In my last article I wrote a few things about faith; merely telling my readers what it was and some of its effects. I hope they will read the lectures on faith in the fore part of the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, where it is explained at greater length than I have space to write.
The second gospel principle is repentance. There are many views among the religious denominations on this subject; but I can see but one sensible explanation of it; that is to first cease to do wrong, and then, if we have injured anybody, to do our best to make it right, and be sorry enough not to repeat the same wrong or any other, so far as our weak natures will allow us to refrain.
It is not expected that we will become perfect all at once. All good men except Jesus have done some wrongs, but it is expected of all Latter-day Saints that they will continually strive to do less evil and more good. This is the fruit of repentance.
The Savior told Joseph Smith how he might know when people repented. He said they would confess their sins and forsake them. Now if we confess our sins or wrong doings, and do not forsake or quit them and strive to do better, that is an evidence that we have not repented.
I have heard sectarian ministers preach that repentance was to be sorry for sin; but if that doctrine were true we might say that everybody had repented, for all are sorry at times for their wrong doing. But there is no repentance unless they reform their lives. In fact, I think the word reform fills the place of the word repent, and would be as applicable as repentance. I think it means the same thing; and it makes no difference whether it be applied to persons in or out of the Church.
When John the Baptist preached the "gospel of repentance" to the Jews, he told them to bring forth fruit meet for repentance. That was to show by their good works that they really had intended to reform, or do better than they had been doing. They came to him by thousands and asked baptism at his hands, while they continued their wicked practices; but he said to them, "O generations of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, we have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham."
He meant by this that, although great promises had been made to the seed of that great and good man, they could obtain them only on conditions of faithfulness and obedience; and as they were like many professed religious people now-a-days – very wicked – they must do better or it was needless for them to think of being baptized. And John might just as well have said, "If you do not attend to these things I would just as soon baptize a serpent as you, for all the good it would do you."
Sunday, October 30, 2011
Friday, October 28, 2011
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Some months since I wrote several articles on the Book of Mormon for the benefit of young readers of the Instructor, which I hope were read and understood by them. I tried to write in plain and simple language, so as to convey my full meaning. If the children read and understood those articles I think they will also be able to comprehend what I now write on the principles of the gospel. To understand them properly they should carefully read them all.
First among these principles is faith. I suppose my readers will naturally ask, "What is faith?"
St. Paul, the greatest Apostle to the Gentiles, says it is "the substance (or assurance) of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." It is not a belief in a mere statement that carries no weight of truth with it; but it is the evidence of something you have heard or read of (or it may be impressed upon your minds by the Holy Spirit) which you never saw. Evidence means a strong conviction of truth. Testimony which is not convincing to the mind is not evidence.
To illustrate I will say that but few who read this article ever saw the prophet Joseph Smith, yet you have, perhaps, read his history, and been told by your parents and others that they have seen and conversed with him; hence you have it firmly fixed in your minds that such a man as Joseph Smith really lived. You have no doubt of it. This conviction of truth is faith. You have read the revelations which were given through him to the Elders and to the Church. You have an inward conviction of their truth. Everything goes to prove to your minds that they are the words of the great Redeemer. That strong impression of truth is faith.
You have read and heard that there is a God who created all things that exist, both in heaven and on the earth. You have seen thousands of living creatures. You know they could not have created themselves. When you behold them you ask how the first ones came, and you are told that God made them, and that He made the world and all other worlds. Then you ask who is God, and what is He like.
Your parents, being Latter-day Saints, tell you that He is a pure, holy being; that He is immortal, that is, not subject to death, and has all power to do whatever He pleases for the good of His children, of whom we form a portion. They also tell you that we were created in His image and likeness, or form, and that He is our Father in Heaven; that is, the father of our spirits.
This looks reasonable to you. You think a great deal about it, and it is firmly settled in your minds that it is as they have told you. You believe it with all your hearts. This belief is faith.
You are also told by your parents and by the Elders that Jesus, the son of God, will come in a few years, to reign on the earth a thousand years; and that all the faithful Saints, whether they are now living or dead, will reign with Him. You have no doubt about it – you mean to be numbered with them. That strong evidence is faith.
You sow or plant grain. You are confident if you attend it well you will have a good crop. That assurance in your minds is faith.
Faith is the prompter, or moving cause, of all our actions, both spiritual and temporal. By faith the sick are and were healed, the dead were and will be raised to life. By faith God made the worlds and keeps them in their proper order and places. By faith He does and always will exist. By faith and obedience to His laws we may dwell eternally with Him in the heavens.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Q. What three colonies does the Book of Mormon mention, as having settled on this American continent?
A. That led by Jared and his brother from the Tower of Babel, that led by Lehi and Nephi, and that led by Mulek, the son of King Zedekiah.
