John Tanner in the Joseph Smith Papers

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The LDS Church is archiving and making available to all, documents, journals, and other church sources contemporary with the prophet Joseph Smith (e.g., his journals, church meeting minutes, revelations, etc.). This is an unprecedented expose of the prophet Joseph Smith and the early days of the Church. His life and actions will be available to all to peruse. There are few other people in the world with more serious scholarly (and pseudoscholarly {generally anti-Mormon}) work devoted to them than Joseph Smith. That’s a bold statement but not without evidence. Joseph Smith wrote relatively little about himself but people took copious notes of meetings with him. Much of what we can read in these documents is about Joseph Smith but really its the history of the early days of the restored Church.

The project is nowhere near completion but what is done is available online. I wanted to see what is available about one of my ancestors – John Tanner. It turns out that there is some, so far.

In the Minute Book 2, a record of the April Conference in 1838 held at Far West, Missouri, we read of some of the troubles the Latter-day Saints were experiencing (to put it mildly). I’ll quote a portion that includes a reference to John Tanner:

In the meantime men were abused, women insulted and ravished by the troops; and all this, while we were kept  prisonors.— Whilst the town was guarded, we were called  together by the order of General Lucas, and a guard placed close around us; and in that situation were compelled, to sign a deed of trust for the purpose of making  our individual property all holden, as they said, to pay  all the debts of every individual belonging to the Church,  and also to pay for all damages, the old inhabitants of  Davis may have sustained, in consequence of the late difficulties in that County.—

Genl [John B.] Clark was now arrived, and the first important  move by him was the collecting our men together on the square and selecting out about 50 of them; whom he immediately marched unto a house and confined close, this  was done, without the aid of the sheriff; or any legal process. The next day 46 of those taken, were driven like a parcel of menial slaves, off to Richmond, not knowing why they  were taken; or what they were taken for. After being confined in Richmond more than 2 weeks, about one half were liberated  the rest after another week’s confinement, were most of  them recognized to appear at Court and have since been let to bail.— Since Genl Clark withdrew his troops from Far-West, parties of armed men have reconoitered the County, driving off horses, sheep, and cattle, and also plundering  houses.— The barbarity of Genl Lucas’ troops ought not  to be passed over in silence, they shot down our [p. 169] cattle and hogs merely for the sake of destroying them, leaving them for the ravens to eat. They took prisoner an aged man by the name of [John]Tanner and without any reason for it, he was struck over the head with a gun, which laid his scull bare.— Another man by the name of Carey, was  also taken prisoner by them, and without any provocation,  had his brains dashed out with a gun; he was laid in  a waggon, and there permitted to remain, for the space of  24 hours, during which time no one was permitted to  administer to him comfort and consolation; and after he  was removed from that situation, he lived but a  few hours.— The destruction of property, at, and about  Far-West, is very great, many, yes a large portion  are stripped bare as it were, and others partially so; indeed  take us as a body, at this time, we are a poor and afflicted  people; and if we are compelled to leave the State in the Spring many; yes a large portion of our Society,  will have to be removed at the expence of the State, as those who otherwise might have helped them,  are now debarred that privilege, in consequence of  the deed of trust we were compelled to sign;  which deed so operates upon our real estate that it  will sell for but little or nothing at this time.” (pp. 171-172; emphasis added)

John survived the hit to the head, which left him very bloody (obviously, since his “scull [sic]” was showing). He later crossed the plains with the Saints and died in Utah.

In the Minute Book 1 (Kirtland High Council Minutes,” Minute Book 1, 3 Dec. 1832–30 Nov. 1837; pp. 28-29), John Tanner was told to move to Kirtland:

Kirtland Sept 28th 1833—

This day a councel of Elders convened for  the purpose of taking into consideration  the case of brother John Tanner who sent his  two sons to Kirtland to assertain the will  of the Lord whither he should go to Zion  or move to this place— Bro Oliver [Cowdery] [p. 24] opened the councel by prayer

After the case was fairly laid before the  councel it was unanimously agreed by all  present that it was the will of the Lord for  all who are able and willing to build up  and strengthen the stake in Kirtland should do so therefore this is our councel  to our beloved brother John that he moove  to Kirtland fro the above named purpose

F[rederick] G Williams

On May 8, 1834, it was recorded that John Tanner gave the Church $170 (that’s worth anywhere from $4000 to $100,000 today, depending on how you measure it). He gave much more than that to the Church, that was just one of the times recorded.

John Tanner was included in a list of men “who were blessed in consequence of  their working on the House of the Lord in Kirtland and those also who consecrated to its upbuilding” (Minutes, 7-8 March, 1835, p. 2): “Gad Yale, John JohnsonJohn Tanner called & Blessed.  Gad Yale being one who went for the relief of their [p. 196] afflicted brethren in Mo. and received a blessing accordingly.” (pp. 5-6)

My ancestor, Sidney Tanner (John’s son), was also at the meeting and blessed for his work.

