Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Nothingness of Man vs. The Greatness of God

I like reassurance.  I like knowing that I'm doing okay.  As a student back in high school and college, I was obsessed with grades, relishing those reassuring "A's," which told me I was smart and successful.  And dreading anything less than an “A,” which told me I was a failure.  (Ya, I know, I had some issues!!)  In the real world, I struggled to find reassurance confirming that I was living a successful life.

A few years ago, a friend pointed out the Book of Mormon's solution to struggles with self-worth:
". . . Humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel. And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true." (Mosiah 4:11-12)

Honestly, I didn't really understand then the connection between that level of humility and all the great stuff that could follow, but I was definitely interested in those promises . . . that I could:

·               Always rejoice
·               be filled with the love of God
·               always retain a remission of my sins
·               grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created me

But how could going into the depths of humility lead to all of that?

            I think a big problem I faced was that I wanted to be something.  I wanted to be a great mom, an amazing friend, an incredible wife.  I wanted to be an organized homemaker, a super-fast runner, an interesting conversationalist.  I wanted to be a lot of other things as well.  But I couldn’t live up to my own standard of what those things entailed.  And so I felt completely discouraged!  No matter what I tried, I couldn’t find that reassurance that told me I was that “something” I so desperately wanted to be. 

            Slowly, I’ve learned that I don’t need to be discouraged . . . because I don’t have to be “something” at all.  The Spirit has taught me to accept, instead, that I am nothing. 

            What?!?  What a terrible thing to say, right?  I mean, if I tell someone, “You are nothing,” then I better put up my fists, because those are fighting words, right? But I can tell you in complete sincerity that learning that I am nothing has been the most humbling and the most liberating truth I’ve ever learned.

            If you’re like me, you might need some convincing that this is a sound scriptural idea. 

Let’s take a look at King Benjamin.  At the end of his life, he called his people to gather together to hear his final sermon.  Now keep in mind that he referred to his people as a “highly favored people of the Lord” (Mosiah 1:13).  And what was his message to these peaceful, God-fearing people?  Among other things, he says:

“And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay.  Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you.”(Mosiah 2:25)

            No reassurance.  No flattery.  No praise for their goodness.  Only a reminder of their nothingness.  Why would he give these good people such an unflattering message?

            There was more.  He warned them:

“… men drink damnation to their own souls except they humble themselves and become as little children, and believe that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent. For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man” (Mosiah 3:18-19).

These people, who were faithfully keeping the commandments, were threatened with damnation and essentially called the enemy of God.  Did he really need to put the fear of God into these people who were already living so righteously?

Christ taught, “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20). So let’s look at the fruits of King Benjamin’s teaching:

And now, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had made an end of speaking the words which had been delivered unto him by the angel of the Lord, that he cast his eyes round about on the multitude, and behold they had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them. 

And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.

And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words, the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which king Benjamin had spoken unto them” (Mosiah 4:2-3). 

They saw their own nothingness.  They recognized that their natures were fallen and corrupt.  They believed in the Lord’s mercy and their absolute need for His atonement.  They humbly begged for mercy.  And in return, they experienced “a mighty change . . . in [their] hearts,” they had “no more disposition to do evil, but to good continually,” they received “great views of that which is to come,” and “could prophesy of all things.”(Mosiah 5:2-3) After covenanting to obey God’s commands in all things, they became “the children of Christ, his sons and his daughters” (Mosiah 5:7). 

These incredible blessings came as a result of this people seeing themselves as “less than the dust of the earth.”

 The gospel is counterintuitive.  Jesus taught, “Whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25).  And King Benjamin’s people gained everything by seeing that they were nothing.    

Are we willing to hear this message?  Or do we want reassurance?  Do we want to hear that “all is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well” (2 Nephi 28:21)?  What’s wrong with that?  I mean, we’re all good people, right?  Nephi warns, “Wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion! Wo be unto him that crieth: All is well! Yea, wo be unto him that hearkeneth unto the precepts of men” (2 Nephi 28:24-26). 

