Tag Archives: Knowledge

A Day of Rejoicing – A New Beginning

TimBaptism2aCroppedI barely remember being baptized when I was eight years old. My family had joined the LDS church a few years earlier. Being only five at the time, I had the advantage of a few years of instruction in Primary and Sunday school. I also had the blessing of having read the Book of Mormon with my mother. It was the first time for both of us. I remember reading these words:

“… Alma took Helam, he being one of the first, and went and stood forth in the water, and cried, saying: O Lord, pour out thy Spirit upon thy servant, that he may do this work with holiness of heart.” (Mosiah 18:12) I wondered about these words. Even at seven years old, they impressed me. A man desired to do the work of the Lord. He asked the Lord for power to do that work.

Today I was baptized again. The man who baptized me repeated the words of Alma’s prayer above, then used the words of the baptismal prayer as found in Third Nephi 11:25, “Having authority given me of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” He did not say, “Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ …”

A Commandment Renewed Today

I can’t tell you all the reasons why the wording is different or important but I can tell you this: I know the Lord was pleased I chose to be baptized again by someone using these words. I hope you can see it in my face in the photo I have included in this post. I knew I had completed what the Lord had asked of me twelve days earlier in Mesa, Arizona on the 9th of September, 2014.

When I heard those words that day, “I am telling you in the name of the Lord that commandment is renewed again by Him today, to you,” I knew I had to be baptized in the manner I have just described. “And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been … he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention …”

I knew I needed to be baptized in this manner and I was not going to argue with anyone about it. Because the LDS Church considers it an act of apostasy to be baptized again, and I had no desire to argue about it, I resigned my membership. I was then free to follow the commandment of the Lord to be baptized in the correct manner, using the correct words. It was a wonderful feeling.

A Temporary Community of Believers

I appreciated being joined by others who were baptized with me today. I will be forever grateful to the man who traveled from his community in Utah to baptize us. There were eight of us who met to discuss the gospel and partake of the sacrament in my home. We used wine – not water – as the Lord directed in the scriptures, grape juice for those who didn’t want to drink alcohol.

It will be awhile before I am able to join with a community who believes as I do. There are not enough in my area here in California. Having received the priesthood from my father, I can bless and partake of the sacrament in my home. That authority is not controlled by the LDS Church, just as the spirit of the Holy Ghost is not controlled by the Church. I felt the Lord’s spirit today.

I will be content with the community I feel with so many of you who read my blog. I know there are many who disagree with what I have done. I understand. Carol and I had a visit with a friend from Colorado after the baptism today. He is a family counselor. We discussed the importance of following the promptings of the Spirit, who leads us to Christ back to the presence of the Father.

A Tried and True Method

TimBaptism3aCroppedEven though I try, I don’t think I will ever understand how deeply this has affected Carol. She was not happy with my decision. Five or six generations of Mormonism have ingrained within her traditions that are not part of my heritage. To me, it was a simple logical decision. I studied the writings of a man who claimed to have seen the Savior. I confirmed his claim in solemn prayer.

This man claimed to have been given a message from the Lord to be delivered in a series of ten lectures. I read, listened to, attended some and studied all of the lectures. I was and am convinced the message he delivered is authorized of the Lord. I confirmed this using the principles I learned growing up in Primary, Sunday school and seminary – I studied them out, then asked the Lord.

I have been told by some, including Carol, that the message of this man is offensive. I did not find it so. It felt right as I studied it. It felt good. I guess you can say it “tasted” good. It fed my soul. The message led me to the scriptures. It caused me to ponder them again and again. I acted upon the message. I exercised faith in prayer culminating in the action I have taken this day.

77 Truths That Stand on Their Own

My friend from Colorado delivered a book to me at the Mesa Lecture. It took him years to write. From what little I have reviewed of the book, it is filled with truth – 77 Truths to be exact, which is the name of the book and the website. I have perused it and intend to review it in a future post. It has nearly a thousand quotes and probably an equal number of scriptures. It will take time.

“Within each of the 77 Truths, scripture is provided that reveals the light and wisdom necessary to receive the mysteries of God and become Zion at heart. Those who accept the Divine invitation represent the “few” who will be blessed to contribute to Millennial Zion. This is the day that each of us must now choose: God or man? Truth or tradition? Zion or Babylon?”

Bret, the author, asked that new readers commit to reading at least the first three chapters, and then, if the spirit prompts, up through chapter twenty-one. That’s only 107 pages. I can do that. I plan to read those first 107 pages before the end of the week. I hope some of you will take a look at Bret’s book with me. He worked closely with the Lord to bring it forth. Truth brings us light.

Promised Blessings of Obedience

When I asked the Lord about being baptized, I received from Him a promise. I asked if I could share it. He agreed. His promise to me is that by being baptized, I have demonstrated acceptance of the messenger He sent, and therefore, over time, and through effort, can receive the same kind of knowledge this messenger has received – a knowledge of what the Lord will soon accomplish.

A man is saved no faster than he gains knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world (TPJS 217). The message delivered by the servant should be carefully studied. I have put dozens of hours into it already. That is not enough. Each portion of the lecture deserves, indeed requires, dozens of hours to comprehend.

The Lord commands us to seek learning, even by study and by faith (D&C 88:118). It is one thing to be able to quote scripture, recite passages from writings or lectures of inspired men. It is quite another to obtain knowledge from heaven and from heavenly beings. That is the promise of the Lord I have received – that eventually, I will be taught by heavenly beings. It is made sure.

TimBaptism1aCropped

A Few More Quotes From Denver Snuffer

DenverSnufferGoogleSearchI learn best when I share. That’s one reason why I blog. When I finished reading the first volume of Remembering the Covenant, I thought I would share a few quotes that I found unique and spiritually invigorating. This is the second in a series of quotes from the book and from the blog. I can see that there will be at least four posts on this volume. I am finding too many good quotes.

23 Mar 2010 – page 105: Ordinances are not the real thing

The power of godliness is tied to opening the heavens and receiving assignments, confirming revelation, or blessings from God.  Promises given to others are not promises to you.  Men are rarely reliable sources from which to attain the Word of God.  All power is tied to heaven.  When the powers of heaven are withdrawn from someone, then their authority comes to an end and they have no power. The ordinances as symbols point to the real thing. The real thing is Jesus Christ and His Gospel. If you want to have the power of godliness in your life, it must be gained through Jesus Christ; access to whom is available to all men on equal terms.

23 Mar 2010 – page 106: Our libraries interfere with knowing God

I’ve been marveling at the irrelevance of higher education to the process of receiving light and truth. … a scholar studies philosophy and then everything looks like it can be fit into a paradigm matching their school of thought. It isn’t the volume of the books we possess which helps our search into deep truths.  Indeed, our libraries may well interfere with knowing God.  It is the depth of how we live the basic principles contained in the scriptures which let the light of heaven shine into our lives. A bad education (which is most educations) is worse than no education when it comes to the things of heaven. Heaven is an endless source of surprises.  There’s nothing mundane going on there.

23 Mar 2010 – page 108: We must hear the voice of the Lord first

The ministry of the Second Comforter is to bring those to whom He ministers to the Father, and have them accepted by Him.  This means that the Father accepts them as a member of the Heavenly Family, or in other words, promises them exaltation. Joseph Smith … put the voice declaring a person’s exaltation first, and the visit of Christ and the Father with that person second. … they will take up their abode with him, & the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him & the Lord will teach him face to face & he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God…

24 Mar 2010 – page 112: We must each wage a war against spiritual entropy

…we are always going to learn more.  It is the nature of the Gospel that our light should increase.  Whenever we learn more, we must change to reflect what we have just gained. The Holy Ghost is should be a regular participant in our lives.  Its renewed companionship is also primary.  Its witness to us that we are on the right path is the only way to wage the necessary war against entropy which seeks to take you into darkness.  It is the source of renewed light that always enlightens when it comes. We must do this individually.

