A primary president, a high councilor, and a bishop sat on the front row of an airplane during a flight that was hijacked. When the hijackers' demands were refused, they threatened to shoot the passengers, starting with the first row.
The primary president asked for one last wish: to sing her favorite primary song. The hijacker said that would be fine.
The high councilor requested that after the song he be allowed to stand and give the talk he had prepared to give in sacrament meeting that next Sunday.
The hijacker agreed, then turned to the bishop. The bishop motioned for the hijacker to come closer and whispered in his ear, "Please shoot me after the song."
"Abraham rejoiced, saying, Now I have a priesthood."
On the day Joseph Smith organized the Church of Christ, he received these words:
[Joseph] Being inspired of the Holy Ghost to lay the foundation thereof [the church], and to build it up unto the most holy faith.
What is the difference between the church being built up into "the most holy faith" as opposed to the church being built up "untothe most holy faith?" And speaking of TheMost Holy Faith . . . which "faith" is that?
Which church [Church of Christ] was organized and established in the year of your Lord eighteen hundred and thirty, in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April.
Wow! That is specific. We could set our watches to it.
Why make such a big deal about the date of inception of the church? This reminds me of something Joseph said, "This is good logic. . . . As the Lord liveth, if it had a beginning, it will have an end." (Joseph Smith, "King Follett Discourse", April 7, 1844.)
Contrast the beginning of the church with something else:
This high priesthood being after the order of his Son, which order was from the foundation of the world; or in other words, being without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity.
So we can make some logical conclusions here:
1. Priesthood existed before the organization of the church; in fact, it existed before the foundation of this world.
2: Priesthood will survive after the organization the church has been dissolved, into all eternity.
3. Therefore, Priesthood may exist in the church but it is separate from, and does not depend upon, the church for its existence.
As an example: the Three Nephites have priesthood authority but they do not hold an office or keys in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (that I know of, at least).
So one way we could interpret this scripture is that the church (beginning = temporal) is built up to bring us "unto" something that is "most holy," meaning the holy order of the priesthood after the order of the Son of God (no beginning = eternal).
The Whole Enchilada
Where do we obtain, or from whom do we obtain, the priesthood belonging to "the most holy faith?"
As opposed to some other, or lesser, priesthood? Like the "priesthood" belonging to Satan. I mean, does the devil actually have any authority now that he has been cast down to earth?
Well, he has a kingdom, doesn't he?
It is the kingdom of the devil, which shall be built up among the children of men, which kingdom is established among them which are in the flesh --
For the time speedily shall come that all churches which are built up to get gain, and all those who are built up to get power over the flesh, and those who are built up to become popular in the eyes of the world, and to do all manner of iniquity; yea, in fine, all those who belong to the kingdom of the devil . . .
(1 Nephi 22:22-23)
If the kingdom (or church) of the devil is about getting "gain" and "power" and "popularity", then we can safely assume that the kingdom (and church) of God is about the opposite.
What is the opposite of "gain"? (POOR)
What is the opposite of "power"? (MEEK)
What is the opposite of "popularity"? (PERSECUTED)
You know, this church is starting to sound a lot like the one Jesus described in the Sermon on the Mount ("Blessed are..."). But who would want to belong to that church?!
Anyone brave enough to belong to a poor, meek and persecuted people, here's a priesthood for you:
The Melchizedek Priesthood holds the right from the eternal God, and not by descent from father and mother; and that priesthood is as eternal as God Himself, having neither beginning of days nor end of life.
(Joseph Smith, TPJS, 323)
Surprise! The high priesthood does not come "by descent from father and mother"; meaning it is not passed down along earthly lines, like the Aaronic or lesser priesthood, which is lineal. The Aaronic Priesthood can be passed down, but the priesthood of the most holy faith is not fungible.
According to Joseph, the high priesthood comes from "God Himself." What? How does that work? How do we get a priesthood from God?
No worries! I am sure there's an internet site we can download a certificate from. But if not: "The Priesthood of Melchizedek is by an oath and covenant." (Joseph Smith, TPJS, 323.)
Let's see how this worked for Melchizedek, a terrific guy whose name has become synonymous with the high priesthood (kind of like how Kleenex has become synonymous with tissues: can't trademark either):
[Melchizedek] was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch, It being after the order of the Son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God;
And it was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will, unto as many as believed on his name. For God having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself...
(JST Genesis 14:27-30)
It says that Melchizedek was "ordained an high priest." But who ordained him?
All the prophets had the Melchizedek Priesthood and were ordained by God himself.
(Joseph Smith, TPJS, 181)
Waaaait a minute. How do we get "ordained by God himself"?
Through the "Oath and Covenant" of the priesthood.
The Powers of Heaven
Before we look at the Oath and Covenant, let's look at a few scriptures that talk about the "powers of heaven."
What are the "powers of heaven?" That seems a crucial question since "the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled" (D&C 121:36).
What if the "powers of heaven" referred not to some abstraction, but referred instead (hear me out here) to actual, breathing, heavenly beings?
Curious: the Lord referred to these "powers of heaven" three times (!) in his speech to the Nephites.
[This land] shall be a New Jerusalem. And the powers of heaven shall be in the midst of this people; yea, even I will be in the midst of you.
(3 Nephi 20:22)
Hmmm. In case we missed it, the Lord repeats this idea in the following chapter:
Then shall they assist my people that they may be gathered in, who are scattered upon all the face of the land, in unto the New Jerusalem.
And then shall the power of heaven come down among them; and I also will be in the midst.
(3 Nephi 21:24-25)
Is Jesus referring to himself as the "power of heaven?" Is he saying he will "come down" and be "in the midst" of his people?
The third and final time we find "the powers" in 3 Nephi is when Jesus ministers to the Three Nephites (who, from what I have heard, spend an inordinate amount of time loitering around Interstate 15 and telling strangers to get their food storage in order):
Ye shall live to behold all the doings of the Father unto the children of men, even until all things shall be fulfilled according to the will of the Father, when I shall come in my glory with the powers of heaven.
(3 Nephi 28:7)
Here it sounds like the "powers of heaven" are actual people who accompany the Lord at his Second Coming. Could this have something to do with Enoch's Zion?
And Enoch beheld angels descending out of heaven, bearing testimony of the Father and the Son; and the Holy Ghost fell on many, and they were caught up by the powers of heaven into Zion.
Are we seeing a connection between the powers of heaven and the New Jerusalem-slash-Zion? Are we thinking there may be something going on that involves the covenants and oaths God made to Enoch (and the other patriarchal Fathers)?
Are we thinking that authority, or power in the priesthood, comes when we connect with the "powers of heaven"?
Blessings and More Blessings
"But didn't Abraham receive the priesthood from Melchizedek?" someone may ask. "Didn't Melchizedek use the laying on of hands to ordain Abraham?" I am so glad you asked!
Melchizedek lifted up his voice and blessed Abram.
(JST Genesis 14:25)
And he [Melchizedek] lifted up his voice and he blessed Abram, being the high priest.
(JST Genesis 14:37)
And he [Melchizedek] blessedhim, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth.
Okay, I think we get the message. Melchizedek did not "ordain" Abram; he blessed him. That's the whole point: the high priesthood is meant to impart blessings.
This gives a whole new light to Abraham's own account:
I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same.
The ordination (from God) is meant to give those who are high priests of the holy order the ability to administer "the blessings" unto others. And remember, Jesus is our Great High Priest.
Now we need to dissect the following language:
It [the right belonging to the the fathers] was conferred upon me from the fathers.
Hold on. We know that someone "conferred" the right on Abraham. D&C 84:14 says "Abraham received the priesthood from Melchizedek." It does not say, though, "conferred upon me [by] the fathers." It was conferred "from" the fathers. What's the difference?
It [the right] came down from the fathers, from the beginning of time, yea, even from the beginning, or before the foundation of the earth.
Hmmm. What did Alma say "before the foundation of the earth" meant? He said it meant "being without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity" (Alma 13:7). And what is this "right" Abraham is talking about?
Even the right of the firstborn, or the first man, who is Adam, or first father, through the fathers unto me.
So it appears the right Abraham sought was something that passed "from" or "through" the fathers, and thus through Melchizedek to Abraham. I sought for mine appointment unto the Priesthood according to the appointment of God unto the fathers concerning the seed.
How did Abraham receive the holy priesthood and receive the right of the firstborn? Who is "the seed" who receives the right of the fathers?
And the Lord appeared unto me, and said unto me: Arise. . . My name is Jehovah, and I know the end from the beginning. . . And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee above measure . . . and though shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after thee, that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations.
And I will bless them through thy name... And I will bless them that bless thee.
From Abraham's example, we find that he received his "appointment" from the Lord himself, who blessed him by an oath and a covenant.
So it was from the beginning, or with the first man Adam:
So the Gods went down to organize man in their own image, in the image of the Gods to form they him, male and female to form they them.
And the Gods said: We will bless them.
This holy priesthood holds the "blessings" of the family of God.
So we've looked at both Melchizedek and Abraham, and how Abraham received his "appointment unto the Priesthood" (Abraham 1:4). Just to drive home the point:
Abraham received all things, whatsoever he received, by revelation and commandment, by my word, saith the Lord.
How about Joseph Smith? How did he receive his "appointment" unto the high priesthood?
For all who will have a blessing at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world.
I have appointed unto my servant Joseph to hold this power in the last days.
Will I receive at your hands that which I have not appointed? And will I appointunto you, saith the Lord, except it be by law, even as I and my Father ordained unto you, before the world was?
I am the Lord thy God, and I gave unto thee, my servant Joseph, an appointment, and restore all things.
(D&C 132:5, 7, 10, 11, 40)
The pattern is remarkable. God's oath and covenant is delivered by his "word," at his "hands"; even the appointment of the right belonging to the fathers, which is the "right of the firstborn", which Joseph received from God.
The voice of Peter, James, and John in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome county, on the Susquehanna river, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times!
And again, the voice of God in the chamber of old Father Whitmer, in Fayette, Seneca county, and at sundry times, and in divers places through all the travels and tribulations of this Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!
And the voice of Michael, the archangel; the voice of Gabriel, and of Raphael, and of divers angels, from Michael or Adam down to the present time, all declaring their dispensation, their rights, their keys, their honors, their majesty and glory, and the power of their priesthood.
Whoa, slow down. What does it mean for these powers of heaven to "declare" their rights and keys and honors? Does their declaration confer authority, or power, upon us?
Laying on of hands
Isn't it interesting that the ordination of Joseph and Oliver to the Aaronic Priesthood was accompanied by the laying on of hands (see JS-H 1:68), but we have no account of the laying on of hands being used by Peter, James and John? Instead, we have "the voice" being referenced.
In fact, a big deal is made about the manner of ordination to the Aaronic priesthood, but we know next to nothing about the manner of ordination to the higher priesthood.
Which John I have sent unto you, my servants, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Oliver Cowdery, to ordain you unto the first priesthood which you have received, that you might be called and ordained even as Aaron.
Well, that makes me wonder, "How was Aaron ordained?"
And Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water. And he put upon him the coat, and girded him with the girdle, and clothed him with the robe, and put the ephod upon him... and he put the breastplate upon him: also he put in the breastplate the Urim and the Thummim. And he put the mitre upon his head...
And Moses took the anointing oil... and he poured of the anointing oil upon Aaron's head, and anointed him, to sanctify him.
Whoa. If that is how Aaron was ordained, and if John ordained Joseph and Oliver "even as Aaron", then I must have missed something in the Cliff Notes.
An Important Principle
Joseph Smith said, "There are three grand orders of priesthood." (TPJS, 322.) He mentioned 1) Melchizedek, 2) Patriarchal, and 3) Levitical.
It's interesting that ordination to the lesser or Aaronic priesthood is a public production. It is on display for all to see. That's the point! It is the priesthood of "outward ordinances."
And gather thou all the congregation together unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
And Moses did as the Lord commanded him; and the assembly was gathered together...
And Moses said unto the congregation, This is the thing the Lord commanded to be done. And Moses brought Aaron and his sons, and washed them with water.
In fact, we carry paperwork to describe our ordination to the Aaronic priesthood.
Each priest, teacher, or deacon who is ordained by a priest, may take a certificate from him at the time, which certificate, when presented to an elder, shall entitle him to a license, which shall authorize him to perform the duties of his calling.
That makes sense: we want to ensure that those who perform the "duties of his calling" are authorized.
The principle is that those things done in the church, by the church, are done by common consent and by the laying on of hands. Article of Faith 5 states that we use the "laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof."
Well . . .
