Doctrines vs. Policies

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is an easy target for attack because of our claim of living prophets. As the Savior said anciently:

“…ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets…I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city”. (Matthew 23:29-34)

Fortunately, we live in a day where murdering a prophet is difficult to get away with. But the attempted silencing of prophets is alive and well. There are several strategies of the Adversary to accomplish this end. Prophets can be discounted in the minds of some people by character attacks, misrepresenting their message, or conspiracy theory (among other things).

Within the membership of the church, Satan seems intent to get people to question prophets any way he can. I’ve noticed that one way he seeks to accomplish this is by confusing doctrine with policy. A doctrine is an eternal, unchanging truth. A policy is an official application of doctrine. Elder Dallin H Oaks (a prophet and apostle of Jesus Christ) explained how those who preside are given keys to direct policy and administration, but only the Lord can reveal new doctrine.

A common example of this confusion was with the priesthood restriction on black members of the church that ended in 1978. (A great explanation of this policy can be read here.) This is often misunderstood as a doctrinal change, when it was, in fact, a policy change. It was never taught by a leader of the Church that this restriction was eternal. There were plenty of opinions and attempted doctrinal explanations offered (none of which were authoritative), but it was always understood that “the long promised day” would come when all worthy males could hold the priesthood.

This misapplication then leads some to conclude that a seemingly similar change could happen with same sex marriage or women ordination to the priesthood. Since both of these changes wouldn’t just be policy changes, but would in fact be doctrinal changes, they run contrary to the eternal nature of doctrine. A man has always been meant to marry a woman. Men and women have always had different roles to play in the plan of salvation. Both of these doctrines are clearly taught in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World“, a document that was set forth by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (whose unity in this document fulfills the scriptural requirement of establishing doctrine. See D&C 107:27. See also 27:2, 7).

There is no long promised day in either of these instances. That’s not to say we have everything revealed on these subjects, as I’m convinced we have much more to understand about both. But the foundational direction is set, and it will not be moved. Unfortunately, I see members of the church who look sideways at any prophetic teaching that runs counter to their personal, political, or societal philosophy. They conclude, “oh this is just like blacks and the priesthood, just wait and they’ll come around.” According to a revelation given the day the church was organized, this is a dangerous mindset.

“Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me;
For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.
For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory.”
(D&C 21:4-6)

It is my hope that the honest in heart will not be deceived by these snares of Satan. We live in a day of living prophets. If scriptural history teaches us anything, it is that following prophets has always been the test of faithfulness.

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Do Mormons Worship Joseph Smith?

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This post may be considered part II of the “Are Mormon’s Christian?” post I wrote a month ago. The goal of this post is to clear up any misconceptions there may be, and to attempt to set forth simply our prophetic premise in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As always, I’m not an official spokesman for the church and am solely responsible for this post.

Recently I came across a scripture in the Book of Mormon that I quickly realized was a very important verse, perhaps the most important scripture, at least from a missionary stand point, in the entire canon of scripture.

11 Therefore it shall come to pass that whosoever will not believe in my words, who am Jesus Christ, which the Father shall cause him to bring forth unto the Gentiles, and shall give unto him power that he shall bring them forth unto the Gentiles, (it shall be done even as Moses said) they shall be cut off from among my people who are of the covenant. (3 Nephi 21:11, emphasis added)

These are the words of the resurrected Savior to the people of ancient America. He is talking about the prophet who would bring “these things” (meaning the Book of Mormon) forth. The Savior is talking about Joseph Smith. His message is straight forward, you can’t get to the Savior without going through Joseph Smith.

This aspect of our faith has been attacked and misrepresented by anti-Mormons. The accusation is that we worship Joseph Smith, that we talk too much about him, and not enough about Jesus. Sadly, these accusations cause some members of my church to under emphasize the role of Joseph Smith in an attempt to be considered more “Christian”. But under emphasizing Joseph Smith is not something the Savior Himself is willing to do.

10 But this generation shall have my word through you; (D&C 5:10, emphasis added)

Joseph was told this early in his revelations from Jesus. But this prophetic expectation is not new. Consider what Moses was told when he spoke to Jehovah from the burning bush and was called to deliver Israel and use Aaron as a spokesman,

15 And thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do.

16 And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God. (Exodus 4:15-16, emphasis added)

Even in the dispensation where Christ Himself was among the people, He declared to Peter:

18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18, emphasis added)

This is how God has always performed His work with us. He sends prophets. And occasionally there is a reset after a major period of apostasy, where a prophet restores the lost faith. This prophet will act as the head of that dispensation and will be the one through whom all people of that time period must go through to get to Jesus Christ.

