Wednesday, May 26, 2010

“The Only True and Living Church”

When I was a missionary we were still using the 6 discussion program, where the apostasy and restoration were taught in the 3rd discussion. After explaining the restoration of the Church through Joseph Smith, the discussion directed us missionaries to read D&C 1:30 where it stresses that the LDS Church is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased.”

Was it just me, or did this make anyone else cringe a little when we read this to investigators? I mean, much of the time we barely knew the investigator, and then we essentially denounce their religion as false by referring to a scripture unique to our faith. It’s akin to a Jehovah’s Witness declaring Charles Taze Russell as a prophet of God by quoting one of Mr. Russell’s numerous written works.

While I agree entirely with the text of D&C 1:30, and there are no doubt occasions where this scripture could be effectively used in a missionary setting, I always thought background details, history, and common sense reasoning could have proffered a more tactful and gentle approach. Such an approach can be found in “Revelations of the Restoration,” by Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler. In the following text, the authors delineate a glaring salvific disconnect between Catholicism and Protestantism. I took the liberty of highlighting a few of the points I thought to be of most interest:

Catholicism is founded on the idea that authority is necessary to represent God and that certain ordinances are essential to salvation. Those principles in turn dictate that there can be but one true church, meaning one church that has the right to speak for God and perform the ordinances of salvation. Protestantism, on the other hand, in breaking with the mother church, takes the only remaining position–rejecting the need for authority and ordinances. Having done so, Protestantism must of necessity argue that neither ordinances nor church membership is a tenet of salvation and that ‘the one true church doctrine’ is narrow minded, bigoted, and even unchristian. This, of course, is what Protestantism does. Out of this chain of thought grows the popularized notion that it is not what you believe but how you believe that counts and the attendant idea that somehow all churches, even though they teach contradictory doctrines, are true–assuming, of course, that they are Protestant Churches.

The idea that all churches are true, though satisfying to those who seek salvation on their own terms, defies every principle of truth and logic known to humankind. Let us briefly consider some of the ways it does so.

First, the essence of Christianity centers on the idea that salvation is in Christ. That being the case, everyone who truly embraces the Christian faith must at the same time embrace the idea that it is only in and through Christ that salvation comes. Christ himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). The doctrine of all the holy prophets has been that there is “none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12; see also D&C 18:23; 2 Nephi 25:20; 31:21). Within the ranks of those professing to be Christians may be differences on the requirements of salvation, but all must agree on the acceptance of Christ as the source of salvation. At issue here is not whether a line must be drawn between the believer and the nonbeliever but simply where that line should be drawn. Historically Protestants do not hesitate to draw that line in such a manner as to exclude Catholics, Latter-day Saints, Seventh-day Adventists, and Jehovah Witnesses. In practice, then, it becomes a Christian duty for Protestants to draw that line, doing so in such a manner as to exclude all who dare disagree with them. It only becomes an unchristian practice when someone suggests that they are on the wrong side of the line.

Second, to argue that the power of salvation rests in the Protestant world is to argue that a live branch can be cut from a dead tree…. Protestants claim to have rejected corrupt Catholic traditions in a return to Bible religion. This argument raises two great difficulties. The first is that they simply do not do it. They have retained as foundational to their faith the most corrupting traditions of the old mother church, namely her creeds. The second great difficulty is that Bible religion is itself unbiblical because no one within the covers of the Bible ever had a Bible. Their religion was one of prophets, apostles, and continuous revelation. Never in Bible times was the Church and kingdom of God governed by a book. Now it is important to get our history straight. Christian existence predates the Bible by more than three centuries. The great Christian creeds, the very foundation upon which Protestantism’s whole concept of Deity rests, are Bible free. Their creation predates that of the Bible. Protestantism holds fast to these creeds, refusing to acknowledge that they are part of the Catholic tradition that they claim to have rejected. It is allegiance to these creeds that predetermines the manner in which they interpret the Bible. At the same time they claim the Bible to be the last word on all things. Thus traditions rooted in historical creeds rather than the Bible have been retained as the guiding revelations of the Protestant faith.

Third, the notion that salvation can be found in any of a host of contradictory doctrines defies reason and argues that God’s kingdom is one of chaos and disorder. We are being asked to believe that if a dozen people add a column of figures and each arrives at a different sum, we must accept each of them as right. It is not the sum that you come to that matters but the zeal with which you add the figures that counts. Similarly, this notion argues that all men, women, and children who receive a prescription from a doctor are entitled to go to the pharmacists and concoct their own mixture of drugs….

To maintain that all churches are true—meaning that they possess the power of salvation and the authority to act as the agent of God—may have some resemblance to Christian tolerance. But upon examination such a notion reveals itself to be a deceptive ploy lulling people into the belief that it is for them to dictate the terms of salvation and to determine the nature and character of God. In such a god we have no interest” (pp. 53-55) (emphasis added).

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hyrum Strikes Back! Thank You For Helping Me Break My Writing Cramp, Namelka!

I haven’t posted anything for a long time. I guess I chalk this up to changing jobs and moving from Texas to the Garden State. (In case you were wondering, New Jersey is surprisingly nice. In most places, at least.) Now that I am settled and mostly unpacked, I have wanted to post something as Jeremy had been steering the ship for awhile. Lo and behold, Christopher Namelka made my job easier for me, at least I think he did.

Some of you may have read our previous posts on the coming forth of the Sealed Portion of the Gold Plates. You will probably know through the comments that The Prophet Christopher Namelka, hereinafter The Prophet, claims to have translated these into the Last Testament of Jesus Christ from the Gold Plates. There was some delightful banter in the comments.

