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

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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.

Ezra Taft Benson, Chapter 11: Follow the Living Prophet

Chapter 11 of the Ezra Taft Benson Teachings of the Presidents of the Church manual covers the importance of following living prophets. The “from the life” section gives examples of President Benson following Church leaders in his childhood on matters such as family home evenings, and sustaining his fellow general authorities throughout his adulthood. Section one focuses on the idea that prophets are the Lord’s mouthpieces, directing the Church under divine wisdom. Section two is centered on the idea that the most important prophet at any given time is the living prophet. Section three is about the living prophet telling us what we need to know, not what we want to hear. Section four is about the promised blessings of following the prophet.

Resources for Lesson/Teaching Helps:

Suggested Hymns

“We Thank Thee, O God, For a Prophet” (Hymns 19)

“Come, Listen to a Prophet’s Voice” (Hymns 21)

“We Ever Pray for Thee” (Hymns 23)

“Now We’ll Sing with One Accord” (Hymns 25)

“Follow the Prophet” (Primary Songbook)

Videos

We Need Living Prophets

Live According to the Words of the Prophets

Watchman on the Tower

Object Lessons

Gift wrap two boxes. Leave one empty and put some treats in the other one. Tell the class that one of the boxes has something special in it, while the other one has nothing. Ask a volunteer to choose a box. Let the volunteer see what’s inside the box and ask the class if they want her to decide for them. They’ll say yes because she now knows what’s in both boxes. We follow the prophet because he has “seen what’s in the box” of life! He knows what choices we need to make in order to receive eternal rewards.[1]

Gather sap from a pine tree, margarine, soap, and water. Make an instruction card with the following information: (1) grease hands liberally with butter, margarine, or solid shortening; (2) wash with soap and water. In class, ask for a volunteer. Have the volunteer put some sap on her hands (not on clothing—it doesn’t come out). Tell the volunteer to only follow part (2) of the instructions. As the volunteer does so, explain to the class the importance of following all of the directions. Discuss similar examples in cooking (leaving ingredients out, not letting bread rise, etc.). Now tell the volunteer to follow all the directions and give her the resources to do so. The sap should come off.[2]

Further Reading

Ezra Taft Benson, Chapter 11

Ezra Taft Benson: Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet

Dallin H. Oaks: Two Lines of Communication

Russell M. Nelson: Sustaining the Prophets

Robert Millet: What is Our Doctrine?

Quotes

Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith: It is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instructions for those in authority, higher than themselves; therefore you will see the impropriety of giving heed to them; but if any person have a vision or a visitation from a heavenly messenger, it must be for his own benefit and instruction; for the fundamental principles, government, and doctrine of the Church are vested in the keys of the kingdom.[3]

Now for persons to do things, merely because they are advised to do them, and yet murmur all the time they are doing them, is of no use at all; they might as well not do them. There are those who profess to be Saints who are too apt to murmur, and find fault, when any advice is given, which comes in opposition to their feelings, even when they, themselves, ask for counsel; much more so when counsel is given unasked for, which does not agree with their notion of things; but brethren, we hope for better things from the most of you; we trust that you desire counsel, from time to time, and that you will cheerfully conform to it, whenever you receive it from a proper source.[4]

We are differently situated from any other people that ever existed upon this earth; consequently those former revelations cannot be suited to our conditions; they were given to other people, who were before us; but in the last days, God was to call a remnant, in which was to be deliverance, as well as in Jerusalem and Zion [see Joel 2:32]. Now if God should give no more revelations, where will we find Zion and this remnant?[5]

John Taylor

John Taylor

John Taylor: Adam’s revelation did not instruct Noah to build his ark; nor did Noah’s revelation tell Lot to forsake Sodom; nor did either of these speak of the departure of the children of Israel from Egypt. These all had revelations for themselves.[6]

B. H. Roberts

B. H. Roberts

B. H. Roberts: While the servants of God, chosen as presidents, apostles, and other leaders of the great New Dispensation movement, carried heavenly treasures in their hands and high truths, yet they bore these in earthen vessels, liable at times to be broken and the heavenly treasures marred.

It must be said of those entrusted with this great mission of God that they were not always 100 percent perfect and right in their administration. Neither were those who fought them always and every time 100 percent wrong. Even in the divine things human frailty touches them or enters into their development and are liable to take on human limitations and uncertainties.[7]

Let not this remark, however, be regarded as implying too great a censure upon the leading men of the New Dispensation. While many of them fell into grievous sins, and all of them at times plainly manifested errors of judgment and limitations in their conceptions of the greatness and grandeur of the work in which they were engaged, yet doubtless they were the best men to be had for the work, since they were chosen either directly of God, or else by a divinely appointed authority, and in either case called of God, and ordained to bring forth the work.[8]

I want to warn members of the Church against speaking lightly or slightingly of sacred things, or of the servants of God. In nothing, perhaps, can you more offend God or grieve his Spirit. . . . Remember, we live under the law of God.—Speak no evil of mine anointed; do my prophets no harm. And remember always that whatever the weakness and the imperfections of men may be, whatever weaknesses they may have manifested before the Church in the past, or may manifest before it in the future (for the end is not yet), their weaknesses and imperfections affect not the truth that God has revealed. The Lord will vindicate his truth, and at the last it will be found that,

‘Tis no avail to bargain, sneer, and nod,

And shrug the shoulder for reply to God.[9]

M. Russell Ballard Image courtesy LDS.org

M. Russell Ballard
Image courtesy LDS.org

M. Russell Ballard: It is no small thing, my brothers and sisters, to have a prophet of God in our midst. … When we hear the counsel of the Lord expressed through the words of the President of the Church, our response should be positive and prompt. History shows that there is safety, peace, prosperity, and happiness in responding to prophetic counsel as did Nephi of old: ‘I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded’ (1 Nephi 3:7).[10]

 

Harold B. Lee

Harold B. Lee

Harold B. Lee: Soon after President David O. McKay announced to the Church that members of the First Council of the Seventy were being ordained high priests in order to extend their usefulness and to give them authority to act when no other General Authority could be present, a seventy I met … was very much disturbed. He said to me, “Didn’t the Prophet Joseph Smith say that this was contrary to the order of heaven to name high priests as presidents of the First Council of the Seventy?” And I said, “Well, I have understood that he did, but have you ever thought that what was contrary to the order of heaven in 1840 might not be contrary to the order of heaven in 1960?” He had not thought of that. He again was following a dead prophet, and he was forgetting that there is a living prophet today. Hence the importance of our stressing that word living.

Years ago as a young missionary I visited Nauvoo and Carthage with my mission president, and we were holding a missionary meeting in the jail room where Joseph and Hyrum had met their deaths. The mission president related the historical events that led up to the martyrdom and then he closed with this very significant statement: “When the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred, there were many saints who died spiritually with Joseph.” So it was when Brigham Young died: so it was when John Taylor died. … Some Church members died spiritually with Wilford Woodruff, with Lorenzo Snow, with Joseph F. Smith, with Heber J. Grant, with George Albert Smith. We have some today willing to believe someone who is dead and gone and to accept his words as having more authority than the words of a living authority today.[11]

Come Unto Christ

A somewhat popular joke that I have heard before from both Mormons and Catholics (with roles reversed, depending on who’s telling it) goes that the pope’s secretary enters his office one day and tells the pope: “I have good news and bad news.”

“Well, what’s the good news?” the pope asked.

“We just got a phone call—the Second Coming is happening and Jesus Christ is on the line.”

“That’s wonderful! What bad news could there be with that?”

“He’s calling from Salt Lake City.”

Salt Lake Temple Image courtesy LDS.org

Salt Lake Temple
Image courtesy LDS.org

In the LDS Church we focus a lot of on following the prophets and apostles with emphasis on the idea that they are special witnesses of Christ. Often times, the reasoning is that in order to be special witnesses, they have to have had an experience or opportunity that sets them apart as special in some way that makes their witness of Christ more powerful than the average person. The assumption is often that they have personally met Christ during this life and possibly talk with him often, but the experiences are too sacred to share in public. The exaggerated, caricature version of this is that Church members think Christ has a personal phone line to the holy of holies in the Salt Lake Temple that He calls the prophet on regularly.

I believe that it is accurate to state that the men we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators receive revelation on a regular basis. I don’t believe, however that they have regular, personal interviews with Christ, though that does occur once in a while. To explain that statement, I would like to dive into the historical record.

Joseph Smith left a number of experiences where he met with Christ or saw Christ on record. The First Vision, the stunning revelation of the Three Degrees of Glory (often simply referred to as “the Vision”), and the appearance of Christ in the Kirtland Temple stand out as particularly well-known and powerful experiences of this sort. Joseph Smith also did not desire to be alone in meeting Christ—he spent his life trying to bring people into the presence of the Lord. For example, in speaking of ancient prophets, he taught:

This is why Abraham blessed his posterity: He wanted to bring them into the presence of God. They looked for a city, &c. Moses sought to bring the children of Israel into the presence of God, through the power of the Priesthood, but he could not. In the first ages of the world they tried to establish the same thing—& there were Elias’s raised up who tried to restore these very glories but did not obtain them. But (Enoch did for himself & those that were with Him, but not for the world.) they prophesied of a day when this Glory would be revealed.—Paul spoke of the Dispensation of the fulness of times, when God would gather together all things in one &c &.[12]

Since he indicated that he was establishing the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times, it seems that he intended to succeed where past prophets had failed. As such, Kathleen Flake—an important Mormon historian—noted that “Joseph Smith was the Henry Ford of revelation. He wanted every home to have one, and the revelation he had in mind was the revelation he’d had, which was seeing God.”[13]

Joseph Smith was the Harrison Ford of Revelation

Joseph Smith was the Harrison Ford of Revelation

This urge to usher people into the presence of God and of Christ appears a number of times in the Doctrine and Covenants—particularly in relation to the Melchizedek priesthood and temple experiences. In fact, Dr. Richard Lyman Bushman (the foremost expert on Joseph Smith at the moment) has suggested that the particular “endowment of power” Joseph expected to be associated with the Kirtland Temple was a general appearance of Christ to the Saints to enable them to all testify more powerfully about the Savior while on missions.[14] Further, Church leaders did indeed indicate that this was the goal of the apostles as “special witnesses of Christ.” Oliver Cowdery gave the Twelve a charge along these lines shortly after their ordination in 1835:

You have been indebted to other men in the first instance for evidence [of God’s existence, and] on that you have acted. But it is necessary that you receive a testimony from Heaven for yourselves, so that you can bear testimony to the truth of the Book of Mormon. And that you have seen the face of God; that is more than the testimony of an Angel. When the proper time arrives you shall be able to bear this testimony to the world. When you bear testimony that you have seen God. This testimony God will never suffer to fall, but will bear you out. Although many will not give heed, yet others will. You will, therefore see the necessity of getting this testimony from heaven. Never cease striving until you have seen God, face to face. Strengthen your faith, cast off your doubts, your sins and all your unbelief and nothing can prevent you from coming to God. Your ordination is not full and complete till God has laid his hand upon you. We require as much to qualify us as did those who have gone before us. God is the same. If the Saviour in former days laid his hands upon his deciples. Why not in the latter Days.[15]

There were some successes in this endeavor. Visions and appearances of God in the Kirtland area that have been documented number at least into the teens and took place in at least four different sites.[16] Unfortunately, I don’t have a list of which, if any, of the men called into the Quorum of the Twelve in Joseph Smith’s time took place in any of those experiences.