And what do the precepts of men tell us?  They say:

“Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God – he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God” (2 Nephi 28:8). 

Could that be us?  Could we want to partake of all the world has to offer, yet still believe in God?  Could we wrongly assume that our belief in Him is enough?  Could our earthly pursuits and accomplishments keep us from recognizing our own nothingness?  Could our incorrect beliefs lead us to a false understanding of our state before God?  Are we actually in eternal jeopardy unless we humble ourselves to the dust as these people did? 

The Lord does not seek to reassure us about our current state.  He does not flatter us and tell us how amazing and wonderful we are.  The only praise I see Him give is for those who humble themselves before Him, become as little children, and recognize their complete dependence on Him – those who, in essence, say, “I am nothing.” 

“You are nothing” is a hopeful message when it is coupled with a remembrance of God’s goodness and grace.  Notice how king Benjamin links the two:

“I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility . . .” (Mosiah 4:11)

            Christ said, “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”  I believe that King Benjamin spoke the truth.  And these truths are setting me free.  I’m still learning, but it’s exciting to be able to see with even a little more clarity.  Here’s what I’m learning:

·               If I am nothing and you are nothing, then there is no need to compare:

“When you begin to think you've outshone your fellow man, you should reflect again on Moses' reaction to seeing the Man of Holiness: ‘Now for this cause I know man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.’ (Moses 1:10.)  None of us have anything to boast of, even if you know more than your fellow man.  We all know less than He who is ‘more intelligent than them all.’ (Abr. 3:19.)

·               If I am nothing, then earthly pursuits and accomplishments are seen as “treasures on earth” that do not last.  My nothingness motivates me to “seek first the kingdom of God” and to lay up treasures in heaven. 
·               If I am nothing, then it is possible for me to love my enemy, to not be easily provoked, to turn the other cheek.  This will never be an easy thing for any of us to do, but at least it becomes possible when I view myself from God’s eyes.  If I am something, then I can’t help but defend myself, resist evil and demand an eye for an eye. 
·               If I am nothing, then I can trust the Lord with all my heart and lean not unto my own understanding.  I can acknowledge Him in everything and allow Him to direct my paths. 

One day, maybe like Alma, we’ll each be able to say:

“Yes, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore, I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever” (Alma 26:12).

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Teach Me All That I Must {Know and Do}, Part 2

What must we know to be saved?  Joseph Smith taught that “knowledge saves a man” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (TPJS), p. 357).  And in Doctrine and Covenants 131:6 we learn that “it is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.”

So what is it we must know? 

Is it enough to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, our Savior and our Redeemer? Well, if it were, then even the devils would be exalted, for Satan and His followers have that knowledge:

And in the synagogue there was a man, which had a spirit of an unclean devil, and cried out with a loud voice, Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art; the Holy One of God. (Luke 4:33-34)

Also James 2:19:

“Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well; the devils also believe, and tremble.”

So, no, a knowledge of who Jesus Christ is will not save us. 

Joseph Smith taught:

“Three things are necessary, in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation:”

First, The idea that he actually exists.
Secondly, A correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes.
Thirdly, An actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing, is according to his [God's] will.

For without an acquaintance with these three important facts, the faith of every rational being must be imperfect and unproductive; but with this understanding, it can become perfect and fruitful, abounding in righteousness unto the praise and glory of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Lectures on Faith, 2:2-5).

So here is some knowledge that can help us in the path of salvation:

·               Correct ideas of God’s character, perfections and attributes and
·               “An actual knowledge” that we are living according to God’s will.

In this world of darkness, having that kind of knowledge seems like an incredible achievement.  I think about what I know and how small and limited it is.  I think about how quickly and easily I get off course and how I would love to have the knowledge that my life is in accordance with God's will.  As important as this knowledge is, though, as I study the scriptures and Joseph Smith's words, I can see that, in the eternal scheme, this knowledge is really only a beginning point.  It is a prerequisite in exercising faith unto life and salvation. 

