Our Most Distinguishing Feature

I was really struck by Tom Stringham’s guest post on The Millenial Star speaking about the importance of testifying about the foundational truths of the Restored Gospel. As I read it , it just so happened that I was finishing to read Elder Holland’s wonderful collection of conference talks, Broken Things to Mend. The last section of the book focused on the restoration and those essential truths that Tom also spoke about in the post. I was especially struck by a quote from President David O. Mckay

“If at this moment each one [of you] were asked to state in one sentence . . . the most distinguishing feature of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what would be your answer?

 

“My answer,” he replied, “would be . . . divine authority by direct revelation.”

Holland, Jeffrey R. (2008-01-01). Broken Things to Mend (Kindle Locations 1685-1687). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition.

Divine authority by direct revelation encapsulates so much of what makes our church special and worth testifying about.

For instance, it is by direct revelation through a prophet (actually a series of prophets) that we have the Book of Mormon and it’s incomparable witness of Jesus Christ. As I have been reading and thinking about the Old Testament this year, I have been especially grateful for the revelation that came to us through the Prophet Joseph Smith that helps us to understand the continuity of the Gospel of Christ. 

In another talk in the book, Elder Holland expresses this thought very powerfully 

“[O]ne of the remarkable contributions of the Book of Mormon is its seamless, perfectly consistent view of divinity throughout that majestic book. Here there is no Malachi-to-Matthew gap, no pause while we shift theological gears, no misreading the God who is urgently, lovingly, faithfully at work on every page of that record from its Old Testament beginning to its New Testament end. Yes, in an effort to give the world back its Bible and a correct view of Deity with it, what we have in the Book of Mormon is a uniform view of God in all His glory and goodness, all His richness and complexity—including and especially as again demonstrated through a personal appearance of His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. How grateful we are for all the scriptures, especially the scriptures of the Restoration, that teach us the majesty of each member of the Godhead.

Holland, Jeffrey R. (2008-01-01). Broken Things to Mend (Kindle Locations 2082-2088). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition.

 

Likewise, each of the doctrines that make us unique are rooted in the understanding that we are a living church led by a living prophet. Temple ordinances, knowledge of the plan of salvation, the sealing ordinances, the eternal significance of the atonement, and many more doctrines are known and more importantly understood thanks to divine revelation by proper authority.

As a missionary, I often repeated the missionary purpose: To invite others “to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.” I often focused on the elements of the Gospel of Christ such as repentance and baptism, but the restored gospel plays a key role in that process. I believe this is because it is only through the fruits of the restored gospel, namely continuing revelation through divine authority that we fully come to understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I bear my witnesses that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was restored to the earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Thanks to him I am able to fully appreciate the atonement and all facets of God’s plan of salvation. I am so grateful to my Heavenly Father for restoring his Church to the earth.  

The Rock of Revelation: Continuing Revelation and the Living Prophet

Today I was reading through the most recent General Conference and was struck by a quote from President Harold B. Lee that I have had a complex relationship with:

“The only safety we have as members of this church is to do exactly what the Lord said to the Church in that day when the Church was organized. We must learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through his prophet, ‘as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; … as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.’ There will be some things that take patience and faith. You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your political views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory.”

When I first jointed the church, I had a really hard time accepting this quote. Having come from a very different political, religious and social background, the idea that one would change ones political or social views based on the teachings of the Prophet struck me as strange. Indeed, I came from a Jewish tradition that strongly encouraged divergence of views on just about everything. Even as I left to serve on my mission, this quote and others such as the Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet drove me crazy. It wasn’t until my mission, that I truly began to understand how fundamental this truth is.

As I began to interact with good and sincere people of faith in Russia, I was struck that they were built on a shaky and uncertain foundation. Without a source of revelation about divine truth, each person became a light unto him or herself. Of course, because people need sources of knowledge, they turned to alternative sources for knowledge. Some turned to political leaders, others to the Russian Orthodox Church, others to drugs and alcohol seeking inspiration in oblivion. Teaching people in Russia truly helped me appreciate and be grateful to have actual answers to difficult questions in life. 

