also to resist the mistake of concluding that the love of God means feeling his love through the spirit in measure. It is equating eternal life to the love of God.

When Nephi describes something as the love of God, he is describing the gift of eternal life. It is easy to confuse this notion of tasting of the love of God through the spirit as partaking of the Tree of Life. It isn’t. The Tree of Life is eternal life, and partaking of the fullness of the fruit is to partake of the promises, blessings, and endowments of the promise of eternal life.

Why is it so important to carefully draw this out? Because it is easy to mistakenly believe that since we experience the love of God that we are partaking of the Tree of Life. It is a very different thing. We can begin to partake of the fruit through a process of consumption (as outlined in Alma 32), but we must not mistake the reception of the Holy Ghost or experiencing the love of God as partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life. We are at risk of wresting the scriptures if we do not grasp what Nephi is really teaching when he describes the fruit as the “love of God”. When Nephi refers to the love of God when partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life is referring to the blessings of the promise of eternal life. It is the calling and election made sure and the Second Comforter blessings.

When we enter the path we receive of the first comforter through the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost – becoming born again. When we endure to the end we receive of the Second Comforter – which is the rest of the Lord and promise of eternal life. It is in this summary of the doctrine of Christ that Nephi teaches the calling and election made sure is the reward of the strait and narrow path:

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: 20).

The promise of obtaining the Tree of Life is the promise of eternal life.

Nephi couldn’t be clearer: the strait and narrow path leads strait and narrow path leads to eternal life (2 Nephi 31: 18). And promise of obtaining the Tree of Life is the promise of eternal life.

Why is it so important to emphasize this through the cataloguing of this doctrine with so many scriptural witnesses? It is because it is so common to refer to covenant members of the church as those who are partaking of the fruit of the tree of life. It is even common to describe members of the church as those who are standing at the Tree of Life and partaking.

Yes, we begin to taste of the fruit in degrees when we are born again and are on the strait and narrow path. But it is critical to make a distinction between this and partaking of eternal life at the tree. The Tree of Life represents the Second Comforter blessings of the gospel. To judge it differently is to wrest the scriptures in a potentially very dangerous way.

Perhaps the reason why we often don’t associate partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life with the calling and election made sure is because of something very peculiar that Lehi witnesses.

Who Partakes of the Tree of Life then Leaves?

If the Tree of Life is the promise of eternal life, why does Lehi witness those that partake of it and then are ashamed and leave?

“And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.

And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed” (1 Nephi 8: 24-25).

The question is simple: why would someone who partakes of the greatest of all the gifts of God, receives a fullness of his love, partakes of the most desirable of all things – even the promise of eternal life, and then gets ashamed? And then leaves?

Because it seems absurd that someone would have these blessings and then become ashamed, it is very common for readers to then assume the fruit of the Tree of Life is not eternal life. It just doesn’t add up that this group of people would exist. The assumption then becomes that the Tree of Life is something other than eternal life.

We should be very careful about making this judgment. If we read and study carefully, we can understand who Lehi is witnessing and learn exactly what is happening.

The first thing to recognize is that Lehi is seeing more than just his family in his vision. He is also seeing his posterity.

“And behold, because of the thing which I have seen, I have reason to rejoice in the Lord because of Nephi and also of Sam; for I have reason to suppose that they, and also many of their seed, will be saved” ( 1 Nephi 8: 3).

Considering that that Lehi is seeing a vision of his posterity on the path and at the tree, we can then explore who in the Book of Mormon record Lehi may be witnessing. One group happens to be the Nephites that existed in a Zion society for 200 years after the coming of Christ. This is a portion of Lehi and Nephi’s seed about which we don’t have a lot of information (presumably it is contained in the greater portion of the Book of Mormon).

This group of Nephites that once lived in a Zion society were all partakers of the “heavenly gift“.

And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift” (4th Nephi 1: 3). 

What is the heavenly gift? Ether chapter 12 and Hebrews chapter 6 gives insight into this curious and rare term.

Ether 12 is a phenomenal account of individuals that exercised faith in order to receive the greatest blessings, manifestations, and promises of the Lord – and most important of these is the assurance of eternal life. In reference to the heavenly gift, the record reveals the following:

For it was by faith that Christ showed himself unto our fathers, after he had risen from the dead; and he showed not himself unto them until after they had faith in him; wherefore, it must needs be that some had faith in him, for he showed himself not unto the world.

But because of the faith of men he has shown himself unto the world, and glorified the name of the Father, and prepared a way that thereby others might be partakers of the heavenly gift, that they might hope for those things which they have not seen” (Ether 12: 8-9).

The context reveals that the heavenly gift in Ether is receiving the presence of the Lord. Hebrews also contextually affirms this meaning in the following verses:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,

And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,

If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame” (Hebrews 6: 4-6).

