Thursday, August 27, 2015

All or nothing - a false approach to the Church!

Have you heard the metaphor about the stick and its two ends? The metaphor is used to convey the idea, that when one accepts one fact, another one (or any undisclosed number) will follow: when you pick up one end of the stick, you pick up the other one as well.

This is the way leaders of the Church we should relate to the truth claims of the Church, i.e. if the Book of Mormon is true, everything is true.

I believe it's wrong and that the assertion is dangerous, misleading and spiritually hurtful.

False teachings from the Conference center

During General Conference in April of 2003, Gordon B. Hinckley said the following:
"Each of us has to face the matter—either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing."
Four years later, in a PBS-interview, Hinckley was asked to expound on this idea.
Question: You are talking about the foundational story of Mormonism and why it must be taken literally, that Joseph Smith had the vision he described and obtained the plates the way he did. You said there is no middle ground. Other churches are approaching their foundational stories and turning them into metaphor at times and going perhaps for the essence of the meaning. But that isn't true for you or for this church. I'm wondering if you can develop that idea: Why can't there be a middle ground in the way those foundational stories are understood?

Answer: Well, it's either true or false. If it's false, we're engaged in a great fraud. If it's true, it's the most important thing in the world. Now, that's the whole picture. It is either right or wrong, true or false, fraudulent or true. And that's exactly where we stand, with a conviction in our hearts that it is true: that Joseph went into the [Sacred] Grove; that he saw the Father and the Son; that he talked with them; that Moroni came; that the Book of Mormon was translated from the plates; that the priesthood was restored by those who held it anciently. That's our claim. That's where we stand, and that's where we fall, if we fall. But we don't. We just stand secure in that faith.
This teaching from Hinckley, perpetuated from the pulpet at General Conference and institutionalized in our manuals, is false. I strongly disagree with it. I believe that there is middle ground. I believe that we are equally exposed to truths as well as untruths and that the Church can be both right and wrong.

If the Book of Mormon is true, then (fill in the blank) is true!

While serving a mission, we got a new manuel–Preach My Gospel (PMG). It was a great day to be a missionary, for sure. Missionaries were generally enthused by the new way to do missionary work. I liked the PMG back then. Now, more than a decade later, I don't like it as much as I used to.

In chapter 5 ("What is the role of the Book of Mormon?") we read the following:
Many people will not believe everything you teach. President Ezra Taft Benson taught how the Book of Mormon can be the central resource in responding to such situations: 
“We are to use the Book of Mormon in handling objections to the Church. …
“… All objections, whether they be on abortion, plural marriage, seventh-day worship, etc., basically hinge on whether Joseph Smith and his successors were and are prophets of God receiving divine revelation. …
“… The only problem the objector has to resolve for himself is whether the Book of Mormon is true. For if the Book of Mormon is true, then Jesus is the Christ, Joseph Smith was his prophet, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true, and it is being led today by a prophet receiving revelation.
“Our main task is to declare the gospel and do it effectively. We are not obligated to answer every objection. Every man eventually is backed up to the wall of faith, and there he must make his stand”
(A Witness and a Warning, 4–5). 
For example, sincere investigators might object to what you have taught about the Word of Wisdom. Help them see that their real question is whether Joseph Smith was speaking as God’s prophet when this commandment was renewed in this dispensation. You might say: “Having the faith to accept this teaching will require the assurance that this commandment came to us through revelation from God to the Prophet Joseph Smith. The way to know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God is to read and pray about the Book of Mormon.” 
Investigators must resolve for themselves their concerns and objections. You can help as you focus them on what will strengthen their faith in Jesus Christ—reading and praying about the Book of Mormon. When they strengthen their testimony of the Restoration, they will have the strength to overcome their objections and concerns. 
As you answer concerns, remember that our understanding comes from modern prophets—Joseph Smith and his successors—who receive direct revelation from God. Therefore, the first question for an investigator to answer is whether Joseph Smith was a prophet, and he or she can answer this question by reading and praying about the Book of Mormon.
I don't like this at all. I honestly believe it's false and misleading.

If you have a stick where on one end, it says "The Book of Mormon is 'true'", what would it say on the other? Would it say that Jesus is the Christ, Joseph Smith was his prophet, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true or that it is being led today by a prophet receiving revelation from God? No, it would not. The question on whether the Church is led by a prophet today has to be resolved by the test described by Jesus:
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewndown, and cast into the fire.
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
(Matt. 7:15-20)
A prophet is known by its fruit - prophecy! Not by the truthfulness of some book published in 1830.

The carefully crafted language of the Book of Mormon introduction

The introduction to the Book of Mormon was written by Bruce R. McConkie and was added during 1981. In the last two paragraphs we read:
We invite all men everywhere to read the Book of Mormon, to ponder in their hearts the message it contains, and then to ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ if the book is true. Those who pursue this course and ask in faith will gain a testimony of its truth and divinity by the power of the Holy Ghost. (See Moroni 10:3–5.)

Those who gain this divine witness from the Holy Spirit will also come to know by the same power that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, that Joseph Smith is His revelator and prophet in these last days, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s kingdom once again established on the earth, preparatory to the Second Coming of the Messiah.
Some members take these words as a basis for accepting everything related to the Church just because they've had the spirit testify that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. (I used to be one of these members. I'm repenting of this.) If you read the text closely, that's not what it says.

