Intelligent, kind, and open conversations.

Faith fitness – day 1 (Testimony)

This post is part of a series called Faith Fitness – increasing our capacity to believe.  Don’t forget to see the intro, part 1 (Testimony), part 2 (Optimism), and part 3 (Hope).

Fantastic.  You’ve all joined me again.  That must mean you’re ready to improve the fitness of your faith and increase your capacity to believe.

From now on, let us refer to ourselves as FAITH CADETS.  Oh, okay, so that’s a bit much…

Still, I want to emphasize the importance of becoming lifelong students of faith.  Faith is a foundational principle.  Our ability to understand, accept, and live accountably for the deeper principles of exaltation is directly proportional to the soundness of our faith.

Like a muscle, your faith will either grow, or atrophy depending on how much you exercise it.  When our faith falls into disuse, it too grows weaker.  That’s the unavoidable law of entropy.  Those of the strongest faith are those who use it regularly, those who make it a part of their daily lives, and not just some vague principle taught in Sunday school.   

It is up to us to take faith from principle… to practice.

Before we begin today’s exercise, we need understand an important part of faith – that faith is founded upon testimony of truth.  Faith not founded on pure doctrine is merely self-disillusionment.

So what pure doctrine must we know to exercise faith?  I propose at LEAST the following.

1. Believe in God

In order for you to exercise faith, and believe in anything (to the point where you can actually affect change, simply through belief), you must first believe in God. 

I’m not talking about a flippant “yeah, I think God is real, and I accept it because it’s been told to me so many times”.  I’m talking about a pure and solid testimony that God lives.  You have to know that at the core of your being.  You have to have sought Him out and felt His love.  You need to accept unequivocally that HE IS REAL.

This is the first and foremost step in building your capacity to believe.  No other step can be achieved successfully without this.  Even if your personal relationship with him is still young and underdeveloped, that’s okay; it will grow as you complete these exercises.

2. Believe that you are a child of God

As a child of God, He loves you.  He is interested in your success, he is omnicaring as much as he is omniscient and omnipotent, and He is anxious to help you.

It means you are of royal birth… divinity is your heritage.  It’s your nature.  You are of infinite worth.  Once you realize that you are an actual son or daughter of God, your whole bodies shall be filled with a natural self-confidence, and you’ll have a sure acceptance that you can do or be anything.  For with God, nothing is impossible.  So too with you, in partnership with Him as your Father, is nothing impossible.

You have to believe that with His help, you are capable of works far beyond that of your native capacity.

3. Perspective on weakness

For you to exercise faith fully, you must understand your own limitations, and their perspective.  Our weaknesses are not some symbolic representation of our own ineptitude.  They’re gifts from God.  God said “I give unto men weakness that they might learn to know me”.  We’ve each been given our own set of “building blocks“, and it’s up to use to learn to use (and overcome) what we’ve been given.

But we should not fall victim to the belief that we are failures, just because we have weaknesses.  We have to abandon our self-imposed limitations, those beliefs we harbor against ourselves that obstruct our progress in life. 

This perspective is crucial feeling the full effects of the testimony of God, and our relationship to Him.

As these basic beliefs become indelibly imprinted in the foundation of your soul, they will begin to pervade your subconsciousness.  Hope will flow through you and optimism will envelope you.  Faith will naturally follow.

Today’s exercise…. Make sure you have a testimony of these three core things.  A solid testimony.  And don’t forget to stretch.  For afterall, can any of us really say that we cannot better understand our relationship with god?  We must stretch ourselves, push your capacity, and build this foundation.

That will prepare you for tomorrow.

Rusty

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Placebo – the power of belief

I’ve moved this post to my new Life-Engineering blog, dedicated to motivating people to achieve their goals and change their futures by taking control of their lives.

You can now find this post here:

http://life-engineering.com/placebo-the-power-of-belief

Conceptual Distillation – is Mormonism true?

Let’s face it, life is full of gray.  It’s complex.  Everything we do simply entails so much.  Every decision we make can lead to a dizzying number of unforeseen outcomes.

In fact, there’s so much complexity around the decisions we make that it’s often amazing we make any decisions at all.  And as you might expect, the more important the decision is, the more complex it’s likely to be.

This principle is particularly present when those decisions involve the destiny of our own immortal souls.

The reasons for this are clear.  Not only are there such awesome, sometimes formidable, life changing consequences to decisions of such an eternal nature, but the adversary of all righteousness, Satan himself, tries tremendously hard to further convolute our thoughts, cloud our judgment, and confuse our course.

He attempts to put so many things before our mind at the same time, each with their own self-fabricated importance, that he obscures the true, essential elements of a decision.