Okay, is it possible that Joseph, being a busy guy, asked one of his many friends to respond to John Wentworth and just sort of "rubber stamped" the letter that was sent back to the Chicago Democrat? After all, could he have dreamt that we would adopt a sort of catechism from some things written in a letter sent to a non-member? Because why does Article of Faith 5 mention "pastors" and "evangelists" when we don't use those terms for offices in the church? And isn't Article of Faith 3 weird, too, stating that we are saved "by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel," which is pretty works-based, when the Articles and Covenants state the church's official soteriology as "we know that justification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true; And we know also, that sanctification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true" (D&C 20:30-31); and I have to throw a flag on Article of Faith 12, which states we believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, magistrates . . . because that is not the case from my reading of church history at all, and it certainly does not square with Joseph's attempt at creating the Kingdom of God; and we are talking about red-blooded Americans in Jacksonian America for whom the idea of kings . . . you get the idea.
And while we're talking shop, the lack of historical information we have concerning Peter, James and John and the ordination Joseph and Oliver received from them, and when, and where, and how, is a big historical debate and I do not wish to wade into it. One of the issues is that the verses in Section 27 of the Doctrine and Covenants that mention the ordination by Peter, James and John are not found in the original revelation as recorded in Revelation Book1; nor are those verses found in The Evening and Morning Star and Book of Commandments when the revelation was published in 1833, but they appear for the first time in the published 1835 Doctrine and Covenants without explanation of where they came from, or from whom, or why. What further muddies the water is that the added verses also refer to Moroni, when Joseph's own accounts credited Nephi as the angel . . . never mind, that is another historical debate I do not wish to take sides on, but merely to point out that are some interesting things that need to be sorted out.
Anyway . . .
Example of Paul
Yes, Paul traveled to Jerusalem 14 years after his conversion on the Road to Damascus, after he had been preaching the gospel and performing miracles all over the world, and was accepted by the 12 Apostles at that time . . . but the apostles did not "give" Paul his authority.
But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. [He had no certificate]
For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace,
To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:
Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.
But there were many people who rejected Paul's authority and his claim to the apostleship. Not Peter, who referred to Paul as a "beloved brother" (2 Pet. 3:15-16), but there was enough opposition to Paul that he had to "defend" his unorthodox apostleship in 2 Corinthians chapters 10 thru 13.
For in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing.
Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.
(2 Cor. 12:11-12)
Paul's authority did not come through the Church, although he was acknowledged by the Church; it was given him by God and confirmed by the "signs," "wonders," and "mighty deeds" he performed in the name of the Lord.
A is for Apple
When a child learns to read, they begin by learning their "letters." Then we put those letters together into words. And then we start adding punctuation to create strings of words into sentences. Likewise, Joseph Smith spent a lot of time trying to organize and set in order the priesthood for the church. The structure and offices and roles evolved over his lifetime, but the one thing that seems to have remained the same was Joseph pointing us towards that priesthood which belongs to "the most holy faith," which comes from God himself.
The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood So let's look at the the Oath and Covenant.
All those who receive [this] priesthood, receive this oath and covenant of my Father, which he cannot break, neither can it be moved.
But whoso breaketh this covenant after he hath received it, and altogether turneth therefrom, shall not have forgiveness of sins in this world nor in the world to come.
And wo unto all those who come not unto this priesthood which ye have received, which I now confirm upon you who are present this day, by mine own voice out of the heavens; and even I have given the heavenly hosts and mine angels charge concerning you [think: "powers of heaven"].
For you shall live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.
For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
And the Spirit giveth light to every man that cometh into the world; and the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world, that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit.
And every one that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit cometh unto God, even the Father.
And the Father teacheth him of the covenant which he has renewed and confirmed upon you, which is confirmed upon you for your sakes, and not for your sakes only, but for the sake of the whole world.
Clearly the Oath and Covenant and receiving the fullness of the priesthood involves knowing the Father.
Example of Alma
How did Alma the Elder receive his authority?
And it came to pass that Alma, having authority from God, ordained priests; even one priest to every fifty of their number.
Look at the words Alma used when he baptized in the Waters of Mormon:
I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God.
Remember how the high priesthood is to administer blessings? Look at what happened to Alma:
And it came to pass that after he had poured out his whole soul to God, the voice of the Lord came to him, saying:
Blessed art thou, Alma, and blessed are they who were baptized in the waters of Mormon. Thou art blessed because of thy exceeding faith in the words alone of my servant Abinaidi.
And blessed art thou because thou has established a church among this people.
Yea, blessed is this people who are willing to bear my name.
Thou art my servant, and I covenant with thee that thou shalt have eternal life.
Come unto Christ, come unto God, even the Father. Receive the words of life from his mouth. Enter into his covenant.
In the movie Alice in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter celebrates Alice's "Unbirthday." I like to think we have "unscriptures" - you know, the ones we mentally adjust to better fit our version of things.
Take a look at this:
I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.
But sometimes here's how I wish it read:
I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what you say; but when ye do not what you say, ye have no promise.
As a missionary, we loved living Version 2. At night we would plan our next day of proselytizing and kneel down and pray, "Dear Lord, Elder Sasquatch and I are going to fast tomorrow, and we are going to talk to someone each time we ride the bus, and we are going to stand on our heads in the lake district . . . and all we ask is that in exchange for our efforts, You open doors and hearts so we can teach three lessons . . . "
And the next day sometimes we got lucky . . . and sometimes the Lord failed us.
Wait a minute, is that what happened? Is it the Lord's fault when He doesn't come through for us after we've done what we said we'd do?
"Why haven't I found me a spouse yet, when I have worked so hard and done [x], [y], [z]?! "Lord, you haven't healed me even though I have tried [a], [b], [c]?!"
How often in our lived experience do we do what God actually says? Versus what we think he said, or wanted him to say, or what we were told by others he said?
Spiritual Telephone Game
Have you ever tried having faith in something you've been told through the grapevine? I have. "Well, my father knows a Seventy who told him that an apostle said that President [So-and-so] promised if we [paid tithing] [had family home evening] [lived the word of wisdom], then we were guaranteed [x] [y] [z] blessings!"
And we're off to the races.
We will only see fruit if the seed was His
I recently read on a blog: "Understanding Christ’s love and compassion is a worthy and essential pursuit, because as long as we persist in creating, finessing, perfecting, and imposing rules on ourselves — and others — to earn that love, we will project a false, harsh God, one who does not love, unconditionally, but who commands that we bury our heads in our arms, on the desk, because we used a pen, when the rules say to use a pencil."
(Carolyn Henderson, "Silly Little Rules," accessed at https://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/commonsensechristianity/2014/10/silly-little-rules.html)
But it seems so unfair when we have tried so hard and prayed for so long. Doesn't the Lord reward effort?
The Lord Loves Effort
Speaking of "effort." A lot of people lately are saying that "the Lord loves effort."
I think I know what they mean: hard work is a virtue; diligence is commendable; and so on.
But how does this notion of "effort" relate to the problem of "zeal without knowledge?"
They have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.
For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.
Is the statement "the Devil loves effort" also true? Because doesn't Satan love it when people make grand efforts "to establish their own righteousness"?
I mean, those were hard-working Pharisees whom the Lord did not compliment but condemned, despite their efforts.
Ye are beginning to labor in sin, which sin appeareth very abominable unto me, yea, and abominable unto God.
Didn't the Lord say that his disciples would be known by their effort?
On the other hand, in our churches we love effort! We praise those who contribute their time and talents and treasure to the bake sale, the Christmas party, the putting up and the taking down of chairs. We celebrate those who are visible, busy and effortful, don't we?
Ah, but there's the rub. Taking pride in our "efforts" is like thinking we are playing on the Lord's team, when we are actually scoring for the devil.
Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late.
Interesting. Here the psalmist puts the focus on the Lord's effort, not ours.
After all, aren't our efforts called "filthy rags" by Isaiah?
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags; and all we do fades as a leaf.
When we're busy doing the things "we" say, we are likely distracted from doing the things the Lord has said and asks of us today. Making things about "us" takes our eyes off God.
And what if focus on our efforts is not pleasing to the Lord?
For who in the heavens can be compared unto the Lord?
Who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord?
O Lord God of hosts, who is strong Lord like unto thee? or to thy faithfulness round about thee?
The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine: as for the world and the fulness thereof, thou hast founded them.
(Psalm 89:6, 8, 11)
Who? Not me.
A Message From Our Advocate
No, I am not selling ads on my blog. I just like lawyer commercials. And Bill Shatner.
I also like lawyer jokes. Here's one:
An attorney tells his client: “I have some good news and some bad news.” “What’s the bad news?” asks the accused. “The bad news is, your blood is all over the crime scene, and the DNA tests prove you did it.” “What’s the good news?” “Your cholesterol is 130.”
Zeezrom: A Study in Lawyercraft
The Book of Mormon does not pull punches. It hits pretty hard at lawyers. Here's a real winner:
I say unto you, that the foundation of the destruction of this people is beginning to be laid by the unrighteousness of your lawyers and your judges.
Why do lawyers have such a bad reputation? Because the stereotype is that they'll do anything to squeeze money out of a turnip. Like Zeezrom. In his great contest with Amulek, we read:
It was for the sole purpose to get gain, because they received their wages according to their employ, therefore, they did stir up the people to riotings, and all manner of disturbances and wickedness, that they might have more employ, that they might get money according to the suits which were brought before them.
I cringe at the part where Amulek accuses Zeezrom:
I say unto you, thou lovest that lucre more than him [God].
An unrighteous lawyer is one who uses their position to "stir up" the people in order to "get gain." Contrast that with our lawyer, Christ, who has no need of our money.
He represents us pro bono.
What Kind of Lawyer is Jesus?
Jesus is our “advocate,” which means that before the tribunal of God He is our defense attorney.
And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
(1 John 2:1)
Seeing as how we are all guilty, it is a tough job.
As heaven's court-appointed public Defender, Jesus stands at our side while we are arraigned before the pleasing bar of God. In fact, this remarkable scene is described in scripture by none other than the Lord Himself:
Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him,
[Now this next part is where Christ reveals our legal defense, so take notes if you are pre-law or if you hope to go to heaven]
Saying—Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified.
Huh? What just happened?
I thought judgment was about me, when in fact, our defense Lawyer stands up and tells the Judge: “Your Honor, if it please the Court, let the accused go free because I am innocent.”
How unexpected! Instead of the trial being about us, Jesus shows the trial was always about Him!
Ironically, there is no discussion of our guilt (it is presumed) and there is no mitigating evidence presented of our good works (you may discard Exhibits ‘A’ thru ‘Z’ you have been keeping in your back pocket).
Our Wonderful Counselor continues:
Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.
Now the courtroom finally takes notice of us standing there next to Jesus. Have we believed in Christ and have we come unto Him? If so, we are . . . well, not exactly acquitted (for we were guilty as sin), but in Christ’s name we are pardoned.
In all their afflictions he was afflicted. And the angel of his presence saved them; and in his love, and in his pity, he redeemed them.
So What Did the Lord Say?
Okay, now we've set the stage for us to have a heart-to-heart. Let me ask you this question:
Why do we defend and uphold inequality?
Sure, I bet there are great reviews for Babylon's bed-and-breakfasts on Trip Advisor, and their gelato is out-of-this-world-amazing (from what I've seen on Instagram), but weren't we aiming for Zion?
Why are we settling for something well below the Celestial standard?
I might have an answer.
What if the reason we're dragging our feet 200 years after a bright light shone from heaven was
Because [our] hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that [we] do not learn this one lesson--
That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn,
to the priesthood or the authority of that man.
We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
Hence many are called, but few are chosen.
There's the answer. (What is the percentage of "almost all men"?)
The natural man seeks celebrity. To enjoy the things of this world. The natural man desires honor and control. To gratify his pride, he exercises vanity and ambition, seeking to be in charge of others, which makes him appear "successful." He acts to "compel" the souls of men and women, usually to serve his self-interest. And during all of this, there's a big cover up! His sins are buried under non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements.
Now, let's re-read the above text and apply it to Christian churches:
Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson--
That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn,
to the priesthood or the authority of that man.
We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
Hence many are called, but few are chosen.
A More Excellent Way
The Good News is that we have a Shepherd. We are not wandering around all alone. We don't have to figure this out ourselves. He has shown us a better way:
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge,
which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.
According to this text, the problem we need to overcome is "hypocrisy" and "guile."
We all know what hypocrisy is, but what is "guile"? How is guile an issue for churches? "Guile" means "astuteness, often marked by a certain sense of cunning or artful deception; deceptiveness, deceit, fraud, duplicity, dishonesty."
