Sunday, May 9, 2010

Doctrinal Questions from the Youth (cont.)

The Doctrine of Living Prophets in the Church:

Why do we have a Prophet?

This relates directly to the last question about the Second Coming. The obvious answer is that we have a prophet because God has always operated through prophets, but that’s not too satisfying to young people today. God himself has declared: “Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7). Again, introducing the Doctrine and Covenants and the reasons why God chose Joseph Smith as a prophet in this dispensation, the Lord offered this direct answer:

Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments;
And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world; and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets –
The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh –
But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world;
That faith also might increase in the earth;
That mine everlasting covenant might be established;
That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers.
Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.
And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known;
And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed;
And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent;
And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time. (D&C 1:17-28).

So that’s the Lord’s own answer, and it’s the best one there is – for all the reasons he stated, he called a Prophet in these last days.

Does the Lord still appear to Prophets today?

Who better to ask than a living Prophet? I have always loved President Spencer W. Kimball, who gave the best answer to this question. These are his words:

The foreverness of this kingdom and the revelations which it brought into existence are absolute realities. Never again will the sun go down; never again will all men prove totally unworthy of communication with their Maker. Never again will God be hidden from his children on the earth. Revelation is here to remain. . .
There are those who would assume that with the printing and binding of these sacred records, that would be the "end of the prophets." But again we testify to the world that revelation continues and that the vaults and files of the Church contain these revelations which come month to month and day to day. We testify also that there is, since 1830 when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized, and will continue to be, so long as time shall last, a prophet, recognized of God and his people, who will continue to interpret the mind and will of the Lord. . .
In our day, as times past, many people expect that if there be revelation it will come with awe-inspiring, earthshaking display. For many it is hard to accept as revelation those numerous ones in Moses’ time, in Joseph’s time, and in our own year – those revelations which come to prophets as deep, unassailable impressions settling down on the prophet’s mind and heart as dew from heaven or as the dawn dissipates the darkness of night.
Expecting the spectacular [like a personal appearance of the Father and/or the Son], one may not be fully alerted to the constant flow of revealed communication. I say, in the deepest of humility, but also by the power and force of a burning testimony in my soul, that from the prophet of the Restoration to the prophet of our own year, the communication line is unbroken, the authority is continuous, and light, brilliant and penetrating, continues to shine. The sound of the voice of the Lord is a continuous melody and a thunderous appeal. For nearly a century and a half there has been no interruption. (In Conference Report, April 1977, 115).

Here is another answer to this question. Soon after he was called as an Apostle almost thirty [now forty] years ago, President Boyd K. Packer, now the President of the Quorum of the Twelve, offered these insights:

Occasionally during the past year I have been asked a question. Usually it comes as a curious, almost an idle, question about the qualifications to stand as a witness for Christ. The question they ask is, “Have you seen Him?”
That is a question that I have never asked of another. I have not asked that question of my brethren in the Quorum, thinking that it would be so sacred and so personal that one would have to have some special inspiration, indeed, some authorization, even to ask it.
There are some things just too sacred to discuss. We know that as it relates to the temples. In our temples, sacred ordinances are performed; sacred experiences are enjoyed. And yet we do not, because of the nature of them, discuss them outside those sacred walls. . .
I said there was a question that could not be taken lightly nor answered at all without the prompting of the Spirit. I have not asked that question of others, but I have heard them answer it — but not when they were asked. They have answered it under the prompting of the Spirit, on sacred occasions, when “the Spirit beareth record.” (D&C 1:39).
I have heard one of my brethren declare: “I know from experiences, too sacred to relate, that Jesus is the Christ.”
I have heard another testify: “I know that God lives; I know that the Lord lives. And more than that, I know the Lord.” (“The Spirit Beareth Record,” Ensign, June 1971).

How do we know that the Church is true? How do we know the Prophet is really speaking the truth? How do we know?