As I looked back on my youth, I realize how much of my soul searching and hunger came from a lack of answers. Judaism provided an endless series of questions and paradoxes without resolution. No one could give a clear answer to eternal questions. No one could definitely speak in the name of God. I had felt aimless and lost. 

I came to really love and appreciate the rock of revelation upon which the Church is built. The powerful words of D&C 21 (4-5) resonated with my need for answers and inspired truth. 

Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory. 

Today, I have a strong testimony for the living Prophet and Apostles and continuing revelation even when it touches on controversial topics such as politics. Indeed, because such political pronouncements are relatively rare, I pay especial attention when the Prophet or First Presidency speak out about issues of public concern. If they find it important enough to speak out, then I am convinced that those rare topics are ones that we should listen to especially closely. I know that if we truly do hearken unto the Lord and his servants that we will be blessed in all that we do.

Elder Maxwell’s prescient words on the efforts to legalize marijuana

Almost 40 years ago (1976) Elder Maxwell (at the time a member of the Presidency of the Seventy) wrote about the continued relevance of the Word of Wisdom’s warning of “evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days.” In so doing, he gave an example that today has increasing relevance given the successful efforts to legalize Marijuana in several states:

Combine the profit motive with the fanning of human appetite in things narcotic, or near narcotic, and the warning is not too dramatic at all. Suppose those who now profit from cigarettes were to seek dominion over the legalized use of marijuana. You can be quite certain that those who were resistant to calling attention to the harmful effects of nicotine will end up extolling the harmlessness of “pot.” There is already a built-in, national constituency favoring such legalization.

Now, if such were to happen, and time and real research were to demonstrate the harmfulness of marijuana, how easy do you think it would be for a whole society to disengage? Whose lock-them-in style does this sort of consequence suggest? Such a condition would be brought about by the very “conspiring men in the last days” who brought us accelerated alcoholism, prostitution, and gambling. Such conspirators will not view with favor a minority of sin-resistant souls who seem to block their path, any more than their evil counterparts tolerated the Old Testament prophets who were an irritating interruption centuries ago!

Maxwell, Neal A. (2009-08-17). Deposition of a Disciple (Kindle Locations 802-808). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition.

I admit that my feelings about the potential legalization of marijuana have been mixed. As a teenager, I had many friends that were potheads and I saw them waste their life away in a blaze of marijuana smoke. It can be an addiction and a lifestyle as harmful as any other addiction even if not quite as physically addicting as tobacco. Yet, I have also had friends and family members benefit from the medicinal use of marijuana to cure physical and mental ailments. I also feel like throwing young pot users into prison has wrecked havoc in certain communities and is grossly disproportionate and inequitable. As such, I support the legalization of medicinal marijuana with strict controls on availability, as well as a decriminalization of simple marijuana possession (although a continued criminalization of illegal sales of marijuana).

However, reading Elder Maxwell’s words helps to solidify my opposition to full legalization of marijuana. Legalization opens a gateway that once open can never be again closed. There are too many individuals who will become invested with selling marijuana as the newest craze. Just as with alcohol and tobacco, a harmful substance will be sold as sexy and cool.

Right now in Colorado, small businesses and marijuana dispensaries are thriving. Does anyone doubt that in five years or ten, the marijuana industry will be made up of the same large players that peddle alcohol and tobacco? As Elder Maxwell predicts, they will move in and seek to profit in this lucrative potential market.

Although I know that many smoke today despite marijuana’s illegality, it is self-evidence that legalization and increased availability coupled with increased marketing will increase demand. Indeed, Marijuana will be marketed as the “safe” alternative to tobacco and this legalization will undo decades of exceptional progress in the war on tobacco. I am also cognizant for the potential discovery of yet unexpected harms as marijuana consumption reaches critical mass. Even though it now appear that marijuana is less harmful on the whole than tobacco or alcohol, it is with an eye to the future that I stand in opposition along with Elder Maxwell to the out and out legalization of marijuana.

