Thursday, September 5, 2013

Lord, Open the Eyes of My Heart!

In 2012, I began to study church doctrine more closely. Whether it was doctrines like the Lorenzo Snow Couplet, the Adam-God doctrine, The King Follet Discourse, and doctrines discussing the nature of God to name a few. The more I read, the more confused I got. Thoughts became questions, questions became doubt and up until a few months ago, I was dealing with these questions privately. Since bringing my questions out of the cellar of my brain, I have been met with various responses, various reactions and little answers. I am blessed in the friends that have been supportive in my quest, no matter the religion or lack of religion they subscribe to. It all boils down to one question for me: Is Mormonism true? Is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints the true Christian church? Having been a devout member for seven years, this is a rather disturbing pickle to be in. A couple of days ago, I shared my concerns on Facebook (for better or worse)  and was asked to share my questions and resources. I am doing it for two reasons: One, because I genuinely, truly, sincerely seeking answers to these exceedingly fundamental questions. Two, because I've been accused of using Anti-Mormon Literature. I wish to show that all of my resources are indeed teachings and literature made by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

I do want to make one thing quite plain: This is NOT an attempt to create a fight! This is a 24 year old's quest for knowledge and understanding. Please feel free to comment on this post. And without further ado, I present the questions:

·         If it's true that “God will never give [us] personal revelation that contradicts what has already been revealed in the scriptures” (Preparing for Exaltation: Teacher's Manual, page 85), and that personal revelation should never be accepted when it conflicts with “known facts, proven truths, or good common sense” (Doctrines and Covenants: Student Manual, Religion 324 and 325, page 416), why do so many members of our church discourage using scripture and other sure truths as a way to test our testimonies to make sure that they're from God?  Didn't Joseph Smith warn us, “Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of man: and some revelations are of the devil” (quoted by Francis M. Gibbons, sermon on 6 October 1991, in Conference Report, page 109)? 
·         The scriptures speak of Elohim and Jehovah.  Either Elohim and Jehovah are the same God, or they are different Gods.  Current Church teaching is that our Heavenly Father is Elohim, and that Jesus Christ his Son is “the Great Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Messiah of the New” (“The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Twelve Apostles”, First Presidency statement from January 2000).  But there are sections of scripture where the Father is addressed as Jehovah.  For instance, the LDS Bible Dictionary agrees that, in the King James Version, 'LORD' in all-caps represents the name 'Jehovah'.  In Psalm 110:1, it therefore reads, “The LORD [i.e., Jehovah] said to my lord, Sit thou at my right hand”.  The New Testament repeatedly identifies the 'LORD' with the Father and the 'my lord' as Jesus (Mark 12:36; 14:62; Acts 2:34-35; Hebrews 1:13).  If Jesus Christ is the God Jehovah, and if the Father is a separate God above Jehovah, then why does Psalm 110:1 present the Father as Jehovah?  Or, if both are somehow rightly called Jehovah, then since Deuteronomy 6:4 (the central tenet of the Jewish faith, and the basis for what Jesus called the Greatest Commandment in Mark 12:29-30) says that there is only one God who is Jehovah, how does that not mean that the Father and the Son are only one God, just like the other churches teach (the doctrine of the Trinity: three persons who are only one God) but our church rejects?
·         If the Godhead consists of “three Gods” or “three separate Gods” (as taught by Joseph Smith, sermon on 16 June 1844 quoted in TPC: Joseph Smith, page 42; Spencer W. Kimball, sermon on 5 April 1964, in April 1964 Conference Report, page 94; Boyd K. Packer, sermon on 7 October 1984, in October 1984 Conference Report, page 84), then why does God himself so frequently say that “there is no else, there is no God beside me” (Isaiah 45:5), that he is “God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else” (Deuteronomy 4:39)?  Why does he say things like, “I am the first, and I am the last; beside me there is no god.  …  Is there a god beside me?  Yea, there is no god; I know not any” (Isaiah 44:6, 8)? 
·         If Heavenly Father is a man who had to become God (as taught by Joseph Smith, sermon on 7 April 1844; Lorenzo Snow, sermon on 11 October 1857, as quoted in TPC: Lorenzo Snow, page 85; L. Tom Perry, talk on 20 August 2002 at BYU; and various church manuals [e.g., Achieving a Celestial Marriage (1976), page 4]), and who has had Gods and Fathers above him (as taught by Joseph Smith, sermon on 16 June 1844; Orson Pratt, The Seer, page 132; Brigham Young, sermon on 8 October 1854 at General Conference; Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 2:47 and quoted in the 1984 priesthood manual, page 152), then why does God himself say in the scriptures that “before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me” (Isaiah 43:10-11), and that he is the “Most High God” (Genesis 14:22)? 
·         The scriptures teach that no one except for Jehovah was involved in the creation of the world, because he says, “I am the LORD [i.e., Jehovah] that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone, that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself” (Isaiah 44:24).  But if that's true, why do church manuals still teach – quoting Elder Bruce R. McConkie – that Jehovah was “aided in the creation of this earth by 'many of the noble and great' spirit children of the Father” who “played a part in the great creative enterprise” (The Pearl of Great Price: Student Manual, Religion 327, page 38)? 
