The Harbinger of Salvation

POSTED BY: Millet

03/18/11


Peace is what it’s all about in the gospel sense. Although most members of the Church know what peace is, I believe peace has not yet been given its day in court; maybe we have not fully appreciated as a people what a remarkable “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22) and what a transcendent manifestation of the new birth peace is! Peace is a priceless gift in a world that is at war with itself. Disciples look to him who is the Prince of Peace for their succor and their support. They know that peace is not only a cherished commodity in the here and now but also a harbinger of glorious things yet to be. Peace is a sure and solid sign from God that the heavens are pleased. In referring to a previous occasion when the spirit of testimony had been given, the Savior asked Oliver Cowdery, “Did I not speak peace to your mind . . . What greater witness can you have than from God?” (D&C 6:23).

Sin and neglect of duty result in disunity of the soul, inner strife, and confusion. On the other hand repentance, forgiveness, and rebirth bring quiet and rest and peace. While sin results in disorder, the Holy Spirit is an organizing principle that brings order and congruence. The world and the worldly cannot bring peace. They cannot settle the soul. “Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the Lord; and I will heal him. But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked” (Isaiah 57:19–20).

Hope in Christ, which is a natural result of our saving faith in Christ, comes through spiritual reawakening. We sense our place in the royal family and are warmed by the sweet family association. And what is our indication that we are on course? How do we know we are in the gospel harness? “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4:13; emphasis added). The presence of God’s Spirit is the attestation, the divine assurance that we are headed in the right direction. It is God’s seal, his anointing, his unction (see 1 John 2:20) to us that our lives are in order. John Stott, a beloved Christian writer, has observed, “A seal is a mark of ownership . . . and God’s seal, by which he brands us as belonging forever to him, is the Holy Spirit himself. The Holy Spirit is the identity tag of the Christian” (Authentic Christianity, 81).

We need not be possessed of an unholy or intemperate zeal in order to be saved; we need only be constant and dependable. God is the other party with us in the gospel covenant. He is the controlling partner. He lets us know, through the influence of the Spirit, that the gospel covenant is still intact and the supernal promises are sure. The Savior invites us to learn the timeless and comforting lesson that “he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come” (D&C 59:23). Peace. Hope. Assurance. These things come to us by virtue of the atoning blood of Jesus Christ and as a natural result of our new creation. They serve as an anchor to the soul, a solid and steady reminder of who we are and Whose we are.


A Sane and Balanced Life

POSTED BY: Millet

03/10/11


God does not expect us to work ourselves into spiritual, emotional, or physical exhaustion, nor does he desire that the members of the Church be truer than true. There is little virtue in excess, even in gospel excess. In fact, as we exceed the bounds of propriety and go beyond the established mark, we open ourselves to deception and ultimately to destruction. Imbalance leads to instability. If Satan cannot cause us to lie or steal or smoke or be immoral, it just may be that he will cause our strength—our zeal for goodness and righteousness—to become our weakness. He will encourage excess, for surely any virtue, when taken to the extreme, becomes a vice.

“Gospel hobbies” lead to imbalance. To instability. To distraction. To misperception. They are dangerous and should be avoided as we would any other sin. President Joseph F. Smith said: “We frequently look about us and see people who incline to extremes, who are fanatical. We may be sure that this class of people do not understand the gospel. They have forgotten, if they ever knew, that it is very unwise to take a fragment of truth and treat it as if it were the whole thing” (Gospel Doctrine, 122). To ride a gospel hobby is to participate in and perpetuate fanaticism.  On another occasion, President Smith taught, “Brethren and sisters, don’t have hobbies. Hobbies are dangerous in the Church of Christ. They are dangerous because they give undue prominence to certain principles or ideas to the detriment and dwarfing of others just as important, just as binding, just as saving as the favored doctrines or commandments.

“Hobbies give to those who encourage them a false aspect of the gospel of the Redeemer; they distort and place out of harmony its principles and teachings. The point of view is unnatural. Every principle and practice revealed from God is essential to man’s salvation, and to place any one of them unduly in front, hiding and dimming all others is unwise and dangerous; it jeopardizes our salvation, for it darkens our minds and beclouds our understandings. . . .

