Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Boston Exponent II Retreat -- What I did last weekend!

Last week I had a marvelous time visiting my sister in Boston and then attending the Exponent II retreat. I just got back this evening but I thought I'd share some of my pictures of the event. I intend to blog about some of the workshops, so check back!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sampling the School of the Prophets

Today I wrote a post for Mormon Matters discussing the School of the Prophets in the time of Joseph Smith and how different our religious education is today. For many years now I have tired of the same 4-year round of scripture pablum which is offered in our Sunday Schools.

Learning the Bible in the original languages is a pastime which has intrigued me and which I have attempted on my own. I've often wished we could include some Hebrew and Greek studies into our Sunday School classes. Lest any think that doing this might prove too hard for the average member, I want to present an example of what this might look like, and get your opinion on whether you think a run-of-the-mill Gospel Doctrine teacher could handle teaching such material. The following comes from Jeff A. Benner's Biblical Hebrew E-Magazine, September 2008, Issue #046.

Biblical Word of the Month - Eleph אלף

The oxen likewise and the young asses that till the ground shall eat savory provender, which hath been winnowed with the shovel and with the fork. (ASV, Isaiah 30:24)

In the verse above is the Hebrew noun אלף (eleph, Strong's #504) meaning oxen. Oxen are the largest of the Ancient Hebrews' livestock and were most frequently used for plowing the fields, usually in pairs. An older ox would be yoked to a younger one in order for the older one to teach the younger through association. This same noun is also found in Judges 6:15 where it is translated as "family." In a family, the children learn from the parents, in the same manner as the oxen, through association.

The verbal root of this word is אלף (A.L.Ph, Strong's #502) and means "learn," but more literally, to learn through association, as can be seen in the following verse.

Make no friendship with a man that is given to anger; And with a wrathful man thou shalt not go: Lest thou learn this ways, And get a snare to thy soul. (ASV, Proverbs 22:25)

As oxen are "very large" animals, the word אלף (eleph) is also used for a "thousand," a "very large" number. (While this is the same word discussed previously, Strong's dictionary has assigned this word the number 505 when used for a "thousand.") From this aspect of the noun, a second verb is formed. Normally, Hebrew nouns are derived out of verbs, however on occasion, a verb is derived out of a noun, this verb is called a demonstrative verb. The demonstrative verb formed out of אלף (eleph) is אלף (A.L.Ph, Strong's #503) meaning to "give a thousand." In summary, the Hebrew word אלף can be;

  1. A verb meaning to learn by association.

  2. A noun meaning oxen, a large beast, which learns through association.

  3. A noun meaning family, through the idea of association.

  4. A noun meaning a thousand, a large number.

  5. A verb meaning to give a thousand.

One other note about the word eleph, it may be the origin of the word elephant, a "very large" beast.


(If you are a Latter-day Saint who does not know what the "Strong's numbers" above refer to, shame on you! Or shame on your religious educators who have not taught you about such a valuable learning tool in gospel study!)

I can picture a very engaging lesson from the previous information, including unique Latter-day Saint teachings such as the importance of the family and the need for good associations. I can also imagine facilitating some interesting discussion on the large numbers of "thousands" of people in the Bible and the Book of Mormon and what the Hebrew meaning of this word might suggest.

I think these are the kinds of things Brother Joseph and his compatriots in the School of the Prophets were learning when they hired Joshua Seixas to teach them Hebrew for ten weeks--two hours a day and five times a week. Just learning the one word "Berosheit" inspired Joseph to redefine the nature of God and the creation account.

What do you think? Could learning a few Hebrew words inspire a bit of prophecy in your ward? Or do we need to go over the importance of the keystone in an arch one more time?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Church Handbook of Instructions, Disciplinary Councils, and Prop 8

It has come to my attention that a member of the Church may soon face a disciplinary council for his opposition to Prop 8 in California. I thought it would be interesting to review what the Church Handbook of Instructions has to say about disciplinary councils:

Disciplinary Councils

Because formal Church discipline is ecclesiastical, not civil or criminal, court procedures of the state or nation do not apply. However, procedures in a Church disciplinary council must be fair and considerate of the feelings of all who participate.

When a Disciplinary Council Is Mandatory

A disciplinary council must be held when evidence suggests that a member may have committed any of the following transgressions.


As used here, murder refers to the deliberate and unjustified taking of human life. It requires excommunication. Abortion is not defined as murder for this purpose. If death was caused by carelessness or by defense of self or others, or if mitigating circumstances prevail (such as deficient mental capacity or wartime conditions), the taking of a human life might not be defined as murder. Bishops refer questions on specific cases to the stake president. He may direct questions to the Office of the First Presidency if necessary


As used here, incest refers to sexual relations between a parent and a natural, adopted, or foster child or stepchild. A grandparent is considered the same as a parent. Incest also refers to sexual relations between brothers and sisters. It almost always requires excommunication. Bishops refer questions on specific cases to the stake president. He may direct questions to the Office of the First Presidency if necessary.