25 Mar 2010 – page 117-118: We are required to offend and sound the alarm

Mormonism is either correct, or it has no reason to exist. Jesus Christ did not intend to let those who follow the work He was to commission through Joseph Smith to become popular, successful, or live in peace.  He intended to put them at odds with all the rest of the world. It is an instant challenge to the world. When we shape the message of the Restoration into a vocabulary which does not offend, we miss the point.  We are REQUIRED to offend.  We are REQUIRED to sound the alarm to “Awake! Arise!”  When the message to those who accept the Historic Christian faiths is that “you’re OK” we are contradicting Christ’s opening statement to Joseph Smith. All of this is only true if what we are doing is continuing the work begun by Joseph Smith.  If we have abandoned what he restored, then never mind.

28 Mar 2010 – pages 129-130: Not necessary for apostle to have audience with Christ

When someone in a position of Church leadership has an audience with Christ, we hear about it.  Joseph Smith told us.  Oliver Cowdrey told us.  Sidney Rigdon told us.  So did President John Taylor, President Joseph F. Smith and David B. Haight.  Their calling is to bear a witness of Him.  When they have an actual audience, I believe they tell us. The calling of the Twelve is to “bear witness” of Christ.  (D&C 107: 23.)  Because of that calling, they must proclaim they have a “witness” even if it could be more correctly described as a testimony born of the Spirit.  I accept their “witness” of Christ and believe it is authoritative.  However, I do not read into their testimony what they do not put there themselves. I accept the “witness” of the living Apostles, although it is a rare exception when one has an audience with Christ.  In recent talks Elder Scott has gone to some length to testify and describe his own spiritual experiences.  I trust in them.  I trust him.  I believe him to be an Apostle.  It is not necessary for an Apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to have a personal audience with Christ.

30 Mar 2010 – pages 133-134: We must feast upon the words of angels, not men

Isaiah prophesied about the effect of losing knowledge about God.  He wrote: “Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge: and their honourable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst.”  (Isa. 5: 13.) This is an apt description of people when they are not “fed” with truth and light. In contrast, Nephi wanted the Latter-day followers of Christ to have a “feast” to consume while toiling in this fallen, difficult time.  But Nephi notes the “feast” will come to us from hearing the words of “angels” and not from the “arm of flesh.”  Nephi taught us: “Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ.  Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.”  (2 Ne. 32: 3.) Whether we are to “feast” or be “famished” is up to us.  Seek, ask, knock: it will be opened.  Stay content, do not ask, seek, or knock: you will remain dried up with thirst.

31 Mar 2010 – pages 136-137: We have polluted the Restored Church

The great latter day “pollutions” referred to by Mormon in Mormon 8: 31 are the behaviors of men; not environmental waste.  Mormon identifies what those “pollutions” are:  “murders, and robbing, and lying, and deceivings, and whoredoms, and all manner of abominations.” Those are harsh indictments.  But it becomes even more harsh when Mormon identifies US as the culprits.  He calls us “pollutions.”  He tells us we have polluted the “holy Church of God.”  That can only mean the Restored Church.  Sobering indeed. “O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God?”  (Mormon 8: 38.)  Remember that Mormon saw us.  Jesus Christ showed Mormon US. He was in a unique position to accurately tell us what ails us. (Mormon 8: 35.) So why do we think ourselves in good spiritual condition?  Why are we confident we aren’t condemned by the Lord?  Why do we presume that as Latter-day Saints we are safe?  Why do we think Mormon is talking to all those other churches; churches who will never read his book, and therefore cannot be warned by it?  It defies common sense, really. We are in a lot of trouble.  He’s trying to help us.  How foolish to think we can line up beside him and point the finger away from ourselves.  He won’t let us do that, you know.  He’s pointing the finger right at us.

02 Apr 2010 – page 142: The endowment ceremony misrepresents the creation

There are different versions of the creation.  The Moses, Abraham and Genesis accounts are similar in putting Adam alone at the point when the commandment was given to not partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  The Temple account does not preserve this. The creation (or transplant of man onto this world) is not really the reason for the various ceremonial accounts of the event.  They are intended to orient us to how we got here (by a deliberate, planned act of God), why were are here (to find our way back to God) and why conditions here are difficult (to gain knowledge of good and evil).  The accounts are really about us.  Each of us was born innocent in the beginning, gradually become accountable, feel ourselves outside the presence of God, and must work to return.

03 Apr 2010 – page 143: Thoughts are the key to come into the presence of God

Ideas are things. Real things. They come into existence as we create them. They will become subject to the judgment of God, because our thoughts are perhaps the most real part of us. (See Alma 12: 14.) We should guard our thoughts as we guard the lives of our children. Our thoughts hold the key to everything else. This is so important a matter that the Lord tied knowledge of priesthood itself to the thoughts we entertain in the privacy of our minds. Only when our thoughts are worthy are we able to bear the presence of God. (D&C 121: 45.) If you study the scriptures and then meditate upon them also. You will only develop power within as you do so.

05 Apr 2010 – page 148: Receiving Second Comforter not valued by this world

I was asked about the meaning of receiving the Second Comforter.  There is a chapter in the book (The Second Comforter: Conversing with the Lord Through the Veil) titled “What it Means and What it Does Not Mean” that summarizes the matter. The promises of God are helpful in enduring to the end.  But they have no value here apart from peace of mind.  They are not “property” which this world will value highly.  They are for the coming life.

05 Apr 2010 – page 148: God may require us to go public as part of a trial

All the prophets can do is offer encouragement to others.  They can affirm that the path back to God exists and can be walked even in a day of sin like today.  They cannot do the walking for anyone other than themselves.  Each person is obligated to walk on the path for him or herself. Examples of others offer encouragement, but can never replace the obligation devolving upon each individual. It would be easier for a person to live in harmony with God in obscurity than with public notice.  Sometimes, however, the Lord requires a person to take a public stand as part of the trial or obligation imposed upon them.  Whether the person complies with that duty is a measure of the person’s sincerity.

07 Apr 2010 – page 153: The church is flawed but necessary and good

I recognize weaknesses [of the church], have no intention of avoiding them, and am not an apologist in the traditional sense.  But I believe in the church, accept its authority, and think its role is necessary and even critical to the work of the Lord. Acknowledging the flaws is admitting the obvious.  But getting those who are discouraged, losing their faith, or have left the church to reconsider that decision is another thing.  They cannot be reached spiritually without some acknowledgment of the problems in the church.  They aren’t going to be deceived by offering a clever polemical argument. Once the varnish comes off the institution of the church, for many, faith dies. But that is not necessary.  Nor is it inevitable.  It is possible to see the frailties of men and still also see the hand of God. … the church may be flawed, but despite that, it is worthy, worthwhile, necessary and good.  I have had some success.

07 Apr 2010 – page 154: We should have faith in an imperfect church anyway

Some of the church’s most effective critics are former members.  Indeed, with the internet, the arguments against the church are multiplying, as are the number of critics. I try not to gloss over the flaws or ignore their existence or to pretend that there aren’t legitimate questions being asked about what has or is happening within the institution of the church. I’m saying that we can and should have faith anyway. The church matters and its mission has always been possible to accomplish. I also want those who sense we’ve retreated from the original scope of doctrine and practice to realize the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ remains on the earth.  It is as accessible to anyone living today as it was while Joseph was here.  The failure of others does not impose any limitation upon the individual who sincerely seeks, asks and follows. We are not dependent upon others or even the institution itself to receive that fullness.  Although the ordinances offered by the church remain the foundation upon which the fullness must be built.

08 Apr 2010, page 161: Sacrifice is required to produce faith sufficient to save us

…it is quite important to note the necessity of sacrifice to produce the kind of faith which saves.  Joseph’s explanation required us to sacrifice all things to be able to lay hold on saving faith.  Without the knowledge that we would give up everything, even our own lives if necessary, we cannot receive eternal life.  We have to trade this life for the next.  No trade, no exaltation. So when a man or woman reaches the point where she/he can be tested, the Lord will supply a test to them to prove (to themselves) that they will sacrifice all things.  [The Lord already knows, but we don't.  And it is OUR faith which is required to be tested.]

09 April 2010, page 169: Times of Gentiles ending – no longer a Christian nation

We are witnessing the end of the times of the Gentiles.  There is a worldwide collapse of the Gentile populations.  (Gentiles being the white, European populations.)  Although we have scattered Israelite blood in us, the LDS Church was founded by those who are “identified with the Gentiles” (D&C 109: 60). But their (our) time has run its course. The God of this land (North America) is Jesus Christ.  When people reject Him, they lose their claim on the land and are swept away.  (See 2 Ne. 1: 7-10.) We have now, by the popular vote of the Gentiles who possess this land, chosen a leader who proclaimed on April 6th, 2009 (the Lord’s birth date) that “we are no longer a Christian nation.”

