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Why did Joseph Smith have to return the plates?

Visitor Sunde asked a question on the post “Why do Mormons believe in works?“, that I think deserves broader attention.  It’s a very good question that many looking at the Mormon faith might ask.  I thought I’d make a dedicated post out of it, allowing us to carry on the conversation in it’s own area.

Question:  “Why did Joseph Smith have to return the
gold plates to MORONi? If the Book of
Mormon is true, wouldn’t the continued
availability of the gold plates help the cause
of “truth.”

My original answer:

Thanks for asking!

Joseph Smith had to return the plates because God asked him to.

I assume he was asked to return them because God’s approach is seldom one of providing irrefutable proof for “sign seekers”. He has nothing to prove, so proof is not his goal. Instead, his goal is to try our faith, to distinguish the believers.

Consequently, he continues to architect means whereby man is given the opportunity to encounter truth and choose to believe or not.

So, throughout time, he has sent prophets to teach his word (Amos 3:7 Surely the Lord God will do nothing save he reveal his secrets unto his servants the prophets”).

The same is true in our day, from Joseph Smith down to the current prophet. Whether men choose to believe them, is what he wants to see.

And so, with His goal being to try our faith, it seems to make sense that he would ask for the plates return. They’d served their purpose, bringing to our knowledge the scriptural record of the ancient inhabitants of America (the “Other sheep” who “must hear my voice”).

Having served their purpose, it fits within the template of precedence to leave the rest to faith.

It would likely convince many if the tablet containing the ten commandments were on display in some Museum, having been verified of their authenticity. But that too would destroy the purpose – to try our faith.

Reply from Sunde:

Thanks for the reply. I must say that a thoughtful,
inquiring skeptic can better understand the missing
Ten Commandments from thousands of years
ago. Rational thinkers do, and ought to, have a harder
time accepting the “missing” gold plates right after the
publication of their supposed contents to the world in 1830.
Especially, since so much of what Mr. Smith claimed the gold
plates revealed would seem to fly in the face of Scripture.
Is my thinking somehow logically flawed on this point?

See my answer in the comments below…

Rusty

Did Joseph Smith think that he was better than Jesus?

Daniel, in the post “Do Mormons have more than one God“, asked why Joseph Smith said he did a better job than Paul and Jesus for keeping the church together.

Daniel,

Thanks for asking this question.  First and foremost, this was not the belief, or attitude, or teaching of the prophet Joseph Smith.  In fact, Joseph Smith said the following:

“Who, among all the Saints in these last days, can consider himself as good as our Lord?  Who is perfect?  Who is pure?  Who is holy as He was?  Are they to be found?  He never transgressed or broke a commandment or law of heaven – no deceit was in His mouth, neither was guile found in His heart… Where is one like Christ?  He cannot be found on earth.”  (History of the Church, 2:23)

He later said:  “None ever were perfect but Jesus; and why was He perfect?  Because He was the Son of God, and had the fullness of the Spirit, and greater power than any man.” (Ibid 4:358)

So then, what’s all this about?

It’s about a statement that was taken out of context and is commonly proliferated in anti-Mormon literature for the intent to mislead. 

So what did Joseph Smith say?

His quote “I am the only man that has been able to keep the whole church together… Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it.”

Taken as an independent sentence, one would think the Prophet was insinuating that he was better than even Jesus.  But as we see from his quote above (and numerous others, along with his very life and teachings), this was not his belief.

So then what was the real context of the quote?

Joseph Smith was speaking tounge-in-cheek in a discourse and testimony against the dissenters at Nauvoo.  He was speaking against the very people who had beaten, tarred, feathered, spit upon, and would ultimately kill him.

In so doing, he had just read Corinthians, chapter 11, in which the apostle Paul said “Would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly:  and indeed bear with me.  I say again, Let no man think me a fool; if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me, that I may boast myself a little.  That which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord, but as it were foolishly, in this confidence of boasting.  Seeing that many glory after the flesh, I will glory also…. Are they ministers of Christ (I speak as a fool) I am more;  in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.  In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me:  And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.”

