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Sunday, July 27, 2008

What Do Mormons Believe? - Question Box: Joseph Smith and Authority

Q. What Kind of a God would go through all the trouble of Salvation, teach his apostles so many things, and wait until 1820 to give Joseph Smith authority? That, my friends, does not make sense. I am really worried about you guys and I will truly pray for you. You know nothing of Church history or the teachings of Christ who by the way wanted his apostles to spread his good news. Why would he then wait for Joseph Smith?

I am glad that you asked this question. It is apparent that there has been misunderstanding of what we believe. God didn’t wait to give his authority to Joseph Smith. The original 12 apostles had the authority, but it was not passed on after their deaths. We believe that God restored his authority through Joseph Smith.

In answering this question, I first need to define apostasy. According to Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, apostasy is “An abandonment of what one has voluntarily professed; a total desertion or departure from one's faith, principles, or party.” Evidence that there was apostasy happening at the time of the apostles (Acts 20:29-31, 1 Cor. 11:18, Galatians 1:6-7, 2 Tim. 1:15, 2 Tim. 2:16-18, 1 John 2:18-19) and that the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ would be lost over time (2 Thess. 2:1-3, 1 Tim. 4:1, 2 Tim 4:3-4, Amos 8:11-12) is evident from study of the New and Old Testaments.

The priesthood, or the God-given authority to act in His name, is a crucial part of the foundation upon which the Church of Jesus Christ must be built. For instance, In Matthew 16:18-19 we discover that Christ gave unto Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven.” In other verses of the New Testament we read that conferral of authority to another was marked by the laying on of hands of him who held the authority to do so (1 Tim. 4:14, 2 Tim. 1:6, Heb. 6:2). Furthermore, in Hebrews we read “No man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron” (Heb. 5:4). Thus, it is clear from the Bible that there are several things that the early church had: God-given authority to act in God’s name, this authority gave those men who held it the right to administer the ordinances of the church and it was passed from the prophet/apostles to other men by the laying on of hands.

After Christ’s death the apostles did what they were commissioned to do: spread the Gospel to all of the earth. However, as a consequence of martyrdom and geographical separation, the priesthood keys were not passed on. The early bishops of the church did not have the apostolic authority that Peter, James and John did, or else they would have been called apostles. For example, Linus the first bishop of Rome (often assumed to be the head of the church after Peter's death), according to Eusebius of Caesarea, was a bishop (i.e. a local congregation’s minister), not an apostle (Church History, Book III, Chapter II). Eusebius, while he calls these early bishops successors of the apostles, he speaks of these bishops as men who were called to lead that particular group of people under the direction and guidance of the apostles (Church History, Book III, Chapter IV). Now, I am not saying that Linus or any of the other bishops were bad men, but what I am trying to say is that with the apostles and the keys of the kingdom gone, there was no clear direction from God on how to run the church. I am sure they did the best that they could, but eventually there began to be major disagreements in the church. This is evident by the Council of Nicaea, which met in part to discuss the Arian controversy. The disagreement was centered on the relationship between the Father and the Son. This issue would have been resolved very quickly had there been a prophet who could receive divine revelation and held the authority to determine church doctrine. As it was, Constantine, the Emperor with no ecclesiastical authority took the lead in the council and made them come to a decision.

Take the example of Peter making doctrinal decisions from Acts chapter 11; it is clear that Peter held the keys to decide such matters. He received a revelation that the Gospel was to go to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Those present at the meeting accepted Peter’s statement, because they recognized that he held the authority to institute practices and doctrine for the entire church. The process was simple, and it was not a matter of politics. This pattern was repeated in Acts 15. Had there been a prophet on the earth in the fourth century, there would have been no need for the Council of Nicaea. How could something so fundamental as the character of God and his Son come into question by the leaders of Christ’s church? This alone is evidence enough that the leaders of the church at that time did not have the authority to receive revelation from God for the church, nor did they have the authority to act in his name.

Christ didn’t waste his time, nor did the apostles. Rather, there was an apostasy. This pattern has been repeated numerous times through history. We see it with Adam, Abraham, Noah, Moses and so on. God calls a prophet to teach the people and gives him authority. Some people accept what the prophet has taught, but eventually the people turn from the truth. No one had the authority to speak in God’s name nor did they have the authority to administer the ordinances necessary for salvation after the original twelve apostles were killed. True, there were many men who tried to reform what they thought was the truth, but these men were not called of God as the ancient prophets were.