This is really more than one question, but they are closely related. If you were a missionary, when investigators ask the question, “How do you know the Church is true?” how would you respond? You would say to them, “Read The Book of Mormon, pray and ask God to reveal the truthfulness of the message of this Church to you.” You would also tell them to attend Church services, to truly repent of their sins, to walk in a newness of life in the Spirit. Then you would try diligently to help them identify the Spirit of the Holy Ghost as you teach them.

But, when the youth of this ward ask that question, they are really asking a different question, and that question is, “How do I get a testimony?” The answer, however, is the same one – do the things that converts have to do to gain their testimony. The youth of the Church must do the same things to gain a witness of truth for themselves. We can’t convert anyone in this Church, much less the converts we seek to make. We give them principles, we give them scripture, we give them lessons, we teach by the Spirit, but these are only tools to assist each human heart in its own conversion. I love this scriptural description of how the Spirit works and bears witness of the truth in our lives. The revelation (Section 6) was given to Oliver and Joseph through the Urim and Thummim:

Therefore, if you will ask of me you shall receive; if you will knock it shall be opened unto you.
Now, as you have asked, behold, I say unto you, keep my commandments, and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion;
Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich. . .
Behold thou hast a gift, and blessed art thou because of thy gift. Remember it is sacred and cometh from above --
And if thou wilt inquire, thou shalt know mysteries which are great and marvelous; therefore thou shalt exercise thy gift, that thou mayest find out mysteries, that thou mayest bring many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, convince them of the error of their ways. . .
Trifle not with sacred things.
If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God; for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation.
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, blessed art thou for what thou hast done; for thou hast inquired of me, and behold, as often as thou hast inquired thou hast received instruction of my Spirit. If it had not been so, thou wouldst not have come to the place where thou art at this time.
Behold, thou knowest that thou hast inquired of me and I did enlighten thy mind; and now I tell thee these things that thou mayest know that thou hast been enlightened by the Spirit of truth;
Yea, I tell thee, that thou mayest know that there is none else save God that knowest thy thoughts and the intents of thy heart. . .
Be faithful and diligent in keeping the commandments of God, and I will encircle thee in the arms of my love. . . (D&C 6:5-7; 10-16; 20).

Now another revelation on how to find the Spirit that will help you to know the truth:

And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good – yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy;
And then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining unto things of righteousness, in faith believing in me that you shall receive. (D&C 11:12-14).

And another revelation that admonishes us to simply ask the Lord to help us know the truth:

Behold, you have my gospel before you, and my rock, and my salvation.
Ask the Father in my name, in faith believing that you shall receive, and you shall have the Holy Ghost, which manifesteth all things which are expedient unto the children of men.
And if you have not faith, hope, and charity, you can do nothing.
Contend against no church, save it be the church of the devil.
Take upon you the name of Christ, and speak the truth in soberness.
And as many as repent and are baptized in my name, which is Jesus Christ, and endure to the end, the same shall be saved.
Behold, Jesus Christ is the name which is given of the Father, and there is none other name given whereby man can be saved. . .
These words are not of men nor of man, but of me; wherefore, you shall testify they are of me and not of man;
For it is my voice which speaketh them unto you; for they are given by my Spirit unto you, and by my power you can read them one to another; and save it were by my power you could not have them;
Wherefore, you can testify that you have heard my voice, and know my words. (D&C 18:17-22; 34-36).

So the answer is that if you want to know if something is true, ask the Lord. It has always been interesting to me that Joseph, surrounded by inquiring minds of his disciples, rather than making them dependent upon him as a man, told them to inquire of God for their answers. So it is for us. We should always introduce others to the processes of revelation, rather than seek revelation for them.

