The Four Phases of Mormonism


FourProphetsThis is another in a series of my study notes from Passing the Heavenly Gift by Denver Snuffer. I’ve spent considerable time this past year studying the material presented in an effort to come to grips with a paradigm change in how I view the LDS church. I am a lifelong active member. I love this church and the people in it. But the religion has changed dramatically even in my life.

In this essay I attempt to reconcile the changes I have seen from the religion of my youth to the faith we practice today. For those familiar with Denver’s latest book, you may recognize some of the wording in the early part of this essay to be taken from his summary of the four phases on pages ten and eleven. It can also be found on the back cover and the publisher’s online summary.

Besides a summary of the four phases, I’d like to respond to selected quotes from chapter two of the book, entitled History and Truth. If you don’t approve of quoting D. Michael Quinn or Davis Bitton for that matter (“I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church”), then you’re not going to like this chapter. From Denver: “If this book challenges your faith, then stop reading it.”

The Four Phases

Phase 1 – 1820 to 1844 – 24 years
Phase 2 – 1844 to 1904 – 60 years
Phase 3 – 1904 to 1951 – 47 years
Phase 4 – 1951 to present – 61 years

From its very beginning, Mormonism has undergone constant change. It has yet to assume a final form. It has undergone at least four distinct phases to date. The first was during Joseph Smith’s lifetime and ended with his death in 1844. The key changes during the first phase were exciting, additive and innovative: new revelation, new church structure, new doctrine and new ordinances.

The second phase began with Brigham Young and lasted until the second manifesto in 1904. As you can imagine, the key component of this phase was the influence of plural marriage. The end of this phase was so traumatic for some leaders of the church that they resigned their positions as apostles. Abandonment of polygamy was a watershed event in the maturing of the LDS religion.

The third phase began with the Smoot hearings and ended with the death of President George Albert Smith in 1951. This was a period marked by a church struggling to find its way in a modern world. Long gone were the days of isolation and clinging to old ways at all costs. The church became increasingly more conservative, doing all it could to shed a timeworn image.

The fourth and current phase of Mormonism began with the administration of David O. McKay. The early part of this period saw explosive growth of the church in membership, wealth, temple building, political influence and scholarship. In the latter part, Mormonism adopted correlation and corporate management techniques to consolidate and direct central church decision-making.

The Focus has Changed

In the early days of the church under the leadership of Joseph Smith, the focus was on every man becoming a partaker of the heavenly gift. The culmination of this period was at the dedication of the Kirtland temple. The rich outpourings of the spirit are unmatched to this day. The opening of the heavens in such great abundance for all greatly blessed the lives of early church members.

Brigham changed everything with the public announcement of polygamy as a major tenet of our religion. At one time we taught in this church that a man could not be exalted unless he entered into plural marriage. Mormonism became something I don’t think Joseph intended. The focus changed from receiving heavenly manifestations to a religion that only talked about them.

Later, the abandonment of polygamy became grounds for excommunication. The church outdid itself in efforts to prove to the world we are a “normal” church and people, just like the rest of America. We still celebrated our rich spiritual heritage but fewer and fewer people, especially leaders, focused on opening the heavens to pursue manifestations or new spiritual experiences.

In the modern church, we rarely hear of members, or leaders for that matter, who are willing to share their spiritual experiences. The church grows through modern efficiencies until one can say it is probably the best run church in the world. The focus on sharing spiritual events from our lives has almost completely disappeared. It seems we are expected to keep such things private.

What is Missing Today

I’ve thought long and hard about what it is I feel is missing in our church from my pre-mission days. Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s I recall stories of spiritual experiences, firesides focused on how to have the heavens opened, and classroom discussions that always included invitations to go and get a personal revelation on the subject so you could be an independent witness.

“Mormonism has become increasingly less mystic, less miraculous, and even less tolerant of ‘gifts’ of the Spirit. Although it retains an emphasis on personal revelation, there is no continuing expectation of new scripture, new commandments, or Divine visitations. The concepts are retained, but the expectations are gone. The idea of angels, visions and visitations are regarded as ‘magical thinking’ belonging to an earlier, primitive people.” – pages 45-46

Today, we seem to be a church at odds with itself. On the one hand, we continue to teach the importance of receiving personal revelation. On the other hand, those who talk about their own revelations are looked upon as weird or unusual. When did it become a taboo subject to talk about having the heavens opened? This is the major change I sense in our Mormon culture.

