October 26, 2007

Search These Things Diligently

Parley P. Pratt October 7, 1855 Parley braved loud winds to preach to the saints on the subject of scripture study. He read Luke 21 and gave commentary on the fulfillment of predictions in that chapter. He first pointed out how important the scriptures were to Christ during His ministry on earth, and how they ought to be important to us:

Jesus himself, while he traveled upon the earth in his mortal tabernacle, read the Scriptures to the people, "he opened the book and taught;" his manner was to do it in the synagogue every Sabbath day-he exhorted them to search into the things that were written. And after he had risen from the dead, and received all power in heaven and on earth, he refereed his disciples to that which was written. On a certain occasion he said, "O fools and slow of heart to believe that which the Prophets have written." When he appeared to the Nephites, in his risen body, as you will find it written in the Book of Mormon, he took pains to refer them to the written prophecies of Isaiah and many others, and quoted many of them, and exhorted the people to search the things contained in the prophecies of Isaiah diligently, bearing testimony of their literal fulfillment: and said he, "A commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently," for they have been fulfilled, and will be fulfilled according to that which is written, not in some other way. Not only are we included in these general exhortations and commandments of the ancients, and of Jesus Christ himself, but the same commandments have been renewed to us by our great Prophet and founder, Joseph Smith, and by our Prophets and Apostles that still live. How often have they told us to treasure up the words of God, those things that are written for our profit and learning, and to search diligently and treasure up in our hearts continually words of wisdom from the best books.
Parley reminded the saints of Joseph Smith's thoughts on scripture: that if the saints treasure up the scriptures through study, the Holy Ghost would bring scriptures to their remembrance when needed. We need to give the Holy Ghost something to work with!
It is not to study up what you shall say particularly, but to treasure up truth in your hearts, to have them well filled with it, kept well stored, and then give free liberty to the Spirit of God to operate upon you, to collect out of that treasure that portion which will be best suited to the wants and condition of men who do not treasure up the words of life. If the Holy Spirit should come upon a man of that description to select out of that store-house, he would find it empty, and he would have the trouble of putting it there, or it would not be there; hence he would be barren and unfruitful.

Parley was familiar with the common excuse that people were too busy to take time reading some old books; but he believed time should be made for that purpose:
You may say you have not time; take those portions of time you would otherwise devote to something less useful. We all have time to do it. I have been as hard working in my day as any other man, perhaps, and I always had time to do it, and always have done it, and it was by the light that shone in a dark place, diligently and prayerfully searched out, and the Holy Spirit that shone upon the understanding, through the prayer of faith, and through diligent search, that caused me to see, and understand, and lay hold on certain things that came in fulfilment of these prophecies.
Parley knew the importance of scripture, but the words alone aren't the most important thing. As Paul once said, "the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life (see 1 Corinthians 3:6). Scripture study invites the Holy Ghost:
If any one asks how I came to be a Latter-day Saint, or what some people would call a "Mormon," a follower of Joseph Smith, the modern Prophet, I answer, it was because I had given heed to the sentiments of truth from my early youth, carefully and prayerfully searching and believing them; it was because the Holy Spirit rested upon me, and opened my understanding to the same through the prayer of faith, and diligent search. It was because that the Holy Spirit gave me clearly to understand that this modern Prophet, and the fulness of the Gospel restored by him, had come in fulfillment of certain promises made by the ancient Prophets and Apostles; that is the reason why I really embraced the fulness of the Gospel which the world calls "Mormonism."
In addition to the written word, the restored gospel believes God sends living prophets and apostles on the earth today; special witnesses with His authority and message. Seeing all the confusion throughout the many Christian sects I am reminded of what Paul told the Ephesians regarding leaders in the Church:
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive...(Ephesians 4:11-14).
God is sending prophets today, and since the beginning of the restoration they have been accused of being false prophets. I would ask 'where are the true prophets, then? We are told they will be sent until all come into a unity of the faith, and we don't see that unity yet.' Parley knew the rejection of living prophets was as old as time:
But that part of "Mormonism" is very ancient, and applied to Moses, and to Christ, and to every Prophet that has ever been sent to lead the people... What do our enemies complain of us about? For believing we must hearken to the Prophet of the Lord which we profess to have among us-Joseph Smith, and Brigham Young, or whoever it may be. "They believe," say our enemies, "that they must hearken to their Prophet in all things whatsoever he shall say unto them." Just as though it was a new thing; that is what they are mad at us about; it is the main point that is found fault with from California to Maine, and throughout Europe, by editors and Priests. Everywhere the word is, "what is the matter with the Mormons in Utah? They hold to that abominable principle of hearkening to all things the Prophet of God says to them." O dear, what hurt does that do? It gives them power-they will all vote one way. We are not the only people that are troubled with that doctrine, and this is not the only age that has had that kind of trouble to contend with.
Searching the scriptures- the ancient record as well as the words of the living leaders- invites the Spirit to instruct us, correct us, encourage us, and change us. Footnotes For more on following living prophets, see this former post: He That Reveiveth You Receiveth Me