“We have noticed this difficulty: that Saints with hobbies are prone to judge and condemn their brethren and sisters who are not so zealous in the one particular direction of their pet theory as they are. . . . There is another phase of this difficulty—the man with a hobby is apt to assume an ‘I am holier than thou’ position, to feel puffed up and conceited, and to look with distrust, if with no severer feeling, on his brethren and sisters who do not so perfectly live that one particular law” (Gospel Doctrine, 116–17).

True excellence in gospel living—compliance with the established laws and ordinances in a quiet and consistent and patient manner—results in humility, in greater reliance upon God, and a broadening love and acceptance of one’s fellowman. What we do in the name of goodness ought to bring us closer to those we love and serve, ought to turn our hearts toward people, rather than causing us to turn our nose up in judgmental scorn and rejection. The greatest man to walk the earth, the only fully perfect human being, looked with tenderness and compassion upon those whose ways and actions were less than perfect. 

We have been counseled to stay in the mainstream of the Church, to see to it that our obedience and faithfulness reflect sane and balanced living. While we are to be true, we need not be truer than true. While we are not to partake of the vices of the world, we are to live in it. While we are to “be valiant in the testimony of Jesus” (D&C 76:79), we are not to be excessive in our zeal. We will arrive safely at the end of our gospel journey through steady and dedicated discipleship—loving and trusting the Lord, keeping his commandments, and serving his children—not through righteousness crusades or spiritual marathons. True conversion manifests itself in settled simplicity.


In Whom Do We Trust?

POSTED BY: holzapfel

10/05/10


A few years ago, a colleague and I sat at lunch with two prominent theologians. This was not our first visit together because we had met two years earlier and had had a sweet and delightful discussion of Jesus Christ, the centrality of his Atonement, the lifting and liberating powers of his grace, and how our discipleship is and should be lived out day by day. In that initial meeting there was no defensiveness, no pretense, no effort to put the other down or prove him wrong. Instead, there was that simple exchange of views, an acknowledgment of our differences, and a spirit of rejoicing in those central features of the doctrine of Christ about which we were in complete agreement—a sobering spirit of gratitude for the incomparable blessings that flow from the life and death and transforming power of the Redeemer.

Now, two years later, we picked up where we had left off, almost as if no time had passed at all. Many things were said, diagrams were drawn on napkins, and a free flow of ideas took place. Toward the end of our meeting, one of our friends turned to me and said: “Okay Bob, here’s the one thing I would like to ask in order to determine what you really believe.” He continued: “You are standing before the judgment bar of the Almighty, and God turns to you and asks, ‘Robert Millet, what right do you have to enter heaven? Why should I let you in?’” It was not the kind of question I had anticipated. (I had assumed he would be asking something more theoretical. This question was poignant, practical, penetrating, and personal.) For about thirty seconds, I tried my best to envision such a scene, searched my soul, and sought to be as clear and candid as possible. Before I indicate exactly what I said, I want to take us forward twenty-four hours in time.

The next day I spoke to a large group of Latter-day Saint single adults from throughout New England who had gathered for a conference at MIT in Boston. My topic was “Hope in Christ.” Two-thirds of the way through my address, I felt it would be appropriate to share our experience from the day before. I posed to the young people the same question that had been posed to me. There was a noticeable silence in the room, an evidence of quiet contemplation upon a singularly significant question. I allowed them to think about it for a minute or so and then walked up to one of the young women on the front row and said: “Let’s talk about how we would respond. Perhaps I could say the following to God: ‘Well, I should go to heaven because I was baptized into the Church, served a full-time mission, married in the temple, attend worship services regularly, read my scriptures daily, pray in the morning and at night. . .’” At that point the young woman cut me off with these words: “Wait. . . . Wait. . . . I don’t feel right about your answer. It sounds like you’re reading God your résumé.”

Several hands then went up. One young man blurted out: “How did you answer the question? Tell us what you said!” I thought back upon the previous day, recalled to mind many of the feelings that swirled in my heart at the time, and told the single adults how I had answered. I looked my friend in the eye and replied: I would say to God: I claim the right to enter heaven because of my complete trust in and reliance upon the merits and mercy and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.” My questioner stared at me for about ten seconds, smiled gently, and said: “Bob, that’s the correct answer to the question.”