In addition to the above evidences of apostasy, Peter taught that at some future time there will be a restoration or ‘restitution of all things’ (Acts 3:21). In order for a restoration to occur, there had to be a loss. Thus, according to the scriptures and prophets, there would be an apostasy and then there would be a restoration of not only the truth, but of all things (Ephesians 1:10).

In 1820, God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith and called him to the work. He was given the priesthood authority—that is, he was given the keys of the kingdom. Through Joseph Smith, Christ’s church has once again been established on earth. The keys of the kingdom that Joseph Smith held have been passed in an unbroken chain down to the current prophet, seer, revelator and president of the church. His name is Thomas S. Monson; we have a quorum of twelve apostles who spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ all over the world. They are called of God and set apart by the laying on of hands by those who have the authority to pass the priesthood on.

We have a massive missionary force, almost 53,000-strong, who are in nearly every country in the world. They all proclaim that God has once again spoken to his people through a prophet and that the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which was lost through apostasy, is once again upon the earth. We proclaim that Jesus lives and that he is the Savior of all mankind and that all can partake of salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands (by someone holding priesthood authority).

I hope this answers your question and clears up your confusion. Think about what I have written. God knows if it’s true. Ask Him about it in prayer. I invite you to contact the missionaries who are in your area by going to this website and entering your information. A pair of young men or young women will come to your door to teach you further about what we believe. Thanks for your inquiry.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

What Do Mormons Believe? - Repentance

Several months ago, my toddler son found a lot of joy in ripping the internet cable out of the wall. Not just the cable, mind you, but the entire faceplate with the cable still attached. I started having him sit on my lap with his arms forcibly folded right after he did it. He totally hated it, so I knew it was working. After a half-dozen "time outs" (that lasted like 5 seconds each), he stopped pulling the cable out of the wall.

Do I remind him of how he used to pull the cord out of the wall? Do I continue to punish him retroactively for how he was disobedient before he figured it out?

Heavens no. I'm just glad that he is catching on to things and becoming a better, smarter, more obedient boy. Because that is the reason why he was born--to learn these kinds of things.

In fact, that is the reason that all of us were born. Our Heavenly Father sent us down here so that we could learn about how the world works, how relationships are made strong, how our bodies operate, and how to have faith in Him and serve His children. We all make mistakes--sometimes because we don't know any better, and sometimes even if we do. But that is part of the program. Our whole earth experience is involved in this learning process, and Heavenly Father has given us a lot of help to know what is appropriate and what is not.

Mistakes do count against us, though. So God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to take upon Him all of the sins and mistakes, sicknesses and temptations, suffering and injustices of the whole earth so that we can ask Him for help and forgiveness when we mess up. Since Christ already paid for our mistakes, we can be made clean again through Him. It is such an amazing and merciful plan. But we have to do our part. We have to repent.

Repentance has kind of a dour connotation. Like dressing up in sackcloth and ashes, flagellating ourselves (or hitting our faces with boards), hating our mortality and never forgetting how lowly and evil we are. This is how we feel we should react when we've messed up royally, but that isn't repentance.  That's how Satan wants us to feel, so that we never get around to the actual repenting.  Think of my son and the cable faceplate. That is how God sees us. When we do those really stupid things, He corrects us. Sometimes we are thicker than we should be and it takes a long time to realize that what we are doing isn't good. But when we figure it out, what we need to do is:

1) Recognize that we have been wrong. Ask Christ for His atoning power to make it right.
2) Change our actions. Ask Christ for the strength everyday to make the change.
3) Make it right, if we have wronged someone else. Ask Christ how to do this--He suffered for their pains (perhaps inflicted by you) as well as yours.
4) Promise not to do it again and then not do it again. Ask Christ for help all along the way.

It is a simple process, but it can be extremely difficult.  Addictions, habits learned through the years, and even doing things that go against the natural man's tendencies have to be pulled out by the root.  Its hard.  But it is possible, everything is possible with Christ's help.  He's already overcome it, so He knows how to help you do the same.  

It's just a process of changing ourselves to become better. God wants us to be better. He wants us to figure it out. He wants us to be healthy and at peace with our neighbors, ourselves and Him. And He wants us to learn this as quickly as possible. And once we figure it out and change, God doesn't keep reminding us of it. He doesn't say, "well, yeah, you are sober now, but remember how you used to drink and drink until you couldn't even stand up?" He says, "Well done. You've figured that out. I'm proud of you. Now to the next thing."  So we should forgive ourselves too.

