Sunday, July 6, 2014

No Man Shall Add to or Take Away

Play
By Howard W. Hunter
Recently a young friend in the mission field wrote a letter to me regarding a question that had been asked of him concerning the concluding verses of theBible and how they apply to the Book of Mormon. We remember that at the end of the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, the author, John, issues a warning and a curse upon any man who adds to or takes away from the book. Specifically, these are the words he wrote:
“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:
“And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (Rev. 22:18–19.)
These verses of scripture have been cited repeatedly by those attempting to discredit the Book of Mormon, claiming that God’s revelation to man is closed. Nothing more is to be added and nothing is to be taken away. They assert that the Book of Mormon is an attempt to add to the words of the Bible. These claims were made when the Book of Mormon was first published and have continued to be made, and are made today. Is there any validity to such assertions?
The answer to this query is really very simple. A careful reading of the words makes it clear that the warning against adding to or taking away does not refer to the whole Bible or even to the New Testament, but to use John’s words, only to the words of “the book of this prophecy.” That is, the prophecy contained in the book of Revelation. This is substantiated by the fact that some of the books of the New Testament had not yet been written when John wrote the book of Revelation, and even those that had been written and were in existence at that time had not yet been gathered into one compilation.
The collection of writings consisting of the sixty-six books we know as the Bible were brought together and compiled into one volume long after John wrote the prophetic book that has been placed at the end of the collection. It is clear, therefore, that the terrible judgments pronounced upon those who add to the book could not possibly apply to the whole of the Bible or even to the New Testament, but only to the book of Revelation.
Secondly, the warning uses the words “the prophecy of this book” and also “the words of the book of this prophecy.” The word book in both instances is singular and could only refer to the book of prophecy written by John which is titled, in the King James Version, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine” and is often referred to as the Apocalypse—a Greek word which means revealed. Of necessity the word book would have been in the singular because when written it was not associated with any other book or books, and it was after many years and many ecclesiastical debates that it was added to the collection that became known as the new canon of scripture or the New Testament.
It is also interesting to note that John himself added to scripture after writing the book of Revelation, which is generally conceded to have been written while he was on the Isle of Patmos. It was long after John left Patmos that he wrote his first epistle. This fact standing alone would be sufficient to defeat the claim that revelation was closed and that man was enjoined from adding to scripture. This adds cumulative evidence that John had reference to the book of Revelation only.
In the Old Testament also are found similar vigorous denunciations and commands that there shall not be taken away or added to the words that were written. The first is found in Deuteronomy, written at the time Moses was exhorting Israel to live the law of the Lord. The Torah was oral law and had not been reduced to writing prior to the time of the codification of the law in Deuteronomy. Now that it had been reduced to writing by Moses prior to his death and assumed to be complete, Moses wrote:
“Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” (Deut. 4:2.)
Later in this same book of the law, Moses repeated the admonition in similar words. He said,
“What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.” (Deut. 12:32.)
In the minds of some, these admonitions in the Old Testament raise the same question as to the Book of Mormon being an attempted addition to scripture as does the injunction and warning at the end of the book of Revelation. In effect, these passages contain the same injunction as the one at the close of the Apocalypse; and if the same interpretation and argument was applied to them as is applied to the closing verses of the book of Revelation, there would be no scripture after the writings of Moses. Such an absurdity would result in discarding the greater part of the Old Testament and all of the books of the New Testament.
A careful reading of each of these admonitions makes it clear that man is not to make changes in the revelations of the Lord: man is not to add to or take from the words of God. There is no indication or intimation that God could not, or would not, add to or take from; nor would any reasonable person with a belief in the divine powers of God consciously believe that God would be so restricted. Without question he would have the right and power to give additional revelation for the guidance of his children in any age and to add additional scripture.
A study of the revelations of the Lord in holy writ confirms the fact that it is continuous revelation that guides prophets and the Church in any age. Were it not for continuous revelation, Noah would not have been prepared for the deluge that encompassed the earth. Abraham would not have been guided from Haran to Hebron, the Land of Promise. Continuous revelation led the children of Israel from bondage back to their promised land. Revelation through prophets guided missionary efforts, directed the rebuilding of Solomon’s temple, and denounced the infiltration of pagan practices among the Israelites.
Before the ascension of Christ, he promised the remaining eleven apostles, “lo, I am with you alway, Even unto the end of the world.” (Matt. 28:20.) Following his ascension, he guided the Church by revelation until the death of the Apostles and subsequent apostasy of the Church of Jesus Christ.
A distinctive sign of the last days that will precede the eventual second coming of the Lord was seen in vision by that same Apostle who recorded the book of Revelation. He said:
“I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.” (Rev. 14:6.)
The fact that John saw a messenger from God reveal anew a lost gospel negates the argument that further revelation could not be added to the Bible.
We testify to all the world that heavenly ministers have already appeared in our age, bringing authority from heaven and restoring truths lost through corrupted teachings and practices. God has spoken anew and continues to provide guidance for all his children through a living prophet today. We declare that he, as promised, is with his servants always and directs the affairs of his Church throughout the world. As in times past, revelation directs missionary labors, the building of temples, the calling of priesthood officers, and warns against the evils of society that may deny salvation to our Father’s children.
In a revelation to a modern oracle, Joseph Smith, the Lord said:
“For I am no respecter of persons, and will that all men shall know that the day speedily cometh; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand, when peace shall be taken from the earth, and the devil shall have power over his own dominion.
“And also the Lord shall have power over his saints, and shall reign in their midst.” (D&C 1:35–36.)
The Savior is reigning in the midst of the Saints today through continuous revelation. I testify that he is with his servants in this day and will be until the end of the earth.
May our vision not be so narrow that we would relegate revelation to only the ancients. God is merciful and loves his children in all ages and has revealed himself to this time in history. Of this I solemnly testify, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Excommunication From the Church

