Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Organization Fixation Part 2

Part 2:  Authority can be toxic 

This is a continuation from the previous post and goes through a a few notes on the second and third sections of the article I've been taking a deeper look at.  Posted here for reference: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2020/03/the-lord-leads-his-church-through-prophets-and-apostles?lang=eng

Here's a basic recap of the logic of the article: God requires an organization.  God requires an organization led by men called prophets and apostles.  The LDS Church is that organization. The leaders of the LDS church are Prophets and Apostles. And therefore the article describes these leaders in these descriptive words: (These bold bullets below are taken directly from the article with some food for thought on each one)

- "These leaders did not volunteer, and they were not elected by believers".  

Except for Brigham Young, who campaigned for the position and was voted on (The Mormon Succession Crisis of 1844 Author D. Michael Quinn)

But to be fair, most of the leaders did not publicly volunteer and were not elected.  But lets face it..... when you want a position of authority there are numerous ways to indirectly "volunteer".

On a related note, when it comes to not being elected by the believers, what the article says is not only accurate but as we saw with President Nelson, the leaders can assume the highest positions of authority before the body even has a chance to sustain them.  So people don't vote on them typically, or even have to sustain them before they claim these Church positions and titles of authority. 

-"A paramount function of Apostles in the Church that Jesus established was to hold the keys of the priesthood." 

Paramount means: more important than anything else; supreme.  This bullet teaches the most important, supreme function of an Apostle is to be a key holder.  Essentially the person with the most authority on everything. If you hold the keys, you would be a gatekeeper or opener.  And the paramount function we are taught is to be the guy with the biggest key ring enabling them to dictate and supervise the most things.  Very hierarchical. No chance for equality with this type of setup.  They acquire power and authority and become the gatekeepers due to possession of the keys.

Christ in scripture is described as the keeper of the gate and he employs no servant there (2 Nephi 9:41).  That truth is affirming and edifying. It points to Christ. Coming directly to Christ without an intermediary is not the objective of this article I’ve been delving into.  That is however something I believe worth teaching.  So, lest we forget, Christ is the owner of the priesthood keys.  He has't surrendered them.  We can come to him directly.  That truth is not something however that the article being talked about in this post bothers to remind you of.  It only focuses on the key holders you need to look to and or appease.  Here's a picture from the Rome Temple photo shoot posted on the official Church Newsroom site.

-They identify truth and error and authoritatively state, “Thus saith the Lord.”

No LDS Church leader in the last 100 years (to my knowledge) has used that phrase to declare Gods word.  Prophets in scripture of course did.  But the scripture stopped growing after Joseph Smith's day.  And now only the handbook grows and changes.

-The Bible also shows that religious leaders must have the authority of God’s priesthood, which is conferred by one already holding that authority.

When a teaching such as this only reference conferral of authority it leaves out important information, such as: 

D&C 121:37
That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.
President Packer in a general conference talk distinguished between power in the priesthood and the authority of the priesthood.  Authority can be conferred, but power in the priesthood comes form God.  When authority becomes the primary focus and what gives license to govern other people that's all that gets focused on.  But actual power in the priesthood has to come from God.

This from Joseph Smith:
God will not acknowledge that which He has not called, ordained, and chosen. In the beginning God called Adam by His own voice. ‘And the Lord called unto Adam and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, and hid myself.’ [Genesis 3:9–10.] Adam received commandments and instructions from God: this was the order from the beginning.
All Priesthood is Melchizedek, but there are different portions or degrees of it. That portion which brought Moses to speak with God face to face was taken away; but that which brought the ministry of angels remained. All the prophets had the Melchizedek Priesthood and were ordained by God himself.” (Teachings, pp. 180–81.)
Someone who has been ordained by God himself is likely to point out examples of that pattern. Such as Joseph Smith, who above does point out that pattern. Someone who has not had any such ordination is not likely to mention it, especially if doing so would be problematic for their claim to authority. 

-Apostles “have the right, the power, and the authority to declare the mind and will of God to his people, subject to the over-all power and authority of the President of the Church.”

Apostles are subject to the President's over-all power and authority. The chain of central command is made very clear.  There will be NO insubordination. I think it's all to common to forget that being "called" a prophet apostle or any other calling, is different than being "chosen".  Matthew 22:14 “For many are called, but few are chosen.” D&C 121:34 Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen.
Luke 22: And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.
I believe, and there is an overabundance of evidence that priestcraft is toxic.
2 Nephi 26: 29 He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion.
-They teach and counsel as directed by the Holy Ghost, with no desire other than to speak what is true.

If only blanket feel good statements applied to everyone who ever occupied any religious position of authority.  This type of thinking leads us to trust and over-reliance in the men.  The article doesn't teach you to differentiate between inspired moments and all other moments when men speak as men.  This leads to abuse and can mislead people away from recognizing their duty to find and follow the voice of the Spirit.

-Their voices can be trusted. 

Says the person who's also one of the voices you can trust.  Aren't we taught in scripture NOT to trust in the arm of the flesh?

-Their voices are: clear, unpolluted, unbiased. 

This is a tall order. And sets men up as a light.  I think perhaps Christ is the only one that could rival these amazing descriptions of these Church authorities. Didn't Christ teach that His sheep hear HIS voice and follow Him? The concern here stems from scripture, when they warn about men setting themselves up as a light.  This is warned about.

-You can always count on them

Always means always.  Aren't we supposed to rely on God?  What about when their voices and teachings are later proved to have been in error?  What about when President Hinckley led the "Meet the Mormons" ad campaign but later President Nelson said using terms such as Mormon and championing their use was a major victory for Satan and offends God?

-Their only motive is ‘the everlasting welfare of your souls’

Again, this is a sweeping generalization being applied to a whole list of LDS leaders both living and dead.  I don't know what their motives are, but I always like to assume the best. I think everyone is doing the best they can according to their worldview.  My question is why do I even need to assess their motives?  Christ never said to discern true from false messengers by the motives they claim about each other.  In contrast to that, Christ taught to assess them by their fruits. By their fruits we will know them.  What path does it lead me down when I'm assured that the leaders of the required organization only have only pure motives?  I feel like I'm being led to trust in men rather that pointed to my Savior and how Christ said to discern messengers.

-Neither the President of the Church, nor the First Presidency, nor the united voice of the First Presidency and the Twelve will ever lead the Saints astray or send forth counsel to the world that is contrary to the mind and will of the Lord.”

Except when they did. All the time. The Church essays even acknowledging all the times the Church leaders have taught falsehoods and been racist.  The current trend of flip flopping policies and statements is hard to miss.  This bullet sets men up as a light who cannot ever be wrong.

-To become the official doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ, the individual teachings of apostles and even prophets need to be affirmed through the process of approval by other apostles and prophets.

Is that all it takes to become official doctrine?  Affirmation by other men? This didn't mention God at all.  Aren't we supposed to affirm teachings by the Holy Ghost?  The Holy Ghost was the source of all truth wasn't it?  While affirmation by other apostles and prophets is no doubt a process they follow, what I suspect is far more common it would seem is that the top leader needs to declare something and all the subordinates simply fall in line.  Especially when the top leader has the kinds of descriptions I'm discussing in this post applied to them.

