Why Priesthood At All?

The following document was published in a Church periodical known as The Improvement Era in a question and answer section prepared under the direction of the Council of the Twelve. It is significant for grappling with the question of spiritual gifts and their relationship to the priesthood as a whole.

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Quorum of the Twelve in 1931. Image courtesy LDS.org.

[Question:] Can any one, without the Priesthood, pray and have his prayers answered? Or receive the Holy Ghost, with its gifts and manifestations?

[Response:] The answer is Yes. Men, women and children who do not hold the Priesthood have had their prayers answered millions of times in the history of Christianity the world over and in the history of this dispensation. Men, women and children also receive the Holy Ghost after baptism through the laying on of hands.

May one have revelations and visions of heavenly beings, without the Priesthood?

Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery did so. In May, 1829, John the Baptist appeared to them, and that was before either of them had been ordained. It was John, in fact, who conferred the Priesthood upon them. This function of having visions, of course, was exceptional in their case.

If, then, one may pray, may have his prayers answered, may have the Holy Ghost bestowed upon him, and may exercise many of its gifts, without holding any Priesthood, what is the place of Priesthood on the earth?

Chiefly Priesthood functions in connection with organization. That is, the greatest need of Priesthood is where there is a service to be performed to others besides ourselves.

Whenever you do anything for, or in behalf of, someone else, you must have the right to do so. If you are to sell property belonging to another, you must have his permission. If you wish to admit an alien to citizenship in our government, you cannot act without having been commissioned to do so by the proper authority.

Now, a religious organization, or the Church, is in the last analysis a matter of service. You baptize someone, or you confirm him, or you administer to him in case of sickness, or you give him the Sacrament or the Priesthood, or you preach the Gospel to him–what is this but performing a service?

Now, when it comes to earthly power to perform a definite service, we call it the power of attorney in the case of acting legally for someone else, or the court and the judge where it is a question of acting for the government.

But in the Church of Christ this authority to act for others is known as Priesthood.

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Statement of the First Presidency Regarding God’s Love for All Mankind

The following document was released by the First Presidency under Spencer W. Kimball in 1978 and represents the essence of the Church’s view of its relationship to other religions and faiths.

Kimball presidency

First Presidency: N. Eldon Tanner, Spencer W. Kimball, Marion G. Romney

Based upon ancient and modern revelation, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gladly teaches and declares the Christian doctrine that all men and women are brothers and sisters, not only by blood relationship from common mortal progenitors, but also as literal spirit children of an Eternal Father.

The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.

The Hebrew prophets prepared the way for the coming of Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, who should provide salvation for all mankind who believe in the gospel.

Consistent with these truths, we believe that God has given and will give to all peoples sufficient knowledge to help them on their way to eternal salvation, either in this life or in the life to come.

We also declare that the gospel of Jesus Christ, restored to His Church in our day, provides the only way to a mortal life of happiness and a fullness of joy forever. For those who have not received this gospel, the opportunity will come to them in the life hereafter if not in this life.

Our message therefore is one of special love and concern for the eternal welfare of all men and women, regardless of religious belief, race, or nationality, knowing that we are truly brothers and sisters because we are sons and daughters of the same Eternal Father.

Spencer W. Kimball

N. Eldon Tanner

Marion G. Romney

February 15, 1978

First Presidency Treatise: “Mormon” View of Evolution

This document was released by the First Presidency during President Heber J. Grant’s tenure. It is essentially an updated version of the more famous essay “The Origin of Man.” Ultimately, Heber J. Grant came to declare that the following was the Church’s stance on Evolution:

Upon the fundamental doctrines of the Church we are all agreed. Our mission is to bear the message of the restored gospel to the world. Leave geology, biology, archaeology, and anthropology, no one of which has to do with the salvation of the souls of mankind, to scientific research, while we magnify our calling in the realm of the Church….

Upon one thing we should all be able to agree, namely, that Presidents Joseph F. Smith, John R. Winder, and Anthon H. Lund were right when they said: ‘Adam is the primal parent of our race.’[1]

Grant Presidency

First Presidency (from left): Anthony W. Ivins, Heber J. Grant, Charles W. Nibley

Without further ado, here is the treatise itself:

“God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

In these plain and pointed words the inspired author of the book of Genesis made known to the world the truth concerning the origin of the human family. Moses, the prophet-historian, who was “learned” we are told, “in all the wisdom of the Egyptians,” when making this important announcement, was not voicing a mere opinion. He was speaking as the mouthpiece of God, and his solemn declaration was for all time and for all people. No subsequent revelator of the truth has contradicted the great leader and law-giver of Israel. All who have since spoken by divine authority upon this theme have confirmed his simple and sublime proclamation. Nor could it be otherwise. Truth has but one source, and all revelations from heaven are harmonious one with the other.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is “the express image” of his Father’s person (Hebrews 1:3). He walked the earth as a human being, as a perfect man, and said, in answer to a question put to him: “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). This alone ought to solve the problem to the satisfaction of every thoughtful, reverent mind. It was in this form that the Father and the Son, as two distinct personages, appeared to Joseph Smith, when, as a boy of fourteen years, he received his first vision.

The Father of Jesus Christ is our Father also. Jesus himself taught this truth, when he instructed his disciples how to pray: “Our Father which art in heaven,” etc. Jesus, however, is the first born among all the sons of God—the first begotten in the spirit, and the only begotten in the flesh. He is our elder brother, and we, like him, are in the image of God. All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally sons and daughters of Deity.

Adam, our great progenitor, “the first man,” was, like Christ, a pre-existent spirit, and, like Christ, he took upon him an appropriate body, the body of a man, and so became a “living soul.” The doctrine of pre-existence pours wonderful flood of light upon the otherwise mysterious problem of man’s origin. It shows that man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal body to undergo an experience in mortality.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, basing its belief [p.1091] on divine revelation, ancient and modern, proclaims man to be the direct and lineal offspring of Deity. By his Almighty power God organized the earth, and all that it contains, from spirit and element, which exist co-eternally with himself.

Man is the child of God, formed in the divine image and endowed with divine attributes, and even as the infant son of an earthly father and mother is capable in due time of becoming a man, so the undeveloped offspring of celestial parentage is capable, by experience through ages and æons, of evolving into a God.

Heber J. Grant,

Anthony W. Ivins,

Charles W. Nibley,

First Presidency.

 

Heber J. Grant, Anthony W. Ivins, Charles W. Nibley, “`Mormon’ View of Evolution,” Improvement Era, 28, no. 11 (September 1925): 1090-1091.

 

[1] First Presidency Minutes, Apr. 7, 1931

He That is Not Against Us is For Us—One Mormon’s Perspective on Interfaith Work

Then there arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest. And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him, and said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great.

And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us. (Luke 9:46-50.)

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Image from LDS.org

In a world fraught with polarization, violence, and distrust of that which is different from us, it is often tempting to focus on the Savior’s phrase “He that is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30), rather than the saying “he that is not against us is for us.” This is very apparent in the field of religion and religious differences, where people argue about which religion is the greatest in the eyes of Deity and often resort to force to make their point. As such, we live in a world where religion causes violence as much as it creates peace. In the United States alone, we’ve seen shootings that targeted Christians, like the one in Oregon last year reportedly did; shootings by a Christian targeting an abortion clinic in Colorado; radicalized Muslims engaging in violent attacks from time to time; and so forth. On the global scene, we see the ongoing conflicts and attacks caused by the ISIS in the Middle East and elsewhere, tensions in Northern Ireland that crystalize over Anglican-Catholic conflicts, and Christian-Muslim conflicts that have exploded into in civil wars in a few African countries.

Divides caused by religion carry over in smaller, less violent ways as well. I remember as a child that I lived near a Catholic school. Since we lived so close, my Mom would take my sister and me over to their playground to play. One day, however, another child who was there wouldn’t play with me. When I asked him why he would not, he simply told me that it was because I was a Mormon and his mom told him that I was going hell. That’s not to say that I was any better as a child—in the fourth grade, when a Hispanic boy told me that he was Catholic, I told him that his religion was “the great and abominable church,” referring to a private interpretation I had heard of a vision in the Book of Mormon. He got very defensive and upset, telling me that his church wasn’t “the great boom-boom church” I was saying it was. While not in any way as serious or devastating as the religious conflicts mentioned above, these events from my childhood were still not very pleasant and reflect some of the same mentality that, when taken to an extreme, results in more serious problems.

All this being said, is it possible to reach across divides and gain a better understanding of people who we don’t see eye to eye with on religious and philosophical ideas? Can we do that because of our religion rather than doing it in spite of religious convictions? I believe we can. In my own life, I’ve come a long way since the fourth grade. I’m currently going to college at Utah State University in Logan, Utah and I’m involved in the USU Interfaith Student Association; I ring in an interfaith handbell choir operated by the Presbyterian Church in downtown Logan; I have friends, relatives, and associates from a variety of religious backgrounds (Christians, Muslims, Jews, and agnostics mostly); while still remaining a devoted and active Mormon. Through many of these groups I’ve had some great opportunities to experience firsthand what happens when people reach across the divide to build understanding and friendship rather than division and distrust. For this reason, the words of one of my religious leaders—Dieter F. Uchtdorf—resonate deeply with me:

The effort to throw off traditions of distrust and pettiness and truly see one another with new eyes—to see each other not as aliens or adversaries but as fellow travelers, brothers and sisters, and children of God—is one of the most challenging while at the same time most rewarding and ennobling experiences of our human existence. . . .

This conviction and resolve to overcome our lower instincts and truly love all mankind regardless of race, religion, political ideology, and socioeconomic circumstances is one of the grand objectives of our human existence.

It is the essence of pure religion.

It may not be an easy thing to do.

