Sunday, October 04, 2009

LDS Books Reviewed

I absolutely love reading books, particularly LDS-themed books. To narrow that down even more, I prefer doctrinal or historical (non-fiction) books. I have read several books lately that I really enjoyed. I have noticed some interesting things not only in the books, but in the LDS book publishing world. These are just my own reflections and not necessarily a reflections on what is really taking place.

I'll start with the publishing theme. It seems that it is getting harder and harder to get a book published at Deseret Book. I have a very good friend and he has published dozens of books with them. He is an excellent writer and a best-selling LDS author. He recently submitted a book that they rejected. He decided to self-publish. Of course, the problem with self-publishing is that there is no built-in marketing plan and the author must rely on word-of-mouth. The other problem is, unless you hire a good editor, you're on your own as far as copy and content.

There have been a slew of books recently that are self-published. The all have fun premises. However, I have noticed that many of them suffer from the second problem of self-publishing. Some of the ideas seem to be pure conjecture. If Deseret Book had published the book, it is likely that the conjectured parts of the books would either be more fully fleshed out, or not included in the book in the first place.

For example, in one book I read recently it said something like, "Clearly this symbol refers to the Second Comforter and the second anointing." Sadly, this seems only to be clear to the author. There are literally hundreds of footnotes in this particular book, however when the author makes a comment such as the one I just quoted, there is no footnote. It therefore becomes the conjecture of the author. While it might be true, there is no way for the reader to come to the same conclusion. As a reader that constantly is hoping to learn, statements like this with no clarification, I become frustrated.

On the other hand, the very positive step that self-publishing has taken in the LDS book world is that authors are able to take more liberality in their views, because it does not have the oversight that Deseret Book or other more mainstream LDS publishing houses typically have. To be clear, I think the oversight is good. However, it is fun to read something that has not gone through the correlation process. I recognize that my views are a tad schizophrenic. I want to read the exciting books and at the same time have them polished. Is that too much to ask? Maybe. Apparently. What I like most about these self-published, non-mainstream books, is that I am exposed to new ideas and ways of approaching doctrines. I can then think about them and decide where I stand. In other words, it gets my doctrinal juices flowing.

Now, having said that, I get very excited (quite literally) when I see Deseret Book or other mainstream publishers producing a doctrinally sound and historically accurate and faithful book. I buy and devour (not just read) every one of them (well, almost).

Here are a few books that I have read recently that I recommend:

Principles of Priesthood Leadership, by Stephen D. Nadauld. This book is EXCELLENT! There is no way for me to recommend this book in a way that will do justice to the book. It is a must read for anyone in Church leadership at any level. I read this book three times in one month (this was last month). I have asked that my Ward Council read it. I have encouraged just about everyone I know that has or is serving on a Ward Council to get a copy of it and read. It will change the way you minister (and administer). It was published by Deseret Book in 1999. I wish I had read it ten years ago. DB recently reprinted it in softback. I have had the book on my shelf for several years and never read it. When I was at the store last month I saw that it was now in softback. I figured that since DB doesn't reprint a book unless it is very good (at least that is my impression), and is in high demand, I should move it to the top of my list. I read it in one night. Then I read it two more times in the next couple of weeks. More slowly and took lots of notes. The only thing I can compare this book to is attending a really good Priesthood Leadership Training Meeting. I really really recommend this book.

Light in the Wilderness: Explorations in the Spiritual Life, by M. Catherine Thomas. This is a self-published book that does not suffer from any of the concerns I expressed above. This book is hands down one of the most interesting LDS books on doctrine and personal spiritual development I have read... ever. It is unconventional in its approach. I don't know any other way to put it. Cathy Thomas is a retired member of the Religious Education faculty at BYU, and I say that to imply that I believe she is doctrinally solid. A friend of mine recommended it to me. This friend was so persistent that I finally bought the book and slowly feasted. I would say it is not possible to devour this book. It is heavy, not light fare. Cathy introduces some very thought-provoking ideas that caused me to think. A lot. I typically get through a book in two or three days. A week at the most. I spent about three weeks wading through the deep end of this book. The whole book is the deep end. It changed the way I look at things, spiritually speaking, in my life. I have bought several copies of this book for some friends. They all come back with the same experience that I had. This is an excellent book. Read it.