Repentance is really one of the most merciful and kind blessings that our Heavenly Father has given to us. He allows us to change. He expects us to become better and to really (eventually) keep the commandment that Christ gave to us to "Be ye therefore perfect." He has got everything in place through His Son's sacrifice to make it possible for us to move on past our mistakes and be forgiven, if we can just be obedient and not fight the "time outs" He gives us.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A thought on patience

I came across this great scripture in the Book of Mormon. It describes the Lord helping a small group of righteous people escape from bondage. It says:

“And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.

And it came to pass that so great was their faith and their patience that the voice of the Lord came unto them again, saying: Be of good comfort, for on the morrow I will deliver you out of bondage." Moroni 24:15-16

I just find it interesting that part of the reason God chose to free those people so soon was because they were just so darned patient and cheerful about everything, while, on the other hand, their less patient countrymen suffered a lot longer and a lot more (go read that. It’s an interesting comparison). Their situations were so similar, and they were both asking for deliverance, but their respective attitudes made all the difference in how God chose to respond to them. It rather reminds me of when I was little and my mom would refuse to give me something until after I stopped whining for it and asked nicely.

So as a terribly impatient person, I have to wonder if sometimes the Lord is just waiting for me to chill out a little and stop being so insistent all the time. Not that I’m saying we shouldn’t ask for things, or even be diligent about it, but I think there’s a difference between being persistent and whining. Maybe it’s that cheerful submission to his will that the scripture was talking about. And maybe it's also faith:

"Patience is tied very closely to faith in our Heavenly Father. Actually, when we are unduly impatient, we are suggesting that we know what is best—better than does God. Or, at least, we are asserting that our timetable is better than His" –Elder Neal A. Maxwell ("Patience," Ensign, Oct. 1980, 28).
That's all. Just something to think about next time you need help escaping from slavery.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Question Box: Truth

Q. I'll throw a quick question at you. How can you claim your church tells "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" if historically they have changed their beliefs because of social pressure? (i.e. polygamy, blacks receiving the priesthood, and even changing the Book of Mormon from "cursed" to whatever they changed it too.)

Good question. The essence of what you're saying is "if you say you belong to the TRUE church of Jesus Christ, then why isn't that truth unchanging?" Right?

We'll get to the "social pressure" in a minute.

Well, the thing is, God commands and His servants obey. Sometimes God tells His servants to do one thing, and then tells someone else to do the opposite. Both things are commandments, though, and both things are right in their context.


How about when Jesus came and overturned the ENTIRE system of Mosaic law? It must have really made some people mad when Christ started saying,
"Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time. . .
don't commit adultery,
don't kill,
divorce is okay with the proper documents,
don't swear by your own self--swear oaths in the Lord's name
an eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth,
love your neighbor and hate your enemy.

But I say unto you . . .
don't even lust,
don't even get angry
divorce isn't okay unless the reason is fornication,
don't swear oaths at all,
resist not evil and turn the other cheek,
love your enemies.

Talk about changing policy!

You would respond (as I would) that it was the necessary evolution of the religion--that Jesus came to FULFILL the Law of Moses, as part of the grand design of the earth and our salvation. You would say that it is God's will that Jesus came and taught us the Higher Law. I agree. I also agree that God can keep doing that. When we tell God that He can't keep giving us higher instruction, we damn ourselves.

How about the revelation that Peter received on the housetop that he should start preaching the gospel to Gentiles? That shook some people to the core. It was such a departure from the way it had been before! But God's timing was (of course) infallible and the church grew.

The question asks about changing beliefs because of social pressure, which I think is an important point to examine. Plural marriage was introduced in the church by Joseph Smith and then discontinued by Wilford Woodruff, the 4th president of the Church. This was the scene in the Church after the Edmunds-Tucker Act was passed in 1887:
"The church was disincorporated, the Perpetual Emigration Fund Company was dissolved, and all property belonging to the Church, with the exception of buildings used exclusively for religious worship, was escheated to the government. Hundreds of men who had contracted plural marriages were heavily fined, and imprisoned. All persons who could not subscribe to a test oath which was provided especially for those who practiced or believed in the practice of plural marriage, were disfranchised [lost political power, voting, etc.]". (Clark, James R., ed. Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. 5:320. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1975).
It seems to me that if social pressure was going to sway him to change course, he would have done it before the Church fell down around him.