It says that we will "come to know by the same power" that all these other things are true (and I presume, if they aren't). This "same power" is the Holy Ghost confirming to our hearts, minds and souls of the truth of God. It's an invitation to seek confirmation on all things, just like Moroni implied.

If we know that the Book of Mormon is relevant for our journey into the presence of the Father and the Son, then we might give Joseph Smith the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the Church, Book of Abraham, polygamy, the King Follet discourse and so on. But we still have the responsibility to search these things out for ourselves.

I sure hope the wording of the introduction wasn't misleading on purpose.

The two ends of the stick

Now back to the question: If you have a stick where on one end, it says "The Book of Mormon is 'true'", what would it say on the other? My answer: Joseph Smith was a tool in the hand of the Lord to bring forth this volume of scripture! Nothing more and nothing less. The rest of Church doctrine, principles, policies and so forth, stand or fall independently.

As noted, there might be reasons for assuming that Joseph was a tool in the hand of the Lord to bring forth other revelations, knowledge and temple ordinances and so forth. But these things are separate and separate sticks, and need to be handled accordingly.

When developing faith, we need to start with the belief that it's is from God and try it (Joh. 7:17). This belief is often the result of preaching of the word of God (Rom. 10:14). This belief isn't enough. Faith is a principle of power, whereas belief isn't. Our belief has to develop into real faith. Inherent in this development is that we let go of our false beliefs when they prove to be wrong. Real faith is centered in God and Jesus and truth, so we have to be willing let go of our unbelief.

An often repeated mistake

Many members accept anything that comes from their priesthood leaders. They act under the assumption that every president of the Church is a prophet like Joseph was, just by occupying the seat of the President of the Church. They believe that everything coming from Salt Lake City is the word and will of God and that we need to obey with exactness, even though it might contradict scripture, the Spirit and common sense. They have an all or nothing, black or white, on and off relationship with the Church. This kind of relationship has its benefits, for sure (peace and quiet in the ship Zion, for one). The problem is that this relationship is based upon a faulty premise and is spiritually harmful.

When a member sees this bubble burst and the shiny veneer crack, everything is now dragged into question. If one thing is false, then everything is false. They leave the Church in frustration, disappointed and with a sense of betrayal. For the members who are spectators to this, this disaffected Mormon has left the Church, but can't leave it alone.

Having left the Church, they still have the all or nothing, black or white, on and off mentality. Now, the faith and religion that used to be all true has become all false. They believe, and suppose the have ample 'evidence', that Joseph was a total fraud and con man who did nothing good. This isn't true, of course. Joseph did many great and good things. And he made mistakes.

The mindset that once kept these members tied to the Church now keeps them out of it. We don't need more ultimatums ("either the Church is true, or it is a fraud"). As members we need more open hearts and minds, willing to search out and receive truth, regardless where it comes from. We need a balanced and nuanced approach to religion. We need to think, ponder, pray and ask.


The Book of Mormon is of divine origin and it's relevant for my journey towards and to the Father and the Son. I truly believe that. The other truth claims by the Church have to be examined and will fall or stand on its own merits. I won't let false teachings drag down the Book of Mormon with it.

[1] Think about it. If a sincere investigator objects to Mormon way of implementing the Word of Wisdom, I'd say that they're problem is this interpretation and the origin of the WoW itself, not whether Joseph was a prophet. Why do we feel the need to get a conviction of the medium of a revelation instead of the revelation itself? Are we so afraid of approaching the throne of God? Do we lack confidence before his face? Do we believe that we need mortal men between us and Him? If Joseph was given the WoW from God, that doesn't mean that the modern implementation of it is true.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Breaking up with with the Church!

As of late, I've had a hard time deciding what kind of relationship I want, and ultimately can have, with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Church). Many Mormons struggle with this decision. Some leave and some stay. The following thoughts have come to mind when I've been thinking about all the role of the Church in my life.

Does the Church have to be true?

Mormons often say that they know that the Church is true. I don't know that. I don't even believe that I have to know, or even believe, that it's true. Quite honestly, I don't even believe a knowledge of the truthfulness of the Church would affect my salvation or my happiness in the least. A true Church wouldn't make me more or less true. And that is important, for real. An institution has never saved anyone, and it never will. Denver Snuffer put it this way:

"Whatever the church does or doesn't do, salvation is an individual process to work out person by person. If you say: "The church is perfect!"  Then I wonder how that saves me. Am I not imperfect? Does the church's perfection aid me in any respect unless I will repent and return? Also, if you say: "The church is a corrupt mess!" Then I wonder how that damns me. Am I not still required to follow the Master? Was Peter perfect? Was Paul? Did their quirks and imperfections damn those who came forward and accepted baptism, received the Holy Ghost, and lived the Lord's commandments?" (A bit of a detour)
Complaining about the
bureaucratic Church
Today, the Church is not what it's supposed to be. It is an administrative and bureaucratic machine that demands the loyalty of its members. "As thrilling as [Church] growth was, [president Gordon B. Hinckley] abhorred bureaucracy and at times felt himself swimming helplessly against a mounting tide.” (Sheri L. Dew, Go Forward with Faith: The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996, p. 408) Even the 'prophet' of God, the highest leader of the Church, complains about its inner workings. To then say that the Church isn't run by the "spiritual" leaders anymore, but by the bureaucrats in the Church Office Building, or by the traditions of our fathers, seem to be a fair assessment.

Legally, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn't exist. The Church is organized as a 'sole corporation' (The Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). The name of the Church as a registered trademark to Intellectual reserve, Inc. (1) In the US, the Church hasn't existed since 1890 when the Supreme Court dissolved it, to pressure it into abandoning polygamy.

