I repent. I have sinned. I have become “caught up” in an LDS (Latter Day Saints) phenomenon that has taken root among faithful and adventurous members who are seeking greater understanding of the mysteries of the kingdom. For many of these, traditional boundaries no longer exist. Truth is the treasure they seek, wherever they might find it. This phenomenon is characterized by internet forums, blogs, and websites, and supplemented by several authors whose books explore “deep doctrine”, or doctrine outside the Church’s correlated curriculum. These new sources of sharing often actively explore and promote legitimate and uplifting doctrines such as Baptism by Fire, Calling and Election, the Second Comforter, the doctrine of translation, and the calling of the 144,000 – all doctrines contained in the scriptures, taught by the prophet Joseph and other prophets, but which are largely absent in the church’s curriculum today. I am not being critical of this phenomenon, or of the Church’s curriculum. I am greatly indebted to both of them. Because of those willing to step out, explore, and share these doctrines, my eyes have been opened to aspects of the gospel that I had been previously unaware of. My own desire to study and understand has escalated. The energy with which I seek the Lord’s will has increased dramatically. The learning that has taken place as a result has been glorious. It is undeniable that I have grown much closer to my Savior over the last 3 years. I truly believe that this development may well represent the hand of the Lord preparing us for establishment of Zion and the return of the Savior in His glory. On the other hand, I would never have been able to even approach such horizons if it weren’t for the nourishing teaching of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints.
However, my being involved in this movement; my learning more about my Savior and His promised blessings; and truly seeking to “know Him” is not my sin. My sin is much more insidious – any of us could easily fall into the same trap. That is why I am sharing my experience and the understanding that I have gained. You see, my sin is that as I began to be exposed to these things; as I read accounts of people who had met the Savior, who had received their calling and election from the Lord, even who are being translated and/or called as one of the 144,000, I began to say in my heart, “Why not me? I want some of this! I’m just as good and faithful as they are – why was I not chosen?” I also began sharing these things in order to show others how much I knew. This, brothers and sisters, was my sin. I believe this is called jealousy, is it not? And pride. I’ve written before about D&C 67:10, and the Lord’s admonition to “…strip yourselves from jealousies and fears and humble yourselves before me…”. Yet, here I was being jealous of those who had received manifestations from the Lord that I had, to that point, not experienced. I have labeled this error as “Keeping up with the Joneses”. That was my sin, and this post is a cautionary message to each of my readers.
The scriptures that urge us to go beyond the correlated curriculum in the Church are myriad. As we study them, the Lord has promised to enlighten our minds and our understanding:
That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light, and that light growth brighter and brighter until that perfect day. (D&C 50:24)
In Mormon 9:15-20, Moroni hammers us with a declaration that miracles do not cease and never will, and if they have ceased among us it is because we have lost our faith. D&C 84:33-38 extols the promises of the Lord unto those who are faithful and are willing to receive His gifts. So, I do not intend to discourage anyone from pursuing the promised gifts of the fullness of the gospel. They are ours, and I submit that they should be sought after as precious treasures.
However, I have learned some things recently about how they should be sought after, and I present them for your consideration.
In my blog post “The True Church”, I presented an image of the Prophet, representing the Church, standing at the top of the horizon, saying “follow me”; but when you reach him, you discover that he is pointing beyond that first horizon – directing us to continue seeking even after we have received all that he, or the Church, can offer. Joseph Smith absolutely filled this role, encouraging every man to seek to have his calling and election made sure (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Pages 297-298) and expounding on the promise of the Second Comforter (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Pgs 149-151). I believe every prophet fills the same role, including President Monson. However, I have also come to realize that the Church is responsible for the salvation of the whole world – a world full of God’s children who are obviously on a wide spectrum of spiritual levels. Besides missionary work, the Church must provide its 15 million members with just the right mixture of milk and meat – stimulating some without leaving others behind. To offer meat to those who are not ready would not be to love them. And who is to determine “who” is ready for “what” across thousands of wards and stakes and millions of individuals? Such a determination can only be made, on an individual basis, by the Lord Himself. Only HE knows what we are ready for and when we are ready for it.