Now what about the words of living prophets? How may we know whether or not they are speaking the truth to us? Notice in his classic answer to this classic question that President Harold B. Lee turns the responsibility right where it should be – on our shoulders as members of the Church, not on our leaders:

It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everything they read and write. Now you keep that in mind. I don't care what his position is, if he writes something or speaks something that goes beyond anything that you can find in the standard church works, unless that one be the prophet, seer, and revelator -- please note that one exception -- you may immediately say, “Well, that is his own idea.” And if he says something that contradicts what is found in the standard church works (I think that is why we call them “standard” – it is the standard measure of all that men teach), you may know by that same token that it is false, regardless of the position of the man who says it. We can know or have the assurance that they are speaking under inspiration if we so live that we can have a witness that what they are speaking is the word of the Lord. There is only one safety, and that is that we shall live to have the witness to know. President Brigham Young said something to the effect that “the greatest fear I have is that the people of this Church will accept what we say as the will of the Lord without first praying about it and getting the witness within their own hearts that what we say is the word of the Lord.” (Harold B. Lee, Annual Seminary and Institute Fireside, July 8, 1964, 11).

How do we know the other churches aren’t true?

Jesus Christ and his Father settled the answer to that question on a morning early in the spring of 1820. The fourteen year-old boy prophet Joseph Smith, seeking to learn which church to join by asking God in prayer was told “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; that 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.’” (Joseph Smith History 1:18-19).

However, other churches have much in them that is good and honorable. Joseph said many years later after that initial answer, “Have the Presbyterians any truth? Yes. Have the Baptists, Methodists, etc., any truth? Yes. They all have a little truth mixed with error. We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true ‘Mormons.’” (TPJS, 316).

Why do the General Authorities preach about the same topics over and over again?

The first thing that came into my mind when I read this question was the Lord’s explanation to Moroni why the complete account of the visions of the brother of Jared were not to be included in The Book of Mormon: “I have written upon these plates the very things which the brother of Jared saw; and there never were greater things made manifest than those which were made manifest unto the brother of Jared.”

But then Moroni was told that, “I should seal them up. . . for the Lord said unto me: They shall not go forth unto the Gentiles until the day that they shall repent of their iniquity, and become clean before the Lord. And in that day that they shall exercise faith in me, saith the Lord, even as the brother of Jared did, that they may become sanctified in me, then will I manifest unto them the things which the brother of Jared saw, even to the unfolding unto them all my revelations, saith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of the heavens and of the earth, and all things that in them are.” (Ether 4:4-7).

So I suppose some things are being held back from us until we are ready to receive more:

And when they have received this [speaking of The Book of Mormon in its present format], which is expedient that they should have first, to try their faith, and if it shall be so that they shall believe these things then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them.” (3 Nephi 26:9).

It has been my observation that the same people who are clamoring for more than the “same old, same old,” are the very ones least prepared to receive more. Some may wonder why General Authorities speak of the same things from conference to conference. As I have studied the utterances of the prophets through the centuries, their pattern seems consistent and very clear to me. They seem to seek, in the words of Alma, to teach people “an everlasting hatred against sin and iniquity.” They preach “repentance, and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Alma 37:32–33). They praise humility. They seek to teach people “to withstand every temptation of the devil, with their faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Alma 37:33). They teach the people “to never be weary of good works.” (Alma 37:34).

Prophets say the same things because we face the same problems in every dispensation of time. Satan helps us thrive on boredom and procrastination in rejecting the counsel of prophets. I am fond of saying that the plot never changes in the struggle of good against evil, only the names in the program. It seems to me that the solutions to these basic problems have not changed. It would be a poor lighthouse that gave off a different signal to guide every ship entering a harbor. In our mountain community where many are lost each year, it would be a poor search and rescue team member who, knowing the safe route back home, took his trusting rescued ones down unpredictable and perilous paths.

Earlier in this dispensation the Lord promised that at General Gonference “it shall be made known unto you what you shall do.” (D&C 73:2). As stated, this promise is fulfilled with each and every conference. Although the issues and problems may change and temptations may take on a new face, the living prophets provide the guidance on both temporal and spiritual matters that will enable us to stand “steadfast and immovable amidst the storms of the day. . . We meet together often in the Church in conferences,” President Spencer W. Kimball testified, “to worship the Lord, to feast upon the word of Christ, and to be built up in faith and testimony. . . The purpose of this conference is that we may refresh our faith, strengthen our testimonies, and learn the ways of the Lord from his duly appointed and authorized servants. May we take this opportunity, then, to remind each other of our covenants and promises and commitments.” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 521).

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