October 25, 2007

Giving and Receiving Criticism

Heber C. Kimball October 6, 1855 Following President Young's rather stern remarks, Heber C. Kimball stood and complimented the president's bluntness. Brigham had called the saints to repent of covetousness, and Heber was glad to see the president speaking of specific things of which the saints needed to repent; he hoped people wouldn't be offended at Brigham calling for repentance. Perhaps apologetically, he said:

I am thankful that the time has come when brother Brigham is disposed to lift the veil and expose the iniquities of men, if they are not willing to expose them themselves. I know they were exposed in the days of Joseph, and brother Brigham, myself, and many others were with him and stood by him to the day of his death, and do still.
Heber knew the value of being "called on the carpet," so to speak; but it can be hard to take counsel regarding our mistakes, because "the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center (1 Nephi 16:2). Our pride can lead us to take offense if a leader calls us to repentance. Rather than taking offense, Heber rejoiced:
...if I am concealing wickedness or iniquity, I say, let it be exposed, that others by seeing it may repent and forsake their sins.
Heber's thick skin notwithstanding, we all may face a time when a leader, perhaps a bishop, teacher, or parent, "reproves," or corrects us. What we do with that criticism is important. Let's first take a look at the issue from the leader's point of view. In a letter to his son, Mormon described the difficulty he faced in trying to call his soldiers to repentance:
Behold, I am laboring with them continually; and when I speak the word of God with sharpness they tremble and anger against me; and when I use no sharpness they harden their hearts against it; wherefore, I fear lest the Spirit of the Lord hath ceased striving with them.
When he softballed the issue, they ignored it; when he spoke boldly they became angry. I'm sure many parents can understand how Mormon felt if they've dealt with difficult children. The Nephites were full of hate and anger; they were hardened and the Spirit of the Lord had departed from their lives. What could Mormon do to overcome this problem? He continued in the letter:
And now, my beloved son, notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God (Moroni 9:4,6).
His solution was simple; and heartrending: never give up. He chose to be neither overbearing or enabling; but to continue to love and serve his men. Perhaps they would never change; but his concern was with the first two commandments: loving God and loving his fellow men. God will not coerce, nor should we attempt to do so, else the Spirit will depart from us (see D&C 121:36-37). So much for the leaders, what about those being led?[1] In a sermon from February 1855, Heber had mentioned some strong rebukes the saints received, explaining it was easy to see who needed the rebukes by seeing the reactions of the rebuked:
I was thinking considerably upon what he said about the wickedness that is creeping into our midst, and of that wickedness being rebuked. I want my brethren and sisters to understand that only those who are guilty are rebuked. Our rebukes do not touch the innocent, nor affect them one hair's breadth. When you use the whip the lash will, perhaps, hit a person who sits in the outer edge of the congregation, and one in this, and another in that part of the room. It is intended for them, and not for those it does not hit. You will not hear any man or woman, enter a complaint, or find any fault with brother Brigham, or brother Heber, except that person who is hit. When you load your musket with buckshot, or coarse shot, and fire into a flock of ducks or geese, you never will see any flutter except the wounded. When you see a person flutter, you may know that is the character who is hit, and is the one who ought to be hit (Journal of Discourses 3:160).
Granted, some may become unsettled for reasons other than guilt, but generally the guilty will "flutter" when they are hit. How should we react to criticism, rebukes, and counsel? We should put ourselves in the sandals of the Nephites Mormon was calling to repentance. Our reaction to counsel can range from being angry, to missing the counsel entirely. The key for the Nephites was they had lost the Spirit; thus, they couldn't recognize counsel when it was soft and it angered them when it was hard. Perhaps a leader has censured us, and we feel the criticism is incorrect or unfounded. Perhaps we even feel the leader is being rude, or attempting to coerce. How should we react? In the Book of Mormon, Captain Moroni wrote a rather scathing letter to the head of the government, a humble man named Pahoran. Moroni was out on the front lines being assailed by the Lamanites, barely hanging on, and needed reinforcements and supplies. He felt Pahoran had neglected the troops and was sitting comfortably back home in a state of "thoughtless stupor" while the military suffered (see Alma 60). His accusatory letter was answered by a level-headed Pahoran, who didn't take offense. Insurrection in the government had kept Pahoran busy; everyone was in straights, not just Moroni. Pahoran calmly explained the situation in his return letter, and addressed Moroni as his "beloved brother" (see Alma 61). Another example of one who received criticism was Joseph Smith. He heard a number of slanderous reports about his character, but didn't always immediately discount them. When he heard a criticism he said he would look deep inside himself and really evaluate if there was even a hint of truth to the criticism, and if there was, he would seek repentance. Receiving counsel-when it is too soft or too hard, or even just right- requires us to have the Spirit keep our hearts soft. Either way, we must be willing to listen to criticism to "check" us in our path of discipleship:
Brother Brigham is a servant to this people, and he serves you and waits upon you by night and by day, and his associates are willing to do whatever they are called upon. He is your servant, and I am your servant, but if you do not treat your servants well while in this time, I am afraid that when they come to what is called eternity, you will not have the privilege of troubling them much. Therefore, listen with hearing ears and understanding hearts; walk up like men to do what God requires at your hands, and be willing to come to the light that your sins may be revealed; and if your sins are revealed and you repent of them, there are men who can tell you what road to take and what atonement to make, that you may be set in the road which leads to life, and if you will not be corrected you will be damned as sure as the sun will again set.
The way we react to our leaders is an indication of our spiritual maturity, as Elder Ezra T. Benson had taught. By sustaining our leaders we don't agree to blindly follow them; nor do we have license to publicly point out their faults or clamor for change through improper channels:
Shall we not have confidence in God's Prophets, and in those whom He has placed to teach us? Those who are not satisfied with them are constantly grumbling and growling about their circumstances and the prosperity of the Church, but when we have the Holy Spirit, all is right, and we feel satisfied; the visions of the Almighty and of the heavens are before us night and day, and we have confidence in the holy Gospel, in the work of the Lord, in the Priesthood, and in those who hold that authority upon this earth. We are called upon to uphold, by our faith, works, and our prayers, those who are over us; we have raised our hands to sustain and uphold them, and will we turn round and find fault with that which we have sanctioned? Can you enjoy the Spirit of God if you do this? No. In order to enjoy that spirit you must reverence all the members of the Priesthood, no matter who may be in possession of it (Ezra T. Benson, Journal of Discourses 3:60-65).
Heber spoke only briefly (his sermon was only a few paragraphs long,) but he emphasized how much he had enjoyed the meeting:
I do not wish to detain the congregation long, still I do not think that those who have the spirit of a Saint are tired and wish the meeting to come to a close. Every word I have heard to-day is salvation and the very quintessence of righteousness, and I assure you that I have enjoyed myself more under what I have heard to-day, than I ever did in the best party that I ever attended. True, I have enjoyed myself extremely well when I have been with my brethren in the dance, but, gentlemen and ladies, what we have heard to-day is salvation and eternal lives to us, if we will listen to and obey it (Journal of Discourses 3:123).
Footnotes: [1] In another sermon emphasizing loyalty to leadership, Heber said:
I have traveled through most of the enlightened portions of the United States, and much in England, and I have generally found that those who are called the most enlightened are the most corrupt. Does the sad condition of the world hurt my feelings? Not particularly, for that is their own affair; but when the Saints transgress I feel sorrowful. When brother Brigham comes here, and chastises us through the spirit of revelation, or is moved upon to instruct the Saints to their profit, if any portion applies to me, I treasure it up, and humble myself before my God (Journal of Discourses 3:270).

