Monday, February 24, 2014

Just Another Christian Faith

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints released a video describing itself as just one of many other Christian faiths. See, or listen to the opening line of the official church video below.

Every attempt was made to make us part of mainstream Christianity.  I could hardly find 2 things which distinguishes the church from other Christians.  If I were looking for truth I wouldn't think twice about this mainstream generic church they advertise.  I did see a tiny graphic of the Book of Mormon, although beside the graphic the book of Mormon was not mentioned verbally.  The early Saints were condemned (which continues until now...) by the Lord for neglecting the Book of Mormon.  I can't say we are doing any better.  We hardly even mention it in our modern marketing of the Church.  Which marketing a topic for another post.  Is this video how you picture the early saints speaking about the restoration??  Where's the rugged, bold preaching of truth?  Where are those who speak the truth boldly without regard for the persecution which will follow?  This video on the other hand seeks to gain the acceptance and approval of the widest possible audience.

I did hear Joseph Smith's name mentioned but briefly and only to say he was the founder of the Church.  But that was it.  That was it!  There was barely even a claim that Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon even existed. The worldly marketing of this video was superb.  It intentionally leaves fundamentals out, it tries to set the record straight that we ARE Christians.  It doesn't alienate anyone, doesn't make any big claims, doesn't offend anyone, doesn't teach anything which could bring about persecution.  It doesn't stand for anything other church's don't.  It also doesn't share any restored truth...  I guess we are part of historic Christianity, we have our own creeds we must believe to be accepted, we trust in the traditions of our fathers more than revelation.  We have leaders which sit in "Moses's" seat.  We experience less and less revelation, fewer and fewer gifts of the Spirit and now seek company with the world.  Literally, we're a "global" faith in that we have members all over the world, but also in the sense that we, too, seek the acceptance and praise of the world.

It's a sad day when the restoration devolves into "Just another Christian sect".  I realize you can't include everything in a few minute video.  But really?  I mean really?  Is that what the COB (church office building) is creating and putting the Church's stamp on? Its an insult to the restoration and the truth Mormonism once stood for.  Well...it's ironically accurate, but it's more of an image.  A marketable image, like a product for sale rather than truth that will save.

Here is the video recently put out by the church, shared by masses on facebook, and on the official Church Website.  Notice the extensive graphics, editing, music, etc....  They did a good job.  But I also noticed a lack of Gospel content.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sin and injury caused by Ignorance

In an editorial in the Times and Seasons, the Prophet Joseph observed that “nothing is a greater injury to the children of men than to be under the influence of a false spirit when they think they have the Spirit of God” (HC4:573).

Nothing does greater injury.....Joseph teaches that this deception trumps them all.  So how do you ensure you have the correct Spirit and not just think you do?

Joseph helps us with that as well.  About a year before Section 130 was received, the Prophet taught: "As far as we degenerate from God, we descend to the devil and lose knowledge, and without knowledge we cannot be saved. . . .

"A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world, as evil spirits will have more knowledge, and consequently more power than many men who are on the earth. Hence it needs revelation to assist us, and give us knowledge of the things of God." (History of the Church, 5:588.) 

Revelation assists us and gives us knowledge of the things of God.  This is a real thing.  There is no need to fake it, or imply it if it's actually occurring.  The power of the Spirit cannot be faked.  There are counterfeits, but the real thing is obvious by comparison.    

Sin is to "miss the mark".  Repentance then could be said to mean hit the mark.  We hit the mark when we have enough knowledge to do so.  We all miss the mark when ignorant.  Ignorance and innocence are different.  Repentance then may in fact deal almost entirely with gaining knowledge, rather than merely ceasing some behavior.  Gaining knowledge from God might just be the path of repentance.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What do we We Believe?

"We Believe: Doctrines of Mormonism"  is a new very large 2 volume set on Mormon doctrines.  This volume is not particularly new, but a new updated version has been released, and some folks I know have purchased a copy.  It was sitting on the kitchen counter so I took a browse through. It's sort of an encyclopedia of Mormon doctrine.  

It proudly declares on the back page:  "When first published, We Believe was placed in all seminaries and institutes worldwide"  That seemed calculated to calm your mind about it's credibility, and assure you that you will not be lead astray by any of the content, because after all, all seminaries and institutes use it worldwide.  What better standard could there be?  (I'm being sarcastic).   It's going as far as possible to imply Church sanction or endorsement without actually having it. 
  
I thought this next portion from the back cover was also especially interesting: 
 We Believe is also used in LDS Seminaries and Institutes worldwide. Three key criteria have been used in the editing of this work making it a reliable publication: 1. Only declarations from scriptures and latter-day prophets are used. (General and Regional Church authorities who are NOT prophets are not quoted.) 2. Only declarations from official Church publications are used. 3. A doctrine is not included unless three or more distinct doctrinal declarations can be verified.  (Packard, Carlos. We Believe: Doctrines of Mormonism. Packard Technologies.)