Your can also read part one – A Few Quotes From Denver Snuffer

We Have Limited Free Will

We have limited free will. Within certain limitations, we can make choices and act upon those choices. Our choices are partially controlled and determined by outside forces and by the laws of physics. But we have agency to act within certain bounds of natural laws that exist. We can exercise that agency, make choices and act upon those choices. Logic dictates there is no purpose or meaning to life if we do not have some free will. We instinctively know we have power to act in some things without constraint of necessity or fate. We are bound or limited by physics but we are independent agents within our sphere of influence. We intuitively think or feel we are free. We therefore act at our own discretion. We are capable of responding to random chance with purposeful choices. Thus we can be held morally responsible and accountable for our choices and actions in both the deterministic world of physics and the indeterminate world of observable quantum mechanics that we are still discovering.

Absolute free will is logically incompatible with determinism because we do not control the universe. However, as individuals, we are able to take more than one possible course of action in any given scenario. There are obvious choices in life we can choose to follow. We can conceive and believe things. This proves some free will even though there are limitations on the choices available to us. For example, because I am not a fish, I do not have the choice of living underwater without some sort of breathing apparatus. It is determined beforehand that human life is incompatible with living unaided under water. I am therefore limited to certain pre-determined boundaries if I want to sustain life. In like manner, in some situations I have a limited number of choices I can make because of the randomness of life. I hope I never have to decide what to do if I am in a plane that is about to crash. I would have no control of the physics causing the plane to crash, but I still have some obvious choices I can make and act upon, like remain calm or panic.

As an argument against any kind of free will, consider the views of hard determinism. Determinists believe that our thoughts, feelings, actions and behaviors are all predetermined from the moment that time began at the big bang. A determinist advocates that we do not have any control over the state of the universe or the laws that govern the universe. Free will is an illusion, they say. You may think that your choices and actions have an effect on the universe but you are really no more than an observer. For a determinist, free will is a nothing more than a necessary delusion that allows us to build a society where praise and punishment actually mean something. Compatibilists hold individuals morally responsible for their actions as if they had free will. Although it doesn’t really exist, they say, we can act as if it does, thus providing a necessary condition for moral responsibility – accountability.

Following this logic, the universe is deterministic and bound by the laws of physics. Our bodies are bound by those same laws. If you are a materialist, you believe that all behavior is caused by chemical brain states outside of our control. In order for free will to exist, there must be a supernatural agent that is not bound by those laws to inject an input from outside the system; in other words, a God. I wish I could develop this further, but for now I will propose that there are only two arguments against free will. First, if determinism is the true state of things, then the will is not free because all events are caused and our actions are predetermined. Therefore, there is no moral responsibility or free will. The second argument against free will is indeterminism of random events or chance. If all our actions are caused by chance then we have no control, and therefore, again, no free will or moral responsibility. True free will requires we have control of outcomes. However, we do not control the universe or the laws of physics. If you think about it, we control nothing of this world or the universe. To prove free will, we must prove that we can control at least some things, thus becoming independent agents with power to act.

I don’t disagree with all the views of materialists or determinists. In fact, I readily concur with determinists that the laws of the universe are outside our control. I also concur that a large part of our body processes are apparently outside the control of at least our conscious mind and will. I can’t control the motion of the planets, the effects of nature, or prevent myself from dying someday. These things are determined. My bounds are set in these matters and many others. I also concur with indeterminism as it relates to many of the choices with which I am presented in this life. So many things are just random and purely by chance. I come across an object on the freeway that gives me a flat tire. It was pure chance that I happened to come upon that object and embed it in my tire first because I just happened to be there at that place and at that time. Random chance is just part of this life. So many things – most things – are out of my control.

So what do I control? There are many things over which I have control and thus free will. I control my responses to the choices I am presented in life. I can control my thoughts. I can control the things I put into my body. I control the things I say and the things I do. Nobody forces me to act a certain way or respond in a specific manner. I control my attitudes and my beliefs. I decide what I will do with my time, who I will go visit, what work I will do, what I choose to study. I may not choose many of the things that happen to me in this life but I can and do choose how I respond to those situations. I determine the character I build by using my free will adequately. My free will is limited to those things over which I have some control and have choices. I do not have free will when it comes to the laws of physics and nature. They are out of my control. In the things over which I do have control such as thoughts, beliefs and opinions I choose what I want to think about or believe. My thoughts are not caused and are not random. They are purposeful and demonstrate free will, especially when I act upon them. Therefore, my conclusion is that we have limited or adequate determinism and limited but genuine free will.

An Evening with Richard Bushman

About a thousand other people and I enjoyed an evening with Richard Bushman last night. He spoke about Joseph and Emma for about 40 minutes and then entertained questions from the audience for another 40 minutes. While his insights on Joseph and Emma were interesting, I found the questions more fascinating, because they reflected a lot of the issues I blog about.

For those who don’t know, Richard Bushman is the author of Rough Stone Rolling, the 2005 biography of Joseph Smith that has become the definitive account of the prophet’s life as told from the viewpoint of a faithful historian. I took advantage of the opportunity to have him autograph my copy and was not the only one in the audience who waited in line to do so.

Open and honest discussion

It was wonderful to see so many people interested in learning more about this great man and the beginnings of the Mormon Church. Every time he finished answering a question a dozen more hands shot up. We could have been there for several more hours. I think that goes to show you how much we as a people appreciate someone who has studied the prophet’s life in such detail.

There were many questions that focused on the process of translating, the Urim and Thummim, the seer stone in the hat, polygamy, the three witnesses and the eight witnesses, Oliver Cowdery, the martyrdom, succession, Book of Abraham translation, Mountain Meadows massacre and folk magic. He welcomed every question and encouraged us to ask even the most difficult ones.

A well-qualified historian

One of the most refreshing comments I heard was his expression of appreciation to the church, specifically to the church historian’s office, Marlin K. Jensen and Richard E. Turley for the recent publication of Massacre at Mountain Meadows. He then said that he hoped that the church would do the same with the issue of polygamy, treating it openly and with historical accuracy.

Burt what impressed me most about the evening was the obvious fact that Richard Bushman is a highly respected historian who probably understands the beginnings of Mormonism as well as or better than anyone else. Besides being the co-general editor of the Joseph Smith Papers, he chairs the board of directors of the Mormon Scholars Foundation.  He knows early church history.

Serving faithfully in the church

And yet, Richard Bushman has served as a bishop, a stake president, a patriarch and is currently a sealer in the Los Angeles temple.  I would say that he is a faithful, believing Latter-day Saint, in spite of everything he knows about early church history.  I bring this up specifically to make a point about a common response to my essays and how I can still believe when I know this stuff.

I recently had someone ask me how I was able to do what I do – serve faithfully in the church – in spite of all that I know about, as he called it, “the more disturbing facts of the origins of Mormonism.”  I think maybe he might want to redirect that question to someone like Richard Bushman who knows so much more than I do and yet has been a faithful believer all his life.

Believing in spite of knowing

This individual asked, “How do you reconcile your belief and what the church teaches, with the history of things like the origins of the temple ceremony, polygamy, first vision contradictions, development of the story of the restoration of the priesthood, and other issues?”  I answered him privately in an email but have been pondering this whole idea of believing in spite of knowing.

Frankly, it perplexes me. I think I have expressed this same sentiment several times in previous essays every time it comes up. What is so hard about studying and understanding our very early church history, warts and all, and then continuing to believe that Joseph Smith was an instrument in the hands of God to bring about the restoration of the gospel and his church in the latter days?

Shocked by our history

Are we supposed to be shocked, dismayed and overwhelmed with doubt every time we discover some new fact about the early days of the church?  For example, last night we were reminded that beer and wine were used by the early saints, and sometimes even whiskey.  Today, we would be shocked if we learned that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles drank a glass of wine.

