Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why the Prophet is so important to LDS

My wife and I and our family are visiting a different state and attended Church today with some extended family. The gospel doctrine instruction was quite good. Though I was surprised by the confusion generated when, in the context of Church organization and government, the teacher asked who would be the most important person. The question (and answer) seemed straight-forward enough): the Prophet, the one who holds and exercises all priesthood keys. Members starting giving the most random answers that the most important person is a child, or the humble, or... Now, these are all good answers, but they are not in context with the lesson (Church administration) and don't answer the question. When the instructor clarified his point (again restating that he is referring to the Church organizationally), some people then said that it would be followers that are the most important in the Church, the idea being you can't have a prophet without followers. I tossed in my two cents, trying to explain the fallacy of such an argument (no followers = no prophet). If anything else, I felt that perhaps this was worth an entry.

I used Joseph Smith as my example. I said that if he didn't have any followers, it would not change the fact that the Father and the Son appeared to him. If no one sustained him as the prophet, it would not change the fact that Peter, James, and John, as well as John the Baptist and many other angels (later) came to Joseph and gave him priesthoods, authorities, and keys. And so it seems that if the Prophet Joseph Smith didn't have any followers, it would not mean that he was no longer a prophet; rather it would mean that he wouldn't have any followers. More likely, if Joseph Smith had't been sustained or upheld by his followers, he could not have been their president. But in the extremely unlikely (and clearly moot) event that this would have happened (for arguments sake), Joseph and Oliver would have been lead by the Lord to another group of people who would have sustained them both as their duly authorized leaders.

Another part of this argument (again, no followers = no prophet) that is inherently mistaken in its line of thinking, is the seeming absence of an understanding of priesthood keys. I wish I had had time to explain this, but not being the teacher, obviously it was not my place. The whole LDS position is based on the principle that there was a general and universal apostasy after the Twelve Apostles were taken from the earth in the Meridian Dispensation (and in the Last Dispensation those priesthood keys were restored to Joseph Smith). With the absence of the Apostles, priesthood keys were also removed from the earth. I do not believe that the sincerity of the early Christians in general wavered. However, sincerity does not make up for the loss of priesthood keys and authority. And so to contend that in a Church administration and discussion on priesthood government, the followers are key is a contention that betrays a lack of understanding of the doctrine of priesthood keys. At best.

Now, of course, it is more likely that the other members of the class simply misunderstood the instructors' question. In fact, it seems that if he had restated his question, or even said it differently, everyone in the room would have nodded their heads and we would have moved on. Instead, people weren't listening and we spent too long going over something that we have all known and understood since we were in Primary. Probably.

In the end, regardless of the reasons for the confusion, it was a very good opportunity to once again think about the reasons for the Restoration and the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ restored through his prophet, Joseph Smith, Jun.

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Scriptures are the Standard

It has been my experience that when the Lord wants to hide something from His people, He puts it in the scriptures.

In any case, it is wise to remember the words of our leaders regarding the use of the Standard Works. President Joseph Fielding Smith once said,

"It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teaching of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man’s doctrine.
"You cannot accept the books written by the authorities of the Church as standards in doctrine, only in so far as they accord with the revealed word in the standard works. Every man who writes is responsible, not the Church, for what he writes. If Joseph Fielding Smith writes something which is out of harmony with the revelations, then every member of the Church is duty bound to reject it. If he writes that which is in perfect harmony with the reveled word of the Lord, then it should be accepted." (Doctrines of Salvation, 3:203-4.)

Furthermore, President Harold B. Lee has taught,

"All that we teach in this Church ought to be couched in the scriptures.… We ought to choose our texts from the scriptures, and wherever you have an illustration in the scriptures or a revelation in the Book of Mormon, use it, and do not draw from other sources where you can find it here in these books. We call these the standard Church works because they are standard. If you want to measure truth, measure it by the four standard Church works.… If it is not in the standard works, you may well assume that it is speculation. It is man’s own personal opinion, to put it another way; and if it contradicts what is in the scriptures, you may know by that same token that it is not true. This is the standard by which you measure all truth. But if you do not know the standards, you have no adequate measure of truth." (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, p. 148-9.)