“The first phase of Mormonism was dominated by visions, angels, and direct involvement by God. Those experiences are still celebrated and taught. However, they are only used as a legitimizing credential for a demystified church. The current phase of Mormonism is missing the direct appearance or involvement of God, angels and visions. There is a disconnect between the miraculous events upon which Mormonism is based, and current church events.” – page 47

Expected Audience with God

It seems in the modern Mormon Church we are tolerant of just the right amount of revelation and no more. We nod our heads approvingly when we hear testimonies of new converts as they talk about how they prayed to know if the Book of Mormon is true. We smile as we hear them relate how they received their answer from God. Ah, yes, the warm, peaceful feeling of the spirit. We remember with fondness our own introductory experiences with the spirit in our youth.

“Every convert to the faith restored through Joseph Smith was, and is expected to have a revelation from God affirming to him or her that the work is God’s. … The purpose of Joseph Smith’s work was not to inform people of revelation as a theoretical possibility, but to install it as a practical reality. Revelation is required to bring converts into the religion, but an audience with God is always the expected culminating event.” – pages 49-50

Wait, what? An audience with God? Well, sure, maybe in the next life but not in this one. Yes, I know what D&C 93:1 says, but Joseph must have been referring to the life to come. “Verily, thus sayeth the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am.” It can’t be any clearer than that, can it? But in this mortal life?

Yes, I think it means in this life. We are expected to work towards and receive an audience with God in this life. Forsake our sins, come unto Christ, call on His name and do what he says. The heart of the work is to hear His voice and do as He personally directs us. We are to meet God face to face. Each person should approach Him for themselves. This was the primary message of the first phase of Mormonism that doesn’t seem to be taught today. I miss that.

Belief, Faith and Knowledge

Belief means to understand and accept true doctrine. Unbelief, as used in the Book or Mormon, means to accept false doctrine or to have an incomplete, and inaccurate understanding of correct doctrine. The phrase, “dwindling in unbelief” is the Book of Mormon’s way to describe moving from a state of belief, with true and complete doctrine, to a state of unbelief, where the truth has been discarded. Miracles end because men dwindle in unbelief. (page 52)

“The word ‘faith’ is used when an angel has ministered to someone. Going from belief to faith is a natural progression as soon as any person with a firm mind in every form of righteousness has been tried and found committed to the truth.” This short paragraph, also on page 52, was a real eye-opener to me. From it, I have come to the conclusion that I have not been a person of faith. Denver backs this up with Moroni 7:37, Jacob 7:5 and Moroni 7:30.

“A person acquires ‘knowledge’ when they have an audience with Christ. The Book of Mormon intends for all those who read it to acquire knowledge of Christ. They are to meet Him; to know Him. Hence the saying by Joseph Smith: ‘A man is saved no faster than he gains knowledge.’ Saving knowledge comes from ‘knowing’ – meeting with and being ministered to – by Jesus Christ. He is the Second Comforter. (page 53) We must gain this knowledge to be saved.

The Whole Purpose of the Temple

“The whole temple message can be summarized in one brief statement: We are to be prepared in all things to receive further light and knowledge by conversing with the Lord through the veil. The ceremony of the temple is not the real thing. It is a symbol of the real thing. The real thing is when a person actually obtains an audience with the Jesus Christ, returns to His presence, and gains the knowledge by which they are saved.” (page 53)

“The ceremonies and ordinances of the temple all point to Him. They are not the end of the search but instead teach you how to conduct the search. If all you receive are ordinances, you have nothing of real value. They are dead without a living, personal connection with God. God alone can and will save you. …when men come into contact with the Lord, they gain authority from Him. The Lord’s friends and fellow-servants are always endowed with power.” (pp 55-56)

I have always wondered about the purpose of the prayer circle and veil ceremony if they are not to teach us how to approach the Lord and receive instruction from Him directly. We are taught what we must do, but then we don’t do it. Why? Do we continue to think it is only symbolic, or that it is not meant to be done in this life? When is the appropriate time to knock at the veil to receive further light and knowledge? Surely the Lord didn’t intend for us to wait until we die.