There are two ways to interpret D&C 121:41 because of the ambiguous comma. I am not a grammarian, but here is how I read it:
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood[.][Full stop.] [Power or influence can be maintained] only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge.
See the difference? Sometimes people think that priesthood authority can righteously be exercised if they pad it with persuasion, long-suffering, and so on, like those attributes are the whipped cream and cherries on top of their Authority Banana Split.
But what if Joseph was saying that priesthood authority cannot be wielded as a power or influence over others? What if he was saying that when we attempt to use our "little authority" to pull rank, that is de facto unrighteous dominion?
Was Joseph saying that the ONLY power or influence we possess is by means of persuasion, long-suffering, by gentleness, etc.
The Debate is Over
Either way we read it, the notion that "when [an authority figure] speaks, the debate is over" is anathema (see, "The Debate is Over", Ensign, August 1979). Such an idea mocks our moral agency.
Picture this: if my wife were a ballroom dancer, and I objected to her skimpy leotard and sexy dance routines, and me standing up and declaring, "As Head of this household, I forbid you from dancing the Tango and Cha Cha at the festival. The debate is over!"
We would not countenance that kind of behavior from someone who is supposed to love us.
Lords vs. Stewards
What if we viewed ourselves as "stewards" rather than as lords?
The title of this series "Stewards of God's Grace" comes from St. Peter, who taught:
And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves . . . as every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
(1 Peter 4:8, 10)
I think we can learn something from Peter, who was the chief apostle, and who warned us:
Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;
Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.
We can't very well be good examples if we act like "lords over God's heritage", can we?
What does it mean to be a "steward" of God's grace?
Gardeners of Grace
If a thing comes from God, then we are merely "stewards" of it. We cannot "own" something that is not ours.
A commandment I give unto you concerning your stewardship which I have appointed unto you.
Behold all these properties are mine, or else your faith is vain, and ye are found hypocrites, and the covenants which ye have made unto me are broken;
And if the properties are mine, then ye are stewards; otherwise ye are no stewards.
Being a steward is like being a gardener. We take God's grace and nourish it, tend it, grow it, share it.
What if this idea of stewardship, which we usually think of in terms of our earthly possessions, applied to authority as well?
I have not talked about "consecration" before on this blog. But I invoke it now in discussing authority.
We cannot have things in common unless we have authority in common, otherwise there will always be inequality as those with more authority aggregate greater privilege and possessions.
The consequences of establishing elevated positions in the body of Christ is the cautionary tale of Christian history.
That you may be equal in the bonds of heavenly things, yea, and earthly things also, for the obtaining of heavenly things.
For if you will that I give unto you a place in the celestial world, you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you.
(D&C 78:5, 7)
But what if the role of stewards in God's vineyard was not to consolidate and amass authority, but to compost it and distribute it evenly around the trees?
And thus they labored, with all diligence, according to the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard, even until the bad had been cast away out of the vineyard, and the Lord had preserved unto himself that the trees had become again the natural fruit; and they became like unto one body; and the fruits were equal.
What if the point of having churches was to create equality among believers, so that grace can "abound"?
What if God's plan was to take feet, and eyes, and noses, and big fat bums, and make them all "one" in the body of Christ?
And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head of the feet, I have no need of you.
(1 Cor. 12:21)
Throwing a "monkey wrench" at something means to "sabotage or frustrate a project or plan."
What is the biggest monkey wrench that Satan could throw at God's plan to treat each other equally?
That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.
(1 Cor. 12:25)
Could the devil bankrupt Christian churches of God's grace by creating inequality, status and rank in the body of Christ? And it came to pass that the servant said unto his master:
Is it not the loftiness of thy vineyard-- have not the branches thereof overcome the roots which are good?
And because the branches have overcome the roots thereof, behold they grew faster than the strength of the roots, taking strength unto themselves.
Behold, I say, is not this the cause that the trees of thy vineyard have become corrupted?
State of the Vineyard Address
Satan's big con is to trick us into using authority to stratify, classify and divide the members in the body of Christ. He likes to assign titles to "important" people." He delights in the pride and envy that accompany systems with "haves" and "have-nots."
Jesus, on the other hand, lambasted the Pharisees who were obsessed with such things:
They make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,
And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,
And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.
But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren.
What an amazing deception Satan has pulled off. He has fooled us into thinking the hanging gardens of Babylon are actually God's landscaping.
We have created a hierarchy of institutionalized inequality in our churches and call it God's handiwork; when Jesus expressly forbade such a thing!
Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them.
But so shall it not be among you.
I think now we're getting a better idea of what the Lord meant when he said: They draw near unto me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;
They teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.
We wonder how we got here.
Is it because we have not chosen to love one another, as Jesus loved us?
The reason it is tough is because those who control the purse-strings are personally invested in maintaining the status quo. Put another way, why would those in power want to kill the golden goose?
Welcome to Babylon.
The Goose Lays an Egg
President Harry S. Truman said,
An honest public servant can't become rich in politics.
(Off the Record: The Private Papers of Harry S. Truman, p. 306, from an April 1954 diary entry)
If that quote is true of politicians, should it also be true of priests?
We would expect "business as usual" from political systems and corporate interests, but what is surprising is that churches create systems for accumulating wealth, too.
I say "surprising" because we would assume Christian churches would be following the Sermon on the Mount. (Or did I skip Sunday School the week they taught "Mammon Gets Baptized: The True Hollywood Story of How the Rich and Fabulous Whore of Babylon Found Religion!")
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.
Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
(Matthew 6:19-21, 24)
Million Dollar Question
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
Question: What does it tell us, and what lessons should we learn, from the fact that popes, prophets and ministers become millionaires?
KFC Original Recipe
Colonel Sanders made a fortune with eleven secret ingredients that made his fried chicken famous. What were the 11 herbs and spices that made us all crave his delicious chicken?
Well, for over 60 years no one knew because it was a closely guarded trade secret. Then in 2016 it was reported that a handwritten piece of paper found in an old scrapbook contained the Original Recipe:
Salt, thyme, basil, oregano, celery salt, pepper, dry mustard, paprika, garlic salt, ground ginger, and white pepper.
Who's hungry? Because the way religions cook up riches is no secret. At the end of the day, they all follow the same recipe:
Pay x (Price) = Salvation
In other words, we pay the cost of salvation and our religion assures us a ticket to heaven. What is the difference between religion and debt collectors when churches restrict access to the Cross? When they create status in their ranks, offering the prized ordinances of salvation only to those who give them money?
This is the goose that lays golden eggs day after day.
The Golden Ticket to Heaven
In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the whole world became obsessed with finding the golden ticket. And wow, Willy Wonka's plan sure drove up business! On the ticket it read:
Greetings to you, the lucky finder of this Golden Ticket, from Mr. Willy Wonka! I shake you warmly by the hand! Tremendous things are in store for you! Many wonderful surprises await you! For now, I do invite you to come to my factory . . . My beloved Golden Ticket Holders: mystic and marvelous surprises that will entice, delight, intrigue, astonish and perplex you beyond measure [await]!
(Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)
Well, that about sums up religion, doesn't it?
If we buy enough chocolate candy bars we may just find a golden ticket.
The Golden Ticket of Religion takes many shapes. Let's look at "indulgences."
When I lived in France as a missionary I visited dozens of cathedrals and my jaw dropped hearing that some of them took 400 years to build. That required a lot of dedication and sacrifice from the people. The cathedrals have a spirit and a beauty that I cherish. The cathedral in Chartres was truly spectacular. Once when I went to Midnight Mass the stones cried out as the organ thundered. I love Catholicism.
One of the big debates of the Reformation was over the selling of indulgences, which was the Middle-Age version of tithing and work for the dead rolled into one.
It was a way for the church to generate income while allowing members, through the purchase of indulgences, to free their deceased loved ones from purgatory.
Then Martin Luther showed up and all hell broke loose.
Why? Because he was targeting the economic foundation of his church.
Three Theses On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg church.
Here are three of my favorites that are still relevant:
No. 27. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.
No. 32. Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.
No. 43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences.
Re-read that last one, No. 43.
Question: Why would this threaten the most powerful kingdom on earth, the Holy Roman Empire?
Answer: Because if people started donating their money directly to the poor and needy instead of to the church, then how would the church pay its bills, afford its armies, pay its staff, and buy more real estate?
For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.
O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God?
I have charity towards all faiths, religions and people. We're all in this boat together.
Moroni, in the quote above, is pointing to a weakness that is universal - one we all struggle with - the "love of money" in comparison to our "love of the poor."
What I am trying to figure out is why Christian churches turn religion into big business when we all know:
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this,
To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
Is it just me, or does it seem like the gospel of Jesus Christ gets smothered and buried underneath a thousand mattresses - all the paperwork and duties and obligations and meetings and politics and marketing of religion - where the "pure" gospel is no more than a small pea at the bottom of all those mattresses?
Can we even feel it anymore?
Could Jesus have been talking to us when he said:
And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.
To the Catholic Church's credit, they spent 18 years working to reform the Church at the Council of Trent (three different sessions between 1545 and 1563).
They were serious.
What would happen if we all took a hard look at our own religions and convened hundreds of "Councils of Trent," working together towards a purer religion?
The Real Problem
So what stops us? Why wouldn't we want to follow in Christ's footsteps and live his law?
John W. Malley, a professor at Georgetown University who is a scholar on the Council of Trent, shared this fascinating insight about the obstacle they faced:
"Almost every specific proposal 'to reform the church' had financial implications. The benefice system was at the heart of the way the church operated, so that any reform that touched upon benefices touched upon somebody's pocketbook . . . . Money played a fundamental role in the reforms that Trent tried to legislate, and it explains the resistance those reforms met both during and after the council."
(John W. Malley, Trent: What Happened at the Council, p. 17)
Show Me the Money
If we "follow the money" it will usually guide us to what we love most.
As the saying goes, “Put your money where your mouth is.” And if we find ourselves lip-to-lip with the lecherous maw of mammon, it will certainly be the spiritual kiss of death. It reminds me of what Jesus said to Judas in the garden: "Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?" (Luke 22:48).
What is Mammon? How do we "betray" God when we serve Mammon?
I used to think of Mammon as "the covetousness of riches." But now I view Mammon as being about much more than money. What does money get us? How does it create systems of inequality that place people in bondage? How does Mammon promote pride among those who have riches, status, rank, and power?
** MAMMON ALERT **
Mammon on an individual level is about "the love of money." But far worse, Mammon on an institutional level becomes the way money is used to maintain engines of power, which invariably lead to classes, rank, and inequality.
Look carefully at Mammon's economy:
The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble, and cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men.
Religions wield perhaps the greatest "power" by negotiating the conditions of our salvation.
Mammon says: "You want to be saved? Then you have to do [x] and [y] and [z], and pay [a] or [b] or [c], then you may receive the necessary [sacrament] or [ordinance] or [grace] from my hands."
That's the catch: it has to be by my authority, my version of the gospel, my creed, my keys, my church, my priesthood . . . because I am the only one that God approves of.
In other words, the business of religion is not about converting people to the gospel, but converting them to a belief that they must be placed under my authority if they wish to be saved.
What I am describing is "sectarianism," which means an "excessive attachment to a particular sect or party, especially in religion."
On the other hand, Alma said:
For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word.
What did Joseph Smith think about Sectarianism?
Question: Did Joseph Smith encourage his followers to be cliquish and to engage in religious tribalism? Would he have supported the "thought police"?
Thumbs up Seven Up! Let's find out the answer.
Story of Pelatiah Brown
In 1843 a member of the church named Pelatiah Brown was teaching about the Book of Revelation.
He got in trouble for his interpretation of John's vision. And he was taken to a church court and tried for his "crimes" of teaching false doctrine (sound familiar?).
Joseph Smith came to Brother's Brown's defense and said in a public sermon:
"Elder Pelatiah Brown, one of the wisest old heads we have among us, and whom I now see before me, has been preaching concerning the beast which was full of eyes before and behind; and for this he was hauled up for trial before the High Council.
"I do not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodist, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church.
"I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not be trammeled. . . .
"Why should we find fault? Anything to whip sectarianism, to put down priestcraft, and bring the human family to a knowledge of the truth."
(Joseph Smith, History of the Church, vol. 5, pp. 340-341)
Answer: Joseph really disliked sectarianism.
World's Greatest Sectarians
As Joseph Smith pointed out in the above quote, sectarianism and priestcraft go hand-in-hand like old high school sweethearts.
Why is that?
