Public rebuke from an apostle


How would you respond if you were publicly rebuked by an apostle in front of thousands of people who you knew and loved? Would it be any easier if it were done in private? Those are questions that I hope I will never have to answer. Brigham Young is one example in our early history who was rebuked by Joseph Smith in front of his peers. We know how he responded.

One of the responsibilities of an apostle is to ensure that correct doctrine is taught, especially in an environment where young impressionable minds are searching for the truth and building their testimonies. What an apostle teaches us about our relationship to the Godhead is very important and something to which we should give heed. We can apply it in our own efforts to know Christ.

Know Your Religion lectures

When I was preparing for my mission, I attended Know Your Religion lectures with my mother and sister. This unique aspect of LDS gospel training and scholarship is no longer offered, or at least not here in California. At one time it was offered at various Stake Centers in California in a week-long format during the summer. Now, one must travel to BYU to attend Education Week.

Some of my favorite lecturers were Joseph C. Muren, who later became my mission president, and George W Pace, who was my Branch President in the LTM. Yes, I went on my mission in the days before the MTC. Although it was on the campus of BYU, it was called the Language Training Mission back then and was located in the recently demolished Knight Magnum Hall.

What it means to know Christ

In those days, the KYR instructors would compile and sell their lectures. That’s where I first picked up Causes and Prevention of Inactivity in the Church by Elder Muren, still one of my favorites. But my all time favorite from that period of my life (74-76) had to be What it Means to Know Christ by George W. Pace, which he later expanded and published in book format.

I think I heard the lecture several times in various stakes during that period. Since we couldn’t catch all the classes offered in one venue, we would go to others a week or two later. As a young 17-18 year old preparing for a mission, I was searching to solidify my testimony, to really apply repentance towards forgiveness, and especially to understand what it means to know the Savior.

Building and inspecting the house

One of my favorite parts of the lecture is when Brother Pace described the Savior inspecting the rooms of the house that we are building, which represented our lives. I clearly remember his dramatic emphasis when describing the one room that you could never let the Savior enter. That was where you kept all your painful secrets and all the things of which you were ashamed.

Vividly he recounted that when you told the Savior no, that he couldn’t go in there, he said he would have to leave until you invited him back. Stubbornly, you refused and he left. Missing him desperately, you finally invited him back, and he began to quietly and without chastisement go about cleaning up your messy room, throwing out the junk and washing it thoroughly clean.

Cleansing of the junk room

I thought long and hard on this scene numerous times that summer. I had put many things in my own closet until it turned into a room full of junk that was beginning to stink and to trouble me. In my quiet moments I began to seek more diligently to have the Lord come into my home and to clean up my junk room for me. It took time, but with fasting and prayer, I witnessed the miracle.

I have a special place in my heart for George W. Pace because he was instrumental in getting me to think about and to understand the process of repentance in a way that I could visualize and to apply. I am not alone in that appreciation. I know he affected thousands of BYU students over the years he taught there. He was so popular that he was nominated for professor of the century.

Correcting false doctrine

Fast forward a few years. Brother Pace has increased in popularity and influence there at the BYU campus. Every class he teaches is full to overflowing with students sitting on the stairs in the aisles. He has expanded and published his book, What it Means to Know Christ and added a few insights that were unique to him about how God answers our prayers only through Christ.

Another one of my early heroes, Bruce R. McConkie, either by assignment or on his own went to the BYU campus and delivered a devotional address that corrected the doctrine that was found in George Pace’s book. He made it clear that we pray only to our Heavenly Father and that God can answer our prayers in any way he wants, through any individual or any means he desires.

Reproving betimes with sharpness

The episode is well known in Mormon history. The effects were immediate. Attendance in Brother Pace’s classes dropped considerably. His popularity waned. Book sales plummeted even though he revised and republished with the corrected doctrine and an apology. His family was afflicted and felt the discomfort of being on the receiving end of public reproof by an apostle.

The devotional address in March of 1982 was not the first time Elder McConkie corrected Brother Pace. On Oct 31st of 1981, George Pace was sitting on the stand as a Stake President when Elder McConkie delivered the discourse entitled Keeping Balance at the 14-stake fireside leadership session. Shortly thereafter, Brother Pace was released from his leadership calling.

A humble disciple responds

George W. Pace remained faithful and continued his lifelong efforts to build the kingdom of God in many areas. He is still listed today as a professor in the religion department at BYU. For a time he taught at the BYU Jerusalem Center. He published another book entitled The Faith of Young Mormons, something about which he knew a lot. He served faithfully in ward callings.

Unfortunately, this episode affected at least one member of George Pace’s family in such a manner that it caused him to lose his faith in the church. You can read the story of his son, who was serving a mission at the time, to get a much more detailed account of what happened. It is sad and just a little bitter to read. I don’t know how I would have responded if I had been him.

