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? 

Friday, February 26, 2016

"Profile of a Prophet" or "Fourteen Fundamentals"

In the temple, Adam asks Peter, James and John, “How shall I know that you are true messengers?”

That is the question I’ve been asking over the last year or so.

I recently discovered Elder Hugh B. Brown’s talk, titled, “Profile of a Prophet.”  I compared it to the more recent Elder Ezra Taft Benson talk, “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet” and was struck by the differences.  Who is right?  Elder Brown’s list seems to fit the pattern of all the past patriarchs and prophets – from Adam to Joseph Smith.  Elder Benson’s “14 Fundamentals” is more in line with the presidents of the church from Brigham Young on. 

Here are a few of the fourteen fundamentals from Elder Benson’s talk:

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

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

“The prophet does not have to say “Thus Saith the Lord,” to give us scripture.”

“The prophet will never lead the church astray.”

And then add to that a recent statement from Elder Oaks:

“. . . modern apostles are called to be witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world (D&C 107:23). This is not to witness of a personal manifestation. To witness of the name is to witness of the plan, the work, or mission such as the atonement and the authority or priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ, which an apostle who holds the keys is uniquely responsible to do.

Of course apostles are also witnesses of Christ just like all members of the Church who have the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

Now contrast all of that with Elder Brown’s statements where he describes key characteristics of a true prophet:

“He will boldly claim that God had spoken to him.”

His teachings would be in strict conformity with scripture, and his words and his writings would become scripture.”

“He would have not only an important message for his time but often a message for all future time, such as Daniel, Jeremiah, and others had.”

“Such a man would speak in the name of the Lord, saying, “Thus said the Lord,” as did Moses, Joshua, and others.”

“If he were speaking for God he could not make concessions, although what he taught would be new and contrary to the accepted teachings of the day. A prophet bears witness to what he has seen and heard and seldom tries to make a case by argument. His message and not himself is important.”

“Such a man would predict future events in the name of the Lord, and they would come to pass, as did those predicted by Isaiah and Ezekiel.”

 The scriptures tell us that, “By their fruits, ye shall know them.”

So what are the fruits of a prophet?  If Elder Benson and Elder Oaks are correct, then how are we to judge?  What are the fruits we can look at?  According to them, a prophet can contradict scripture as well as past prophets.  A prophet doesn’t need to have any direct manifestation or calling from the Lord.  Whatever he says is scripture and he is not required to tell us if a message comes from the Lord or the Spirit or from himself.  A prophet can never lead us astray so we don’t really need to examine any of his teachings.  A prophet is a prophet, then, if he has the title of prophet.

But what if Elder Brown is correct in identifying what makes someone a true prophet?  Does President Monson display those fruits?  Does he prophesy and "predict future events?"  Does he “boldly claim” that God has spoken to him?  Does he bear witness of what "he has seen and heard?"  Are his teachings "in strict conformity with scripture?"  Does he have "an important message" for our time as well as for all future time?

And what if he’s not that kind of prophet?  Does the whole thing really crumble?  What about the church in the Book of Mormon?  What about those times when they did not have a true prophet to lead them?  Did they lose everything just because they weren’t in perfect harmony with God’s will?  Did the Lord abandon His people during those times?  Or did He continue to work with His people, even if He was sometimes slower to hear their prayers than at other times?  Did He sometimes send prophets from outside the established order to call them to repentance?  Did He still inspire righteous individuals and those who sought Him out?