Friday, February 22, 2008

The Testimonies of Others

Edward Richard Kwabena Dwemoh in Ghana shares his testimony and conversion story in the Accra Daily Mail of Ghana: Why I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

Radio and television personality Glenn Beck shares his conversation story below:

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Are Mormons Christians?

In the current political climate, many questioning whether members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also referred to as the Mormons, are Christians. One of Jesus Christ's twelve apostles on the Earth today, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland recently addressed this issue during the Saturday afternoon session of General Conference this past October. You may watch here, listen here, or read it here and below.

The Only True God and Jesus Christ Whom He Hath Sent

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

We declare it is self-evident from the scriptures that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are separate persons, three divine beings.

Elder Jeffrey R. HollandAs Elder Ballard noted earlier in this session, various crosscurrents of our times have brought increasing public attention to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Lord told the ancients this latter-day work would be “a marvellous work and a wonder,”1 and it is. But even as we invite one and all to examine closely the marvel of it, there is one thing we would not like anyone to wonder about—that is whether or not we are “Christians.”

By and large any controversy in this matter has swirled around two doctrinal issues—our view of the Godhead and our belief in the principle of continuing revelation leading to an open scriptural canon. In addressing this we do not need to be apologists for our faith, but we would like not to be misunderstood. So with a desire to increase understanding and unequivocally declare our Christianity, I speak today on the first of those two doctrinal issues just mentioned.

Our first and foremost article of faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is “We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.”2 We believe these three divine persons constituting a single Godhead are united in purpose, in manner, in testimony, in mission. We believe Them to be filled with the same godly sense of mercy and love, justice and grace, patience, forgiveness, and redemption. I think it is accurate to say we believe They are one in every significant and eternal aspect imaginable except believing Them to be three persons combined in one substance, a Trinitarian notion never set forth in the scriptures because it is not true.

Indeed no less a source than the stalwart Harper’s Bible Dictionary records that “the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the [New Testament].”3

So any criticism that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not hold the contemporary Christian view of God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost is not a comment about our commitment to Christ but rather a recognition (accurate, I might add) that our view of the Godhead breaks with post–New Testament Christian history and returns to the doctrine taught by Jesus Himself. Now, a word about that post–New Testament history might be helpful.

In the year A.D. 325 the Roman emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea to address—among other things—the growing issue of God’s alleged “trinity in unity.” What emerged from the heated contentions of churchmen, philosophers, and ecclesiastical dignitaries came to be known (after another 125 years and three more major councils)4 as the Nicene Creed, with later reformulations such as the Athanasian Creed. These various evolutions and iterations of creeds—and others to come over the centuries—declared the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to be abstract, absolute, transcendent, immanent, consubstantial, coeternal, and unknowable, without body, parts, or passions and dwelling outside space and time. In such creeds all three members are separate persons, but they are a single being, the oft-noted “mystery of the trinity.” They are three distinct persons, yet not three Gods but one. All three persons are incomprehensible, yet it is one God who is incomprehensible.

We agree with our critics on at least that point—that such a formulation for divinity is truly incomprehensible. With such a confusing definition of God being imposed upon the church, little wonder that a fourth-century monk cried out, “Woe is me! They have taken my God away from me, . . . and I know not whom to adore or to address.”5 How are we to trust, love, worship, to say nothing of strive to be like, One who is incomprehensible and unknowable? What of Jesus’s prayer to His Father in Heaven that “this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent”?6

It is not our purpose to demean any person’s belief nor the doctrine of any religion. We extend to all the same respect for their doctrine that we are asking for ours. (That, too, is an article of our faith.) But if one says we are not Christians because we do not hold a fourth- or fifth-century view of the Godhead, then what of those first Christian Saints, many of whom were eyewitnesses of the living Christ, who did not hold such a view either?7

We declare it is self-evident from the scriptures that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are separate persons, three divine beings, noting such unequivocal illustrations as the Savior’s great Intercessory Prayer just mentioned, His baptism at the hands of John, the experience on the Mount of Transfiguration, and the martyrdom of Stephen—to name just four.