There are a number of apostles and presidents of the Church who we have record of having visions or meeting with Christ since the time of Joseph Smith. The Savior appeared to Wilford Woodruff after the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple to accept the temple,[17] Lorenzo Snow met with the Savior in the Salt Lake Temple after Wilford Woodruff’s death,[18] George Q. Cannon stated that “I know that Jesus lives; for I have seen Him,”[19] Elder Orson F. Whitney spoke of dream-vision where he saw and talked with the Christ while serving a mission as a young man,[20] Elder Melvin J. Ballard also had an experience of meeting with Christ while presiding over a mission,[21] President Hugh B. Brown told his nephew that the Lord appeared to him in an informal manner to offer comfort towards the end of his life,[22] and David B. Haight had a lengthy vision of the Savior’s ministry during a serious illness.[23] Other modern apostles and prophets have said things that could be taken to mean that they have seen or met the Christ, but are more cryptic than George Q. Cannon’s straightforward statement. For example, President Boyd K. Packer has stated on at least two occasions (once in 1971 and once in 2014) that “I know the Lord.”[24] Elder Jeffrey R. Holland stated recently that he gave his testimony “with the conviction Peter called the ‘more sure word of prophecy.’”[25] President Ezra Taft Benson stated that “There is no truth or fact of which I am more assured, or know better by personal experience, than the truth of the literal resurrection of our Lord.”[26] There is also room for apostles that have seen the Lord, but have chosen not to leave it on record due to the sacredness of the experience. President Boyd K. Packer said: “We do not talk of those sacred interviews that qualify the servants of the Lord to bear a special witness of Him, for we have been commanded not to do so. But we are free, indeed, we are obliged, to bear that special witness.”[27]

A most interesting story along these lines concerns President Heber J. Grant’s call to the apostleship. According to his grandson, Truman G. Madsen, when President Grant was first called to the Quorum of the Twelve, he spent a number of months deeply depressed because he felt unworthy to serve in that calling. There were a number of reasons why (moral worthiness was not a concern), but one of them was that one of the Brethren had said that no man could serve in the Quorum of the Twelve who had not had an open vision of Christ, and Heber J. Grant had not. He felt like a liar whenever he bore his testimony because he had “never seen Him; [and did] not know.” Eventually, however, he did have a vision where he saw the council in the spirit world of important individuals—most notably the Savior himself—that had decided to send revelation to the Church leaders to call Heber J. Grant. Concerning the nature of the vision, President Grant stated, “I understand what Lehi meant when he said, ‘I seemed to see.’ I was not seeing it with my eyes, but it was powerful. It was as if I could see it, and I could hear.”[28] This experience seemed to satisfy his concerns over the issue.

That being said, there have been prophets and apostles who have admitted that they have not actually seen the Christ. President Joseph Fielding Smith told his son after almost forty years of serving as an apostle: “I did not live in the days of our Savior; he has not come to me in person. I have not beheld him.”[29] Similarly, President David O. McKay was asked by a reporter whether he had seen the Christ after he had served as president of the Church for a few years, he responded “that he had not.”[30] In that same interview, he also gave more information on how he was able to say things like “My testimony of the Risen Lord is just as real as Thomas’s on that occasion. I know that He lives” despite not actually seeing the Lord: “[David O. McKay said that] he had heard His voice—many times—and that he had felt presence and his influence. . . . Then he told me how some evidences are stronger even than that of sight” and spoke of the words of Christ to Thomas.[31] Similarly, Joseph Fielding Smith said that while he hadn’t beheld the Christ, “it is not necessary. I have felt his presence. I know that the Holy Spirit has enlightened my mind and revealed him unto me, so that I do love my Redeemer.”[32]

Joseph Fielding Smith.

Joseph Fielding Smith

These stories and references indicate that some, but not all, of the apostles have seen the Christ. It can probably be assumed that they all have powerful witnesses of the Savior in some way or another, even though they haven’t had a fireside chat with the Christ. The other half of the question is whether or not the president of the Church has regular interviews with the Savior.

As I said above, I do believe it is accurate to say that the Church is guided by revelation, but I also believe that it is on an as-needed basis and is generally through the whisperings of the Spirit to the combined council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. President Gordon B. Hinckley explained on two separate occasions that:

We have a great, basic reservoir of revelation. But if a problem arises, as it does occasionally, a vexatious thing with which we have to deal, we go to the Lord in prayer. We discuss it as a First Presidency and as a Council of the Twelve Apostles. We pray about it and then comes the whisperings of a still small voice. And we know the direction we should take and we proceed accordingly.[33]

We have a great body of revelation, the vast majority of which came from the prophet Joseph Smith. We don’t need much revelation. We need to pay more attention to the revelation we’ve already received.
Now, if a problem should arise on which we don’t have an answer, we pray about it, we may fast about it, and it comes. Quietly. Usually no voice of any kind, but just a perception in the mind. I liken it to Elijah’s experience. When he sought the Lord, there was a great wind, and the Lord was not in the wind. And there was an earthquake, and the Lord was not in the earthquake. And a fire, and the Lord was not in the fire. But in a still, small voice. Now that’s the way it works.[34]

Similarly, Elder B. H. Roberts wrote that:

From some things that have been said recently relative to revelation one would reach the conclusion that because we have in our midst prophets and apostles, inspired men, God and angels and the Holy Spirit are subject to their beck and call; and because a man is upheld as a prophet of God some people seem to suppose that he may enter the presence of God when he will and talk with Him face to face; or, that by his summons, a prophet may bring angels to his side at his own sweet will! Not so. These divine things are under the control of the Lord Almighty, and He will reveal Himself when and in whatsoever mode seemeth Him good. . . . The times and modes of revelation are in the hands of God; our faith is simply this: that the Lord reigns supreme in heaven, aye, and on the earth, and whenever His work requires that His hand should touch it and guide it He will inspire His servants to take the course that is necessary to conform His works to His will. If it be necessary to send from the presence of His throne an angel, clothed with power, might and majesty, to stand in the presence of prophets and apostles, to make known a divine purpose, the sovereign will of God is sufficient to order that to be done; and if it becomes necessary to summon a prophet into the presence of God to commune face to face with Him, then He will summon that prophet into His presence; or open the vision of His mind, snatch away the veil of the covering that at present separates us from God, and will commune with His servant as He did with Moses face to face—all according as God wills.[35]

That being said, the Prophets and apostles have pretty consistently testified that they are guided by inspiration, albeit, the subtle, gentle revelation of the Spirit. We might, in conclusion, read the words of President Spencer W. Kimball:

Expecting the spectacular, one may not be fully alerted to the constant flow of revealed communication. I say, in the deepest of humility, but also by the power and force of a burning testimony in my soul, that from the prophet of the Restoration to the prophet of our own year, the communication line is unbroken, the authority is continuous, and light, brilliant and penetrating, continues to shine. The sound of the voice of the Lord is a continuous melody and a thunderous appeal. For nearly a century and a half there has been no interruption…. Every faithful person may have the inspiration for his own limited kingdom. But the Lord definitely calls prophets today and reveals his secrets unto them as he did yesterday, he does today, and will do tomorrow: that is the way it is.[36]

A Deeper Look

The fact that we believe in continuing revelation and a living prophet is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because we receive ongoing guidance from God and are better able to adapt and respond to the needs of a changing world. It is a curse because it is means change when we are often looking for finality in religion. Nothing is settled permanently, which leaves life a bit unsettled. This has always led to some defection from the Church when change does come.

We believe in living prophets and continuing revelation.

We believe in living prophets and continuing revelation.

We see this pattern most clearly in the early days of the Church, when things were most fluid. Joseph Smith received revelation after revelation, often changing both the doctrine and procedures of the Church. Some scholars have noted that there were three general tiers of this process—a basic, Christian “apostolic” restoration in the early days of the Church in which Mormonism resembled closely a form Protestant Christianity that believed in New Testament gifts and powers. Second, and “Abrahamic” restoration in which Mormonism fit Christianity into Old Testament molds, bringing back temples, gathering into central locations to build communities, and so forth. Third, was the introduction of esoteric doctrines in the Nauvoo era, such as the endowment ceremony, temple sealings and work for the dead, explicit expression of belief in humankind’s ability to become like God, and the introduction of polygamy.[37] Each step along the way, some members left. Further splintering occurred after Joseph Smith’s death when he was no longer around to hold even those who had doubts about more recent revelations by his charisma, often splitting along lines of belief.

I always wondered why stalwarts such as John Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, apostles in the early Church, and other such individuals would leave. At best, I figured that the trials they faced were just too much. While that was at least partly the case, Jan Shipps (a historian who has studied Mormonism pretty intensely) has made another suggestion that makes a lot of sense to me:

General acceptance of the concept of continuing revelation notwithstanding, each time a new stratum of theology and doctrine was imposed on existing belief and practice, a substantial number of Smith’s followers were disturbed enough to leave. Those who rejected the new dogma were generally branded as apostate (or worse). Yet persuasive evidence suggests that, in cases too numerous to count, the problem was that the ones who left were so thoroughly committed to the form of Mormonism to which they had been converted that they regarded the new revelation as false prophesy.[38]

One outstanding example of this sort of occurrence was in the “great apostasy” in the fall of Kirtland. A number of prominent individuals—including a few apostles—started their own Mormon Church, calling it the “Church of Christ” (as the Church has been called up through that time) or the “Old Standard,” which held to belief in most of the Church’s doctrines but sought to reform the Church by insisting that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet who had departed from the true faith.[39] As indicated by Dr. Shipps, there are other examples. David Whitmer and William McClellan both held that the Book of Mormon was true to the end of their lives, but rejected most of what followed in the Church. Many of the individuals that organized the RLDS Church (now Community of Christ) held the first two tiers (New York era/Apostolic Restoration and the Kirtland era/Abrahamic Restoration) but rejected much of the Nauvoo era introductions, especially polygamy. Within the Utah Church, splinters have continued to happen as ongoing revelation occurs. The post-Manifesto formation of “fundamentalist” sects that hold to polygamy are a testament to that statement, as is the fact that at least a couple of people left the Church over the Spencer W. Kimball revelation that opened up the priesthood and temple ordinances up to people of black African descent because it meant that long-standing Church policy was being changed.

As members of a Church that believes in ongoing revelation, we need to take an approach to our Church that embraces beliefs and policies as they are now, but makes room for the fact that they may change in the future as living prophets direct. Wilford Woodruff was exemplary in his viewpoint that:

When a boy begins his education at school he begins at the first rudiments, and continues to progress step by step. It is so with the student in the study of the everlasting Gospel. There were not many principles revealed to us when we first received it, but they were developed to us as fast as we were capable of making use of them.[40]

Consider as well the Harold B. Lee statement in the quotes section of this post. While we have made considerable progress from the days of the early Church, arriving closer to the fullness of the Gospel, the Restoration is still ongoing, as President Dieter F. Uchtdorf indicated relatively recently at general conference.[41] It is my hope that we all can endure the concerns raised by ongoing revelation while we embrace the blessings of it as well.

Mormon Tabernacle Choir

[1] Boice, Trina (2014-11-09). The Ready Resource for Relief Society Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson (Kindle Locations 1112-1115). Cedar Fort, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

[2] Beth Lefgren, Jennifer Jackson, Power Tools for Teaching: Ideas for Creative Lessons (SLC: Bookcraft, 1988), 49.

[3] Joseph Smith, Jr. Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (SLC: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2007), 197-198.

[4] Smith, Teachings, 200.

[5] Smith, Teachings, 195-196.

[6] Millennial Star,1 Nov. 1847, 323.

[7] B. H. Roberts, The Autobiography of B. H. Roberts, ed. Gary James Bergera (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990), 228.

[8] B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Churchof Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1965), 1:vii.

[9] B. H. Roberts, Improvement Era, March 1905, 370.

[10] M. Russell Ballard, in Conference Report, Apr. 2001, 84.

[11] Harold B. Lee in Stand Ye in Holy Places [1974], 152–53.

[12] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 524-529). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition.

[13] Interview Kathleen Flake, “Meet the Mormons,” PBS, http://www.pbs.org/mormons/interviews/flake.html. Henry Ford wanted a car in every home.

[14] Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Random House, Inc., 2005), 308-309.

[15]  “Kirtland Council Minutes,” 21 Feb. 1835..

[16] Karl Ricks Anderson, Joseph Smith’s Kirtland: Eyewitness Accounts (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1989), 107-113.

[17] Wilford Woodruff, in Collected Discourses Delivered by: President Wilford Woodruff, His Two Counselors, the Twelve Apostles, and Others, edited by Brian H. Stuy, 5 vol. (BHS Publishing, 1987–1992), 5:225.; citing John Lee Jones biography (no date) and Minutes of Salt Lake Temple dedication on 6–24 April 1893, 16th session, 13 April 1893.

[18] Lorenzo Snow, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2012), 238-239.

[19] George Q. Cannon, “Supporting Church Leaders,” (6 October 1896), reported in The Deseret Weekly 53 (31 October 1896): 610; reproduced in Stuy, Collected Discourses 5:225

[20] Orson F. Whitney, “The Divinity of Jesus Christ,” Improvement Era Vol. 29, NO. 3 (Jan 1926), 119-127. https://prophetsseersandrevelators.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/the-divinity-of-jesus-christ-by-orson-f-whitney/

[21] M. Russell Ballard, Our Search for Happiness (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1993), 18-20.