Woodruff said, "I should have let all the temples go out of our hands; I should have gone to prison myself, and let every other man go there, had not the God of heaven commanded me to do what I did do; and when the hour came that I was commanded to do that, it was all clear to me. I went before the Lord, and I wrote what the Lord told me to write"

The same kind of scenario was repeated with the Priesthood being made available to all worthy male members of the Church. The fact is, not until God said go, did the church go. This is not to say that the Church didn't uphold the Civil Rights movement, or believe that all people should be given equal rights. This just means that God hadn't told the Prophet to extend the Priesthood to everyone yet (see the Peter example, above). But it was time to extend it to a broader population. He still hasn't given the Priesthood to everyone, though. Women still don't hold the Priesthood and there is plenty of social pressure currently to make that happen, but it hasn't. And it most likely won't. The Church doesn't do things because "everyone is doing them". It does things because God commands.

So I end this post with a question to you: People may accuse us of "flip flopping", but can you find a church that is honestly more consistent with the church that Christ formed when He was on the earth? With prophets, apostles, teachers, priests, elders, missionaries, miracles, healing, continued revelations, fasting, tithing, temples, ordinances and priesthood ordained from God?

The only way to really know is to pray about it.


Q. Why do you think smoking is so bad? Why is everything so bad?

You sound like a struggling nicotine addict I knew, who wanted me and God and his conscience to stop pestering him to straighten up. By demanding from me an ever-better-but-never- good-enough reason to quit, he was really making for himself an excuse to keep smoking. Sound familiar?

Way deep down, though, you want peace. A quiet conscience and confident self-control. This peace will not come to you as long as you bind yourself to your cigarette master. You know it, but you also know what a terrible and difficult road it is to quit. You have probably tried several times already.

Get help. If you don't have friends or family who want you to give up smoking, contact the local LDS missionaries. They have a highly-successful stop-smoking program that they will teach you for free, just because it's their job to help people repent and come closer to Christ and feel the peace that only He can bring.

Don't focus on the tough road ahead of you. Think of your destination. How wonderful will it be to put your $5 per pack into groceries or gifts for your children? You won't feel compelled to take a five-minute break every hour. You will start tasting delicious foods again. You will have energy. Your shame and guilt will turn into confidence. Think of how nice it will be not to have to ask the question above; never having to rationalize your habits.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Shalt thou kill?

Q. I was reading 1 Ne 4:13 last night and have a question. "Killing in the name of religion" is a popular topic amongst religious naysayers. This verse talks about how God only commands killing with the "kill one, save a thousand" mentality. Did God only command this in Bible & Book of Mormon days, or does he still do it now? If not, why? Why not for 9/11? My question is... what's the answer to someone who fires in at me with, "Thou shalt not kill!? Such hypocrisy! More killing has been done in the name of religion than anywhere else." - Molly M.

This is a good question. Molly, thank you for bringing it up. I'll quote the verse you mentioned:

13 Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.
In this chapter the Lord commands Nephi to slay Laban to obtain the brass plates (basically the Old Testament up to that point in time -- approx. 600 B.C.), so Nephi's descendants would have the Law of Moses. But why kill Laban? He was passed out in the gutter; Nephi might have taken his clothes and his sword and left the drunk tyrant naked in the street. The short answer is 'because God commanded it.' I'll get to a plausible long answer in a moment.

God's view is much different than ours. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord"(Isaiah 55:8-9). Jesus Christ can see into eternity. He knows each of us by name, by face, and by who we are and what we will become. Any time He issues a command, it is with infinite foresight (see D&C 29:34), and with the intent to help and protect His sons and daughters (see Moses 1:39). On rare occasions this might mean dispatching one of His children for the greater good of many. We must remember that to Him, death is not the end of anyone. Laban lives on as a spirit, and perhaps this is for his ultimate betterment.

Has God ever issued such a command in modern times? Not to my knowledge, and it would surprise me if He did. John Welch writes in Legal Perspectives on the Slaying of Laban that Nephi was justified under Jewish law (as set forth in the Torah) to take Laban's life. The Spirit's persistent whisper of "the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands" is a nearly verbatim quote from Exodus 21:13, which outlines an exception to "Thou shalt not kill" in the previous chapter. Since we are now subject to different laws, and God has encouraged us to abide by the laws of man (see Articles of Faith 12), it is unlikely he will command it. (But I can never rule it out).

