Archive for March, 2012

29
Mar
12

General Conference

 

This weekend the LDS Church holds its semi-annual General Conference.  Both on Saturday and Sunday the General Authorities of the LDS Church give talks.  In LDS churches around the world, the regular Sunday schedule is suspended so that members can listen to these talks.

The March edition of the LDS magazine, Ensign, had a number of articles stressing the importance of these General Conferences.  In one of those articles, entitled Follow the Prophet, Elder Randall K. Bennett of the Seventy, relates how he and his wife have benefited from following the words of the prophets.  He writes:  “In the years since, we have been blessed in many other ways by heeding the prophetic word.  We have learned not to question the validity of what the prophets and apostles teach or to wonder if it makes sense.  We have learned that by acting – and acting immediately – on their counsel, our lives are blessed.”

“Some might call our actions blind obedience.  But we have the Lord’s personal promise that the prophets will never lead us astray.  Knowing this helps us hear their voices as we would hear His own (see D&C 1:38).”

Note the example he holds up – and the LDS Church holds up by having this in its official magazine.  No questioning the validity of the teaching – no wondering if it makes sense.  Rather acting immediately on it.  So much so that it looks like blind obedience. Reliance on the personal promise of the Lord that the prophets will never lead them astray.

It will be interesting to see what will be said this weekend.  It will also be interesting to read blogs and comments written by LDS members in response to General Conference.  How many will follow that example?  If the reaction to the last General Conference is any indication, there will be some who won’t follow this example.  And if they don’t but instead question and wonder about what is said, what does that mean for them personally?  How does questioning the prophets affect their worthiness in the church?

24
Mar
12

Before and After Pictures

There were two sets of before and after pictures.  They were pictures of two people’s mouths – before and after dental work.  The before picture in the first set showed some crooked teeth and a few others with cavities.  The after picture naturally showed the same mouth but now with perfectly straight teeth and not a cavity in sight.  This set touted the work of one dentist.

The second set, touting the work of another dentist, showed a much more drastic change.  That before picture revealed a mouth with major problems.  As you looked at the picture, you wondered how the person could even close his mouth or eat anything.  The after picture amazingly resembled the after picture of the first set – perfectly aligned teeth with not a problem in sight.  It was obvious that a highly skilled dentist worked on it.

Obviously, I don’t want to talk about dentists.  I want to talk about how wonderfully God has worked on me.  And one way that I can emphasize his incredible work is by showing people my before picture.  The Bible paints it vividly.  I was a lawless rebel.  (1 John 3:4).  I was totally corrupt and evil. (Genesis 8:21) I was spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1) always doing sin’s biding. (John 8:34)  I did no good; I was worthless (Romans3:10-12).  A viler picture could not be drawn. That was my picture – really, not figuratively.

But then the Lord worked on me.  He washed me and cleansed me (1 John 1:7).  He made me spiritually alive (Eph. 2 5).  He created a new heart within me (2 Cor.5:17).  He changed me from being a slave of sin to a slave of righteousness (Rom.6:17-18).  He adopted me into his family (Gal. 4:5).  He sanctified me and made me holy (Heb.10:10-14).  He did this all for me through Jesus Christ.

The tremendous contrast between my before and after pictures emphasizes the greatness of what God has done.  But when that contrast is lessened, when the before picture is of a basically good person who needs a little work, then God is robbed of his glory.  And robbing God of his glory is no small thing.

21
Mar
12

The Great Apostasy

Lesson 13 in this year’s Gospel Doctrine class is on Jacob 5-7 from the Book of Mormon.  These chapters mainly deal with an allegory of the olive tree.  Part of this allegory describes what the LDS Church calls the Great Apostasy – the centuries from around 100 AD, the death of the last apostle, to 1820 AD when Joseph Smith is claimed to have seen Heavenly Father and Jesus.  During these many centuries, the LDS Church claims that the true church was removed from the earth.  No longer, according to it, was true doctrine taught.  It states that this was a fulfillment of Amos 8:11-12 which prophesied a famine of God’s Word.

