You can’t teach everything you know

Back in the day when we had missionary farewells, I prepared and delivered my farewell talk with lots of fasting and prayer. I wanted it to be special for everyone in attendance, especially my own family. As I was giving the talk, I could tell it wasn’t going well but couldn’t figure out why. I plowed through anyway because I had spent so much effort in preparing the darn thing.

I later asked my family what they thought. “Oh, it was nice,” was the response I got from almost everyone. It wasn’t until I asked one of my older sisters for her opinion that I got an idea. “Well, you certainly knew what you were talking about,” as if to imply that she had no clue. That was my first experience in speaking over someone else’s level of understanding.

I didn’t think such a thing was possible. My sister was a BYU graduate and had sat through four years of mandatory religion classes but she didn’t understand my efforts to teach the basics of the conversion process that I was so excited to have experienced. I had spent the previous six months of my life going through an intense immersion in spiritual things and wanted to share it.

Not everybody is at the same level

Now this may seem like a very rudimentary piece of advice to share, but it is a major key to a successful teaching or speaking experience in the church. Sometimes in our zealousness, we can over-prepare and find ourselves teaching things that require much more time to understand the background information before the actual point can be accepted by the listeners or students.

For example, what if I were to tell you that there is absolutely no concurrent written record of one of the most important events in the history of the church? I’m referring, of course, to the restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood. We have Joseph’s record in the History of the Church 1:72, indicating that it would be conferred in time, but we do not know the exact date.

Now this may not seem to be a big deal, but to a historian, the lack of an original source document attesting to this fact is tantamount to a lie. The story is that the event was recorded in an early edition of Joseph’s history, but someone apostatized and took it with him. It was never seen again. Never mind that Joseph and every other prophet since has testified that it happened.

Implied occurrence of events

We have the word of thousands who have declared that the event did occur. For example, President Hinckley said, “We do not know exactly where it took place, but, from the description given, it was not far away. Nor do we know the exact date. However, by piecing together various accounts and bits of history, we may assume that it occurred in the following month of June.”

Do you see my point? It is a simple thing to state, “I know the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored to Joseph Smith through Peter, James and John.” That’s all that really needs to be said. There is just no need to say anything more unless asked. Nothing needs to be said about the incomplete historical record. It’s not like we’re hiding anything or trying to deceive anyone.

When the missionaries first teach about the restoration of the priesthood or when it is taught in seminary or institute classes, there is usually no mention made of this little fact that we have no actual written record of the event. I’m not a historian and I’m not a scientist trained in the importance of empirical evidence so I don’t know why this is such a big deal with some people.

To bear witness

Knowing that we possess no first-hand journal evidence attesting to the visit of Peter, James and John does not stop me from adding my witness that I know it occurred as Joseph said it did. What? How can I say that? I wasn’t there. There were no witnesses other than Joseph and Oliver and neither one recorded it in a journal on the day it happened. How can I be a witness?

Ah, there is the beauty of the gift of the Holy Ghost and the promise of personal revelation as found in Moroni’s promise: “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” President Packer gave us a wonderful corollary to this promise when he said that “a testimony is to be found in the bearing of it.” It takes a leap of faith to do this.

I have taught this principle so many times that it has been ingrained into my soul by the spirit of the Holy Ghost. I could no more deny it than I could deny that I was born in Covina, California in 1957. I don’t remember the event but I’m told I was there. I have much evidence of the fact. Having or not having a birth certificate does not change the fact that I was born and I live.

Milk before meat

Back to the point of this essay. I know some people hate the analogy of milk before meat. Wait, that’s not an analogy, that’s scripture. Didn’t Paul say that? Yes, here it is in Hebrews 5:12-14. I’m sure you know what it says. The principle is that we simply don’t and can’t teach some of the more deep or obscure doctrines of the church before investigators or new converts are ready.

If you have ever taught a Primary class you know what I am talking about. That is the obvious example but unfortunately, it still applies even to whole congregations at the ward, stake and entire church level. The Brethren are so very careful when they prepare their General Conference talks to not present material that might be confusing or easily misunderstood.

I know what they are going through. I have experienced the same thing so many times as a High Council speaker. As much as I wanted to talk about some of the complex and difficult nuances of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, I felt impressed by the spirit to keep my talk simple. I felt I should only bear witness to those things that are easily explained and understood.

Summary and conclusion

I have studied the restored gospel of Jesus Christ all my life. I continue to do so and hope to do so until the day I pass into the spirit world. I love the wonderful discussion that is occurring on the Internet as so many other faithful members of the church share their understanding of the gospel and experiences in living it. Unfortunately, there are also some not so faithful dialogs.

I have yet to find a conflict between what I know and what is supposed to be shocking as found on the anti-Mormon, ex-Mormon or post-Mormon websites. I’ve confessed previously that I have visited and read many of the things on those websites. I read books that are considered controversial or apostate. I enjoy the research but not the conclusions of D. Micheal Quinn.

I guess I have simply come to different conclusions about the history of the church than Grant Palmer, Mike Quinn and others who have found what they consider to be irrefutable evidence of falsehood, lies, a cover-up and re-write of our history. As I’ve said before, I haven’t seen it. What I have seen is the Kingdom of God rolling forth in glory until it will fill the whole earth.

A different kind of religious education

When I was a young lad of seventeen, I attended BYU Idaho. No, I’m not from Idaho or even Utah. I was born and raised in California, where I still live. If you have been to Rexburg, Idaho in the dead of winter, you might wonder why anybody would want to leave the Golden State to obtain an education there. What is the attraction of this school in the Snake River valley?

My two oldest sisters are BYU Provo graduates while my brother, two other sisters and I each attended Ricks College, as it was called at the time. My academic experience at Ricks was not particularly stellar, but my parents said that their money was not wasted. I brought something back from Idaho after just one year that was far more valuable than a transcript.

