Loss of the Sealing Power

While in a sacred place a month ago a friend asked what I thought about “Passing the Heavenly Gift.” I confess that I had not heard of the book or the author, Denver Snuffer. I assume he asked my opinion because he knows that I have reviewed similar books on my blog that focus on controversial issues facing the LDS Church. Denver’s books are not advertised. People learn about them only by word of mouth or through online reviews on sites like mine.

I purchased the book and posted on Facebook that I had done so. Several of my blogging buddies noted it and expressed interest in what I thought. A few days later after my first quick read-through, I wrote “I speed read the first half. Finding no major faults, I devoured the second half (pages 240 to 499) in about four hours. I haven’t stayed up until 2:30 in the morning to read a book in years.” There is something dramatically different about this book.

Don’t leave the church

I also reported that “My focus in reading was to find anything smacking of disloyalty to the brethren or encouraging the members to leave. He came close on the first point but completely negated my concern on the second.” Before I write anything else I want to focus on that second point. I am convinced that Denver Snuffer has his reader’s best interest at heart. I cannot say that about the authors of any other recent book of LDS History I have read. Denver wants us to stay in the Church.

However, Denver Snuffer has caused me to do something no other recent writer of Mormon history has been able to do. He has produced in me a desire to read his book again and again. I want to study it, to research it, to look up many of the quotes, to read what others have said about those quotes. In other words, I am taking seriously Denver’s claims which, although not all unique to his book, are argued more precisely and effectively than any other author I have encountered.

Receive the Second Comforter

I have just completed the second reading of the book and am starting on the third, this time with pen and highlighter in hand. I have read his first book, “The Second Comforter” twice and have purchased each of the intervening six books. I have invested hours reading Denver’s blog from start to finish and have contemplated each of the points he has made there over the years. Other than the scriptures, I have never invested this much time in trying to understand an author’s message.

Everything I have learned about Denver has caused me to contemplate his message more and more. He has asked that we not focus on him, his life or his background. He has asked that we pay attention more to the process he is trying to get us to pass through – a process that if we follow through to completion will have us receive The Second Comforter for ourselves. I like that. I want that. I endorse that. How can you fault a man for wanting to help you come unto Christ? I don’t.

Details lacking in faith-promoting history

In the meantime, you are going to have to pass through some very difficult realizations that, depending on the strength of your relationship with the things of the spirit, may leave you gasping and reaching for help and understanding. If you are not already familiar with things our detractors have written about us you will have a challenging time reading this book. It will make you angry. It will cause you to think of Mr. Snuffer as an apostate and wonder why he hasn’t been excommunicated.

This book is not for everybody. If you are a casual member of the church you will not be interested. If you are not familiar with some of the controversies about our history being discussed on the Internet today, you will be a little shocked at what you read. You may not understand why some of the issues are problems at all if all you have ever learned about our history is what you were taught in Sunday school, Primary, Seminary or even Institute. This is an alternative view of our history.

Sealing power has been lost

I wish I was at the point where I could say that I can vouch for Denver’s accuracy or that I agree with his interpretations. I am not there yet. I suspect it will take me years to arrive at that level. In the meantime, if you have already read Denver’s works, I want to hear from you. I am especially interested in discussion about the two most controversial arguments in his book – the idea that the sealing power is not on the earth at this time and Denver’s interpretation of the fullness of the priesthood.

<Update 4-29-12> Denver has posted on his blog that “I have never said the church does not have the sealing power.” This obviously is in direct conflict with the thesis of this essay and my (and my wife’s) interpretation of the first chapter of his book, especially this line: “The church and its ordinations and ordinances does not confer power.” (p 36) He’s right. He did not say the church does not have the sealing power. Carol and I did not clearly understand the message of his first chapter. <end of update>

I kept looking for Denver to address the implications of the position he is advocating in regards to the work we are doing in the temples. I confess I have so far been disappointed by the lack of a sympathetic discussion of what this means to the thousands, if not millions of members who have spent so much of their time and energy over the years in researching and performing proxy ordinances in the temples for their ancestors. I am one of those individuals and want to know his response.