Paul teaches that if someone partakes of the heavenly gift that it is impossible for them to repent. They fall into a state of perdition “seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.”

This is a description of the spiritual state of perdition. It is also a warning to those that have been received the heavenly gift  that they can fall away and be permanently severed from presence of the Lord.

What is fascinating is that we have a warning from Paul of the possibility of exactly what happens to the Nephites of 4th Nephi. We have a people that are partaking of the heavenly gift, they are partaking fully of the tree of life, and they fall into apostasy and are cut off from the tree. We are all familiar with the tragic demise of the Nephites who enter into this collective perdition state.

Consider also that at the end of the 1000 year millennial reign of Zion upon the earth, that there will be a final confrontation with the Adversary because the righteousness of the hearts of the people will no longer bind him from their presence. This is another example of the possibility of a people partaking of the heavenly gift and then choosing to be cut off from the Tree of Life.

Perhaps those that qualify for perdition are far more numerous than thought. Those of 4th Nephi, and those at the end of the Millennium, and perhaps groups in the times of Melchizedek and Noah also produced this class of people.

In other words, the reason it is difficult to imagine that there would be a significant group of people that would receive the promises of eternal life and then fall away is because we are unfamiliar with a Zion structure. It isn’t in our awareness or experience of what it would be like to live in a society of saints that have the heavenly gift; and we haven’t experienced the spiritual temptations and nature of this type of situation.

Lehi’s dream is so instructive on a level that exceeds our experience in this generation of the church. Even though it is not in our experience to live in a Zion state, we all too often yield to the temptation to associate all of the experiences of the Tree of Life with our own spiritual experiences – assuming in an odd way that we, as a people, know what it is like to live in a covenant body that lives and experiences the fullness of the gospel. We wrest the scriptures to believe that if we are active members of the church than we must be partakers of the Tree of Life – even though our experiences have no resemblance to those societies in the scriptural accounts of those that received collectively the heavenly gift.

It therefore becomes confusing to us that there would be people who would partake of the Tree of Life and then fall away if the Tree was the assurance of exaltation. Because we don’t experience that redemptive experience broadly it is hard for us to understand how it could be possible that it would happen enough to even make mention.

But it does happen, and it happened to Lehi’s posterity. And this is why he witnessed it. And his dream served as a prophetic warning to his future generations that this would happen.  It also serves as a warning of how to avoid the temptation once they find themselves partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life.

As we understand the truth of the components of the Tree of Life, we are able to receive the detailed insight as to our own spiritual situation, and how to more clearly come to Christ. We receive the invitation to come into his presence in the flesh. And we are warned of the great power of the temptation to yield to those in the Great and Spacious Building.

May we resist the temptation to wrest the scriptures and take the warning of Alma seriously that if we do so, we do it unto our destruction.  We need to stop casually referring to ourselves as a people that partakes of the fruit of the Tree of Life. This is reserved for a people that have actually entered into a Zion structure and have collectively received the heavenly gift.

And may we also be full of gratitude for the record of the Book of Mormon that both invites us into the presence of the Lord while we are in mortality, and also warns us of the complexity and power of temptations and darkness that will seek our overthrow.

 

 

 

How Does One Get On the Strait and Narrow Path?

Just a few chapters into the Book of Mormon we read the account of Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life. A couple of chapters later, we receive Nephi’s witness of the same vision with an added interpretation. This vision becomes the doctrinal theme of the entire work of scripture, with its imagery, allegory, and doctrine spread throughout. In chapters 31 and 32 of 2 Nephi we are given the doctrine of the vision. This is known as the doctrine of Christ.

The doctrine of Christ that is taught and testified of in the Book of Mormon is also the doctrine of the seed of faith found in Alma 32. Alma’s teaching on the seed is a restatement of Nephi and Lehi’s dream. When put together, the vision of the Tree of Life, the doctrine of Christ taught in 2 Nephi 30-33, and Alma’s teachings, particularly his sermon on the seed, of faith unlocks a rich and complex doctrinal framework. If we overlay the three accounts we find that they each offer a unique key to understanding this doctrinal framework that is at the heart of the purpose of the Book of Mormon. These essays use these three accounts of the doctrine of Christ to address critical gospel questions.

How Does One Get On the Strait and Narrow Path?

One of the first thing Lehi witnesses in his dream was “numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which I stood” (1 Nephi 8: 21). I find it fascinating that he didn’t observe endless people trying to get to the tree, but to the path that leads to the tree. I think this is significant because it invites us to ask the question, what exactly is the narrow gate that leads to the path? What were people seeking?

