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.

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.

Video Introduction to the Book of Mormon

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There is a new video on the Mormon Messages YouTube channel introducing the Book of Mormon. It’s a great video to share with friends or family who are not members of the LDS Church. It’s also great to show to children (or anyone else). Elder Holland provides a brief overview of where the Book of Mormon came from and how we can know of its truth. Please view and share this video with others.

Conservationism and LDS Meetinghouses

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One of my favorite temporal/practical things the LDS Church is doing recently is making more energy-efficient buildings. This is not a new philosophy or theology or practice of the Church, we just are living in a time when it is starting to be cost-effective to have energy efficiency as a goal in architecture. “H. David Burton, presiding bishop of the Church, said, ‘For decades we have looked for innovative ways to use natural resources in our meetinghouses that reflect our commitment as wise stewards of God’s creations.'” A new meetinghouse was recently built in Mesa, Arizona that includes an array of solar panels on its roof to help offset energy costs. Not only that but it also includes a number of other features that reduce electricity use, water use, and waste. It’s a combination of technology, conservationism, and religion.

Just like all we’ve been given by our Father, we are asked to be wise stewards – to take care of, nourish, and nurture – of the earth. Just like we would not abuse other people, ourselves, or animals, we should not abuse the earth. It is God’s creation and we are not to treat it lightly. This does not mean that we cannot use it, it is for our benefit, but we need to be wise in our use of the earth and its resources. This transcends political ideology. Church spokesmen are talking about reducing carbon emissions or “footprint”, which often is a politically-charged term but using that term or worrying about carbon footprint does not change the underlying principles of these energy efficient meetinghouses. The LDS Church is trying to do its part to use resources more effectively while taking care of the earth.

Some of the other improvements of the new meetinghouse include:

  • Energy efficient windows
  • Improved insulation
  • High efficiency furnaces
  • More efficient lighting
  • Automatic light switches that turn off when rooms are not occupied
  • Landscaping that uses drought-tolerant plants and automated irrigation sensors

Will these meetinghouses be built en masse? It’s possible if they turn out to be viable solutions in certain areas. While solar panels will not work in all locations, there are other principles of conservation that will work in many locations. While touring the Atlanta Temple last week, we saw some of the enhanced efficiencies of the temple, including efficient laundry appliances. These are all wonderful steps in improving our use of the earth.

We have been commanded to be wise stewards: “All things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart; yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul. And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.” (D&C 59:18-20).

The Saints have been promised an inheritance of the earth if they are righteous: “And I have made the earth rich, and behold it is my footstool, wherefore, again I will stand upon it. And I hold forth and deign to give unto you greater riches, even a land of promise, a land flowing with milk and honey, upon which there shall be no curse when the Lord cometh; And I will give it unto you for the land of your inheritance, if you seek it with all your hearts. And this shall be my covenant with you, ye shall have it for the land of your inheritance, and for the inheritance of your children forever, while the earth shall stand, and ye shall possess it again in eternity, no more to pass away.” (D&C 38:17-20). If the earth is the Lord’s footstool, we should treat it well. We should not abuse it. Even if the earth shall be renewed at a future date (see D&C 29:23, for example), we do not have free reign to use with excess.

How do we do this? Do we limit human population as many propose? No. As Pres. Packer said recently, “And the Gods said: ‘We will bless them. And … we will cause them to be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.This commandment has never been rescinded.” (Oct. 2010 General Conference). There are enough resources for everyone. “For the earth is full [of resources], and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.” But we need to share with others and not horde or abuse what we have: “Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.” (D&C 104:17-18).

How we treat the earth, I believe, is reflective of our faith in Christ. Does this mean if you hunt or run a mining company or use resources, you somehow have less faith in Christ? No. What I mean is that our faith in Christ can help us be more aware that the earth is His creation and that we should treat it well. The LDS Church is trying to do its part to leave a smaller footprint on the Lord’s footstool so that there are adequate resources for everyone and so that we are better able to keep the earth beautiful so that it might “please the eye and gladden the heart.”

Why Cannot All Enter LDS Temples?

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While reading an article online about Mormons in the political sphere, one comment by some random person caught my eye (okay, a number did but there’s only one I will address). The commenter was bitter towards the LDS Church because people who are not members of the church and church members who do not have current temple recommends cannot attend marriages performed in the temple. I’ll quote the statement (Source – see comments): “No other religious group excludes family and friends from a wedding because they are not ‘worthy’ or members of the group as do the Mormons if the couple is wed in the temple. I always thought church buildings were God’s house and all were welcome there.”

I’ll not address the logical fallacy of appeal to the majority (“no other religious group”). Overall, this person’s statement represents a rather stark misunderstanding of temples (including in Biblical times). The statement also expresses misunderstanding about who is welcome where and for what reasons.

I’ll start with a scripture not directly about a physical temple but one that demonstrates something important about temples: “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” (1 Corinthians 3:17). Clearly, a temple can be defiled (again, I know Paul is talking about our bodies being temples but this also applies to temples that are built). Temples are meant to be holy so unholy (not sanctified or set apart or dedicated) things can defile them. In other words, unholy people can defile temples. God does not want just anyone to enter His house. He calls to all, but not all listen to and heed His words.