Understanding that this was Joseph’s introduction to the congregation puts his comments into perspective.  Like Paul, he was asking the saints to “bear with him” in his “folly”, while he “boasted foolishly” about his “labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent”.  His quoting of this passage was to provide the context that what he was about to say would not be “after the Lord, but as it were foolishly”, to “glory in the flesh”, as Paul had done.  It was to mock the fools with foolishness, while making the point that no matter what they do to him, he would prevail.

So, as you see, Joseph’s attitude was not that he was in any way, shape, or form, better than our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who is perfect – the only perfect person to ever walk the earth.

But there’s a larger point to this.  And that point, aptly illustrated here, is that the content composed by critics of the church cannot be trusted.  It was built to mislead, that is the sole intent, and so they’ll go to any measure to do so, even when dishonest. 

I’ve seen some of the most ridiculous claims propagated around the internet, and by congregational leaders.  It’s one of the primary aims of this blog, to be one source to which people can turn to get answers to things they hear, such as this, hence the page “Ask a Mormon“.

For truly, Joseph Smith had more respect, understanding, admiration, and deep desire to worship Jesus Christ than I can ever comprehend.  He was a prophet of God, called by the Lord Himself.  As such, his testimony of the Lord was pure and powerful.  You can read more about it at www.josephsmith.com.

Rusty

P.S.  Related posts:  “Is ‘anti’ contrary to Christianity?” discussing the un-Christian nature of critics (or “anti’s”.  Also, “Commercialized Religion” discussing the motivation behind such anti material.

What do mormons really believe?

(Disclaimer: These views are all based on my knowledge and interpretation as an active Latter Day Saint, or “Mormon”, only the actual article of faith I list should be considered “official”.  Still, I try to be accurate and do my homework 😉

I’ve decided that over the next several days, I’m going to elaborate a bit on what Mormons believe, using the Articles of Faith as my guide.  This series of posts is meant to both assist in setting the record straight about Mormonism (if you’re not LDS, and have seen the plethora of false information online), and to helping those of us that are LDS appreciate the simple beauty behind our most basic beliefs.

(For context, the Articles of Faith were written by Joseph Smith and published in March of 1842 in an effort to provide a brief view of Mormon teachings… see here).

The first article of faith states: 

 We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.

Yes, that means we’re Christian.  We believe in Jesus Christ.  We believe that He lives, that He was resurrected after having been crucified on the cross.  We believe that He is our savior, and that through His atoning sacrifice, our sins might be forgiven that we might be made clean through His mercy. 

We believe that he is the literal Son of God, and that God is a real being of flesh and bone, who created the earth, and that we are all His children (see we are of royal birth).  Mormons believe that God is not some vague, cosmic energy, but is a real person that we can see, feel, and speak to.

What a beautiful thing that is, to know that we are made in the image of God.  Knowledge of such a divine heritage should fill us with hope, fortify our confidence, and alter the perspective we have on ourselves, and others.

And how wonderful it is to know that God is a literal, tangible being.  Somehow that makes him approachable, being able to see him as a kind and gentle Father who is concerned at all times for our eternal welfare (see God is Omnicaring).

We also believe in the Holy Ghost, that He is a personage of spirit, and as such, is able to dwell within us.  Think upon that for a moment.  Through living a righteous life, we are able to have the Holy Ghost actually dwell within us.  What a marvelous gift.  A measure of divinity placed within each of us providing a direct conduit straight to our Father in Heaven.

While it’s so easy to take the first article of faith for granted, being so basic, I find it to be of remarkable substance and encouragement.  I am a child of God, who sent His Son to atone for my sins, and provided me the Holy Ghost as a companion to show the way during dark times.  Armed with such knowledge, we should all feel a little bolder, a little more confident, and a little more determined.

Rusty

See also Part 1Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7

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Is there evidence for the Book of Mormon – the answer may surprise you

Tina, on the post “Seeking for evidence” asked today:

Please give me the name of one renowned historian who takes the Book of Mormon serious.

Tina, I appreciate your question.  I have your answer.  Before I share it, I think it’s important to note why so many ask this question.