We Must be Taught by Angels and Christ

“Returning to God’s presence is Joseph’s witness, message and theme. If you return to His presence, you will learn more in five minutes than you can by reading all that has ever been written on the subject. Joseph showed that we like him, can gaze into heaven and gain knowledge. No man or woman has ever, or will ever, be saved in ignorance. All of us are saved only as quickly as we gain knowledge of Him directly from Him.” (pages 60-61)

“…revealed religion is always founded on the dramatic; the light going on suddenly and illuminating the room. Without the dramatic appearances of the Lord after His resurrection, the New Testament account would not provide the promise of redemption through Christ. Despite all His profound wisdom, it is the suddenly miraculous return to life which moves Him from teacher of wisdom to Savior of mankind.” (pages 62-63)

“The restoration is marked by the First Vision, the appearance of Moroni, the visit of John the Baptist and return of Peter, James and John. These events identify it as something quite different from other Christian religions. It is not another sect. It is God’s latest work among mankind. When angels stop ministering to the Latter-day Saints, then the original faith has ended among us. At that point we become like any other Christian sect.” (page 63)

Statements from Heber J. Grant

“I know of no instance where the Lord has appeared to an individual since His appearance to the Prophet Joseph Smith.” – Heber J. Grant, 13 April 1926, private letter to Mrs. Claud Peery

“I have never prayed to see the Savior. I know of men – Apostles – who have seen the Savior more than once. I have prayed to the Lord for the inspiration of His Spirit to guide me, and I have told Him that I have seen so many men fall because of some great manifestation to them, they felt their importance, their greatness.” – President Heber J. Grant, 4 October 1942, probably referring to Matthias F. Cowley and John W. Taylor

These are troubling statements, because they seem to be in direct contradiction with the whole focus of the religion restored by Joseph Smith. Why would the president of the church denounce the need or desire to receive a visitation from the Savior who he represented as his prophet? Is personal knowledge of Jesus Christ unnecessary or viewed as a negative leading to a fall? This is so different from what Joseph taught – that such a visitation is the defining moment of our lives.

I also wonder why President Grant was not aware of Lorenzo’s Snow’s testimony that he saw the Savior in the Salt lake Temple directing him to reorganize the First Presidency immediately upon the death of Wilford Woodruff in 1898. In addition, On August 1, 1890, Charles Ora Card recorded in his diary that Apostle John W. Taylor had testified that “he had beheld the Savior.” Was President Grant withholding information on purpose? If so, why would he do such a thing?

Summary and Conclusion

Denver concludes chapter two with a discussion of the concept of “practical infallibility” that we have given to our prophets in the modern church. He quotes a few statements of the Brethren to the effect that the Lord would not allow the President of the Church to lead the people astray. It is the idea of respect for the office of the President of the Church that causes us to assume that they and all the apostles must be eyewitnesses of Christ, as opposed to administrative apostles.

In the next chapter Denver tackles the idea of succession in the church, another difficult subject in which he presents material in a different light from the traditional narrative of the church. As he wrote in the book and has written many times on his blog, “If this book challenges your faith, then stop reading it.” Remember, Denver is not advocating anybody leaving the church. On the contrary, he is encouraging all to remain a part of the church, to love and serve one another.

Occasionally, if you do a Google search for Denver Snuffer, you will note that two suggested phrases behind his name are “apostate” and “excommunicated.” Google searches are very telling in that they are a good indicator of what people think of a given subject or person. Denver has stopped posting as much as he used to. I think it’s to give some of us time to catch up and come to a better understanding of what he says the Lord asked him to share. That’s what I’m doing.

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.