But it is worth doing, and we can do it.[1]

Dieter F. Uchtdorf Throw of distrust is rewarding Interfaith

To answer the question, “Can we be inspired by our religion to reach across the religious divides?” I would like take a look into my own religion—Mormonism—to discuss how I am inspired by my religion to engage in interfaith work. As a framework to my remarks, I’d like to refer to a statement by Eboo Patel—an influential leader of the interfaith movement in the United States—about what is necessary for someone to successfully become an interfaith leader: “You need three basic things to be an interfaith leader . . . vision, knowledge base and skill set—all towards the end of creating spaces where people from different faith backgrounds come together to build understanding and to cooperate.”[2]

  1. Vision

In explaining his statement, Eboo Patel said that the vision is “the idea that people from different religions ought to come together to build cooperation. That’s not to be taken for granted. A lot of people who believe in the clash of civilizations believe that different religious identities are inherently opposed to each other. So the first thing you need to be an interfaith leader is a framework that understanding and cooperation is possible.”[3]

Over the years, LDS Church leaders have indicated that they have caught this vision and want members of the Church to carry it out. I’ll highlight a few examples below.

By the end of his life, the Prophet Joseph Smith (1805-1844) indicated that he wanted to engage in positive, interfaith-like ways with other Christian denominations. He taught that “friendship is the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism”[4]—a significant statement, given that he only used the term “fundamental principle of Mormonism” to describe two other things—a belief in Jesus the Christ’s resurrection, and the search for truth. He also made it clear that this friendship was meant to extend to people of many different faiths. For example, in July of 1843, he taught that:

The inquiry is frequently made of me, “Wherein do you differ from others in your religious views?” In reality and essence we do not differ so far in our religious views, but that we could all drink into one principle of love. One of the grand fundamental principles of “Mormonism” is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.

We believe in the Great Elohim who sits enthroned in yonder heavens. So do the Presbyterians. If a skillful mechanic, in taking a welding heat, uses borax, alum, etc., and succeeds in welding together iron or steel more perfectly than any other mechanic, is he not deserving of praise? And if by the principles of truth I succeed in uniting men of all denominations in the bonds of love, shall I not have attained a good object?

If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way. Do you believe in Jesus Christ and the Gospel of salvation which he revealed? So do I. Christians should cease wrangling and contending with each other, and cultivate the principles of union and friendship in their midst.[5]

Joseph Smith Drink into one Love Interfaith

With the goal of “uniting men of all denominations in the bonds of love,” Joseph Smith was suggesting that Mormonism could not only participate, but also become leaders in interfaith work. His belief that “Christians should cease wrangling and contending with each other, and cultivate the principles of union and friendship in their midst” is a core idea behind such interfaith efforts, though it is extended beyond the circle of Christianity to all of the world’s religions in today’s global world.

We also see in the Prophet’s statement above an expanded view of the church or kingdom of God on earth that encourages greater cooperation between people of various faiths. He stated that “we could all drink into one principle of love.” The only place in our scriptures that uses the phrase “drink into one” is Paul’s discussion of the “body of Christ”:

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:12–13.)

If Joseph Smith was intending to make a passing reference to Paul’s epistle, he may have been suggesting that Christian churches, uniting together in love, could be viewed collectively as the body of Christ—often understood to be the Church of Christ. This wasn’t a suggestion that all Christian churches should lose all denominational distinctions and blend into one institution—for example, the Prophet maintained that Mormonism had priesthood authority and truths that other Christian denominations did not have. Instead, it seems to be a suggestion that disciples of Christ inside or outside of any individual religion could be considered a part of Christ’s larger following or church.

More recent LDS Church leaders have continued to call upon Church members to practice respect and love with people from different faith traditions. The current president of the Church—Thomas S. Monson—said that “We have a responsibility . . . to work cooperatively with other churches and organizations. My objective there is . . . that we eliminate the weakness of one standing alone and substitute it or the strength of people working together.”[6]

Thomas S. Monson Interfaith

President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008)—one of the longest serving and most-beloved presidents of the Church in recent decades—declared in his inaugural address as president of the Church that:

I plead with our people everywhere to live with respect and appreciation for those not of our faith. There is so great a need for civility and mutual respect among those of differing beliefs and philosophies. We must not be partisans of any doctrine of ethnic superiority. We live in a world of diversity. We can and must be respectful toward those with whose teachings we may not agree. We must be willing to defend the rights of others who may become the victims of bigotry.[7]

Gordon B. Hinckley Diversity Interfaith

Many other examples could be given, but these three church leaders give a good sample of what LDS Church members are taught about the vision of interfaith work.

2. Knowledge Base

Eboo Patel had the following to say about having a knowledge base:

The second thing you need is a knowledge base. You need to have an appreciative understanding of other traditions. You need to be able to identify shared values across traditions. How does Islam speak to mercy? How does Christianity speak to mercy? How do Jews speak to mercy? You can do the same with hospitality or service or compassion. These are what the Interfaith Youth Core calls shared values.

Part of a knowledge base, for a religious person at least, is what we call a theology of interfaith cooperation. You ought to be able to tell somebody in your own faith why you, as a Christian or as a Muslim or as a Jew, engage in interfaith cooperation.

You also need to know the history of interfaith cooperation. You hear people say all the time, “Well, Muslims and Jews are fighting now because they’ve always fought,” and that’s just false. But if you don’t know about the history of cooperation between Muslims and Jews, in Andalucía or the Ottoman Empire, then that lie of Muslims and Jews always fighting stands.[8]

LDS Church members have been encouraged to gain an appreciative knowledge of other religions from a very early time. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that if the “Presbyterians [have] any truth embrace that. [Same for the] Baptist. Methodist &c. get all the good in the world. [and you will] come out a pure Mormon.”[9] President Brigham Young likewise told a son who asked if it was okay to attend a Protestant Christian service while he was living in the eastern United States that, “With regard to your attending Protestant Episcopal service, I have no objection whatever. On the contrary, I would like to have you attend, and see what they can teach you about God and Godliness more than you have already been taught.”[10]

Brigham Young Attend Episcopal Interfaith Meme

We are also taught to respect the good found in other religions and their teachings. In 1978, the First Presidency—the highest quorum of Church leadership—issued a statement that affirmed that “the great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.” They went on to say that, “Consistent with these truths, we believe that God has given and will give to all peoples sufficient knowledge to help them on their way to eternal salvation, either in this life or in the life to come.”[11] President Brigham Young likewise taught that:

So far as mortality is concerned, millions of the inhabitants of the earth live according to the best light they have—according to the best knowledge they possess. I have told you frequently that they will receive according to their works; and all, who live according to the best principles in their possession, or that they can understand, will receive peace, glory, comfort, joy and a crown that will be far beyond what they are anticipating. They will not be lost.[12]

Brigham Young All who follow their religions receive glory Interfaith

Inspired by these ideas, I have been making the effort to spend at least part of my devotional study time each day learning about other religions. I’ve been alternating reading books that talk about the other religion (basics of belief and practice, etc.) and books that people in that religion would study in their devotional studies (the Qur’an, the words of the current Dalai Lama, etc.). It has been a fascinating, enlightening, and enjoyable journey to learn what they believe, what is similar to my own beliefs, and what is different. I have gained greater respect for many of those religions, particularly ones that I knew little about beforehand, such as the Sikh religion and Buddhism. I have also gained a deeper appreciation of aspects of my own religion that are viewed from a different light or emphasized differently in these other religions.

In addition, my wife and I have decided to celebrate one holiday from a different religion each year, and to take time to learn about the religion that celebrates that holiday as we do so. This is not done for the sake of cultural appropriation, but for the sake of gaining a greater understanding and appreciation of different religions. In addition, as part of the discussion, we intend to bring up our own, Mormon theology of interfaith cooperation. It is our hope that as we have children and raise them with this tradition, they will gain a knowledge base that lends itself to an appreciative understanding of other traditions, a knowledge of shared values across traditions, an understanding of our own theology of interfaith cooperation, and that they will learn a bit of history that will help them to participate in interfaith cooperation in their own lives.

3. Skill Set

Eboo Patel went on to state that: “The third thing you need is a skill set. Are you able to tell your story of interfaith enrichment compellingly? Are you able to speak with people from different religions in a way that they can trust you? Are you able to organize activities that bring them together?” [13]

Admittedly, developing the skill set necessary to engage in interfaith cooperation has been, at times, a slow process for the LDS Church as a whole. Our commitment to missionary work has often take priority at the expense of meaningful interfaith outreach, and a siege mentality developed during the traumatic experiences that Mormons underwent in the United States during the mid-19th Century that still influences Mormon culture to this day. In addition, even when Church leadership has been working on interfaith outreach, the individual practicing Mormon may not catch on to the vision.

That being said, great stride have been and are being made by the LDS Church. The general authorities running the Church lead the way—President Henry B. Eyring, Elder L. Tom Perry, and Bishop Gérald Caussé attended an interfaith Vatican Summit on the family in November 2014; Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has received the Torch of Liberty Award from the Anti-Defamation League for work in improving understanding between Christians and Jews; and Elder Quentin L. Cook has spoken occasionally of his friendship with prominent Jew by the name of Robert Abrams to cite a few examples. More recently, the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions was held in Salt Lake City, Utah. Elder L. Whitney Clayton participated in the opening ceremonies and later on, Temple Square hosted an interfaith musical performance that featured such diverse groups as Native Americans, Muslims, Jews, Quakers, Sikhs, and many other religious traditions. On a less official level, Mormons participated in the Parliament as local volunteers, and several workshops on Mormon topics were held over the course of the conference. I personally had the chance to attend the Parliament as a volunteer and while I was there, I was told by a Sikh girl from Southern California that she was very impressed with Mormons in her area because so many of them made the effort to be involved in interfaith activities.[14] Many other examples of Mormons being involved in interfaith activism might be given as well.

