Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Seven Deadly Heresies - Part Four (Second Chance Salvation)

Continuing with our series of the Seven Deadly Heresies according to Elder McConkie's talk, we now move on to the fourth heresy.

Heresy four: There are those who believe that the doctrine of salvation for the dead offers men a second chance for salvation.

I knew a man, now deceased, not a member of the Church, who was a degenerate old reprobate who found pleasure, as he supposed, in living after the manner of the world. A cigarette dangled from his lips, alcohol stenched his breath, and profane and bawdy stories defiled his lips. His moral status left much to be desired.

His wife was a member of the Church, as faithful as she could be under the circumstances. One day she said to him, "You know the Church is true; why won't you be baptized?" He replied, "Of course I know the Church is true, but I have no intention of changing my habits in order to join it. I prefer to live the way I do. But that doesn't worry me in the slightest. I know that as soon as I die, you will have someone go to the temple and do the work for me and everything will come out all right in the end anyway."

He died and she had the work done in the temple. We do not sit in judgment and deny vicarious ordinances to people. But what will it profit him?

There is no such thing as a second chance to gain salvation. This life is the time and the day of our probation. After this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.

For those who do not have an opportunity to believe and obey the holy word in this life, the first chance to gain salvation will come in the spirit world. If those who hear the word for the first time in the realms ahead are the kind of people who would have accepted the gospel here, had the opportunity been afforded them, they will accept it there. Salvation for the dead is for those whose first chance to gain salvation is in the spirit world.

In the revelation recently added to our canon of holy writ, these words are found:

Thus came the voice of the Lord unto me, saying: All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God;

Also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom;

For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts. [D&C 137:9]

There is no other promise of salvation than the one recited in that revelation. Those who reject the gospel in this life and then receive it in the spirit world go not to the celestial, but to the terrestrial kingdom.
At what point does one who rejects the Gospel final reach that threshold where he or she is considered to have had an opportunity and rejected it? BRM above thinks that one who has a knowledge of the truthfulness of the Gospel but still refuses to obey the principles and ordinances has already passed that moment. I tend to disagree to the extent that we do not know all circumstances in a person's life that cause him or her to accept or reject truth and knowledge. We do not know of abuse, education, mental illness, disability, or hardships. Therefore I would leave it to God to decide.

A further reading of Alma 34:33 confirms that there does come a night of darkness for those who have not repented. If a person enjoys the privileges of the understanding of the gospel and subsequently rejects that truth, it becomes difficult to change that lifestyle.

I think that a person who puts off repentance limits his or her progression because of the difficulty of repenting in the next life. Elder Melvin J. Ballard clarifies:

It is much easier to overcome and serve the Lord when both the flesh and spirit are combined as one...Every man and woman who is putting off until the next life the task of correcting and overcoming the weakness of flesh are sentencing themselves to years of bondage, for no man or woman will come forth in the resurrection until the have completed their work, until they have overcome, until the have done as much as they can do. ("The Three Degrees of Glory", 22 September 1922)
I like to think that BRM's use of Section 137 implies that one who would have accepted the Gospel in this life with the opportunity will accept it in the next life, keeping in mind certain life circumstances that affect what kind of people we are.

But the next logical question is whether Amulek's statement that we come to the night of darkness if we don't improve this life means that this person will not have an opportunity for repentance and full salvation while in the Spirit World? BRM thinks that one is disqualified from the Celestial Kingdom, I tend to agree but am not quite sure on this. This is exactly why we can't judge others because we don't know the desires of their hearts based on their life circumstances.

Any thoughts?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Will We Always Have Faith?

Joseph Smith taught that "faith is the assurance which men have of the existence of things which they have not seen, and the principal of action in all intelligent beings. . . . But faith is not only the principle of action, but of power also, in all intelligent beings, whether in heaven or on earth." (Lectures on Faith, 1:9, 13) In other words, faith encompasses two very disparate concepts; one dealing with our physical reactions to belief in things not seen, and another dealing with our ability to physically harness the power of this belief. I do not claim to know every facet with regard to our exercise of faith, but here are a few of my thoughts:

1) Alma teaches us that "if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it." (Alma 32:18) He further teaches that when a man's "knowledge is perfect" in some thing, his "faith is dormant." (Alma 32:34) In this life, we live by faith; faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice; faith in God's plan and the assurance of exaltation. Whether in this life or the afterlife, when a man obtains a perfect knowledge of these things, does he continue to exercise faith in them as a principle of action?

