Posts Tagged ‘Modern Revelation’
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.
One of the greatest blessings of membership in the LDS Church is the gift of the Holy Ghost. Of course we are not the only people in the world with whom the Lord works through his spirit. But we are the only people who have claim upon the Holy Ghost as a constant companion. That is a very unique and special claim.
When asked by a President of the United States, “How is your religion different from all the other religions of the day?” The Prophet Joseph Smith answered, “We are different from all other religions in the mode of baptism (immersion) and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands (by those who have authority).”
God inspires all
In section 130 of the Doctrine and Covenants we read, “A man may receive the Holy Ghost, and it may descend upon him and not tarry with him.” All honest seekers of the truth can feel the influence of the Holy Ghost, leading them to Jesus Christ and His gospel. People everywhere can be inspired by the Holy Ghost.
However, the right to the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost is available only to those who receive the gift through the laying on of hands by one who is authorized and then remain worthy of that gift. This basic doctrine is taught and emphasized often from the pulpit and in the classrooms of our church each week.
One of the most important duties we have in this life is to learn how to interpret the impressions of the Holy Ghost that we receive though this gift. Sometimes they come unbidden but most of the time we need to prepare for and ask for spiritual guidance. With this sacred gift, we can be confident that the Lord will respond.
God will guide us
This gift contains an inherent covenant promise that the Lord will respond to our requests for guidance. “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” As long as we do our part in striving to keep his commandments, repent and seek his spirit, we can rely on his promise.
However, the gift needs to be exercised and developed until we can go before the Lord with confidence and ask in faith for what we want. We need to learn what specific things we need to do to achieve the results we desire. “When we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”
We know we must study things out and come to an understanding or a decision on a subject before we approach the Lord for a confirmation of our decision or course of action. Sometimes it can take years to fully consider and achieve a mastery of a subject before we can approach the Lord and ask to guide us to further knowledge.
Much already revealed
That’s why the Lord and his prophets counsel us to study the scriptures and the words of the living prophets and apostles. When we ask the Lord for help in some area of our lives, we can expect him to answer through both the promptings of the spirit and very often by directing us to what he has already revealed on the subject.
It is amazing to me the number of times I feel impressed to look to the scriptures or a recent conference talk for the answer I am seeking. “Surely the Lord God will do nothing but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” It is while I am reading the scriptures or conference talks that I feel the impressions of the spirit.
I think it is in the process of reading revealed words that we become most familiar with the mind and will of the Lord for us. We begin to think like the Lord and develop a greater understanding of how he speaks. The mind of the natural man is not attuned to God’s way of thinking so it takes effort to understand revelation.
Revelation requires humility
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.” Even our natural reasoning processes, if they are not directed by the spirit of the Lord, can lead us to false conclusions. “For the natural man is an enemy to God … and will be forever … unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit.”
The rest of the verse (Mosiah 3:19) emphasizes being submissive. I guess if there is nothing else I have learned about receiving revelation, it is the idea that in order to receive it, I must be in a submissive state of mind and willing to do whatever it is that the Lord reveals to me. Indeed, I must strive to become like a little child.
Of course, I know that the Lord will not tell me to do something that is contrary to what he has already revealed. For example, if I ask the Lord for help in knowing the best way to get out of debt, I am confident that he will not direct me to play the lottery, nor respond to email invitations to send money to Nigerian scammers.
Revelation is real
That is why I am confident that the Lord is sincere in his promise to reveal the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. The key phrase there is “with real intent.” Like you, I have witnessed this promise fulfilled over and over again throughout my life. I have seen it happen for young and old when they ask with real intent.
I do not doubt the revelatory process. It is real. I have witnessed it in action throughout my life in Bishopric meetings, High Council meetings, in disciplinary councils and in preparing and presenting talks and lessons over the years. It seems to flow easiest for me when the revelation being requested is meant to help others.
But the Lord never reveals things that are outside the stewardship of my family, my own life or my specific callings in the church. While I may feel a desire to help another, if I do not have a direct responsibility for them, then I need to be very careful about what I feel impressed to tell them the Lord would have them do.
Revelation for others
I had a recent experience with this that confirmed to me how easy it is to step over the line into imposing my will on another. The Lord will never direct us to do that. In counseling with a fellow church member about a difficult situation in their life I shared some personal observations about what I thought got them into trouble.