I’m sure there was some anxiety in my mother’s heart as she sent her children off to this church sponsored school so far away. What did she hope we would obtain there? She must have been disappointed that I did not stick it out to the end of the Spring semester, but I did not hear her complain. She sensed that something had changed in me and I think it pleased her greatly.

Seminary and Institute

In my high school days I went to early-morning seminary. Getting up between 5:30 and 6:00 in the morning was not my favorite thing to do. But once I was in class, I appreciated the warm and comfortable spirit I felt there. I will be forever grateful to dedicated seminary teachers who sacrificed to teach the gospel and strengthen the testimonies of their young students.

In my later college years I participated in the Institute program. Seminary was an introduction to the basic sacred texts of the church. Institute classes brought in-depth study of the doctrines found in those scriptures. I enjoyed each of the classes I took, but my favorites had to do with church history. I was fascinated by the background story of the Doctrine and Covenants.

But there were some things about church history that I did not find in the official CES texts. I knew about them because my mother was a church history enthusiast. She had owned an LDS bookstore and had filled our house with all kinds of books that added to the official curriculum. Since mother was a teacher, I got more of my church history from her than from the classes.

Religious education in the home

When the subject of polygamy came up in the early morning seminary classes, I wanted to know more. I asked mother about it when I got home. After telling me a few simple facts, she handed me a book and said, “Here, you can read about it yourself.” That’s when I learned about Joseph’s plural wives. I wondered to myself if the seminary teacher even knew about this.

My mother’s attitude toward the whole issue of plural marriage was one of quiet nonchalance, as if it were no big deal and nothing to get all worked up about, so I didn’t. Although mother was a convert, she had studied this and dozens of other controversial subjects out in her own mind. Because she was not bothered by what she discovered in church history, neither was I.

The next time the subject of plural marriage came up in class, I volunteered a few facts that I had learned and was a little surprised by the reaction of the teacher as well as my peers. The teacher was flustered and my classmates were open-mouthed in surprise. It was obvious that I had said something that they didn’t know and had never heard before. I got quiet real quick.

A mother’s loving instruction

The same thing happened when the subject of translating the Book of Mormon came up. When I asked mother about the Urim and Thummim, we discussed it and then she mentioned that Joseph also used seer stones or peep stones as they were called. She could see I was interested so once again, she handed me a book and said, “Here, tell me about what you find out.”

Do you see the pattern? Mother would not overload me with information. She just answered a few basic questions at my level and then invited me to learn more on my own. I could tell that she knew more than she was sharing. As soon as I got to her level through independent study, we were able to discuss it openly and freely. Sometimes we reached the limit of her knowledge.

When that happened, mother would say, “That’s all I know about it but I’m sure there’s more. Why don’t you take it to the Lord in prayer?” Now this didn’t happen very often and at that point in my life I didn’t really understand what mother was talking about so I didn’t pursue it. I’m sure it frustrated mother and contributed to her desire to have me go to Rick’s College.

My church school experience

Of course it is mandatory to take religion classes at church schools like BYU and Ricks. I didn’t mind. In fact, my Book of Mormon class from Keith Sellers (1966-1995; B.S., M.S., Ed.D., BYU, 1959, 1962, 1965) precipitated some of the most awesome spiritual experiences of my young life up to that time. Dr. Sellers’s enthusiasm for what he was teaching went straight to my heart.

Although attendance at the weekly devotional is not mandatory, it was because I went to these events that I can say that I obtained real and direct revelation for the first time in my life. As President Eyring sat on the stand, I listened in reverence and awe to Elder LeGrand Richards share his wonderfully enthusiastic testimony of the gospel to the students and faculty in 1974.

That night I knelt in my dorm room and prayed like I had never prayed before. I wanted to know what LeGrand Richards knew. I wanted to know what Keith Sellers knew. I wanted to know what my mother knew. The experience is too sacred to share in this format but I can say that I obtained a kind of knowledge that night that changed my life forever.

Revelation changes everything

So many things changed for me with that one experience. I knew that I loved the Lord. I knew that everything I had been taught by my mother about the church and the gospel was true. I knew that what I had been taught by my primary, Sunday School and seminary teachers was true. I knew I wanted to go on a mission. I knew I would only marry in the temple.

After that experience I understood why we don’t share everything we know when we teach the gospel. It’s not that we don’t want to. It’s just that we can’t. The phrase “constraint of the spirit” found in D&C 63:64 suddenly made more sense to me. I found that I could not really talk about what happened that night with anyone who had not experienced it for themselves.

That was not the only time I have experienced direct revelation. There were several others just as powerful that were provided at a time when I was preparing for my mission. I spent a solid six months of intense daily personal study immersed in the gospel as found in the scriptures and supplemented by all those books mother had so thoughtfully provided over the years.

Summary and conclusion

If you look at my official transcript from Rick’s college you might be tempted to say that my parent’s investment in my education was wasted. But mother knew differently. Even though I felt like an academic failure, I carried with me a new sense of purpose and commitment that I did not have before I was taught by Keith Sellers and heard LeGrand Richards speak.

I still had much growing up to do. The mission changed my study habits and taught me the importance of paying the price of hard work in order to achieve something worthwhile. Marriage in the temple blessed my life with covenants that have led to my greatest happiness so far. Years of service in the church have only served to deepen that initial revelatory experience.

When I teach the gospel or speak in church I cannot share everything I know but I don’t have to. When I prepare well and speak under the inspiration of the spirit of the Lord, the Holy Ghost carries the depth of what I can’t say to the hearts of my students and listeners. It is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences to speak under the influence of that sacred spirit.

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