-There is a long-standing rule that questions addressed to individual Apostles or other authorities about doctrine or policy that is not clearly defined in the scriptures or handbooks are to be referred to the First Presidency. 

Because rules and organizational hierarchy.  Rules are what organizations rely on and enforce to create am artificial version of unity. This is what you get with a top down organization, with someone always governing you with claims to keys, rather than a system of equality, which is what the scriptures teach.


This list of attributes being applied to the leaders portrays how worthy they are of our trust and obedience.  This seems very dangerous.  Almost sounds as if these leaders are pseudo-Christ and a substitute for him. In fact why even look to Christ when we have these clearly elevated, powerful, inerrant, unbiased, unpolluted, infallible men holding all the keys to our salvation?  They can do no wrong, have only pure motives, cannot lead you astray, and will never send forth counsel contrary to the mind and will of the Lord.

On the one hand God does send messengers and a true messenger's message will have God's voice resonating in the message, and therefore we follow the voice of the Spirit rather than follow the man.  Three's a difference between hearing the voice of God in a message and just listening to a religious leader.  And we are warned about men setting themselves up as a light.  Becoming an idol.  A critical issue. They lead to two different places.   

I think it’s pretty clear this article from the church is far more interested in hierarchy than heaven. Heaven is much more interesting and exciting.  Hopefully this blogpost and the food for thought comments have provided interesting contrasts.   I love this statement found in John:
John 10:27-28 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.

Organization Fixation Part 1

It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion--its message becomes meaningless 
                                   - God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism by Abraham Joshua Heschel
Yesterday I came across an article on the LDS Church main web page that was one of the more concerning articles I've read from the Church. Link here.   It's titled:  The Lord Leads His Church through Prophets and Apostles

The first section of the article is all about how a religious organization is required.  It was posted the same day as this article in the Deseret News.  Which was surprisingly connected to that first article.  It begins like this:
SALT LAKE CITY — The past few years were tough for churches. Worship attendance dropped. Religious disaffiliation rose. 
The Pew Research Center stated in the link that "The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing."
In seeming counter to those statistics and declining religious affiliation trends, the same day the Church released the first article I referenced at the beginning which begins with very heavy emphasis on just how required religious organizations are.

Before I dive in, I first want to distinguish between a few ideas. Organization is the opposite of chaos.  A group of people may have various levels of informal organization among themselves but they are not "an organization". Contrast that with a formal religious organization, or institution.  Typically known as a Church. The article obfuscates these differences and the result is misdirection.  So I hope to clear away some of that and share some food for thought.

For example, a local tennis group of guys or gals who play together is organized but isn’t an organization.  You can't sue the local group, and can't tax them. The United States Tennis Association (USTA) however is an organization that the group of players may also belong to, or they may not. You absolutely don't need the USTA or need to belong to the USTA in order to play tennis.  They do offer tournaments and they have membership benefits for their members but the sport itself is independent of any organization.  It's just tennis, millions of people love and organize themselves to play it. You can organize your own tournament if you want to and you can play the sport whenever you feel like it without the USTA at all.  The rules are public domain and you don't even have to keep those if you don't want to. 

Ok, back to the Church article.  The Church’s article repeatedly refers to “an Organization” and goes to lengths to teach how they are necessary, required, and the medium through which God leads.  The article makes it pretty clear the word organization is primarily referring to a formal institutional religious structure (because it say so various times in the article).  So when the article says “an organization” it's an organizational entity.  Not simply a collection of folks who opt to associate together for some gospel purpose in a non chaotic way.

That being the case, see what you think of these teachings, all taken from the first section of the article, in bullet form.  I included in parenthesis if the teaching/assertion had any source cited to support the premise.  Remember "an organization" as used in the article is not just a generic lack of chaos among a self-selected group, it's a structured formal entity with people in charge, with procedures and policies that differentiate it from other organizations in the same genre.

So as to have some evidence for my view, going with each quoted bullet I made some food for thought commentary. My intent is not to be negative or critical, it's to exercise my obligation to discern truth from error.

-The work of the Lord requires an organization. (no source cited)

"An" organization it says.  Not the universal concept of being organized vs disorganized.  This bullet, as you can read in the article, has reference to a formal entity.  It's interesting to me how all of these apparent requirements for an organization don't cite any source or evidence. It's possible this is because they are false propositions. Organizations with all the current day formality and procedures, structure, policies, rules and keys didn't exist for pretty much all of the Book of Mormon.  The scriptures were often individuals, or families, clans, or groups of believers who kept a record of God's dealings with them.  Anyone with access to a Book of Mormon can read about this.  They needed scriptures and had teachers who taught them the Gospel.  Not formal organizations.

Given how the LDS Church is no closer to Zion today than 100 years ago, I question whether these organizational requirements are 1. True, and 2. The ideal Gospel setup God has in mind for people.  It certainly hasn't always been.  And it doesn't appear to have ever produced Zion.  It has produced a $120 billion + religious empire in Salt Lake City, Utah.  The article in many ways takes our 2020 religious organization and overlays it on top of biblical and BofM history.  I believe that is unhelpful and clouds our vision.  Do organized religions have truths?  Of course they do.  But the truth is independent of a particular organization.

Jesus himself was baptized and received the Holy Ghost without oversight from any religious organization. In fact Jesus was often at odds with the organized religion of the day.  Joseph too was baptized and received the Holy Ghost without "an" organization.  So did a whole mass of people in the Book of Mormon.  The BofM was even published before any formal church organization.  The City of Enoch was taken to heaven without any mention of any formal organization.

So who's the party teaching us God's work requires a formal religion?  A formal religion.  Interesting.  Especially when the assertions have only itself as the source.     

-The Lord Leads His people through an organization. (no source cited)

The Lord leads through His Spirit doesn't he?  At least that's what he said.   Why would we fixate on a lifeless organizational entity rather than the living Spirit?  Organizations can't even talk.  They need spokespeople, they need lawyers, they can get sued, taxed, and need to maintain positive public image in order to survive.  How many times has scripture taught about being "led by the spirit"?   Versus how many times do scripture reference being "led by the organization"? Seems curious to be replacing The Lord and the leading through His Spirit with a formal religious organization as God's primary tool to lead.

-You cannot have spirituality or religion apart from a religious organization.  (no source cited)

This is an absurd statement. And lacks common sense.  Guess we'd better toss out half the scriptures because they are useless unless you have a religious organization.  Let me get this straight....the deep spirituality of a Native American tribe worshiping the creator is not spirituality or somehow invalid because they don’t have a formal religious organization?  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VrLZt4SJ9Qo

How about we go try to convert them with these organizational teachings?  How about we lecture them about how required organizations are, and how you can’t have spirituality without them. Any guesses as to how successful that will be? It will be as persuasive as having a cactus for a bed. The truth on the other hand is persuasive.  But this bullet from the article sounds like fear and an attempt to convince you that something unnecessary (the current formal organization) is absolutely vital.  In other words, salvation is not possible apart from "the" organization.   