Since I was not this individual’s priesthood leader, I was not entitled to know the whole story and made a judgment based only on what I saw. My counsel to this individual was flawed and was offensive because it was lacking in understanding. Gratefully, they were forgiving when I apologized after the error became apparent.
My point is that the Lord will never reveal something to me that another person should do unless I am responsible for that person as a husband, father or priesthood leader. That can even be applied to prospective marriage partners. The Lord will not tell us that another person should marry us. It should not be phrased that way.
Revelation to marry
When I asked my wife to marry me, I felt the Lord whisper to me that we could be happy together. Of course Carol had her agency and could have said no. It was an act of faith on her part to accept my marriage proposal. The Lord knew I needed that revelation to prompt me to propose, but it was intended for me and not Carol.
I knew the Lord wanted me to marry. I had been praying about it for some time and was actively seeking a marriage partner. I knew that the Lord had revealed through his prophet that “soul mates are fiction and an illusion.” So I wasn’t looking for that one special person, just someone with whom I could be happy.
I know that’s not very romantic but what made it special for me was the intensely strong and powerful impression that flowed into my heart and mind as I pondered asking Carol to marry me. In my mind’s eye, I saw us many years down the road, even in these years today, enjoying each other’s company, growing old together.
What I have learned
In conclusion, I guess there are two things I have learned about revelation. First, we must be humble and submissive to receive it and second, we can never receive revelation for anyone else’s life outside our own immediate family. It just doesn’t work that way unless the Lord puts us in a priesthood position that requires it.
Impressions of the spirit are very private and should be kept so. They are personal and unless you are the prophet of the Lord or have a direct priesthood stewardship for someone else, are meant specifically for one individual – you. They are not to be shared with others unless you feel prompted to do so and then only carefully.
I have been blessed throughout my life with impressions from the Holy Ghost. It is specifically because of the Gift of the Holy Ghost that they seem so abundant. Receiving revelation can be almost a daily occurrence, but usually it comes in the form of very quiet, subtle impressions that are sometimes almost imperceptible.
Except for a year off for good behavior to teach Primary, I have been participating in ward leadership meetings every Sunday morning for the past twenty-five years. Sixteen of those years included Bishopric meetings, either as an Executive Secretary, a Ward Clerk, or a Bishop’s Counselor. I don’t know why I’ve been so blessed but this experience has been a major part of my adult life.
Since Carol and I have lived in multiple wards and stakes over the years, I have sat in council with at least ten different bishops, sometimes as a High Council advisor. Two of the wards have been young single adult wards. I’ve got to tell you that there is something special about Bishops of YSA wards. In one YSA ward, the Bishop and one counselor had both been Stake Presidents.
Love of the people
Not one of these bishops ran things exactly the same as others with whom I served. Some were good administrators and some weren’t. Some knew how to delegate and others had a tendency to do most of the work themselves. Some were sticklers for following the handbook and some weren’t. But all were focused on the people over the programs. Without exception. Every one.
If there is one thing that stands out among bishops with whom I have worked, and one thing that to me represents the mantle of a bishop, it is a love for the people whom they serve, especially the youth. That love is the same thing that impressed me about the bishops of my youth. I knew they all cared deeply about me and wanted to help me grow into a successful and faithful adult.
Desire to do God’s will
Now I know that not everybody has this experience with their bishops. Yes, I have read some of the horror stories. I am acquainted with the claims of spiritual abuse, but have not seen it with any of the bishops in my experience. Some of the bishops would sometimes complain about the dumb things that members of the ward would do, but I never saw any unrighteous dominion.
I have sat in literally dozens of disciplinary councils over the years, both on the ward and stake level. Even when the result was excommunication, I have never felt anything but profound love and concern for the individual and an intense desire to do the will of the Lord in the matter being considered. That has always been the common desire of these bishops, who are imperfect men.
A tech savvy bishop
In today’s Internet age, I am grateful to serve with a Bishop today who understands and uses texting to keep in touch with his flock, in this case, all young single adults. He is also savvy about the Internet and knows exactly what goes on out there. He is aware of the LDS forums, both those that are uplifting and those that aren’t. And yes, he has read Rough Stone Rolling.
I bring that up because it is indicative of a Bishop who is aware of what the young people are reading. I am a church news junkie and am constantly amazed by how well informed this bishop is in comparison to some previous bishops. Maybe it’s just that we are living in the day of the Internet, but it’s a delight to have conversations about items being discussed in the Bloggernacle.
