Questions about the Church

I was listening to another Mormon Messages extract recently, this time an interview with a man who works for the Church History Department. I found this fascinating and gave me some food for thought. It was focused on what to do when shown events in Church History that haven’t been experienced before.

Firstly, I want to make something clear. There is a reason I have given this post the specific title it’s been given. When we come up against questions of faith in the Church it is very often for this reason: the Church. It is rarely (although it does happen) questions about the Gospel. The Church and the Gospel are two completely different entities. One is the eternal plan devised by a loving Heavenly Father, whose goal and focus is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. The other is the earthly institution, instigated by Jesus Christ Himself, which officiates in and makes available the ordinances and support structure for Heavenly Father’s children to live the Gospel easier. You cannot have the Church without the Gospel, but our faith is sometimes built upon the ‘Church’ rather than the ‘Gospel’. Whilst it is important to have a living testimony of the Church (which involves the passing on of priesthood keys and living prophets and apostles), it is more important to have a testimony of the Gospel (which involves our Saviour Jesus Christ and the plan that has been prepared for us). In this post when I refer to struggles of faith, I am referring to the unfortunate cases where a member doubts the truth of the Gospel because of questions they have about the Church and in particular, events where they are unsure why certain things happened in Church History.

The Doubt

I think it would be naive to think that no adult member of this Church has ever come across some of the challenges to faith that could occur when it comes to Church History. Questions about polygamy, Joseph Smith, the Priesthood and other such topics are often discussed in modern popular culture, never mind some individuals who actively go about and seek to undermine the Church and its teachings. However, every now and again there will be stories or rumours about certain events that will shake us. We have a doubt, and that leads us to question.

However, this is a very important stage and it’s important for the individual to recognise that this is completely normal. The brother in the Mormon Messages segment was very clear on this. There seems to be a cultural anomaly that has developed within the Church – that to question things is wrong. If we have a question we had better forget about the question and just keep doing what we’re meant to. However, as he wisely pointed out, that culture isn’t doctrinal. In fact, to say we shouldn’t question goes against doctrine. We read throughout every part of the Standard Works that we should ask the Lord about anything we so feel:

Askand it shall be given you; seekand ye shall find; knockand it shall be opened unto you:

For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

And when ye shall receive these things, would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not trueand if ye shall ask with sincere heartwith real intenthaving faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:4-5)

Oliver Cowderyverily, verily, say unto you, that assuredly as the Lord liveth, who is your God and your Redeemer, even so surely shall you receive knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive knowledge concerning the engravings of old recordswhich are ancient, which contain those parts of my scripture of which has been spoken by the manifestation of my Spirit.

Yea, behold, will tell you in your mind and in your heartby the Holy Ghostwhich shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. (D&C 8:1-2)

Asking questions is strongly recommended in developing and maintaining a testimony of Jesus Christ, not frowned upon (looking at the doctrine). The important thing is that we are honest seekers of truth, that we want to find out the answer and act on it.

Foundations of Faith

In considering all of this, this brother reminded the listener of something else. Whatever it is that someone has questions about regarding Church History, what is important to remember is that we are looking back and making judgments without full knowledge of the context. We also need to remember the foundations that we have already placed our faith on.

He likened it to the analogy of Santa Claus. When he was growing up, he learnt that certain details about Santa Claus weren’t completely the truth. That the reality was not exactly what had been painted for him whilst he was learning about Christmas and the traditions surrounding it. However, he had a choice. He could find out more and continue sticking with the things he knew to be good about the Christmas season – the gifts, the traditions and so on – or he could cut all ties with everything to do with what he had learnt about Santa Claus, including Christmas itself.

The point he was trying to make was that if we come across events from Church History that make us question, the important thing to consider is that you have developed faith on principles of truth. There are certain things that you have testified about that you have experience in finding out to be good and trustworthy. When faced with doubt, it is important to remember that. You can then search out answers through study, prayer and so on. Sometimes there may not even be an answer to the question you seek (yet), however we can be assured that there are answers to things we can find out about.

Verily, verily, say unto you, if you desire further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.

Did not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God? (D&C 6:22-23)

We can always turn to the Lord for guidance and reassurance – but we must develop a relationship in times when things seem straightforward for those times when faith seems difficult to find.

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Prayer: The Father and Son Chat

Today I was listening to a Mormon Messages soundbite on preparing ourselves spiritually each day and the main focus moved onto prayer.