·         If Brigham Young was a prophet of God, then when he taught the church publicly, he should have been listened to.  At General Conference, he taught that Adam was God the Father, saying that Adam is “our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do” (Brigham Young, sermon on 9 April 1852, in Millennial Star 15:769), claiming later that he received this teaching as one that “God revealed to me – namely that Adam is our father and God” (Brigham Young, sermon on 8 June 1873, in Deseret News 22:308), and he even inserted this teaching into the endowment ceremony in referring to Jesus Christ as “Father Adam's first begotten in the spirit world”, in that Adam had “come in the spirit to Mary and she conceived” (see L. John Nuttall, journal entry for 7 February 1877, BYU Special Collections).  Because of this teaching, many others in the Church embraced it in those days – but in more recent times, the Church has rejected it, with apostles numbering it as a 'deadly heresy' that is “contrary to the whole plan of salvation” (Bruce R. McConkie, talk on 1 June 1980 at BYU).  If Brigham Young was a prophet, then how can he spend decades teaching a 'deadly heresy' to the Church as a revelation from God and convincing many other church leaders to also teach it?  What more would he have had to do to not qualify as a true prophet of God? 
·         If the Apostle Paul refers to Adam as “one that sinned” (Romans 5:16), then why did Elder Dallin H. Oaks insist in General Conference that “the act that produced the Fall was not a sin” (see talk on 3 October 1993, in Conference Report, page 98), and why do manuals also insist that Adam's decision was “not a sin” (Preparing for Exaltation: Teacher's Manual, page 13)? 
·         If we all lived in an eternal pre-existence with our Heavenly Father as his spirit-children, and if we came to earth from our heavenly existence with him, then why does Jesus contrast himself with the rest of us by saying things like, “Ye are from beneath, I am from above” (John 8:23), and, “no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven” (John 3:13)? 
·         The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims to hold priesthood authority from God, divided into the Aaronic Priesthood and the Melchizedek Priesthood.  In the Old Testament, priests in the Aaronic Priesthood were ordained when they laid hands on animals that were slaughtered, and then had their own ears, thumbs, and toes smeared with animal blood (Exodus 29).  If Hebrews 5:4 (“no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron”) means that ordinations have to follow the same form as Aaron's ordination, why don't we cover our young men with animal blood to ordain them, as was Aaron?
·         Also, if the New Testament says that even Jesus was ineligible to hold the Aaronic Priesthood because he was not descended from Levi (Hebrews 7:14), why does our church ordain people to the Aaronic Priesthood without paying attention to their ancestry if even Jesus couldn't be ordained to it?
·         The New Testament also says that, when Jesus came to be our Melchizedek Priesthood-Holder, the old Aaronic Priesthood was “changed”, that is, “abrogated” or “abolished” (Hebrews 7:12 – the word metathesis “implies not merely change but abrogation” [according to F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, page 164]).  It says that even the commandment that authorized the Aaronic Priesthood in the first place has undergone a “disannulling of the commandment”, because the Aaronic Priesthood is “weak” and “unprofitable” (Hebrews 7:18).  This is “an end to the Levitical priesthood” (Ken Schenck, Understanding the Book of Hebrews, page 78). Why does our church say that it has the Aaronic Priesthood when the New Testament says that the Aaronic Priesthood is now useless and abolished?
·         Why does our church say that its members hold the Melchizedek Priesthood when the only person in scripture who is described as a Melchizedek Priesthood-Holder is Jesus the Christ?  The New Testament draws a contrast between the many Aaronic Priesthood-Holders of the Old Covenant and the one and only Melchizedek Priesthood-Holder of the New Testament (Hebrews 7:23-24).  “While the priests of old are many, the new priest is, by implication, one” (Harold Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews, page 209).  In other words, it seems as if “the author is not arguing for a new line of priests according to the order of Melchizedek since the only priest he is interested in, Christ, exhausts that line” (Alan Mitchell, Hebrews, page 150).  If all this is true, why does our church say that its members hold the Melchizedek Priesthood? 
·         In the Old Testament, a temple was built in Jerusalem as a place to worship God through prayer and sacrifice.  There was only to be one place for concentrating this kind of worship (Deuteronomy 12:13-14; 16:15-16).  Later Jewish writers in the first-century said that “as God is one, his temple should also be one” (Philo, Special Laws 1.67), that “there ought also to be but one temple for one God” (Josephus, Against Apion 2.193).  For the Jews, the one and only temple “represented the unity of God and the unity of Israel” (Shaye Cohen, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, page 101).  Jesus and Paul both build on this sort of logic (John 4:21-24; 17:11; Romans 3:30; Ephesians 4:4-6).  They seem to suppose that there can only be one true temple on the earth.  But the New Testament says that the true temple is not a building at all (John 4:21-24), but instead is Jesus Christ and his extension on earth, his body, his church (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 2 Corinthians 6:16).  Why does the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints call some of its buildings “temples” if the only true temple of God is the church itself?
