They wear stiff necks and high heads; yea, and because of pride, and wickedness, and abominations, and whoredoms, they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men. (2 Nephi 28:14)
Wherefore, I would speak unto you that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ, and that have obtained a sufficient hope by which ye can enter into the rest of the Lord, from this time henceforth until ye shall rest with him in heaven. (Moroni 7:30)
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen. (Moroni 7:48)
And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.
For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted. (Mormon 8:36-37)
These scriptures clearly lead the sincere reader to ask themselves if they are among the “few only”, or if they will be included, at the last day, among the “humble followers of Christ”. There are many in the LDS church today who look around at what is happening in the world and in the church and who conclude that all is not well in Zion.
I honestly count myself among them.
The entirety of Mormon Chapter 8 is a dire prophecy indeed – filled with warnings that most in the church interpret as being addressed to those outside the true church:
Yea, it shall come in a day when there shall be churches built up that shall say: Come unto me, and for your money you shall be forgiven of your sins.
O ye wicked and perverse and stiffnecked people, why have ye built up churches unto yourselves to get gain? Why have ye transfigured the holy word of God, that ye might bring damnation upon your souls? Behold, look ye unto the revelations of God; for behold, the time cometh at that day when all these things must be fulfilled. (Mormon 8:32-33)
There are many, however, who subscribe to the theory that these warnings are directed toward us – toward those who consider themselves faithful members of the LDS church. These sincere students of the scriptures take these warnings as being directed toward them and their brethren in the church.
I count myself among them.
Sadly, I have seen many who, as an extension of this sincere personal inquiry, begin questioning the church itself. They begin questioning the brethren; they begin questioning whether the church is truly led by the Lord; they may even begin to question whether they can honestly sustain the brethren and remain members of the church.
I count myself among them.
Even more sadly, I have seen those who, as a result of this questioning, choose to leave or become so vocal with their criticisms that they are disciplined by the church to the point of excommunication.
I DO NOT count myself among them, and I have no intention of joining them.
My blog over the past 20 months has contained many posts that document the result of my own sincere personal inquiry. It has been a struggle – a struggle to reconcile my own observations, my own limited understanding with what I have been taught is the true order of things. The documentation of this struggle began with the post “Behold the Spirit of Truth”, which I published in December of 2012.
So, why do I not count myself among those whose sincere personal inquiry has come between them and the Lord’s church? That is the point of this post. I offer it in hopes that it will help others who might be experiencing a similar struggle.
First, let me say that, if you are experiencing a similar struggle…good for you! You may well be one of the sincere and humble followers of Christ seen by Nephi, Mormon, and Moroni in these latter days. I have no doubt the Lord is pleased that you care enough to ask questions. He, like you, cherishes your spiritual and intellectual integrity. Such integrity is essential to us if we are to ever find ourselves in His presence. However the path to greater light and knowledge is strewn with the bodies of those who were not able to avoid the deadly obstacles that will most certainly present themselves as you proceed. Second, let me say that the vast majority of these obstacles are activated by the great enemy of all humble followers of Christ – Pride. Therefore, please…beware of pride.
So, again, why do I not count myself among those who can no longer be at peace with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints? There are several reasons:
I Love This Church
I do – I love this church. I love the people in it. I love my dear friends. I love the brethren – they are good men who seek, sometimes in vain, to teach us all to become “humble followers of Christ”. I love the doctrine – it is delicious to me. I can get the doctrine nowhere else. I simply cannot abide the feelings of contention that accompanied my inquiries. As I mentioned in the “Behold the Spirit of Truth” post linked above, I began to feel slimy and contentious. I did not like it. It was at odds with who I have become, and I could not feel the spirit. I recoiled. I began seeking answers that others were not providing. Honestly, one of my prayers today is for the Lord to help cleanse me of the “slime” that worked its way into my heart during this early period. My prayers, obviously, are being answered.
The Lord’s Church
The Lord created this church. There is no doubt about that. He created it for a reason – well, for several reasons, actually. These reasons are largely revealed through the 4-fold mission of the church:
– The church is charged with “perfecting the saints”. It is not in His plan that we should seek the fullness of the gospel in a vacuum. Yes, we each are responsible for working out our own salvation, but we are to lift each other, teach each other, even lead each other to become a Zion people. I do not believe this can be done without the church – the organization – even if it is a temporal organization and can only take us so far. I initially shared this concept in my post, “The True Church”.