It’s like my asking you to catch a ball.  It sounds easy, right?  So I grab a ball, and then take several steps back from you.  Then, at the same moment I toss you the ball, I simultaneously toss a dozen glass plates your way.  You’re mind is so distracted by the inborn fear of breaking glass, that you’re attention becomes immediately scattered, unable to process it all at once, you lose focus, and miss the ball.

It’s a simple concept really, with brilliant results.  If you missing the ball is my objective, of course.

In the same way, when it comes to those most important decisions in our lives, the ones with an eternal impact, such as choosing a church, Satan endeavors to put so much before your mind that you’ll inevitably lose focus on what matters most.  The core.  He knows that we’ll be so intent upon our innate, inborn tendency to want to reason it all out, resolve every conflict, that we too, will lose focus, and miss the ball.

But the reality is that there is no point in time at which ever conflict is resolved when it comes to knowing whether Mormonism, for instance, is true.  Even Christ himself, the very picture of perfection, in his omniscience and omnipotence, with the absolute purity of eternal truth behind him, was unable to convince even the majority of those who surrounded him.

So while here (on this blog), and anywhere else, we discuss so many different doctrines, and share so many varying views of scripture, all of which are important endeavors, they too, can prove to be only distractions in answering the real question – is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the true church? 

As with any decision of real value, there comes a time when you simply have to distill it down to the core questions.  From the occasionally convoluted conversations you must extract the essential elements upon which all else are founded.  It’s a process of purification.  What ARE the real questions?

  1. Is Joseph Smith a prophet?
  2. Is the Book of Mormon True?

That’s it.  It’s that simple.  Catch the ball.  Ignore the plates.  Ask the question.

For if Joseph Smith was a prophet, then the Book of Mormon is what he says it is, a sacred record of Christ’s visit to the Americas, in the western hemisphere, sacred scripture that confirms and compliments the record of his time in the eastern hemisphere.  If Joseph was a prophet then the church that he organized is true.  Or you can work the other way – begin with the Book of Mormon.  For if it is true, then from it you can derive the rest in the same way.

There are many people that are anxious to share with you their opinion.  But will you base your eternal exaltation upon the opinion of others?  There’s only one real way to know if these things are true.  Go the source, taste for yourself, and ask your father in heaven.

His mouth is not shut.  He can give you an answer.

There will be those who reply to this post and say “I didn’t get an answer”, or “my answer was different”. 

Does that make any difference to you?  My prayer is that you’ll let the plates fall where they may, that you’ll see through the obscurity and embrace the simplicity of the two essential questions before you, and that you’ll find out for yourself that your exaltation might be based on your own divine witness, and not an opinion of another.

To learn more about Joseph Smith, click here.  For more about the Book of Mormon, or to receive your free copy, click here.

My testimony to you is that they are true.  Both of them.  But don’t take my word for it either, make it your own.

Rusty

The grand panorama of scripture

Once upon a time there was a man who was given a map, and was told that if he followed the instructions on this map, he would find treasure untold.  Excited by the prospect of this treasure map, he set out one day to find the buried treasure.

The instructions on the map were many, and some were very difficult.  One of the instructions conveniently directed him to a tree under which there was much shade.  He was happy to see this instruction, for the day was hot, and he sat under the tree expectantly.  After a while, another man came to the tree, enjoyed the shade momentarily, and then made to move off.

“Where are you going” said the first man?  “I’m following the instructions in a treasure map” said the second.  “But I’ve got the same map said the first, and the instructions say to come to this tree, under which there is nice shade”.  “Ah”, said the second man, “Indeed this is nice, but there are more instructions on the map than just this one, and to reach the treasure, I must follow them all.” 

The scriptures of God contain many instructions.  But they cannot be cherry picked.  This man can sit under the tree as long as he wishes, completely fulfilling one of the distinct instructions, but he will get no closer to his desired treasure than this.  And because of the convenience of this particular instruction, it is easy to cling to it alone; justifying to himself that this was sufficient, for indeed it was instructed on the map.

Often as we discuss principles of religion on this blog, I seem to find this recurring theme.  Someone will quote to a certain scripture, justifying a particular belief or behavior, but in doing so ignoring so many other scriptural instructions that must also be taken into consideration to paint the full picture.

Much like a large oil painting, when you stand up close to the picture, with your eyes mere inches from its canvass, all you see are brushstrokes.  And while you can determine the color of each brush stroke, and it’s individual beauty, it’s not until you step back and consider the canvas as a whole that the true glory of the painting becomes clear.  From this vantage point, each brush stroke is seen in context, in conjunction with all the rest, for a clear picture.