And on another occasion he said,

"We have the standard Church works. Why do we call them standard? If there is any teacher who teaches a doctrine that can’t be substantiated from the standard church works—and I make one qualification, and that is unless that one be the President of the Church, who alone has the right to declare new doctrine—then you may know by that same token that such a teacher is but expressing his own opinion. If, on the other hand, you have someone teaching a doctrine that cannot be substantiated by the scriptures, and more than that, if it contradicts what is in the standard Church works, you may know that that person is teaching false doctrine, no matter what his position in this church may be. The President of the Church alone may declare the mind and will of God to His people. No officer nor any other church in the world has this high and lofty prerogative. When the President proclaims any such new doctrine, he will declare it to be a revelation from the Lord.” (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, p. 149.)

Brigham Young, once speaking on the principle of the revealed word of the Lord to His people said,

"When God speaks to the people, he does it in a manner to suit their circumstances and capacities. He spoke to the children of Jacob through Moses, as a blind, stiff-necked people, and when Jesus and his Apostles came they talked with the Jews as a benighted, wicked, selfish people. They would not receive the Gospel, though presented to them by the Son of God in all its righteousness, beauty and glory. Should the Lord Almighty send an angel to re-write the Bible, it would in many places be very different from what it now is. And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation. According as people are willing to receive the things of God, so the heavens send forth their blessings. If the people are stiff-necked, the Lord can tell them but little." (JD 9:311.)

The need for modern revelation cannot be understated. When speaking to a BYU audience in 1959, Elder Spencer W. Kimball said that “Revelation today is common, continuous, and compelling.” (That You May not be Deceived, n.p., emphasis mine.) When considering the importance of the Revelations of the Restoration and their place in the Standard Works, it would be well for us to remember an experience from Church History, as recorded by Parley P. Pratt:

"While visiting with brother Joseph in Philadelphia, a very large church was opened for him to preach in, and about three thousand people assembled to hear him. Brother Rigdon spoke first, and dwelt on the Gospel, illustrating his doctrine by the Bible. When he was through, brother Joseph arose like a lion about to roar; and being full of the Holy Ghost, spoke in great power, bearing testimony of the visions he had seen, the ministering of angels which he had enjoyed; and how he had found the plates of the Book of Mormon, and translated them by the gift and power of God. He commenced by saying: ‘If nobody else had the courage to testify of so glorious a message from Heaven, and of the finding of so glorious a record, he felt to do it in justice to the people, and leave the event with God.’
The entire congregation were astounded; electrified, as it were, and overwhelmed with the sense of the truth and power by which he spoke, and the wonders which he related. A lasting impression was made; many souls were gathered into the fold. And I bear witness, that he, by his faithful and powerful testimony, cleared his garments of their blood. Multitudes were baptized in Philadelphia and in the regions around; while, at the same time, branches were springing up in Pennsylvania, in Jersey, and in various directions.” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, 260.)

I know those are just a bunch of quotes. But they are really really good quotes. I wish that our teachers would feel more comfortable with reading and teaching from the scriptures. I think the teachers in my ward are actually really good about this. In fact, I think that the more comfortable the teachers are with the scriptures, the more often they will be in the scriptures. I have absolutely noticed that when there is a lesson in my ward that has been doctrinally rooted and scripturally founded, the stronger the Holy Spirit is in the classroom.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Thoughts on Priesthood Keys

A week before (July 3, 2011) I was released as the Bishop of my ward (July 10, 2011), our Elders Quorum President invited me to teach a lesson on Priesthood Keys. What follows is my lesson outline. You will notice that I had a forward that asked that the brethren in the Quorum not make comments. I had not done that before and don't that I will ever do it again. However, because of my limited time that day (and ultimately as bishop of the ward) I felt that questions would be more appropriate in this case rather than comments. I hope that there may be something useful here that will benefit you.

I am going to ask that you not make comments. Rather, if you have an honest question please feel free to pose it. Otherwise I will ask that you please refrain from making comments. My time is more limited than we realize and I want to be sure I express myself wholly and completely on this vital topic.

Scriptural Foundation
D&C 43:7 – Keys holders and all others that minister to the Saints must come in at the gate. This is similar in principle to John 10:1-2, though Christ’s words in John are more to the point.

Joseph Smith taught: “The fundamental principles, government, and doctrine of the Church are vested in the keys of the kingdom.” (HC 1:338.)