So what else must we know in order to achieve eternal glory and to enter into His rest? 

There are many things I think the Lord would like us to know along the way.  He wants us to study and learn and gain knowledge of all things.  As I've been studying the scriptures lately, I keep seeing something else that we must know to be saved.  I think it can be summed up by this verse:

“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).

We must know Him.  That is the knowledge that is required for us to inherit eternal life.  Not just know of Him or about Him.  But to actually know Him. 

How can this be?  How can this happen?  We’re just lowly mortals. We’re full of sin and frailties.  We’re weak and fallen.  And He is good and great and powerful and full of light and truth and without spot.  How can we even dream of coming to know Him? 

I don’t know all of these answers, but I know that it is possible.  I know that He appeared to a boy – Joseph Smith – in answer to his earnest prayer in seeking God’s wisdom.  Joseph related:

I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (JS-History 1:16-17.)

I know that Joseph, years later, could testify:

By the power of the Spirit our eyes were opened and our understandings were enlightened, so as to see and understand the things of God—Even those things which were from the beginning before the world was, which were ordained of the Father, through his Only Begotten Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, even from the beginning; Of whom we bear record; and the record which we bear is the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the Son, whom we saw and with whom we conversed in the heavenly vision. (D&C 76: 12-14).

I know that Lehi, as a result of his faithfulness and his earnest seeking, came to know the Lord, as did Nephi and Jacob, two of his sons.  Enos knew Jesus Christ.  After being taught by Abinadi, Alma repented and followed the Lord and came to know Him.  Jesus Christ knew Nephi, the son of Helaman, and spoke with him gave him the sealing power.  And there's Adam, Enoch, Moses, Noah, Melchizidek, Abraham . . . the list goes on and on.  These were men who knew the Lord, who spoke with Him face to face.  They understood the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ because they had experienced it. 

But we are filled with unbelief.  We think:  That could not happen to me.  And we gloss over the promises given to us because they seem out of reach, or impossible, or maybe just a thing of the past. 

But whether we pay attention to them or not, the promises are there:

“Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face, and know that I am” (D&C 93:1).

That is a promise for this life.  Do we believe it?  Probably not.  Because we don’t hear about it very often.   But Joseph Smith taught it to his people.  Listen to what he said:

“After a person has faith in Christ, repents of his sins, and is baptized for the remission of his sins and receives the Holy Ghost, (by the laying on of hands), which is the first Comforter, then let him continue to humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and living by every word of God, and the Lord will soon say unto him, Son, thou shalt be exalted.  When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and his election made sure, then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter, which the Lord hath promised the Saints, as is recorded in the testimony of St. John, in the 14th chapter, from the 12th to the 27th verses. . . .  

Now what is this other Comforter?  It is no more nor less than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself; and this is the sum and substance of the whole matter; that when any man obtains the last Comforter he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even He will manifest the Father unto him, and they will take up their abode with him, and the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him, and the Lord will teach him face to face, and he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God” (TPJS, p. 150-151).

Jeremiah prophesied of a new covenant for the house of Israel:

“But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:33-34).

We (or at least I) may be the “least of them," but it is possible for even us (even me) to come to know the Lord.  Thus we are commanded: 

“And seek the face of the Lord always, that in patience ye may possess your souls, and ye shall have eternal life” (D&C 101:38).  

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Teach Me All That I Must {Know and} Do, Part 1

As a Primary kid, I grew up singing “I am a Child of God.”  As most people know, President Kimball, in the late 1950s, requested that “Teach me all that I must know” be changed to “Teach me all that I must do.” 

Words are powerful.  And influence us beyond the conscious level.   What is the difference between what I must “know” vs. what I must “do?” What must I know to be reconciled to God?  What must I do?  If I were making a change to the song, I would write: “Teach me all I must know and do to live with Him someday.” 