As we work daily to increase our understanding of the scriptures, may we more diligently step back and consider the work as a whole, and see each principle in its proper place, that we might more completely abandon the short-sightedness of mortality, in favor of the grand vista of divinity.

Rusty

The sufficiency paradox, understanding the atonement

The atonement is the single greatest event in history, nothing else even compares, and as the single most important and relevant event in each of our own individual lives, it deserves our attention.

Unfortunately, amongst the various Christian denominations, there are lots of differences and views about the atonement, and many inaccurate understandings of how, exactly, it works.

As I have endeavored to teach the doctrine of the atonement, and how it pertains to mercy and justice, and the role of works in achieving exaltation, there has understandably been a lot of “firm” disputations voiced here by followers of other Christian faiths (those outside of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, LDS, or Mormons).

Their (and the traditional) view of the atonement is one of what they call “sufficiency”.  In short, Christ’s atonement is sufficient for all, and we do nothing to deserve or earn it, and that the atonement in and of itself is sufficient for our salvation – nothing need be done by us.

We seem to agree right up to that last qualifier.  Mormons too agree that Christ’s atonement is sufficient for all, and that we do nothing to deserve or earn it.  But we do believe that we must accept it, for it to have efficacy in our life.  And in that regard, the notion of “works” enters the picture.  The idea that we must “do” something in order for the atonement to take effect (not mentioning the myriad biblical references to works as a requirement to salvation which I explore here:  What do Mormons believe about works?).

But this is where I always get met with opposition, for it flies in the face of the view that Mercy and the atonement is sufficient, and there is nothing we must do for it to take effect.  As these discussions continue, I inevitably ask the unavoidable question “If the Atonement is sufficient, and there is nothing we must do, then I am already saved, as are all Mormons (in truth, all humanity), correct?”  But that is always met with a “No”, and the statement that Mormons are not saved (as in the discussion on this post: How to tell if it’s the spirit or yourself). 

But to say in one breath that Christ’s atonement is sufficient without anything being required by us, and then in the next to say that it doesn’t work for one particular group of people, creates a belief paradox.  An irreconcilable contradiction.  For if one believes in “sufficiency”, but that a particular group of people isn’t saved, then it begs the question “Then why are they not saved?”

The answer must be because that particular group has not “done” something that they needed, that there is some unmet requirement, in short, that the necessary “works” have not been fulfilled.  So that in the process of attempting to refute the notion of works in salvation, they simultaneously validate the notion themselves.

There is one other possible explanation, which was presented in the comments of that last link (How to tell if it’s the spirit or yourself).   Jim B. who regularly posts very thorough doctrinal analysis about this topic, claims that we “can’t embrace the gospel without divine enablement”.

This implies, of course, that I because haven’t accepted their beliefs, I haven’t been divinely enabled.  Which would be to say that God plays favorites, and he loves some more than others, or seeks some, and not others, as opposed to loving all man equally, as one would expect from our understanding of the Character of God. 

Jim goes on in another comment to say “I am saved by grace, through faith, and it is all a gift of God’s grace.  I have merited nothing from God.  I did not desire God until he desired me.”  But then states that I am not saved.  Why?  Does God does not desire me?

But again, this creates a paradox, for in order to validate the belief in this doctrine of “sufficiency” (at least as it has been explained), you have to claim that all are saved.  But when they try to say that all are NOT saved, they’re left in contradiction to the first statement, which they attempt to explain by saying that either one hasn’t done the right things, or that God plays favorites – in either case defeating the belief of sufficiency.

But a true understanding of the atonement and its actual sufficiency doesn’t necessitate a rejection of the notion of works.  The two principles are perfectly harmonious.  Many mistakenly believe that this reconciliation between the atonement and works means that Mormons think that they earn their salvation.  But this is not true.

We too believe that no matter what works we do, no matter how hard we try, without the atonement salvation is impossible.  Only in and through the atonement of Christ can man be saved.  The Book of Mormon teaches this point repeatedly: “…remember that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, who shall come” (Helaman 5:9).  There is “no redemption for mankind save it were through the death and sufferings of Christ, and the atonement of his blood” (Alma 21:9), and many others.

But what then of works?  What about all these scriptures (listed here) that say “the dead were judged … according to their works (Revelation 20:12-15), and that salvation is “unto all them that obey him” (Hebrews 5:5-10), and that only “doers of the law shall be justified” (Romans 2:13-16), and that God shall “render to every man according to his deeds” (Romans 2:5-11), and that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26), and many others.  After all, they were “commandments”, not “recommendations”.