October 24, 2007

God Gives the Increase

Brigham Young October 8, 1855 In the forepart of this sermon (see yesterday's post) Brigham taught the famine-suffering Saints they were in the hands of God, and that He has the power to change their hearts. Brigham is known to have emphasized a gospel of works, especially suited for the saints of his day; they faced tremendous obstacles in establishing the Church in Utah. While emphasizing these works, he also taught the saints to remember that it is God who gives the increase. Their works would avail nothing without the divine hand of providence providing the harvest:

Man cannot control the heavens; he cannot control the earth, nor the elements; he can fertilize and prepare the ground for the reception of seed; he can plant, water, till, and reap from the ground the fruit of his toil, but, until his mind is opened by the Spirit of God, he cannot see that it is by a superior power that corn, wheat, and every kind of vegetation spring into life, and ripen for the sustenance of man and beast. Is it possible for him to arrive at this knowledge? It is, and that is what we have brought the doctrine of life and salvation to you for, that you may exchange your low, narrow, contracted, selfish dispositions for the ennobling Spirit of the Lord; for the Spirit of the Gospel, which gives joy and peace. If you enjoy that, your food will be sweet to you, your sleep will be refreshing, and your days will pass away in usefulness.
This attitude allowed Brigham to keep faith through the hard life endured by the Saints, and they looked to him for strength, which he imbued to them in sermons such as this one. He continued by warning- as he often did- against covetousness in the Church:
On the contrary, those who are covetous and greedy, anxious to grasp the whole world, are all the time uneasy, and are constantly laying their plans and contriving how to obtain this, that, and the other. Their minds are continually on the stretch to solve, "How can I obtain this farm, or that house and lot? How can I manage to get such and such teams? I want to get my lumber and adobies to build me a house, how can I manage and not pay much for them? I will deceive every man who comes nigh me; I will make him believe that my property is worth more than it is; I will sell ribbons for double their value, and I will ask forty cents a dozen for glass buttons that are worth only twenty, and in this way I will build a house for eighteen hundred dollars that will be worth four thousand." Their minds are so intent on cheating their brethren that they cannot sleep soundly, their nerves twitch and they have the jerks in their sleep, thinking, "How shall I manage with this man to-morrow? I want enough out of him to get my adobies." And they lie and think, and think, and contrive, and plan, and the devil helps them all the time to manage to cheat the Saints. If such men should get a few bushels of wheat, would they let Saints have it? No, they would sell it to our enemies and feed them, and let the Saints starve.

