We live in a time, a time unprecedented in our history, which is filled with change, hope, anxiety, fear, joy, faith, and action. Questions like, “Are these the end times”, and, “Will the world end soon” are on many people’s minds. What of the signs of the Heavens? What do they portend? Concepts such as compassion, inclusion, exclusion, tolerance, civil rights, nature vs. nurture, hatred, love, God’s law vs. natural law vs. man’s law – all seem to be at odds with each other. The message of babylon is clear, but then really not so clear…”if you don’t keep up with the change, you will not only be left behind, you will be marginalized”.
Now, I’m not against change – not by any means. Change is what keeps us alive. Despite the fact that people tend to spend their whole lives trying to arrange things “just so”, they are truly at their best when they are in the midst of change. The faith cycle, of which I have written previously, and which prescribes desire, hope, belief, action, faith and knowledge, and which in turn fuels new desires for more knowledge, is God’s perpetual change machine. If we, as individuals, are not changing, we’re dying. I would venture that the same is true of any organism, of society, even the earth and the universe itself. If it weren’t changing, it wouldn’t be living.
Dealing with Change
Change is essential, but it’s not easy. Life is not easy. It’s ironic, actually, that our #1 mechanism for dealing with change is stability. We want an anchor, a life-line, something we can count on to NOT change, so that we can more easily deal with the change that is swirling around us, more often than not out of our control. Children look to their parents; spouses look to each other; religionists look to their churches, their doctrine, and their leaders. We all look elsewhere for stability. Denver Snuffer, in his April, 2014 lecture entitled “Zion”, emphasized the idea that we all look for a “strong man” – someone to whom we can go to make the hard decisions and to guide us through the changes that we don’t feel like we can control ourselves. In other words, we doubt ourselves, so we look outside ourselves for security. We trust in the arm of flesh. Christ, of course, says, “Look to me – I will be your stability.” Most of us, though, are not very good at that.
One of those anchors that we often cling to is the scriptures. That’s pretty much a good thing, but even this can be a stumbling block if we’re not careful. For most of the Christian world, “The Scriptures” means the bible. For Latter-Day Saints, or “Mormons”, scriptures include the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Many are those who have been heard to claim, “If it’s in the scriptures, it’s true” as well as its corollary, “If it’s not in the scriptures, it can’t be true”. I’ve had more than one interaction recently where an individual questioned something that was proposed, or which had been said, because they could find no precedent in the scriptures. I would also point out that it is not uncommon at all for tradition, culture, and policy in various organizations to take on the weight of scripture in these thought processes.
What is Scripture?
I revere the scriptures, and let there be no mistake on that. However (and I know this is going to be considered heresy by some) I think we put too much stock in scriptures. Allow me to explain:
First, we can’t even agree on the definition of scripture. Of all of the writings that record man’s perception of the dealings between man and God; over all the thousands of years of that relationship; the Christian world somehow narrowed the canon of scripture down to the 66 books in the current King James Bible. This canonization process has taken place over almost 2000 years, with different denominations including or rejecting various writings, such as the Apocrypha, based on their own preferences and proclaimed inspiration. In Latter-day Saint scriptures, even such staples as he Doctrine and Covenants have undergone changes and revisions. The veracity and accuracy of certain sections is often questionable when their history is scrutinized. The Lectures on Faith were once included, but no longer are. Are they scripture? They were at one time – but they’re not now? How does that happen? What about the Book of Enoch? The Gospel of Thomas? The various works known as Pseudepigrapha? Why are they not scripture, while other writings are? It’s all very complicated, and very confusing.
Second, all scripture has gone through multiple levels of translations. If we accept the belief that scripture is revealed through the mind of God, then we have the following levels of translation:
- From the mind of God through the mind of Man to paper. This translation occurs very frequently through the added filter of many years between the actual occurrence and the actual recording. (Take, for example, the 4 gospels and the book of Acts)
- From one language to another – e.g. Aramaic to Greek to Latin to English
- From the written word to the mind of man (the reader).