Yet in volume IV, page 120 of the History of the Church on the date of April 17 1840 we read, “This day the Twelve blessed and drank a bottle of wine at Penworthan, made by Mother Moon forty years before.”  Things were different back then, weren’t they?  The Word of Wisdom had been received in 1833 but was not binding upon the saints as a commandment like it is today.

History not being hidden

When Fanny Alger was brought up by Brother Bushman last night as an example of an early failed attempt by Joseph to obey the law of plural marriage, I’ll bet there were a few people in the audience who did not know that Joseph had married this sixteen year old girl in 1833. The revelation on celestial marriage had been received in 1831 but Joseph was hesitant to obey.

For some reason, the idea that Joseph participated in plural marriage is supposed to be shocking to us. This continues to be one of the most common tactics of our critics – to try to shock us with facts that are supposedly being hidden from us by our modern church leaders.  Nothing could be further from the truth. We are always being encouraged to study our history and learn the facts.

Selling the Book of Mormon Copyright

Another example that our critics like to throw at us is the failed attempt to sell the copyright to the Book of Mormon in Canada. Until recently, the only source for this event was the memory of David Whitmer who was not present when Joseph sent the brethren on their mission.  Joseph never said that it must have been a false revelation as Whitmer claimed he said upon their return.

We’re then supposed to conclude that if we can’t trust a revelation from Joseph then how are we supposed to know what is revelation from God. I’m not an apologist but I’m grateful that there are people who dig into these things to get the facts and present them for our review.  Of course, the same facts can be presented in favorable or unfavorable light, depending on where you go.

Consider carefully the source

For example, you can read the story of the copyright mission to Canada on MormonThink as supposed evidence that even Joseph Smith didn’t know when revelations were from God and when they were from the devil.  Yet you can read the same account in greater clarity and detail from a more trustworthy and reliable source like FAIR and come away strengthened in faith.

We could go on and on with hundreds of things that are supposed to be shocking to us modern believers of the faith because they seem so out of character with what we’ve been taught about Joseph or other leaders of the early LDS church. If we are bothered by something, then we need to do our homework and get all the facts as part of the process of confirming truth for ourselves.

Get the facts straight

If I were concerned upon reading that Joseph Smith was supposed to have said that even he didn’t know when a prophecy came from the Lord or that he is supposed to have said that a revelation he received must have come from the devil, as David Whitmer said he did, then I would want to read more about this and would be very careful about the source that I study.

Because if I believed that Joseph really said this, then that might lead me to conclude that if even prophets have a hard time understanding revelation, how can I really be expected to understand or know the truth of revelations that come to me, especially revelation that I think is telling me that the church itself is true? Do you see how important it is to get the facts of certain matters?

The Joseph Smith Papers

Of course Joseph never said that he must have received a false revelation.  In fact, according to more recent information discovered, the brethren who went on the mission to Canada in an attempt to sell the copyright to the Book of Mormon felt that they were successful on their mission and that the Lord was pleased with their efforts. The promised sale was conditional.

I’m grateful for brethren like Richard Bushman, who are helping to bring us the Joseph Smith papers. In volume 1 of the Manuscript Revelation Books, we have the full copy of the mission to Canada revelation. It can be read there. The criticism that Joseph later claimed that the revelation had not come from God is in all likelihood the product of a false memory by David Whitmer.

We can believe the prophet

As I wrote in a previous essay, I believe it is our lifelong pursuit to understand revelation and to come to know how the Lord communicates with each of us. We can rely on the promises of the Lord to lead us, guide us and walk beside us because we have the gift of the Holy Ghost. I hope we cherish this gift and live worthy of the constant companionship of this promised revelator.

Joseph Smith knew when the Lord was inspiring him and so did most of the brethren who were with him at the time when he received revelation. We can trust that the Lord will help us to have the assurances we need to believe in the mission of the prophet Joseph Smith. Someday, we will meet Brother Joseph and if we still have questions about his life we can ask them to him directly.

Choosing to Act with Certainty

William Shakespeare was arguably the most influential writer in all of English literature. One of his plays, Hamlet, seems to have become so influential that it has profoundly affected the course of Western literature and culture even after 400 years. From Hamlet, I have chosen three themes that Shakespeare developed so beautifully: 1) The impossibility of certainty, 2) The complexity of action and 3) The mystery of life and death. These ideas are further advanced in Tom Stoppard’s existentialist work, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Through absurdity, we are lead to believe that 1) The world is incomprehensible, 2) We are insignificant and incapable of making meaningful choices and 3) We are but players on a stage.

The very purpose of life

In effect, Stoppard’s ideas are the same as Shakespeare’s, illustrated with an equal amount of wit, but in a much more bleak and sarcastic style. I dispute these ideas and in contrast, it is my contention that 1) We can choose what we believe about and do with our lives, 2) We have power to act and can cause things to happen and 3) We can be certain about our choices to act in this life. In fact, making choices and acting upon those choices is the very purpose of life. The process of choosing and acting brings great meaning and fulfillment to our lives and is of significant value to our mental health and happiness. It is by not acting that we forfeit opportunities for growth.

Removing doubt from our lives

When the ghost appears to Hamlet and makes him swear to avenge his father’s murder, Hamlet does not seek that vengeance right away. Hamlet is not sure that he believes the ghost is who he says he is or if he is telling the truth. He is uncertain. He is placed in a difficult situation and wants to be certain that Claudius is guilty before taking action. In an effort to gather support for his sworn course of action, he feigns madness and causes actions that will help him ascertain the veracity of the events related by the ghost. He asks the players to change the production so he can watch the reaction of Claudius when he sees his crime revealed in dramatic form. These are the actions of a very thoughtful and intelligent man.  It is obvious that his madness is an act. So it is not so impossible to be certain about things. Perhaps it just takes a little time and planning. A little later Hamlet witnesses Claudius confess his crime in prayer, thus his doubts are removed.

Dealing with uncertainty

In response to the confusion expressed by Guildenstern at the incomprehensibility of the events unfolding around him, the Player in Act II of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead says, “Uncertainty is the normal state. You’re nobody special.” Tom Stoppard purposefully demonstrates for us that Guildenstern does not have all the information he needs to make sense of the world around him. Obviously, Stoppard is relating that we are all in the same boat in that we also do not know of everything in the script, so to speak, except for the small part we play.

To act or be acted upon

Of course we are not really in the same boat as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in that we live in the real world where we can seek out and obtain more information if we chose to do so. They are only actors, figments of the imagination of Shakespeare and Stoppard, with no control over their lives.  In a sense, they are being acted upon by the whims of the authors. With their limited viewpoint, life does seem incomprehensible and impossible to be certain about anything.  On the other hand, we can discover, learn and choose to be certain in our beliefs about life around us.

Philosophies and belief systems

When the Player in Act III of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead says, “Life is a gamble, at terrible odds—if it was a bet you wouldn’t take it,” he is implying that the universe is unfair and does not discriminate between good people and bad; that rewards and punishments are entirely random. But is the world such a chaotic place as Stoppard seems to believe it is as expressed through the words of the Player? We go to great effort to create meaning in our lives, developing belief systems and philosophies that give us comfort and a sense of order. It’s true that we cannot control the elements and we cannot control what other people say or do, but we, all of us, have created philosophies or adopted religious ideas to help us cope with the seeming disorder and confusion. Thus, we create our own sense of order and fairness, especially if we look at this life as only a small part of our existence, a mere blip on the timeline of eternity.

To be or not to be

In what may be the most famous speech in the English language, Hamlet examines the mystery of life and death, weighing the moral ramifications of living and dying. “To be, or not to be,” he poses; to live, or not to live. Is it nobler to suffer a life full of “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” or to seek to end one’s suffering through death? He compares death to sleep and thinks of the end to pain, suffering and uncertainty that it might bring. In fact, he decides that it would be better to die than to live with the heartache and shocks of life.

Philosophical inquiry not enough

But then he considers the afterlife and the dread of possibly trading one miserable existence for something unknown but conceivably worse. He concludes that this dread makes “cowards of us all,” and so we thus continue to suffer through lovesickness, hard work, political oppression and a host of other undesirable afflictions common to all in this life. This speech connects several of the main themes of the play, including the idea of uncertainty, inability to act and the mystery of death.  Hamlet is deeply passionate and relentlessly logical but he has demonstrated for us the difficulty of knowing truth through philosophical inquiry alone.  There must be another way.