Earlier today I found a link to “Without Disclosing My True Identity -
The Authorized and Official Biography of the Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith Jr.” Apparently, the resurrected Prophet (Joseph) appeared to someone named Christopher, no last name give, and dictated his life story. From the publisher’s website, here are some of the highlights:

“…With his own testimony, Joseph Smith has outlined the official and ONLY authorized manner in which truth can be established upon this earth. In order for real truth to be established, a fully resurrected being must return to the earth and initiate its establishment. Without following this protocol, no other work can be deemed official and authorized.”

"Ironically, since Joseph Smith, not even one of the mainstream Mormon/LDS leaders has claimed to have been visited by a resurrected human being and received instruction face-to-face from an advanced and eternal resurrected being. There have been some spurious and unscrupulous men and women who have made the claim, but with an honest and sincere investigation into what the fruits of their claim have produced, their lies and imaginations are quickly discounted.”

“During Joseph Smith’s tenure as a true messenger of God upon the earth, he was instructed NOT to disclose his true identity, as the LDS Temple endowment teaches. His brother Hyrum, who is now Christopher, was instructed TO disclose his true identity and to do what Joseph was not allowed to do.”

“And because the resurrected Joseph instructed and oversaw the publication of SACRED not SECRET, the book can appropriately and legally be entitled, “The OFFICIAL Guide.”
For the same reason, this book is the ONLY authorized and official biography of Joseph Smith Jr.”

I really don’t have my sources with me now, but I was under the impression that Lorenzo Snow claimed to have seen Jesus at the Salt Lake Temple and spoke to him face-to-face. Are the spurious and unscrupulous men supposed to be said LDS leaders? If so, I see the statement as a logical fallacy. The wording says that LDS leaders haven’t claimed to see resurrected beings. Lorenzo Snow said he did, no?

The real question is whether Christopher/Hyrum is really Namelka. My guess is that Blair Hodges will confirm that he is. So, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below about this game changer in the Joseph Smith book market. Had Bushman known, I think he would have saved his time writing his magnum opus and instead interviewed Hyrum. I will make a good bet that Namelka, I mean Christopher, I mean Hyrum’s followers will find this as they troll the web for places to promote the work and will share testimony. This is fine with me.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Repentance “Nigh Unto Death”

It has been my experience from teaching in various organizations of the Church, and from my limited understanding of the Atonement while growing up, that many in the Church falsely assume that Christ’s suffering in Gethsemane and at Golgotha replaces any suffering on the part of the repentant sinner beyond what is deemed godly sorrow. These same individuals will often quote from D&C 19:16 and conclude that Christ has already “suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent.” The purpose of my remarks below is to show that this simply is not the case.

Alma the younger and the sons of Mosiah made it a habit of going about “seeking to destroy the church” when “the angel of the Lord appeared unto them” and turned them from the error of their way (Mosiah 26:10-11). Now, these guys weren't your average anti-Mormons with an axe to grind. Astonishingly, Alma admits to having “murdered many of [God’s] children, or rather led them away unto destruction” (Alma 36:14), and Mormon characterizes Alma and his companions as “the very vilest of sinners” (Mosiah 28:4).

Alma was so overcome by the angelic vision that he was left in a somewhate vegetative state for three days and three nights (Alma 36:10), during which time he reports that “after wading through much tribulation, repenting nigh unto death, the Lord in mercy hath seen fit to snatch me out of an everlasting burning, and I am born of God” (Mosiah 27:28) (emphasis added). He explained to his son Helaman that during this time he was “racked, even with the pains of a damned soul” (Alma 36:16).

The pain and suffering that Alma underwent while repenting was so exquisite that it ostensibly took him to the brink of physical death. As is often the case, the depth of one’s repentance must be in proper proportion to the severity of the transgression. I conclude that Alma’s punishment was just, and simply proportional to the seriousness of his sins.

Because many in the Church falsely believe that Christ’s atonement effectively removed all pain and suffering for the penitent individual, they find it hard to grasp why Alma suffered so intensely while honestly embarking in the repentance process. In this they are misled. What they fail to realize, and something that I certainly did not grasp when I was a youth, is that there is no repentance without suffering.

Alma himself understood this concept very well, undoubtedly doctrinally as well as experientially. In teaching his son Corianton, Alma explained that “repentance could not come unto men except there were a punishment, which also was eternal as the life of the soul should be” (Alma 42:16). Having quoted this scripture, President Spencer W. Kimball instructed the priesthood leaders of the Church as follows: “Ponder on that for a moment. Have you realized that? There can be no forgiveness without real and total repentance, and there can be no repentance without punishment. This is as eternal as is the soul. . .” (CR, April 1975, p.115) (emphasis added).

The Lord warned us that “if they would not repent they must suffer even as I” (D&C 19:17). In other words, if we repent we will not be required to suffer “even as” the Savior suffered, but there is no indication that we will forego all suffering. Instead, besides having to bear the burden of any natural consequences of our sins and express godly sorrow, each of us will have to experience the full anguish associated with true repentance. President Kimball taught that suffering “is a very important part of repentance. One has not begun to repent until he has suffered intensely for his sins. … If a person hasn’t suffered, he hasn’t repented” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, pp. 88, 99).

In the eternal scheme of things, all individuals are required to suffer as long as they remain in sin. Joseph Smith taught that “[a]ll will suffer until they obey Christ himself” (TPJS, p.357). Once each of us repents and justly suffers for our sin, Christ’s atonement may then lay claim upon us.