Brigham didn't spare some of the poor from criticism, either:
Again, it is known to all that a great many of the poor are as bad as those who have property; they are all the time in a sweat to know how to get their living without procuring it honestly. They are just as covetous and craving in their feelings as are the rich who hoard up their means and keep it from the honest poor; they are all the time scheming to get along without labor. There are many who live in this city without labor; I have neighbors near me that I do not believe get one cord of wood in the year, only as they steal it, and you have neighbors near you who steal your wood. If you want to keep your wood from the hands of these pilferers, you will have to put it in your houses, and if you want to keep your chickens, you will have to lock them up. I have often told you that we have all kinds of fish in the Gospel net; we have all kinds of poor, but after all the Lord's poor out number the poor devils.
Brigham was more concerned with problems arising in the membership of the Church than he was from "Gentiles" passing through. Brigham made an excellent point: it does not require one to be a member of the Church to be a good man. Additionally, being a member does not by default make one a good man:
A likely man is a likely man, and a good man is a good man, whether in this Church or out of it; and a poor, miserable, sinful creature who gathers as a Saint, is worse than one who gathers as a Gentile. A person who is a thief, a liar, and a murderer in his heart, but professes to be a Saint, is more odious in the sight of God, angels and good men, than a person who comes out and openly declares that he is our enemy. I know how to take such a man, but a devil with a Saint's cloak on is one of the meanest characters you can imagine. I say, blessings on the head of a wicked Gentile who is my avowed enemy, far sooner than upon an enemy cloaked with a Saint's profession.[1]
Brigham encouraged the saints to use their meager recourses to aid the poor:
Will the people still take a course to feed strangers, and let their brethren starve? They will not. I say to every man who has wheat, set the poor to building your houses, to making fences, opening farms, or doing something, and hand out your grain to them. And if those who wish to speculate in grain, in consequence of the scarcity through drought and the ravages of the grasshoppers, come and offer you money for your grain, do not sell a bushel for five, ten, or twenty dollars, but tell them, "no, our wheat is to feed the poor Saints, and no one else."
Brigham practiced what he preached. Along side the Beehive house there was an old stone wall. One saint recalled why the wall was there: Brigham had a large pile of stones in the corner of his property. When poor would come asking for help he would put them to work, saying he had some stones he needed hauled from one corner of his property to the other, for which he would pay them. The stone pile moved back and forth on his property for several years. Brigham wanted those in need to feel good about earning their keep. He was against meanness and even went as far as to threaten the saints that they would be cut off if they didn't do so likewise.
If you do not do this, I am watching you. Do you know that I have my threads strung all through the Territory, that I may know what individuals do? If you do not pursue a righteous course, we will separate you from the Church. Is that all? No, if necessary we will take your grain from your bin and distribute it among the poor and needy, and they shall be fed and supplied with work, and you shall receive what your grain is worth.
This hyperbolic threat was, to the records knowledge, never realized; it seems Brigham just wanted to get the saints moving. The important thing Brigham wanted the saints to understand was all belonged to the Lord; they were merely stewards, and had the responsibility to work together to become one. He saw the Law of Consecration as achievable, and tried many times to set it up successfully. While it seems he ultimately failed at achieving this end, the legacy of consecration continues today through tithes, fast offerings, and other donations. And perhaps as importantly, it continues through the known anticipation of the saints that the order will be fulfilled in the Millennium; it is still something to which we all look forward in anticipation. Footnotes: [1] Parley P. Pratt mentioned how God is less concerned with what Church one belongs to than what type of a person one is; the Church being the optimum vehicle to help develop that type: The question is often asked, "Are there any honest people among this sect, and the other party?" I tell you there are honest men in every sect of religionists, and if you try to classify men, you will have a difficult job, for you will find honest men in this class and the other, and, in fact, among all classes and sects of men. You need not suppose that honesty depends upon our traditions, or upon where a man was born; but there are honest people in every community, and in every sect under heaven, and there are those that hate the truth, and that would not aid in the spread of light and truth, nor lend their influence to any servant of God under the heavens (Journal of Discourses 3:177).