Because of recent events, I wanted to write about the topic of excommunication from the church.  I'm sure that with other churches things might be done differently, so I wanted to explain what it means in our church.  Occasionally someone in the public eye is excommunicated, so the topic gets media coverage.  I just want to explain it from the LDS point of view.

First I want to mention that any kind of church action such as this is confidential.  If you read about it in the media, it is because the excommunicated person has chosen to make it public.  This is not something that is announced in church.  Church leaders take this very seriously, and do not broadcast this type of information. In fact, if a church leader were to talk openly about these matters, it is possible that he would be removed from his position.

To understand excommunication, is to first understand what it means to be a member of the church.  When we are baptized, we enter in to a covenant with God.  We covenant to obey the commandments, and to be called His people.  Another part of membership is that we will do nothing to fight against the church, or to teach false doctrine.  If we want to be called His people, we must act as He would have us act, and show respect for His name which we bear as Christians.  

When a person is guilty of serious sin, the Bishop will council with them to help them to repent.  There are varying stages of action the Bishop might take.  For example, he might ask them to stop doing the thing, and council them to change.  Or he might ask them to not take of the sacrament for a period of time.  Each action is designed to help the person think about how they can change for the better.  And as I mentioned above, this is all kept in strictest of confidence.  No one but the Bishop knows what the person has done, or is being asked to do.  

Over time, if the person does not change, the Bishop may ask for a church court to be held.  This action is not taken lightly.  The purpose of the court is to determine if it might be better for the person to be removed from the covenants they made at baptism.  Sin is always wrong, but to make a covenant with God, and then commit grievous sin, is very serious.  So removing them from the covenant gives them a chance to overcome the sin without having the full weight of the covenant upon them.  In some cases, this might take the form of "disfellowship".  In the case of disfellowship, the person remains a member, but is asked to not participate actively in teaching, praying, attending the temple etc, and is asked to refrain from partaking of the sacrament.  When the person has changed, and is in a position to change, then another church court is called to determine if they can be accepted in to full fellowship.  