Notice how number 3 says "verified".  Don't be mislead thinking the doctrine has all been verified as true. No, it's simply being verified that three distinct references can be found somewhere in a giant database.  Which of course guarantees the accuracy or completeness of a doctrine right??  So what constitutes doctrine you say?  Three distinct declarations is all that's needed.  Verification of truthfulness is another thing.  They've thrown every bit of credibility they can muster, including the kitchen sink at the readers.  But as we should all know, verification of truthfulness comes from the Spirit, not someone's Church office, title, or ability to publish a book.  

I guess I have to comment on the last part of number 1.   "General Authorities and regional Church authorities who are NOT prophets".  Who demoted their potential? Thank goodness we have books like this to clarify for us spiritually ignorant, weak, and floundering folks who are running around absolutely confused about who is, and who is most certainly NOT a prophet.  I guess we'd have mass confusion if plain old General Authorities were allowed to speak prophetically, or have the testimony of Jesus which is the Spirit of Prophecy (Rev 19:10).  While it's true only the Quorum of the 12 and First Presidency are sustained as prophets seers and revelators, did this author miss D&C 68:3-4 which states that Elders when moved upon by the Holy Ghost can speak words of scripture?

Anyway, even though these statements and many of the doctrines in the book align more with cultural beliefs than scripture, you can relax, and put your mind at ease because only "legit" prophets are being quoted in this book.  haha I say this with a little humor.  The underlying intent seems at least somewhat calculated to cause you to lower your defenses, ignore or not see any need to seek Spiritual discernment, and instead drink deeply from what may be murky waters.  It goes right along with the trend to put your trust in men.  In fact it appeals to that mindset.

The only "bibliography" or credibility per say that matters to God is the Spirit.  Although not mentioned we'll give this doctrinal book's authors the benefit of the doubt  that they just expect readers to know that.    

Monday, February 17, 2014

What's Trending in Mormonism

In social media there's a popular phenomena called "what's trending now".   It takes into account search engine searches, what people are buying online,YouTube hits, tweets, Facebook posts, and viral videos. Collective trends of the online world can be identified as they develop in the moment.  Trends can be really interesting, they happen as much on Facebook as they do in religion.

Before getting into the trends, it's my view that more often than not revelation from God and societal trends are at odds.  Trending has more to do with the collective consciousness, and shifting opinions and interests of a body of people.  While revelation deals with the mind and will of God, it's truth which is timeless.  The Church employs social scientists to follow, track, and look into trends and opinions.

It almost goes without saying, but following trends, is not the same as following revelation.  More often than not people follow trends, not revelation. This is good news for marketers and social scientists.  Yet in a scriptural context the two are typically in direct conflict with each other.

When talking about religious trends it is even possible for them to be interpreted or viewed as a sort of 'divine hand'. In LDS culture sometimes the thinking goes that each change, or business decision, or move made by the organization is evidence of ongoing revelation since the leaders are held up as people who commune with, and act for God.  So the more changes, the more revelation is presumed to be occurring.  Or so the thinking goes.  Trends, policy changes, business decisions can of course be completely void of revelation. This is how businesses typically operate. They don't claim revelation from God, nor do they claim to seek it.  More often than not when scriptures refer to trends they are negative in that they take people away from the light of God.  So trends are no guarantee or indicator of divine guidance.  We know from the scriptures that we are constantly taught to take the Spirit as the guide and indicator, not the alternatives.  

So what's "trending" in Mormonism?

Business, profits, prophets, technology, attempts at "normal", and attempts to tell Mormon history in a way which pacifies the questioners.   More on each below.

Recently the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has been spending large amounts of money (we for obvious reasons are not typically privy to how much it cost) in business endeavors.  Just last week the Church bought commercial property in downtown Philadelphia.  The 32 story housing development will be developed by Property Reserve, Inc., the for-profit commercial real estate division of the church corporation. According the Dale Bills, spokesman for PRI, "the development represents an attractive investment opportunity".  The Church has also recently purchased an extensive piece of land in Florida, I think they are among the top land owners in that state.  Also we can't forget the City Creek Shopping center and housing development in down town Salt Lake City that many billions of dollars was invented in.  And now the recent announcement of the expansion of Citi Creek to develop a 24 story office development on Main Street.  The Church is becoming an exceedingly powerful for profit business, not just a religious organization.  The trend is to operate and manage itself as a business and get gain where possible while also being a Church.  I mention only a couple here.  For a more complete list, and explanation of the Church's growing business ventures this is a really good post by a fellow blogger. Link  

Other things trending in Mormonism is an awe, and reverence for the men called to be leaders.  The trend is most identifiable around the current Prophet.  That office has gained cult of personality status.  The trend is to speak about the person holding that office, honor him, pray about, follow, testify of, and focus on him to a greater degree than Christ in many church settings.  I've seen this in General Conference, as well as stake and local meetings.  The air of awe surrounding that office is definitely trending.  The leaders talks and testimonies also focus a lot on the person holding that office.  Keys to act in God's name are also very popular right now as well.  Along those lines there is a trend in what leaders of the Church testify of.  The testimonies trend towards generic statements repeated by others who are also repeating the same generic statements repeated by others in their testimonies.  The Book of Mammon Daymon Smith, 2010 coined the term "generic authority".   