October 23, 2007

Take Away the Stony Hearts

Brigham Young October 8, 1855 As the Fall conference of 1855 came to a close Brigham Young spoke of his anxiety in selecting a topic to speak about:

There are many things I wish to say before this Conference comes to a close, but I labour under the same difficulty as did one of the speakers yesterday, for I would like to touch upon so many subjects that I am at a loss to know where to begin. And when this Conference is over, I presume that I shall think of many things omitted, which it would have pleased me to talk about. When a great number of people are together it affords an excellent opportunity for teaching them the principles of practical religion.

Brigham loved practical religion; applying eternal principles to everyday living and finding meaning in the menial. He was concerned that saints would lose the Spirit in the midst of the day-to-day grind. Making the Utah desert blossom like the rose was hard work, and it could be easy to lose sight of the more eternal aspects of life: In his typically blunt fashion, Brigham warned against complacency:
The inhabitants of this Territory have been taught the ways of life, they have been taught the principles of the Everlasting Gospel and have received them; they have forsaken their former homes, the countries in which they were born, their friends and family connexions, for the Gospel's sake; they are here in the midst of these mountains, and many of them will be damned, unless they awake out of their sleep, unless they refrain from their evil ways. Many are stupid, careless, and unconcerned, their eyes are like the fool's eye, to the ends of the earth, searching for this, that, and the other, they have become greedy, are slow to fulfil their duty, are off their watch, neglect their prayers, forget their covenants and forsake their God, and the devil has power over them.
Brigham recommended that missionaries be assigned to travel and encourage the saints within the Utah territory.[1] He stated the difference between testimony and conversion:
Some people say that they believe the Gospel who never live it, they did not embrace it for the love of it, but because they knew its truth. They will not give up their carnal, selfish, devilish dispositions and traits of character, and if you undertake to choke them off from these dispositions you will have to choke them to death before they will let them go; they will hang on to their evil feelings and evil deeds with greater tenacity than does the terrier dog to his prey, or antagonist; it is almost impossible to separate them from evil. As for making Saints of those characters, we have no such anticipation; we wish to make Saints of those who sincerely desire to be Saints, who are willing to sacrifice their carnal, sinful, devilish feelings, to forsake them altogether, and to strive to become Saints and to establish the principles of honesty within them; we expect that such persons will be Saints, and we feel like doing all that we can to aid them in a righteous course.

Knowing the gospel is true, even declaring it to be true, is different from being "converted." Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained that to testify is to know and declare, whereas to be converted means to do and become. He quoted the apostle Paul saying the purpose of the gospel is to perfect us, to make all people attain "the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). Elder Oaks said:
This process requires far more than acquiring knowledge. It is not even enough for us to be convinced of the gospel; we must act and think so that we are converted by it. In contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something (The Challenge to Become, General Conference, October 2001).
The process of becoming like Christ occurs as we receive both blessings and trials in life. Truly, blessings and trials, in the long run, can be synonymous terms in LDS theology. Brigham said trials make some people shrink, whine, or become hardened in their hearts. He saw the hand of God in everything, noting the famine they were experiencing at the time was at least partially due to ingratitude:
Let us reform, that we may be chastened no more; let us try to profit by the blessing we receive, instead of being made to profit by the things we suffer, for afflictions we shall be obliged to receive, if we do not profit by our blessings. If we are chastened a little, do not worry about it. We think we are chastened, this season, in the failing of our crops, but I receive this as one of the greatest blessings that could be bestowed upon us. I have felt like weeping, since I have been in this Territory, on beholding the ungrateful feelings of many of this people, their ingratitude towards their God, and at seeing them trample grain under their feet as a thing of naught. Now I think what we have received this season is but a small portion of what we will receive, if we do not take care of the things the Lord bestows upon us, and be thankful for them. I look upon it as a prelude, forerunner, or testifier, that afflictions will come upon us, unless we humble ourselves before our God. This, however, is but a very slight affliction. We have plenty here, no person is going to starve, or suffer, if there is an equal distribution of the necessaries of life which are in the country.

Brigham noted the saints had been counseled to store their extra crops in case of famine, but many decided to sell their extra crops at high prices to travelers passing through to California. Now when the famine struck they had little to use, and the welfare storage was stretched thin because few people donated much. Care for the poor was always high on Brigham's priority list:
If I cannot get rich only upon the principle of oppressing my brethren, and depriving them of the comforts of life, I say, may God grant that I may never have another farthing upon earth. I do not want it upon such terms, and if I ever should, I hope the Lord will keep it from me.
Our generosity and general regard for others is an indication of where we are on the path to conversion; the path of discipleship; becoming. Just going through the motions will avail little. Going to Church each week, paying tithing, doing all things required will avail nothing if we neglect the weightier matters, according to Brigham:
It grieves me to see men who have believed the Gospel, forsaken the land of their nativity for the sake of life and salvation, endured all they have in coming here, and then, for a paltry sum of money, sacrifice their salvation. Such men cannot be saved in the celestial kingdom of God; they may receive their endowments, but they will do them no good; they may read over their Patriarchal blessings every day, but they will do them no good. No man or woman can receive life everlasting, only upon the principle of strict obedience to the requirements of the celestial law of heaven, no man can inherit such a blessing upon unholy principles. Men must be honest, they must live faithfully before their God, and honor their calling and being on the earth. You ask if that is possible? Yes; the doctrine which we have embraced takes away the stony hearts.