Great Bishopric meetings
Because most bishops are usually counseling members during Sunday school, we take the first part of our Bishopric meeting for gospel study. Sometimes we will spend a half hour discussing a scripture or a quote from the Brethren and how it applies to us and to the ward members. Some of the bishops I served with preferred shorter meetings so we did not have lengthy gospel study.
I have long felt that a ward leadership meeting should never be more than an hour. If you’re going to make it longer, that time should be well spent in understanding the will of the Lord as revealed in the scriptures in these latter days. The majority of a Bishopric meeting is consumed with staffing the ward, which of course involves discussing the right calling for ward members.
Callings through inspiration
If you have never sat in a Bishopric meeting you may wonder how callings are determined. Of course we always open our meetings with prayer, and usually sing a hymn first and then have a spiritual thought. We review the list of recent converts to determine if they are progressing in the gospel. As we are a transient ward, we are also constantly reviewing the new move-in list.
The Bishop usually ponders for a long time who the Lord would have fulfill a major calling like the head of an organization. Those do not come up very often. When they do, the Bishop will usually inform his counselors of who he has in mind, after which a discussion ensues of how that individual will fulfill that particular calling and how the needs of the ward members will be met.
Gift of discernment
The Bishop is very concerned that callings issued to ward members are ones that will bless them, that will help them to grow and that are the will of the Lord. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard Bishops pray for the gift of discernment to know where the Lord would have certain individuals serve. Serving in the church is a big deal and it helps us to grow and to love others.
Although it doesn’t always happen, I have been amazed at the number of times as a counselor I have issued a call to an individual to hear them say that they were praying for an opportunity to serve and that they knew that this particular call was coming. It is rewarding to see that when we pray for inspiration to place people in callings that the inspiration is real and is from the Lord.
I don’t know if my experience has been unique in issuing calls but I can only remember a couple of occasions on which I did not extend the call after we had agreed upon it in Bishopric meeting. It became apparent after an interview in the home of the individual that the calling would not be in their best interest at that time. It is usually because I learned of extenuating circumstances.
You may wonder why we weren’t inspired that the call wasn’t right before we went to extend it. Remember, we had prayed for inspiration and felt united as a Bishopric that it was the right thing to do at that time. All I can tell you is that this has rarely happened and that it just may be a part of the inspiration process to visit the home before the spirit can confirm that it is OK to proceed.
Confirmation of the spirit
Perhaps a description of the process we go through when we deliberate in a disciplinary council will help explain the process of inspiration a little better. After hearing the facts of the matter, we excuse the individual and discuss the options outlined in the church handbook. The primary concern is always how the action we take will affect the individual and help them to repent.
We make a decision an then present it to the Lord in prayer. We each kneel and the Bishop asks one of those present to offer the prayer. We tell the Lord what we have decided and ask that we may know through a confirming witness of the spirit that the decision is right. We then conclude the prayer and the Bishop usually asks each member of the council if they are still in agreement.
Knowledge revealed from God
Sometimes the will of the Lord is obvious to all present. There is an unspoken communication that takes place between us. We each just know that the decision is correct. We know by the same process that individual members receive a testimony – by knowledge from the Holy Ghost. That is one of the blessings of serving in a Bishopric. You come to know how revelation works.
That’s what most people don’t know about Bishopric meetings – the amazing experience that we have each week with revelation. It is one of the best training grounds for understanding how the Lord communicates his will to the mind of man. I can tell you from many years of rich and deep experience that this process of revelation has always been present and it is a sacred experience.
Summary and conclusion
You may know former bishops or bishopric counselors who have said that there is a lot of small administrative detail that goes on in priesthood leadership meetings. You may even be a former bishop yourself. Yes, I agree that it can be tedious week after week to address some of the same issues over and over as callings need to be filled. It takes effort to ensure that God is involved.
Bishopric meetings can be a most amazing and rewarding experience as humble yet imperfect men unite in prayer to seek the mind and will of the Lord on behalf of the people that they serve. But to me, the most gratifying part of serving in a Bishopric is to be tutored by the Holy Ghost in how revelation works. It is a real thing and it is used constantly to further the work of the Lord.
Another common objection I have encountered in my dialogs with some who visit my essays can be summed up in the phrase, “But that’s not Biblical!” Similar to those who don’t understand what Mormons mean when we refer to our testimony, this common complaint also never ceases to amaze me. They just don’t get it.