The power to act

There is a better way. When we are presented with something new or different from what we previously believed, we can choose to believe it or to reject it. When we choose to believe a piece of information, a theory, a philosophy or even a religion, we then have the power to act upon our new belief, thus causing results either within ourselves or the world around us.  We have that power because we are agents unto ourselves.  We can cause things to happen of our own free will.  In effect, it is the ultimate in scientific inquiry and the empirical method.  Once we act or cause action, we can then see the results for ourselves.  We then have knowledge.  We can now be certain about our choices to act in this life based on the results they bring about.

Experience brings knowledge

Let’s apply this to Hamlet. Presented with the news from the ghost that his father had been murdered by Hamlet’s uncle, he decided to believe it, at least partially, but also decided to obtain greater evidence. He caused the players to act as accusers which rattled Claudius into a confession overheard by our hero. Hamlet then had confirming knowledge, obtained by his own actions. He no longer needed to believe what the ghost said. He was certain of this thing.  He acted upon his belief and learned something for himself through his own experiences. He no longer needed to believe what someone else said was true. He now had a personal knowledge.

Ask the right questions

Now let’s apply this to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as presented by Tom Stoppard. These confused gentlemen are small players in the big picture, but we are made privy to some of their thoughts and actions while they are not on stage. When they encounter the Player, we sense that they have an opportunity to learn more about their purpose and meaning from him as he seems to know far more about what is going on than he reveals. If only the pair would ask the right questions, they might get some answers. Alas, they do not and continue to march through the entire book just as confused and bewildered as they began. Because they do not actively seek understanding from a potentially knowledgeable source, they therefore have nothing in which to believe or act upon. Consequently, they are unable to make any significant choices and obtain no confirming knowledge to make sense out of their life. They die meaningless deaths.

Choose what we believe

Finally, let’s apply this to us. We come into this world with no knowledge of the purpose or meaning of our lives. Over time, we are presented with a multitude of explanations, beliefs and philosophies to explain the events that are going on around us. Unlike players or actors on a stage who have no control of their lives, we have been given the ability to makes choices and act upon our beliefs. For example, we can choose to believe that there is purpose and meaning to life and that there is someone who knows the beginning from the end. Acting upon this belief, we seek for more knowledge from others who profess similar beliefs. Again, we are presented with choices as some will claim that their answers are the best. They invite us to act upon their beliefs as well as their requests to support them, often financially. They even invite us to participate in their cause in spreading their views to others.

Act upon our beliefs

Choosing to believe something and then acting upon that belief gives us experience. We can then decide if we like the results of our experiment. We can be certain that something is of value or not based upon our own experience. In the process, we learn a lot about ourselves. We discover what will satisfy us and what makes us happy. We rise to the level of our own desires for knowledge. The critical part of the process is to take action. Unless we act upon our beliefs we can never know for ourselves if it is of any value to us. For example, someone may tell you that seeing a Shakespeare play is an enjoyable and enlightening experience. But unless you go see one for yourself, you will never know. Similarly, the best way to learn something about a life philosophy or religion is to participate in activities that practitioners of that way of life follow.

We can be certain

We can choose what we want to believe, act upon those beliefs and then be certain for ourselves if those beliefs have merit or value. Life does not have to be so complex, uncertain or mysterious, especially if we reduce it to a serious of choices and actions. We choose to believe that an education is of value and act upon that belief by paying for an education and doing the hard work required to get a degree. We are then certain of the value of an education. We may decide that it was a waste of time and money or we may choose to believe that our life has been improved and enhanced by our achievement. After all, most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. The world is not so incomprehensible.  We are significant and more than just actors on a stage.  We are here to gain knowledge through our choices in life.

Changing Requirements of Perfection

After reviewing one of my previous essays, a thoughtful reader asked my opinion about the idea of perfection and if the requirements for salvation had changed.  He said, “Open just about any page of the book of Leviticus and you’ll see laws that were of life and death importance to the early church, but not today. In contrast, there is no mention of baptism or confirmation in the Old Testament as a requirement for salvation, yet today, they are taught as essential.”

He also asked about the need for the Word of Wisdom, temple ordinances, plural marriage and the second anointing. He concluded, “If God is eternal, and heaven doesn’t change, shouldn’t the requirements to get into heaven be the same, no matter when you were born or what culture you lived in?” Although his email was private, great questions like these deserve a response that can be shared in my blog so others who might be interested can benefit from the dialog.

Perfection means completed

The savior taught in 3 Ne 12:48, “Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect.” Perfection to me has always meant complete or completed as in finished or fulfilled, certainly not something we will achieve in this life and not in the spirit world to come. Perfection is a state that is achieved only after we have learned all there is to know about becoming like God. And that can’t happen until we are resurrected beings because we will never understand what God is like until we have the same type of body that he has.

The Prophet Joseph said, “…go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.”

Joseph F. Smith said, “Salvation does not come all at once; we are commanded to be perfect even as our Father in heaven is perfect. It will take us ages to accomplish this end, for there will be greater progress beyond the grave, and it will be there that the faithful will overcome all things … for we will have to go even beyond the grave before we reach that perfection and shall be like God. But here we lay the foundation.”

Flaws and errors removed

I have never equated perfection as meaning without flaw or error, rather as having flaws and errors removed.  That of course can only come through the atonement of the Savior.  It is not something that I can accomplish on my own.  That is my understanding of perfection – having flaws and errors removed by the Savior.  Therefore, it is my desire to meet the requirements for the atonement to be effective in my life as set forth by the savior and as revealed to his prophets.  I’m not talking about temporal salvation. The resurrection is a free gift to all.  We will all live again with immortal bodies.  But the quality of our life in the hereafter depends entirely upon us and our efforts to be worthy and prepared for the greatest of all the gifts of God – eternal life.

Requirements of Salvation

So that brings us to the second point – meeting the requirements of salvation.  I guess I’m not so concerned about what the people of the Old Testament had to do to please the Lord.  I’m glad I don’t live in the harsh conditions of those days when a man could be stoned for what today would seem to be a minor infraction.  They had a different law back then and the Lord taught us clearly that he fulfilled that law.  The Mosaic Law was to bring them to Christ, even though most of the Israelites who lived back then did not understand that.  The Lord described them as a hard-hearted and stiff-necked people.  I would hope that we are not like some of those early Israelites.  Someday, they must receive the ordinances of the higher priesthood just as it is required of us.

Baptism in ancient times

We are taught in Moses 6 that Adam was baptized.  When Peter said on the day of Pentecost that they must repent and be baptized, the people obviously had a clear understanding of the concept.  John the Baptist did not practice something that was new and unknown.  I am confident that baptism was practiced in the old world.  We know that Alma baptized in the Waters of Mormon. I think we can be certain that the Book of Mormon people brought the practice with them from the Old World.  Baptism is a priesthood ordinance and is one of the requirements of salvation.  The laying on of hands was a common practice as evidenced by priesthood blessings given by the early patriarchs to their children as well as by many references in the New Testament.

Temple ordinances required

I think there is ample evidence that temple ordinances were a part of the religious practice of the ancient people of Israel.  The Lord has always commanded his people to build temples where they are gathered in numbers of sufficient strength.  Where they were not, his saints were endowed with power from on high on the tops of mountains.  No, the majority of the Israelites did not receive the endowment as they lived the Mosaic Law.  But yes, all must be endowed and sealed someday.  That is one of the purposes of the Millennium.

Word of Wisdom for our day

Even though it is based on eternal principles such as moderation and self-control, the Word of Wisdom is a modern revelation given for our benefit in our day. As the Lord said, it was given “In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days.”  Just as the Israelites were given a law of health with many specific things to not do, we have been given a few guidelines for our health in our day. Isn’t that part of the principle of ongoing revelation – specifics suited for our times? No, it’s true that Jesus didn’t teach the Word of Wisdom when he came in the Meridian of Time, but he did reveal it for us in our day.  Thank God for living prophets and modern revelation that gives us that direction we need now.