On December 9, 1835, Joseph Smith wrote: “To day Elder Tanner brought me the half of a fat[te]ned hog for the be[ne] fit of my family. And a few days since Elder S[hadrach] Roundy brought me a quarter of beef  and may all the blessings, that are  named above, be poured upon their  heads, for their kindness toward me” (Journal, 1835-1836, p. 61; emphasis added).

The whole project is fascinating. I’m looking forward to reviewing more sources as the project is completed over the coming years.

Are All the Answers in the Scriptures?

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While listening to a talk in church this morning something a speaker said reminded me of something I had been taught in my youth. This is something I was taught in church or seminary that is not true. The speaker today did not teach this but something she said reminded me of this false teaching. What is this great falsehood? All answers to our questions are found in the scriptures. Sometimes this was softened with a “most answers” instead of “all answers” but while the sentiment is good, there is a lurking untruth at the core of this teaching. Occasionally I had teachers who got it right though – they said that the answers might not be in the scriptures, the scriptures will tell us how to find the answers. That is the truth, not that the answers are all in the scriptures.

We have living prophets and the gift of the Holy Ghost precisely because all the answers are not in the scriptures. Joseph Smith read the Bible but had a question that could not be answered by the scriptures – “which of all the churches was right?” What he did find in the scriptures is how he could get an answer – ask God in prayer. The scriptures guided Joseph to his answer but God provided the answer. That is how it should be in our own lives – we seek knowledge from the scriptures but guidance best comes from the living prophets and the Holy Ghost.

Knowing that the scriptures do not, in fact, have all the answer does not diminish the importance of them; to the contrary, it raises their importance as a source of direction but the scriptures are given greater power by the prophets and by the Spirit. The scriptures were never meant to be a closed canon of the summation of God’s teachings for us. Personal revelation and ongoing revelation is vital in our lives.

Anti-Mormonism and YouTube

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One obvious but relatively benign example of anti-Mormonism online is found on YouTube. Below are a couple examples from the “I’m a Mormon” videos. Just because I’m Mormon doesn’t mean I have to like a particular video (although I’ve yet to watch one I haven’t liked but I like lots of things in life); I as a Mormon might even dislike one or all of the “I’m a Mormon” videos and give it a thumbs down. Being Mormon doesn’t mean I have to like them and not being Mormon doesn’t mean I have to dislike them. However, almost every video uploaded by the LDS Church receives a significant number of thumbs down. After a while the thumbs up sometimes overtake the dislikes and some videos never receive a majority of dislikes but most do – simply because they are videos by the Church.

Now, not all the thumbs down are necessarily by people who are anti-Mormon, some are by people opposed to religion in general, but I’d venture to guess that most of the thumbs down are people who are specifically anti-Mormon; they might even think that disliking the videos has any consequence, such as the Church might stop posting videos – they won’t until they are ready to move on to some other way of spreading the gospel. That’s why I said this is relatively benign anti-Mormonism – it doesn’t really matter whether or not a video gets a lot of thumbs up or thumbs down. Sure, we’d like everyone to like the videos but that’s not going to happen. Disliking them won’t stop the Church from posting the videos. Besides, anti-Mormons don’t bother us Mormons very much because we (as a church) have been dealing with them since 1820 (or, 1830 if you want to link them to the year the church was founded in modern times). Most of us try to ignore the tinkling cymbals and sounding brass – they will eventually run out of energy and wind. People hated and persecuted and killed the Savior but He rose triumphantly from the grave and will eventually return triumphantly to the earth where He will rule and reign. People hated and killed Joseph Smith but doing so only gave his testimonies greater power. The Church did not die with Joseph Smith, nor will it ever be lost from the earth for it is the Lord’s Church.

I just think it’s sad how much time and energy people spend hating other people or hating the Church (in the U.S. the LDS Church is one of the least favorably viewed religions) or hating Mormons; I’ve never understood hate in general though. I’m not saying that the people disliking these videos on YouTube necessarily hate Mormons, but it’s largely driven by anti-Mormon sentiment.

I know there are many worse anti-Mormon actions out there, including a number of videos on YouTube, but they’re not worth mentioning or addressing. A number of years ago I decided anti-Mormon literature and videos were not worth addressing or trying to correct because I don’t like dealing with the evil spirit associated with such material. That’s why I said these dislikes on YouTube are pretty benign – even if they are driven by negative prejudice – because they aren’t lies about the Church or half-truths; they are simply actions of people who have lots of better things they could be doing but don’t.

Cloven Tongues of Fire

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There is a phrase in the book of Acts – “cloven tongues of fire” – that describes an experience of great power. The context of the phrase is day of Pentecost. During this great outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord, many great sights were seen, many great sounds were heard, and many great feelings were felt. We read, “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:2-4).