Child Abuse

As used here, child abuse refers to a sexual offense against or serious physical abuse of a child. If priesthood leaders learn of or suspect child abuse, they should follow the instructions on pages 157-58.

As used here, apostasy refers to members who:

1. Repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders.

2. Persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine after they have been corrected by their bishops or higher authority

3. Continue to follow the teachings of apostate sects (such as those that advocate plural marriage) after being corrected by their bishop or higher authority.

In such cases, excommunication may be necessary if repentance is not evident after counseling and encouragement.

Priesthood leaders must take disciplinary action against apostates to protect Church members. The Savior taught the Nephites that they should continue to minister to a transgressor, but "if he repent not he shall not be numbered among my people, that he may not destroy my people" (3 Nephi 18:31; see also Mosiah 26:36).

Total inactivity in the Church or attending or holding membership in another church does not constitute apostasy.

Serious Transgression While Holding a Prominent Church Position

A disciplinary council must be held for a member who commits a serious transgression while holding a prominent Church position, such as Area Authority Seventy; temple, mission, or stake president; patriarch; or bishop. As used here, serious transgression is defined as a deliberate and major offense against morality. It includes (but is not limited to) attempted murder, rape, forcible sexual abuse, spouse abuse, intentional serious physical injury of others, adultery, fornication, homosexual relations, deliberate abandonment of family responsibilities, robbery, burglary, theft, embezzlement, sale of illegal drugs, fraud, perjury, and false swearing.

Transgressor Who Is a Predator

A disciplinary council must be held for a member who commits a serious transgression that shows him to be a predator with tendencies that present any kind of serious threat to other persons.

Pattern of Serious Transgressions

A disciplinary council must be held for a member who demonstrates a pattern of serious transgressions, especially if prior transgressions have resulted in Church discipline.

Serious Transgression That Is Widely Known

A disciplinary council must be held for a member who commits a serious transgression (as defined under "Serious Transgression While Holding a Prominent Church Position" on this page) that is widely known.

When a Disciplinary Council May Be Necessary

Serious Transgression

Formal Church discipline may be necessary for any member who commits a serious transgression as defined under "Serious Transgression While Holding a Prominent Church Position" on this page.


Presiding officers review carefully the circumstances of members involved in abortions. Formal Church discipline may be necessary for members who submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for abortions. However, Church discipline should not be considered for members who were involved in an abortion before they were baptized or because (1) the pregnancy resulted from forcible rape or incest, (2) the life or health of the mother was in jeopardy, or (3) the fetus was known to have severe defects that would not allow the baby to survive beyond birth (see page 157). Bishops refer questions on specific cases to the stake president. He may direct questions to the Office of the First Presidency if necessary.

Transsexual Operation

Church leaders counsel against elective transsexual operations. If a member is contemplating such an operation, a presiding officer should inform him of this counsel and advise him that the operation may be cause for formal Church discipline. Bishops refer questions on specific cases to the stake president. He may direct questions to the Office of the First Presidency if necessary.

Request for Name Removal

If a member requests that his name be removed from the records of the Church, a disciplinary council may still be necessary if he has committed a serious transgression. Name removal should not be used as a substitute for or alternative to Church discipline. For instructions in these circumstances, see page 130.

When a Disciplinary Council Is Not Necessary

A disciplinary council normally is not necessary in the following instances.

Failure to Comply with Some Church Standards

A disciplinary council should not be held to discipline or threaten members who do not comply with the Word of Wisdom or whose transgressions consist of omissions, such as failure to pay tithing, inactivity in the Church, or inattention to Church duties.

Business Failures or Nonpayment of Debts

Leaders or members should not use the threat of Church discipline as a form of harassment or as a device to settle business controversies. Business failures and nonpayment of debts are not reasons for convening a disciplinary council. However, a disciplinary council may be held for deceptive practices, false representations, or other forms of fraud or dishonesty in business transactions.

Civil Disputes

Disciplinary councils should not attempt to resolve disputes over property rights or other civil controversies. However, if such a dispute involves accusations that a member has committed acts that would justify Church discipline, the accusations should be treated like any other accusations of transgression.

IF Church leaders are asked to help settle civil disputes, they should act as unofficial, private advisers and should not involve the Church.

Passage of Time

If a member voluntarily confesses a serious transgression that was committed long ago and his faithfulness and service in the intervening years have demonstrated full reformation and repentance, a disciplinary council often is unnecessary.

From your reading of the above instructions, do you feel that local Church leaders are justified in convening a Church court in cases of opposition to Prop 8 in California? For the purposes of our discussion, let us assume that the member has been quite active in his dissent, writing letters to Stake Presidents and Bishops expressing his disagreement with the Church's stance on this issue, and also being involved in collecting signatures online. Let us also assume that the member has been inactive in the Church for some time but has no other issues or transgressions which need to be addressed. Why do you think the Church should or should not hold a Disciplinary Council against such a person?