We know that the physical ordinance of baptism is part of this gate, but we must understand all of the components of baptism to know if we are through the gate. As Christ first appeared to the Nephites he immediately taught them the doctrine of baptism. Here is what the Savior taught:

And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words unto Nephi, and to those who had been called, (now the number of them who had been called, and received power and authority to baptize, was twelve) and behold, he stretched forth his hand unto the multitude, and cried unto them, saying: Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants; and unto them I have given power that they may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost; therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am.

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: 1-2).

We must be born of both water and spirit (John 3: 4-5). This is perhaps why Christ refers to the gate as being narrow and that few people find it. Many people can find the channel of receiving a physical baptism. Few repent sufficiently to be baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost. This baptism comes as an endowment from the Savior himself.

Lehi saw that his dream was that of the strait and narrow path (1 Nephi 8: 20-23). This may seem like a simple connection, but it is so important to remember that the events that Nephi and Lehi witness in their dream should be mapped against the doctrine outlined in the last chapters of 2 Nephi. Why is this important? Because it helps us understand where we exactly are on our own path. It helps us understand the ordinances, covenants, and experiences that we should have depending on where we are on the path.

First, in order to enter on the path, which is also the holding to the rod, Nephi explains very clearly that it is through the narrow channel of water baptism and the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. It seems to be a commonly held assumption that we can refer to all those who have entered into the waters of baptism, have been confirmed a member of the church, and have received the laying on of hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost are automatically on the path. This is not the case, and Nephi makes it clear that it is more than just physical ordinances needed to enter the path. You need to have the actual spiritual endowment of a baptism of fire experience.

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel” (2 Nephi 31: 13)

And then he teaches:

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.

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 31: 17-18).

Christ teaches this powerful doctrine and promise to the Nephites when they heard his voice in the darkness after experiencing devastating calamity.

“And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost,…” (3 Nephi 9:20)

Being baptized with fire and the Holy Ghost means you have a born again experience. It is something that happens to you. It is more than just a physical ordinance; if you haven’t had a born again experience, the mighty change of heart, and all of the accompanying fruits of that mighty change, they you have yet to enter into the channel of baptism. Consider the doctrine of born again and baptism being one single ordinance as taught in Alma:

“Now I say unto you that ye must repent, and be born again; for the Spirit saith if ye are not born again ye cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, who is mighty to save and to cleanse from all unrighteousness” (Alma 7: 14).

Being baptized (in the true and full sense of the ordinance) means you are born again. It requires a mighty change from the Lord himself. To be fully baptized we must be both physically immersed in water and receive the mighty change of heart. This is perhaps why we’ve been invited to not marvel at this miraculous invitation. It is so much more than just making a promise to keep the commandments. Baptism means sufficiently repenting and putting to death the natural man that we are formed in to a new creature in Christ. This is the event of baptism, and if you have not received the baptism of fire your baptism is not yet complete.

Joseph Smith clarified:

You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half—that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost. The Savior says, ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.’ [John 3:5.]”

He also went on to teach:

“Being born again, comes by the Spirit of God through ordinances.”

“Baptism is a holy ordinance preparatory to the reception of the Holy Ghost; it is the channel and key by which the Holy Ghost will be administered. The Gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, cannot be received through the medium of any other principle than the principle of righteousness.”

The principle of righteousness is the key. We can receive the physical ordinances, but that is not sufficient. We must also be born again. It comes by the Spirit of God. The reception of the Holy Ghost is the baptism of fire.

As Alma preached repentance he framed becoming born again with repentance.

“And now I say unto you that this is the order after which I am called, yea, to preach unto my beloved brethren, yea, and every one that dwelleth in the land; yea, to preach unto all, both old and young, both bond and free; yea, I say unto you the aged, and also the middle aged, and the rising generation; yea, to cry unto them that they must repent and be born again” (Alma 5: 49).

Mosiah taught so powerfully the following.

“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 Godchanged 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).

This is the requirement of baptism and this is the narrow gate through which we all must pass in order to enter into the strait and narrow path. It is not enough to be baptized by water. We must also go through a mighty change of heart in order to enter into the gate.

If we are baptized but not in a born again state, Alma records a powerful sermon in the 5th chapter of his record that emphasizes to the covenant members of the church that they must repent and regain the spiritual state of being born again.

“And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?…

Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins?

Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand, and such an one hath not eternal life” (Alma 5: 14-28).

Just as Christ told the Nephites that HE would baptize them with fire by sending the Holy Ghost, King Benjamin’s people testified of this event:

And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually…

And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters” (Mosiah 5: 5-7).

The injunction is to become born of God and repent today. It’s not a process that takes a lifetime, even though we need to retain it for a lifetime. It’s not through a slow and imperceptible process. In order to pass through the narrow gate on to the strait and narrow path we must become born again, baptized by fire, and receive the mighty change of heart. We must first become a new creature in Christ.