[22]  Cited in G. Homer Durham, N. Eldon Tanner: His Life and Service (Salt Lake: Deseret Book, 1982), 254-256.

[23] David B. Haight, “The Sacrament and the Sacrifice,” Ensign (November 1989), 59-60.

[24] Boyd K. Packer, Conference Report, April 1971: 122–25, Boyd K. Packer, “The Witness,” General Conference (webpage), accessed April 20, 2014, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/print/2014/04/the-witness?lang=eng&clang=eng.

[25] Jeffrey R. Holland, “Lord, I Believe,” CR, April 2013, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/04/lord-i-believe?lang=eng#16-10785_000_51holland.

[26] Ezra Taft Benson, “Five Marks of the Divinity of Jesus Christ,” University of Utah fireside, 9 December 1979. Published in New Era 10 (December 1980): 48 and Ensign (December 2001).

[27] Boyd K. Packer, “A Tribute to the Rank and File of the Church,” Ensign (May 1980): 86.

[28] Truman G. Madsen, The Presidents of the Church: Insights into Their Lives and Teachings (SLC: Deseret Book, 2004), 184-186.

[29] Joseph Fielding Smith, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith (SLC: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2013), 49.

[30] Cited in Gregory A. Prince and Wm. Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (SLC: University of Utah Press, 2005), 38. Note that there is an account of a dream-vision where David O. McKay beheld the Christ from a distance, but that was apparently not counted by him on this occasion.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Smith, Teachings, 49-50.

[33] Interview with President Gordon B. Hinckley, ABC News Australia: Compass, November 9, 1997. http://www.lds-mormon.com/hinckley.shtml.

[34] Don Lattin, “Interview with President Gordon B. Hinckley,” SF Gate, 13 April 1997. http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/SUNDAY-INTERVIEW-Musings-of-the-Main-Mormon-2846138.php#page-1

[35] B. H. Roberts, CR, April 1905, 43-44.

[36] Spencer W. Kimball, “Revelation: The Word of the Lord to His Prophets,” CR, April 1977.

[37] Jan Shipps, “Mormonism After the Death of Joseph Smith,” in Makers of Christian Theology in America, Mark G. Toulouse and James O. Duke (ed.) (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997), 373.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (SLC: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2003), https://www.lds.org/manual/church-history-in-the-fulness-of-times-student-manual/chapter-fourteen-the-apostasy-in-kirtland-1836-38?lang=eng.

[40] Wilford Woodruff, April 22, 1860, JD 8:265

[41] “The Restoration is an ongoing process; we are living in it right now. It includes “all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal,” and the “many great and important things” that “He will yet reveal.” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Are You Sleeping through the Restoration?” CR, April 2014, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2014/04/are-you-sleeping-through-the-restoration?lang=eng.)

Ezra Taft Benson, Chapters 9 & 10: The Book of Mormon

Chapters nine and ten of the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson manual both focus on the Book of Mormon and to simplify things for me, I’m combining both into one blog post.

Resources for Lesson/Teaching Helps:

Suggested Hymns

“Book of Mormon Stories,” Children’s Songbook #118

“An Angel From on High,” Hymns #13

“I Saw a Might Angel Fly,” Hymns #14

“Now We’ll Sing with One Accord,” Hymns #25 (specifically verse 3)

“As I Search the Holy Scriptures,” Hymns #277

Videos

Book of Mormon Testimonies

A Book of Mormon Story

Ezra Taft Benson: Share Our Testimony of the Book of Mormon

Ezra Taft Benson: Written for Us Today

Book of Mormon Introduction

President Eyring on the Book of Mormon

Ezra Taft Benson: Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon

Ezra Taft Benson: Book of Mormon—Keystone of Our Religion

Object Lessons

  • Show the class an old, rotten banana and ask for a volunteer to eat it. (No one will want to.) Ask the class why they don’t think it will taste very good. Now hold up a good banana and ask why anyone would choose to eat this one. Explain that our lives are like fruit: people can tell what kind of people we are by the fruit we produce. Matthew 7: 20 says, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” Ask, “What kind of fruit do you want to produce?” The Book of Mormon is the fruit that evidences the truthfulness of Joseph Smith’s testimony. You may be the only Book of Mormon people will ever “read.” Live your lives so that others can tell you’re a disciple of Christ and will want to know more.[1]
  • Fill a glass with water until it’s almost full. Each time you read a scripture from the Book of Mormon together, add a rock or marble. Eventually, the water in the glass will be displaced until it overflows, “flooding” your lesson with the Book of Mormon! Talk about how you can achieve the same effect in your life.[2]

Further Reading

Ezra Taft Benson, Lesson 9

Ezra Taft Benson, Lesson 10

Joseph B. Wirthlin: The Book of Mormon: The Heart of Missionary Proselyting

Jeffrey R. Holland: Safety for the Soul

Terryl L. Givens: Joseph Smith’s American Bible: Radicalizing the Familiar

Book of Mormon Translation

Book of Mormon and DNA Studies

Quotes

Spencer W. Kimball: Each of us, at some time in our lives, must discover the [Book of Mormon] for ourselves— and not just discover it once, but rediscover it again and again.[3]

Spencer W. Kimball

Spencer W. Kimball

David A. Bednar: The convincing and converting powers of the Book of Mormon come from both a central focus upon the Lord Jesus Christ and the inspired plainness and clarity of its teachings. Nephi declared, “My soul delighteth in plainness unto my people, that they may learn” (2 Nephi 25:4). The root word plain in this verse does not refer to things that are ordinary or simple; rather, it denotes instruction that is clear and easily understood.

The Book of Mormon is the most correct of any book on earth because it centers upon the Truth (see John 14:61 Nephi 13:40), even Jesus Christ, and restores the plain and precious things that have been taken away from the true gospel (see 1 Nephi 13:26, 28–29, 32, 34–35, 40). The unique combination of these two factors—a focus on the Savior and the plainness of the teachings—powerfully invites the confirming witness of the third member of the Godhead, even the Holy Ghost. Consequently, the Book of Mormon speaks to the spirit and to the heart of the reader like no other volume of scripture.[4]

David A. Bednar

David A. Bednar

Quentin L. Cook: I hope we are reading the Book of Mormon with our children regularly. I have discussed this with my own children. They have shared with me two observations. First, persistence in reading the scriptures daily as a family is the key. My daughter in a lighthearted way describes their early-morning efforts with mostly teenage children to consistently read the scriptures. She and her husband wake up early in the morning and move through the blurry mist to grasp the iron railing that lines their staircase to where their family gathers to read the word of God. Persistence is the answer, and a sense of humor helps. It requires great effort from every family member every day, but it is worth the effort. Temporary setbacks are overshadowed by persistence.

The second is how our youngest son and his wife are reading the scriptures with their young family. Two out of their four children are not old enough to read. For the five-year-old, they have five finger signals to which he responds in order for him to participate fully in the family scripture reading. The signal for finger 1 is for him to repeat, “And it came to pass” whenever it appears in the Book of Mormon. I have to admit that I love the fact that the phrase appears so often. Incidentally, for the interest of young families, finger signal 2 is “And thus we see”; fingers 3, 4, and 5 are chosen by the parents based on the words contained in the chapter they are reading.

We know that family scripture study and family home evenings are not always perfect. Regardless of the challenges you face, do not become discouraged.[5]

Quentin L. Cook

Quentin L. Cook

B. H. Roberts: The Book of Mormon {is} one of the most valuable books that has ever been preserved, even as holy scripture.[6]

So long as the truth respecting it is unbelieved {the Book of Mormon} will remain to the world an enigma, a veritable literary sphinx, challenging the inquiry and speculation of the learned. But to those who in simple faith will accept it for what it is, a revelation from God, it will minister spiritual consolation, and by its plainness and truth draw men into closer communion with God.[7]

It is provided in God’s providences respecting this volume of scripture, that its truth shall be attested to individuals by the operations of the Holy Spirit upon the human mind. “When ye shall receive these things,” says the prophet Moroni, referring to the writings of the Nephites, “I would exhort you that ye should ask God, the eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of them unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost; and by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” {Moroni 10:3-5}

This must ever be the chief source of evidence for the truth of the Book of Mormon. All other evidence is secondary to this, the primary and infallible. No arrangement of evidence, however skillfully ordered; no argument, however adroitly made, can ever take its place; for this witness of the Holy Spirit to the soul of man for the truth of the Nephite volume of scripture, is God’s evidence to the truth; and will ever be the chief reliance of those who accept the Book of Mormon, and expect to see its acceptance extended throughout the world; for, as the heavens are higher than the earth, so must the testimony of God forever stand above and before the testimony of men, and of things.[8]

B. H. Roberts

B. H. Roberts

Brigham Young: It is your privilege and duty to live so as to be able to understand the things of God. There are the Old and New Testaments, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants, which Joseph has given us, and they are of great worth to a person wandering in darkness. They are like a lighthouse in the ocean, or a finger-post which points out the road we should travel. Where do they point? To the Fountain of Light.[9]

Brigham Young

Brigham Young

Neal A. Maxwell: The Gospel seeks to help us focus on those facts which have overwhelming importance, not only for this life but for worlds to come. The relevancy and congruency of the scriptures are shown in many ways. Our Nephite predecessors could have given us their remarkable formula for cement, but instead they graphically described the glue of the Gospel which puts our lives together and gives us ingredients for the chemistry of salvation.[10]

Neal A. Maxwell

Neal A. Maxwell

Come Unto Christ

Much has been said about the power of the Book of Mormon to bring people to the Church and to Christ. Generally, the reasoning is its pure, laser-like focus on the Savior and attendant spirit brings power to its message. That is true, but there is another reason that has been suggested by Dr. Terryl Givens in his studies on the Book of Mormon: the model of dialogic revelation presented in the book.

Terryl L. Givens

Terryl L. Givens

Historically (at least in mainstream Christianity), there have been three common understandings of the term revelation: (1) revelation as doctrine, (2) revelation as history, and (3) revelation as inner experience. The first two come through the scriptures—the first most explicitly so, as it is most often thought of as “propositional” revelation or “conceptual truth claim[s] extractable from Holy Scriptures.” The second is understood as self-disclosure from God to man through historical events, interpreted as “might acts” of God. The third is more nebulous—some sort of inner experience where one has contact with God.  It may be an experience with the grace of God or some other communication of truth from God to a human by means which are beyond the ordinary course of nature. Generally, however, all of these three tend to avoid a direct, vocal communication of specific words or ideas. Based on the Book of Mormon, however, Dr. Terryl Givens has suggested a type of revelation that includes actual dialogue of this sort from God: dialogic revelation.[11]

The idea of dialogic revelation may not seem novel to most Latter-day Saints. After all, Joseph Smith received dialogical revelations that were recorded as the Doctrine and Covenants and the Joseph Smith—History, including the well-beloved First Vision. We believe that there is a prophet of God who communicates with Him in one way or another on a regular basis to guide the administration of the Church. On a personal level, we believe in and are encouraged to seek personal revelation, though often these days it is thought of in a manner somewhere between the dialogic revelation that Dr. Givens describes and the revelation as an inner experience. Yet, it may be because of the Book of Mormon and the experiences of Joseph Smith that we believe in and enact dialogic revelation.

