In this Series, "Give Heed to This Compass," we're discussing ways to increase our discernment to "hear" the word of Christ better, clearer, and more often.
One of the challenges we face is distinguishing the words of Christ amid the spaghetti soup of words we hear from various religious authorities.
When is a prophet speaking as a prophet, and when is he just shootin' the bull as a man (or woman)?
Part One.Gold and Silver Have I None.
Soon after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, two of his intrepid apostles, Peter and John, were at the temple when suddenly a pan handler interrupted their prayers (how rude!) and begged them for money.
The beggar, by the way, was crippled.
Now, if this encounter had taken place today at the Conference Center during General Conference, and a beggar approached one of the apostles as they exited the building, what would happen?
Choose One of the Following:
1. The beggar would be escorted away by security;
2. The apostle would reach into his wallet and place a $20 bill in the man's hand;
3. The apostle would ask the man's name in order to contact his bishop and get him some assistance;
4. The apostle would lay his hands upon the man's head and bless him to know how much God loves him.
Well, which option did you choose? Did you notice that I didn't even offer as a choice the thing that Peter actually did?
Then Peter said: Silver and gold have I none [Oh, come on! What kind of apostles are these, anyway? Poor and destitute? This story isn't very realistic, is it. Where is Peter's limitless company-issued black credit card?] but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth [Notice who gets credit. When we tell others to follow the prophet, are we giving the prophet more credit than Christ?] rise up and walk.
Peter grasped the man by the right hand and lifted him up.
The crippled man jumped for joy ― walking and leaping and praising . . . Peter?
The man praised God (Acts 3:8).
This Stuff Writes Itself
Earlier this week I read from the Church Newsroom an account of President Nelson's recent visit to the Saints in California.
The Church Newsroom reported that Elder Brent H. Nielson of the Presidency of the Seventy spoke at the conference "of the importance of following the counsel of prophets."
Then, lo-and-behold, Sister Wendy Nelson arose and ―according to the Church Newsroom ―"spoke of the importance of prophets."
What is going on here? Help me! Weren't we supposed to:
talk of Christ rejoice in Christ preach of Christ prophesy of Christ
When did my relationship with Christ need a personal trainer? When did middle-management step between me and my King? Why do we need mortal mediators when we already have a heavenly Mediator?
This doctrinal shift away from God and our personal connection to Him toward self-emasculation and leader-worship seems to have really gained steam after Elder Ezra Taft's Benson's talk "The Fourteen Fundamentals of Following the Prophet" (remember that one? the talk that gave President Spencer W. Kimball ― the actual prophet at the time ― quite the fit? In the greatest irony of all time, Elder Benson did not follow the prophet when he was asked to retire that line of thinking).
You see, religion teaches us that pleasing our leaders is to please God.
Nice sleight of hand, no?
Churches teach that in order to please God, we must do as we're told (as if God's pleasure depended on how many pairs of earrings we have).
"But Tim!" someone says, "Following the prophet is the same thing as following God because they speak for God."
I've said it before, and I'll say it again, and I'll keep saying it until I am served with a restraining order signed by a judge: It doesn't matter who's speaking; it only matters whose words are being spoken. Are they the words of Christ?
If yes, then we heed and hearken to the message, no matter whose lips are moving.
If no, then we may disregard the message, no matter whose lips are moving.
I wish I could go back in my time machine and rewrite this verse which has led to all kinds of foolishness:
What I the Lord have spoken, [who's speaking?] I have spoken [whose words are they?] and I excuse not myself. . . my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, [whose words are unfailing, true and unchanging?] whether by mine own voice [who's speaking?] or by the voice of my servants, [whose words are the servants speaking?] it is the same.
In other words, God's "servants" are not known by the office they hold; they are known by the words they speak.
The message, not the man, proves the messenger.
Part Two.We Cannot But Speak the Things Which We have Seen.
After the miraculous healing of the lame man, Peter and John made the Jewish rulers really mad.
You'd think these spiritual dignitaries would be happy for the poor lame guy who got healed, right?
The leaders were "grieved" with Peter and John for inviting people to follow Jesus Christ (as opposed to "follow Moses," or whatever). (See Acts 4:2.)
So what did the Jewish rulers, elders, and high priests do? They held a sort of "membership council" (is that what we're calling church courts now?) for Peter and John.
The leaders tried Peter and John for apostasy (to use modern vernacular).
Notice carefully what the leaders cared about:
By what power or by what name, [Ah, this is what is truly important: are we showing allegiance to the proper authority, and giving them the credit? That's the issue, isn't it? Are we respecting the order of things that they control?] have ye done this?
Let me point out the absurdity of this question:
The leaders didn't seem to care that the man was, in fact, healed by a great miracle; they only seemed to care whether the thing was done by the proper authority and name (i.e., theirs).
This reminds me of Abinadi's trial before King Noah.
We discover in the end that it is not about what we say, but how our words reflect on the powers-that-be (just ask John the Baptist) that counts.
King Noah said to Abinadi:
Abinadi, we have found an accusation against thee, and thou art worthy of death.
For thou hast said that God himself should come down among the children of men; and now, for this cause thou shalt be put to death [wait for it . . . ] unless thou wilt recall all the words which thou hast spoken evil concerning me.
Wait, what now?
Sure, Abinadi could have played nice. He could have agreed to take down his blog, or his podcast, or recant the truth he had preached in the name of God.
I say unto you, I will not recall the words which I have spoken unto you concerning this people, for they are true.
(Mosiah 17:9) That wasn't very smart, was it? I mean, it cost Abinadi his life.
(If only Abinadi had listened to the sage advice that "it’s wrong to criticize leaders of the Church, even if the criticism is true," he might have lived.)
Peter and John, too, could have played nice. They could have bowed the head and kissed the ring of Annas the high priest.
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of this people [these guys were large and in charge and had already killed Peter's boss] and elders of Israel, [he's talking to the religious elite of his day]
Be it known unto you all . . . that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified . . . [ouch, now things just got personal] even by Him doth this man stand here before you whole.
Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name [see, are we spending far too much time obsessing over middle initials when the only name that matters is Christ's?] under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
(Acts 4:8, 10, 12)
How did the ruling class respond? As we would expect them to react who are inured to priestcraft and unrighteous dominion:
Let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name.
And they [the leaders] called them, and commanded them [Peter and John] not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.
Peter's and John's response became an instant classic. Lots of bumper stickers could be seen on camels' backsides quoting them afterwards:
Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.
For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.
Well, I guess you can't silence those who know Christ, can you?
Do we know him? Are we witnessing of Christ . . .
. . . or of someone else?
What happened in 4 Nephi when the people's hearts became hardened?
And this church did . . . persecute the true church of Christ because of their humility and their belief in Christ.
(4 Nephi 1:28-29)
That's awful! Why would members of the Church persecute other members of the Church for their belief "in Christ?"
That doesn't make any sense, does it?
Let me add a line to the text to make my point:
And this church did . . . persecute the true church of Christ because of their humility and their belief in Christ for they did not manifest sufficient belief in their leaders.
(4 Nephi 1:28-29, Tim Edition)
What Did Jesus Say?
In this context, consider what Jesus said about those who, like Peter and John and Abinadi, were persecuted ― not by "bad people" but by their own religious community for following Christ:
Blessed are they which are persecuted [by their faith community] for righteousness’ sake: [who are cast out of their synagogues and churches for declaring Christ's word] for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
If obedience to our leaders is the sign of our faith, then why do we even need Christ?