The great hope of the doctrine of Christ is that we can receive this mighty change as quickly as we are willing to give up all our sins and that which we possess to know God. We receive it as quickly as we desire to give our whole lives to God without reservation and conditions. Just as King Lamoni’s father experienced, we are endowed with a mighty change of heart when we choose Christ above all other things in our life.

And it came to pass that after Aaron had expounded these things unto him, the king said: What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy” (Alma 22:15).

Alma chapters 32 through 34 is an account of Alma and Amulek teaching the doctrine of Christ to the Zoramites, who were a people that had once had the gospel, presumably made the covenants, but had fallen into pride and iniquity. Alma mentions to them baptism, but his and Amulek’s message to them wasn’t focused on the ordinance of baptism, presumably because they had already entered into the ordinances. They were reclaiming these people to the strait and narrow path.

Amulek declares to them the conditions and desperate need for repentance. He declares to them that this is the day of their repentance and that is the work of their life – their labors- is to repent with all of their heart. He said, “as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end” (Alma 34: 33).

And Amulek taught that if they repent, they would immediately partake of the plan of redemption, which is to become born again on the strait and narrow path.

“Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you” (Alma 34: 31).

The great hope and promise of the doctrine of Christ is that we can and must become born again to commence on the strait and narrow path. It is a blessing at which we should not marvel. It is the miracle of spiritual rebirth.

So, who is on the strait and narrow path? It is they that are born again. It is being in a state of a mighty change of heart. Being on the path is being in that place of mighty change. This is why it is strait. This is why it is narrow. It is a state of being that takes incredible diligence and daily attention. Perhaps this is why few find the gate and few retain it.

 

Resonating Obedience

Image result for sympathetic resonance

 

There is a fascinating physical phenomenon called sympathetic resonance. If you take two tuning forks of the same frequency and hit one of them, the other one will also begin to resonate.

This is a great metaphor for sanctification.  I know that one meaning of sanctification means to become pure of sin, but what if a better way of thinking about it is more like resonance?

All laws are light and all light has a frequency, or a resonance. Sanctification means that you, your body, your flesh, your will, your desires – your entire being – begins to resonate at the same frequency as the light of a law. You begin to resonate at the level of the light. So, to keep a law means to resonate at the same frequency of that law. Your whole being participates in sanctified obedience.

There is a sense that being obedient means that we learn to discipline ourselves to act at a different level that may be natural to us. To do something, or to act in a certain way, is only one component of obedience. The key to being obedient is to have our whole beings resonate at the level of the light of whatever law we are keeping.

Keeping a law means to resonate at the same level of that law. This is also a definition of sanctification.

When we are sanctified our whole body resonates at the same frequency of the law. Our mind, desires, flesh, will – it all is of the same frequency.

To be reconciled to Christ is to have our will and the light of our being share in his. It resonates at his level. It is to be in a sympathetic resonance with Christ.

So, how do we elevate to these higher levels of sanctified resonance? This is a process of not only acting in faith when moved upon by the light of Christ, but we can do so through the process of prayer.

Prayer, in its fundamental form, is the process of first yielding to the spirit sufficient that it elevates our frequency into a higher light of law. We become sanctified in deep, yielding prayer. We can ask the Lord to bring us into a law, and as we yield our minds, will, flesh, and desires to the workings of the spirit, we can be brought to a higher frequency through the grace of Christ. It is the spirit that does this work. We, by taking thought, cannot raise our own frequency. It is always a gift or endowment. But what we can do is put ourselves in a place to have the Holy Ghost bring us into higher levels of Godly resonance.

The scriptures describe this resonance as being “quickened”. As we explore scripture such as D&C 88 and 93 we can learn much about the quickening process. For example, a revelation from Joseph Smith revealed the following:

The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not; nevertheless, the day shall come when you shall comprehend even God, being quickened in him and by him” (D&C 88: 49).

When we want to ascend to in higher levels of sanctification we go through a process of becoming quickened. To move into higher states of being quickened we will almost always be prompted to make a sacrifice, and at a minimum that sacrifice usually takes the form of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. It is in this broken and contrite condition that we relax our will in such a way that the Lord is able to elevate us.

We will receive promptings to do things that may not make sense to us. Often these promptings will be different sacrifices – that if we yield to in faith – endows us with a sanctifying measure of the Holy Ghost.

Keeping the commandments does not have to be a never-ending war with the flesh. We simply must learn the process of having our will  be elevated into the resonance of the laws we need to keep. When we resonate at the level of a law, we don’t have to suffer and practice supreme discipline in order to “keep” the law. We become quickened by the law itself. It becomes part of our nature. It becomes natural to us to be in a state of obedience.

Retaining a sanctified state requires discipline in those things that keep us resonating at a higher level.  Consider Moroni 8:26:

And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God.