I understand that this is a hard thing to believe. But when has faith ever been easy? How many struggled to follow Moses, or the ancient Apostles?

I simply challenge anyone who contests Joseph Smith’s prophetic claims to apply the test Jesus Himself prescribed for determining true prophets from false, “by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt 7:20). You could observe our people and our values as the fruits of Joseph Smith. But his claim centered on the Book of Mormon. By this fruit you will know him. And once you know him, you’ll be invited to join us in this important work.

We are given enough to believe

jm_300_BOM2.p-P5.tiffOne of my heroes in the Book of Mormon is a man named Samuel. Not because of what this epic painting portrays, especially when you consider he’ll cast himself off that wall (maybe that cape is a flying squirrel suit, you never know).

He’s my hero because of who he was. What the scriptures gives us about his background is actually quite limited. All we know is that he was a Lamanite (meaning he was ethnically different than his traditional enemy Nephite audience). What the scriptures say about him after his wall sermon is equally limited. All the record says is that he went back among his people and was never heard of again. Yet I’m given enough insight into who this man was simply from this event recorded in scripture about him.

1. Helaman 13: 3– He was both willing and able to stand and say whatever the Lord put into his heart. (This is different than simply “winging it”, as this ability requires paying a price. See DC 11:21)

2. Helaman 13: 26-29- He declared truth that was very unpopular to the people he was teaching. He told them what they needed to know, not what they wanted to know.

3. Helaman 14- He was entrusted with the assignment of revealing specific signs concerning the birth and death of the Savior that no other prophet revealed. I’ll talk more on this later in the post.

4. Helaman 16:1-7–  He was willing, but not required to give his life. The Lord very miraculously spared it. (It’s even more miraculous if the wall he was on was more like 10 feet rather than 100 feet.)

These different points of example are enough to write a post on alone. But in this post I want to discuss the signs Samuel was privileged to reveal.

Why does God produce signs when sign seeking is said by the Savior to be the thing that an “evil and adulterous generation” seeks after?

The answer is given by Samuel in Helaman 14:

28 And the angel said unto me that many shall see greater things than these, to the intent that they might believe that these signs and these wonders should come to pass upon all the face of this land, to the intent that there should be no cause for unbelief among the children of men—

29. And this to the intent that whosoever will believe might be saved, and that whosoever will not believe, a righteous judgment might come upon them; and also if they are condemned they bring upon themselves their own condemnation. (emphasis added)

In other words, there is a difference between sign seeking, and sign watching. And that difference is faith. There will always be given enough reasons to believe, enough evidence to choose faith. On the other hand, there will also always be enough reasons to doubt, and choose unbelief. This way, our freedom to choose stays in tact. Since this life is a test to see whether we will choose God or not, we are given enough reasons either way to choose according to where our heart really is.

Recently the Church came out with a new gospel topic page on DNA (you can check it out here). The article is very careful to explain that the Book of Mormon was never meant to be proven by science. A witness that this book is true must come by faith, and confirmed by the power of the Holy Ghost (see Moroni 10:4-5). On the same token the Book of Mormon also cannot be disproved by science. There will always be enough reasons to believe if a person chooses to.

President Boyd K Packer (a modern apostle) said:

Science is seeking; science is discovery. Man finds joy in discovery. If all things were known, man’s creativity would be stifled. There could be no further discovery, no growth, nothing to decide—no agency. All things not only are not known but must not be so convincingly clear as to eliminate the need for faith. That would nullify agency and defeat the purpose of the plan of salvation. Tests of faith are growing experiences. We all have unanswered questions. Seeking and questioning, periods of doubt, in an effort to find answers, are part of the process of discovery.

(“The Law and the Light,” in The Book of Mormon:Jacob through Words of Mormon, To Learn with Joy, eds. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr., (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1990), 1–31. emphasis added)

Last night my 19 month old daughter was inconsolable. She has been sick, she hasn’t been eating well, she’s teething, it was king of a perfect storm. Our first bout with her came just as we were preparing to go to bed at 10pm. We stayed up with her for about 30 minutes until she calmed down. Then at about 1am she was once again inconsolable. It was my turn, so I got up with her. She didn’t want to be held and she fought me. I held her tight and gave her a priesthood blessing. She was asleep by the time I was done. I’d like to say she slept the rest of the night, but she woke up once more asking for milk, or “milt” as she says it. But then she went back to sleep. Now I know not all blessings are so immediately answered, but this one was. There is room to say, “it was a coincidence, she just needed to be held, that’s why she fell asleep.” But there is also room to believe that a blessing was answered upon her head by the authority of the priesthood I hold. That’s the one I choose to believe.