The Book of Mormon has a high concentration of dialogic revelation experiences recorded in its text. The idea is introduced most clearly in 1 Nephi with a series of visions and guided moments, including Nephi’s vision of the Tree of Life. Phrases like “the Lord spake unto me,” or “the voice of the Lord came unto [Lehi]” offering constant, explicit guidance throughout their journey to the Promised Land indicate a very vocal Deity who was personally involved in the difficult voyage. Further, this theme is reinforced over and over again throughout the Book of Mormon:

In the Book of Mormon, worried parents and earnest missionaries and befuddled Church leaders and hungry hunters and inquiring sons all learn the great truth that their concerns—their immediate, quotidian, personal concerns—are God’s concerns. And solutions to those proximate concerns are the appropriate subject of divine communication from the heavens.[12]

This moves beyond the abstract revelation of God’s existence and doctrine suggested through the three traditional approaches to revelation. In Dr. Given’s eyes, this is taken to an even more personal level than is suggested in any other volume of scripture:

Two characteristics distinguish the revelation Joseph modeled. First, from his initial inquiry in those New York woods to his last revelations, Joseph’s prayers anticipated a personal response, a discernible moment of dialogue or communicated content. This model, which I call dialogic revelation, situates Joseph and the religion he founded well outside Christian understandings of revelation. Even the Christian model that seems closest in spirit to this one, called by Avery Dulles “revelation as inner experience,” differs sharply. Within this model, theologian George Tyrrell writes that there can be no revealed statements or doctrines. Against this backdrop, Joseph insisted that prayer frequently and dramatically evokes an answer that is impossible to mistake as anything other than an individualized, dialogic response to a highly particularized question.
Second, the Book of Mormon expands the notion of revelation far beyond the Old Testament model, according to which, as the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church puts it, “[prophecy] was preeminently the privilege of the prophets.” This rupture with Judaeo-Christian precedent occurs most forcefully in 1 Ne. 10–11. Lehi is the patriarch and prophet of his people. So it is only to be expected that when a vision of the tree of life is given, Lehi would be the recipient. But then Nephi approaches the Lord in prayer, asking that he also “might see, and hear, and know of these things” for himself (1 Ne. 10:17). The Spirit of the Lord appears to him, and Nephi makes his wish known. The Spirit then asks him if he believes the words of his father.
I don’t know this, but I can imagine that at this moment Nephi pauses. Perhaps if he says no, the Spirit will rebuke him for disloyalty and faithlessness. But if he says yes, the Spirit might well ask, “Then why not be content to take the word of your prophet and patriarch?” When Nephi indicates that he does indeed believe the words of his father, the Spirit breaks forth into a virtual psalm of rejoicing, shouting, “Hosanna” (1 Ne. 11:6). Then Nephi is rewarded, not rebuked, for seeking his own personal revelatory experience. And here we find a dramatic and momentous break with the Old Testament pattern. Revelation, we here learn, is the province of Everyman.[13]

lorenzo-snow-praying-893968-gallery

This constant reinforcement of personal, dialogic revelation available to everyone throughout the Book of Mormon may explain some of its power to bring people to Christ and to God, since it encourages a type of revelation that builds a personal relationship with Deity. In addition, it helps to explain its power in the conversion process for so many individuals, since it encourages prayer with the intent of seeking specific answers, including the well-known “Moroni’s promise” that encourages individuals to pray about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon itself.

I find this process exemplified by my own ancestor’s conversion to the Church in the early days of Mormonism. Zerah Pulsipher was a Free Will Baptist living in Spafford, New York in the early nineteenth century. His introduction to Mormonism came shortly after the Church was established: “in the summer of 1830 I heard a Minister say in Public that a golden Bible on some ancient Peoples were found in Manches<ter> N.Y. the sentence thriled through my sistem like a shock of Electricity.”[14] A neighbor recalled that this visitor was a man named Solomon Chamberlain.[15]

After this visit, Zerah was impressed and had a deep interest in getting his hands on the Book of Mormon to find out more after Chamberlain’s visit, since he “thought it might be something that would give light to [his] mind upon principles that [he] had been thinking of for years.” He “therefore watched the movement of things and in sept. <of> 1831 the Book of Mormon was brought into the Town.” “I succeeded in getting it[.] I directly read it through twice[,] gave it a thorough investigation and believed it was true.”[16] His son, John, would later recall that Zerah would get together “with the neighbors Elijah Cheney, [Shadrach] Roundy and others would sit and read and talk day and night ’till they read it through and through. They believed it was brought forth by the power of God, to prepare the way for the second coming of the Son of Man—it was just what they were looking for.”[17] Zerah’s wife added that they, “Believed it, but did not know anything more about it. We were very anxious to know more about it.”[18] They were able to find out more from a missionary by the name of Jared Carter.

Jared himself had a conversion experienced based in the Book of Mormon, was baptized, ordained and sent on a mission to New York. He stopped in Spafford and met with a few individuals in town that were interested in what he had to say, including Zerah. Soon afterwards, the Pulsiphers attended a service where Jared Carter preached to a crowded congregation. Mary recalled that Jared told them that baptism by immersion was the only right way and that it was for the remission of sins, which sounded right to her. He also told them how the Book of Mormon was found and translated by Joseph Smith. The missionary held up a copy of the Book of Mormon and declared it to be a revelation from God. Even though Zerah had been watching to find fault with this Mormon elder, he stated that “I could not gain-say anything he had said.”

When Carter sat down and gave liberty for remarks, Zerah perceived that those present seemed to be in a daze. He arose and stated that:

We had been hearing strange things and if true[,] they were of the utmost importance to us. If not true[,] it was one of the greatest impositions and as the preacher had said that he had got his knowledge from heaven and was nothing but a man and I the same, that I had just as good a right to obtain that blessing as he, therefore I was determined to have that knowledge for myself.

Zerah considered it his privilege from that time to make it a matter of fervent prayer. He did so for about a week and received a witness that the Book of Mormon and “Mormonism” were of God. According to his accounts: “As I was thrashing in my barn with the doors shut, all at once there seemed to be a ray of light from heaven which caused me to stop work for a short time.” This ray of light:

filed my mind remarkably upon the Principles of the gospel[.] I nearly beheld that what I had heard was true but it soon left me to ponder upon it[.] I soon began my labor again but of a short duration. Another bright<er> light presented from above with such masterly rays of glory filled to the running over it came with such magestty and power from above that I looked up to see from whence it came.[19]

I thought I saw the Angels with the Book of Mormon in their hands in the attitude of showing it to me and saying “this is the great revelation of the last days in which all things spoken of by the prophets must be fulfilled.” The vision was so open and plain that I began to rejoice exceedingly so that I walked the length of my barn crying “Glory Hal-la-lu-ya to the God and the Lamb forever.”

This vision led to the baptism of Zerah, his wife, oldest daughter, and a few neighbors on 11 January 1832 and launched a branch of Mormonism in that county.[20] Zerah went on to serve as an effective missionary (most notably baptizing Wilford Woodruff), and a president of the Seventy for twenty years.

The key to the experience and its relation to the dialogic revelation is Zerah’s statement after reading the Book of Mormon and listening the Jared Carter that “as the preacher had said that he had got his knowledge from heaven and was nothing but a man and I the same, that I had just as good a right to obtain that blessing as he, therefore I was determined to have that knowledge for myself.” This conversion narrative displays the power of the Book of Mormon in conversion and in modeling revelation.

Zerah Pulsipher

Zerah Pulsipher

A Deeper Look

At the turn of the twentieth century, Elder James E. Talmage of the Quorum of the Twelve wrote that “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accept[s] the Holy Bible as the foremost of her standard works, first among the books which have been proclaimed as her written guides in faith and doctrine.”[21] Reading this as a Mormon child of the 1990s, for a long time I assumed that Elder Talmage was paying a somewhat empty homage to the Bible to proclaim our faith as compatible with other Christian traditions. This would have been similar to many LDS missionaries who tell people that the Bible is equal to the Book of Mormon in the LDS Church, but when asked how many times they’ve read each are forced either to gloss over the question or to awkwardly admit that they have focused much more on the Book of Mormon throughout their lives. As I have studied and learned more about the history of the Church, however, I have learned that James E. Talmage was speaking with complete honesty but that there was a shift in focus towards the Book of Mormon and away from the Bible that took place in the latter half of the 20th century in the LDS Church—a shift which President Ezra Taft Benson largely created.

Concerning the impact of the Book of Mormon on the early Church, Dr. Terryl L. Givens has stated that:

As Rodney Stark has observed, “The Book of Mormon…may not have added enough doctrinal novelty to the Christian tradition to have made Mormonism more than a Protestant sect.” As I have argued elsewhere, the content of the Book of Mormon had negligible impact—and continues to have relatively negligible impact—on the doctrinal foundations of Mormonism. It both enacts and facilitates in particularly powerful form the main engine of Mormonism’s lifeblood— continuing and personal revelation. But few of what Mormons call the restored truths of the gospel are present in that volume.[22]

Indeed, although Joseph Smith cherished the Book of Mormon and many of the thoughts in the book find parallels in the Prophet’s words, he rarely referenced the Book of Mormon and even more rarely quoted from it. He was much more likely to reference the Bible in one way or another and spoke and wrote in language saturated with Biblical expressions.

Joseph Smith and the early Saints lived in a culture where the Bible was king. The Good Book was highly valued and looked to for doctrinal standards and solutions to problems. Although the Book of Mormon was a key element in many, if not most, conversions to Mormonism, it did not displace the Bible in devotional study. Members had been steeped in the Bible since birth, but did not have the same opportunity for the Book of Mormon. As a result, it was rarely used in sermons preached in Utah and elsewhere during the mid-nineteenth century. Brigham Young seems to have been typical for the early Church in his observation that:

In all my teachings, I have taught the Gospel from the Old and New Testaments. I found therein every doctrine, and the proof of every doctrine, the Latter-day Saints believe in, as far as I know, therefore I do not refer to the Book of Mormon as often as I otherwise should. There may be some doctrines about which little is said in the Bible, but they are all couched therein, and I believe the doctrines because they are true, and I have taught them because they are calculated to save the children of men.[23]

While a few of the most important theological minds of Mormonism—Parley P. Pratt, B. H. Roberts, and Bruce R. McConkie, to name a few—took an interest in the Book of Mormon prior to Ezra Taft Benson’s ministry, developing a culture that consistently studied the text of the book was a gradual process. It was known, a testimony of it was an important touch stone, and there was an interest in it, but it was not deeply studied. An apocryphal story from the early twentieth century captures these conditions. According to the story, J. Golden Kimball asked a congregation whether they were interested in reading the sealed section of the Book of Mormon. The congregation unanimously expressed their interest by the raise of hand. Elder Kimball’s response what: “Then why in the hell don’t you read the parts that aren’t sealed?”[24] According to BYU folklorist Eric A. Eliason, this story rang true because “[J. Golden] Kimball’s era marked a low point in Latter-day Saints’ appreciation of [the Book of Mormon]. Some Mormon intellectuals tended to question its historical reality, and most of the general membership may well have regarded it as genuine in its historical setting in ancient America but by and large did not read it.”[25]

These conditions changed during the time of Ezra Taft Benson. His constant focus on the Book of Mormon, challenges to read it daily, and to make it central in all Church activity—much of which is captured in these two chapters of the manual—created a cultural shift that has placed the Book of Mormon at the heart of the Church. Dr. Philip L. Barlow wrote that:

Contemporary Mormon-biblical relations have seen an abrupt shift. Arising from the church presidency of Ezra Taft Benson (1985-1994), a renewed emphasis on the text (rather than the mere fact) of the Book of Mormon has come to the fore. So strong and successful has been this call that the Book of Mormon has assumed a definite priority over the Bible for many modern Mormons.[26]

Elsewhere, he observed that “Mormons have developed a king of amnesia towards the Bible since 1980. . . . It has really changed the consciousness of Mormons. They don’t bear testimony of the truthfulness of the Bible much these days, but really specify the Book of Mormon.”[27] A survey of LDS General Conference addresses found that most of the apostles quote more regularly from the Book of Mormon these days—Richard G. Scott and David A. Bednar quote from it more than twice as often as the Bible. The notable exception is President Thomas S. Monson, who takes nearly half of his quotes from the New Testament.[28]

There is both good and bad to this shift. President Benson was inspired to emphasize the Book of Mormon, and it is truly a book with spiritual power. If we focus on it at the expense of ever getting to know the Bible—as Dr. Barlow indicates we are—then we are missing out. As Elder M. Russell Ballard stated:

The Bible . . . is one of the pillars of our faith, a powerful witness of the Savior and of Christ’s ongoing influence in the lives of those who worship and follow Him. The more we read and study the Bible and its teachings, the more clearly we see the doctrinal underpinnings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. We tend to love the scriptures that we spend time with. We may need to balance our study in order to love and understand all scripture.

You young people especially, do not discount or devalue the Holy Bible. It is the sacred, holy record of the Lord’s life. The Bible contains hundreds of pages more than all of our other scripture combined. It is the bedrock of all Christianity.[29]

Still, we have no reason to avoid the Book of Mormon. Read it, study it love it—but also do the same with the Bible. Both books are the word of God and are food for our souls.

Ezra Taft Benson reading the scriptures

Ezra Taft Benson reading the scriptures

[1] Boice, Trina (2014-11-09). The Ready Resource for Relief Society Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson (Kindle Locations 965-970). Cedar Fort, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

[2] Boice, Trina (2014-11-09). The Ready Resource for Relief Society Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson (Kindle Locations 1032-1035). Cedar Fort, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

[3] Spencer W. Kimball, “How Rare a Possession— the Scriptures!” Ensign, September 1976, 2– 5.