First, notice that it is the Comforter that fills with hope and perfect love. In other words, it is the Holy Ghost that brings us to a resonance of hope and love. Those are states of resonance in Christ. We experience them with our entire being.

And in order to maintain it, we have to be diligent in prayer. Prayer is the place that we maintain or reclaim the sanctified state. We subject our spirits to the light of Christ and ascend into higher states of sanctification.

This is the process described in Helaman.

“Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God” (Helaman 3: 35).

For example, someone who struggles with sexual addiction may spend their whole life fighting the physical urge or psychological need for sexual experience. They may have been led to believe that they need to “keep a law” by forcing themselves to act and think a different way before they can repent and be accepted by Christ.

Instead of pursuing the exhausting and despairing path of self-perfection, what if a person learned to resonate at the same level of light that is sexual purity? If their body and mind and heart resonated at the level of law that brings sexual purity, then they wouldn’t need to hang their salvation on their ability to ultimately discipline their behavior against their fundamental nature. Their nature would change, and it would produce the type of outward obedience and attention to law that is desired.

This is why the Lord’s burden is easy. We don’t have to learn supreme discipline to force ourselves into a state of obedience – we have to learn the disciplines that subject our fallen natures to the power of the Holy Ghost so that our natures are increasingly like Christ’s nature. These disciplines include primarily fasting and prayer. Also, music, the sacrament, and the willingness to do exactly what the spirit prompts brings us into this resonance. All of these disciplines quicken us.

When we move into that sanctified structure we are free in Christ – free from a nature that is in opposition God and his laws. We freely and easily keep his laws. Obedience become the impulse of our very nature

Keeping the law of Christ is to have our being resonate in the light, frequency and power of Christ. It is what it means to become a Son or Daughter of Christ. We are to pray with all the energy of our hearts so “that (we) may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen” (Moroni 7: 48).

Being pure is to resonate in the law in perfect sync. We can become perfect in Christ just as quickly as we will yield our entire beings to Christ so we can live the law he does – his light and law become the life within us. We can become sanctified in the light of Christ if we learn the principles that bring us to that place. And it happens as quickly as we are transformed into resonating obedience.

 

Fear and Ascension

 

Ascension is the process of us walking through our fears. When the children of Israel stood at the base of Mt. Sinai they rejected the call to ascend into the presence of the Lord because they feared. They wanted someone to go on their behalf.

If the children of Israel had charted a course into their fear they would have found themselves in the presence of the Lord.

Fear should be a sign to us as to the direction we should go. When a fear presents itself, we can know that turning and facing that fear, walking into it, and bringing it into subjection to the power of Christ through the expression of our agency, we ascend the mount. We receive great peace and rest. We put fear under our feet.

We experience fear because there are parts of us that are not true. We’ve accepted lies, unbelief, false belief, and deception. The degree of false belief that possesses us will determine the degree of fear we experience.

I’ve learned that my anger is a product of my fear. And is a sign that I should turn and be honest about that anger and what fear it is revealing. When I discover the fear I am now charged with facing it and subduing it to Christ – putting it under my feet.

Is lust not a product of fear? Jealousy? Anger? Resentment? Judgement? The need to have another ascend the mount for us so that we don’t have to face the truth of our fallen nature?

The Lord has invited us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. I think this means that when we desire to repent and come to Christ with all that we have, we must face what makes us fear and tremble. We have to bring Christ into that space and cease hiding from him.

The first fruit of the fall is fear. It caused Adam and Eve to hide themselves, and it causes us to hide in fear as well.  Because we hide ourselves when we feel fear it naturally creates enmity. It creates enmity between family, friends, and all in the family of God.

Few things bring more joy than staring into the abyss of our fears, taking a step forward, and finding that light follows. Subduing fear and darkness with the power of Christ is the great work of redemption on this earth.

“And again, verily I say unto you that it is your privilege, and a promise I give unto you that have been ordained unto this ministry, that inasmuch as you strip yourselves from jealousies and fears, and humble yourselves before me, for ye are not sufficiently humble, the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am”

 

What is Doctrine?

What is doctrine?

It’s a hard question to answer because the word tends to get employed in a couple of different ways. For it to be meaningful, we should be really clear about what we mean when we say something is doctrinal.

In my experience, doctrine is used in two contexts that look roughly like the following:

1. Doctrine – All eternal truth. Everything that is true is also doctrinal and if something is doctrinal, it is true.

I think this is the most commonly held assumption when referring to something as being doctrinal. As we will explore, using this term is probably what the term doctrine should mean, but if we hold to this we step into all types of problems; especially since what has been considered doctrinal over the the past 200 years of the restoration has shifted, evolved, and in some cases, radically changed.

The second definition is a working definition that probably captures the reality of what we consider doctrinal.