I am pretty diligent in my scripture study, even if it’s only a few verses a day, I attend my regular Church meetings and renew my covenants and I try to fulfill my callings to the best of my ability whilst balancing family life. However, the one practice that I never seem to get right or do consistently is my personal prayers. We say family prayers everyday and you would think as a return missionary I would be better at this. I have seen miracles, felt clear promptings as a direct result and witnessed changes in my own nature as a result of heartfelt prayer. So why do I struggle with it on a regular basis. I seem to leave Church each Sunday with the commitment to improve my personal prayers and then fall short! Why do I not call on my Heavenly Father? 

All these thoughts began to buzz around my mind as I listened closely to the audio clip. Later, they shared a passage of scripture from the Bible Dictionary. Some of it I remembered and have used in my own opportunities to teach such as a talk, or when I have ministered. However, there was a section they read which I was sure was from some other source and I even rewound the recording to listen to where they found it again, but it was indeed from the very same place: the Bible Dictionary. It says this:

“As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are His children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part (Matt. 7:7–11). Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship.”

For some reason, despite knowing that God is my Heavenly Father, this struck a chord in me. I love speaking to my Dad – I know that he loves me and is pleased to see me when we meet. How much more then is my Heavenly Father eager to see me when I ‘meet’ Him in prayer. No disrespect to my earthly father, but my Heavenly Father is so much more able, willing to love and has given me more guidance and help in my life than my earthly father (although, I owe my life to him also). So why shouldn’t I be anxious to get on my knees and communicate with Him!? 

The answer is right there at the end of the Bible Dictionary passage – we forget about how intimate the relationship with our Heavenly Father is. In fact, the unfortunate paradox is that we probably understand this intimate relationship the best when we are already praying fervently and often…not before we begin the process. So how can we always remember this relationship with Heavenly Father so we are consistent in our prayers?

There will be many answers, each more useful or unique to different people. However, I think the main answer is one which relates to the wonderful teaching by Alma in Alma 32:28 where he says:

“Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.”

In other words, we just need to cast aside our apathy, our easiness to drift into relative contentment, and just get on our knees and do it! Then the next day, have some reminder ready and do it again! Try the word and see what happens. Only then can our hearts truly BEGIN to change. The word BEGIN is important there. It is a lifelong process which is why we are taught so often the basics – because we aren’t getting them all right yet.

Tonight – I will just do it!

Authority in the Ministry

The entry is based on the activity found in Preach My Gospel page 5.

It first refers to John 15, which is an account of Christ ordaining His twelve Apostles to the great ministry they have prepared for them. Christ says “I am the true vine” (John 15:1) – He is the source of power of any administration or use of the priesthood authority in His Church. Without Him this Church wouldn’t be restored in it’s original form as His Church. As we have faith in Him – we are endowed with the power to do all His will.

In this scriptural passage, Christ is talking directly to his Apostles. However, we many take this event and apply it to ourselves, liken the scriptures to ourselves. We, when we officiate in His Priesthood, are a direct link to the Saviour – we are His branches. As Christ said “He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5). As we connect to the Vine in our responsibilities and if we invite His Hand to move this sacred work His power will emanate. In being set apart to the work, we become part of this overall ‘plant’ – a branch of the true Vine – messengers of Christ.

Here is a great promise by the Lord – “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” (John 15:7). Whatsoever thing we ask for in righteousness to our Heavenly Father in His service, it will be given. There is great power in knowing and applying this to the work.

We are all called as ministers. And interestingly this does not just apply to priesthood holders. Brethren and sisters are all called to the sacred ministry. All are called as ministering brethren and ministering sisters. We are required to be connected to the true Vine so we can invite power in His service. We are conduits for the power of the Spirit to flow. Whilst the conduit is important, it can only be useful and fulfill its purpose if it doesn’t impede the flow of our Saviour’s power and influence.

Lehi’s Dream – Love of God

Lehi’s Dream – the vision of the tree of life – has many marvelous meanings and analogies behind it. It is one of the first main gospel ‘teachings’ in the Book of Mormon and highlights really just what the Book of Mormon is for – to bring others to the knowledge of Christ and, eventually, the true love of God. We see this in the vision described by Lehi in 1 Nephi 8 and explained later to Nephi in 1 Nephi 11.

If we look at the vision in terms of missionary work – we see a good description of the emotions and efforts of the work placed before us.

At the beginning, Lehi finds himself at this tree of life. He tastes the fruit and says “I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted…And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy…” (1 Nephi 8:11-12). Thus we see that this fruit was very delicious to the taste and it made Lehi feel great. This fruit can be related to as the love of God – the abundant blessings that we receive from our loving Father’s hand – in particular eternal life, living in the presence of Him and our families together forever.