The Church Handbook gives three purposes of such discipline:
(1) to save the souls of transgressors
(2) to protect the innocent
(3) to safeguard the purity, integrity, and good name of the Church.

Do you think that holding a Church court in this instance would accomplish any of the above purposes?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Mother Eve Was A Large Woman

While researching Church history for my last post over at Mormon Matters, I came across an interesting tidbit regarding our Mother Eve.

Early Church member Zebedee Coltrin tells a story about an experience he had with the Prophet Joseph while traveling to a conference in New Portage, Ohio. At one point, Joseph, with a far off look in his eyes, took Brother Coltrin and Oliver Cowdery by the arms and set out on a stroll. Coming to a scenic spot, Joseph suggested, "Let us pray." After each prayed in turn they lay down on their backs, the two men leaning against Joseph's outstretched arms. "Now brethren, we will see some visions," Joseph promised.

"The heavens gradually opened, and they saw a golden throne, on a circular foundation, something like a light house, and on the throne were two aged personages, having white hair, and clothed in white garments. They were the two most beautiful and perfect specimens of mankind he ever saw. Joseph said, "They are our first parents, Adam and Eve." Adam was a large, broad-shouldered man, and Eve as a woman, was as large in proportion." (Minutes, Salt Lake City School of the Prophets, October 11, 1883.)

For some strange reason, I just get a kick out of Eve being described as "large." And she was the most beautiful and perfect specimen of a woman he had ever seen. In our society we women are always trying to be small, small, small! We exercise and diet zealously, but not in an effort to be strong--we want to be skinny and tiny.

In this post I decided to include some paintings of Adam and Eve from the great masters of the late 1400's and early 1500's to illustrate their conceptions of a proportional Eve. (They are nude, so I included them after the break. If you don't want to see them, don't scroll down!) It's interesting to see that Eve is not a small woman in these works. In many of the paintings, she is the same height as Adam. And you can easily see that she would wear a larger jeans size than he!

Monday, September 15, 2008

What Could Have Happened...

...to Joseph Smith's very first First Counselor?

Learn about the mystery in my post over at Mormon Matters, and join the Bloggernacle in trying to solve it!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Mormon History Mystery

originally posted at Mormon Matters

This week our BYU student daughter called to ask us to help her with an assignment: she was supposed to find a question that could stump her Doctrine and Covenants teacher. Immediately DH suggested: "What happened to Jesse Gause? "

"Jesse Gause?" both of us questioned at the same time. Neither one of us had heard of him.

"What did happen to Jesse Gause?" I asked.

"No one knows," DH replied smugly.

Of course I took that as a challenge! So guess what I've been studying this weekend?

Some of you students of the D&C may know that Jesse Gause served as a counselor to Joseph Smith in the First Presidency. His name was almost unknown in the Church until Robert J. Woodford wrote a BYU Studies article on him in 1975 (Jesse Gause, Counselor of the Prophet). DH recalls that Michael Quinn led an effort to put Gause's name back into the D&C when the new edition came out in 1981 (see the preface to Section 81). Thereafter, Quinn's article Jesse Gause, Joseph Smith's Little-Known Counselor appeared in BYU Studies in 1983. Most recently, Erin B. Jennings published The Consequential Counselor: Restoring the Root(s) of Jesse Gause in the Spring 2008 edition of the Journal of Mormon History.

Jesse showed conflicting feelings toward religion in several instances. He was a participating Quaker in good standing since age 22, and thus bound by conscience to shun military service. At age 30 he nevertheless joined the militia in Delaware during the War of 1812. He married relatively late in life, had 4 children, and was about 44 years old when his wife, Martha, died as a consequence of childbirth in February of 1828. In the next few years, a whirlwind chain of events swept him into the mainstream of Mormon history. First, he took his children with him to live close to his sister Ruth in the Shaker community of Hancock Village, Massachusetts. He resigned his Quaker membership on November 15th of that year and united with the Shakers, encouraging several of his friends to do the same. He formally affiliated with the Shaker religion in early 1829. Interestingly, he renewed his childrens' transfer certificates to the Quaker meeting so that they could return in the future if they chose. The Shaker group which Jesse had joined was strictly celibate, discouraging marriage. In spite of this, he met Minerva Hancock, another Shaker living at the village, and both departed to marry on August 30, 1830. The four children were left with Ruth and the Shakers. Exactly nine months later, on May 30, 1831, a child, William was born to Jesse and Minerva. The small family was drawn back to the Shakers, and by the time William was five months old they were living in the Shaker community of North Union, Ohio, nineteen miles from Kirtland. Here, somehow, Jesse encountered Mormonism. While his wife remained with the Shakers in North Union, Jesse was baptized in 1831. Only a few months later, on March 8, 1832, the Kirtland Revelation Book states that Joseph Smith "chose this day and ordained brother Jesse Gause and Broth[er] Sidney [Rigdon] to be my counsellors of the ministry of the presidency of the High Priesthood." Michael Quinn speculates that Gause, a recent convert, was chosen for such an important calling due to his experience with communal society among the Quakers and Shakers; and Erin Jennings claims that much of early Mormonism’s communitarianism can be traced to Gause’s influence. Gause did accompany Joseph to Jackson County in the Spring of 1832 to set up the Law of Consecration.