In some cases, the person is not willing to change, or over time has demonstrated that they are continuing to do what they have been counselled not to do, the church court is convened, and it may be determined that excommunication is the best course of action.  This does not mean that they can never be a member again.  It just means that they have been removed from under the covenant of baptism, and their name has been removed from the church membership.  Elder M. Russell Ballard in his article, "A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings"   said, 
"When members need to have certain blessings withheld, the Lord’s object is to teach as well as to discipline. So probation, disfellowshipment, and excommunication, when they become necessary, are ideally accompanied by eventual reinstatement and restoration of blessings. "

An overall direction to church leaders is that all of these affairs should be done with love.  I remember when a friend of mine, who had church action taken against her, privately shared with me that she had never felt so much love as she did during the church council.  Of course these men do not want to see anyone excommunicated.  But this action can help the sinner to see the seriousness of their sin, and to make the needed changes in their life.  When they are ready to live the commandments, they can make appeal to have their membership restored.  In fact, it is hoped that these people will continue to attend church, even after they have been excommunicated!  Everyone rejoices when someone comes back in to the fold.  

God, our Heavenly Father, loves us.  He is the actual Father of our spirits.  Like any father, He wants what is best for us.  He loves His children far more than we mortals love our own children.  As our Father, He sometimes gives us discipline to help us to learn to do what is right.  And when we change, and repent, He showers us with blessings.  Excommunication is a chance for the sinner to start over.  It is not meant to "get rid of" the sinner, but to help them to change so that they can participate in full fellowship with the church again.  I hope that all who have had church action taken against them will know that they are wanted back in the church.  This statement by the first presidency sums up my own feelings:
“To all such we reach out in love. We are anxious to forgive. …
“We encourage Church members to forgive those who may have wronged them. To those who have ceased activity and to those who have become critical, we say, ‘Come back. Come back and feast at the table of the Lord, and taste again the sweet and satisfying fruits of fellowship with the Saints.’” (Church News, 22 Dec. 1985, p. 3.)

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Organized Religion

image from www.lightplanet.com
I remember talking with a friend once who told me she does not like organized religion.  She said that she believes in God, but that she doesn't need a church or religion to worship him.  I tried to explain to her why belonging to the church is so important, but finally I just came right out and said, "You say that you can worship God anywhere, but when do you actually worship Him?"  Many people say they feel closer to God out in nature than they do in a church, but how often do they go out in to nature and actually commune with God?  In this age of political and societal tumult, religion is taking a bad rap.  Odds are that those who attack organized religion have never really partaken of the benefits of worshiping together with others of like-minded belief.

The Book of Mormon gives a good description of why an organized religion is beneficial to us:

"4 And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.
 And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.
 And they did meet together oft to partake of bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus."  Moroni 6:4-6 
As mentioned in this scripture, there is great power in nourishing each other "by the good word of God".  As we "speak one with another concerning the welfare of (our) souls", we gain strength from each other's faith.  
In addition to the  nourishment we receive from shared testimonies, there is great spiritual power to be found in singing hymns together.  In Doctrine and Covenants 25:12 the Lord tells us, "12 For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads."  Truly, singing hymns is like a prayer.  I remember one time when I was the church organist, and the responsibility fell upon me to choose hymns for the  next 6 months.  I had been given a list of the topics that would be spoken about during each Sacrament meeting, so I carefully studied the hymns to find those that would best compliment each meeting theme.  After about an hour or so of reading through the lyrics, and humming each melody to myself, I suddenly realized that I was feeling a powerful manifestation of the Spirit.  Truly, the hymns of Zion carry the Spirit of God.  In Mark 14:26, we read that the Savior, before going to the Mount of Olives where He would suffer for the sins of the world, and bleed at every pore, first sang a hymn.  "26 ¶And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives."  I feel confident that this hymn was a comfort to Him.
One of the most important aspects of our worship is partaking of the sacrament.  For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this is the pinnacle moment of our worship.  This is the moment when we really focus on worshiping God.  This is the moment when we truly focus on our standing before God.  This moment of introspection cannot be as effective in any other way.  I love this account in 1 Corinthians 11:23-28: 
 "...That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:
 24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
 25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
 26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.
 27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
When I think about the sacrament, I like to think about each part of the Savior's sacrifice for us.  The bread represents His body, that he sacrificed, and then resurrected so that each of us can be resurrected some day.  That is such a priceless gift!  No one need fear death.  Because of Him, we all can live!
The water, (or as in some religions wine) represents the blood that He shed for us in the garden of Gethsemane when he suffered for the sins of the world.  Because of that sacrifice, we all have the chance to repent of sins that we have committed.  As we make use of His sacrifice through repentance, our sins will be forgiven.  He has paid a price that we could not pay alone.