Obviously a person’s good works are necessary in the sense that they indicate what we are becoming through the powers of the gospel of Jesus Christ; they manifest who and what we are. But I also know there will never be enough good deeds on my part—prayers, hymns, charitable acts, financial contributions, or thousands of hours of Church service—to save myself. The work of salvation requires the work of a God. Unaided man is and will forevermore be lost, fallen, and unsaved. It is only in the strength of the Lord that we are able to face life’s challenges, handle life’s dilemmas, engage life’s contradictions, endure life’s trials, and eventually defeat life’s inevitable foe—death.


Before New York

POSTED BY: holzapfel

09/15/09


national-geographic-new-york-small1This month’s National Geographic magazine features a fascinating article by Peter Miller (“Before New York: Rediscovering the Wilderness of 1609,” 122–37). The article opens a window to the past—when the first European settlers began to explore and settle the island of Manhattan. Robert Clark provides stunning photographs, and Markley Boyer and Philip Staub add important illustrations to re-create the natural landscape of Manhattan before it changed forever. Certainly native peoples left their footprints on the land as they interacted with the flora and fauna, but European settlement impacted the land in profound ways.

On my next visit to the Big Apple, I am tucking this article in my bag so I can pull it out as I walk around the city to see beyond the concrete and asphalt to a world that once existed in the same geographical location. I am going to visualize New York before Henry Hudson arrived in 1609, looking for hints of that time and place.

The settling of much of New York State was a pivotal time in U.S. history. It witnessed the creation of a new nation (1776–87), the religious revivals known as the Second Great Awakening (1816–26), and the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ (1820–30).

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Sacred Grove

This past weekend I invited a small group from BYU to visit New York State to envision a specific point in early Church history: the spring morning in 1820 when Joseph Smith saw the Father and the Son in the Sacred Grove. Along with Kent P. Jackson, associate dean of Religious Education, and Brent Nordgren, production manager for the Religious Studies Center, I invited Larry C. Porter, professor emeritus of Church history; Donald L. Enders, senior curator of historic sites; and Robert F. Parrot, Sacred Grove manager, to discuss the history and meaning of the Sacred Grove. During our two-day trip, we visualized that important spring morning when Joseph Smith walked from his family’s log home to a place in the nearby woods to pray. Unlike New York City, the Sacred Grove is closer to the condition it was in when Joseph Smith knelt to pray. The story of the efforts to preserve the grove will be told in a future article for the Religious Educator based on the interviews conducted this past weekend.

Although we do not know the exact spot where Joseph knelt to pray, the woodlands near the Smith home remind us of the event and allow us to connect to the past. Visitors to the grove walk where young Joseph Smith worked and prayed. Such explorations help us place diaries, letters, and histories of the past into their real-world context, allowing us to appreciate the story more fully.

Photo of Sacred Grove by Brent Nordgren


In the Shadow of Saint Peter’s

POSTED BY: holzapfel

07/30/09


dome_depth_smallI am finishing co-directing the BYU summer study abroad program in Rome this weekend before moving on to Athens for the final week and half of the summer term.

It has been a hot and humid month as Dr. Gary Hatch and I have tried to keep a day ahead of the forty students who joined us. We have seen a lot of Rome and of Italy during the month.

However, Rome has been our base of operation, and during the term, we lived in several different apartments located around Vatican City, the smallest independent nation on earth. Two student apartments, in fact, have direct views of St. Peter’s Basilica from their bedroom windows.

Of course, like other travelers and tourists, we visited the Vatican museums, the Vatican gardens, the Scavi (the first-century necropolis under St. Peter’s Basilica), and inside the church itself. The students also attended a papal audience the very first week. On other occasions St. Peter’s magnificent square was a meeting place for the group before we headed off to some other location in the city. Nevertheless, it seems as though we were in the shadow of St. Peter’s every day no matter where we were in the city.

Even for non-Catholics, St. Peter’s is a must place to visit in Rome. Michelangelo’s Pieta is located in the church, and his dome looms over the skyline of Rome itself, beckoning people to gather at this remarkable site.

According a long-held tradition, Peter was crucified in Nero’s Circus and buried nearby sometime between AD 64 and 66. At some fairly early date, maybe by the middle of the second century AD, Christians marked a tomb they believed contained the bones of Peter. Later, Constantine erected a church on the site in the fourth century. Eventually, Pope Julius II began the construction of a new church, the current basilica, on the site in 1505. Beginning in 1939, the Vatican sponsored several archeological investigations under the Basilica where they found the remnants of the first church building and some first-century tombs.