The work in the temples

In other words, if the sealing power is not on the earth then what hope do my wife and I have that we will be united in the eternities? If the sealing power is not on the earth, then what in the world have I and my mother and sisters been doing for these past forty years in digging and corresponding and compiling the thousands and thousands of family names ensuring that their work was done in the temples? I see this as the single most important issue to be answered.

Because I am so intrigued by what I have learned so far, I am going to give Denver the benefit of the doubt that he has already answered this question satisfactorily and I have simply not yet found it. I am not like some of my online friends who have become disaffected and left the church then complain about how much they resented the loss of their tithing money or that they felt duped when they learned they had been teaching a “sanitized” version of our history.

Section 110 misinterpreted

This idea of the sealing power is central to my feelings about the church and core to the reason why I have spent so many thousands of hours in the temple over the past thirty-five years. No, I don’t feel that my time was wasted if what Denver claims about section 110 is true. Of all the things that could strike at the heart and soul of Mormonism this is it. If you want to hurt a whole lot of good people, tell them that the the work they have been doing in the temples is not valid.

There is one question I would like to ask Denver, but I won’t because I don’t know him and he has made it clear that he gets far too many requests to answer directly. Because I felt strongly about sharing what I was learning from Denver’s books, I asked Carol to read the fist chapter of “Passing the Heavenly Gift” to me as we drove to Southern Utah for a family vacation this weekend. We had one of the most deep and enjoyable gospel discussions we have ever had over the course of several hours.

Exaltation is a family affair

Carol came away from the reading with the distinct impression that Denver was saying that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is today no different than any other good Christian church. She read that Brigham Young was only elected to be the President of the Church and that there was no ordination that passed the keys of the kingdom to him or to any of the rest of the twelve. She related her feelings while as a missionary she was taught by her mission president that Joseph ordained and passed the keys of the kingdom on to the twelve before they left on their missions.

Denver, what would you say to my wife, who related while she stood at the Far West temple site with dozens of other missionaries how she felt the spirit bear witness to her soul that Joseph successfully passed the keys of the kingdom on to the apostles before he sent them away on their missions and went on to Carthage jail to seal his testimony with his blood? Would you say that Joseph wasn’t referring to the council of the twelve, but to the council of fifty?

An incomplete ordination

What Denver is writing about is serious business. He is apparently all about getting people to question what they have been taught and what they believe about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He says he wants to bring us to Christ but in the process he wants us to rethink what we have been taught and what we believe about the power of priesthood and how it is manifested in our lives. He says the temple will point us to Christ yet says the sealing power is not there.

Am I the first to see the implications of what he is teaching? I don’t think so. Tell me I’m wrong or that I’ve missed the point completely. Tell me that all the thousands of temple workers, so many of them my good friends, are not wasting their time laboring in temples that have been rejected. Tell me that the blessings I have given to my wife and so many others over the years are efficacious even though I have not had my ordination completed by having the Lord lay his hands upon my head.

Receiving the Heavenly Gift

I am not a lawyer, so I can never argue as well as Denver has done. I am a simple member of the church, happy in my faith and grateful to have lived my life in the orthodox manner as taught by my leaders. I have served a mission, been married in the temple, served in bishoprics and high councils for the past twenty-five years and generally loved my time associating with saints of the Lord, who Denver is now calling a fallen and proud people, members of an apostate gentile church.

What do you think? Has Denver taught the truth in his book, “Passing the Heavenly Gift” or is he an apostate like some have declared him to be? Is it worth my time to read the rest of his books? Is there a whole lot more that I don’t see yet that will prove Denver to be right? Perhaps I need to re-read his first book again and put the process to the test as he is asking us to do. Is Denver teaching that we need to do in our homes what we are taught in the temple to converse with the Lord through the veil?

I would love to read your opinions.


“Everyone get down.”

A rock crashed through the front window of the bus. We didn’t have to be told twice. Some passengers ducked in their seats. We got on the floor. My heart raced.