Leaders of the Church have made mistakes, proclaimed untruths as doctrine of Christ and hereby caused members and others to suffer. Since they are human beings, I don't hold it against them. Still, it raises some interesting, and frankly disturbing, questions. As an example, I want to point out some of Brigham Young's teachings.

Brigham's racist teachings

In January of 1852, Young said that the priesthood would be removed from the Church the same day and hour that the blacks will get full access to what God has granted the Church. (2) Since 1978, all worthy males have access to these blessings. In an essay about blacks and the priesthood, the Church throws Young under the bus when it comes to his view on blacks and the priesthood. The Church now condemns the doctrine Young proclaimed was from God. 

This creates a problem for those, who have been taught that we have "the Lord’s personal promise that the prophets will never lead us astray." If this is true, either Young was dead wrong, or we don't have any priesthood authority. Without a doubt, from a public relations stand, it was best to denounce Young's racist teachings. 

The conclusion we can draw here is that 'the prophet' can lead us astray. This might be easier to accept when that 'prophet' is long since dead, but would we be open for the possibility that the current 'prophet' is doing the same thing? I think we need to be open for the possibility that things haven't changed and that we could be, and perhaps are, led astray. We will hear lies and untruths–philosophies of men, mingled with scripture–from the pulpit, for as long as the Church is lead by fallen and imperfect human beings. This shouldn't come as a surprise.

Since I no longer will trust in man–just like Nephi said we shouldn't in 2 Ne. 4–I feel I need to be open to the fact that God can, and oftentimes does, speak through "other holy men" I've never heard about (D&C 49:8). The responsibility lies solely on me to look to God and receive a divine witness about the truthfulness of things I read and hear. If something I hear–even if it's during General Conference–doesn't pass the test of the word of God, I will not believe it, I will not teach it, I will not follow it. Since the doctrine of "following the leaders" is the dominant one in the Church today, I will need to break up with the Church.

No need to panic, though, for I have found myself a new church. Let me explain.

My new church

There is no other salvation than the one Jesus offers us (Mosiah 4:8; Acts. 4:12). I've been given reasons to reflect on this fact for the past 18 months. It's been a period of questions and some doubts. Just like many others, certain aspects of the Church's history has made me question and wonder. Learning more about the difficult aspects of the Church and it's history needn't threaten our faith. Instead, it can help us focus on the Rock of our Redeemer. As I've chosen to go forward in faith, I've found clarity and strength. These verses from the 10th chapter of the Doctrine and Covenants are important to me.
Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church. Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church. (D&C 10:67-68; emphasis added; see also Mosiah 26:15-28)
"In the usual sense of the term, church membership means that a person has his or her name officially recorded on the membership records of the Church. By that definition, we have more than six million members of the Church.

"But the Lord defines a member of His kingdom in quite a different way. In 1828, through the Prophet Joseph Smith, He said, “Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church”. To Him whose Church this is, membership involves far more than simply being a member of record." –Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, March 1990.

Jesus wants Mormons to turn into disciples, disciples to turn into friends, friends to turn into sons and daughters and sons and daughters to turn into His image. This mighty change and rebirth (Alma 5:14; Mosiah 27:24-26) won't happen in 24 hours, but we can choose to look unto Christ and be saved, whenever we want. (Alma 34:31-32) On that day, our motives will change. We will stop trying to fit into the social context surrounding. We won't feel a need to obey in order to feel of great worth or be worthy of God's love. We won't adapt to the Mormon culture because we believe it will save us. Rather, we will be motivated by our love for Jesus (Joh. 14:15), as we strive to keep his commandments (D&C 46:9). 

To follow Jesus is to take his yoke upon us. His yoke is–juxtaposed to the yoke of sin and perfection–easy (Matt. 11:28-30; 3 Ne. 9:19-20). The yoke of Jesus is to make peace, bless those around us, forgive, encourage, reprove when moved upon by the Holy Ghost, love no matter what, to save and to redeem. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7; 3 Ne. 12-14), Jesus plainly taught how we can be perfect as He, or His Father in heaven, is perfect (3 Ne. 12:48). Repenting and coming unto him, is to take his yoke upon ourselves and learning of Him in every way.

As defined by Jesus, the church, can be a great support in the process of repenting and coming unto Christ. Like Joseph Smith said about himself, we are all "like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing [we] get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else." (TPJS p. 304) A common theme for our experience of the church, is that it's neither round, square or shapeless. It's formable. We can create our own experience by taking control of it and not by putting more hours into our callings or getting burnt out through running faster than we can. We can't let our surroundings and circumstances decide things for us. We must be actors, and not things that are acted upon (2 Ne. 2:14). By living the teachings of Jesus Christ we take control. Once we've decided to forgive and to bless others, there is nothing, that can hurt us in the long run.

For the polishing to happen, we need to create an atmosphere of acceptance, compassion, acknowledgement, forgiveness and a desire to seek the interest of ones neighbor (D&C 82:19). In short, we need to forgive ourselves and others and live the doctrine of Christ. Our service will become more genuine and filled with the Spirit, and the work of God, the church, can grow in and through us. We will be able to see how we better can use our callings to let Jesus be the focal point. If we can't se him in the center of what we do, it might just be that He won't be there at all.