The Book of Mormon presents a serious challenge to orthodox Christianity.  It is said to be another witness of Jesus Christ, a record of His dealings with the Ancient American inhabitants.  If scripture, it provides clarity to the bible in ways which create occasional, but important contradictions to the traditions and beliefs that have evolved over the centuries by all other Christian denominations.

If the Book of Mormon is true, then not only does it call into question the beliefs of so many, but it has eternal implications for you, and calls for meaningful, but difficult changes to your life.

As such, it would be much easier if we could simply dismiss it, rather than undertake the spiritual responsibility of studying it ourselves, and asking God if it is true.  That makes us vulnerable, and we all prefer to have our beliefs validated, and not challenged.

If it could simply be dismissed, that would be so much easier.  If we could just say “there is insufficient archeological evidence to support such claims” then we give ourselves reason to move on.  And so rather than seek the answer from God, we seek answers from men, from science.  We say “give me evidence, give me proof”, even when we know that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).  Indeed, faith is the evidence, not things we can see.

Still, we want a sign, and archeology is the easiest, and often the first place to turn.  Why?  Because we’ve been raised under the misconception that the Americas don’t have the archeological evidence to support the massive amounts of people, or the advanced technology as recorded in the Book of Mormon.

Indeed, even today, textbooks teach that pre-Columbian America was largely uninhabited.  But as we continuously find throughout all the sciences, things previously accepted as facts (like a flat world), end up not being factual at all.

While there are numerous new findings (archeological, anthropological, and otherwise) that I could recount (and will at some point), perhaps the single best source I could refer you to is a new book, recently published, and that is now a National Bestseller. It’s called “1491:  New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus” by Charles C. Mann.  Coincidentally, Mann is not LDS, and didn’t intend to validate the Book of Mormon with his work, even though that’s precisely what he did.

The Washington Post said “1491 vividly compels us to re-examine how we teach the ancient history of the Americas…”  The book explains that contrary to what so many Americans learn in school, the pre-Columbian Indians were not sparsely settled, but were here in huge numbers, larger even than any contemporary European city.  That the people shaped the earth around them, had immaculately clean streets, running water, and were even the first to genetically engineer crops.  But for decades, archaeologists, anthropologists, paleolinguists, and others have been bringing forward a different story.  1491 brings it all together in one read.

One interesting revelation brought by these scientists, is the realization that rather than the first Americans having come over the Bering land bridge around 12,000 B.C, but rather that they came by boat.  Interestingly, that’s just how the Book of Mormon describes it.

Another interesting revelation is that the reason early European visitors found an empty landscape, was not because they’d found the natural, unchanging state of native America, but rather the end product of a vast society decimated by wars and epidemics – perhaps the greatest in human history.  Again, remarkably, that’s just how the Book of Mormon explains it.

Mann describes discovering gigantic ancient cities, with huge, 14 foot walls thrown up as fortifications.  Again, just how the Book of Mormon describes Moroni’s fortifications of the Nephite cities.

It was believed that the Inca, for instance, fell to Pizarro because they had no metallurgy.  But these findings clearly show that they actually had a highly refined metallurgy, just as the Book of Mormon states.

About the book, “Publishers Weekly” stated that “Mann also shows that the Maya constructed huge cities and governed them with a cohesive set of political ideals. Most notably, according to Mann, the Haudenosaunee, in what is now the Northeast U.S., constructed a loose confederation of tribes governed by the principles of individual liberty and social equality.”  Again, that’s just how the Book of Mormon describes the creation of the Nephite nation, and Moroni’s “standard of liberty” which united the cities, even placing them in the right area.

So while it would be convenient to dismiss the Book of Mormon based on the old, uninformed notion that there isn’t sufficient archeological evidence to validate its claims, in fact, the opposite is true.

So true in fact, that the new evidence not only validates the description of early America as recorded in the Book of Mormon, but validates the prophetic nature of the Joseph Smith.  For it must be remembered that we’re talking about a book written by Joseph Smith (actually translated from ancient plates) hundreds of years ago.  Long before any of this evidence was to surface, at a time when such writings were in stark contrast to current beliefs.  But here we are, hundreds of years later, finding detailed evidence validating that work.

