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.

Separation and Unification

Recently I was led to study the principle of unification and separation within the Gospel of Christ. This was something taught in recent Ward Conferences in my Stake but I have looked into this more and will try and explain my ramblings in some sort of sensible order!

What is Separation?

Separation is defined as “the action or state of moving or being moved apart” or, even better “the division of something into constituent or distinct elements”. Separation means that things, or objects that were previously together are broken into different, unique parts of the previous whole.
Separation takes a number of forms and happens in a variety of ways in the world we live in. Examples of separation include, but are not limited to:

  • National separations
  • Separation within countries of language
  • Race
  • Culture
  • Religion
  • Distance
  • Time
  • Generations

In most of these circumstances, separation can be seen as a hurdle or a barrier between quality relationships. For example, the people of Mosiah were taught by King Benjamin about Christ and they had all covenanted to live a Gospel life – however this standard was not upheld by all of the rising generation (another example of separation between generations). We read “And they would not be baptized; neither would they join the church. And they were a separate people as to their faith, and remained so ever after, even in their carnal and sinful state; for they would not call upon the Lord their God.” (Mosiah 26:4) The people began to be separated in their faith. As such they had more contention and problems which led to Alma leaving his judgement seat he was voted to in Alma 1 to go out and preach the word of the Lord.

However, there is more to separation and it’s opposite, unification.

How does Separation Fit into the Plan of Salvation?

Separation plays a key role in Heavenly Father’s plan for his children. From the very beginning we were with Heavenly Father but we decided to become separated for a future goal, which will be brought forward later. This physical separation from our Heavenly Father was important. We now live on this Earth with a physical body which houses our spirit (unified together).

As we go through life, we will eventually experience the opposite, death. Death is defined in the Bible Dictionary as this:
Two kinds of death are spoken of in the scriptures. One is the death of the body, which is caused by the separation of the body from the spirit; “The body without the spirit is dead” (James 2:26). The other is spiritual death, which is to die as pertaining to, or to be separated from, righteousness—to be alienated from the things of God (Alma 12:16, 32; 40:26).

We had to leave the presence of the Father in order to progress. In the same pattern, Adam and Eve had to fall (become separated) from the Garden of Eden in order for mankind to live and have joy. Also, once we reach the end of our mortal probation, it is true that we all will die physically, which involves a number of separations: body and spirit, family members and separation from the Earth are just some examples. Separation plays vital parts in Heavenly Father’s plan.

Is Separation Necessary?

The short answer – yes. There are a number of times, linked with the Plan of Happiness but also for other reason, when separation is needed.

In Alma 3:14 we read of the example of the Lamanites and Nephites. These two great nations were constantly at odds with one another. From the inception of the two separate groups, there was always a clear reason why this separation had to happen. This is what we read “Thus the word of God is fulfilled, for these are the words which he said to Nephi: Behold, the Lamanites have I cursed, and I will set a mark on them that they and their seed may be separated from thee and thy seed, from this time henceforth and forever, except they repent of their wickedness and turn to me that I may have mercy upon them.” In this case, this very literal and physical separation was to protect the Lord’s covenant people. There is some issue raised about ‘the mark’ that the Lord placed upon the Lamanites and what this means about race. Whilst others will have their view and continue to voice that, I take this as simply an example of pragmatic guidance from the Lord. Simply – see those people that look different to your people, avoid them because they hate your people and also their traditions would lead you away from the Gospel path. Here – the separation protected the Nephites physically but also spiritually.

In Alma 5:57 we read of a much more figurative, or spiritual, application to the necessity of some separation. Alma teaches “And now I say unto you, all you that are desirous to follow the voice of the good shepherd, come ye out from the wicked, and be ye separate, and touch not their unclean things; and behold, their names shall be blotted out, that the names of the wicked shall not be numbered among the names of the righteous, that the word of God may be fulfilled, which saith: The names of the wicked shall not be mingled with the names of my people;” The people taught by Alma were not only encouraged to separate from the wicked but told to be separate and touch not their unclean things. Now of course, it would be difficult for the believers to physically gather away from all non-believers – perhaps this refers more to the state that we are expected to live in today, being in the world but not of the world. However this guidance was implied, it is another example of where separation is needed.

The above applied also when the Saviour came to visit the Americas. He said to them “But, verily, I say unto you that the Father hath commanded me, and I tell it unto you, that ye were separated from among them because of their iniquity; therefore it is because of their iniquity that they know not of you.” (3 Nephi 15:19) This is similar to the other two examples but another example of when separation is used in the Lord’s ministering with His children of the covenant.

Perhaps the most drastic example of separating covenant people from the wicked is the people of Enoch who were literally taken from the Earth to dwell in the presence of the Lord. We read of this in D&C 45:12 “Who were separated from the earth, and were received unto myself—a city reserved until a day of righteousness shall come—a day which was sought for by all holy men, and they found it not because of wickedness and abominations;” This and the other examples show that separation does not always mean a negative thing completely. However, in every example found in the scriptures, separation was only used to protect the righteous from the wicked. On a personal level, separation is not good news.  

How is Separation Overcome?

We need to avoid separation between nations. Separation can lead to weakening of the whole. We see an example of this in Alma 31:2 when Alma was sorrowful with the separation of the Zoramites from the Nephites. We read “For it was the cause of great sorrow to Alma to know of iniquity among his people; therefore his heart was exceedingly sorrowful because of the separation of the Zoramites from the Nephites.” Alma was sorrowful because of this separation. He knew that it would have a negative impact on the Nephites (probably due to the degenerating spirituality of the Zoramites and the danger of them joining the Lamanites) and the negative impact on the individual Zoramites themselves. Separation can be a danger to both sides.

We need to avoid separation between neighbourhoods. We need to avoid separation between families. However, more importantly, we have to avoid separation within ourselves. One important way we have to avoid separation is between our thoughts and where we are at now, where our body is if you will. For example, if we are at a sacrament meeting and renewing our covenants, our sacred promises with the Lord where we can receive great spiritual promptings, but our mind is elsewhere then we miss out on a great experience.

