I have not posted on this blog in a while, mostly because I have been posting on Millenial Star and have not been cross-posting as I should. But I am excited to be part of a project that will get me blogging here with much more regularity. Along with several other bloggers, I am participating in an effort to read and blog about general conference talks starting from the April 1971 Conference. Each week, we will be reading a session of conference and posting posts about the talk(s) that stood out to us. We will be cross posting/linking to each other’s posts as well. All told, it will take 14 years to complete, so it will keep me busy blogging for quite a while.
I actually began reading older conference talks on my own a few months ago , before this project was proposed. I found it incredible how topical and relevant the talks given 44 years ago are. I am excited to be participating in this project and to read all of the other posts and see all of the insights that others share.
The first session of conference in April 1971 (Saturday Morning) had some fantastic talks that really resonated with me, and I might write an additional post later on one of the other talks that stood out to me, but I figured I would begin with President Joseph Fielding Smith’s address entitled Out of the Darkness
President Smith’s talk resonated with me as I thought about all of many despondent posts responding with anger and venom to the Church’s recent policy change. President Smith’s address is a clear declaration that saving truths may only be found in the Lord’s Church, and that our goal should be to align ourselves fully with those truths taught through the Lord’s chosen servants.
President Smith begins by emphasizing the divine nature of the Church and our role in building the Lord’s Kingdom:
We are engaged in the Lord’s work; this is his church; he is the author of the plan of salvation; it is his gospel which we have received by the opening of the heavens in this day; and our desire and whole purpose in life should be to believe the truths he has revealed and to conform our lives to them.
President Smith makes it clear that the overarching goal of our lives is to hearken to divine truth revealed from God. He then again emphasizes the importance of placing our lives in total harmony with the teachings that God reveals through his Prophets and Apostles:
No person in or out of the Church should believe any doctrine, advocate any practice, or support any cause that is not in harmony with the divine will. Our sole objective where the truths of salvation are concerned should be to find out what the Lord has revealed and then to believe and act accordingly.
This is a hard teaching for all of us. At times, there will be teachings or doctrine which are difficult to hear. Yet, we must all ultimately choose whether we are willing to place of lives “in harmony with the divine will.”
President Smith then clarifies the role of the Church in Gods plan of salvation:
“[T]he Lord has revealed his everlasting gospel anew to us in this day and has made The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the custodian and dispenser of its saving truths . . .”
I love this description of the church as both a “custodian” and a dispenser” of saving truths of the gospel. In its role as a custodian, the Church is tasked with keeping doctrine pure and unaltered. It is tasked with protecting purity, enforcing boundaries, and excluding and removing heretics and heresies. This role is often under-appreciated. But it is one that is vital in preventing apostasy. Meanwhile, as a dispenser of truth, the Church is vitally concerned with spreading the Gospel throughout the world.
Members who balk at the recent addition of same-sex marriage to the definition of apostasy, or the excommunication of Kate Kelly or John Dehlin seem to underestimate the importance of the Church’s role as a custodian of truth. But one of the primary roles of the Church is ensuring that false teachings are brought to light and exposed.
One thing that I’ve realized as I’ve studied and taught the New Testament in Sunday School this year is that we live in a truly remarkable dispensation in history, where the Church is more united in doctrine and in truth than it has been in any other dispensation. This may seem counter intuitive in light of the many highly public examples of members dissenting from Church teachings, but it is nevertheless true.
In Paul’s day, heresy’s spread so rapidly that the leaders could hardly keep up. Sects and schisms began to form almost immediately. And those heretics often claimed that their teachings were sanctioned by the Church. Combating heresies was a slow and tedious process.
In Book of Mormon times, Alma and his sons had to go out and travel throughout the land to combat heresies that spread. And as soon as one was put down, another heretical teaching or anti-Christ popped up.
The roles of custodian and dispenser were in conflict during these earlier dispensations because as the missionaries spread out across the world it became increasingly difficult to shut down heresies and prevent false doctrine from creeping in.
By contrast, in our day The gospel can spread and be preserved in purity at the same time. We get to hear our leaders speaking biannually to the whole church. We get letters, policy clarifications and newsroom declarations on an even more regular basis. It has never been easier to know the will of God revealed through the brethren. There is simply no excuse for ignorance. The only way to be deceived is by refusing to hearken to the truths that are being taught.
When I look at what has happened in other Church such as the Catholic Church, where majorities of members openly resist or go against core Church doctrines, I am grateful to belong to a Church that clearly declares what is true and is vigorously work as a custodian of those divine truths.
President Smith catalogs a variety of the divine truths that we are blessed to have in our Church thanks to modern revelation, and then declares that “[t]here is no need for anyone to remain in darkness; the light of the everlasting gospel is here; and every sincere investigator on earth can gain a personal witness from the Holy Spirit of the truth and divine nature of the Lord’s work.”
God wants us to each gain a personal witness of the divine truths taught in the church. He reveals it in purity through his living Prophets and Apostles, and invites us to partake. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a veritable feast and God wants us to be his guests. It is only through willful blindness or hardheartedness that we cut ourselves off from the divine truths so essential to happiness and exaltation.
Here are all of the other posts based on this session of conference:
Nathanial Givens – Beginnings and Endings
Ralph Hancock – April 1971: Nothing New Here – Just Same Ol’ Mormonism
John Hancock – Voices of the Past, of the Present, of the Future
Michelle L – “Our Individual Battles to Overcome Our Worlds”