For the last year my Church calling has been teaching Sunday school for the 14 to 18 year olds. At the beginning of this year I felt strongly to share with my class the many blessings that come from being diligent in our daily scripture study. As I prepared my lesson I came to see two specific promises that the Lord has for all of His children who desire to seek after him. I shared these promises with my class and encouraged them to take on the challenge of reading their scriptures for an entire year.
I don’t know whether my students took to heart my lesson, but it had a profound impact on me. We are four months into the year, and I have missed but one day. Sadly, on February 26th I waited to read my scriptures in the evening and fell asleep early due to the exhaustion of the day. I woke abruptly at 3 am the next morning and the first thought that came to me was that I had failed in my goal to not miss a day. I was upset at myself and it was a hard lesson I had to learn. Yet, now I know I need to read in the morning, so not to take any chances.
It may sound trite, but I am thankful for failing at my goal to read this entire year. My mistake allows me to further understand repentance, and not just give up because I didn’t achieve what I set out to do. The Lord is well aware of our imperfections and that we will stumble, hence why he provided us a Savior who suffered much so that we could pick ourselves up and continue on.
I’ve transcribed my lesson below for any that want to further understand the promises and power that comes from daily and diligent scripture study. Hopefully, it will move you to take up the challenge of daily reading so that you can witness, more fully, the Lord’s great power in your own life! ~Paul
THE POWER OF YOUR SPIRITUAL OIL
In Matthew 25 the Savior shares a story about ten virgins (or bridesmaids) who were given the honor of attending a wedding. Each carried a lamp as they awaited the coming of the bridegroom. Five of the virgins were wise and had brought sufficient oil for their lamps. Five were foolish and had not.
The bridegroom was delayed until late into the night; when it was announced that he would arrive shortly the foolish virgins asked the wise ones for oil. However, the wise virgins could not, stating that there would not be enough for both if they did so. While the foolish virgins left to find more oil, the bridegroom arrived. The wise virgins were there to welcome him and the foolish ones returned too late to be accepted into the wedding.
Just as the five wise virgins had oil for their lamps for the coming of the bridegroom, we can have spiritual oil to prepare us for when we meet the Lord. There are many ways to fill our lamps with spiritual oil, such as saying our prayers; providing service to others; and following the commandments. The more we strive to provide oil for our lamps the more our oil wells are filled with the richness of righteousness, and the brighter our light will shine.
One powerful way to fill our lamps with oil is by having daily scriptures study. Meaningful scripture study will not only prepare us to meet the Lord, but it will exalt our lives with love and beauty.
Therefore, creating a habit of daily scripture study, which persists throughout our lives, should be one of our highest priorities. By striving to make scripture study a daily concern, the Lord will endow us with his Spirit and we will be able to call upon the powers of heaven. Jacob from the Book of Mormon shares that “we search the prophets. . . and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea.” (Jacob 4:6; Hel. 10:4–5.)
Jacob understood the celestial power that comes from “search[ing] the prophets,” as have all prophets, both ancient and modern, who boldly testified of the strength and peace found within the words of the Lord. From these prophetic testimonies, I provide you the following two promises: 1) If you strive to prayerfully read your scriptures the Lord will be a continual guide throughout your life, and 2) If you study the scriptures every day the Lord will bless you with the spiritual and temporal desires of your heart.
With both of these promises you will find great blessings that will enrich your life. In regards to the first promise the Lord promises us that He will always be there for us. Even in our darkest times, when we desire to not be near the Lord, He is there. David of the Old Testament learned this after his serious transgression with Bathsheba:
“Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.”
We can see that even when we have made our “bed in hell” that Lord is with us. Therefore imagine the great power that will come when we try to become one with Him! In Jesus’s intercessory prayer in John 17 we learn his desires that we be like him and be one with his Father:
“And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.”
Later in his prayer we learn the blessing that comes by being one with God:
“I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.”
By prayerfully studying the gospel and coming closer to our Father we are protected from the evil the world. Obviously, we still reside in the world and may witness much wrong, but by filling our lamps with the spiritual oil of the scriptures we will be protected and be given a light to guide us through the darkness of this world.
With consideration to the second promise—your spiritual and temporal desires—I want to show just how the Lord will bless you. Our Father in Heaven is not a God of ambiguity, rather He longs to bless you with the specific desires of your heart.
