Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Daniel Tyler on Baptism for the Dead

The following is taken from Daniel Tyler, "The Gospel Principles: Baptism for the Dead", Juvenile Instructor 13/13 (1 July 1878): 154-155.
Heretofore we have said but little about the dead. Not because they are of less importance than the living, but because our duties to ourselves when once understood include our duties to the dead. On this subject the whole world, outside of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are in darkness, although the ancient as well as modern scriptures are very plain.

The prophet Isaiah, in the 61st chapter and 1st verse, among other things, said of the mission of Christ, one portion of His labors would be "to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound."

To find the fulfillment of this prediction we must, of course, go to the New Testament, which gives His biography. Neither of the four writers of His life and travels tell us of His visiting a single prison to proclaim liberty to a single captive. But on the other hand they all tell us that He was Himself captivated, held a prisoner and put to death. But Peter, the presiding Apostle, unravels the mystery. In the 3rd chapter of his first epistle, commencing with the eighteenth verse, he says: "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the spirit: by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water."

The theory of some portion of the Christian world is that all who die in their sins must go to purgatory - a lake of fire and brimstone, to remain throughout all eternity. Peter tells us that those wicked antediluvians, after being shut up in prison a few hundred years to atone for their rebellion, have another chance offered them. He also tells us, in the 4th chapter and sixth verse of his first epistle, that the reason the gospel was preached to the dead was that they might be judged according to men in the flesh. Men in the flesh hear the gospel when it is on the earth, and the judgment where with they are judged is, if they receive and obey it they shall be saved, and if they reject it they shall be damned. So, then, the dead shall have the same chance. Our good fathers and mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers, uncles, aunts, and, in fact, all who have died without the gospel shall have the same chance as those who heard it in the flesh, that they may be judged the same as those who have their agency to receive or reject it, just as they please. But, says one, Jesus said they must be baptized as well as believe if they would be saved. Yes, and He said again, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."

A man means any man. Now, if no man can enter God's kingdom without baptism, how can the dead who receive the gospel be saved, as they cannot be baptized? Paul answers this question by asking another. In the first Corinthians, 15th chapter, 29th and 30th verses, he says: "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead? And why stand we in jeopardy every hour?"

This solves the mystery. Those who were not baptized because they did not hear the gospel, in fact all who have not committed the unpardonable sin, may at some period of God's mercy have the work done by proxy, and receive their resurrected bodies.

Baptism is of itself a sacrament, and reminds us that as Jesus died for us, and was buried and resurrected, so, also, shall we, through Him, come forth out of our graves, in like manner as we come out of the water. It is then an emblem, not only of His, but our own resurrection, through Him.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

One Year

Earlier today, I was making some additions to my Welcome and Introduction post here at Study and Faith. And as I looked at the date it was posted and the date I marked as 'last edited', I had the stunning realization that today is the one-year anniversary of Study and Faith! I can hardly believe that it's been an entire year... In one sense it seems like merely a few weeks or months, but in another sense, I suppose it feels like an eternity. It boggles the mind to think that this blog has been a part of the most recent 4% or so of my life thus far. I think this blog has done and hopefully accomplished a lot in the past year - and may there be many more to come!

I considered doing a review of the contents of this year's-worth of posts, but I'll reserve that sort of thing for the end of the calendar year. Instead, I'd just like to thank everyone who's commented here in the past year, everyone who's ever helped to promote this blog or any of its posts, everyone who's ever linked to it, everyone who inspired some of the ideas that have made the last year possible. Through blogging and life, I've found wonderful relationships with friends of all sorts of backgrounds, whether LDS or Evangelical or Orthodox or non-theist, and I'm so grateful for it all. I suppose one could say I unknowingly celebrated the anniversary by attending an LDS sacrament meeting this morning for the first time since before I started Study and Faith. I'll hopefully have more posts derived from that in the weeks to come.

So thank you, everyone. (...And hopefully I'll be able to find time to reply to comments again soon!)

Logic and Faith: A Convert's Testimony and Some Pushback

Last week, I was reading through the blogs of some currently serving online LDS missionaries, and I came across the written testimony of a recent convert named Rachel. There were some statements there that struck me oddly:
I have a small testimony, but a strong one. Speaking to the missionaries and studying religion and the Scriptures left me with three main questions.
  1. What is God?
  2. Why does the Holy Spirit lead different people to different things?
  3. And is the Holy Spirit leading me to join this church?
And I in my arrogance and foolishness felt that I could figure out the answers to these questions logically. This led to months of confusion. Then about a week before Easter, I felt that I had figured it out. I had the answers to all but a small question on where the Holy Spirit was leading me that I was sure I could figure out. I gave my answers to the missionaries who told me that I was being too logical and that I needed to be much more prayerful. This turned out to be very true. [...] I began my journey trying to understand everything logically. Finally I came to the point where I ceased relying on my own mind for the truth and relied on faith and prayer. [...] Logic brings with it a feeling of safety, but there is a deep beauty that can only be found in faith.
Notice the strong contrast between 'logic' and 'faith' here - the same antithesis that has for such a long time been endorsed by detractors of all religion as well as by many believers who wanted to protect their beliefs from challenge or themselves from mental effort. (I'm not accusing Rachel of that, of course.) I don't think Rachel is right about this. I am not at all convinced that there is such a thing as "being too logical". No, not at all. There is such a thing as being insufficiently prayerful. There is such a thing as being insufficiently attentive to the non-rational dimensions of the human experience. There is such a thing as failing to trust God's actual promises, or failing to value God as God. But to say there is such a thing as "being too logical", as the missionaries said to Rachel, seems to me to be saying that it's possible to love God with all your mind too much. I don't think I can buy that.

God wants us to be logical, he rejoices in our ardent and faithful use of the precious gift of reason that he gave as a crown of glory to the human creature. 'Logical' is not the only thing God wants us to be, that's true, but nor does he want us to shrink back from pursuing logical rigor and consistency in our beliefs or from putting all things to rightful tests. Rationality can and ought to be pursued in the full with respect to its proper domain - which includes coming to an awareness of the truth and scrutinizing claims of truth and falsehood. That doesn't mean that nothing but abstract reason has any rightful or realistic bearing on that task, of course; by all means, prayer for God's enlightenment ought to be a critical element in the quest for religious truth. But let us abandon any fear of being "too logical" - for God wants us to approach him with study and faith (or, perhaps here I might paraphrase, logic and faith) held in both hands clasped together.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Daniel Tyler on the Gathering Dispensation

The following is taken from Daniel Tyler, "The Gospel Principles: The Gathering Dispensation", Juvenile Instructor 13/12 (15 June 1878): 136.
There never was but one dispensation that was not a gathering dispensation. In the commencement of the Christian era those who embraced the gospel did not gather together. This was because they could not. They made an effort to live as a united body, under the direction of the Apostles in Jerusalem, but after the death of Ananias and Sapphira this order of things was broken up, and no one sought a temporal union after. They were content on the one hand to look after their own varied interests; and, on the other hand, the persecutions without and discords within were such that it was not possible for them to live in large bodies together. Yet the Apostles looked forward to a period when there should be a "dispensation of the fullness of times." In that dispensation all things that were "in Christ" were to be gathered in one.

