Wednesday, July 21, 2010

New Layout, New Content

I've been avoiding this moment. I've had several blogs for awhile now, and I don't find any of them truly rewarding. So here's the idea I've come up with: I'm combining purposes of my blogs into this blog. Strange? Writing from experience, it gets exhausting when you write exclusively religious articles without a reprieve, and then it becomes a chore instead of an enjoyment.

So, do I have an idea on what my first post will be about? Oh, absolutely. However, it won't have a religious focus on it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Sign of Jonas Blog

This is Onhech's brainchild: an academic, multi-authored religious blog. When he first talked to me about it I was instantly excited and into it, although I also quickly thought of the potential road-blocks; finding and organizing competent and talented individuals with the interest and drive to post regularly, determining what each author would post about, and how often, and keeping all of these authors interested, active and in the loop with each other!

But, as an author on the blog, I, as well as the Sign of Jonas Blog itself would attest, it is alive and thriving.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Excommunication: Is it such a bad thing?

While my mother was watching "The Mormons," a woman was being interviewed about her excommunication. The documentary discussed, at length, excommunication, or the practice of removing an individual from membership. The slant in the documentary at this part is that excommunication is a horrid practice that splits families into fractures and that the LDS Church is awful for such a practice. This woman, Margaret Toscano, told the story of the Church Disciplinary Council that was held for her. After being told she was excommunicated, she related how the stake presidency and high priests offered to shake her hand: to quote directly, with niceness referring to the handshakes, she said, "the niceness covered over the violence of what was being done, because, in fact, excommunication is a violent action."

I watched momentarily as she spoke, and as my mother seemed relatively captured by the woman's words, I spoke up, saying, "If that's what she has to say about excommunication, she has no idea of it's purpose." My statement is truth. Fact.

The purpose of excommunication has nothing to do with shaming an individual, despite the fact that I guarantee more than one individual would argue this point with me. Just because you think it's about shaming, someone for doing something against the Church's doctrines, doesn't make it so. As much as I may want to float up to the stars, believing I'll suddenly be able to doesn't bring me any closer to those stars. For those who view it as shameful don't understand it's purpose.

It is viewed, undeniably, as a punishment for not keeping the commandments; no, for breaking the commandments to such an extent that simple repentance can't answer the ends of the law. When we break a law, there is a due that must be paid: justice demands it. However, I will argue with any who contend with me, that it's both a punishment and a blessing. And you'll see how and why by the end of this post.

When Jesus Christ was ministering to the peoples on the American continent after he showed himself to his disciples in Jerusalem and then ascended into heaven, he taught the doctrine of the sacrament. After administering the sacrament to the people, he turned to the disciples he had chosen there, and said this: "And now behold, this is the commandment which I give unto you, that ye shall not suffer any one knowingly to partake of my flesh and blood unworthily, when ye shall minister it; For whoso eateth and drinketh my flesh and blood unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to his soul; therefore if ye know that a man is unworthy to eat and drink of my flesh and blood ye shall forbid him." Whoa! That's some harsh doctrine, no? We can get into semantics about what it means to be unworthy, but I'll just point out one of the footnotes on "unworthily," and that says, "Go thy way unto thy brother, and first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I will receive you."

OK, so if we're unworthy, we don't want to be taking the sacrament, 'cause that's where the whole "eateth and drinketh damnation to [our souls]" comes in, and that just isn't something we want to be doing. So the Lord explained that "Nevertheless, ye shall not cast him out from among you, but ye shall minister unto him and shall pray for him unto the Father, in my name; and if it so be that he repenteth and is baptized in my name, then shall ye receive him, and shall minister unto him of my flesh and blood." All right then, to be able to partake of the sacrament and not damn our souls, we need to repent, because that's the only way we can return to our Heavenly Father (to clarify for any Episcopalians who may be reading and think that last statement was blasphemous, I'll reword it: "we need to repent, utilizing the great Atonement performed by Jesus Christ, because that's the only way we can return to our Heavenly Father.")

On that note, have you ever noticed how often Heavenly Father is recorded as speaking to man? Not very often at all. Given this scarcity, one can assume that whenever God does speak, it's important and we 'ought to be listening, we 'ought to be doing what He tells us. In a vision, received by a prophet in the Book of Mormon, we're told that "...the Father said: Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son." So it's important we do whatever it is God tells us. Now, how important would something be if He repeats it? He said, "Repent ye, repent ye," think about that.

All right, let's say we're unworthy to take the sacrament, and we've decided for whatever reason, not to repent. What do the scriptures say about that? Well, Jesus Christ continued, saying, "But if he repent not he shall not be numbered among my people, that he may not destroy my people, for behold I know my sheep, and they are numbered." What does it mean to not be numbered among the people of Christ? The aforementioned scripture completely explains it. Christ said, "I know my sheep, and they are numbered," and therefore, those who are not Christ's are not numbered, and those who reject Christ after knowing him "shall not be numbered."

In an article by M. Russell Ballard, we're told in the first few lines that "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" (italics added). Justice demands the dues be paid, but if we repent and turn back to Christ, he will pay those dues for us: he's promised he will, and he's bound by those promises. Elder Ballard speaks of excommunication (probation, and disfellowship) as a way to start over, indeed, the main part of the title of his article is "A Chance to Start Over," and so to again quote Elder Ballard, "[The Lord] is pleased to extend the chance [to us] to start over."

Excommunication is a form of protection. If I break one of God's laws after having made the most sacred of covenants with Him that I wouldn't, I come under grievous condemnation. If I continue on with breaking those laws and don't repent, I have guaranteed my condemnation. However, if I'm called to sit before a Church Disciplinary Council, I should have much gratitude for those men! Let's say they excommunicate me - what does that mean? It means the consequences for the laws I break after excommunication will not be as severe as they would be had I remained a member of the Church. That's what it means, period, despite any emotions I may have at losing my membership because of poor decisions I made, and sins I committed.

In a Q&A in a Church distributed magazine for youth called the New Era, Elder Robert L. Simpson answered the question: "What are the reasons for and the process of excommunication?" In this article, he states, "It is usually those who are so far removed from the spirit of truth as to be imperceptive to the love of Christ and the need for proper priesthood reprimand who leave the Church court with belligerence and ill feeling toward their priesthood leaders. These people are seldom sorry for what they have done but only sorry they have been caught."

To relate this back to Ms Margaret Toscano, interviewed for The Mormons, I believe this statement applies, unquestionably to her. She questioned the divine nature of the church with regard to the First Vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith, contended that women should hold the Priesthood and that it was something Joseph Smith actually taught, and also that he even bestowed the Priesthood upon women during temple ordinances. She also taught about Heavenly Father and the concept of a Heavenly Mother, which isn't alien to most members of the church (see Hymn 292, verse 3); the only twist she added was that Heavenly Father was both man and woman, the Father and the Mother in one. She believed in the false doctrine she was spreading, and as the Saviour himself stated, "...if [s]he repent not [s]he shall not be numbered among my people, that [s]he may not destroy my people..." Although this statement is harsh, such is the nature of truth. And why do I feel it's acceptable for me to analyze her this way? Because she's the perfect example, she spreads false doctrine that could unhinge the faithful, and she went on national television and spoke against the truth.

