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.  

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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.