It’s been surprising to many.

Publishers Weekly further commented about the book:  “In a riveting and fast-paced history, massing archeological, anthropological, scientific and literary evidence, Mann debunks much of what we thought we knew about pre-Columbian America.  Reviewing the latest, not widely reported research in Indean demography, origins and ecology, Mann zestfully demonstrates that long before any European explorers set foot in the New World, native American cultures were flourishing with a high degree of sophistication.  The new researchers have turned received wisdom on its head.”

I’ll be posting additional similarities illustrated in the Book (and elsewhere) to further eliminate this “easy out”, but if you prefer not to wait, here’s the link to it on Amazon.

Most importantly, however, are two simply points.  The first is the principle that we should not require the validation of science (or signs) to substantiate our faith.  It’s sure nice when it does, but true faith needs no such validation.  Second, having removed the easy dismissal of the Book of Mormon, it is upon each of us to then undertake the spiritual responsibility to consider the work for ourselves.  To study, and read it for ourselves.  And then to ask God, for ourselves, if it is not true.   It’s simply too important not to.

Indeed, “if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5).  The Book of Mormon itself contains a promise.

“And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things be not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having 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 10:3-5)

Rusty

P.S.  for more information about the Book of Mormon, or to request a copy, click here.

See also “Discussing an open canon” for coverage and discussions about the common  misconception that the canon of scripture is closed.

Video – The standard of truth has been erected

Yesterday I posted a video presentation “The spirit of god”, presenting in fast-form-fashion the story of the prophet Joseph Smith and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.

Reflecting on the humble beginnings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) never ceases to amaze me.  Here was this simple boy, claiming a divine visitation and the command to translate an ancient scriptural record.  Who roughly 10 years later in a meager farm-house first organized this new church with just a handful of people.  Faced on all sides with bitter persecution, mobs, and even armies.

Yet in spite of it all, he made the claim:  “The standard of truth has been erected.  No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing.  Persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame.  But the truth of god will go forth, boldly, nobly and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the great Jehovah shall say “the work is done”.

And here is a video today, dramatically illustrating the literal fulfillment of that very prophecy.  As a stone cut without hands rolls forth throughout the earth.

Note:  For the full resolutioned source video, click here (it’s large).

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kn5zG9xr7IQ&feature=related

 

To learn more about Joseph Smith, see “www.josephsmith.com“, or to learn more about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, go to “www.Mormon.org“.

Rusty

What if Mormons are right?

There’s an interesting article that I would recommend:  “What if Mormons are right, and Catholics and Protestants are wrong?”

The full article (and well worth the read) can be found here.

The author asks the important question “Why are the Catholic bishops so concerned about Mormons baptizing dead parishioners?”

His article is referring, in case you weren’t ware, to a recent and ongoing controversy over use of records of the Catholic Church by Mormons in their ongoing genealogical endeavors, to discover and trace back ancestors and create complete genealogical trees, which are also used to perform ordinances for those that have died.

He suggests that the practice of baptism for the dead makes more sense than the practice of baptizing babies, since throughout Christendom it’s agreed that the soul lives on after death and maintains “understanding and consciousness of self”, which is more than can be said of babies, who have no understanding at all.

What’s more, the practice of baptism for the dead, he points out, wasn’t invented by Mormons, but rather was a common practice of early Christians for more than 300 years after the Crucifixion, and was only abandoned after a close-run, highly heated debate, which he describes as an effort to hamper growth of competing sects.

He concludes that if we (Mormons) are wrong, then who cares, what does it matter?  But if we’re right, then there’ll be a lot of people in the hereafter that are awfully grateful the Mormons had the inspired guidance to restore a practice that dates back to Christ’s original church.

His argument is much similar to one in the Bible where the apostles were brought before the court, and the argument was given that they should be allowed to preach, for either they are right, in which case what they teach is good, or they’re wrong, in which case it doesn’t matter.