Excommunication is a saving grace. It is not meant to split up families, although families may choose to distance themselves from those who have been excommunicated - this is their right, just as it's their right to disagree with the beliefs or actions of one of their family members. I understand the distancing of oneself from a family member who has been excommunicated and refuses to repent and work towards having their ordinances, sealing, or priesthood restored to them. It is a practice that places a greater distance between God and the excommunicated, for the protection of the sinner. There can, and should be a happy ending for excommunicated members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

So many things, so little time...

I keep saying I have all these things in the works, and I do, but when am I going to make time for them? I just don't know. Each of them are relatively large projects, so when will I make time for them? When I have some.

I suppose this is just a heads-up to say my life for the next four days will be completely full, and so no posts should be expected of me.
I finally sent my YouTube friend a response (actually, I did that about a week and a half ago), which covered the prophecies of those prophets from the Bible which went unfulfilled. I don't think he expected what I sent, but I'm checking daily for a response, so we'll see.

The Vancouver Temple open-house has finished, and here are the stats:
39,500 people through
100,000 cookies eaten

I think we were hoping for around 50,000 people to go through, but 40,000 is quite a formidable host. Anyway, the Temple Youth Celebration is very ready to go forward. The youth are pumped, and so are the counselors! I'll post photos, news, etc., on Monday. The actual youth performance is on Saturday, and the prophet, for whom the youth will be performing (as well as thousands of locals), will be in attendance. The dedication of our Temple is on Sunday, which makes May 2, my new favourite day of the year.

As I walked into my room, I heard President Monson's voice through my computer. So it turns out I had left iTunes on, and it was playing a CES fireside from last year. I walked in on it where there was about 10 minutes left, and he was saying, "Beware the flashy start, and the fade-out finish." This was especially profound since I've made a commitment to listen closely to, and follow specific promptings. One which comes to mind occurred this past Saturday: I was watching TV with my friend, and when he left I searched through the listings and found that Dexter was on. Now, unfortunately this wasn't the Dexter from Dexter's Laboratory, this was Dexter the blood-spatter analyst by day, homicidal maniac by night. I love crime shows, and when I do actually watch TV, I tend to tune into shows like Cold Case Files, or American Justice. Anyway, so my first urge is to turn Dexter on, and so I change the channel and it goes through the warning, "coarse language," OK, "mature content," yeah, "violence," understandable, "nudity and sexuality," huh, not so cool. Well, the only thing I hear in my brain is, "change the channel." I try for about, 2 seconds, to rationalize my way out of it, but I give in and change the channel.

My thoughts are a little scattered, but I was doing some chores today and something I thought was, "if it was hard for me growing up, I can't imagine what it'll be like for my kids." And I can't. But if I'm doing what God wants me to do, then I'll be in a place to help them through the difficulties that their day will bring.

Anyway, there's a great need to listen to the prophet, because he is after all, God's mouthpiece to the world. By listening to him, we'll become more able to tune into what God wants for us, and what He wants us to do. The sooner we make the necessary changes in our life to allow ourselves to be influenced by the Holy Spirit, the sooner we can experience the joy that comes with those changes. I can vouch for that - and the fact that these are lifelong opportunities we're given to change.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"Joseph Smith/Jesus Christ": Part II

All right, feeling gross and ill has kept me away, so I apologize for that, but let's get back into it. This is a... Review, I suppose, for the film, "Jesus Christ/Joseph Smith," produced by "Search for the Truth." From what I can tell, this is meant to be an unbiased analysis of Mormonism and how it compares to Christianity. This I find funny. Are Christians not defined as people who believe in, and follow the teachings of Jesus Christ? Apparently not. Let's dive in, shall we?

In my post entitled, ""Joseph Smith/Jesus Christ": Poignant or Pointless?", I listed two flaws in the film. One was the use of a quote by Elder Orson Pratt, taken from the periodical known as The Seer, which in 1865, received this damning statement from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. With regard to Elder Pratt's teachings they said, "The Seer [and other writings by Pratt] contain doctrines which we cannot sanction, and which we have felt impressed to disown, so that the Saints who now live, and who may live hereafter, may not be misled by our silence, or be left to misinterpret it. Where these objectionable works, or parts of works, are bound in volumes, or otherwise, they should be cut out and destroyed." Now, the quote is a pretty good one, where Elder Pratt wrote, "Convince us of our errors of doctrine, if we have any, by reason, by logical arguments, or by the Word of God, and we will be ever grateful for the information." Some context for this quote would have been nice, especially since someone searching for that quote would run across the fact that in that article, Elder Pratt was addressing his defenses of polygamy. Without knowing of the existence of the statement made by the leaders of the Church, that could perhaps cause some degree of damage someone's faith. Although, that's the job of the people at "Search for the Truth."

I haven't looked into any more of the video yet than I had watched as of Sunday, April 18th, so I can only presume that the way in which they quote scripture will continue throughout the rest of the video. What I'm referring to is the fact that they'll summarize the part of the scripture they aren't interested in, and then quote whatever part of the scripture they consider the focus. This is not only misleading but has a tendency to pervert the scriptures, and places on that scripture the restrictions of whatever interpretation they have made in their summary.

Let's continue. I'd say, "onward and upward," but something tells me that's not somewhere this DVD is heading, specifically in terms of how it's probably going to present the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. So this is obviously where I think this DVD is headed, and after my analysis is done, I'll write a much shorter review of their DVD, just to sum things up.

OK, instantly, by their dividing of Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ to "determine which one holds the truth," we're presented with a dichotomy, as though Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ cannot be accepted together. I feel somewhat deceived, because the form of Christianity we're being presented with is the version of it that is riddled with Catholic believes, such as the Trinity. We're asked, "did he become a god through the faithful keeping of his ordinances, or has he always been the only true God?" This we're told, despite references in the Bible to Jesus Christ and his Father, such as the statement made by Christ at Golgotha, recorded in Matthew and Mark (with slight differences), "...Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Why would Christ ask this? If he is God and Christ, could he really forsake himself? How do they explain this scripture? Food for thought, and no doubt something to keep in mind while we venture through this DVD.

Another dichotomy is the presentation of scriptures: the Bible, or the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is claimed by the Latter-day Saints to be the most correct book on earth. Indeed, the Prophet Joseph Smith said, "I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book." (Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 4:461) This does not mean that the Book of Mormon is without errors, nor does it mean that we disbelieve the Bible. Our 8th Article of Faith states, "We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God" (italics added). We believe in, and revere the Bible, but believe it was a book for the people of old. The Book of Mormon is likewise believed in and revered, the difference being that we believe it has come forth by the gift and power of God for the generations of people on the earth right now.

OK, now around 2:30 minutes into it, we're presented with the claims, or dichotomies, of Mormonism and Christianity: "both claim Jesus is the Christ, both refer to the teachings of the Old Testament, both claim to be the truth." Am I the only one seeing a problem here? Then, "lets now examine these two men and their teachings." A 10 second backtrack will reveal something interesting. She says, "both claim Jesus is the Christ." A look through Merriam Webster's dictionary tells us that a Christian is " one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ." So what's with this splitting of "Christianity," and "Mormonism," when Mormons are, in fact, and by definition, Christians?

Can you tell I'm having fun? Now, at just under 3 minutes into this, we're examining the person of Jesus according to "Search for the Truth." This is where I'm going to stop this post. And in explaining why, it's due to the fact that, although it may sound silly, or funny or ridiculous, I'm feeling too contentious. At this point I'd rather have a post that's as unbiased as it can possibly be, and when people become emotionally involved in their subject, bias is more prone.