An Evening with Richard Bushman


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

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

Open and honest discussion

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

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

A well-qualified historian

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

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

Serving faithfully in the church

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

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

Believing in spite of knowing

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

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

Shocked by our history

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

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

History not being hidden

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

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

Selling the Book of Mormon Copyright

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

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

Consider carefully the source

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

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

Get the facts straight

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

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

The Joseph Smith Papers

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

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

We can believe the prophet

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

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

The endowment is more than the ordinances


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

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

The redemptive mission of the Savior

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

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

Receive the Holy Ghost

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

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

Promise of the Father

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

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

We must seek this gift

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

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

Temple ordinances part of the process

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

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

Endowed with power

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

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

More than the ordinances

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

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

Pattern found in Third Nephi

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

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

Witnesses know for themselves

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

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

The endowment begins

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

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

In the midst of fire

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

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

To be continued…

Letter to a reader


This is going to be a little difficult to write because it is both a sacred and a sensitive subject.  It is sacred because it involves personal revelation that is intended to be just that – personal.  It is sensitive because I know from many years of experience and dialog with other members of the church that not everyone feels the same way or has had the same experiences I have had with the Holy Ghost and in particular, the feeling of the burning of the bosom that I have experienced.

You asked if I thought if everyone can experience or feel the burning of the bosom.  I like what Elder Oaks had to say about that: “What does a ‘burning in the bosom’ mean? Does it need to be a feeling of caloric heat, like the burning produced by combustion? If that is the meaning, I have never had a burning in the bosom. Surely, the word ‘burning’ in this scripture signifies a feeling of comfort and serenity. That is the witness many receive. That is the way revelation works.”

Burning of the bosom

Elder S. Dilworth Young said, “It is a feeling which cannot be described, but the nearest word we have is ‘burn’ or ‘burning.’ Accompanying this always is a feeling of peace, a further witness that what one heard is right. Once one recognizes this burning, this feeling, this peace, one need never be drawn astray in his daily life or in the guidance he may receive.”  Elder Romney taught this many times – that we can make life’s decisions correctly using instructions in D&C 9:8-9.

Elder Packer taught, “This burning in the bosom is not purely a physical sensation. It is more like a warm light shining within your being.”  Another apostle said, “As I have traveled throughout the Church, I’ve found relatively few people who have experienced a burning of the bosom. In fact, I’ve had many people tell me that they’ve become frustrated because they have never experienced that feeling even though they have prayed or fasted for long periods of time.”

Some do feel the burning

So, from both personal experience and from what we have been taught by Apostles and Prophets, yes, we can and many do feel the burning of the bosom at various times in their lives.  But for many faithful members, and perhaps most, the burning of the bosom is either very rare or non-existent.  I guess it all depends on how you describe it or what you expect.  If Elder Oaks can say that he has never felt caloric heat, like the burning produced by combustion then I accept that.

I guess I am the exception and can say without a doubt that I do often feel a warm sensation in the area of my chest when I am engaged in something that I know pleases the Lord.  In contrast, I have felt a cold feeling or absence of warmth in that same general region of my chest many times in my life when I have engaged in actions or even thoughts that offended the spirit.  For me it is a very real and discernable sensation that has blessed me throughout my life since I was a youth.

Ricks College

You asked about my experience at Ricks College in regards to receiving an answer to prayer.  This was not my first experience with revelation, nor was it the last, but it was one of the most powerful and tangible up to that point in my life.  It has also been one of the most memorable and influential spiritual experiences to come upon me even though it occurred over 35 years ago.  As I noted, it is sacred, but I do feel it is appropriate to share with you since you have asked.

I was 17 years old at the time.  It was in the Fall of 1974.  My family joined the Church in 1962 when I was five so I feel that I grew up as a member, attending Primary, Sunday School, MIA and Seminary.  However, during my Senior year of High School, there was about a six to eight month period of time that I hung with the wrong kind of friends and did not attend church.  In short, I had some repenting to do and felt a strong desire to know my standing before the Lord.

Apostolic invitation

Early in the Fall of 1974, I attended an assembly at Ricks College, now BYU Idaho, in which I distinctly remember President Eyring introducing Elder LeGrand Richards as our devotional speaker.  I had heard Elder Richards speak in General Conference before but I had never been in the same meeting with him in which I could feel his spirit and sense his enthusiasm for the gospel.  Something in me caused me to sit still and pay careful attention to what he was saying.

