This essay contains my study notes from chapter one of Passing the Heavenly Gift, written by Denver Snuffer, a Utah attorney and published in 2011. I have read this chapter half a dozen times in the past year, shared it with my wife, looked up the quotes and spent considerable time on my knees trying to understand what Denver is trying to teach. It is controversial material.
“…no one speaks for me. … If I have something to say, I will say it. No one is authorized to speak on my behalf. And no one is entitled to interpret what I think, or how I view any given issue or subject. To the extent that I have a view, I will tell it.” – Denver Snuffer blog entry, dated 20 November 2012 (DenverSnuffer.Blogspot.com)
OK, maybe we can’t interpret what you think, but we can certainly interpret what you write. I mean, why else would you write so much and offer it for sale, unless you wanted us to read and understand it for ourselves? I share my interpretations online to solidify my own conclusions. The feedback I receive from others helps me understand and correct mistakes in my thinking.
The Right Way to Judge
“If you read this blog without having first read his books, then you assume responsibility for your own misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the writer’s intent. Please do not presume to judge Mr. Snuffer’s intentions if you have not first read his books.” – Denver’s blog header
I have read all of your books, some of them several times, as well as all of your blog. I have listened to your recorded public talks, several times. I don’t presume to judge your intentions. I accept at face value when you wrote the Lord asked you to write your books. Because you made that claim, I paid very close attention as I read your books this year. I took them very seriously.
The Perfect Witness
“The Lord does still personally appear to mankind. I am a witness to that fact. He first appeared to me February 13, 2003. I have written a book about the topic. … I know He lives. I have seen and spoken with Him.” – Passing the Heavenly Gift, page 452
This is obviously a profound and unusual claim. I have not seen the Lord. I do not know anybody personally who has, or if they have, they haven’t told me about it. I have not seen an angel either. My testimony and witness is therefore incomplete. I am not a perfect witness. I am but a student, a follower, a disciple of Christ. Why have I not read of other men publishing such a claim today?
Although I’ve been a member of the church all my life and Denver is a convert, clearly I have not learned the lessons that Denver has apparently learned allowing him to converse with the Lord. I’ve read his book on The Second Comforter several times and still haven’t figured it out. I’ve read his latest book, Passing the Heavenly Gift, several times in the past year. Things have not become easier or clearer. I’m evidently still not getting something that he has gotten.
Church does not control Heavenly Power
“Gentiles always crave authority to preside over one another. Gentile authority in the church is not equal to power in the priesthood. … The power of heaven cannot be controlled by men. It comes from heaven or it does not come at all. There has never been an institution entrusted with the power of heaven. … The power of the priesthood comes only one way … men do not have any right to either confer it, or prevent it from being conferred.” – Passing the Heavenly Gift, pages 27-28
In other words, the authority exercised by the LDS Church to teach, baptize, ordain, endow and seal does not confer any kind of heavenly power. Although I have been ordained and sealed to my wife in the temple, this did not give me any kind of heavenly power. All the ordinances and ordinations in which I have participated as either a recipient or an officiator have, in reality, done nothing as far as heaven is concerned. They were authorized but did nothing to save souls.
Is he calling the LDS Church a Gentile church, as described in the Book of Mormon? In First Nephi chapter thirteen, we read that the desires of the Gentiles included worldly power, wealth – “gold, silver, silks, scarlets, fine-twined linen, all manner of precious clothing” and “many harlots.” Surely Denver is not saying that the LDS Church falls into this category. The Gentile church is the same as the church of the devil and that he is the founder of it. No, it can’t be, at least not the church I know. I worship and serve in this church. It is filled with good people.
Priesthood Exists Independent of the Church
“Priesthood and redemption are tied together. And if Joseph Smith’s revelations are to be trusted, then the church does not and cannot control either, because God controls both. Establishing the church was distinct from restoring priesthood. And priesthood has, can and does exist independently of a church. Joseph’s revelations and ancient scripture repeatedly teach this.” – Passing the Heavenly Gift, page 29
I wonder how many people in the LDS Church really understand and accept this idea. Priesthood power is not the same as priesthood ordination or office. We’re taught this all the time but usually in the context of, “Brethren, if you live righteously, you will have power, because you have been ordained by someone in authority,” implying that the church controls that power. In other words, any Godly power we receive must come through official church channels, right?
We are taught that the church could not exist without the priesthood. Yet we read in section twenty of the Doctrine and Covenants that church offices and officers exist to serve the members. Those called or sustained to such offices receive their authority from the voice of the members though common consent. We sustain them, we “set them apart,” we promise to uphold them in their offices and callings. All this is not dependent on priesthood? How so?
Priesthood Received only Directly from God
“Joseph Smith taught that all Old Testament prophets who obtained higher priesthood during the dispensation of Moses, did so by receiving it directly from God. In the Book of Mormon we learn there is a ‘holy order’ which is ‘without beginning of days’ which some obtained ‘from the foundation of the world’ and brought here. The higher priesthood does not come from man or men, is without father or mother, and is only given one way: by the voice of God to the individual.” Passing the Heavenly Gift, page 31
Now this is very contrary to what the church teaches today. I’ve been a member of this church all my life and never have I been told that I must go and talk to the Lord to get priesthood power. In fact, those who claim they have talked to the Lord are looked upon as crackpots in our church. Maybe I haven’t been paying attention, but it doesn’t seem to be part of our current curriculum. We are taught that priesthood power is conferred by the laying on of hands by one in authority.