I started thinking about the term “cloven tongues of fire”. What does that phrase mean? How it is phrased in Acts makes it seem like those present saw flames around them. This might be the case but we get clarification of what this phrase means in the Doctrine and Covenants, part of the canon of scripture for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We read: “Let it be fulfilled upon them, as upon those on the day of Pentecost; let the gift of tongues be poured out upon thy people, even cloven tongues as of fire, and the interpretation thereof.” (D&C 109:36).

Cloven means split. Cloven tongues are like the tongues of snakes. But in this instance, the cloven tongues refer to speaking in tongues. This is a gift from the Holy Ghost. There are at least two ways of looking at these cloven tongues of fire.

  1. On the day of Pentecost, some people spoke in tongues – plural. They said something in one language but other people heard it in another. We know this is the case: “The multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilæans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?” (Acts 2:6-8). Thus, these cloven tongues are really just that – speaking in tongues (multiple) at the same time.
  2. Another interpretation (pun intended) is that tongues are cloven because there is the message of the spoken words and the message of the Holy Ghost. These two things are not always the same thing. What is said and what the Spirit teaches us can be different. Both interpretations are correct.

What’s important to keep in mind is that speaking in tongues is only effective if there is someone who can understand it or interpret it. Generally, it is not the case that the Holy Ghost will bless someone with the gift of tongues in order for them to speak some unknown language without an interpreter. That’s why people speaking gibberish purportedly under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost are not really given the gift of tongues. This is not to say that people cannot speak in an unknown language – such as Adam’s “pure and undefiled” language (see Moses 6:5-6:46) – but again, when this occurs there will almost always be someone who is able to understand and/or translate it by the same power of the Holy Ghost.

The gift of tongues – even cloven tongues of fire – is evident in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today as are the other miraculous events of the day of Pentecost. We have missionaries who learn languages quickly, who teach the gospel filled with the fire of God. There have been cases where missionaries or  apostles have said things they didn’t know how to say in another language or that those listening understood what was being said even though they did not understand the words.

What about someone like myself who served as a missionary in the United States, speaking my native English? The cloven tongues of fire is only one gift of many from the Holy Ghost. Still, there were many times when I spoke and the tongue of the Spirit spoke too – it was a fire that burned brightly within others and myself. Additionally, because of the blessings of the Holy Ghost, my command of English improved. This is not usually how we think of the gift of tongues but it can, and often is, the case that your own language skills will improve so that you can improve teaching the gospel.

“Cloven tongues of fire” is a phrase that provides powerful imagery. The most important implication of it is that it is a gift of the Holy Ghost. When the power of God rests upon us we can know, feel, and do great things. This is a power that touches many but was largely lost from the earth until the Priesthood and ordinances of God were restored to Joseph Smith. The gift (not just influence) of the Holy Ghost is one of the greatest and most important components of the Restoration.

In closing, Pres. Packer gave a great talk on this topic in the April 2000 General Conference. Pres. Packer said:

“In every language, the Spirit of God—the Holy Ghost—guides, or can guide, every member of the Church. Everyone is invited to come and repent and be baptized and receive of this sacred gift. Despite opposition, the Church will flourish; and despite persecution, it will grow. Joseph Smith was asked, ‘How does your religion differ from other religions?’ He replied, ‘All other considerations were contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost.'”

The power of the Holy Ghost is real. When with us, we can receive great blessings so that we are better able to share the gospel with others and bless the lives of others. The flaming fire of the Spirit is a call to responsibility; it is a call to be lights on hills to others who are lost in the darkness of disbelief. It is a call to speak with the power of God so that others might bask in His light and love.

Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration Online

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The Church released a redone version of Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration, a film that is shown in some of the temple visitor centers around the world, as well as in other places. About 40% of the film is new material, with the overall length 5 minutes shorter than the previous film. You can watch the film online. It is a great introduction to the prophet Joseph Smith and the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ. The film can serve as a great missionary tool as well as a great tool to learn more about church history. You can still see the other version of the film in visitor centers and it is available in the Doctrine and Covenants DVD set but the new one, which is just as good as the old version (and clearer for people who are not church members), can be watched online. I’ve embedded the film here.

Primary Sources

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In research it is generally thought that turning to primary sources is ideal, when possible. This means that we should read what people actually said or wrote instead of reading it through the interpretive lenses of other researchers or writers. This is not always possible, especially if the primary sources are in languages you cannot read, but it is best to go back to the original source as often as possible. What happens when you don’t? Untruths and misconceptions can develop and grow.

For example, in genealogical research, you always want to go to the primary sources if possible (also, read this post). FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com are not primary sources. If you don’t go to the primary sources, you really aren’t doing research, you are just compiling information together that might or might not be true. Start with the online databases but then try and verify everything in there by seeking out the primary sources.

