Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Faith in Christ, Faith in the Church

Someone I know recently asked me my why I write some of the things I write about. My answer was a little surprising to them as they didn't know all of my beliefs or views. That conversation led me to want to some things down for clarity.

Sometimes what I write causes the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to loose some of its shine. I admit that. Polishing a Church’s image or good name isn’t my intent or goal. That isn’t the goal of scripture either. Nor is that the intent of the Gospel. The goal of scripture is to point to and educate man about God. It’s to teach truth.  So I seek to align with scripture.

There is a difference between faith in Christ and faith in the Church.  If your faith centers in Christ than the Church loosing some veneer doesn't sink your boat.  But if your faith is in the Church or men leading it then your faith almost requires you to only accept positive things about it.  Truth isn’t harmed by truth.  God isn’t harmed by truth.  What is harmed by truth?  If truth can harm it, shouldn’t it?  Or is a mixture of truth and error preferable?

Scriptures teach that there's a life test underway that all of us have to take.  It's a truth test. We're all equal in that we have to choose.  Part of that test is if we can discern between truth and error, another part is who we are faithful to.  This is covered in scripture in the Book of Abraham.

As with any test, there has to be things to chose between.  There have to be opposing options that entice us or distract us.  I try in this post to use scripture to identify what some of the important alternatives are from people who have passed the test and speak directly to us as a warning.  The substitutes to faith in Christ are sometimes surprising.  One reason I write is to give some contrast between opposing choices.

I believe choosing and figuring out what to choose is really good exercise for your soul.  And the good news is, we're not alone in this.  God will help us, and God has given us the scriptures.  So the test is an open book test.  Truth can be scary for sure, but I'd rather a scary truth than a comforting lie.

When I write I hope to persuade in favor of Christ and choosing Him.  But there are going to be other alternatives. If you wonder why I write, it's to persuade to follow Christ.  Do you have faith in Christ independent of any Church or man? I believe there is a pivotal difference between faith in Christ and faith in a Church or it's leaders. Some thoughts and scriptures on this below. The Gospel of Jesus Christ centers faith only on Christ and leads to Him.

Faith in Christ: 
There are two Comforters. The first is the Holy Ghost. Christ promised His followers He would send a “Comforter” to them. He said, “I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him; but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” (John 14: 16–17.) 
The promise of this first Comforter is followed by this verse: “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” (Id. verse 18, emphasis added.) Joseph Smith elaborated on this by explaining Christ was promising to come to comfort you Himself. Joseph explained, “When any man obtains this last Comforter, he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even He will manifest the Father unto him.” (DHC 3: 381 also found in TPJS, p. 151.)
Referring to these same verses Joseph elaborated: After a person has faith in Christ, repents of his sins, and is baptized for the remission of his sins and receives the Holy Ghost (by the laying on of hands), which is the first Comforter, then let him continue to humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and living by every word of God, and the Lord will soon say unto him, Son, thou shalt be exalted. When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and election made sure, then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter, which the Lord hath promised the Saints [at which point Joseph refers to these verses in John’s Gospel]. (DHC 3: 380, also TPJS, p. 150.)  
Joseph’s explanation is clear and its import unmistakable. He is saying this promise is to be taken literally. Joseph claimed to have been visited by “the personage of Jesus Christ” who “appeared unto him from time to time.” Therefore, he had personal knowledge about the Second Comforter. Joseph wanted the Saints to understand the visitations he received from Christ were actual, literal and physical. Similarly, his explanation that Christ will “not leave you comfortless: [He] will come to you” means just that. Christ will be comforting you by coming to visit with you. This involves having the heavens open to you, just as they have opened to others before you. It is the culminating part of Christ’s Gospel, in which Christ ministers to you as He has ministered to others before.
                                                                     -The Second Comforter, Milcreek Press 2006
This is the fullness of the Gospel.  It's what faith in Christ leads to. This is what prophets and scripture teach and give examples of.  The Book of Mormon especially has account after account of individuals receiving The Second Comforter.

The scriptures over and over and over remind us that Christ is the only anchor.  He is the Rock upon which we are to build our foundation.  Salvation is found in and only through Him.
Ether: 12
For he did cry from the morning, even until the going down of the sun, exhorting the people to believe in God unto repentance lest they should be destroyed, saying unto them that by faith all things are fulfilled—Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.
It says believe in God, not believe in a Church organization with leaders who won't lead you astray.  I know the two get so conflated that it's new for some folks to separate the two.

