Saturday, February 24, 2007

Supremacy of Revelation

One of the more interesting ideas in By the Hand of Mormon by Terryl L. Givens is the idea that the Book of Mormon introduces a form of revelation that is rejected by most Western religions. He states that almost all Christians have described the word “Revelation” as a metaphorical transmission of God’s revealing Himself. There is no actual concrete information that is given to a person who contacts the Divine entity. The argument seems to be that to claim a direct communication of actual words is to 1) ascribe anthropomorphism to God who is not human and 2) be open to fanaticism and heresy. However, the Book of Mormon explicitly introduces “dialogic revelation” as a true sign of faith and spiritual development. It should be part of the lives of everyone:

The Book of Mormon here becomes a study in contrast. Through chiastic form, thematic structure, numerous textual examples, and a final concluding instance of readerly invitation, the scripture hammers home the insistent message that revelation is the province of everyman. As a consequence, in the world of the Book of Mormon, concepts like revelation, prayer, inspiration, mystery find powerful and substantive redefinition. That may well be the Book of Mormon’s most significant and revolutionary – as well as controversial – contribution to religious thinking. The particularity and specificity, the vividness, the concreteness, and the accessibility of revelatory experience – those realities both underlie and overshadow the narrated history and doctrine that constitute the record. The “knowability” of all truth, the openness of mystery, the reality of personal revelation find vivid illustration within the record and invite reenactment outside it. (Givens, pg. 221)

This presents for Mormons a very strong challenge. It is not enough to simply feel good about spiritual experiences and consider us enlightened. Receiving revelation must take a step beyond the metaphorical and become literal. As Joseph Smith explained, “A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon.” (TJS, pg 151). Ultimately, the purpose of “dialogic revelation” is to bring Salvation by bringing us into the very presence of God with the knowledge gained. Again, as Joseph Smith has said, no one can be saved in ignorance. This is more than a prescription to book learning, but direct instruction to search out Heavenly communication for our own eternal welfare. Indeed, it is the key to that most forgotten subject of much speculation; the Second Comforter.

It is often stated by Latter-day Saints that the return of Revelation and Prophets is the central originality of Mormonism. What is perhaps less acknowledged is that personal revelation is as important a theological teaching as any corporate claim of authoritative pronouncements. Of course, it has been taught almost from the beginning that no revelation is accepted outside of a person’s authoritative jurisdiction. That still leaves room for the equally necessary individual communication with the Divine. Despite what Givens says about the Bible having almost no discussion of personal revelation, Mormons often quote Numbers 11: 24-29 as instructive:

24 And Moses went out, and told the people the words of the LORD, and gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them round about the tabernacle.

25 And the LORD came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease.

26 But there remained two of the men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad: and the spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were written, but went not out unto the tabernacle: and they prophesied in the camp.

27 And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp.

28 And Joshua the son of Nun ,the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them.

29 And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit upon them!

With so much emphasis on Revelation, there is still less practical applications observable in the lives of Latter-day Saints. This is not to say that many don’t hold the concept in high esteem as theory. Yet, when asked what was the last revelation a person remembers having, many if not most Mormons would probably point to the time they gained a testimony or a missionary story. Two possibilities are that revelation is not recognized when received or it is not easy to obtain. Considering the importance placed on communicating with God, it might be time to practice recognizing the intimations of the Spirit in a more "enthusiastic" tradition. Not a simple task, but essential to Salvation.

Humor and the Gospel

No longer available due to publishing issues.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Theory of Mormon Theology

There was a discussion about the value of theology that questioned why Latter-day Saints have such a hard time accepting the study of theology. It got me thinking of my own interest in the subject. Surely Mormons dabble in the study of theology more than credit has been given. They just don't know it. Discussing the personal opinions about the Last Days and what the Afterlife will be like can generate a lot of theological debate. The confusing might be on how casual it all can sound. There is a disjointedness that is hard to say creates a formal approach to doctrinal exigesis.

Mormons probably don’t like (systematic) theology because of the attitudes of the early leaders, particularly Joseph Smith. Theology is often interpreted as dogma, and “dogma” is considered even worse than theology because of the inherent rejection of new revelation. The word “doctrine” is far more accepted a term because it isn’t seen as related to a closed set of rules and beliefs. Thus, why Bruce R. McConkie's book was named “Mormon Doctrine” rather than “Mormon Theology” when published.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Divine Motherhood

One of the unique doctrines of the LDS Church is the existence of a Mother in Heaven. It is more than a trivial speculative idea, but part of the foundational teachings associated with Exaltation. Although particulars are not available, the doctrine is enshrined in one of the most beloved hymns “Oh My Father” by Eliza R. Snow. It states, “in the heavens, are parents single?” and replies, “no . . . truth eternal tells me I’ve a mother there.” President Wilford Woodruff proclaimed the hymn a revelation. To add to that, it is impossible to fully comprehend the doctrines of eternal families without accepting the implications.