As time goes by, we will have a clearer sense of what Jesus wants us to do and be, and separate that from the culture of the Church, our misconceptions, unbelief and the fathers' traditions handed down to us (D&C 93:39). We make this trip in faith and, like Moroni said, we will receive no witness until after the trial of our faith (Eth. 12:6). Many steps, if not all, will be taken into the dark. Even though we may yearn for proof that what we're doing and that the life we're leading, is according to the will of God (Lectures on Faith, lecture 3 p. 5), we will have to move forward with faith. The proof that we will get is the swelling emotions in our breast, the enlargement of our soul and mind, our more enlightened understanding and the sweetness and the light that fills us (Alma 32:28-35). One day, when our faith has withstood the test, we will be able to eat the fruit of the tree of life which has rooted itself in our hearts (Alma 32:37-43). That day, we will surely bring forth fruit, worthy of our Father's kingdom (D&C 84:49-58; see also 2 Pet. 1:4-10).

The gospel of Jesus Christ should permeate everything we do. If we can't see Jesus in what we do, we should consider to stop doing it, or we should examine it more closely. Because, it something is truly good, Jesus is in it (Moro. 7:16). We can find him, if we just diligently and humbly seek him (1 Ne. 2:19; Eth. 12:41). When we do, we will be His true and living church.


(1) "Trademarks“ The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” “Liahona,” “Book of Mormon,” and “Mormon” are trademarks of Intellectual Reserve, Inc."

(2) Let this church which is called the Kingdom of God on the earth: we will summons the First Presidency, the Twelve, the High Counsel, the Bishopric, and all the Elders of Israel, suppose we summons them to appear here, and here declare that it is right to mingle our seed with the Black race of Cain, that they shall come in with us and be partakers with us of all the blessings God has given to us. On that very day, and hour we should do so, the priesthood is taken from this church and kingdom and God leaves us to our fate. The moment we consent to mingle with the seed of Cain, the Church must go to destruction; we should receive the curse which has been placed upon the seed of Cain, and never more be numbered with the children of Adam who are heirs to the priesthood until that curse be removed. … What we are trying to do today is to make the Negro equal with us in all our privilege. My voice shall be against [it] all the day long. … I will not consent for one moment for you to lay a plan to bring a curse upon this people. It shall not be while I am here.” (Brigham Young, 5 January 1852:—The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, vol. 1 [1832–1852], edited by Richard S. Van Wagoner [Salt Lake City: The Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2009], pp. 470, 471.)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Misunderstanding eternal marriage (or, idolizing the family)

The Stockholm temple
My wife and I got married on a clear day in December a few years ago (you can read more about what led up to that day here). We knelt by the altar and said, "yes" and "I do", kissed, got congratulated and went on with the dinner and reception. By then, we were sealed to each other for time and all eternity–or, so we were taught. Now, eight years later, I'm not so sure about this. For those who find deep peace and a profound joy in the promise of eternal marriage, this might be depressing and even threatening. But I believe that you can't find true and lasting joy from incorrect beliefs (or rather, unbelief), just as one can't find happiness in wickedness (Alma 41:10).

I don't want to burst anyone's bubble here, but I believe there's a score to settle with the 'doctrine' that marriage automatically becomes eternal through the temple sealing. If this is unsettling for you, then perhaps you shouldn't continue reading. If you decide to not continue, please ask yourself, "why does this make me feel uncomfortable?"

Now, let's continue.

What is eternal?

The work and glory of God is, "to bring about the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39). Immortality and eternal life are two distinct concepts and mustn't be confused; one is quantitative, the other qualitative.

Immortality means to never cease to exist. It's entirely about the duration of our existence, or the quantity of time we live.

Eternal life, on the other hand, is the quality of this never ending existence. The Lord put it this way:

It is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment. Again, it is written eternal damnation; wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory. Wherefore, I will explain unto you this mystery, for it is meet unto you to know even as mine apostles. I speak unto you that are chosen in this thing, even as one, that you may enter into my rest. For, behold, the mystery of godliness, how great is it! For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore— Eternal punishment is God’s punishment. Endless punishment is God’s punishment. (D&C 19:6-12)
The righteous are promised eternal life and the wicked are promised eternal punishment simply because whatever God gives us is of him and by him.

Jesus stated that knowing the Father and the Son "is life eternal" (Joh. 17:3). Really knowing God is to learn how to become like him. And to become like him is to be blessed with a 'God-like' existence. Joseph taught the following in the King Follet-sermon.

Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power. And I want you to know that God, in the last days, while certain individuals are proclaiming his name, is not trifling with you or me. (TPJS 346-347)
Anything eternal (as outlined above) is of God and by God and God-like. What about eternal marriage then?

The Holy Spirit of Promise

This is a grander subject than I can–or intend to–address once and for all. I just want to highlight a few aspects of this whole eternal marriage-thing that tends to get overlooked.

D&C 132 is a heavily debated chapter of scripture (see here, here and here). Even though many of the things taught in that chapter may be of unclear origin, I believe that verse 7 teaches a true principle.

All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, […] are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead.
If a marriage is not entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, it is of no force in and after the resurrection of the dead. We often miss this piece of truth, even though it's plain as word can be. Henry B. Eyring taught the following during the april 2012 General Conference:
Henry B. Eyring 
The Holy Spirit of Promise, through our obedience and sacrifice, must seal our temple covenants in order to be realized in the world to come. President Harold B. Lee explained what it means to be sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise by quoting Elder Melvin J. Ballard: “We may deceive men but we cannot deceive the Holy Ghost, and our blessings will not be eternal unless they are also sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise. The Holy Ghost is one who reads the thoughts and hearts of men, and gives his sealing approval to the blessings pronounced upon their heads. Then it is binding, efficacious, and of full force.”
This negligence of truth causes some members of the LDS Church to stay in abusive relationships and others to not cancel their sealing after a divorce, just to be on the safe side.