The great dispensation which was to exceed all others, is referred to in the Lord's prayer as the kingdom of God, wherein His will is to "be done on earth, as it is in heaven."

In the 21st chapter of Luke, Jesus speaks of this same kingdom as one of the signs of His second coming. From the 5th to the 24th verse He speaks mainly of the signs which were to precede the destruction of Jerusalem. From the 25th to the 36th He speaks of His second coming, and says that all the signs, including the setting up of the kingdom of God, which shows that the church must be gathered to form a kingdom, should all take place in the generation in which He would come; that is, the generation who should then be living would not all pass away until all should be fulfilled. By this we may perhaps infer that the most of those living when the signs began to show themselves would pass away, but a few would remain until all was fulfilled. It needs no argument to prove to us that the signs spoken of here have been showing themselves for more than forty years, and that they are every year more visible. In this generation, then, we must look for the kingdom of God. When we find it, as was shown in a former article, we must find Apostles at the head and all other grades of priesthood, the same as delineated in the 4th chapter of the Ephesians, 12th chapter of 1st Corinthians, and other places in the scriptures.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only church in all the world that has all the offices and gifts in it. It is the kingdom spoken of.

John the Revelator, in the 14th chapter and 6th and 7th verses of his prophecy, shows that this new and last dispensation should be ushered in, in the midst of the signs spoken of, by the administration of a holy angel. This was fulfilled when the angel Moroni delivered the plates, from which the Book of Mormon was translated, to Joseph Smith, and when he exhibited them to the witnesses, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris. The kingdom spoken of is the same as that figuratively represented by a little stone, in Nebuchadnezzar's dream, mentioned in the 2nd chapter of Daniel. The little stone, represents the rock of revelation, upon which Christ said He would build His church - by which the prophecies will be fulfilled, and the dispensation of the fullness of times accomplished; when "the knowledge of God shall cover the earth as the waters cover the great deep."

John says, in the 18th chapter of the Revelations, "I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues." The whole burden of scripture, ancient and modern, shows the last dispensation to be one of gathering the righteous to escape the calamities which are to befall the wicked and to learn the ways of the Lord in His house (see Micah, 4th chapter and 2nd verse, also Isaiah, 2nd chapter and 3rd verse).

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Materialism and a Finite God

Recently, BYU mathematics professor William V. Smith posted at the By Common Consent blog an interesting analysis, "Toward a Theology of the Material", in which he explores the implications of saying that all things (both 'physical' and 'spiritual') are in fact composed of matter, including God himself. It's a fascinating exercise, and Smith concludes that God could perhaps travel at about 90% of the speed of light and would have to position himself close to our planet during "potential communication episodes"; that God would have to govern the universe through an "established administrative network"; and that all things, including God, are ultimately mortal, even post-resurrection. Thus, our future and God's future are only "functionally infinite". God is not all-powerful, of course, and nor can he be 'omniscient' even in a relatively limited sense, since the speed of light sets limits upon the rate at which he could receive information. (Note: Smith himself, noting the drastic cost of these limitations, consequently does not take this level of materialist theology to heart. I don't happen to know what Smith substitutes for it or how he relates his own theological positions to LDS historical precedents.)

In light of Smith's case, must any modern LDS theology that remains true to its thoroughly materialist roots indeed accept all of these limitations upon God and ourselves?

Daniel Tyler on the Duties of Church Membership

The following appeared as Daniel Tyler, "The Gospel Principles: The Priesthood", Juvenile Instructor 13/11 (1 June 1878): 130.
A number of the foregoing chapters have been devoted to the different grades of priesthood. I will now say something about the duties of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Several of these duties are mentioned in what has already been said on the duties of the Lesser Priesthood - such as partaking of the sacrament, praying vocally and in secret, meeting together, etc. It is also implied that they must not hold any hard feelings towards one another, that they must not speak evil of one another, and that they must not tell lies or backbite one another. As we have already shown, it is the duty of teachers to see that none of these evils exist. Of course, then, it is the duty of members not to indulge in what the teachers must suppress when found among the Saints. The importance of being worthy to partake of the sacrament must be apparent to all who understand the gospel. Jesus said, "Except ye eat of my flesh and drink of my blood you have no life in you." This does not mean, as the Catholics hold, that the bread is transformed into the very body of Christ and the cup into His blood; but as He said in another place, "As oft as ye do this, do it in remembrance of me." And as St. Paul said, "For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till he come." The substance of all that is revealed on this subject is that it brings to mind not only what sufferings Jesus endured for us and all mankind, but the consummation of the great plan of redemption laid "from before the foundation of the world," "the only name under heaven whereby man can be saved" and the Godlike love and union which should dwell with all Saints. Without this redemption Adam and Eve and all their posterity would have been eternally lost. No one from the beginning to the end of the world could have been resurrected to return to God, from Whom all our spirits came. Take away the atonement made by our great Redeemer and all our hopes of heaven, happiness and exhaltation would be lost - eternally and hopelessly lost. But through Him all may come to God and be saved.

The Saints should make the labors of the teachers easy by observing every known duty. Otherwise, the only benefit resulting from their labors will be that they have cleared their own skirts.

Through the faithfulness and obedience of the Saints, the teachers or presiding officers will not have any occasion to govern them. Joseph Smith once said to a stranger who enquired how he governed so great a people of so many nationalities and conflicting traditions, "I do not govern them. I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves." This is all that should be expected of teachers, or any other grade of priesthood.

One duty of vital importance is the building of temples, in which to perform ordinances for the living and the dead. Could those who feel indifferent to this duty once have the vision of their minds opened to the anxiety of those prisoners of hope on the other side of the vail, and be as anxious for the dead as many of the dead are for themselves through the living, the temples now in progress would soon be completed and filled and others going up. There are many little everyday duties to attend to. Our daily labors - feeding the hungry, if any be in our midst, clothing the destitute, visiting the sick, binding up the broken hearted, comforting those who mourn, encouraging the meek, uniting in our temporal as well as spiritual labors, being self-sustaining and independent of Babylon, and finally, keeping all the commandments of God.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Modern Mormonism: Just Another Protestant Sect?

I found the following quotation from Yale professor Harold Bloom in an opinion piece he wrote the other week for the New York Times:
I recall prophesying in 1992 that by 2020 Mormonism could become the dominant religion of the western United States. But we are not going to see that large a transformation. I went wrong because the last two decades have witnessed the deliberate dwindling of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints into just one more Protestant sect.
What do you people out there think? Note: Bloom does go on to charge that Mormonism is "not even monotheistic" and includes "other secrets also, not tellable by the Mormon Church to those it calls 'Gentiles,' oddly including Jews"; he adds that "the Mormon God is not a creator", and he raises concerns about the fitness of any devout LDS politician for office (while also taking some rather mean-spirited cracks at the "anti-intellectual and semi-literate Southern Baptist Convention"). Is Bloom's assessment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here accurate and fair?