Other things trending in Mormonism are new ways of dealing with unpleasant aspects to Church history.  The internet has made information much more available.  Some have used the term "Google apostasy",  So Mormon history, unpleasant or not, is now available for anyone to look up with a few clicks of a mouse.  Denouncing past beliefs and sometimes even the leaders who spoke them has been some of the response by the organization.  The Church has begun a new online series of articles on LDS.org addressing past racism, plural marriage, and some other hot topics from history.  The new trend is to identify yet sometimes condemn prior teachings which could be bases for present day members to have their faith upset.  The trend in belief is that prior leaders could err, but the current ones don't/can't, so we only need listen to the current ones.

Then we have the "I am am Mormon" add campaign where people from all walks of life post a little profile about themselves and their beliefs having taken upon themselves the name of Mormon.  This is a campaign to portray Mormons as socially acceptable, well adjusted, "normal" people living normal lives.  It's intended to be attractive to people and to show how socially acceptable, everyday modern Mormons are.  Mormon 2.0.  Instead of studying deeply, pondering, and delving into doctrine and mysteries of Godliness as Joseph Smith taught, the current trend is that one liner quotes with a picture in the background are just as good. (pinterest).  Trending is a decrease in doctrine being taught, sold and published.  Instead are increasing feel good stories, good basic principles, and media presentations full of emotion.  What "Mormon Messages" lack in Gospel content, or saving truth, they seem to attempt to make up for in audio visual effects.

Then there's the use of electronic devices in church to "presumably" be looking at the manual, or scriptures during lessons. That's definitely trending.  Technology is being used much much more than it has in the past.  On that note, years ago the First Presidency put out a letter saying for members not to open their scriptures during sacrament meetings.  It was stated that doing so is noisy and disrupts the Spirit of the meeting.  So essentially the scriptures became a sealed, I mean closed, book during sacrament meeting. However now that electronic devices are trending in church there is no worry of the overbearing sound of rustling paper pages turning so I wonder if scriptures will make a comeback during sacrament meeting??  I looked around at Church last Sunday and it appears total boredom is also trending in most meetings I attend.  

There are other trends, some have sings of goodness.  However again, from the context of scripture, social trends and a good portion of "traditions of your fathers" are in conflict with revelation.  Supposedly that book has a message for our day.

What do you see trending in Mormonism?    

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Most Correct Book Ever Ignored

I've been reading Daymon Smith's "A Cultural History of The Book of Mormon". Very interesting, and highly relevant if your interested in the Book of Mormon, and Gospel studies. Here is his site.

So much of what is regarded as "fact" universally by latter day saints are actually traditions.  And often they are traditions not fully based on the book they claim to be based on. What is believed about the text, and what the Book of Mormon text actually says are often different. Latter Day Saint word usage and vocabulary has come to mean something almost entirely different than the words meant to early saints.

Words in the Book of Mormon have had modern traditional definitions overlaid on top of them to the point when we read the book we are hardly reading anything other than our own traditions. The text is essentially still "sealed" due to the stone we are stumbling over which we are blind to. All the while thinking it's some other "gentile" group who are the unenlightened stumbling folks who are in need of repentance and the Book of Mormon.

An example of this is the word "dispensation". The term is meant by Mormons is to mean "age" or "epoch". The bible dictionary (which is not scripture, yet somehow found it's way into scripture..) seems to confirm this. Typically in speech we all are familiar that we live in the "last" dispensation which of course in the mind of the saints refers to the time from Joseph Smith until "now" and it's the last one, meaning there can't be any more dispensations.  

However that too is more tradition and culture than fact or history. In the minds of early saints and likely scripture authors by “dispensation” they generally meant, “something dispensed,” rather than an “age” or “epoch”. Joseph Smith did have "something dispensed" to him, and doesn't each saint have the same privilege? Albeit on a personal level. This changes the entire picture. Rather than sitting back and enjoying "our dispensation", it suddenly puts all the responsibility on each individual to actually have something dispensed to them from heaven.

And "last" isn't required to men "concluding" and "absolutely cannot be another one" as tradition in LDS culture would have us believe.  The word last may just mean "last" as in "most recent". We read our traditions into the text and then ascribe meaning to it and then consider it commonsense fact. In most cases it seems this causes us to stumble rather than become enlightened.

As Daymon sums it up:

"I suspect that what was true of them (referring to the early saints) is also true of most Latter-day Saints today. They did not often sit down and read the Book of Mormon; but instead scrounged around in it for parts to plug or jam into whatever system, theology, tradition, institutional program, or personal agenda they were running across its pages."