Plural Marriage not required

Let’s consider why we no longer participate in the Second Anointing or Plural Marriage. Both of those subjects are fascinating to study and can produce a lot of fruitful discovery if we choose to get into them. I have always considered plural marriage to be optional, while entering into the law of celestial marriage to be a requirement.  We must receive that sealing ordinance to make progress according to section 131.  But plural marriage is not a requirement of exaltation.  You can read that in section 132, verse 61.  It says that if a man “desire to espouse another,” and the first wife consents and she is given or sealed unto him by the prophet then he does not commit adultery.  It is never worded that a man must take another wife.  Only certain brethren were commanded in the early days of the church to do so as part of the restoration of all things.

Timing of the Second Anointing

We don’t know much about the Second Anointing, do we?  We certainly aren’t taught about it in our standard Sunday curriculum or even in any of the CES curriculum as far as I can determine.  To be honest, I like the Wikipedia article.  It’s a pretty good summary of everything I have read over the years.  I know it bothers some people that this is not openly taught, but I guess they feel the same way that the temple ceremony is not openly taught.  Of course you can read the whole thing today on the Internet.  I like the fact that we work harder in the church today to ensure that people are more prepared for the first anointing.  To me, it is a lifetime of faithful service in the Lord’s church that prepares us for the second anointing, either in this life or in the resurrection.

Dormant religious practices

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves if these things have really changed or are just dormant.  I am one who believes that those two practices in particular will once again be a part of our worship.  Yes, I am convinced that the day will come when even the “regular” member of the church will be able to receive the second anointing just as soon as he is ready and can participate in plural marriage if he so chooses and his wives are given to him under the direction of the prophet.  Of course, that’s not going to happen while we live under the laws of the government of the United States, but as we all know, the government of the United States will not stand forever.  Yes, the constitution is an inspired document, but when the Savior comes, we will enter a theocracy.

Be Faithful to Joseph

I guess the reason I’m not bothered by a lot of things that I read out there on the Internet about the church, including some very convincing arguments that make you think, is that I like to think of myself more like Hyrum Smith than Joseph.  I don’t see visions or hear the voice of the Lord like Joseph, but I have been blessed with the gift of believing.  That’s what I meant when I said that I choose to believe.  After many years of experience, I can tell you that feel happiest when I exercise faith and choose to believe what was revealed through Joseph Smith.  I believe Joseph.  I trust the brethren who lead this church today.  I have listened to them and studied their words for all my life.  I have never been disappointed nor had cause to doubt their spiritual leadership.  Like Hyrum, I want to remain faithful and supportive of their direction to the end of my days.

Moving Toward Gospel Promises

All my life in the church I have heard the promises of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  These are held out as motivating ideas that are intended to help us resist the pull and attraction of worldly pleasures.  In this short essay, I would like to consider just one of those promises and the power for good that it should have in our lives.

Of course, the attraction of promises pre-supposes that you are the kind of person that is motivated by the “moving-toward” model.  If you’re not familiar with the idea, it comes from the book Unlimited Power by Anthony Robbins.  He states, “All human behavior revolves around the urge to gain pleasure or avoid pain.”

Tony’s shorthand for this is “pain or gain.”  Which one drives you?  Of course the concept is not original with Tony but he made it a focus of his seminars and books.  The idea has been around forever and stated in different ways by various thinkers.  The process is not absolute.  We move toward some things and away from others.

However, most of us live our lives predominantly either moving toward a goal or moving away from an unpleasant situation, either past, present or future.  You can easily determine your predominant model by describing something you desire.  Do you express it in terms of what it is or what it isn’t, what you want or don’t want?

For example, think about and describe your ideal home or family.  How about your ideal job?  I was surprised to note that I described my ideal home in terms of what I want, but my ideal job in terms of what I don’t want.  Maybe that’s because I am towards the end of my career and have seen plenty of negatives I want to avoid.

The greatest gift

What are the most important gospel promises that we should consider?  Let’s start with the big one – eternal life.  I’m not talking about being resurrected; that’s a given and a free gift from the Savior as part of the gospel plan.  I’m talking about being able to live the kind of life that God lives, with complete joy and fulfillment.

In modern revelation it is recorded that “there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation.” (D&C 6:13)  We are also told that “if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.” (D&C 14:7)  Salvation in the fullest sense is defined as eternal life.

So just what is eternal life and how can we relate to it since we have nothing to which we can compare it in this life?  In order for something to be desirable and worthy of sacrifice, we must have at least some sense of its attractiveness.  In fact, it is up to the Lord to make us fully aware of what really comprises eternal life.

Salvation without exaltation

In the LDS Church, we commonly refer to exaltation as the kind of life that God lives, and consider it to be synonymous with eternal life.  We also consider it to be the fullness of salvation.  If we want to get a little more precise, let’s consider one common aphorism used to describe it: “Salvation without exaltation is damnation.”

This is a saying that engenders intense debate even among LDS scholars because I have read it online many times over the years.  I agree with that adage because for me, it appeals to my predominant “moving away from” model.  Yes, I confess that I am more inclined to make life choices in order to avoid unpleasant possibilities.

I consider the moving-away from model of thinking to be very mortal; not weak, just mortal.  But I’m grateful to know that the Lord is fully aware of this approach.  This is evidenced by the twofold promise of the Book of Mormon:  If you keep the commandments of God you will be blessed.  If you don’t, then you will be cursed.

Yes, tell me more about the negatives of a behavior and I will do my best to avoid it because I can see the results such behavior has produced in others.  The only way I am motivated by a promise of eventual reward is if I have experienced something similar, even if it is in a small degree.  My mortal mind doesn’t “get” eternal life.

Yet, in my heart I know that there is life after death.  I have had too many personal evidences presented for my consideration to feel otherwise.  I am satisfied that the concept of a spirit world is real; that there are unseen beings operating in a plane of existence just outside my mortal perception; and many times acting on my behalf.

Learning from opposition

So how does the Lord reach people like me who need a more solid understanding of eternal life in order to be motivated by the promise?  I guess I’m kind of like the child that hears from a parent, “if you work hard in school, you’ll have an easier life when you get older.”  It’s true, but it didn’t work for me when I was a child.

An easy life to a child is loving acceptance, lots of playtime, a warm, comfortable home, lots of food to eat and that safe, secure feeling that comes from knowing that dangers are far, far away, or even better, being oblivious to the concept of danger.  But such a life doesn’t work as we get older because we experience opposition.

And that’s why I am more motivated by an understanding of what eternal life will not be like.  I have experienced opposition, adversity, setbacks, disappointments and many painful shocks brought on by unforeseen and unwanted reality checks.  Because of these experiences, I know what I don’t want eternal life to be like.

Of course, I don’t set the rules when it comes to my quality of life after death.  But I do “get” the idea that I can determine a large part of that life quality by what I do or don’t do and how I respond to the life choices that are presented to me.  There really is a lot of truth to the idea that a man is about as happy as he decides to be.

Disappointments will cease

I don’t want eternal life to be disappointing.  I don’t think God is disappointed.  Even though we believe that his most important work is us, his children, I don’t think he is ever really disappointed in us.  I also don’t believe that his plans for us are ever really frustrated.  We will get out of this life what we came here to get.

What we came here to receive is an understanding and appreciation for eternal life – the kind of life that God lives – that we never could have accomplished without experiencing opposition, adversity, disappointment, trail, heartache, frustration and pain.  So whatever the outcome of our lives, we will appreciate eternal life better.

That appreciation comes by application of the “moving away from” model of life.  Although we may not understand all the promises of peace, happiness, freedom, personal power, contentment and joy that are held out to us, we now know what we don’t want eternal life to be like.  We don’t want it to be like our life here on earth.

Yes, I have experienced happiness in this life.  I have experienced success, some personal power, a measure of peace, plenty of freedom and lots of growth.  But even in achieving these things, I immediately realized that they were temporary and not complete.  They do not last because of the transient nature of mortality.

Moving away from pain

Do you see?  I now understand something about eternal life that I never could have fathomed before and something that I don’t want.  I don’t want good things to end as they do in this life.  I work long and hard to create my home and family life that I do not want to see come to an end.  I don’t want that work to be wasted or to fail.

So for me, moving toward gospel promises is meaningless unless I have something concrete to compare them to.  I am motivated to move away from something that I don’t want.  I don’t want sickness, physical pain and death; therefore I am attracted by the promise of a resurrection, which becomes more attractive the older I get.