However, the most dangerous separation we have to overcome is that of the separation of body and spirit. We know from D&C 93:34 that “And when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy.” Of course, fortunately we do not have to overcome this separation ourselves. Our merciful Saviour, Jesus Christ, has made it so that we will have our spirit and body unite again.

However, what can we do to unite our mind and body, our families and those around us? We have to work at it. The interesting thing about separation and unification is that one of them happens naturally, and it is not unification. Unification takes effort, separation can happen naturally in a degenerative manner. So work at unifying your family, your friends – because unification brings power and strength. 

What is Unification?

The power of unification is potent. Mosiah 18:21 describes how people who take upon themselves sacred covenants can unify together. Alma taught “And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another.” This is the template for congregations in the Church. We often debate how wards can be stronger in love and service. This is it. Of course, seeing it in practice is much more difficult but this is the target. The covenant of baptism is a call to unite “And it came to pass in the seventh year of the reign of the judges there were about three thousand five hundred souls that united themselves to the church of God and were baptized. And thus ended the seventh year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi; and there was continual peace in all that time.” (Alma 4:5) We can keep the commandments, study the scriptures, worship at the temple all we can. However, if we do not unite, support and love one another in these activities we are missing out on great blessings.

As I was studying the Topical Guide for the word ‘Unification’, I came across this reference in Helaman 1:6 which says “And it came to pass that Pacumeni, when he saw that he could not obtain the judgment-seat, he did unite with the voice of the people.” This intrigued me. I wondered how this reference could shed any more light on unity. As I pondered over this I realised that this shows an example of how unity can bring peace. In the experience we find this reference, the Nephites are at a crossroads. The great war between the Nephites and Lamanites had passed and the chief judge that had led the way, Pahoran, had passed away. They needed a new chief judge and three of Pahoran’s sons vied for the position. When the victor, Pahoran (Jnr), was voted by the voice of the people, Pacumeni decided to unite with the voice of the people. He chose unity. Had his action been reciprocated by the other forerunner then the Nephites may have lived a very different lifestyle in the years to come. However, Paanchi did not, he chose separation. He called upon Kishkumen, an assassin presumably, and killed Pahoran. As the account continues, this Kishkumen becomes the original leader and initiator of – the Gadianton robbers. We will come back to this band at the end.

How does Unification fit into the Plan of Salvation?

As with separation however, I wanted to look at how unity or unification is used in the great plan of happiness. Recently in my studies and worshipping at the Temple I was thinking about this and the examples of unification are rife within the Plan of Salvation – more so than separation. In Genesis and the book of Moses we read the Creation account and the account of the Fall. I list just a few examples of unification here in these processes:

  • “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep…” (Genesis 1:2) We also know the Earth itself was created out of matter, not just out of thin air, and this matter had to be organised, or united together
  • “And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:9-10) Unifying of waters and land
  • “And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind…” (Genesis 1:21) Unifying of creatures on the Earth to gather together, each after their kind
  • “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:21-24) This was a very interesting one. Again, I do not fully understand how man and woman were formed. Was it literally a rib from the side of man? I don’t profess to understand yet. However, there is this we can gather – there was a separation and then unification. Separation of ‘rib’ from man and then unification of man and woman – this unification is important for us each individually for eternal marriage and families are part of God’s plan

I could go on with this example but I have picked out a few that stood out. The Creation and the Fall make up two pillars of this Plan of Salvation. The third and final intergral part is the great unification, the grand reconciliation. In fact, the Plan of Salvation itself is an example of “Unification -> Separation -> Unification” for after the adverse effects of the Fall, the Atonement of Jesus Christ makes all things possible to be brought together in the end. In Alma 11:45 we read “Now, behold, I have spoken unto you concerning the death of the mortal body, and also concerning the resurrection of the mortal body. I say unto you that this mortal body is raised to an immortal body, that is from death, even from the first death unto life, that they can die no more; their spirits uniting with their bodies, never to be divided; thus the whole becoming spiritual and immortal, that they can no more see corruption.” This is why we worship our Saviour, our Redeemer. He makes unification between us and God, us and our families and us and our bodies possible. Without His great sacrifice then separation would become permanent and whilst separation is sometimes necessary in God’s plan, it is ultimately a state we wish to avoid.

When is Unification Dangerous?

Of course, as unification is so powerful, it is something that the adversary, along with every other useful and good thing that he can, uses to try and shake us from our faith. In 3 Nephi 6:27-28 we read of an occasion (and this is not the only example in the history of the Earth and mankind) where a unification happened that caused danger for everyone else involved. We read “Now it came to pass that those judges had many friends and kindreds; and the remainder, yea, even almost all the lawyers and the high priests, did gather themselves together, and unite with the kindreds of those judges who were to be tried according to the law. And they did enter into a covenant one with another, yea, even into that covenant which was given by them of old, which covenant was given and administered by the devil, to combine against all righteousness. Therefore they did combine against the people of the Lord, and enter into a covenant to destroy them, and to deliver those who were guilty of murder from the grasp of justice, which was about to be administered according to the law.” This unification caused monumental issues for the people of the Americas. In fact it caused the Nephite government and civilisation to crumble and separate into tribes rather than one united people.

If we are not careful, then we can allow the adversary and his followers to unite against us and separate us from our Saviour. However, we can use the principle of unification to combat against this foe. We find this just a couple of years later in the same people mentioned before who had Christ visit them. “And it came to pass that as the disciples of Jesus were journeying and were preaching the things which they had both heard and seen, and were baptizing in the name of Jesus, it came to pass that the disciples were gathered together and were united in mighty prayer and fasting.” (3 Nephi 27:1) As we unite as disciples of Christ and strive to live a life patterned after Him, then we can find the strength to resist the wiles of Satan and overcome the world – but unifying will be vital for this to happen, not becoming separate.

Subtlety vs Simplicity

In Jacob 4:14, we learn of an issue that was found amongst the Jews at the time of Christ but is also found in the world today. It says “But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness…” In a world of instant information and complex media, we often expect to find the answers to questions instantly. With information being easier to access, it can sometimes be easy to want to find answers to complex or meaningless questions. These questions will not help us in life but sometimes we can be tempted to want to find out answers to them. They can distract us from the things that matter most.