Did Adam and Eve have no spirituality because they didn't have a religious organization?  Did Abraham? Did Enos?  Did the Brother of Jared?  I'm reminded of that phrase from the New Testament:
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the vices of the world.
Pure religion according to scripture were Christian actions, not organizations.  Organizations can't visit the fatherless and widows. (But they can and do extract the widows mite).  Pure religion was to visit the widows in their affliction, visit the fatherless, and stay unspotted.  You're telling me I can't have that or do that apart from a religious institution? That's buffoonery (behavior that's ridiculous, but amusing).

Organizations often do good things. I full well see and acknowledge that. But that is a very different idea than teaching organizations are absolutely required, and you can't access God and spirituality without them.

-Organizations are required in order to accomplish the purposes of the Lord. (no source cited)

It's true that some purposes of the Lord involve a community, like Zion.  But as mentioned earlier, a community or collection of unified people is not the same thing as an organization.  I'm part of a community of tennis players in Davis County, we know each other, play tennis and sometimes hang out. But that has nothing to do with the USTA.

How many purposes of the Lord have been accomplished by righteous individuals or a community without structured religious organizations?  Did the Christian Reformation fathers like Martin Luther require an organization in order to alter the course of Christianity?  No, he fought the organized religion's corruptions.  The hyper focus on organizational entities elevates the status of religious organizations nigh unto God.  Putting the organization between the individual and God at times.

How many things contrary to God has organized religion done falsely in His name?  Religious organizations throughout history have proven to become abusive and corrupt. Consolidating money and power. Nephi and Moroni both prophesied that all our churches in our day would go astray.

Why on earth would the work of God fail to be accomplished by a united community people simply because they lacked a formal organized religion?  The organization seems to sense it's irrelevance so it's grasping at straws.

-God only acts through an organization led by offices/positions that include prophets and apostles.  Who of course govern, direct, control and supervise.  (no source cited)

This is a relevant subheading:

Not only is an organization required, but the highest-ranking leaders govern the people in the organization.  Contrast that with these statements from Joseph Smith:
Said he, ‘I do not govern them at all. The Lord has revealed certain principles from the heavens by which we are to live in these latter days. The time is drawing near when the Lord is going to gather out His people from the wicked, and He is going to cut short His work in righteousness, and the principles which He has revealed I have taught to the people and they are trying to live according to them, and they control themselves.’
And on another occasion:
“Some years ago, in Nauvoo, a gentleman in my hearing, a member of the Legislature, asked Joseph Smith how it was that he was enabled to govern so many people, and to preserve such perfect order; remarking at the same time that it was impossible for them to do it anywhere else. Mr. Smith remarked that it was very easy to do that. ‘How?’ responded the gentleman; ‘to us it is very difficult.’ Mr. Smith replied, ‘I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.’
-Major efforts to care for the poor are only possible through organized groups. (no source cited)

While I agree with that statement, the statement infers that the organized groups are a function of the larger religious organization governing them, not independently acting groups. So for that reason I dislike the statement and find it misleading.  Efforts to care for the poor are accomplished by people and yes groups of people who care.... for the poor.  Whether those individuals are part of a formal organization doesn't matter.  The world could undertake a major effort to care for the poor simply by individuals keeping Christ's teachings.  Take away the formal corporate organization and suddenly there is a LOT more money to help the poor, ironically.  It's a lie that you can't care for the poor without a formal religion.

-An organization is needed in order to achieve Christ's commandment to "become one".  (no source cited)

Christ never said nor implied this idea as put forward in the article.  Becoming one happens (or potentially happens) for a husband and wife and does not need a Church organization to play middleman in their marriage.  It seems self-evident you can "become one" with others without a formal religious organization. Otherwise we'd all be dependent on an organization in order to keep God's commandments.  God forbid that.  This bullet point from the article is semi-absurd.  Organizations often prevent unity and equality because they have leaders at the top governing the people at the bottom.  They become corrupt, accumulate massive wealth, and often abuse people.  This bullet point taken directly from the article is so misleading it appears to be complete lie.

-Individual believers also need to experience religion through a religious organization because only in this way can we be authoritatively reproved or chastened for sin and error.  (direct quote, no source was cited)

This is laughable.  And quite absurd. You mean to tell me the only way authoritative reprovals can come is through a religious organization?  That sounds like abuse.  God can't authoritatively correct and chasten whomever he wants, whenever he wants, and however he wants whether on the road to Damascus or inside a cloud for 3 hours?  Only through a religious organization can individual believers be chastened for sin and error?  Wow.  The article cites no evidence for this pile of garbage because..... there is no evidence for such stupidity.  The organization is trying desperately to prove itself relevant but it's only showing it's coming irrelevance. 

Whether intentional or not, the Church's recent change to drop the 3-hour block and go to 2 hours and a more home centered approach had the effect of making the Church organization more irrelevant.  Home centered works, as it has all throughout scripture.  I see more and more people realizing that you only need Christ's permission (and his authority if you are blessing the emblems) to participate in the sacrament.  And he commanded people to participate in the sacrament.

-Only an organization with different talents and a variety of efforts can achieve what is necessary to accomplish the Lord’s work.  (no source cited)

Organizations have no talents apart from the people in it right?  But I agree you need some diversity and efforts to fulfill God's work.  I agree with that.  God's work requires people who obey God.  Oh.... except that apparently that pesky organization wants to insert itself again. Why does that keep cropping up?  Why does this organization keep putting itself between us and God?  Formal organization sometimes hinder God's work by removing equality and creates big people and little people and people in charge and people who get abused. 

It's true different talents and a variety of efforts are needed.  You need teachers, scriptures.... but where again in scripture does God require a formal religion?  Nowhere.  That kind of assertion seems to only be found in the words of the religious organizations and the people running it.

D&C 109: 8 talks about a house of God. A temple of all things.  It says;
Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing, and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God;
Organize yourselves it says.  Interesting.  Almost as though being organized is a byproduct of keeping Christ's commandments rather than an organization governing you.


How did those teachings from the article sound?  My food for thought commentary probably comes across negative but that is not my intent.  My intent is to simply discern truth from error.  If the teachings in the article sounded like stale cardboard, I agree with you. I can think of few things more mind numbing than uninspiring institutional garbage. Teachings which are self-serving, and can be proven as falsehoods. By self-serving I mean how convenient that an organization whose existence depends on you believing they are necessary, is the one teaching you religious organizations are necessary.  And by falsehood I mean they have no scriptural support.  None of the assertions cited any backing other than themselves. But you can look at the article yourself and see if I was being unfair in that assessment.

The claims from the Church's Ensign article are that formal organizations are required, and are how God leads his people. However that contradicts scripture, and may in fact be nonsense. As if playing tennis depended on the USTA. The scriptures are chalked full of God's works occurring through a variety of means totally independent of any formal religious organizations. How are we ever going to come to a unity of faith if we think specific religious organizations are necessary?  That seems like it creates divisions and factions and needing to belong to the "correct" organization rather than unity.  A large portion of what is taught in the article was never taught by Christ.  And I don't see these assertions anywhere in Christ’s Gospel. (If they are there or were taught by Christ someone please let me know)

Continued in part 2

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Handbooks Handbooks and more Handbooks

The LDS Church released a new handbook this week announcing it via e-mail to all members and through news outlets.  Various aspects have been covered online by others so I wanted to document a few of the changes that caught my eye.