Be Thou Not Commanded in All Things
I believe that part of sustaining the church and the brethren is to take responsibility for our own progress. The church can only take us so far for the reasons I’ve mentioned. If we depend upon our leaders to nurture us every step of the way, we may be taking resources away from someone who is less able to progress on their own. Of course, the Lord has made it clear that we are not to be commanded in all things, lest we be deemed a “slothful servant”. (D&C 58:26)
As an ordinance worker in the Salt Lake Temple, we receive “training” each week in a devotional meeting prior to starting our shift. Occasionally we have the opportunity to attend other devotional meetings. The temple presidency often alludes to these sacred doctrines, but has repeatedly taught that the mysteries of the kingdom must be sought individually, and they must be taught, or at least confirmed, by the Holy Ghost. The temple endowment itself is extremely rich and complicated in its simplicity (“simply” leading us into the Savior’s presence), but its meaning must be taught individually, when we are ready, by the spirit. These doctrines are not ignored or rejected by the church, but the teaching of them is reserved for the most sacred of places – the temple – lest they be misunderstood or misapplied. The learning must be the result of effort on our part, as an exercise of faith, which in turn invites the teaching by the spirit. We must have the desire, and we must put forth the effort, so that the Lord may teach us. If he taught us any other way, without that effort and desire, most of us, I believe, would not value the sacred knowledge as much as we should.
The Lord’s University
The temple has often been called “The Lord’s University”. One might liken it to an “Advanced Gospel Doctrine” Sunday school class, but the course of instruction is almost totally parabolic. There is no Church-approved class manual, and the only instructors are the spirit and the ritual itself. Just as Christ taught in parables so that those who have “ears to hear” (multiple scriptural references) would understand, so the temple, especially the endowment, teaches in symbols. As the 10 commandments provided a safeguard against damnation for the Israelites, the endowment binds us to covenants that, if kept and magnified, promise to protect and guide us on our own journey toward Zion and exaltation. In addition to this, though, buried within this ritual instruction, is a glorious presentation of our journey from the Lord’s presence in the pre-existence, through a spiritually instructive mortal experience in this telestial kingdom, and gradually, step-by-step, back toward redemption from the fall and a return to the Lord’s presence – all just as promised in the scriptures. The temple invites us to lay hold of “all that my Father hath” (D&C 84:38), and then provides the roadmap for doing so.
I came across a website recently that taught about the symbolism of the endowment ritual. It was apparently sharing the things that the group who administers the website had learned, and it did so in a very reverent, respectful manner. I read a little bit, and quickly learned a couple of things that had not occurred to me before. I was very tempted to devour it and gain “greater light and knowledge”. I hesitated, though, remembering the cautions I had repeatedly received concerning the temple; that these things should not be presented for public consumption. So, before going further, I sought understanding – I sought the Lord’s guidance. It came to me in this way: I will be taught by the Lord the things I need to learn when I am ready to learn them – as a result of my effort and my “jealousy-free” desire. I have coined the term “organic learning” to describe this. For me to gain the understanding presented by the website would be akin to bulking up my body (yeah, right) using steroids. It would not be natural or healthy – it would not be “organic” – and it is not the Lord’s way. In the temple later that day, I covenanted with the Lord that I would seek learning on His terms, and that specifically I would avoid this website.
I have come to the conclusion that these “mysteries” must be sought for in purity – in pure love for the Savior. If they were to be taught in the correlated curriculum, the implication might be that we were obligated to learn these things. Some might be pressured by culture, peers, or by “authority” that we should be receiving and understanding these mysteries. We might consider allegorically “the talk” that parents always dread but which all hopefully have with their children at some point in their lives. When the child is ready, they will ask, and that is when the “birds and the bees” discussion should take place. Sex education in the schools often forces that “talk” to take place too soon – before the child is really ready – or, even worse, to not take place at all. The parents never have the opportunity to teach their children “organically”, lovingly, in their own way. The learning takes place, but it is artificially stimulated rather than occurring as the child’s individual progression would dictate. So it is with these mysteries – they must be taught by the heavenly “parent”, in love and wisdom, when the “child” is ready – not when someone else says they are ready.
Love is Sometimes Hard Work
My experience recently has been that I’ve had to work to overcome disagreements and misunderstandings about some things the Church teaches and does. I do not simply accept everything on faith (never have and never will), although I do accept some things temporarily on faith – a faith built on experience – until I can gain a greater understanding. Interestingly enough, the result of my efforts is similar to when you have to work hard to learn to love an individual. When this happens, one’s love for that person grows, one’s commitment grows, and one’s understanding grows. Similarly, the more I become aware of the Church’s imperfections and the more I work at understanding its nature, its mission and its man-made weaknesses, the more my love and commitment grow. I frequently find myself recalling that greatest of covenants made in the temple. This is a covenant (as are all such covenants) between ME and GOD, to sustain the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints with all that I have been blessed with. I do not enter into covenants with God lightly, and I do not take this covenant lightly. The harder I have to work at keeping it, the stronger my commitment becomes to sustain and defend it in spite of any deficiencies or failures.