Our Saviour, Jesus Christ, has made it so that His Gospel is clear. It is something which children can be taught to understand. Elder Chistoffel Golden Jnr taught “In its essentials, the gospel is simple and easy to understand and adapted to the capacity of the weakest.” If it were not so, would God be fair? If the Gospel were something to be only understood by an intellectual few then would it be fair for any of us who didn’t understand? We are not required to know the subtle mysteries of God. Yes, we are required to study out the principles of the Gospel as deeply as we can. However, we do not have to look beyond what the Saviour and his messengers teach in the scriptures or through revelation.

On the other hand, and there is always another hand, Satan employs different tactics in order for us to use our agency unwisely. In 2 Corinthians 11:3 we read “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” Satan is the opposite to the Saviour. Instead of being open, clear and honest about what he offers, Satan encourages us to disregard the commandments of God by presenting temptation as an enticing and alluring prospect at that moment in time. It is very rare that we make huge mistakes instantly.  Elder Robert C Gay further emphasised “Today it is so easy to get caught up in the noise of the world-despite our good intentions. The world presses us to [look] beyond the mark.” From a scriptural perspective we read in 2 Nephi 28:21 “And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.” As we make our day to day decisions we will need to remember to avoid looking beyond the mark.

The ways to avoid falling for the subtlety of Satan and keeping to the simplicity of the Saviour will, ironically, be the small and simple things that we often mention: prayer, study, regular partaking of the sacrament and so on. However, these vital acts will help us remember the simplicity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and avoid the subtle snares of the adversary.

The Armour of God

Many are aware of the ‘armour of God’ that can be found in Ephesians and in the Doctrine and Covenants. Here is the summary:

  • Loins girt about with truth
  • Breastplate of righteousness
  • Feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace
  • Shield of faith
  • Helmet of salvation
  • Sword of God’s Spirit and His word through revelation

All of these items are vital – if any were missing in our defence, we would fall very quickly as weaknesses would be exposed. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin warned that Satan “seeks to find any chink in the armor of each person. He knows our weaknesses and knows how to exploit them if we allow him to do so. We can defend ourselves against his attacks and deceptions only by understanding the commandments and by fortifying ourselves each day through praying, studying the scriptures, and following the counsel of the Lord’s anointed.”

There are a variety of ways that we can protect ourselves and put on this armour of God. It is interesting, that in the Ephesians account of this analogy, it says in Ephesians 6:16 “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” This passage seems to indicate the necessity of this particular protection – whether the most important or one of the most important – in order for us to overcome the wiles of Satan. It does make sense as faith is a principle of power. It seems ineffective having a knowledge of the gospel or understanding truth if we do not work on developing our faith.

Is it, therefore, any wonder that all the things we do to put on the armour of God are things that increase of faith? Acts such as reading the scriptures, praying, going to Church, partaking the sacrament and worshipping in the Temple. There are key areas where Satan tries to pinpoint his attacks which affect the majority of the human family, God’s children, that without the armour of God would be vulnerable areas.

One is chastity. The Law of Chastity is a simple law and one which, when one considers the consequences when not followed, makes sense – to those who understand the Lord and His love for His children. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin taught “One of the most pervasive deceptions in recent years is the notion that immorality is normal and acceptable and has no negative consequences. In truth, immorality is the underlying cause of much suffering and many other problems that are prevalent today, including rampant disease, abortion, broken families, families without fathers, and mothers who themselves are children.” It does seem to be one of the most accepted transgressions of the Lord’s commandments in the world today when in actual fact, for example, the sin of adultery is the sin ‘next to murder’. God delights in chastity. What better thing for Satan to try and pull us away with.

Not only this, but there are a variety of ways in which we can be ensnared. One of these tactics is pornography. President Gordon B. Hinckley warned “You must not fool around with the Internet to find pornographic material. You must not dial a long-distance telephone number to listen to filth. You must not rent videos with pornography of any kind. This salacious stuff simply is not for you. Stay away from pornography as you would avoid a serious disease. It is as destructive. It can become habitual, and those who indulge in it get so they cannot leave it alone. It is addictive.” If we submit to this vile tool of Satan, we are literally stripping off our armour and our virtue and putting ourselves under Satan’s power. Stop now! For anyone who is under this seemingly unstoppable habit, it is never too late. Even if it has begun, it can be halted. We need to continually put on the armour of God and to do so we need to keep clean and call upon the Atonement of Christ to cleanse us further.

The second possible weak spot is honesty. President James E. Faust taught “Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving.” Honesty includes a complete change in our way of doing things – to become more honest. When we are not honest, then it becomes more and more difficult to tell the truth.

Of course it is one of the commandments to be honest. “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” (Exodus 20:16) The principle of being honest is, again, very simple. However, it is one that many can find difficult to keep fully for one reason or another. As members of Christ’s church, even as any human being,  we should strive to be honest. If we can become more honest, we will find strength to overcome more challenges.

The final example of possible weakness is our use of language. There are a few elements of our language we need to be careful with. We should not take the name of the Lord in vain. We shouldn’t use foul language. Of course, as with chastity and honesty, language is something that Satan has been working on up to today where, to use this kind of language, is something deemed as perfectly acceptable. President Hinckley said “Don’t swear. Don’t profane. Avoid so-called dirty jokes. Stay away from conversation that is sprinkled with foul and filthy words. You will be happier if you do so, and your example will give strength to others.” It is incredible how, when someone shows the example and doesn’t use foul language, it is really noticed by people around them. I’ve personally had a number of instances where people have mentioned they have noticed I don’t swear and appreciate it, or when they mishear me and think I have sworn and are shocked – when many other people around them use the same words freely.

Of course, when we use bad language it drives the Spirit away. “But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.” (James 3:8-9) This verse points out the irony that the mouth that we use to say our prayers to God and even partake of the sacrament with – we sometimes allow it to issue forth things we shouldn’t. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve stated “Profanity and vulgarity…are sins that separate us from God and cripple our spiritual defences by causing the Holy Ghost to withdraw from us.” Foul language can draw the presence of the Spirit away and easily offend others – just what the adversary would want.