Since the introduction has been covered though, I think it'll be relatively easy to go through the rest, especially since the groundwork has been set about which kind of Christianity is being compared here, and we've established that it's somewhat backwards in it's analysis of there being a dichotomy of either Christianity or Mormonism.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Anti-Mormon Drivel

While puttering around my documents I located one entitled, "Anti-Mormon Drivel." I've mentioned it before, but one of my siblings had made a post on their LiveJournal, which has since been taken down, about various fallacies regarding the Church. I think he was simply upset and trying to "educate" those in our family who had joined the Church, or was just venting, but the post wasn't kind at all. After reading it, many years ago, I resolved to look up each reference in the paper and refute it with the truth. Believing it to be lost, I worked hard to try and find the batch of lies again so I could address them, but to no avail. Having found it gives me great satisfaction. It's about three pages or so and I've refuted a couple points it brings up, but will be working hard at finishing my rebuttal. It was with great disappointment that in looking for it in a search engine, I was drawn to the supposed "original." I was just upset that my sibling hadn't actually looked up anything about the Church, but instead copied and pasted what someone else had put out there. So! The point of this post is to express my happiness in having found it, and to assure everyone that it'll be a good read once I have it posted - so check back!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

"Joseph Smith/Jesus Christ": Poignant or Pointless?

So, I had the opportunity to go to the temple on Saturday with some out-of-country friends: a former Sister missionary and her husband, their daughter and mother-in-law. As soon as we got over the crest of the hill, I saw a lone protester and was instantly giddy. I don't know what it is, but ever since I went to Salt Lake for the October 2008 General Conference, I find protesters to be.. well, a form of entertainment I guess.

Here's a photo I took from atop the Conference Centre of the protesters along the Square. My favourite is the guy left of centre, yeah, the one in the Satan outfit.

When I first joined the Church I had never heard of the "Mormons," and a few months into the year 2004 I went online and began looking at anti-Mormon material. I got wound up in this particular LiveJournal that claimed to be a place for "recovering Mormons," meaning LDS members who had left the faith. I forget the subject matter, but something caught my attention and I experienced a trial of faith. I posted a few times on the LJ and although a few of the people there claimed I was a "troll," someone else seemed keen on helping me through my difficulty, no matter which direction I chose: to continue with the Church, or to leave it. They believed I was actually experiencing a trial of faith, and I'll always be grateful to that mystery person for not pushing their own agenda but for helping me figure out what I wanted and believed.

Anyway, since then I've always been drawn to anti-Mormons, and though I stayed away from it for a couple years after that, I've gone through two stages with regard to my reactions to them: first I felt anger towards them, and now I react with a bit of humour. Yes, I find anti-Mormons funny. Well, for the most part, that is until I actually meet one who knows what they're talking about and have done their own research - then my response is a kind of searching interest.

So when we were leaving the temple, we pulled out into the street and saw a man handing out newspapers and little DVDs. I was intrigued because there was a picture of the Saviour and a picture of Joseph Smith on the cover. It's called "Jesus Christ/Joseph Smith," and is produced (as far as I can tell) by an organization called "Search for the Truth." In other words, this wolf in sheep's clothing was handing out DVD's to let people visiting the temple know the differences between Mormonism and Christianity. I'll edit that I think: the differences between Mormonism and Mainstream Christianity. As far as I'm concerned, there is a difference between the Christianity of today and the Christianity from Biblical times. A big difference.

So this is just an introduction to that video, which I'll watch within the week, and then post on. It's not looking good though; I'm only three and a half minutes in and I've found two errors. The first is within a quote by Orson Pratt, which is shown onscreen and states, "Convince us of our errors of doctrine, if we have any, by reason, by logical arguments, or by the Word of God, and we will be ever gratefull for the information." As I'm an English major, I can't ignore the spelling mistake in the word "grateful." As for this quote, it's from a periodical Elder Pratt published in called The Seer (careful, that's a large PDF file), and that particular quote comes from an article he wrote defending polygamy. In 1865, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve released this statement with regard to Elder Pratt's teachings, "The Seer [and other writings by Pratt] contain doctrines which we cannot sanction, and which we have felt impressed to disown, so that the Saints who now live, and who may live hereafter, may not be misled by our silence, or be left to misinterpret it. Where these objectionable works, or parts of works, are bound in volumes, or otherwise, they should be cut out and destroyed."

The next error seems to just be a part of what mainstream Christianity likes to do, that is, "simplify" the scriptures. On screen we're shown a supposed quote from the Book of Abraham, found within the LDS' Pearl of Great Price. Now, if you just read what it says, it seems like they're actually quoting the scripture, but instead they quote part of it and "simplify" the rest. Here's what they show: "Our Father said, 'Whom shall I send?' Two of our brothers offered to help. Our oldest brother, Jesus Christ, who was then called Jehovah, said, 'Here am I, send me." The way I first read it made me think the way most people would, that they were quoting, word for word, from the scriptures. I picked up my scriptures and thumbed through it until I found Abraham 3:27, curious about what they "simplified." The scripture reads: "And the Lord said" Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me. And another answered and said: Here am I, send me. And the Lord said: I will send the first." Now, I understand that mainstream Christianity uses different terms for the Saviour and for God, but is it really so difficult to understand? My real upset comes from the way they format this, making it appear as a quote when it isn't. Format, people, format.

All right, so this has been, like I said, the introduction. Yes, three and a half minutes has been stretched into two large paragraphs. Using simple math, this hour and twenty minute long video will probably be turned into about 23 paragraphs. Not only am I working on this video now, but I've got a commentary/review on current Quorum of the Twelve President, Boyd K. Packer's "The Holy Temple," (synopsis found here) in the works, as well as the previously mentioned posts on excommunication, the documentary known as "The Mormons," prayer regarding the Book of Mormon, and one on the purpose of temples. In other words, make sure you check back weekly for new posts!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Just some milk before meat

So this last week has been absurdly busy, and I guarantee this next week will be even more so. Ahh, such is the last week of class and the following exam week. Today's question: What should this post be about?

I've considered a few topics, like my thoughts and feelings on the new Vancouver temple, the Prophet Joseph Smith's martyrdom, and.. well, mostly temple-related topics. I have several posts in the works, they just require some citations and clean-up before I'm ready to post them. The topics? The purposes of temples, excommunication, the PBS documentary "The Mormons," and receiving answers to our prayers!

So with my assurances that there are some intense posts coming up, I'll go ahead and write up a bit on my thoughts about the temple.

Last week I had the opportunity to go through the temple on a tour with my mother, younger brother and friend. Since then I've been working hard at getting some of my friends from high school to come along. Turns out it's harder than I thought! I've discovered that if you invite five friends to do something, odds are you'll get just two to come along. Such was the case tonight, as I actually got back from the temple a couple of hours ago.

So, last week was my first time going through any of the Lord's temples, although it was just a tour. It's interesting when I consider how it felt.. I heard someone saying on Sunday how intensely they felt the Spirit. After hearing that I felt, ashamed? Something along those lines, because when I went through the temple I recognized the Spirit was there, but to me it felt, compared to how a dedicated temple feels when I'm in one, like it was just another building - maybe along the lines of another chapel or even the Conference Center in Salt Lake. So I kept thinking through the tour, "This is just like any other building.. for now." In hindsight, I'll say I'm both right and wrong on this. I'm right in that it's really just a shell of what it will be as soon as the May dedication rolls around. I'm wrong in that it is the House of the Lord, dedicated or not, and therefore is unlike any other building on the Earth.