As I explain in detail here (“Picking the lock of salvation?“), the atonement of Christ made a gateway into the kingdom of God, but at those gates, we are required to present a key (symbolically speaking), we are required to have done certain things (e.g. baptism).  Without the gate, it wouldn’t matter what keys you have, and therefore, only “through” the atonement (or gate) can we enter the Kingdom of God.  But nowhere does it imply that the gate is sufficient in and of itself, to the contrary, the bible teaches that we must be baptized, keep the commandments, and do other things that qualify us, or give us the keys necessary to open that gate and enter the kingdom of God.

So you see, a true understanding of the Atonement of Christ need not create such a paradox.  We needn’t assume that these scriptures about works are somehow incongruous with the scriptures about Mercy.  As I explain here “The grand panorama of scripture” all scripture must be considered together (we cannot cherry pick only those doctrines that are most convenient).  And the principles and doctrines of Mormonism are sufficient to encompass the full breadth and depth of all scriptures, without such contradictions and paradoxes.  That’s the miracle of Mormonism.  That God, working today as he did in times of old, gave us prophets and apostles, inspired men of God who receive direct revelation to clarify such points of doctrine as this – even the most important.  To correct those beliefs that have mutated and changed over the years based on the philosophies of man and their committee-based cannon.

My invitation is to all people, to consider these things, to learn about the prophet Joseph Smith, to read the Book of Mormon, and to pray for yourself, if they are not true, that we all might glory in the beauty of clear doctrine, and avoid such confusing paradoxes, particularly as they pertain to the most important event ever to occur, even the very atonement of Christ.

Rusty

Are Mormons Christian? Do doctrinal differences define us?

The second post in the series “Christian Mormons“, answering the question “Are Mormons Christian“.

There’s a reason this post comes second, only after “a look at the question itself“, because all of the other supporting posts, answering the questions of critics, stem from one common theme… we’re different.

I’m a Product Manager in practice, so I’m well acquainted with the idea that our differences define us.  In business, the whole idea is to “differentiate”, and indeed, there are many differences between Mormonism and orthodox Christianity.  This series is NOT about trying to prove that Mormons are the same as orthodox Christians, for we’re not.  This is a series of posts about Mormons being Christian, for we are.

The dictionary describes a Christian as one who believes in Jesus Christ and follows His teachings – which we do.

Why does it matter what a dictionary says?  Because as humans we rely on words to communicate.  To share complex ideas.  But our ability to communicate is only as good as another’s ability to understand us.  And that relies upon having socially accepted definitions of terms.  A dictionary.

If individuals or organizations chose to simply abandon what are otherwise socially acceptable definitions, and create their own, then as a whole, our ability to effectively communicate is diminished, and confusion ensues.

For instance, if someone asks, “are Mormons Christian?”, and what they really mean is “Do Mormons believe in Jesus Christ”, then to reply “no” would be an outright lie, even if you disagree with our faith.  And to knowingly lie is a sin, and has consequences.

It is this that matters to me.  The honesty of what you (as a non-Mormon) convey about Mormonism.  If your answer to that question was something akin to “technically yes, although there are several substantial differences between what they believe about Jesus Christ, and what orthodox Christianity believes…”, then you’re being honest, and that would be totally acceptable.

But the problem is, conspiring men don’t do this.  They perpetuate falsity by simply stating “no”, and as such, are caught (at least by our Father) in a lie.

Another example…  If someone came to me and asked “Are Hawaiians American?  I could answer “no”.  For in truth we have many critical differences.   I mean, they have their own language.  They often don’t even look like us.  I mean let’s be real, in a number of crucial ways, they’re very, very different… I mean they don’t even live on the same continent for goodness sake.

So, clearly, I could choose to create a definition contrary to society, and that would emphasize my individual belief, and could stubbornly convey that at every opportunity.  But would it be helpful?  Honest?

In short, while it’s true that our differences define us, we have more in common than not.  And of those things that we hold in common, is the belief in the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, that he is our Redeemer, and that only through Him can we be saved.  We believe in Jesus Christ, and work to follow his teachings, which just happens to be the definition of “Christian”.  Hence, in answer to the question “Are Mormons Christian”.  Yes. 

Any answer otherwise is dishonest.

 

Rusty

Do Mormons have more than one god?

I’ve got a page (here), where I allow people to ask questions about Mormonism.  On June 27th, Mitch.4.Him asked the following:

Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt taught, “We were begotten by our Father in Heaven; the person of our Father in Heaven was begotten on a previous heavenly world by His Father; and again, He was begotten by a still more ancient Father, and so on, from generation to generation”

Isaiah 43:10 says “… before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me”.

I think your real question is “why do you preach polytheism (the belief in many gods) when Isaiah apparently teaches Monotheism (the belief in one god)”? 