2) The brother of Jared possessed great faith that the Lord was able to simply touch 16 small stones to make them provide light for his 8 vessels. "Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this. We know that thou art able to show forth great power, which looks small unto the understanding of men." (Ether 3:5) Accordingly, the brother of Jared acted on his faith. But notice what happens next.

The veil was taken from his eyes and the brother of Jared sees the finger of the Lord, and subsequently sees the Lord Himself. The Lord explained that "never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast." (Ether 3:9) In other words, the brother of Jared's faith was so refined that it allowed him to pass through the veil and obtain a perfect knowledge of our Savior. "Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence." (Ether 3:13)

The Lord then proceeds to explain this concept. "And never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast." (Ether 3:15) Of course Christ had shown himself to others before. But he had never before revealed himself like this. Because of the brother of Jared's great faith, he could not be kept within the veil (see vs. 19-20). Thus, Christ was compelled to reveal himself unto man at this time, where as before, it was Christ's will whether to reveal himself or not.

Note the language in Ether 3:19, "he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting." In my opinion, this is truly the culmination of our faith; that we may one day see with our natural eye those things which we have seen for so many years with our eye of faith.

3) I believe that receiving the Second Comforter, as spoken of in John 14, and having our calling and election made sure in this lifetime are a direct result of continued faith as a principle of action. This reception may furthermore also be tied to the oft misunderstood ordinance of the second anointing. As LDS, we understand that the Second Comforter is "no more nor less than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself." (TPJS, 149-151) A person who receives the Second Comforter "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, and they will take up their abode with him . . . the Lord will teach him face to face, and he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God." (Id.)

Does this person, now having a perfect knowledge of Jesus Christ and the "mysteries of the Kingdom of God," subsequently require faith in these things? What of the Celestial Kingdom inhabitants who live with God and Jesus Christ, do they require faith in them anymore? Is this what John meant when he defined eternal life (God's life) as gaining a perfect knowledge of God and His Son? That we increase in knowledge og God through faith as a principle of action?

Faith as a principle of power, I believe, must be eternal since it is "the principle by which Jehovah works, and through which he exercises power over all temporal as well as eternal things." (Lectures on Faith, 1:16) I believe that we, as joint-heirs with Jesus Christ, will use this principle of power throughout eternity.

But, does our faith as a principle of action cease to exist when we gain an intimate and personal knowledge of eternal truths? For that matter, does God exercise faith as a principle of action? And if so, in what does He have faith?

Monday, August 4, 2008

إسناد‎ - Transmitting the truth

As LDS we believe in the Bible as it is came from the pen of the original writers and recognize that scribal errors, whether deliberate or not, exist in the New and Old Testaments, along with thousands of different texts and variations. Most scholars now agree that the Gospels of Luke and Matthew drew upon an earlier text (not currently in existence) that scholars have designated the name "Q" from the German word quelle, which means "source". Along with the Paulian Epistles, among which many are not considered to have been written by him, texts with authoritative language and accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus began to make their way into Christian congregations in the mid-2nd Century. The authenticity and accuracy of such texts was disputed by the transmitter or the narrator (see Tertullian, writing in contradiction of Marcion's corruption of Luke's account of the nativity, as recorded in On Prescription Against Heretics).

The authenticity of texts was based on the way that it was transmitted. For example, Paul wrote a hypothetical espitel and delivered it to Luke, who delivered it to our Bishop who passed it on to his successor, etc. Is this an authentic document? The earliest remnants of the New Testament still do not cover the early Christian period, but we can assume that some texts, with errors, were considered authentic because of their descent. This was a sign of the then-occurring apostasy. Those with the authority to interpret the meaning of scripture were soon gone.

We even have our own problem with this based on the saying of Joseph Smith. For the last four years of his life, almost all the information we have from him is based on second hand accounts of what he said. Oftentimes we will accept one person's interpretation because we agree with that person (Wilford Woodruff) or marginalize it because of bias (William McLellin).

Ancient Arabs in the Hijaz, like their ancient Jewish cousins, preserved their records through oral tradition and did not focus on record keeping (which makes Laban's plates all the more valuable). The sayings of Muhammad, as recorded in the Qur'an, the Sunnah (the sayings of the Prophet, kind of like the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith) and the Hadith (similar to the parables of Jesus) were all transmitted orally. It was not until Muhammad was long gone that the Qur'an was recorded, but one can still see today the focus that Muslims place on memorizing the Qur'an. Muslims are now in agreeance that the Qur'an as we have it today was exactly as Muhammad said it, but we really have no way to prove that. Moreover, there are hundreds of Hadiths that are attributed to Muhammad. They were not organized for centuries after the Prophet and come to us through trusted lines of narrators called إسناد‎(isnad). Usually an isnad has over ten levels of a transmitter with its own amount of trust. Because of this, some Hadiths are given more credence than others. It would be like to us "Joseph Smith told Wilford Woodruff such and such and he told Orson Pratt who told Joseph F. Smith who told George A. Smith who told Spencer Kimball who told Thomas Monson who said that...". We would obviously listen to that because we trust these sources.