As he taught the gospel and bore fervent testimony of the work of the Lord I remember thinking to myself how much I would like to be able to speak with the power, confidence and enthusiasm that he had.  A distinct impression came over me, and I attribute this to the whisperings of the spirit, that I could have that same witness that Elder Richards had and that I could teach like that someday if I would pay the price of study, devotion, obedience and especially of intense prayer.

Led by the Lord

As I left the devotional assembly I pondered the message I had felt from the spirit long and hard.  Like Joseph said, I reflected upon it again and again.  Never had anything penetrated my heart so deeply.  I felt drawn to the possibility that I could know what Elder Richards knew and that I could receive it in the way he testified – through humble prayer and revelation from the Lord.  I wanted to know what the Lord thought of my efforts to repent thus far in leaving my sins behind.

On Friday, I determined that I was going to put the promise to the test.  My roommate was gone for the evening to a dance so I knew I would have a few hours alone to talk to the Lord in prayer.  I felt filled with desire as I began my efforts and was impressed that the words flowed so easily.  It was clear to me that the spirit was directing my thoughts and helping me to express myself.  I am confident that I went on for a solid hour reviewing my life with the Lord as I prayed aloud.

Painful confession

The second hour was not so easy.  In fact, it became very difficult to confess my sins of the year that had passed and to have revealed to me the effects my actions had upon myself and on others.  Tears flowed as I saw how I had hurt myself and others and again, the spirit impressed me how the Lord felt about my sadness and the misery through which I had passed.  I felt no judgment or condemnation, only that the Lord was pained because of my pain and that he wanted to heal me.

Finally, in the third hour, I was in agony as I pled with the Lord to forgive me and to restore to me the innocence and happiness I had once felt before the days of my rebellion.  I asked again and again for relief.  I wanted to know that I had been forgiven and that I would yet be able to make something of my life in spite of the sin and disobedience of earlier days.  I pleaded and begged for a witness or a manifestation of the Lord’s love for me and that I had been forgiven.

Opposition is real

It was towards the end of the third hour that I saw clearly in my mind’s eye the reality of the existence of unclean and evil spirits.  As I recalled moments of my sinful behavior, the Lord showed to me that I was not alone, that there were beings from the unseen world participating with me in my sin.  I was appalled at the scenes I was recalling and abhorred the fact that the adversary had used me during those moments.  My pain was real and I was suffering terribly.

Just as I was about to give up in despair that I would receive no relief from my torment and just as I had about decided that my emotional outpouring of grief and despair were in vain, I realized that something unusual was happening about and within me.  I began to sit very still and to pay close attention to what I was feeling or rather sensing.  A tangible feeling of peace came over me and a feeling of happiness, almost euphoria entered into my heart and mind.  It was powerful!

Revelatory experience

Warmth filled my being almost from head to toe.  I did not see, but I sensed light all around and within me.  Now this is the most difficult and personal part to describe of what I experienced.  I did not see anything with my eyes.  I did not hear anything with my ears.  But I knew that I was not alone at that moment.  I began to hear words, no, full sentences in my mind and saw myself at some future time in my life, participating in sacred and powerful events related to the gospel.

I cannot adequately describe what I saw in my mind’s eye and heard in my heart, but I will tell you that I sat transfixed for what seemed like another hour as scene after potential scene of my life was revealed to me.  I both saw and heard myself speaking and teaching the gospel with the same kind of confidence that I had seen in Elder Richards earlier in that week.  I knew as I was seeing this that it was not guaranteed, but was conditional upon my willingness to prepare for it.

Everything changed

That’s why I say that from then on, everything changed.  I knew that I would soon be going on a mission.  I knew I would marry in the temple.  I knew that I would accept and serve faithfully in many callings over the years.  I knew I would serve in a leadership capacity in my local ward and stake.  I saw myself doing all these things and especially saw myself teaching and speaking from the pulpit, hearing specific things that I would be saying and teaching.  It was amazing to me.

Now, as I said this is personal and sacred.  One who is not familiar with the revelatory process could describe this as the frenzies of a deranged mind, brought on by emotional distress over the imagined need to repent for what I considered sins.  Anyone can say what they like, but it was real to me and nobody will ever be able to take away this experience that I still hold sacred.  The feelings that accompanied this revelatory experience are indescribable but filled me with joy.