With these New Testament sources and more8 ringing in our ears, it may be redundant to ask what Jesus meant when He said, “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do.”9 On another occasion He said, “I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.”10 Of His antagonists He said, “[They have] . . . seen and hated both me and my Father.”11 And there is, of course, that always deferential subordination to His Father that had Jesus say, “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.”12 “My father is greater than I.”13

To whom was Jesus pleading so fervently all those years, including in such anguished cries as “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me”14 and “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me”?15 To acknowledge the scriptural evidence that otherwise perfectly united members of the Godhead are nevertheless separate and distinct beings is not to be guilty of polytheism; it is, rather, part of the great revelation Jesus came to deliver concerning the nature of divine beings. Perhaps the Apostle Paul said it best: “Christ Jesus . . . being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.”16

A related reason The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is excluded from the Christian category by some is because we believe, as did the ancient prophets and apostles, in an embodied—but certainly glorified—God.17 To those who criticize this scripturally based belief, I ask at least rhetorically: If the idea of an embodied God is repugnant, why are the central doctrines and singularly most distinguishing characteristics of all Christianity the Incarnation, the Atonement, and the physical Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ? If having a body is not only not needed but not desirable by Deity, why did the Redeemer of mankind redeem His body, redeeming it from the grasp of death and the grave, guaranteeing it would never again be separated from His spirit in time or eternity?18 Any who dismiss the concept of an embodied God dismiss both the mortal and the resurrected Christ. No one claiming to be a true Christian will want to do that.

Now, to anyone within the sound of my voice who has wondered regarding our Christianity, I bear this witness. I testify that Jesus Christ is the literal, living Son of our literal, living God. This Jesus is our Savior and Redeemer who, under the guidance of the Father, was the Creator of heaven and earth and all things that in them are. I bear witness that He was born of a virgin mother, that in His lifetime He performed mighty miracles observed by legions of His disciples and by His enemies as well. I testify that He had power over death because He was divine but that He willingly subjected Himself to death for our sake because for a period of time He was also mortal. I declare that in His willing submission to death He took upon Himself the sins of the world, paying an infinite price for every sorrow and sickness, every heartache and unhappiness from Adam to the end of the world. In doing so He conquered both the grave physically and hell spiritually and set the human family free. I bear witness that He was literally resurrected from the tomb and, after ascending to His Father to complete the process of that Resurrection, He appeared, repeatedly, to hundreds of disciples in the Old World and in the New. I know He is the Holy One of Israel, the Messiah who will one day come again in final glory, to reign on earth as Lord of lords and King of kings. I know that there is no other name given under heaven whereby a man can be saved and that only by relying wholly upon His merits, mercy, and everlasting grace19 can we gain eternal life.

My additional testimony regarding this resplendent doctrine is that in preparation for His millennial latter-day reign, Jesus has already come, more than once, in embodied majestic glory. In the spring of 1820, a 14-year-old boy, confused by many of these very doctrines that still confuse much of Christendom, went into a grove of trees to pray. In answer to that earnest prayer offered at such a tender age, the Father and the Son appeared as embodied, glorified beings to the boy prophet Joseph Smith. That day marked the beginning of the return of the true, New Testament gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and the restoration of other prophetic truths offered from Adam down to the present day.

I testify that my witness of these things is true and that the heavens are open to all who seek the same confirmation. Through the Holy Spirit of Truth, may we all know “the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [He has] sent.”20 Then may we live Their teachings and be true Christians in deed, as well as in word, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