I believe a prophet’s counsel is something we should learn from. If we obey it without questioning, we learn nothing. A prophet is, above all things, a teacher – as was Christ Himself. We should always take His counsel to the Lord, and gain our own testimony of its truthfulness. The purpose of a prophet of the Church, and of the Church itself, is to help our relationship with the divine to blossom. The prophet is not the one who must work out my own salvation with fear and trembling (Mormon 9:27). In the end, my covenants, my relationship with the divine, my “oneness” is with the Lord. My obedience is to the Lord. I do not “Follow the prophet”, I follow Christ, but I do take the prophet’s cherished counsel to the Lord so as to make it mine, that we all may be one.
…delight to Honor Those Who Serve Me
D&C 76:5-10 says:
For thus saith the Lord—I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end. Great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory. And to them will I reveal all mysteries, yea, all the hidden mysteries of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things pertaining to my kingdom. Yea, even the wonders of eternity shall they know, and things to come will I show them, even the things of many generations. And their wisdom shall be great, and their understanding reach to heaven; and before them the wisdom of the wise shall perish, and the understanding of the prudent shall come to naught. For by my Spirit will I enlighten them, and by my power will I make known unto them the secrets of my will—yea, even those things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor yet entered into the heart of man.
The mysteries are there, they are real, they are to be known and are knowable, and the Lord will “delight” to honor us with this knowledge. However, we must be prepared for this knowledge. Knowledge is power, and knowledge without wisdom can be dangerous. I have nothing scriptural to “back this up”, but I believe that we will receive knowledge at the same pace that we approach a state of charity. 2 Peter 1:5-7 details a process of spiritual progression:
And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.
I believe that as we advance through this progression, and continue to seek further light and knowledge, the knowledge we will receive will increase, until that perfect day (D&C 50:24).
So, these are the things I have learned as the result of my seeking after the “mysteries” of the kingdom. Many criticize the Church because they don’t teach these things. I’ve heard some say, “why doesn’t the Church teach them – they’re true – and by not teaching them they are depriving God’s children of this glorious message!” I fear that if these mysteries were taught routinely, they would become routine, and thus perhaps cheapened. Instead of uplifting people, we run the risk, if we are not careful, of taking that precious teaching process out of the Lord’s hands where it rightly belongs. Some may be called by the spirit to teach these things publically. I cannot question them – that is between them and the Lord; but let’s not condemn the Church because it doesn’t teach everything we have learned. There are some things that the Church wisely leaves for the Lord to teach in whatever way He chooses, and this teaching, in my opinion, must be largely individualized.
I still seek after the mysteries. I still believe that to ignore them is to disrespect the promised blessings. I still look forward to meeting my Savior, but in seeking I cannot, in any way, be motivated by jealousy or pride. My motives must be pure. I must put my trust in the Lord – that He will teach me at my own pace. I must put forth the required effort in contemplation, in prayer, in scripture study. I must continue my temple service, which includes memorizing all the dialogue in the temple. (The Salt Lake Temple Endowments are live). Perhaps even most importantly, I must continue to learn obedience, humility, and charity. I suggest that there comes a time in our spiritual journey when we surpass what the church itself will teach us – when further light and knowledge must come from the Lord through our own efforts and the help of the Spirit. There will, of course, be times when the Lord sends someone of flesh and blood to teach us something we need to know, so we should never reject a true messenger. God bless them. How do we know they are true messengers? We must cultivate within ourselves the 5 stones of discernment, compassion, obedience, virtue and charity – that we may be able to discern the Lord’s teaching – from whatever source it might come.
I love you, my brothers and sisters. I testify that if we will put our faith in the Lord and in His love for us; if we will actively seek understanding through our individual efforts; and if we will refrain from prideful efforts to “keep up with the Joneses”, the Lord will reveal to us all His mysteries, in the way we need them and at the time we need them, and that he will lovingly prepare us for Zion and eventually to return into His presence. I testify of this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.