Unbelievably, by the end of the year, Gause had been excommunicated from the church in absentia and his name stricken from the revelations, with the name of "F. G. Williams" written above. I was shocked to realize that every successive publication of this revelation which became D&C 81 has replaced Jesse's name with Frederick G. Williams. Doctrine and Covenants study manuals now explain this by the principle of "command and revoke" (see also D&C 56). If an individual does not respond properly to the assignment given unto him the Lord will replace him with another. The revelation in Section 81 contains instructions, duties, and promised blessings to the counselor in the First Presidency so now it appropriately pertains to Frederick G. Williams, these manuals teach.

Here comes the mystery: On his way back to Kirtland from Jackson County, Gause stopped by to see his wife, and beg her to join him with the Saints. A letter written by Shaker Matthew Houston to Seth Wells describes this heartbreaking encounter:

And sure enough I presume you was acquainted with Jesse Gause from Hancock he was here a few days since after his wife Minerva--she utterly refused being his slave any longer--he had to go away without her. altho he tryed what the law could do for him he was very much inraged threatened to take away Minerva's child--she presented it to him but he went away without it and her--he is yet a Mormon--& is second to the Prophet or Seer--Joseph Smith--this state of exaltation may tend to steady him or keep him away from us a little longer--for which I am heartily glad for he is certainly the meanest of men.

Immediately following this incident, Jesse departed on a mission with Zebedee Coltrin on August 1, 1832. Since the Houston letter was written on August 10, Michael Quinn theorizes that Jesse's visit with his wife took place after he left for his mission. But though North Union was close to Kirtland, Zebedee Coltrin's daily log does not allow for a 19 mile trip in the westerly direction. Woodford, I believe, is correct in placing this event before the start of the mission. It doesn't seem to make sense that Jesse would have gone for his wife after beginning the responsibilities of a mission. But the time frame makes it likely that Jesse had already received a mission call at the time he visited Minerva and their son.

Less than two weeks had passed when Zebedee Coltrin decided to abandon his mission. He
came to the conclusion that it was not my duty to preced any further to the East. I have been afficted with a pain in my head every day Sinse we Started. We endeavoured to be faithful in embracing every oportunity of declaring our testimony for the Gospel in its fullness in the last days. & for the book of Mormon, & the Judgments that God was about to pour out upon the impenitent...

Later in the day Zebedee wrote: "Brother Jesse and I After praying with & for each other parted in the fellowship of the Gospel of our Lord & saviour Jesus Christ."

This is the end of the story--at this point our tragic hero disappears. In his article, Woodford intoned, "Jesse Gause continued east and walked right out of the history of the Church, never again to return." We simply do not know what happened to him. For hours on Saturday I worried my head about this. Was Jesse killed by an anti-Mormon? Was he eaten by a bear? Did his grief for his wife become too much for him, and he abandoned his mission and the Church? I finally came to assume that there must have been some type of contact with the Church leadership, for he was excommunicated in December of 1832 (only 3 1/2 months after his disappearance) and in the minutes of a meeting of the United Firm where Jesse Gause's name is written a clerk later added the words "denied the faith." A variety of secondary sources maintain the tradition that he "fell away," "proved unfaithful," or "failed to continue in a manner consistent with his appointment." Michael Quinn speculates that by August of 1832 Jesse might just possibly have discovered that Joseph Smith was preaching and practicing the doctrine of polygamy and this could be why he left the Church.

More questions arose when I discovered that Minerva left the Shaker community to live near her brother in Franklin county, Indiana. By April 27, 1834, she was married to another man, Elijah Davis. This was less than 21 months after her last meeting with Jesse. Were they divorced? Did she receive news of his death? Despite Erin Jennings' painstaking genealogical research on Jesse Gause, a place or date of death has not been found. The last piece of information available about Jesse Gause is that by 1836 his brother assumed guardianship of the four children by his first wife.

I wasn't able to find the answer to the mystery of what happened to Jesse Gause, and I suspect the Doctrine and Covenants teacher might be stumped by this one, too. But I wouldn't be surprised if someone out in the Bloggernacle had a few more pieces of the puzzle. And while searching I saw that there are papers on Jesse Gause in the U of U Faulring Papers and at USU in the Leonard J. Arrington Papers. Can anyone find more clues in the mystery of Jesse Gause? Or do we have to rely on Ardis for everything?