Furthermore, at every stage, man is filtering through the haze of their tradition, previous learning, limited understanding, and potential influence of personal, church, social, or governmental agendas. This is probably why Joseph Smith said “…that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth…”, simply because it went through fewer layers of translation. Even in this case, though, if it’s origins are reasonably correct, it was translated from its original authors’ version of the “Reformed Egyptian” through Mormon’s and Moroni’s version of the Reformed Egyptian” (do we really think the language didn’t change over 1000 years?), through Mormon’s abridgment process, and then through the mind of Joseph Smith into English.
We can learn much from the scriptures – they are indispensable, even sacred, if we are to learn to know God, and thus gain eternal life – but we need to keep in mind that the only sure source of knowledge is the Lord Himself – as testified to us through the Holy Ghost. We are often told that we should test the words of the prophets against the Holy Ghost, that we may gain our own testimony of their truthfulness. I maintain that this counsel is no less necessary as we read scriptures. We risk being deceived if we take them literally, or, worse yet, accept someone else’s interpretation as truth.
The Purpose of Scripture
I think the primary purpose of the scriptures is to help us learn the nature of God and His will for us. Such knowledge is to “know God”, and is the source of eternal life (John 17:3). In the Lectures on Faith, lesson 6, verse 2, we read:
…An actual knowledge to any person, that the course of life which he pursues is according to the will of God, is essentially necessary to enable him to have that confidence in God without which no person can obtain eternal life.
One might argue, “But the scriptures give us commandments and laws, and penalties, and they speak of judgment, and they prophesy of future events, and…” The Lord Himself, when asked what are the two greatest commandments, said:
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
I ask now, is there a more succinct description of the nature of God and His will for us? Everything else in the scriptures is secondary and facilitative of these two commandments – to love God and love your neighbor. Even the more specific commandments in the scriptures are primarily for the purpose of leading us to a knowledge of Him.
To the extent that scriptures speak specifically of doctrines and ordinances, we should certainly observe them.
And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.
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.
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 11:32-35)
To the extent that they speak of commandments, we must keep them:
Behold, I have given unto you the commandments; therefore keep my commandments. And this is the law and the prophets, for they truly testified of me. (3 Nephi 15:10)
Scriptures are therefore of great worth as we seek to know the God whom we would serve, and as we seek to serve Him according to His will. However, let’s consider the fact that all writings that are now considered scripture were at one time quite leading edge – they were “new”. Indeed, Moses, when he wrote the Pentateuch, we most certainly drew on oral history, and may well have been cognizant of the fact, through the Lord Himself, that he was writing for a great purpose. Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni all certainly knew they were writing for our day – for readers that would live sometime in the distant future, and Nephi was certainly drawing on the previous writings of Isaiah (The preciously-preserved Brass Plates). However, I suspect that most of the writers of what we now consider scripture did not know, at the time, that they were writing something that would be canonized into “scripture” by some council or synod at some future date. So, we might ask, why did they write? What motivated them?
Of course, some reported having been commanded by God to write. Isaiah, John, and Nephi certainly come to mind. The Old Testament Prophets in general were commanded to write of their visions and prophecies. Others might well be derived from oral histories – Ruth, Jonah, The Kings and Chronicles that were ultimately put down into writing. I doubt that Paul or James or John, when they were writing their epistles, wrote them with the intent of their being included in our modern canonized Bible. Why did they write, then? To answer I would ask, “Why do I write? Why do YOU write?” We write because we love the Lord; we adore Him; and we want to record His word which was given to us! We want to record the significant events in our lives and history. Our writing is often, I think, a particularly pure form of worship.
My point, then, is this – scripture is and always has been created as our relationship with God unfolds. In that it helps us understand the mind and nature of God, it prepares us for the future. In that scripture often contains prophecies or patterns and types, it can help us recognize the nature and impact of current events and help us prepare for future events. All of that is secondary, though, to their primary purpose of helping us to gain knowledge of God. If we are not seeking that knowledge, all else is futile and of no eternal worth.
We are living, as I said, in extraordinary times. I know it in the bones of my soul. Throughout the history of man’s relationship with God, this time we are experiencing is on par with the Creation Drama, the Garden Drama, the Flood Drama, the Meridian of Time, and the Restoration as key eras or milestones in God’s plan for this earth. If we compare all of our knowledge and experiences against scripture, and force them to correlate, are we not in danger of missing out on, or misunderstanding, what God is actually doing to bring about this next act? If we rely on past scripture alone for our knowledge of God and of His works in these last days, who is going to write the scripture for this time?