As another example, there is a widespread belief that a majority of people in the Middle Ages believed that the earth was flat. This is merely a myth. Yes, there were some people who believed that but it was not widespread. Historians in the 1800s and early 1900s created the myth, which myth then spiraled out of control until it was taught as historical truth. The problem is that people trusted secondary and tertiary and other sources without actually going back to verify if what they read or heard was in fact true.

The same thing is true for discovering what people believe. Ask them. Don’t assume that you know what they believe. I’ve had a number of experiences where people have tried to tell me that my religious beliefs were different than what they really are. “You believe this and this.” “No I don’t.” “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” I don’t mind people telling me what I believe if it actually matches what I believe (e.g., “You believe that there is a Celestial Kingdom.” “Yes, I do.”). Of course, there are a lot of people who do not know what their churches’ doctrines are but that simply adds to my argument that people do not generally check primary sources. Sometimes they don’t even check secondary sources and simply remain in ignorance. A number of Christian churches spend Sunday School time studying the doctrines of other churches. I have yet to hear a good explanation of why they do this (especially in light of a general lack of knowledge of the Bible and other components of Christianity among most church goers). I’d like to be optimistic and state that the doctrines of the LDS Church are always correctly portrayed but I know that is not the case. If the pastors of these churches really wanted to increase the knowledge of members of the congregation, the pastor would encourage them to talk with members of the other churches and read their literature (e.g., The Book of Mormon, mormon.org, Gospel Principles, the Koran, the Watchtower). In other words, instead of learning about other religions people should learn from other religions. That is honesty in inquiry. This is the same standard that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints need to hold. If we don’t want people telling us what we believe, we shouldn’t tell them what they believe.

What primary sources do we have in the gospel? The answer might vary based on what you consider primary. I know some Christians believe the Bible to be a primary source. I’d disagree. The Bible is a collection of smaller books that weren’t even books until relatively recently. It is a translation of a copy of a copy (etc.) of the original document. In some cases it is a translation of a translation. I’m not saying the Bible is incorrect, I’m just pointing out that using a strict definition of primary source means that the Bible is not a primary source. What about the Book of Mormon? This is closer to a primary source than the Bible is. The Book of Mormon as we have it consists of two main parts: the first part was written by Nephi and his near righteous descendants; the second part is Mormon’s abridgment of many other writings with some additions by his son Moroni. So Mormon put most of the book together and Moroni finished it up and buried it. Moroni placed it in the ground with a dedicatory prayer of protection. Then about 1400 years later, Joseph Smith was guided to where the Book of Mormon was buried. It was then translated directly into English by the power of God. Thus, the Book of Mormon isn’t strictly a primary source either. It’s awfully close though.

I’m going to argue that the Doctrine and Covenants is not even a primary source, although it is as good as primary sources get in this life. So just what is a primary source? There is only one Ultimate Source for truth and knowledge. God is the giver of all Truth. If we want to know the truth of anything, we pray and ask Him (see Moroni 10:3-5). This goes for anything that we read in the scriptures or that we hear or read from the living prophet(s) – it can be verified by praying. That is how we check the primary source in the gospel. Now, I’m not saying that we try to supersede the scriptures or living prophets, but we need to do our own research and seek out the one true Primary Source. This can only happen as we ask sincerely with an honest heart. I’ve met at least one person who said they didn’t believe the Book of Mormon because they had prayed to ask if it was true and God told them it was false. Unfortunately, they were mistaken in their answer, assuming they had prayed about the Book of Mormon. I can also unequivocally state that this particular person did not ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, and with faith in Christ (see Moroni 10:4). It was like this person had performed a research literature search, found the article she wanted (e.g., a physics article), read a completely different article (e.g., an anthropology article), and then stated that she didn’t believe the physics article because of what she learned from the anthropology article. We need to read the scriptures, heed the living prophets, and pray to Heavenly Father that His Spirit might guide us and teach us Truth. As we seek the Primary Source of Truth, we will be blessed.

The Importance of Family and the Spirit of Elijah

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My father wrote a beautiful post about one of the great benefits of doing family history work. I’ll quote about half of his post:

“Slowly my heart turned to my ancestors…. The more I investigated, the more there was to investigate. Sometimes I would just sit and feel almost crushed by the weight of all those dead people. They began talking to me. How could I go on with all those lives? All those days of work and all the sorrow and tears? How can you keep on going when your son, your namesake, is crushed by the wheel of a wagon crossing the plains? How do you live through the loss of your twenty-two year old son, electrocuted by a power line? How do you live on when your mother dies and you are only eight years old? How do you live in a place with little water, when the wind blows 350 days a year and the temperatures in the winter are 20 degrees below zero? How do you go on when your home is burned by a mob and you are beaten over the head until senseless? How can you live in Boston with no job and no income and no food and watch your children starve? How do you live when you look out from your tiny ship after crossing the ocean and see a whole empty continent and face a winter of starvation? How do you keep from being crushed by all those dead peoples’ lives?

