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 seems there would be a simple answer to this question. But there is some difficulty answering this question since, over the 200 years since the first vision, the authorized cannon of doctrine has shifted considerably.

How do we reconcile 200 years of restoration history that has moments of contradiction, some doctrinal confusion, and even great swings and differences of doctrinal viewable even in the official declarations of the church?

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, I propose the following definition of doctrine:

Doctrine is the currently acceptable and authorized body of teaching in the church.

What this 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 is 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.

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.

Faith and Chaos

Faith is standing on the edge between order and chaos — and then pushing into the chaos. When we act in faith in the face of chaos, we increase the boundary of order. And because it becomes ordered, knowledge is produced.

Knowledge is always the fruit of true faith. It is not comfort in not knowing. It is the power of increasing in knowledge; and it’s the knowledge of chaos that has been ordered.

It’s easy to confuse willfully remaining naive as an act of faith. We may call it faith to say that we are comfortable where we are and our current state of knowledge is sufficient. We may think that the surety of our beliefs no longer require investigation and that this is having faith.  But it is no such thing. Faith occurs on the outer-boundary of our comfort, and it brings us to stare into dark places. It brings us to into the presence of our fears.

Faith is redemptive. It subdues darkness. It subjects our fears. It brings Christ into being.

Faith takes us to a place where we bring into being creation on earth. It is the mode through which the earth is transformed.

Acting in faith is always an act of dying. Over and over. It requires us to allow some perception, some view, some paradigm to die. It requires the self of a moment ago to be let go and to step into new being. It requires a death of our current bearings with the hope that place we are going will be more solid. We die as to the thing that once gave us comfort. And comfort is always the enemy of faith.

Dying is a fearful thing. But we can make acts of faith the dominant impulse of our nature. By acting in faith everyday we will die as to the things of the flesh, and live in the spirit – in other words, we will order chaos.