August 24, 2007

Friday Funny

George A. Smith June 24, 1855 George A. related this anecdote while talking about the time of the final harvest before the second coming of the Lord. To be honest, I have no idea how it applies; but George A. slipped it in to the end of his discourse, nonetheless:

This puts me in mind of a little anecdote that I have heard our Irish brother tell of a son of the Green Isle, who was placed in prison with a Yorkshireman. The Yorkshireman had stolen a cow, and Patrick had been stealing a watch. While they were there, Yorkshire concluded that he would joke his companion about stealing the watch, so says he to Patrick, 'What time is it?' 'About milking time,' said Pat.

August 23, 2007

Where Are the 3 Nephites?

Orson Pratt
April 7, 1855
They are the stuff of Mormon legend: the three disciples of Christ who desired to tarry on earth until Christ comes again that they might teach the gospel; and they changed my tire last year, of course. 

During his ministry to the American continent Christ selected 12 disciples to lead His sheep. Before He left them He granted their desires. Three had a peculiar request: they wanted to stick around. The Lord promised them they wouldn't suffer the pains of death or sorrow and they would have a "fulness of joy." They were caught up to heaven for a time where they saw and heard things unlawful to utter, and when they returned ministered to people-- including Mormon. They were told to minister to the scattered tribes, Jews, Gentiles; in short: all nations. and that Satan would have no power over them (see 3 Nephi 28).

Almost since the beginning of the restoration the three Nephite disciples have been the subject of much rumor, speculation, folklore, and apocryphal accounts. Perhaps something we've heard about them is based on fact. Either way, luckily, our salvation doesn't hinge on knowing much about the disciples, but they still make for good campfire stories.

In a sermon on the House of Israel, Orson Pratt speculated a little on what the three Nephites were up to:

Do you suppose that these three Nephites have any knowledge of what is going on in this land? They know all about it; they are filled with the spirit of prophecy. Why do they not come into our midst? 
Because the time has not come. Why do they not lift up their voices in the midst of our congregations? 
Because there is a work for us to do preparatory to their reception, and when that is accomplished, they will accomplish their work, unto whomsoever they desire to minister. If they shall pray to the Father, says the Book of Mormon, in the name of Jesus, they can show themselves unto whatsoever person or people they choose. The very reason they do not come amongst us is, because we have a work to do preparatory to their coming; and just as soon as that is accomplished they are on hand, and also many other good old worthy ancients that would rejoice our hearts could we behold their countenances, and hear them recite over the scenes they have passed through, and the history of past events, as well as prophecy of the events to come (JD 2:259).
President George Albert Smith once wrote Hector Lee, a folklorist who wanted to publish a book on the 3 Nephites:
Furthermore, so far as records of manifestations are concerned, the doctrine of the Church is that these are given for the up-building of the individuals to whom they come and that they are not for public display or public recording. They are regarded as sacred by those who have them, and while they may on occasion repeat them, generally speaking, I repeat, they are for the individual who receives them.1
Additionally, the current Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Teacher's Manual says:
Note: Stories often circulate about the three Nephites who were translated. Members of the Church should be careful about accepting or retelling these stories. You should not discuss them in class.2
The old saying that God doesn't talk to loudmouths comes to mind. This brings to mind the care Joseph Smith took in relating the experiences he had with heavenly messengers. Sacred experiences should be kept sacred. This is one of the main reasons I always take a three Nephite story with a grain or two of salt. I believe they must be out there somewhere, but I don't know that they are going to take the time to change my tire ever again. Once was enough.

Letter from President George Albert Smith to Hector Lee, 14 September 1945, in "The Three Nephites: The Substance and Significance of the Legend in Folklore," Ph.D. dissertation, University of New Mexico, 1949, appendix 1, letter no. 7, p. 219.

See Lesson 42: “This Is My Gospel”, Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, (1999),185.