– The church is charged with “spreading the gospel” to the 4 corners of the earth. No other church on the earth, with the exception of the Jehovah’s witnesses (whom I respect greatly, by the way) proselytizes as we do. This takes organization and resources (money). Let us not forget that this is very much a temporal world, and that the charge must spread the gospel to this temporal world.
– The church is charged to “care for the poor and needy”. It does so by distributing emergency supplies throughout the world with no strings attached. However, the law of agency dictates that more personal support – that given to individuals or families but not related to a natural disaster – be given in such a way as to lift the individual, and not in such a way that their neediness is perpetuated. In other words, people are encouraged to do their part. As a result, the church’s support includes not only the essentials of food, clothing and shelter, but also a “hand up” in the form of training, jobs placement, actual jobs, etc.
– The church is responsible to “redeem the dead”. The genealogy efforts supported by the church are unparalleled in the world today. Temples are built the world over (currently 141 of them) to support this effort. The fulfillment of this mission represents faith in a doctrine that brings hope and light to Christian doctrine where there was always darkness. In other words, it answers the age-old question of “What happens to someone who lived in deepest, darkest Africa and never heard of Jesus Christ”.
The Church Must Adapt
I mentioned earlier that the church is responsible for fulfilling its mission in a temporal world. One of the stumbling blocks that people come across is their belief that, if the Lord is the same today, yesterday and forever, so must the church be. They bemoan the changes in interpretation of doctrine, changes in policy, changes in how ordinances are performed (especially temple ordinances), changes in the interpretation of tithing, etc. They ridicule the words of past prophets that have apparently been proven wrong. They question whether the words of past prophets outweigh the words of current prophets, or vice versa. What they fail to realize, I think, is that the church must adapt to the world around it. It must do what it must to survive and to thrive. The church’s history is filled with examples which I will not detail here in order to avoid distracting from the focus of this post.
However, I do want to say that this adaptation is, in my mind, consistent with the Lord’s plan for mankind. I have often asked myself, “Why doesn’t He just protect the church? Why doesn’t He force the world to adapt to the church, instead of the other way around?” Ironically, if the Lord were to do so, He would basically be eliminating opposition. Ironically, this would result in eliminating the need for faith. It would eliminate struggle. Policies, ordinances (outward expressions of a sacred covenant), focus, even brick and mortar may very well need to change to enable the church to better fulfill its mission.
Many complain that the church stopped receiving revelation when Joseph died. I recently stumbled across a scripture that truly opened my eyes. It is D&C 70:14, which says:
Nevertheless, in your temporal things you shall be equal, and this not grudgingly, otherwise the abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit shall be withheld.
It is well documented that the early Saints did not succeed in building Zion, and that we today are not equal in temporal things. Therefore, it follows that we should expect that the abundance of manifestations should be withheld. However, this is our own fault. We have no one to blame but ourselves. We should be grateful that we have not simply been rejected as a church, and stop crying about the fact that revelation has ceased.
I don’t accept the fact that revelation has ceased. I’m not even going to discuss the tired issues of polygamy and the priesthood ban. What about the Proclamation on the Family, though, or “The Living Christ”? I perceive these as manifestations – doctrinal statements – comparable to the best that Joseph Smith ever recorded. They are especially pertinent to our day and the struggles that will surely face the church in the near future. Many declare the recent change in the missionary age to be revelation. Others say “No – it’s only policy”. I believe both are right. I believe the change in policy was brought about by revelation. For years, the brethren have exhorted us to beware of debt and to prepare temporally for disasters, either economic or natural. These types of warnings were pretty much unheard of in the scriptures. Joseph certainly did not expound on such things that I remember. Yet, we heard this for years and years before the pulpit finally fell silent a few years ago. Was this not revelation? Perhaps it was not doctrinal revelation, but that doesn’t mean the Brethren have not been receiving revelation to enable them to lead this church, and its members, to fulfill its mission.