The bus sped up. I looked at my companion. It was hard to see him in the dark. He seemed terrified. We held on to the seat legs for support.

“Dios mío,” said one of the women. Children cried. Rocks crashed through the side windows. Glass sprayed all around us. The bus driver laid on the horn.

A man shouted something in Spanish out the window. A rock hit him in the side of the face. Blood spattered the seat next to us. Several women screamed.

Chickens flew in the aisle. More rocks smashed windows in quick succession. The bus hopped over obstacles in the road. Men, women and children bounced up and down.

A shot rang out, then another. They came from behind us. One last rock hit the back window. The bus veered to the right in a sudden turn. The crashing rocks ceased.

“Are you alright?” I asked my companion.

Elder Morales didn’t reply. A woman next to him sobbed. He spoke to her in Spanish. He tried to comfort her. The bus slowed to a more reasonable speed.

After a moment I saw the lights of the main street ahead. The bus driver stopped at the corner. He got out and swore. “Damn those kids. Look what they did to my bus.”

We all piled out after him as fast as we could. Women gathered their children who still cried. Men stood around the bus driver. They asked him to keep going.

“They would have burned my bus if I stopped,” the driver said. “I’ve had enough of this. I’m going home.” He got back in his bus, closed the door and sped down the road.

I helped Elder Morales clean the glass out of his hair. His ear was bleeding. I gave him my handkerchief. We began the long walk back to our house outside the barrio.

We worked in Reparto Schick all day, every day. The dangers of that poor neighborhood just outside of Managua prevented us from staying there at night. We had come from a day full of meetings and visiting the people in their homes. It was Sunday, February 5, 1978.

We worked with a small church group called a branch. The leader of the branch got up in church that day and renounced his position. Then his assistant renounced. He said he didn’t want the job either. We spent the afternoon trying to convince them to stay.

“What are we going to do, Elder Morales?” We walked at a fast pace away from the shouting and fires that still burned in the barrio. “President Jimenez can’t quit like that.”

“Elder Malone, you’ve got to understand these people. There are so few that are willing to lead a church. This is the third time he’s been Branch President.”

“I know, but he can’t quit. He has to be released.” Elder Morales looked at me with a kind of sadness. He seemed so much older and wiser than his nineteen years. He was from San Jose. One eye was lop-sided. I could never tell exactly where he was looking.

“We’ll talk to President Garcia. Let him handle it.” I liked that. Give the problem to the District President where it belonged. I was going to miss Elder Morales.

This was our last full day together as companions. I was being transferred the next day to work in Bello Horizonte as a zone leader. All the missionaries in my incoming group of fourteen were about to become zone leaders. It happened with the passage of time.

The only cars on the road that night were taxis and a few busses. Very few people had cars. Sometimes a church member who drove a taxi would pick us up. Not that night.

The shouting in the distance grew louder. Army trucks rolled past us going toward the barrio. A helicopter flew in the distance. Its powerful light searched the ground below.

“Elder, I think we had better get off this road. Let’s cut through the field.” We were about five minutes from our house. The commotion was growing louder. Elder Morales agreed.

The stench of a dead dog filled our nostrils. The light from the helicopter revealed it was infested with maggots. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, Elder.”

Elder Morales began to cough, then sneeze and gag. He grabbed at his face. Tears flowed from his eyes. Surely the scent of a dead dog couldn’t do this. Then it hit me.

Tear gas has a powerful effect even after several minutes. The helicopter light shone fully in our faces. A voice in Spanish over a loudspeaker demanded to know why we were there.

Neither one of us could talk. The wind from their rotor blades whipped around us. Tears blinded my eyes. My tie whipped up in my face. I held my hands up high. So did Elder Morales.

“Don’t shoot,” Elder Morales managed to shout. “We’re missionaries.” It must have been the white shirts that saved our lives. And Sandinistas don’t wear ties.

“CIA go home.” I had to laugh. The voice over the loudspeaker spoke English. It was intended for me. I waved in reply. Both arms. I waved them off. Get out of here.

We arrived home a few moments later. The doña had the usual rice and beans waiting for us. That night she added a little chicken and some plátanos in my honor.