Our stony hearts give way, the natural man is put off through the effects of the atonement of Christ:
We are naturally prone to wander from that which is good, and to receive every species of iniquity; we must get rid of this disposition, and the Gospel of salvation is expressly for the purpose of changing it, that we may receive the principles which prevail in heaven and are loved by the angels. It is possible for a man who loves the world to overcome that love, to get knowledge and understanding until he sees things as they really are, then he will not love the world but will see it as it is; he will see that it is in the hands of a Superior Being (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 3:115-123).
As the poet cried out:
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love! Here's my heart. Oh, take and seal it, Seal it for thy courts above![2]
Part 2, tomorrow. Footnotes [1] This is the first indication I've seen of the coming "Mormon Reformation" which took place in 1856-57 when missionaries were assigned to visit throughout Utah, to rebatize and recommit saints to the Church. [2] "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing," Hymns [1948], no. 70

October 22, 2007

Traditions: True and False

Heber C. Kimball
March 19, 1854

Commentary on "traditions" is a theme repeated throughout the Book of Mormon. We have examples of good traditions, bad traditions, and mocked traditions.[1]

In this sermon, Heber said false traditions often kept people from accepting the gospel, both now and during Christ's mortal ministry. Heber made an interesting clarification. "Traditions" doesn't necessarily always refer to teachings through regular education; they can be handed down simply and culturally:

Were the false traditions of past and present generations thrown off entirely, it would be much to the advantage of this people, and of the human family. Jesus Christ could not teach His disciples as freely, and as publicly as He otherwise would, had He not been bound from the same cause. There are many who think that because they are unlearned, they have not the same amount of tradition as those who are learned; but there is not much difference between the two classes in this respect. The inhabitants of the whole earth are coated over, as it were, with false traditions; which form an almost impenetrable barrier to the shafts of truth.

It seems no one can really escape being influenced by the traditions of their fathers. Strong adherence to these traditions can be a type of ethnocentrism.

Ethnocentrism is defined as:

...the tendency to look at the world primarily from the perspective of one's own culture. It is...the viewpoint that “one’s own group is the center of everything,” against which all other groups are judged. Ethnocentrism often entails the belief that one's own race or ethnic group is the most important and/or that some or all aspects of its culture are superior to those of other groups. Within this ideology, individuals will judge other groups in relation to their own particular ethnic group or culture, especially with concern to language, behavior, customs, and religion. These ethnic distinctions and sub-divisions serve to define each ethnicity's unique cultural identity (see Wikipedia).
We view the world through the lens of our own experience and try to classify everything accordingly, including religious beliefs. This is a natural way to make sense of the world, and carries some positive and negative side effects. We would be wise to keep in mind that God's ways are higher than man's ways, as Isaiah taught (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Heber C. Kimball and Brigham Young sometimes seemed a little self-conscious that they lacked the book learning of other people in and out of the Church. Both were in relative poverty through their youth, and were forced to work at early ages, thus missing out on the opportunities of education, much like Joseph Smith. Still, Heber valued his own experiences above the missed opportunities; through his experiences he achieved a certain education which was worth more to him than all the other education of the learned:

Let me tell you, gentlemen and ladies, if we had been brought up in palaces, and been sent to school all the days of our lives to get all the education of the world, and were practical men only in these things, would we be of any advantage to this people?

A man may pass through a course of education designed to fit him for a doctor, a minister, or a lawyer, and it is often the case that he comes out an ignoramus, or worse than useless member of society.

President Young and I were born of poor, but honest and industrious parents, in the State of Vermont, when it was new; and we have been in new regions of country from that day to the present time, except when we were in the British Isles preaching the Gospel of salvation to a perishing world. We have cleared and subdued the land at various points from Vermont to this place, so that we have had no opportunity for becoming what the world calls educated. But if it were possible for me to exchange my information for that of the most learned man upon the earth, I would not do it; it would be like exchanging a good substantial warm suit of clothing for a mess of filthy rags. He has not my experience; it cannot be purchased with money, nor can men by all their learning attain to it.

Although I have not education of a worldly nature, I have a spirit in me that knows right from wrong.
What is true education, and what is not? There is quite a difference between the true education that all men should have, and that which pertains merely to this life, though when coupled together they are both good.

He then encouraged parents not to slacken in education for their children, but that both spiritual and temporal things ought to be pursued, though priority should go to things eternal.