Summary and conclusion

Yes, what I experienced that night at Ricks College so long ago was much more than a burning of the bosom.  It was a tangible immersion in the spirit.  I felt like I was baptized by fire and yet I knew at the same time that I had so much more to do to qualify for a real born again experience.  It was the beginning of a long path to realize the dream of being able to teach and speak like I had seen demonstrated to me by an Apostle of the Lord.  I still have a long, long ways to go.

Thanks for asking me to share this with you.  I think I would like to post it on my blog.  I haven’t felt inspired to write much there lately but this experience might do some good for someone else.  I hope I have answered your questions about the burning of the bosom and about the reality of the revelatory process.  I am a personal witness that it is real.  The Lord answers prayer and will give to us what we ask for in faith, if it is something that we need and will be for our good.

Divine manifestations must have a purpose


One of the delightful parts of a stake temple night is the opportunity to be taught by a member of the temple presidency.  On one particular occasion many years ago, the Temple President felt inspired to relate a few stories that patrons had shared with him about spiritual manifestations that they had received while serving in the LA temple.  It was an uplifting and edifying session.

I was very impressed with what the Temple President spoke about that evening.  He related some very sacred experiences of visits from the other side of the veil from deceased family members for whom the work was being done.  He gave specific examples of what people saw, heard or felt that was evidence to them of the validity of this work and that it is accepted by their relatives.

A conversation with my Stake President

While preparing to leave the temple that evening, I conversed with my Stake President about the things the Temple President had taught us in our chapel session.  I had served with this Stake President for several years on the High Council and felt comfortable sharing heartfelt concerns.  I knew that he would carefully consider what I had to say before answering with thoughtfulness.

“President”, I said, “I’ve been coming to this temple since I was twelve years old.  In fact, I was six years old when I was sealed here to my parents.  I have many sacred memories of this place.  I was endowed here when I was nineteen and married to my sweetheart not too many years after completing my mission.  I have participated in several thousand ordinances here in this temple.

Sacred temple manifestations

“So why is it that I have never experienced any of these kinds of sacred manifestations that the temple president described?”  As I expected, he thought for a few minutes while we continued to change back into our street clothes after the evening’s temple work was completed.  After a moment, he paused, put his hand on my shoulder and then responded very slowly and carefully.

“Brother Malone, some people do not require manifestations to be faithful.  The Lord knows their hearts and knows what they need.  You apparently do not need any additional evidence that the work being performed in these temples is valid and acceptable to both the Lord and to those for whom it is performed.  Your years of faithfulness are proof that you know the work is true.”

The Lord bears witness

He was right, of course.  I didn’t need a manifestation to know that the work being done in the temples is of eternal significance and validity.  I had known that since I was a child and had never doubted it.  I thought about his response and realized that there was never an occasion when I attended the temple that I didn’t feel the warmth and comfort of the spirit of the Lord.

It was just another piece of evidence to me that the Spirit of the Lord is always present when priesthood ordinances are performed, especially in the House of the Lord.  I didn’t need any additional evidence because I had the constant companionship of the Lord each time I sat in an endowment session or knelt across the altar in a sealing session.  Yes, I knew the work was true.

To uplift and edify

I have the same kind of experience each week when I attend Sacrament meeting, and especially in a testimony meeting.  There is just something special about attending church each week and partaking of the Sacrament.  I just feel different by the end of the meeting.  I feel happy and feel that my burdens have been lifted.  It never fails.  I feel this strengthening each week after church.

This uplifting feeling is always the same whether I am conducting the meeting as a member of the Bishopric, or just sitting in the congregation as a regular member of the ward.  I love to hear members of my ward teach the gospel from the pulpit and share their feelings about the truth of what they have learned and have taught.  Sacrament meeting is always uplifting and edifying.

Testimony meetings

Last Sunday I sat in our monthly ward testimony meeting and thought about the different kinds of testimonies I was hearing.  The Bishop was short and succinct.  He bore witness of the five basic points of an LDS testimony and then sat down, inviting others to share their testimonies.  I got up and rambled a little bit about testimonies and then bore witness of the same five points.