Let's be honest - this is insane! If a husband, or wife, is abusive, do we really believe that marriage is eternal? If a couple can't stand each other and don't want to be married anymore, is that relationship  of God, by God or God-like? Of course not. So, let's not kid ourselves. Just like Henry B. Eyring taught, a temple sealing is of no effect unless the parties sealed truly live up to their potential as children of God and joint heirs with Christ.

The "olive leaf" starts with these beautiful verses:

Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you who have assembled yourselves together to receive his will concerning you: Behold, this is pleasing unto your Lord, and the angels rejoice over you; the alms of your prayers have come up into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, and are recorded in the book of the names of the sanctified, even them of the celestial worldWherefore, I now send upon you another Comforter, even upon you my friends, that it may abide in your hearts, even the Holy Spirit of promise; which other Comforter is the same that I promised unto my disciples, as is recorded in the testimony of John. This Comforter is the promise which I give unto you of eternal life, even the glory of the celestial kingdom; Which glory is that of the church of the Firstborn, even of God, the holiest of all, through Jesus Christ his Son— (D&C 88:1-5)
Going through these verses, I looked for some key words to underline and I wanted to underline all of it. Read the verses again. 

The Holy Spirit of promise is the "promise which I give unto you of eternal life, even the glory of the celestial kingdom." This sounds like something from another world. And you know what? - it is. Because this is what truly makes a marriage to be of God, by God and God-like. Without this ratification from the Holy Spirit of promise, a marriage is not eternal, at least not yet.

The progression of the temple ordinances

Mormon couples getting married need to be endowed before being sealed to one another. This helps them get used to one part of the temple ordinances before taking the next step. For that's how it is - the sealing is the next step up from the endowment. The endowment builds on the initiatory ceremony. The initiatory ceremony
 follows baptism and confirmation. In this, we see a clear example of progression

"Ritual ordinances offered by the Church are," like Robert Sonntag stated, "symbolic of actual saving interactions with heaven. Those saving interactions are the 'ordinances' which we must all seek. Wrongly depriving one of the ritual will not prevent them from obtaining what the ritual symbolizes, any more than performing the ritual guarantees the blessing it symbolizes."

The endowment ritual points to a literal and real conversation with the Lord through the veil and is a pre-requisite for the sealing. I believe it's fair to say that the same holds true for the 'real endowment', it also being a pre-requisite for the 'real sealing'.

When Jesus Christ, "hath spiritually begotten [us,] our hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, [we] are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters." If we press forward and are "steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works," then Jesus Christ will seal us his. (Mosiah 5:7, 15) This sealing to Jesus Christ will make us ready to be sealed that to another person. In other words, receiving the Second comforter it's a requirement for having your marriage to be sealed by t
he Holy Spirit of promise.

The Mormon business

As a missionary for the 
Church, I rarely had the chance to teach about the gospel of Jesus Christ. I mentioned it whenever we got passed the first lesson, which in Finland, rarely happened. During my last month on the field, I had an epiphany. I realized, and the Spirit bore testimony, that Joseph restored "the Gospel of Jesus Christ." Elemantary? You bet, but it changed those final weeks for me. I felt a surge of power and spirit when I contacted people and taught about the Gospel. It was great, but, that's not really what we we're selling.

Instead of focusing on the Gospel of Jesus Christ,
 we marketed the Church and the concept of eternal families. At least, I did. Why is that? One reason might be that most people already know about Jesus Christ and his Gospel–or, at least the think they do. Thus, preaching this wouldn't have helped in bringing people into the Church or given us the edge we needed on the market of religion. The edge of the LDS Church–compared to other churches–could be summed up with these words: we have the priesthood authority and keys by which we can seal families for eternity

Let's look at some examples of this overemphasis of the importance of the family and the Church.

The first chapter of Handbook 2: Administering the Church centers around the family. The first sentence of this chapter states that, "the family is ordained of God." In a First Presidency letter, dated Feb. 11, 1999 (quoted in Handbook 2, section 1.4.1) we read:

We call upon parents to devote their best efforts to the teaching and rearing of their children in gospel principles which will keep them close to the Church. The home is the basis of a righteous life, and no other instrumentality can take its place or fulfill its essential functions in carrying forward this God-given responsibility. 
I love this question from chapter 16 in the Harold B. Lee manual: "How do the principles of Church correlation help the Church and the family work together to save souls?"

The answer in the next paragraph is even better:
While serving as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Harold B. Lee was charged by the First Presidency to oversee an effort to focus all Church programs on the ultimate purpose of the gospel of Jesus Christ—“to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). This effort was called correlation. Correlation includes emphasizing the importance of the family and the home by ensuring that Church auxiliaries, programs, and activities strengthen and support the family. It also includes placing all the organizations and work of the Church under priesthood direction. In the 1960s, many steps were taken to accomplish these purposes, including reemphasizing family home evening and reviewing the curriculum of the Church to ensure that it strengthened the home and family.
This is such a great quote, because it makes me smile.