Members today seem to have this image of revelation always being received in a flash, from a ministering angel in vision, or some other such heavenly manifestation. I think many think of revelation as an authorized form of magic. Any who have experienced personal revelation understand that revelation is not an exact science. It requires years of practice, and must be mixed with a healthy prescription of faith and trust. It can be manifested in various ways and interpreted according to the individual’s own desires, experiences, fears and prejudices. Then, IF the revelation is shared with others, it is subject to their own interpretation. Then, let us not forget that, according to the Lord’s own commandment as detailed in D&C 107 – the first presidency and the quorum of the twelve are required to be unanimous in all decisions of doctrine or policy. The history of the revelation on the priesthood provides an excellent example of the impact this policy has on the workings of the church and how change or adaptation are brought to pass. Even Joseph Smith’s revelations were almost exclusively given in response to inquiry. My personal experience is the same. I have no reason to doubt that this same pattern exists throughout the church today. Not every revelation received by me, by the bishop or by the prophet is intended to be shared with the public. In other words, I don’t understand how the issue of continuing revelation can even be a question, except that we are trying to fit the Lord’s interaction with His prophets into our paradigm of how it should be done. Did I mention earlier that many of the pitfalls we run into are activated by pride? Ah, yes – it seems I did.
The Lord Runs His Church
It is easy to say “the Lord runs His church” and leave it at that. That may work for some, but not so much for me. Do we ever ask ourselves “How” he runs His church. “By revelation, of course” is ready answer, but is that really it? I believe that the Lord created this world, that He put the mechanics (the laws of the universe) in place, and that He pretty much leaves it alone. I believe there are occasions when He actively intervenes, but I have no idea what the rules are for such interventions. Is it possible that the same is true in His church? Is it possible that He has largely set things in motion with the scriptures, with the organization, and with the policies, and that He largely leaves things in the hands of His stewards as long as they don’t lead HIS church “astray”? Is it possible, then, that we, in our pride, are a little too quick to “steady the ark” when we seek to fit the “running of His church” into our own paradigm of how it should be done? I suggest that any who would criticize should ask themselves with great objectivity the question, “What would I do differently if I were the prophet?”
On the Bus
I am on the bus. I want to be part of the fulfilling the Lord’s plan for the church and for the world. I want to help build Zion – if not with my hand, then with my heart, my mind, and my talents. I do not believe I can do that effectively if I am on the fringes, if I alienate myself from His church and its members (remember, it is HIS church).
The temple is the House of the Lord. The ordinances that are performed therein testify of the Love of God greater than anything I’ve ever experienced. These ordinances point us toward exaltation, and they do it in a way that is uniquely “of the Lord”. Furthermore, the feeling that I get when I walk into the temple is undeniable. The simple fact that the church builds and maintains temples is a testimony to me that, in spite of any perceived imperfections, it IS the Lord’s church, HE is running it, and I am to remain loyal.
There is no Alternative
There is no other church that even approaches teaching correct doctrine as I understand it – the doctrine that, as I mentioned, has become delicious to me. If I am not a member of this church – what is the alternative? Would I form my own church – one that teaches things that I think should be taught, in the way I think they should be taught? Well, that’s been tried, and the names of Ervil Lebaron and Warren Jeffs come to mind. This church holds the priesthood keys that act as a safeguard against another great apostasy and descent into chaos.
I have thought, pondered, and prayed diligently upon the subject of the Church. I have seen many things that made me go “Hmmmm”. I have faced pressure from friends and family pulling me away. I have navigated the minefield that has caused many to leave the church – either by choice or by excommunication. I have had to do these things, because I have recognized that great reward comes only with great risk. Our testimony, if not our own – if not built upon sincere questioning and searching – is useless to us, and is as a house built upon the sand. There may be many who do not question. There may be those who do not need to question. Their lot is not for me to question. I, like many others I know, when presented with the questions, found that I had to take them head on and seek answers from the Lord. These are the answers I received. They were given mercifully and received gratefully in a manner tailored specifically for me. I hope and pray that, in sharing them, I can help others understand those who might be questioning, or – if you are questioning – that you might be able to benefit from the answers I received. I hope that, as a result of my sharing, there might be a few more tools in your tool chest, with which you can build your own house – upon the rock. I hope, above all, that you will find your way into the Lord’s presence, to be bathed in the light of His love forevermore. I pray for this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.