Faith to Heal and the Faith to be Healed, by Dennis Horne. This is a fun book about Priesthood Blessings. The genius of Horne's approach lies in his research. He finds a topic that is interesting and finds dozens of statements from Church Leaders. This particular books attempts to answer such questions as: why do some blessings "work" and others don't, how does one prepare to give and receive a Priesthood Blessing, and what is actually taking place when a Priesthood Blessing is given. If you have ever asked any of these questions (and more) as I have, then you should take a look at this book.

The Three Pillars of Zion, by Larry Barkdull. This is a really interesting book. It is self-published but also does not appear to suffer from the concerns I expressed above. Brother Barkdull is solid in his scholarship and is simply trying to share some ideas. He is not promoting himself as a self-proclaimed or self-ordained watchman on the tower, as others do. He has full confidence in the General Authorities and recognizes their authority. He appears to be sharing some ideas that he has about what a portrait of a Zion person would look like. The book draws heavily on scripture. It was though-provoking and caused me to examine my own life and take stock. The book is big (think telephone book size). It is a well written and flows. I recommend this book.

The Day Star Books, volumes 1 & 2, by Val Brinkerhoff. To be sure, these books are beautiful. They are full of full color, hi-res images of temple architecture. Brinkerhoff is sharing in these two large (12x9) volumes. I enjoyed reading the books, as he goes through the various symbols founds on the outside of LDS Temples, sharing his insights. He has historical as well as doctrinal ideas that are thought-provoking. My concern with the books is that he tends to speculate without providing evidence. This is not to say that what he says is wrong. My wish is that he would help the reader understand what he clearly understands in some instances in the books. I recommend the books, but they are expensive and there is some unsubstantiated ideas included, some of which I agreed and some that I did not. What it did for me was to get me thinking and come to some of my own conclusions.

The Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Volume 1: Manuscript Revelation Books. How do I review this? It is excellent! I love being able to look at original manuscripts of Joseph Smith's revelations. Some of which are written in Joseph Smith's own hand. It is expensive (about $100) and it is big (12x9), but if you can afford the money and shelf space, it is invaluable. At least it is to me. One of my favorite parts is in the original of D&C 84, the scribe is Frederick G. Williams. However, when it gets to the actual Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood portion of the revelation, it moves from Williams' pen to Joseph Smith! We don't know why for sure, but it is significant to me. This is one of my favorite books in my collection now!

Valiant in the Testimony of Christ, by Joseph Fielding McConkie. I admit I have some bias here. But I am not ashamed of my bias. Joseph is a dear friend and mentor to me. He asked that I review the manuscript a couple of times before it was published. I just think this is one of the best books he has written, period. This is a must read for ever Latter-day Saint trying to figure out where we stand with Christ in the Last Dispensation. JFM doesn't cut corners and he doesn't pull punches. It is a great read and will teach you about your testimony. If you enjoyed Elder Holland's talk in the last General Conference (October 2009), then you will like this book.

There are a few other books that I have read in the last couple of weeks that I should post, but I need to eat.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Office of Bishop and the Aaronic Priesthood

I gave a talk today in our ward. In honor of the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood today, we had a special sacrament meeting. For starters, my first counselor and I blessed the sacrament. A rare treat for the bishop. Then the president of the deacon's quorum spoke, followed by the president of the teacher's quorum. Then my first assistant in the priest's quorum spoke. I was very impressed. Each gave a very thoughtful talk on their respective responsibilities and how it makes them feel. Then all of the Aaronic Priesthood and leaders (including the bishopric) sang We'll Bring the World His Truth (Army of Helaman). It was a very powerful moment. I spoke on the office of bishop and the Aaronic Priesthood in general. Our stake president was also there, so he gave some concluding remarks. It is always a treat for me to have him with us.

Below is my talk. Some things I left out, but most of it was delivered from the pulpit.

Excellent talks from the Young Men. I love them very much.

It was a true and rare privilege to bless break and bless the sacrament today.

My speaking assignment is to discuss the office of bishop and then the Aaronic Priesthood as a whole.


May I first say that what I am about to say will hold me accountable to my Father in Heaven. As I teach what it means to be a bishop, I am fully aware of my personal shortcomings. I know that I am not perfect in many of the qualifications that I will read. Please know that I am trying. Thank God for the atonement that allows all of us to change and be better.

The Office of Bishop was restored on February 4, 1831. (The month and day being significant to me, as it is my birthday.)

At the outset, the primary responsibilities were to care for the sick and needy. In time, they grew to encompass both the temporal and spiritual welfare of large groups of Saints. All the quorums of the Priesthood, with the exception of First Presidency and the Twelve fell under the jurisdiction of the bishop. However, even today members of those quorums attend and participate in a ward that has a bishop at its head. Though, of course they preside if present at the meeting.

