You’re probably familiar with Nearing Kolob, the blog dedicated to posts from missionaries and mission presidents that seem a little, well … unusual. I recently came across a letter from one such mission president whose counsel falls into that “unusual” category by controlling what missionaries study. When I served as a missionary in 1976 we were encouraged to read books from the list below. In fact, our mission president, a former CES Institute Director, encouraged us to read many additional books that were found in the mission library, mainly from current General Authorities.
- The Standard Works / the Scriptures
- Jesus the Christ by James E. Talmage
- The Great Apostasy by James E. Talmage (not all missions approved this one)
- A Marvelous Work and a Wonder by LeGrand Richards
- The Articles of Faith by LeGrand Richards
- Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith
- Essentials in Church History, by Joseph Fielding Smith
- Doctrines of Salvation (three volumes) by Joseph Fielding Smith
- Faith Precedes the Miracle by Spencer W. Kimball
- The Miracle of Forgiveness by Spencer W. Kimball
Today, the only book that I think is still on the approved list is Jesus the Christ. I find this simply amazing and absolutely deplorable. It’s no wonder most of the missionaries today seem to know so little about LDS Church History or what Joseph Smith taught on a subject. In fact, as this letter demonstrates, knowing what Joseph taught is detrimental to missionaries.
Hermana – I do appreciate your openness in our discussions. That helps me understand where you are in your personal conversion process and areas that I might be able to help you with. We are all converts and are all going through a continual conversion process throughout our lives.
I know you were concerned about not being able to read the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It may seem unusual that you are not allowed to read this book while on your mission but you will recall that the call letter you received from President Monson specifically said to not bring any books with you that were not on the list of the missionary library. The principle here is that with the missionary library, including the standard works and those teachings available through the church web pages, you have all you need to effectively teach the gospel here on your mission. Not reading Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith is a matter of obedience to the counsel and direction of our living prophets and apostles and is not something that I have personally determined. That said I wholeheartedly support what the brethren have asked of our missionaries in this regard and see the blessings in the lives of those missionaries who are obedient to this principle.
We revere Joseph Smith and reverence his role as the first prophet of this dispensation. That said we believe in modern and continuing revelation through living prophets such as Thomas S. Monson. Many of the things we are doing in the church today were not revealed to Joseph Smith and came to us via continual revelation and are nevertheless part of the restored gospel in its fullness. A good example would be the revelation given that all worthy men could hold the priesthood which came through living prophets of that time I also find it wonderful and inspired to see how D&C 107 has continued to be used to address the expanding needs of the church with the quorums of the seventy taking on a larger and larger role in the administrative affairs of the kingdom.
When we discussed the fact that President Monson is a prophet just as Abraham and Moses were you noted that you knew of no prophecy given by him. It is certain that you and I do not know of all the revelations and prophecies given to President Monson but that lack of personal knowledge of revelations that God does not want him to share with the rest of us does not then make him any less of a prophet. Over the years there have been many prophecies revealed to the Lord’s anointed prophets that are not widely known to men such as when prophets have been shown things but were forbidden to write them or reveal them. A good example is found in Alma (See Alma 45:9-14).
I know you have dedicated much time in the study of the history of the church and related information. That is good. My only caution is that you take care not to trust so much in your own understanding and that which you are personally able to learn for yourself and shut off spiritual learning. We know that the Holy Ghost is the Master Teacher (See Elder Bednar’s talk – Becoming a Preach My Gospel Missionary) and that through the Holy Ghost we can know the truth of all things (Mor 10:4-5). When Elder Bednar toured our mission he told the missionaries to not write down the words that they hear him say but to write the feelings that come to them as he spoke. Scholars both in and out of the church risk becoming so enamored with their own understanding and learning that they are blinded to the Spirit. Of use is the caution provided in 2 Nephi 9:28.
28 0 that cunning plan of the evil one! 0 the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.
I am quick to admit that I do not know everything about the gospel. I think you would admit this as well. When we trust our own learning we are trusting in the arm of flesh and that always leads us to places where we do not want to go.
For talks to study this week I would like you to print, study, meditate and pray about the following:
President James E. Faust, The Healing Power of Forgiveness.
I am concerned about feelings you have about President Monson and these incidents that you do not want to disclose to me but which seem to trouble you about him. Read this talk and begin the process of forgiving him for whatever wrong you perceive he has committed. You will be healed and be strengthened in your testimony of him in the process. I sat next to Gary Ceran on a plane coming back to SLC on a business trip a few months before our mission and we had a most amazing conversation.
Elder Soares does an amazing job helping us realize those attributes that make us true disciples of Christ.
I wrote this on Sunday afternoon but very early this morning as I was pondering and praying about your situation and feelings I had the impression to share the following. I tell missionaries who are going home that if they show me their friends I will show them their future. I am trying to inspire them to seek out good company and in surrounding themselves with such people they will live the standards of the church as well. It goes without saying that if you hang out with people who do drugs or break the law of chastity that you will eventually do those things too. How does this apply to you? It applies in the fact that if you read literature produced by or focuses on things taught by people who are disaffected with the church who are either members or who are separated either of their own choice or through church discipline that you will eventually become like them. That is why it is never good to do so. The 13th Article of Faith says in part that if there is anything virtuous, lovely or of good report or praiseworthy we seek after these things. Nothing that someone like Denver Snuffer or any other person who criticizes the prophet or the church and what they do falls into any of those categories. Time spent on these things are a distraction from that which will elevate us to exaltation … the things spoken of in the 13th Article of Faith.
As I thought further on this my mind was taken to those who criticized Joseph Smith and sought to tear him or the church down or diminish him as the Lord’s chosen vessel. They either repented of those things or they became separated from the church either by their choice or by church discipline. Regardless, they put in jeopardy their exaltation for doing so. Some would say that church discipline is wrong. I know that Denver Snuffer says that he was treated unjustly by his local leaders for holding the council and by President Monson for upholding his excommunication and that it was an exercise of unrighteous dominion. The simple fact is that there were those who opposed the church and Joseph Smith who were excommunicated in councils in which the prophet presided or which were approved by him. That was not unrighteous dominion any more than the actions of President Monson.
I truly hope and pray that I can help you through these challenging moments so that you can achieve your full potential as a missionary and as a daughter of our Heavenly Father. I am not your enemy. I am here to help you from going down a path from which the return will be hard and perhaps ultimately impossible if followed for too long.
Regards, President ******