Now, mostly I was concerned about how the experience was for my mother and brother, especially since the purpose of temples is to bind families together, and both of those members of my family are in a position where they may not want to, or cannot be bound to someone for eternity in a temple. My mother is also of the opinion (last I talked to her about it) that if she were to receive her endowments in the temple, she'd have to be a "Molly Mormon."

It seems reasonable and silly to me that I'd be going through the temple my first time and worrying about how someone else' experience is going, rather than concerning myself with my relationship with my Heavenly Father. Silly in that it was my first time, after all, so shouldn't I trouble myself with my own relationship with the eternal? Reasonable in that they're my family and I love them and I want us all to be in a place where we can be tied together for eternity, and also that I'm not too worried about my own spirituality (not meaning I'm allowing myself to be lulled into a false sense of security) and more concerned about theirs. To illustrate this point, I've often wondered over the question, "Would you die for so-and-so?" My answer, at least in theory, has always been "Yes," no matter who "so-and-so" happens to be. This is because I feel it's important to be as prepared as possible for that time when we meet our Maker. If the option was to allow someone who hasn't received the Gospel to die, or allow myself to take their place, that gives them all the more time to prepare, so I'm OK with that.

OK, so aside from worrying about whether the tour-guide was explaining things well, or clearly enough, so that my mother didn't think I was nutty for wanting to receive my endowments/get sealed in the temple, I had a pretty good experience. The temple is, of course, gorgeous and breathtaking - that sort of goes without saying. I loved looking for symbolism while I was wandering through, and I took particular interest in the artwork, it being in the area I specialize in (realism). I enjoyed taking in the serenity in the waiting room, walking through the baptistery, and then going through the rooms upstairs; it has actually made me more excited for when I go through the temple for myself. Of course walking through the bride's room and then later into the sealing room cracked open a part of my mind reserved for "The Future," but I most enjoyed the Celestial Room.

So, why did I think this room was my all-time favorite? Well, Celestial rooms in LDS temples are meant to reflect heaven. As they do on these tours, before leading their group into the Celestial room, tour guides will explain the room and then invite the group to remain in silence to contemplate their relationship with God, and things eternal in nature. Going through the first time, the day was quite slow and as such we weren't being herded through the temple with other groups at our heels. For this reason we stayed in the Celestial room for quite a chunk of time - or maybe it just seemed that way. After I took in as much of the room as I could, I found myself staring out at the patterns in one of the windows. During this time it occurred to me that since I had been introduced to sealings I've been excited about the prospect of seeing my family after I'm dead. But I had always really just pictured some form of future family. This might have something to do with the fact that I think my family is demented and like most people, there are times when I'd rather not be related to some of them. But these things aside, I found myself really wanting to be with them forever. It felt revelatory.

So, if you've ever got the chance, go to a temple open-house. I dare you.

Friday, April 9, 2010

How I love thee, let me count the ways...

Just a few thoughts this beautiful afternoon, before heading out to a beautiful new temple!

I went back through my journal and read an entry I made after our December 2009 stake conference. It reads, "Nearly every talk had something to do with marriage, family, or spouses. It was... one of those conferences." Is it just me, or is there some kind of conspiracy out there? It seems like whenever I hit a point in my life that's supposed to be a marker of some kind, out come the big guns, metaphorically speaking of course. General Conference, which I truly enjoyed while I was out in Alberta, seemed to be rife with advice, comments and full-blown talks about marriage, love, spouses, or children. Not only that, but Spring seems to be the season of love, and the way I figured that one out was to count the number of people I know getting engaged these days.

There must be something in the sacrament water.

Needless to say, I've had a lot of time to think about love.

Elder Bednar gave a fantastic talk the conference before last where he said that public outpourings of love over the pulpit (during fast and testimony Sunday) make him squirm. My mother is of a like attitude, but for a different reason than Elder Bednar's (which I'll not get into). Elder Bednar went to say "that the spouse and children should not be hearing this apparently rare and private communication in public at church."

What I drew from that particular part of his talk was that although it's nice to be appreciated in public, it's even nicer to hear that at home, and on a consistent basis.

Elder Bednar squirms, but I cringe, especially when I sign into an infamous social networking site and see that someone has changed there status to something like, "John Smith loves his schnoopsy-poo," or "Jane Johnson wants everyone to know how much she loves and adores Jim, and always will." Just today I signed in and saw two such statuses, the latter causing me to cringe more than the first.

I have no problem with people expressing their love for each other, by all means - do! But I start to squirm when it's so publicly announced. It's not scriptural by any means, but I think it starts to mean less, the more often love is told in public.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Gifts! Gifts for Everyone!!

All right, so I clearly failed my vision of a post a day. But there's a very good reason! Which is that I received a last-second invitation to go on a 1200 mile road trip with a couple of friends. See? It's a good reason. Aside from that, I believe if you're going to fail, fail big. Well, not really, but for this post-a-day nonsense I do. More realistically, I think I'll be able to manage a post once a week.

So, what's the topic of this post going to be? I got into some friendly banter with a sibling, which was started by my asking, "What's the point of Easter, why do we celebrate it?" The response was "why don't you tell us?" Naturally, my response was, "It's a celebration of Christ's resurrection, of his power over death, and through him, our ability to be resurrected." It makes me giggle, but the conversation took a negative turn: "What's the definition of ignorance?", I was asked. Well, that's easy: "Lacking knowledge or training, being unaware or uninformed." And I posed a question to them, which was "What's the definition of undiscerning?" This ties into the topic of this post because the gift of discernment is, to me, a highly treasured gift. It gives one the ability to know right from wrong. There are degrees of all gifts, of course, but according to the scripture I've hyperlinked, we have all received the gift of discernment.

I like the idea of gifts from God. How amazing is the fact that God has given us all gifts? Some modern-day scripture tells us the following about gifts:

8 And again, I exhort you, my brethren, that ye deny not the gifts of God, for they are many; and they come from the same God. And there are different ways that these gifts are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them.
• • •
17 And all these gifts come by the Spirit of Christ; and they come unto every man severally, according as he will.
18 And I would exhort you, my beloved brethren, that ye remember that every good gift cometh of Christ.
19 And I would exhort you, my beloved brethren, that ye remember that he is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that all these gifts of which I have spoken, which are spiritual, never will be done away, even as long as the world shall stand, only according to the unbelief of the children of men.
• • •
24 And now I speak unto all the ends of the earth—that if the day cometh that the power and gifts of God shall be done away among you, it shall be because of unbelief.
25 And wo be unto the children of men if this be the case; for there shall be none that doeth good among you, no not one. For if there be one among you that doeth good, he shall work by the power and gifts of God.
• • •
30 And again I would exhort you that ye would come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift, and touch not the evil gift, nor the unclean thing.

So, in short: All gifts are from God, although we may receive them in different ways. We have these gifts to "profit" us, although we can lose them through unbelief. Lastly, to truly embrace our gifts, those that we have and those which God is wanting to give to us, we need to turn to Christ.

Simple enough, right? All right, so now that we've got that out there, let's get deeper into it.

There are a vast number of gifts out there! Although as humans we tend to like to classify things, this isn't something I like to do that with. But I'll try, anyway. I think it would work best to do this by the outward manifestations of our gifts. The above scripture tells us that "there are different ways that these gifts are administered." This can apply in two different ways. The first is that God gives us these gifts in different ways ("to give," or "to mete out"), and the second is that we can use them in different ways ("to use"). My focus is on the first.