Today, visitors to the Scavi are shown a specific tomb Catholics believe is that of St. Peter, directly under the current high altar covered by Bernini’s canopy directly under Michelangelo’s magnificent dome. Although most likely not the tomb of the fisherman from Galilee, there is something remarkable about visiting a site that has been the focus of pilgrimages for nearly two thousand years. And while we may never know exactly what happened to Peter (where, how, and when he died), there is something that makes us think about him in the shadow of the basilica named after him in this amazing city on the Tiber River.


Remembering and Celebrating our Global History

POSTED BY: holzapfel

07/23/09


Guest blog by Reid L. Neilson, assistant professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU.

wagon_small_depthPioneer Day typically invokes images of handcarts and wagons on the westward trail to Utah. Such a myopic view of our Church’s history, however, obscures the pioneering efforts of Latter-day Saints around the world. Thankfully, historian Andrew Jenson did all he could to expand the historical awareness of Church members—something we all should remember during this holiday time.

While working for the Church’s Historical Department in Salt Lake City, Jenson was sent by the First Presidency to tour the Church’s mission field outside North America. The intrepid Dane departed from Salt Lake City on May 11, 1895, and did not return to the City of the Saints until June 4, 1897. Over the course of his twenty-five-month solo circumnavigation of the world, Jenson passed through the following islands, nations, and lands (in chronological order): the Hawaiian Islands, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, New Zealand, Cook Islands, Society Islands, Tuamotu Islands, Australia, Ceylon, Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Italy, France, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Prussia, Hannover, Saxony, Bavaria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. He traveled 53,820 miles by a variety of steamships and small boats on water; his land conveyances included railroads, carriages, jinrikishas, horses, donkeys, and camels. Jenson became the first Latter-day Saint to visit all the existing non–North American LDS missions after the Mormon evangelization of the Pacific Basin frontier commencing in the 1840s.

Jenson preached the importance of record keeping in his many sermons and general conference addresses. “If it had not been for the writers . . . who belonged to the original Church, what would the doings of Christ mean to us?” Jenson challenged the Latter-day Saints on one occasion. “And if somebody had not recorded them and other beautiful sayings of Christ and his apostles, what would we have known of the ministry of Christ and of his apostles? We would merely have had some vague ideas handed down by tradition that would lead astray more than lead aright.” In other words, if not for the writers and historians of past dispensations, there would be no sacred history in the form of Hebrew and Christian scripture. The same would hold true in this dispensation, he often taught, if church members failed to keep contemporary ecclesiastical and personal histories. This spiritual sense of destiny, coupled with an unmatched work ethic and passion for history, shaped Jenson’s life and work. One merely needs to search the Church History Library catalog for works by Jenson to get a glimpse of his labors.

I have argued elsewhere that global LDS history is Church history. Latter-day Saints need to realize that much of our most interesting history has occurred abroad. We must remember that the “restoration” of the gospel occurs every time a new country is dedicated by apostolic authority for proselyting. In other words, the original New York restoration of 1830 was in many ways replicated in Great Britain in 1837, Japan in 1901, Brazil in 1935, Ghana in 1970, Russia in 1989, and Mongolia in 1992. Mormon historians need to refocus their scholarly gaze from Palmyra, Kirtland, Nauvoo, and Salt Lake City to Tokyo, Santiago, Warsaw, Johannesburg, and Nairobi. These international cities and their histories will become increasingly important to our sacred history. These non–North American stories need to be told with greater frequency and with better skill. In this sense Jenson was a man ahead of his times. In the final years of the nineteenth century, the yeoman workhorse of the Church Historian’s Office had the foresight and willingness to dedicate two years of his life to documenting the global Church and its membership. As Louis Reinwand points out, “Jenson played a vital role in keeping alive the ideal of a universal Church. He was the first to insist that Mormon history include Germans, Britons, Scandinavians, Tongans, Tahitians, and other national and cultural groups, and that Latter-day Saint history should be written in various languages for the benefit of those to whom English was not the native tongue” (“Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Historian,” BYU Studies 14, no. 1 [Autumn 1973]: 44).


A Patriot’s Dream

POSTED BY: holzapfel

07/02/09


usa-collage-small-w-depth1Guest blog by Robert C. Freeman, professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU.