As we use the armour of God to protect ourselves and win the war against the fiery darts of the adversary, we will protect our weaknesses and receive more power by our Heavenly Father. Here is another interesting thought to add to that by President Harold B. Lee:
“[The] armoured man hold[s] in his hand a shield and in his other hand a sword…That shield was the shield of faith and the sword was the sword of the spirit which is the Word of God. I can’t think of any more powerful weapons than faith and a knowledge of the scriptures in…which are contained the Word of God. One so armoured and one so prepared with those weapons is prepared to go out against the enemy.” The armour of God includes offensive as well as defensive preparations. The sword of God’s spirit – meaning the Word of God – can give us power to actively combat the falsehoods of Satan. We can use the scriptures against his lies and therefore, the armour of God becomes, not just a defensive tool that we have to shield us but is also a weapon to vanquish Satan and come off conqueror in our daily, spiritual battle.

Gift of the Holy Ghost – A Sure Compass

This entry is based on a talk given by President James E. Faust in the April 1989 General Conference.

Christ had always prophesied that his life would end earlier than expected – leaving the Apostles to administer the workings of His church on the Earth. The very thought of that must have been worrying for the Apostles. However, Christ always spoke of peace and comfort to them. In fact, He promised to send them the third member of the Godhead – the Holy Ghost. He said “I will not leave you comfortless…But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:18,26).

The Holy Ghost has many roles and influences on those who receive it’s gift of being a constant companion. The Prophet Joseph Smith said that the mysteries of God’s kingdom “are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which God bestows on those who love him, and purify themselves before him.” (D&C 76:116). The Spirit of God is vital if we are to learn and grow in the Gospel, what a blessing!

However, if we want the fullness of this power in our lives, we need to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. It is possible to feel the enlightenment before receiving the gift. For example, Cornelius (a Roman centurion) felt the power of the Holy Ghost in Peter’s teaching and testifying and “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.” (Acts 10:44) – and they hadn’t yet received the gift of the Holy Ghost. This is necessary for seekers of truth who wish to gain a testimony of Christ and His Gospel before baptism.

In the journey of Lehi and his family, they were miraculously given a “round ball of curious workmanship; and it was of fine brass. And within the ball were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whether we should go into the wilderness.” (1 Nephi 16:10) – the Liahona. This device led the family through “the most fertile parts of the wilderness,” (1 Nephi 16:16), the safest way to the promised land. However this compass had another miraculous feature. The Liahona pointers did work “according to the faith and diligence and heed which [they] did give unto them.” (1 Nephi 16:28) Because of this inspired compass, the family reached their destination. The Liahona was a sure compass – and it is a perfect object lesson for the working of the Gift of the Holy Ghost. As we use our curious gift, paying heed to its still, small voice and staying worthy through our faith and diligence to have it – we will be comforted and guided through the more ‘fertile’ areas of life and reach our desired destination. “And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things.” (1 Nephi 16:29)

However, because of the effectiveness of small and simple things, that too is how Satan works. Thomas R Rowan explained “Author and commentator Malcolm Muggeridge once told a story about some frogs who were killed without resistance by being boiled alive in the cauldron of water. Why didn’t they resist? Because when they were put in the cauldron, the water was tepid. Then the temperature was raised ever so slightly, and the water was warm, then a tiny bit warmer, then a bit warmer still, and on and on and on. The change was so gradual, almost imperceptible, that the frogs accommodated themselves to their new environment—until it was too late. The point that Mr. Muggeridge was making was not about frogs but about us and how we tend to accept evil as long as it is not a shock that is thrust on us abruptly. We are inclined to accept something morally wrong if it is only a shade more wrong than something we are already accepting.” 

This is frighteningly true. If we are ready to accept something that is only slightly wrong, we gradually become worse and worse until “the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.” (2 Nephi 28:21) The Holy Ghost is given so we can detect those movements and steer clear of them.

Not only does the Holy Ghost give guidance, it also gives comfort – hence the title ‘The Comforter’. It can give us feelings of comfort and I’m sure that even just the knowledge that we have the third member of the Godhead with us is comfort enough.

Even if we feel lost, if we are faithful to our covenants we make when receiving this gift, we will never be left comfortless. It will lead us to our just reward with our Father in Heaven. The Prophet Joseph Smith appeared to Brigham Young in a dream and told him

“Tell the people to be humble and faithful, and to be sure to keep the spirit of the Lord and it will lead them right. Be careful and not turn away the still small voice; it will teach them what to do and where to go; it will yield the fruits of the kingdom. Tell the Brethren to keep their hearts open to conviction, so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them, their hearts will be ready to receive it. They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits; it will whisper peace and joy to their souls; it will take malice, hatred, strife and all evil from their hearts; and their whole desire will be to do good, bring forth righteousness and build up the kingdom of God.”

As Joseph Smith said, the Holy Ghost will not lead us astray and we will be able to recognise its influence if we are aware and listening for it. “The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy sceptre an unchanging sceptre of righteousness and truth.” (D&C 121:46) As we live, earnestly striving to keep this wonderful gift effective in our lives, we will truly have a sure compass!

Seek Learning by Faith

This entry is based on a talk given by Elder David A. Bednar given in February 2006, and it also has links with a Mission Conference given by Elder Bednar in the Leeds Mission in September 2009.

When we study the word of God – we need to allow the Spirit to be there. Like with any investigator, it’s the Spirit that truly teaches us. It opens the pathway into our heart. “…the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men…” (2 Nephi 33:1). We must invite the Holy Ghost, then we can be taught and allow the Spirit to work within our heart.

In my last entry (Enos’s Pattern of Faith), the cycle of ‘assurance->action->evidence’ was discussed. The same needs to happen in our study if we desire a more effective, revelatory experience as we study. There are a couple of great examples of this in the scriptures. Nephi, when asked to retrieve the plates from Laban, had the assurance being spoken about. He says “I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do. Nevertheless I went forth…” (1 Nephi 4:6-7). He was led by the Spirit, thus he knew with a powerful assurance, that he would be led right.