As you contemplate an answer to that question, worth reading is this reaction to Bloom's piece: "Harold Bloom, Mormons and spleen-venting".

EDIT: More recently, also see James Olson's Times and Seasons post "Why Bloom, et al are wrong" - though with regard to Olson's early endorsement as "succinct and accurate" of Bloom's claim that most mainstream American denominations deviate as strongly from historical Christianity as do both Mormonism and Islam, I must call this not simply wrong but bafflingly wrong.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Daniel Tyler on Priesthood - Part IV

The following is taken from Daniel Tyler, "The Gospel Principles: Priesthood", Juvenile Instructor 13/10 (15 May 1878): 112-113.
In tracing the history of the patriarchal priesthood, we find much difficulty. There is no doubt that it commenced with Adam. Moses says that God blessed Adam and Eve. In the 3rd chapter of Luke, 38th verse, it says Adam was the son of God, hence we find the first patriarchal blessing on record in the first chapter of Genesis, which is given jointly to Adam and Eve.

This blessing does not differ materially from those of later date, only in this, that Adam being the first man of whom we have any record, is placed at the head and given dominion over all the earth, including the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air and every living creature, as well as the fruits of the earth. Whereas, the blessings of his descendants divide the earth and all things pertaining thereunto among his faithful offspring. For instance, Abraham was promised the land of Palestine and all the surrounding countries, which would probably include the entire eastern hemisphere. Jacob appears to have had North and South America added, and transferred it to the branches of Joseph, as shown in a former article on the Book of Mormon.

It may be asked, if the earth is to be divided and given to the offspring of Abraham, what will become of those nations of different lineage if they obey the gospel? It would look hard and unjust to debar them of an everlasting inheritance, to which these blessings referred; especially since the gospel is to be preached to every creature.

Before explaining this matter, I will say that all the nations of the earth sprang from the three sons of Noah - Shem, Ham and Japheth. The Israelites sprang from Shem, the Negroes from Ham and the Gentiles from Japheth. Yet none but the descendants of Shem were promised land enough to pitch a tent upon - in allusion to the ancient mode of living in tents, instead of houses as we do now. Canaan, the oldest son of Ham, was to be a servant of servants to the descendants of Shem and Japheth, and as such he would need no landed property. Japheth was to dwell in the tents of Shem, or, as we would now say, live on Shem's homestead, farm or inheritance. You will find this statement verified by reading the 25th, 26th and 27th verses of the 9th chapter of Genesis. To the ignorant this would look hard; but St. Paul, who was the Apostle to the Gentiles, tells them how they became heirs to the promises. He says, in substance, if not in word, that as many as were baptized into Christ became Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. Scripture shows that the Jews were broken off because of unbelief and the Gentiles were grafted in.

The ancients esteemed their patriarchal blessings very highly, and well they might when we consider, as already shown, the extent of their magnitude. Even Esau, the brother of Jacob, who, so far as we have any account, never labored to accumulate anything, but depended solely upon hunting for a living, wept bitterly when he heard that his brother Jacob, who had always been faithful and had taken care of his father's property, had, through the stratagem of his mother, obtained the first blessing of his father, which he supposed belonged to him by birthright. And, when his father, Isaac, told him he could not recall what he had done, although he had given his brother the blessing, in the agony of his soul, Esau exclaimed, "Hast thou but one blessing, my father? bless me, even me also, O my father."

This story, which is a true one, should teach a moral to all Latter-day Saints, both old and young - it shows that those who are more worthy and less assuming will have their rights. We all get just what we live for, and no more.

Of the office of patriarch, as we understand that important position in the priesthood, we know but little that occurred in the days of the ancient apostles. There is no doubt the records of their blessings and most of their other gospel writings were destroyed during the apostasy and persecution of the church.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Bowman on Joseph Smith, Theosis, and Daniel Peterson

A while ago (early August 2011), BYU professor and LDS apologist Daniel C. Peterson authored a somewhat popular-level article for Deseret News, "Joseph Smith's restoration of 'theosis' was miracle, not scandal", in defense of the claim that the LDS conception of 'exaltation' was original to apostolic Christianity. In the course of this brief defense, Peterson appeals to a variety of ancient Jewish and Christian writings.

More recently, however, Christian apologist Robert M. Bowman Jr. has replied to Peterson's arguments in a five-post series titled "Did Joseph Smith Restore Theosis?", hosted at the Parchment and Pen blog. I've found Bowman's critique to be quite worthwhile reading, and I'd invite any of my readers to seriously consider making their way through it entirely:
  1. The Mormon Doctrine of Exaltation
  2. The New Testament and Joseph Smith's Doctrine of Exaltation
  3. The Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith's Doctrine of Exaltation
  4. Esoteric Jewish Theology and Joseph Smith's Doctrine of Exaltation
  5. Early Church Fathers and Joseph Smith's Doctrine of Exaltation
I for one really hope that someday Bowman expands this critique in some more suitable venue to also interact with the best LDS scholarship in detail. What he's done here, I think, is quite good; an in-depth critique of the academic treatments of exaltation by Peterson and others, however, would have the potential to be utterly magnificent in pushing the dialogue forward.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Daniel Tyler on Priesthood - Part III

The following is taken from Daniel Tyler, "The Gospel Principles: The Priesthood", The Juvenile Instructor 13/08 (15 April 1878): 86-87.
The fact that there was anciently a quorum of Twelve Apostles did not necessarily imply that there should be no more than that number, any more than the fact that there were at least two quorums of Seventies implied that there should be no more of that grade of priesthood. This will be clearly seen by reference to one example. Although Matthias had been called to fill the vacancy caused by the fall of Judas Iscariot, Paul was afterwards called to the Apostleship, when the quorum was full. There was also a full quorum on this continent, while there were at least thirteen Apostles in the old world. In fact, there must have been more even in the old world; for, as already quoted, when Jesus "ascended upon high * * * * he gave some apostles," with other authorities. The quorum was full long before his ascension, except the place of Judas, and that one vacancy was filled soon after. Those that he gave when he ascended were not numbered with the Twelve, Matthias being chosen afterwards.

These remarks are to show our young readers that the statement of religious teachers in the world, (with whom many of them may have to cope in a few years) that there were but twelve, and never to be any more, is incorrect and unscriptural. What we have quoted from the fourth chapter of the Ephesians shows plainly that wherever the Church of Christ is, there must be Apostles to aid in uniting and perfecting the Saints.