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Elder L. Whitney Clayton at the Parliament of the World’s Religions

There have also been efforts to tell a story of interfaith enrichment in compelling ways.  Many of the Church leaders—Jeffrey R. Holland,[15] Quentin L. Cook,[16] L. Tom Perry,[17] and Dieter F. Uchtdorf[18] being notable examples—have given address to Latter-day Saints and others that speak of their experiences in interfaith enrichment and encourage everyone else to have similar experiences. In addition, the Ensign—the official magazine of the Church for adult Mormons—has published articles from time to time that speak of interfaith enrichment and outline ways that Mormons can develop the skills that Eboo Patel listed as being necessary, most notably an article called “Becoming Better Saints through Interfaith Involvement” in December 2013.[19]

In my own life, I have not had a lot of experience in leading interfaith movements—I’ve mostly been a follower who tries to stay involved where I can. Still, I have taken the time to learn and practice skills in talking to people with different beliefs in ways that do not cause discomfort or to make them feel like I have alternative agendas from simply gaining understanding. I have found that most people are happy to talk about their own beliefs and to build bridges of friendship and understanding and that learning about other religions does not undermine my own beliefs as a Mormon. Developing that skill set further is something that will take time and effort on my part, as it does for anyone else.

 

Conclusion

My hope is that what I have written, simple though it might be, is an example of how one religion—Mormonism—has teachings and beliefs that lend themselves to interfaith cooperation. I know that my religion is not alone in having a theology of interfaith cooperation—my experiences have taken place with Christians of many denominations, as well as individuals from many other religions. It is very possible to reach across divides and gain a better understanding of people who we don’t see eye to eye with on religious and philosophical ideas because of our religion rather than in spite of religious convictions. It is also very necessary to do so if we are to have hope for a better future in a fractured world. As we do so, we can join with Jesus of Nazareth in saying: “Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.” (Luke 9:50.)

Joseph Smith_Father

[1] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Fellow Travelers, Brothers and Sisters, Children of God,” John A. Widtsoe Symposium, University of Southern California, 24 April 2015. https://www.lds.org/prophets-and-apostles/unto-all-the-world/fellow-travelers-brothers-and-sisters-children-of-god?lang=eng

[2] Eboo Patel, “Look to young people for leadership in interfaith cooperation,” Faith & Leadership 10/10/2011, https://www.faithandleadership.com/qa/eboo-patel-look-young-people-for-leadership-interfaith-cooperation. Accessed 4/1/2016.

[3] Patel, “Look to young people.”

[4] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 4714-4719). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[5] Joseph Smith Jr. and Joseph Fielding Smith (ed.), Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 313-314. Compare with sermon, 9 July 1843 in Ehat and Cook, Words, 229.

[6] Thomas, S. Monson, in “The Mormon Ethic of Civility,” Oct. 16, 2009, mormonnewsroom.org

[7] Gordon B. Hinckley, “This Work is the Work of the Master,” CR, April 1995.

[8] Patel, “Look to young people.”

[9] Joseph Smith Diary report of Joseph Smith sermon, 9 July 1843, and Joseph Smith Diary report of Joseph Smith sermon 23 July 1843, in Ehat and Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith, Kindle Locations 4599-4600 and 4718-4719.

[10] Brigham Young to Willard Young, 25 July 1871. Cited in Leonard J. Arrington, “Willard Young: The Prophet’s Son at West Point,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, V.4, No. 4 (Winter 1969), 42.

[11] Spencer W. Kimball, N. Eldon Tanner, Marion G. Romney, Statement of the First Presidency Regarding God’s Love for All Mankind, February 15, 1978.

[12] Brigham Young, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (SLC: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1997), 287.

[13] Patel, “Look to young people.”

[14] For more examples of Mormon interfaith involvement see the Mormon Newsroom article on Interfaith Relations found at http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/interfaith.

[15] Jeffrey R. Holland, “Standing Together in the Cause of Christ,” Ensign August 2012. https://www.lds.org/ensign/2012/08/standing-together-for-the-cause-of-christ?lang=eng

[16] Quentin L. Cook, “Partnering with our Friends from Other Faiths,” August 9, 2010. http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Partnering-with-Our-Friends-from-Other-Faiths

[17] L. Tom Perry, “Why Marriage and Family Matter—Everywhere in the World,” CR April 2015. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2015/04/why-marriage-and-family-matter-everywhere-in-the-world?lang=eng

[18] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Fellow Travelers, Brothers and Sisters, Children of God,” John A. Widtsoe Symposium, University of Southern California, 24 April 2015. https://www.lds.org/prophets-and-apostles/unto-all-the-world/fellow-travelers-brothers-and-sisters-children-of-god?lang=eng

[19] Betsy VanDenBerghe, “Becoming Better Saints through Interfaith Involvement,” Ensign December 2013. https://www.lds.org/ensign/2013/12/becoming-better-saints-through-interfaith-involvement?lang=eng

Ezra Taft Benson, Chapter 14: Marriage and Family—Ordained of God

Like many of the more recent prophets and apostles, Ezra Taft Benson felt it was important to preserve and build up the traditional family structure and loving, healthy environments in the home. This focus shines through in a whole section of the manual, where five chapters in a row related to themes that touch this basic concept. Chapter 14 is the second chapter of this set, focusing on the importance of the traditional family. The actual timing of when these lessons will be taught is interesting, particularly for those living in the United States, given the recent Supreme Court decision regarding homosexual marriage (more on that later).

In this chapter, the life section describes some of how Ezra Taft Benson and his wife ran their family and his feelings about family. Section one focuses on the centrality of the family in society and in the Church. Section two contains advice two married couples on how to maintain a successful marriage. Section three describes ways in which happy and healthy homes can be maintained in the Gospel. Section four focuses on how to raise righteous children in the Gospel. Section five is a shorter section talking about how families can be eternal.

Ezra Taft Benson with his family. Image courtesy LDS.org

Ezra Taft Benson with his family.
Image courtesy LDS.org

Resources for Lesson/Teaching Helps:

Suggested Hymns

“Love at Home” (Hymns 294)

“Home Can Be a Heaven on Earth” (Hymns 298)

“Families Can Be Together Forever” (Hymns 300)

“In Our Lovely Deseret” (Hymns 307)

Videos

“Come Follow Me: Marriage and Family” video collection

Object Lessons

  • Take two packages of powdered punch mix, some sugar and some water. Mix both packages of punch with water, one with sugar (following the directions) and one without sugar. First, serve the punch without the sugar to some of the class or quorum. The group should be allowed to describe the taste, which is usually bitter and sour. Then, serve the punch that was made with sugar. While the students are drinking this punch, liken the punch without sugar to a marriage in which both partners are not following the directions that the Lord has given us for marriage. If we do not do all we can to make our marriage a happy one, it can be a very bitter and sour experience. However, if we follow the directions and add that little bit of sugar, the marriage will be much more enjoyable.
  • Hold up a donut and compare it to earthly marriage: sweet and delicious but built around a big hole: “til death do us part.” Tell the sisters or brothers, “‘Do-nut’ settle for a marriage that won’t last into the eternities.” Pass around cinnamon rolls, comparing those to eternal marriage without a hole.[1]

Further Reading

The Divine Institution of Marriage

Julie B. Beck: Teaching the Doctrine of the Family

Eugene England: On Fidelity, Polygamy, and Celestial Marriage

Bruce D. Porter: Defending the Family in a Troubled World

L. Tom Perry: Why Marriage and Family Matter—Everywhere in the World

L. Tom Perry: Traditions of Light and Testimony

D. Todd Christofferson: Why Marriage, Why Family

Quotes

David O. McKay

David O.  and Emma Ray McKay

David O. McKay: No other success can compensate for failure in the home.[2]

A child has the right to feel that in his home he has a place of refuge, a place of protection from the dangers and evils of the outside world. Family unity and integrity are necessary to supply this need.[3]

I should like to urge continued courtship, and apply this to grown people. Too many couples have come to the altar of marriage looking upon the marriage ceremony as the end of courtship instead of the beginning of an eternal courtship. Let us not forget that during the burdens of home life—and they come—that tender words of appreciation, courteous acts are even more appreciated than during those sweet days and months of courtship. It is after the ceremony and during the trials that daily arise in the home that a word of ‘thank you,’ or ‘pardon me,’ ‘if you please,’ on the part of husband or wife contributes to that love which brought you to the altar. It is well to keep in mind that love can be starved to death as literally as the body that receives no sustenance. Love feeds upon kindness and courtesy.[4]

Happiness is the end, really, of our existence. That happiness comes most effectively through service to our fellow men.[5]

Harold B. Lee

Harold B. Lee

Harold B. Lee: I have frequently counseled, and I repeat it to you again, to all of you here: “The most important of the Lord’s work you will ever do will be within the walls of your own homes.” We must never forget that.[6]

Again and again has been repeated the statement that the home is the basis of a righteous life. With new and badly needed emphasis on the ‘how,’ we must not lose sight of the ‘why’ we are so engaged. The priesthood programs operate in support of the home; the auxiliary programs render valuable assistance. Wise regional leadership can help us to do our share in attaining God’s overarching purpose, ‘to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.’ (Moses 1:39.) Both the revelations of God and the learning of men tell us how crucial the home is in shaping the individual’s total life experience. You must have been impressed that running through all that has been said in this conference has been the urgency of impressing the importance of better teaching and greater parental responsibility in the home. Much of what we do organizationally, then, is scaffolding, as we seek to build the individual, and we must not mistake the scaffolding for the soul.[7]

Howard W. Hunter

Howard W.  and Inis Egan Hunter

Howard W. Hunter: You should express regularly to your wife and children your reverence and respect for her. Indeed, one of the greatest things a father can do for his children is to love their mother.[8]

President Russel M. Nelson

President Russel M. and Wendy Watson  Nelson

Russel M. Nelson: This life is the time to prepare for salvation and exaltation.  In God’s eternal plan, salvation is an individual matter; exaltation is a family matter.[9]

Individual progression is fostered in the family, which is “central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.”  The home is to be God’s laboratory of love and service. There a husband is to love his wife, a wife is to love her husband, and parents and children are to love one another.