We learn the truthfulness of the Lord’s desire to bless us by first reading in the Book of Mormon in 3 Nephi 14: 7:
“Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”
We find this same sentiment also in the Bible in 1 John 5:14–15:
“These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us.”
To unearth the desires of your heart I encourage you to ponder on the different spiritual and physical changes you want in your life. Write down each of these desires and then prayerfully decide on the greatest spiritual and the greatest temporal change you want to see in the upcoming year. I testify that if you will do this and then faithfully study your scriptures each day for an entire year that the Lord will bless you with the fulfillment of these specific desires.
These promises are not mere words contrived from my own mind, but rather we can find both these promises in the scriptures:
Promise 1: “. . .Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:3).
Promise 1: “. . . [the iron rod] was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction” (1 Nephi 15:24).
Promise 2: “O my sons, I would that ye should remember that these records are true. . . and we can know of their surety because we have them before our eyes. And now, my sons, I would that ye should remember to search them diligently, that ye may profit thereby; and I would that ye should keep the commandments of God, that ye may prosper in the land according to the promises which the Lord made unto our fathers” (Mosiah 1:6–7).
Promise 2: “Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart” (Psalms 37:3–5).
Both Promises: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7).
Furthermore, the Doctrine and Covenants teaches us, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” (D&C 82:10). When you live a life of meaningful study and prayer the Lord is bound to keep the promises he has made to you.
Your life will be deeply blessed, much like the five wise virgins, if you allow your spiritual oil to accumulate day-by-day, drop-by-drop, until your lamp is burning bright with the words of Christ. In so doing, you will not only uncover the many blessings the Lord wants for you to have, but you will begin to understand the deep love He has for you personally.
“The dedication of the Kirtland Temple [occurred] on March 27, 1836. One of those present was 28-year-old William Draper, who described the day as a ‘day of Pentecost.’ He wrote:
‘There was such a time of the outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord, that my pen is inadequate to write it in full or my tongue to express it. But I will here say that the Spirit was poured out and came like a mighty rushing wind and filled the house, that many that were present spoke in tongues and had visions and saw angels and prophesied, and had a general time of rejoicing such as had not been known in this generation’ (William Draper, “A Biographical Sketch of the Life and Travels and Birth and Parentage of William Draper” , typescript, Church History Library, 2; spelling and capitalization standardized).
“These spiritual manifestations were not limited only to those inside the temple, for ‘the people of the neighborhood came running together (hearing an unusual sound within, and seeing a bright light like a pillar of fire resting upon the Temple), and were astonished at what was taking place’ (History of the Church, 2:428).”Lorenzo Snow (1814–1901), later to be President of the Church, was living in Kirtland during this blessed period. He observed, ‘One would have imagined that after receiving these wonderful manifestations no temptation could have overthrown the Saints’ (Lorenzo Snow, “Discourse,” Deseret Weekly News, June 8, 1889, 26).
“But, of course, great spiritual experiences do not make us exempt from opposition and trials.”
Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Hold on a Little Longer,” Ensign, Jan. 2010, 6
This is a little old, but I just saw it and thought it was still funny!
This morning I read an article by Mahonri Stewart (I’ve copy and pasted it below as well). I am moved by his honest and exposed stance on why he believes the LDS (Mormon) Church instituted a Priesthood ban on the black people.
I am not certain if I entirely subscribe to his position, but I am open to it. There were two passages (one in the actual article and one in the comments after the post) that really stood out to me:
”If he hadn’t had a false world constructed around him, he would have been able to endure the real one.”
“True openness, true vulnerability to God (especially amidst an imperfect world) is really scary. Sometimes it requires a lack of surety as to what tomorrow will look like– more plainly, it really does take faith in something beyond your own understanding or the understanding of any man or woman.”
Having a mindset that your world may be false, or at least the construction of it, helps to be open to other possibilities of truth. For me, I have had sacred experiences that have grounded me to the teachings that are found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, with that said, it doesn’t mean I understand the many nooks and crannys found within our history and doctrine.