I don’t want to be disappointed in myself in the life to come.  Carol has a way of expressing this that I find memorable.  She says, “Do you think God will take away the memory of being married to someone if you don’t live worthy of them?”  How tortuous that would be to see your mortal spouse and not be able to be with them!

So for me, gospel promises are more motivating when I think about what I might lose as opposed to what I might gain.  I don’t want to lose things that I have been given or have earned.  Yes, I believe we must earn or qualify for some blessings in the life to come.  Eternal life is a gift, but we must meet the requirements for it.

Conclusion

I’ll bet there are at least a half dozen theological ideas expressed in this essay with which non-LDS readers will disagree.  In fact, I’m certain that many of my LDS readers will also take exception to some of my statements.  That’s OK.  I welcome the dialog and hope that maybe something I have expressed has been helpful.

I love the Lord’s promises but I confess that I just don’t get some of them because of my weak, limited mortal way of seeing things.  I believe the promises and am certain that they will mean a lot more when I get to the spirit world.  Today, I just want to keep the good things I have gained from my experience with opposition.

Earlier in this essay I wrote that since we have no real concept of eternal life, it is God’s responsibility to make it appear attractive to us.  I mean that.  But how he does that may be different for each one of us.  In my case, I am enticed by the spirit whispering to me that in the next life, I will no longer have to endure temptation.

I love that promise.

The endowment is more than the ordinances

The endowment that we receive in the Lord’s temples today is not the complete endowment that the Savior intends us to have.  The ordinances introduce us but the endowment is not complete until we have come into the heavenly presence and have been instructed in the things of eternity.

You may ask, “If there is more to the endowment than what I have been taught in the temple, then why hasn’t someone explained it to me?”  A careful reading of scripture revealed in these last days contains all we need to know to fully understand that there is more, much more to it.

The redemptive mission of the Savior

In his role as our Redeemer, a primary mission of the Savior is to baptize us with the Holy Ghost and with fire.  He did not complete that mission with his disciples in Jerusalem while he was among them, explaining that he had to go away first in order for them to receive this sacred gift.

He also said that his apostles would do greater works than he did. In other words, they would give the gift of the Holy Ghost, which he had not yet done. It wasn’t until after he was resurrected that he gave them the gift of the Holy Ghost and the authority to give this gift unto others.

Receive the Holy Ghost

This is a major part of the ministry of Jesus that continues to this day as we are confirmed members of the Savior’s church. Interestingly, the wording of the ordinance is in the form of a command, “Receive the Holy Ghost.”  This honors agency and requires us to make an effort.

I think we can safely say that there are millions of people who have been baptized, and have been given the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, but have not yet received it.  Even the apostles were with the Savior forty days after he gave the gift before they finally received it.

Promise of the Father

One can be given a powerful gift, or the right to receive it, but unless it is actually received, it has no real effective power.  The Savior taught that we will receive power after the Holy Ghost has come upon us.  So until we receive this power, the Lord’s mission is not complete for us.

The Savior made it clear several times that the gift of the Holy Ghost is a promise from our Heavenly Father.  Along with the promise of a Savior, this gift was promised before this world was created.  It is the Savior that baptizes us with fire and the Holy Ghost.  This fills us with great power.

We must seek this gift

I wonder how much our missionaries truly understand and teach their investigators that there is another step to their baptism that they must complete on their own after the ordinance is performed.  I sense that too many new converts do not continue on the path to be baptized by fire.

We must ask for it in humble and earnest prayer.  We must hunger and thirst after this gift.  As Paul said, we must covet this gift.  It is a pearl of great price that is worth all that we pay for it and more.  Even if years of effort and sacrifice are required to obtain it, we are commanded to do so.

Temple ordinances part of the process

We strive to ensure that converts receive the ordinances of the temple a year after they are baptized and confirmed.  The temple ordinances serve two purposes.  They give us the promised blessings of the family sealing ordinance and prepare us further to receive baptism with the Holy Ghost.

Being baptized with fire is a requirement of the Lord to enter into his kingdom.  I believe it is analogous to being born again.  It completes the process of baptism when we are immersed in the fire of the Holy Ghost.  The temple endowment helps us to understand and complete that step.

Endowed with power

The translators of the New Testament used the word endue to describe the process of fulfilling the Father’s promise to all those who believe in Jesus Christ as Redeemer and are baptized in his name.  Endue could also have been rendered to clothe, invest or to endow, as in give power.

The Lord used the word endow to Joseph Smith when he commanded him to build a temple in Kirtland so that he could endow the Saints with power from on high.  It was in the Kirtland temple that so many rich and powerful outpourings of the Holy Ghost were received by the faithful.

More than the ordinances

The endowment consists of so much more than the ordinances of the temple.  The ordinances are just the starting point for what the Savior has in mind for us when he promises to endow us with power.  There is great power in the ordinances but there is additional power beyond that.

The additional power is found when we are consumed with the burning of the Holy Spirit within us, strengthening our desire and commitment to submit our will to God’s.  It is found as we strive to be born again and to be visited by fire and the Holy Ghost as were the Lamanites in Hel 5:45.

Pattern found in Third Nephi

In the book of Third Nephi we read the account of the righteous that were spared and visited by the Lord after his resurrection and ascension in Jerusalem.  Towards the end of the year in which great destructions accompanied the Savior’s crucifixion, the saints gathered at the temple.

Some 2,500 people were to become witnesses that day that Jesus Christ is the Savior to the entire world.  They went forth and felt the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and thrust their hands into the wound in his side.  They then knew with personal first-hand knowledge that he lives.

Witnesses know for themselves

Because of this personal knowledge, they were witnesses in a way that nobody could ever dispute.  They had seen him and they had touched him.  No matter what anybody else said, they knew that Jesus lives and is a real being with a resurrected body of flesh and bones like man.

And yet they lacked something.  When the Savior had announced in the darkness of the destruction earlier that year that he would visit them, he promised that he would baptize them with fire and with the Holy Ghost, thus fulfilling his mission as he tried to do among the Jews in Jerusalem.

The endowment begins

It was the end of the first day and the Savior announced that he would leave and come back the next day.  Yet, their faith kept him there and began the events of something extraordinary that he had wanted to do in Jerusalem but which he could not do there because of the lack of faith.

Because of his love for them, the Savior first attended to their physical infirmities and brought their children to the center of attention.  He then led them in mighty prayer, blessed the children and directed the attention of the multitude to the angels that were descending to minister to them.

In the midst of fire

The angels appeared “as it were, in the midst of fire.”  I contend that this is the baptism of fire of which the Lord has tried to teach us many times.  This immersion in the heavenly element constitutes the fullness of the endowment that he promised to them and still promises even to us today.

This is the same experience that the Lamanites enjoyed in Helaman 5:45 when they were encircled about by a pillar of fire.  The Lord said that they were baptized with fire and knew it not.  This is also the process of transfiguration that completes the promises found in the endowment.

To be continued…

A Website for the Average Mormon

I’ve been reading the arguments on MormonThink.com off and on for several years now.  I have a lot of respect for the individuals behind the site, even though most of them choose to be anonymous.  I am confident that I have been visited by several of the contributors there or at least by those who read their site and others like it such as Ex Mormon and Post Mormon.

I am by no means a scholar or intellectual.  I think I’m pretty smart and that I’m pretty good with logic.  After all, I have made a living for thirty years demystifying computers for others.  But I know there are a lot of people out there who are smarter than I am and who have the academic credentials to prove it.  I like to think that I’m just a regular, average, typical Latter-day Saint.

I like smart, thinking people and especially people who present logical conclusions well, either in writing or verbally.  Critical thinking is a skill that I am constantly striving to improve.  I confess that I am impressed when someone can speak or write with confidence, especially when it comes to doctrines and practices of the church.  That’s why I continue to take college classes each year.

Choosing to believe

But I’d like to take exception with one of the common threads I find in the essays on sites like MormonThink.com.  It has to do with choosing to believe.  The concept of voluntary or involuntary belief has been discussed by philosophers for millennia.  But it’s such a basic part of how I deal with the sort of intellectual issues on Mormon Think that I want to share it with you.