How Prayer Works

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In the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we have a lay ministry. That means we don’t have professional clergy in charge of our congregations. This Sunday my bishop (an electrical engineer) nailed it in his talk. Here’s what I learned.

Many are familiar with the saying, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” The wisdom here is that knowing how to get something is more valuable than simply having it. The example my bishop used was his child’s math homework. “They would rather me just give them the answer to the problem, but how will that help them on the test? They won’t understand the concept.” A wise parent or teacher understands that knowing just a single answer to a specific question is not as valuable as understanding the concept behind solving many problems.

It’s funny that we sometimes don’t take this same mindset into prayer. What I mean by this is that when people pray, they often want the quickest answer to their question. Some people will falsely conclude, when such an answer is not given, that either God doesn’t care or that He’s not even there. What is forgotten is that God is the perfect parent, and teacher. If it’s not going to help us be better, or not help us understand more, then He’s not going to give it to us. The purpose of prayer is not to help God see things our way, it is to help us see things His way. This will take time, and patience, and faith.

My bishop began his talk relating the buzz around the 1998 NBA finals when the Jazz were playing the Bulls. He talked about how in his family prayer during that time it was requested that God would help the Jazz to win. If you’re familiar with sports you may know that Michael Jordan had an incredible game where he battled the flu and almost singlehandedly defeated the Jazz. Either he had more faith than we did, or God isn’t super concerned about who wins games. It might be that He has much bigger things planned for us, if we will accept the tutoring.

My Obligitory New Year’s Resolution Post

00000When I was a Senior in High School working at the local IGA market in Evanston, WY. I had to call my dad to come down and jump start my car. It wasn’t too late, maybe 9 pm. It wasn’t too cold, maybe early October. But my dad showed up visibly annoyed. The reason: this wasn’t the first time I left the lights on and drained the battery. He hooked the jumper cables up to our vehicles, and turned the car on and it fired up. Before he left he imparted one of those bits of wisdom that my dairy farm raised father was legend for saying. “Once is accident, twice is stupid”

I don’t know why that particular dadism has stuck with me over the years. It might be because this wasn’t the last time I needed a jump for leaving my lights on. Nor was it the last time I repeated a mistake which involved a vehicle (like locking my keys in the car, once I locked both mine and my wife’s keys in each of our running cars. I didn’t want them cold or stolen, I just forgot the spare keys for each were on the other car’s key ring). There really are few things in life that make things more frustrating than repeated mistakes.

And so we find ourselves at the end of another year. It’s natural, I suppose, for us to think about the next year with a resolve to be better than we were during this last one. We certainly want to learn the lesson’s of past mistakes and avoid repeating them. The problem is repeating mistakes is so easy to do.

Certainly there are categories of severity with mistakes. My vehicular mishaps, though annoying and stupid, aren’t life ruiners. But some mistakes may precipitate a viscous cycle that can consume and destroy lives. Things can get pretty serious if this cycle isn’t broken.

That’s why I’m grateful for a story that is told in the Book of Mormon. You can read it for yourself here. It’s found in Alma chapters 23-24 (but really begins all the way back in chapter 17). I will summarize since my goal is to keep these posts to 500 words.

A civilization of savage people called the Lamanites live about 100 years before Christ. They have a culture of war and murder. They believe that anything they do is right. A couple of missionaries from the Nephite nation (hated by the Lamanites), who underwent a conversion to Christ in their own lives, want to bring the gospel to these lost Lamanites. How they convert is a great story full of miracles, but I’ll cut to the chase. A whole multitude of Lamanites repent and are baptized, including many of the ruling family. They change their name to the Anti-Nephi Lehi’s. They’re whole way of life has changed as they come unto Christ. But the rest of their nation is angry, and ready to overthrow this monarchy, and kill every last one of the converted group. So what do the Anti-Nephi Lehi’s do? They bury their weapons.

This action has caused some people to ask: Isn’t it permissible to kill if you are defending your family, your country, your way of life? Why would these people not just refuse to fight back, but make it almost impossible to fight back? These people answer that question in their own words.

11 And now behold, my brethren, since it has been all that we could do (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to takethem away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain—

12 Now, my best beloved brethren, since God hath taken away our stains, and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more with the blood of our brethren.