So the greatest of all the spiritual gifts we can receive (I dare you to dispute) is the gift of learning. If you're reading my words right now, you've received that gift - amazing! There are some people out there who are just really good at something, "naturally." These are the gifts that are given to us right off the bat. For example, when I was 9 I realized I had a knack for drawing (my focus was on Angora rabbits back then), but after awhile I noticed I could really only draw the things in front of me - if I can see it, I can draw it, and usually exceptionally well. This isn't meant to be a pat on the back, I'm just using myself to illustrate the point. Naturally, I was good at drawing. 11 years later, I don't think as highly of my drawings. This is because I haven't kept up with it as much as I should have. As such, I've begun drawing portraits whenever I have the opportunity. This is the second way in which we receive gifts - through learning.

If I want to learn a language, I can't just pray and hope I know it when the day is out. I actually have to go out, take classes, learn the basics of the language and if I can, go where it is they speak the language I'm learning. And if I've learned a language I need to keep using it or else I'll lose it.

As for classifying gifts into categories of their types, we can sort of do it: two categories being the temporal and the spiritual. Both of these types interact with each other, as well as a third type: intellectual. I think what I'm getting at is classification by the type of manifestation shown by each type of gift. For example, a close friend of mine is amazing with his guitar; this is an extrinsic manifestation, although of course it can interact with the spiritual (if he were to pray for increased talent) and the intellectual (learning theory, notes, chords,etc.). It isn't hard to think of extrinsic, or temporal gifts, although it may be more difficult to recognize spiritual gifts.

Some spiritual examples are listed in the scriptures: (these are found here) great faith, healing, being healed, performing miracles, prophesying, and seeing (either with their physical eyes or spiritually being able to "feel" their presence) angels and other spirits.

Now, if you actually clicked on that hyperlink up there and read the scriptures I sent you to, you'll notice I only used certain of the gifts it lists. This is because although all gifts can fall into all three categories (spiritual, physical, and intellectual), some do so more than others. In my opinion, speaking in tongues (or other languages; something I'll post on soon), being able to understand languages, being ridiculously intelligent, those things tend to more intellectual (understanding the complexities of a language, conjugation, word placement) and physical (taking classes, listening to CDs).

Through this reasoning then, when I say I'm the only thing standing in the way of me being as good a guitarist as my friend, I'm right. If I put in the hours, I can be as good as those people that I admire, and if I embrace Christ and accept the help from him and God, then my previous statement is even more true. To sum it up with a quote by Eleanor Powell, "What we are is God's gift to us. What we become is our gift to God."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

To Uphold or Not to Uphold: Prophets and Their Unfulfilled Prophecies

So I'm a little frustrated. I got it in my head that I'd try to do a post a day, and despite it's absurdity I'm ridiculously stubborn, so I probably won't settle for twice a week or something until I utterly fail at my newly adopted once-a-day policy. In any case, I feel like I've somewhat left my Joseph Smith prophecy posts hanging. They were started because of an individual on YouTube who had asked me questions about the nature of a prophet. He has since sent a rather lengthy response which I intend to address, unfortunately I'm relatively erratic when it comes to the subjects of my posts, and I've just moved on to other things since my prophet series.

I had thought to write little bits on a post made on a LiveJournal I read years and years ago, but since then the account has been deleted, and subsequently, so was the post. Because the post was just a re-post of something someone else posted, I thought I'd find the source post, but I haven't been able to find it. The LJ post I had read was entitled, "A Faith of Lies." The writer was upset because some of their family had joined the LDS Church.

But, I think I'll post little bits of my response to what this YouTube person had to say to me recently...

He thanked me for my response and promptly asked: "If a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord and that thing does not come to pass, should I uphold him as a true prophet? Do you think that's OK?"

This is very much an individual matter. I would never presume to have any kind of power over other people's choices, nor would I ever try to force someone to "obey" me.

Now I defer to the scriptural history of a prophet. A prophet was not originally a man who could "predict" the future, rather they were seers. Now you must be thinking, "Hey, I read the post you wrote about the term 'prophet' and 'seer' and you said they were..." blah, blah, blah. According to scripture though, this seer/prophet was one who the Lord chose to show himself to in a vision, who he chose to speak with. It's only relatively later that the scriptures show a change in the prophet's role: to that of the Lord's mouthpiece (see also: Jer. 1:9 and Isa. 51:16). If you've really read through the Old Testament (and I confess I've not read it cover-to-cover) you know the real task of the prophets was to foretell of the Messiah, and re-align the people to God, to remind them of His commandments. However, the prophets would, on occasion, foretell of events to come in the near future to enhance their abilities in the eyes of the people. However, these predictions were always secondary to the prophet's purpose.

And onto the meat of my response, turning this into a personal matter, yes, I would uphold the man as a prophet. For those of you who are thinking, "how silly, how misled," I ask this: Do you uphold Jonah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Nathan and/or Samson as prophets? If so, what about Jonah's prophecy to the people of Nineveh that they'd be destroyed in 40 days? They weren't destroyed. And what about Ezekiel and his prediction of the complete destruction of Tyre by the Babylonians? It wasn't completely destroyed, King Nebuchadrezzar didn't receive the riches of Tyre. And Jeremiah prophesied that King Zedekiah would die in peace. Sure, he died of natural causes, but only after the Babylonians conquered his land, killed his sons, and blinded him. Even then, he died while he was imprisoned. Hardly peaceful. Samuel promised that through Solomon, the Davidic empire would be established permanently; that the children of Israel would live in the promised land, stay there, and no longer be afflicted by the wicked. Well, that's is, thus far, not the case. As for Samson, and angel told his mother he would deliver Israel from the Philistines. This didn't come close to happening. Period. No conditions were placed on these prophecies; it wasn't a question of obedience, the prophecy was simply stated and expected to come to pass.

So, do I uphold the previously listed men as prophets? Even knowing about these prophecies of theirs that never transpired? Yes. Do I think it's OK to uphold a prophet who makes a prophecy that doesn't emerge as a recorded event, in scripture or otherwise? Yes.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Transition: Man of God to Fraud

Although the title makes it sound like I've lost my marbles and gone apostate, I've not, rather I thought I'd publish something that's been weighing on my mind for the last little while.

There's a person in my life who is very dear to me. Not unusual. This person had an experience with their Priesthood leaders, and instead of viewing that experience as one from which they could grow and improve, they have turned it into a catalyst from which bitterness, anger and self-pity have festered. I won't identify this person in any way more than I already have.

Often in someone's life when they experience something that draws them into some form of depression, their progression stops. What tends to happen is they end up holing away, shying away from situations where they have be social. This isn't uncommon for people, even those who don't experience clinical depression, who just have a bad day. Some people seek out others who are equally miserable, and others simply become a recluse.

While I'm on the point, not only do miserable people group together to bolster the reasons for which they're upset, but people who share a common belief or hobby do the same thing. A simple example of this is a club. We do this for the same reason above, to bolster each other, and encourage one another. If you're doing something that is "wrong," on the basic, non-religious levels, you'll tend to spend your time with others who are doing that same thing. Why? It's much easier to justify your wrong behaviour if you're around others who are also looking to justify themselves.