Teach Me All That I Must Do

Spencer Kimball said, “It is not enough to know.  We must do.”  James would have agreed.  He said, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22).

At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in Matthew, the Lord finished with this teaching:

"Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand" (Matthew 7:24, 26). 

Again, there is an emphasis from the Lord on “doing.”  It seems sort of obvious, but I think it’s important to note that first we must “hear” his word before we can do it.

As Joseph Smith taught:

“Faith comes by hearing the word of God, through the testimony of the servants of God” (in History of the Church, 3:379).

From “hearing” we learn God’s word and God’s will.  From “doing,” we exercise faith in that word. 

So what is it that we “must do to live with Him someday”?

As I read through the different accounts of the Sermon on the Mount, I realized that the Savior's teachings and list of commandments really can be summarized by the two great commandments:

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). 

As followers of Christ, we must be doers of the word, but our to-do list is rather short:

·               Love God
·               Love man

Sounds easy enough, right?  Well just in case we don’t fully understand what’s involved in keeping these two commandments, the Lord includes some specifics in the Sermon on the Mount that help us understand how much we need to overcome in order to live these laws.  Here are some examples of what loving God and loving our fellowman might look like in every day application:

Agree with your adversary
Don’t get angry
Love your enemies
Do good to those who hate you
Don’t lust
Resist not evil
Don’t divorce your wife (or husband)
Give to those who ask
Judge not
Pray for those that use you and persecute you
Be meek
Be submissive
Be peacemakers
Be merciful
Be pure in heart
Hunger and thirst after righteousness
Be quick to reconcile
Give alms secretly
Pray earnestly, in secret
Trust in God
Seek the kingdom of God

No wonder Moroni counsels us to “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ” (Moroni 7:48).  We need God’s help to do what He’s asked us to do.  But what is the alternative?  Moroni says that without charity we are nothing (Moroni 7:44). And with it, we have true joy and incredible promises from the Lord: 

“Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever” (D&C 121:45-46).

We must be doers of the word.  And the word is Christ.  And Christ is love.  What must we do?  We must learn to love God with all of our heart, might, mind and strength.  We must love our neighbors as ourselves.  What I must do is become a new creature, with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, with charity towards all men.  I must do what He asks me to because I love Him more than anything else.   

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Which church do you belong to?

I've always thought of "church" in the context of "going to church." It's a place, an organization.  It's an institution with its own teachings and doctrines, buildings and rites, etc.  There's the Catholic church, the LDS church, the Baptist church, the Episcopalian church, the Church of Christ, etc.  Each is distinct and unique and, most likely, if you're a member of one, you are not a member of another. 

In the Book of Mormon, there is a broader definition of what a “church” is:

1 Nephi 14:10: “And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.”

So how do we gain membership into the church of the Lamb of God?

In D&C 10:67, it says:
“Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.”

This seems much too simple.  The Lord can't mean what He says, can He?  Doesn't membership in His church require a particular membership in an earthly institution?  Isn't it critical that we are members of the one true church on the earth?

In January 1988, Stephen Robinson (then a professor at BYU), made a rather profound statement:

"In either the apocalyptic sense or the historical sense, individual orientation to the Church of the Lamb or to the great and abominable church is not by membership but by loyalty. Just as there [are] Latter-day Saints who belong to the great and abominable church because of their loyalty to Satan and his life-style, so there are members of other churches who belong to the Lamb because of their loyalty to him and his life-style. Membership is based more on who has your heart than on who has your records."

So, if Robinson is correct, and if I understand D&C 10:67 correctly, then it is possible to individually become a member of the church of the Lamb of God?  But is it also possible for an earthly church, with all of its members, to be a part of the church of the Lamb of God?  I believe the answer is yes and we can see several examples of that in the Book of Mormon. 