For many this may be scary (and at times it is for me), but I believe this is okay. I sincerely believe that not knowing in an uncertain and imperfect world doesn’t influence my salvation. It is important for me to continually seek and grow and let go of false assumptions, but regardless of my success in this endeavor I believe in a loving God that will save all those who diligently pursue Him, no matter what their religion, gender, or race may be. ~Paul
False Constructions Upon a True Church: A Response to a Friend by Mahonri Stewart
One of my dear fellow Mormon friends lately has called me out for posting an article by BYU professor, author, and Mormon race relations scholar Margaret Blair Young. The substance of the article by Professor Young (who I very much admire on a personal level and whose scholarship and literary contributions I think are a blessing to the Church) was celebrating the fact that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) have recently updated their scripture headings in the Doctrine and Covenants, a couple of which are very important, including this one about at the top of Official Declaration Two (which was the statement made by the Church in 1978 rescinding its previous policy of denying black people the blessings of the priesthood and the higher ordinances of the temple):
The Book of Mormon teaches that ‘all are alike unto God,’ including ‘black and white, bond and free, male and female’ (2 Nephi 26:33). Throughout the history of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity in many countries have been baptized and have lived as faithful members of the Church. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance. The revelation came to Church President Spencer W. Kimball and was affirmed to other Church leaders in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978. The revelation removed all restrictions with regards to race that once applied to the priesthood.
I, like Professor Young, think this is a wonderful change for the Church to make in the scripture heading. It’s still not a perfect statement (for example, historical records actually do offer up some insights about where the ban came from, which history authors like Margaret Blair Young and Darius Gray have written a whole series of books about black Mormon pioneer called Standing on the Promises), but I don’t want to quibble too much about that. This is a beautiful thing! This is a wonderful thing! The Church is for the first time officially recognizing some of these complicated aspects of the history behind the former ban (like the fact that Joseph Smith ordained black men like Elijah Abel and Walker Lewis to the priesthood offices of Seventy and Elder and that the ban didn’t come into place until the leadership of Brigham Young). The Church is recognizing that the ban was contradictory to scriptures like 2 Nephi 26:33 which the heading quotes, thus putting into question the racist folk myths that sprang up around the policy.
But in the process of celebrating and congratulating the Church, Professor Young said some things which my friend found disturbing, and which he was very bothered that I was endorsing. In giving context of how the Church could go back on their previous policies Professor Young states in the article:
Finally, let me make a bold suggestion. I suggest that we Mormons have chosen the wrong paradigm to describe how the church functions under prophetic leadership. We seem to have gone with the Wilford Woodruff statement used to defend the manifesto, since he was speaking to people who had suffered and even gone to jail over polygamy:
[T]he Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so he will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty (Official Declaration 1).
Since we have multitudes of instances where one prophet contradicts another, it’s likely that President Woodruff’s statement has a particular context and is confined to that. Armand Mauss, in a comment on February 22 at the Juvenile Instructor blog stated: “[T]his claim seems to have originated as a kind of guarantee from Wilford Woodruff in 1890, as he tried to reassure some of the apostles and others who questioned the legitimacy (or necessity) of the Manifesto. That was a fairly specific context, and no one at the time seemed to take it as a universal gospel principle. I never heard of it as I was growing up during the first half of the 20th century, as I said, but it began to occur (totally out of its original context) with increasing frequency as part of the “retrenchment” era after the 1960s to reinforce the ‘follow the prophet’ mantra that is now so familiar to us.”