[4] David A. Bednar, “Watching with All Perseverance,” CR, April 2010.

[5] Quentin L. Cook, “In Tune With the Music of Faith,” CR, April 2012.

[6] B. H. Roberts, CR, April 1933, 117.

[7] B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, 3:406.

[8] B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, 2:vi, vii.

[9] Brigham Young, JD 8:129. Cited in Brigham Young and John A. Widtsoe (ed), Discourses of Brigham Young (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1977), 127.

[10] Neal A. Maxwell and Cory H. Maxwell (ed.), The Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 30.

[11] Terryl L. Givens, “The Book of Mormon and Dialogic Revelation,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 10, no. 2 (2001):19.

[12] Terryl L. Givens, “Lightning Out of Heaven,” BYU Address, 29 November 2005, http://magazine.byu.edu/?act=view&a=1851.

[13] Givens, “Lightning.”

[14] Autobiography of Zerah Pulsipher in Lund, Pulsipher Family History Book, 12; Autobiographical Sketch of Zera Pulsipher, 4.

[15] Journal of Silas Hillman, cited in Rhean Lenore M. Beck, Life Story of Sarah (King) Hillman and Her Husband, Mayhew Hillman [unpublished manuscript, 1968], 8.

[16] Zerah Pulsipher Autobiography, 12; autobiographical sketch, 4.

[17] “John Pulsipher’s History” in Lund, 47.

[18] Autobiography of Mary Brown Pulsipher,” in Lund 29.

[19] Pulsipher, autobiographical sketch, 4.

[20] Zerah Pulsipher, Autobiographical Sketch, 9-10

[21] James E. Talmage, Articles of Faith, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1990), 214.

[22] Terryl L. Givens, “The Prophesy of Enoch as Restoration Blueprint,” Arrington Lecture, Logan, UT, 16  September 2012.. http://terrylgivens.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Prophecy-of-Enoch.pdf

[23] JD, 16:773-74. Also cited in W. Jeffrey March, “Brigham Young and the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10/2 (2001), http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1400&index=2.

[24] Eric A. Eliason, The J. Golden Kimball Stories (Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2007), 58.

[25] Eliason, J. Golden, 142.

[26] Philip L. Barlow, Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion, updated edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), xxxvii.

[27] Cited in Peggy Fletcher Stack, “And it came to pass, one day the Book of Mormon overtook the Bible—in LDS eyes,” Salt Lake Tribune, 10 Feb 2015, http://www.sltrib.com/lifestyle/faith/2139857-155/and-it-came-to-pass-one?fullpage=1.

[28] Stack, “And it Came to Pass.”

[29] M. Russell Ballard, “The Miracle of the Holy Bible,” CR, April 2007, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2007/04/the-miracle-of-the-holy-bible?lang=eng.

Ezra Taft Benson, Chapter 8: The Power of the Word

Chapter 8 of the Ezra Taft Benson manual is based on a talk given to priesthood leaders about the importance of the word of God “as found in the scriptures, in the words of living prophets, and in personal revelation.” The Life section focuses on the setting of the talk that the lesson is based on. Section one focuses on troubles facing us in our day and that the Word of God is the way to deal with these challenges. Section two focuses on turning to the scriptures for meaningful study and making them a priority in our lives. Section three focuses on the power and blessings that come from studying the scriptures. Section four focuses on not treating the word of God lightly.

Resources for Lesson/Teaching Helps:

Suggested Hymns

Press Forward Saints (81)

How Firm a Foundation (85)

The Iron Rod (274)

As I Search the Holy Scriptures (277)

Home Can Be a Heaven on Earth (298)

Videos

The Blessing of Scripture

What the Scriptures Mean to Me

Daily Bread: Pattern

The Maze (It’s old and 10 minutes long, but a decent analogy)

Object Lessons

Bring a plate of cookies and ask for volunteers to demonstrate different styles of eating: abstain, sample, taste, snack, gorge, nibble, eat, and feast. Now compare those styles to how we study the scriptures, reminding the class that we should “feast upon the words of Christ.”[1]

Invite a Seminary teacher to show the class different methods of marking scriptures and building scripture chains. You could even teach them how to do a Scripture Chase competition like they do in Seminary.[2]

Further Reading

Ezra Taft Benson, Chapter 8

David A. Bednar: A Reservoir of Living Water

Richard G. Scott: The Power of Scripture

The King James Bible and the Restoration (BYU Symposium, online form)

Chad L. Nielsen discussion on the Word of God

Quotes

Boyd K. Packer: True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.[3]

Boyd K. Packer Image courtesy LDS.org

Boyd K. Packer
Image courtesy LDS.org

Dallin H Oaks: A childhood experience introduced me to the idea that some choices are good but others are better. I lived for two years on a farm. We rarely went to town. Our Christmas shopping was done in the Sears, Roebuck catalog. I spent hours poring over its pages. For the rural families of that day, catalog pages were like the shopping mall or the Internet of our time.

Something about some displays of merchandise in the catalog fixed itself in my mind. There were three degrees of quality: good, better, and best. For example, some men’s shoes were labeled good ($1.84), some better ($2.98), and some best ($3.45).

As we consider various choices, we should remember that it is not enough that something is good. Other choices are better, and still others are best. Even though a particular choice is more costly, its far greater value may make it the best choice of all. . . .

Some uses of individual and family time are better, and others are best. We have to forego some good things in order to choose others that are better or best because they develop faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and strengthen our families.[4]

Dallin H. Oaks Image courtesy LDS.org

Dallin H. Oaks
Image courtesy LDS.org

Julie B. Beck: If you have not already developed the habit of daily scripture study, start now and keep studying in order to be prepared for your responsibilities in this life and in the eternities.[5]

Julie B. Beck Image courtesy LDS.org

Julie B. Beck
Image courtesy LDS.org

Patricia T. Holland: There have been challenges in my life that would have completely destroyed me had I not had the scriptures both on my bed stand and in my purse so that I could partake of them day and night at a moment’s notice. Meeting God in scripture has been like a divine intravenous feeding for me—a celestial IV that my son once described as an angelical cord.[6]

Patricia Holland Image courtesy Deseret News

Patricia Holland

Chieko N. Okazaki: The manuals and the Ensign and other commentaries and sermons and essays are meaningful and perceptive; but if we read only them and don’t study the scriptures for ourselves, we still have only a secondhand relationship with the scriptures.[7]

Chieko N. Okazaki

Chieko N. Okazaki

Marion G. Romney: When I drink from a spring I like to get the water where it comes out of the ground, not down the stream after the cattle have waded in it. … I appreciate other people’s interpretation, but when it comes to the gospel we ought to be acquainted with what the Lord says.[8]

Marion G. Romney Image courtesy LDS.org

Marion G. Romney
Image courtesy LDS.org

M. Russell Ballard: The Bible . . . is one of the pillars of our faith, a powerful witness of the Savior and of Christ’s ongoing influence in the lives of those who worship and follow Him. The more we read and study the Bible and its teachings, the more clearly we see the doctrinal underpinnings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. We tend to love the scriptures that we spend time with. We may need to balance our study in order to love and understand all scripture.

You young people especially, do not discount or devalue the Holy Bible. It is the sacred, holy record of the Lord’s life. The Bible contains hundreds of pages more than all of our other scripture combined. It is the bedrock of all Christianity. We do not criticize or belittle anyone’s beliefs. Our great responsibility as Christians is to share all that God has revealed with all of His sons and daughters.[9]

M. Russell Ballard Image courtesy LDS.org

M. Russell Ballard
Image courtesy LDS.org

Gordon B. Hinckley: I hope the reading of scriptures will become something far more enjoyable than a duty; that, rather, it will become a love affair with the word of God. I promise you that as you read, your minds will be enlightened and your spirits will be lifted. At first it may seem tedious, but that will change into a wondrous experience with thoughts and words of things divine.[10]

Gordon B. Hinckley

Gordon B. Hinckley

Come Unto Christ

The intelligent but eccentric BYU professor Hugh Nibley once quipped that, “If you pray for an angel to visit you, you know what he’ll do if he comes. He’ll just quote the scriptures to you—so you’re wasting your time waiting for what we already have.”[11] While it’s a humorous way of looking at things, it is somewhat true. What I have also found interesting is that Christ himself quotes scripture when he teaches. We see it during his life—as represented in the Gospels, he quotes Isaiah, Psalms, and references stories in the Pentateuch and the histories in the Hebrew Bible. We see it again when he visited the Nephites—he quotes entire chapters of Malachi and Isaiah. Again, when he visited Joseph Smith in the First Vision, he referenced Isaiah once again. Granted, He expounded and expanded  upon what was in the scriptures, but it is interesting that the Lord of All Creation quotes the scriptures rather than teaching on His own authority alone. To me, this builds up the importance of being familiar with all the scriptures.

Friberg's Light of Christ painting.

Friberg’s Light of Christ painting.

A Deeper Look

Within the corpus of J. Golden Kimball folklore, there is a story of the salty seventy getting bored during a long list of sustaining officers at a stake conference somewhere south of Provo. Noticing that most of the congregation was nodding off or had fallen asleep while mechanically raising their hands for every name read, he continued in his usual magpie voice, stating, “It is proposed that Mount Nebo be moved into Utah Lake, all in favor manifest by the usual sign.” The majority of the people raised their hands. Then, Elder Kimball paused, looked around, and yelled, “Just how in the hell do you people propose we get Mount Nebo into Utah Lake?” or “I expect all men to be here tomorrow morning with your shovels.”

J. Golden Kimball

J. Golden Kimball

One of the faucets of the word of God that President Benson spoke about was the words of living prophets, and we had the opportunity to listen to those recently at general conference. As with last year, the main topic of discussion about general conference hasn’t been the words of Church leaders, but the dissenters who expressed themselves at the conference. As, I’m sure most of my readers are well aware, at least seven (some accounts say nine) people expressed themselves as “opposed” during the sustaining of Church officers. These individuals, who have declared that they are opposed for a variety of reasons—including institutional honesty about Church history, Church stance of women’s roles and LGTB families, spending of Church money on projects like City Creek Mall, and so forth—stood and shouted “opposed” when President Uchtdorf asked for contrary votes to sustaining the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

To many Latter-day Saints attending the conference in person or abroad, these dissenting votes were jarring. There were some occurrences during the 1970s and 1980s due to the restrictions placed on members of black African descent and the Church’s opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, but there haven’t been many, if any, occurrences of opposing votes in General Conference for a couple decades (click here for some more history on the issue). In response, the internet has been flooded with memes and blog posts discussing the event, mostly in negative tones. Those who were opposed have been called “hecklers,” and a number of individuals have expressed themselves as shocked or disappointed by their actions, ruminated on their likeliness to go to hell (I don’t know if that’s online, but I’ve heard plenty of that in my community in some form or another). Other memes have simply offered support for President Monson and other Church leaders, affirming member’s commitments to their leadership.

I want to make it clear that I support and sustain our Church leadership, but I also want to give some perspective on what happened during the sustaining of Church officers and how we could best respond. I also would like to discuss the principle of common consent—why we do it and what it means. My hope is that it will be informative and allow better discussion of the issues at hand.

"I sustain President Monson" meme

“I sustain President Monson” meme

Recently, I attended a lecture by Armand Mauss—the leading sociologist who has set his hands to Mormon studies. He spoke about a number of difficulties and issues that the Church is dealing with as it approaches its third century, including internal issues and organizations such as correlation, the accumulation of inactive members, the role and status of women in the Church, and the role of faith vs doubt in the Church. The last one of the four—faith vs doubt—was the one he devoted the most time to, noting that some General Authorities have made comments that recognize the validity of doubts, but asking how far they are willing to go to accommodate doubting members:

On the one hand, how can the church create and maintain a supportive environment in which individual members can struggle with serious doubts without jeopardizing the love and regard of fellow members, and even jeopardizing their church membership?

On the other hand, how can the church maintain boundaries around certain fundamental truth claims that define the very identity of the LDS religion? How much flexibility in understanding and interpreting church doctrine and practices can members claim and still feel that they belong?[12]

Armand Mauss

Armand Mauss

This is a very difficult subject to approach, and is becoming more and more visible. Despite Elder Cook’s assurance that “the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has never been stronger,”[13] dissenting members are better organized and better able to give voice to their feelings than ever before, thanks to the internet. The dissenting vote is likely to become a regular part of General Conference, as demonstrated by online shows of support and commitments to dissent at the October conference this year.