Throughout the world, the family is increasingly under attack. If families fail, many of our political, economic, and social systems will also fail. And if families fail, their glorious eternal potential cannot be realized.

Our Heavenly Father wants husbands and wives to be faithful to each other and to esteem and treat their children as an heritage from the Lord.  In such a family we study the scriptures and pray together. And we fix our focus on the temple. There we receive the highest blessings that God has in store for His faithful children. [10]

L. Tom Perry

L. Tom and Virginia C. Perry

L. Tom Perry: The Church . . . is the scaffolding with which we build eternal families. . . .

The Church as scaffolding is perhaps best represented by a statement the Prophet Joseph Smith made about his role as the leader of the Church. He said, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” Eternal principles are the scaffolding the Church provides. These eternal principles are embedded in the doctrines of the kingdom of God and are reflected in His eternal plan of happiness. We meet as members of the Church to teach and learn from each other the principles of righteousness and to receive saving ordinances so the scaffolding is steady and stable as we build our eternal families.

Notice that the Church is not meant to do the work of parents; rather, it guides the work of parents. The Church offers an eternal form. As builders of eternal families, we are reassured by promises that if we build according to this eternal form, our efforts can provide the safety and protection we seek for those we love most.[11]

Make the honoring of family traditions—holiday traditions, birthday traditions, Sunday traditions, dinnertime traditions—and the development of new ones a priority throughout your lives. Honor them, write them down, and make certain you follow them. Studies show that the reason young people join gangs is for the tradition and ritual of belonging to something larger than self. That is what a family should be. Be certain you are creating a rich environment in which your family can look forward to special times of the year when traditions hold you together as a great eternal family unit.

Understand that this is neither a simple nor an easy solution. Just as Rome was not built in a day, neither are family traditions. Family traditions can offer basic and lasting support, but there’s a lot that must be built around them. Perhaps family traditions work only when they create a role for every member of the family and when there is united effort to build them. This means family members need to spend time together and learn how to work together. When it comes to families, there is no such thing as quality time without a certain quantity of time.[12]

LDS Church Administration Building

LDS Church Administration Building

Official Church Website: No one fully knows the root causes of same-sex attraction. Each experience is different. Latter-day Saints recognize the enormous complexity of this matter. We simply don’t have all the answers. Attraction to those of the same sex, however, should not be viewed as a disease or illness. We must not judge anyone for the feelings they experience. Members of the Church who have same-sex attractions, but don’t act on them, can continue to enjoy full fellowship in the church, which includes holding the priesthood, carrying out callings, and attending the temple. Unlike in times past, the Church does not necessarily advise those with same-sex attraction to marry those of the opposite sex. Same-sex attraction itself is not a sin, but yielding to it is. However, through repentance Jesus Christ will offer forgiveness.

A Deeper Look

As mentioned at the start of this post, a recent Supreme Court decision in the United States cleared the way for gay marriages everywhere in the country. Since most of the individuals who visit this blog are from the United States, it is likely that this will be a subject of some importance to those reading this post. Due to the timing of this lesson, it is highly likely that the subject of homosexuality will either come up in class, be a subtext to the discussion though never mentioned directly, or be on people’s minds while they talk about families. Homosexuality is a very complicated and sensitive subject that could cause hurt feelings, heated discussions, and a loss of the Spirit in a class setting if discussed improperly. This is particularly true since homosexuality is a relatively common but little-understood experience and there is likely either individuals who experience homosexual attraction or individuals who have someone close to them who experiences homosexual attraction in the classroom.

Supreme Court

Regardless of whatever stances members hold, it is important to maintain what Joseph Smith called “the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism”: friendship. The Church is an opportunity to develop and practice principles of friendship and love (which Christ himself said was the second great commandment) with individuals who have both similarities and differences from ourselves. We need to make sure that everyone feels welcomed and loved at Church. On the other hand, we do have to make a stand for what we believe. As an instructor, in order to navigate this issue and guide class discussions appropriately, it is helpful to fully understand and be able to quote the official Church stances on the issues at hand.

There are a number of web pages and a website that the Church has set up to deal with the issue. Probably the four most important ones to look at are as follows:

Gospel Topic: Same-Sex Attraction

Love One Another: A Discussion on Same-Sex Attraction

The Divine Institution of Marriage

First Presidency Letter, 29 June 2015

It is also important to understand that Church stances on specific parts of the issues at hand have shifted from time to time as more information has been revealed and accepted, and that high-ranking Church leaders may hold and express opinions that are their own and not the official stance of the Church at the present time. Thus, if previous leaders such as President Spencer W. Kimball, President Boyd K. Packer, or others describe homosexuality as a disease possibly brought on by parental failure, masturbation or satanic influences and curable by special treatments or heterosexual marriage and current Church official sources state contrary, it is the current stance that should be used to represent the Church and its beliefs, not the former. We do believe in supporting the living prophet, not just venerating dead ones, after all. That is why it is important to be read up on current Church literature on the subject. As a matter of understanding on the issues cited above, the Church website for “gays and Mormons” does declare itself to be representative of the official stance for the Church and states that: “No one fully knows the root causes of same-sex attraction. . . . Attraction to those of the same sex, however, should not be viewed as a disease or illness. We must not judge anyone for the feelings they experience. . . . Unlike in times past, the Church does not necessarily advise those with same-sex attraction to marry those of the opposite sex.”

There are three big questions that I see that should be highlighted in a discussion on homosexuality:

  • Is homosexual orientation a sin?
  • Where does the Church draw the line on homosexual relationships and why?
  • How are Church members to treat people that are openly gay or supportive of gays?

I don’t have time to go into great detail on each question, so a paragraph or two each will have to do. Those who want more detail should explore the sites listed above.

First, is homosexual orientation a sin? A point to first be made is that the Church differentiates between homosexual orientation and homosexual sexual activity and that the former is not a sin, but the latter is: “The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them.”[13] This position—that same-sex attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is—is reiterated consistently in all current Church resources that touch on the subject, from “For the Strength of Youth” to the sources linked above.

The root cause of same-sex attraction is a more dicey issue in Church discourse, historically. The root concern comes from the question: If God wants people to not carry out homosexual sex, why does same-sex attraction exist? It’s really a bit of a theodicy problem for Mormon theology—the question of why if God is perfect in attributes and all-powerful do things that are either contrary to his will or harmful to humans physically, emotionally, or spiritually exist. In the past, some Church leaders have indeed held that same-sex attraction was not anything based in the innate biology of an individual (since that would implicate God to one degree or another) but rather stemming out of poor choices of either the individual who experiences same-sex attraction or her/his parents. Currently, the Church has backed off from harsh positions of this sort and holds that the origin of same-sex attraction not a choice, but is complex, not well understood, and that we simply do not know why it exists. As such, it encourages Church members to not judge or condemn those who do experience same-sex attraction. The Church’s website Love One Another: A Discussion on Same-Sex Attraction has the most in-depth look at this question.

Turning to the second question: Where does the Church draw the line on homosexuality? Essentially, the Church holds to the idea that sexual intimacy is meant to only occur in marriage and that marriage was only meant to occur between a man and a woman (or in certain time periods, between a man and women). While Church leaders have indicated that sexual intimacy is an expression of love between two individuals and it satisfies a physical need, it is something to be tightly regulated to ensure that children will be able to be born and grow in a healthy, stable environment:

Marriage is far more than a contract between individuals to ratify their affections and provide for mutual obligations. Rather, marriage is a vital institution for rearing children and teaching them to become responsible adults. Throughout the ages, governments of all types have recognized marriage as essential in preserving social stability and perpetuating life. Regardless of whether marriages were performed as a religious rite or a civil ceremony, in almost every culture marriage has been protected and endorsed by governments primarily to preserve and foster the institution most central to rearing children and teaching them the moral values that undergird civilization.

It is true that some couples who marry will not have children, either by choice or because of infertility. The special status granted marriage is nevertheless closely linked to the inherent powers and responsibilities of procreation and to the innate differences between the genders. By contrast, same-sex marriage is an institution no longer linked to gender—to the biological realities and complementary natures of male and female. Its effect is to decouple marriage from its central role in creating life, nurturing time-honored values, and fostering family bonds across generations.[14]

As such, the Church holds that:

While maintaining that feelings and inclinations toward the same sex are not inherently sinful, engaging in homosexual behavior is in conflict with the “doctrinal principle, based on sacred scripture … that marriage between a man and a woman is essential to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.”

Because the Church believes that the sacred powers of procreation are “to be exercised only between a man and a woman lawfully wedded as husband and wife … any other sexual relations, including those between persons of the same gender, undermine the divinely created institution of the family.” Accordingly, the Church favors measures that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.[15]

This concern for preserving traditional family for the sake of children extends to worries over how societal acceptance of homosexuality will affect the strength of traditional families. The “The Divine Institution of Marriage” document is the resource that is probably the clearest on this particular area of concern.