As a side note, Heber also said his enjoyment in the more transitory things of the world began to sink; he wanted the things of God most:
Life is just as sweet to me now as ever it was; but the world has lost its sweetness to me.
In addition to misplaced education, members of the Church should take care to differentiate between Church doctrine and mere tradition. A common example of false traditions in the Church is a quote circulated in wards, seminaries, and other places regarding "Generals" in the War in Heaven. The quote is often attributed to President Boyd K. Packer, and says:

You were generals in the War in Heaven and one day when you are in the spirit world, you will be enthralled by those you are associated with. You will ask someone in which time period they lived and you might hear, "I was with Moses when he parted the Red Sea ," or "I helped built the pyramids'" or "I fought with Captain Moroni."

And as you are standing there in amazement, someone will turn to you and ask you which of the
prophets' time did you live in? And when you say "Gordon B. Hinkley"[sic] a hush will fall over every hall and corridor in Heaven, and all in attendance will bow at your presence. You were held back six thousand years because you were the most talented, most obedient, most courageous, and most righteous.
Note the author couldn't spell President Hinckley's name correctly, for starters. Apparently, the quote became so widely circulated President Packer issued an official statement in the Church News saying the quote is false, and that he never said anything of the kind:
We continue to receive reports of the distribution of a quote attributed to me which begins, 'The youth of the Church today were generals in the war in heaven,' and ends with the statement that when they return to heaven 'all in attendance will bow in your presence.' I did not make that statement. I do not believe that statement. The statement, on occasion, has been attributed to others of the First Presidency and the Twelve. None of the Brethren made that statement.

President Packer has sent a letter to mission presidents requesting their help in clarifying this matter among missionaries and members, and has had posted on some Internet sites carrying the statement a notice that he did not make this declaration. (Church News, April 28, 2001)
False traditions like this have no place in the gospel, yet they are often widely known. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland called such teachings "doctrinal twinkies:"
In our search for further light and knowledge I pray we can avoid being blinded by our own ethnocentrism, by incorrect traditions, and anything else that would lead us to neglect the "weightier matters" of the law (see Matthew 23:23).
When crises come in our lives--and they will--the philosophies of men interlaced with a few scriptures and poems just won't do. Are we really nurturing our youth and our new members in a way that will sustain them when the stresses of life appear? Or are we giving them a kind of theological Twinkie--spiritually empty calories? President John Taylor once called such teaching "fried froth," the kind of thing you could eat all day and yet finish feeling totally unsatisfied (General Conference, April 1998).



Alma confronts a wicked people, telling them they have forgotten the righteous traditions of their fathers (Alma 9:8).

Korihor mocks believers in Christ, mocking the same traditions Alma praised, calling them frenzied, deranged, and foolish traditions (Alma 30:14-23).

The Lord, among others, lamented the false traditions of the Lamanites which led them to reject the gospel (Helaman 15:14).

Elsewhere, George A. Smith admonished the Saints to lay aside their false traditions:

The human mind is wonderfully susceptible and tenacious of traditions, and whatever may have been our traditions, it is an extremely difficult task for us, as human beings, to dispense with our traditions at once. They will hang about us, we will retain them, more or less, hence it often happens that, when you baptize a sectarian preacher into this Church, and a great many of them have been so baptized, in a little time his foolish traditions will become so apparent as to make him despise himself.

For this cause scores of them have turned away and joined the mob to destroy the Saints, rather than be stripped of their traditions, which they had so long hugged to their bosoms, and considered of so much value.

Incorrect traditions, though long followed, have to be surrendered, and we have to build up Zion (JD 3:281-282).

Brigham Young explained that God allows us to hold to some false ideas:

[God] would be glad to send angels to communicate further to this people, but there is no room to receive it, consequently, He cannot come and dwell with you. There is a further reason: we are not capacitated to throw off in one day all our traditions, and our prepossessed feelings and notions, but have to do it little by little. It is a gradual process, advancing from one step to another; and as we layoff our false traditions and foolish notions, we receive more and more light, and thus we grow in grace; and if we continue so to grow we shall be prepared eventually to receive the Son of Man, and that is what we are after.” (JD 2:309-318).

Upon becoming president of the Church, Harold B. Lee became the subject of rumors that his patriarchal blessing said he would be Prophet when the Savior returns. He spoke about the false rumor at General Conference, October 1972 in the General Priesthood Meeting:

The first [thing he wished to warn the Saints regarding] is the spread of rumor and gossip (we have mentioned this before) which, when once started, gains momentum as each telling becomes more fanciful, until unwittingly those who wish to dwell on the sensational repeat them in firesides, in classes, in Relief Society gatherings and priesthood quorum classes without first verifying the source before becoming a party to causing speculation and discussions that steal time away from the things that would be profitable and beneficial and enlightening to their souls.