I especially like the last verse which says, "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup."  The sacrament ordinance is the time for us to really examine ourselves.
While admiring the beauties of nature can make us feel closer to God, it cannot supplant the opportunities for reflection that are found in Sabbath church worship.  We can pray anywhere, and we can sing hymns anywhere, but there is power in gathering together and remembering the Savior through the ordinance of the sacrament.
Another important blessing that comes from attending church services is that we are instructed more about the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I have joined online Christian groups that often discuss the Bible, but I have found that many of them who have rejected joining a formal church have developed incorrect beliefs about Jesus Christ's gospel, and have gone off on intellectual, or political tangents.  When we gather together and are instructed from the scriptures, and from gospel manuals, we are more likely to keep ourselves from deviating from the gospel Jesus Christ taught.
The prophet Alma, in the Book of Mormon, gives us some more thoughts about why we should join ourselves to the church of God:
 "And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—
 10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?"  Mosiah 18:8-10
Alma reminds us that part of belonging to God's organized church is taking upon ourselves each other's burdens.  As we "mourn with those that mourn", and "comfort those that stand in need of comfort", we strengthen each other.  In the process of bearing one another's burdens, we become more Christlike.  
Perhaps one of the greatest reasons for joining the church of God is the act of entering in to that covenant with God.  When we are baptized, we are covenanting with God that we will keep His commandments, and take upon us His name.  In return, He promises to send His Spirit to be with us to guide and help us.  This is one of the great blessings of membership in the church.
I would like to issue the same invitation that the Savior issued in ancient times.  For those who question about our organized religion, I would say, "Come and see."  Come and attend church with us.  Come worship God with us.  Come sing with us, and pray with us, and feel the Spirit with us.  Come and see for yourself how attending church can bless you.  We welcome you.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Hugh NIbley's Testimony of Joseph Smith

I ran across this article that talks about how Hugh Nibley testified of Joseph Smith as a prophet.  Hugh Nibley's style wasn't to say "I bear testimony...." but to show through studious thought and logical conclusion why Joseph could be nothing less than he professed to be.  Through his efforts, Hugh Nibley gave great honor to the Prophet Joseph.  This talk chronicles some of his thoughts.  I was originally going to post the entire talk, but it is 12 pages long, so I will simply provide the link here.  

Hugh Nibley Lectures on the Book of Mormon

I stumbled across this video of a class Hugh Nibley taught about the Book of Mormon.  Once you get used to his rambling way of speaking, if you listen carefully, you will find he is a treasure chest of knowledge.  I will also try to post a talk I read about him.  This is a lengthy lecture, but I thought it was great!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Conference Messages: The Prophet Joseph Smith

This talk is a great testament to the reality that Joseph Smith was a true prophet!

The Prophet Joseph Smith

The First Vision

A young boy reads the Bible, and his eyes pause on a singular passage of scripture. This is a moment that will change the world.
He is anxious to know which church can lead him to truth and salvation. He has tried almost everything else, and now he turns to the Bible and reads these words: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”1
He reflects on them over and over again. The first glimmer of light penetrates the darkness. Is this the answer, the way out of confusion and darkness? Can it be this simple? Ask God and He will answer? At length he decides he must either ask God or ever remain in darkness and confusion.
And yet as anxious as he is, he doesn’t run to a quiet corner and rattle off a hurried prayer. He is only 14, but in his haste to know, he is not hasty. This is not to be just any prayer. He decides where to go and when to make the attempt. He prepares to talk to God.
And then the day comes. It is “the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of [1820].”2 He walks alone into the stillness of the nearby woods, beneath the trees that tower above him. He reaches the place where he previously designed to go. He kneels and offers up the desires of his heart.
Describing what happens next, he says:
“I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
“… When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—[Joseph,] This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!3
Only 24 years later, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum will die because of what began here.