  • Key: locks or unlocks doors.
  • Priesthood: the power and authority of God.
  • Priesthood Key: the power and authority to lock and unlock Gods blessings. They are the “right of presidency” (D&C 107:8) or the right to preside.
  • Key Holder: one who presides (a president) by right of authority, who oversees and authorizes the specific saving ordinances over which he presides in a geographic area.
    • It is important to note that Priesthood Keys are geographic. This is why it is so important to observe ward boundaries, as silly as that may seem.
Why Priesthood Keys
  • I believe that Keys were lost in the Great Apostasy
  • Keys are what were restored to Joseph Smith (always with a witness)
  • Keys are what enables us to access the redemptive powers of the Atonement of Jesus Christ
  • Without Keys we would just be another Christian church that teaches good things
  • Keys ensure that the Lord's house is always a house of order. Without Keys confusion would reign (D&C 132:8)

Some Examples of Correct Principles
  • Sacrament Meeting (Can all men hold a sacrament meeting? What about when traveling? What if your wife suggests you stay home and hold a nice romantic sacrament meeting?)
  • Revelation (counsel, blessings, direction, etc.)
  • Callings and Announcements—and why they ought to be kept confidential (Law of Common Consent and who has the right to extend calls and releases)
  • Bishops says one thing and Stake Primary Presidency says another… (What to do?)
  • Elders Quorum and High Priest Group Leaders are stake callings, yet they must absolutely check all callings through the Bishop… (Why?)

What does it mean to me to hold keys?
·         Paul and Ananias (Acts 9:1-18) “Jesus had come from the courts of glory to chasten and reprove Saul. Why, then, did not the Lord tell his future minister how to turn from the error of his ways? Why appear to him without delivering the whole message? Simply because the Lord had a servant named Ananias whose commission and work it was to teach and baptize Paul. The presiding officer of heaven and earth would not overstep the bounds of his own laws. He had delegated power to his local officer to handle matters of this sort and to him even the future apostle to the Gentiles must apply for counsel and direction.” (DNTC 2:90.)
·         It means the Lord has asked that I be His steward for a time and a season to act in his behalf for the salvation (both temporal and eternal, both short-term and long-term) of the members of our ward.

What does it mean to me that others do not hold keys?
·         Rights of revelation are limited to spiritual and physical geography.
·         Wilford Woodruff: “The spirit of revelation belongs to the priesthood” (Collected Discourses, April 8, 1894)
·         Joseph Smith, “I will inform you that it is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one, to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves; therefore you will see the impropriety of giving heed to them; but if any person have a vision or a visitation from a heavenly messenger, it must be for his own benefit and instruction; for the fundamental principles, government, and doctrine of the Church are vested in the keys of the kingdom.” (Teachings, p. 21)
·         What do you do if an angel appears? What should his message be? (The same as Christ’s to Paul to go find Ananias.)

How should we treat those that hold keys?
·         They are men, imperfect and more aware of their own faults than anyone else could point out.
·         With respect and deference to the keys and office and calling that relate to those keys.
·         With prayers and sustaining (D&C 107:22)
·         President John Taylor said with typical boldness, “You cannot say that you submit to the law of God while you reject the word and counsel of his servants.” (Journal of Discourses 7:325.)