Summary and conclusion

I do not bring up this story to open old wounds. I share it to make a point that is sometimes very hard to understand, at least for some who write about the church. We do not know all the details of why Elder McConkie did not take George Pace aside in private to correct his over-zealous reach into advocating a relationship with Christ that is the equivalent of a born-again experience.

There is a fine line and subtle difference between our worship of Christ and our worship of the Father. I have long felt that my most intimate spiritual relationship is with my Heavenly Father. I love my Savior and appreciate what he has done for me, but in the end, his purpose is to bring me to the Father. It is the Father who grants eternal life. We strive to be like Heavenly Father.

17 Responses

  1. WOW!I hope that I would have the proper attitude but this is just a wish.There is nothing much I can add about the spiritual aspect of this, but I think there is much teaching as parent too. Not that I have children but I may someday.This leads me to the question: What kind of unperfect parent do I want to be?

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  2. Maybe I need to explain myself a little more (or maybe I don’t but this is just in case).We have a man here who has a certain type of spirituality. It is his own and he has master such a degree of spirituality that in the end one of his children has been spiritualy living on his father’s and has not developped one that matches his father’s.Can we blame him to have tried to settle the best example he could?But his example HAD to be imperfect, his example is what (to me) has suffocated his child’s own spiritual development.mmmmmmmJust for the fun: what happen to McConkie’s children?

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  3. I have thought of different aspects here. One is, I have not yet learned to take correction. In time, hopefully, I will.One is, we definitely need to be born again (Alma 5:14) and have a personal relationship with Christ.But I also believe that Heavenly Father will answer our prayers in any way he seems most proper for us (once I got a postcard!).The thing that elder McConkie had his beef with was perhaps a kind of charismatic mysticism. True, we must pray and ponder more than just casually. It doesn’t follow, though, that the more we pray and ponder the better off we are – that could lead to the exclusion of other important things. Gospel living must be practical, as well.And back to the main issue. I received some feedback for something I had been doing some time ago. It stung a little, I admit. I even thought to correct that it hadn’t been two months but two weeks since a particular thing was brought up. Then I thought that in 20 years it’ll all be water under the bridge. No reason for me to start an argument just because I don’t feel very secure within my skin and thus feel I always have to be right.I remember hearing about elder McConkie’s talk (one of my missionary companions was also present at the particular devotional). Once he spoke in a mission conference I attended. He had a powerful testimony, for sure. He was also a little controversial, perhaps a little doctrinaire.I wish bro Pace could know how much I admire how he responded.

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  4. Hi Gwennaëlle:Good to hear from you again. You raise an interesting point. I know that some children are intimidated by their parent’s spirituality and that it can be discouraging in their own development because they wonder if they will ever measure up. I hope that parent’s who are gifted in this area – faithfulness, devotion, spirituality – reach out with extra efforts to their children who do not share the same gifts. I have seen this firsthand.Hi Velska:I appreciate your insight on the subject. I agree that living the gospel needs to be practical as well as fulfill spiritual needs. I don;t think I was clear enough in my essay that I also have great admiration for Brother Pace, what he went through and how he responded. He took correction in a most humble manner that proved his discipleship of Christ. The third edition of his book is excellent and well worth the read.

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  5. I would like to think that I could stand a rebuke from an Apostle, hopefully I won’t have to find out.Sometimes I find it more difficult to take reproof from local leaders. When we know someone and we see their strengths, and more importantly, their weaknesses, it becomes easier to justify, “Why should I take advice from Brother so and so, or even Bishop so and so, because they (fill in some minor thing here)?Thanks for the post.

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  6. You bring up a painful time for Br. Pace, but appropriately so. Br. Pace helped so many people to understand their value in the Savior’s lie. He was appropriately reprehended, but Elder McConkie also made a mistake that day. He said that we do not worship Jesus Christ. From that, many people melded the words worship and prayer, misunderstanding his meaning and deciding we do not worship Jesus Christ.Two weeks before Elder McConkie passed away, he wept as he spoke in conference of longing for the day he could kneel and worship at the Savior’s feet.So that talk corrected one false doctrine while giving birth to another.