Harold B. Lee also said that "the Church is the scaffold with which we build eternal families." (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, p. 267)

These are just a few examples of the great emphasis that is put on the family bu the Church. 
Another example, is the opposition of the Church to same sex marriage. This opposition might be based on a desire to stand up for good morals and speak up against sin. But it might also stem from fear of having your edge taken away from you. The LGBT-people can be viewed as being in the business of degrading or devaluing eternal marriage when they claim the right to marry for themselves.

I recently met and older lady who is childless and don't want to attend church nor General Conference because of the constant talk about family and children added insult to injury and made her feel worthless. That's truly sad. I wish she would still attend church and could have heard more about the grace and love of the Father and the Son.

When is this gonna be canonized?
In "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" we read:

WE WARN that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.
When and how did the family become a savior from the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets? (Maybe since it was put in the driver's seat through correlation.) Is the family anything without Christ? Are we anything without Him? As a church, are we looking to the family for only what Christ can give? Do we worship and idolize the family? If so, this idolatry stems from the false beliefs that, "the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and [that] he hath given his power unto men" (2 Ne. 28:5), that rituals are ends instead of means, and that Christ is satisfied with a ritualized and symbolic relationship with us.

If I'm splitting hairs, I apologize. But I believe that the overemphasis on the Church and the family leads us away from the Savior. Eternal life consists of really knowing the Father and the Son. Without that knowledge, not even strong families will save us.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The ritual ordinance of membership in the LDS Church

Some time ago, I sat in church and got this thought: "Maybe membership in this church isn't more than a ritual!" I believe it might be, and I'll try to back up my belief in this post. Tag along!

Rituals aren't ends, they are means to an end
Vanilla Ice!

Mormons are fans of rituals (sometimes called ordinances). And that's a good thing. On the other hand, the fact that many of us consider the rituals to be ends rather than means, isn't as good. To be honest, it's detrimental to spriritual growth and causes, just like my friend Shawn noted, a soft apathy of low expectations. If we think we've done and received all that God has to offer through Mormonism when we are sealed to our spouse in the temple, we will not search for more. Rather, we'll settle for less in a fulfillment of Nephi's words, "from [them that say: We have enough,] shall be taken away even that which they have." (2 Ne. 28:30). And remember the truthfulness of these words: "Anything less than the best is a felony!" (Robert Matthew Van Winkle aka Vanilla Ice, "Ice Ice Baby")

What is a ritual ordinance? Robert Sonntag explained it really well.
"Ritual ordinances offered by the Church are symbolic of actual saving interactions with heaven. Those saving interactions are the “ordinances” which we must all seek. Wrongly depriving one of the ritual will not prevent them from obtaining what the ritual symbolizes, any more than performing the ritual guarantees the blessing it symbolizes." - Robert Sonntag, What is a prophet?, p. 47, footnote 195.
The ritual ordinances are invitations to pursue the reception of something real. Consider the endowment. If you listen to the wording, we are asked to, "please be alert, attentive, and refrain from whispering during the presentation of the endowment." The wording is interesting. I might be reading too much into these words, but what I hear is that this isn't the endowment, but rather a symbolic presentation of how the real endowment can be achieved. So when we leave the temple after having received our own endowment, we haven't really received anything more than knowledge, we have been let in on the "sacred secret" of what the real endowment is and how it is received.

The ritual ordinances performed in the LDS church, are pointing to saving interactions with heaven. In the temple we converse with the Lord through the veil, preparatory to be, "admitted into the presence of the Lord." This can happen in real life if we, "strip ourselves from jealousies and fears, and humble ourselves before the Lord, [and] the veil shall be rent and we shall see Him and know that He is" (D&C 67:10) or if we, "forsake our sins and cometh unto the Lord, and call on His name, and obey His voice, and keep His commandments, we shall see His face and know that He is." (D&C 93:1)

What about membership in the LDS Church?

Do you have to be a member of the LDS Church to be "saved" in the celestial kingdom? Do you have to be endowed (as in having gone through the temple)? These are hard questions, mostly because they have the potential of cutting to the very center of our unbelief. As factual questions, from my point of view, they are fairly easy.

The ordinances help us, but some people don't need that help. Joseph got an audience with divine beings without a tempel, the scriptures of the restoration or the LDS Church. If he could, then why can't we? With this said, I believe that Joseph was inspired and divinely mandated to give the rest of us some help along the way, and if we are in the position of receiving it, I think we should.

So, I believe that the answer to the questions asked above, is no. The LDS Church might be dependent on priesthood and revelation, but that doesn't hold true the other way round. Joseph received priesthood and revelation without the LDS Church

In the eternal scheme of things, membership in the LDS Church is in and of itself of no use. (But, I want to assert that we are free to make our membership sanctifying and saving). The membership is worthless but for what we put into it. Just like the ritual ordinances we participate in and receive. In this sense, membership in the LDS Church, could be an ordinance, just like all the other ritual ordinances. 

One might ask, "if the ritual ordinances is 'symbolic of actual saving interactions with heaven', then to what heavenly interaction are we pointed to as we take upon us the ritual ordinance of membership in the LDS Church?" It points to membership in another church—the church of the Firstborn.

Church of the what?

When mormons talk about "the Church", they mean the LDS Church. But when Jesus speaks of his church, he means something other than an organization.

Jesus established his doctrine saying, "Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church," followed by the warning that "whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church." (D&C 10:67-68) The Church isn't anything else than a group of believers who strive to be true and peaceable followers of Christ (Moroni 7:3, 48), who meets together oft, to fast and pray, to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls, and partake of bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus (Moroni 6:4-5). The Church is what happens when we get together and worship the Lord and fellowship each other. In this sense, church is beautiful.