I quote from a Wikipedia article on Biblical Canon:
Most of the canons listed below are considered “closed” (i.e., books cannot be added or removed), reflecting a belief that public revelation has ended and thus the inspired texts may be gathered into a complete and authoritative canon, which scholar Bruce Metzger defines as “an authoritative collection of books.”
The accuracy of this article is not the issue – it is the idea that the canon of scripture could be closed. This is a concept that is bedrock to most Christian faiths, but less so in Latter-day Saint Doctrine…or is it? Are we really open to new scripture? I’ll answer that. NO, WE’RE NOT! The fact that we’re not is a symptom of the condition of the Latter-day church today. Furthermore, are we really open to receiving direction from God that has no precedent in scripture? Unfortunately, most of us are not. Let’s look at this in perspective. We have scripture from…let’s count them again: The Creation Drama, the Garden Drama, the Flood Drama, the Exodus Drama, and the Meridian of Time, and the Restoration. Why in the world would the Lord abandon the practice of inspiring scripture to be recorded during this, one of the most critical, most prophesied events in history? Furthermore, why would He limit himself to doing things that have already been recorded in previous scripture, when this unfolding drama has never occurred on this earth before?
So, if we cannot always measure new commandments and direction against canonized scripture, how can we know if we are receiving the word of God? How can we know we are not being deceived? To answer this, let me quote a new revelation, specific to me, but which might indeed be helpful to each of us:
You are not being deceived. Moroni (Moroni 7:11-19) made it clear indeed that all voices that encourage the worship of Christ, all voices which encourage charity, humility, and the power that grows from them – together as one package – are from me. You have no desire for control, compulsion, or dominion. This is the sign by which you may know that you are being led by my word. If you or anyone ever begins to demonstrate that desire – they are not of me. This is a great key –one by which you may be sure. This is a glorious truth that will give you much peace concerning what is happening with you. You can be sure of this – I give you my promise – the promise of Heaven. Yes – the relief that you feel is very real, and it is very appropriate. Do not doubt. As long as you can observe this key, you will be safe from the adversary. I repeat – this is the grand key by which you may judge between my voice and the voice of others.
According to this revelation, there is a grand key whereby we may know that the voice we hear is the voice of the Lord. If the voice:
- Encourages the worship of Christ
- Promotes charity, humility, and the power that comes only from them
- Does not engender a desire for control, compulsion, or dominion
…then it is His voice. Furthermore, I will go so far as to state that any new scripture can be measured against old scripture by determining whether or not it denies the nature of God and His will for us, individually and as a people. I have already stated that this is the true primary purpose of the scriptures. We cannot, however, let God’s purposes be thwarted because His current word is not validated in detail by existing canonized scripture! If we are following Him, if we are receiving His word and stepping forth in power and service, we will be writing new scripture – not just by our words on paper or in a computer, but through our actions; through our very deeds; through our sacrifices and our labors. Indeed, our love will be the source of the power by which we will bring about Zion! The things we do during these latter days will be part of the scriptures that are referenced during the millennium. How they will be preserved and selected is not up to us – that is up to the Lord Himself. It is simply up to us to do the work. Forgive me for being so bold, but our deeds in building Zion – in carrying out His will during these last days – will constitute the legends of future generations for 1000 years or more! We must rise up! We must recognize who we are! We must learn to hear His voice and to trust Him. We cannot restrict ourselves to what has been written before, or to what has been done before. We must make new history and we must write new scripture.
I cannot share with you via this feeble post the desire, the hope, the power, and the knowledge that rose inside my breast as I wrote these words. A burning in the bosom? Perhaps. Perhaps, indeed. I hope that you can receive your own witness of the greatness of the work that many are being called to do. If these words here this day, in this post, inspire you to seek that witness, then the work of this post is done, and I await the next instruction.
I praise my Lord and Savior. His goodness and righteousness is supreme and all-powerful. I repeat, “His goodness and righteousness is supreme and all-powerful”. He is thus the source of all power in the universe. He is a god of truth and cannot lie. I so testify, in His holy name – even Jesus Christ. Amen.