Saturday, May 15, 2010

Doctrinal Questions from the Youth II (cont.)

The Doctrine of Exaltation:

If I wasn’t born under the covenant will I be lost?

No, you won’t be lost. No one is ever lost. Heavenly Father (and Mother) love all Their children. The invitation is always open to become a faithful son or daughter of God.

The covenant you ask about is important to understand. It is often called “the Abrahamic Covenant,” or the same covenant that God made with Abraham. We are all the seed (or children) of Abraham. Outside the temple, where we must go to enter into the Abrahamic Covenant, the words of the covenant may be found and are best expressed in Abraham 2:6-11 in The Pearl of Great Price:

But I, Abraham, and Lot, my brother's son, prayed unto the Lord, and the Lord appeared unto me, and said unto me: Arise, and take Lot with thee; for I have purposed to take thee away out of Haran, and to make of thee a minister to bear my name in a strange land which I will give unto thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession, when they hearken to my voice.
For I am the Lord thy God; I dwell in heaven; the earth is my footstool; I stretch my hand over the sea, and it obeys my voice; I cause the wind and the fire to be my chariot; I say to the mountains — Depart hence — and behold, they are taken away by a whirlwind, in an instant, suddenly.
My name is Jehovah, and I know the end from the beginning; therefore my hand shall be over thee.
And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee above measure, and make thy name great among all nations, and thou shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after thee, that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations;
And I will bless them through thy name; for as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as their father;
And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee; and in thee (that is, in thy Priesthood) and in thy seed (that is, thy Priesthood), for I give unto thee a promise that this right shall continue in thee, and in thy seed after thee (that is to say, the literal seed, or the seed of the body) shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal.  (Ibid., italics mine).

To be “born under the covenant” means that a child’s parents have already been sealed in the temple before the child was born. If the child is not born under the covenant, its parents may eventually decide to be sealed in the temple, and then their children are subsequently sealed to them, as though they had been born under the covenant with all the same blessings as those who were.

Those not born under the covenant, whose parents never do go to the temple, when they grow up may enter in to the new and everlasting covenant of marriage themselves with a worthy partner and create thereafter a posterity that is born under the covenant.

If we live the gospel, and if we enter into the temple with a worthy companion, and are sealed as man and wife, we receive the Abrahamic Covenant and are entitled (subject to our worthiness) to all the blessings bestowed upon Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

This marriage covenant is also referred to by the Prophet Joseph Smith as “the patriarchal order of the priesthood.” (See D&C 131:1-4, also TPJS, 322-323).

As to what is involved in the patriarchal order of the priesthood, Joseph Smith says that in the temple of God there is an order of priesthood that is patriarchal. “Go to the temple,” he says, “and find out about this order.”

So when I was a young returned missionary I went to the temple. I took Patsy Hewlett with me, and we knelt at an altar together where we were sealed by my grandfather who had the authority to perform that marriage ceremony. On that 19th day of December 1969, we entered together into “an order of the priesthood.” When we did it, we had sealed upon us, on a conditional basis, every blessing that God promised Father Abraham — the blessings of exaltation and eternal increase. We were told that IF we were true and faithful the day would come when we would become just like Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother.

The name of that order of priesthood, which is patriarchal in nature, because Abraham was a natural patriarch to his posterity, is “the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.” It is available to every one of Heavenly Father’s children who lives in faith and righteousness, whether we are born under the covenant or we later enter into it.

No one who seeks for all the blessings that God wants to bestow upon us and subsequently receives them is ever lost.

Were Jesus’ brothers and sisters almost perfect because he was perfect?

No. Only Jesus was perfect. Jesus is the “Only Begotten Son” of God in the flesh. It is clear that Jesus had other brothers and sisters whose birth parents were Joseph and Mary.  Their father, Joseph, was the carpenter from Galilee. However, Jesus Christ was the Only Begotten Son of our Father in Heaven, and none approaches His perfection.

On a deeper level the idea of being “almost perfect” in your question is profound. There are several references to the family of Jesus in the scriptures. You may want to look them up sometime: Matthew 12:46-50; JST Matthew 12:44; Mark 3:31-35; JST Mark 3:26; Luke 8:19-21; 11:27-28; JST Luke 8:19-20; 11:29, to cite a few.