As the President of the Aaronic Priesthood in the ward, I hold the keys of that priesthood. When the man known as John the Baptist came to Joseph Smith, he laid his hands on Oliver Cowdery and Joseph’s head and said, “Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.”

Keys of repentance: the bishop can hear confession of sin and authorize the baptism of candidates.
Keys of the ministering of angels: We will talk more of this later.

The word bishop means “shepherd,” “overseer,” (Acts 20:28) and “one who feeds the Church of God.” We are taught that Jesus Christ is the bishop of our souls (1 Peter 2:25) and salvation. Local ward bishops are called to emulate His example and feed His sheep.

The first time a bishop came to shepherd over a ward was on August 20th 1842. The reason was to organize men and women who could assist in paying “labor tithing” in the construction of the Nauvoo Temple. Thus, Nauvoo was organized into ten wards, with a bishop at the head of each ward.

As outlined in the Doctrine and Covenants, a bishop must be a high priest. Joseph Smith taught: “The bishop is a high priest, and necessarily so, because he is to preside [over a branch (or ward) of the Church].” (Teachings, p. 112)

Brigham Young, in response to members wondering why a bishop must be a High Priest said, “What! ordain a High Priest to the lesser Priesthood? No; we call it ordaining a Bishop; and though we say, ‘We ordain you to be a Bishop, with our hands upon your head,’ it really … means, ‘We set you apart to officiate as a Bishop in the midst of the people of God, by virtue of your holy priesthood, which is after the order of Melchizedek, which is after the order of the Son of God. We set you apart to officiate in this office of the Aaronic Priesthood, blessing you with all the keys and authority of the same.” (Brigham Young, JD 9:90)

Paul taught: (Titus 1:7-9)
7 For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;
8 But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate;
9 Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.

On another occasion Paul also taught that: (1 Timothy 3:2)
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;

To the bishop is given to discern call the gifts of God that he may be the head of his ward and judge and bless. (D&C 46:27.)
27 And unto the bishop of the church [and this is understood to not only be for the presiding bishop, but all bishops in the Church], …. are to have it given unto them to discern all those gifts lest there shall be any among you professing and yet be not of God.

George Q. Cannon once taught that there is direct correlation between the faith that the members of a ward has in the bishop, and his ability to have all the wisdom needed to give the counsel required by the ward. He then encouraged the members of the Church to pray for their bishops and other leaders.

("It has been said that we are very willing to go on missions when we are told, and in regard to our spiritual labors we are very willing to be directed. In these respects there is no people so easily managed and directed as we are. That obedience which characterizes us in spiritual things will have to be manifested in temporal things. Many of the people think "I know more about this matter than my bishop does," when some temporal matter is agitated. That feeling is running through the minds of numbers of the people; and while this is the case your bishops will probably not be as wise as they might be; they have not your faith to sustain them. But when the time comes that you have implicit faith and confidence in god, and in those whom He appoints to preside over you, in things temporal as well as spiritual, your bishops will have all the wisdom needed to give you the counsel you require." (JD 11:338.))

Two common questions that I occasionally hear:

• Does the bishop have more “authority” than an Elder’s Quorum president?
This question is raised because the bishop is a function of the Lesser Priesthood and the Elders Quorum President is a function of the Melchizedek Priesthood.

“The duties and powers of a Bishop cease the very moment he steps over the Aaronic Priesthood, which is to officiate in temporal things; when he passes this he immediately begins to officiate by the authority and power of the Melchizedek Priesthood, though he (and others) may not (recognize) it.” (Brigham Young, JD 10:97.)

“Can the Bishop baptize the people, according to his Bishopric? He can. When the people he has baptized assemble for confirmations, can he confirm them? He cannot, under the power of his Bishopric; but as he has been ordained to the office of High Priest to confirm them into the Church by the laying on of hands.” (Brigham Young, JD 9:280)

Brigham Young taught that “A bishop sometimes officiates as a High Priest and sometimes as a Bishop.” (JD 9:281).

That statement could provide some interesting discussion, but the point is simplified to illustrate the principle.

It is true that the office of Bishop is of the Order of Aaron. However, as Brigham Young taught many times the Bishop acts in his role as presiding High Priest of the ward. However, to simplify matters, I am called Bishop Christensen all the time, rather than Bishop Christensen sometimes and Presiding High Priest Christensen at others. Because of the delegation and conferral of authority from our Stake President, I preside over all the priesthood and auxiliary organizations in the ward.