August 22, 2007

I Said 'Ye Are Gods'

Brigham Young June 3, 1855 The Bible is pretty big on genealogies. There are several places where we get to read a long list of whom begot whom. One of the most interesting family trees is found in the third chapter of Luke, where we get the genealogy of Joseph, Jesus of Nazareth's "step-father," if you will:

And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli, Which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi...[one, two, skip a few]...Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God (Luke 3:23-38).
Well, there you have it. In case there was any doubt, we can trace the genealogy of the human family directly to God the Father, whom the LDS Church generally refers to by the name-title Elohim. Acts 17 is pretty unequivocal on the subject, as well, where we are called the "offspring of God." The word "offspring" in the original Greek herein is Genos. What is genos according to a Greek lexicon?
1) kindred a. offspring b. family c. stock, tribe, nation (i.e. nationality or descent from a particular people) d. the aggregate of many individuals of the same nature, kind, sort
In the scriptures we are called the children of God, He is called the Father of our spirits. We are promised that, after this life, we will return [how can we return unless we were already there to begin with?] back home to God who gave us life. Indeed, we are spirit children of our Father in Heaven. We have the opportunity in this life to renew that relationship with God, and to become joint-heirs with Jesus Christ. We may jointly inherit what Christ inherited, namely: all that the Father hath. This unique doctrine, revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith in this dispensation, raises many questions. What is it like being "gods"? If we can become gods, won't there be millions of gods running around, all doing their own thing and negating the greatness and uniqueness of our Father, the one who gave us life? Will we supplant Him? Christ answered that question in His great intercessory prayer when he asked the Father to make the disciples one with them, even as Christ was one with the Father. Brigham Young explained it in these terms:
If men are faithful, the time will come when they will possess the power and the knowledge to obtain, organize, bring into existence, and own. 'What, of themselves, independent of their Creator?' No. But they and their Creator will always be one, they will always be of one heart and of one mind, working and operating together; for whatsoever the Father doeth so doeth the son, and so they continue throughout all their operations to all eternity (Journal of Discourses 2:298-309).
Deification was discussed openly and more often in the Journal of Discourses, and I will use this post as a home base for all the interesting selections on deification, or the ability of God's children to become like their Father. For more on the topic of "deification," see FAIR. Also see Robert L. Millet, Noel B. Reynolds, "Do Latter-day Saints believe that men and women can become gods?" Latter-day Christianity: 10 Basic Issues.