As such, if we want to dwell with our families forever, they need to qualify as well. So Lehi continues “I cast my eyes round about, that perhaps I might discover my family also…” (1 Nephi 8:13) – he immediately looked for his family to taste of what he just had. He wanted to share it with them so that they could have the joy that he had – just as we should be with the Gospel in our lives.

What is also interesting is the way that people would make it to the tree/eternal life. In order to reach the tree, people had to “press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree.” (1 Nephi 18:30). This links into what we need to do to receive all the blessings of the Atonement. Grasping to the rod could represent holding to the gospel covenants. As such, commitments and covenants help us move closer and closer to the eventual goal of celestial glory. An interesting point is that the people had to hold to the rod right until they reached the tree – and hold on tight. Due to the mists of darkness (temptations of Satan), if they didn’t hold fast they would be lost – if they didn’t endure to the end then they wouldn’t reach he blessing of eternal life.

Sister Okazaki – Prejudice or Peace: An Example of Cultural Unity

I recently studied an article about a talk by Sister Chieko N Okazaki in the April 2018 Ensign. I was impressed whilst reading the short bio of Sister Okazaki at the start of the article. You can read it at this link or the bio is just below:

“Chieko Nishimura Okazaki (1926-2011) grew up in Hawaii, USA, in Buddhist family of Japanese ancestry. She joined the Church when she was 15.

By then, Sister Okazaki had come to acknowledge the complexity of her ethnic and  cultural status. Worried about how others would perceive them after the Japanese  military bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Sister Okazaki and her mother gathered and  burned every Japanese memento they owned. But then she looked in the mirror and  thought, “I have never set foot in Japan. am not Japanese in my heart. But cannot run away from myself. My eyes, my skin, and my hair are Japanese.”1

Sister Okazaki confronted racism throughout her life. She began teaching soon after  World War II when anti-Japanese sentiment still ran high in the United States. Three mothers refused to allow  their children to be in her class. But Sister Okazaki soon won them over.

Sister Okazaki was the first woman to serve on all three of the women’s auxiliary boards:   first Young Women, then Primary, then Relief Society.”

I am aware that this type of cultural prejudice is unfortunately as prevalant today as it has always been. You would think that as the world becomes smaller through new and improved systems of communication and a diversifying of many cultures this would not be the case. Sadly, there is still a lot of unwarranted hate in the world. You only even have to look at something as trivial as football fans to see this in action. One set of fans automatically go against other fans and hurl abuse simply because of the team they support. Were they to meet each other in other settings they may have struck a wonderful friendship up. Yet, it is their categorisation of ‘those fans and that club’ that instantly have them make a judgement about those individuals.

The harrowing thing about cultural prejudice is that, unlike football teams and fans, culture and race cannot be ‘chosen’. We are born with it. As such, if someone is prejudiced against someone else for their race or culture, they are making judgement on that person just because of the way they were born – not on ANY of the choices that person has made! This is clear to see in the example of Sister Okazaki. The sorrow she must have felt when treated in this way because, simply, she looked different must have felt bad. She even said she did not ‘feel’ Japanese, but the way she looked made the difference.

She shared a wonderful talk about this cultural difference and the Gospel. She said:

“The basket and the bottle are different containers, but the content is the same: fruit for family. Is the bottle right and the basket wrong?No, they are both right. They are containers appropriate to the culture and the needs of  the people. And they are both appropriate for the content they carry, which is the fruit…

Brothers and sisters, whether your fruits are peaches or papaya, and whether you bring  them in bottles or in baskets, we thank you for offering them in love.”

It does not matter what we look like, but what we live like. Obviously, this is something that as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we would believe as we believe we are all children of our loving Heavenly Father, no matter the colour of our skin. However, this talk – along with the context of Sister Okazaki’s life-experience – was an eye-opener. I fall victim to making judgements about others and I wish to work on that.

President Nelson Tour

Saints in the UK and Ireland recently had an incredible opportunity. After a historic General Conference, President Russell M Nelson embarked on a Global Tour of the Church and is visiting 8 countries in 11 days (and some of us used to suggest we couldn’t visit our handful of HT families in a month)! The very first stop was London and President Nelson, along with Elder Jeffrey R Holland and their wives taught so powerfully to the members of the UK and Ireland area of the Church.