Q. By what names were they known?
A. The first was called Jaredites, the second Nephites and Lamanites, and the third the people of Zarahemla.
Q. What part of the continent did the Jaredites principally occupy?
A. North America, though it is probable that they spread over all the land.
Q. Were the other colonies confined to any particular place of North or South America?
A. No; they spread over all the land.
Q. In the beginning where did they principally live?
A. The Nephites and Lamanites first lived in South America, afterwards in Central America and then in North America.
Q. Where was the Jaredite nation destroyed?
A. At the hill Ramah.
Q. Where was the Nephite nation destroyed?
A. At the hill Cumorah.
Q. Are these two names for the same hill?
A. Yes; it was called Ramah by the Jaredites, and Cumorah by the Nephites.
Q. In what part of the land is this hill?
A. Between Palmyra and Manchester, Oneida County, in the State of New York.
Q. Do you know where Joseph Smith the prophet found the records of the Book of Mormon?
A. He found them in the hill Cumorah.
Monday, October 24, 2011
Ye who would brave the bounding billow,
To view the wonders of the world,
And magnify with vain devotion,
The scenes in foreign climes unfurled!
Have ye ne'er dreamed of nearer splendors,
Than beautify an alien strand -
The glorious legacies of nature
Bequeathed unto your native land?
Hast never thought, whilst rapt admiring
The distant starlight overhead,
There may be flowers of beauty blushing
Neglected 'neath thy careless tread?
Ne'er has it been my lot to wander
O'er Orient sands or Alpine snows,
To linger in the vine-clad valleys
Where Rhine's clear, winding water flows;
I ne'er have watched the sun declining
Along the classic Grecian hills,
Nor pressed the plains of Palestina,
Nor mused beside Olympian rills.
But I have stood amidst the thunders,
When shook the towering granite height,
And trembled where the vivid lightnings
Blazed on the angry brow of night.
I've seen the headlong torrent leaping
From crag to cloven gulf beneath,
And caught the snow-slide's whelming terrors
Descending on the wings of death.
Oh, tell me not that grander tempests
Reverberate with louder roar,
On Switzerland's historic summits,
Than on the Rocky Mountains hoar;
That fiercer rolls lauwine, thundering,
Than the snow-slide's fatal thrall,
Or lovelier the Alpine cascade
Than the Wasatch waterfall.
Say not the shores of limpid Leman
Their cultured charms unrivalled hold;
When lakes that lie in yonder mountains
Are rife with beauty unextolled.
Nor praise the skies of soft Italia,
Where suns in glory rise and set,
Till thou hast seen them bathe with brightness
The matchless hills of Deseret.
Sing not of Erin's famed Killarney,
Laud not the wave of Galilee,
For I have sailed the buoyant waters
Of Utah's wondrous saline sea.
I've climbed her everduring mountains,
I've rested in her peaceful vales,
I've quaffed her pure and sparkling streamlets,
I've breathed her life-renewing gales.
I love the land that gave me being;
Her features aye shall seem to me,
More beautiful than boasted marvels
Of all the realms beyond the sea.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
A fellow-seminarian and close friend of mine, Kirk, of the blog Kuriakos, has spent a significant amount of time working with Evangelical churches in Utah over the past two summers. In exchange for driving him to the airport, I managed to
extort convince him to write a guest post reflecting his experiences there. (Supplement the following with this post he wrote as he prepared to depart Utah again this past August.) What follows is, I repeat, a guest post by my friend Kirk. Without further ado....
"If you want to be ignored by more people than you ever thought possible, come pastor a church in Utah."
When I first went to Utah two summers ago to join Westlake Community Church for a summer as an intern, my knowledge of Mormon culture probably would not have filled one page of paper. I spent my first summer in Utah County staring out the windows of our car in amazement as we drove past countless wards and stake centers and seminary buildings. I couldn't get over the feeling that I was in some parallel American reality, where everything was exactly the same with one exception: all the churches had disappeared and been replaced by wards. For a kid who grew up in the church, who attended church two or three times a week his whole life, who went to a Christian university in the center of the Bible Belt in Oklahoma, the absence of churches on every street corner was very disconcerting for a while. But by the end of my first summer the shock had worn off. And when I returned this summer for a more serious and intensive internship in the church, I came with a new understanding of what ministry in Utah meant for churches in the Utah Valley like Westlake Community Church: survival.