These verses tell a story of Mary, the mother of Jesus and her other sons and daughters, the offspring of Mary and Joseph. Mary and some of Jesus' half-brothers seek to converse with him, but are unable to do so because of the throngs. He is told: “Thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.” It is a wonderful story, because it gives us yet another example of how He taught from simple experiences such profound eternal truths that testified of His own divinity. In the presence of His mother and some of her children — those with whom he grew to maturity in Nazareth and with whom he had played and worked and associated in the hills near Galilee as a boy, He made this startling statement:

“Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?
And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!
And he gave them charge concerning her, saying, I go my way, for my Father hath sent me. And whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.

The profound truth here is that He concluded this teaching by saying, “Yea, and blessed are all they who hear the word of God, and keep it.”

Mary was blessed because she bore God's Son, but all women can be blessed right along with Mary the Mother of Jesus if they keep the commandments of God. These children of Mary were Jesus' brothers and sisters, who came from the same mother inside whose body His mortal body was created from the dust of the same earth, but he says that all the disciples could also be his brothers and sisters if they did the will of His Father in Heaven. In that sense, if they did and if we do, aren’t we all “almost perfect” as you suggest?

The blessings of eternal life are available — freely, without money and without price — to all of us. It matters little how we come into this world, it’s what we do after we get here that really matters most. Christ was born in the lowest and most humble of all circumstances imaginable.

None of us is born into this world as the literal sons and daughters of God, “after the manner of the flesh” like Christ was, but each of us, through repentance and righteousness, can be adopted into the family of the Eternal God and become joint-heirs with Christ of the fullness of the glory and power of the Father.

None of us can be the literal children of Mary, but all, through repentance and righteousness, can be adopted into the family of her Firstborn Son and become His brothers and sisters spiritually.  In that sense each of us has the potential of becoming a "firstborn," inheriting all the Father hath regardless of our mortal parentage.

At the very root of the plan of salvation is a new birth, a birth to righteousness, by which all disciples, all children of the same Heavenly Father may become the sons and daughters of Jesus Christ. They are born again, and they become members of His family, in your words, “almost perfect” (see Mosiah 15).

Will we have our same name in heaven as we do on earth?

We need to learn to be more specific when we refer to “heaven.” The word generally refers to a place we go after death. But when we use the word, do we mean the spirit world, or do we mean one of the three degrees of glory in the resurrection?

Actually, there are at least five degrees of glory that have been revealed – telestial, terrestrial and celestial (see D&C 76) – with three degrees of glory in the celestial degree (D&C 131:1). So, what is “heaven?” I can only assume you refer to the highest degree of the celestial kingdom.

In The Doctrine and Covenants, Section 130:10-11, we read a reference to Revelation 2:17, which states: "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it." Those "who overcome by faith" (see D&C 76:53) inherit the celestial kingdom. Such have received the "hidden manna" or the revealed knowledge of Christ and his gospel. They will be given a white stone symbolizing their innocence and purity before God. "A new name," will be written on the white stone, which symbolically suggests that heirs of the celestial kingdom are prepared to enter into a new life.

When you go to the temple you will learn more about this new name, but remember that everything you see and learn in the temple is merely symbolic, representing a spiritual reality that is promised but not yet realized.

If you get married twice in the temple, who will we be with (sealed to) in heaven?

This is a question with many parts. Fundamental to understanding all the answers to all the questions that arise, however, is an understanding of temple marriage. Let’s review.

While she is alive, a woman may be sealed to only one man. While he is alive, a man may be sealed to only one living woman at a time. “For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none. . . For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people [to have more than one wife]; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.” (Jacob 2:27-30).

However, after her death a woman may be sealed to another man if she had also been his wife during her lifetime. The second sealing would require her to choose between the two in the eternal worlds that lie ahead.

Among the living, we may only be sealed to one living person at a time. However, a man may be sealed to more than one wife if the plural wives are deceased. Such was the case with President Harold B. Lee, who was sealed to three women. Presidents Joseph Fielding Smith and Howard W. Hunter were sealed to two women. Elders Russell M Nelson, Dallin H. Oaks and L. Tom Perry are also sealed to two women. These are notable well-known examples, but there are many other Latter-day Saints for whom similar arrangements are true. There is no revealed answer about why a woman cannot have more than one husband at a time.

Official Declaration One in The Doctrine and Covenants, commonly known as “The Manifesto,” dated October 6, 1890, officially ended the practice of plural marriage or “polygamy,” in the Church among the living. The Church offers no sympathy to splinter groups that continue the practice of polygamy today, and excommunicates those members who insist on ignoring the mandates of the Manifesto.

If you are the child of parents who “get married twice in the temple,” then your question is one that is frequently asked by children when divorce and subsequent re-marriage occurs. If the children are “born under the covenant,” and their parents subsequently divorce then remarry in the temple or outside the temple, the children were still “born under the covenant” even though one or both of their parents broke the covenant, and no subsequent sealing on earth is performed to seal them to anyone new.

The covenant is still in full force for the righteous children, despite the infidelity of the parent(s) and when they grow to maturity they may take a husband or a wife into the temple to be sealed to them and to begin their own family unit.

In the resurrection those who are heirs of the highest degree of the celestial kingdom will be sealed to those next closest relatives to them who are faithful, such as grandparents if their parents fail to live worthily.

The bottom line in covenant making is this: If we are true and faithful to our covenants it makes no difference to us if others in our family line are not – we may still claim all the promised covenant blessings despite their poor choices.

What if you don’t get married on earth?

I assume you are asking what happens if you don’t get married in the temple while you are living in mortality. Joseph Smith said: “Except a man and his wife enter into an everlasting covenant and be married for eternity, while in this probation [the same result may be accomplished through vicarious work for the dead in the temples], by the power and authority of the Holy Priesthood, they will cease to increase when they die; that is, they will not have any children after the resurrection. But those who are married by the power and authority of the priesthood in this life, and continue without committing the sin against the Holy Ghost, will continue to increase and have children in the celestial glory.” (TPJS, 300-301).

President Spencer W. Kimball reminds us that it is not just a matter of going through the temple that assures us eternal life. He said: “Now, all Latter-day Saints are not going to be exalted. All people who have been through the holy temple are not going to be exalted. The Lord says, ‘Few there be that find it.’ For there are the two elements: (1) the sealing of a marriage in the holy temple, and (2) righteous living through one's life thereafter to make that sealing permanent. Only through proper marriage - and I repeat that - only through proper marriage . . . can one find that strait way, the narrow path. No one can ever have life, real life, in any other way under any other program.” (“Marriage is Honorable,” Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year, 1973, 265-66).

All the prophets in this dispensation have said the same thing in answer to this question – if you are a woman and the opportunity for a temple marriage never presents itself because a man never asks you to marry, and you remain true and faithful throughout your life, you will have all the promised blessings of temple marriage in due time in the realms up ahead.

That is what the work of the Millennium will be -- in part, to seal worthy women who did not marry in this life to men who are worthy to claim them.  It will take a thousand years, I suppose, to sort all that out.

If you are a man, however, and elect not to marry in this life when you have had the opportunity to do so, there are no such assurances. Men and women are to marry in this life to have the blessings of eternal life in the worlds and eternities that follow. “Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else,” (see D&C 42:22). That is the standing law within the Church forever.

The first example of eternal marriage we have is between Adam and Eve, and the law of eternal marriage has never changed.

If you are already sealed to your parents, but you don’t get married in the temple can you be with your parents in heaven?

No. Why would you want to do that, when you could have your own wife or husband and form your own eternal family unit?

In order to keep your eternal blessings in place that are given to you by parents who are sealed together, you would want to live your own life and claim those blessings for yourself. Being “born under the covenant” is only the beginning. As you grow to an age when you are able to enter the temple, it is necessary to go and claim those blessings for yourself.

Our parents, whether they remain faithful or they leave the Church and forsake their covenants, can only set us on a path at first. Then it is up to us to live worthy lives when we are no longer under their roof, and the goal is that we all together embrace and live the gospel so that we can all claim all the promised blessings of eternal life in the resurrection.

What happens to families who aren’t sealed? Will they have a chance after death?

Those who are not members of the Church will, of course, “have a chance” after death to hear the gospel for the first time and accept or reject it. That’s why we go to the temple and do work to “redeem the dead” by doing baptisms, confirmations, priesthood ordinations, endowments and sealings for our departed ancestors who did not have the gospel when they were living at a time when those covenants and blessings were unavailable to them. That would only be fair.  The plan of our Heavenly Father is built on that fundamental principle of fairness and access for all to all the promised blessings.

However, some in the Church continue to embrace this notion that we too will “have a chance” if we wait until after death to secure our blessings. It would be politically correct, perhaps, to say to members of the Church today, “Well don’t worry about it, everything will be fine and it will all work out someday, somehow,” but that is not what the scriptures reveal to us.

If we are members of the Church today, living as we do in the “dispensation of the fullness of times,” there is no excuse for us to put off until the spirit world what we can accomplish in righteousness while we are alive. It is a false idea that we will get a “second chance” if we reject the fullness of the gospel in our lives as members of the Church right now.

I think Alma gave the best answer to this question:

And now, my brethren, I wish from the inmost part of my heart, yea, with great anxiety even unto pain, that ye would hearken unto my words, and cast off your sins, and not procrastinate the day of your repentance;
But that ye would humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear, and thus be led by the Holy Spirit, becoming humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering;
Having faith on the Lord; having a hope that ye shall receive eternal life; having the love of God always in your hearts, that ye may be lifted up at the last day and enter into his rest.
And may the Lord grant unto you repentance, that ye may not bring down his wrath upon you, that ye may not be bound down by the chains of hell, that ye may not suffer the second death.” (Alma 13:27-30).

Later Amulek said essentially the same thing as Alma:

For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.
And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.
Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis [meaning death], that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.
For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked. (Alma 34:32-35).

For those of us who have entered into the new and everlasting covenant of the gospel and of marriage in this life, we are required to repent here and now, not there and later on.

For that reason, we partake of the sacrament each week. Only those in the spirit world who never heard the gospel in this life may hope for eternal glory when they accept the gospel in the spirit world. If they heard the gospel in mortality and rejected it, then later on accepted it in the spirit world, their fate is clear: “And also they who are the spirits of men kept in prison, whom the Son visited, and preached the gospel unto them, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh; who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it. (D&C 76:73-74).

These verses describe those who inherit the terrestrial kingdom. Christ wasn’t mincing His words with politically-correct theological gas when he appeared among the Nephites. He was plain-spoken, and his doctrine was simple:

And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God. And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned. [That’s not very politically correct, is it?] Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.” (3 Nephi 11:33-35).

Alma didn’t say it would be easier to repent later and wait for another chance someday in the spirit world. He was counseling his son, Corianton, who had strayed from the gospel. He was worried that Corianton was being casual in his gospel commitment. So he pled with him to repent and reasoned with him this way:

If he has desired to do evil, and has not repented in his days, behold, evil shall be done unto him, according to the restoration of God. And now, my son, I desire that ye should let these things trouble you no more, and only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance. Oh, my son, I desire that ye should deny the justice of God no more. Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins, by denying the justice of God; but do you let the justice of God and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down in the dust in humility. (Alma 42:28-30, emphasis mine throughout).

Elder Melvin J. Ballard, the grandfather of Elder M. Russell Ballard, who was also an Apostle in his day, said:

“But this life is the time in which men are to repent. Do not let any of us imagine that we can go down to the grave not having overcome the corruptions of the flesh and then lose in the grave all our sins and evil tendencies. They will be with us. They will be with the spirit when separated from the body. The spirit only can repent and change, and then the battle has to go forward with the flesh afterwards. It is much easier to overcome and serve the Lord when both flesh and spirit are combined as one. . . Every man and woman who is putting off until the next life the task of correcting and overcoming the weakness of the flesh are sentencing themselves to years of bondage, for no man or woman will come forth in the resurrection until they have completed their work, until they have overcome, until they have done as much as they can do. ("The Three Degrees of Glory," sermon delivered in Ogden, Utah, on 22 September 1922).

I've heard that if my parents were married in the temple that even if I sin I can still be sealed to them -- is that true?

Only the laser-like penetrating minds of the youth can expose what may appear to be the weak underbelly of any doctrinal principle with such piercing insight!  What a great observation, but let's be precisely clear -- there are no "short-cuts" to exaltation.