After Alma had fled the established religious institution of the day, He began baptizing and teaching the people what He had learned from Abinadi:

"And he [Alma] commanded them that they should teach nothing save it were the things which he had taught, and which had been spoken by the mouth of the holy prophets.
Yea, even he commanded them that they should preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord, who had redeemed his people.
And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another.
And thus he commanded them to preach. And thus they became the children of God.

Alma applied Christ's doctrine by teaching them to repent and come unto Christ.  By instructing that nothing but "repentance and faith on the Lord" should be taught, he pointed His people to the author of their salvation and "thus they became the children of God."  

Several chapters later, in Mosiah 25:21-22, we see again the emphasis Alma places on teaching only repentance and faith:

"Therefore they did assemble themselves together in different bodies, being called churches; every church having their priests and their teachers, and every priest preaching the word according as it was delivered to him by the mouth of Alma.
 And thus, notwithstanding there being many churches they were all one church, yea, even the church of God; for there was nothing preached in all the churches except it were repentance and faith in God."

Mosiah 25:24 paints a picture of a truly happy people:

 "And they were called the people of God. And the Lord did pour out his Spirit upon them, and they were blessed, and prospered in the land."  

They were His.  They followed His doctrine and He accepted them. 

So just to break this down . . . what did Alma and His people do that qualified them to be the Lord's church?

*  They had faith in Christ
*  They repented
*  They were baptized
*  They preached nothing but faith and repentance
*  They had one eye, one faith, one baptism
*  They had no contention among them 
*  Their hearts were knit together in love and unity 

This encapsulates the doctrine of Christ and was the doctrine Alma and his people lived and followed faithfully. The doctrine of Christ is found throughout the scriptures. I believe following that doctrine is what qualifies us, as individuals, or as churches, to be of the church of the Lamb of God.

In 3 Nephi 11:38 the Lord explains His doctrine:

And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.
And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.
  Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
  And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.”

This fits with what we learned from Alma and his people.  The one addition, which is important to ponder, is becoming "as a little child."  The message is the same:  repent and be baptized.  And don't declare more or less than this.

In 2 Nephi 31: 17-21, we learn how this doctrine prepares us to receive eternal life:

“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.
 And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.
 Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.
  And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.”

Again, the same simple requirements, with just a few additions to be studied and pondered - "remission of your sins by fire," "perfect brightness of hope," "love of God and of all men," etc:  Repentance, baptism, faith in Christ.  

Which church on the earth teaches this pure doctrine of Christ?  Is there a church that does not “declare more or less than this?” Which church makes it clear that "this is the way" and "there is none other way" that leads to salvation?

In Preach My Gospel, the manual used by LDS missionaries, the LDS church outlines the questions an investigator needs to answer in order to be baptized:

  1. Do you believe that God is our Eternal Father? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer of the world?
  2. Do you believe the Church and gospel of Jesus Christ have been restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith? Do you believe that [current Church President] is a prophet of God? What does this mean to you?
  3. What does it mean to you to repent? Do you feel that you have repented of your past transgressions?
  4. Have you ever committed a serious crime? If so, are you now on probation or parole? Have you ever participated in an abortion? a homosexual relationship?
  5. You have been taught that membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints includes living gospel standards.  What do you understand of the following standards?  Are you willing to obey them?
    1. The law of chastity, which prohibits any sexual relationship outside the bonds of a legal marriage between a man and a woman?
    2. The law of tithing.
    3. The Word of Wisdom.
    4. The Sabbath day, including partaking of the sacrament weekly and rendering service to fellow members.
  6. When you are baptized, you covenant with God that you are willing to take upon yourself the name of Christ and keep His commandments throughout your life.  Are you ready to make this covenant and strive to be faithful to it?
Does the LDS church declare more than the doctrine of Christ?  Does it declare less?  If a woman repented, had faith in Christ, became as a little child, and desired to follow Jesus Christ by obeying His commands and being baptized, could she be baptized into the LDS church?  What if she couldn’t answer affirmatively to  the second part of question #2 or had a problem with #5c?  Would the doctrine of Christ teach that she ought to be denied baptism? Does the Lord allow for “more or less” to be taught if there is a living prophet on the earth who adds something to it?  Does the Lord mean what He says?