I disagree with those who contend that beliefs are not voluntary acts of will.  There is no doubt in my mind that I am a voluntarist when it comes to my beliefs about the church and our history.  This is especially true in light of, or in spite of all the fascinating historical facts that I have read over the years that are just not taught to or even known by the majority of the Latter-day Saints.

Invariably I have found that those who label themselves atheists also claim to be involuntarists.  I am coming to the conclusion that those who embrace the title of Ex Mormon, Post Mormon or Former Mormon also see their position as involuntary.  “It was inevitable,” they say, “based on what I have learned, I had no other choice but to now disbelieve what I had formally believed.”

Encouraging Faith

Well, that’s where we differ.  I have spent many years studying the same material that has been so troubling and bothersome to so many of my fellow seekers of knowledge.  I can honestly say that my faith has been strengthened and my belief deepened that Joseph was who he claimed to be – a prophet of God – and that the Book of Mormon is what it claims to be – Holy Scripture.

I have no doubt that there are many in the church, who, if they studied the same material we have written about on our blogs and websites, would be absolutely freaked out and would soon leave the church.  They are either social Mormons only or are not strong in their desire to know more about the history of our church.  I don’t think these kinds of people are your typical Mormons.

What’s missing from sites like MormonThink.com, and what you’ll find in abundance on the official church web sites, is the role of faith, and especially encouraging faith.  There is way too much emphasis on the intellect and not enough focus on feelings.  The section on Testimony and Spiritual Witness relegates the role of feelings of faith as something to be dissected and derided.

Announcing new website

That’s reason why I decided to start my own website, LatterdayCommentary.com.  This blog is hosted on that domain, which I registered years ago.  It’s not much to look at today.  In fact, I almost consider it a prototype.  I’ve put together some commentary and links to my essays on some of the same subjects that you will find on MormonThink.com.  It will grow with time.

I know that I’m just one of thousands of LDS members who have a website where they share their beliefs and testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.  I like to think that I’m not much different from your average Mormon.  I grew up as a member of the church but I come from a convert family.  And my viewpoint is definitely that of a laid-back California boy.

I’ve been happy as a member of the LDS Church all my life.  I loved my mission and I love going to the temple.  I love General Conference and I love serving in a local Bishopric.  I hope you’ll take a look at my website and then come back here and make some suggestions as to how I can make it better and more useful in promoting the doctrines of our LDS faith to the world.

Shades of Grey and relative truth

In 1978, civil war broke out in Nicaragua, just after I left the country. My Mission President went from Costa Rica to Managua to help the missionaries get out of the country.  As he was literally leaving the chapel where he had told the missionaries to gather, the Sandinistas came running in from the other door and stopped them.

Demanding to know what side of the conflict they were on, President Muren responded with the phrase, “tonos de gris,” which means shades of grey.  He did not stop but kept going right out the door and was able to get that group of Elders out of the country.  Gratefully, all the missionaries eventually made it safely out.

Social or Cultural Mormons

Can a person be a member of the LDS faith and not believe some of the doctrine or accept the official story of the history?  Absolutely!  We call them social or cultural Mormons and there are countless numbers of them within the church.  Many of these kinds of members come from multi-generation pioneer LDS families.

If you survey an average congregation in the LDS faith, you will find that there are a surprising number who just don’t care about some of the doctrine and care even less about the history.  They are there because it is their family tradition and they derive satisfaction from the social interaction among good people that they know.

Looking for the middle ground

They feel uncomfortable when they hear statements from their leaders that the LDS church is either the kingdom of God or it is nothing.  When someone says that Joseph Smith was either God’s prophet or he was a great fraud, they feel unfairly pressured to have to put their view of the man in such black and white terms.

Isn’t there some middle ground where good people can participate in the Mormon faith without having to take sides about Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, the idea of angels visiting Joseph and the concept of priesthood keys and authority?  There is so much good in the church.  Why does it have to be classified as true?

The American Mormon culture

There are many members of the LDS church who do not fit the stereotypical image of conservative, orthodox, Republicanwhite-collar, all-American family.  The church membership is actually quite diverse, especially as one travels outside the confines of the Intermountain West where the church flourished and is the strongest.

Culturally, as a church and a people, we seem to have become stagnated in the mindset of the 19th century view of Mormonism that still conflicts with the outside world.  The church is growing beyond the Mormon corridor but is experiencing a sort of consolidation in the traditional strongholds of the faith – the center of Zion.

The one true church

Many good people who recognize this cultural myopia and parochialism that exists within the LDS faith have expanded their views and horizons beyond the mores and restraints of the traditional, orthodox Mormon worldview.  There are so many good people out there that are doing great things to serve their local communities.

Because these progressive thinking people have expanded their views they have come in contact with different ways of thinking about the religious experience and about their own Mormon upbringing.  The idea of belonging to the one true church has come to be offensive and difficult, if not impossible to defend in their minds.

God’s chosen people

They see and are embarrassed by what appears to be a contest of right and wrong between our zeal as a missionary church and the good people who are not already a part of the elect kingdom of God.  Whereas previously they were uncomfortable with a perceived exclusivist approach, they now are adamant that we are wrong.

We are judgmental, they cry.  Why can’t we accept everybody else just the way they are?  Why are we trying to convert people when they are already happy and doing much good in their own faith?  The idea of rules for membership becomes chafing.  Why does the church have such high standards that drive people crazy?

Pointing out the flaws and faults

A large percentage of the LDS membership either does not know or does not care about some of the troubling issues of our early history and growth as a church.  It is frustrating to progressive thinkers that so many within the faith are not as well versed as they are on these issues and the supposed quandaries that they present.

So they become more vocal and strident in pointing out the flaws and faults of the church and its leaders, both historical and current.  Their frustration increases when their audience either shrugs its collective shoulders or ignores their efforts to educate them on the problems that they see in the church.  How can they not care?

Many faithful members do know

While there are many who don’t know and don’t care, there are just as many who are very knowledgeable in the issues and problems that are troublesome to our liberal minded members.  It’s just that we have found answers within our own hearts and minds many years ago that satisfy the potential cognitive dissonance.

We quietly go about our lives, secure and confident in the knowledge that we have found answers for the most important elements of our faith.  We invite others to taste of the peace that comes from knowing that there are answers and that there are many solid and bedrock truths upon which we can build our lives and our faith.

Raise a warning voice

For some reason, when we try to share our certainty about the truths we have found, we are sometimes misunderstood to be arrogant or presenting our faith as superior or more complete than theirs.  Yes, if you invite someone to share in your happiness then you are presenting what you have found to be of great worth.

This is a difficult task to perform.  We are commanded to raise our voices to let the world know of the events pertaining to the founding of our church.  We have been asked to be bold in declaring that God has called prophets in our day and that he has sent angels to ordain and teach truths that have long been lost from the world.

Some truths are not relative

And thus we arrive at the heart of the conflict between orthodox conservative Mormons and progressive liberal Mormons.  What is truth?  Can one say with any degree of certainty that they have found the best and most complete source of truth without excluding the many other sources of truth that are found in the world?

Truth is reality. Some kinds of truth can only be received through revelation. I have never seen God or Jesus. I was not there when Joseph received the First Vision. So for me to be able to know those facts, they have to be revealed to me by the Holy Ghost.  Some truths are either revealed of God or they remain unknown.

Truths received by revelation

The five pillars of the LDS testimony require revelation: God lives, Jesus is the Christ, the Savior called Joseph as a prophet, the Book of Mormon was brought forth by the gift and power of God and the church that Joseph established is authorized of God to administer the ordinances of salvation that God requires.

Without revelation from the Holy Ghost we can’t say that we know these things. It’s just not logical. I have studied the Book of Mormon and the Church that claims to be God’s only church authorized to administer the ordinances of salvation. With revelation from the Holy Ghost I can say I know they are what they claim to be.

Summary and conclusion

In some things in life, it is wise to take a position characterized by my Mission President’s response to the Sandinistas – shades of grey.  We do not always know all the facts of some situations and should withhold judgment until a later time.  However, in some critical matters, we must take a position and know for ourselves.

It takes work and determination to obtain knowledge about the five pillars of an LDS testimony.  But I, and millions of others over the years, can say with great certainty that God does reveal knowledge about himself and his prophets to those who diligently seek it.  This revealed knowledge does not come in shades of grey.