Many non-dissenting members have expressed frustration that dissenters would disturb the sacred atmosphere of General Conference, and wondered if it is the appropriate place to dissent in. It is a very understandable concern, especially when unanimity has been the norm in voting and there is so much emphasis placed on the importance of conference. The truth of the matter is, however, that General Conference really is the appropriate time and place to express dissenting votes. We read in the Doctrine and Covenants: “And a commandment I give unto you, that you should fill all these offices and approve of those names which I have mentioned, or else disapprove of them at my general conference.” (D&C 124:144, emphasis added.) Some leading brethren in the Church have made it clear in times past that thoughtful consideration of whether we sustain the Brethren is important. Take, for example, President Brigham Young:

Some may say, “Brethren, you who lead the Church, we have all confidence in you, we are not in the least afraid but what everything will go right under your superintendence; all the business matters will be transacted right; and if brother Brigham is satisfied with it, I am.” I do not wish any Latter−day Saint in this world, nor in heaven, to be satisfied with anything I do, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of revelation, makes them satisfied. I wish them to know for themselves and understand for themselves, for this would strengthen the faith that is within them. Suppose that the people were heedless, that they manifested no concern with regard to the things of the kingdom of God, but threw the whole burden upon the leaders of the people, saying, “If the brethren who take charge of matters are satisfied, we are,” this is not pleasing in the sight of the Lord.

Every man and woman in this kingdom ought to be satisfied with what we do, but they never should be satisfied without asking the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, whether what we do is right. When you are inspired by the Holy Ghost you can understandingly say, that you are satisfied.[14]

Brigham Young

Brigham Young

Elder B. H. Roberts of the Presidency of the Seventy also made a valid, if somewhat chilling, point when he stated that:

If the time should ever come that The Church should be so unfortunate as to be presided over by a man who transgressed the laws of God and became unrighteous (and by such a thing could be, and that the President of the Church is not regarded as impeccable, is quite evident from the fact that provisions are made for his trial and condemnation), a means of deposing him, without destroying The Church, without revolution, or even disorder, is provided in The Church system of government.[15]

What I’m trying to say with all of this, is that the expression of opposed votes is an acceptable expression of belief within Mormonism and that General Conference is the appropriate time to express that vote. If it was not, they wouldn’t ask for any opposed to raise their hands. The manner in which it was expressed—individuals standing and stating “opposed” (not “no!” as has been often recounted so far) was probably the most polite way they could proceed while still being noticed in the large auditorium.

That being said, I do not support them in their course, I don’t appreciate their actions, and I personally sustain the prophet, even while I recognize that they have the right to act as they did. How do I think we should respond? In a Christ-like manner. As Elder Quentin L. Cook taught:

Many in this world are afraid and angry with one another. While we understand these feelings, we need to be civil in our discourse and respectful in our interactions. This is especially true when we disagree…. Yet there are some who feel that venting their personal anger or deeply held opinions is more important than conducting themselves as Jesus Christ lived and taught. I invite each one of us individually to recognize that how we disagree is a real measure of who we are and whether we truly follow the Savior. It is appropriate to disagree, but it is not appropriate to be disagreeable. Violence and vandalism are not the answer to our disagreements. If we show love and respect even in adverse circumstances, we become more like Christ.[16]

This is true whichever side of the issue you may be on. Remember, Joseph Smith taught that “friendship is the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism,”[17] and that “if you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another.”[18] While we tend to be concerned that we will not receive the same respect from the other side (again, whichever side we may be on in the issue), the more pertinent question is always, “Lord, is it I?” (Matt 26:22.)

These people are truly people, not demons sent from the fiery abyss (is we even believed in such a thing), and they deserve to be treated respectfully and civilly. What is more, they are Mormons and we have no right to tell them that they must leave the Church because we don’t see eye-to-eye with them. In the Book of Mormon Nephi asked the pertinent question, “hath he [God] commanded any that they should depart out of the synagogues, or out of the houses of worship?” and responded: “Behold, I say unto you, Nay. . . . He inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him.” (2 Nephi 26:26, 33.) Their feelings don’t have to change ours, nor will they topple the Church, so there is no need to react defensively to them. We will probably just have to adjust and understand that there are members who love the Gospel and love the Church, but don’t agree with the direction its leadership is taking and respect them in that belief. At the same time, we should not be afraid to express our views, as long as we do so in the proper manner and realize that we may have to agree to disagree. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught last spring: “Be strong. Live the gospel faithfully even if others around you don’t live it at all. Defend your beliefs with courtesy and with compassion, but defend them.”[19]

"Defend your beliefs with courtesy and with compassion, but defend them" ~Jeffrey R. Holland

“Defend your beliefs with courtesy and with compassion, but defend them”
~Jeffrey R. Holland

Shifting gears a bit, this issue also raises doctrinal questions about the process of sustaining officers of the Church or a proposed policy change. Are we voting on leadership or doctrine? If God chose them, then why do we even have to give our consent? Democracy and theocracy don’t seem too compatible, really. While there is a lot that could be said about the issue, one of my favorite discussions of the doctrine comes from Elder B. H. Roberts. In the early 1900s, the Church underwent an intense examination by the United States government after one of the Quorum of the Twelve—Reed Smoot—was elected to congress as a senator from Utah. During these hearings, there were a few questions asked, statements made, or missteps by general authorities that caught on with the youth in Utah as things to say to poke fun at or question Church leadership. Elder Roberts, a president of the Seventies who was also involved in the youth organizations of the Church, wrote a response to these “smart statements.” One of the concerns that he addressed was that:

In the course of the investigation of the subject of revelation, it was developed that a law revealed from God, before it became binding upon the Church, was submitted to the people in conference, and they voted to accept or reject it. Then this question was asked:

“Suppose a revelation is given to the Church, and the Church in conference assembled reject it by vote, what remains? Does it go for nothing?”

To which answer was made, in substance, that if the people rejected it, it would go for nothing for them—that is, so far as the people were concerned.

The senator then exclaimed: “A sort of veto power over the Lord!” and then there was laughter.

That is one of the catchy phrases which some of the youth of Zion are permitting themselves to be pleased with. A veto power on God![20]

His response was profound:

After revealing himself to Joseph Smith, the Lord finally told him, with reference to the organization of the Church, that he must call together the baptized members and submit to them the question whether or not they were willing that he and Oliver Cowdery should proceed to organize the Church of Christ, and whether the people were willing to accept them as their spiritual leaders and teachers.

We may well marvel at such condescension of God; and yet when we come to analyze this, we learn that in this God only recognizes a great truth, and the dignity of his children, and acknowledges their rights and liberties. When he selected his prophet, to whom he first revealed himself, he chose whom he would and gave him the power of the apostleship; but when he was to effect an organization and exercise that authority upon others, then it must be with the consent of the others concerned, not otherwise. This is the principle of common consent, which the Lord respected at the organization of his Church, and which he still recognizes in its government.

The very title of our Church—the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—indicates that it is not only “the Church of Jesus Christ,” but also of the “Latter-day Saints.” It is Christ’s because he made it possible by his sacrifice, because it is the depository of his truth, because he has called it into existence, because he has given it a mission to proclaim the truth, and to perfect the lives of those who accept that truth; it is ours because we accept it of our own volition. God has conferred upon his Church and our Church the right of being governed by common consent of the members thereof. It is not a tyranny, nor an ecclesiastical hierarchy dominating the people and destroying individual liberty, as our friends the opposition have frequently declared. But now they are confronted with the fact that, so far from being a tyrannical institution, not only the officers but the very revelations of God are submitted to the people for their acceptance! And then they turn to the other extreme, and, astonished, exclaim: “Then you presume to have a veto power on God!”…

… When the Church votes upon the acceptance of any revelation, whether on doctrine or the appointment of officers, it acts for itself alone, and neither concerns, for praise or censure, people outside of the Church. It is merely the exercise of a right conferred upon the Church in the very inception of its organization, which granted it the right to accept or reject any rule or law that was suggested for its government. This law of common consent is in strict harmony with God’s moral government of the world. Man is by nature a free moral agent, and that agency involves the liberty of violating the laws of God as well as the liberty of respecting them. If individuals reject the will of God, they will be rejected by him; and this applies also to the Church. What men may do in their individual capacity, the Church may do in its organized capacity with, of course, similar results to the institution; for if the time should come that the Church, in the exercise of those rights and that freedom which God in the beginning bestowed upon her, should persistently reject his word and his servants until she became corrupted, God would repudiate and disown her as his Church, just as he would reject and condemn a wicked man. But so far, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints has received as divine law the revelations and doctrines proposed to her by the prophets of God. But suppose a law is promulgated before the Latter-day Saints, and the Church, in the exercise of the liberty which God has conferred upon them, reject it, the question is then asked, what remains?

The truth remains. The action of the Church has not affected it in the least. The truth remains just as true as if the Church had accepted it. Its action simply determines the relationship of the members to that truth; and if they reject it, the truth still remains; and it is my opinion that they would not make further progress until they accepted the rejected truth. The truth remains—that is the answer to the Senator’s question, for, as one of our poets has said:

Though the heavens depart, and the earth’s fountains burst,

Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst,

Eternal, unchanged, evermore.[21]

Thus, the principle of common consent is a recognition of our right to accept or reject any truth or principle or leader, whether individually or collectively. Those who have expressed themselves as opposed at General Conference are perfectly within their rights to do so, just as we are perfectly in our rights to sustain Church leaders. What is left is to carry ourselves in the most Christ-like manner possible.

Mormon Tabernacle Choir

[1] Boice, Trina (2014-11-09). The Ready Resource for Relief Society Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson (Kindle Locations 900-902). Cedar Fort, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

[2] Boice, Trina (2013-11-13). The Ready Resource for Relief Society Teaching: Joseph Fielding Smith (Kindle Locations 2108-2109). Cedar Fort, Inc.. Kindle Edition

[3] Boyd K. Packer, “Little Children,” CR, October 1986, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1986/10/little-children?lang=eng

[4] Dallin H. Oaks, “Good, Better, Best,” CR, October 2007, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2007/10/good-better-best?lang=eng.

[5] Julie B. Beck, “My Soul Delighteth in the Scriptures,” Ensign, May 2004, 107– 9.

[6] Patricia T. Holland, Young Women Presidency “One Thing Needful: Becoming Women of Greater Faith in Christ.” Ensign, October 1987

[7] Chieko N. Okazaki, Relief Society Presidency “Aloha.” 1995, p. 83

[8] Marion G. Romney, address to religious educators, 13 Apr. 1973.

[9] M. Russell Ballard, “The Miracle of the Holy Bible,” CR, April 2007, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2007/04/the-miracle-of-the-holy-bible?lang=eng.

[10] Gordon B. Hinckley: “The Light within You,” Ensign, May 1995, 99.

[11] Hugh Nibley, The Essential Nibley, ed. Marvin R. VanDam (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2014), 294.

[12] Armand Mauss, “Mormonism’s Third Century: Coping with the Contingencies.” Paper presented March 25, 2015, Utah State University, Logan, Utah.  http://religiousstudies.usu.edu/files/uploads/Recent_Presentations/Mauss_Mormonisms_3rd_Century.pdf

[13] Quentin L. Cook, “The Lord is My Light,” CR, April 2015.

[14] JD 3:45, Brigham Young, October 6, 1855

[15] 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), 225.

[16] Quentin L. Cook, “We Follow Jesus Christ,” Conference Report, April 2010

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

[18] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Location 2621). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[19] Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Cost—and Blessings—of Discipleship,” CR April 2014, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2014/04/the-cost-and-blessings-of-discipleship?lang=eng

[20] B. H. Roberts, “Relation of Inspiration and Revelation to Church Government,” Improvement Era, March 1905, 359.

[21] Roberts, “Relation,” 361-364.

Ezra Taft Benson, Chapter 7: Joseph Smith, an Instrument in the Hands of the Lord

Chapter 7 of the Ezra Taft Benson manual focuses on Joseph Smith, as the title suggests. The Life section focuses on how Elder Benson faced opposition to the Church while he served a mission in his youth to England, but had a wonderful experience in preaching about Joseph Smith and that he continued to testify of Joseph Smith throughout his life. Section one focuses on the experience and significance of the First Vision. Section two focuses on dealing with objections to supernatural aspects of the Restoration—the visitations of angels in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and at other times to Joseph Smith. Section Three focuses on the importance of the Book of Mormon and an invitation to test the validity of the origin of the Book of Mormon. Section Four focuses on the restoration in a broad sweep covering the basic ideas of the Apostasy, First Vision, restoration of the priesthood, establishment of the Church, and the establishment of a new dispensation. Section Five deals with the persecution and faithfulness of Joseph Smith to his death. Section Six focuses on Joseph Smith’s role as the Prophet—his foreordination, his role in the work of Salvation, and the head of this dispensation.