This is from the Official Church News Room announcement about the new handbook:
The Church of Jesus Christ believes in ongoing revelation to prophets and apostles. “And that means, in a phrase, that the Church is true and living. It can change,” Elder Perkins said. “Having a handbook that is largely digitally delivered allows us to update it as new revelation is received as the Church goes in new directions as part of its worldwide growth.” 
“It is so important for members to understand — both men and women — that God is giving us His power so we can go and do the things that He has asked us to do,” said Sister Reyna I. Aburto of the Relief Society general presidency, who was closely involved in the creation of the new handbook. “And He has also delegated authority on us so we can receive revelation and have His help and His guidance every step of the way.”
Some of that wording is similar to passages found in the Book of Mormon that God has done his work, and has now given his power to men.  Nephi warned:
and they shall teach with their learning, and deny the holy ghost which giveth utterance. And they deny the power of God, the Holy One of Israel. And they say unto the people, Hearken unto us and hear ye our precept, for behold, there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and he hath given his power unto men. Behold, hearken ye unto my precept.
Handbooks have a tendency to replace the scriptures.  Even in these statements by the Church, the handbook is where the members will see downstream "revelatory" updates that the Church gets.  The Church being "true and living", as the newsroom statement asserts, is at odds with and causes you to ignore what the actual scriptures say and modern leaders have said about the status of the Church.

Were I to ask people why the scriptures aren't the handbook, and why the new LDS handbook is something I need to pay attention to I can confidently say that the most common response would be that the handbook is for OUR day, and gives us instructions specific to our circumstances.  Which suggests that the scriptures don't, which in my view is inaccurate, but it also demotes scriptures to something lesser than the handbook as far as what is relevant to our day.  "Hearken ye to our handbook"

The handbook in my experience often trumps scripture and amounts to a lifeless operating procedure that seeks to ensure you know who is in charge, how you are to behave, and which authority you are to respect.  It creates uniformity and a central authority.  Eternal life is not found in the handbook.  But the scriptures by contrast.... Jesus said: Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.  (John 5:9).

But anyway, a few items that caught my eye. 

LDS Handbook 2 says (or rather used to say, as it's been discontinued) this about Scriptures.

17.1.1 Scriptures
The standard works of the Church are the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. In many languages, the Church has approved one edition of the Bible to be used in Church meetings and classes. Likewise, the latest authorized edition of the other three books of Latter-day Saint scriptures should be used. No other works are to be promoted or used in the Church as scripture.'
This is the new section about scriptures: 

The previous handbook section which had been in place for I don't know how many decades was clear that no other works other than the standard words are to be used or promoted as scripture.  I would often cite this as part of discussions with people at Church as it's common for some to frequently promote other church materials, such as General Conference talks, as if they were scripture.  But that is now obsolete I guess.  I wonder if this may open the door for the members to considering a variety of other materials as if they were scripture.  Like the "living" handbook which changes frequently.  In Joseph Smith's day the scriptures were living, and grew.  In our day it's the handbook that grows and helps people feel like God is leading.

There were also some updates in this handbook regarding what individuals the Church requires disciplinary action towards. The list of what kinds of things require a disciplinary council has been update and some items changed. But per the below instruction from the First Presidency, depending on where you live and the language, you may be under a different policy than other people in the Church.    

Even though policies change all the time, the new handbook states publicly opposing mere policies puts you into the stated definition of apostasy.  So as each policy changes (or gets reversed) your apostasy may be impacted along with it.  Which is curious because it was repeated, clear and deliberate public opposition to some Church policies which actually led to them being changed.

Speaking of apostasy.

Given the wording "must take exceptional care" that has to be taken when issuing recommends, I don't know how else a Bishop or counselors could determine whether a member's parents or siblings sympathize with apostate teachings without adding this as a recommend interview question. And how far reaching does the inquiry go?  Does my brother have to report contact with me if he thinks I sympathize with what the Church deems apostate groups? Does my nephew report what he thinks are my apostate beliefs but then declares he has had no contact with me?  What if someone simply believes differently?  Is that categorically apostate?  This handbook section has inklings of the inquisition era we've seen in other religions of the past.

The next section that stood out is below.  Despite the prevalence of electronic versions of the scriptures on people's personal electronic devices, this statement is still still in the handbook:
To maintain an atmosphere of reverent worship in sacrament meetings, when speakers use scriptures as part of their talks, they should not ask the congregation to open their own books to the scriptural references.
I can think of very few reasons, if any, where opening the word of God would be disruptive to atmosphere of worship.

Another interesting item that is now in the handbook but was not previously is this section:

18.9.4 - Sacrament
7. Members partake with their right hand when possible.
I remember this was always stressed during my growing up years but it was never formally written anywhere. I thought it was a myth as more than a few leaders had advised against it over the years as it can turn non commandments into commandments of formalism.  One such source below:

President Joseph Fielding Smith warned of customs creeping into commandments. He said:
These changes and innovations are innocently adopted, but in course of time there is the danger that they will become fixed customs and considered as necessary to the welfare of the Church. For example, let us consider the ordinance of the Sacrament. It became the custom in many wards throughout the church to have the young men who passed the Sacrament all dressed alike with dark coats, white shirts and uniform ties. This could in time lead to the established custom of dressing them in uniform, such as we see done in some sectarian and other churches. Then again as they passed the Sacrament they had to stand with their left hand plastered on their backs in a most awkward manner. The priests or elders who administered these holy emblems had to stand in a certain way as the one officiating in the prayer knelt at the table. In some instances the Bishop stood in the pulpit with raised hands in an attitude of benediction. Other customs among the quorums and in the services of the wards were introduced. Members of the Church were instructed that they must not touch the trays containing the bread and the water with their left hand, but must take it in their right hand after partaking as their neighbor held the tray in his or her right hand. In the Priesthood in the wards, we now have “supervisors” directing the activities of the deacons and the priests. How long will it take before these supervisors are considered as a regular part of the Priesthood and it will be necessary to set them apart or ordain them to this office? So we see that we, if we are not careful, will find ourselves traveling the road that brought the Church of Jesus Christ in the first centuries into disrepute and paved the way for the apostasy.” 
(Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation Volume 1 (Salt Lake City: Deseret
Book Company, 1946), 103.)  Full background here.  

I still think the scriptures ought to be the handbook.  They are God's word.  These other handbooks have the appearance of Godly instruction or God's word to our day but are not.  There is no assurance following it will bring you or others to Christ.

Monday, February 17, 2020

If you are prepared

I saw an soundbite on NPR from earlier this month about how the prepping industry is booming as a result of Corona Virus fears. Link. Often selling out of the emergency essential items. There can be a lot of fear surrounding these types of things.