But doesn't that possibility open the floodgates for villains to falsely claim divinely inspired violent crimes? Yes. Unfortunately, Satan and his followers have the uncanny ability to twist true, godly practices toward their own ends. We can avoid being deceived by receiving the Holy Ghost and praying for the gift of discernment. This is yet another important reason to be baptized by the water and the Spirit.

So what do we say to the charge that religion causes widespread death and dying? Yes. Religion has done some of that, but not all religions are owned and operated by God (see above paragraph). It is just as careless to say that all foods cause obesity or the internet is basically pornographic. Just because many religions have bloodied their hands, does not imply that God's are stained. The instances in which God has legitimately called for mortals to put someone to death are few and far between. They get written up in scripture mainly because of their highly exceptional status. "Thou shalt not kill" remains the rule in full force for Jews, and Christians alike.

But religion is not even nearly the biggest culprit when it comes to rampant killing. "More killing has been done in the name of religion than anything else" is one of the most absurd claims ever made. Sure, it's easy to see, particularly in light of the conflict in the middle east, that leaders sometimes use religion as a way to inspire people to mindlessly kill others (maybe with promises of a glorious afterlife). But leaders act for political reasons, and they will use anything to inspire the masses to war. Sometimes it's religion (crusades, jihads), but more often it's nationalism or race or political ideology with the exact same result.
You don't even need to look outside of the 20th century to see that the most brutal killing has nothing to do with religion. There are three leaders that are far and away responsible for the most deaths in human history. They are (in order) Mao Tse Tung, Joseph Stalin, and Adolf Hitler. All three were atheists who promoted atheist regimes, and who are responsible for about 100 million deaths among the three of them. After them come Pol Pot in Cambodia, Kim Il Sung in North Korea, Menghistu in Ethiopia, and Kambanda in Rwanda. The claim that "more killing has been done in the name of religion than anything else" is patently false. If anything, it's just the opposite.

Now, for the long answer. (Yeah, turns out my short answer got pretty long).

God is not the only one to employ the "kill one, save a thousand" mentality. That doctrine is used by almost every head of state. This is the basis for life sentences and capital punishment, as well as sending soldiers to war to protect the freedom of civilians at home. Making such decisions is difficult for leaders, especially those who govern responsibly. This concept becomes even more important in light of Nephi's intended audience. First Nephi, along with the next five books of the Book of Mormon come to us unabridged, and (in contrast to Mormon's writings, which were for our benefit) were likely written for the Nephite people.

Nephi was their first king, and a revered one at that. He wrote the book of First Nephi as a narrative of his rise to the throne. Val Larsen, a contributor to FARMS, wrote an amazing paper detailing this take on the scripture called, Killing Laban: The Birth of Sovereignty in the Nephite Constitutional Order. It is worth reading. Before discovering it (in researching this question), I naïvely thought I understood the Book of Mormon pretty well, but this is a testament to me that there is always more to learn.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

What do Mormons believe - Choices

Q. Do Mormons believe in making their own choices?


After a recent conversation on this blog under the “Salvation” post, I came to understand that Mormons and other Christian faiths don’t always share the same views on the topic of making choices.

I have thought about this question for the last few days and I realize that it merits more explaining; however, I want to keep my answer to this specific question concise, so I have decided to write another post that will be posted shortly. It will explain more in depth our doctrine of making choices. I do this, because from our perspective the ability to freely make choices is crucial to our salvation. I don’t think many understand how important the ability to freely choose is to the Mormon faith. It's fundamental to the very purpose of life.

To answer the above question, yes Mormons believe in making their own choices. The Doctrine and Covenants (part of our open canon of scripture) is a collection of revelations that Joseph Smith received. I quote from Section 58, verses 26-28 (italics added):
26 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.
27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;
28 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.
We believe that we are free to make any choice. God may encourage us, just as Satan may tempt us; nevertheless, the choice is ultimately ours and we cannot be forced. It should be stated that there are consequences with every choice. As stated in the above scripture, choosing to do the right will bring good results. Conversely, choosing that which is not right will bring undesirable consequences.

Furthermore, we believe that our choices are what God will judge us by. We believe that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is what will save us. Nevertheless, we must consistently make choices that are in alignment with the commandments of God and choose to repent and change when we make mistakes. In essence, we have to do our part by denying ourselves of all ungodliness while relying on the mercies and grace of God. By so doing, we believe that when we are judged by God, we will be found worthy of his kingdom. Not because we were perfect ourselves, but perfect in Christ (Moroni 10:32-33).