August 21, 2007

Are the Scriptures Perfect? Thoughts On Revelation

Brigham Young 
July 8, 1855

In 1971 Elder Bruce R. McConkie gave an address discussing personal revelation. He compared the revelations of God to television and radio frequencies. All around the people in attendance, he said, floated words and music. Handel's Messiah, political speeches, news programs—none of which were being heard by those in attendance because they were not tuned to the proper broadcast frequencies. Elder McConkie explained:
And so it is with the revelations and visions of eternity. They are around us all the time. This Tabernacle is full of the same things which are recorded in the scriptures and much more. The vision of the degrees of glory is being broadcast before us, but we do not hear or see or experience because we have not tuned our souls to the wave band on which the Holy Ghost is broadcasting. Joseph Smith said: "The Holy Ghost is a revelator." And, "No man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations."1
...How this is done we do not know. We cannot comprehend God or the laws by which he governs the universe. But that it does happen we know because here in the valley below, when we attune our souls to the Infinite, we hear and see and experience the things of God...the only way to gain true religion is to receive it from the Lord. True religion is revealed religion; it is not a creation of man’s devising; it comes from God...Religion is something which must be experienced.2
In an earlier post I discussed Brigham Young on the "mysteries of the Kingdom." These mysteries are best understood, perhaps only truly understood, by revelation. Even then it can be difficult to express them in words. Brigham described the difficulty in expressing the infinite to the finite mind. To record the visions of eternity in scripture is nearly impossible. The scriptures contain hints and pieces:
I do not even believe that there is a single revelation, among the many God has given to the Church, that is perfect in its fulness. The revelations of God contain correct doctrine and principle, so far as they go; but it is impossible for the poor, weak, low, grovelling, sinful inhabitants of the earth to receive a revelation from the Almighty in all its perfections. He has to speak to us in a manner to meet the extent of our capacities.
When angels appear to instruct mortals they "condescend" to explain their message in a way we can understand; they use the imperfect language of humans to convey perfect truth:
If an angel should come into this congregation, or visit any individual of it, and use the language he uses in heaven, what would we be benefited? Not any, because we could not understand a word he said. When angels came to visit mortals, they have to condescend to and assume, more or less, the condition of mortals, they have to descend to our capacities in order to communicate with us. I make these remarks to show you that the kingdom of Heaven is not yet complete upon the earth. Why? Because the people are not prepared to receive it in its completeness, for they are not complete or perfect themselves.
The Book of Mormon account of Christ visiting the Nephites describes his prayer with the people, but the words of that prayer weren't recorded because—according to the record—they couldn't be:
And after this manner do they bear record: The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father; And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father (3 Nephi 17:16-17; cf. 3 Nephi 26).
Who can circumscribe eternal truth? God leads his children along line upon line, precept upon precept, Brigham continued:
The laws that the Lord has given are not fully perfect, because the people could not receive them in their perfect fulness; but they can receive a little here and a little there, a little to-day and a little to-morrow, a little more next week, and a little more in advance of that next year, if they make a wise improvement upon every little they receive; if they do not, they are left in the shade, and the light which the Lord reveals will appear darkness to them, and the kingdom of heaven will travel on and leave them groping. Hence, if we wish to act upon the fulness of the knowledge that the Lord designs to reveal, little by little, to the inhabitants of the earth, we must improve upon every little as it is revealed.
Reading about various subjects can enlighten and can invite the Spirit, but Joseph Smith declared that direct revelation trumps reading the experience of others practically every time:
Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject....The best way to obtain truth and wisdom is not to ask it from books, but to go to God in prayer, and obtain divine teaching.3
Brigham said the things God has revealed are a "drop in the bucket" compared to the "ocean yet to be revealed." These glimpses of eternity "made our hearts leap for joy, and we felt that we could forsake everything for the knowledge of Jesus Christ and the perfections that we saw in his character." The best truths of heaven, when revealed, made them desire to be better. Such truths are exalting in nature; they reach down to us and cause us to reach upward. This desire to improve—and in the process, to help others improve—is a natural effect of the Holy Ghost:
Has the Lord taught you how to consecrate yourselves to His service, build up His kingdom, and send forth the Gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth, that others may rejoice in the same Spirit that you have received, and enjoy the same things you enjoy? Yes, He has; and what more? A great deal more.
He has taught you how to purify yourselves, and become holy, and be prepared to enter into His kingdom, how you can advance from one degree to another, and grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth, until you are prepared to enter the celestial kingdom; how to pass every sentinel, watchman, and gate keeper.
Brigham ties the higher learning to the Temple—a place where personal revelation may come through stronger. The "radio waves" of the Spirit that Elder McConkie referred to decades later seem to be clearer there:
Then go on and build the Temples of the Lord, that you may receive the endowments in store for you, and possess the keys of the eternal Priesthood, that you may receive every word, sign, and token, and be made acquainted with the laws of angels, and of the kingdom of our Father and our God, and know how to pass from one degree to another, and enter fully into the joy of your Lord. Latter-day Saints, do you live to this, do you seek after it with all your heart? You are aware that the Lord is able to reveal all this in one day, but you could not understand it.
As the Saints live according to the light they already have, more will be given. Preconceived notions can hinder growth because it takes time to throw off the yoke of bondage handed down through "false traditions" be they religious, social, scientific, or otherwise.4 But Saints can be assured, because the Holy Ghost is a revelator, that he will teach "all things," and bring all things to one's remembrance (John 14:26). As Elder McConkie, Brigham, and Joseph Smith taught, it is the privilege of every Latter-day Saint (and every child of God) to seek God and receive His truths personally. Or, as Brigham concludes:
He would be glad to send angels to communicate further to this people, but there is no room to receive it, consequently, He cannot come and dwell with you. There is a further reason: we are not capacitated to throw off in one day all our traditions, and our prepossessed feelings and notions, but have to do it little by little. It is a gradual process, advancing from one step to another; and as we layoff our false traditions and foolish notions, we receive more and more light, and thus we grow in grace; and if we continue so to grow we shall be prepared eventually to receive the Son of Man, and that is what we are after (JD 2:309-318).
Joseph Fielding Smith, ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Deseret Book (1977), p. 328; hereafter TPJS.

Bruce R. McConkie, “The Lord’s People Receive Revelation,” Ensign, Jun 1971, 77.