13 Behold, I say unto you, Nay, let us retain our swords that they be not stained with the blood of our brethren; for perhaps, if we should stain our swords again they can no more be washed bright through the blood of the Son of our great God, which shall be shed for the atonement of our sins.

What they do teaches an important principle about how to avoid repeating a mistake. President Spencer W. Kimball articulates the principle well when he wrote:

“In abandoning sin one cannot merely wish for better conditions. … He must be certain not only that he has abandoned the sin but that he has changed the situations surrounding the sin. He should avoid the places and conditions and circumstances where the sin occurred, for these could most readily breed it again. He must abandon the people with whom the sin was committed. He may not hate the persons involved but he must avoid them and everything associated with the sin” (The Miracle of Forgiveness[1969], 171–72).

This is what I know to be true. When I am ready to really stop repeating a mistake, I change the conditions surrounding that mistake. What that looks like must be as inspired as it is specific to each of our individual circumstances. But I know that change is always possible.

God won’t give us more than we can handle?

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I think a favorite thing for religious people to talk about is how God won’t give us more than we can handle. I understand the hope this idea is meant to give but it’s simply not true. God gives us more then we can handle all the time. In fact, some trials will bury us. Why? Simple, so that we will rely on Him.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting God sets us up to fail. Nor am I suggesting that the basic premises of religious people are completely wrong as it pertains to human resilience. But we are fallen people living in a fallen world. I think we miss a major eternal truth when we put our trust “in the arm of the flesh.” Let me attempt to explain.

Consider the two verses often quoted as the “you can handle anything” verses.

1 Corinthians 10:13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

1 Nephi 3:7 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.

Both scriptures talk about being able to handle things (temptations and commandments). But both explain why you are able to. “God is faithful…[and will] make a way to escape” and “the Lord…shall prepare a way”. God can handle everything, and so can we if we have his help. But this is conditional on us “com[ing] unto Him” (see Matthew 11:28-30), a detail often overlooked as we try to encourage ourselves or others when we struggle.

God has called the weak things of the Earth (D&C 124:1), I think, because these are the ones who “rely wholly on the merits of Him who is mighty to save.” (2 Ne 31:19) His grace is sufficient for the meek, then weak things are made strong through His enabling power (see Ether 12:27). Unless we are aware of and acknowledge our dependence on God, we will continue to be frustrated by the ineffective self help pep talks so common in our world.

God’s Love

563517_f520In the Book of Mormon there is a vision recorded that is well known to Latter-day Saints. The prophet Lehi sees midsts of darkness, a strait and narrow path, a rod of iron, a great gulf, a river of filthiness, a great and spacious building, and the Tree of Life. The dream has different groups of people heading to different destinations. Only those who follow the path, hold the iron rod, and arrive at the Tree of Life, discover true happiness.

Lehi’s son, Nephi, wants to understand what his father saw. So he prays and has a vision of his own. This explanation is as valuable as the dream itself. Yet unfortunately, many have only a shallow understanding of it.

For example, when asked what the Tree of Life is, the most common answer is “the love of God”. This is understandable since Nephi himself said it. The problem is that taken out of context this answer is misleading. Too many have this misconception of God’s love which leads them to say “God loves me no matter what I do”. A natural conclusion to this misconception is a confusion of love and law. That is, since God loves me no matter what I do, it doesn’t matter what I do. Let’s look closer at what Nephi is shown in connection to his well known statement.

At the beginning of his vision, the Spirit asks Nephi what he wants. Nephi states that he wants to know the meaning of the tree. He is then shown Mary and the Christ child. He is then introduced to the idea of the condescension of God. That is that God Himself will come down. He is shown Jesus Christ among the people, teaching and healing. He is shown the Savior being taken by the people, judged of the world, and crucified for the sins of all mankind. He is then shown the Apostles of Christ being persecuted, driven and slain. He sees the formation of a great church founded by the devil. He sees the apostasy of Christianity and the dark ages. He sees the founding of America, the Revolutionary War, and the Restoration of Christ’s true church through a prophet raised up (Joseph Smith). He sees the subsequent gathering of Israel in the last days in preparation for the return of Jesus Christ in His glory. He sees that there are two churches only and in the last days people must choose which to belong to.

Nephi understands that the Tree of Life is the love of God. He understands that the purest form of God’s love is His perfect Son who came down to save us from our sins, not in our sins. He understood that God’s love gives us commandments to keep if we want to gain access to the saving power of Jesus Christ found in the ordinances of His kingdom on Earth, His church. Ours is the choice between the Tree of Life and the spacious building of the world, and it matters very much which we choose.