This unfortunate alteration has not only violated the context of the original document, but it has further obscured the existence of Gause as one of the General Authorities of the church and has erroneously indicated that Williams was a counselor in 1832. (Michael Quinn, The Evolution of the Presiding Quorums of the LDS Church, Journal of Mormon History, Volume 01, 1974, p. 24

Friday, September 12, 2008

Panic in South Carolina

Last night as DH and I were driving the children to a swim meet, we became aware of a very odd thing. Cars were beginning to line up at the gas stations, congesting lanes of traffic for several blocks. We realized something out-of-the-ordinary was happening, and we turned on the radio to discover what it was. A local station was loudly advising people not to panic. A rumor had been started, the announcer said, that gas prices were going up to $5.00 a gallon by 5:00 pm. This was not true, the DJ insisted. "Don't text anyone, don't top off your tank," he told his listeners. But as we drove along the panic became worse. I have not seen such a thing since the '70's when there were widespread oil shortages. Every person in the city must have been at the gas pumps. It was impossible to drive anywhere. You would get past one gas station and immediately be placed in the queue for the next one down the road.

This morning it's a lot calmer, but gas prices have gone up. The station closest to us has raised its prices by 10 cents a gallon. Because Hurricane Ike is headed straight for Texas, the nation's biggest complex of refineries and petrochemical plants, people are worried. The upper Texas coast accounts for one-fifth of U.S. refining capacity. I hear that some service stations in the Southeast are limiting customers to 10 gallons of gas during the weekend to guard against running out.

What are gas prices in your area? Ours have risen to $3.75 but I think this may be low compared to many states. Are you seeing the same kind of panic we are? Are Mormons better prepared for this type of emergency than their neighbors? Does this post make you want to go out and fill up your car?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I Will Remember Them No More

This is the great promise the Lord gives to those who repent of their sins, "Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more." What's more, he tells us that he is the one to decide if someone has repented, not us: "I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men." Finally, we are promised great blessings if we will forgive our fellow man. "To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also: for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ."

On this September 11, it saddens me that so many nationalists are unwillling to forget and forgive the great tragedy which happened 7 years ago. I found this on the blog of someone I respect a great deal, and I wonder what it is he wants to remember about the infamous day:

I've saved the special edition newspapers that came out that day, and the day after. I've laminated them and now I hang them up in my classroom every year on September 11th. They are a dramatic reminder of the horrific images and the magnitude of that day. And I'm determined never to forget. I won't forget what happened that day or the days following. I won't forget what a great land we live in. I won't forget the sacrifices of those who have gone before to make America great. And I'll try to do all that I can so that my students won't forget either.

Why would we want to hang on to the memory of the destruction which happened at the Twin Towers in 2001? Do we not wish that the supporters of the Fancher party would forget and forgive what happened on September 11 in 1857? Can we not feel wonder and gratitude for the great land we live in without attaching it to a hatred or mistrust of another country or people?

Some of you may wish to remember the bravery of the rescue workers who worked tirelessly to save their fellow humans trapped in the building. You may wish to remember the loved ones you had who you lost that day. But I would urge you not to attach these things to the terrible and misguided actions taken by a few lost souls. Remember that people of other lands have courage in their hearts. Remember that children of God die tragically from our actions, too. Pray for peace.
This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine;
this is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine:
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine:
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

And You Thought Tom Cruise Was Whacked-Out

Former Mormon Instructs YouTube Listeners on LDS Doctrine

This is a must see. Just a few suggestions:

1. If you are going to film with significant other(s?) lying on a bed in the background, tell them to hold very, very still. That hand between the breasts at 1:55 was a teeny bit distracting.

2. You might want to blow your nose before filming so you don't have incidents like :54, and thereafter throughout the video.

3. If your audience consists of Latter-day Saints, you'll want to shave the moustache. I have to agree with Amri that it gives you that "pervy look," especially at 8:22.

Doctrinal Points Covered in the Video:

  • The Mormon God is one of the most strangest characters ever conjured up in theology.

  • He was baptized, went through the temple and inherited all that his Father has, including the ability to spiritually procreate "whatever that mechanism is."

  • He "cannot do anything other than what he can do." Thus he is "restricted by the laws and constraints of the theological celestial world-view parameters."

  • Although the Mormons jump on the creationist bandwagon, their doctrine is not a doctrine of creation, it is a doctrine of copying. (since he creates animals after their own kind, and they have always existed.) So God is not even an intelligent designer, he is just a copycat.

  • The D&C says his power comes from below, not from above.

  • God cannot intervene, because the person would know he had intervened, proving there was a God, thus destroying free agency.

  • He is really not that awesome.

  • He didn't form anything--he gave all that responsibility to Michael, so he is not really anything except a constrained program. He doesn't have any will to will things. So why on earth would you want to be that?

  • He only has morals because the God before him told him about the rules that are more eternal than God.

The conclusion about the Mormons and their doctrine? "Who made that up? Obviously these people, if you can call them that, are not really thinking about these things, they are just repeating."

(afterwards showing forth an increase of love...)
You do have a sexy accent.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Why Does God Help You Find Your Keys?