I don't know how many millions of dollars the phrase "If ye are prepared ye shall not fear" has made the prepping industry over the years, but I imagine it's a lot.  The NYT had an article about how good a business it can be. Link.  They do offer a good service.

If we are prepared we shall not fear we often tell each other.  I went back to the scriptures to see the phrase and it's context.  It's D&C 38.  RE T&C 22.

The year is 1831 at a conference of the Church in New York. A revelation is given which includes, in part, a commandment to go to the Ohio. This is paragraph 3. The first mention of being prepared:
But behold, verily, verily I say unto you that my eyes are upon you. I am in your midst and you cannot see me, but the day soon comes that you shall see me and know that I am, for the veil of darkness shall soon be rent, and he that is not purified shall not abide the day. Wherefore, gird up your loins and be prepared. Behold, the kingdom is yours, and the enemy shall not overcome.
The veil of darkness is to be rent.  That sounds awesome.  However that does also seem to be accompanied by something that people will not be able to tolerate.  Abiding the day is dependent on being purified. Due to that, there was instruction to gird up their loins (tighten up your pants!) and be prepared.  This seems really important.  How does one be purified? These days a lot of people are really interested in the cleanliness of what we consume. We want pure air to breathe, we want pure drinking water, we want uncontaminated food, we don’t like impurities. People sanitize their hands before meals to get rid of impurities. But we often pay much much less attention to the religious content we consume or have consumed.  Scriptures say we live in a dark and polluted world.  According to the Lord we are all in need of purification.

Thankfully the gospel includes ordinances to help with becoming pure, through baptism by water, and then with fire and the Holy Ghost as we come to Christ. But a lot of that is uncommon doctrine, rarely taught in LDS circles.  Despite making little of it, it remains part of the Gospel and of upmost importance to abiding the last days.

Back to the verse and being prepared.  It goes on to talk about not having a king other than Christ. And esteeming your brother as your self.  That was repeated twice.  That the people are supposed to be equals.  God is serious about equality and not looking up or down at each other.  It then says if the people are not one, they are not the Lord's.  Then comes paragraph 8 which has the very familiar Mormon phrase that if we are prepared we shall not fear:
And again, I say unto you that the enemy in the secret chambers seeks your lives. You hear of wars in far countries, and you say in your hearts, There will soon be great wars in far countries, but you know not the hearts of them in your own land. I tell you these things because of your prayers. Wherefore, treasure up wisdom in your bosoms, lest the wickedness of men reveal these things unto you by their wickedness, in a manner which shall speak in your ears with a voice louder than that which shall shake the earth. But if you are prepared, you need not fear.
And that you might escape the power of the enemy and be gathered unto me, a righteous people without spot and blameless, wherefore, for this cause I gave unto you the commandment that you should go to the Ohio.
There is an enemy who seeks our destruction.  (There is also the God of this world who says you can buy anything with money.)  There are wars in far countries and even in 1831 the people were informed that they don't know the heats of those people in our own land.  I can only imagine how much worse it is nowadays.  The Saints were told to treasure of wisdom in their bosoms, or else the wickedness of men will reveal the true state of things louder than earth shaking.  But if prepared, there is no need to fear.

The context was all the wickedness of man revealing itself by wickedness.  Wisdom was what the Lord said to treasure up to help combat it.  He didn't say to treasure up food storage, although I believe that is a good idea.  So is gaining long term practical skills in the event of technological or global supply chain issues.  However the entire context of "if you are prepared you shall not fear" was to escape the power of the enemy and be gathered as a righteous people without spot and blameless.  To be prepared in that way to me suggests and merits a lot more thought, reflection on the heart, study of scripture, humility, and more seeking the Lord and HIS righteousness (as opposed to our own).  A new outlook, a new set of skills, not just a basement full of food.

What about wisdom?  How do we treasure that up in our bosoms?  Treasuring something is to value it highly, and treasure up would be to store and save it.  This has interesting feminine imagery with the word wisdom and bosom, and reserves of nourishment.  Jesus also taught where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.  What do we treasure in 2020?  Do we treasure wisdom?  What about discernment?  How can we discern the adversary and not be deceived?  If we are deceived, will emergency food storage remedy that?

Zion will be protected by God himself, and the wicked won't want to go there.  It's terrible to them. T&C 31:5
And the glory of the Lord shall be there, and the terror of the Lord also shall be there, insomuch that the wicked will not come unto it. And it shall be called Zion.
And it shall come to pass among the wicked that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety, and there shall be gathered unto it out of every nation under heaven, and it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another. And it shall be said among the wicked, Let us not go up to battle against Zion, for the inhabitants of Zion are terrible, wherefore we cannot stand. And it shall come to pass that the righteous shall be gathered out from among all nations, and shall come to Zion singing with songs of everlasting joy.
But if we envision massive artillery in order to safeguard Zion in times of distress then how prepared are we for the prophecies? Scriptures say the inhabitants of Zion are those who WON'T take up arms against their neighbor.  So do ammunition's prepare our heart for Zion? Do weapons of war help prepared our minds? If our hearts and minds are unprepared to meet God can anything else compensate for that?

There's a verse from D&C that is typically associated to a temple but it also fits in the conversation about preparing, and can be applied to our own homes:
Organize yourselves, prepare every needful thing, and establish a house. Even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a House of God.
I believe food storage and emergency essential items are intelligent and to some degree common sense.  I do these things as part of being a husband and father.  There are more than a few businesses who will help you towards that end, to whatever degree you are inclined.  Since there is plenty of information and resources on those types of preparing I wanted to write here about the other ways the term prepare is used in scripture, particularly the Book of Mormon.  This often gets far less attention in the Mormon circles I frequent.

BofM Alma 11:6-7
And Alma and Amulek went forth preaching repentance unto the people in their temples, and in their sanctuaries, and also in their synagogues, which were built after the manner of the Jews. And as many as would hear their words, unto them they did impart the word of God without any respect of persons continually. And thus did Alma and Amulek go forth, and also many more who had been chosen for the work to preach the word throughout all the land. And the establishment of the church became general throughout the land, in all the region round about, among all the people of the Nephites.
And there was no unequality among them, for the Lord did pour out his spirit on all the face of the land to prepare the minds of the children of men, or to prepare their hearts to receive the word which should be taught among them at the time of his coming, that they might not be hardened against the word, that they might not be unbelieving and go on to destruction, but that they might receive the word with joy, and as a branch, be grafted into the true vine, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord their God.
That bit about being equal shows up again here.  They had no inequality.  But that's a side note.  When it comes to preparing though, the scriptures say God's spirit prepares the minds and hearts.  The hardness of heart against God's word leads to destruction.  Then the verse raises the topic of entering into the rest of the Lord.  These are important Gospel topics that were occasionally mentioned at Church when I was younger, but are absent now days.  They have been replaced by what I would consider spiritual cardboard, a dead handbook, or spiritual cotton candy.