2. Doctrine – What is considered an acceptable teaching in the church at a certain point in time.

Although our doctrine should capture all that is eternally true, what we consider as doctrinal is an infinitesimal portion of the truth. And since what we have considered as true has shifted significantly at times (ie: blacks and the priesthood, plural marriage as a requirement for exaltation, Adam-God doctrine, etc.) the second definition seems the only one that is useful. Doctrine is the body of teachings that is generally acceptable to the church. This is the only working definition that helps us understand how and why the Lord both gives us greater truth, but also takes truth away from the members of the church. It is a changing body of acceptable teachings.

To better understand why we should be clear about using the second definition as the only one that is useful, I’d like to suggest a reason for changes and shifts in what has been considered doctrine.

The Alma 12 Principle

One of my favorite teachings uniquely found in the Book of Mormon is outlined powerfully in the Alma chapter 12.

“And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.”

Many can know the mysteries of God, and they are only authorized to teach according to how diligent people are to the light given to them.

“And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.

And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell” (Alma 12: 9-11).

This is such a powerful and simple principle. If you soften your heart and give diligence and heed to light and truth you will grow in the reception of mysteries. If you harden your heart you will have light and truth removed from you until you don’t know anything concerning the mysteries. Alma is careful to define the chains as being in a state of knowing nothing of the mysteries of God.

How does this relate to the question of what is doctrine? It has relevance when we understand that covenant bodies of people act as individuals. The same promises and warnings apply to collective groups of covenant bound people as they do to individuals themselves.

In other words, as the covenant body collectively softens their hearts they collectively increase in the reception of the mysteries of God, and as they collectively harden their hearts they collectively lose mysteries and knowledge.

So, the covenant body of the church is a group of people that is capable of both increasing and decreasing in light and truth. For this reason, only 18 months into the restoration the Lord pronounced a collective condemnation on the church “until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written” (D&C 84: 57).

Considering that we will commemorate the 200th anniversary of the First Vision in just a few short months, perhaps it will be an opportunity to ponder whether we are 200 years more enlightened than those early years of Joseph Smith, or if our collective understanding has suffered from the aggregate hardening against what was revealed through Joseph.

The answer to this question may be informed by an interview question put to President Hinkley by the San Francisco Chronicle when he was President of the Church.

Question: And this belief in contemporary revelation and prophecy? As the prophet, tell us how that works. How do you receive divine revelation? What does it feel like?

Answer: [Gordon B. Hinckley] Let me say first that we have a great body of revelation, the vast majority of which came from the prophet Joseph Smith. We don’t need much revelation. We need to pay more attention to the revelation we’ve already received.

Because our understanding of mysteries – light, truth, and knowledge – is a function of mysteries either being added to us or taken away; it makes sense that our understanding of what is “doctrinal” also shifts.

For this reason, the definition of doctrine being the currently acceptable and authorized body of teaching in the church most closely reflects the reality of what is taught and considered truth in the church.

What this also suggests is that our doctrine will reflect greater or lesser light and truth depending on how obedient, faithful, and diligent we as a collective covenant body has been to what has been revealed.

Because our body of doctrine shifts according to the obedience of the covenant membership, it is important to consider that what is doctrinal does not include all that is true. What is considered “doctrinal” will of necessity be a very small subset of eternal truth.

Our doctrine has changed over the past 200 years. This is to be expected. And if we are honest with ourselves we can ask some hard questions: How true have we been to the revelations we’ve already received? Are we receiving more? Are we a more enlightened people two centuries since the Father and the Son manifested to Joseph and light burst upon the earth once again?

If we don’t understand that our doctrinal comprehension is going to reflect our collective (un)faithfulness then we will be tempted to go to great lengths to demonstrate that our doctrine has been consistent, and even has progressed in the past 200 years. We will find ourselves in the almost impossibly difficult situation of trying to reconcile prophets who taught at higher levels of light and truth, revealing great and marvelous things, to a people unprepared to receive mysteries in the capacity required to understand them. When facing this doctrinal dilemma, we have marginalized prophets of extraordinary knowledge as simply speaking from their own limited understanding, or even “speculating”.

Because of this doctrinal dilemma, without acknowledging the consequences taught in Alma 12, we may formulate legalistic escape clauses from great knowledge taught in an earlier era by arbitrarily requiring doctrine to be something that must be repeated by many authorities of the church in order to be valid. As if the repetition or a truth or a lie makes it valid by the number of people who repeat it.

A teaching repeated often does not a truth make. (But it does make something in the church a generally accepted teaching.)

Of course the Holy Ghost solves this problem for all of those who repent sufficiently of their hardened hearts, and jealousies and fears sufficient to receive an abundance of the mysteries of God. But it needs to happen collectively if we are to be redeemed from the self-satisfied state of believing we are favored of God when he has signaled his disfavor through four generations of virtual revelatory silence.