Admit it! You've prayed for God to help you find your keys, or something equally as trivial. You opened your eyes and there they were. Then you've wondered why a loving God would answer your prayer and not those of the millions of starving people in Africa. Perhaps you begin to feel like the following blogger:

"If God is an interventionist, He's doing a piss poor job. He helps middle-class americans find their keys while thousands suffer and die in other parts of the world. If God is an interventionist, I don't think He's worthy of worship. If God isn't an interventionist, and we are on our own, what practical difference does it make if we believe in Him or not? Either way, I just don't see the point in worrying about God anymore. Either what He is like, what He wants, or even if He exists."

If so, you need to review your Mormon Doctrine. God allows suffering in this life to help us develop all the things that we need in order to become purified and return to live with him someday. No one can live in the presence of Deity unless they have become sanctified. Trials are part of the sanctification process. This does not mean an interventionist God personally hands you every bit of suffering you experience here. (Didn't you read my Good, Bad, and Ugly Adversity post?) But God will allow the suffering that is a mortal condition of this world so that we can develop our agency and become holy.

So why does he sometimes help us find our keys? He won't interfere in the vicissitudes of life which help us to grow and attain glory. But perhaps our lost items aren't enough of a trial to teach us anything. Maybe we've already developed the small amount of patience necessary to deal with lost keys. If so, God can help us out a bit without interfering with the learning process.

...or maybe they were just there the whole time.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Battle of the Two Straw Men

After a few days of engagement on the issue of being saved by grace/works, I have concluded that the Mormons and evangelicals have simply been setting up strawmen consisting of what they imagine the other believes about salvation. Then they gear up to fight with all their might against what they have constructed.

Mormons do not believe that a person can be saved by works. Neither their scriptures nor their leaders advocate any such doctrine. However, we tend to preach the importance of works, probably as a reaction to the evangelicals' "saved by grace" emphasis. The LDS assume that the Christian rejects any commitment of action, which is also an unfair portrayal.

I've been trying to promote an interfaith dialogue wherein each group would accept at least the basic idea that we believe in the same Christ. Is this even possible? Sure, guys, we have a few differences. But c'mon. How many white-robed bearded men had a mother named Mary, a father named God, lived in Judea and Jerusalem around 0-33 AD, claimed to be the Messiah, rose from the dead and founded a world religion based on his teachings?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Good Works: God Hath Ordained That We Should Walk In Them

The majority of thinking Christians of all stripes have recognized the tension between the saving grace of the Savior Jesus Christ and the necessity of good works and have made their peace with the issue. It is quite obvious that both grace and works play an important role in salvation. Two key scriptures from the New Testament are cited:

1. Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

2. James 2:14, 17 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

To me it is very apparent from the New Testament scriptures that there are at least two essential components of salvation. We learn that sin has caused a situation where mankind will be eternally separated from God. No amount of working on the part of the human can change this. But through the atonement of Christ, humans are offered an opportunity to return to the presence of God and have eternal life. If we would like to accept this opportunity, we must first believe that Christ's atonement can save us. Then we must try our best to follow the commandments that he asks of us. Faith comes as a response to the grace of God and must have content. If one has faith, there will be evidence of it in deeds of obedience. Or in other words, "That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 5:21)

If seekers for salvation will read the New Testament scriptures which proclaim this glorious doctrine, they will see that interspersed with the promise of grace is the exhortation to works. Let us return to Ephesians 2. Following the assurance that we are saved through faith, verse 10 states: "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." 2 Timothy teaches of the importance of the scriptures in teaching us the relationship between faith and works. Says Paul, they are "able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. Hebrews 5:5-10shows the relationship of the obedience that Christ learned through his submission to the Father's plan for him to the obedience he asks of us: "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him."

Addressing a different but related issue, the Bible teaches that the outward "works" or performances of the Law of Moses are not effective in gaining salvation. In Hebrews 10, the believer is told that sacrifice and burnt offerings of the Mosaic law are done away in Christ. These sacrifices can never take away sins, and we are "sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." In our day the law shall be put in our hearts, and we should perform good works (vv. 24-26), "for if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins."

The Book of Mormon makes it even more clear that the performances of the Mosaic law were for the purpose of pointing Israel's minds toward the coming Messiah, and that salvation can not be achieved by obedience to this law. The Book of Mormon prophet Abinadi explained that a time would come when the people would no longer be expected to keep the law of Moses.
"And moreover, I say unto you, that salvation doth not come by the law alone; and were it not for the atonement, which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people, that they must unavoidably perish, notwithstanding the law of Moses. And now I say unto you that it was expedient that there should be a law given to the children of Israel, yea, even a very strict law; for they were a stiffnecked people, quick to do iniquity, and slow to remember the Lord their God; Therefore there was a law given them, yea, a law of performances and of ordinances, a law which they were to observe strictly from day to day, to keep them in remembrance of God and their duty towards him. But behold, I say unto you, that all these things were types of things to come. And now, did they understand the law? I say unto you, Nay, they did not all understand the law; and this because of the hardness of their hearts; for they understood not that there could not any man be saved bexcept it were through the redemption of God."