1. Isaiah 29:14.
2. Articles of Faith 1:1.
3. Paul F. Achtemeier, ed. (1985), 1099; emphasis added.
4. Constantinople, A.D. 381; Ephesus, A.D. 431; Chalcedon, A.D. 451.
5. Quoted in Owen Chadwick, Western Asceticism (1958), 235.
6. John 17:3; emphasis added.
7. For a thorough discussion of this issue, see Stephen E. Robinson, Are Mormons Christian? 71–89; see also Robert Millet, Getting at the Truth (2004), 106–22.
8. See, for example, John 12:27–30; John 14:26; Romans 8:34; Hebrews 1:1–3.
9. John 5:19; see also John 14:10.
10. John 6:38.
11. John 15:24.
12. Matthew 19:17.
13. John 14:28.
14. Matthew 26:39.
15. Matthew 27:46.
16. Philippians 2:5–6.
17. See David L. Paulsen, “Early Christian Belief in a Corporeal Deity: Origen and Augustine as Reluctant Witnesses,” Harvard Theological Review, vol. 83, no. 2 (1990): 105–16; David L. Paulsen, “The Doctrine of Divine Embodiment: Restoration, Judeo-Christian, and Philosophical Perspectives,” BYU Studies, vol. 35, no. 4 (1996): 7–94; James L. Kugel, The God of Old: Inside the Lost World of the Bible (2003), xi–xii, 5–6, 104–6, 134–35; Clark Pinnock, Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness (2001), 33–34.
18. See Romans 6:9; Alma 11:45.
19. See 1 Nephi 10:6; 2 Nephi 2:8; 31:19; Moroni 6:4; Joseph Smith Translation, Romans 3:24.
20. John 17:3.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

If There is a God, Why Does He Let People Suffer?

I have heard many people question why a God, a merciful and loving being, would let his children suffer. If he is God, why would he not step in and stop all suffering, make all people healthy, wealthy, and equal in every way possible. By this same line of thinking, if God loves everyone the same, he certainly would make everyone equal,

Rather, because there is an all-knowing, all-loving, and wholly-merciful God, he does let us experience good and bad. He allows us to learn by letting us experience sweet and bitter, pleasure and pain, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty, equality and inequality, strength and weakness, knowledge and ignorance, love and hate, good and evil. Without experiencing opposing feelings or situations, would it be possible for us, the children of God to truly know the difference?

Lehi, an ancient prophet in The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ taught:

11 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first-born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

12 Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.

13 And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away. (2 Nephi 2:11 – 13)

So, without opposing forces in existence, the creating of the Earth and humankind would have been a waste of time, there would have been no reason for it to occur. Without sin there could not exist its diametric opposite, righteousness. What this all really means is if suffering or bad things did not exist there would not be a God. Why does God let bad things happen to good people? Because he is God, as the all-knowing being he knows the best way for us to have joy is by learning what is good as opposed to what is bad. Lehi also taught: “Men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). So God’s purpose is for us, his children, to have joy! But to have joy, we must learn what joy is, and the only way to learn what joy is is to experience the opposite of joy.

Elder Richard G. Scott, one of Jesus Christ’s Apostles on the Earth today said:

No one wants adversity. Trials, disappointments, sadness, and heartache come to us from two basically different sources. Those who transgress the laws of God will always have those challenges. The other reason for adversity is to accomplish the Lord’s own purposes in our life that we may receive the refinement that comes from testing. (Trust in the Lord, Ensign, Nov 1995, 16).

Adversity or suffering is certainly biblical. The Proverb says: “My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth (Proverbs 3:11 – 12 KJV). Elder Scott also commented on this verse saying

Just when all seems to be going right, challenges often come in multiple doses applied simultaneously. When those trials are not consequences of your disobedience, they are evidence that the Lord feels you are prepared to grow more. He therefore gives you experiences that stimulate growth, understanding, and compassion which polish you for your everlasting benefit. To get you from where you are to where He wants you to be requires a lot of stretching, and that generally entails discomfort and pain . . . Your Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son love you perfectly. They would not require you to experience a moment more of difficulty than is absolutely needed for your personal benefit or for that of those you love. (Trust in the Lord, Ensign, Nov 1995, 16).

It is clear from the words of this Apostles of Jesus Christ that experiences of bad things that happen to us are for our good, that God and Jesus Christ know exactly how much adversity we need in our lives to grow to our full potential and that is exactly what they bless us with.