Letter Announcing Kate Kelly’s Excommunication

I was really impressed by the letter from Kate Kelly’s Bishop that was sent by Ordain Women to the Deseret News and other media outlets. I think that everyone following the story should read it in full, but I only saw the full text in PDF form, I decided that I would transcribe the text for anyone unable to look at the PDF. I post the Text without further comment.

 

Vienna Ward

Oakton Virginia Stake

                                                                June 32, 2014

Kathleen Marie Kelly

Via e-mail and Certified Mail

Dear Sister Kelly:

    As you know, a disciplinary council was held on your behalf on Sunday, June 22, 2014. I write to inform you of the outcome of that council.

    This matter has occupied much of my time, thoughts and prayers in recent weeks. My greatest desire has been to persuade you to desist from the course on which you have embarked, so that you might remain in full fellowship in the Church while also protecting the integrity of the Church and its doctrine. The other members of the council and I have tried to weigh your interests with those of the rest of the membership of the Church. We have approached this solemn and difficult task seeking only to know the Lord’s mind and will.

    I wish you had taken advantage of my offer to arrange a secure video link where we could have talked face to face or my offer to reschedule the council to a date when you could have attended in person. Nevertheless, we respect your decision to make a written submission without a personal appearance, and we carefully and prayerfully considered at length the statement and other materials you provided to us. 

   Having done so, our determination is that you be excommunicated for conduct contrary to the laws and order of the Church. This means you may not wear temple garments or contribute tithes and offerings. You may not take the sacrament, hold a Church calling, give a talk in Church, offer a public prayer in behalf of the class or congregation in a Church meeting, or vote in the sustaining of Church officers. These conditions almost always last at least one year. If you show true repentance and satisfy the conditions imposed below while you are not longer a member, you may be readmitted by baptism and confirmation.

 

    In order to be considered for readmission to the Church, you will need to demonstrate over a period of time that you have stopped teachings and actions that undermine the Church, its leaders, and the doctrine of the priesthood. You must be truthful in your communications with others regarding matters that involve priesthood leaders, including the administration of Church discipline, and you must stop trying to gain a following for yourself or your cause and taking actions that could lead others away from the Church.

   The decision to hold this disciplinary council was reached only after a period of months and a series of meetings and communications between you and President Wheatly together with me or President Lee:

  •       On December 12, 2013, President Wheatly and I met with you. We talked with you about the doctrine of the priesthood. We urged you to dissociate yourself from Ordain Women and to cease your campaign to promote the ordination of women.
  •       In March and April of this year, President Wheatly again reminded you of the counsel given in December. Nonetheless, you proceeded with your protest on Temple Square during General Conference despite the request of Church leaders that you not do so.
  •       Subsequently, under your leadership and with your direct involvement, Ordain Women announced “Six Discussions” which were intended to proselyte others and to persuade them to support your particular interpretation of Church doctrine. You reached out to others to persuade them to join your movement.
  •      On May 5th, after conferring with me and with my full agreement, President Wheatt again met with you together with President Lee, offered the same counsel previously given and placed you on informal probation in the hope that you still might change your course. Yet, you have persisted undeterred.

     The difficulty, Sister Kelly, is not that you say you have questions or even that you believe that women should receive the priesthood. The problem is that you have persisted in an aggressive effort to persuade other Church members to your point of view and that your course of action has threatened to erode the faith of others. You are entitled to your views, but you are not entitled to promote them and proselyte others to them while remaining in full fellowship in the Church. This is the basic point that President Wheatly has sought repeatedly to explain to you, but to no avail. You have also heard from President Lee and me on this. Your disregard of our advice and counsel left us no alternative but to convene last evening’s council.

    If you have any questions or would like to visit with me, please contact me. You have a right to appeal this decision to the stake president. If you want to appeal this decision, you must specify in writing the alleged errors or unfairness in the procedure or decision and then present the appeal within 30 days to me as the presiding officer of the bishop’s disciplinary council. I will then forward the materials to President Wheatly who may decide whether to let the decision stand, modify it or direct that the council reconvene. 