As a corollary to this, the LDS Church now claims to be “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased.” (D&C 1:30).  Some Mormons have tried to explain this by saying that this doesn’t mean that the LDS Church is the only true and living church – it’s the only true and living church with which the Lord is pleased.  I don’t know how many LDS members hold to that explanation, but it really puts the Lord into a bad light.  If that is true that means there are some true and living churches with whom the Lord is not pleased.  Is that fair on the part of the Lord?  And that really doesn’t fit in with the teaching of the Great Apostasy either.  As Gospel Principles states, “The true Church was no longer on the earth” (p. 95).  That also doesn’t fit in with the LDS position that the Apostasy was in fulfillment of Amos 8:11-12 which talks about a time when the word of the Lord was not just corrupted but could not be found.

In other words, Mormonism itself draws a sharp distinction between it and all other churches. Why then are Christians often lambasted when they draw the same distinction?

But even more important is the reason why Christians make this distinction.  I will be the first to admit that not every Christian’s motive for doing so is good.  But most Christians I know repeatedly come back and make this distinction because they want to impress upon their Mormon acquaintances that Mormonism is completely different from the teachings of biblical Christianity.  As such, it is our heartfelt belief, that it is not leading people to eternally living with Heavenly Father but rather to an eternity in outer darkness.  That is something we don’t want anybody to experience.  Therefore we highlight the differences in an attempt to have people examine them more closely – with the hope and prayer that many Mormons will come to know that living with Heavenly Father doesn’t depend on their own worthiness or their receiving temple ordinances, but depends entirely on the worthiness that Christ freely and fully gives us.

15
Mar
12

Plural Marriages

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 12 is a study of Jacob 1-4 in the Book of Mormon.  There are a number of things that could be looked at in these chapters.  One of its main topics is a condemnation of polygamy or plural marriages.  The following verses are from Jacob 2.

“22  And now I make an end of speaking unto you concerning this pride. And were it not that I must speak unto you concerning a grosser crime, my heart would rejoice exceedingly because of you. 23 But the word of God burdens me because of your grosser crimes. For behold, thus saith the Lord: This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son. 24  Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.  25  Wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph. 26  Wherefore, I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old.  27  Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;  28  For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts.  29 Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes.”

Here is how the teacher’s manual addresses this section:

“1. Jacob condemns the unauthorized practice of plural marriage

• Whom did the Nephites claim as examples to justify their whoredoms?

(See Jacob 2:23–24.) Why were David and Solomon unworthy examples?

(See D&C 132:38–39. The Lord gave wives and concubines to David and

Solomon, but they sinned by marrying additional wives outside of the

covenant.) You may want to explain that anciently, a concubine was not

an immoral mistress, but a legal wife of lesser social standing (see Bruce R.

McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [1966], 154).

• What marriage law did Jacob teach to the Nephites? (See Jacob 2:27–28.)

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “I have constantly said no man shall have

but one wife at a time, unless the Lord directs otherwise” (Teachings of the

Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 324).

Explain that the Lord gave such direction (see D&C 132), but He later withdrew

His sanction of plural marriage when conditions changed (see Official

Declaration 1). Emphasize that the law of the Lord regarding marriage today is

the same as it was in Jacob’s day.”

It’s interesting that Joseph Smith didn’t get a revelation (D&C 132) until July, 1843 that David and Solomon sinned only “by marrying additional wives outside of the covenant”. Until that time, all LDS members must have thought, on the basis of Jacob 2, that they sinned by having many wives – period.  Why would not the Lord have clarified this sooner?

It’s also interesting that the teacher’s manual doesn’t specify exactly how the conditions changes for the Lord to withdrew his sanction of plural marriage.  Was it because of the pressure being brought on the LDS Church by the United States government?  It’s obvious from the wording of the Official Declaration that political considerations were paramount.

But even more to the point, if it truly was a revelation from the Lord allowing, even encouraging, plural marriage during the mid 1800’s, why are so many Mormons so hesitant to talk about it and its role in Mormonism’s history?

14
Mar
12

The Living Prophet

Chapter 6 in the Teachings of George Albert Smith deals with the responsibility LDS members have to sustain their leaders.  Incidentally this is also emphasized in the March issue of the LDS church magazine, the Ensign.  Leaders are sustained at conferences by the members raising their right hands.  As both this chapter and the Ensign articles emphasize, the more important aspect of sustaining the leaders is by following their counsel, accepting the calls the leaders call them to, and by praying for them.