Alma 25 speaks of a people who had learned the proper relationship between the law of Moses and the atonement of Christ:
...they began to be a righteous people; and they did walk in the ways of the Lord, and did observe to keep his commandments and his statutes. Yea, and they did keep the law of Moses; for it was expedient that they should keep the law of Moses as yet, for it was not all fulfilled. But notwithstanding the law of Moses, they did look forward to the coming of Christ, considering that the law of Moses was a type of his coming, and believing that they must keep those outward performances until the time that he should be revealed unto them. Now they did not suppose that salvation came by the law of Moses; but the law of Moses did serve to strengthen their faith in Christ; and thus they did retain a hope through faith, unto eternal salvation, relying upon the spirit of prophecy, which spake of those things to come. (Alma 25:14-16)

This is the same doctrine that Paul endeavored to teach throughout the entire book of Romans. We see it especially in chapter 3. "For all have sinned," Paul explains, "and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus...Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law [of Moses]." But Paul concludes the chapter with the same thoughts as the prophets of the Book of Mormon: "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law."

In this vein, we encounter one of the better-known Book of Mormon scriptures on faith and works. It is found in 2 Nephi 25:23, and reads: "...for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." The passage is found in the middle of Nephi's sermon on the scattering and gathering of Israel and the law of Moses. "There is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ, of which I have spoken, whereby man can be saved," Nephi proclaims. The law of Moses was given to help the people look forward to Christ. But for Nephi's people, this event is still in the future. So they are instructed to continue to keep the law of Moses while recognizing its purpose: to lead them to Christ. They know that when Christ comes, the law will be fulfilled and done away with. Thus, after all the ordinances and burnt sacrifices of the law of Moses which they do, they know that in the end it is by grace that they are saved.

Over and over, the Book of Mormon preaches the necessity of being saved through grace and faith in the Savior, meshing perfectly with the teachings of the New Testament. A quick glance at the following representative scriptures is enough to demonstrate this:

  • And he commandeth all men that they must repent, and be baptized in his name, having perfect faith in the Holy One of Israel, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God. (2 Nephi 9:23)

  • And moreover, I say unto you, that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent. (Mosiah 3:17)

  • And he shall come into the world to redeem his people; and he shall take upon him the transgressions of those who believe on his name; and these are they that shall have eternal life, and salvation cometh to none else. (Alma 11:40)

  • And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance. (Alma 34:15)

  • ...remember that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, who shall come; yea, remember that he cometh to redeem the world. (Helaman 5:9)

  • ...nothing can save this people save it be repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ, who surely shall come into the world, and shall suffer many things and shall be slain for his people. (Helaman 13:6)

  • ...men also were saved by faith in his name; and by faith, they become the sons of God. (Moroni 7:26)

  • And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise. (Moroni 7:41)

The Savior invites us to come unto him and partake of his atonement. This we do by making a sincere effort to obey his commandments and follow him. We do not rely on our good works for salvation. Neither the Book of Mormon nor the Bible teaches this. If we seek to repent of our sins, the Savior forgives us, cleanses us, heals us, and gives us power to return to the presence of the Father. "Yea, come unto Christ, Moroni urges, "and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ." (Moroni 10:32)

Christ's atonement and our faith make it possible for God and man to be reconciled. As we engage in the sanctification process that makes us holy and prepares us to enter his presence, good works will become more and more manifest in our lives. Ether 12:4 puts it like this:
"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."

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Comparing the Mormon Christ with the Savior of the New Testament

In my post on born-again Mormons, a commenter challenged me to "write down the Book of Mormon descriptions of Christ and Salvation and then the Bible descriptions then compare the two." I knew that this type of endeavor could take some time, since there are many, many, many passages on the Savior in the Book of Mormon. So for this post, I thought I would narrow down my search. When I typed "Christ" in to the scripture search engine at lds.org, the first results to appear were in the book of Moroni. Today I will thus compare Moroni's teachings on the Son of God in Moroni chapter 7 to New Testament Christology. Here, in chart form, are some of the correlations I found:

(you may have to scroll down, since my first attempt at HTML tables didn't work very well.)