Just an example: I understand that there is a widely circulated story that I was alleged to have had a patriarchal blessing (I don't know whether any of you have heard about that) that had to do with the coming of the Savior and the ten tribes of Israel.

In the first place, a patriarchal blessing is a sacred document to the person who has received it and is never given for publication and, as all patriarchal blessings, should be kept as a private possession to the one who has received it.

And second, with reference to that which I was alleged to have had, suffice it to say that such a quotation is incorrect and without foundation in fact.

There is one thing that shocks me: I have learned, in some instances, that those who have heard of these rumors are disappointed when I tell them they are not so. They seem to have enjoyed believing a rumor without substance of fact. I would earnestly urge that no such idle gossip be spread abroad without making certain as to whether or not it is true.

The First Presidency in August 1913 issued a warning to the members of the Church which could bear repeating today. Let me read you a few things that were said then:

To the officers and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

From the days of Hiram (Doc. and Cov., Sec. 28), at different periods there have been manifestations from delusive spirits to members of the Church. Sometimes these have come to men and women who because of transgression became easy prey to the Arch-Deceiver. At other times people who pride themselves on their strict observance of the rules and ordinances and ceremonies of the Church are led astray by false spirits, who exercise an influence so imitative of that which proceeds from at Divine source that even these persons, who think they are "the very elect," find it difficult to discern the essential difference. Satan himself has transformed himself to be apparently an angel of light.

When visions, dreams, tongues, prophecy, impressions or an extraordinary gift or inspiration convey something out of harmony with the accepted revelations of the Church or contrary to the decisions of its constituted authorities, Latter-day Saints may know that it is not of God, no matter how plausible it may appear. Also, they should understand that directions for the guidance of the Church will come, by revelation, through the head. All faithful members are entitled to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for themselves, their families, and for those over whom they are appointed and ordained to preside. But anything at discord with that which comes from God through the head of the Church is not to be received as authoritative or reliable. In secular as well as spiritual affairs, Saints may receive Divine guidance and revelation affecting themselves, but this does not convey authority to direct others, and is not to be accepted when contrary to Church covenants, doctrine or discipline, or to known facts, demonstrated truths, or good common sense. No person has the right to induce his fellow members of the Church to engage in speculations or take stock in ventures of any kind on the specious claim of Divine revelation or vision or dream, especially when it is in opposition to the voice of recognized authority, local or general. The Lord's Church is a house of order. It is not governed by individual gifts or manifestations, but by the order and power of the Holy Priesthood as sustained by the voice and vote of the Church in its appointed conferences.

The history of the Church records many pretended revelations claimed by impostors or zealots who believed in the manifestations they sought to lead other persons to accept, and in every instance, disappointment, sorrow and disaster have resulted therefrom. Financial loss and sometimes utter ruin have followed.

This is something that is recurring time and time again, and we call upon you holders of the priesthood to stamp out any such and to set to flight all such things as are creeping in, people rising up here and there who have had some "marvelous" kind of a manifestation, as they claim, and who try to lead the people in a course that has not been dictated from the heads of the Church.

As I say, it never ceases to amaze me how gullible some of our Church members are in broadcasting these sensational stories, or dreams, or visions, some alleged to have been given to Church leaders, past or present, supposedly from some person's private diary, without first verifying the report with proper Church authorities.

If our people want to be safely guided during these troublous times of deceit and false rumors, they must follow their leaders and seek for the guidance of the Spirit of the Lord in order to avoid falling prey to clever manipulators who, with cunning sophistry, seek to draw attention and gain a following to serve their own notions and sometimes sinister motives (CR, Oct. 1972, p. 125).

Andrew, from the blog Burning Bosom had this to say concerning Pres. Young's remarks:
President Young’s explanation goes beyond saying we need to learn spiritual arithmetic before we can learn spiritual algebra. What’s holding us back from from further light and knowledge is not just what we haven’t learned yet, it’s what we haven’t unlearned yet, i.e., “our false traditions and foolish notions.”

President Young’s quote has enduring relevance today considering the unending discussions about the priesthood ban that was initiated during his administration, which was subsequently lifted in 1978 during President Kimball’s leadership. A growing consensus among students of this issue is that President Young’s ban resulted from his mistaken adherence to common Protestant doctrines that thousands of “good Bible-believing, God-fearing Christians” used to justify slavery for centuries. In short, the theory is that President Young’s priesthood ban was the result of his bringing “Protestant baggage” along with him when he joined the Church, and that–despite his greatness and inspiration on so many other issues–he failed to recognize it. President Young’s quote above may lend credibility to this theory.

If we believe his words, it seems possible that what held back the 1978 priesthood revelation for so long was our collective failure to “layoff our false traditions and foolish notions” concerning that issue until that time. That possibility does not in any way weaken my testimony of President Young or the Church. Rather, it simply reflects an inescapable aspect of the human condition.