Would we not all be better served by acknowledging that the Prophet is exclusively entitled to the mantle of leadership over the Church, and that he will always do the best he can to transcend his own culture and tradition in serving God, though not every utterance he makes will constitute the mind and will of the Lord? I would far prefer President Lorenzo Snow’s description of Church governance:
”Seventy years ago this Church was organized with six members. We commenced, so to speak, as an infant. We had our prejudices to combat. Our ignorance troubled us in regard to what the Lord intended to do and what He wanted us to do … We advanced to boyhood, and still we undoubtedly made some mistakes, which … generally arise from a …lack of experience. We understand very well, when we reflect back upon our own lives, that we did many foolish things when we were boys … Yet as we advanced, the experience of the past materially assisted us to avoid such mistakes as we had made in our boyhood. It has been so with the Church. Our errors have generally arisen from a lack of comprehending what the Lord required of us to do. But now we are pretty well along to manhood … When we examine ourselves, however, we discover that we are still not doing exactly as we ought to do, notwithstanding all our experience. We discern that there are things which we fail to do that the Lord expects us to perform, some of which He requires us to do in our boyhood. … While we congratulate ourselves in this direction, we certainly ought to feel that we have not yet arrived at perfection. There are many things for us to do yet.” 6 April, 1900
Now I find nothing particularly wrong with this statement by Professor Young. In fact, I heartily applaud it. As I’ve written elsewhere, like my post on this blog “Expectations of a Prophet” , I believe not only is it healthy to recognize that prophets are human beings and have fallible beliefs at times, I believe it is vital to a person’s faith. The LDS leaders, from Joseph Smith on, have consistently taught that prophets are imperfect, mortal instruments in the hands of a perfect immortal God. As the Book of Mormon prophet Moroni says on its cover page: “And now if there be fault, it be the mistake of men; wherefore condemn not the things of God…” Elder Jeffrey Holland of the LDS 12 Apostles took it even a step further in discussing the priesthood ban in an interview with PBS. When they asked about the statements of previous Mormon prophets about the ban and the mythology that grew up around it to justify its the policy, Elder Holland said:
One clear-cut position is that the folklore must never be perpetuated. … I have to concede to my earlier colleagues. … They, I’m sure, in their own way, were doing the best they knew to give shape to [the policy], to give context for it, to give even history to it. All I can say is however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong. …
Elder Holland pretty unequivocally states here that he believes what his “earlier colleagues” (meaning I’m assuming the previous apostles and prophets) said about the priesthood ban to justify it were “wrong,” or at the very least “inadequate.”
Elder Bruce R. McConkie said something similar when placed in the awkward position of having to go back on things he had previously written about black people once the Church changed the policy. What he said, I believe was very courageous and insightful:
We have read these passages and their associated passages for many years [speaking of racially inclusive language such as 2 Nephi 26:33 and the book of Acts in the New Testament]. We have seen what the words say and have said to ourselves, “Yes, it says that, but we must read out of it the taking of the gospel and the blessings of the temple to the Negro people, because they are denied certain things.” There are statements in our literature by the early Brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things, and people write me letters and say, “You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?” And all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.
We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more.
Some may find it contradictory for Elder McConkie is using the argument of following a prophet to deny the teachings of other prophets. But I believe the crux of that point is that line when he says that even prophets speak with “limited understanding.” We believe that prophets receive revelations. That is their function. But prophets aren’t receiving revelations all the time and when they’re not, they are liable to error even in official Church business like the priesthood ban. When people, due to the prejudices of their time and culture, ignore the revelations they’ve been given (as Elder McConkie implied they did when ignoring injunctions like 2 Nephi 26:33 and when the New Testament said the Gospel was to go to “all nations”), then mistakes are definitely bound to happen. That’s simply human, that’s simply to be expected. Joseph Smith said: “I told them I was but a man, and they must not expect me to be perfect; if they expected perfection from me, I should expect it from them; but if they would bear with my infirmities and the infirmities of the brethren, I would likewise bear with their infirmities” ( History of the Church 5:181).
However, my dear friend took issue with Professor Young’s and my beliefs here, and has quoted a great deal of other leaders of the Church who refer back to Wilford Woodruff quote. I believe he was doing this out of concern and love for me, and I deeply appreciate that love. He has been a man who has stuck with me through thick and thin, but on this matter he has deep reservations about what I’ve said and what that means about how I’m orienting myself towards the Church.
I understand his concerns, but I think he misunderstood me, just as I on many points have misunderstood my friend. In the end, I actually think as we’ve talked about it, I believe we have very similar beliefs about the Wilford Woodruff quote– that the Church is ultimately leading us to salvation, despite the bumps along the way, and that it is a vehicle towards that goal, not the destination.
But, to be clear, I consider myself an active, believing member of the Church. I don’t think people need to be afraid of the things the Church is currently doing in revising its policies and positions, and I don’t think people need to be afraid of those who recognize those flaws, but celebrate the perfect music of God that comes through imperfect instruments. I have made many sacrifices for my faith, when it would have been easier in my field of study and social context to throw it away and join my more secular peers. I have done this because I am a devout, believing Mormon. True blue, through and through. Mormon and proud. So I recently wrote my friend back this response as a smaller part of our larger discussion (note that this section is much less formal and more of a “shooting from the hip” response, as it was part of a letter to a friend). I include it here as less part of my back and forth with him, but because it states some things which are pretty core to how I see myself and my relationship to my faith. It is in no way to be interpreted as a reflection on him or his beliefs for, again, I think he and I basically believe the same thing in its general sense, and even in most of the particulars. So here is what I wrote him as a kind of personal position:
I actually am very happy with the leadership of the Church. The current First Presidency, in my opinion, is wise, compassionate and very in tune with the Spirit. I sustain them with all my heart. President Ucthdorf, President Eyring, President Monson and apostles like Elder Holland are all personal heroes of mine and I take what they say very seriously and very prayerfully.
