The LDS Church’s Newsroom released an infographic recently that covers LDS Church structure and organization at the stake and ward level (groups of 1000 to 5000 and 150-500 church members, respectively). Their post covers the lay ministry of the Church well. I’ve always been interested in the organization of the Church, posting about it here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here (that last one is about why Mormons are busy with church callings but it explains church organization from an “on the ground perspective”). Many of my discussions of church organization relate to its central organization, which is why this infographic by the LDS Church’s newsroom is a great complement to my posts.
Emma Smith: My Story used to be available to watch for free (with ads) on Hulu. This is no longer the case.
You can watch the entire movie Emma Smith: My Story on Amazon for free with an Amazon Prime subscription (free trials of the service are available), or you can rent or purchase a digital copy. It is available elsewhere to purchase but I believe Amazon Prime is currently the only service offering it for “free”. While it is not a film produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is a wonderful depiction of some of the life of the elect woman Emma Smith, wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith. She endured many hardships with her husband. Emma did make some decisions that many undeservingly have criticized her for making but do any of us really want to judge someone like Emma Smith? I doubt there have been many stronger people than Emma.
If you haven’t watched the movie, it’s well worth taking the time to get to know Emma Smith better. The movie also has beautiful cinematography (by T.C. Christensen, who does beautiful work including one of my favorites – Treasure in Heaven: The John Tanner Story); and music. You also might recognize a number of scenes that have been used in some Church produced movies.
John Greenwood was a fifer in the Continental Army who was called to carry a musket during the assault on Trenton, NJ. On Christmas night the American army crossed over the Delaware in what would prove to be a defining moment during the Revolutionary War and American history. Crossing over the Delaware was an all-night matter. It was an adversity of great proportions. There was severe winter weather that night and into the morning. It made the crossing more treacherous but it also masked the movements of the Americans. After the troops made it across, it was so cold that there are reports of at least two soldiers freezing to death during a break. John Greenwood, during one such break wanted to just go to sleep. The numbing cold whispered to all to rest and succumb to its frozen embrace. To John, the seductive voice of the cold was enticing. He was resting and wanted nothing more than to sleep; he did not even care if it was an eternal sleep. John was saved only when a sergeant roused him and got him going. This act saved his life. Had the sergeant not noticed the lowly fifer, had the sergeant not gone after the lost sheep, John’s life would most likely have been lost.
This story exemplifies the stewardship in the gospel. All members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have responsibilities to other people. All are ideally called as visiting teachers or home teachers. In other ways all have stewardship over others. Cain asked a simple question of the Lord, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). Even though Cain’s reason for asking was not honest nor was it out of concern for his brother, who he had just killed, it is a question we would do well to ask in honesty. Are we our brothers’ keepers? The Savior answered a similar question with a parable. When asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus said:
“A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?
“And he [the man] said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.” Luke 10:30-37.
How we treat others is important. The Samaritan could have walked by the beaten man but he didn’t. He took care of him who was injured and saved his life, just as that sergeant had done for John Greenwood in Washington’s army. We need to love others and watch over our brothers, sisters, and neighbors. We might just save their lives, physically or spiritually.
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.
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.