I wrote in a previous essay about why the LDS personal testimony means so much more than most Christian apologists admit. I got to thinking about it and decided that I was giving them too much credit. Maybe they really do understand what our testimonies represent and it worries them because they don’t have that certainty.
People mock what they don’t understand. Some of our Christian evangelist friends are apparently no different. They claim that we base our religious convictions on mere feelings to draw attention away from the fact that the testimony is not in the feelings but in the knowledge revealed directly to our spirits in answer to prayer.
The Bible as the last word
Likewise, I think I have been much too lenient in dialogs with my visitors when they respond that my point is invalid because it cannot be found in the Bible. I always have to stop and remind myself of how important this foundation is to them. It’s all they have and they are conditioned to discard anything not in there.
I shouldn’t be surprised when this point comes up again and again when discussing the doctrines of the LDS Church with those not of our faith. Just as we Latter-day Saints can always return to the safety of our personal testimonies, they fall back to the idea of the completeness and infallibility of the Bible as their last safety net.
But after a year or more of reading the same responses to some of my basic essays about our unique revealed doctrines, the claim that we don’t understand the truth on some doctrine because it’s not in the Bible is beginning to wear a little thin. This essay is intended to make it clear that yes, we have much more than the Bible.
We have new scriptures
If you want to discuss doctrines with members of the LDS faith, it would be very helpful to understand right away that we’re going to throw all kinds of things at you that you’ve never heard of. We’ve got new stuff and that’s a big part of our religion. We do not base our doctrines solely on what is found in the Bible.
I understand that this can be discomforting, especially when we tell you that some of the very basic doctrines of salvation are erroneously taught in most Christian churches today because they are based solely on the Bible. That can be difficult to accept if you’ve believed all your life that the Bible is the last word on the truth.
One of the primary messages that the LDS Church has been declaring to the world for the last 180 years is that God has revealed new scriptures that clarify and bring light to some of the obscure teachings of the Bible. Many of the doctrines found there have been misinterpreted because of books that have been lost or taken out.
A Bible, a Bible
So strongly do some feel threatened by the idea of additional scripture that they become extremely defensive. They adamantly announce that since they accept the Bible as the word of God that they cannot accept the Book of Mormon. The Lord saw these individuals who think the Bible contains all and pronounced them fools.
“And because my words shall hiss forth—many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible. But thus saith the Lord God: O fools, they shall have a Bible; and it shall proceed forth from the Jews, mine ancient covenant people.” (2 Nephi 29:3-4)
“Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews? Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.” (2 Nephi 29:6, 10)
So much more to offer
Just as I concluded while on my mission, I’ve decided once again that there are just some individuals who will never accept the idea of modern revelation to prophets and apostles. I have met many thousands of good Christian people who have been conditioned to believe that religion can be found solely in the words in the Bible.
Why do they limit themselves when there is so much more available if they only would open their eyes, soften their hearts and entertain the possibility that God could reveal his will to man again in our day and age through men that he called as prophets and apostles to lead his church in these last days before he returns again?
On more than one occasion someone has taken offense at my assertion that we have so much more to offer the world than what can be found in Christianity as taught in the world today. It’s so true! That’s the heart of our message. We offer more revelation and direction from God than what you have received already.
Modern prophets and revelation
I guess it has been that way from the beginning of the restoration. This has been the primary objection to our message by those who are opposed to the work of the Lord in the last days. A living prophet who speaks for the Lord and brings forth modern scripture just really upsets so much of their tradition and their comfort.
It is a marvelous thing that God would call a prophet from among the uneducated as to the things of this world. Joseph Smith had not studied theology and did not know what the doctors of religion in his day were struggling with. All he knew is that they could not agree with each other about how to interpret the Bible.
That has not changed in our day. There are so many denominations that interpret the Bible differently. Even among the same churches there are disagreements on basic and fundamental concepts that every LDS primary child understands clearly. We have this unity in our church because God has revealed it to a living prophet.
Summary and conclusion
It saddens me to realize that there are many otherwise good followers of Christ who will not entertain the idea that God could call a prophet in our day and bring forth scripture through that prophet for our benefit. They will not accept the idea that God speaks to man again and that the Bible does not contain all of his words.
The idea that the Bible is complete and infallible is ludicrous to me. Anybody who has studied how we got our Bible knows that it is simply a collection of books and letters put together by man. God did not place the limiting constraints on his word that man did when he compiled the Bible. The Bible is simply not complete.