While the Church has maintained a strong position against homosexual marriage, when it comes to the question of how Church members are supposed to treat people that are openly homosexual or supportive of homosexual marriage and relationships, it is striving to be as compassionate as it can be while (figuratively) sticking to its guns. As stated in the recent First Presidency letter issued to Latter-day Saints to counsel them after the Supreme Court ruling:

The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to love and treat all people with kindness and civility—even when we disagree. We affirm that those who avail themselves of laws or court rulings authorizing same‐sex marriage should not be treated disrespectfully. Indeed, the Church has advocated for rights of same‐sex couples in matters of hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment, and probate, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.[16]

Again, as stated elsewhere:

Jesus Christ commanded us to love our neighbors. Whether sinner or saint, rich or poor, stranger or friend, everyone in God’s small world is our neighbor, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Latter-day Saints believe that our true commitment to Christian teachings is revealed by how we respond to this commandment. This love is tested every day of our lives. We may know individuals with same-sex attraction in our workplaces, congregations and town halls. As people with hopes, fears and aspirations like everyone else, these neighbors deserve our love. But we can’t truly love the neighbors next door if we don’t love the neighbors under our own roof. Family members with same-sex attraction need our love and understanding. God loves all his children alike, much more than any of us can comprehend, and expects us to follow.[17]

So, in final summary, the Church holds that same-sex attraction is not a sin, but acting on those desires is, though repentance and redemption is always available through the Atonement. Sex is to only occur in marriage and marriage is only to occur between a man and a woman in order to create healthy and stable children. Regardless of what other individuals choose to practice in regard to homosexuality, however, they deserve to be treated with love and compassion. Hopefully some of these resources will be useful as the topic comes up in Church in upcoming weeks. Happy teaching!

Ezra Taft Benson and his wife, Flora

Ezra Taft Benson and his wife, Flora

Disclaimer: I have tried to summarize the Church’s position on a few questions relative to homosexuality, however something must be understood: This blog is not an official Church site and does not necessarily represent the Church’s position entirely accurately. The resources I have linked to this blog do, however, represent the Church’s official position as of July 2015.

[1] Boice, Trina (2014-11-09). The Ready Resource for Relief Society Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson (Kindle Locations 1362-1364). Cedar Fort, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

[2] David O. McKay: Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay (SLC: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), 154.

[3] McKay, Teachings, 43.

[4] McKay, Teachings, 149.

[5] McKay, Teachings, 182.

[6] The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 280.

[7] Harold B. Lee, Conference Report, Oct. 1967, 107

[8] Howard W. Hunter, “Being a Righteous Husband and Father, ” Ensign, Nov. 1994, 50.

[9] Russell M. Nelson, “Salvation and Exaltation,” CR, April 2008, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2008/04/salvation-and-exaltation?lang=eng

[10] Russell M. Nelson, “Salvation and Exaltation,” CR, April 2008, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2008/04/salvation-and-exaltation?lang=eng

[11] L. Tom Perry, “Traditions of Light and Testimony,” Ensign, December 2012, https://www.lds.org/ensign/2012/12/the-tradition-of-light-and-testimony?lang=eng

[12] Perry, “Traditions.”

[13] http://mormonsandgays.org/, accessed 17 July 2015

[14] “The Divine Institution of Marriage,” Mormon Newsroom, accessed 17 July 2015, http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/the-divine-institution-of-marriage

[15] “Same-Gender Attraction,” LDS.org, Gospel Topics, accessed 17 July 2015, https://www.lds.org/topics/same-gender-attraction?lang=eng

[16] http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/top-church-leaders-counsel-members-after-supreme-court-same-sex-marriage-decision

[17] http://mormonsandgays.org/ accessed 17 July 2015

Ezra Taft Benson, Chapter 13: Priceless Blessings of the House of the Lord

This is the temple chapter for the Ezra Taft Benson manual. The life section focuses on the example of temple-going that his parents set for him. Section one focuses on all the wonderful things that temples stand for and can remind us of. Section two focuses on the relationship between the temple ordinances, receiving the fulness of the priesthood, and exaltation by referring to several scriptures about Adam’s life. Section three focuses on the blessings gained through temple attendance. Section four deals with encouraging members to do temple work for deceased individuals. Section five focuses on teaching children about the temple so that they will be excited to go. Section six focuses on returning to the temple over and over to gain a better understanding of the ordinances and increase our flow of revelation.

Logan, Utah Temple

Logan, Utah Temple

Resources for Lesson/Teaching Helps:

Suggested Hymns

“High on the Mountain Top” (Hymns #5 and #333)

“What Was Witnessed in the Heavens” (Hymns #11)

“Rise, Ye Saints, and Temple Enter” (Hymns #287)

“Turn Your Hearts” (Hymns #291)

“Families Can Be Together Forever” (Hymns #300)

Videos

“Strength Beyond My Own”

“Time Well Spent”

“Temples Are a Beacon”

“Endowed With Power”

“Why Mormons Build Temples”

Object Lessons

Get two envelopes; put a picture of the temple on one envelope. Put cut-outs (paper dolls? magazine people?) of family members in each envelope. Seal shut the envelope with the temple picture. All the while, talk about the one family going to the temple and the other not going. Then dump both envelopes containing families upside down. The family in the envelope that was not sealed will fall out all over the place. The family in the sealed envelope, will be all together.[1]

Have a talent contest to see who can comb their hair without bending their elbows or talk on a cell phone without touching it? Ask two sisters to eat a candy bar without bending their elbows. What’s the punch line? It can’t be done, unless they help each other. Our ancestors need us as much as we needed them. Together, we save each other.[2]

Further Reading

David A. Bednar: “The Hearts of the Children Shall Turn,” CR, October 2011

Richard G. Scott, “The Joy of Redeeming the Dead,” CR, October 2012

Quentin L. Cook, “Roots and Branches,” CR, April 2014

First Presidency Letter: Names Submitted for Temple Ordinances

Terryl L. Givens: “The Heavenly Logic of Proxy Baptism”

Terryl L. Givens: Latter-day Saint Temples in Context: Restoration, Romanticism, Anthropology and Passibility

Quotes

Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Dieter F. Uchtdorf: Temples are an unyielding witness that goodness will prevail. President George Q. Cannon (1827–1901), First Counselor in the First Presidency, once said, “Every foundation stone that is laid for a Temple, and every Temple completed … lessens the power of Satan on the earth, and increases the power of God and Godliness.”

While each temple increases the influence of righteousness in the earth, the greatest blessings, of course, come to those who actually attend the temple. There we receive further light and knowledge and make solemn covenants that, if followed, help us walk in the path of discipleship. In short, the temple teaches us about the sacred purpose of life and helps us get our true physical and spiritual bearings.[3]

Gordon B. Hinckley

Gordon B. Hinckley

Gordon B. Hinckley: The Lord has made it possible for us in these holy houses to receive our own [ordinances]. Then we have the opportunity and responsibility of extending these same blessings to those who have passed on without the privilege. But in the very process there comes into our own lives a refinement of character, together with increased spirituality. It is interesting to reflect on the fact that although many on the other side may not receive the ordinances done for them here, those who perform these ordinances will be blessed in the very process of doing so.[4]

I hope that everyone gets to the temple on a regular basis. . . . If we are a temple-going people, we will be a better people, we will be better fathers and husbands, we will be better wives and mothers. I know your lives are busy. I know that you have much to do. But I make you a promise that if you will go to the House of the Lord, you will be blessed; life will be better for you. Now, please, please, my beloved brothers and sisters, avail yourselves of the great opportunity to go to the Lord’s house and thereby partake of all the marvelous blessings that are yours to be received there.[5]

Possible photo of Joseph Smith.

Possible photo of Joseph Smith.

Joseph Smith: The greatest responsibility resting upon us is to look after our dead.— they without us cannot be made perfect.[6]

2007-04-1040-elder-richard-g-scott-590x332-ldsorg-articleRichard G. Scott: Temple and family history work is one work divided into two parts. They are connected together like the ordinances of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost….

Father in Heaven wants each of us to receive both parts of the blessing of this vital vicarious work. He has led others to show us how to qualify. It is up to you and me to claim those blessings.

Any work you do in the temple is time well spent, but receiving ordinances vicariously for one of your own ancestors will make the time in the temple more sacred, and even greater blessings will be received.[7]

B. H. Roberts

B. H. Roberts

B. H. Roberts: While the Gospel is preached in the spirit world, it appears from all that can be learned upon the subject, that all the outward ordinances, such as baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, anointings, sealings, etc., etc., must be performed vicariously here upon the earth for those who accept the Gospel in the world of spirits. This is the work that children may do for their progenitors, and upon learning this, the hearts of the children are turned to their fathers; and the fathers in the spirit world, learning that they are dependent upon the actions of the posterity for the performance of the ordinances of salvation, their hearts are turned to the children; and thus the work that was predicted should be performed by Elijah—turning the hearts of the children to the fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children—was accomplished in restoring the keys of knowledge respecting the salvation for the dead.[8]

John A. Widtsoe

John A. Widtsoe

John A Widtose: It is a great promise that to the temples God will come, and that in them man shall see God. What does this promised communion mean? Does it mean that once in a while God may come into the temples, and that once in a while the pure in heart may see God there; or does it mean the larger thing, that the pure in heart who go into the temples, may, there, by the Spirit of God, always have a wonderfully rich communion with God? I think that is what it means to me and to you and to most of us. We have gone into these holy houses, with our minds freed from the ordinary earthly cares, and have literally felt the presence of God. In this way, the temples are always places where God manifests himself to man and increases his intelligence. A temple is a place of revelation.[9]

Come Unto Christ

In the manual, President Benson is quoted as teaching that “The temple ceremony was given by a wise Heavenly Father to help us become more Christlike.” There are several ways in which I can see that that works. First, going to the temple is one way to follow Christ’s example. I know that LDS temples today are not exactly the same as the Jewish temple of Christ’s time, but it is still significant that the Christ went to that sacred ground often. Many of the stories of his time in Jerusalem center on experiences and teachings in the temple. He cleansed the temple because “the zeal of thine [God’s] house hat eaten me up.” (John 2:17.) When He came to visit the Nephites, it was at the temple in the land Bountiful. So, in a way, Christ could be said to be a frequent temple attender.