But what I do question is when people assume that anything that a prophet does or says in his office of president is and always will be the ultimate doctrine of the Church and that even past policies, such as the priesthood ban, should be seen as divinely instituted and should never be repudiated. That simply can’t be, for prophets have often contradicted each other.
For example, Brigham Young said that the Adam-God theory was DOCTRINE. However, President Kimball said it was FALSE DOCTRINE. With a teaching as important as the identity of God, that’s not small potatoes for a Church to teach either way, and they both felt equally passionate that they were right about their views on the issue, and said hard things to those in the leadership of the Church who opposed them on the issue (it was a major sore point between Brigham Young and Orson Pratt in their day, and Spencer W. Kimball called out Brigham Young on it).
So, if you mean that the Church won’t lead us astray in the sense that the general direction of the good ship Zion is still pointing to God and that it has the priesthood keys and we should cling to the idea of modern revelation (personal and Church wide), I’m totally with you.
But, if you mean that a president of the Church can’t teach something wrong (like the priesthood ban or at least ONE of the sides of the Adam-God theory debate in the Church…), and that we would be wrong to recognize that fact, then that’s where we part ways, opinion wise. For, if one tries to adhere strictly to that rule, then it doesn’t take very long with studying the history of the Church to lose your testimony, if that’s the standard you are trying to measure the prophets by. By not recognizing their true, human nature (despite their ability to receive revelation for the Church), then we set them up for a fall, and that fall is hard and bitter. I’ve seen many people take exactly that hard line view of the faith and then became disenchanted and leave. THAT is what I’m fighting against. THAT is why I do what I do.
I know the Church is true, I know Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, I know that we have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother, I know Jesus is our Savior, I know the Book of Mormon is a spiritual record of a people striving towards God. I’m not what is called a “New Order Mormon” who just hangs around for the culture of it, or because I feel like I’m some sort of DNA Mormon who doesn’t believe the doctrine, but loves the heritage. Although I know many beautiful people who do qualify under that description and I feel they should have a place in the Church, too. However, my testimony runs long and deep and is rooted deeply in spiritual manifestations that I consider to be very sacred. These are things I’ve had some pretty huge spiritual witnesses about, they’re not things I question in their basics.
But I do question mine and other people’s assumptions about those important realities and I question how we perceive them in our imperfection and our humanity. And when I see people throw the baby out with the bathwater because they expected the Church and its leaders to be perfect because of something said by Wilford Woodruff or President Hinckley or any other leader in the Church, or because the leaders sometimes contradict and even argue with each other. The unrealistic expectations often set up about the Church has hurt more people’s testimonies than any anti-Mormon tract or apostate’s bitter rant. I have seen that, I have personal loved ones who have left because they discovered prophets weren’t the near perfect demi-gods that we set them up to be.
In my play about Joseph and Emma Smith’s family, The Fading Flower, I have Julia Smith say the following (in the context of the very real mental and spiritual breakdown that Joseph and Emma’s youngest son David went through at the end of his life because of the disillusionment he experienced when he concluded that his father really did practice polygamy, unlike he had been told by his RLDS family): “David did not lose his sanity because he was told the truth in the end, David lost his sanity because he was not told the truth from the beginning. If he hadn’t had a false world constructed around him, he would have been able to endure the real one.”
I do what I do in an effort to find that “real” world, that “real” Church and, most importantly, that “real” God. I make a lot mistakes in that effort, and in that way I, like everyone, occasionally construct that false world. If I keep building up that false world, but somebody knocks it down with some hard facts, then it would be easy for me to be disenchanted and bitter believe that means that none of the things I was trying to understand were real at all and that I was wasting my time, talents and heart on the Church. That would be a mistake, and that mistake costs a lot of people their faith. However, many people are able to step back from what they were building and say, “Wait, sure, those things weren’t quite accurate, and that’s not what I was told, but look… look at this,” and they can see the real thing behind what the false world was trying to build on.