The Bible is also not the last authority of what God has to say about something. It is silly to think that everything that God wanted us to know is found in the Bible. I am so grateful to have the Book of Mormon and the canonized revelations to the prophet Joseph Smith that we have in the Doctrine and Covenants and elsewhere.
For more information, see these FAIR Wiki articles:
“The Mormons base their religion on the visions of Joseph Smith.” This passing remark I read the other day from a writer who was not familiar with our church struck me as a profoundly simple summary of our religion. Take away the visions of Joseph Smith and what have we got? Nothing – much of our religion is found in the Book of Mormon and yet much of it is not.
Some have compared the LDS Church with the Jehovah’s Witnesses because they are both religions that started in America in the 19th Century. But you can search in vain for claims to visions or revelation in the history of Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. His organization was formed as a Bible study group with no special claims of divine authority.
Another American religious group that formed in the 19th century, the Seventh-day Adventists, followed the same path of establishment by the Bible studies of William Miller. Joseph Smith, on the other hand, made no secret to his claims that he had been visited first by God and Jesus and then by angels – lots of them. Now, that’s something that you don’t hear about every day.
Visits from celestial beings
I would say that our claim to visits from celestial beings is very remarkable. In fact, perhaps this claim is one of the most unique things about our church. Sure, other churches teach that you can receive the Holy Spirit and be influenced by angels, but not many teach that angels have come to visit their founder multiple times, providing direction and instructions on how to set up a church.
Since visits by angels are not common occurrences in most people’s lives, it stands to reason that this is both a curiosity and a point of some ridicule or scorn. When it comes right down to it, if a friend were to ask you about angelic visitations and how they work, what would you say? I have never been visited by an angel, at least not that I am aware of, so I can’t say just how this works.
And yet I believe that Joseph Smith told the truth when he said he was visited by God, Jesus, and a multitude of angels. We also believe that Joseph Smith was very much a visionary man who received literally hundreds of visions and other revelations, all inspired or given of God. How many visions have you received? How many people do you know who profess divine visions?
Claims of mental illness
In an attempt to explain away Joseph’s claims to visions, some have suggested that he suffered from seizures of some kind, perhaps epileptic. Others have said that he had a vivid imagination or was just a really good liar. If someone were to present themselves to the world today with claims of receiving visits from angels and visions from God, most of us would say he is crazy.
I know I would be very skeptical if a friend, neighbor or work associate were to share with me that he had seen visions. People just don’t do that today for fear of being placed in the local mental hospital for observation. We would say someone like this is delusional, suffering from some form of mental illness such as psychosis or schizophrenia, causing fantastic hallucinations.
Most people who hear voices in their head don’t like this experience and seek help to deal with it. Yet Joseph Smith claimed that God spoke to him over and over again for years and years as He told him how to set up the church that he formed. I don’t hear voices in my head on a regular basis, but I can say that there are times I think I have felt inspired with ideas, words and phrases.
Joseph Smith spoke for God
So I guess a big part of accepting the claims of Joseph Smith is deciding for yourself if he was crazy, delusional or just an incredibly talented manipulator of the people around him. Most people in the world who are religious believe in some sort of supernatural communications from Deity to man. Most religious people look for ways to understand divine messages in their life.
How much do you agree with the following statement? “Yes, I believe the leaders of my church receive regular communication from God.” How about these? “I know that God has revealed Himself to the founder of my church. I am certain that He continues to guide the leaders who have followed him. I believe that most, if not all of them have been visited by God as well.”
A prophet is someone who lived way back in ancient history, in Old Testament times, right? I can’t imagine someone today claiming to be a prophet. If they did, we would think they were crazy. And yet, so many people are searching for divine guidance that they listen to all kinds of crazy people who claim to be prophets. Wait, the Mormons claim to have prophets, don’t they?
Joseph Smith was a prophet
If someone is going to claim to be a prophet – one who speaks for God – then they had better provide a way for me to know for myself that his claim is true. I’m not going to believe anyone who comes to me and says he has a message for me from God unless I have some evidence that God really did send him to me. What evidence or proof did Joseph Smith provide for his claims?
We teach that the Book of Mormon is the work of a prophet. It is something that we can read and judge for ourselves as a witness of the claim of Joseph Smith that he was called of God to restore the Church of Jesus Christ in our day. Joseph claimed to have translated the Book of Mormon from gold plates, and that it contains the words of God to ancient American prophets.
