Friday, June 13, 2014

Response to "The Great Divide" from

I don't normally do this, but an article I read about a so-called "Great Divide" in the LDS church made me want to respond.  What started out as a simple comment to my friend sharing the article on Facebook, became a long commentary that I felt was perhaps better suited as a blog post. 

It may be helpful to read the article that precipitated my spending a few hours of contemplation to form my response, which you can find here.

Here is my reply:

Interesting article, however, I think the author is incorrect to assume that a "Traditionally Believing Mormon" or "TBM" doesn't test what they are taught or directed to do against revealed scripture and seek to receive their own confirmation of the truths taught by their leaders.  I don’t think the example he gave of the difference between how a “TBM” and a “New Order Mormon" or "NOM” would respond to the Stake President in the scenarios given is necessarily accurate.  I wouldn’t consider myself a “NOM,” but I would have the same response to the Stake President changing the temple recommend interview.  I would venture to say that most “TBMs” don't follow blindly, but rather trust that those who God has ordained as prophets and apostles do have a different vantage point, and understand that they definitely are not perfect and may say things of their own opinion which are not necessarily always through the inspiration of the spirit, nevertheless they are chosen to reveal God's will for the church and are given revelation through the direction of the spirit.  

I agreed with all the quotes from the past church leaders stating that they are not perfect and we should confirm all teachings through the spirit.  I don’t know that there has been anything different taught.  We are always told to find out for ourselves.  Personal revelation is a fundamental principle of the gospel and we are taught to seek it.  The church and the scriptures teach that we should ask and we will receive answers.  The Book of Mormon concludes with the exhortation to ask to know for ourselves if it is true and the promise that we will know through the Holy Ghost the truthfulness of all things.  The gospel was restored by a 14 year-old boy’s desire to ask God to know for himself what was true.  I don’t quite understand how the author of this article could claim that we are not taught to question and receive our own answers.  

There is a difference between questioning and being critical.  The author says his meaning of criticism is not a negative version, but a thoughtful evaluation similar to that mentioned above to confirm God’s will.  Once again, I don’t believe that sort of criticism has ever been frowned upon in the church.  What is frowned upon is criticism that comes from pride, from assuming that you know better.  Are there changes that have been made in the church and that will continue to be made in the church?  Of course.  To imply that “TBMs” assume that God is completely happy and the church has no more progress to make is false.  But I believe there is a difference in how we believe it should go about.  Revelation often has come through recognizing a need, for example with the Word of Wisdom.  In fact, that is usually how it comes, since I believe the Lord lets the church grow and progress just as He allows us to individually—line upon line, precept upon precept as we are ready to receive it.  Seeing a need for women to be more involved and asking the church leaders to consider how that should happen through the direction of the Spirit is one thing.  Deciding yourself how it should be done and requiring it of our leaders is another.  One shows humility and the other shows pride.  Humility is the only way we can receive and accept the Lord’s will. 

Sometimes we don't completely understand why things are the way they are, but as we act in faith and obediently do those things, we can come to know of the truthfulness.  "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.".John 7:17.  Jesus here himself acknowledged the possibility of a man to speak from God or of himself, but the way to know is often to do the will and then we will know the doctrine.  Faith, humility, and obedience are critical principles taught throughout scripture that will lead to profound growth, knowledge and understanding.

I liked the author’s analogy of seeing the church as a child sees their parents compared to how an adult sees them.  I think it is a pretty adept analogy of how most of us come to see the church as we get older or learn more.  I feel like I, too, can see the “flaws,” or evidences of the fallibility of leaders within the church, but still believe it is the Lord’s church, so I don’t see the difference between us really on that point.  
I'm not sure why the author would say the “TBM” relies on his church leaders for salvation and a “NOM” takes responsibility for his own salvation.  I don’t ever remember being taught that I should rely on my leaders for my salvation.  I have only ever been taught that Christ is my salvation and is the only means by which I will be saved.  I have only ever been taught that it is my individual responsibility to follow Him and to have a personal relationship with Him.

I do believe the Lord chooses prophets and servants to reveal His will.  That is a pretty foundational principle of the gospel in every dispensation.  If the author is implying that following the counsel of church leaders means I am relying on them for my salvation, then he is definitely mistaken about most “TBM’s” understanding of the role of a prophet and the apostles.  They only point us to Christ, who is the author of our salvation.  

I do agree that we need to be cautious not to alienate others who question or are critical.  We are not all the same and the best place for all of us to be is within the same church walls serving each other and showing love to all.  This article was a good reminder to me to be more loving and inclusive when someone is questioning or expresses views that are different than mine and not to see it as a threat to my beliefs nor necessarily an indication that they are falling away or want to leave the church.  It is an opportunity for both of us to be accepting of one another despite our differences and to focus on our mutual love of all that we find good in our church. 