Sister Holland spoke first and it was clear of her love for, and her reverence for, President Russell M Nelson and the sacred calling that he has been given. She encouraged us to study the words of President Nelson from his service in the General leadership of the Church. She recognised that she can speak so well of President Nelson because she knows him pers onally – she invited us all to get to know our relatively new prophet personally by studying his words and asking Father in Heaven about his call as Prophet, Seer and Revelator. This also reminded me of the invitation I had been given but not yet fully fulfilled – to study the talks given by any visiting authority. We were fortunate to have the Area President, Paul V Johnson, visit us for our Stake Conference 9 days after this special broadcast with President Nelson so I studied those talks before his visit.

Following Sister Holland was Elder Holland. He spoke of his felt inadequacy in following his wife and preceding President and Sister Nelson. He taught powerfully about revelation. As mentioned, we had a historic General Conference just a week before. He reminded us that, whilst President Nelson spoke a number of times to announce changes in Church policy, he did give a message on the Sunday General Session – revelation. The General Conference was all about revelation – whether it was Church-changing revelation or personal revelation.

Sister Nelson then spoke about her testimony about how she knows President Nelson has receive the mantle of the prophet. She made reference to a unique and divine experience that she and President Nelson had 2 days after the passing of President Monson which left her without doubt, an experience too personal to share. Also, she shared experiences of when President Nelson received revelation to guide the Church and she was directed by the Spirit to leave the room before the revelation was received. This was a powerful message, particularly after Elder Holland’s address to us to be more in tune to receive the quiet promptings of the Spirit.

President Nelson was the final speaker and he was an inspiration. He taught about the need to ‘clean up’ our lives before we meet our Saviour, similarly to how the Hyde Park Chapel was before his arrival. He then spoke of ministering – the new announcements from General Conference and how we need to become better ministers (or ‘shepherds’ as was suggested earlier on in the process). He left an Apostolic Blessing that all those in attendance would have a greater capacity to feast on the words of Christ. Also that we would be blessed with health and safety as we continued on our mortal journeys.

Belief, Faith and Knowledge

The three terms belief, faith and even knowledge are often interchanged as though they are synonyms – all with the same meaning. However, there is a definite difference between them all.

In the Oxford Dictionary – her are the three definitions:
Belief: “something believed (accept as true)”
Faith: “reliance or trust; belief in religious doctrine”

Knowledge: “the facts etc that someone knows; knowing a fact or about a subject”

The easiest one to separate is knowledge, which will be discussed later, but belief and faith do seem to be similar – however a closer look differentiates the two.

Belief “may consist in a merely intellectual assent,” says Elder James E Talmage (Articles of Faith pg 96) whereas “faith implies such confidence and conviction as will impel to action.” (Articles of Faith pg 97). From this, it emerges that someone might believe something to be true – however, they do not act on that feeling. Faith, on the other hand, leads to action – it is a trust or reliance on a subject and acting accordingly. Faith is what is necessary for us to receive salvation and exaltation – not merely believing that to be the case. Another interesting thought is that one can have a belief – or even better, knowledge of a fact – and not have faith whereas you can’t have faith and not believe.

For example, it says in James 2:19 “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” Further, a man possessed by devils was causing havoc “But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him, And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of the most high God?” (Mark 5:6-7). These devils believed Jesus to be the Christ, in fact, more than that – they knew Him to be the Christ. These spirits, unlike us, do not have a veil over their memory and so they remember perfectly the Grand Council in Heaven and the fact Christ was ordained as our Leader and Saviour. However, despite having this perfect knowledge, it doesn’t help them – they do not have the trust in Him as their Saviour (i.e. faith) because they have enlisted to follow the other ‘leader’.

Now, compare this with Peter’s statement to Christ. “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16). Peter has belief that Christ was the Son of God, maybe even a knowledge but it couldn’t have been much more knowledge than the devils had (after all they knew perfectly he was the Christ from their unveiled experience) – so what was different between Peter’s attitude and the evil spirits? Faith! Peter not only believed THAT Jesus was the Christ but also believed IN Him as the Christ and what He would do.

To illustrate the point that mere knowledge doesn’t save, Elder Talmage uses an example of a scientific man who discovered, through scientific tests and observations, that the supply of water in a great city was tainted and was causing outbreaks of cholera, which was killing many people. He proclaimed this and the people, never having seen the physical tests to prove it, acted on faith and would drink sterilised water. The scientific man, despite his perfect knowledge, one day forgot and drank unsterilised water and died. His sure knowledge didn’t save him, but the people’s faith did save them. The man wasn’t wise and didn’t apply the knowledge he had received to his own life – thus it is with one who has belief but no faith. “Faith in Christ leads to action.” (Preach My Gospel pg 61) and is key as the very first principle of the Gospel.