Actually, this is a common question we receive from critics of the church who poorly understand Mormonism and incorrectly interpret this scripture.  For Mormons are not Polytheists, and the assertion that Isaiah was teaching Monotheism is an icorrect.  But first let me address the notion of polytheism.

Mormons are not Polytheistic, we worship only one God.  They’re confusing Polytheism with theosis (human deification, or the belief that we can become like God), which is what we really are.  The belief in theosis and being Monotheistic are not mutually exclusive, but are perfectly harmonious, and this scripture in Isaiah happens to point out why (I’ll get to that in a minute).

Additionally the belief in theosis is not, actually, unique to Mormons, but is shared among many early Christians and much of modern Christianity (Eastern Orthodox).

This official statement from the church on the idea that we can become like God was given in response to an interview by Fox News (here):

We believe that the apostle Peter’s biblical reference to partaking of the divine nature and the apostle Paul’s reference to being ‘joint heirs with Christ’ reflect the intent that children of God should strive to emulate their Heavenly Father in every way. Throughout the eternities, Mormons believe, they will reverence and worship God the Father and Jesus Christ. The goal is not to equal them or to achieve parity with them but to imitate and someday acquire their perfect goodness, love and other divine attributes.

This is theosis, or the belief that we can become like God. 

Next, the assertion that Isaiah was teaching Monotheism isn’t accurate.  Actually in Isaiah’s time, they were not Monotheistic either – so he wasn’t saying “there are no other gods”.

What he actually said was that before God, there were no gods, nor will there be any after him.  But if you think about it, God is eternal, which means there never was a time in which God did not exist, so there never was a “before god”, nor a scenario that would be “after God”.  But what then could he be talking about?

Further study of Isaiah reveals that this scripture is a comparison of Isaiah between the God of Israel (YHWH) and Ba’al, a deity worshiped by the Canaanites.  Ba’al had defeated Yaam, his preceding deity, to become chief of the Canaanite pantheon.  And as such, it was assumed he too could be superseded.  But Isaiah wanted to make it clear that YHWH did not replace his god, nor could he be replaced (hence – there was no god before me, nor will there be after me).  For he didn’t oust some prior diety to become God, and nobody else can remove him to take his place.

You’ll notice, therefore, that while he says there were no gods before him, or after him, there was no mention of any gods “during” him.

Hence, theosis, or the belief that we too can become like God, partaking of his divine nature (Peter), and becoming joint heirs with Christ (Paul), is not in contradiction to scripture, for in doing so, we do not replace god, we simply become like him.  Regardless, he is our only God today, and will be our God eternally, our relationship with His is everlasting, but doesn’t preclude our ability to become like him.  We are taught that we should become perfect, even as our Father in Heaven is perfect, that we become joint heirs with Christ, inheriting all the father hath.

What a beautiful and magnificent doctrine, to know that our goal is greater than salvation from sin, but rather ultimate exaltation.

Such a notion expands our minds to behold all new vistas of opportunities, and provides further foundation to the real understanding of the true nature of God (which I’ll cover shortly), and the concept that we must do more than just believe and be baptized (which I cover here).  Actual exaltation and the opportunity for eternal progression requires a higher degree of dilligence, but is within our reach. 

After all, we are children of a living God, and were created in His divine image, is it not fitting that such a loving father would desire that we should inherit all that he hath?

Rusty

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Why do Mormons believe in Works?

Daniel, in the post “Do Mormons have more than one God?” (page 3 of the comments), asked a very important question pertaining to the mercy, the atonement of Christ, and the role of works in achieving exaltation.

This is one of the most frequently asked questions I encounter.  He accurately notes that there are scriptures that tell us that it is by grace that we are saved, not of works, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9), and therefore asks about Mormonism’s apparent focus on works.

The answer to this is simple, and scriptural, but is hard for many accept because so many denominations have chosen to latch on to the scriptures about mercy, while disregarding those about works (which are actually greater in number).

Here are a couple passages that adequately encapsulate this doctrine:

Revelation 20:12-15 “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works

James 2:14-26 “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have no works? Can faith save him?… For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

On my post “What do Mormons believe about works?“, I list over 20 of such scriptural (biblical) passages that teach the necessity of works in salvation, and on which we base our beliefs.  (Please check it out, and see for yourself).

Indeed, there is an abundance of evidence supporting this doctrine as true (and Christian).  But it requires that we consider all scripture, which is somehow something many denominations choose not to do.  It’s a topic I cover in the post “The grand panorama of scripture“, discussing the importance of considering the whole of all scripture, and not basing beliefs off extractions of convenience. 

It’d be simple to build a religion based on only those passages that create the most convenient to accept doctrines.  The ones that require us to do the least. 