Hel. 5: 12.
And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.
3 Ne. 14: 25
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock.
When God speaks through mortals it's up to us to discern inspired moments from all the other moments.  To quote again from the book I quoted above (emphasis and brackets mine):
If you follow [Current Church President] solely because he is the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you are following a man. But if you follow [Current Church President] because you hear the Master’s voice in his counsel and teaching, then you are following the Lord, and not a man. There is a great difference between the two. One honors the Lord and leads to exaltation. The other misses the mark and makes such followers Telestial. This distinction is pivotal to salvation itself. It is not merely rhetorical, but of such substance if you fail to understand it you fail in the test of mortality itself. This is what we signed up for in coming to mortality. We accepted this challenge and expected it. Now it confronts us. So the test is afoot and must be taken with caution and humility.
When centered on God, hope and faith make an anchor to the souls of men.  When centered on Churches and religious organizations or leaders there is no such promise.  To build on that is more like building on sand.  For me, I'd rather hear that before the rains and the floods come.  I seek the truth which is why I point this out.

The doctrine of the Second Comforter is increasingly if not completely absent from talks, manuals, lessons and discussion among latter-day Saints.  It's no longer on the list of approved doctrines to teach in seminary and institute.  It's neglected, feared, and discouraged against.  The doctrine is being lost.  The word "Second Comforter" has only been used twice in all of General Conference since the 1850's.  Two times is all. Instead there's a wave and shift towards focus and faith in the Church and it's leaders.  As one example here, on pages 84-85.

Messages like this from 1891 are being contradicted in our day:
Do not, brethren, put your trust in man though he be a bishop, an apostle, or a President; if you do, they will fail you at some time or place; they will do wrong or seem to, and your support will be gone; but if we lean on God, He will never fail us. When men and women depend upon God alone and trust in Him alone, their faith will not be shaken if the highest in the Church should step aside”. (George Q. Cannon, First Counselor in the First Presidency, Deseret Weekly, 43:322, Mar 7, 1891).
Faith in the Church: 

In my experience faith in the Church is common as a generational pattern or tradition.  It's easy to spot in very large Churches like the Catholic church, but also easy to completely miss the same phenomena in your own.  Ancestry and very emotionally tense histories or miracles can tie generations of faith strongly to a church organization as a matter of family loyalty.  I understand that.  Loyalty to ancestry and religious traditions run deep and the adherents firmly accept that those histories are evidence of God's complete and ongoing endorsement of their Church.  To say otherwise sometimes affects them to the core

Churches have had an important role all throughout the worlds history.  I think Churches can be great tools and vehicles to live the Gospel, and a place to serve and show charity.  But we must come unto Christ to be saved, which is not the same thing as coming unto Church, or following a man because he's the President of that Church.   

In the Book of Mormon Nephi who saw our day in vision speaks to his readers (us):
2 Nephi 28: Yea, they have all gone out of the way; they have become corrupted. Because of pride, and because of false teachers, and false doctrine, their churches have become corrupted, and their churches are lifted up; because of pride they are puffed up. They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing; and they persecute the meek and the poor in heart, because in their pride they are puffed up. They wear stiff necks and high heads; yea, and because of pride, and wickedness, and abominations, and whoredoms, they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men.
His words are that they (Churches) have all gone astray.  All become corrupted. False doctrine, pride, false teachers, and obsession with nice clothes and outward appearance. It’s all polluted. Save a few humble followers of Christ. But the concerning part is even if you or I identify as the humble follower of Christ guess what?  Even those folks "err in many instances" because of what is being taught to them.  Remember the context is religion.  We are warned in unmistakable English that there is corruption, false teachings, false doctrine, wickedness and man's precepts ringing in all of our ears, no matter which group we identify with.

To give that message from Nephi some color an interesting exercise is to consider who Nephi is talking about.  I'm hard pressed to see how Nephi could be talking about everyone else and every other church except my own. His audience and descriptions have to include Mormons (forgive the nickname). Do we have teachers teaching false things? Any false doctrine going around?  Any sexual scandals now or in our history?  Any wickedness or idolatry?  Does anyone put gold statues atop temples? Gold statues in the bible are one of the most well recognized religious mistakes.  Incidentally ours have lightning rods in them because of how frequently they get struck by lightning.