Yet, some are troubled by the lack of particulars. Usually those who would like women to have a greater role in the LDS Church, and especially would like Priesthood positions granted to them voice these concerns. The refrain to such requests is “the subject is too sacred,” or more forcefully, “God doesn’t want His wife mocked and ridiculed by the World as He lovers Her too much.” There is truth in this, but it doesn’t really answer the question of near silence. The Scriptures don’t even hint this. Prophets, if they have said anything at all, have not made that proclamation (although they have numerous times in relation to Temple ordinances) a central concern. There are some answers, but not ones that will either close off the discussion or be comforting to the critics of minimalism.

On Earth as In Heaven

What we know about our Heavenly Mother is perhaps more than realized. This is because most Mormons, both “progressive” and “traditional” are looking for things overly transcendent. The “Easy to understand” is seen as less worthy of respect then something that can be forever argued and dissected. Perhaps worse for some is that the conclusion of Her nature casts a shadow on certain aspirations.

The key to understanding Heavenly Mother is both in the name and a simple verse of the Doctrine and Covenants. It occurs in the famous “Civil War Prophecy” of D&C 130:

1 When the Savior shall appear we shall see him as he is. We shall see that he is a man like ourselves.

2 And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.

Although it has more to do with the nature of God and our relation to Him than gender issues, the idea expressed of “that same sociality” has repercussions. There is not a lot of differences between what we observe here on Earth and human nature in the Eternities. It is true that we are perhaps more prone to sin, misunderstanding, lies, and mistakes in mortality. Yet, it is clear that mothers are a very important part of the social fabric of humanity. To understand motherhood is to understand Heavenly Mother, just as Fatherhood brings its own lessons. The recent Proclamation on the Family emphasizes the Earthly relationships of gender to Eternal truth:

We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children . . .

. . . By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.

Therefore, we know that Heavenly Mother is just that; a woman who takes care of children. There is no pretence as to how that can be achieved other than through the known doctrine of Faith, Hope, and Charity or more succinctly Love. Learn how to cultivate those characteristics and the more the nature of Heavenly Mother will become clear. For those who believe that raising children is a disgrace or beneath a fully spiritual identity, Jesus had some choice words:

10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.

11 For the Son of man is come to Save that which was lost.

-- Matt. 18: 10-11

Of course, not every woman has the opportunity to marry or raise children here on Earth. However, if Heaven is the ideal and families reflect Heaven, then Time only is of concern and not ultimate circumstances. There is much that we must, as religious people, hope for in the next life that cannot be attained in mortal probation. Marriage and children might be part of that anticipation for a better Eternal life. Creating a false Goddess figure only separates us from real Salvation through Jesus Christ.

Worship and Salvation

This possibility is not without precedent. Some scholars have seen within the Bible a fight for repressing a more female oriented worship. In other words, additional theology of a fertility Goddess that either goes with or usurps the male God that is accepted as the I AM that should have no other Gods before Him. Some would say the “go with” is not theologically unacceptable. However, Jesus warned:

17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth.

18 so be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because ye say that I cast out devils through Beelzebub.

--Luke 11: 17-18

It would be near impossible not to develop two theological worship systems that didn't diverge. Like manna, a choice between one and the other would be inevitable when both insist upon our devotion. As is clearly taught in the Scriptures, Jesus Christ has already been established as the only Way to Salvation; and he does not give room for another deity beyond Father as the focus of our Prayers. It is true that he acts with God, but ultimately he gives the glory to God. There is an example of prayer to enhance this point:

9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

10 Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

11 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

12 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

13 For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

-- 3 Ne. 13: 9-13

The nature of Heavenly Mother is clearly defined, as is her role. Scriptures do not mention Her because she is not part of the plan of salvation beyond what we already know of motherhood. The deity we worship continues to be Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as One, and They have been consistent on who and what we must do to be saved. If honesty is important, those who want to “graduate” the female half of Heavenly Parents must acknowledge there isn’t much known about Father in Heaven either. We know as much as we do about Him because Jesus is His representative. Ultimately it is through Jesus Christ that we get near the Father, and it is through the Father that the Mother can be percieved.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Operations of the Spirit

Sometimes when watching a movie that has a very emotional scene, it might move us to tears. There is a glowing feeling, for instance, in a romantic movie when the guy finally tells the girl how much he loves her. For the most part men are less emotional in those instances. Yet, there are probably many times that the same kinds of feelings can be evoked even from them. There is something about human nature that brings out hope, goodwill, and what we might call spiritual stirrings.