Indeed, I think this is predominantly the reason why this notion of works has become so unorthodox, in spite of its clear biblical backing.  It’s a doctrine that sells well.  And for religions that have paid clergy, this is important.  So over time, the natural focus of orthodox Christianity has shifted from those scriptures that teach about works, to those that focus on mercy.  (which I cover in the post “the commercialization of religion“).

This “evolution” of doctrine is extremely important to understanding Mormonism, for it was precisely because of this apostasy, or “falling away” from Christ’s original doctrine, that necessitated the restoration of the gospel through the prophet Joseph Smith.  Enough of the pure and simple principles of the gospel of Christ (such as this) have changed over time, that our ability to reach God based on Christianity’s teaching of scripture became impossible.

There came a time when the Lord had to step in and again call a prophet (a pattern also set forth in the Bible, but strangely absent from orthodox Christianity, which I cover and we discuss here).

So, you see, in truth, the notion of works, and the role they play in our salvation is not unique to Mormonism, but hails back to early Christianity… even the very teachings of Christ and his Prophets from ancient times, but is a doctrine that is disappointingly absent from orthodox Christianity today.

Rusty

P.S.  For additional study, see also the post and discussion on “The sufficiency paradox, understanding the atonement“, which covers the paradox created by Christianities current definition of “mercy” and sufficiency.  Also “Picking the lock of salvation“, in which I cover, and then we discuss, the role of Mercy and the unavoidable doctrine of works.

Also, and most importantly, www.josephsmith.com, to learn more about the prophet Joseph Smith, and the pivotal role he played in the restoration of the gospel of Christ, and the organizing of His church on earth in these latter days.

Seeking for evidence

Recently the topic of evidence-seeking has come up frequently in comments on my posts, and I decided it warranted further exploration.

Is it weakness or folly to believe without evidence as Larry suggests in the comments here?  Or is it weakness or folly to require evidence to believe?

Must one have physical proof in order to believe something, or does that illustrate a crippled faith? 

Certainly the carnal man prefers evidence, as solid and irrefutable as we can get, for our minds seek naturally for such proof.  To proceed without proof, or evidence, is risky.  As such, throughout biblical history we find such sign seekers… those unwilling to believe without some sort of evidence or sign. 

But of these sign seekers we read… “And when the people were gathered thick together, he began to say, this is an evil generation:  they seek a sign” (Luke 11:29).  And in Mark we find that when the Pharisees came questioning Jesus, they sought from him a sign from heaven, and Jesus “sighed deeply in his spirit, and saith, why doth this generation seek after a sign?” (Mark 8:11-12)

So should we seek for evidence?  In Hebrews 11 (the great dissertation on faith by Paul), we find that faith IS evidence:

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).

Clearly, we need not see to believe. 

Verse 7:  “By faith Noah, being bwarned of God of things not seen as yet, cmoved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house;”

Did Noah require evidence before building the ark?  When God told him that it would rain for 40 days and 40 nights, did he say “prove it”?  He didn’t need to, for his faith was sufficient for action.

Verse 8:  “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.

Did Abraham require proof, or evidence before he acted?  Or was his faith sufficient?

What about Sarah in v.10, did she require evidence to have a child?  Or in v. 17, when Abraham was told to sacrifice his very son, did he require evidence that this was necessary, or did he move on faith alone?  In v. 29 when Moses approached the Red Sea, did he need evidence that he could part the sea or did he simply believe?

Were these people weak for not requiring evidence, or strong for not needing it.

In life we progress line upon line, precept upon precept.  While the need for evidence might be a suitable start, there needs to come a time in our spiritual progression where we graduate from the requirement of such a crutch, where our faith becomes like that of Moses, Abraham, and Noah, enabling us to act based on nothing more than faith alone.  Enabling us to act based on a witness from the spirit, and not some physical manifestation that our path is sure. 

But even those who have asked such questions are coming close without knowing it.  For as the Lord said to Thomas, who doubted his resurrection “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou has believed:  blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

Here the Lord not only confirms that more blessed are they for whom faith is sufficient, but that they themselves, having not seen Jesus, yet who believe in him, have shown themselves capable of belief without proof.

While God may find it within His wisdom to provide evidence where he may, far be it from me to require it of him. 

True faith does not require evidence.  And while the wisdom of the world might find this imprudent, or call it weak, the wisdom of the world is not what I seek, but the strength of the faith of Noah, Moses, Abraham, and of all the great prophets, for God hath made foolish the wisdom of the world (1 Cor. 1:20).

Rusty

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Discussing an open canon

As I describe here “Writing an open canon, line upon line“, one of the foundational principles taught in scripture is the notion that we are instructed line upon line, precept upon precept. 