Do we adore, worship, and honor men and teach to place our trust in them? Link link.  Do we build statues to them, name buildings after them, prominently display bronze busts of them, and throw worldwide birthday parties for them?  Does this align with the Gospel?  Do we have fine religious sanctuaries?  Do the fine sanctuaries get a disproportionate amount of support compared to the poor?  Do we pair temples with billion-dollar high end shopping malls projects that sell the finest clothing available? Does anyone ever boast and show pride in being the only true church on the whole earth with the only keys of salvation?

Later in the same chapter from Nephi he warns Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough!

The idea of an open cannon of scripture is a great idea we all love and take pride in having. Yet in practice (excluding topical guide and maps etc.) the official cannon of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint scripture has actually shrunk since Joseph Smith's day. It's literally got less content now than it did in 1844. The improper removal of The Lectures on Faith resulted in a net loss even with the sections of D&C that were added after Joseph's death. Our cannon is open, but I guess the opening is at the bottom.

I hope to not be unfair here and overlook the enormous charity and humanitarian work that's done all over the world.  Or the obvious value that Churches bring to their members.  That stuff is awesome.  But Nephi didn't' warn about that.  He did warn about these other things and having read his message, we have been warned.

Nephi did warn “all” have gone astray.  So what do we do?  Depending on how or if we apply Nephi's words this could really clarify what repentance means.  A different type of repentance is suggested by Nephi than I think we are typically used to if you've been a lifelong member of the Church.  Nephi is talking about large scale issues not just individual struggles to live righteously. It's a change of orientation towards God and away from idols, false teachers, and false religious traditions, Churches or beliefs, many of which you may not currently think are "false".  The repentance starts to include becoming aware of our awful situation and turning back to God. Comparing our religious beliefs and actions against scripture.

If your faith centers on the Church where does that lead you?  What does that cause you to be reliant on?  If faith is fixated on the leaders where does that lead to?  Is it the same place as faith in Christ?

Another scriptural contrast between faith in Christ and faith in the Church:

This is Moroni talking in the Book of Mormon.  Look what he has to say about Churches in our day.  "Your churches, yea, every one....".   Nephi and Moroni both share this same message.  ALL churches are facing corruption.  I hope this makes sense as to why there's a difference between faith in Christ and faith in the Church.
Mormon 8: Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.  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, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts. 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. O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? 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? 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 Yea, why do ye build up your secret abominations to get gain, and cause that widows should mourn before the Lord, and also orphans to mourn before the Lord, and also the blood of their fathers and their husbands to cry unto the Lord from the ground, for vengeance upon your heads?
The warnings about the corruption in our day are very clear.  Moroni asks us why we participate in the spiritual pollution.  And why there is shame to in taking on the name of Christ.  We are his audience, we are the ones reading this book.  According to these scriptural authors we need to repent, but we tend to reject that message because we think it doesn't apply to us and that we are justified in our faith in our Church and faith in our deeply held traditions.  We, like so many in dispensations past, turn away the message to repent, assuming we are righteous, assuming we can't be led astray, assuming that everything we're taught from the pulpit must be from God.  This is why I wrote some of what I do.  It's to show just how pointedly these scriptures apply to us.

The Church is not the rock. The leaders are not the rock. The buildings and temples are not the rock.  Christ is the Rock.  I never intent to ever say anything to undermine faith in Christ. That would go against my deepest convictions.  But if the misleading varnish comes off the Church, so what?  Why fight to keep it shiny what is not shiny?  Why keep something hidden?

I prefer the truth regardless of what's exposed by the truth or how how uncomfortable it might be to look at. At the core of being a Christian is following Christ and turning to face Him as new information is discovered, or new information comes into our experience.  Christ's doctrine teaches us to become as a little child.  Children are open to new ideas. Children are willing to listen and not reject something outright because it conflicts with some traditions they hold dear to. 