It's true that often in the BofM preparing has to do with their wars and battles, weapons, strategy, armies etc.  Some groups choosing to lay those things down rather than use them.  But that's off topic.  What I wanted to note is there is a significant amount of preparing referenced in the Book of Mormon that is talking about something different from any of that.   For example:

Alma 3:5
And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now? Have ye walked keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say — if ye were called to die at this time — within yourselves that ye have been sufficiently humble, that your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins? Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not, ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold, ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of Heaven is soon at hand, and such an one hath not eternal life. Behold, I say, is there one among you who is not stripped of envy? I say unto you that such an one is not prepared. And I would that he should prepare quickly, for the hour is close at hand; and he knoweth not when the time shall come, for such an one is not found guiltless.
These are sobering questions being asked by Alma.  And this book is said to be for us, meaning the Mormons.  There are no businesses or online stores who's service is to provide you the song of redeeming love.  Or to remove your pride and envy and offer your humility.  You cannot purchase the things Alma talks about from Babylon.  They will sell you all the other kinds of preparation but not this kind.  

But Alma says we are not prepared if we are not in line with those things. Even if we own a nuclear bunker and the biggest stockpiles of food available, we are still not properly prepared according to Alma, a high priest after the Holy Order of God.  That gives me pause.  

The purpose of this life was to prepare, prepare to meet God.  If we actually believed that, I wonder what difference that might make to people.  We hear this phrase and then forget about it not really knowing how or what difference it should make in our minds and hearts.    

Alma 16:37:
And now, my brethren, I would that after ye have received so many witnesses, seeing that the holy scriptures testify of these things, come forth and bring fruit unto repentance. Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer. For behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation. And therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you. For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God. Yea, behold, the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors. 
Later Alma when teaching his son has this to say with regard to this life and it's purpose as a preparatory state.
And now we see by this that our first parents were cut off, both temporally and spiritually, from the presence of the Lord; and thus we see they became subjects to follow after their own will. Now behold, it was not expedient that man should be reclaimed from this temporal death, for that would destroy the great plan of happiness. Therefore, as the soul could never die and the Fall had brought upon all mankind a spiritual death as well as a temporal (that is, they were cut off from the presence of the Lord), therefore it was expedient that mankind should be reclaimed from this spiritual death. Therefore, as they had become carnal, sensual, and devilish by nature, this probationary state became a state for them to prepare; it became a preparatory state. 
The fall brought about spiritual death.  Since we're quoting Alma, here are some things Alma says to do to prepare.   
 And now I say unto you that this is the Order after which I am called, yea, to preach unto my beloved brethren, yea, and everyone that dwelleth in the land — yea, to preach unto all, both old and young, both bond and free, yea, I say unto you, the aged, and also the middle-aged, and the rising generation — yea, to cry unto them that they must repent and be born again. Yea, thus saith the spirit: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, for the kingdom of Heaven is soon at hand. Yea, the Son of God cometh in his glory, in his might, majesty, power, and dominion. Yea, my beloved brethren, I say unto you that the spirit saith, Behold, the glory of the King of all the earth and also the King of Heaven shall very soon shine forth among all the children of men. And also the spirit saith unto me, yea, crieth unto me with a mighty voice, saying, Go forth and say unto this people, Repent, for except ye repent, ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of Heaven. And again I say unto you, the spirit saith, Behold, the ax is laid at the root of the tree; therefore, every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be hewn down and cast into the fire, yea, a fire which cannot be consumed, even an unquenchable fire. Behold, and remember, the Holy One hath spoken it.
And again I say unto you, is there one among you that doth make a mock of his brother or that heapeth upon him persecutions? Woe unto such an one, for he is not prepared; and the time is at hand that he must repent, or he cannot be saved. Yea, even woe unto all ye workers of iniquity. Repent, repent, for the Lord God hath spoken it. Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men; for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith, Repent and I will receive you. Yea, he saith, Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely. Yea, come unto me and bring forth works of righteousness, and ye shall not be put down and cast into the fire. For behold, the time is at hand that whosoever bringeth forth not good fruit, or whosoever doeth not the works of righteousness, the same have cause to wail and mourn.
We're taught to repent or we can in no way inherit the kingdom of Heaven. We're supposed to turn away from the false beliefs, the false doctrine that surrounds us, the false sense of security, the false teachers, and turn and face God.  The problem is we don't usually see ourselves as possessing any of those false things.  But the scriptures confirm over and over that we do.  We tend to be oblivious to them because they cause us discomfort or make us uneasy in our religious security.  Repentance without fail in my religious meetings is a very shallow concept, it doesn't produce what the scripture say it should, and it more resembles a vague self-improvement program to kick bad habits, or something you generally do when you have made mistakes with morality. 

Alma says if we bring forth no good fruit, nor do works of righteousness, we will have cause to wail and mourn.  I don't want to wail and mourn.  So what constitutes "good fruit"?  What are works of righteousness?  We "must" repent, and "must" be born again Alma teaches.  Born of the spirit.  Since the fall brought about spiritual death, it makes sense our spirits would need to be reborn.  Mormons usually believe being born again is a lifelong imperceptible process.  What if that teaching is so misleading and so incomplete so as to rob you of understanding?  You won't find hardly any teachings in our day among LDS manuals and materials about spiritual rebirth.  You will find even fewer teachers/leaders who will testify that it has happened to them.

Whether or not people in the Book of Mormon survived calamities often had a lot to do with their level of righteousness, and their faith.  When the destruction hit that preceded Christ's appearance to the Nephites in the Book of Mormon it was repeatedly stated that it was wickedness and sin are what brought the people's destruction.  They cast out the prophets.  The last days prophecies in scripture say similar things.  There are many things scheduled for destruction and the context the scriptures put it in is one of wickedness vs righteousness. Not a matter of money or the typical security blankets we are used to in 2020.  God decides what happens.  His view is what matters and what ultimately controls the events. I don't believe people can outsmart God.  As an example, no one can escape God's judgement because they purchased a nuclear bunker. 

So who's righteous anyway?  Laman and Lemual had a testimony that the residents of Jerusalem were righteous (so likely did those residents).  Lehi's view was that they were wicked.  We know what happened.  Lehi was right.  Jerusalem was destroyed and people taken captive.   There are scriptural prophets telling us OUR day is full of religious wickedness and iniquity and abominations.  And by contrast (because there has to be opposition in order for us to choose) there are other leaders telling us we are a chosen generation, righteous, saved for the last days, and we just need to follow the Prophet and stay in the boat and it will all turn out fine.  The two points of view stand in contrast and we are forced to choose.   

Mormon 1:12
And I would that I could persuade all ye ends of the earth to repent and prepare to stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
How do you prepare to stand before the judgement seat of Christ?  God has told us how to pass the judgement day.  The scriptures give us the keys to passing the tests, they clearly teach the commandments of God and differentiate them from the commandments of men.  If we are prepared to stand before the judgement seat of Christ that would eliminate one of life's great fears.  If you have an enormous stockpile of food, water, money, and emergency essentials that will of course reduce some fear too.  But it doesn't go very far in terms of your preparation to stand before the judgement seat of Christ.  And since none of us know when we'll be called to stand before that judgement seat, and could find ourselves there despite physical preparations, it seems wise to also consider these other kinds of preparation the scriptures talk about.