The premise of this principle is that we don’t have it all.  That there is more to come and it will be distributed by degrees (the subject for a future post).

It’s the assumption of “what I have taught you, is not all I have to teach… there’s more.”

But most traditional Christian denominations believe that there is no more, accepting instead the idea of a closed canon. 

What a dreadful thought, at least to one who has witnessed the incredible clarity gained through additional scripture (which is why “out of the mouth of two or three witnesses, shall every word be established”).    

But because this comes up so frequently in discussions here, I decided it was worthy of a dedicated post, so that we could explore it together.  Hopefully we will each gain appreciation for the other’s views.  I can only assume I am egregiously ignorant in understanding the notion of a closed canon, for the premises upon which it is based just seem so rejectable.

It seems to me, that in order to accept a closed cannon, you must accept at least one of the following:

God has already told us all there is to tell

Under this premise, I could accept that perhaps additional scripture is unnecessary. 

But I can’t get past the mere idea of this.  First, if we had been given it all, we would not be given line upon line, but rather the whole truth all at once, which seems absurd, realistically, to assume that the sum-total of God’s knowledge could somehow fit within a single volume of scripture.  My goodness, even if it were a bazillion pages long, it couldn’t even come close to containing the full breadth and depth of God’s eternal knowledge.  To assume that “well, this is all there is” seems shockingly arrogant. 

I cannot accept that somehow God has run out of things to say.

God is unable to speak to man today

Surely, if he were simply unable, this could account for the ongoing silence anticipated by accepting a closed canon.  But that contradicts the very notion of an omnipotent God.

I cannot accept that God has run out of ways or the ability to communicate.

God us unwilling to speak to man today

Perhaps if he’s not unable, then he’s unwilling, but why would that be?  Why would he so clearly establish a pattern of prophets and others who record the revelations of God, and which become known as scripture.  Why would he be unwilling to communicate through revelation today, for the bible said that it is “upon this rock” the rock of revelation that his very church shall be built, and in countless references has he instructed man to turn to God, to ask God, to Knock, and in return he will answer, and open.

I cannot accept that God is simply unwilling to communicate.

God’s words today are less important

If you accept that there’s no way on earth or in heaven that the Bible can contain the sum total of all God’s knowledge, and that he HAS told us he’d continue to instruct us line upon line, precept upon precept… if you accept that god is neither unable, or unwilling to speak to man today, then it seems you must accept the principle of revelation.

But if you accept the principle of revelation, to say the canon is closed, is to say that the words he says today are somehow less important than those he said in the past, as if they’re somehow drowned out by words he spoke some 2,000 years ago.  Why would his words to man spoken 2,000 years ago be worthy of canonization, but the words he speaks to man today, are not? 

If God lives (and I attest that he does), then he speaks, and if he speaks, then his words are of equal, if not greater importance for us today, for they are given directly TO us, in our time, for our benefit, and in consideration of our specific needs and circumstance.

How is man somehow able to decide which of his words should be “canon” and which of his words are unworthy?

But I have a testimony that the words of God are all true, and that there is no end to his instruction, and that all instruction from God must be considered equal, eternal, and ongoing, and as such, am happy to belong to a religion that embraces an open canon, that it may never be found saying “we have enough”.

Rusty

P.S.  See also a video of Jeffrey R. Holland discussing an open canon, and “Writing an open canon, line upon line

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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Are intelligent people are less likely to believe in god?

Today I ran across an article (here) which seems to think so.  It discusses some research done recently tying a decline in religious observance over the last century to a rise in average intelligence.

The research was being conducted by Professor Richard Lynn, emeritus professor of psychology at Ulster University.

Apparently there was an additional survey done of Royal Society fellows which found that only 3.3% believed in God.  Another poll done in the 90’s found only 7% of the American National Academy of Sciences believed in God.

Lynn said “Why should fewer academics believe in God than the general population?  I believe it is simply a matter of the IQ.  Academics have higher IQ’s than the general population.  Several Gallup poll studies of the general population have shown that those with higher IQs tend not to believe in God.

I’m not sure intelligence is the right word, but perhaps education.  Is this because as man becomes more educated they feel more self-sufficient, more superior, and as such, less prone to a belief wherein they rely on someone other than themselves – God?

Perhaps it’s that education relies on reason, proof, and logic, not faith, hope and trust… the thought that if it can’t be roved, then it’s not true.

Perahps the great apostasy, or falling away from the church of Christ, necessitating a full restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith, was in part due to the natural effects of educational evolution over time.

But the goal, of course, is not to remain ignorant, but to remain humble.  The ability to pursue intellectual increase while sustaining humility and testimony is one of the great challenges of life, because it is contrary to the tendency of the natural man.

In the article, Lynn said “… most primary school children believed in God, but as they entered adolescence – and their intelligence increased – many started to have doubts.”

No wonder the Lord so commonly counsels that we must be as little children, without malice, guile, or hypocrisy.

Rusty

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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.

Are Mormons Christian? A look at the question itself

Why is this question so important?  Why does it deserve its own post?  Does it really matter what another person says about me?

Absolutely.  Particularly in cases when it leads to the confusion of others who are sincere.

Labels are a powerful thing. 

For example, we’ve all known for a painfully prolonged period of time that we are in a recession.  We’ve all felt it.  We’ve even called it that.  But Monday morning (Dec 1, 08), when the National Bureau of Economic Research made it official, announcing that we are in a recession, and have been since Dec ’07, the Dow plummeted almost 700 points by the end of the day.  Nothing was different that day, from the day before, other than the fact that now it had been given an official label from a trusted source, and because of that label, the market lost almost a billion dollars in just one day.

 Labels are powerful things.

So are words.  Words are the way we convey meaning, how we communicate.  And the words we choose have strong bearing on those that they’re given to.  If you ever doubt the ability of words to affect human events, think for a moment about Adolf Hitler and his book Mein Kampf.  On the other end of the spectrum you’ve got the Bible.  Words are powerful, and the words you choose determine the way people look at things.

So when a trusted source, say a pastor, preacher, priest, or even a close friend tells you that Mormons are not Christian, that’s a big deal.  For many people, particularly those who lack the personal motivation and courage to research it themselves, that singular statement is sufficient for their wholesale dismissal of Mormonism.  And those who made those statements will be accountable for that impact.

But who can say if someone else is Christian or not?  Who has that authority?  Certainly not a man.  Only Christ has that capacity to judge. 

There are several excuses offered up to justify such statements, each of which will be covered in the other supporting posts in this series.   But in the end, they are just excuses, the skin of reason, stuffed with lies.  For none of us are in the position to judge another.

But why then do so many work so hard, to perpetuate such claims? 

Because it’s an effective mechanism for deterring souls from finding the truth.  It’s a superficial argument meant to take advantage of members of congregations or peers who are willing to take their word, rather than finding out for themselves.  Often it’s an illustration of the effects of commercialized religion’s influence on ecclesiastical leaders.  For their very business stands to fail, and their structures crumble around them unless they can stop the onslaught of the growth of the LDS church.   And they’re incented (financially) to sufficiently pollute public opinion with baseless propaganda, such as statements and claims that Christians are only those who are exactly like them.  Why?  Why not rely upon solid doctrine, sound reason, and pure facts, trusting in the truth to make itself evident?  Why resort to labels, and name calling? 

And so it behooves us as Latter-day Saints (Mormons), to have a public voice, to speak out, to ensure the facts are heard, that people may know that indeed, Mormons are Christian.  Mine is the intent to teach the truth about Mormonism, with God as my witness, that the truth may be made known and the children of men may determine for themselves, rather than trusting in labels others would force upon us in their endeavors to ensnare and mislead.

Please, take the time to read the posts in this series.  And if you still doubt the Christian claims of Mormonism, tell me why, that I we may address it openly together.

But it is my testimony to all that Christ lives, and I believe in Him.

Rusty

Are Mormons Christian?

Many honest and sincere people have asked this question of me, and so I wanted to ensure that I had a post that adequately answered this very appropriate and important question.

The answer is a resounding and emphatic YES!

Yes, we believe in Jesus Christ.  We believe that He is the Son of God.  We believe that He is our Savior and our Redeemer.  We believe that only in, and through, and of Him can we be saved. 

This is why our church is called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  It is named after him (and not after a man).  He is at its center, and at its head; He guides it with his own hands, and it is Him in whom we put our trust.

The Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus Christ, witnesses of Him.  From within its profoundly divine pages can be found references such as the following: 

2nd Nephi 25:26:  “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.”

Mosiah 3:17:  “…there shall be no other name given nor any other means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.”

We believe in the testimony of the prophets, of both ancient and latter-day, as they witness of Christ…

Doctrine and Covenants 76:22:  “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him:  That he lives!

Here is the testimony of a living prophet, on the Lord Jesus Christ, given at this last General Conference.

 

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_Zpu-VeuCE]

 

And meager as it may be in comparison to these powerful witnesses, I add my witness to theirs, that Christ lives, that he is the Son of God, that he is our savior and our redeemer, and that it is through his unthinkable atoning sacrifice our salvation might be made possible, that this is His church, His work, and that most certainly, Mormons are Christian, in both word, and in deed.

Rusty

For further exploration of this important topic, as well as for focused segmented discussions, please see the post “Mormon Christians“.