“You’re late. Did anything interesting happen today?”

I looked at my companion.

“We had a great church meeting,” he said. “Please pass the rice.”

Setting and acheiving goals

In bishopric meeting this morning, our new bishop shared the spiritual thought.  He chose the subject of goals and quoted from page 146 of Preach My Gospel on how to set them.  Here are some excerpts of the goal setting advice offered on that page:

“Goals reflect the desires of our hearts and our vision of what we can accomplish.  Through goals and plans, our hopes are transformed into action.”  What we reach for in goals reflects what we desire in our hearts.  Our goals reveal our true selves.

Goals, faith and agency

“Goal setting and planning are acts of faith.  Do everything in your power to achieve your goals while respecting the agency of others.”  I believe the best goals are the ones that we can control.  It does little good to set goals dependant on the actions of others.

Think about it.  You can set a goal to have another person do some specific thing that is desirable, but you have no control over what they actually do.  You can ask, invite, persuade and demonstrate why they should, but you can’t make them do it.

Service improves progress

“The ultimate measure of success is not in achieving goals alone but in the service you render and the progress of others.  Goals are a means of helping you bring about much good…”  I like the idea of setting goals in areas that benefit not just our own lives.

I believe that the progress of others is directly influenced by the service we render to them.  I have seen this over in over in my own life.  Those whom I love and serve seem to respond better when I ask them to do something that I believe will help them.

Goals, plans and activities

“Carefully considered goals will give you clear direction and will help you fill your days with activities that help people…”  The achievement of goals requires that we make plans and then act to carry out those plans.  Goals are not achieved by magic.

“Challenging goals will help you work effectively and lead you to stretch and grow.”  Nothing good happens without work.  If you want to achieve something worthwhile in life, there must be effort put forth to bring about the achievement of good goals.

Goals and the big picture

Like me, I’ll bet you’ve had the experience of someone else setting a goal for you that was not achieved.  Perhaps you’ve even gone to the trouble of setting goals for others and then wonder why they don’t get reached.  The goals were worthy.

I’ve discovered over the years that unless I have a clear vision of how a goal benefits and blesses my life or my loved ones, then I am less than enthusiastic in putting forth the effort to achieve it.  I don’t think that’s selfish.  I think that it’s just human nature.

Shared vision motivates

So anytime we start talking about goals in church, I always look for the leader to help me understand their vision.  Unless I can see for myself what they hope will happen, I have a hard time connecting my energy and focus into carrying out assignments.

Again, I don’t think I’m expressing any fundamental character flaws here.  I look for the same thing in working with people in my career.  A great leader is one who inspires by sharing vision.  When vision is shared and understood it is highly motivational.

Where there is no vision…

How do you feel when someone asks you to do something that is hard to do without sharing with you the vision of what they hope will be accomplished when the task is completed?  If you’re like me, sometimes other things take priority over the assignment.

Don’t get me wrong.  Most of us fulfill the basics of what we are asked to do.  It’s not hard.  We have instruction manuals and if you have been in the church for a while, you can pretty much figure out how to do any calling successfully with enough time.

Vision based on true principles

But I suspect that we can be much more effective in our callings and in our lives when we have a vision of ourselves achieving the righteous desires of our hearts.  I also suspect that we don’t spend enough time creating and enlarging those future visions.

I am convinced that the best leaders motivate by sharing vision in a compelling way.  Hopefully the ability to inspire and help people see themselves in different or better circumstances is based on true principles of honesty, integrity and hard work.

Summary and conclusion

So I have come to the conclusion that the best way to set goals, at least for me, is to concentrate on discovering the desires of our hearts.  Activities that create a vision of each other enjoying those righteous desires are motivating and encouraging to me.

Once you know what you really want, find a way to visualize it and share it with others.  The more people that share your vision, the more likely it is that it will be achieved.  The goals and plans we make then become the stepping stones to fulfill our visions.

What they don’t tell you about Bishopric meetings

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.

Accepting callings

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.

%d bloggers like this: