Sunday, May 16, 2010

Doctrinal Questions from the Youth II (cont.)

The Doctrine of the Second Coming:

When will Jesus come again?

I am sure many people want to know the answer to that question if we could just figure it out. As I have heard that question from many people over the years, I keep thinking there is no better answer to it than what the Lord said in the preface to the revelations. He said:

“And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people.” And then He continued, “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” (D&C 1:14, 38).

Before the Lord comes again, all the prophecies will be fulfilled. We can’t determine that time by using a calendar or a clock. We can measure the nearness of the Second Coming in events, and we must familiarize ourselves with those events in order to know how close we are.

The Gospel Doctrine course of study in Sunday School this year [2005] has been The Doctrine and Covenants, which is bulging with information about the Second Coming of the Savior. At least 40 of the 138 sections of The Doctrine and Covenants allude to the events and conditions attending the Lord's coming, yet no definitive time has ever been revealed.

Not revealing the exact time of the Second Coming is purposeful by our Father in Heaven. (See Matthew 24:42-51; see also JS-M 40-55). Not even the "angels in heaven" know. (See D&C 49:7-9). Our job is to live the covenant, not to speculate on the timing of the Second Coming. When the Prophet Joseph Smith prayed "very earnestly to know of the coming of the Son of Man” he was given a vague answer and told “trouble me no more on this matter.” (See D&C 130:14-17).

If the angels and the prophet of the Restoration cannot find out the time, it is unlikely that anyone else knows.

For those who truly love the Lord, the “when” of the Second Coming really does not matter. We are not faithful simply because He may come in judgment any minute. We keep the commandments because we love the truth and want to do what is right. We look forward to His coming, and pray for it, knowing that the Lord will bring a thousand years of peace and righteousness upon the earth when He does come.

When Jesus comes again are we all gods and goddesses of our own worlds?

No, not yet. When Jesus comes again, we will not have progressed to a point in our knowledge that we are like God. At the Second Coming, Jesus Christ merely activates the resurrection and ushers in the Millennium (see D&C 101:23-38) – a thousand-year period of peace and tranquility - but there is still much ahead of us in our personal progression before we qualify as gods ourselves. The morning of the first resurrection occurs at and then after the Second Coming in a precise order of events, when all the graves are eventually opened. (See D&C 88:95-107).

Joseph Smith taught: “When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel — you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave. . ." (King Follett Discourse, TPJS, 348, emphasis mine).

The Doctrine of Missionary Work:

When someone asks me what I believe in, what should I say?

That’s a great question, because it suggests your interest in missionary work. The Lord has said:

“And thou must open thy mouth at all times, declaring my gospel with the sound of rejoicing. Amen.” (D&C 28:16).

When people outside the Church ask me your question, I usually respond by organizing my answer along the lines of the Thirteen Articles of Faith. You all learned the Thirteen Articles of Faith in Primary, and when someone asks you what you believe, you can have a very interesting discussion just by quoting to them what you have already memorized.

Every doctrine we believe has its foundation in the Thirteen Articles of Faith, and that’s a logical place to begin when we tell others what we believe.

Remember, no matter whatever question anyone asks you about the Church and what we believe, if Joseph Smith is a true prophet, and saw and spoke with the Father and the Son in the Sacred Grove on a spring morning in 1820, as he says he did, then everything else is true.

Every question hinges on whether or not Joseph Smith is a true prophet, and you can challenge anyone who asks you what you believe to prayerfully examine The Book of Mormon then ask God if it is true. (See Moroni 10:4-5). Being a missionary is just that simple.

There are great promises to missionaries who have the courage to open their mouths and declare what they believe. This is just one of those promises:

“Nevertheless, ye are blessed, for the testimony which ye have borne is recorded in heaven for the angels to look upon; and they rejoice over you, and your sins are forgiven you.” (D&C 62:3).

If someone asked what is different about our church, what would you reply?

My first response would be, “Everything is different.”