If eternal and endless punishment are called after God's name (D&C 19:10-12), then the church of the Firstborn is Christ's own church. This church is comprised of those who 
- repent,
- come unto Christ,
- receive the testimony of Jesus,
- believe on his name,- are baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name,- are washed and cleansed from all their sins,
- receive the Holy Spirit by the laying on of the hands of him who is ordained and sealed unto this power;- overcome by faith, and are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, which the Father sheds forth upon all those who are just and true. (D&C 10:67; 76:51-53)

All are invited to come to Christ and
be a part of His church, all the time!
According to the Lord, "all those who are begotten through me are partakers of the glory of the same, and are the church of the Firstborn." (D&C 93:22)

In short, they [who shall come forth in the resurrection of the just and whose bodies are celestial] are they who are the church of the Firstborn. (D&C 76:49, 54, 70)

Communion with this church is one of the spiritual blessings to which the keys are held by the higher, or Melchizedek, priesthood.
The power and authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church—
To have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant. (D&C 107:18-19)
Joseph Smith said the following about the Second comforter:
When any man obtains this last Comforter, he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even He will manifest the Father unto him, and they will take up their abode with him, and the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him, and the Lord will teach him face to face, and he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God; and this is the state and place the ancient Saints arrived at when they had such glorious visions—Isaiah, Ezekiel, John upon the Isle of Patmos, St. Paul in the three heavens, and all the Saints who held communion with the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn. (TPJS p. 151; emphasis added)
Being a member of the church of the Firstborn seems important. And it also seems to be the result of receiving the Second comforter (to which the endowment points) and receiving priesthood from God (to which the ordination to the Melchizedek priesthood points), which all builds on the foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
"Ordinances are not an end in and of themselves, but they do point our minds and our souls to a progression of relationship and fellowship with God, which fellowship He desires that all should receive. This is a fellowship that grows by degrees as we walk the path in faithfulness and righteousness." Danny Kofoed,  11/17/13
The thought of membership in the LDS Church as a ritual ordinance might, even though it might seem like a stretch, be helpful since it will help focus or thoughts on what aspects of our involvement in the church is relevant to us becoming members in the real church. And it emphasizes the need for faith, repentance, baptism and reliance on the Holy Ghost as our guide. Our service becomes more streamlined and we are able to more fully focus on the glory, honor and love of God and not get caught up in the thick of thin (Mormon) things.

Am I treading thin ice here, or can you see where I'm coming from?

Monday, August 3, 2015

Guest-post: The Soft Apathy of Low Expectations

I hereby proudly present my first guest-post. My good friend Shawn shares some of his thoughts from his first year as a member of the LDS Church.

The Soft Apathy of Low Expectations

For over a year, Karl Stefanovic wore the same sports jacket every day that he co-hosted the show, Today on Australians Nine Network. For a year, no one noticed or otherwise called out that he wore the same blue blazer everyday on-air; not his staff, not his co-host, not even a single viewer. Mr. Stefanovic had a thesis that he wanted to illustrate by wearing the same jacket every day; that in todays world, people often miss the simple things that are glaringly and repeatedly in front of themthings that would normally be obvious but are not because of the distractions that we choose to surround ourselves with. While mundane, not noticing Mr. Stefanovics coat is hardly a transgression, but his point and his example are symbolicanalogous to many spiritual situations that members encounter in society today and the topic I wish to address: the soft apathy of low expectations.

Too many distractions act as barriers between us and the relationship with the Spirit we should have and between us and our willingness to help others. As Saints, these distractions are often the secular ancillary activities that are increasingly damagingand for some consumingour spiritual relationships with ourselves and others. Our social media accounts, the movies and television shows we watch and our constant need of consumption (or otherwise idolatry) of these things are suffocating our spiritual wellness and impeding our potential to achieve the higher standards we should all strive for.

Lately, I have been fascinated considering the way technology, social media and the entertainment that we inundate ourselves with might be destroying the spiritual beauty in our lives without us knowing it. Most unfortunate, is that this spiritual harm is being inflicted largely without our conscious awareness and yet, with our willful and eager consent. Why is it that the things that seemingly distract us away from the Spirit the most are the things that truly matter the least? What should otherwise be obvious is obfuscated by the rote manner of worldly habitswhere instead of meeting our responsibilities of serving spiritual nourishment to others, we accidentally abandon it out of an unconscious, self-focused apathy.

We live in what academics and commentators call the postmodern world where the ideal of its inhabitants is to constantly seek a constructed reality better than reality itself. Essentially, this idea means that rather than deal with the world as we know it around us, we are increasingly allured to the world of make-believe. Our attraction to the world of make-believe removes us from the world God created for us and places us in a world we create for ourselves. It distracts us from establishing the kingdom of God on earth, from bringing others to the Spirit, from being in touch with the Holy Ghost. This  is perhaps on no better display than our relationshipif not obsessive, than addictivebetween contemporary films and television and the soaring popularity of social media. But the ideal realities of make-believe that postmodernity presentsand the one we too often immerse ourselves inis a worse reality than no reality at all. More importantlythis kind of mindset is in direct opposition to Jesus, his teachings, his broader message and everything else we read in scripture. On this topic, Jesus and the words of our prophets are very plainly spoken.