·         Why do we have to go through interviews to prove our 'worthiness' for a temple recommend, when Jesus gives the most praise to people who say that they are sinners and unworthy servants (Luke 17:10; 18:13)? 
·         If there was a universal apostasy that totally destroyed the church of Jesus Christ for nearly two thousand years after the deaths of the apostles, then what did Jesus mean when he promised his disciples that, when he built his church through them, “the gates of Hades would not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18)?  Doesn't this mean that “the church universal will never be extinguished” (Craig Blomberg, Matthew, page 254)?  Or, what does Jesus mean when he promises that he will be with his church on earth until the very end comes (Matthew 28:20), if he wasn't going to have a church on earth for most of that time?
·         If Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and if he did receive a revelation to practice plural marriage (D&C 132), why did he break God's law in how he practiced plural marriage?  For one example, several pairs of his wives – such as Emily and Eliza Partridge, and Sarah and Maria Lawrence – were pairs of sisters; but Leviticus 18:18 forbids doing this while both women are living.  For another example, a number of his wives – such as Zina D. Huntington Jacobs (wife of Henry Jacobs), Sylvia Sessions Lyon (wife of Windsor Lyon), Sarah Kingsley Cleveland (wife of John Cleveland), Ruth Vose Sayers (wife of Edward Sayers), and others – were already married, which means that Joseph's involvement with them looks identical to adultery (forbidden in Leviticus 18:20) and also contrary to Joseph's own requirement that only virgins be taken as plural wives (D&C 132:61)  For another example, two of his wives – Patty Bartlett Sessions and Sylvia Portion Sessions Lyon – were a mother-and-daughter pair; but Leviticus 20:14 says that “if a man marries both a woman and her daughter, it is wickedness”, and the Old Testament punishment for that crime was to “be burned in fire”.  Why would Joseph practice plural marriage in a way that would make him guilty of such a serious sin? 
·         If the Doctrine and Covenants is correct in saying that David and Solomon did not sin in practicing plural marriage (D&C 132:38-39), why does the Book of Mormon saying that them having “many wives and concubines” was “abominable before me, saith the Lord” (Jacob 2:24)? 
·         Why does the revelation on plural marriage mention that Isaac was justified when he took “many wives and concubines” (D&C 132:1) when the Bible describes him as having only had one wife, Rebekah (Genesis 24:67)? 
·         Jesus lived on earth during a time when the Jews were debating whether plural marriage was really acceptable or not.  Some Jews favored it, others argued against it.  If plural marriage is what God planned for marriage to be, why didn't Jesus ever say so?  Why, when he argued for his vision of marriage in Matthew 19:4-5, did Jesus use and expand the Jewish argument against plural marriage (David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, page 140)? 
·         Joseph Smith claimed that the Book of Abraham (now included in the Pearl of Great Price) was a translation from Egyptian papyri he had bought that were literally “the writings of Abraham”. The heading to the book still claims it to be “the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus”.  But when the papyri were rediscovered, it was discovered that they date to around the earthly lifetime of Jesus (not the lifetime of Abraham), and that their actual translation (see, for instance, Ronald K. Ritner's translation in The Joseph Smith Egyptian Papyri: A Complete Edition) has no connection with the contents of the Book of Abraham.  If Joseph was empowered by God to translate ancient scripture into English, why did he claim that the Book of Abraham was a translation of Egyptian documents that actually turned out to be common funerary papyri? 
·         Joseph Smith also attempted to translate characters on six small plates found and brought to him in 1843, and Joseph told his private secretary that he had “translated a portion” and that “they contain the history of the person with whom they were found and he was a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (William Clayton, journal entry for 1 May 1843). Later on, one of the discoverers confessed to having forged these Kinderhook plates to trick Joseph.  When one of the original plates was rediscovered in the twentieth century, tests conclusively proved that they had been created in modern times.  Why did Joseph claim to be able to translate characters that were just meaningless symbols on forged plates?  If Joseph's 'translations' cannot be trusted with these plates, how can we trust that the Book of Mormon isn't a similar creative exercise without a basis in actual ancient records? 
·         If we sustain President Thomas S. Monson as a “prophet, seer, and revelator”, and if we sustain his counselors and the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as the same thing, then why don't any of the fifteen ever report actual prophecies, visions, or revelations for the church as a whole? 
·         Given that language of 'meriting' or 'earning' God's blessings (salvation, exaltation, etc.) is almost non-existent in the New Testament, why does it show up so frequently in talks by General Authorities?  Or, if the concepts of 'meriting' and 'earning' are so crucial, why are they basically absent from the New Testament? 

