July 9, 2007

Brother Brigham and the Imaginary Mr. B

Brigham Young July 24, 1853 At sundry times the question arises: “Are Mormons Christian?” While Latter-day Saints would answer “yes,” the question won't go away. The debate usually centers around a game of definitions; the people asserting Mormon’s aren’t Christian has a different definition of what a “Christian” actually is, and thus, because they define the term, they win the argument by default. For example, If I wanted to define a dog as a “four-legged mammal with a tail, brown fur and white spots,” I would be able to say a Golden Retriever isn’t a dog. That’s a ridiculous argument, but it represents the debates about Mormons being Christian. This isn’t a new question; the saints have been accused of being non-Christian from the beginning. When Christ established the gospel in the meridian of time the Jews called the “new” religion atheist, and labeled them “Christians.” The same is being done to the restored Church, asserting we believe in a different god, we are "Mormons." Brother Brigham discussed these issues by holding an imaginary dialog with a religionist he called “Mr. B.” He talked about how Mr. B accused the Mormons of not being Christians because they “reject the bible.” Brigham went on to show where Mr. B was actually the one rejecting the Bible, differing from it on issues such as the nature of God, the birth of Christ, continuing revelation, and authorized ordinances. Mr. B believed one is born again during a high energy meeting where they confess their sins, accept Christ, and are pronounced “saved,” nothing further needed. Brigham contrasted this belief with the Biblical and LDS view that acceptance of Christ involves participation in the life and ordinances he commanded. Being "saved" involves more than mere acceptance.