Not Observing Priesthood Channels and Keys can lead to apostasy:
·        President Kimball taught the following:
Apostasy usually begins with question and doubt and criticism. It is a retrograding and devolutionary process. The seeds of doubt are planted by unscrupulous or misguided people; and seldom directed against the doctrine at first, but mete often against the leaders.
They who garnish the sepulchers of the dead prophets begin now by stoning the living ones; they return to the pronouncements of the dead leaders and interpret them to be incompatible with present programs. They convince themselves that there are discrepancies between the practices of the deceased and the leaders of the present….
Apply this to modern times…. Many budding apostates follow the pattern progressively. They allege love for the gospel and the Church but charge that leaders are a little “off the beam.” Soon they claim that the leaders are making changes and not following the original programs. Next they say that while the gospel and the Church are divine, the leaders are fal­len. Up to this time it may be a passive thing, but now it becomes an active resistance and frequently the blooming apostate begins to air his views and to crusade. He is likely now to join [others and perhaps] groups who are slipping away. He… is flattered by the evil one that he knows more about the scriptures and doctrines than the Church leaders who, he says, are now persecuting him. He generally wants all the blessings of the Church: membership, its Priest­hood, its temple privileges, and expects them from the leaders of the Church, though at the same time claiming that these leaders have departed from the path. He now begins to expect persecution and adopts a martyr complex and when finally [Church discipline] comes he associates himself with other apostates to develop or strengthen cults. At this stage he is likely to claim revelation for him­self; revelations from the Lord directing him in his interpretations and his actions. These manifesta­tions are superior to anything from living leaders, he claims. He is now becoming quite independent.
He fails to recognize that if the Church had gone astray, and if its authorities were “off the beam,” that he could get no authority from them or from anywhere else….
Some of these people disappointed, perhaps ignored in their ambitions, hungry for leader­ship, are deceivers of the first order. To them there is little help we can give. (That You May Not Be Deceived, BYU Devotional, November 11, 1959, n.p.)
  • Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught: “Some members or former members of our church fail to recognize the importance of the priesthood line. They underestimate the importance of the Church and its leaders and its programs. Relying entirely on the personal line [of revelation], they go their own way, purporting to define doctrine and to direct competing organizations contrary to the teachings of prophet-leaders. In this they mirror the modern hostility to what is disparagingly called “organized religion.” Those who reject the need for organized religion reject the work of the Master, who established His Church and its officers in the meridian of time and who reestablished them in modern times.” (Two Lines of Communication.)
  • D&C 124:45-46 – if we do not hearken to the First Presidency and those they have appointed, we “shall not be blest.” This is the same principle found in D&C 1:38 (“whether by my own voice or the voice of my servant it is the same.”)

Keys are Designed to Bless Us
  • Baptism (both of water and fire)
  • Sacrament (D&C 20:77, 79)
  • Repentance (D&C 13)
  • Revelation and Counsel (Heavens continue to be Open and Accessible to us through Keys)

In the end, all keys belong to God. At the last day, all keys will be given back to Christ. For example Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught:

“This gathering of the children of Adam, where the thousands, and the tens of thousands are assembled in the judgment, will be one of the greatest events this troubled earth has ever seen. At this conference, or council, all who have held keys of dispensations will render a report of their stewardship. Adam will do likewise, and then he will [surrender] to Christ all authority. Then Adam will be confirmed in his calling as the prince over his posterity and will be officially installed and crowned eternally in this presiding calling. Then Christ will be received as King of kings, and Lord of lords. We do not know how long a time this gathering will be in session, or how many sessions may be held at this grand council. It is sufficient to know that it is a gathering of the Priesthood of God from the beginning of this earth down to the present, in which reports will be made and all who have been given dispensations (talents) will declare their keys and ministry and make report of their stewardship according to the parable. Judgment will be rendered unto them for this is a gathering of the righteous, those who have held and who hold keys of authority in the Kingdom of God upon this earth. It is not to be the judgment of the wicked. When all things are prepared and every key and power set in order with a full and perfect report of each man’s stewardship, then Christ will receive these reports and be installed as rightful Ruler of this earth. At this grand council he will take his place by the united voice of the thousands who by right of Priesthood are there assembled. This will precede the great day of destruction of the wicked and will be the preparation for the Millennial Reign” (The Progress of Man, 3rded. [1944], 481–82; see also Bruce R. McConkie, The Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man [1982], pp.578–88).

Monday, July 11, 2011

Priesthood Keys and Callings

I have had the privilege of weekly praying about callings in my ward for nearly eight years while I have served in the bishopric. Almost seven of them has been as the bishop. I have always maintained an awareness of the importance of obtaining the mind and will of the Lord in regards to callings. I know I was “called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands,” and it is my feeling that each and every member of our ward should expect to have the same assurance. (Article of Faith 5.) Likewise, I am constantly impressed that God cares about each of us, even in what some may mistakenly consider minor things such as callings. The Author of the Plan of Salvation, the Architect of worlds without end, the very Father of Christ has time and concern enough to involve Himself in the affairs and lives of the members of the Provo Peak 5th Ward.

Sometimes I am asked why it is that we are to keep the announcement of the call or release private, even from close family members, until it is publicly announced over the pulpit. Some presume this to be a tradition in the Church and is not very important. I have thought about this question for a long time and have come to a few conclusions which deal with authority, revelation, and Priesthood Keys. The following will use callings as the example, but releases from callings should be equally applied. It has been my experience and observation when calls and releases are announced in the proper place and time it promotes increased faith in local leaders and the calling process and that to do so otherwise damages or at least impairs a member’s faith in those same things.