• What if there was a direct descendent of Aaron in the ward? Doesn’t he have to be the Bishop?
Not any more than any other man. In the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 68:18-21) where this is revealed, it has been interpreted to mean the presiding bishop of the Church. In this regard Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught “the practice of the Church constitutes the interpretation of the scripture.” (Our Relationship with the Lord, 1982 BYU Devotional.)

However, a careful reading of these verses also teaches us that that man must be worthy, called by the First Presidency and ordained by them. As President Joseph Fielding Smith once taught, “the revelation [for a call to be bishop] comes from the [First] Presidency, not the patriarch.” (Doctrines of Salvation 3:93.) There is an order to the Lord’s Church.

Some of the other responsibilities of a bishop include:
D&C 107:20: The power and authority of the lesser, or Aaronic Priesthood, is to hold the keys of the ministering of angels, and to administer in outward ordinances, the letter of the gospel, the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, agreeable to the covenants and commandments.

D&C 107:72-74: And also to be a judge in Israel, to do the business of the church, to sit in judgment upon transgressors upon testimony as it shall be laid before him according to the laws, by the assistance of his counselors, whom he has chosen or will choose among the elders of the church. This is the duty of a bishop who is not a literal descendant of Aaron, but has been ordained to the High Priesthood after the order of Melchizedek.

D&C 107:87-88:
87 Also the duty of the president over the Priesthood of Aaron is to preside over forty-eight priests, and sit in council with them, to teach them the duties of their office, as is given in the covenants—
88 This president [of the Priests Quorum] is to be a bishop; for this is one of the duties of this priesthood.

D&C 72:2-10:
2 For verily thus saith the Lord, it is expedient in me for a bishop to be appointed unto you, or of you, unto the church in this part of the Lord’s vineyard.
3 And verily in this thing ye have done wisely, for it is required of the Lord, at the hand of every steward, to render an account of his stewardship, both in time and in eternity.
4 For he who is faithful and wise in time is accounted worthy to inherit the mansions prepared for him of my Father.
5 Verily I say unto you, the elders of the church in this part of my vineyard shall render an account of their stewardship unto the bishop, who shall be appointed of me in this part of my vineyard.
6 These things shall be had on record, to be handed over unto the bishop in Zion.
7 And the duty of the bishop shall be made known by the commandments which have been given, and the voice of the conference.
8 And now, verily I say unto you, my servant Newel K. Whitney is the man who shall be appointed and ordained unto this power. This is the will of the Lord your God, your Redeemer. Even so. Amen.
9 The word of the Lord, in addition to the law which has been given, making known the duty of the bishop who has been ordained unto the church in this part of the vineyard, which is verily this—
10 To keep the Lord’s storehouse; to receive the funds of the church in this part of the vineyard;

D&C 72:11-16: 11
11 To take an account of the elders as before has been commanded; and to administer to their wants, who shall pay for that which they receive, inasmuch as they have wherewith to pay;
12 That this also may be consecrated to the good of the church, to the poor and needy.
13 And he who hath not wherewith to pay, an account shall be taken and handed over to the bishop of Zion, who shall pay the debt out of that which the Lord shall put into his hands.
14 And the labors of the faithful who labor in spiritual things, in administering the gospel and the things of the kingdom unto the church, and unto the world, shall answer the debt unto the bishop in Zion;
15 Thus it cometh out of the church, for according to the law every man that cometh up to Zion must lay all things before the bishop in Zion.
16 And now, verily I say unto you, that as every elder in this part of the vineyard must give an account of his stewardship unto the bishop in this part of the vineyard—

D&C 124:20-22:
20 And again, verily I say unto you, my servant George Miller is without guile; he may be trusted because of the integrity of his heart; and for the love which he has to my testimony I, the Lord, love him.
21 I therefore say unto you, I seal upon his head the office of a bishopric, like unto my servant Edward Partridge, that he may receive the consecrations of mine house, that he may administer blessings upon the heads of the poor of my people, saith the Lord. Let no man despise my servant George, for he shall honor me.
22 Let my servant George, and my servant Lyman, and my servant John Snider, and others, build a house unto my name, such a one as my servant Joseph shall show unto them, upon the place which he shall show unto them also.