Because the name of the game, in order to profit from religion, is to convince others that we have found the straight and narrow whilst everyone else is going to hell?
The Book of Mormon, from cover to cover, shreds the notions of sectarianism apart. I mean, for half the book there wasn't even a church!
The Zoramites were real gems. On church-day, the Zoramites headed to the synagogue and walked up the Rameumptom and cried with a loud voice to God, saying:
Holy, holy God; we believe that thou art God, and . . . that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; and also thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ.
But thou art the same yesterday, today, and forever; and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee.
The Good News
Okay, now its time for the good news. Which is, of course, the Good News! There is a more excellent way.
Here comes John the Baptist, swinging an axe at the trunk of the law of Moses in order to make room for Christ's tender gospel to grow, telling us that membership in a given group is not what saves us:
[Do] not say: We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
So what matters in the end? The wild prophet invites us to "bring forth fruits worthy of repentance. . . . [He] which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire" (Luke 3:8-9)
What Are Worthy Fruits?
If you're wondering, as I am, what a "worthy" fruit looks like, John tells us:
And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then?
He answereth and said unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.
Now the fun part! What did John tell the religious leaders?
Then came also the publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do?
According to the custom of their law [they] receiv[ed] money into the treasury, that out of the abundance which was received, was appointed unto the poor, every man his portion;
And after this manner did the publicans also, wherefore, John said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed unto you.
(KJV Luke 3:12-13; JST Luke 3:19-20)
Let's summarize: God forbids religious leaders exacting that which He has "appointed unto the poor."
This is what Malachi was referring to!
Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.
Imagine those words being spoken to the religious leaders, who control the finances of a church. Cross reference that with the story of the sons of Eli found in 1 Samuel 2:12-36. (If you read that passage, you'll get the gist of what we're talking about.)
I will raise up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in mine heart and in my mind.
Hmm. What if these things were all related somehow?
Sing a Song of Sixpence
Pretend you wanted to create a common pool of money for your extended family. We'll call it The Family Piggy Bank ("FPB").
The idea is for everyone to contribute what they can into a joint fund so that when a family member has a special need they can receive financial assistance from the FPB.
The king was in his counting house Counting out his money; The queen was in the parlour, Eating bread and honey.
1. Who will be in charge of deciding whether someone qualifies for a distribution from the FPB? Father, or grandfather? Mother or sister? A committee of crazy uncles?
2. What sorts of things will be covered? Ongoing monthly expenses? One time emergencies?
3. What if a habitually-needy member drains the FPB? Is there a cap on how much a single member can receive?
4. What if so-and-so never contributes anything to it; can they still withdraw from the FPB?
5. Will the money in the FPB be invested, and if so, who gets to decide how it will be invested? Should it be in low-bearing interest bonds or in risky stocks?
6. Should the names of those receiving assistance be kept confidential?
7. What rights do members of the family have to an accounting of the funds? Should there be transparency or secrecy?
8. Should the money in the FPB be given as a gift, or should it be given as a non-interest bearing loan? If loans, what happens if a family member doesn't repay their debt?
The maid was in the garden Hanging out the clothes, When down came a blackbird And pecked off her nose.
It is easy to give away money.
And it is easy to be generous with other people's money. Is it hard to write a check to the church, or to our favorite charity, and forget about it? But if we wash our hands of how the money is spent, how can the hearts of the giver and receiver be united? How does it sanctify the offering so God can be glorified?
Paying our dues is not where our duty ends, it is where it begins!
The example of a family slush fund (FPB) is actually real. In my family we floated the idea around. But it never happened because there were too many concerns about fairness and how the money would be administered.
Yes, even in the close and loving environment of a family we were unable to create a simple trust fund.
Why did we fail?
Now include a couple more families and you get the idea. The challenge we face is learning to love each other more than we love "fairness."
Our Fairness Bone
I think we were all born with a funny bone and a fairness bone. We hit our fairness bone every day. "But I walked the dog yesterday!" "She got a raise?" "I've stood in line longer than they have."
Was it fair for Christ to descend below all? Was it fair for him to suffer for our sins? Was his forgiveness fair? No.
Are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have?
O then, how ye ought to impart of your substance that ye have one to another.
(Mosiah 4:19, 21)
Outsourcing our alms does not help us learn how to do that. How to love each other. It does not get us closer to Zion.
When the pie was opened The birds began to sing; Wasn't that a dainty dish, To set before the king.
Inequality is Like a Common Cold
Have you ever wondered why haven't we discovered a cure for the common cold? We've solved polio, smallpox and lots of other things.
Well, there is no such thing as "the" common cold. Immunologists believe there are at least 160 strains of rhinovirus running around, so we really need 160 differentcures. That's a lot of shots. We haven't been able to solve inequality because, like the common cold, there are too many causes. For starters:
Differences in wages Differences in productivity Differences in the labor market Differences in education Differences in ability Differences in government control Differences in gender Differences in technology Pride Idleness Selfishness
One of the most interesting observations in the Book of Mormon comes just before the collapse of Nephite society:
Some were lifted up unto pride and boasting because of their exceedingly great riches . . .
For there were many merchants in the land, and also many lawyers, and many officers.
And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning.
(3 Nephi 6:10-12)
Several years ago my brother recommended I read a book by French economist Thomas Piketty. The book is called Capital in the Twenty-First Century.
I went to the local library and checked it out. I read some of it, but most of it was over my head. I do remember one thing: having wealth makes it easier to accumulate more wealth (seems obvious). This process is called "wealth concentration." Over time, wealth consolidates in fewer individuals, who pass it to their children, and the cycle continues.
Amazingly, I think we know the solution. It was taught by Christ 2000 years ago. It was highlighted 200 years ago.
The issue is not that we don't know what to do; so why don't we do it?
It is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine.
But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold, this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.
For the earth is full, and there is enough to spare; yea, I prepared all things and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.
And there we have it. The answer.
Simple as pie.
Sing a song of sixpence, A pocket full of rye. Four and twenty blackbirds, Baked in a pie.
I wanted to respond to questions on how Owl of the Desert came to be.
So this is an origin story.
I remember the moment well. I wasn't bitten by a radioactive spider or exposed to gamma radiation. Rather, it happened one afternoon as I surfed the internet in my office.
It was September 12, 2018. I was a partner at a law firm at the time and had started to decompress after a stressful day, drinking an ice cold Mountain Dew and snacking on some chocolate covered almonds from Costco.
While in this double-caffeinated trance, my soul hungered.
Browsing books on Amazon, I came across Fire in the Pasture: 21st Century Mormon Poets.
I clicked on the "Look Inside" link and began reading some of the poems. One of the poems in the collection was by S.P. Bailey called "Prayer." With his permission, I share it here:
Prayer by S.P. Bailey
It was picture day. Me: a first grader. I was all ready. Hair combed. Shirt tucked in tight. Tie clipped on. Mom’s orders were clear: no getting dirty or messing up my hair, no riding my bike, no playing in the sandpile, no playing outside at all. Those were all the things, especially being forbidden, I needed to do that day. I had already learned about the spirit of the law; how it lets us forget the inconvenient parts and mostly obey. So I went to the playhouse, a shed in the back yard, furnished with a child-sized pantry, table, chair. It began to rain consequences: the things you don’t plan for, but choose. Afraid, hair and clothes already soaked in my mind, I said a prayer. Not a rain prayer I had heard before, not the asking or thanking of desert people for "moisture." It was the prayer now most familiar to me: Let me not bear the bad thing I deserve. The rain stopped. It stopped abruptly. The thought ‘coincidence’ might have occurred to an adult, logical, sterile-minded. That adult might have offered tepid thanks: "If You did that for me, I am grateful," as a scientific explanation fretted in the mind’s back room. Not me. I knew I had seen the finger of the Lord. Despite all those farmers’ pleas—for me—He stopped that deluge. I walked across the back yard and inside. My eyes: small stones burned by that revelation.
As I read those words, I felt the stirrings of the Spirit. When I came to the line:
not the asking or thanking of desert people for "moisture"
I poured out my heart in prayer.
And out of that experience I began writing these poems.
Rulers of Sodom
The first poem I wrote wasRulers of Sodom. The title was taken from Isaiah chapter 1.
Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.
I wanted to evoke the feelings of defeat and helplessness we feel in the face of the law, in the face of judgment and self-righteousness.
In the stanza where I paraphrase Isaiah 1:11, I wanted to represent the futility of our "vain oblations" following the letter of the law, which Paul said "killeth" our souls (2 Cor. 3:6). We find a fascinating statement in Isaiah 1:12:
When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?
Here the Lord is comparing us to dumb animal sacrifices, fouling his sacred ground, going about performing our religious duties without love, without life.
I gained this insight from Avraham Gileadi, who wrote, "Instead of going to see Jehovah, his people resemble the dumb animals that were anciently brought for sacrifice, which were unaware of their reason for being there. Instead of making an offering of their whole souls to God—as symbolized by the burnt offerings and shedding of the animals’ blood—his people trudge about the temple’s courts defiling it."
The climax of the poem ends with a reference to Malachi's promise:
He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.
But I wanted to give an unexpected twist at the end to capture the spirit of priestcraft. The 450 prophets which Elijah fought and defeated on Mt. Carmel answer Malachi's question:
Sons of Levi, what makes an offering righteous? I do not turn, but hear the whirring of a swarming cloud: the fervor of four hundred and fifty prophets praying: O Baal, hear us.
Rulers of Sodom
The Levite frowns at my offering: Blemish, he says. I see none, but can you disagree with his authority? It is woven into the linen veil of the temple mount.
His hand waves me away, rejecting what I have chosen for slaughter. Bleating, I am helpless as a beast watching the eternal flame flicker upon the altar.
Wordlessly I lead my lamb a stone’s throw away from the mercy seat: my beloved blushes as I search for the spot perceived by the priest.
My fingers find no burr within the wool, no broken bones. The only defect is my imperfect faith in the correctness of the Levite’s choice. The priest retreats into the sweet smoke and frankincense he calls duty. Secretly I wonder, Can ground be hallowed in the shadow of a broken law? Come, see now the mount with holy sight: its inner court obscenely varicose with congealed fat. I delight no more in the blood of bullocks. My first fruits leads me beyond the wall. Clean nor common are we, unburnt after all the weary miles traveled from Jericho.
Sons of Levi, what makes an offering righteous? I do not turn, but hear the whirring of a swarming cloud: the fervor of four hundred and fifty prophets praying: O Baal, hear us.
It turns out S.P. Bailey is an artist as well as poet.
His watercolor, above, Reflection, reminds me of Christ, who stands in the middle, at the center, uniting earth and heaven, man and God, the firmament above and the deep below.
It also makes me think of how each of us is like one of those little rectangles, standing together, reflecting God's vision as we work to create heaven on earth.
Of Good Report
I believe all of us have gifts from God that we can use to glorify his name and to strengthen each other. Let's be creative: let's create something beautiful together.
We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things.
If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
In his essay Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau said:
That government is best which governs least.
The debate over government overreach has recently spread across the country as states struggle to address the COVID-19 pandemic. I have seen friends, neighbors and family strongly disagree on the appropriate role of government in mandating masks, schools closures, and so on.
So it is time we all agree on something: a little thing called "inalienable rights."
What are "inalienable rights"?
1. An inalienable right is a natural right. Men and women intrinsically hold these rights. They are universal. We are endowed with therse rights by nature, or God's law.
2. Since the government does not create these rights (remember they come from God), the government therefore cannot take them away.
3 Governments pass what we call "positive law", which is another name for man-made law.
4. When positive law attempts to infringe on inalienable rights, then people engage in civil disobedience to the law on the grounds of conscience.
5. Natural rights include, according to John Locke, the right to (1) life; (2) liberty; and (3) property.
The Declaration of Independence
This was the basic premise of the American Revolution. What do we do when government tries to abrogate our natural rights?
That to secure these [inalienable] rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed--
That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government.
(Declaration of Independence, 1776)
From California to the New York Island
Many states, including California and New York, have enacted public health restrictions due to coronovirus with little regard for inalienable rights.
Elder David Bednar said recently:
We the people must never allow [government officials] to forget that their offices and powers exist to secure our fundamental freedoms.
Never again can we allow government officials to treat the exercise of religion as simply nonessential.
Never again must the fundamental right to worship God be trivialized below the ability to buy gasoline.
(David A. Bednar, "And When He Came To Himself," delivered June 17, 2020, accessed at https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/bednar-byu-religious-freedom-review-speech)
Grace Community Church
It is one thing to say it. It is another thing to do it. The following statement was issued by Grace Community Church in California in response to Governor Newsom's closure orders. I hope you will read this, for it is truly an incredible thing when men and women take a stand for Christ.
A Biblical Case for the Church’s Duty to Remain Open
Christ is Lord of all. He is the one true head of the church (Ephesians 1:22; 5:23; Colossians 1:18). He is also King of kings—sovereign over every earthly authority (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16). Grace Community Church has always stood immovably on those biblical principles. As His people, we are subject to His will and commands as revealed in Scripture. Therefore we cannot and will not acquiesce to a government-imposed moratorium on our weekly congregational worship or other regular corporate gatherings. Compliance would be disobedience to our Lord’s clear commands.
Some will think such a firm statement is inexorably in conflict with the command to be subject to governing authorities laid out in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2. Scripture does mandate careful, conscientious obedience to all governing authority, including kings, governors, employers, and their agents (in Peter’s words, “not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable” [1 Peter 2:18]). Insofar as government authorities do not attempt to assert ecclesiastical authority or issue orders that forbid our obedience to God’s law, their authority is to be obeyed whether we agree with their rulings or not. In other words, Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 still bind the consciences of individual Christians. We are to obey our civil authorities as powers that God Himself has ordained.
However, while civil government is invested with divine authority to rule the state, neither of those texts (nor any other) grants civic rulers jurisdiction over the church. God has established three institutions within human society: the family, the state, and the church. Each institution has a sphere of authority with jurisdictional limits that must be respected. A father’s authority is limited to his own family. Church leaders’ authority (which is delegated to them by Christ) is limited to church matters. And government is specifically tasked with the oversight and protection of civic peace and well-being within the boundaries of a nation or community. God has not granted civic rulers authority over the doctrine, practice, or polity of the church. The biblical framework limits the authority of each institution to its specific jurisdiction. The church does not have the right to meddle in the affairs of individual families and ignore parental authority. Parents do not have authority to manage civil matters while circumventing government officials. And similarly, government officials have no right to interfere in ecclesiastical matters in a way that undermines or disregards the God-given authority of pastors and elders.
When any one of the three institutions exceeds the bounds of its jurisdiction it is the duty of the other institutions to curtail that overreach. Therefore, when any government official issues orders regulating worship (such as bans on singing, caps on attendance, or prohibitions against gatherings and services), he steps outside the legitimate bounds of his God-ordained authority as a civic official and arrogates to himself authority that God expressly grants only to the Lord Jesus Christ as sovereign over His Kingdom, which is the church. His rule is mediated to local churches through those pastors and elders who teach His Word (Matthew 16:18–19; 2 Timothy 3:16–4:2).
Therefore, in response to the recent state order requiring churches in California to limit or suspend all meetings indefinitely, we, the pastors and elders of Grace Community Church, respectfully inform our civic leaders that they have exceeded their legitimate jurisdiction, and faithfulness to Christ prohibits us from observing the restrictions they want to impose on our corporate worship services.
Said another way, it has never been the prerogative of civil government to order, modify, forbid, or mandate worship. When, how, and how often the church worships is not subject to Caesar. Caesar himself is subject to God. Jesus affirmed that principle when He told Pilate, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11). And because Christ is head of the church, ecclesiastical matters pertain to His Kingdom, not Caesar’s. Jesus drew a stark distinction between those two kingdoms when He said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's” (Mark 12:17). Our Lord Himself always rendered to Caesar what was Caesar's, but He never offered to Caesar what belongs solely to God.
As pastors and elders, we cannot hand over to earthly authorities any privilege or power that belongs solely to Christ as head of His church. Pastors and elders are the ones to whom Christ has given the duty and the right to exercise His spiritual authority in the church (1 Peter 5:1–4; Hebrews 13:7, 17)—and Scripture alone defines how and whom they are to serve (1 Corinthians 4:1–4). They have no duty to follow orders from a civil government attempting to regulate the worship or governance of the church. In fact, pastors who cede their Christ-delegated authority in the church to a civil ruler have abdicated their responsibility before their Lord and violated the God-ordained spheres of authority as much as the secular official who illegitimately imposes his authority upon the church. Our church’s doctrinal statement has included this paragraph for more than 40 years:
We teach the autonomy of the local church, free from any external authority or control, with the right of self-government and freedom from the interference of any hierarchy of individuals or organizations (Titus 1:5). We teach that it is scriptural for true churches to cooperate with each other for the presentation and propagation of the faith. Each local church, however, through its elders and their interpretation and application of Scripture, should be the sole judge of the measure and method of its cooperation. The elders should determine all other matters of membership, policy, discipline, benevolence, and government as well (Acts 15:19–31; 20:28; 1 Corinthians 5:4–7, 13; 1 Peter 5:1–4).
In short, as the church, we do not need the state's permission to serve and worship our Lord as He has commanded. The church is Christ’s precious bride (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:23–27). She belongs to Him alone. She exists by His will and serves under His authority. He will tolerate no assault on her purity and no infringement of His headship over her. All of that was established when Jesus said, “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18).
Christ’s own authority is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And [God the Father has] put all things in subjection under [Christ’s] feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:21–23).
Accordingly, the honor that we rightly owe our earthly governors and magistrates (Romans 13:7) does not include compliance when such officials attempt to subvert sound doctrine, corrupt biblical morality, exercise ecclesiastical authority, or supplant Christ as head of the church in any other way.
The biblical order is clear: Christ is Lord over Caesar, not vice versa. Christ, not Caesar, is head of the church. Conversely, the church does not in any sense rule the state. Again, these are distinct kingdoms, and Christ is sovereign over both. Neither church nor state has any higher authority than that of Christ Himself, who declared, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).
Notice that we are not making a constitutional argument, even though the First Amendment of the United States Constitution expressly affirms this principle in its opening words: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The right we are appealing to was not created by the Constitution. It is one of those unalienable rights granted solely by God, who ordained human government and establishes both the extent and the limitations of the state's authority (Romans 13:1–7). Our argument therefore is purposely not grounded in the First Amendment; it is based on the same biblical principles that the Amendment itself is founded upon. The exercise of true religion is a divine duty given to men and women created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27; Acts 4:18–20; 5:29; cf. Matthew 22:16–22). In other words, freedom of worship is a command of God, not a privilege granted by the state.
An additional point needs to be made in this context. Christ is always faithful and true (Revelation 19:11). Human governments are not so trustworthy. Scripture says, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). That refers, of course, to Satan. John 12:31 and 16:11 call him “the ruler of this world,” meaning he wields power and influence through this world’s political systems (cf. Luke 4:6; Ephesians 2:2; 6:12). Jesus said of him, “he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). History is full of painful reminders that government power is easily and frequently abused for evil purposes. Politicians may manipulate statistics and the media can cover up or camouflage inconvenient truths. So a discerning church cannot passively or automatically comply if the government orders a shutdown of congregational meetings—even if the reason given is a concern for public health and safety.
The church by definition is an assembly. That is the literal meaning of the Greek word for “church”--ekklesia—the assembly of the called-out ones. A non-assembling assembly is a contradiction in terms. Christians are therefore commanded not to forsake the practice of meeting together (Hebrews 10:25)—and no earthly state has a right to restrict, delimit, or forbid the assembling of believers. We have always supported the underground church in nations where Christian congregational worship is deemed illegal by the state.
When officials restrict church attendance to a certain number, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible for the saints to gather as the church. When officials prohibit singing in worship services, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible for the people of God to obey the commands of Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. When officials mandate distancing, they attempt to impose a restriction that in principle makes it impossible to experience the close communion between believers that is commanded in Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, and 1 Thessalonians 5:26. In all those spheres, we must submit to our Lord.
Although we in America may be unaccustomed to government intrusion into the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, this is by no means the first time in church history that Christians have had to deal with government overreach or hostile rulers. As a matter of fact, persecution of the church by government authorities has been the norm, not the exception, throughout church history. “Indeed,” Scripture says, “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Historically, the two main persecutors have always been secular government and false religion. Most of Christianity’s martyrs have died because they refused to obey such authorities. This is, after all, what Christ promised: “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). In the last of the beatitudes, He said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11–12).
As government policy moves further away from biblical principles, and as legal and political pressures against the church intensify, we must recognize that the Lord may be using these pressures as means of purging to reveal the true church. Succumbing to governmental overreach may cause churches to remain closed indefinitely. How can the true church of Jesus Christ distinguish herself in such a hostile climate? There is only one way: bold allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Even where governments seem sympathetic to the church, Christian leaders have often needed to push back against aggressive state officials. In Calvin's Geneva, for example, church officials at times needed to fend off attempts by the city council to govern aspects of worship, church polity, and church discipline. The Church of England has never fully reformed, precisely because the British Crown and Parliament have always meddled in church affairs. In 1662, the Puritans were ejected from their pulpits because they refused to bow to government mandates regarding use of the Book of Common Prayer, the wearing of vestments, and other ceremonial aspects of state-regulated worship. The British Monarch still claims to be the supreme governor and titular head of the Anglican Church.
But again: Christ is the one true head of His church, and we intend to honor that vital truth in all our gatherings. For that preeminent reason, we cannot accept and will not bow to the intrusive restrictions government officials now want to impose on our congregation. We offer this response without rancor, and not out of hearts that are combative or rebellious (1 Timothy 2:1–8; 1 Peter 2:13–17), but with a sobering awareness that we must answer to the Lord Jesus for the stewardship He has given to us as shepherds of His precious flock.
To government officials, we respectfully say with the apostles, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge” (Acts 4:19). And our unhesitating reply to that question is the same as the apostles’: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Our prayer is that every faithful congregation will stand with us in obedience to our Lord as Christians have done through the centuries.
(accessed at https://www.gracechurch.org/forms/786)
We made it! This is Part 13 and the conclusion of the series Teach Us Thy Statutes, Thy Law. (Thirteen is a lucky number, right?)
If you haven't read the first 12 entries in this series yet, it might help you get your bearings to read those first. Good luck!
Before we get to it, I wish to invoke the following prayer, which is where the title of this series came from.
O Lord, teach us Thy statutes, Thy law, and Thy commandments.
Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end.
Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart.
Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein I delight.
Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness.
Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way.
Only True and Living Church
We need to figure out the relationship between all these things:
"The" Church Church of God Kingdom of God Kingdom of Heaven Zion
Let's start with "The" Church by putting the following famous verse into context:
Those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.
What makes a church "true and living"?
Section 1 was given on November 1, 1831 when "this church" was known as the "Church of Christ." The previous year, in April 1829, the Lord said:
If this generation harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them.
Behold, this is my doctrine-- whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.
Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.
(D&C 10:53, 67-68)
Is it possible the Lord is referring to different churches in Section 1 and in Section 10?
Just How many churches does the Lord Have?
1. The Church of the Lamb.
I beheld the Church of the Lamb of God, and its numbers were few.
(1 Nephi 14:12)
2. The Church of the Firstborn.
All those who are begotten through me are partakers of the glory of the same, and are the church of the Firstborn.
3. The New Testament Church.
Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.
4. The Pre-Meridian Nephite Church.
And blessed art thou [Alma] because thou has established a church among this people; and they shall be established, and they shall be my people.
5. The Post-Meridian Nephite Church.
Behold there shall be one ordained among you, and to him will I give power that he shall break bread and bless it and give it unto the people of my church, unto all those who shall believe and be baptized in my name.
(3 Nephi 18:5)
6. The Church of Christ (1829-1838)
I prophesied concerning the rise of this Church, and many other things connected with the Church, and this generation of the children of men.
(Joseph Smith History 1:72)
7. Church in Zion (? - ?)
And also unto my faithful servants who are of the high council of my church in Zion, for thus it shall be called . . .
8. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1838 - ?)
. . . and unto the elders and people of my Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, scattered abroad in all the world; For thus shall my church be called in the last days.
Huh. Am I misreading D&C 115:3, or is the Lord naming two different things?
Then There Is the Kingdom of God
On top of all these churches, we need to mention the Kingdom of God, which is a whole different enchilada. Joseph Smith taught:
There is a distinction between the Church of God and kingdom of God. The laws of the kingdom are not designed to effect our salvation hereafter. It is an entire, distinct and separate government. The church is a spiritual matter and a spiritual kingdom . . . .
The literal kingdom of God and the church of God are two distinct things.
(Joseph Smith, Administrative Records, The Joseph Smith Papers, Church Historian Press, 2016, p. 128)
Well, there we have it. There is a wall of separation between Church and Kingdom.
Council of Fifty
The Kingdom and the church serve very different functions.
The Kingdom of God is a righteous government that protects the rights and privileges of all people. It was intended to be the government through which Christ reigns a thousand years on earth. But its jurisdiction relates to men here, on earth.
If this is your first time learning about the Council of Fifty, just know for now that it was an attempt to launch the Kingdom of God on the earth, which is why they tried (unsuccessfully) to draft a new constitution.
The formal name of the Council of Fifty was revealed to Joseph Smith by revelation as "The Kingdom of God and His Laws with the Keys and Power thereof, and Judgment in the Hands of His Servants, Ahman Christ."
Joseph had tried to "resign" as President of the Church and appointed his brother Hyrum to lead the church so Joseph could turn his attention to some new projects involving kings, priests and the Kingdom of God. But despite Joseph's efforts to get the members of the church to accept Hyrum as his replacement, they never really got on board.
The "Last Charge" meeting in the spring of 1844 where Joseph "passed" his priesthood keys was at a meeting of the Council of Fifty (which no longer exists).
Then There is the Kingdom of Heaven
Jesus said his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). So where is it?
We see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God . . . and land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out.
Jesus tried very hard to teach us something about this kingdom:
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed a seed . . . the kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed . . . the kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven . . . the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field . . . the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net . . .
Then There is Zion
Zion is "The Pure in Heart" (D&C 97:21). Or those who possess "one heart and one mind" (Moses 7:18). Or Enoch's city.
What does the Lord promise to the pure in heart?
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
AnywhereChrist dwells with his people is Zion. To me, that would be heaven.
And Enoch and all his people walked with God, and he dwelt in the midst of Zion.
What does "True and Living" Mean?
Okay, now let's get into our Time Machine and go back to 1831 and take a snapshot of the Church of Christ. How was it structured in 1831 when the Lord called it "true and living"?
Structure of Church of Christ (1831)
First Elder and apostle: Joseph Smith (D&C 20:2) Second Elder and apostle: Oliver Cowdery (D&C 20:3) Presiding Bishop: Edward Partridge. Other offices: elders, priests, teachers and deacons (D&C 20:38)
That's it. That's all. Really.
In 1831 there were:
1. No high priests (those didn't exist until 1831, and D&C 20:66-67 were subsequently added). 2. No First Presidency (didn't exist until 1833; see Section 90) 3. No Quorum of Twelve Apostles (didn't exist until 1835) 4. No Presiding Patriarch (1833) 5. No Quorum of Seventy (1835)
What if the thing that makes a church "true and living" is not the organization, the hierarchy, the offices, the priesthood?
The priesthood is always being reorganized and changing, anyway (I mean, maybe someday we'll figure out what is up with the Seventies).
We knew this already intuitively, didn't we, because haven't we all thought it odd that an "organization" could be characterized as 'true' or 'living'?
So What is True and Living?
What else could the Lord have been referring to? Well, he already told us back in 1829. When he said his church is those who "repenteth and cometh unto me" (D&C 10:67). That's His church.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is our church. It is literally in the name!
The reason this is all so confusing is because there are members of His church who also belong to our church. And there are people who are not members of our church who are members of His church. And there are members of our church who are not members of His church.
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name cast out devils? and in they name done many wonderful works?
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Bruce R. McConkie said, "The purpose of the church on earth is to prepare us for an inheritance in the church in heaven" (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p.337).
I take Elder McConkie's statement to mean that our earthly churches are preparatory; pass-throughs or stepping stones towards something greater.
What is the "true and living church"?
The true and living church would be the church that exists in heaven, right? The one that is eternal?
Surprise! It is not an institution or organization but the body of Christ (whose body is indeed full of truth and life). Paul said:
For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
Now ye are the body of Christ.
(1 Corinthians 12:12, 27)
Who belongs to the "body of Christ"?
Those who have been begotten in His blood, His children, the family of God,
who are the living sons and daughters and true followers of the Son of God,
who breathe His truth,
His way, His Spirit, His law, His word, His light, His life, His love,
even those who belong to the Church of the Firstborn.
I love the church and the fellowship of my brothers and sisters. I also find it helpful to maintain an eternal perspective:
The church is not Zion; Zion is the pure in heart.
The church is not the kingdom of God; the Kingdom of God as envisioned by Joseph Smith awaits restoration.
The church organization is not "living and true"; the Lord's people, or Body of Christ, is.
Here is our hope:
Prepare ye the way of the Lord, prepare ye the supper of the Lamb, make ready for the Bridegroom.
Call upon the Lord, that his kingdom may go forth upon the earth,
that the inhabitants thereof may receive it, and be prepared for the days to come, in the which the Son of Man shall come down in heaven, clothed in the brightness of his glory, to meet the kingdom of God which is set up on the earth.
Wherefore, may the kingdom of God go forth, that the kingdom of heaven may come.
One of the strangest lawsuits ever filed was in 1971 when Gerald Mayo sued Satan in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Really.
The basis of Mr. Mayo's legal claim was that Satan had "deprived him of his constitutional rights."
Unfortunately, the case was dismissed by the Court because Mr. Mayo failed to include instructions on how the U.S. Marshal could serve process on Satan.
Tim(e) To Play Devil's Advocate
Today I am going to be a Devil's Advocate and ARGUE FOR A HIERARCHY.
Exhibit A: The Angelic Choir
Heaven has a hierarchy, as we see illustrated by the angelic choirs. As we climb Jacob's Ladder, we pass through different levels, or ranks, of heavenly beings. There are 8 or 9 steps on the ladder, as follows:
Cherubim (literally: "one who blesses") guard the tree of life and the throne of God. These are the "heavies" in heaven.
Seraphim (literally: "burning ones") are angels who dwell in everlasting burnings and serve before God's throne. Try the Spirits
We know that men can give uninspired counsel, but can angels? We'd like our angels to be fool-proof; after all, they speak by the power of the Holy Ghost. Or do they?
Is it possible for an angel to not speak by the power of the Holy Ghost? Can they opine on their favorite pro football team or whether socks should be worn with sandals? Does every word they speak come from God, or do angels have their own minds and feelings and opinions?
Well, look at Satan. Angels have agency! Even an angel "in authority" like Lucifer was free to deceive us. How else could there have been a "war" in heaven unless everybody was able to speak their mind freely?
Isn't that why we are told to "try the spirits"?
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God.
(1 John 4:1)
Isn't this why Paul said:
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
Okay. Now I'm worried. Who can we trust?
And everything that is in the world, whether it be ordained of men, by thrones [think angels], or principalities [ditto], or powers [ditto] or things of name [nice catchall], whatsoever they may be, that are not by me or by my word, saith the Lord, shall be thrown down, and shall not remain after men are dead, neither in nor after the resurrection, saith the Lord your God.
If all authority singularly flows from God, why do we have different stations?
Heaven is a Choir
Is the heavenly choir like our church choirs? (Let's hope not.) You know what I mean: a handful of members (usually more women than men) performing on Sunday as the congregation sits back and listens. And there is usually that one soprano who sings like she's on the Metropolitan Opera stage.
Maybe there is not a choir in heaven so much as heaven itself is the choir. Everybody enrolls; everybody wants to sing God's praises. Hallelujah!
John saw a vision of all of creation singing the song of redeeming love:
And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;
And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying,
Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.
My neighbor Rick is a bass. I sing Baritone. My friend Rob has a lovely Tenor voice. And then we have Altos, Sopranos, Mezzo-Sopranos, and so on.
Question: Do the Sopranos get to boss the Altos around? Are Tenors better than Baritones?
Of course not. In a choir all of the voices are equal even though they are not the same. All voices are kept in unison and harmony.
There is One who directs the music, who has composed a song of such beauty and wonder that it amazes me that he has chosen us to give voice to His creation, His brilliance, His incomprehensible glory.
We take our cues from him. We watch, our eyes fixed on His hands that bear the tokens of our salvation, gesturing and giving birth to the most glorious chords that resound with pure joy in our souls.
His music is love.
Exhibit B: A New Testament Church
The Devil's Advocate Continues:
Just as there is a hierarchy in heaven, Christ created a church composed of apostles and seventies here on earth.
The priesthood requires each man, or woman, to know their place and rank in order to maintain "order" in God's house. There are "greater" and "lesser" priesthoods, and we do not want the Deacons to be running the show, do we?
What if "order" was not a function of an organizational structure? Could "order" refer to something else?
Could it refer to a taxonomy?
To a temporal sequence or pattern in an eternal round?
To a group of sons of God who follow after the Holy Order of the Son of God?
Of necessity there are presidents, or presiding officers growing out of, or appointed of or from among those who are ordained to the several offices in these two priesthoods.
Question: What is a "presiding officer"?
George Washington was unanimously elected the President, or presiding officer, of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Did George Washington use his role as President to dictate the terms of the new Constitution? Not at all. He remained relatively quiet. He presided over the delegates as they debated and decided for themselves. He helped shape their vision and inspired them. He built consensus and held the fragile dream together against all odds. And he succeeded because the delegates respected and loved him.
What if priesthood offices were not about who gets to sit in the high seats? Here's a thought: what if priesthood was not even really about "us", but about Christ?
The priesthood hath continued [with you] through the lineage of your fathers--
For ye are lawful heirs, according to the flesh, and have been hid from the world with Christ in God--
Therefore, your life and the priesthood have remained, and must needs remain through you and your lineage until the restoration of all things spoken by the mouths of all the holy prophets since the world began.
What is an heir? It is someone who stands in line to inherit once the testator is dead. What do we have to do to "inherit"? Become an heir. Well, now we've come full circle.
Joseph Smith's attempt at creating unity or equality in the organization of the priesthood was unsuccessful. Instead of heirs we've created hierarchy. How did that happen?
The problems the saints faced in 1833 have only deepened since:
I say unto you, there were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances.
How do we "pollute" the inheritance of the priesthood? Could "lustful and covetous desires" apply to priesthood authority and status?
The Inevitable Apostasy
Dalek: Exterminate! Cyberman: Delete! Delete! Dalek: Exterminate! Exterminate! The Doctor: What are you guys fighting about?
All churches, all organized religions, drift into apostasy over time. It is rarely a cataclysmic plunge; it usually is a gentle sliding downward, line upon line, precept upon precept, taking away here a little, and there a little.
If any church got off on the right foot, it was the Nephite Church that Christ personally organized in 3rd Nephi 11 - 27. What were the trademark qualities of the Nephite Zion?
1. There were no contentions (4 Ne. 1:2) 2. All men dealt justly with one another 3. They had all things in common (4 Ne. 1:3) 4. There were not rich or poor 5. They performed mighty miracles (4 Ne. 1:5) 6. They no longer followed the law of Moses (4 Ne. 1:12) 7. The love of God dwelt in the hearts of the people (4 Ne. 1:15)
Having "all things in common" does not just refer to money. What else can we share? What are the most important things to have "in common"?
And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.
(4 Nephi 1:3)
Whatever this "heavenly gift" was, it was bestowed upon the people because they "were all made free."
After a few generations the Church broke up ("it's not you, it's me"). Why? How could they apostatize from the love of God and heavenly gift?
There began to be among them those who were lifted up in pride.
They began to be divided in classes; and they began to build up churches unto themselves to get gain.
Yea, there were many churches which professed to know the Christ, and yet they did deny the more parts of his gospel.
(4 Nephi 1:27)
So how do hierarchies contribute towards apostasy? How do they enable pride, class division, the accumulation of wealth, and the dilution of the pure gospel?
Excuse Me, Mr. Webster
I am going to try to define "apostasy."
I suggest the most common form of apostasy is the the gradual creep towards legalism as those "in charge" solidify their brand of orthodoxy and reject those who are heterodox. In order to maintain their status, they embellish some things and erase other things to shape a desired narrative.
Think of the Pharisees. They were Moses's star pupils! Or were they? They viewed themselves as law-abiding Jews, but in reality they twisted Moses's law to serve their needs and were filled with envy (see Matt. 27:18).
Pure religion sinks under the weight of the traditions of men.
Brother Rohr, Glad You Could Join Us
Franciscan friar Richard Rohr is a remarkable teacher. He started the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico in the 1980s, with the vision that we could stand in "a middle place, at the center of the cross, where opposites are held together."
Without Jesus I would have no authoritative place to stand either in reference to church or culture.
This discernment is made harder by the fact that the actual Jesus agenda does not tend to be the same agenda that is emphasized in the Christian churches.
Zealots want to change, fix, control and reform other people and events. The zealot is always looking for evil, the political sinner, the unjust one, the oppressor, the bad person over there.
But their tactics and motives are often filled with self, power, control and the same righteousness they hate in [others].
I have come to mistrust almost all righteous indignation and moral outrage. In my experience, it is hardly ever from God.
(Richard Rohr, 1st and 3rd Core Principles of CAC)
Checks and Balances
Originally the priesthood was designed with checks and balances, not unlike those developed by the Framers of the United States Constitution who created an executive, legislative and judicial branch that shared power. No branch was to exercise power independently. For example, judges have to uphold the laws passed by the legislature; the executive can veto congress; but congress can override a veto.
The principle behind checks and balances was to ensure that power is never vested in only a few people. The idea was to spread power out as wide as possible and require the separate branches to keep each other in line. Checks and balances are essential for maintaining equality and freedom.
What were the checks and balances in the priesthood organization?
1. The Twelve Apostles were to be "equal in authority and power to the three presidents" (D&C 107:24); 2. The Seventy were to be "equal in authority to that of the Twelve" (D&C 107:26); 3. The Standing High Councils were to be "equal in authority in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the quorum of the presidency, or the [Twelve]" (D&C 107:36); 4. The high council in Zion was to be "equal in authority in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the council of the Twelve" (D&C 107:37). 5. The various quorums were to make decisions "by the unanimous voice of the same" (D&C 107:27). 6. All things were to be done "by common consent in the church" (D&C 26:2).
In the United States we have three separate branches; the priesthood was intended to have six separate coequal bodies. That's right, six.
How many are left?
Exhibit C: Efficiency and Productivity
The Devil's Advocate Continues:
A status system maximizes labor and efficiency.
Devil's Advocate: Don't you have anything to say?
Tim: No. I agree.
Devil's Advocate: About time.
Was the purpose of Christ's gospel to make us higher-achievers, better producers, or more efficient?
Devil's Advocate: Hey! You said . . .
Tim: Tricked you, didn't I? Okay, tell you what Devil, sir. I'll save this for next time.
Welcome back to our discussion of the social framework for establishing Zion's laws on earth.
Freedom vs. Equality
The great paradox of Zion that makes the whole endeavor seem impossible is to be both equal and free.
Is the following statement true or false? Please take your time.
For freedom and equality are sworn and everlasting enemies, and when one prevails the other dies.
(Will Durant, The Lessons of History, Simon and Schuster: New York, 1968, p. 20)
I see wisdom in this statement. If a system compels equality, then personal initiative is suppressed because men and women are not free to profit from their abilities. But if you allow people to do whatever they want under laissez-faire, then inequality runs wild.
Where I Choose Sides
If you had to choose between freedom and equality, which would you choose?
It's an easy choice for me: freedom.
After all, who actually believes any -ism creates "equality"? History has shown there is just an endless revolving door of people struggling to be king of the hill.
Was Tsarist Russia under the Romanovs better or worse than under Lenin? Would you prefer Marie Antoinette or Robespierre? General Mao became "the people's ruler" of China and brought Marxist-Lenin communism to the masses, ending the Qing dynasty and a 2,000 year old empire - but let's not forget he killed tens of millions of people on his climb to the top. It should tell us something that there is a Wikipedia page devoted to "Mass Killings Under Communist Regimes."
Has religious factionalism fared any better in creating equality? Martin Luther left the Roman Catholic Church and formed basically the same church. Episcopalian? Ditto. Greek Orthodox or Gnostic? Latter-Day Saint or Methodist or Baptist or Universalist or Calvinism or Arminianism?
Did any of these result in equality between its members?
Hmm. No. Why not?
Isn't it funny that despite all the differences between these -isms they all operate on basically the same principles of hierarchy? Lord and serf; priest and parishioner; Party Chairman and proletariat; principal and pupil; admiral and ensign; Pope and deacon; aristocracy and servant; CEO and laborer; King and commoner . . . always the same no matter the system.
Since none of these -isms has produced equality, why should we sacrifice freedom for an illusion?
Does the United States Have a Hierarchy?
That was a rhetorical question. Of course the United States has a hierarchy.
"Status systems must always exist….The only possible choice for Americans is not between their status system and a perfect system of equality but between their kind of hierarchy and some other." W. Lloyd Warner, American Life: Dream and Reality, rev. ed. (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1962), pp. 127, 129.
“Yet for all the undeniable singularity of American history, the evidence is abundant that classes, class lines, and distinctions of status do exist and have always existed here, as elsewhere in the modern world.”Edward Pessen, “Status and Social Class in America,” in Luther S. Luedtke, ed. Making America: The Society and Culture of the United States (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Information Agency  1988), p. 270.
I love the noble ideals upon which this nation was founded. It began with the belief that:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
(Declaration of Independence)
We haven't lived up to those ideals yet.
A Tree and a Skyscraper
I want us to visualize something from Lehi's Dream. Picture the Tree of Life. Imagine the way the people gather underneath its branches. Do they stand in a queue? Or do they form a circle around its trunk as they all reach for the precious fruit. Isn't it interesting that a tree represents the love of God (1 Nephi 11:22).
Now contrast that with the Great and Spacious Building. What should we learn from the fact that a building represents the pride of the world (1 Nephi 12:18)? This skyscraper symbolizes the vanity of mankind, a structure built without a foundation. It "stood as it were in the air, high above the earth."
Could the Great and Spacious Building, with all of its levels and penthouses and corner offices, symbolize the foolishness of organizing God's children into worldly ranks?
Does Zion Have a Status System?
Question: Why does the Lord always remove Zion from the earth? Why not leave them here?
Ah ha! The rubber meets the road at last.
Let's investigate the status system among Enoch's people and Melchizedek's people.
We don't know much from the Old Testament about Enoch. It says: "And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him" (Genesis 5:24). In the New Testament we learn that Enoch was "translated that he should not see death" (Hebrews 11:5) and also that he had the gift of prophecy (Jude 1:14).
I own a translation of The Book of Enoch (I Enoch manuscript). By way of background, there are three different books of Enoch. In 1773 a man named James Bruce was exploring around the Nile and discovered some manuscripts which are called I Enoch, or the Ethiopic texts. There is also another manuscript called II Enoch, or the Secrets of Enoch, in Old Slavonic. And finally there is III Enoch, which are texts in Greek. You will also find fragments in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
What's fascinating is that the New Testament quotes these apocryphal writings at least 128 times!
In one of my favorite passages, the angel Michael escorts Enoch through a vision that includes the Tree of Life, similar to what Nephi records in 1 Nephi 11 (check out 1 Nephi 11:8-11).
And amongst [the trees] was a tree such as I had never yet smelt, neither was any amongst them like it: it had a fragrance beyond all fragrance, and its leaves and blooms and wood do not wither for ever: and its fruit is beautiful, and its fruit resembles the dates of a palm.
Then I said: How beautiful is this tree, and fragrant, and its leaves are fair, and its blooms delightful.
And Michael said unto me: Enoch, why dost thou ask me regarding the fragrance of the tree, and why dost thou wish to learn the truth?
Then I answered him, saying, I wish to know about everything, but especially about this tree.
And he said, Its fruit shall be food to the elect: it shall be transplanted to the holy place to the temple of the Lord. (The Book of Enoch the Prophet, translated by R.H. Charles, Weiser Books: Boston, 2003, p. 21-22, edited for clarity)
Like Enoch, I'd like to know about everything, but especially about this tree, because it represents God's love.
Pull the Fire Alarm
Well, we know one thing: we cannot partake of the Tree's fruit while standing in the Great and Spacious Building.
Lehi wasn't able to pluck the fruit and share it with his family: they had to come and partake themselves. He couldn't throw a couple of figs towards Laman and Lemuel: like the virgins' oil, the fruit cannot be shared. Or sold.
There's just no supply chain for harvesting its fruit and applying an attractive wax to make it shine and for wrapping it in cellophane and packaging that lists the calories and sugar content and for selling it for a handsome markup in the G&S Bistro.
Pull the fire alarm, someone! Let's get out of this "Building" before it's too late.
And it fell, and the fall thereof was exceedingly great.
(1 Nephi 11:36)
So let's summarize what we know about Enoch:
1. He walked with God; 2. He was a "preacher of righteousness" (Moses 6:23); 3. He called upon "all men, everywhere, to repent"; 4. He taught faith unto the children of men; 5. He was slow of speech (Moses 6:31); 6. "All the people hate me," he said; 7. He was viewed as a "wild man" (Moses 6:38); 8. He built a "City of Holiness, even Zion" (Moses 7:19); 9. He entered into the Enochian Covenant with God.
Doesn't sound like Enoch was the kind of guy who would have done well climbing the corporate ladder in the G&S Building.
Enoch recorded these words of Michael, who described the residents of the G&S:
And God shall put down the countenance of the strong, and fill them with shame. And darkness shall be their dwelling.
These are they who judge the stars of heaven, And their power rests upon their riches, And their faith is in the gods which they have made with their hands, And they persecute the houses of His congregations, And the faithful who hang upon the name of the Lord.
(The Book of Enoch the Prophet, translated by R.H. Charles, p. 37)
What use for gold and silver did Enoch have, seeing as he was taken from the earth into the bosom of God?
You know, maybe I've been wrong all this time. After all, Melchizedek was a king!
Melchizedek was a king over the land Salem; and his people had waxed strong in iniquity and abomination; yea, they had all gone astray.
But Melchizedek having exercised mighty faith, and received the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God, did preach repentance unto his people.
And they did repent; and Melchizedek did establish peace in the land in his days; therefore he was called the prince of peace, for he was the king of Salem; and he did reign under his father.
So maybe there is a hierarchy in Zion. But let's double check. You know, measure twice, cut once.
Top Ten List
I think we need to "peer review" Melchizedek's kingship with another king. Let's use King Benjamin.
What does it mean to be a king in the "holy order of God"? What does it mean to "rule and reign" in the kingdom of heaven? How does a "prince" establish peace and righteousness?
Here's a checklist for aspiring "kings":
1. Teach your people "in the language of your fathers" (Mosiah 1:2), to "read and understand the Lord's mysteries, and have his commandments always before our eyes" (Mosiah 1:5).
2. Teach your people from the temple of God (Mosiah 2:7) to "keep the commandments of God, that they may prosper in the land" (Mosiah 1:7).
3. Teach your people that a king is no better than his people, for "I am like as yourselves, subject to all manner of infirmities in body and mind; yet I have been chosen by this people and suffered by the hand of the Lord that I should be a ruler and a king over this people" (Mosiah 2:11).
4. A king does not seek "gold nor silver nor any manner of riches" from his people (Mosiah 2:12).
5. A king "labor[s] with [his] own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be laden with taxes" (Mosiah 2:14).
6. A king does not permit his people to "be confined in dungeons, nor that ye should make slaves one of another" (Mosiah 2:13).
7. A king communes with angels (Mosiah 3:2).
8. A king views his people as family, as "friends and brethren, my kindred" (Mosiah 4:4).
9. A king "succors those that stand in need of succor" (Mosiah 4:16).
10. A king facilitates the covenant between God and his people (Mosiah 5:6-8).
Now that we have established a baseline for righteous kingship, select which crown is more appropriate for a king in Zion:
To-may-to or To-mah-to?
Unlike gentile kings, a prince of peace does not "exercise Lordship" over others. Christ showed us a righteous king is more like . . . a teacher.
Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God.
Remember what the Lord told Nephi?
Thou shalt be made a ruler and a teacher over they brethren.
(1 Nephi 2:22)
Now let's see if this is true of Melchizedek as well. We know he was a king of Salem as well as a high priest.
And thus being called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest.
Benjamin understood his role as king, calling his people to the temple to
declare unto you that I can no longer be your teacher, nor your king.
To rule means to teach. Kings are teachers and mentors.
Why No Tea Parties in Zion?
Guess the reaction of a people when they have this kind of ruler, or teacher, or king? Benjamin's people gave
thanks to the Lord their God, who had appointed just men to be their teachers, and also a just man to be their king, who had established peace in the land of Zarahemla, and who had taught them to keep the commandments of God, that they might rejoice and be filled with love towards God and all men.
Where can we find true kings, true teachers, true messengers to come from God? Like Mosiah II, who was a king such as Melchizedek. This describes the the status system he created:
And the people exceedingly rejoiced because of the liberty which had been granted unto them.
And they did wax strong in love towards Mosiah; yea, they did esteem him more than any other man; for they did not look upon him as a tyrant who was seeking for gain, yea, for that lucre which doth corrupt the soul; for he had not exacted riches of them, neither had he delighted in the shedding of blood; but he had established peace in the land, and he had granted unto his people that they should be delivered from all manner of bondage; therefore they did esteem him, yea, exceedingly, beyond measure.
Where was the division, discord, oppression, burdensome taxes or control? Instead we see persuasion, love, sacrifice, and deliverance from "all manner" of bondage.
And what is bondage?
A status system? A hierarchy?
And the whole world lieth in sin, and groaneth under darkness and under the bondage of sin.
And by this you may know they are under the bondage of sin, because they come not unto me.
For whoso cometh not unto me is under the bondage of sin.
And whoso receiveth not my voice is not acquainted with my voice, and is not of me.
And by this you may know the righteous from the wicked, and that the whole world groaneth under sin and darkness even now.
What keeps a person from coming unto Christ? What keeps a person from receiving His voice?
What is it about the structure of a status system that makes it harder for us to hear His voice?
You'll recall this series, Stewards of Grace, is about economic disparity among believers and its impediment to Zion. So keep that in mind as we talk about a few concepts first.
Where I Rewrite Scripture
It seems like it would be easy to be "one" with our family, when in fact they are some of the most difficult people to love. Talk about "diamonds in the rough."
Isn't it easier to love from afar, at arms length, rather than cheek to cheek? Proximity reveals our imperfections as a jeweler's loupe.
For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall be take care of the church of God?
(1 Timothy 3:5)
You know my feelings about the word "rule". So if you don't mind I will change it. Do not worry about "wresting" the scriptures: I am simply going to look for a more accurate translation (remember, Article of Faith 8, and all).
English Standard Version (Formal Equivalence)
For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care for God's church?
New International Version (Dynamic Equivalence)
If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?
Hmm. "Manage" is a little better, but it still seems . . . businesslike. So I guess I'll have to take a stab at this after all. Here we go:
Tim's English Version (Formal Dunce Equivalence)
For if a man does not know how to preside in his family, how can he be a blessing to God's people?
Before you reach for pitchforks, I must admit I am indebted to Spencer W. Kimball (who will always be my spirit animal, or prophet, or whatever; I miss him) for helping me with my translation.
When referring to God giving Adam the right to "rule" over Eve, President Kimball said:
I would prefer to use the word preside because that's what he does. A righteous husband presides over his wife and family.
(Ensign, March 1976, p. 72)
(Spencer and Camilla Kimball, courtesy of Church Archives)
Preside or Patricide?
What does "presiding" really mean?
Let's use God as our example. "Presiding" entitles a person to:
1. Love and cherish their children; 2. Nurture and care for their needs; 3. Teach them correct principles; 4. Provide tender correction; 5. Sacrifice for their good; 6. Honor their agency and desires; 7. Inspire them with faith and hope; 8. Fight the devil for their souls; 9. Lead by righteous example; 10. Provide them opportunities to grow; 11. Introduce them to new experiences; 12. Help them thrive and live their best lives; 13. Listen -- really listen with all our heart; 14. Stand with them in sorrow and heartbreak; 15. Comfort and calm their fears; 16. Glory in their successes; 17. See the very best in them; 18. Make intercession on their behalf.
Since when did "presiding" mean "being in charge"? Because isn't the Lord already in charge? Earthly fathers and priests are merely in loco parentis. (Usually more "loco" than "parentis".)
Remember what I said about bishops in a previous post, Teach Us Thy Statutes, Thy Law: Part II? Now I am going to change "bishop" to "husband or father":
If I expect you to do something and obey my counsel because I am your [husband or father], rather than because my counsel is light, and truth, and spirit, even the spirit of Jesus Christ, then I am practicing [unrighteous dominion].
But it gets worse: if I expect you to do something and obey my counsel because I am your [husband or father], and in fact my counsel is notlight, and nottruth, and notspirit, even the spirit of Jesus Christ, then I am acting in the spirit of Anti-Christ.
What's good for the Goose is good for the Gander. Love does not morph into different shapes or mean different things based on where we are, or with whom.
A Word About "Equivocation"
In philosophy, the concept of "equivocation" means we use the same name to describe different things. This is a problem because the speaker intends a certain meaning while his listener interprets it to mean something else. It causes a lot of confusion, and has led to many debates in Sunday School.
I can't think of a word in the English language more susceptible to equivocation than "love." How so?
1. I love you. 2. I love the weekend. 3. I love chocolate cake. 4. I love it when she makes me laugh. 5. I love how the sun warms my skin. 6. Love means never having to say you're sorry. 7. Charity is the pure love of Christ.
Well, we're using the same word, but do we really love our children the same as we love chocolate cake? (Don't answer that.)
This is why the Greek philosophers created special words to distinguish the different kinds of "love."
The Four Loves
First, there's romantic love, or Eros -- the "love" that makes Madison Avenue marketers into millionaires.
Second, there's brotherly love, or Philia.
Third, there's the love we have for our family, or Storge. Think of a mother's love for her children.
Finally, there's charity, or Agape, which is God's love, which is a universal love.
What Love is Love, But God's?
When I say "love," I usually mean charity, or agape. This is the highest form of love because it is unconditional . . . OH NO. I said it. Now I've stepped in it.
Is God's Love Unconditional?
As I Was Saying . . .
In order to "preside" we need to have charity, or agape, because . . . what was that? You think there's no such thing as unconditional love?
God's Love Is Not Unconditional
*sigh* Do we really have to do this?
Fine. I hope everyone is feeling Philia. I am going to grab a Coke, and then this is happening.
I'm back. I love Coke Orange Vanilla.
Charity is Covenantal Love, or in other words, Some Reflections on the Holy Spirit of Promise
When a couple gets married, they make certain covenants, or promises, to each other. Covenants and love are mutually self-reinforcing. I mean by that we enter into covenants with those we love, and those covenants operate to magnify our love -- both our love and our partner's.
Think of it as taking my love (oxygen) and your love (hydrogen) and bonding them into one molecule, H2O.
See how my love takes on a new aspect when it is combined with yours? Our love, together, becomes something that neither of us "has" on our own. (I do not take credit for this analogy; I am indebted to the brilliance of Blake Ostler).
But just because we have mixed two different loves together, like green and blue, doesn't mean we're going to get a something better. Often taking two impure loves creates a toxic sludge. (For now, just consider how needy and selfish our "love" can be).
But I want to focus on the creative faculty of love: creating something new and unique.
What we need to understand is that love is dynamic: it grows and evolves as those in the covenant grow and evolve, until they obtain "pure love", which in turn purifies them.
Just as Oxygen and Hydrogen combine into something more (Water), so are we transformed when we enter into a covenant with Christ. We witness it everywhere. An egg needs a sperm; chromosomes require two base pairs. Love is literally written into our DNA.
This is one of my favorite symbols of Baptism: it is the the gate we pass through to become a New Creature. This is not some hocus-pocus, metaphysical thing.
Love: Things As They Truly Are
Think of love as being an element, like nickel or phosphorus, but spiritually refined. A pure element that is woven into the fabric of reality.
1. Einstein showed that matter and energy are two sides of the same coin. 2. Energy, or matter, cannot be destroyed; it can only be altered or transformed. 4. Molecules "stick" together through a force of attraction we call "cohesion." 5. Cohesion is an intrinsic property of matter and refers to the attraction of molecules for other molecules of the same kind.
For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence;
wisdom receiveth wisdom;
truth embraceth truth;
virtue loveth virtue;
light cleaveth unto light;
mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own;
justice continueth its course and claimeth its own.
If we pretend love is a kind of energy, where does it come from? Most energy is created by heat, light, motion, electricity, chemical reactions and gravity. Energy can take the form of (1) potential energy or (2) kinetic energy.
The electrostatic force, for example, binds atoms together. That's useful.
Coulomb's law was formulated by an 18th Century French physicist, who discovered F ∝ q1q2/r2. I have no idea what that means, but according to Wikipedia it describes the force between a positively charged atomic nucleus and each of the negatively charged electrons in an atom. This is the force that binds atoms together to form molecules.
Now imagine you want to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of your children. Philosophers describe a phenomenon called "emergence" which is when something has properties that its parts do not have on their own. These properties or behaviors emerge only when the parts interact with something else.
What energy, or force, could create cohesion between us and Christ, making us "stick", or be sealed, together?
And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.
Since we're having fun today with alternative translations:
And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Christ's love causes "emergence." This power is the essence of the new and everlasting covenant, which spans our baptism (or rebirth) all the way to resurrection (or rebirth).
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son [this means: those who truly love his Son], Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.
If we want to become one with Them, we have to love as They do. The scriptures refer to all of this as "sanctification."
What does all this have to do with the question, "Is love unconditional?"
I think of it like this: love is the initiation and the covenant is the sealing; but thereafter love transforms the parties to it and thereby the nature of the covenant; and thus the covenant becomes the initiation and love becomes the sealing. I view the culmination of the latter process as "the Holy Spirit of Promise."
Because of the laws of agency and consent, God cannot force two people to remain together forever: it remains their choice.
The Holy Spirit of Promise seals the bond between a man and a woman by virtue of their love, which was, and is, and always will be the very Spirit of Christ, who is pure love ("God is Love"), and is the way we become connected to the True Vine.
He loveth those who will have him to be their God. Behold, he loved our fathers, and he covenanted with them, yea, even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and he remembered the covenants which he had made.
Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one.
(1 Nephi 17:40, 35)
Can a party to a covenant break their promise?
Can God break His promise?
Even if God cannot break his word on his end, we can choose to place many, many conditions on our love, can't we?
Thus the covenant is conditional, but only because we are free to either honor it or not honor it.
God (love) x (promise) x (unconditional) ÷ Our (love) x (promise) x (conditional) = covenant (conditional)
So when people say God's love is not unconditional, I think what they really mean is, "God does not have to honor the covenant if we break it."
Or we could say: when we are not faithful to a covenant, God is not bound to grant us the blessings associated therewith ("blessings are conditional").
Bringing Out the Big Guns
Here is the scripture most commonly used to show that God's love is conditional:
If ye keep not my commandments, the love of the Father shall not continue with you, therefore you shall walk in darkness.
So many interesting things going on in this revelation. First, the Lord says that the absence of love results in darkness. It is almost like he is using "light" and "love" interchangeably. But notice what it does not say: it does not say "my love shall not continue with you" but "the love of the Father shall not continue with you." Is that significant?
Let's put this in context. Section 95 was given in 1833 and involved the commandment to build the temple.
We're not talking about "commandments" in a general sense. The Lord is referring to one specific commandment: "the great commandment in all things, that I have given unto you concerning the building of mine house" (D&C 95:3).
I gave unto you a commandment that you should build a house, in the which house I design to endow those whom I have chosen with power from on high.
Recall that love, like light, exhibits both particle and wave properties. I want to point out a logical inference. This revelation is saying that the Father's love requires a House to be fully manifested on earth. To be "endowed" with power requires, or is a consequence of, the Father's love continuing with us.
Shocker. This revelation is not talking about whether God loves the sinner (we already knew he does). Instead, it is making an explicit connection between love, the Father, light, and a House.
They who are not chosen have sinned a very grievous sin, in that they are walking in darkness at noon-day.
Oh, so now we see what's going on. The "very grievous sin" ischoosing to walk "in darkness at noon-day."
What does it mean to choose to walk in darkness?
Getting Dark Early
If the sun sitting at the center of our solar system is always there, constantly shining, why would we not see its light at noon-day?
Simple: we go down to the basement, close the shutters, turn off the lights, take off our shirt, sit in the abject darkness, open a kilo of dark chocolates, and eat them until we feel sick.
Imagine the way that sticky melted chocolate drips from your mouth onto your chest, and after you try wiping it off with your hands, you spread the chocolate through your hair as you grip your head, reveling in self-loathing, hating your weakness, this pathetic life you're living filled with misery, and you scream into the void, "Curse you!" not sure who you're even cursing, but knowing God could never love you, not like this, not here . . . maybe not ever.
Okay, that was a bit dark. But imagine a light growing next to you, faintly at first, but as you turn towards it the light warms you, and there you sense a presence, and it is Christ. You weep, but this time the tears are not bitter because they are filled with hope: hope you can change, that you can climb those stairs and face whatever is at the top.
Hope that you can endure. All. Things.
What I want to point out is that Christ does not want us to "clean ourselves up" before we come unto Him. He wants us now, this minute, as we are, warts and all.
Because it is his job (his!) to clean us up. We cannot cleanse ourselves. But Christ takes a bowl filled with our tears, and I mean His and ours, and uses them to wash us from head to toe.
After Christ washes us, he presents us clean before the Father. The only reason we have strength to make it there at all is because of Christ's perfect, pure, and unfailing love.