“Genealogy is not a pastime. Genealogy is not a hobby. Genealogy is not even a discipline. It is not technology. It is not a software program or backing up files. It is the hopes, fears and lives of your ancestors. It is life. It is who you are when everything else is lost and gone. At the end of your life, you have only your memories and your family. Truly said, what is it worth to gain the whole world if you lose your soul? Your family is your soul.”

The scripture my father quoted at the end comes from the New Testament. The Savior said, “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26). If our family is our soul, do we sell that in our pursuits of other things? Do we neglect the roots and branches of our family trees? Do we give up what matters most for what might matter at the moment? Are we gaining fleeting things by ignoring what really lasts?

One of Shakespeare’s characters contemplated,

“What win I, if I gain the thing I seek?
A dream, a breath, a froth of fleeting joy.
Who buys a minute’s mirth to wail a week?
Or sells eternity to get a toy?
For one sweet grape who will the vine destroy?
Or what fond beggar, but to touch the crown,
Would with the sceptre straight be strucken down?”

By neglecting our ancestors, particularly their temple work, we are neglecting the vine and selling, or at least delaying, eternity.

In 1977 Truman G. Madsen gave a devotional talk entitled Elijah’s Mission at Brigham Young University [link to all of his recorded talks at BYU]. He notes that the first (temporally) section of the Doctrine and Covenants is Section 2, which is something that Moroni told Joseph Smith when he visited on Sep. 21, 1823. He said,

“Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.”

Elijah’s mission, Elijah’s spirit and keys, are partially related to genealogy. If the hearts of the fathers and children do not turn towards each other and the promises (covenants) made, the “whole earth would be utterly wasted at [Christ’s] coming.” So just how important is genealogy (implying also temple work)? Well, it saves the earth so it probably could not be any more important.

Truman Madsen said a lot of things pertaining to this subject in his talk [note: this is a partial transcript I did because I’m not aware of a transcribed version of this talk]:

“He [Elijah] somehow bridges some gap, some alienation, some separation that has occurred in the human family. No subject preoccupied the Prophet Joseph Smith more than this. And in his late years he spoke at least 8 times, pleading with the Saints to ponder and pray over this principle. And for example, he gave us some insight. We ordinarily say, ‘Well, Elijah did something pertaining to the dead or work for the dead.’ A half truth. In the first place, no one is really dead. Those who are in the spirit world are, we are taught by the prophets, more alive than some of us. Elder Melvin J. Ballard used to say that they have every feeling intensified spiritually. And as for their being dead and gone. No, they are not gone either for the prophets teach us that the spirit world is not in some remote galaxy, it is here, it is near. And as the Prophet [Joseph Smith] put it, speaking of their feelings for us – those who are bound to us somehow by the anxieties of their fore-bearing; he said, their bowels yearn over us. He said, they are not merely idle spectators in the last days. He said, enveloped in flaming fire, they are not far from us. They know our thoughts, motions – one account says emotions – and feelings and are often pained therewith – and he could have added, rejoiced therewith. When the scriptures say all eternity is pained, that is I take it a metaphor for their pain. When it says that the heavens weep in joy – the same.

“So Elijah does have something to do with them [our ancestors] but the Prophet [Joseph Smith] taught he [Elijah] also has something to do with us and with the living. And there is this strange phrase that had he not come, then the whole earth would be cursed, or, in another version, the earth would be utterly wasted at Christ’s coming. Wasted I take it means at least two things. It would be in a sense, a waste, if this earth created by our Father and His Son as the dwelling place of their family turned out to be a house barren. Not a home, not a place of genuine familial love. And in that sense it would have been a waste to have created it. But secondly, it would literally be the case were there not a family welded and united and full of love for Christ, it would be the case that all mankind would be laid waste at His coming, unable to endure His presence. But thank God for the restoration of the power to prepare such a family! And that conferral came through Elijah.

“The Prophet [Joseph Smith] said, speaking of this, ‘How will God come to the rescue of this generation?’ And answers, He will send Elijah. Well that generation may have been a difficult one, this generation in which you and I live is in some ways a worse one….

“Elijah had a revelatory function. There is a spirit that is somehow emanating through him and his work and ministry, which has reached out far beyond the pales of this Church. Turning hearts and not just heads. And one account says that it was his function to reveal to us the covenants made by our fathers and the covenants made by us with our fathers, again pointing to something that happened prior to mortality….