The Lord has commanded that we serve in our callings (D&C 84:106-111).
106 And if any man among you be strong in the Spirit, let him take with him him that is weak, that he may be edified in all meekness, that he may become strong also.
107 Therefore, take with you those who are ordained unto the lesser priesthood, and send them before you to make appointments, and to prepare the way, and to fill appointments that you yourselves are not able to fill.
108 Behold, this is the way that mine apostles, in ancient days, built up my church unto me.
109 Therefore, let every man stand in his own office, and labor in his own calling; and let not the head say unto the feet it hath no need of the feet; for without the feet how shall the body be able to stand?
110 Also the body hath need of every member, that all may be edified together, that the system may be kept perfect.
111 And behold, the high priests should travel, and also the elders, and also the lesser priests; but the deacons and teachers should be appointed to watch over the church, to be standing ministers unto the church.

Read a portion of the letter authorizing my call as bishop.

From personal experiences, too many to count, I know I am called of God. I have been b

I have been blessed to always have good bishops. These men have made a significant difference for the good in my life.

I have found that when people have a problem with the bishop, it is usually not the bishop’s problem.

The Aaronic Priesthood

This is truly a miraculous time on the earth. At a time when young men are challenged on all sides by the enticing of the world, the young men of the Lord’s restored Church are given authority to bless and serve others.

It was not always that young men were given the Aaronic Priesthood. That did not really take place until 1877, in what is called The Universal Movement. It was during this time that the Presidency of Brigham Young felt that it would do much to prepare young men to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood if they first had the Aaronic Priesthood. President Young remarked, “It would be excellent training for the young men if they had the opportunity of acting in the offices of the lesser priesthood. They would thereby obtain very valuable experience, and when they obtain the Melchizedek Priesthood they would be likely to place a higher value upon it. (Ref. Pamphlets #080.8, Historian's Office.)”

The history of the Church, both ancient and modern is full of examples of young men being entrusted by God to do great and marvelous works.

Garrison Yoast (10) (Mormon was entrusted with the Plates of Gold)
Justin Ambler (12) (Christ teaches in the Temple)
McCade Rose (14) (Joseph Smith’s First Vision)
Hansen Ringer (17) (Joseph Smith when Moroni came)

Now, the most visual aspect of what the Young Men participate in, as holders of the Aaronic Priesthood, is in the administration of the sacrament. Of the importance of this ordinance and the participation Elder Oaks once taught that it is in the performing of the ordinance that the Key of the Ministering of Angels is made manifest.

“How does the Aaronic Priesthood hold the key to the ministering of angels? …. In general, the blessings of spiritual companionship and communication are only available to those who are clean.... Through the Aaronic Priesthood ordinances of baptism and the sacrament, we are cleansed of our sins and promised that if we keep our covenants we will always have His Spirit to be with us. I believe that promise not only refers to the Holy Ghost but also to the ministering of angels, for “angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ” (2 Ne. 32:3). So it is that those who hold the Aaronic Priesthood open the door for all Church members who worthily partake of the sacrament to enjoy the companionship of the Spirit of the Lord and the ministering of angels.” (The Aaronic Priesthood and the Sacrament, October 1998 General Conference)

My experience at the Bookstore with the woman that did not believe the Church had the Aaronic Priesthood.

There are a few experiences that I had as a young Aaronic Priesthood holder.
Deacon: passing the Sacrament to my parents, not really understanding the significance but knowing it was important.

Teacher: literally countless service projects that our advisor found for us. We moved anyone who would let us (we specialized in non-members), we demolished condemned homes, and even did light construction.

Priest: participating in the baptism of a friend of mine from High School in the Upper Skykomish river just outside of Gold Bar, Washington.

These young men are men of God. I love them. As a ward, we have a responsibility to nurture, teach, set examples, and provide opportunities for service. The Church is designed to sustain the teachings that take place in the home. President Packer has taught that the Church will never be any bigger than a ward. For better or worse, by and large, the experience that these young men (and certainly all of us) have in the Provo Peak 5th ward, will define their views of the Church in general.

I know the Aaronic Priesthood is real. It was restored by John the Baptist, under the direction of Peter, James, and John on May 15, 1829—180 years ago. I know it will remain on the earth until the Sons of Levi do offer up a sacrifice in righteousness. I know that it is the Lesser Priesthood, and prepares holders of this priesthood for the Melchizedek Priesthood.

As these young men fulfill their responsibilities, they are acting in the place of Jesus Christ. It is the principle of divine investiture of authority. Pray for them so that we can all see the works of the Master in their works.

In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.