·         If the Book of Mormon teaches us that we only receive the saving grace of God “after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23), and if it tells us that 'all we can do' includes keeping every one of God's commandments perfectly (1 Nephi 3:7), and if repentance is cancelled out whenever a sin is repeated (D&C 82:7), what hope is there?  Wouldn't it be more 'good news' if, like other churches teach, we are given celestial hope – and motivation to works (Ephesians 2:10) just by trusting Jesus and his atonement to take care of everything, “not of works” (Ephesians 2:9), as an act of pure grace from God, since “if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace” (Romans 11:6)?  


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day

To all the mothers that read this, welcome! I thank you, I salute you and I definitely respect you. It takes a lot to be a mother. I'm not one myself, but I've watched my own mother through the years and have seen the many sleepless nights, tear soaked shirts and sacrifices that came with it. So with that in mind, Happy Mother's Day!

How many of us know our mothers? Do we have a relationship with her? Do we truly appreciate her and treat her with the utmost respect that she so richly deserves?

Honestly, I wish I could answer "Yes, of course! All the time!" But if I did, the Lord better strike me with the biggest lightning bolt He has, because I'd be lying through my teeth. Like many of us, I was the bratty teenager that spoke and treated my mother like she was the dog instead of the woman that gave birth and raised me. That acted in ways that really should have gotten me slapped. Now, that I am older, I have gained a fuller appreciation for my mother, not just in her role, but as a person. As a beloved daughter of God. I also treasure the things she taught me. She has taught me a love for God and family. To have charity for others.

President Gordon B. Hinckley once said: "How much more beautiful would be the world and the society in which we live if every mother regarded her children as the jewels of her life, as gifts from the God of Heaven, who is their Eternal Father, and brought them up in true affection in wisdom and admonition of the Lord." 

Almost every mother I've ever spoken to has told me that her children are her most prized possessions, that they are the joys of her life. My mother included. It's a wonderful feeling, knowing that the most important person in your life loves you more than herself. That she would do anything for you. That's a feeling I hope my children will one day feel. Knowing that their mother loves them with every fiber of her being. If my children could feel that and become the best they can be, my life would be worth everything.

President Thomas S. Monson said this: "May each of us remember this truth; 'one cannot forget mother and remember God. One cannot remember mother and forget God.' Why? Because  these two sacred persons, God and mother, partners in creation, in love, in sacrifice, in service, are as one."

I love this quote because it speaks of the sacredness of women and motherhood. That women are divine. I can see that.

And then we often have surrogate mothers. The ones that are not our mothers in the biblical sense, but still treat us like we're one of her own. She encourages us, spoils us, gives us a "come to Jesus" talk when needed and never gives up or stops loving us... anyone who has such a woman in their lives is blessed beyond measure. My surrogate mother has been one of my greatest influences. She may not know it, but she has helped me through many storms with just the knowledge of her being a mere phone call away. Like my own mother, I have come to rely on her counsel, her opinion and especially her actions, and these help to mold the character I have today. Because I have at least two amazing women in my life.

I would of course be remiss if I didn't also dedicate today to the aunts in our lives. Like many, I have a few aunts hanging at my end of the family tree. All different, all wonderful. The aunts I have been blessed with have all touched my life in the best of ways. They have taught me about beauty, confidence and the importance of being myself. I don't know how my life would have shaped if I didn't have close relationships I have with them.

There is a poem that I see circulate the web once in awhile that has always made me think of my aunts with a grin:

Only an Aunt....
Can give hugs like a mother,
Keep secrets like a sister, 
And share love like a friend.

That's an aunt in a nutshell, wouldn't you say?

And then you have the grandmothers.These wise women that help raise us and teach us important things about life. My grandmother, Gwen taught me to read and introduced me to Opera and Classical music. She inspired me in learning music and drawing. Sadly, she died when I was very young, but her memory is still there. I have two other fantastic grandmothers that have taught me about humility, compassion and patience. It's still easier said than done for me, but they haven't given up on me yet.

I'll admit that I don't know much about motherhood, there's a lot to child-raising that I don't understand. But I do understand this much; it is a sacred responsibility that should be treated with respect and care. Respect your mothers, my dear readers. It takes a lot of time and energy to raise a person right. It's because of my mother that I do my best and I treat people like the Savior tells us to. Because I would never want to cause negative reflection on my goodly mother.

Happy Mother's Day, mothers. Thank you for your sacrifices and your raising of these precious spirits of God. You are blessed to have the opportunity. God be with you. Christ be with you.