Ezra Taft Benson as a missionary

Ezra Taft Benson as a missionary

Resources:

Suggested Hymns

The Spirit of God (2)

What Was Witnessed in the Heavens? (11)

Now We’ll Sing with One Accord (25)

Joseph Smith’s First Prayer (26)

Praise to the Man (27)

Videos

Seeker of Truth

Prophets of the Restoration Vignettes: Joseph Smith

The Restoration (20 minute First Vision video)

Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration (2002 version)

Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration (Proselyting Version)

The Great Apostasy (Wilford Woodruff’s Conversion Story)

Object Lessons

  • Tell the class you’re going to show pictures of different kinds of cars and that they’re supposed to raise their hands when they see a car that represents the kind of person they are (sports car, truck, minivan, racecar, luxury sedan, taxi). Explain that all cars get old and eventually break down. Age, accidents, and everyday use will wear a car out. Sooner or later all cars are destined for the junkyard unless someone restores them. In some ways, our lives are like the cars. Just as all cars break down, all people share a common problem that causes us to wear out and eventually die. Just as a car can’t fix its own dent or flat tires, we can’t fix the problem of death. The Savior keeps our cars running in good condition. He sends auto mechanics (prophets) who know how to restore cars to their best state when they get old and rusty. Joseph restored the Church after the Great Apostasy.[1]
  • Invite someone to play a hymn or song on the piano, but tape down most of the piano keys. After the death of the early Apostles, the authority was lost and the fulness of the gospel was not on earth. Explain that there are many wonderful churches on earth today that have some of the piano keys to enjoy, but the Church of Jesus Christ allows us to enjoy the whole song as it was intended and the fulness of the gospel. Joseph Smith was an instrument in the Lord’s hands.[2]

Further Reading

Ezra Taft Benson, Chapter 7

Sugardoodle

Joseph Smith Papers Website

Terryl Givens: Lightning Out of Heaven

Terryl Givens: The Woman in the Wilderness

Philip L. Barlow: To Mend a Fractured Reality (pp. 28-50)

Jan Shipps: Joseph Smith and Mormonism

James B. Allen: Emergence of a Fundamental

The Restoration of Major Doctrines through Joseph Smith, Part 1

The Restoration of Major Doctrines through Joseph Smith, Part 2

Gospel Topics page (access to a variety of articles on historical issues with Joseph Smith)

Podcasts

Neal A. Maxwell Institute: Reconsidering the Great Apostasy

Joseph Smith Papers Podcast

Quotes

Gordon B. Hinckley: Not long ago, while riding in a plane, I engaged in conversation with a young man who was seated beside me. We moved from one subject to another, and then came to the matter of religion. He said that he had read considerably about the Mormons, that he had found much to admire in their practices, but that he had a definite prejudice concerning the story of the origin of the Church and particularly Joseph Smith. He was an active member of another organization, and when I asked where he had acquired his information, he indicated that it had come from publications of his church. I asked what company he worked for. He proudly replied that he was a sales representative for IBM. I then asked whether he would think it fair for his customers to learn of the qualities of IBM products from a Xerox representative. He replied with a smile, “I think I get the point of what you’re trying to say.”[3]

An acquaintance said to me one day: “I admire your church very much. I think I could accept everything about it—except Joseph Smith.” To which I responded: “That statement is a contradiction. If you accept the revelation, you must accept the revelator.”

It is a constantly recurring mystery to me how some people speak with admiration for the Church and its work, while at the same time disdaining him through whom, as a servant of the Lord, came the framework of all that the Church is, of all that it teaches, and of all that it stands for. They would pluck the fruit from the tree while cutting off the root from which it grows.[4]

Gordon B. Hinckley

Gordon B. Hinckley

George Albert Smith: Many of the benefits and blessings that have come to me have come through [Joseph Smith,] that man who gave his life for the gospel of Jesus Christ. There have been some who have belittled him, but I would like to say that those who have done so will be forgotten and their remains will go back to mother earth, if they have not already gone, and the odor of their infamy will never die, while the glory and honor and majesty and courage and fidelity manifested by the Prophet Joseph Smith will attach to his name forever.[5]

George Albert Smith

George Albert Smith

Neal A. Maxwell: What came through Joseph Smith was beyond Joseph Smith, and it stretched him! In fact, the doctrines that came through that “choice seer” (2 Nephi 3:6-7) by translation or revelation are often so light intensive that, like radioactive materials, they must be handled with great care![6]

The Everest of ecclesiastical truth built from the translations and revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith speaks for itself as it towers above the foothills of philosophy. . . . Revelations came to us through an inspired prophet, Joseph Smith. His spelling left something to be desired, but how he provided us with the essential grammar of the gospel![7]

Neal A. Maxwell

Neal A. Maxwell Image courtesy LDS.org

Wilford Woodruff: Those who have been acquainted with the Prophet Joseph, who laid the foundation of this church and kingdom, who was an instrument in the hand of God in bringing to light the gospel in this last dispensation, know well that every feeling of his soul, every sentiment of his mind, and every act of his life, proved that he was determined to maintain the principle of truth, even to the sacrificing of his life. His soul swelled wide as eternity for the welfare of the human family.[8]

Wilford Woodruff Image courtesy LDS.org

Wilford Woodruff
Image courtesy LDS.org

B. H. Roberts: One thing connected with the character of Joseph Smith, and one that distinguishes him from false prophets and mere enthusiasts is the unaffectedness of his conduct. It was the prevailing idea of his day and even now that the calling of a prophet is inseparably connected with a life of austerity . . . as if communing with God was such awful business that it chills the heart and drives all happiness out of the life of man! Joseph Smith was nothing of all this. . . . He was the Prophet of a joyous countenance; of unconventional but upright deportment; the apostle of cleanliness and becoming apparel. He believed that serving God should make men happier and that the good things of the earth were made for the comfort and to increase the happiness of the righteous.[9]

The Prophet’s teaching . . . was unique in its way. He may scarcely be said to have made any attempt at creating a system of philosophy however much may be said for his system of religion and of ecclesiastical government. His philosophical principles were flung off in utterances without reference to any arrangement or orderly sequence; and in the main were taught in independent aphorisms, which is a remarkably effective way of teaching, for an aphorism resembles the proverb, and is a form in which Truth is bound to live.[10]

B. H. Roberts

B. H. Roberts

D. Todd Christofferson: We are blessed in our day to have a growing body of information about the Prophet Joseph Smith and his work, but most especially about his teachings. In the Church’s study series, “Teachings of the Presidents of the Church,” the volume published in 2007 featuring Joseph Smith’s teachings and writings is particularly valuable. I hope it is a reference you will always have close at hand in your gospel library. For some years now, the Church History Department has spearheaded a major undertaking to publish all the documents and other materials we can locate that were ever generated by or under the direction of the Prophet. It is known as the Joseph Smith Papers Project. It is anticipated that this project will produce about 24 printed volumes in six series such as Revelations and Translations, Journals, Histories, and so on. . . . Also, the Internet and electronic publishing have made it possible to access additional early, and even original source material bearing on Joseph Smith’s life and times.

Our study of the Prophet’s life and ministry are more than an intellectual exercise to satisfy curiosity. Insofar as we can, we want to know what he knew; we want to understand what he understood; we want to draw near to God as he did, for as Nicodemus said of the Savior so we can say of Joseph, “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God.” . . .

Be patient . . . while some answers come quickly or with little effort, others are simply not available for the moment because information or evidence is lacking. Don’t suppose, however, that a lack of evidence about something today means that evidence doesn’t exist or that it will not be forthcoming in the future. The absence of evidence is not proof. . . . Where answers are incomplete or lacking altogether, patient study and patient waiting for new information and discoveries to unfold will often be rewarded with understanding.[11]

D. Todd Christofferson

D. Todd Christofferson Image courtesy LDS.org

Come Unto Christ

We do not worship the Prophet. We worship God our Eternal Father, and the risen Lord Jesus Christ. But we acknowledge him, we proclaim him, we respect him, we reverence him as an instrument in the hands of the Almighty in restoring to the earth the ancient truths of the divine gospel, together with the priesthood through which the authority of God is exercised in the affairs of his church and for the blessing of his people. (Gordon B. Hinckley.)[12]

President John Taylor made the superlative statement—now canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants—that “Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.” (D&C 135:3.) President Brigham Young stated “I feel like shouting, hallelujah, all the time, when I think that I ever knew Joseph Smith, the Prophet.”[13] We sing the hymns of praise to the Prophet, such as “Praise to the Man Who Communed with Jehovah.” Statements like this cause many to worry that we worship Joseph Smith rather than Jesus Christ. Sometimes our actions do little to belay that concern—we talk often of Joseph Smith and the Restoration, and sometimes get carried away with celebrations of his life compared with our celebrations of Christ’s life. Consider, for example, the celebrations the Church put on for the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s birth in 2005 versus the celebrations (or lack thereof) of the 2000th celebration of Christ’s birth in 2000 (or on any year for that matter) or the tendency to sing hymns about Joseph Smith and the prophets in our excitement about General Conference this last week rather than focusing on celebrating Holy Week leading up to Easter.

The truth is, however, that the work that the Prophet Joseph Smith performed was to bring people unto salvation through Christ. He did not seek to replace Christ, but to build up Christ’s position. Truman G. Madsen—a BYU professor who spent a lot of his time studying the life of Joseph Smith—stated that:

[Joseph Smith] has no stature at all except in his ties with the Master. Much modern scholarship deals with the window frame and the window rather than the vista. Many have claimed to see through Joseph Smith; I am among the number…. For the things that matter most, however—and what mattered most to him and those who surrounded him was the way of the prophets and ultimately the way of Christ—he is not only clear; he is transparent. It is fascinating enough to study the window; I myself have not resisted the temptation. But that is not what I’m dwelling on here. I am dwelling on what one may see through the window. In doing so I am making a call to what is vital.”[14]

Stained Glass First Vision

Stained Glass First Vision

I appreciate this view of the Prophet. He is a window to Christ in that his teachings and the system of ordinances he revealed point out the way to know the Messiah. While Brother Madsen was aiming his remarks at scholars, they really do apply to Mormons and their understanding of our history as well. Similar to Brother Madsen, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland stated some of his reasons for admiring and learning about Joseph Smith as follows: “I want to know anyone who knows God, and the Son of God, and the Holy Ghost, and can lead me to Them.  I want to take Joseph’s testimony and bear it to millions.  Through him millions shall know God again and receive the saving ordinances of the Gospel of His Son.”[15]

While we may believe that Joseph Smith was a window to Jesus Christ, we must have a correct understanding of how he functions as a window. It is primarily through the doctrines and priesthood authority that were restored and the revelations that were given that the Prophet acted as a window for us. These things give us access to understanding and experiencing Christ more fully. He was not, however, a revelation or viewport of Christ in that he was a perfect example of Christ’s attributes and personality. Joseph Smith himself held that he was imperfect, unlike the Savior of the world: “There was one good man Jesus.—Many think a prophet must be a great deal better than any body else. . . . I dont want you to think I am very righteous, for I am not very righteous.”[16]

Joseph Smith was fairly consistent in declaring his faults and imperfections. In his official history, he stated that during his teenage years: “I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into diverse temptations, offensive in the sight of God” (JS-H 1:28). In a letter to Emma in 1832, he wrote: “I have called to mind all the past moments of my life and am left to morn and shed tears of sorrow for my folly in suffering the adversary of my soul to have so much power over me as he had in times past but God is merciful and has f[o]rgiven my sins.”[17] On an occasion later in life, he told a group of Saints that “I was but a man, and they must not expect me to be perfect.”[18] He further stated, though: “the wrong that I do is through the frailty of human nature, like other men. No man lives without fault.”[19] At times, he took a humorous route to emphasize his imperfection, declaring on one occasion that: “Suppose I would condescend. yes I will call it condescend, to be a great deal better than any of you. I would be raised up to the highest heaven, and who should I have to accompany me?”[20] If we try to present Joseph Smith as a God-like, almost perfected being, we portray him in a way contrary to his own understanding of himself. He was indeed one of the “weak things of the world” that the Lord used in His work (D&C 1:19, 23; D&C 35:13; D&C 124:1).