As we progressed through the meeting, I noted that some members talked about experiences that demonstrated to them that the Lord knew them personally and that he hears and answers their prayers.  Others spoke about the trials through which they were passing and then concluded with assertions that they knew the Lord loved them would not leave them comfortless in their trials.

When we say “I know”

I listened very closely to each testimony waiting for the phrases “I know” and “I believe.”  I think I heard “I believe” maybe once or twice.  “I know” was used by the majority of those who shared their testimonies.  I know these people and know that when they say that they know that the church is true, and that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, they mean it sincerely.

I was listening closely because of recent conversation with readers of my blog about testimonies and what it means to say the church is true.  I now try to qualify what I mean when I say that by adding some additional phrases like, “because angels conferred priesthood keys upon the Prophet Joseph Smith,” and “because angels ordained Joseph Smith and gave him priesthood authority.”

Authority and the true church

You see, this authority thing is very important to me.  I’ve had a lot of dialogs with visitors to Latter-day Commentary about this very important subject.  I’ve tried to share with them that the idea of priesthood authority is one of the most important aspects of a church that claims to be the true church of Jesus Christ.  Ordinances of salvation require God’s authority to perform them.

That’s all we really mean when we say that we are the true church.  We are simply saying that angels came from the spirit world and gave Joseph Smith divine permission to do what he did in establishing the Church of Jesus Christ upon the earth again in these latter days.  Of course, the idea that angels have visited man in our day is a very difficult thing for some people to accept.

Angels, visions and revelation

I have never seen an angel.  I have had no divine vision with my natural eyes.  I have never heard an audible voice from the spirit world. Yet I have never questioned that Joseph Smith saw God, was visited by angels, received revelations and brought forth the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God.  Some of my readers find it fantastic that I can believe Joseph was a prophet.

How is this possible?  On what basis do I stand and say “I know that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, that Joseph was a prophet and that this is the true church of Jesus Christ with a prophet at the head today?”  If I have not seen God or Jesus, and was not there when Joseph brought forth the Book or Mormon, how am I a witness?

Divine manifestations must have a purpose

In all my years in this church, I don’t think I have ever met anyone who said to me, “Yes, I saw God.  He visited me and told me…”  I have never had someone say to me, “I was praying very earnestly one night and the Lord appeared to me to tell me that he loved me and that my sins were forgiven.”  I have also never heard anyone relate to me that they were visited by an angel.

Now perhaps you know people who have received such manifestations or maybe you have been the recipient of angelic visitations.  I think that’s wonderful.  I assume the visits had a purpose.  I guess I’ve never felt the need for divine manifestations beyond what I have already received when I was young as I prayed to know that the Book of Mormon was indeed the word of God.

We live far beneath our privileges

When I was seventeen I was extremely motivated to obtain a manifestation from God about my standing before him and to know if the Book of Mormon was what Joseph said it was.  I obtained both of those witnesses and a few more that the Lord felt were needed in order to help me fulfill my purpose in life.  I’ve been coasting on those manifestations for the past thirty-five years.

I’m wondering if I’ve been coasting too long.  Our former stake president, now serving as a mission president, often repeated this from Brigham Young.  He said, “[We] may have the Spirit of the Lord to . . . direct [us]. . . . I am satisfied, however, that, in this respect, we live far beneath our privileges.”  Is there more the Lord wants us to have besides what he has already given us?

Summary and conclusion

The Lord reveals himself to man when he has a purpose or a mission for them to perform.  He sends angels to instruct man and teach him about the work that he wants performed.  He sends his spirit to assure men and women that the work in which they are engaged is divine.  He gives gifts of the spirit to help us do his work.  For Joseph, one needed gift was the power to translate.

When I needed to know that the church and the Book of Mormon were of divine origin, the Lord sent his spirit and confirmed these things in my heart and mind.  Over the years, that same spirit has encouraged and motivated me to ever increasing faithfulness and obedience.  Is the Lord willing to provide additional manifestations, and if so, what is the purpose they would serve?

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