Strike up the band, fire up the grill, and get to your favorite fireworks show. This month American Latter-day Saints will join the rest of the nation in celebrating the birth of the United States.  For the past fifteen years, I have been involved in collecting stories of Church members who have served in the military (Click here to learn more: www.saintsatwar.org).

Latter-day Saints have a long history of patriotism to their individual countries, including the United States. Sentiments of loyalty to the principles of the U.S. Constitution were espoused by Joseph Smith himself. He said, “I am the greatest advocate of the Constitution of the United States there is on the earth. In my feelings I am always ready to die for the protection of the weak and oppressed in their just rights. The only fault I find with the Constitution is, it is not broad enough to cover the whole ground” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith [SLC: Deseret Book, 1976], 326). The Prophet’s perception of the Constitution’s need to be broader is insightful when one considers that he died well before the addition of such crucial constitutional additions as the civil rights amendments (thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen) and the nineteenth amendment, which extended the right to vote to women.

Today, American Latter-day Saints are as red, white, and blue as ever. Brigham Young University’s hometown of Provo boasts one of this nation’s biggest Fourth of July celebrations—the Freedom Festival. Of course, the influence of the Church stretches across the earth, which prompts us to consider some important questions—for example, what does patriotism mean in view of the global church? Certainly, we are obliged to maintain a proper perspective on patriotism. We celebrate because this is the land of our fathers and the land for our children. We embrace all that is good about our country and hope to make a difference in matters of freedom both at home and abroad. We espouse the principles of liberty and equality anywhere they are under attack.

Several decades ago, at the time of the bicentennial of the founding of America, President Spencer W. Kimball spoke of the militant tendencies of modern mankind: “We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel—ships, planes, missiles, fortifications—and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become antienemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching” (“The False Gods We Worship,” Ensign, June 1976).

Elder Dallin H. Oaks also warned of other risks of overzealous patriots when he said, “Love of country is surely a strength, but carried to excess it can become the cause of spiritual downfall. There are some citizens whose patriotism is so intense and so all-consuming that it seems to override every other responsibility, including family and Church” (“Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall,” Ensign, October 1994, 17).

Such teachings remind us of the need to refine our patriotism to ensure it is genuine and within the Lord’s bounds. True patriotism brings honor upon any nation in which freedom and liberty are embraced. Such liberties are needed in order for the kingdom of God to flourish among the Lord’s people. There is much to be celebrated about our blessed country and other countries that strive for freedom. Let the fireworks begin!


Joseph and Hyrum Smith

POSTED BY: holzapfel

06/26/09


Guest blog by Richard E. Bennett, professor of Church history and doctrine.

joseph-and-hyrum-standing-depth-small2The success of the Protestant Reformation owes everything to the translation and printing of a book. Surely the efforts of such early martyrs as John Wycliffe and of later reformers such as William Tyndale and Martin Luther to print and disseminate the Holy Bible were indispensable to the ultimate success of the Reformation, also made possible by the previous invention of movable type and the printing press by Johann Gutenberg. No amount of book burnings those many years ago, which tried to destroy the power of the written word, could hold back the oncoming printed tide of religious change.

So, too, the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in large measure depended on the power and printing of another book. On this, the 165th anniversary of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, it is appropriate to pause and remember its causes. Historians continue to offer a variety of immediate explanations: the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor, Missourians anxious at extradition, Thomas C. Sharp and the issue of separation of Church and state, the intrigue of John C. Bennett and a cadre of other disgruntled former Latter-day Saints, plural marriage?the list goes on.

However, it may be instructive to remember that in Doctrine and Covenants 135, John Taylor, who was an eyewitness to the event, attributed it not to any one of these things but rather to the power of the pen?or press?specifically to the publication of two new books of scripture. As John Taylor stated, it was the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants that “cost the best blood of the nineteenth century to bring them forth for the salvation of a ruined world” (D&C 135:6).

The published herald and evidence of the truthfulness of the Restoration was ever the Book of Mormon. More than any other factor, it was the Book of Mormon which distinguished the rise of the early Church of Jesus Christ and converted a foundation of loyal and devoted membership upon which the Church was built?and later thrived. Said Parley P. Pratt:

I read it carefully and diligently, a great share of it, without knowing that the priesthood had been restored?without ever having heard of anything called “Mormonism,” or having any idea of such Church and people.