I realized by reading how people felt they had changed since becoming a "NOM" that, as someone they would likely deem a "TBM", I have not really felt many of the things they felt, at least not in the same way, so their departure from those feelings of insecurity and not fitting "the mold" or of being judgmental or less loving is good, since I don't think we are all meant to be exactly the same and we all have different personalities, weaknesses and strengths.  Our challenge is to accept others, especially those who are different, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  

I love Jesus' teaching on this subject:  "But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?  And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?  Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."  (Matt. 5:44-48)  

Just as we should be cautious not to alienate others who question, however, I also believe that those who find themselves often disagreeing with the prophets and apostles should perhaps also be cautious that they truly are seeking to know God's will and not being led astray by their own will and/or the cunning devices of the devil.  The devil can be subtle and is patient.  We may not even realize the course we are taking until it is too late.  "...yea, and he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever."  (2 Ne. 26:22)  

Remember, what it says in Isaiah 55:8-9: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."  We are here to learn to conform our will to that of the Lord's, not to reconcile His will to ours.  That is the challenge for all of us regardless of where we stand in "the great divide."   

2 Nephi 28 is a great chapter warning about apostasy in the last days and the many false doctrines and precepts of men that will be taught.  It talks of the devil cheating men's souls and leading them carefully down to hell.  It also ends with this warning, which I believe could again be applied to either side:  "Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost." 
One of my very favorite scriptures is Proverbs 3:5-7:  "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.  Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil."

One conclusion I have come to in studying the scriptures is that the key to avoid being misled is true humility and avoiding the vain things of the world.  Pride truly does come before the fall.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Isaiah 1:18 -- "Though Your Sins Be As Scarlet"

"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."

This is one of my very favorite scriptures.  Is there any more beautiful expression of the miracle of the Atonement and the hope it brings to each of us?

The Lord petitions us to come reason with Him.  D&C 50:10 says: "And now come, saith the Lord, by the Spirit, unto the elders of his church, and let us reason together, that ye may understand."

The Lord wants us to truly understand this doctrine of forgiveness, in fact it is the most important topic in chapter one of Isaiah.

This chapter is laid out in a chiasmus, which is defined in the dictionary as "a rhetorical or literary figure in which words, grammatical constructions, or concepts are repeated in reverse order, in the same or a modified form."  This pattern is found repeatedly throughout the writings of Isaiah and often takes this pattern: a, b, c, d, d, c, b, a --where each letter represents a different theme.  The central point, or d, is the most important point to be made. Chapter one is an example of this literary construction and verse 18 is the central point, even repeating the theme within the verse: "though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though the be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."

In the previous verses of chapter one, the Lord has been condemning and chronicling the wickedness of His people. But what is the Lord's true purpose in this chapter?  We discover this in verses 16-18.  He wants to entreat them to turn to Him and be clean again.  His purpose is to make them understand that even though they have committed horrible sins, He will forgive them.  The point of the construction of this chapter is to say that all those things won't matter, if you will come to Him and let Him make you clean.

In Ezekiel 18:21-22 it says:
     "But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
     "All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live."

I love the analogy of our sins, being as scarlet, becoming white as snow.  Anyone who has tried to clean a red stain out of white carpet knows how formidable a task and an often impossible one it is.  We may look upon our sins in much the same way.  The sins we commit may seem too great, the way back may seem too hard, it may appear impossible that we can ever be clean again.  Certainly, if the task were up to us to make ourselves clean, it would be impossible.

But that is what is so beautiful to me in this verse.  It is not impossible through the Atonement of Christ.  Even the reddest of red can be made white again.  This is the hope the Lord desires to give us.  This is the purpose of the Atonement, indeed the purpose of our life here on earth.  We will sin and fall short, but He has provided a way to be clean and white and pure again.  It is only accomplished when we turn to Him and accept the gift of His Atonement and seek to walk in His ways.  But when we do, we have this promise:

"Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more." 
(D&C 58:42)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Isaiah 1:16-17 -- "Wash You, Make You Clean"

16.  "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
17.  "Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow."

After condemning the sins of His people, the Lord now instructs them in verses 16 & 17 on how to correct themselves.  By instructing them to wash and make themselves clean, he is commanding them to repent and be baptized.  He tells them to put away their evil doings and give up their sins.

The commandment to repent and be baptized is repeated throughout scripture for it is the gateway to eternal life.  In 2 Nephi 31:17-18 we read:

"Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter.  For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.

"And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive."

I like the phrase, "Learn to do well" in Isaiah 1:17.  To me, it shows the patience and mercy of the Lord.  "Learn to do well" seems to me to imply that doing well will take time.  We may not get it immediately.  It may take time to learn to truly be obedient, but our continued effort and repentance is what is necessary.

How do we learn to do well?  The Lord has said, " learning, even by study and also by faith."  (D&C 88:118)

2 Timothy 3:15-16 says:

"And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which 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." 

I believe we learn to do well as we study the scriptures.  We come to know the doctrine and have it written in our hearts, which leads us to want to do those things we are instructed to do.  It is only through the spirit that we can truly learn and change.  Studying the scriptures not only teaches us how we should act, but brings the spirit into our lives so that we can have the strength and ability to do well.