What each of us chooses to do with our trials is up to us. We can choose to be bitter or choose to endure them well, learning from them. Often, what happens to me is I look back and learn even more, because as I gain more experience in life, I am able to better understand the impact and benefit particular trials have had on me and continue to have on me. I know that I have a Father in Heaven, who is God, who loves me and knows what is best for me. I know that Jesus Christ is his son, a separate being, who atoned for my sins and was resurrected so I can be forgiven of my sins and my body and spirit can be reunited again one day, so I can live in the eternities with God, Jesus Christ, and my family. I know this is true because the third distinct personage in the Godhead, the Holy Ghost has testified of it to me. I share this testimony in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Why I Believe in Christ, Part 1

I've noticed I probably get more hits to my post "My Favorite Hymn—I Believe in Christ" than anything else I've written on this blog. Yet all I did was post the lyrics. I think several of my next posts will describe exactly why I believe in Christ and why this hymn is true. First, let me start with the author, Bruce R. McConkie. Watch the two videos below. They are his final talk given to the general body of the church in April of 1985 entitled "The Purifying Power of Gethsemane". You may also read it here.

I feel the Holy Spirit testifying to me as Elder McConkie speaks that his words are true. This is the same Spirit I feel when I hear or read the words of the hymn "I Believe in Christ". I testify this is one of the many witnesses I have received that Jesus is the Christ. It is also one of the many witnesses I have received that Jesus Christ has apostles on the Earth today, that in the same pattern as Matthias was called to join the original 11 apostles after Judas had fallen in Acts 1:24-26 (KJV), new apostles are called today, the most recent being Elder Quentin L. Cook, who was called as an apostle of Jesus Christ in October 2007.

I know that Jesus Christ lives. I know he has special witnesses of his mission and divinity on this Earth today. They are his apostles, in the same mold as his apostles of old. I know Jesus Christ was literally resurrected, that he has a body of flesh and bones. I share this in his name, even Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

A New Prophet, Seer, and Revelator

I love how the next President of our church is chosen seamlessly, without politicking. It has been decided in this manner since the Lord reveled how the next President should be when Brigham Young succeed the Prophet of the restoration, Joseph Smith.

The new President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who has also been set apart as and is a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, is Thomas Spencer Monson. Just the other day I read something President Monson said in June of 2004 that is now written on the whiteboard in my office because of its business application: “When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates.”

I know this is a true principle. It applies to our own accountability in our church assignments. This principle applies in our personal lives. I have found I am more likely to exercise and lift weights when I measure and record exactly what I do each day. This principle applies to work. Transparency to others in one’s performance always leads to an improved performance.

I know Thomas S. Monson is called of God. I am thankful to have a living prophet who leads and guides this church, who clarifies doctrine in a confused world filled with the philosophies of men, and who receives revelation from God in my behalf and in behalf of over other inhabitant of this Earth. I know this is true because I have done as we are invited to do in James 1:5 (KJV) “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”

I have asked God. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. We do have living prophets on this Earth today. Thomas S. Monson is one of these prophets. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

An Apostle Teaches Us About Goal Setting

One of the of Jesus Christ’s modern day Twelve Apostles has taught us how to achieve significant results in our lives:

“I am so thoroughly convinced that if we don’t set goals in our life and learn how to master the techniques of living to reach our goals, we can reach a ripe old age and look back on our life only to see that we reached but a small part of our full potential. When one learns to master the principles of setting a goal, he will then be able to make a great difference in the results he attains in this life.”
-Elder M. Russell Ballard in a talk given to Salt Lake Area Young Adults, October 18, 1981.

I have learned in both the professional and personal spheres that goal setting is a vital key to success. We can proactively make goals in every aspect and sub-aspect of our lives that we want to stretch our abilities or results in. When I constantly push myself for more, I always achieve more. When I do not push myself, I always achieve much less. I testify that this is a true principle, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.