Elder Bednar wonderfully explains the relationship between these three elements of faith. He says “These three elements of faith…are not separate and discrete; rather, they are interrelated and continuous and cycle upward. And the faith that fuels this ongoing process develops and evolves and changes.” As we practise this cycle – like a muscle, it’ll get stronger with more and more use.

An excellent example of these three elements is found with Joshua, the children of Israel and the ark of the covenant. They had to cross the river Jordan to move forward. So the Lord promised “…as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests that bear the ark of the Lord…shall rest in the waters of Jordan…the waters of Jordan shall be cut off…and they shall stand upon a heap…” (Joshua 3:13). So the priests with the Ark of the Covenant went in. It is interesting to note that they had to get their feet wet before it would happen. They had the assurance from the Lord and they had to act – and of course “…the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan…” (Joshua 3:17). They received the evidence that their faith was correctly placed in the God of Israel. Please note that they had to wet their feet in the river before they received that evidence – they jumped and the Lord moved the ‘light’ with them – that is how faith grows.

The principle of learning by faith hinges heavily on the person’s agency to choose, and not being acted upon. For example, when Adam and Eve hid themselves from God in the Garden of Eden, God asked “Where art thou?” (Genesis 3:9) and “Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree…?” (Genesis 3:11). God, being omniscient, would know where Adam and Eve were and what had occurred (let’s not forget this was part of the Plan of Salvation before Adam and Eve even stepped foot in the Garden). This was a learning experience for them, rather than the Lord finding them out. Another example – Jesus walking through a crowd was touched on His garments by a woman, desiring to be made whole. Christ asked “Who touched my clothes?” (Mark 5:30) and then “…the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth.” (Mark 5:33). This was the Son of God – He knew who had touched His robe, she knew this woman more than she herself did – but He allowed her to come forward and learn for herself. In both of these situations, the learner acted for themselves – coming forward to the light – and grew from the experience.

“Learning by faith requires spiritual, mental and physical exertion and not just passive reception,” stated Elder Bednar. Just like Moroni 10:4 says, we need to “ask with a sincere heart, with real intent…” – we show our sincerity by our action and then we will receive our answers. For example – Joseph Smith, as a young man, went to a grove of trees to pray. He prepared himself to “ask in faith” (James 1:6). Not only this but he went with a sincere intent to act. He said “My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join…I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong…” (JSH 1:18-19). Joseph asked, not only for the knowledge of which Church was right, but also which he should join – what he should do! If we desire to seek learning by faith, we must also be willing to act on the answer – or else, how can we expect that answer? God knows the intents of our hearts so if we are not prepared to act but wish for an answer, we need to change.

Now, as teachers – whether we are leaders, missionaries, parents – we need to relay these principles to our ‘students’. However, Elder Bednar highlighted implications it has on us:

1) –
“The Holy Ghost is the only true teacher.”
We need to remember that no matter how well planned and prepared we are, no matter how eloquent we are, if we don’t have the Spirit as we teach then our teaching won’t be effective. We are not the teachers – the Holy Ghost is. Elder Bednar uses a great analogy of a fibre-optic cable. “…you and I are much like the long, thin strands of glass used to create the fibre-optic through
which light signals are transmitted…Just as the glass in these cables must be pure to conduct the light efficiently and effectively, so we should become and remain worthy conduits through whom the Spirit of the Lord can operate…” We are not the light source, only the channel or conduit by which the light is sent and received. If we do teach without recognising where the real teaching comes from and take praise to ourselves, then it is priestcraft. 2 Nephi 26:29 gives a great definition of that. It says “priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world…” – they substitute themselves for the true ‘light’. We need to be careful of this or we become tainted with the sin of priestcraft and lose the power of the Spirit.

2) – “We are most effective as instructors when we encourage and facilitate learning by faith.”
As the teachers, it is our responsibility to not only teach, but also help others teach themselves. The old saying  goes if you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime – rather than giving him a fish to feed him for a meal.
Elder Bednar points out that, in his experience, the best instructors he has had he’s had are those that don’t give him the answers – rather, helped him find answers for himself. For example, I have found the same to be true. My MTC teacher was incredible! This wasn’t because he was intelligent or gave answers to all of our questions, in fact it was quite the opposite. When a question was asked he would say ‘let’s look and see’ and then search with us. Elder Bednar then said “The most important learnings are caught – not taught.” When we guide students to seek learning by faith they act for themselves, feel the Spirit and get answers to questions they didn’t know they even had.

3) – “An instructor’s faith is strengthened as he or she helps others seek learning by faith.”
The Apostle Paul said “Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?” (Romans 2:21). When we teach we can ultimately  be the ones who gain the most as we study for the lesson, teach it and get insights from the students as they seek learning by faith. It is actually a scientific fact! You learn more – as a percentage – if you teach something to someone else rather than studying or listening to it yourself.

Finally, Elder Bednar spoke about a recent example of seeking learning by faith. He talked of President Hinckley’s Book of Mormon reading challenge. President Gordon B. Hinckley declared that if all who listened would read the Book of Mormon before the end of 2005 then it would bring “…an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord, a strengthened resolution to walk in obedience to His commandments, and a stronger testimony of the living reality of the Son of God.” (Ensign Aug 2005). Many were given an assurance by a prophet of God. Many acted on this assurance, and received an evidence. I was one of these. My testimony of the Gospel has been miraculously strengthened by this experience.

The Saviour Jesus Christ

This entry is based on an article by President Boyd K Packer of the Twelve in the March 2008 Ensign – a special edition all about the Saviour.

Right from the very beginning, Jesus, who was Anointed the Christ, has been an integral part to the Plan of Happiness for God’s offspring. “And the Lord said: Whom I shall send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me…” (Abraham 3:27) – but what exactly was Christ, then known as Jehovah, chosen for? “And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made…” (Alma 42:15) -in order for God’s children to return to Him, a Saviour or Mediator was needed. Jehovah stepped forward voluntarily to take upon Himself the sins and sufferings of the world, for said His Father to Moses “…this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39) and Christ’s will is one with His Father. He was “foreordained before the foundation of the world.” (1 Peter 1:20) and not only that, but God said “by mine Only Begotten I created these things…” (Moses 2:1) meaning Jehovah, under the direction of the Father, created the world that we stand on. “Behold, the Lord hath created the earth that it should be inhabited…” (1 Nephi 17:36) – it was necessary so that we would have a place to live, grow and develop, according to the Plan of Salvation. This is the antemortal Godship of the Christ.