Most of chapter 6 deals with sustaining the president of the church, who is also their living prophet.  The following quote from that chapter gives the flavor of its advice.  Note how it ties in salvation with following LDS leadership.

“There is only one pathway of safety for me in this day and that is to follow those whom the Lord has appointed to lead.  I may have my own ideas and opinions, I may set up my own judgment with reference to things, but I know that when my judgment conflicts with the teachings of those that the Lord has given to us to point the way, I should change my course.  If I desire salvation I will follow the leaders that our Heavenly Father has given to us, as long as he sustains them.” (p. 60)

A number of years ago, Ezra Taft Benson, who was one of Mormonism’s living prophets, gave a speech entitled, “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet”.  Over the years, numerous Mormons have not entirely embraced these fundamentals.  But they remain a good summary of Mormonism’s teachings about the living prophet especially because they have been quoted in their entirety twice in recent General Conferences.  Here they are as given by Elder Kevin R. Duncan of the Seventy in the October, 2010 General Conference.

“First: The prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything.

“Second: The living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works.

“Third: The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.

“Fourth: The prophet will never lead the Church astray.

“Fifth: The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or credentials to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time.

“Sixth: The prophet does not have to say ‘Thus saith the Lord’ to give us scripture.

“Seventh: The prophet tells us what we need to know, not always what we want to know.

“Eighth: The prophet is not limited by men’s reasoning.

“Ninth: The prophet can receive revelation on any matter, temporal or spiritual.

“Tenth: The prophet may be involved in civic matters.

“Eleventh: The two groups who have the greatest difficulty in following the prophet are the proud who are learned and the proud who are rich.

“Twelfth: The prophet will not necessarily be popular with the world or the worldly.

“Thirteenth: The prophet and his counselors make up the First Presidency—the highest quorum in the Church.

“Fourteenth: [Follow] … the living prophet and the First Presidency … and be blessed; reject them and suffer.” 

The second and third points are especially enlightening.  The standard works are the books the LDS Church views as Scripture including the Bible.  The living prophet, it states, is more vital than Scripture.  Or consider point 3.  Who are the dead prophets?  Included in that list would be all the biblical prophets.  In light of statements like these, who is reflecting the teachings of official Mormonism more consistently:  the person who says that the highest authority in Mormonism is the Bible or the one who says that the highest authority in Mormonism is the living prophet?  And if the claim is made that there is no conflict between the two, than what is the purpose of the second and third fundamental listed above?

When Mormons sustain their living prophet, something they will do again in a couple of weeks at General Conference, they are saying that his words are the most important words in the entire world – more vital than Scripture – more important than those of Moses, Isaiah, and all the biblical prophets.

A LDS leader one time told me that he felt sorry for me because the only thing I had to follow were the words of the Bible.  Today I want to express my sorrow that Mormons, by their sustaining of the living prophet, are declaring that he is more vital than the Bible, that he is more important than all the prophets in the Bible. That not only does dishonor to the Bible; that also puts their eternity into jeopardy.

08
Mar
12

“As man is God once was; as God is, man may become.”

This Sunday, in Gospel Doctrine Class, the study is on 2 Nephi 31-33.  One of the summary statements in the heading of chapter 31 says, “Eternal life comes to those who kept the commandments after baptism.”  Since I posted about eternal life just a couple of months ago (see the post for 1-13-12) and there showed that the Bible says eternal life is the present possession of believers through faith, I thought I would, in this post, explore what Mormonism says about eternal life.  I’m going to do that with quotes from the last chapter of their basic manual, Gospel Principles.  If you would like to read the entire chapter, you can do that on lds.org.

The first thing to note is that Mormonism equates eternal life with exaltation.  “Exaltation is eternal life, the kind of life God lives. He lives in great glory. He is perfect. He possesses all knowledge and all wisdom. He is the Father of spirit children. He is a creator. We can become like our Heavenly Father. This is exaltation.” (p. 275)  Note that this says eternal life is not only equal to the kind of life God lives but also to becoming like him.  That is illustrated with the list in the middle: great glory, perfection, possessing all knowledge and wisdom, Father of spirit children, creator.  In other words, Mormonism teaches that people will be able to possess all knowledge and wisdom, that they will become creators etc.