“Elijah has been patient through millennia to bring earth and heaven back together, to tie to together the old and the new worlds, to take the estranged and the alienated and the embittered and somehow transform their hearts and to prepare all of the family who will to be a family, welded indissolubly in order to greet the Christ.

“The Prophet [Joseph Smith] said on an occasion to the Relief Society that he grieved that there was so little union of feeling among them – and they were marvelous! And he went on to say, by union of feeling we obtain power with the heavens. When on the other hand he introduced the ordinance of the washing of the feet among the brethren, he taught them that this ordinance, a sacred one, was essential to the union of feeling and affection among them – that their faith might be strong.

“Now we needn’t dwell on the point that the family in our culture is coming unglued and there are those that recommend it and who hold that the great wave of the future – a better future – is to totally abandon the notion of unit families….

“We’re in a real world and the alienation, the pain, the hostility, the torment, the trauma, even of Latter-day Saint homes is a long distance from Elijah who said he would turn the hearts toward and not away. Is there hope? I’m here to testify there is….

“It may be difficult to forgive your enemies but it’s even more so to forgive your loved ones who have sometimes manifested hate and you [have manifested hate], in response. It is harder to forgive your loved ones because you care about them and you have to go on living with them or struggling to and they can go on hurting you over the years and decades and it’s a little hard. But your hearts will never turn to your fathers in the way this spirit of which we have been testifying motivates you to do unless you forgive.

“See, you’ve inherited all kinds of things. There is a standard procedure for students with bad report cards – they can go home and say, ‘Look Mom’ or ‘Look Dad, which do you think it is? Heredity or environment?’…You willingly chose to come into the world, likely in this time and this circumstance and you may have had some choice as to your parentage and to your posterity….

“As you look back at the seventy men, and that’s what it would take – only 70 men – to get you back to Abraham, you might recognize that you have inherited the blood of generations. And blood might not be a correct word scientifically but it stands in the scriptures for seed, which is specifically the heredity, the inheritance of tendencies, and all of you have them. And so you have the blood of this generation, which Section 88 says you must become clean from – that’s a strong prepositional ending. Clean, from the blood of this generation. If so, you must be clean from the blood of every generation because it is compounded and cumulated into now and that includes the blood of some degeneration.

You do have problems that you can blame on them and if you forgive that and choose to stand close to the Lord in the process of purifying your life, that will affect your whole family – in both directions. You are not alone. There is no way you can gain solitary and neutral ground. You are in it – in involvement [with your family]. And this I take it one of the profound meanings of that long, laborious allegory in the Book of Mormon – Jacob’s allegory of the tame and wild tree….

“If you take a tame [olive] branch and graft it into a wild tree – in due time, if it is strong enough, it will heal and regenerate to the very roots. You will then have been an instrument in the sanctification, even of your fore-bearers. Do you believe it? Does that ever sober you in moments where you suppose that either no one cares for you or whether they care or not, your life makes no difference? To be that kind of branch and achieve that kind of transformation backward and forward is the greatest achievement of this world! But to do it one must be great, one must be linked, bound to the Lord Jesus Christ. He must be mighty! Why he must be something like a savior and that is exactly what the Prophet Joseph Smith said you are – saviors on Mount Zion. And how are you to be saviors on Mount Zion, he asked once in a discourse, and he answered – and I’m paraphrasing – by going, first building, and going into the temples of the Lord. And in your own propria persona – in your own first person presence – to go through for and in behalf of loved ones – all of the ordinances, and he [Joseph Smith] names them all – and says by the way, that Elijah’s keys apply to all ordinances, not just the final one; sealing all of them, culminating in that final linkage that binds for time and for eternity. Saviors, redeemers of your families….

The sacrifice I suggest that the sons of Levi and the daughters of Levi are to offer in the end, is the willingness to give yourself in the cause of saviorhood and to care more about family and the preservation and intensification of family than you care about anything else in this world! And that has costs. Some things have to be given up; some things have to be postponed – and the focus is sacrifice.

“I have to say, honestly, that I find that I believe that it is painful. I have to say that I believe that there are many among us who are easily pulled in other directions, and I have to say that I consider that tragedy. I occasionally hear housewives say that’s what they are – mere housewives. ‘What have you done in the past 20 years?’ ‘Oh, nothing. Ah, I just fed my family three meals a day and more or less kept them together.’ ‘Is that all?’ Pres. Lorenzo Snow said with power on an occasion, ‘If a woman did nothing more than that [faithfully take care of her home and family], she would be exalted in the Celestial Kingdom.’ If she didn’t do one other thing! Our generation is making attractive every other thing but. And that is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. So I plead with you, be forgiving and be sacrificial….

“It is our privilege and calling in our own limited way, to become redemptors of not just the human race but the human family – ours and His. It is impossible to love Him truly and not love what is His – and the Lord God assigned Him all of us. And it is not possible for you to really love yourself unless you love what is truly you, and that is whole house of Israel in which you belong….”