There were the witnesses and their testimony to the Book, to its translation, and to the ministration of angels; and there was the testimony of the translator; but I had not seen them, I had not heard of them, and hence I had no idea of their organization or of their Priesthood. All I knew about the matter was what, as a stranger, I could gather from the book: but as I read, I was convinced that it was true; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon me while I read and enlightened my mind, convinced my judgment and riveted the truth upon my understanding, so that I knew that the book was true, just as well as a man knows the daylight from the dark night, or any other things that can be implanted in his understanding. (In Journal of Discourses [Liverpool: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1858], 193–94)

And even before Pratt met with Joseph Smith, he visited with his brother, Hyrum, who unfolded to him “the particulars of the discovery of the Book; its translation; the rise of the Church of Latter-day Saints, and the commission of his brother, Joseph, and others, by revelation and the ministering of angels, by which the apostleship and authority had been again restored to the earth” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt Jr. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985], 22).

“Parley Pratt’s experience with the Book of Mormon was not unique,” President Gordon B. Hinckley commented in much more recent times. “As the volumes of the first edition were circulated and read, strong men and women by the hundreds were so deeply touched that they gave up everything they owned, and in the years that followed not a few even gave their lives for the witness they carried in their hearts of the truth of this remarkable volume” (“A Testimony Vibrant and True,” Ensign, August 2005, 3).

And if the work of these two brothers?loyal to each other as they were to the message of Cumorah?began with the Book of Mormon, it ended with it. The final scripture the two men read together before they were shot to death in Carthage Jail on June 27, 1844, was not from the Bible but from the Book of Mormon.

The same morning, after Hyrum had made ready to go?shall it be said, to the slaughter??he read the following paragraph, near the close of the twelfth chapter of Ether, in the Book of Mormon, and turned down the leaf upon it:

And it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord that he would give unto the Gentiles grace, that they might have charity. And it came to pass that the Lord said unto me: If they have not charity it mattereth not unto thee, thou hast been faithful; wherefore thy garments shall be made clean. And because thou has seen thy weakness, thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father. And now I . . . bid farewell unto the Gentiles; yea, and also unto my brethren whom I love, until we shall meet before the judgment-seat of Christ, where all men shall know that my garments are not spotted with your blood. (D&C 135:5)

“He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood; and so has his brother Hyrum. In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated!” (135:3).



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Courtesy Community of Christ Archives, Independence, Missouri.

Guest blog by Kent P. Jackson, professor of ancient scripture.

This month we celebrate the 179th anniversary of something that most Latter-day Saints take for granted. It was in June 1830, just two months after the Church was organized, that the Prophet Joseph Smith began working on his Bible translation. Today we usually call it the Joseph Smith Translation—JST for short—but the Prophet himself called it the New Translation. The first nineteen pages, revealed between June 1830 and the end of that year, contain his revision of the first few chapters of Genesis. When the Pearl of Great Price was created in 1851, those Genesis chapters were included in it, and they’re still there today. It is the Book of Moses.

Is there anything new in the New Translation? Let’s take a look at just one chapter, the very first chapter of the translation, revealed in June 1830.

What we now call Moses chapter 1 is the text of a vision that Moses experienced before the Lord revealed to him the account of the Creation. It is thus the preface to the book of Genesis. This is one of the most remarkable chapters in scripture, and it is full of doctrines that set Latter-day Saints apart from all other Bible believers. Although Moses’s vision is a biblical event and takes place in a biblical context, there is no record of it in the Old Testament. It has no biblical counterpart at all. But it is one of the great gems of the Restoration—a real pearl of great price.

In this one chapter, we learn a lot.

Moses speaks with God “face to face” in terms that indicate strongly that God indeed has a face. We learn of God’s Only Begotten Son. As the Father speaks with Moses and teaches him of Jesus Christ, we are reminded in clear scriptural terms that the Father and the Son are separate divine beings. We also learn something of ourselves, that we—left to our own resources—are “nothing,” yet we are sons and daughters of God created in the image of his Only Begotten, endowed with enormous potential.

We learn about God’s glory, the celestial power that emanates from him and surrounds him. Humans must be transfigured to abide God’s glory, but Satan can only feign having it and possesses none of it himself. We see God and Satan juxtaposed in striking contrast, and we learn that Satan has a pathological need to be worshipped and seeks only his own interests.