Christ Appearing to the Nephites

Christ Appearing to the Nephites

Second, the ordinances of the temple point to Christ. It is not my place to reveal too much about the ordinances since, as Elder Steven Snow once said, “We hold those things sacred, and we don’t feel that that should be talked about, and we feel that’s blasphemous when others have published that material online.”[10]  The ordinances do, however, relate the significance in the Atonement by outlining the context of that sacrifice in the Plan of Salvation, and driving home the significance of the Atonement in our lives through symbolism and imagery. As Bruce L. Olsen said at the San Diego Temple on one occasion, “the Savior and His atonement are found on every turn in the temple and are the foundation of each ordinance.”[11] One pamphlet from a temple open house also states that, “Everything done in the temple . . . is done in the name of Jesus Christ because the Savior and His atoning sacrifice make possible every hope and blessing of the temple,” and that the endowment features “the central role of Jesus Christ as the Redeemer of all God’s children.”[12]

Third, the temple teaches to live the kind of life that Christ lives. At the heart of saving ordinances are covenants that bind us to live commandments that bring us closer to God. In the temple, we “make sacred promises of honesty, chastity, and service to God and to others” which “become anchors of stability in daily living and pathways to God’s eternal blessings.”[13]  These covenants are a way in which the Lord tutors us “step-by-step . . . to become like Him.”[14] Again this is reinforced by some of the imagery and symbolism of the temple ceremonies. Hugh Nibley pointed out parallels in early Christian writings about washings and anointings: “[The washing] is followed by an anointing, which our guide [Cyril] calls ‘the antitype of the anointing of Christ himself,’ making every candidate as it were a Messiah. . . . Furthermore, the candidate was reminded that the whole ordinance ‘is an imitation of the sufferings of Christ,’ in which ‘we suffer without pain by mere imitation his receiving of the nails in his hands and feet: the antitype of Christ’s sufferings.’”[15] The main focus of this part of temple ordinances is not to literally become Christs, but to help us remember to live Christ-like lives and take part in the Divine attributes.

There is much in temple work to turn our minds to Christ and to help us to follow His example in our daily lives.

San Diego Temple

San Diego Temple

A Deeper Look

Recently, I’ve seen a small uproar in the Mormon community over the potential portrayal of a Mormon character in a TV series. What has been the biggest concern is that the character is to be introduced in a scene where he is seen in temple garments the whole time. We as Latter-day Saints tend to keep quiet about the specifics of temple worship because they are sacred to us, and such a portrayal is a violation of the sacred. Such secrecy on the parts of Mormons, however tends to lead towards concerns by those not of our faith, since silence is often linked to the sinister. If they don’t want it known, it might be reasoned, it must be because it is too terrible for potential recruits or outsiders to know about. I have heard people worry about animal sacrifices, sexual content, covenants to do harm to non-Mormons or overthrow the US government,[16] blood oaths to not reveal temple information on pains of gruesome deaths,[17] and so on. In response, many Mormons have adopted the mantra, “sacred, not secret,” emphasizing that we keep quite because of the sacred nature of the covenants, but that anyone can partake in them once they are in a position to understand the ceremonies as a sacred experience in proper context (i.e. as faithful members of the Church). They do not have the same meaning and power outside of proper context and for those who do not view them as sacred.

There is value in this approach. It is a way to teach that the temple rites are not sinister, just something we want to keep apart from the world. Recently, however, I read some writings by Richard L. Bushman (an eminent Mormon historian) that achieves that same end by turning the phrase “sacred, not secret” on its head, which I thought I would share. He wrote:

With remarkable skill, Joseph Smith and his successors adopted practices that set these buildings apart from all other spaces. They achieved a separation of the sacred from the profane like the one that like the one that Mircea Eliade sees as the point of every church in the modern city.

“For a believer, the church shares in a different space from the street in which it stands. The door that opens on the interior of the church actually signifies a dissolution of continuity. The threshold that separates the two spaces also indicates the distance between two modes of being, the profane and the religious. The threshold is the limit, the boundary, the frontier that distinguishes and opposes to worlds—and at the same time the paradoxical place where those worlds communicate, where passage from the profane to the sacred world becomes possible.”

Before the Manhattan temple was completed in 2003, a few score people were allowed to walk through the rooms. The spaces were still obviously a construction site, with tools on the floors and door frames were still obviously a construction site, with tools on the floors and door frames and trim still missing. Carpets were not laid, no paintings were on the walls, scaffolding was still up. And yet these observers, dressed in their Sunday best as instructed, walked in silence through the rooms, many with arms folded. Already before the dedication, the temple aura was there.

After each temple’s dedication, the full array of measures for sacralizing the temple spaces goes into effect. No one enters the Mormon temple unless they have been interviewed by their bishop to determine their elemental worthiness. Eliade notes the importance of thresholds to sacred spaces: “They are symbols and at the same time vehicles of passage from the one to the other.” At the thresholds of Mormon temples, a man in white clothing stands to examine each person’s credentials. After entering, temple-goers change from street cloths into white temple clothing. Everywhere in the temple they speak in hushed tones. The rooms themselves are spotless, cleaned thoroughly every week. The religious scholar Jonathan Z. Smith says that “taking care” is one sing of a sacred space.

Perhaps as important as anything, Latter-day Saints pledge not to speak of the temple ceremonies outside its walls. Sometimes Mormons, a little embarrassed by this prohibition, say the ceremonies are sacred, not secret. But it is probably just as true to say: the ceremonies are sacred because they are secret. The full temple ritual can be read on the web, like so much other information these days, but the availability of the ceremony, or lack of it, to the curious public is not the point. What matters to Mormons is that the participants in the temple ritual refrain from speaking of it. The restraint on discussion outside the temple hallows both the rituals and the spaces in which they are performed.[18]

Brigham City, Utah Temple

Brigham City, Utah Temple

I have pondered a lot on why temples are so important and what gives them power. Sometimes I’ve asked myself: Why do we have to put so much time and effort and money into building temples rather than just going to mountain tops as was often done in the Bible? Why do we talk so much about feeling the Spirit and receiving revelations in the temple and what enables it to be a place where that can take place better than elsewhere? It almost seems as though it’s a magic place where things out of the ordinary take place, but why would that be so?

A faithful Latter-day Saint might be tempted to say that it is so because it was dedicated to be so by priesthood power. While I believe that is part of it, I do not believe that that is the whole answers to the question. To me, the temples are sacred and powerful because we make them so. It is largely the state of mind, the emotional and spiritual preparation and expectation that we have going in, and the actions and attitudes we take while in the temple that turn it into a sacred space where we can commune with God. The walls of the temple exist both as a literal and a figurative threshold—a boundary that keeps what is going on inside separated from both the world and the worldly things. Once we cross that threshold, we change into cloths that are specific in color to the temple, speak in whispers rather than normal tones, and take place in ordinances only performed in the temple. All these indicate that it is something different from everyday life. Creating that threshold and expecting sacred space on the inside of that boundary likewise creates sacred space within our mind while we are in the temple, opening ourselves up to the power of the experience. This is heightened by practices sometimes done by Mormons to prepare for entering the temple prior to actually being there by listening to sacred music on a day in which one intends to attend the temple, fasting, prayer, scripture study, and so on. Speaking of what goes on inside the temple only inside the temple is another expression of that boundary and the creation of sacred space, as indicated by Richard L. Bushman. It is a way to keep the ordinances separate, special, and unmixed with the worldly. As he wrote, “The ceremonies are sacred because they are secret.”

Salt Lake Temple Image courtesy LDS.org

Salt Lake Temple
Image courtesy LDS.org

As another way of looking at the same idea, there was an old article by Hugh Nibley in which he spoke of ancient temples across the world and observed that:

In his recent study of a primitive Egyptian temple complex, Egyptologist Philippe Derchain declares that “one can almost compare the ancient Egyptian temple to a powerhouse where diverse energies are converted into electric current or to a control room where, by the application of very little effort … one can safely produce and distribute energy as needed along the proper power lines.” (Le Papyrus Salt 5825 [Brussels: Memoirs of the Royal Academy], vol. 58 [1965], p. 14.) Such powerhouses were not confined to Egypt; we find them everywhere, in the Old World and the New.

The ruins of such centers of power and control still comprise by far the most impressive remnants of the human past. Today the great plants are broken down and deserted; the power has been shut off. They mean nothing to us any more, because we don’t understand how they worked.

The most sophisticated electronic gadget in perfect working order is nothing in the hands of one who has never heard of electricity, and it would only frustrate even an expert if he found no power outlet to plug into. Perhaps the old powerhouses were something like that. And did they ever really work?

A great many people went to a lot of trouble for an unusually long time to set up these mysterious dynamos all over the world. What could they possibly have derived from all this effort? They must have gotten something, to have kept at it so long and so enthusiastically. . . .

The idea that divine power can be conveyed to men and used by them through the implementation of tangible earthly contrivances and that these become mere antique oddities once the power is shut off is surprisingly confirmed and illustrated by the Book of Mormon. Thus the Liahona and the Urim and Thummim were kept among the national treasures of the Nephites long after they had ceased their miraculous functions.

Before the finger of the Lord touched the sixteen stones of the brother of Jared, they were mere pieces of glass, and they probably became so after they had fulfilled their purpose. And the gold plates had no message to deliver until a special line of communication was opened by supernatural power.

In themselves these objects were nothing; they did not work by magic, a power that resided in the objects themselves so that a person has only to get hold of the magical staff, seal, ring, robe, book of Moses or Solomon or Peter in order to become master of the world. The aids and implements that God gives to men work on no magic or automatic or mechanical principle, but only “according to the faith and diligence and heed which we … give unto them” (1 Ne. 16:28) and cease to work because of wickedness (see 1 Ne. 18:12). . . .