Of course, Jesus Christ is not only known by this name alone. He has many names, all highlighting His divine nature and role to mankind. For example; “Alpha and Omega” (3 Nephi 9:18)“the good Shepherd” (John 10:11)“the Rock of Heaven” (Moses 7:53)“Mediator” (1 Timothy 2:5)“Saviour” (Luke 2:11)“Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6)“Bread of Life” (John 6:35) – all signifying His eternal power and love for us!

He and His Atonement are central to the Gospel of Christ. Joseph Smith when asked what the fundamental principles of the Church were – he said “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that he died, was buried, and rose again the third day and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” After all, He is “the Chief Cornerstone.” (Ephesians 2:20) Without Him, all other things we do would be pointless.

It’s interesting to note that, despite all these attributes that Christ has, when He brought, accused of false charges, He was meek and accepted it all. He knew He had the power to stop the abuse, but that wouldn’t have fulfilled the Plan. When Jesus was quiet, Pilate said to Him “Speakest thou not unto me? Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify me, and have power to release thee?” (John 19:10) – in quiet dignity and majesty, Christ answered “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above…” (John 19:11) Christ had submitted to the undeserved punishment because He willed it, not because Pilate had the power to impose it. Earlier in His ministry, Christ had said, concerning His life “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself.” (John 10:18). Jesus the Christ, the great Jehovah, could only depart this mortal life if He himself willed it – no one else could do it!

Due to this divine power of taking His own life – He was the only One capable – and sinless – enough to put into effect the great and last sacrifice. He, by His own will and choice, took upon Him all that we will ever bear. Gethsemene, His abuse at the hands of the Romans, His suffering on the cross – all these things He went through, so we could be free. “…he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) Now, because of this courageous act of supreme love, those who come unto Him and repent can and will be made perfect through His atoning blood. He paid the penalty and performed all for us.

So, to ‘name’ this suffering, we use the word Atonement…but what does that mean? The word can be split into three: at-one-ment, meaning to set at one with God – a good term to use as Christ mediates between us and the Father. However, surprisingly, the word Atonement only appears once in the New Testament, in the verse saying “…we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.” (Romans 5:11) – why so? The word ‘atonement’ had been used plenty of times before in the Old Testament. Nephi explains “Because of the many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the book…an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them,” (1 Nephi 13:29) – plain and precious truths of the Gospel had been lost – but it has been restored to us today. The Book of Mormon contains the word ‘atone’ 39 times, the Doctrine and Covenants contain it 5 times and the Pearl of Great Price 2 times. All of these compared to the 1 in the New Testament – surely we recognise the great value and strength that the Restoration of the Gospel brings to our faith in Christ and His Atonement! This does not even include the many references to the Saviour that do not use the word ‘atone’ but can also add to our faith and testimony.

As has been mentioned, this Atonement was accepted by Christ by His own will, He wanted to do it for us. He had agency. Agency is the reason why the Atonement was needed in the first place. God said “I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day that I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency…” (Moses 7:32) – our first parents had this agency. Adam and Eve chose to partake of the fruit of which they had been told not to. In doing so, they set the Plan into motion. If they hadn’t then all things “…must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created,” (2 Nephi 2:22), we wouldn’t have been able to come to Earth to receive our bodies. However, this brought with it the Fall of Man to a carnal state – a state in which we cannot return to live with God. Although – let it not be confused that, because of Adam, we automatically are punished. “…men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression,” (Article of Faith 2) but because we are human we all will make mistakes at some point in this life. But – “…as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22) – this is the necessity of Christ’s Atonement.

President Packer stated “I seldom use the word absolutely…I use it now – twice. Because of the Fall, the Atonement was absolutely essential for resurrection to proceed and overcome mortal death. The Atonement was absolutely essential for men to cleanse themselves from sin and overcome the second death, spiritual death, which is separation from our Father in Heaven…” and so, Jesus the Christ performed this necessity just for us – that we may return to live with our Father in Heaven once again. With this gift of the Atonement of Christ, we have the great opportunity to repent and forsake our sins. Christ “…satisfied the demands of justice…” (Mosiah 15:9) and if we accept His gift by following His Gospel, we can return to dwell with God.

To know why Jesus Christ was necessary we also need to know that the Creation and the Fall were equally as important as the Atonement – all these three are known as the Pillars of the Plan of Salvation. Without one – the others would not be needed or function. The Creation, implemented by the great Jehovah, was planned out – by choice, not chance as some would try to insinuate – that the perfect form of the Earth, the galaxies – God’s universe was all not there then suddenly there, perfect…which makes me question, which is indeed more far-fetched? That theory or the existence of our loving Heavenly Father? “Had there been no Creation and no Fall, there should have been no need for any Atonement, neither a Redeemer to mediate for us. Then Christ need not have been…” said President Packer.

To remember Christ and all He did for us and renew our covenants, we take the sacrament each week. No more are blood sacrifices needed as the great and last sacrifice has been accomplished. “Wherefore, the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:24) – Christ fulfilled that Law and suffered so that, through Him, we might be saved.

To finish, here is a statement by the Apostle Paul about Christ: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.” (Colossians 1:14-20) and with that the testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father— That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.” (D&C 76:22-24). And to these great men of God, we can add our own testimony. I know that my Redeemer lives, His name is Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten of the Father, who has many Names. He performed and wrought the perfect, infinite Atonement and through His Gospel we may return to live with God eternally. The Great Jehovah, in the tabernacle of clay, descended below all things so that He might rise, higher than before – for each and every single one of us – for me – to prepare the way, for He is “the way, the truth, and the life,” (John 14:6) and I am eternally indebted and grateful for what He did!

Unspotted from the World

This entry is based on a talk given by President David O Mckay in the October 1911 General Conference.