We learn something of God’s power and of the awesomeness of his creations. Moses, enveloped in God’s glory, was able to see every particle of this earth and to discern every soul on it. He was even shown other inhabited worlds—worlds without number. He learned that Christ is the Creator of all those worlds, and he learned that God’s work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of his children who dwell thereon.

Needless to say, none of this was the standard fare of mainstream Christianity in June 1830 when the Lord revealed these things to Joseph Smith.

Indeed, there is much new in the New Translation. But that was only the first chapter.


God Is Back

POSTED BY: holzapfel

05/27/09


god-is-back-book-depth_small2For the past two hundred years, European thinkers such as Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber believed that religion was doomed and that God was dead. However, history always seems to surprise us. Few political leaders and academics in the past would have guessed that people of faith and their institutions would play such an important role in the world today. Even the events of September 11, 2001, demonstrate that what is taught in a religious school in Saudi Arabia is important to understand no matter where you live. Additionally, the 2008 US presidential election revealed that religious beliefs are still very important even though the American Constitution requires no religious test for those seeking office (Article VI, section 3 states, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States”).

One of the latest efforts to understand how and why faith is rebounding in the face of pervasive and profound secularism is John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge’s God Is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith Is Changing the World (New York: Penguin, 2009). Of interest, Latter-day Saints are mentioned on several occasions (see pp. 18, 19, 65, 115, 124, 229, 233, 350, 357, 371).

The authors describe their efforts as a “long journey” and add, “No doubt [this book’s] overall message will depress many secularists; at times it has depressed us too. Some terrible things have already happened in this century in God’s name. More are undoubtedly on the way.” They conclude, “Unevenly and gradually, religion is becoming a matter of choice—something that individuals decide or believe in (or not)” (372). This model, where choice plays a central role in the decision to believe or not believe, is thoroughly American. Hence, the wave of the future is the American model, in which there is no established state church and people decide on their own what they will believe.

  • The book offers many surprising insights, including:
    “By 2050, China could well be the world’s biggest Muslim nation as well as its biggest Christian one” (5).
  • “Many older conflicts have acquired a religious edge. The poisonous sixty-year war over Palestine began as a largely secular affair. . . . Nowadays, in the era of Hamas, Jewish settlers and Christian Zionists, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute has become a much more polarized, sectarian battle, with ever more people claiming that God is on their side” (13).
  • “One poll in 2006—fifteen years after the fall of the Soviet regime—discovered the 84 percent of the Russian population believed in God while only 16 percent considered themselves atheist” (13).
  • “Most [statistics] seem to indicate that the global drift toward secularism has been halted, and quite a few show religion to be on the increase. One estimate suggests that the proportion of people attached to the world’s four biggest religions—Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism—rose from 67 percent in 1900 to 73 percent in 2005 and may reach 80 percent by 2050″ (16). However you look at it, faith is more likely to impinge on you than it once did, either because it is part of your life or because it is part of the lives of some of those around you—neighbors, colleagues at work, even your rulers or people seeking to topple them” (24).
  • “The most thorough study of American religious beliefs . . . demonstrates clearly that the world’s most powerful country is one of the most religious. More than nine in ten Americans (92 percent) believe in the existence of God or a universal spirit” (131).
  • “Social scientists have produced a mountain of evidence that religion is good for you. . . . Daniel Hall, a doctor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, has discovered that weekly church attendance can add two to three years to your life, . . . [resulting in] ‘a substantially longer life expectancy’” (146).
  • “Religion also seems to be correlated with happiness. One of the most striking results of Pew’s regular survey is that Americans who attend religious services once or more a week are happier (43 percent very happy) than those who attend monthly or less (31 percent) are seldom or never (26 percent)” (147).
  • “Religion can combat bad behavior as well as promote well-being” (147).
  • “Religion seems to provide social bonds. . . . Churches offer a safe place where people can get to know each other and pool information and expertise. They put people with problems in contact with people with solutions” (148–49).

In the end, the authors remind us how wrong past experts have been about God and religion, including Peter Berger, who assured the New York Times in 1968 that by “the 21st century, religious believers are likely to be found only in small sects, huddled together to resist a worldwide secular culture” (52).

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