Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Importance of an Open Canon

I've been thinking about this topic for weeks now, but only today finally decided to write about it. This is such an important and pivotal topic when studying the gospel of Jesus Christ. I hope that I can open your eyes to the necessity of having an open canon.

Whenever I have talked with people from other religions about this subject in the past, they have quoted to me the same scripture from the Bible, "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:" (Rev. 22:18) What they fail to understand is that the books of the New Testament weren't written in the order in which they appear in the Bible. Most Bible scholars today agree that this scripture pertains to the book of Revelation, not the entire Bible. In fact, the Bible, as we know it, wasn't even compiled at the time this scripture was written.

So what is scripture? In 2 Timothy 3:16,17 we read, " 16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works." In latter-day revelation we get further instruction about how scripture is written, "And whatsoever they (the prophets and apostles) shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation." (Doctrine and Covenants 68:4) This was the way scripture was given in times of old. Apostles and prophets wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, as in the case of Isaiah, they wrote after having visions. Much of the Bible is also a historical record that was kept. But in Bible times, scripture was given to guide the people and to teach them the doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Have we any less need for guidance today? Are the scriptures given in times of old sufficient for us today? We believe that we are in need of guidance from God today, just as were people in Bible times. While we can gain great knowledge and guidance from the Bible, we in these latter days face challenges that weren't in existence in Bible times.

So let's look at some guidance that we in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have received in modern days. One of the revelations that was needed for our day is the revelation called "The Word of Wisdom". This revelation explains that it was given "In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days" (Doctrine and Covenants 89:4). It goes on to warn us that certain substances are not healthy for the body. The list includes coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco. In recent years the Prophet has added harmful drugs to that list. Today we live in a world where men capitalize on the addictive nature of these substances. The revelation goes on to teach us that if we abstain from these substances, we will be healthy, and will find hidden treasures of knowledge, and that the destroying angel will pass us by, as it did the children of Israel in the time of Moses.

Other revelations in modern day have to do with how to organize the church. Some give additional doctrine that was lost during the translation of the Bible. These additional revelations do not detract from the teachings of the Bible. We believe the Bible, and we follow it's teachings. But in these modern times, we are just as in need of the direction of God as were the people in Old Testament times.

The prophet Moroni in the Book of Mormon explains succinctly why we believe in modern scripture, and modern revelation: "And again I speak unto you who deny the revelations of God, and say that they are done away, that there are no revelations, nor prophecies, nor gifts, nor healing, nor speaking with tongues, and the interpretation of tongues;
Behold I say unto you, he that denieth these things knoweth not the gospel of Christ; yea, he has not read the scriptures; if so, he does not understand them." (Moroni 9:7,8)

In Bible times there was a proliferation of written scripture. Why did that stop? Why would there not be written scripture today? We believe that after the death of Jesus Christ, a great apostasy occurred, and that for a time, that we now refer to as the "dark ages", there was no communication from God. The gospel of Jesus Christ was changed and the Priesthood power was lost from the Earth. The scriptures speak of a need for a restoration, and that restoration occurred through the Prophet Joseph Smith in modern times. After that restoration, revelation began to flow again to the earth through modern prophets. Today we have on going revelation, and modern day scripture.

Elder Jeffery Holland taught, "The fact of the matter is that virtually every prophet of the Old and New Testament has added scripture to that received by his predecessors. If the Old Testament words of Moses were sufficient, as some could have mistakenly thought them to be,3 then why, for example, the subsequent prophecies of Isaiah or of Jeremiah, who follows him? To say nothing of Ezekiel and Daniel, of Joel, Amos, and all the rest. If one revelation to one prophet in one moment of time is sufficient for all time, what justifies these many others? What justifies them was made clear by Jehovah Himself when He said to Moses, “My works are without end, and … my words … never cease.” (Moses 1:4) One Protestant scholar has inquired tellingly into the erroneous doctrine of a closed canon. He writes: “On what biblical or historical grounds has the inspiration of God been limited to the written documents that the church now calls its Bible? … If the Spirit inspired only the written documents of the first century, does that mean that the same Spirit does not speak today in the church about matters that are of significant concern?”5 We humbly ask those same questions...

One other point needs to be made. Since it is clear that there were Christians long before there was a New Testament or even an accumulation of the sayings of Jesus, it cannot therefore be maintained that the Bible is what makes one a Christian. In the words of esteemed New Testament scholar N. T. Wright, “The risen Jesus, at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, does not say, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth is given to the books you are all going to write,’ but [rather] ‘All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me.’ ”10 In other words, “Scripture itself points … away from itself and to the fact that final and true authority belongs to God himself.”11 So the scriptures are not the ultimate source of knowledge for Latter-day Saints. They are manifestations of the ultimate source. The ultimate source of knowledge and authority for a Latter-day Saint is the living God. The communication of those gifts comes from God as living, vibrant, divine revelation.12"

I testify that not only do we receive modern revelation today, but that it is essential to the building up of the kingdom of God on the earth. We need God's guidance today. We need His scripture today. We need His voice today.

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