Ordination is only an Invitation
“Priesthood power is clearly something different than an ordination. But it is clear the only thing an ordination accomplishes is to invite the one ordained to then connect to heaven. It is from heaven alone that priesthood power is obtained.” – Passing the Heavenly Gift, page 33
When I was interviewed by my stake president at age eighteen to be ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood, he was very careful to review with me the oath and covenant of the priesthood. We also reviewed several other sections of the Doctrine and Covenants. When he was satisfied I understood the seriousness of what was involved, he signed my recommend.
I was sustained in the next Stake Conference and ordained that afternoon by my father. But never did he teach me that it was now up to me to go and complete my ordination to receive power directly from Christ. In fact, in all the intervening years I have never heard this from any priesthood leader, local or general, and I have served in church leadership for most of my life.
Power of Heaven not Conferred
“Power comes from heaven alone. Therefore, no person who has priesthood conferred upon them has any power prior to having it ratified by heaven. The conferral is only an invitation for a man to go obtain power from heaven, not actual power itself. It confers an office within the church, but an office in the church is not synonymous with the power of heaven.” – Passing the Heavenly Gift, page 33
So, even after having been ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood over thirty-seven years ago, I still have no real power, because it has never been ratified from heaven by the voice of God. I only received an invitation to go see God. How come nobody ever told me that? The office of High Priest that I hold today and have for seventeen years is only an office in the church, and does not really have any spiritual significance as far as God is concerned. How can that be?
Ordinances not the Real Thing
“Most of the ordinances of the church are not the real thing. They are types, symbols of the real thing. They are official invitations, authorized by Christ… Any person who has priesthood conferred upon him will need to go into God’s presence, and receive it through the veil for power in their priesthood.” – Passing the Heavenly Gift, page 36
Wow. That’s the first time I’ve ever read that the ordinances of the church aren’t real. I wonder what he means by “most.” Are there some ordinances that are real? It’s nice that he teaches the ordinances are authorized. That’s good to know Denver believes the church has authority. He makes direct reference to the veil ceremony of the temple. It is apparently only a type or symbol of the actual veil. I wonder where that veil is. Are we supposed to go through it before death?
Temple Endowment a Practice Run
“The church and its ordinations and ordinances does not confer power. They invite the recipient to press forward into God’s presence and receive Him, where the actual endowment of peace, joy, promises of eternal life, and power are conferred by Him who as the right to bestow them. The keeper of that gate is the Holy One of Israel, and He employs no mortal servant there.” – Passing the Heavenly Gift, page 36
That is an amazing proclamation, that the ordinances do not confer power, but are only symbols or invitations to go and get power. I think of the ordinances in the temple, including the sealing ordinance, and wonder if Denver meant that there is no power or efficacy in that sacred rite. In effect, he is saying that the sealers in the temple are doing nothing more than saying nice words. Until Christ speaks and ratifies them, the ordinances have no efficacy in our lives or in eternity.
So the endowment is not the “actual” endowment as he points out, only a practice run, so to speak. Where are we to participate in the actual endowment – in our homes, or also in the temple? I wonder how many people have received the “actual” endowment while mortal. I wonder if I know any of them. Are they different afterwards? Is life easier, better somehow? By “promises of eternal life” I assume he means having your calling and election made sure.
Come and Receive the Lord
“Whether or not there is any person in the church with priesthood power, every person who joins the church, and keeps its ordinances will be invited, through those ordinances, to come and receive the Lord. When they do come into His presence, they will find themselves in possession of promises, rights, privileges, power and covenants for themselves and their posterity, for all generations, and into eternity.” – Passing the Heavenly Gift, page 37
Hmmm…sounds familiar. What promises? What rights? What privileges? What power? Are we talking about the right to open the heavens at will, on demand, when desired? Doesn’t that go contrary to everything we’ve been taught that spiritual experiences can’t be forced, that they come when God wills it and not man?
Do we then have the right “To have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto [us], to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant?”
Summary and Conclusion
I confess all this is beyond my current capacity to understand. I’ve always believed that all these promises in the Doctrine and Covenants are for after this life. I don’t know anybody who talks about having communed with the church of the Firstborn other than as part of a polygamous sect. As far as I have been taught, these kinds of promises are reserved for after this life and are not a part of mortality. Apparently Denver is teaching that they are for us to strive for in this life.
And apparently he is teaching that this is what Joseph taught, but that the current LDS Church has changed the doctrine and strayed from the ordinances as restored by Joseph. That’s quite a claim, but from what I’ve read in his books, it’s an accurate summary. He is saying that the LDS church, while still authorized to teach the gospel and administer the ordinances, does not have the power to save souls. That belongs only to the Lord. We receive salvation only from Christ.
An Invitation to Dialog
For anyone else who has read Denver’s book, what are your thoughts on the first chapter?