Christ, in His great Intercessory Prayer, says to His Father “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” (John 17:15). He doesn’t ask God to take His disciples away from the world, but that they may resist the wiles of Satan. It is often difficult because temptation generally comes when it’s least expected and in quiet, initially unseen ways. In 2 Nephi 28:21, we read “…the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.” In order to be unspotted from the world, this will require a constant awareness.

By ‘the world’ – what is meant? President Mckay said “I take it that the world refers to the inhabitants who are alienated from the Saints of God.” As such, we are warned to be careful with the day-to-day life around us in ‘the world’. As Saints of God, that is how we receive spiritual power, by keeping ourselves unspotted from the world.

As taught by President Mckay, these temptations we face can ultimately be placed into three categories. We can see them in Christ’s experience with Satan when He was fasting for forty days and nights:
1. Appetite – “Command that these stones be made bread” (Matthew 4:3)
2. Pride – “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down…” (Matthew 4:6)
3. Power/riches – “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” (Matthew 4:9)

As these temptations are varied in approach and consistency we have to be constantly aware. Satan knows our weaknesses, that’s why we are tempted. We can take comfort in the knowledge that, with the support from the Lord, we can overcome or escape temptation. Paul says “…God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape…” (1 Corinthians 10:13). There is sometimes a misconception about this scripture – that we will never be tempted with something that we have the strength to overcome. That is not what is being said here – it is only with the support of the Lord (the Way provided to escape) that we can endure. It is vital that we recognise this key part of the message from an Apostle of the Lord. If we do yield to temptation, we become ‘spotted’, therefore weakened and have less power to overcome the next test of our faith. That is why the Atonement is an integral part of this process. We all become spotted, we are not perfect, but the power of Christ’s Atonement (by being washed in His ‘blood’) we can become unspotted once again.

Moral Agency

The thoughts expressed here are based on an article by Elder D. Todd Christofferson in the June 2009 Ensign.

Free Agency vs Moral Agency
We usually talk of free agency, which is correct, for we are indeed “free to choose” (2 Nephi 2:27). However, the actual phrase ‘free agency’ is not found in the scriptures – ‘moral agency’ is though. Adding the adjective ‘moral’ puts a whole different perspective to our agency – it means that we are people free to choose, but are also responsible for the outcome of our choice. We cannot personally choose the consequence of our actions but we decide the choices we make which lead to the consequences.

What is Moral Agency?
Elder Christofferson then listed three elements of moral agency:

“First, there must be alternatives among what to choose…” – there would be little point in giving freedom to choose if there was nothing to choose from. In 2 Nephi 2:11, Lehi counsels Jacob “there is an opposition in all things. If not so…righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness…” We need these choices in life so that we can learn and grow from the outcomes. These alternatives must also have an outcome, positive or negative, or in some cases both. There must be consequences “the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God.” (Alma 42:22) As we have been the Light of Christ, every single one of God’s children, we are responsible for our choices as we sense what kind of outcome there will be.

Now of course, not everyone has a perfect knowledge of what the consequences to all of our actions will be, and some have more knowledge or experience than others. However, this leads onto the next element Elder Christofferson stated – “Second, we must not only have alternatives, but we must also know what they are…If we are unaware of the choices available, the existence of those choices is meaningless to us.” Due to the choice of Adam and Eve, we each have a knowledge of good and evil, therefore “we attain a state of accountability and we can recognise the alternatives before us.” Now, we do have to remember that some have more awareness than others – the Gospel of Jesus Christ illuminates and enhances perspective, making us aware of dangers and pitfalls that Satan has placed along the way. We, therefore, have better use of our moral agency to bring happiness, bringing into context the phrase ‘the truth will set you free’ – we are more able to choose our outcome because we are more aware of the alternatives. Elder Christofferson continued “Many of God’s children fall into unanticipated traps and unhappiness because they either lack or ignore gospel light. They are unaware of their options or are confused about the outcomes of their choices.” – they are limited in their choices.

The final element of moral agency is “Third…the freedom to make choices,” or, put scripturally “ye are free to act for yourselves.” (2 Nephi 10:23). This freedom of choice is a gift from God. Without this freedom to choose, there would be little point in even coming to Earth as all decisions would be made for us. We know that we had this agency as far back as the pre-mortal life, we are told by the Lord in latter-day revelation that “the devil…rebelled against me, saying “Give me thine honour, which is my power; and also a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency.” (D&C 29:36) Notice the irony that in order to give up their agency and follow Satan, those of Heavenly Father’s children had to use their agency to decide that. Not only has God given us moral agency, but he “is preserving you day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will…” (Mosiah 2:21) – meaning that He gives us the life we have in which to use this agency…that He has also given us! Now, it must be remembered again that despite the fact we have moral agency, we can not decide the outcome of our actions. Because of this, some would say that we are not free to choose – for example, someone might argue that they would like to steal something they cannot afford, but because there would be negative consequences they aren’t able to choose that. On this point, Elder Dallin H. Oakes said “We are responsible to use our agency in a world f choices. It will not do to pretend that our agency has been taken away when we are ot free to exercise it without unwelcome consequences.” We can still decide to do what we want…we just have to be prepared for the consequences.

A Vital Part of the Plan
Now, to understand the importance of this moral agency again we look back to the Council in Heaven. A couple of points need to be made. First, look at the two plans – Heavenly Father’s and Satan’s. Satan said “…send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it…” (Moses 4:1) Satan offered to save every single one of God’s children – what more could Heavenly Father wnat? Well, one thing actually…moral agency. Our Father in Heaven would rather give His children the choice and lose some from His presence than force everyone to be saved and follow Him. That is one reason we can assume that moral agency is so vital to us. Also, “…there was a war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon…” (Revelation 12:7) – a war was waged to preserve this agency and agency prevailed! Surely we should think carefully how we use this God-given moral agency.