Christ also gave us a warning and sign to know if we, in the latter-days, would be condemned. As Moroni recorded:

“8 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.

10 And if it so be that they will not believe these things, then shall the greater things be withheld from them, unto their condemnation.

11 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: 8-11).

Have we received the greater portion? If we haven’t, Christ has taught us it is because we are in a state of condemnation. Christ said he would try our faith. We have yet to receive the fruit of having exercised faith sufficient to remove us from our condemnation.

This should inform us that what we should be very careful as to what we believe about ourselves and our understanding of doctrine. We are never collectively static. We are either increasing or decreasing. And so it seems that when considering how we propose what is, or isn’t, “doctrinal” we should be humble enough to understand that our doctrine may or may not comply to the truth of what the Lord has yet to reveal, or may have already revealed.

For this reason, I am always intently focused on what we consider “doctrine”. But more importantly, I am far more interested in what is true.

Deep Doctrine and Deep Discipleship

Some Church members know just enough about the doctrines to converse superficially on them, but their scant knowledge about the deep doctrines is inadequate for deep discipleship (see 1 Corinthians 2:10). Thus uninformed about the deep doctrines, they make no deep change in their lives. They lack the faith to “give place” (Alma 32:27) consistently for real discipleship. Such members move out a few hundred yards from the entrance to the straight and narrow path and repose on the first little rise, thinking, “Well, this is all there is to it”; and they end up living far below their possibilities. While not as distant as those King Benjamin described “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?” (Mosiah 5:13) — these people are not drawing closer either.”
– Neal A. Maxwell (Men and Women of Christ. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991, pp. 2-3)

 

What I believe makes the restored gospel, and its vehicle, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, unique is its ability to bring an individual into the fullness of Christ while on the earth.  The ordinances and doctrines are purposeful only insofar as they are pursued and received in their spiritual forms. Baptism is only useful if we are baptized by fire, and endowment is only useful if we receive the blessings in their real and revelatory form along with their ritualistic form.

And the doctrines provided, particularly by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young are powerful, but the restored gospel does not benefit us unless we know, study, and obtain those doctrines for ourselves. There is no collective redemption by virtue of being a member of the church – even a really “active” member. One can be totally immersed in the Church and never participate in the gospel offered to them. Of this situation the Lord, asks, “what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift” (D&C 88:33).

The restored gospel is the greatest gift given to us. But are we receiving it? If we receive only a portion then we are like any other church that grants a portion, even a great portion, but doesn’t bring a fullness. Sometimes we in the Church are critical of other religions believing that we have a fullness and they don’t. But if we aren’t participating and pursuing the fullness of the gospel, are we any different than any other creed that rejects a fullness? The church does not give you a fullness by virtue of membership. Membership in the gospel is an invitation to pursue the path of fullness which is only available through the ordinances of the restored gospel in their revelatory form.

Unfortunately, it has been my consistent experience that many within the covenant body resist a deeper understanding of basic doctrines; especially the deep doctrines required for deep discipleship. They are passed off as unnecessary, always proclaiming the basics as the only necessary focus.  But there are no deep doctrines, only deep understanding of basics. And the deeper you understand the more power they have. If we insist on keeping things simple and basic, they will never have the saving power for which they are intended.

Deep, exalting, and eternal knowledge is the defining distinction of the restored gospel. It is not information. Information saves no one. Possessing information regarding doctrine, no matter the fluency in that information, has no salvific effect. It is the knowledge that is infused by the revelation and power of the Holy Ghost that gives us power over every form of darkness. It is the knowledge that is given to us that gives us actual power.

It is easy to receive information. One can read and become verbally fluent in all the written depths of the gospel – but that person can also at the same time be bereft of spiritual knowledge. It requires great faith, repentance, sacrifice, and endurance to be a possessor of redemptive knowledge.

One may claim that the priesthood is the defining difference of the restored gospel. This is true only if we understand what priesthood really is. Priesthood is the order of individuals that have received an endowment of revelatory knowledge sufficient to actually give ordinances with the authority of heaven and to overcome darkness around us. Very few actually possess real priesthood. Most practice the vain form. The real thing requires the sacrifice of all things to produce the faith to receive the knowledge necessary to have real priesthood power.

Some have also confused the need to gain knowledge as a charge to receive secular knowledge – as if professional degrees or worldly study gives you an advantage in the next world. This is a philosophy of man introduced by those that are far more interested in secular knowledge than they are spiritual knowledge. The latter requires such a great cost that they prefer the knowledge of the world that brings them the great telestial gifts – but their reward is limited to this earth.

But this doesnt mean that part of our stewardship on this earth is not to pursue great learning and discipline and knowledge of the things of the earth to be of service to each other. But we should never confuse this as knowledge that has power to save or exalt – this is not knowledge that we will give us an advantage in the eternities.