TPJS, pp. 191, 324. Joseph Smith emphasized God answers prayers according to the capacity of the petitioner: "This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire," (Joseph Smith, Jr., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, B. H. Roberts, ed., vol. 5, pp. 134-136). Brigham Young taught the same concept: "When God speaks to the people, he does it in a manner to suit their circumstances and capacities. He spoke to the children of Jacob through Moses, as a blind, stiffnecked people, and when Jesus and his Apostles came they talked with the Jews as a benighted, wicked, selfish people. They would not receive the Gospel, though presented to them by the Son of God in all its righteousness, beauty and glory. Should the Lord Almighty send an angel to rewrite the Bible, it would in many places be very different from what it now is. And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be rewritten, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation. According as people are willing to receive the things of God, so the heavens send forth their blessings. If the people are stiffnecked, the Lord can tell them but little (Journal of Discourses 9:311).

For more on true and false traditions, see BHodges, "Traditions: True and False,", 22 October, 2007. Also see Andrew [last name unknown], “Our False Traditions and Foolish Notions,”, 24 January 2008, who said: "President Young’s explanation goes beyond saying we need to learn spiritual arithmetic before we can learn spiritual algebra. What’s holding us back from from further light and knowledge is not just what we haven’t learned yet, it’s what we haven’t unlearned yet, i.e., 'our false traditions and foolish notions.' President Young’s quote has enduring relevance today considering the unending discussions about the priesthood ban that was initiated during his administration, which was subsequently lifted in 1978 during President Kimball’s leadership. A growing consensus among students of this issue is that President Young’s ban resulted from his mistaken adherence to common Protestant doctrines that thousands of 'good Bible-believing, God-fearing Christians' used to justify slavery for centuries. In short, the theory is that President Young’s priesthood ban was the result of his bringing 'Protestant baggage' along with him when he joined the Church, and that–despite his greatness and inspiration on so many other issues–he failed to recognize it. President Young’s quote above may lend credibility to this theory. If we believe his words, it seems possible that what held back the 1978 priesthood revelation for so long was our collective failure to layoff our false traditions and foolish notions' concerning that issue until that time. That possibility does not in any way weaken my testimony of President Young or the Church. Rather, it simply reflects an inescapable aspect of the human condition." The image is "Radio Tower Town Top of the World," by Strata Rose Chalup, 23 October, 1999.

August 20, 2007

Living Your Religion 'Out of Doors'

Brigham Young June 3, 1855

And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God (Matt. 19:24).
In a discourse dealing with the law of consecration, President Young said he believed that law would likely be the last one the Saints would be able to live successfully:
There is another revelation...stating that it is the duty of all people who go to Zion to consecrate all their property to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints...It was one of the first commandments or revelations given to this people after they had the privilege of organizing themselves as a Church, as a body, as the kingdom of God on the earth. I observed then, and I now think, that it will be one of the last revelations which the people will receive into their hearts and understandings, of their own free will and choice, and esteem it as a pleasure, a privilege, and a blessing unto them to observe and keep most holy.
Brigham talked about various reasons why the Saints didn't fulfill the Law of Consecration; among his chief reasons was covetousness. According to Brigham, many Saints saw the law as something to help take care of all their financial worries. Rather than giving all they had, some expected to give only to receive much more in return. Brigham describes the attitude here:

[One saint] says, 'Brother Brigham, I want to consecrate all I have, but you must build me a house for it, or get me my wood.'

This class will acknowledge that all is the Lord's, both out door and in. I wish to see the people acknowledge the principle of consecration in their works, as well as in their prayers. Do I, as an individual, want to see the people deed all they have to the Church? It does not concern me individually; I would not give the ashes of a rye straw for a personal deed of all the Latter-day Saints possess. Yet they are trying to acknowledge that all is the Lord's, and will say, 'Let brother Brigham come and get what he wants, but I do not believe in giving up this property, it is mine, and I may want to trade this, that, or the other article.'

I do not want one red cent from you, but the Lord would be glad to see the people practice out of doors what they hypocritically profess before Him in doors. They say they are the Lord's, and when their children are taken sick, or their wives, fathers, mothers, or husbands are taken sick, O, how humble they then are, and they will send for the Elders to pray for them, and acknowledge that all is the Lord's, and say, 'We give ourselves and all we have to thee.'

The Lord makes them well by His power, through the ordinances of His house, but will they consecrate? No. They say, 'It is mine, and I will have it myself.'

There is the treasure, and the heart is with it, and what will be the end thereof? That which they seem to have will be given to those who are faithful, and they will receive nothing at all. They will not get an inheritance upon the earth, and cannot be crowned as kings and rulers in the kingdom of God; but if they are saved at all it will be as servants, to do the drudgery of those who are faithful, and who live the religion out doors which they say they have in their hearts.