But what about all these ancient powerhouses—what would happen if they were restored? Nothing, in my opinion. They might be repaired and put in working order, but that would no more make them work than setting up a Liahona or Urim and Thummim, with all of the working parts in order, would enable us to use them. Without power from above, nothing will happen, for this is not magic.[19]

Solomon's Temple

Solomon’s Temple

Thus, drawing the idea to the modern temple, the buildings themselves are not magic but work “according to the faith and diligence and heed which we … given unto them.” The Lord pours out the influence of His Spirit and gives power to the ordinances of the temple because they are done in the way He has directed and because we have created a sacred space in which we have mentally and spiritually prepared ourselves to receive certain blessings from above. Our reticence to speak of the rituals performed within the temple outside of the temple is just a way we express those feelings about the temple and give power to those buildings and the experiences we have inside.

[1] http://www.mormonshare.com/lds-object-lesson/families-can-be-sealed-together

[2] Boice, Trina (2013-11-13). The Ready Resource for Relief Society Teaching: Joseph Fielding Smith (Kindle Locations 1985-1987). Cedar Fort, Inc.. Kindle Edition

[3] Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Temple Blessings,” Ensign August 2010, https://www.lds.org/liahona/2010/08/temple-blessings?lang=eng

[4] Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (SLC: Deseret Book Company, 1997), 622-623.

[5] Hinckley, Teachings, 624

[6] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 6051-6052). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition.

[7] Richard G. Scott, “The Joy of Redeeming the Dead,” CR, October 2012, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/10/the-joy-of-redeeming-the-dead?lang=eng

[8] B. H. Roberts, The Gospel: An Exposition of its first principles; and Man’s Relationship to Deity, 3rd ed. (Salt Lake City: Desert News, 1901), 245.

[9] Widtsoe, John A. “Temple Worship.” The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine12 (April 1921), 56

[10] Snow, Steven. Fireside, 10 November 2013, Logan, Utah. Cited from Chad L. Nielsen notes, in author’s possession.

[11] Bruce L . Olsen, San Diego Temple Coordinator Workshop, September 11, 2011.

[12] Brigham City Utah Temple open house brochure (SLC: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2012).

[13] Brigham City Utah Temple open house brochure.

[14] Bonnie D. Parkin, “With Holiness of Heart,” Ensign, Nov. 2002, 103.

[15] Cited in Tad R. Callister, The Infinite Atonement (SLC: Deseret Book, 2000), 295-296.

[16] It must be acknowledged that during the 1800s, it was standard to pray for the Lord to take revenge on people who had been involved in Joseph Smith’s death. That is the closest thing I am aware of that could be taken this way. Such is no longer the case.

[17] Covenants are made to not reveal certain, very sacred parts of the endowment ceremony. In times past these did include symbolic punishments attached to each of these obligations, to emphasize that recipients would rather do such and such than reveal the information at hand. As time has gone on, references to punishments have been removed from the endowment ceremony while retaining agreements to not reveal certain information.

[18] Richard Lyman Bushman, “Joseph Smith and Creation of the Sacred,” in Jospeh Smith Jr.:  Reappraisal after Two Centuries, ed. Reid L. Neilson and Terryl L. Givens (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 104-105.

[19] Hugh Nibley, “Ancient Temples: What Do They Signify?” Ensign, September 1972.

Ezra Taft Benson, Chapter 12: Seek the Spirit in All that You Do

Chapter Twelve of the Ezra Taft Benson manual focuses on following the Holy Ghost. The Life section focuses on Ezra Taft Benson’s insistence that the Church be run in accord with the Holy Ghost, with a specific example when he called a stake president. Section one focuses on keeping the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost to deal with living in the world today. Section two focuses on recognizing the Holy Ghost through our feelings. Section three focuses on obtaining the Spirit through prayer and fasting, like Enos in the Book of Mormon. Section four focuses on how reading, studying, and pondering on the scriptures invites the Holy Ghost into our lives and brings us closer to God. Section five deals with the need for obedience and purity in order to have the companionship of the Spirit.

Resources for Lesson/Teaching Helps:

Suggested Hymns

The Spirit of God (#2)

Oh, May My Soul Commune with Thee (#123)

Let the Holy Spirit Guide (#143)

Search, Ponder, and Pray (Children’s Songbook #109)

Videos

Henry B. Eyring: Continuing Revelation

Robert D. Hales: The Lord Speaks through the Scriptures

Boyd K. Packer: Enemy Territory

James E. Faust: Voice of the Spirit

David A. Bednar: Patterns of Light: Part one, Part two, Part three

Jesus Teaches Nicodemus About Being Born Again

Object Lessons

Have the class listen to the voices of apostles and prophets and try to guess whose voices they are. Then play some voices of members of their family. Talk about how it is much easier to recognize a voice when you are familiar with it. We need to spend time in the scriptures, in prayer, and practicing listening to the Spirit in order to recognize the voice of the Lord through the Holy Ghost.

Show a laptop computer and explain that it has a special device inside that allows it to pick up an Internet signal. If the computer is in range of the signal it has the ability to receive information from all over the world. As baptized members of the Church, we have also been given a special device: the Holy Ghost. When we are in spiritual range, we can receive information from heaven. Talk about some of the things that help us stay in range, as well as those things that keep us from it.[1]

Wrap yourself with a quilt, and refer to it as a comforter. Explain that people call it a comforter because it is soft and warm and can make us feel very comfortable. State that the Comforter is also another name for the Holy Ghost. Ask why the Holy Ghost would be called a comforter, or indicate that the Holy Ghost can help us feel comfortable when we listen to his promptings and allow his influence to surround our lives.[2]

Further Reading

David A. Bednar: The Spirit of Revelation

Von G. Keetch: Start Moving

Vern G Swanson: The Development of the Concept of a Holy Ghost in Mormon Theology

Joseph Fielding McConkie: Finding Answers

Quotes

Bruce R. McConkie: Men ought—above all things in this world—to seek for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing as important as having the companionship of the Holy Ghost. . . . There is no price too high, no labor too onerous, no struggle too severe, no sacrifice too great, if out of it all we receive and enjoy the gift of the Holy Ghost.[3]

Bruce R. McConkie

Bruce R. McConkie

Joseph Fielding McConkie: We frequently speak of our right to the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. Perhaps an analogy, one my father [Bruce R. McConkie] taught me, will help in distinguishing between receiving a revelation from the Holy Ghost and having the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Imagine yourself traveling in the dark of night through rugged and difficult terrain, seeking a place of safety where you will be reunited with your family. Let us also suppose that a flash of lightning momentarily marks the path of safety before you. This brief flash of light represents a manifestation through the Holy Ghost.

If you then follow the path it marked out, it will lead you to the waters of baptism and to confirmation as a member of the Church. The authority who confirms you will say, “Receive the Holy Ghost,” meaning the gift of the Holy Ghost. The light by which you now walk is the companionship of the Holy Ghost. It is the light of the gospel—or, for some, the gospel in a new light. In either case, it enables you to see that which you could not see before. It now becomes your privilege to walk, as it were, by the light of day. The light is constant, and, in most instances, the path you are called on to travel is clearly marked. When it is not, you are entitled to the visions, impressions, or prodding necessary to assure your arrival at the place of safety.[4]

Joseph Fielding McConkie

Joseph Fielding McConkie

David A. Bednar: These four words—“Receive the Holy Ghost”—are not a passive pronouncement; rather, they constitute a priesthood injunction—an authoritative admonition to act and not simply to be acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:26). The Holy Ghost does not become operative in our lives merely because hands are placed upon our heads and those four important words are spoken. As we receive this ordinance, each of us accepts a sacred and ongoing responsibility to desire, to seek, to work, and to so live that we indeed “receive the Holy Ghost” and its attendant spiritual gifts.[5]

David A. Bednar

David A. Bednar

Robert D. Hales: When we want to speak to God, we pray. And when we want Him to speak to us, we search the scriptures; for His words are spoken through His prophets. He will then teach us as we listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.[6]

Robert D. Hales

Robert D. Hales

B. H. Roberts: Through water baptism is obtained a remission of past sins; but even after the sins of the past are forgiven, the one so pardoned will doubtless feel the force of sinful habits bearing heavily upon him. He who has been guilty of habitual untruthfulness, will at times find himself inclined, perhaps, to yield to that habit. He who has stolen may be sorely tempted, when opportunity arises, to steal again. While he who has indulged in licentious practices may again find himself disposed to give way to the seductive influence of the siren. So with drunkenness, malice, envy, covetousness, hatred, anger, and, in short, all the evil dispositions that flesh is heir to.

There is an absolute necessity for some additional sanctifying grace that will strengthen poor human nature, not only to enable it to resist temptation, but also to root out from the heart concupiscence—the blind tendency or inclination to evil. The heart must be purified, every passion, every propensity made submissive to the will, and the will of man brought into subjection to the will of God.

Man’s natural powers are unequal to this task; so, I believe, all will testify who have made the experiment. Mankind stand in some need of a strength superior to any they possess of themselves, to accomplish this work of rendering pure our fallen nature. Such strength, such power, such a sanctifying grace is conferred on man in being born of the Spirit—in receiving the Holy Ghost. Such, in the main, is its office, its work.[7]

B. H. Roberts

B. H. Roberts

Come Unto Christ

Bringing Christ into this lesson isn’t too hard. One could reference the conversation of Christ with Nicodemus or the promise of the Holy Ghost that was fulfilled at Pentecost in the book of Acts to get into the New Testament. One could also speak of the Holy Ghost witnessing of Christ and leading us in a Christ-like (Christian) life, the latter of which is referenced in B. H. Roberts’s quote cited above. One could speak of the Atonement purifying us and allowing us to feel the Holy Ghost, since the companionship of the Holy Ghost is contingent upon purity and worthiness. Finally, one could refer to the sacramental prayers and the connection between taking upon ourselves the name of Christ, always remembering Him, and to keep the commandments of Christ has to having the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.