I am convinced one of those “real” things is the priesthood. I am convinced another one of those “real” things is revelation. And so on with the Book of Mormon, theGospels , Christ, repentance, grace, the atonement, Joseph Smith, President Monson, etc. etc.
But what I don’t believe is real, because it has proven false again and again, is that there are people in the world or even in the leadership of the Church who are never wrong, even about important things. That’s simply not true and those who keep insisting it’s true would do us great spiritual harm in the long run, in my opinion. The general direction, sure, we’re headed towards Christ and he’s our salvation. I think that’s the substance and what President Woodruff is trying to say is that the Christ set up the Church one last time and there wasn’t going to be another Great Apostasy. The prophets teach the important principles and the Church administers the saving ordinances. That’s his point, in my opinion. But he saw first hand the flaws of prophets. Wilford Woodruff himself said (I hope I’m not butchering this quote, but this is the essence): “Yes, I saw the flaws in Joseph Smith. I saw them and I rejoiced. For if the Lord could use an imperfect man like him, then there was hope for me.”
I love the prophets. I love them so much and take them so seriously that I’ve devoted hours upon hours upon hours of my life researching, studying and writing about their lives. I have put my private and professional reputation on the line every time I have very publicly written about their history and my fervent love and faith in the religious tradition we are both a part of. It’s high stakes for me, as it is for everyone who puts their shoulder to the wheel. I read book after book about their lives, I study their teachings, I know the controversies surrounding them. And that hasn’t destroyed my testimony, but rather strengthened it.
However, although it was not destroyed, it definitely transformed. I had to change. It’s like that scriptural analogy with the potter’s wheel. My testimony is the clay and the Lord is trying to shape it. If I cling to the way I want it to look, if I cling to the old forms and policies of the Church, even after the Lord has given revelations that have abolished those old forms, then my clay is useless under his hands. The Church isn’t a static thing, it is a living Church. And I am a living soul who needs to progress and grow, just like the Church needs to progress and grow.
Joseph Smith said, “we have the revelation of Jesus, and the knowledge within us is sufficient to organize a righteous government upon the earth, and to give universal peace to all mankind, if they would receive it, but we lack the physical strength, as did our Savior when a child, to defend our principles, and we have of necessity to be afflicted, persecuted and smitten, and to bear it patiently until Jacob is of age, then he will take care of himself.” The Church is still young. It hasn’t “grown up” yet. To not expect it to go through growing pains and the mistakes of childhood is to set up that child for failure, and of course at that point it will certainly fail those kind of unrealistic expectations. But with patience, with love, with the progression of grace upon grace, line upon line, here a little and there a little, our Heavenly Parents are teaching that child, that Church to become an adult, and the time will come, like Joseph Smith said, when it is a child no more. And, frankly, I think the Church is strong and tall and smart for its age.
Posted by Mahonri Stewart at 9:24 AM, Friday, March 15, 2013 on
Over the years my testimony has grown in many different ways, but during the last few years I have worked diligently to have the core of my testimony be focused solely upon Jesus Christ. In the early years of my testimony I believed in Christ, but unfortunately he was not at the center of my beliefs.
I didn’t realize that the Savior wasn’t the foundation of my testimony until I was a missionary. I went English speaking and it seemed that every other door I knocked on had someone who wanted to verbally battle with me over my beliefs.
After a while I reached the point that when someone wanted to argue about the Church I would ask them one question. The question was, “If Jesus Christ were to come to you today and tell you the Book of Mormon was true would you believe Him?”
The first time I asked this question was with an elderly gentleman who was quite devout in his own beliefs. I was astonished to hear that his response to my question was a defiant no. In fact, his answer took me so much by surprise I actually took a step back as if someone was about to hit me.
I was just so certain no one would say no that I wasn’t prepared when someone did. After hearing his response I ended our conversation with the parting statement that if Jesus Christ couldn’t convince him than there was no way a 20 year old boy, far from home, would be able to do any better.
As I biked home from this encounter I pondered on the scripture from the Doctrine & Covenants that states, “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken…whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38). For me, having this man tell me no was an example of the voice of the Lord and the voice of His servant being rejected.