Having set forth the general principles associated with procrastinating the day of our repentance, but simultaneously recognizing the silent suffering of so many parents whose children have strayed in these waning days of the last days, President Boyd K. Packer offered an added layer of understanding in 1992 (see "Our Moral Environment," Ensign, May 1992, 68). 

In that General Conference talk, President (then Elder) Packer quoted Elder Orson F. Whitney in what has become a favorite statement in the Church ever since:

“The Prophet Joseph Smith declared — and he never taught a more comforting doctrine — that the eternal sealings of faithful parents and the divine promises made to them for valiant service in the Cause of Truth, would save not only themselves, but likewise their posterity. Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path; but if it leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father’s heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain. Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God.” (Orson F. Whitney, in Conference Report, April 1929, 110, emphasis mine.)

Note that Elder Whitney, as comforting as the statement is for sorrowing parents, offers no short-cuts for the wayward youth, as some have implied.  "Thorny path," "they will suffer for their sins," "have to pay their debt to justice" -- none of those phrases suggests an easy exaltation for wayward children.  What it does convey, however, is that in the eternal plan of salvation for His children ample provision has been made for every possible chance for wayward children to return to the covenant their parents have made, whether in this life or the next.  If it takes a thousand years in the spirit world during the Millennium, all will be given every opportunity without exception to embrace the covenant -- all based upon the supreme doctrine of individual moral agency.  We get to choose our own eternal destinies now and forever.

Also implicit in the statement is the fact that parents must first save themselves.  Falling short of exaltation, no father or mother can expect to somehow claim their wayward children.  The Church also offered an article in 2002 in the Ensign, entitled “Hope for Parents of Wayward Children,” (Ensign, September 2002, 11) with additional quotes.

In the very next paragraph of his talk, Elder Packer added:

We cannot overemphasize the value of temple marriage, the binding ties of the sealing ordinance, and the standards of worthiness required of them. When parents keep the covenants they have made at the altar of the temple, their children will be forever bound to them. President Brigham Young said:

“Let the father and mother, who are members of this Church and Kingdom, take a righteous course, and strive with all their might never to do a wrong, but to do good all their lives; if they have one child or one hundred children, if they conduct themselves towards them as they should, binding them to the Lord by their faith and prayers, I care not where those children go, they are bound up to their parents by an everlasting tie, and no power of earth or hell can separate them from their parents in eternity; they will return again to the fountain from whence they sprang.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., 2:90–91).

The thought kernel that prompted Elder Whitney and others to make such bold declarations about the power of the eternal marriage covenant, I believe, was the Prophet Joseph's funeral discourse at the funeral services for Elias Higbee, given August 13, 1843.  (See HC, 5:530; Ehat and Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, 241, where it is clear the promised blessings in the Prophet's teaching on the topic applies only to parents who have "made their calling and election sure.")  Clearly, Elder Whitney was not even born until 1855, so he was not personally acquainted with the Prophet.  But the Prophet's teachings on the topic were preserved and Elder Whitney was a member of the Twelve when he said what he did.

The parents, through their own faithfulness, may secure their children to themselves in eternity -- that much is clear.  But the stark reality is that the children who stray will still have to return (whether in this life or the next) through the same "gate" comprising faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, prompting them to repent of their sins, entering the waters of baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.  (See 2 Nephi 31:17).  Make no mistake, there are no easy roads back to full fellowship with our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ except along the "thorny path" described by Elder Whitney.

I loved what Elder Packer said about repentance in this talk:

In the battle of life, the adversary takes enormous numbers of prisoners, and many who know of no way to escape are pressed into his service. Every soul confined to a concentration camp of sin and guilt has a key to the gate. The adversary cannot hold them if they know how to use it. The key is labeled Repentance. The twin principles of repentance and forgiveness exceed in strength the awesome power of the adversary.

I know of no sins connected with the moral standard for which we cannot be forgiven. I do not exempt abortion. The formula is stated in forty words:
Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.
By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins — behold, he will confess them and forsake them.  (D&C 58:42–43).

I'm not certain when this thought occurred to me, but I was a much older man:  There is only one general class of people who will inherit the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom and be exalted -- repentant sinners.

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