What is true with regard to the continuance of Apostles is equally so with regard to all grades of priesthood named in the Old and New Testaments. They are not all named in the above chapter. Those not named directly are given under the general head of helps and governments, and mentioned in other places. In the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th chapters of Hebrews we have a pretty fair explanation of the priesthoods of Melchisedek and Aaron.

Many religious persons in these days take upon themselves to preach. In fact, all the hundreds of different denominations, except the Latter-day Saints, are men-made churches, and have nearly all broken off from the Catholic Church or the Church of England, and, as they deny revelation, have no right to preach, and, in fact, do preach but very little of Christ's gospel. Paul says, while speaking of being called to the above priesthoods, "No man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron." By reading the 4th chapter of Exodus, 14th, 15th and 16th verses, you will learn how Aaron was called. It was by revelation through an inspired man; and that is also according to the pattern given to Joseph Smith. Not only were Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon and others called in this way, but the Lord, in giving His plan for ordaining men to different offices in the Church, says they shall be ordained according to the gift and calling of God in the one who ordains them. The manner of calling men to preach, we see, is precisely the same as in the days of Moses and of Christ. In fact, it was always the same whenever God had a people on the earth, and always will be.

The patriarchal priesthood, although equal in importance with the other grades, is not so much written about. It seems to have been more of a family than a general church government, although the President of the church held this as well as all other grades of priesthood. Thus, Adam governed the righteous portion of his posterity by this priesthood as long as he lived: and several of his descendents did the same thing.

If children who have good, faithful Latter-day Saints for their parents understood this principle they would never wish to get beyond their control in time nor in eternity. The law of celestial marriage is connected with this priesthood. Not only are men and women sealed for time and all eternity, but the results or offspring of that marriage are just as eternal as the covenant itself. I will say further that it was no more designed in the economy of heaven that children should break off and be independent of their parents than it was that the woman should forsake and be independent of her husband after having been sealed for time and all eternity. It not only places the man at the head of the woman, but constitutes him a father or patriarch to his posterity forever. Of course, he is expected to prove himself worthy to retain his wife or wives and children.

This does not take any blessing from the children, although at first sight it may so seem. It is, in fact, a great blessing to them to have a lather to look up to; not only for the short space of eighteen or twenty-one years, but to all eternity. The children, when they become men and women, and have families, will stand at their head the same as their parents stand to them.

Now, children, is not this lovely? Who would want a better heaven than this? Suppose all the inhabitants of the earth from Adam had observed this law, would not this have been a happy world? If you think it would, I will ask few other questions. Suppose all of you who have good Latter-day Saints for parents, always take their counsel, no matter how old you are. Then suppose they are adopted or sealed to great and good men, and they to others until all the righteous, both the living and the dead, are united in one great family, with Adam and Eve at the head as they would have been if people had remained righteous. Then, suppose Satan should be bound and the wicked destroyed, and Jesus, our elder brother, should come and reign over and with us for a thousand years. Would we not have a happy millennium? Let us try it and see.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Mormonism and the 'Cult' Issue

Lately I've been wanting to take a moment to address a few of the most major questions one is likely to deal with in dialogue between Latter-day Saints and representatives of traditional strains of Christianity. It seems that the first one of those has to be the matter of the pejorative term "cult", which is frequently used in Evangelical parlance as a classification of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was in the news a while back with the comments made by Rev. Robert Jeffress, who wished to politically favor Rick Perry over Mitt Romney by casting Perry as a member of an acceptable religious community and Romney as a member of a fringe, deviant "cult". For a qualified audio defense of the practice of designating the LDS faith as a 'cult', see this episode (17 October 2011) of Mormonism Research Ministry's Viewpoint on Mormonism podcast. For just one recent LDS reaction to the use of the word 'cult' to describe the LDS faith (but not a direct response to the MRM podcast episode), see Kevin Barney's post "Cynical Use of the Word 'Cult'" at the By Common Consent blog. While I disagree cordially with some of Kevin's statements (and those of a few of the commentators), I agree with much of the spirit of his post and recommend reading it.

These days, Evangelicals and others who want to classify Mormonism as a 'cult' will typically recognize that attempts to actually use the standard sense of 'cult' are pretty unsuccessful. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is too large, allows for too much ideological diversity within its ranks, and is generally no more guilty of most of the standard 'secular' criteria for culthood than any of the mainstream Christian denominations. Because of this, representatives of Evangelical 'countercult' ministries typically distinguish between the "sociological definition of a 'cult'" and the "theological definition of a 'cult'". Jeffress did the same, clarifying that he considers the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be a "theological cult".

The latter is generally defined (more or less) as any group of comparatively recent coinage that, while staking some manner of claim to normative Christian identity (or, sometimes, not), nevertheless exhibits sufficiently high degrees of doctrinal aberration on major Christian tenets as to render that claim problematic as stands; sometimes it is added that a cult will generally focus on one particular leader's (or tradition of leaders') interpretations of Christian scripture, or includes novel scripture foreign to the historic Christian tradition, and that the 'cult' will attempt to restrict its members' access to any criticisms of its teachings. In the podcast episode I linked above, Bill McKeever, drawing on Alan Gomes, defined a cult - in this 'theological sense' - as "a group that claims to be Christian while at the same time either denies or distorts the basic teachings of the Christian faith". McKeever added:
...I think we need to get this across, that if that word is to be used - and we have often said, that's not a word that we like to use a lot, I think it should be more descriptive rather than accusatory. I would certainly never go up to a Latter-day Saint and just say, "Oh, you're a cultist." I mean, that would certainly not allow for a very good conversation, and I should not be surprised if a Mormon would not want to talk to me if I acted like that, probably any more than they should expect me to want to talk to them after they come up and say, "Oh, you're a part of the Great Apostasy." [...] But if that's what they want to believe about us, I have no problem with that. I don't lose sleep at night knowing that my Latter-day Saint acquaintances or neighbors think that I'm a part of the Great Apostasy. I just don't. But I find it odd that the Mormons tend to really wring their hands over this notion that we in Evangelical Christianity don't embrace them as a part of the Christian faith. They really get upset about that.
Now, with regard to the thorny 'Are Latter-day Saints Christians?' question, I'm choosing to defer that to another post; it's a big issue and deserves more time, effort, and space than I can give it right here and now. I'll also be upfront and say that - rejecting the above 'theological definition' as offered by Gomes, McKeever, Jeffress, and others - I would not classify the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a "cult", and at any rate do not think it is wise or charitable to call it such (for reasons partly overlapping with McKeever's stated rationale for using the term sparingly, even on his definition).

During the past several weeks as I've been thinking through this subject, and particularly the modern form of the claim as represented by modern countercult ministries, I thought I had a fairly firm idea of why I have a problem with the statement. I was going to write that I find the notion of a "theological definition of a 'cult'" to be a wholly spurious attempt to piggyback onto the cult hysteria of the late twentieth century, thereby allowing for the same sort of equivocation and dishonest play on the public perception of a common term that countercult apologists frequently accuse 'cultists' of. More recently, though, I've been doing a cursory historical examination, and I'm not sure that most of those charges will quite fly anymore.