For the next few weeks I continued to ask this question when people wanted to argue about the Gospel. Each time I received a no, and each time I was surprised to hear the answer. It really bothered me to hear so many people say they wouldn’t follow Jesus Christ.
It wasn’t until I was reading Moroni 10:3–5 to an investigator that I stumbled across the reason why people were telling me no. In verse four I read something I had never seen before (and up to that point I had read this verse at least once everyday for over a year). It says: “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost” (emphasis added).
The words, “…ask God…if these things are not true…” struck me with such intensity. I had never before asked if the Book of Mormon was not true. I had only asked if it was true.
Asking if the Book of Mormon is true, or asking if the Book of Mormon is false may sound like the same question, but in reality the questions are worlds apart. I found it a lot easier to accept something I have always believed in to be truth, than to fight against my spiritual upbringing and ask the Lord if it is all an illusion.
Once I realized the difference I finally understood why people were telling me no. In their understanding of truth, it was absolutely ludicrous for the Savior to say the Book of Mormon was true. For them they knew the Book of Mormon was false, and no one, including Christ could convince them otherwise.
This realization helped me see how important it was to ask if what I believed in was false. Having this intellectual and soul awakening experience really turned my world upside down and inside out. I realized I couldn’t continue preaching the salvation of Christ using the Book of Mormon (or even the Bible for that matter) as a source without first knowing that these words were the fruits of truth.
I knew the Book of Mormon was a book with powerful teachings, and those who argued otherwise had never read the book in its entirety. However, I wanted to know for certain that the teaching which flowed from the Book of Mormon where more than powerful, but eternal. I had read many religious and spiritual books that had good teachings in them, but now I sought to know what Christ felt to be true.
I clearly remember the night I decided to pray on the possibility of the falsehood of the Book of Mormon. I waited until my companion was asleep before I slipped out of my covers and knelt by my bed. I had made up my mind that the only thing that mattered to me was to follow the Savior. If that meant forsaking all that I had been taught and going a different path than I was prepared to do so.
I remember praying that I was prepared to remove my missionary badge and my temple garments and go home if I discovered that Christ did not want me to follow the teachings of the Book of Mormon. I must also admit that it was a difficult prayer. Not only was I trying to come to terms about the possibility of giving up my mission and Church membership, but I also found it extremely hard to move past my own personal bias beliefs.
It was a struggle entertaining thoughts that the Book of Mormon was a lie. However, in order to succeed in my desires I knew it was necessary. Quite frankly I was scared, the sacrifices I was considering seemed to loom over me while I spoke with God on that quite April evening.
Yet, if the Book of Mormon was true I wanted it to be an appendage to my testimony of Christ, not the center of my testimony. I deeply wanted to understand what the Master wanted and to follow it no matter the cost.
I had been testifying of Christ, but I only believed in Christ because I believed in the Book of Mormon. For me I didn’t feel that was the testimony I wanted. I just couldn’t see how this was any different from the testimony of someone who grew up only knowing the Bible or the Quran. Do they believe because it is true or do they believe because it is familiar and comfortable to them?
I don’t know how long I spent on my knees but I know I spent considerable amount of time working through this question. It took time for my heart to accept the challenge I was giving it. I knew the real consequence of what I could be giving up. My family, friends, and how I viewed the world were centered around the Church and my belief in the Book of Mormon. I knew I wouldn’t just be giving up a religion but I would be giving up a way of life.
Through the turmoil and strife I did receive my answer. The answer was so strong, so certain, that even a decade or so later, I continue to feel the conviction of the answer. That night I felt the power of the Holy Ghost and I knew the Book of Mormon wasn’t false. However, my belief in this book came that night because in prayer I gained an in depth understanding for whom the Son of God is in my life. I now know the Book of Mormon to be a sacred document given to us to understand salvation because I now know that Jesus Christ lives and is the true source of this book.
I share this sacred experience because I believe it is more important to follow Christ than it is follow anything else. It is great to have other things like the Book of Mormon and Bible as further evidence of Christ’s divinity, but these things should not be our rock. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and He is more powerful than any word, book, or person. He uses these tools to help us find him. Yet, the only way to know for certain His divinity is to strip away the restrictions we place upon Him. We must be willing to lose what we feel is important in this temporal world, to gain what is essential in the eternities.