When Christ was on the earth, He cast out moneychangers and other people doing sinful things in the temple: “And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” (Matt. 21:12-13). Again, clearly there were people who were not welcome in the temple. Jesus “cast out all [of] them.” Could they have come back if they had ceased their wickedness? Sure, but that’s exactly what modern LDS temples are like – we welcome everyone who is willing to meet the requirements to attend.

Further, we know from the scriptures that God dwells in (or at least has one to sit in) a temple in heaven: “In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.” (Isaiah 6:1). Not everyone will be invited into this heavenly temple: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21). Again, there seem to be conditions on going to Heaven, namely, doing the will of God. So do all indiscriminately go to Heaven? To say so is a misunderstanding of the scriptures. If God imposes limits on who goes to Heaven, why would He not impose limits on who can enter a temple on earth?

If we go back further in time to the Tabernacle of Moses and the Israelites, only certain people were allowed to touch the Tabernacle and go into parts of it. This was the case with the temple of Solomon (in all its forms over the years). Women were not allowed into some areas of the temple and only a high priest could go into the Holy of Holies. Clearly, there have been longstanding restrictions on who could enter temples.

I want to wrap up my brief post by responding to one thing this particular poster said: “I always thought church buildings were God’s house and all were welcome there.” First, in all LDS church buildings (chapels) all visitors are welcome. Temples are not church buildings in the general sense; they are owned by the LDS church but are not where we attend church services. Second, I’m glad this commenter recognizes that LDS church buildings are in fact “God’s house {sic}.” I agree (although, saying the temples are God’s houses is more accurate). But in the end, temples are open to all; people just have to be willing to meet the worthiness standards set by God in order to enter them.

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.

Ring Out, Wild Bells

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After finding the words to the poem Ring Out, Wild Bells by Alfred, Lord Tennyson I started playing the Wikipedia game of following linked to pages. I was led, obviously, to the page about Alfred, Lord Tennyson and then down to the section of the titles of some of his works. One of his other poems is called Crossing the Bar, which has been cited by various LDS Church leaders in Conference talks and church magazine articles. That led me to an article by Pres. Thomas S. Monson from the Ensign in 1992 (not directly, I jumped to lds.org to search for citations of the poem). His article is entitled The Long Line of the Lonely. I knew it was going to be good with a lovely alliterative title like that! Pres. Monson did not disappoint – he never does. The article is focused mainly on caring for the widows, something few people do as well or as consistently as Pres. Monson does.

In the article Pres. Monson quotes the Tennyson poem in a touching exchange with a widow:

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me,
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea. …
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of time and place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

The old year is dying, a new one is born. As we cross the bar into the new year, are we ready to spiritually and proverbially “see [our] Pilot face to face”? Do we face each year with a renewed resolve to be a little better and do a little more good? Are we resolved to serve others more and focus more on the poor and needy, as Pres. Monson encourages in his article? I urge you to read Pres. Monson’s article and then put into practice what he counsels.

One story was particularly touching. Each Christmas season, Pres. Monson would make the time to go visit the widows from the ward he was a bishop over in his 20s. Of one such visit he recalled:

At a nursing home on First South, we might interrupt, as I did a few years ago [from 1992], a professional football game. There, before the TV, were seated two widows. They were warmly and beautifully dressed—and absorbed in the game. I asked, “Who’s winning?” They responded, “We don’t even know who’s playing, but at least it’s company.” I sat between those two angels and explained the game of football. I enjoyed the best contest I can remember. I may have missed a meeting, but I harvested a memory.

Widows, whose only company was each other, the commentators, and the players, were comforted by the visit of Pres. Monson. He was warmed by the experience as well. Pres. Monson closes his article with the following statement:

Today wise men still look heavenward and again see a bright, particular star. It will guide you and me to our opportunities. The burden of the downtrodden will be lifted, the cry of the hungry will be stilled, the lonely heart will be comforted—and souls will be saved. Yours, theirs, and mine. If we truly listen, we may hear that voice from far away say to us, as it spoke to another, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” (Matt. 25:21.)

There will be many opportunities this coming year to lift the burdened and comfort the lonely. In light of a tragic death just a couple months ago, I’d like to include another quote from Pres. Monson’s article.

“The ranks of those in special need grow larger day by day. Note the obituary page of your newspaper. Here the drama of life unfolds to view. Death comes to all mankind. It comes to the aged as they walk on faltering feet. Its summons is heard by those who have scarcely reached midway in life’s journey, and it often hushes the laughter of little children.

“After the funeral flowers fade, the well-wishes of friends become memories, and the prayers offered and the words spoken dim in the corridors of the mind, those who grieve frequently join that vast throng I shall entitle ‘The Long Line of the Lonely.’ Missed are the laughter of children, the commotion of teenagers, and the tender, loving concern of a departed companion. The clock ticks more loudly, time passes more slowly, and four walls do indeed a prison make.

“Hopefully, all of us may again hear the echo of words spoken by the Master: ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these … , ye have done it unto me.’ (Matt. 25:40.)

As we resolve to minister more diligently to those in need, let us remember to include our children in these learning lessons of life.”

There are many who need our love and comfort, even if we might be members of that lonely line ourselves.

And now to the poem that started all this – Ring Out, Wild Bells:

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

As we approach the new year, we should ring in the Christ that is and that is to be.

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.