"Living our religion out of doors" means being a Latter-day Saint every day in every situation, following commandments even when they prove difficult. In 1838 a revelation on consecration and plans to build a temple at Far West was read in an open meeting Brigham attended. After it was read Brigham volunteered to go collect "surplus property" to add to the consecration supplies. He was instructed by Joseph Smith to let the Saints decide what was surplus and what they actually needed in their stewardships. Brigham describes the reaction of the Saints:

I found the people said they were willing to do about as they were counselled, but, upon asking them about their surplus property, most of the men who owned land and cattle would say, 'I have got so many hundred acres of land, and I have got so many boys, and I want each one of them to have eighty acres, therefore this is not surplus property.' Again, 'I have got so many girls, and I do not believe I shall be able to give them more than forty acres each.'

'Well, you have got two or three hundred acres left.'

'Yes, but I have a brother-in-law coming on, and he will depend on me for a living; my wife's nephew is also coming on, he is poor, and I shall have to furnish him a farm after he arrives here.'

I would go on to the next one, and he would have more land and cattle than he could make use of to advantage. It is a laughable idea, but is nevertheless true, men would tell me they were young and beginning the world, and would say, 'We have no children, but our prospects are good, and we think we shall have a family of children, and, if we do, we want to give them eighty acres of land each; we have no surplus property.'

'How many cattle have you?'

'So many.'

'How many horses, etc.?'

'So many, but I have made provisions for all these, and I have use for every thing I have got.'

Some saints discovered they had a little surplus to give; but in Brigham's humorous estimation it was often less than generous:
Some were disposed to do right with their surplus property, and once in a while you would find a man who had a cow which he considered surplus, but generally she was of the class that would kick a person's hat off, or eyes out, or the wolves had eaten off her teats. You would once in a while find a man who had a horse that he considered surplus, but at the same time he had the ringbone, was broken-winded, spavined in both legs, had the pole evil at one end of the neck and a fistula at the other, and both knees sprung.
Brigham countered this kind of consecration by telling the Saints they needed to give their best, not their worst; for all belongs to the Lord:
When a man wishes to give anything, let him give the best he has got. The Lord has given to me all I possess; I have nothing in reality, not a single dime of it is mine. You may ask, 'Do you feel as you say?' Yes, I actually do. The coat I have on my back is not mine, and never was; the Lord put it in my possession honorably, and I wear it; but if He wishes for it, and all there is under it, He is welcome to the whole. I do not own a house, or a single foot of land, a horse, mule, carriage, or wagon, nor wife, nor child, but what the Lord gave me, and if He wants them, He can take them at His pleasure, whether He speaks for them, or takes them without speaking. Should this be the feeling to animate every bosom? It should. What have you to consecrate that is actually your own? Nothing...He made the earth and all connected with it, organized it, and brought it forth, and now He intends to see what the people will do with it; whether they are disposed to do anything more than to say, "This is mine, and that is thine."
Orson Pratt held similar views, and in his unique way, counseled the Saints regarding consecration:
The Gentile god [money] has great influence even over the Saints; consequently if will take years to eradicate covetousness from our hearts; as our President has told us that the law relating to a full consecration of our property would perhaps be one of the last laws that would be fulfilled before the coming of Christ. Much patience and forbearance will need to be exercised before the Saints will get completely rid of their old traditions, Gentile notions, and whims about property, so as to come to that perfect law required of them in the revelations of Jesus Christ. But the day will come when there will be no poor in Zion, but the Lord will make them equal in earthly things, that they may be equal in heavenly things; that is, according to His notions of equality, and not according to our narrow, contracted views of the same (JD 2:259).
Brigham concluded with one of his more common themes: an admonition to avoid clinging to the things of the world. Saints ought to love the world; but should love it in the way God loves it:
If you cling to the world, and say it is hard for you to do this or that, recollect that the love of the Father is not in you. Let me love the world as He loves it, to make it beautiful, and glorify the name of my Father in heaven. It does not matter whether I or anybody else owns it, if we only work to beautify it and make it glorious, it is all right. Let me do what I am called to do, and be contented with my lot, and not worry about this, that, or the other. I have spoken long enough. May God bless you. Amen (JD 2:298-309).