The word 'cult' was once a fairly value-neutral term derived from the Latin word cultus, generally denoting any system of (somewhat ritualized) worship devoted to some entity - thus, one might talk of the "cult of Poseidon" in ancient Greece, or of the "Jewish temple cult" in the early first century. Eventually, however, other uses of the term began to crop up. In 1898, a church rector from Wisconsin named Arthur H. Barrington published a book called Anti-Christian Cults: An Attempt to Show That Spiritualism, Theosophy and Christian Science are Devoid of Supernatural Powers and are Contrary to the Christian Religion. The 'cults' of the title were any seemingly novel spiritual/theological counterfeits that simply revived old heresies; in a commendatory prefixed to the book, Barrington's bishop Isaac Nicholson calls them "old ghosts of old-time heresies", with each presenting itself as one of "the latest fashions, the last mental 'cult,' the newest and freshest 'religion'" (4). Barrington himself, very early in the text, goes on to write:
Too many (if there were but two or three, it were too many) - too many are being deceived, and blinded, and led astray to-day, by the false hopes, and promises, and claims of certain religious yet anti-Christian cults which in vain would undermine the truth as it is in Jesus. Undoubtedly, like other fads which sprung up in the night of darkness rather than in the light of eternal truth, these shadows of good shall come to nought, as they are unquestionably of men; but, in the meantime, the effect upon the adherents of such substitute religions cannot but be disastrous. (12-13)
Barrington later continues to refer to such groups as "these anti-Christian cults, which are making inroads into the Household of Faith" (23). In his conclusion, he again classifies them as "modern substitutes for the Gospel or anti-Christian cults" (158). Noteworthy, perhaps, is that Barrington was here focused on what we might call the 'occultic' and/or 'mind science' variety of then-new religious movements; noteworthy also is that the early Latter Day Saints also engaged in harsh polemics against many of the same movements, particularly spiritualism. In this book, Barrington never identifies the LDS faith as a 'cult', though it would be difficult to argue that he wouldn't have seen it in that light, and the general sort of rhetoric he uses against his 'cults' bears a great deal of resemblance to that used in many nineteenth-century anti-LDS polemics.

That was in 1898. It was only in 1932, so far as I know, that the word 'cult' in a non-cultus sense came to be used by sociologists, and that was with Howard Becker's modification of Ernest Troelsch's church-sect typology. For Becker, a 'cult' was a small and somewhat disorganized religious group that originates, not (like a 'sect') by way of schism from a previous religious body, but rather by way of crystallizing around some new leader or thesis. Later sociologists refined this sense.

From what I can gather, it was mostly after Becker's work that the word 'cult' came to be more widely used by Evangelical apologists to designate theologically deviant movements; up until the late 1930s and early 1940s, where the Evangelical countercult movement really began to take off, the words 'heresy' and 'sect' still enjoyed much greater currency. Jan Karel van Baalen's 1938 book The Chaos of Cults was probably an early milestone, though in those early days, the term '-isms' was also quite common (as even in the subtitle of van Baalen's book). The countercult legacy was expanded by Walter Martin's 1955 book The Rise of the Cults, where he defined a cult as a group centered on "any major deviation from orthodox Christianity relative to the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith" (12). Of course, it was his 1965 book The Kingdom of the Cults that really became influential. In the 1970s and 1980s, of course, a secular 'anti-cult movement' arose in connection with the 'cult scares' of groups like the Peoples Temple (Jim Jones), the Branch Davidians (David Koresh), and so forth.

Somewhat contrary to my initial expectations, then, the Evangelical 'theological' use of the word 'cult' actually has a lengthy ancestry, one that predates even the 'sociological' use of the term. Historically speaking, at least a soft division can be made, though any given 'countercult' author in later years may have used the word 'cult' with some mixture of 'theological' and 'sociological' elements in mind. So there's a sense in which the Evangelical use of the term 'cult' in general is valid. Furthermore, if all of the above is accepted, then in that limited sense, the common Evangelical application of the term 'cult' (as so defined) to the LDS Church also has a sort of validity, from an Evangelical standpoint.

However, it also seems to me that most people today have a certain sense of the word 'cult', a sense inculcated in large part by the cult scares of the late twentieth century. The word conjures up images of followers devoted to a single charismatic leader, willing to kill themselves to attain enlightenment if required, or residing on a compound awaiting the leader's cue to engage in apocalyptic combat with the 'forces of darkness' residing in the outside world. There is certainly a theological element to this common sense, but it can't be reduced to just 'weird beliefs', let alone 'a supposedly Christian but doctrinally deviant group of people with some weird beliefs and practices'. Modern-day Mormonism simply does not fit the ominous popular picture of what a 'cult' is, at least not in most of the relevant aspects.

In light of this overwhelming popular notion of what a 'cult' is, it seems that Evangelicals should probably abandon the special use that prevails in our subculture, no matter how old its precedents are. Let's face it: we don't need it. Either we want to communicate precisely and only what our 'theological definition' (and preferably a more nuanced formulation of it, at that) states, or we actually desire the extra baggage of the word's popular connotations. If the latter is the case, I consider that to be rather shameful. If that's what we want, then - all our rhetoric about truth and clarity aside - we really just want to tar the LDS reputation by guilt-by-association with far more nefarious and dangerous groups. (Or, perhaps we really do believe that the LDS Church is a 'cult' in that popular way, right down to 'brainwashing'. In that case, there's no dishonest dealing here, just a need for a reality check.)

Alternatively, perhaps we really are being sincere in using just the venerable and time-tested 'theological definition' for the word 'cult'. Maybe we really do wish that people would understand the distinction, and our goal is to be "descriptive" rather than "pejorative". In the podcast episode linked at the top of this post, Eric Johnson reads a passage from Alan Gomes in which Gomes appeals to the long pre-secular usage of the word 'cult' in just this fashion as a reason to continue doing so now, since - the implication runs - we therefore have a greater implicit 'ownership' of the word than the secular/sociological uses; Gomes also finds it fitting for reasons ill-explained. (They also point out that some mainstream LDS leaders have had no qualms about using the word 'cult' in reference to, e.g., alternative claimants to the LDS legacy.) But we have to realize that we're setting up wholly unnecessary obstacles for communication with anyone outside our subculture. I don't see a need for that. We can retrain ourselves to be comfortable with words like 'heresy'; won't that do? That certainly has a far more august pedigree in Christian polemical use than the word 'cult' does. As Timothy Dalrymple writes on the subject:
If we want to communicate with the world in a way that brings both clarity and charity, then we have to deal with words according to their current meaning. It profits us nothing to call Mormonism a cult. It makes us appear paranoid, self-righteous and cruel, and it slanders the good people who believe they are following Jesus Christ in the LDS Church. According to the popular definition of that term, we are accusing Mormons of being on a level with David Koresh and Jim Jones. This is inaccurate, unloving, and unChristian.
The use of the word 'cult' is an obstacle to dialogue to a greatly unnecessary degree. Even for those Evangelicals who sincerely wish to invoke only the 'theological definition' of the term and to do so in an air of gentle love and respect, the very offensiveness of the word due to its widespread current connotations will belie that message. It is the very example of needless offense and poor communication. Now, perhaps most of our alternative evaluative terms (e.g., 'heresy') could also be offensive, and we may have to live with that, just as Latter-day Saints must learn to live with the extreme offense that their narrative of apostasy and restoration represents for all mainstream Christians. But forsaking the word 'cult' is a worthwhile gesture, since more understandable evaluative terms remain that denote the same as our cherished "theological definition of a 'cult'".