There is a lot there. Family is important, it is all that really matters in the end. Genealogy and family history work are part of Elijah’s mission. It is not just about building up databases of names; this work is about providing necessary ordinances to those who are waiting. It is about linking generation to generation and hearts to hearts. Our ancestors lived lives of joy and sorrow, they were people both good and bad. They can be, through their faith and ours and through the sealing power of the Priesthood, which keys Elijah bestowed upon Joseph Smith, forever ours.

A Wilderness of Sin

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I’ve written this before but I love Truman G. Madsen’s talks and books and videos. You probably don’t want to get me started talking about them or else I might not stop for a long time. I, like so many other people, first discovered him while I was a missionary. I heard his talks about Joseph Smith. I purchased his Timeless Questions, Gospel Insights talks. I purchased his audio biographies of the Presidents of the Church. By now I’ve listened to just about every recorded talk of his out there. I even once had the privilege of attending one of his talks at BYU; I wasn’t going to miss it for the world and I didn’t.

I’ve been listening to some of his BYU addresses again. I’m always struck at his insights into the gospel. There are very few people who have his mix of speaking abilities, knowledge, intellect, and faith. One thing he said in his talk The Joy of the Lord is Your Strength was striking.

Whatever diminishes our relish for spiritual things, whatever we cannot consistently invite the Spirit to attend, is not for us. Sin and selfishness are furtive, they are half-hearted, and they are self-dividing. But Christ’s way is whole-hearted, and the wholeness becomes holiness. Sin cannot sing. The music of sin is a dirge. It is a wilderness crying in a voice. But Christ’s way is song–a new song, a lifting song. Sin loves darkness and covers up. It is darkening. But Christ’s way is light. And light cleaves to light. Sin and the defiant defense of sin is ugly. Christ’s way is beautiful. And everlastingly so. There is no joy in iniquity and, contrary to the world, there is no joy in inequity. We are promised that one day, should we be faithful, we will be equal in heavenly things and even ultimately in earthly things.

That’s some amazing imagery and word play. It’s even more impressive if you know that he speaks extemporaneously. I really love the line about sin being “a wilderness crying in a voice.” Truman Madsen’s phrase is a reference to Isaiah 40:3: “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” That verse is quoted or alluded to a number of other times in the scriptures. It is a reference to John the Baptist, who cried as a voice in the wilderness preparing the way for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. What did John teach? Repentance and baptism.

So Truman Madsen’s calling sin a “wilderness crying in a voice” is a very fitting reversal of a reference to John the Baptist and thus to repentance and baptism. The solution for sin is repentance and baptism. That’s an entire sermon in a sentence.

There’s more but I’ll let you read the rest of his talk(s). Or, better yet, listen to them.

Is the Bible Infallible?

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While doing a search online to see what people say about whether or not the wise men visited the infant Jesus in the manger (they didn’t), I came across a comment about the Bible that I’ve heard numerous times – namely, that the Bible is literally God’s word given directly to man. In other words, there are those who believe that the Bible needs to be taken strictly literally. It is God’s completely infallible and perfect word. While that is a nice sentiment, it is not the case. The Bible was written by inspired men but men nonetheless. However, to borrow a phrase from the Book of Mormon, if there are flaws in the Bible, they are the flaws of men.

So if we take the Bible literally in everything, we do get wise men who visited the young child Jesus in a house. They didn’t find the mother and infant in a manger. Jesus was as old as almost three by the time the wise men found Him. But this isn’t really the purpose of this post. I want to continue on with the topic of the literality of the Bible.

There are those who take everything in the Bible as strictly literal. They also usually take it as God’s perfect, unblemished word. These same people also balk at the LDS article of faith that states, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly” (Articles of Faith 1:8). “How could the Bible be anything less than perfect?” they argue. I’ve heard this many times from different people. We as Latter-day Saints don’t even claim perfection from the Book of Mormon. We believe it was translated correctly but it is not without error. But again, those errors are the works of men (and are very, very minor). God uses imperfect humans to do His work (at least on this side of the veil).

So, is the Bible perfect? Should we take it completely literally? Since I referred to the wise men previously, let’s continue on in Matthew 2. After Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned from Egypt, they moved to Nazareth: “And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Matt. 2:23). With the slaughter of the children and infants in Bethlehem, a prophecy was fulfilled (see Matt. 2:17-18). With Joseph and family moving to Nazareth, another prophecy was fulfilled. The trouble is that this other prophecy is not found elsewhere in the Bible. There existed a prophecy stating that the Messiah would be from Nazareth but this is not included anywhere in the Old Testament. Clearly then, there are prophecies that are not in the Bible. There is no other logical conclusion that can be drawn from this. So is the Bible complete and perfect? Maybe that particular prophecy wasn’t meant to be in the Bible. But then why was it quoted in Matthew? Maybe the Bible isn’t complete. Maybe it isn’t perfect and infallible.

