Standing as a Witness


Sam, the brother of Nephi, is my hero. He was a faithful disciple, who the Lord had tremendous confidence in, but who got very little recognition. Nephi is also my hero, but whose hero list isn’t he on? This post is on witnesses, and especially the ones the Lord needs the most.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are familiar with the account of Abinadi in the Book of Mormon. He was a witness, called to preach repentance to a drifting society. He would be asked to seal his witness with his blood as he was put to death by a corrupt priesthood. He is an example of what I will call a Type I witness, the Martyr. The Savior is this type of witness, as was Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Peter, and Paul. Type I witnesses are rare, and generally are found at the beginning of a dispensation.

As we follow Abinadi’s story, we discover there was one who listened named Alma. Alma also displays a willingness to give his life as he pleads for Abinadi, but his witness will not require his blood. The Lord needs Alma to gather a people, and teach them the words of the Type I witness. Alma is an example of a Type II witness, the Leader. This type of witness often follows the first type, and picks up the mantle of leadership to gather a people unto the Lord. Joshua, Jacob, and Brigham Young serves as examples of this type. Even in our day we are led by this type of witness in the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. This type of witness is more numerous then the first, but still generally small in numbers.

Finally in our story we come to the people who followed Alma as he followed Abinadi. These people covenant to stand as witnesses at all times “even until death.” Please note that their’s was “until” not “unto” death. Their witness is to be sealed by their lives, not their deaths. This type of witness covenants to mourn with and comfort those who suffer, to bear the burdens of others, and to administer to every need. This Type III witness is the faithful, rank and file of the kingdom. The Lord calls these the saints.

Which type of witness does the Lord need more of in terms of numbers? Obviously if all were Type I’s there would be no kingdom to build for all would’ve given their lives for it. All can’t belong to the Quorum of the Twelve because the Lord only needs twelve of them. The majority of the work of the kingdom is done by Type III witnesses. And the Lord needs us to be covenant keepers for life. Sometimes I fantasize about dying as a martyr, you know, going out in glory to be remembered forever. But then I think of my heroes, and how the Lord needs more Sams than He needs Nephis. My job is to put my shoulder to the wheel, to lift where I stand, and to sustain the work of the kingdom in my own personal ministery. There will be little recognition for this, except from those who really count, my family, my fellow laborers in my part of the vineyard, and my Lord.


Lawyering God’s Laws


God’s laws are different than man’s laws. Because humans are imperfect, the laws they create are imperfect, full of holes, and very complicated. The complexity of human law comes from, I suppose, our attempt to cover every conceivable base. It’s impossible to legislate every possible application of a law, but we sure try.

On the other hand, God is perfect. His laws are perfect. More than that, His laws save. Because His laws are principle based, there are no holes, and a child can understand their simple language.

The problem comes when we mistake God’s laws for man’s laws. The complexity of man made law requires a lawyer to understand and apply them. A skilled lawyer can exploit loopholes, ambiguity or omissions in the text that allow the original intent of the law to be evaded. A skilled lawyer understands precedents, something said or done that may serve as an example or rule to authorize or justify a similar act. A skilled lawyer exploits what the law says and doesn’t say, to achieve the desired end of their client.

What happens when we play the lawyer with God’s law? There are examples in the scriptures. In Jacob 2 (The Book of Mormon) the Nephites were beginning to attempt plural marriage on the precedent of Kings David and Solomon. The problem? God didn’t authorize this practice among them. In Genesis 3, Eve told the tempting serpent that she couldn’t eat the fruit because God said she would surely die. “You will not surely die (technically)” the serpent responds, ignoring the intent of the law which was about spiritual death as much as it was about physical death. And the New Testament is full of examples of the misapplication of the law of Moses which was to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah, who they would ultimately reject (see Luke 6:1-11, also Jacob 4:5, 14-15).

Through living prophets, we are given many laws for our day. If we are not careful, we might find ourselves guilty of being a lawyer to His Latter-day counsels. I don’t think I’ve sat through a lesson on the Sabbath day, where inevitably a discussion comes up on the do’s and don’ts of this day. The principle of the law is simple, keep this day holy. It’s a day to rest from the labors of the week, and to focus on God’s work. We are all accountable for the application of this simple principle in our own lives. If we find ourselves saying a lot of “yeah buts”, we might be mixing the two kinds of law up by searching for loopholes and precedents.

The question to ask ourselves is simple, am I the kind of person who looks for excuses to evade a commandment, or to keep one? The true test comes, I believe, when we have a really good excuse for why we’re an exception to the rule this time, and yet we still try to keep the rule.

As always, I am solely responsible for these thoughts. I am not an official spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Sherem and Sharing the Gospel

35 Jacob and SheremElder Robert D Hales gave a great talk in conference called “Christian Courage” where he said, “One of mortality’s great tests comes when our beliefs are questioned or criticized.”

As we enter the era of missionary effort where the Lord is “hastening His work”, we are being asked to put ourselves out there and share the gospel with the world. Which is the driving reason for this blog by the way. It should, therefore, be understood that the more we put ourselves out there, the more chances we will get to have our beliefs questioned or criticized. This is a difficult test, as Elder Hales testifies. Does the scriptures offer any help on dealing with this challenge?

In Jacob 7 we read of just such a situation, where the prophet Jacob is sought out and confronted by a man named Sherem. The scripture account describes Sherem as a man who was very learned , very flattering, and very good with speech (v.4). He had sophisticated arguments for why the doctrine of Christ was a corruption of the law of Moses, and was “blasphemy” (v.7). No doubt, the reason Sherem had so much influence was because he was good at shaking the faith of the believers, something he would attempt to do to Jacob “notwithstanding the many revelations and the many things which (he) had seen” (v.5).

35 mormon protestorAs a missionary in the south, and as I’ve tried to share the gospel since, I’ve encountered many “Sherem’s”. It’s very frustrating to get into a debate with someone over doctrine, especially when the debate centers in the Bible. Never have I convinced someone that the restored gospel was true, never did I feel a powerful spirit of truth in the midst of these “war of words, and tumult of opinions” (JSH 1:10). In each of these debates, I’ve been disappointed, and have felt the disappointment from Heaven.

Which is why I was so impressed with Jacob as I studied his story this time. What he doesn’t do is almost as impressive as what he does do. There was no debate with him, only testimony of what he knew to be true through prior experience with regular scripture study and personal revelation (vs.10-12). There was no heated exchange, only questions to determine where this man was spiritually (vs.9-10). And most importantly, Jacob did not take on the burden of proof. That’s not his job, and he knew it. When Sherem rejected his testimony and asked for proof (v.13), Jacob simply referred him to God (v.14). The burden of proof is between the Lord and the individual. And if that person chooses to remain in darkness, then they might find themselves there until the day when every knee bows, and every tongue confesses, before they will understand the truth.

To summarize, we learn from Jacob that we must have a solid foundation in the scriptures. We must have personal revelation of truth. Then, once confronted, we can ask questions to determine whether any teaching can be done with this person in this setting. We can testify that the scriptures are true, especially the scriptures of the restoration. We can testify what we know from prior experience and from the Holy Ghost, and we can leave the burden of proof to the Lord and the individual. If we invite, we’ve done our job. If we are positive and confident, we’ve done our job. And if we testify, we’ve done our job. Thank you Jacob, for your clear example.