Christ is the light of truth, Christ is the way, the truth, and the light (D&C 88:6–7, 40.(John 14:6). Since nothing but the truth will endure, I conclude it's important to find as much of it as you can. And build on it.  I hope to be true disciple of Christ.  I believe in Him, and have faith in Him, and have learned things about Him that give my soul hope.  I try to keep what I write focused on scripture, not personal experiences, but that doesn't mean I don't have them. 

In my experience, seeing certain truths is easier when there is a contrast.  Art and color are examples of how contrast is useful.  Sometimes things are also more obvious once they have been pointed out.  If I ever write something to give religious or scriptural contrast between what we build our faith upon it is not to sow seeds of doubt.  It's not me being angry a critic or overly negative.  It's awareness so we can build on Christ, not on sand.  If such things previously came across as me being angry or unkind hopefully now you see it differently. 

How important is this? 

If our faith is has become centered on the Church and it's leaders, then in my experience it leads to acting as though they are your God. Good old fashioned idolatry is what that is.  That causes people to feel fragile or scared of new ideas that doesn't align with what their Church and leaders say.  Scripturally speaking that's a sandy foundation. It won't hold up.  New information will be feared rather than welcomed.  Scriptures teach:
2 Nephi 28:31 Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost. 
This goes back to something mentioned earlier.  As latter day-saints we have to distinguish when the Holy Ghost is the source of what we're taking in, and when it's not.  There's a curse for putting trust in men.  Also a curse for hearkening unto the precepts of men.  The only thing given a green light is if a precept is given by the power of the Holy Ghost.  Otherwise it results in a curse!  Nephi and Moroni both warn that this test confronts us, and that corruption is not only expected but has already happened. 

Faith placed in the Church and or the prophet might:
-Darken your mind
-Make it feel like the rug getting ripped out from under you if someone says something not promoting faith in the Church.  Even if what is said is true.  Those truths are labeled "unhelpful".
-Make it easy to reject true things because it "doesn't feel good".
-Cause you to say and do hurtful things to people who no longer share your views of religion
-Judge people and dismiss the truth before hearing it out
-Become proud when numbers grow, bank accounts grow, and the organization seems to prosper.
-Ignore the voice of truth when it comes from outside the Church.  (Like Jews rejecting John the Baptist or Jesus who were not Church authorities)
-Cause blindness about what it means repent
-Cause you to conclude that renaming things or simply removing parts of the temple and then telling you not to talk about it is "revelation" from God.
-Affect your salvation

D&C 76: 98-101
And the glory of the telestial is one, even as the glory of the stars is one; for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world; For these are they who are of Paul, and of Apollos, and of Cephas. These are they who say they are some of one and some of another—some of Christ and some of John, and some of Moses, and some of Elias, and some of Esaias, and some of Isaiah, and some of Enoch; But received not the gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus, neither the prophets, neither the everlasting covenant.
Lots of those names listed there are prophets that some people are "of" (followers of).  Their reward is telestial.  The Gospel doesn't teach to follow or worship messengers, even if they are sent by God. We're supposed to follow God and be able to tell the difference when a message originates form Him or if it's just a man speaking.  Messengers from God don't point to themselves or teach you to fixate and trust religious men.  They point to Christ. 

How big is the risk if we choose the wrong thing to center our faith in? This isn't to say God hasn't used institutions in the past or been involved in them. Obviously he has. The point is as times change and as God's work continues you may need to be more willing to keep looking to God and be more nimble and responsive to God then you can do by fixating on a Church organization.  Faith centered in Christ allows for freedom and always allows for new truth.  It allows one to leave behind errors.  But if faith in centered in something else, you're chained to that thing.

Isn't differentiating between faith in Christ and faith in the Church a false dichotomy? 

I know some believe the Church and Christ are so intertwined that it's as if the Church organization is an extension of Christ himself.  So faith in one is not mutually exclusive to faith in the other.  Or another version of this is that because God is at the helm and God won't let the men in charge lead astray, all is well if we keep our eyes fixed on them.  So the doctrine of "follow the prophet" goes.  Whatever happens must be approved by God and whatever the leaders say is if God himself was speaking.  The scripture cited to support this are all out of context and are being used to maintain the shiny appearance of the Church, not promote the truth. See here.  What do scriptures say?  They say you cannot serve two masters.