Islam is a great example of early Christianity because it shows the same pace at which both degenerated. As soon as the apostles were gone, chaos ensued and authenticity of Gospel truths, as taught by Jesus, is called into question, hence the need for the JST. After Muhammad died, the Islamic community was split and without a religious leader. One need only look to the Haditha for an example of an isnad gone a stray. Many of us are familiar with the term that Muhammad was the "seal" of the prophets. The Sunnah and Haditha (according to accepted isnads)interpret this to mean that he was the greatest prophet and that he would be the last. No new revelation was necessary (sound familiar?). However, there were views in early Islam, long since forgotten, that advocated that this meant that Muhammad's teachings acted as a seal on the previous prophet and ratified their meaning, rather than being the last prophet. The Islam that is taught today, whether Sunni or Shi'a, does not recognize this belief becuase the isnad is a foregone conclusion, much like the prefection of the Bible to some of our Christian brothers. We can see a second example of what happens when he who (supposedly) authority is gone and none with that power are there to interpret the word.

The first photo is from a 16th Century copy of the Qur'an and the other three pictures are examples of isnads, all deriving from Muhammad, usually labled as "The Prophet".

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Elder Oaks' Counsel About Church History Reported by the Media

Recently Elder Oaks spoke at the Amasa Lyman Exposition in Salt Lake City and delivered a talk following the text of a talk he gave in 1985 regarding the Mark Hofmann letters, as reported by Mormon Times.

With the emergence of biographies of early church history and documents purporting to be the product of early church leaders, Elder Oaks reaffirmed his suggestions from 1985 when researching LDS history as reported by the media.

1) Scientific Uncertainties - "Most of the news media go to their readers or viewers on a daily or hourly basis, often under great pressure to scoop their competition. As a result, they frequently cannot obtain irrefutable scientific verification of the facts they will report."

While not directly related to science, one need only look at the recent media coverage of the LDS Missionary Calendar and the creator who was disciplined (see here).

2) Lack of Context - "An individual historical fact has meaning only in relation to other events. Outside that context, a single fact is almost certain to convey an erroneous impression. As a result, when the media report historical facts, they may provide information, but they rarely provide illumination."

Mountain Meadows comes to mind when thinking of this. Whenever this is reported on, few media outlets and even "scholarly" writings take into the context of the relationship between Utah and the Federal Government in the 1850's. Brigham Young certainly inflamed the situation with his rhetoric, but by that time I believe that LDS had a reason to be paranoid after being driven from two states and subject to Johnson's army.

3) Bias - This seems pretty obvious. Whether they intend to be or not, media is biased and has a difficult time staying objective. Even if there is no political bias, usually a media outlet will have be willing to sensationalize an item for the purpose of making money and that seems to be to make a bias towards focusing on the weird.

4) Balance - Use your head here. At least try and tell both sides. Bushman is a great example of a faithful historian who tried to look at the perspective of our enemies to see what upset them. Usually the truth is somewhere in the middle.

5)Truths and Half-truths - "A lie is most effective when it can travel incognito in good company, or when it can be so intermarried with the truth that we cannot determine its lineage." I think that context comes into play here as well.

For a great example of something true, taken out of context and used to prove another point, see here.

6) Evaluate - I think that the lawyer in Elder Oaks would like to say "analyze". Essentially he says that we have intellectual and spiritual analyses that we need to go through. Of course we refer to thinking the issues through and then praying about it to receive a witness from the Holy Ghost. Caveat: Evangelists beware, we do rely on the Spirit to confirm truth. As Jeremy learned last week, we should not rely on the Holy Ghost but the Bible (how one comes to the conclusion that the Bible is then true is still not clear to me).

Elder Oaks then makes an interesting comment about those who come to the intellectual conclusion that the church is incorrect:

"Evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed is in a class by itself. It is one thing to depreciate a person who exercises corporate power or even government power. It is quite another thing to criticize or depreciate a person for the performance of an office to which he or she has been called of God. It does not matter that the criticism is true."

Interesting to see that during this talk I suppose. However, when recently reading through Bryce's Templestudy.com blog and his post of priesthood keys in the Book of Mormon, I came across this comment by spektator. All I have to say is "Holy Ark Steadying Batman!"