For those who might be less familiar, baptism for the dead refers to the practice of allowing the saints to be baptized by proxy, for those who have already died.  It’s a doctrine and practice that is sublime, a clear manifestation of God’s mercy, and a key element in his eternal plan of the salvation of man. 

For baptism is a required step unto salvation (“Except a man be born of the water and of the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” John 3:5), but what of those who have died without a knowledge of Christ, or an opportunity to hear and accept his Gospel?

Either they are eternally damned for something over which they had no control, or there must be a way provided for them.

Most Christian religions today subscribe to the former view, believing that they were somehow simply “not selected” for salvation, and as such, are eternally damned. 

But such an argument contradicts the notion of a just, fair, and merciful God.  For if Christ’s mercy is sufficient for all, why not for them?  This is the “sufficiency paradox” which I describe in detail here

But the doctrine and practice of baptism for the dead is a key element in understanding the real meaning of the atonement, and the concept of “sufficiency”.  Indeed, and it is my solemn testimony, that for those that have died before, without an opportunity to hear and accept the gospel, a way has been provided.

Hence, why in the original church of Christ, and why as a part of the restored church of Christ, we have the practice of baptism for the dead (see also 1 Corinthians 15:9).  That those who have passed before, might have the opportunity yet in the life beyond death, and before judgment, to accept the gospel, and have the work of baptism done for them, by proxy.

The doctrine and practice of baptism for the dead is yet another instance of the loss of purity of the gospel of Christ over time, as saving doctrines and practices such as this, have been slowly eroded and even removed.  But this apostasy was not to be forever, for in 1820 the lord appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith in a grand vision that would change the world forever, and would initiate a complete restoration of the fullness of the gospel to the earth today.

To learn more about the prophet Joseph Smith, see www.JosephSmith.com

Realizing the reality of that grand vision is the quintessential question of our time, for as I explain here – if Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, then the fullness of the restored Gospel is available today, in a church led by living prophets, with ordinances performed by the power and authority of God, the one and only path to perfection.

My hope is that awareness of the sublime doctrine, along with the ancient and restored practice of baptism for the dead will lead many to discover the many other restored truths that can be found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (The Mormons).

Rusty


Proving the Book of Mormon

First, I’ll say that no matter how much effort you invest into proving the Book of Mormon to be true, whether through research, archeology, or discussion and debate, there’s only one way to REALLY know, and that’s through a confirmation of the Holy Ghost.  That kind of confirmation comes subsequent to sincere supplication, inquiring of the Lord directly of its truthfulness (Moroni 10:3-5 | James 1:5), for whereas “facts” and “evidence” is always subject to dispute, a divine testimony is inarguable to him that receives it.

Still, there’s a certain amount of entertainment value in discovering evidence of the remarkable events described in the Book of Mormon, and certainly an increased validity to the Book of Mormon itself, along with Joseph Smith, who found, translated, and died for it.

Such a discovery came to light recently, as reported by the Nephi Project, whose mission it is “to discover Book of Mormon archaeological sites relating to Nephi’s writing” (from their website).

On February 3rd, 2008, an iron ore mine was discovered in Nasca Peru.  That might seem trivial, but it just so happens that this particular mine is believed to be at least 2,000 years old, placing it squarely within the timeframe the Book of Mormon places the Nephites and the Lamenites at that same time.  Historically, critics of the Book of Mormon have used the lack of such a discovery to dispute the validity of the Book of Mormon.

From the Nephi Project’s recent newsletter:

“The discovery is gratifying to George Potter, since his new book (which will be available in the fall of 2008) proposes that Nasca was the possible site of the Book of Mormon’s city of Bountiful.”

You can read about the discovery here.

Still, it surprises me how much dispute there is about the Book of Mormon, not because there are some bits of evidence here and there that it was true, but because if someone really wanted to know, all they’d have to do is read it and ask, with sincerity and faith. 

It’s my testimony that the Book of Mormon is true.  I know it with complete certainty.  Not through any physical evidence or extensive archeological research, but simply because I asked.  And that testimony is galvanized daily as I to study its teachings and can be yours by doing the same.

Rusty