I'm going to use an example to illustrate the point of this post. Often in the Church, when someone finds fault with their leaders, it's because the leader has asked the member to do something they don't want to do, or because the leader told the member something they didn't want to hear. People don't like being wrong - that's a basic fact of humanity. When a member receives chastisement, they can take it one of two ways: they can either listen to the advice they're given and humbly submit to the will of the Lord as revealed through that leader, or they can convince themselves that the leader is wrong, that they don't need to listen to their advice, that they're flawed, that for some reason that leader got it wrong.

Which is easier? To change, or to manufacture some excuse that saves you from having to change? Personally, I try to embrace change. As a writer I have the opportunity to create any kind of characters I want. Certain characters are frowned upon, and these are known as static characters. These characters are the ones that never change, there is no character arc for them, they are the same on the last page of the book as they are on the first. To live such a life, I couldn't imagine.

But anyway, tangent aside, let's get some illustration in here. This will be specific and vague all at once, you'll see (and be impressed).

A member goes to their Priesthood leader and tells that leader of the problems they're having. They tell their leader (Bishop, Stake President, etc.) of their abilities and their weaknesses, and then asks for advice, they ask for counsel and direction. The leader thinks about it a moment, and then tells the member that they're loved and appreciated, that they're doing well enough in all areas of their life but one. This one area is known to the member as one of their major weaknesses, and is therefore a sensitive topic, but because the member asked, the leader directs them and tells them that to better serve the Lord (in this example), they need to improve their life in that area. Once the member has improved themselves to a certain point, they're to return to the leader and receive more council.

Now, like I said, this member can either humbly submit themselves to the counsel that was given, or they can come up with some reason to excuse themselves from having to listen to the direction they were given. Let's say that this member chooses the latter. They decide that their leader hasn't got the right to say what they did about their very personal weakness.

This is where I draw my illustration into the story of that very dear person I know. At the beginning of the story I just went through, the member went to their leader. The Bishop or Stake President didn't show up at the member's house and start chastising them, the member went to the leader. By doing so, and by asking for direction, they showed a confidence in that leader's abilities, they demonstrated a trust in that leader, a trust that he was a man of God.

So here's my quandary: At what point did that man cease to be a man of God?

A member goes to their leader, showing humility and a desire to listen to the counsel they would receive (why else would they bother asking?), but after their meeting, it's been decided by that member that the man they went to advice for is no longer called of God. So at what point did this leader who had formerly been considered a man of God cease being so? It never actually happened, save in the mind of the member, and it occurred when that member decided they knew more than him.

Although I love this individual with all my heart, I cannot understand why they would be, at one moment, completely willing to listen and to follow whatever Church leaders told them, whether is was to give a talk, receive a calling in Primary, or to serve a foreign-speaking mission to Japan for 1.5-2 years; and later have decided that those same leaders they trusted, literally with their life, were wrong.

I don't understand it, but I know the underlying answer to my "why" questions. Pride. This individual couldn't stand having someone tell them they couldn't do something because they wouldn't be able to handle it. It boggles my mind. If a prophet of God, or someone I revered as a man of God as called by the prophet, told me I needed to do X in order to be able to do Y, I would do it. Why? Personally, because I've learned through hard experiences that my leaders tend to have the gift of foresight; when I think I see the big picture, I'm often seeing it head-on and not from their perspective, which is often a birds-eye view.

So, has that leader really gone from being a man of God to being a fraud? Only in the mind of that one individual. And what will that individual do? They'll flock to others who think the exact same so they can pat themselves on the shoulder and tell each other how justified they are in condemning that leader. Truly, a separation of the wheat from the chaff.

"They were once a delightsome people, and they had Christ for their shepherd; yea, they were led even by God the Father... But now, behold, they are led about by Satan, even as chaff is driven before the wind, or as a vessel is tossed about upon the waves, without sail or anchor, or without anything wherewith to steer her; and even as she is, so are they." Mormon 5:16,18

The Poison We Call "Sin"

So this morning I've had a few moments to think about the depth to sin. I don't say that meaning "oh, yes, sin is sooo deep, so cool," in the sense that is often used these days when we compliment someone by telling them how deep and mysterious they are. I'll argue the complete opposite for sin, it isn't mysterious at all. By depth, I mean it in the sense that it can pull us in so tightly, to the point that our lips are barely gracing the surface of the water to give us breath.

Anyway, so as I was dreaming away I was awoken by a fist pounding on a door. I thought to myself, "Oh no, I've slept in," because I figured it was my mom banging on my little brother's door to wake him up for one of his classes. So I stared up at my ceiling wondering and listening: I knew I'd learn the truth of the situation given a little time. Yes, it was my mom pounding on the door, and yes, she was trying to wake him up.. But for a reason I didn't expect.

I confess myself gullible. I've been told by a few people I'm not really that close to that they've noticed I tend to "look for the good in people." I work hard at developing that because it's such a rarity in our times. I suppose it means something when someone shouts at another to wake up, bangs on their door and I don't automatically jump to the conclusion that one of them must have done something wrong. Well, that's what I did this morning. Which is why my thoughts on sin seem so revelatory.

As the situation progressed I learned that my mom had had some money in her jacket pocket and that in the course of the early morning, it had gone missing. My mom's main reason for believing my brother had taken the money was due to the fact that the kid keeps such strange hours! It seems to me that he's awake during all hours of the night and early morning, but I won't see him at all during the day until around supper-time. Anyway, the conversation they were having turned to undertones after she demanded he give her the money. It's all the same to me: it left me to my thoughts.

And the collection of those thoughts can be summed up relatively nicely in a single, short sentence: sin is poison. Afterward, before hearing my mom walk down the stairs, I heard her explain why that money had been in her pocket: she needed to pay for parking at the hospital. I don't know if I should given my previous admission, but I assume that if my brother had known that he wouldn't have touched the money, not because he'd eventually get caught, but because innately he is a good person.

No one is perfect, and I'm not posting this experience to show how flawed my sibling is. I could never make the claim that I've never stolen anything, money or possessions; that I've never lied about stealing something or to cover up some stupid thing I had chosen to do. That's a beautiful truth though: we choose.

So as I lay there I wondered something: when do you get to the point where although your initial sin was the width of a string, the sins you commit now are thicker than bound thread (think friendship bracelet width). Why don't we recognize we've fallen down a path that leads to greater sin?

To borrow a metaphor that I've often heard within (but also outside of) the Church, sin is like a frog in a pot. We're taught that Satan, mankind's adversary operates much in this way: when you put a frog in a pot of hot water, it jumps out. However, when you place that frog in a pot of cold water and turn up the heat, it will sit in that water until it boils to death. Gruesome, no? The adversary is similar in that he would never try to prompt me, an active Church member (saying prayers, reading scriptures daily, attending sacrament and other Sunday meetings, youth meetings weekly, etc.), to break the Law of Chastity. That's just a silly thing to suggest to someone in my position. A much better temptation, to get me down that road would be something like this: when I encounter an unclaimed bus ticket for the month, tell me I should pick it up and use it - it would save me money on fares, plus, I could still ask people for bus fare without actually needing it so I could save it for my mission.
Strange, no? Well, remembering what my goals are and what covenants I've made, although it may be a little difficult to say "no," it's do-able. That was an actual experience I had earlier this month, and I puzzled about it for awhile: steal so I could put the funds towards a mission? Such is how the adversary works. He's a walking contradiction.

Back to the topic at hand. The depth of sin: how do you take a child who is innocent and honest, and within a handful of years turn them into a thieving liar. Harsh words that I don't direct at anyone, but how is it done? The frog in the pot idea.