This is another example revealed through Joseph Smith.  This was the preface to the Book of Commandments, later to become the D&C, later still to become the T&C.  This preface was given by the Lord.  Paragraph 3 says:

T&C 54:3
Wherefore, the voice of the Lord is unto the end of the earth, that all that will hear may hear: Prepare yourselves, prepare for that which is to come, for the Lord is nigh and the anger of the Lord is kindled, and his sword is bathed in Heaven and it shall fall upon the inhabitants of the earth, and the arm of the Lord shall be revealed. And the day comes that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people, for they have strayed from my ordinances and have broken my everlasting covenant. They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walks in his own way and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol which waxes old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great which shall fall.
These groups are called out:

-Those who will not hear the voice of the Lord
-Neither hear the voice is his servants
-Neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles

Those, the scripture warns, will all be cut off from among the people.  They have strayed from God's ordinances and broken his everlasting covenant.  They seek not to establish his righteousness, but every may walks in his own way, making whatever they worship into God, who's image or appearance is after this word rather than heaven, and whose substance is that of Babylon.  These it says will be cut off from among the people. I'm 100% in favor of reasonable food storage.  What I'm 100% not in favor of is totally neglecting what the scriptures say are important criteria for people getting cut off.

-Those who will not hear the voice of the Lord.  We have to hear the voice of the Lord ourselves.  What does that mean?  Can you ignore the scriptures (the place where God's voice is found) and still hear the voice of the Lord?  What if the voice of the Lord speaks and you're oblivious because you aren't even looking for the Lord's voice?  What if you have spent so little time in study and prayer to even find God's voice that you can't tell if His voice is present in the teachings of the people you harken to?  Lots of people talk or say things as if they speak for God. But we're warned most of them actually don't speak for him at all.

-Neither hear the voices of his servants.  Who are the Lord's servants?  If you misidentify who the Lord's servants are it can be perilous. A Church calling doesn't guarantee a person is a servant of the Lord.  The lack of Church calling also has no bearing.  Many examples of this exist in scripture.  What if God sends a servant and you reject them, and ignored them because he/she didn't come from the Quorum of the 12 in the LDS Church? Do you risk being cut off because you have identified yourself as one who will not hear the voice of God's servants?  How careful should we be in seeking and responding to God's actual servants?  How careful should we be in discerning who's who?  How can you even tell who was truly called of God vs those who instead speaks on their own authority or follow some other spirit?  These seem like pressing and pertinent questions that rarely get discussed. 

-Neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles.  Which prophets and apostles is this talking about?  What if we prefer our Church leaders over dead prophets?  Do we risk not giving heed to the words of the prophets and apostles by reducing the prophets and apostles of scripture as secondary and below the level of our living LDS leaders?  What if living leaders outright contradict prophets and apostles from scripture?  Do we risk not giving heed to the prophets by accepting these contradictions and siding with whatever the current leader says?  Are we at risk of being on the wrong side of this scripture if we do this?   

The scriptures paint a picture of huge peril but only a few seems to care about this type of criteria of being cut off from among the people. 

The Book of Mormon echo's these same themes of people being cut off:

1 Nephi 7:4
For the time soon cometh that the fullness of the wrath of God shall be poured out upon all the children of men, for he will not suffer that the wicked shall destroy the righteous. Wherefore, he will preserve the righteous by his power, even if it so be that the fullness of his wrath must come and the righteous be preserved, even unto the destruction of their enemies by fire. Wherefore, the righteous need not fear, for thus saith the prophet: They shall be saved, even if it so be as by fire. Behold, my brethren, I say unto you that these things must shortly come; yea, even blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke must come. And it must needs be upon the face of this earth; and it cometh unto men according to the flesh, if it so be that they will harden their hearts against the Holy One of Israel. For behold, the righteous shall not perish, for the time surely must come that all they who fight against Zion shall be cut off.
Now in addition to the prepared not needing to fear, this same theme is expanded and it's the righteous who need not fear.  Righteousness and preparedness seem to go together when it comes to not fearing.

Nephi goes on to say:
And now I, Nephi, declare unto you that this prophet of whom Moses spake was the Holy One of Israel; wherefore, he shall execute judgment in righteousness. And the righteous need not fear, for they are those who shall not be confounded, but it is the kingdom of the Devil, which shall be built up among the children of men, which kingdom is established among them which are in the flesh. For the time speedily shall come that all churches which are built up to get gain, and all those who are built up to get power over the flesh, and those who are built up to become popular in the eyes of the world, and those who seek the lusts of the flesh and the things of the world and to do all manner of iniquity — yea, in fine, all those who belong to the kingdom of the Devil — are they who need fear, and tremble, and quake. They are those who must be brought low in the dust, they are those who must be consumed as stubble; and this is according to the words of the prophet.
Nephi adds to the discussion who does need to fear, tremble and quake in the last days. It's Churches built up to get gain, and get power, and popularity... all these as well as those belonging to the kingdom of the Devil, engaging in iniquity are the ones who need fear.  We may never associate ourselves with membership in the Church of the devil but Nephi warns us "all" churches have gone astray.  Is it possible we have attitudes, beliefs, or ideas, or accepted doctrines that are part of the Church of the devil?

We're warned in other places "For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men and stir them up to anger against that which is good.” We're also warned that the devil lulls people to sleep with carnal security, assuring them "all is well".  The phrase "all is well" appears calculated to alleviate fear.  But what happens if it was a lie?  What if all is not well?  I think Nephi is trying to help us prepare and seek the Lord's righteousness and be prepared with God so we need not fear but can intelligently prepare. 

So what is righteousness anyway?  How man measures this is usually outwardly.  The higher the church calling the more the perception that the person must be righteous.  Sometimes wealth will also contribute to perception of someone as righteous.  If that's true than the LDS church is extremely righteous.  Righteousness is also often measured against ones religious traditions.  Possession of a temple recommend, the right haircut, the right clothes, staying in line with the Church, following the current Church leaders etc.

The best explanation of righteousness I've heard is that righteousness is conformity to the Divine Law. God measures differently than man.  Being “righteous before God” may not mean the same thing one thinks “righteousness” means. Man wants outward signs, symbols, dress, grooming, and conformity to religious traditions. If you appease your religious traditions, you are often viewed as righteous. But God looks at the intent of the heart. Righteousness comes by obedience to God, not conformity to man's philosophies or traditions. It's obedience to the Lord’s commandments.  And those are found in the scriptures.

I've recently read a lot of the counter arguments to the BofM's authenticity.  However when I read and study the text, it contains things that bring a person closer to God and contains numerous examples of people ascending to God and coming to know Him.  It teaches how to prepare, so that we don't fear.

When life has endless things to fear, and you have to think about the future, and all the fearful possibilities, my favorite response to that is that we should "Prepare for a full life".  I love that.  Preparing for a full life includes all the common sense things we should do, practical communal skills we should learn, health remedies that make sense, talents to develop, education to gain, with faith rather than last days alarm.  

Monday, February 10, 2020

Come Follow Me Manual - Mormon 8

They were distributing the new 2020 Come Follow Me Manual a few weeks ago at Church.  This year study is focusing on the Book of Mormon.  I randomly flipped through and stumbled upon page 171. 