A Deeper Look

One time in Church, while discussion the nature of the Holy Ghost, a member of my class quoted from D&C 130:22-23, which reads as follows:

The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.

A man may receive the Holy Ghost, and it may descend upon him and not tarry with him.

The brother who cited this section stated, as best as I can remember, that the Holy Ghost could not be everywhere if he had a body, and especially could not dwell within us if such was the case. To me, it felt like the brother was describing the Holy Ghost in the mode of thought most prominent in the early Church, when the Holy Ghost was something “spread,” “filled,” “poured,” or “bestowed” upon the righteous—a fluid spiritual essence or ether that filled the immensity of space and carried out the work of God rather than a human being without a body.[8] The 1834 Lectures on Faith discussed the Holy Ghost in this mode, stating that “There are two personages who constitute the great matchless, governing and supreme power over all things . . . The Father and the Son—the Father being a personage of spirit, glory and power, possessing all perfection and fullness, the Son . . . a personage of tabernacle, made or fashioned like unto a man . . . possessing the same mind with the Father, which mind is the Holy Spirit.”[9] In this sense, the Holy Ghost was the “mind” or common essence—the “Spirit of God” and the “Light of Christ”—emanating from the Father and Son. This approach allowed Mormonism to hold onto the traditional concepts of an omniscient, omnipresent, incorporeal deity while also making room for Gods that were embodied, and thus constrained in space and time.

In the Kirtland era of Church History, the Holy Ghost was spoken of as a non-personage

In the Kirtland era of Church History, the Holy Ghost was spoken of as a non-personage

This mode of thought was predominant (though not the only way of thinking) in Mormon theology during the 1800s and early 1900s. For example, President Brigham Young taught, “The Holy Ghost is the Spirit of the Lord, and issues forth from Himself, and may properly be called God’s minister to execute His will in immensity; being called to govern by His influence and power; but He is not a person of tabernacle as we are and as our Father in Heaven and Jesus are.”[10] Likewise, Elder John A. Widtsoe wrote that, “All space is filled with a subtle, though material substance of wonderful properties, by which all natural phenomena are controlled. This substance is known as the Holy Spirit.”[11]  A third example from President Charles W. Penrose: “It is by His Holy Spirit, which permeates all things, and is the life and light of all things, that Deity is everywhere present. . . . By that agency God sees and knows and governs all things.”[12]
Since that time, however, a different idea has become the predominant mode of thought in Mormonism. One of the best expositions of this modern approach is included in Elder LeGrand Richards’s famous work A Marvelous Work and a Wonder: “The Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit in the form of a man (see 1 Nephi 11:11) and hence confined in his personage to a limited space.” Elder Richards continues, comparing the Holy Ghost to the Sun—His influence can be felt, even when he is thousands of miles away, even though His personage is not present in the room itself, like a beam of sunlight through a window.[13] In this mode of thought, the Light or Spirit of Christ is often a separate and distinct spiritual essence that takes up the omnipresent, incorporeal aspect of the Godhead and functions as the medium that the Holy Ghost acts through. For example, President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote that:

President Joseph F. Smith has expressed it thus: “The Holy Ghost as a personage of Spirit can no more be omnipresent in person than can the Father or the Son, but by his intelligence, his knowledge, his power and influence, over and through the laws of nature, he is and can be omnipresent throughout all the works of God.” Thus when it becomes necessary to speak to us, he is able to do so by acting through the other Spirit, that is, through the Light of Christ.[14]

Although Joseph Smith spoke of the Holy Spirit in more traditional terms during the Kirtland era, by the Nauvoo era, he had switched to the Holy Ghost being a person. In early 1841, he discussed the Godhead with a small group of brethren: “Joseph said Concerning the Godhead it was Not as many imagined—three Heads & but one body, he said the three were separate bodys—God the first & Jesus the Mediator the 2d & the Holy Ghost.”[15] Here the Holy Ghost is described as having a body, distinct and separate from the other members of the Godhead. A month later, he taught the same group that, “The Son Had a Tabernicle & so had the father But the Holly Ghost is a personage of spirit without tabernacle.”[16] This latter reference—like the passage quoted from the Doctrine and Covenants—is not entirely clear to modern readers, hinging on the use of the word personage. Is a personage an anthropomorphic being or any sort of being? If the latter, then the Holy Spirit could be a fluid-essence being that fills the immensity of space and yet also dwell in our hearts as the D&C reference suggests. If the former is true, then the Holy Ghost would be confined to a certain portion of space and could not simultaneously dwell, literally, in many people’s hearts. In January 1843, Joseph was more explicit about this nature when he discoursed on the sign of the dove at Christ’s baptism and taught that, “Holy Ghost is a personage in the form of a personage—does not confine itself to form of a dove.”[17]

By the Nauvoo Era, Joseph Smith spoke more clearly as a personage without a physical body

By the Nauvoo Era, Joseph Smith spoke more clearly as a personage without a physical body

Returning to the Doctrine and Covenants reference, it is interesting to note that the current text does not reflect the original manuscript of the record. The April 1843 report of the discourse has it that: “The Father has a body of flesh & bones as tangible as mans the Son also, but the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit.—and a person cannot have the personage of the H G in his heart he may receive the gift of the holy Ghost. it may descend upon him but not to tarry with him.”[18] Here the Holy Ghost’s ability to dwell in hearts is reversed entirely from the edition of the discourse that was published in the Doctrine and Covenants—rather than “a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us” it states “a personage of spirit.—and a person cannot have the personage of the H G in his heart.” This is more consistent with how we view the Holy Ghost today, but it apparently was not so during the 1850s. Lyndon W. Cook and Andrew Ehat observed that:

Neither the William Clayton Diary, the Joseph Smith Diary here quoted, nor the draft Manuscript History of the Church entry for this date, implies the phrasing of D&C 130:22: “Were it not so [that the Holy Ghost is a spirit], the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.” Originally the wording in the Manuscript History of the Church entry for this date was the same as in the original draft, but in the 1850s the Church historians reworded it to read the way it appears in the Doctrine and Covenants.[19]

There could be a few reasons for the change—as mentioned above, more most of the 1800s, the Brethren relied on the Kirtland teachings and writings of Joseph Smith, at least as far as the Holy Ghost goes, making the idea of the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts more in line to how they understood it at the time. Also, in the manuscript, immediately before the section in question, the report states that Joseph, “again reverted to Elders Hyde mistake. &c.”[20] If not read carefully, the statement about the Holy Ghost as it stood in the original could be seen as a reiteration of what Hyde had said that was wrong. If this was the case, it is conceivable that when George A. Smith and Thomas Bullock were compiling the record and cut out the reference to Elder Hyde, they flipped the meaning to reflect what they though Joseph was trying to get at. Such a reading, however, would be wrong, since Orson Hyde’s mistake was actually that he had taught that, “It is our privilege to have the father & son dwelling in our hearts.” Joseph’s initially addressed that idea by saying that, “the appearing of the father and of the Son in that verse is a personal appearance.—to say that the father and the Son dwell in a mans heart is an old Sectarian notion. and is not correct.”[21] When he spoke on the Godhead later, the Prophet was returning to this same theme. It is interesting to me that even after the mainstream Mormon conception of the Holy Ghost shifted to match Joseph’s Nauvoo era views of the Holy Ghost, and even after the book Words of Joseph Smith was published with the original text and footnote used above that the section of the Doctrine and Covenants was not revised—even in the 2013 edition of the scriptures. It is conceivable that such a change will happen in the future with the standard disclaimer that, “these changes have been made to bring the material into conformity with the most accurate historical information.” Time will tell if such will be, though.[22]

Happy Teaching!

Happy Teaching!

[1] Boice, Trina (2013-11-13). The Ready Resource for Relief Society Teaching: Joseph Fielding Smith (Kindle Locations 1663-1667). Cedar Fort, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

[2] Beth Lefgren, Jennifer Jackson, Power Tools for Teaching: Ideas for Creative Lessons (SLC: Bookcraft, 1988), 34.

[3] Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith (SLC: Deseret Book, 1985), 253

[4] Joseph Fielding McConkie, “Finding Answers,” Ensign February 2011.

[5] David A. Bednar, “Receive the Holy Ghost,” CR, October 2010, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2010/10/receive-the-holy-ghost?lang=eng.

[6] Robert D. Hales, “Holy Scriptures, The Power of God Unto Our Salvation,” CR, October 2006. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2006/10/holy-scriptures-the-power-of-god-unto-our-salvation?lang=eng

[7] B. H. Roberts, The Gospel: An Exposition of its first principles; and Man’s Relationship to Deity, 3rd ed. (Salt Lake City: Desert News, 1901), 179-180.

[8] Line Upon Line: Essays on Mormon Doctrine, p.90-p.91

The next stage in Mormon concepts of a Holy Ghost

[9] Joseph Smith, Jr., Lectures on Faith (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, Inc., 2010), 55-56

[10] JD 1:50.

[11] Widtsoe, John Andreas (2011-03-30). Joseph Smith as Scientist A Contribution to Mormon Philosophy (Kindle Locations 157-159).  . Kindle Edition

[12] Cited in Widtsoe, John Andreas (2011-03-30). Joseph Smith as Scientist A Contribution to Mormon Philosophy (Kindle Locations 262-264).  . Kindle Edition.

[13] LeGrand Richards, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, Missionary Reference Library edition (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1988), 117.

[14] Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954), 1:40.

[15] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 1481-1483). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[16] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 1512-1513). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[17] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 2996-2997). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[18] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 3271-3273). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[19] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 3281-3284). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[20] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Location 3271). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[21] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 3215-3222). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[22] Note that this section was taken from a blog post on this site a year ago, but since it was not widely read, I don’t feel bad about reusing it.