I believe that He does mean what He says, that He is the same yesterday, today and forever.  I believe Brother Robinson is correct and that anyone who lives this doctrine - anyone who has faith, is willing to repent and desires to follow the Savior - will gain membership into His church.  He is merciful and full of love.  He wants to gather us in and keep us safe.  He has given us something so pure and simple that we might not complicate things, that we might be able to find the way:

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)

Saturday, April 16, 2016

A letter ...

 The text from a letter I recently sent . . .

I love the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I am completely inconsistent in my obedience, in my diligence, in my willingness to put the Lord first in all things, but I know there is nothing that brings me greater happiness and peace of mind than studying His word and striving to follow the Spirit and striving to do His will.  I remember when I first felt that “mighty change of heart.”  It was when I was 15 years old and read the Book of Mormon with real intent for the first time.  My life changed during that time (although no one else may have seen it).  I knew undeniably that the Book of Mormon was the word of God and I could testify that it had changed my heart and brought me closer to the Spirit than I had ever been before.  I loved reading it and studying it and the words became delicious to me.  Whenever I pour my heart and soul into studying the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon, I feel that change of heart return.  And when I rely on myself and my own wisdom and strength, I find that I do not feel to sing the song of redeeming love, but quickly sink into despair and discouragement. 
And what about my new beliefs and understandings?  How do they fit in with everything that I’ve understood my whole life?  Quite frankly, there is a growing gulf between what I believe and what I’ve been taught from the church.  And yet, my beliefs are in harmony with what I find in the scriptures and in the words of Joseph Smith. 

When in the history of the world has a church been established and remained unchanged through hundreds of years?  After Christ came to the Nephites, they established a Zion-like society that stayed pure and true for generations.  Have we established a Zion-like society where all things are common and there is no contention among us?  I don’t think so.  Most times, in the scriptures, particularly in the Book of Mormon, there are times when the Saints are humble and very righteous for a time and then, usually within a matter of years, they start to develop pride or forget the Lord.  Sometimes circumstances lead them back to humility; sometimes, when things get bad enough, a messenger comes to call them to repentance. 

The church that was established during New Testament times was indeed built on prophets and apostles.  But did it remain strong, pure, and true throughout the next hundred years?  No.  Changes began to take place, little by little.  Instead of being led by revelation, men decided doctrine in councils.  Truths were lost and taken out.  Man’s teachings replaced divine truth.  In that case, a complete apostasy occurred.  Is that what I think has happened today to the church?  No.  But I do believe the Book of Mormon was written for us and that it provides warnings that can help us see where we stand and wherein our hope lies. 

In 3 Nephi 16:10, Christ says:  “And thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you: At that day when the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel . . . behold, saith the Father, I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them.”  It says ‘when’ not ‘if.’  This is where things are headed for us Gentiles.  But there is hope.  In verse 13, the Lord says, But if the Gentiles will repent and return unto me, saith the Father, behold they shall be numbered among my people, O house of Israel.” And a warning in verse 15:  “But if they will not turn unto me, and hearken unto my voice, I will suffer them, yea, I will suffer my people, O house of Israel, that they shall go through among them, and shall tread them down, and they shall be as salt that hath lost its savor, which is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of my people, O house of Israel.”

I see a pattern in history and in the scriptures that tells me that pure truth and righteousness are very difficult to hold on to.  Why should it be different for us today?  Isn’t it possible that we as a people and as a church are off-track? Even a little?  Isn’t it possible that the Lord might call someone to deliver a message of repentance and remembrance so that we might get back on track, might return to the pure doctrines of salvation and leave behind the precepts of men?