I thought I would take the manual's advice and go see what Moroni's bold warning for our day was.

It said to ponder whether there are any signs of these attitudes and actions in my life and gave references.  My life of course refers to me personally but my life also includes my Church and what I see and hear around me.  And it asks what I could do differently.  I took this seriously.  

I read some of the verses and in green I have included some musings, as suggested by the manual.

Moroni: 8 35 Behold, I speak unto you (Ok so he's talking to the reader, people who are reading the book.  He's not talking to someone who's not reading his stuff) as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.  (Christ showed "us" to "him".  He knows full well what we're up to and what goes on behind corporate closed doors.  Christ of all people showed him.  So whatever he says I accept as representing Christ's view of our day, rather than any other alternative view of our day. He says he's talking to US)  
36 And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, (ok, we all know pride is a very common issue warned about in all scripture, but he's saying his readers are proud and lifted up.  That would be the Mormons.  Meaning his readers see themselves above others, or that they are religiously superior, or think the scriptures apply to everyone else except them.  Only a few don't participate in this) unto the wearing of very fine apparel, (so our clothing is an issue apparently.... the way we dress (most likely referring to our Sunday dress) is causing us to have pride. Clothing does have a way of establishing social classes and you're looked down upon if not dressed nice enough.  But there are many other non physical "clothes" one can wear.  We can be clothed with pride, or envy or any manner of things) unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches (Ok, so he's no longer talking about personal behavior, now he's talking macro level, he's talking "Church" level, this is "systemic", institutional level stuff,), yea, even every one, (Ok, no exceptions, got it.) have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.  ("every one" of our churches has become polluted! Because of pride of the heart.  It's our hearts, the seat of our understanding, our feelings are puffed up).  Dang, this is a bold message.  Now I'm really concerned, because that would include us since he saw us, is talking to us, and it's Christ who showed him this.  If you want Christ's point of view, Moroni gives us some insight.  Our "Churches" are among those that have become polluted.  That's awful news, and makes me feel terrible, and yet, there it is.  Having now been warned, I need to see if this glove fits.) 
37 For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.  (Ok, now he's giving bold examples, and not holding back.  He says we love money more than the poor.  It's a proportion.  He didn't say you don't do anything for the poor, he said you love money MORE than the poor.  Preferring to hold on to the money than help the poor, needy, sick and afflicted with it.  Preferring to spend instead on all the adornments we put on our Churches.  Taking care of all those buildings and the grounds is a very legitimate, enormous, and ongoing cost.  I mean Mormon properties do look very nice.  Those statues made of marble at the temple visitors center in Rome Italy I understand cost many many millions of dollars.  Moroni says we love these types of things more than the poor and needy and afflicted.  That money could be used for the needy if the priorities were different.  But Moroni suggests the priorities are all out of whack.  The world has a lot of poor, the Church itself has a lot of poor and sick members inside it.  The Wall Street Journal recently reported again on the Churches previously hidden fund of  $100B dollars and reported an account executive as saying the fund was kept hidden for fear of tithing contributions slowing down.  It was among the best kept secrets in the investment world.  That fund alone could keep the church running indefinitely without another contribution ever.  As of this writing, that fund is one of the largest financial funds on the planet.  A BYU ethics professor commenting on this even said the Church lacks the infrastructure to even spend this amount.   

The only way to accumulate $100 Billion dollars of excesses is to value it's accumulation more than disbursing to those in need.  Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also Jesus taught (Matthew 6:21).  The Church publishes and was very public about quantities donated over the years.  The Church reported 2 Billion since 1985.  The proportions are very clear. 
This 100B was reported to be what was leftover and accumulated after operating expenses had all been taken care of.  These are excesses by any definition.  Said be a rainy day fund for the last days).  

James 5:1-3 had something to say about amassing wealth for the last days:
Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.
38 O ye pollutions, (Is he talking about smog?  Or industrial waste?  Or is he talking about people and pollution inside Christ's Church that amount to errors and false teachings that pollute the Gospel? ye hypocrites, (How rude..... he claims we say one thing, but do another.  What on earth could he be talking about? Do we as a Church say one thing, but do another?  Has this been a pattern in LDS Church history?  To publicly say one thing but do another?)  ye teachers, (ok, so it's the people who are in positions to teach that are now being referred to, apparently not everything taught is true, even if the teaching is received "very well".  The people are misled by what is being taught, so it's not just the low level members who are to blame for all this pollution, it's teachers doing the teaching who inject the pollution) who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? (Wait what?  There are teacher in these Churches that sell themselves for that which will canker? And this pollutes the holy church of God?  So what did these teachers sell themselves for?  We know from other scriptures the big hitters that canker are: Money. Popularity. Prestige. Honors of men. Wealth.  Does this ever happen inside our Church?  Do any of the high level teachers make money?  Or get popularity?  Or prestige? Or Honorary degrees?) Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies—because of the praise of the world?  (We take upon ourselves the name of Christ at baptism so surely this isn't referring to us right?  What does it mean to take upon ourselves the name of Christ anyway?  Is it possible our traditions assure us we have done this at baptism but in reality we think little of it other than to attend church on Sundays?  Is it possible that instead of seeking Christ and His ways, we as a Church seek for praise or popularity with the world?  Do Mormons seek popularity?  Do we seek a positive public image and hire enormous PR and legal firms to accomplish it?  And call all of this preaching the Gospel? I cannot be prideful after reading these verses because they strip the pride away.  I honestly believe Christ did show our day to Moroni)    
39 Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?   (He asks a good question, why do we adorn ourselves and Churches with lifeless stuff while the living people in need go without and go unnoticed?  This is a particularly nasty assessment and the question is heart pricking.

After seeing a homeless man downtown one time, the friends I was with said that we didn't need to give to him because the Church will.  All we need to do is give to the Church and the Church will take care of the poor was the general idea.  And besides if the poor would just go to their local leader they could get help, and they passed by the person in need and didn't pay them any notice.  I remember the scene and have pondered it ever since.  I disagree, I believe we should help the beggar and not turn our disciple responsibility over to a Church.  When we donate direct, 100% of it goes to the recipient.  When you give to an organization, they often keep some of it.  The Church won't allow you to see or know what happens to your donation after that.  They take ownership of it, and provide no transparency.) 

The manual wasn't kidding, this IS a bold message.  The manual asked what could I do differently.  Wow.  I think what I could do as a result of these verses is succor the poor, and not ingest false and polluted teachings from cankered religious teachers.  I also want to learn more about what it means to take upon me the name of Christ and go do that.  I bet there are levels of coming to Christ and I'd very much like to take Christ up on his invitation to fully come to Him. 

Other things I can do are not let any shaming fingers pointed at me distract my focus away from Christ and the fruit of the tree of life He offers.  I can avoid praise of the world and seek for Christ rather than popularity.  I can notice the sick and the afflicted and the needy.  Rather than relying on some big religion to take care of them.  I can notice them myself.  I can repent.  There is something deeply satisfying about turning away from pollution and towards the breath of fresh air Christ offers.