Wednesday, July 23, 2014

By Their Fruits, By Our Fruits

We should weigh the claims of people based on the fruits they bear. "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them." (Matthew 7:20). In my definition of "people", I include myself as an individual. How do you respond if someone asks you what you believe? How would Jesus answer that question?

John sent disciples to Jesus to find out if he was really the Christ. It seems he was second-guessing his initial testament that Jesus was the one who would take upon himself the sins of the world. I know John was not exactly asking Jesus "what do you believe," but his answer is still useful to this line of thought.

19 ¶And John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to Jesus, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?
 20 When the men were come unto him, they said, John Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?
 21 And in that same hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight.
 22 Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached.
 23 And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus went about healing so many people? Or Peter after him? Mark tells us:

" 17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
 18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." (Mark 16:17-18)

Jesus not only taught "by their fruits," he lived it.

If you find yourself in the midst of people with less light and truth than you, how could you prove it to them? What is your go-to evidence of what you believe? How are you "ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:" (1 Peter 3:15) What do you say? What parts of your life do you invite them to "come and see"? Do you pull out your geneology chart? Do you recite how often you "go through the temple"? Do you casually mention how many hours a week you devote to "church service"? Do you explain how you are "not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican," how you "fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess." (Luke 18:12) Or in modern parlance, do you talk about how you don't smoke, drink, or look at porn, that you fast once a month and donate 10% of your income to the church? Is this what we find in advised in God's word? Will seekers of further light and truth respond to your example?

Suppose one of these seekers were to show up at an LDS meeting. They hear all about priesthood authority, but all they see is the same sort of ordinances done in other churches. They hear about priesthood power, but only hear examples of the forms, such as sister Jones weeping about how grateful she is that her husband could give her sick son a blessing, referring to an anointing without mentioning an actual healing. There is the announcement to remember brother Gaines in your prayers, as he is sick and dying, but no one is dispatched to raise him. Upon further investigation, they find that Utah has one of the highest porn usages in the US, the highest rate of antidepressant usage and addiction, there is extreme differences among living conditions within the membership of the LDS church, many members who have never read many parts of the scriptures and few who study them regularly. What would you conclude if you were this truth seeker? Particularly, what would you think if the amount of light and truth you already possessed had brought into your life the fulfillment of the signs promised "those who believe" which were not wholly apparent in your LDS visitation.

What are the promised fruits of living the gospel?
  • Healing
  • Miracles
  • Tongues
  • Prophesy
  • Visions
  • Hearing the voice of God
  • Beholding of angels
  • Visitation by Christ
  • Ushering into the presence of the Father
We see all of these among the saints anciently. Individually and institutionally, do you see those gifts?

What fruits were apparent among the saints of Joseph's day? Were not all of the above listed signs prominently present? They were. Did you know that in Joseph's day, the Elders plainly advertised their ability to produce the signs that follow them that believe?

"As in the early Christian era, Mormonism challenged the world to believe, and declared that the signs Christ promised would follow those who complied with the formula of faith. Missionaries like Orson Pratt preached continually on the need of the gifts of the Spirit, as manifestations of saving faith. While on a short mission in Michigan Territory, Joseph Smith declared, "If you will obey the Gospel with honest hearts, I promise you, in the name of the Lord, that the gifts as promised by our Saviour will follow you, and by this you may prove me to be a true servant of God." Here was a conversion tool that was utilized by many early missionaries." (Hyrum Andrus, "Joseph Smith's Idea of the Gospel")

This was a major source of conversion in those days. It was not that the generation was seeking for a sign, per se, as much as they were looking for the evidence of true messengers that the Lord had promised to provide.