Why are so many resistant to receive knowledge beyond the information they receive from the basic teachings of the church? Because it suggests they have to work out their salvation in a way that makes them feel deeply comfortable. One of the false appeals of Mormonism is that you are saved when you receive the ordinances along as you remain an active member of the church throughout your life. This is a great latter-day fallacy. It is not membership, but knowledge one receives through the gospel that exalts – specifically the knowledge that God approves of you and has accepted your sacrifice. This is the greatest knowledge we must receive. And it can only be received through revelation.

Nephi lamented:

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” (2 Nephi 32: 7).

Joseph Smith taught in the Lectures on Faith:

“Having treated the ideas of the character, perfections, and attributes of God in the preceding lectures, we next proceed to treat the knowledge which persons must have that the course of life which they pursue is according to the will of God, so they may be enabled to exercise faith in him unto life and salvation.

2. This knowledge supplies an important place in revealed religion; for it was by reason of it that the ancients were enabled to endure “as seeing him who is invisible” (Heb 11 :27). It is essential for any person to have an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to the will of God to enable him to have that confidence in God without which no person can obtain eternal life. It was this that enabled the ancient Saints to endure all their afflictions and persecutions and to take joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing (not believing merely) that they had a more enduring substance (Heb 10:34).”

May we seek full discipleship by pursuing the fullness of the gospel which endows us with a fullness of knowledge.

Discerning Priesthood and Priestcraft

As someone ordained into the priesthood I have pondered much about the meaning of priesthood and my own propensity towards priestcraft. The temptation to exercise priestcraft is strong, particularly when it becomes clear how priestcraft can mimic and counterfeit priesthood.

Alma chapter 1 introduces the concept of priestcraft as it was introduced to the covenant body of the church.  It also draws clarity into the intention of priestcraft when Alma identifies the following:

“…there were many who loved the vain things of the world, and they went forth preaching false doctrines; and this they did for the sake of riches and honor.”

Preaching the gospel by holding yourself up as a light for anything other than the glory of Christ is a form of priestcraft. Someone practicing priestcraft may not receive their payment in money, but they may seek a different type of currency.

The scripture is careful to point out that priestcraft may be practiced for the sake of honor. Seeking the honors of men is a type of currency, just like money. It includes praise, adulation, celebration, and recognition.

What currency do I seek when teaching the Gospel?

All who hold the priesthood should be careful to ask the question, do I seek to be celebrated? Honored? Praised? Recognized for my contributions to the Lord’s work? As a priesthood holder, am I tempted to draw attention to myself or to seek celebration in my honor? We learn from Joseph Smith that it is the disposition of almost all men, that when they get a little authority (as they suppose) that they will exercise unrighteous dominion by calling attention to themselves and seeking the honors of men, gratifying their pride and their vain ambition – and if they do so in any degree the heavens withdraw themselves, and amen to their power and authority (D&C 121).

This is why many are called but few are chosen. One of those that were chosen was John, the disciple whom Christ loved. I believe he was chosen because he exemplified the spirit of condescension as a servant of God. He said of the Savior:

“He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:30)

This is the type that we should hearken to in the priesthood – those who seek to decrease so that the Lord may increase. This is the type of priesthood we should seek to become. I have to always ask myself, do I seek to decrease so that the Lord can increase? The answer is often personally convicting.

True priesthood is to be of the order of those that seek not their own glory or recognition, but lower themselves on the path of sacrifice for others. They seek transparency between their fellow men and God. They seek not to commemorate their works, but to seek the welfare of Zion.

Priesthood will seek the honor of God and great risk of their popularity and acceptance before man (Alma 5: 58).

Priestcraft will seek the honor of men. (D&C 121: 35)

Priesthood will celebrate the works of God. (Moses 1)

Priestcraft will celebrate the works of their own hands. (2 Nephi 12: 8)

Priesthood  “seek(s) not for power, but to pull it down. Not for honor of the world, but for the glory of God” (Alma 60: 36).

Priestcraft will seek pride and will celebrate its own vain ambition. (D&C 121: 37)

Priesthood will teach the consequences of sin and risk being beloved by the people. (2 Nephi 9:48)

Priestcraft will tell the people they should rejoice and not fear and tremble. (Alma 1: 4)

Priesthood will preach Christ and repentance. (Mosiah 18: 20)

“Priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world” (2 Nephi 26:29).

Being guilty of priestcraft is an ever present risk. It is the disposition of almost all who are called to the priesthood to practice priestcraft. This is mostly true with myself. I know the temptation within myself is ever present. We must be careful to discern when these things rise up in our own hearts and amidst the covenant people.

Vigilance. Discernment. Repentance. This the order of the day.