Opposition

Joseph said that when he was 17, an angel told him that his “name [would] be had for good and evil among all nations, … among all people.”4 This amazing prophecy is continuing to be fulfilled today as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has spread throughout the world.
Opposition, criticism, and antagonism are companions to the truth. Whenever the truth with regard to the purpose and destiny of man is revealed, there will always be a force to oppose it. Beginning with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, down to the ministry of Christ, and on down to our day, there has always been and will ever be an effort to deceive, derail, oppose, and frustrate the plan of life.
Look for the biggest dust cloud billowing above the most dirt that is kicked at One who was most opposed, challenged, and rejected, beaten, abandoned, and crucified, One who descended below all things, and there you will find the truth, the Son of God, the Savior of all mankind. Why did they not leave Him alone?
Why? Because He is the truth, and the truth will always be opposed.
And then look for one who brought forth another testament of Jesus Christ and other scripture, look for one who was the instrument by which the fulness of the gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ were restored to the earth, look for him and expect to find the dirt flying. Why not leave him alone?
Why? Because he taught the truth, and the truth will always be opposed.

The Flood of Revelation

The revelations poured out upon Joseph Smith affirm that he was a prophet of God. Let’s just look at some of them—just look at some of the light and truth revealed through him that shines in stark contrast to the common beliefs of his day and ours:
  • • 
    God is a personal, exalted being, an Eternal Father. He is our Father.
  • • 
    God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are separate beings.5
  • • 
    You are more than human. You are a child of God the Eternal Father and may become like Him6 if you will have faith in His Son, repent, receive ordinances, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end.7
  • • 
    The Church of Jesus Christ today is fundamentally the same Church He organized during His mortal ministry, with prophets and apostles, Melchizedek and Levitical Priesthoods, elders, high priests, deacons, teachers, bishops, and the seventy, all as described in the Bible.
  • • 
    Priesthood authority was withheld from the earth following the deaths of the Savior and His Apostles and was restored again in our day.
  • • 
    Revelation has not ceased, and the heavens are not closed. God speaks to prophets today, and He will speak to you and me as well.8
  • • 
    There is more after this life than only heaven and hell. There are degrees of glory, and it matters a great deal what we do in this life.9
  • • 
    More than having a mere passive belief in Christ, we should “look unto [Him] in every thought,”10 “do all that [we do] in the name of the Son,”11 and “always remember him and keep his commandments … that [we] may always have his Spirit to be with [us].”12
  • • 
    The billions who live and die without the gospel and the ordinances necessary for salvation are not lost. “Through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel,”13 administered for both the living and the dead.14
  • • 
    Everything did not begin at birth. You lived before in the presence of God as His son or daughter and prepared for this mortal life.15
  • • 
    Marriage and family are not conventions of men until only death do us part. They are intended to be made eternal through covenants we make with God. The family is the pattern of heaven.16
And this is only a part of the flood of revelation poured out upon Joseph Smith. Where did it all come from, these revelations which give light to darkness, clarity to doubt, and which have inspired, blessed, and improved millions of people? Which is more likely, that he dreamed it all up on his own or that he had the help of heaven? Do the scriptures he produced sound like the words of man or the words of God?

Conclusion

There is no dispute about what Joseph Smith accomplished, only how he did what he did and why. And there are not many options. He was either pretender or prophet. Either he did what he did alone, or he had the help of heaven. Look at the evidence, but look at all of the evidence, the entire mosaic of his life, not any single piece. Most importantly, do as young Joseph and “ask … God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given [you].”17 This is not only how you may learn the truth about the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith; it is also the pattern to know the truth of all things.18
Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, as is Thomas S. Monson today. Through Joseph Smith, “the keys of the kingdom of God are [again] committed unto man on the earth, and … the gospel [will] roll forth … as the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands … , until it has filled the whole earth.”19
God is our Eternal Father, and Jesus is the Christ. We worship Them. Nothing compares with Their creations, the plan of salvation, and the atoning sacrifice of the Lamb of God. In this dispensation, we fulfill the plan of the Father and partake of the fruits of the Atonement only by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith. I bear testimony of Them—God the Eternal Father and Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. And I do so in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.