During the 179th General Conference, a talk was given by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf (I don't understand why it's so hard for some people to say his surname!) in which he said this: "...what we love determines what we seek. What we seek determines what we think and do. What we think and do determines who we are—and who we will become."

During a poster sale held in the concourse of my college, I was tempted to buy a poster that reminded me of President Uchtdorf's words: "Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny."

So it doesn't seem too far-fetched that I've come to this conclusion, but you can't take a little kid and turn them into anything. That kid can however, through poor choices, turn themselves into a thieving liar. Whether you're religious or not, I'm sure it's no stretch to accept the fact that there are things which should not be done.

If we use the logic that things which aren't good for people or the society we're in then they shouldn't be done. Simple logic. If it's bad for you, don't do it: For example, drugs have negative effects on people: they should not be used. If you believe marijuana has no adverse effects, but is illegal in your country, you shouldn't smoke it. Stealing has a negative effect on the person being stolen from, it shouldn't be done.

In addition, I'm grateful that we don't just have to rely on societal laws to determine what's good for us and what isn't.

So the next time someone says, "I stole that because I had to," or, "you made me do it," just gently remind them that you can't make them do anything (or I'm sure you'd have made them not do whatever thing was objectionable), and that they're in charge of who they are, what they become.

I can't just finish here. I can't just say, "if you're a failure it's your own fault." There is some kind of solution, isn't there?

Knowing someone who is in the 12-step program for Alcoholics Anonymous, I know that there are several steps that require the person in the program to make amends. Step 8 requires the person to make a list of all the people they've harmed and be willing to make amends. Step 9 requires that they then make amends.

So how do you fix the negative things you've done? If you believe in the Atonement of Christ then you ask him for forgiveness in full sincerity of heart, and be resolved to not repeat that mistake or transgression. If you don't believe in Christ, then just follow what those in the AA-program do. Make your list, apologize and acknowledge to those you've hurt what you've done to harm them, and then make restitution if possible (pay them back the money you stole, buy them a new stereo to replace the one you busted, whatever). The AA-program is designed in such a way that once someone commits to it, they aren't allowed to drink again. Ever. I think the final secular step in restitution is the same as the one that involves the Atonement: resolve yourself to not repeat those base choices again. If you get back into the cycle that brought you to where you were before you sought forgiveness, you really haven't "quit" that habit, and therefore through your misdeeds have lost the forgiveness you had had before.

Grim topic.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Why all the fuss?

When I first had contact with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it was from the missionaries - I had never heard any of the anti-Mormon arguments or discussion. Personally, I don't think it would have mattered. A persons religious worship should be between them and God, and when I prayed about the Book of Mormon I really began that relationship with God.
When I did start hearing the anti-Mormon banter, I didn't understand why so many people would be trying to "disprove," or "destroy" the Church! It just didn't make sense to me! It does now.
Those questions, "why are they always hating on us?" ("us" referring to other LDS), "what do they have against the Church?" are naive. Naivety isn't bad, and I'm not trying to insult people who wonder these things. It's all part of our progression. But it seems to me that those questions are not dissimilar from the "why me?" questions.

So why all the hate? Of course there are also other reasons, but it's really no wonder. If you claim to have the fullness of Christ's restored gospel, a claim which if true would mean that all other churches don't have the full gospel, you're gonna end up stepping on some toes. And toe-stepping typically isn't appreciated.

For now, I'm going to step on some toes and sum up every single reason anyone has ever had for leaving or "hating on" the Church. And, I'll do it in one word. So what's today's word of the day?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Comparative Paper: Are Mormons Christian? A Comparison of Essential Doctrines Between the Latter-day Saints and Catholics

I'm taking a short intermission from posting because school has started up again since the Olympics ended (although the Paralympics have begun). This post is a paper I wrote for my western religions class. I'm not going to bother adding hyperlinks in the paper part of it because the sources are all listed at the end.

So, just a note: I realize there's a lot of fractures in my discussion. I had a difficult time consolidating information and staying away from deep doctrines. When I talked to my older brother about the paper topic, he asked if I was going to write something in there about polygamy. While this was a doctrine in the early years of the Church, as I told him, the point of this paper wasn't to discuss the "absurdities of Mormonism," (Farkas & Reed, see sources) as some have put it, or the controversies. Again, while I've no doubt it would interesting, this is not a paper on controversies.

Also, ignore the formatting issues, I don't feel compelled to fix it up. Oh yeah, and it's absurdly long.

And aside from all that, enjoy, and let me know what you think.

In Christendom, there are an overwhelming number of individual churches, almost all of which branch from early Christianity. After the martyrdom of Jesus Christ, it becomes difficult to trace what happens, not necessarily to Christ’s disciples, but to the church that Jesus Christ organized while he yet lived. Most of present-day Christian churches have their origins from the Ecumenical councils called by the Roman emperor Constantine (most of which were organized after the Great Schism). There are however, a few denominations within Christianity which claim some form of restoration, like Protestantism, but there appears to only be one which claims to be a full restoration of Christ’s early church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter referred to as the LDS), commonly called Mormons, has its roots in New York where founder Joseph Smith asserts his visitation by God and Jesus Christ, and the eventual re-establishment, or restoration of Christ’s early church (Nelson 3, 17-18). The purpose of this paper is not to examine the validity of the LDS church, but to determine the major doctrines which set it apart from what are currently the accepted doctrines of Catholicism (as Catholicism and Mormonism are the second and third largest branches of Christianity, respectively)(Pew) and most non-denominational Christian faiths.

Seemingly vital to any Christian faith or religion is the belief that the Bible is the word of God, the men leading you have some kind of authority to do so (sic not just men with good ideas), and that God has revealed Himself through scriptures and His prophets and is somehow guiding the affairs of men. Catholics and the rest of Christendom accept the Bible to be the word of God, some believe in its inerrancy (Gerstner), and others take it literally. Catholicism holds that scriptures are documents received from God, and are the property of their church, although only appointed teachers may officially instruct from them (Maas). LDS have declared that they “believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly” (Articles of Faith 1:8). Those of the LDS faith not only utilize their Bibles as scripture, but believe in a very open canon and a constant and continuing flow of revelation from God, both on a personal and on a church-wide level (Church of Jesus Christ 128-129); these doctrines carry back to the days when the church was organized in 1930 [edit: 1830]. LDS believe that God will answer their prayers, and directs their church through men (sic prophets) who have received Christ’s priesthood (Nelson 15-16), which is authority given to man to act in the name of God (Ballard 39). Not only this, but LDS claim additional scripture to the Bible, known as the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price (Bushman, 44-45). These are three major distinctions between the LDS and the Catholics. Put into perspective, and with no disrespect, one might venture to say that the LDS one has the opportunity to be a progressive faith, whereas the Catholic one is a relatively static faith. Although the Bible states that “Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8), mankind is constantly changing and needing, in layman’s terms, advice from God as they, and as the world continually changes.

Despite the changes facing mankind, what defines a Christian is based on the doctrines established by the early Ecumenical councils, something which has not seen much change. One such doctrine established involves the godhead, or the relationship between God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost. Catholics and some traditional Christians hold that these three members of the godhead are three individuals, who are of one substance (Joyce). What this means, in an overly simplistic explanation, is that although they are distinct from each other, they are indeed one in the same and that God is the Holy Spirit, and is Christ. This doctrine also supports the accepted doctrine that Mary is not just the mother of Christ, but through extension of the Trinity, is also the mother of God. There are two examples in scripture used to establish the doctrine of the Trinity, the first is used to establish the divinity of Christ and their “oneness,” and the second is used to show that Christ is on the same level, and is indeed also God.