I've found it helpful to remember the Jews were God's chosen people and that didn't stop them from killing Christ.  So being "chosen" or "God's people" or the "true church" is no guarantee of anything.

The truth is, in 2019 actions by the Church are more and more at odds with teachings of Joseph Smith, and scripture.  Statements and actions from top leaders are increasingly contradicting Christ's words.  If you read some of my other posts you'll see and get background on some examples.  This is not to undermine faith in Christ.  It's to show how and why it matters very much who we put faith and trust in.  The hope when I say things like this is to be a voice for truth and a voice for someone who may find themselves in need of a life boat in a moment of idiotic policy, heartbreak, or feeling of emptiness and lack of spiritual fulfillment at what's offered by the LDS church.

All churches loose divinity when angels are replaced by social science studies.  When visions are replaced by marketing departments.  When revelation is replaced by a huge legal department.  When prophets are replaced by profits.  And suits and ties replace actual authority from God.  Zion is replaced by shopping mall construction.  This is why faith in Christ is so different from faith in an organization.  They are often diametrically opposed.

What about Ordinances? 

You need Priesthood Ordinances offered by the Church, right?  So it's assumed you have to have some degree of faith in and reliance on the Church since they have the keys.  My question is has God surrendered his keys to men?

Ordinances have been possible since the beginning of time independent of a Church or it's oversight. When Jesus got baptized was it into the Jewish church?  Or was he simply baptized?  When Joseph and Oliver were baptized, it wasn't related to an institution.  It was just plain old baptism.  Even for LDS folks, baptism isn't into a church (more on that here).  It's just baptism.  Confirmation is what brings church membership.  We in 2019 almost seem to want organizations to control everything, because it's familiar and neat and tidy.  God is the one who gives priesthood, not a Church.  Look at any line of authority for any priesthood holder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The "Church" is never a slot in a persons line of authority.  A church can assist with ordination, but God has to give the power.  That principle of power vs authority was taught by President Packer in General conference not too many years ago.

What if a Church loses priesthood?  Such a thing is possible D&C 121:37.  When control and dominion are used, it's no longer priesthood anymore.  It's control.  What happens if that Church looses rights to Priesthood and your not centered on Christ but are fixated on the organization?  How will you receive what you need?  How will you receive baptism?   You'll have to convince yourself that what you belong to will not and can't ever loose priesthood because if it does, you're in trouble.  This will lull you back to sleep, rather than helping you awake and arise.

When John the Baptist came baptizing the Jews were already practicing baptism.  Hence a lot of them probably saw no need to do it over again.  But it was needed.  When God sends a messenger and begins a new dispensation re-baptism shows you follow Him and hear Him.

Christ, not Churchmen and institutions

We tend to define Church differently than God. Christ defines his Church this way.
D&C 10: 67-70 Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church. Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church. And now, behold, whosoever is of my church, and endureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them. And now, remember the words of him who is the life and light of the world, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Amen.
Christ warns not to declare more or less than that or your acting against Christ and not of His church.  What stands out from this verse is that you can be a member of the church described by Christ and also belong to any number of earthly religious denominations.  There are plenty of places and churches to do good and learn basics of Christianity.  Churches are often a great tool and a place to show love and give service to others.  It just doesn't make much sense to center your faith and salvation in those organizations, or their leaders, especially when that doesn't even fit how Christ defined his Church.

Christ is the life boat.  That is the only boat I believe anyone should want to stay in.  But there are other ships readily accepting passengers.  I'm not saying there isn't value found in all churches.  I'm not saying people should throw up their hands and stop everything and throw out the baby with the bath water.  Rash reactions miss the point.  But I admit waking up can sometimes be unpleasant.  Especially if you were in a deep sleep. I hope this post has helped arouse some faculties to at least test this to see if it's accurate.

For me a lot of what's behind my writing is that I'm advocating faith that will stand and lead to Christ.  The center of faith should be Christ and Him alone.  Many events are taking place to preserve and continue the restoration and are independent of the predominant Church in Utah.  I'd love to chat about it.  If you sincerely seek Christ, you can find Him.  Or if it's more comfortable to be centered on an organization there's plenty there to keep you distracted and fixated on the leaders.  But all of us have been warned by scripture.  Something new has begun.  Look and see for yourself. 

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