Because the generality of callings in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are done with the approval of the bishop of a ward, or president of a stake, they are necessarily done under the direction of Priesthood Keys. When a key holder kneels in prayer and exercises the Priesthood Keys given him by one having authority under the direction of the President of the Church, and inquires of God as to what to do about a certain calling and potential candidates that might serve in that calling, he is entitled to and receives revelation. I am a witness of this choice and sacred experience and testify that it is common practice in my ward.

Acting on that revelation and in harmony with counselors, the calling is prepared to be extended. When the key holder establishes that a candidate is worthy and willing to keep covenants, he extends the calling. In my experience, I cannot recall a time when a calling was not accepted when I extended it. I do not know if my experience has been unusual in this regard. I have heard of some bishops who extend a calling and it is declined. I am grateful that my experience has been so positive and give credit to the members of our ward who love, live, keep, and understand their covenants. And so, as is customary and barring any unusual and unforeseen circumstances, the brother or sister accepts the opportunity to serve and thereby recognizes personal and intimate revelation at work in his or her life.

Just as callings ought to be extended with dignity and respect and tact and love, so should the sustaining be conducted. And as the calling is extended by the right authority so should it be announced and asked for a sustaining vote by the same. Any effort to circumvent the Lord’s approved order and channel is at best clumsy, displaying a lack of understanding the doctrines at hand, and at worst a usurpation of ill-gotten authority that really never existed with that person in the first place. When a calling is announced over the pulpit by the right person, exercising the proper authority, under the direction of Priesthood Keys and revelation, it provides each member the opportunity to receive in their hearts the confirming witness of the Holy Ghost that the individual is indeed called by God. When this opportunity is deprived the members, because a member feels the need to share the impending call with friends that have no right to know yet, the Spirit is not given the opportunity to testify to the congregation that the individual being sustained is indeed called of God. A revelation to Joseph Smith teaches us that when someone is called to serve, “he that is ordained of me shall come in at the gate” (D&C 43:7). On another occasion Christ taught, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.” (John 10:1-2.) There are a couple of ways this could be taught, but for our purposes and in this context, all callings must come in through the front door and if it is by any other means the Lord is not pleased.

We are blessed to live in a day when we possess the Gift of the Holy Ghost and can receive personal revelation. We also live in a day when Priesthood Keys are on the earth and in our stake and ward boundaries, providing for us the privilege to have institutional revelation. It should be remembered that the Law of Common Consent—the privilege to manifest a sustaining vote—is not a democratic vote but rather a vote to demonstrate confidence in our leaders’ ability to receive revelation and speak for God. It ought to be seen as an opportunity to express our willingness to abide by and follow and accept institutional revelation in the Provo Peak 5th Ward (cf. D&C 26:2.)

Each of us individually and collectively have entered into covenants in sacred moments “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9). We have covenanted to love and serve the Master and in turn our families and fellow Saints. We covenanted to accept calls to serve and to magnify those callings to the best of our abilities. We likewise covenanted to sustain one another. Part of that covenant is to allow callings and sustainings to be conducted by those duly authorized to do so. Thus, it is not our place to discuss callings and releases until they have been properly conducted. Rather we should “waste and wear out our lives” serving God. (D&C 123:13).

There are beautiful blessings promised to those who accept callings (no matter the station or location) and do all in their power to see them fulfilled. One of the promises of the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood is that those who are faithful in “magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies.” (D&C 84:33.) It takes faith to accept a calling or to sustain someone. Sometimes it takes just as much, if not more faith, to accept a release.

If this work wasn’t true and these principles didn’t matter, then respect for Priesthood Keys and confidentiality wouldn’t matter. It is my conviction that the Church is true and is God’s Kingdom on earth. We have many reasons to rejoice. Though it was first recorded in the Book of Mormon, and I feel it is just as true in our day in our ward, “surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.” (4 Nephi 1:16.) My sisters and brothers, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored in its fulness. Priesthood Keys are on the earth and operative in our part of the Lord’s Vineyard. Let us thank God that the heavens are open and pour out blessings upon us the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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