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  7. Candace,Don’t you just hate typos? I know you meant “the Savior’s life,” and that we do not pray to Jesus Christ. I have read several accounts of the McConkie incident which state that Elder McConkie wasn’t particularly singling out George Pace, just the overly charismatic and mystical elements of what he was teaching.True enough, from what I have read, there was some dismay from the First Presidency and the rest of the Quorum of the Twelve about the de-emphasis he placed on our worship of the Savior. I still feel that he taught correct doctrine that we worship the Father in he name of the son, but as my fellow blogger S.Faux has pointed out several times, we do worship the Son. He has provided dozens of recent references from General Authorities to confirm that point.Besides Elder Lund, I’m not sure if any general authority has written as much as Bruce R. McConkie about the life of the Savior. And yes, that talk he gave just two weeks before he passed away from cancer was and is a classic and remains one of my favorites for invoking feelings of reverence and worship for the Savior. I believe he was quoting Elder Widstoe when he said that in a coming day he would wet his feet with his tears, but as he said at the beginning of that talk, the words and the witness were now his.I’m not sure if I would place the blame for our troubles with the evangelical world about our worship of the Savior, or their claim that we believe in a different Jesus on Elder McConkie. I like what Elder Holland taught about that just last year in General Conference on the subject. Our understanding of the Godhead is indeed different from the rest of the Christian world because it is not based on the Nicean creed. I wrote about that previously on my blog.Thanks for adding to the dialog.

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  8. Great post, Tim – truly interesting topic and excellent commentary. I have found that perhaps the truest measure of humility is how someone handles attempts at correction – BOTH correct and incorrect attempts at correction. To me, the key is the ability to step back and look first for understanding of the criticism. In other words, when I am rebuked I try very hard to ask myself how that rebuke is appropriate – to really spend time considering it, not simply asking shallowly and moving on. Always, when I am able to take that approach, I learn something that I need to do to be better – something I can improve about myself. This is true even if I reach the conclusion that the original criticism was unfounded. It’s the same approach I try to take whenever I hear someone say something with which I instinctively disagree. When I force myself to stop and consider what part of the statement (or sermon, lesson, etc.) might be valid and valuable, more often than not I end up learning something as a result.

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  9. Zzzz…this story is so old. Can’t you mormons every come up with anything new? Oh, I forgot that brainwashing works best with repetition. And why am I not surprised to see you were an admirer of a bigot like McKonkie? I bet your favorite movie is Birth of a Nation.

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  10. Hi Kalvin,The story may have taken place a long time ago but the part it played in my life has never been told. It is something I have wanted to share for a long time. George Pace had a profound impact in helping me to gain my testimony and to come unto the Savior in repentance at a time in my life when I was struggling to understand how forgiveness works.You’re right about repetition – it really helps to remember things that are important – like the Sacrament. Anybody who has been following my blog knows that I have written about Elder McConkie before. Yes, he also had a profound influence on me when I was younger, and in fact, his writings still do. I’m grateful he took the time and trouble to write so much abut the Savior. It helps me to get to know and understand the Master better.Although I’ve read about it, I’ve never viewed the Birth of a Nation so I can’t offer an opinion. Sorry.

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  11. Of all the players in the controversy, George W. Pace has demonstrated the most magnanimous and Christ-like attitude and behavior. Not only does he write profoundly of the Savior and the Godhead, he lives as he writes. I have read and re-read his book. The criticism is trifling. The book is grand.

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  12. […] and enjoyed a Book of Mormon class from Keith Sellers. He got me excited about the Book of Mormon. George Pace, my LTM branch president, influenced my love of the Savior. My Mission President was a former […]

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  13. I read the book “Knowing Christ” many years ago when led to it by the Spirit. It was just what I needed to learn about at that time in my life I will be forever grateful. I also read your reference to what his son wrote. It was very sad. The” McConkie/Pace incident” affected the whole Pace family and especially his son as he left the church. I feel that this incident should have been settled privately between Elder McConkie and Brother Pace. I understand that Elder McConkie apologized to Brother Pace years later but never gave a public apology. We are all human and make mistakes. I love both of these men and the great contributions they have made in teaching us about Christ. Thank you for your blog-I am learning a lot.

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    • And thank you for the comment. I’m glad someone found some good from some of my old essays. I’ve got to make an index page somewhere. I’ve written over 330 posts but don’t have a good index anywhere. Ah well, a project for a rainy day. God bless. – Tim

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  14. Tim,

    Thanks for a great article.
    This is just another reason not to listen to anything McConkie has written or said. He’s just plain wrong on this one.

    I used to be a great Bruce R. McConkie fan. When he wrote or spoke…I thought it was the word of God.
    I look back now and I’m embarrassed on how deceived I was.

    BTW…Did you notice in the “new” version of the scriptures that all the chapter headings are taken out and replaced with just a summary? McConkie wrote all those chapter headings. They are being taken out because they are wrong.

    Another testament that McConkie was not the doctrinal genius that people make him out to be. Why anyone ever quotes anything written by this man is a mystery to me.

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    • That’s interesting, I recall a study by someone about his books and s it turns out, about 70%+ of the quotes in his books are of him quoting himself :-(

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