This can beg the question of what is the difference between these partly artificial feelings and the workings of the Spirit. Many times both are described as similar. Perhaps it is simply the Spirit touching us with any instance of "virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy." Some find this troubling because individually not everyone agrees what those should be. What moves one person, even among Mormons who believe so strongly in spiritual manifestations, draws a blank for others.

Perhaps this is because of a one dimensional understanding of the way the Spirit operates. There is a lot more to the Witness of the Holy Ghost then the "burning in the bosom" that is often made light of by believers and unbelievers alike.

We must understand that the Holy Ghost, through the Light of Christ, can touch anyone. As states in Moroni 7: 16-17 when talking about recognizing good things:

16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.

17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.

It is in this way that Missionaries can bring investigators to repentance. They recognize the first intimations of the Spirit and, if they act upon those feelings, can come to the truth of the Gospel.

We must be careful to not confuse the Witness of the Spirit with the Power of the Spirit. This is where many lose faith because they see signs of the Spirit everywhere and start questioning if the LDS Church is the only one with God's authority. Joseph Smith explained:

"There is a difference between the Holy Ghost and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Cornelius received the Holy Ghost before he was baptised, which was the convincing power of God unto him of the truth of the Gospel, but he could not receive the gift of the Holy Ghost until after he was baptised. Had he not taken this sign or ordinance upon him, the Holy Ghost which convinced him of the truth of God, would have left him." (History of Church 4:555)

With a proper understanding of the operations of the Spirit, we can grow in faith and increase the productivity of our lives. The key to this is in the Gifts of the Spirit available to those who have been properly baptized and confirmed as members of the Church. It is not in the "feelings born of testimony" that the Power of the Holy Ghost is a greatest blessing. That is only the beginning of wisdom. The real focus of our Spiritual enlightenment should be in obtaining the Gifts of the Spirit. As listed in D&C 46: 13-28, among other places, there are many gifts available.

The Gifts are given to those who seek them. Everyone has different gifts, but they cannot get them without at least seeking out the Spiritual blessings. Those who have been given the Holy Ghost are not simply handed them. As Verses 7-10 states:

7 But ye are commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally; and that which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all holiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, cconsidering the end of your salvation, doing all things with prayer and thanksgiving, that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils.

8 Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given;

9 For verily I say unto you, they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do; that all may be benefited that seek or that ask of me, that ask and not for a sign that they may consume it upon their lusts.

10 And again, verily I say unto you, I would that ye should always remember, and always retain in your minds what those gifts are, that are given unto the church.

Living in the World can make it difficult to have the Holy Ghost in our lives. It will not always strive with us, especially when we give into the enticing of the flesh and sin. It is sadly far too common for a person to lose faith because they lose the Spirit. Often this is because the cares of the World and Sin enter into the heart and the Holy Ghost cannot dwell in unclean things.

The person loses the Holy Ghost, and recognizing something is missing they lose the faith. They seek to fill the void with something else, and find a replacement with negativity, more sin, or false spirituality. It is sad they more often think something becomes wrong with God or the Church then with themselves. Paul warned in Gal 5: 17-25 about the difference between living by the flesh and living by the Spirit:

17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,

20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,

21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.

25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

We must learn to recognize Spiritual operations vs. the Natural inclinations. The former is eternal and the latter is fleeting. That is the first and greatest key to coming to truth, gaining faith, and becoming more like Christ. King Benjamin in Mosiah 4: 9-10 summed it up when he said:

9 Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.

10 And again, believe that ye must repent of your sins and forsake them, and humble yourselves before God; and ask in sincerity of heart that he would forgive you; and now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them.

Sitting around thinking, watching, reading, and generally observing does not get us anywhere. The Holy Ghost becomes a neutral in our lives and then "gets bored" and leaves. Faith is an action word and only living by the Word of God can the operations of the Spirit become fully capable of changing lives. Don't rest faith on emotionalism alone; but be an active participant in Church, Community, and family. Those who distance themselves from these things because they are not closer to the Holy Ghost then they should be are the most likely to lose faith altogether. Living the Gospel is how we find God and have the Holy Ghost with us.