Since that time, Satan has done everything he can to destroy the precious gift of agency we have. He entices God’s children to do things which will take away that agency, things which drive away the Spirit and therefore limit our choices as we are slowly put under Satan’s power. Addictive behaviours, once Satan pulls us onto those paths, diminish our agency as we find we have less power to choose not to partake in them, whatever they may be. In the mind of a person going down the path of addiction, they simply cannot choose not to partake, and moral agency is destroyed. There are also people influenced by Satan who seek to carry out his original plan here on Earth, probably not even realising it! Amalickiah was such a person. In Alma 46:10 it says he did “seek to destroy the Church of God, and to destroy the foundation of liberty which God had granted unto them…” – those who desire to take away other people’s moral agency to choose are in the world today.

Of course, without this adversity from Satan, as has been said before “righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery…neither good nor bad.” (2 Nephi 2:11) There would be no point in having moral agency if Satan was not there to tempt us. “It must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves…” (D&C 29:39).

The Role of the Saviour and His Gospel in Agency
As always, our Saviour plays a vital role in this. First, He was an upholder of the original plan of happiness, or agency. He said “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.” (Moses 4:2). Not only that but, as the Saviour, He makes it possible for us to return to live with our Heavenly Father again. We all sin, we are fallen. No matter how hard we try to exercise our agency for good, we will fail overall. And once we have fallen short of perfection, that’s it! We have sinned and so, can not return to the presence of God. That is – if we did not have our Saviour. “And thus we see that all mankind were fallen, and they were in the grasp of justice; yea, the justice of God, which consigned them forever to be cut off from his presence.” (Alma 42:14). Without Christ, we’d be free to make choices, but for what reason? We would all fall short of perfection. “But God ceaseth not to be God, and mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God…to be judged according to their works…” (Alma 42:23) – what a great scripture! Alma testifies to his son, Corianton, that because of Christ’s atonement, we will be resurrected, meaning we can be judged and therefore, our moral agency is once again, proven to be of valuable worth.

Jumping back a bit, how can obedience to God’s commandments really give us more ability to choose? Surely we are limiting our agency to set guidelines? Professor Daniel H. Ludlow said “The extent of our individual agency…is in direct proportion to the number and kind of laws we know and keep.” As we understand the gospel doctrine and principles more, primarily by obeying them, we can see things more clearly, enlightened by the Spirit, and our agency grows as we can see more alternatives and their potential outcomes. Elder Christofferson explained “Think of a ladder – each new law or commandment we learn is like one more rung on the ladder that enables us to climb higher…”

Decisions Determine Destiny
Now, despite using our agency for good, we will all still be tested – in Christ’s parable of the wise man and the foolish man (see Matthew 7:24-27), the rain fell on both houses, not just the foolish man’s. However, all tests and trials can be for our benefit. The Lord taught Joseph Smith “…if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” (D&C 122:7). We learn from all tests we face, as we learn outcomes from certain choices – we improve ourselves and become better. Elder Dallin H. Oakes said “The Final Judgement is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts – what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts – what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions…The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.” Using our agency to make the right choices today will ultimately have an impact on who we become. This final character of who we are will determine our future, or, as President Thomas S. Monson puts it “Decisions determine destiny.”

Our Father in Heaven loves us. He cares for us. He wants us to return to live with Him, in our eternal families – we make the choices, it is up to us. We can receive guidance through the Spirit by our Father in Heaven, but in the end, because of the atonement of Christ, we can determine where we go after this life. THAT is the gift of moral agency.

Family History Work

One thing which sets Latter-day Saints apart from other Christian denominations is the building of temples. In these temples, important life-saving ordinances like baptisms are performed for those loved ones of our family who have passed on beyond the veil without the opportunity to receive them. Until a few years ago I had not really grasped a good understanding as to why this was such a vital part of the Lord’s work on the Earth. 

A few years ago, I had a look in the publication ‘True to the Faith’ which outlines a number of Church doctrines, principles and policies. First, it talked about how stories from your family history can increase your love and admiration for your ancestors and be inspired by them. This is also found in the Book of Mormon – in Helaman 5:6 we read of one father (Helaman) speaking to his sons saying “Behold, my sons, I desire that ye should remember to keep the commandments of God; and I would that ye should declare unto the people these words. Behold, I have given unto you the names of our first parents who came out of the land of Jerusalem; and this I have done that when you remember your names ye may remember them; and when ye remember them ye may remember their works; and when ye remember their works ye may know how that it is said, and also written, that they were good.” Nephi and Lehi were named so in the hopes that the memory of their ancestors would encourage them to make right choices, just as they had. This can be a motivating reason for us to engage with family history. However, there is a much more important reason.

There is a welding link which occurs when our ancestors have necessary ordinances performed for them. Many people have passed on from this life without even a knowledge of the Gospel – without a knowledge of Jesus Christ. I had a discussion with a non-member about this very important principle. He had ordered a Book of Mormon so he could try and disprove it (a positive start). He knew about the principle being discussed and said that surely, those people would be given a way to be saved without baptism or temple worship because God is a just God – it would only be fair. I then realised, with great assistance from the Spirit, that what he said actually showed temple worship is indeed vital. I asked if he believed John 3:5 which is Christ teaching everyone had to be born of water (baptised) and of the Spirit (confirmation). He did, so I asked, therefore, if God was a just God then he wouldn’t make an exception, he would require the same of all his children? He also agreed. Our Heavenly Father does require baptism and other ordinances from His children to enter  His kingdom (that is scriptural) but there is a way for those who didn’t receive a chance to have baptism – temples! That was the first time I begun to understand the great importance of family history work.

One line in True to the Faith (pg 63) really stood out, saying “Your effort approaches the spirit of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice – you perform a saving work for others that they cannot do for themselves.” Notice it does not say our work is equal to the Saviour’s, in fact it explicitly says our efforts ‘approach’ the Saviour’s – He makes everything possible through His Atonement. However, we can receive great blessings from being a part.

In fact the Prophet Joseph Smith stated in D&C 128:15 “…For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as…they without us cannot be made perfect – neither can we without our dead be made perfect.” Obviously our efforts help to bless our ancestors and help them progress. However, what is little mentioned but should be is the effect it has on the worker (us). We have a responsibility but when we help to make this an accomplishment, we receive blessings in our lives.