For that reason, I try to avoid using the word 'cult' whenever possible in general, and particularly in reference to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Under virtually all but the now-most-trivialized sense of the word, it's simply inaccurate. Even under that sense of the word, it communicates poorly and causes offense. And better options are available. I love and respect Latter-day Saints, and so I don't want to cause any offense that isn't necessitated by any accurate articulation of my honestly-held views. I also don't want to perpetuate inaccurate impressions of the LDS people or their faith. As best as I can, I want to speak the truth in love, and I don't believe I could effectively do that while routinely using the term 'cult' in reference to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Given the history and momentum of Evangelical use of the term, I doubt there's much hope of it dying out any time soon, but to me it's worth protesting.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Daniel Tyler on Priesthood - Part II

The following appeared as Daniel Tyler, "The Gospel Principles: The Priesthood", The Juvenile Instructor 13/07 (1 April 1878): 77.
Although the New Testament informs us what officers were in the Church, it says but little as to their duties or callings. Paul does say, in the 4th chapter of the Ephesians, that, from the Apostles down, they were "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry," etc., "till we all come in the unity of the faith;" but what the special duty of each was is left for modern revelation to determine, so far as we are concerned. The ancient disciples were, of course, posted in all these matters, but they never committed them to writing, or, if so, their manuscripts were either lost or destroyed through persecution of the church.

The book of Doctrine and Covenants, commencing on page 115, new edition, says, "An apostle is an elder, and it is his calling to baptize and to ordain other elders, priests, teachers, and deacons, and to administer bread and wine – the emblems of the flesh and blood of Christ – and to confirm those who are baptized into the church, by the laying on of hands for the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, according to the scriptures; and to teach, expound, exhort, baptize, and watch over the church; and to confirm the church by the laying on of hands, and the giving of the Holy Ghost, and to take the lead of all meetings. The elders are to conduct the meetings as they are led by the Holy Ghost, according to the commandments and revelations of God.

"The priest's duty is to preach, teach, expound, exhort, and baptize, and administer the sacrament, and visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray vocally and in secret, and attend to all family duties; and he may also ordain other priests, teachers, and deacons. And he is to take the lead of meetings when there is no elder present; but when there is an elder present, he is only to preach, teach, expound, exhort, and baptize, and visit the house of each member, exhorting them to pray vocally and in secret, and attend to all family duties. In all these duties the priest is to assist the elder if occasion requires."

Next in order is the duty of the teachers, who are standing ministers in the Church. The office of a teacher, although in the grade of priesthood reckoned as one of the lesser, is, nevertheless, one of the most important callings in the Church; and, above all men, those who hold this office should be exemplary. On the other hand, if there is any preference to be shown, I think the teachers should have it as they visit among the Saints. Their duties are so important to the general welfare. I trust our aged and venerable Presiding Bishop, Brother Edward Hunter, will pardon me for quoting a few words which I once heard fall from his lips in a Bishops' meeting, in Salt Lake City, on this subject. After telling the Bishops to instruct the Saints to set their houses in order when the teachers came to visit them, he said, "The teachers are the only men who can preside in my house when I am at home. I call my house to order and give the presidency to them during their visit."

Those words fell upon my heart like "apples of gold in pictures of silver," and, although thirty years have passed, they are as fresh in my mind as when first spoken. I can recommend them to all Latter-day Saints, not only as falling from the lips of a great and good man, but for their intrinsic value.

Of course the offices are all of vital importance to the Saints. The will of God cannot "be done on earth as it is in heaven" unless they are all in the Church and all magnified. And without them all it would not be the "kingdom of God."

Jesus said of John the Baptist, "Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." Hence we see that John, although a great prophet, holding only the lesser priesthood, could not establish the kingdom. But after the Savior had ordained twelve to the higher priesthood, he said to them, "the kingdom of heaven is within you." That is as much as to say that they held all the authority necessary to build up the kingdom of God on the earth.

We will now come to the duties of teachers, and and you will see I have not attached too much importance to the calling. We will quote from page 116 in the book of Doctrine and Covenants:

"The teacher's duty is to watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them, and see that there is no iniquity in the church – neither hardness with each other – neither lying, back-biting, nor evil speaking; and see that the church meet together often, and also see that all the members do their duty, and he is to take the lead of meetings in the absence of the elder or priest – and is to be assisted always, in all his duties in the church, by the deacons, if occasion requires; but neither teachers nor deacons have authority to baptize, administer the sacrament, or lay on hands: they are, however, to warn, expound, exhort, and teach and invite all to come unto Christ. Every elder, priest, teacher, or deacon, is to be ordained according to the gifts and callings of God unto him; and he is to be ordained by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is in the one who ordains him."

Friday, November 11, 2011

Daniel Tyler on Priesthood

The following is taken from Daniel Tyler, "The Gospel Principles: Priesthood", The Juvenile Instructor 13/06 (15 March 1878): 71.
We have seen the importance of faith, repentance, baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and the spiritual gifts. We will next proceed to examine the authority by which the gospel was preached, and how the Christian church was organized.

While Jesus was on the earth, all will admit, He was the President of the Church He had organized; and after His death His Apostles took the lead in all matters pertaining to the Church. As that was not a gathering dispensation, it is probable there was not any local first presidency organized. The Twelve Apostles, with Peter, James and John as the foremost, took the lead, Peter being the President. The highest office in the Church was that of an Apostle. Jesus, the Redeemer of the world, was an Apostle. Paul, in his epistle to the Hebrews, says, "Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus."

We read that Melchisedek is called a great High Priest, and it is probable that Paul alludes to Jesus as the great High Priest after the order of Melchisedek. Melchisedek lived contemporary with, or at the same time as, Abraham, and was probably Shem, the oldest son of Noah, who lived until one hundred and fifty years after Abraham was born, being almost a second Adam. He was the oldest living man, and, from the blessing given him by his father, must have been the greatest and best of his sons. Being the oldest, he also held the birthright over all others. Canaan (or the descendants of his brother Ham) was to be his servant, and Japheth, the other brother, was to dwell in his tents. Or, in other words, be a renter or sojourner, having only a temporary residence, while the eternal and permanent inheritance was that of Shem. He would naturally be the "righteous king," or "king of righteousness," which the name Melchisedek signifies, and would be the most proper Patriarch to bless Abraham, whose father forfeited that right by being a worshiper of idols. If this conclusion be correct you can readily see how this man could be such a great High Priest, having the presidency over all the earth.