The scriptures, as Timothy teaches, are also a wonderful tool to show us our mistakes.  They reprove us and correct us, helping us recognize when we have erred.  This recognition is important as we "learn to do well."  This knowledge is gleaned through experience as we turn from our mistakes and choose to do better.

Continuing in Isaiah 1:17, "seek judgement" means to seek justice, and the footnote referenced for "judge the fatherless" states, "give a just verdict to the fatherless," in other words, defend their cause, "plead for the widow."  In verse 17, the Lord is telling us to be proactive in comforting and defending those who stand in need of our help.  This reminds me of a verse: D&C 58:27:

"Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;"

"Anxiously engaged," as well as all the action verbs in Isaiah 1:17, indicate to me that doing well is not just about not sinning, but is about actively doing good, seeking out the needy, coming to their aid.  As the Lord states in the previous verse (D&C 58:26):

"For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward."

Isaiah 1:16-17 shows the progression we must make to become like Christ.  As we repent and turn from our sins, we enter into the gate through baptism.  We learn to do well through study and experience, requiring continued repentance when we make a mistake.  As what we learn becomes written in our hearts, we are changed and will seek to turn our faith into action, actively seeking to do good beyond what we've been commanded.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I Will Give Away All My Sins To Know Thee

A certain phrase of scripture has been in my mind for quite awhile now.  It is the response of a king to the teachings of Aaron.  Aaron had taught him many things, particularly that there is a God, who gave men commandments, that men were fallen and that because of their transgressions, God had prepared a plan of salvation and a Savior to redeem them, if they would believe in Christ and follow Him.

In Alma 22:15-18 we read the King's response to Aaron's teachings:

15. And it came to pass that after Aaron had expounded these things unto him, the king said: What shall I do that I may have this eternal life of which thou hast spoken? Yea, what shall I do that I may be born of God, having this wicked spirit rooted out of my breast, and receive his Spirit, that I may be filled with joy, that I may not be cast off at the last day? Behold, said he, I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.
 16. But Aaron said unto him: If thou desirest this thing, if thou wilt bow down before God, yea, if thou wilt repent of all thy sins, and will bow down before God, and call on his name in faith, believing that ye shall receive, then shalt thou receive the hope which thou desirest.
 17. And it came to pass that when Aaron had said these words, the king did bow down before the Lord, upon his knees; yea, even he did prostrate himself upon the earth, and cried mightily, saying:
 18. O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day. 

"...And I will give away all my sins to know thee..."  This is the phrase that has been in my heart for awhile now.  

There are many, many good people today.  I am often amazed by the goodness and kindness of strangers.  And yet we are in a wicked world.  As I look around, trying to figure out what it is that is wicked in us, myself included, I ask, what is it that keeps us from truly knowing Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father?  What is it that elevates us from being "good" to being "holy" and true followers of Christ?

This phrase, "I will give away all my sins to know thee" has stuck with me because it is the sacrifice we must make if we truly want to know Christ.  Perhaps we are good.  Perhaps we avoid many of the great sins.  But do we give up our small sins, or those we justify as small?  Are we willing to truly sacrifice our will in order to know Him and be like Him?  

I love a talk by Elder Robert C. Gay in the October 2012 General Conference.  The title poses a very strong question, "What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"  What small sin, or "guitly pleasure" are we willing to trade for our soul?  Is any thing or act truly worth what the Lord has promised us in exchange for our obedience?  Do we believe Him when He says that all that He has is ours, if we will but follow Him and turn our hearts and wills to Him completely?  Could anything be greater or of more worth than what He desires to give us?

For me this question has been a great way to find the courage and strength to give up my sins.  Is there a TV show anywhere so good and entertaining that it would be worth losing the spirit in my life?  No.  Is there any possession I have that is worth the treasures the Lord has in store for those who inherit His kingdom?  No.  Any sin, great or small, is not worth my soul or the happiness I can have in this life and the next.  

As I endeavor to give away all my sins, I pray that the Lord will guide me to recognize them and give me the strength to abandon them.  I know there are things I do that perhaps I have justified to the point of not recognizing the sin in myself.  It will be a process, and I will have to humble myself to recognize my sins.  My pride will be another thing I have to sacrifice to be successful.  But I am committed to try.

The crazy thing is that in the end, I think it will be like giving up a nickel in exchange for a mansion.  We will wonder why it was so hard to give up that nickel.  But with our limited mortal perspective, sometimes it is.  Remember our sins are but nickels and when we are one day restored to an eternal perspective, we will mourn our loss to have held on to something of such little value when we could have given it for something of much much greater worth.

I pray we will not have our perspective clouded.  That we will see our sins for what they are and that we will say in our hearts:

Lord, I will give away all my sins to know thee for that which thou will give me will be much greater than anything I may sacrifice.