There are a number of other examples similar to this that can be found in the Bible. There are even times when writers/translators of the Bible seems to contradict one another. I won’t point out any specifics but they exist. There are numerous sites that document contradictions, some from a view of faith and others from a view of anti-faith. There are even sites that seek to point out contradictions between the Book of Mormon and the Bible, which might scare some away from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but are all non-issues for the believer. I’ve found that the Bible is only clarified by the Book of Mormon and modern-day revelation; any other contradictions are due to errors in the Bible (which is something that I demonstrated is possible) – the doctrines in the Book of Mormon are pure, even if the grammar or particular choice of words in some cases isn’t always perfect; that’s one of the difficulties in translation and in writing down the translation in a time before there were wide consistencies in grammar and spelling.

My point in pointing out that the Bible is not infallible is not to weaken faith, rather it is to highlight that we need to have faith in Jesus Christ more than in the Bible. Truth comes from Christ; what is in the Bible are multiple translations of that Truth. The great teacher Truman Madsen taught about faith, testimony, and prophets in this manner:

“What about witness? That leads us both to the question of authority and the question of our own testimony. Said the Prophet [Joseph Smith] again, ‘No generation was ever saved or [for that matter] destroyed upon dead testimony‘ (Words of Joseph Smith, p. 159). I think he means by ‘dead’ the record of the remote past. We’re not fully accountable to that, but we are accountable to a living witness who bears living testimony to our living spirit. That’s when we reach the zenith of responsibility. We recognize that and perhaps run from it. When a child runs away with hands over ears, what is happening? Doesn’t the child already pretty well know the message? Do we cover our ears while saying, ‘I didn’t hear you’?

“Heber C. Kimball, without being grammatical, put the point elegantly after the outpourings of the Nauvoo Temple. He said, ‘You cannot sin so cheap no more.'” (Madsen, T. G. 1994. On How We Know. BYU Speeches, p. 5).

His point and the Prophet Joseph Smith’s point is that you need concurrent revelation. If we look throughout the Bible, the teachings of Noah didn’t save the children of Israel from the Egyptians. Even Christ didn’t teach all the world; He sent out His apostles after His resurrection to do that. If we put all of this together, we can conclude that not only is the Bible not perfect, it is also not complete. Yes, I am biased because I believe that we have a living prophet upon the earth – Thomas S. Monson at this time – but I’ve found no evidence in the Bible that the Bible is complete and perfect. It wasn’t even put together in its present form for many years after the deaths of the original apostles. What we have in the LDS Church are Christ’s prophets who speak to us today and teach us what God wants us to know.

Now I’m going to shift gears back to talking about whether or not we take the Bible literally. It seems that if we do, we realize that the Bible is neither complete nor perfect. However, if we don’t take it literally then we ignore a lot of important doctrines (such as the literal and physical resurrection of the Savior). Another doctrine we might miss if we don’t take the Bible literally is that of baptism for the dead: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for thedead?” (1 Cor. 15:29). Well, maybe we get to pick and choose what to take literally from the Bible. That way we can say it is something just figurative. Well, who gets to make the judgment call on what is literal or not? It sounds like something a prophet would do.

I think other Christians would find (if they give LDS Church members a chance) that we take the Bible very literally; I think to an extent that few other Christians do. There are things that we don’t take literally though (e.g., the Creation story is one because we know that the 7 days were 7 time periods of unspecified length – millions to billions of years, most likely. I’m not saying that we do not believe in the Creation, I’m just saying that LDS Church doctrine specifies that the earth was not created in 6/7 24 hour days).

So, taking the Bible literally is a two-edged sword. On it’s [the Bible’s] own, it is difficult to know what to take literally or not. This is where having the witness of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and modern-day prophets is so important; it allows us to discern what is literal and what is not. Those without this knowledge are in a bind – if the Bible is 100% infallible, why are there missing passages? Why are there some contradictions? Why is there a need for multiple translations of the Bible? Why do the Catholics have a different Canon than most of the Protestants? Further, if the Bible is taken literally, how do you account for teachings that contradict doctrines of many Christian religions? How can you pick and choose what to accept?

I know some of the things I wrote about are not entirely this simple, but I wanted to respond to those who take the Bible as “GOD’S PERFECT WORD” (again, that’s a description of the Bible I read and hear frequently). The Bible forms the foundation of the LDS canon of scriptures, we place it first in our scripture sets, we love the Bible and follow its doctrines. However, we are not limited to the Bible. We have the Book of Mormon and other scriptures; we have living prophets and modern revelation. Our canon is not fixed and closed, it is open and expanding. God speaks to us today, just as He did in Biblical times.