As to the equality of authority among the Apostles, Paul said he was least of all the Apostles; yet there was nothing Peter could do but what he could do so far as priesthood went.

I said that the Apostleship was the highest grade of priesthood. Paul, the Apostle, says: "And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues."

This same Apostle understood that wherever the Church of Christ was this same Apostleship should take the lead until the Church should all be united and become perfect. He says, speaking of Christ: "And he gave some, apostles; and some prophets; and some, evangelists; and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive."

How plain this is! Not only is the Apostleship the first office in the Church, but must remain until all Saints are united and perfected. In fact, it continues forever, and presides in the eternal world, Jesus being in His glorified condition the "great Apostle and High Priest of our profession."

Jesus also said, "You twelve shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." Again, John saw the names of the Twelve Apostles written on the twelve gates of the New Jerusalem during the millennium, thus showing that next to Jesus they presided over the holy city.

It was quite proper, then, that when Joseph Smith ordained the first Apostles in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he should reprove Elders who took him to task for not first ordaining them High Priests. He supposed that "Elders in Israel" ought to understand so plain a proposition of scripture as that the Apostleship embraced every other authority of the Church.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Daniel Tyler on Signs

I found the following as Daniel Tyler, "The Gospel Principles: Signs", The Juvenile Instructor 13/05 (1 March 1878): 53.
After baptism for the remission of sins and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, there were certain signs followed the believers. This was in fulfillment of the promise Jesus made to His Apostles, saying, "These signs shall follow them that believe; in my name they shall cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover."

You will observe that the gifts here spoken of were to follow those who believed and obeyed the preaching of the gospel. Now, if Jesus had been an impostor it would have been easy to prove Him such, for, in that case, the signs would not have followed, and the deception would soon have ended. But it seems they did actually follow, the same as they follow the preaching of the gospel now.

The same chapter informs us that "they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following."

The signs must have been the same as promised or they would not have confirmed the word, or promise. Those same promises were renewed to Joseph Smith, and follow the believers now as much as then. The writer has witnessed them in scores of instances. So have thousands of others.

It appears to be almost needless to prove these things, and would be entirely so were it not that the present generation of so-called Christians have gone so far into infidelity as to deny them, though still claiming to believe in the Bible. They pretend to believe that they were only given to the Apostles to establish the gospel. But we have proved that the promise was to all those who believed, and were to all whom the Lord should call to repentance in every age until the earth shall be full of the knowledge of God.

I do not wish my young readers to think that spiritual or miraculous gifts are a sure sign or infallible proof of the truth of the gospel. They were never designed to convince unbelievers. You will find, by reading the 16th chapter of St. Mark, that there is not the slightest hint that any one should receive them until they believed. They were to be the result of faith; to confirm and strengthen those who already believed. Jesus told the people plainly that there should be but one sign given to the generation in which He lived. When the Jews asked Him for a sign, He replied: "An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, and there shall no sign be given to it but the sign of the prophet Jonas. For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."

We may infer from the sayings of Jesus that He would be taken by wicked hands and slain, and that His body would lie three days in the tomb, at the end of which time He would arise from the dead. We know that Jesus was crucified and lay three days in the grave. The fulfillment of the part of the prophecy which was given as the only sign to that generation none disputed. They saw Him nailed to the cross; they saw Him hanging there after He was dead. They saw Him taken down a lifeless corpse; they witnessed Him laid in the new sepulchre, or tomb; they saw an army of soldiers placed around the tomb as a guard to keep His followers, as they said, from stealing away His body. To double the assurance they saw a great stone rolled against the door. All of this was done because they remembered the sign Jesus had given them. He told them they might take that as a sign. This being given as a test, they were determined there should be no fraud. They would see that He did not get out of the grave on the third day. But, after all of their caution, lo! an angel rolled the stone away; the guards fell to the earth like dead men; the Redeemer of the world arose and walked out of the tomb, and those unbelievers never saw Him after. The sign had its fulfillment then, but He never appeared to those sign-seekers; not even to contradict the falsehood circulated by the soldiers who guarded the sepulchre – that His disciples stole His body while they were asleep. Yet He was in and out with His Saints for forty days, notwithstanding which, many years afterwards, when the New Testament was written, the Jews kept to the old fabrication that His followers stole His body. That one sign proved a curse instead of a blessing, for it condemned them, as they remained in unbelief.

It was the same then as it is now. The Lord told Joseph Smith that those who seek signs shall have signs, but not unto salvation.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Daniel Tyler on the Gift of the Holy Ghost

I found the following as Daniel Tyler, "The Gospel Principles", The Juvenile Instructor 13/04 (15 February 1878): 45.
In our last we casually referred to Peter's preaching the doctrine of repentance and baptism for the remission of sins. He not only told them that if they would be baptized their sins should be forgiven, but promised them the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Our devout Christian friends tell us that this was only promised to the Apostles, or, at most, to believers in that age of the world. Now when they say that, they contradict Peter, for he said, "the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." They had just passed the meridian of time, hence, the "last days" had commenced; and he told them that what they had witnessed was what the prophet Joel predicted should come to pass in the last days – that God would pour out His "spirit upon all flesh." He did not tell them that was the end of Joel's prophecy, but a mere beginning, to be continued to them and their children, and to those afar off, and finally to all whom the Lord should call. Call to what? Why, to the same that they were called to. To believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins, by those having the same authority; and they should have the same Holy Ghost, or Spirit of God, which Joel said should, during the period which should follow the meridian of time, called the last days, be poured out upon all flesh. Or, as Isaiah expresses it, "until the knowledge of God shall cover the earth as the waters cover the great deep."

You will see, by reading the second chapter of Acts, that it was the different denominations of religious people of that day, who assembled on the day of Pentecost, whom Peter commanded to repent and be baptized, and promised the gift of the Holy Ghost. Yes, they were "devout men out of every nation under heaven," yet they had to come in by the same door as the publicans and other sinners, or they could not get this Holy Ghost. Just the same as ministers at the present time and their flocks must come in by the same door, or they cannot get this heavenly gift; neither can they otherwise enter the kingdom of God, set up for the last time.

This gift comes by the laying on of hands. Hence, when Paul found some who supposed they had been baptized unto John's baptism, but had never heard the doctrine that John taught about the Holy Ghost, he re-baptized and laid hands on them and they received that heavenly comforter, and spoke with tongues and prophesied. By reading the 8th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, you will find that Philip went to Samaria and baptized all the Samaritans. When the brethren at Jerusalem heard of it, Peter and John were sent down, who, when they came, prayed that they might receive the Holy Ghost, which none of them had received, although the ordinance of baptism had been attended to. Whether this Philip was the Apostle by that name, and, through so many applications for baptism, had not had time to confirm them, or whether he was a priest after the order of Aaron, and therefore unauthorized to administer in spiritual things, does not appear from the reading. I believe the latter, however, is the more generally received opinion. After prayer, Peter and John confirmed, or laid hands on, them, and they received the Holy Ghost.