Believers in Christ enter into his restMoroni 7:3
Wherefore, I would speak unto you that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ, and that have obtained a sufficient hope by which ye can enter into the rest of the Lord, from this time henceforth until ye shall rest with him in heaven.
Heb 4:3,11
For we which have believed do enter into rest...Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.
Christ's followers cannot be servants of the devilMoroni 7:11
For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water; wherefore, a man being a servant of the devil cannot follow Christ; and if he follow Christ he cannot be a servant of the devil.
Luke 9:50
And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.
Prophets testified that Christ would comeMoroni 7:23
And God also declared unto prophets, by his own mouth, that Christ should come.
Acts 3:20-21
And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.
We are saved by faith in Christ's nameMoroni 7:26,38
And after that he came men also were saved by faith in his name; and by faith, they become the sons of God.
For no man can be saved, according to the words of Christ, save they shall have faith in his name
Acts 16:31
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
After he finished his work on the earth, Christ ascended to heaven and sat on the right hand of GodMoroni 7:27
Christ hath ascended into heaven, and hath sat down on the right hand of God
Mark 16:19
So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.
Those who have faith in Christ will have great powerMoroni 7:33
And Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.
Matthew 17:20
And Jesus said unto them...If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
Through the atonement and resurrection of Christ, humankind can be raised to eternal lifeMoroni 7:41
Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.
John 11:25
Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
True followers of Christ will become like himMoroni 7:48
...that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is
1 John 3:2
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.

Edgar Goodspeed's book How to Read the Bible says of Christ that Mark records the doer, Matthew the teacher, Luke the compassionate Savior; and John reveals him as the universal Lord--not just someone for Judea or the Middle East, but the universal Lord. Likewise the Book of Mormon portrays Christ as the living head and organizer of his church. In the Book of Mormon he is a doer, he is a teacher, he is a compassionate Savior, and as well he is the universal Lord of light, life, and salvation for all mankind in all nations.

This exercise has had the effect of strengthening my conviction that the Savior taught by the Book of Mormon and to the Latter-day Saints is that same being who is worshipped by orthodox Christians and who is found within the pages of the Bible. I am an amateur genealogist, and when I check my work on the Church's genealogy program, family search, I am often given a program to compare my ancestor with someone in the database. I have found that when I have a person with the same first and last name, birth date, place of birth, who has the same spouse and children, that this person is most likely the same though I may have a different middle name than the one on the program.

Mormons and evangelical Christians may have some different understandings of the nature of Christ, or some interpretations of the Bible which conflict. But as this post has shown, we can feel confident that we are worshipping the same being and we might do well to trust that the other community will not be damned for their sincere beliefs.

Media in the Bedroom

originally posted at Mormon Matters
Beginning as far back as March 2001, the Church has advised members not to locate their computers in a bedroom. William C. Porter, in the “I Have a Question” section of the Ensign and then again in April Conference suggested that “parents need to make online use a family, not a private, activity. Put the computer in a room that the whole family uses, not in a child’s bedroom.” Right now our computers are located (1) in the kitchen alcove, and (2) in the parents’ bedroom (which is actually more of a public area than our living room!) We have found it interesting to make computer use a family activity. One evening we were all lying on the couch when my third daughter was IM’ing a friend. This Aaronic priesthood holder was making some suggestive comments to the laughter of our entire family. Little did he know that DD’s parents and sisters were reading every word he wrote. I have allowed my children to participate in myspace and facebook, as long as they add me to their site. I’ve never censored them, but they know that I can read the things that they and their friends say to each other.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that parents remove television sets from their children’s bedrooms. A study conducted by the University of Minnesota School of Public Health found that
“…older adolescents who have a bedroom television are less likely to engage in healthy activities such as exercising, eating fruits or vegetables, and enjoying family meals. They also consumed larger quantities of sweetened beverages and fast food, were categorized as heavy TV watchers, and read or studied less than teens without TVs in their bedrooms.”
I am very opposed to TV in bedrooms, but then again, I am also opposed to food in bedrooms! Back when I turned 16, my parents allowed me to put a stereo in my bedroom. With the addition of this form of media, I spent much more time indoors, alone in my room listening to music, and less time exercising, studying, or socializing.
Do any of the bedrooms in your home contain computers, TVs, DVD players, or other forms of media players? Have you noticed any positive or negative effects from this situation? How do you make computer and TV viewing family activities?

Friday, September 5, 2008

More Longing For Home

While reading Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth, I encountered his explanation of alienation. He discusses a feeling described by some of the great twentieth-century writers such as Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, T.S. Eliot, and James Joyce.

"Alienation means you don't feel at ease in any situation, any place, or with any person, not even with yourself. You are always trying to get "home" but never feel at home."

Tolle calls this the "universal dilemma of human existence. This is a condition described by Christians as "homesickness for heaven." The idea is that since we are heavenly creatures, we don't and shouldn't ever feel completely comfortable here on a fallen earth. The book of Hebrews mentions this condition in the famous "faith" chapter:
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a acountry. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:13-16)

Tolle claims to have an answer to this dilemma of human existence. His book details how a seeker can awaken to the inner soul and disassociate from the mind, or the ego. I appreciated many things about Tolle's rather new age thinking, and I wonder if it can be accomodated within Christian thought. Have you ever felt this "longing for home," this feeling of being a stranger upon the earth? Do you think scriptural teaching supports Tolle's proposition that humans can overcome their natural man and become integrated beings by getting in touch with the true self? Is this something we can accomplish while here on the earth, or will we always be a little homesick for our heavenly abode?