     Above all else, please know of my love and respect for you and my earnest desire that you return to good standing in the church. I urge you to continue to attend church, read the scriptures and pray daily. I invite you to strive to come back to full fellowship. This is an opportunity for you to begin anew, to take full advantage of the great gift of the Atonement, to again qualify for the blessings of the temple, and to enjoy again all the blessings of the restored gospel. It is my sincere prayer and desire that you will do so.

 

                                                                 Sincerely

                                                                 Mark M. Harrison

                                                                 Bishop

                                                                 Vienna Ward

                                                                 Oakton Virginia Stake

 

Being Made Perfect in Christ

I want to highly recommend an article in the July ensign by Elder Gerrit W. Gong entitled Becoming Perfect in Christ. It is a really powerful article which testifies of the Atonement and the fact that each of us can become perfect in Christ.

 

One of my mission president’s favorite scriptures was/is Moroni 10: 32-33. He would often close conferences by discussing Moroni’s beautiful penultimate words

32 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

33 And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.

My mission president emphasized that in in this verse perfection is never referenced without being followed by the words “in Christ.” Our perfection is not measured by never making a mistake in life. We are not expected to be absolutely flawless. Instead, perfection implies a process whereby through the grace of Christ and the power of his Atonement we are cleansed.

I also love the sense of progression in these verses. First, we may be perfected in him, which seems like a distant goal. Next, after we have denied ourselves of ungodly things and loved God, we may be perfect in him which is to me seems a more immediate and attainable goal. Next, through the power of God ye are perfect in Christ. I love that it is not our own efforts that move us from being potentially perfect to actually being perfect, but the power of God. As we continue to be perfect in Christ by his grace, we are sanctified in Christ due to our covenant relationship and his atonement. It is only ultimately after that process of perfection that the scripture says that ye become holy, without spot. For the first time, this last reference is without the words in christ implying that it is only after the process of refinement through the atonement that we can become holy and pure independent of the grace of the savior. Even still, while Holy, without Spot is wonderful, it is not quite the same thing as fully perfect, and to me that implies a continuing reliance on the Savior and his atonement that will continue beyond this life.

Elder Gong beautifully captures this process in his article

Understanding the Savior’s freely given atoning love can free us from self-imposed, incorrect, and unrealistic expectations of what perfection is. Such understanding allows us to let go of fears that we are imperfect—fears that we make mistakes, fears that we are not good enough, fears that we are a failure compared to others, fears that we are not doing enough to merit His love.

The Savior’s freely given atoning love helps us become more forgiving and less judgmental of others and of ourselves. This love heals our relationships and gives us opportunities to love, understand, and serve as our Savior would.

His atoning love changes our concept of perfection. We can put our trust in Him, diligently keep His commandments, and continue in the faith (see Mosiah 4:6)—even as we also feel greater humility, gratitude, and dependence on His merits, mercy, and grace (see 2 Nephi 2:8).

In a broader sense, coming unto Christ and being perfected in Him places perfection within the eternal journey of our spirit and body—in essence, the eternal journey of our soul (see D&C 88:15). Becoming perfect results from our journey through physical life, death, and resurrection, when all things are restored “to their proper and perfect frame” (Alma 40:23). It includes the process of spiritual birth, which brings “a mighty change” to our hearts and dispositions (Mosiah 5:2). It reflects our lifelong refinement through Christlike service and obedience to the Savior’s commandments and our covenants. And it recognizes the perfecting relationship between the living and the dead (see D&C 128:18).

 

Elder Gong explains that knowing this truth is essential to allow us to continue to develop and become more Christlike while avoiding the pressures of perfectionism and the accompanying feelings of guilty and inadequacy. I also bear witness that it is through Christ and his atonement that we are able to be made whole. While sanctification is a gradual process, it really does work. If we continue to have faith and press forward, we will be perfect in Christ and made whole, pure, and holy.