…we convert people by preaching repentance, and baptizing them for the remission of sins, and laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost...
Brigham might have remembered something Joseph Smith told President Martin Van Buren when asked what was different about ‘Mormonism’:
In our interview with the President, he interrogated us wherein we differed in our religion from the other religions of the day. Brother Joseph said we differed in mode of baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. We considered that all other considerations were contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost (History of the Church, 4:42).
Brother Brigham told the imaginary Mr. B why "all other considerations" involve the Holy Ghost:
"[The] Spirit broods over them continually for their good, heals their bodies, enlightens their minds, and makes them humble, meek, and harmless as little children. When a person receives the Holy Ghost by legal authority, he is like a child in its mother's lap; all is harmony, praise to God, and good will to the children of men on the earth. He is full of peace, comfort, and salvation, and feels like crying hallelujah all the time. He is perfectly humble and passive, and the Lord can do with him as He pleases."
Notice the fruits of the Spirit as described by Pres. Young: health, enlightened minds, humility, meekness, love for others, becoming like a child, feeling joy, happiness and desiring to praise and serve God. As Alma said, you feel to “sing the song of redeeming love” (see Alma 5:26). But does that desire to sing last?
Will this state of feeling always remain? Will passion ever rise again? Yes; for you then commence a warfare, though the Comforter fills your heart, making you rejoice in God your Saviour, with the atmosphere of your existence clear and unclouded; this is not to continue, but soon the day of trial and temptation darkens the fair prospect, to teach you to lean on the Lord, and to overcome the world. Under the influence of the Holy Ghost I have felt as happy as I possibly could feel, my heart has been full of joy; I cling to that, and hold fast to the promise of the Lord in the hour of temptation, and call upon Him to give me strength to overcome.
As Brigham points out, even after receiving the Holy Ghost we are tempted, we make mistakes, and in times of trouble it is important to cling to the spirit, or at least to the memory that the spirit was with you. Alma tells us more about enduring when our troubles come, and shows that being born again is truly a process, not a single event:
And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now? Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins? (Alma 5:27).
He continues, asking if we have rid ourselves of pride, envy, mocking, persecuting others, and in general, working iniquity. There is more to be done, our days of probation were "prolonged" for that purpose (see 2 Nephi 2:21):
Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you. Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely: Yea, come unto me and bring forth works of righteousness, and ye shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire...(Alma 5:26-36).
As we draw closer to God our natures are changed, our desires for these unholy acts are lessened, we become like God. Our natures are changed by the Holy Ghost as we live worthy of it. The Spirit will not dwell in unclean temples, but it will clean a temple in order to dwell there, if we allow it. This is evidence the atonement is not only real, but is working in our lives. Elder Henry B. Eyring said it this way:
The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of Truth. You feel peace, hope, and joy when it speaks to your heart and mind that something is true. Almost always I have also felt a sensation of light. Any feeling I may have had of darkness is dispelled. And the desire to do right grows… The increase in your desire to obey the commandments came over you gradually. You felt less and less the tug of temptation. You felt more and more the desire to be obedient and to serve others. You felt a greater love for the people. One of the effects of receiving a manifestation of the Holy Ghost repeatedly was that your nature changed. And so, from that faithful service to the Master, you had not only the witness of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ but you saw evidence in your own life that the Atonement is real (Henry B. Eyring, Gifts of the Spirit for Hard Times, BYU Speeches of the Year, 10 September 2006).
Brigham cautions that this spiritual conversion isn’t all about strong emotions and amazing tear-filled moments:
Mr. B. [preaches] upon the sympathies of the people, and especially upon the tender feelings...He will tell about their children dying and picture out the sufferings of the poor, little, tender creatures. He will tell about their husbands dying, and about wives dying and how they are lying in the lowly and silent grave. Add to this subject, which is so thrilling to the sensations of mortals, a peculiar trembling, plaintive tone, and perhaps accompanied with a shower of tears streaming down the preacher's face, and it is well calculated to disturb the equilibrium of the naturally tender hearted, throw them into tears and sobs, and make them suppose it is the operations of the Holy Spirit, when in realty there is not one word of common sense or saving truth in all the preaching.
Rather than heavy tearful emotion, the Spirit will also communicate common sense and saving truth; likely involving the two great commandments of loving God and loving our fellow man, which when obeyed, invite the Spirit more. If we follow these promptings, we will become prophets, seers, and revelators in our own spheres:
…if you will follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Apostles, as recorded in the New Testament, every man and woman will be put in possession of the Holy Ghost; every person will become a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, and an expounder of truth. They will know things that are, that will be, and that have been. They will understand things in heaven, things on the earth, and things under the earth, things of time, and things of eternity, according to their several callings and capacities.
Are Mormons Christian? When they receive the gift of the Holy Ghost and walk in the path He directs, they will be changed by the atonement of Christ, they will become like him and "see Him as He is" (see 1 John 3:2). Then we will know the truth of “all things”:
[most religions] have got true principles, and they possess no truth but what belongs to 'Mormonism;' for there is not a truth on earth or in heaven, that is not embraced in 'Mormonism' (Journal of Discourses 1:233-246).
For more examples from Brigham on ways Mormonism is the true biblical Christianity, see the remainder of his discourse, here.

4 comments:

Fred W. Anson said...

It seems to me that both Brigham Young and the author of this piece have fallaciously assumed that ALL post-Second Great Awakening/19th Century Restorationist mainstream Christians are Cessationist Non-Pentecostals. This is not the case.

Modern non-Cessationist Pentecostals would concur with Brigham Young on all points in this address with the possible exception of the legalistic conditional grace that Young espouses in this General Conference address. And, of course, no orthodox non-Cessationist Pentecostal group would consider Joseph Smith, Jr. a true Prophet of group.

So just factor out conditional grace and Joseph Smith and . . .
(drum roll puh-lease!)

I would like to thank both Brigham Young and the author of this piece for affirming that modern non-cessationist, Pentecostals are Mormons!

Blair Hodges said...

It's fun to look back on some of these posts and wonder about what on earth I was trying to accomplish.

Fred W. Anson said...

Dumb typo in my comment: That should read,"...true prophet of God" not "prophet of group".

Thanks.

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