There is an instance mentioned in the 10th chapter of the Acts where one devout man – a religious Gentile – received the Holy Ghost before being baptized. This chapter, however, explains itself. It shows the reason to be that, although Jesus had told the Apostles to preach the gospel to every creature, they had, nevertheless, supposed the Gentiles to be unworthy of it. Hence the Lord gave Peter a vision, wherein he was told to kill and eat animals which were called unclean, and forbidden by the law of Moses, which he (Peter) objected to, on the ground that he had never done the like, and did not think it right. This vision, which was repeated three times, was to show him that all the nations of the earth were entitled to salvation if they performed the works required. Still, he could not fully understand it until he saw the Holy Ghost given to that Gentile, even as to himself and others on the day of Pentecost. Then, and not until then, did he say, "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted of him." The Jews thought the command only meant all nations who were of the seed of Abraham, but Jesus meant just what he said – "all nations."

No sooner was the great Apostle convinced that the Gentiles were entitled to salvation, that he commanded Cornelius and his household to be baptized, although they had received the Holy Ghost.

I trust you will read the whole of the 10th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. It makes the subject very plain, and shows how Peter, on his return, had to argue and explain before his Jewish brethren would be satisfied with his baptizing, and associating with, the Gentiles. After explaining everything to them, he closed with these emphatic words: "What was I, that I could withstand God?"

An appeal to the great Jehovah settled the question, and the Christian Jews gave it up. All were now satisfied that it was right to baptize believing Gentiles, and this is why they received the Holy Ghost before baptism – that the Jews might know that it was right to baptize them into the Church.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Godly People Bless the Earth

The following poem by John A. Lant, titled "A Godly People Bless the Earth" and dedicated to "the brethren of the Central States Mission", appeared in The Improvement Era 10/3 (January 1907): 198. I hope I have the second and third stanzas in the proper order. Compare to an earlier poem by John Lant, courtesy of Ardis E. Parshall at her Keepapitchinin blog.
A godly people bless the earth,
By kindly deeds and saintly worth;
America! thou grand and free!
To gospel glories bend the knee,
In humble thankfulness and prayer,
For these are gaining everywhere;

From revelation's reop'd fount,
These glorious latter days they count,
When men from strife and wrong shall flee,
And earth - a paradise to be -
Receive the lessons hidden long
In joy sublime and gladsome song.

Let menace to all evil come,
With good disproving slander's tongue.
Ope thy heart, each soul who bore
False witness, thoughtless, o'er and o'er;
Thou art forgiven; canst thou forgive,
And "Mormon" precepts strive to live?

These Latter-days mean peace for all -
These Saints in gladness meekly call
To share the joys bequeathed from heaven
For them, for thee, the precious leaven -
That all God's children born to earth
May merit life divine from birth.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Daniel Tyler on Baptism

I found the following as Daniel Tyler, "The Gospel Principles: Baptism", The Juvenile Instructor 13/03 (1 February 1878): 34.
Next in order to repentance we find baptism. Perhaps our young readers will be surprised to learn that a variety of opinions exist among the so-called Christians of our day, not only as to the mode, but as to the object, or intent, of baptism.

Some hold that it is a mere outward sign of inward grace, and may be administered by any one who thinks, from some impression of the mind, that he is called to preach, no matter whether he is ordained by proper authority or not.

There are but few, except the Latter-day Saints, who will admit that it has anything to do with people's salvation. There are many who have no other baptism than sprinkling a little water in the candidates' faces, which is generally when they are infants. There are different churches who do this. Another mode is for the candidates to kneel down in the water, or in a meeting house, and have water poured on their heads. Some believe in being immersed once with their faces upwards, others three times, face downwards, while others discard all baptism except that of the Holy Ghost. Some do not believe that baptism or any other outward ordinance is essential to salvation. In fact, I believe all, or nearly so, except the Campbellites, or Christian Baptists, look upon baptism and all other outward forms as having nothing to do with salvation.

The Book of Mormon tells us that those who baptize infants are in the gall of bitterness and the bonds of iniquity, and have cause to repent; because such little children are in a state of salvation already, and need no baptism. It also tells us that baptism is for the remission, or forgiveness, of sins; and that little children have no sins to be baptized for.

The Lord, in a revelation to Joseph Smith, said that all of the spirits that took bodies in this world were innocent and pure before Him until they became old enough to know right from wrong, or good from evil. Then, if they sinned, knowingly, they were guilty before Him; but not until then.

When some little children went up to Jesus, our great Redeemer, upon one occasion, His disciples thought a great man like He was would not like to be troubled with them; but He said "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of heaven." Again He said, "Except ye become as a little child, ye can in no wise enter the kingdom of heaven." Hence, you see, it is plain that they have no sins to be forgiven, and need no baptism.

Jesus taught very differently from what most religious people, except Latter-day Saints, teach in these days. A devout man, a religious ruler of the Jews, once came to Jesus by night, to find out what he should do to be saved. Jesus told him he must be born again, or he could not see the kingdom of God. He thought it very strange, and asked Jesus to explain what He meant. Then He said "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."

I understand the birth first spoken of to mean a change of heart, which usually follows the preaching of the gospel, before repentance or baptism. For instance, your parents will tell you that when they conversed with the Elders, or heard them preach, the gospel appeared plain; and when they read the Bible then they could understand it as they never understood it before. They could see the beauty of the organization of the Church, with apostles, prophets, helps, gifts, etc. Receiving this reflection of life, I understand, is being "born again," in the sense implied by the Savior. It is seeing the kingdom and the way to enter it, which, as we have already shown, is by being born of water and of the spirit, or, in other words, by being immersed in water and receiving the Holy Ghost.

If there was no other scripture to prove that immersion was right, this would be sufficient, as a person could not be born of water, unless he were first buried in it.

Before Jesus was crucified, He chose and ordained twelve apostles, some quorums of seventies, etc. He told His apostles to go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature; that those who believed and were baptized should be saved, while those who did not believe should be damned. Hence you see it was just as necessary that they should be baptized as it was to believe; for they must do both if they would be saved. They were also promised certain gifts and powers if they would believe and obey the gospel. But we will talk more about these gifts hereafter. The apostle Paul tells the former-day Saints that they were buried with Christ in baptism. This is very plain; they were buried with water, like burying a corpse in the grave. In fact, he compares it to Christ being covered up in the tomb, where He was completely shut in, and coming out after the angel rolled the great stone from the door.

Baptism follows repentance, and is for the remission of sins. Peter taught this doctrine on the day of Pentecost.