2 Corinthians 13:13 (2 Cor. 13:14 in the King James Bible follows)

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the charity of God and the communication of the Holy Ghost be with you all. Amen

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.

This scripture is used to illustrate the divinity of Christ, being mentioned in the same sentence with God and the Holy Ghost, as well as the idea of their being three distinct persons. Additionally, in Psalms, another scripture is used to illustrate that when David praised the Lord, he was doing so in such a way that was reserved for God alone.

Psalms 104:31

May the glory of the Lord endure for ever: the Lord shall rejoice in his works.

The glory of the Lord shall endure for ever: the Lord shall rejoice in his works.

It is widely accepted by Catholicism and most of Christendom that the godhead is three persons in one being, that the Trinitarian God does not have a body, that Christ has a physical body, and is the Son of God (and is the second member of the Trinity), and that the Holy Spirit is also God, as well as the third member of the Trinity.

The LDS on the other hand, view the godhead as having three individual and distinct members who play different roles (Talmage 8, 31-33). In this version of the godhead, God is the Heavenly Father of all the spirits of mankind, who has a physical body. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world but is not only the Son of God; he is God’s first spiritual and literal child. The Holy Spirit is the third member of this godhead, much like within the Trinitarian godhead, but is separate from God and Christ, is a “personage of spirit” (D&C 133:22) and also ministers to men in place of Christ.

Doctrine and Covenants 93:21

And now, verily I say unto you, I was in the beginning with the Father, and am

the Firstborn;

This scripture illustrates the LDS doctrine that not only is Christ the Son of God, but also that mankind existed in a spiritual state prior to being born on Earth known as the pre-existence (which will be discussed later). The following scriptures are explanations of the Holy Spirit, the first from Christ, explaining that his disciples will be given guidance after he left (sic was crucified), and the second demonstrates that although the Holy Ghost as an individual can only be in one place at a time, his influence can be everywhere at the same time:

John 14:26

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my

name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance,

whatsoever I have said unto you.

Moses 5:14

And the Lord God called upon men by the Holy Ghost everywhere and

commanded them that they should repent;

With regard to Mary, LDS believe she was an honourable and chosen woman, and that she was the mother of Christ (Talmage 77-79). They do not accept the doctrine of Immaculate Conception or that Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Christ. The latter doctrine is evidenced by the following scripture:

Matthew 1:25

And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

As is understood, and as a brief look at a dictionary will show, the archaic and Biblical understanding and definition of the term “to know,” is to have sexual intercourse. Therefore, this scripture teaches that Joseph did not just stay in a celibate relationship with his wife, but consummated their marriage sometime after the birth of Christ.

It is difficult to fully grasp the concept of the Trinity because God is typically viewed as unknowable and incomprehensible (Joyce). Scriptures have been searched a great deal in order to support the notion of the Trinity because the alternative is not possible; the Trinity needs scriptural basis because Catholicism denies the doctrine of continued revelation, or the idea that God still speaks to man, as well as that of an open canon. While both Catholicism and the LDS share the similar dogma that Christ is the Son of God, there are severe differences in the relationships between the three persons, the roles they play, and the relationship between God, Christ and Mary.

As mentioned earlier, there are several beliefs held by LDS about a pre-existence which is not shared by Catholics, let alone by the rest of Christendom. It may very well be safe to say that unless one has had exposure to this particular LDS belief, one may never have heard of it before. Although in the Catholic faith the only eternal entities are God and Christ (Joyce), the LDS belief is that all members of the human race are children of God, and that before being born on Earth, they lived with God in a state known as the pre-existence (sic pre-Earth life) (Talmage 7, Ballard 70-73). In this state, mankind was presented with a plan in which they would go to Earth with no memories of their pre-life to be tested. This test involved sin, which would separate mankind from ever returning to God post-Earth life, so a Mediator was needed. Christ then, during this council offered to be such a Savior, while Lucifer (who is explained as being Christ’s brother because all of mankind are spirit-children of God) desired only the power of God, and in return would force all mankind to choose to be righteous (Talmage 7-10). God cast Lucifer from heaven and he became Satan, who has only the goal to make mankind miserable (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 2:27).

This doctrine leads directly into the next, which is in regard to the Fall of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. In Catholicism, the Fall is a mar on humanity, an event for all mankind to be utterly ashamed of. In this view, Eve yields to temptation, breaks God’s commandment to not eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and then seduces Adam into eating the fruit as well (Driscoll). In this, the doctrine of Original Sin has its roots. According to Catholicism, because Adam and Eve disobeyed God, every human being ever born has inherited that sin and has been damned to never be able to return to heaven because of it (although this is where Christ and sacraments step in) (Driscoll).

The LDS view of the Fall is quite different and is viewed as a blessing instead of a shame. The view held by LDS is considerably clearer because of their open canon:

Genesis 2: 16-17

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou

mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

Pearl of Great Price, Moses 2:28

Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion

over... every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Using these scriptures, LDS illustrate that God gave two commandments to Adam and Eve, to replenish the earth and have children, and to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It is reasoned that since they had yet to partake of the fruit, Adam and Eve did not know good, and not knowing good, they knew no evil; the logic being that without experiencing joy, one cannot experience sorrow, so it is with good and evil. These two commandments were contradictory in nature because if they stayed in the Garden of Eden and not eaten the fruit, then they would not have been able to have children. The greater of these two commandments was the latter one, which expected they have children and subdue the earth. Although Adam and Eve were removed from the presence of God, they were then able to experience joy and pain, good and evil, and were able to have children (since they were the equivalent of children when they were in the Garden). Another LDS scripture further supports the LDS doctrine of viewing the Fall as a blessing, as well as illustrates Eve’s view on their decision:

Pearl of Great Price, Moses 5:11

Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed [children], and

never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the

eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient”.

Catholic doctrines of the Fall and Original Sin are two which are basically embraced by most of Christendom, difficult as it is to find scriptures to back the concept of inherited sin. But having an open canon, the doctrine of continued revelation from God, and the authority of God for men to act in His name allow members of the LDS faith to experience a dynamic relationship with the stories in the scriptures, as well as with their Savior and God. This is not meant to detract from any relationship experienced between Catholics and their God, but with room for interpretation and clarification from heaven (as through the doctrine of continued revelation), LDS experience a much more progressive religion.

What seems often to be said about the LDS is that they do not believe in the same Christ who the rest of Christendom believes in (Farkas & Reed 24, 39-41).Their antagonists have apparently not had the opportunity to read the following quote by LDS founder, Joseph Smith: "The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it." Despite the fact that LDS fail to conform to the “norm” of Christianity, they are by all accounts, Christians nonetheless. This author argues that what is needed is a broader definition of what it means to be Christian; just because a faith does not accept all the tenets of the norm does not make them un-Christian, especially considering what Christ preached seemed vastly different from what was accepted during his ministry. For Catholics and the like who worship an individual believed to be able to redeem all of mankind, there sure are a lot of restrictions on what it means to be a Christian. But then again, if the rest of Christianity refuses to accept members of the LDS faith, at least they feel accepted by an individual with more authority than the mobs of the norm.

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