Now that is a fantastic claim. If this man was delusional, then he had some of the most elaborate delusions known to man. Visions of God, visits from angels, gold plates and revelations that proclaim what God is going to do in the last days – these are all things that are simply unheard of. Yet that is what we are proclaiming to the world – so all can learn and judge for themselves.
Summary and conclusion
Visions into the spirit world, receiving visits by divine celestial beings and producing new scripture are all things that a prophet would do. In fact, we read in the Old Testament that God speaks to prophets face to face. That’s an astonishing claim for any man to make in our day and age and yet, that is exactly what Joseph Smith claimed as he organized a new church in 1830.
You can read more about the visions of Joseph Smith, not in the Book of Mormon, but in the Doctrine and Covenants, a record of selected revelations that Joseph Smith received during a period of about twenty years. As a church we are studying the Doctrine and Covenants this year in our Sunday school classes. So much of what we believe can be found in these scriptures.
I love reading the Doctrine and Covenants. I often read it aloud in my personal studies just to get the effect of hearing the voice of the Lord. It is powerful and brings a spirit of revelation as I do. Several of Joseph’s visions are recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, but certainly not all. He was a visionary man and made no secret of the fact that God spoke to him through these visions.
Objection three out of six raised by anonymous is that Mormons can’t be Christian because we believe that Christ visited America as a resurrected being. That argument is weak. If anything, it proves that we are greater followers of Christ because we have an additional witness of His gospel. Perhaps his objection really was that we have additional scripture and thus modern revelation.
This is one of my favorite objections to discuss because it proves one of the most important claims of the Restoration. In fact, almost any objection to our message can be summarized as a reluctance to accept modern revelation. Having been exposed to the idea all my life I have never understood why it is so difficult to understand. The Book of Mormon is the best evidence of Joseph’s prophetic calling.
If someone is a sincere follower of Jesus Christ they will benefit by reading the account of His visit to America as a resurrected being as found in the Book of Mormon. I highly recommend it. The message recorded there should sound highly familiar to students of the Bible. In fact, it would be difficult to explain if Christ had not shared His same gospel with the ancient Nephites.
The Book of Mormon
For someone who has never read the Book of Mormon, Mormon.org is the best source to get a good overview of the book. As part of the Restoration of the gospel, God brought forth the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. By the power of God, Joseph Smith translated this book from an ancient record written on gold plates.
The Book of Mormon is “a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains, as does the Bible, the fulness of the everlasting gospel” (Introduction to the Book of Mormon). The Book of Mormon is a powerful witness of Jesus Christ. It helps us understand His teachings, including those in the Bible.
In the Bible, Jesus told His Apostles, “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16). Soon after He was resurrected, the Lord visited these “other sheep”—the inhabitants of ancient America. They recorded their history on metal plates.
Evidence of Modern Revelation
The Book of Mormon is evidence of modern revelation and of the prophetic mission of Joseph Smith. If one is sincere in wanting to understand our message and know for themselves that it is true, then we offer the promise of an ancient prophet. Millions of people worldwide have found out for themselves that the Book of Mormon contains another witness of Jesus Christ.
“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost?” ( Moroni 10:4).
As taught in the Bible, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance” (Galatians 5:22–23). These feelings from the Holy Ghost are personal revelation to you that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is true. I have experienced these feelings many times as I have read the Book of Mormon.
Summary and Conclusion
“…the Latter-day Saints have no creed, but are ready to believe all true principles that exist, as they are made manifest from time to time.” (The Journal of Joseph: The Personal Diary of a Modern Prophet, p. 203) Isn’t that a great quote? We have the Articles of Faith, but we do not have limiting creeds. It is those creeds of other churches that keep their members in the dark.
The Book of Mormon is a major stumbling block to many who investigate our church. The Book of Mormon is a door through which you must pass if you are to understand what we are about. It is the best tangible evidence of the work of Joseph Smith. The church that he organized is secondary to a personal witness from the Holy Ghost that is promised to all those who diligently seek it when they read the Book of Mormon.
We are followers of Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon is another witness of Jesus Christ. We can come closer to Him by reading it than by any other book. The Bible has gone through many translations that introduced errors. The Book of Mormon had one translator – Joseph Smith. He was and is a prophet of God and the Book of Mormon proves it.