Sometimes we like to point out the similarities between our church and everyone else’s church, but remember what Joseph Smith was told on that first morning in the Sacred Grove when he asked which church he should join. “I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; those professors were all corrupt; that: ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.’” (See JSH 1:19).

Jesus Christ declared The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually.” (D&C 1:30). We never have to apologize for what and who we are, nor to make ourselves appear to be “pretty much like you” when the Lord has told us otherwise.

Once again, the Thirteen Articles of Faith are a good place to start. I challenge you to find even one church in the world today that believes those doctrines found in the Thirteen Articles of Faith the way we do!

The Doctrine of Prophetic Succession:

Why, when we need a new prophet, is he just the next guy up? Why does the next up have to die if he’s not right for the job?

Before answering this question it is important to understand how authority to do things in the Church really works. This is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is not a church started by men operating by their own rules.

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that certain priesthood “keys” were necessary to run the Church and those keys could only be conferred upon mortal men by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, or by His authorized servants.

We know from The Doctrine and Covenants that all these priesthood keys were conferred upon Joseph Smith and others by such angels as John the Baptist, Peter, James and John, Noah, Moses, Elias, Elijah, and so forth. (See D&C 13; 27:7, 9, 12; 110 for example). Once Joseph Smith had all these priesthood keys, the question of succession arose only after his death.

The Prophet Joseph began the pattern for succession during the months preceding his death. This he did by teaching the Twelve their roles and by conferring upon them all of the authority necessary to carry forth the kingdom after his death. Commanded by the Lord, Joseph conferred upon the Twelve, as he said, "every key, power, principle, that the God of heaven has revealed to me."

After fulfilling that commandment, Joseph declared to the Twelve: "Now if they kill me you have got all the keys, and all the ordinances and you can confer them upon others, and the hosts of Satan will not be able to tear down the kingdom, as fast as you will be able to build it up; and on your shoulders will the responsibility of leading this people rest" (Times and Seasons 5:651).

President Wilford Woodruff, who received those keys as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from Joseph and heard with his own ears the teachings of the Prophet concerning the relationship of the keys held by the Twelve and the pattern of succession, testified:

We had had our endowments; we had had all the blessings sealed upon our heads that were ever given to the apostles or prophets on the face of the earth. On that occasion the Prophet Joseph rose up and said to us: "Brethren, I have desired to live to see this temple built. I shall never live to see it, but you will. I have sealed upon your heads all of the keys of the kingdom of God. I have sealed upon you every key, power, principle that the God of heaven has revealed to me. Now, no matter where I may go or what I may do, the kingdom rests upon you."
"But," he said, after having done this, "ye apostles of the Lamb of God, my brethren, upon your shoulders this kingdom rests; now you have got to round up your shoulders and bear off the kingdom."
When the Lord gave the keys of the kingdom of God, the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood, of the apostleship, and sealed them upon the head of Joseph Smith, he sealed them upon his head to stay here upon the earth until the coming of the Son of Man. Well might Brigham Young say, "The keys of the kingdom of God are here." They were with him to the day of his death. They then rested upon the head of another man – President John Taylor. He held those keys to the hour of his death. They then fell by turn, or in the providence of God, upon Wilford Woodruff.
I say to the Latter-day Saints, the keys of the kingdom of God are here, and they are going to stay here, too, until the coming of the Son of Man. Let all Israel understand that. They may not rest upon my head but a short time, but they will then rest on the head of another apostle, and another after him, and so continue until the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in the clouds of heaven to "reward every man according to the deeds done in the body." (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 72-74).

President Harold B. Lee taught:

The beginning of the call of one to be President of the Church actually begins when he is called, ordained, and set apart to become a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Such a call by prophecy, or in other words, by the inspiration of the Lord to the one holding the keys of presidency, and the subsequent ordination and setting apart by the laying on of hands by that same authority, places each apostle in a priesthood quorum of twelve men holding the apostleship.
Each apostle so ordained under the hands of the President of the Church, who holds the keys of the kingdom of God in concert with all other ordained apostles, has given to him the priesthood authority necessary to hold every position in the Church, even to a position of presidency over the Church if he were called by the presiding authority and sustained by a vote of a constituent assembly of the membership of the Church. (In Conference Report, April 1970, 123).

I would suggest that the calling of a President of the Church begins even before he is called to become a member of the Twelve. Joseph Smith taught:

My enemies say that I have been a true prophet. Why, I had rather be a fallen true prophet than a false prophet. When a man goes about prophesying, and commands men to obey his teachings, he must either be a true or false prophet. False prophets always arise to oppose the true prophets and they will prophesy so very near the truth that they will deceive almost the very chosen ones.
The doctrine of eternal judgments belongs to the first principles of the Gospel, in the last days. In relation to the kingdom of God, the devil always sets up his kingdom at the very same time in opposition to God. Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was. I suppose I was ordained to this very office in that Grand Council. It is the testimony that I want that I am God's servant, and this people His people. The ancient prophets declared that in the last days the God of heaven should set up a kingdom which should never be destroyed, nor left to other people; and the very time that was calculated on, this people were struggling to bring it out. He that arms himself with gun, sword, or pistol, except in the defense of truth, will sometime be sorry for it. I never carry any weapon with me bigger than my penknife. When I was dragged before the cannon and muskets in Missouri, I was unarmed. God will always protect me until my mission is fulfilled.
I calculate to be one of the instruments of setting up the kingdom of Daniel by the word of the Lord, and I intend to lay a foundation that will revolutionize the whole world. I once offered my life to the Missouri mob as a sacrifice for my people, and here I am. It will not be by sword or gun that this kingdom will roll on: the power of truth is such that all nations will be under the necessity of obeying the Gospel. The prediction is that army will be against army: it may be that the Saints will have to beat their ploughs into swords, for it will not do for men to sit down patiently and see their children destroyed. (TPJS, 365-366).

The seniority in the first Quorum of the Twelve in this dispensation was arranged by age. Since then, seniority has been determined by dates of ordination, the Apostle who has served the longest being the most senior.

When two or more men are ordained on the same date, the one ordained first is the more senior. This was the case recently with Elders Uchtdorf and Bednar, and in that case their age governs. Seniority determines who presides over the Quorum of the Twelve, and the Lord controls seniority and succession through the natural means of life and death.

President Spencer W. Kimball testified concerning the principle of seniority and its importance in the selection of a new President of the Church:

Full provision has been made by our Lord for changes. Today there are fourteen apostles holding the keys in suspension, the twelve and the two counselors to the President, to be brought into use if and when circumstances allow, all ordained to leadership in their turn as they move forward in seniority.
There have been some eighty apostles so endowed since Joseph Smith, though only eleven have occupied the place of the President of the Church, death having intervened; and since the death of his servants is in the power and control of the Lord, he permits to come to the first place only the one who is destined to take that leadership. Death and life become the controlling factors. Each new apostle in turn is chosen by the Lord and revealed to the then living prophet who ordains him.
The matter of seniority is basic in the first quorums of the Church. All the apostles understand this perfectly, and all well-trained members of the Church are conversant with this perfect succession program. (In Conference Report, October 1972, 29).

If President Gordon B. Hinckley were to die tonight [2005], the next Apostle in seniority, based upon length service since his ordination, is President Thomas S. Monson. If President Monson were to die before becoming President of the Church, then the next senior Apostle, President Boyd K. Packer would become President, and so forth. Each of the Apostles understands this process. It is not a matter of being “right for the job” as you indicate, having to convince each other or the whole Church they deserve to be President.  Rather, it is a matter of the Lord’s preference.

After fifteen [now sixteen] Presidents of the Church have been thus chosen, it should be obvious to us that the Lord places at the head of the Church the Apostle He decides is “right for the job.” We do not need to worry or speculate about it. The kingdom of God will continue to roll forth throughout the earth until the Second Coming. We have the opportunity to be part of those preparations by following the Apostles the Lord raises up to lead us until He comes again.

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