Perhaps, then, Elder B. H. Roberts best captured Joseph Smith’s relationship to Christ when he wrote:

Great as we believe the Prophet Joseph Smith to have been, and he was great. His spirit of quick intelligence was touched by the inspiration of God. The veil for him indeed was rent, and upon his vision burst the truths of eternity. He was commissioned to come with those truths to the children of men and expound them. It was given to him to see the truth as few souls have seen it in this world: and a divine authority and commission was granted unto him to give effect to those truths, not only by teaching them personally, but to bring into existence a great institution, the Church of Christ, to be the teaching agency of the gospel in the great and last dispensation of that gospel to the earth. All this we claim for him; but as between him and the Christ, as the mountains rise above the foothills so, too, does the Christ rise above him, and all men, all angels, all teachers, all prophets. To him [the Christ], and not to any man or set of men, do we pay divine honors.[21]

"To him [the Christ], and not to any man or set of men, do we pay divine honors." Image courtesy LDS.org

“To him [the Christ], and not to any man or set of men, do we pay divine honors.”
Image courtesy LDS.org

A Deeper Look

It is always important to consider the teachings of the prophets and apostles about Joseph Smith, but it is also important to learn what we can through scholarly means as well. While I don’t have room to give a detailed discussion of many the trends and thoughts in Mormon studies, I would like to highlight three major scholars—Jan Shipps, Terryl L. Givens, Philip Barlow—and their approaches to Joseph Smith’s ministry and Restoration. Articles by each of them related to the subjects are posted in the “Further Reading” section above while brief overviews of their thought are posted below.

Jan Shipps Image courtesy Wikipedia

Jan Shipps
Image courtesy Wikipedia

Jan Shipps—a fantastic non-Mormon historian who has done much to make Mormon studies a respectable field for scholars—took an approach to analyze different phases in the Restoration in her book Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition and a later article on Joseph Smith published in Makers of Christian Theology in America. Taking a secular, non-Mormon approach, she considered the early history of the Church to be the “reiteration, reinterpretation, recapitulation, and ritual re-creation of the significant events in Israel’s past and the significant events in the story of early Christianity” by Mormons in modern times.[22] Based on her analysis, Joseph Smith’s ministry went through three phases or tiers of restoration. The restoration and reinstitution of elements from both the Hebrew Bible and New Testament took place side-by-side throughout nineteenth-century Mormonism. Prior to late 1830, however, particular emphasis was placed on the restoration of primitive Christianity with the restoration of priesthood authority via messengers from the New Testament, and the establishment of the Church of Christ, a millennialist mindset, and renewed displays of spiritual gifts (particularly the prophetic gifts Joseph Smith displayed in the revelations and translations he produced). Shipps refers to this as the “Apostolic Restoration.”

During the Kirtland and Nauvoo eras, a layer of heavily Hebraic doctrine and practice was overlaid on the Church of Christ. This gave Mormonism a distinctly different appearance than traditional Christianity. Referred to by Shipps as the “Abrahamic Restoration,” this layer of restoration included the literal gathering of converts into Mormon enclaves—with a thrust towards the neo-Hebraic church-kingdom that characterized Mormonism in Nauvoo and pre-1890s Utah—the planning and construction of temples, the ordination of patriarchs and the practice of declaring Israelite heritage in patriarchal blessings, the clear distinction between Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods, and polygamy.[23] Based on these observations, historian Richard Lyman Bushman wrote that, “Throughout Smith’s life, the Old Testament was a major source of inspiration. His restoration can be thought of as purging the Hellenistic influences in Christianity and reviving the Hebraic. . . . In the end, Joseph Smith’s restoration pressed Christianity into an Old Testament mold.”[24]

The third tier in the development of Mormonism that has been referred to as “the fulness of the gospel” was introduced during the Nauvoo era by Joseph Smith that was constituted of many novel doctrines revealed by Joseph Smith. Teachings that are included by Shipps in this layer of Mormon theology include the temple ordinances of the Endowment and celestial marriage, the firm placement of mortal life between a premortal and postmortal existence, and other doctrines related to “a plan of salvation which entails the ceaseless persistence of personality and the eternal endurance of family units.”[25]

Terryl L. Givens

Terryl L. Givens

Another trend in Mormon studies has been to place Joseph Smith’s ministry and revelations in the context of his time and place. There have been further efforts to merge this eclectic appropriation of thought approach with the divine hand of God in the work of the Restoration. Two of Mormonism’s leading philosophical and theologically-minded scholars have provided models that are useful for understanding Joseph Smith’s work in this light. Terryl Givens has, perhaps, been most vocal in advocating his model of “inspired syncretism” using the Biblical imagery of the Woman in the Wilderness. While he has mentioned his beliefs on a number of occasions, Dr. Givens  has outlined them most thoroughly in three places: his essays “‘We have only the Old Thing’: Rethinking the Mormon Restoration” (which was published as the epilogue of the book Standing Apart: Mormon Historical Consciousness and the Concept of Apostasy) and “The Woman in the Wilderness: Mormonism, Catholicism, and Inspired Syncretism,” and then most thoroughly in a chapter of his book Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity.

In Givens’s eyes, Joseph Smith didn’t view the apostasy and restoration as a radical loss and abrupt reinstitution but that the ancient church was in some sense preserved through teachings and principles that were left intact and the restoration was a gradual process of assimilation, differentiation and development. “The grand project of restoration, then,” Givens wrote:

relied upon a vision of apostasy as retreat and admixture, rather than absence. His task would involve not just innovation, or ex nihilo oracular pronouncements upon lost doctrines, but the salvaging, collecting, and assimilating of much that was mislaid, obscured, or neglected. Space does not permit of elaborating one crucial caveat to this position: Like Fraser, Smith believed that apostasy did involve corruption beyond remedy of certain ordinances and covenants; and only heavenly transmission of authority could recuperate those essentials.[26]

To emphasize and contextualize his point, Dr. Givens referred to the allegory of the “woman in the wilderness” in Revelation and its interpretation by Joseph Smith’s contemporaries and writers that he may have been familiar with. Alexander Fraser, Joseph Milner, and a local newspaper all cited the idea that “the woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared by God . . . where she is nourished for a time.” To them, this was an indication that the church of God remained on the earth in the form of righteous servants of Christ while the outward institutional church disappeared. In other words, the corruption or apostasy drove the “true church of Christ” into the wilderness (rather than banishing it from the earth), rendering it “invisible, protected, nourished, and preserved—while it awaits the restoration of properly administered ordinances or sacraments.” Givens then pointed to a number of times where Joseph Smith used the terminology of brining the “church out of the wilderness” or other similar phrases to indicate that Joseph Smith believed in the same idea as those writers and felt that it was his work to gradually bring the church out of the wilderness into an institutional form by the “salvaging, collecting, and assimilating of much that was mislaid, obscured, or neglected. This would include doctrines, practices, sacraments, rituals, even blueprints for brick and mortar Zions, and temples with baptisteries modeled on Solomon’s temple with its brazen sea.”[27]

Philip L. Barlow Image courtesy Wikipedia

Philip L. Barlow
Image courtesy Wikipedia

The other scholarly model that I wish to bring up is Dr. Philip L. Barlow’s vision of Joseph Smith project as an effort to mend a fractured reality. This idea is most readily accessed in an essay entitled “To Mend a Fractured Reality: Joseph Smith’s Project,” published in the Journal of Mormon History Summer 2012 issue and in the 2013 preface to the book Mormons and the Bible. In Dr. Barlow’s eyes, Joseph Smith saw his project as something larger than an attempt to restore the primitive Christian church or the kingdom of Israel or merely restoring correct doctrine, spiritual gifts, ancient authority, etc. Rather, it was an attempt to restore wholeness to a fractured reality by restoring proper relations and order in time and eternity. Families, religion, social order, and language were all aspects of the fractured and broken relationships that were addressed by Joseph Smith. In order to do this he “sought to bring back the lost, to complete the partial, and to repair the broken.”[28]

Those three components of the process of restoration provide a framework for understanding how Joseph Smith approached the Restoration. In keeping with the traditional Mormon approach to the Restoration, bringing back the lost covers the idea of bringing back that which once existed, historically, and was lost by accident or design over the course of time. The repair of the broken covers “not to that which has been lost and brought back but to that which is broken and begs restoration to its perfect state,”[29] essentially those things that could be found in the Prophet’s environment that were assimilated into Mormonism. The completion of the partial has reference to “that which is neither lost nor broken, but absent—previously withheld and never before revealed. . . . This third aspect is made clear by the prophetic references to intelligence, knowledge, or ordinances kept hidden ‘from before the foundation of the world,’” such as parts of the Nauvoo temple rituals.[30] Thus, the Prophet’s mode of operation according to this approach was to use things lost over time, broken or incomplete fragments from his environment, and aspects of the pure religion never before revealed on this earth to fashion something new in the form of Mormonism.

These are three ways to understand the Restoration in new light and thought. Granted, some of them may be contrary to what has been understood in the past, even by prophets such as Ezra Taft Benson. I believe, however, that they still have great value and importance in understanding our history and theology as we gain access to more and more information in the 21st century.

Possible photo of Joseph Smith.

Possible photo of Joseph Smith.

[1] Boice, Trina (2014-11-09). The Ready Resource for Relief Society Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson (Kindle Locations 821-827). Cedar Fort, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

[2] Boice, Trina (2014-11-09). The Ready Resource for Relief Society Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson (Kindle Locations 827-830). Cedar Fort, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

[3] Gordon B. Hinckley, “Joseph the Seer,” Ensign, May 1977. Web: https://www.lds.org/ensign/1977/05/joseph-the-seer?lang=sqi&clang=eng

[4] Hinckley, “Joseph the Seer.”

[5] George Albert Smith, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2011), 34.

[6] Neal A. Maxwell, The Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book, ed. Cory H. Maxwell (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 181.

[7] Maxwell, Quote Book, 181.

[8] Wilford Woodruff, Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, ed. G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969), 36.

[9] B. H. Roberts, New Witnesses for God, 3 vol. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1903-1908), 1:219-220.

[10] B. H. Roberts, Joseph Smith the Prophet Teacher: A Discourse by Elder B. H. Roberts (Salt Lake City: Desert Book, 1908), 62.

[11] D. Todd Christofferson, “The Prophet Joseph Smith,” BYUI devotional, 24 September 2013. Web: http://www2.byui.edu/Presentations/Transcripts/Devotionals/2013_9_24_Christofferson.htm

[12] Hinckley, “Joseph the Seer.”

[13] Cited in Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2007), 495.

[14] Truman G. Madsen, Joseph Smith the Prophet (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1989), 4.

[15] Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. “Knowing Brother Joseph”— Logan Institute of Religion Annual Joseph Smith Memorial Devotional Utah State University Spectrum, January 29, 2012, 7:00 p.m

[16] Joseph Smith, 21 May 1843 Discourse. Cited in Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 4018-4022). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition.

[17] Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: __, 2005), 185.

[18] Joseph Smith, Teachings, 522.

[19] Joseph Smith, Teachings, 522.

[20] Joseph Smith, 21 May 1843 Discourse. Cited in Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 4018-4022). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition.

[21] B. H. Roberts, Essential B. H. Roberts, ed. Brigham D. Madsen (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999), 208.

[22] Jan Shipps, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition (Urbana, IL and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1985): 54.

[23] Jan Shipps, “Joseph Smith,” in Makers of Christian Theology in America, ed. James Duke and Mark Toulouse (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1997), 210-215.

[24] Richard Lyman Bushman, Mormonism a Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 62-63.

[25] Shipps, “Joseph Smith,” 216-217.

[26] Terryl L. Givens, “‘We Have Only the Old Thing’: Rethinking the Mormon Restoration,” in Standing Apart: Mormon Historical Consciousness and the Concept of Apostasy, ed. Miranda Wilcox and John D. Young (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 338

[27] Terryl L. Givens, “The Woman in the Wilderness: Mormonism, Catholicism, and Inspired Syncretism,” Address at Notre Dame, 5 December 2013, p. 9-12. http://terrylgivens.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/The-Woman-in-the-Wilderness.pdf

[28] Philip L. Barlow, Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion, updated edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), xxxvi.

[29] Philip L. Barlow, “To Mend a Fractured Reality: Joseph Smith’s Project,” Journal of Mormon History, 38, no. 3, 34.

[30] Barlow, “To Mend,” 34-35.