This is expanded a couple of paragraphs later.  (The italics are my emphasis).

“These are some of the blessings given to exalted people:

1. They will live eternally in the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ (see D&C 76:62).

2. They will become gods (see D&C 132:20–23).

3. They will be united eternally with their righteous family members and will be able to have eternal increase.

4. They will receive a fulness of joy.

5. They will have everything that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have—all power, glory, dominion, and knowledge (see D&C 132:19–20).

Mormonism plainly teaches that people can become gods.  I’m emphasizing that because many Mormons have told me that Mormonism doesn’t teach that.  I don’t know how many told me that it says that they will be like God, but not become a god.  But note what this official manual states.  “They will become gods.”  Gods who have everything that Heavenly Father and Jesus have.  And lest we forget, that is what Mormonism is talking about whenever it talks about eternal life.  Eternal life and exaltation are the same thing.

This chapter also includes a couple quotes from Joseph Smith. (Again the italics are mine)  “The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil [died] before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 268).”

“Joseph Smith taught: “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God. … He was once a man like us; … God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 345–46).”

I highlighted that last part because again many Mormons have stated to me that Heavenly Father never was a man. Some have told me that the famous couplet, “As man is, God once was; As God is, man may become”, no longer applies.  When I explored that with them, they said it wasn’t just that this wording is not used that much anymore, but that is not what Mormonism teaches.  It’s obvious that this chapter of their basic manual says otherwise.

The bottom line is that when Mormonism talks about eternal life, it means something vastly different than when Christians talk about it.  (See my January 13th post for a full look at the Christian view.)  This is a point both Mormons and Christians need to keep clearly in mind when talking with each other.

05
Mar
12

The Priesthood

Lesson Five of the teachings of George Albert Smith deals with the priesthood.  It emphasizes the LDS Church’s claim that the priesthood was lost after the death of the 12 Apostles until it was restored at the time of Joseph Smith.  It then goes on to repeatedly make the claim that only LDS priesthood holders have divine power and authority. Among many other things, this means, for example, that non-LDS baptisms are empty rituals.

It probably could go without saying, but just to be clear it needs to be stated that Christians don’t share the view of history presented in this chapter.  They don’t believe that the Lord wanted to set up a permanent organization of apostles, high priests, seventies, etc.  They don’t believe that there was a total apostasy when the 12 apostles died.  They don’t believe that John the Baptist or Peter, James, and John appeared and ordained Joseph Smith into the priesthood.

One reason they don’t believe any of this is because the Bible tells us about the priesthood that the Lord instituted in the New Testament.  Peter describes it in his first letter.  From the first verse of his letter we see that Peter was writing to converts to Christianity scattered throughout the Mediterranean world.  They were men and women from all different races and nationalities.  In chapter two, he is still addressing them all when he says:  “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (v.9).

All believers, regardless of race or gender, are in the Lord’s priesthood.  People enter it the moment they are brought to faith.  All believers are part of the chosen generation. All believers are part of the holy nation.  All believers are peculiar or special people.  And all believers constitute the royal priesthood.

This passage also tells us what they are to do.  They are to “shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  They are to praise God.  And God surely deserves praise.  Because Jesus paid for all our sins, he forgives us freely.  He forgives us so completely that he doesn’t even remember them – much less demand any payment from us.   “And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.”  (Hebrews 10:17)  Because Jesus paid for all our sins, he gives eternal life, not conditioned on a person’s worthiness, but as his free gift.  “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)  Because God has saved us freely and fully in Jesus, he deserves all praise.

And neither is a person’s living eternally with Heavenly Father dependent on the ordinances performed by the LDS priesthood as George Albert Smith states.  That is completely dependent on Jesus’ work:  the perfect life that he credits to the account of believers – his death that washed away all sin.

Faith in Jesus Christ, not the LDS priesthood, is the source of all divine power and authority.




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