And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God, says Jesus in Luke 22:15-16. Far from the kingdom of God, the most popular television shows and movies today idealize a dystopian world where suffering and death are as indiscriminate as they are crude and nonsensical, where sex is always about power and manipulation; where the terrible ends always justify the horrific means; and where vulgarity is done for vulgaritys sake without any rhyme or reason. Nudity and sex has always been pervasive in our media but the tone and direction these popular shows has taken in recent years have somehow presented itself as more acceptable to watch. The degradation of human life is not the message of Christ and should not be something we regularly entertain ourselves with.

In the first letter of John 3:16-18, we read, Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this worlds good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. Ratings get even higher when the next season of a show promises more deaths, gore and violence by zombies. This years highest grossing movie was all to quick to give us the satisfaction of having the bad guys get eaten by dinosaurs and a few innocent people too because, why not? But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. Shows on HBO glorify revenge and torture as do Netflix originals, especially if you want to be President.

These are not the shows and movies on some of the time or even most of the time. Ever more gradually, these are the topics and the direction of our entertainment on all of the time and the ones we choose to watch. It does seem that the coarseness of our media is accidentally and increasingly resolving to be the attitude we adopt towards ourselves and others.

Likewise, our almost constant addiction to social media and the distraction it poses does not often augment our relationship with othersspiritual or notit hinders it. In today's age, there is hardly a time, situation or event when checking our Facebook feed, opening our Snapchat account or viewing the latest picture uploads on Instagram is not inappropriate or somehow justified. Perhaps even right this very moment. Never underestimate a humans capacity to defend itself from an addictive behavior.

A study was recently completed that asked several individuals who are smokers, drinkers and social media users to give up all three for a week. To study the effects of addictiveness, after seven days the individuals were given the option to have one of their habits back. Unanimously, everyone asked for their phones back so they could check their Facebook accounts, forgoing cigarettes and alcohol. If we cannot help ourselves from stopping to do something, then we have become addicted, and that is hardly ever a good thing. Just because the Words of Wisdom does not proscribe an act, that does not mean that the action is any less mitigated if we do it. Perhaps as Saints we have become too entrenched by the repetitiveness and limited set of issues that we constantly focus on that make us believe we are being good Mormons, that we lower our expectations and lose sight of the bigger picture of what it really means to be a Christian. Christianity is not demonstrated through a recitation of facts or processes.

More and more, social media makes us fail to rise to the better angels of our nature and skews us to sink in the pit of shallowness of swipe left or swipe right. Rather than judging others on the content of their character, we deem worthiness on the perceived physical appearance of others. While intending to bring us closer together, social media has become all too impersonal, often silly and unproductive. Relationships are built on trust. With no trust, we have no relationships and social media often exposes our insecurities to the world.

Following the news feed of others does not give us a true sense of how someone is doing, it gives us a constructed one, making us all too apathetic. It gives us a false sense that we are actually reaching out into the lives of others- simulating a better reality that we find appealing. Recently, researchers found that those who used social media exclusively or even as the primary means to track or follow up with their friends knew less than those who used no social media at all. The realities that are projected on social media are repeatedly the ones we want others to think and to know. Conversely, we have been all too willing to rely on the outsourced management of what used to be some of the most intimate and personal of relationships to algorithms crafted by engineers in Silicon Valley who give us the updates we want to have and share the things we want to know. When did we become so distracted that we are willing to delegate our relationships to math equations? I do not know, but we do.

Prayer is direct, personal and confidential with God. So too should our communications be with each other. We alienate the Holy Ghost through our constant trivial distractions and miss cues and opportunities to help others when they need it the most. It takes effort to keep in tune. When we do, theres room to hear more subtle thingsthat is when our intuition starts to blossom and we are able to see things more clearly and be in the present. Our minds slow down and we see so much more than what we could see before.

As a convert, the most significant milestone in my spiritual life has been meeting with missionaries. It is not a coincidence that missionaries are not allowed to watch movies or television or use social media. It does keep them more connected with the Spirit than they otherwise would befocused in on the task at hand. Maybe we all should strive to be more like missionaries so we can more readily engage these profound relationships with members and non-members alike. 

I do not mean to suggest that we should not go to the movies or use the Internet or to tell anyone what to do. We get enough of that already. Social media has its purpose as does our means of entertainment. After all, Jesus led a secular life for 30 years before his ministry. However, the constructed and make-believe realities of television and movies should never be confused with anything other than fictionto say nothing of ideal. Moreover, social media should never interfere with our own spiritual development or get in the way with us bringing others closer to Christ or helping another in need. Too often it does just that.

Is this likely to stop? Right now, the reality of the situation indicates no, probably not. Our consumption and usage of social media and entertainment controls us, we do not control it. As bad as it is now, it is only going to get worse over time and with each new generation. Despite addressing this topic, we are likely to again revert to our old habits. We will continue our obsession with the television shows we probably should not watch and go to the same lengths to make sure we watch themeven if that means breaking the law to download them. Always doing it, cannot stop doing it, breaking the law to do it; the true sign of addiction. We will continue to view our world in terms of how many 'likes' we can get and use dating apps for...whatever reason it is again that we use them. Again, my goal here is not to tell anyone what to do. I could not change anyone's behavior on this topic even if I wanted to. My goal is to change the way we think. The first stop of solving of problem is recognizing there is one.

We always should try to hold ourselves and others to a higher standard, to have higher expectations. When we do, our apathy that results from our distractions fades away. We again start to see what is right in front of us and more appropriately act in a manner that spreads and fulfills Christs message.