Except for the few rare large churches in Salt Lake City, pretty much every church in Utah is just trying to survive. I suspect that the vast majority of these churches are operating on the edge of failure - all it would take would be one bad month of finances or the loss of two or three key members and the whole church might collapse. This leads to some high tensions between Christian churches in the Valley. The pastors at my church have reached out to the pastors at other churches in the area to partner with them in ministry, but any connections are coming together very slowly. Even in my church, other new church plants are looked at with some trepidation, because if this other new church really takes off, then how will we survive? I think most Christian churches operate under a "this country ain't big enough for the both of us" mentality, and so divisions remain as we try to reach a culture that prides itself on unity and has always been critical of the divisions in the Christian church. But, that's the nature of the beast, as my pastor always says when we talk about the challenge of ministry in Utah. It can be extremely frustrating sometimes, as it was the day my pastor said the quote at the beginning of this post. But in spite of the hard times, I have come to love ministry in Utah. I love living and working in the midst of the Mormon people, and I love the greater feeling of brotherhood with the Church universal that I have felt as I have been able to identify with what it is like to be a Christian outside the U.S. even though I haven't left its soil.
Westlake Community Church does not specifically target Mormons. (If we just did that, we probably would have closed a year ago.) No, we strive to be a Christ-centered, Bible-believing church that is a light to the whole community in Utah County. We exist to help our congregation grow in Christ and to share Christ with the whole city. It just happens that 95% of the people in the city are Mormon, so we can't help but be impacted by their presence. We just want to make sure they are impacted by ours as well. The amazing thing is that our church has brought in a vast spectrum of people, from people who have been in Christian churches their whole life to people who have never been religious at all, from people who left the LDS Church years ago to people who still call themselves Mormon. It is exciting to see everyone come together and worship on Sundays. We have days when we serve the community and days when we evangelize, but we are grateful to welcome whomever God gives to us. My pastor says we are good at doing two things: preaching the word and loving people. We try to keep our focus on doing these things well in the grace of God, and we trust he will continue to bless us and keep us standing.
I really have come to have a tender spot in my heart for the Mormon people. For one thing, they aren't all that different from me. It's not like I've learned to identify with a completely different culture and language that I met while on some foreign mission field. No, I'm ministering among people who are mostly white, conservative Americans just like me. I don't smoke or drink, so I fit in really well in Utah. I don't even drink coffee, and I rarely drink soda, so I wouldn't even have to make any big adjustments in life if I wanted to join the LDS Church. I see that they work hard to ensure that their families are provided for at the same kinds of jobs that Americans all across the country hold, at places like the Harley Davidson plant, car dealerships, universities, law offices, and fast food restaurants. They also work hard at ensuring their salvation, and they have to because their religion requires it. That's just the nature of their beast, I suppose. Temple requirements, mission trips, good standing in one's ward - all these things are required of a good Mormon, especially if they want to make their way into the Celestial Kingdom and life everlasting with Heavenly Father. (Sometimes Christian churches can load just as many rules and demands on their members' backs. I believe Jesus was protesting this type of religion in Matthew 23 when he scolded the Pharisees.) But I have seen how the Mormon people work so hard to make themselves perfect, to appear as if they have it all under control, to "endure to the end". I have watched how LDS teens are rebelling against traditional Mormon beliefs, chafing under the strict rules and becoming disillusioned by the extensive information available that casts doubt on their past and scriptures. And all these things break my heart.
It breaks my heart to see people so close to the truth and yet so far away from understanding what it means. It breaks my heart to see people proclaim salvation by grace through faith in Jesus who are unable to accept that free grace because their other scriptures tell them that part of their salvation is still up to them. It breaks my heart when I share with Mormons about the free grace I have found in Christ, how he has done for me everything I could have never done and left nothing for me to do, and they nod their heads in agreement while completely missing the point. (I sometimes question if it is a point that needs to be debated, but I am convinced that our dependence on Christ alone as our salvation is central to the Gospel message.) It really all comes down to Christ. Who he is and what he did cannot be devalued by making him like one of us.
These days I'm asking myself if I'm meant to have a long ministry in Utah. The answer: I don't know. I do know that my heart is strangely drawn to Utah and that I want to share the Gospel with the people and see Christ accepted by them for who he really is. I think I will be going back again, maybe for a summer or a year or a couple years. Maybe I will leave after a few years, or maybe I will stay there for good, but one thing I do know is that Utah needs Christians. It needs Christians who will go and stay, who will love the people and stand undaunted by the rejection. It needs pastors who will not seek large numbers or lots of money, but who will be satisfied with trusting God to provide for them every month because he has called them to be there. Utah needs Christians who will lay aside differences and egos and who will help each other succeed. I just want to be a part of it.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
In the meantime: before things got busy, I contributed a guest post to the blog The Door Swings Both Ways, run by ex-LDS blogger Greg Rockwell. In my guest post, I articulate 'briefly' and 'simply' (to the extent that I really grasp what those words mean to most people, at least) a kalam cosmological argument for God's existence. Greg was kind enough to host my piece and offer some very kind words about my blogging here. I hope soon, now that I've given responses to a number of folks on Facebook who offered various critiques when Greg linked to my blog, to also compose a reply to my interlocutor Gale, whose critical appraisal has also appeared at Greg's blog.