Because those saints had the gifts of God, they were able to go about preaching the gospel the same way Jesus did. The LDS endowment (particularly the pre-1990s endowment) teaches that the differences between true messengers and sectarian ministers is that the former are given something from heaven to give to men. The latter cobble together scriptures and philosophies of men and offer them to others. False messengers do not have tokens; They do not have signs. They do not know the path to the Father, for they have not walked that path. They have very little to offer. They are the blind leading the blind. As it says in Alma 13, true messengers are people who "on account of their exceeding faith and repentance, and their righteousness before God" attained some level of glory with God, and now teach others how to obtain the same, " that the residue of men may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts, according to the power thereof; and after this manner bringeth to pass the Father, the covenants which he hath made unto the children of men." (Moroni 7:32) The early saints were able to prove they were true messengers with signs and tokens from heaven.
"Mormonism was a unique phenomenon for its day, and to receive this new gospel, peculiar people were raised up in widely scattered areas of America and Europe, most of whom had one thing in common. They placed unquestioned trust in God's Spirit and were seeking diligently for the living manifestations of its power. They were looking for a restoration of ancient Christianity in its purity; and here, they contended, was its most essential characteristic." (Hyrum Andrus, "Joseph Smith's Idea of the Gospel")
According to Andrus, the promise of immediate interaction with God's power was "a conversion tool that was utilized by many early missionaries." (Hyrum Andrus, "Joseph Smith's Idea of the Gospel") As an example of this, consider Joseph's comment to a crowd while on one of his missions:
 "If you will obey the Gospel with honest hearts, I promise you, in the name of the Lord, that the gifts as promised by our Saviour will follow you, and by this you may prove me to be a true servant of God." (Journal History, October 16, 1834)

What boldness! Could you picture yourself saying that to someone when they asked you what you believe, or asked what religion you were? Note the absence of claims of permission. There were evidences of power.

Compare that to modern "power". The following is from "Preach My Gospel" and explains a modern missionary's purpose:
You are surrounded by people. You pass them on the street, visit them in their homes, and travel among them. All of them are children of God, your brothers and sisters. God loves them just as He loves you. Many of these people are searching for purpose in life. They are concerned for their families. They need the sense of belonging that comes from the knowledge that they are children of God, members of His eternal family. They want to feel secure in a world of changing values. They want “peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come” (D&C 59:23), but they are “kept from the truth because they know not where to find it” (D&C 123:12).
The gospel of Jesus Christ as restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith will bless their families, meet their spiritual needs, and help them fulfill their deepest desires. Although they may not know why, they need relief from feelings of guilt that come from mistakes and sins. They need to experience the joy of redemption by receiving forgiveness of their sins and enjoying the gift of the Holy Ghost.
As an authorized representative of Jesus Christ, you can teach people with power and authority that “redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah,” and that no one “can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Nephi 2:6, 8). As people come to accept the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and receive the ordinances of baptism and confirmation by priesthood authority, they can be assured that they “are not cast off forever” (Book of Mormon, Title Page).
...
The message of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ blesses families. Because of the Restoration we understand God’s purpose for families...
On earth, family associations can be the source of some of our greatest joy. Satan is attacking the family on many fronts, and too many families are being destroyed by his efforts. The message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ makes it possible for families to be united now and in eternity. By living the principles of the gospel, families can experience peace, joy, and a sense of belonging and identity in this life. Through the light of the gospel, families can resolve misunderstandings, contentions, and challenges. Families torn by discord can be healed through repentance, forgiveness, and faith in the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. 
So, the power and knowledge necessary to be redeemed from the fall has been reduced to having happy families. What is the modern equivalent to early missionaries' credentials, which were that the power of God in the form of signs promised in the scriptures would immediately follow them that believe? Again, to "Preach My Gospel": "When you were set apart by priesthood authority, you received the right and privilege to represent the Lord. You received a ministerial certificate that verifies that authority to the world."

Early missionaries were called of God and that was manifested by the fact that the gifts of tongues, prophecy, healings, and baptism by fire followed them wherever they went.

Modern missionaries' evidence of being called of God is a paper certificate.

To be fair, PMG goes further and states: "In addition to authority, you are also to exercise power in your work. The authority that you have received can lead to power. Indeed, spiritual power is one evidence that your authority is real. Spiritual power is a gift that makes it possible for you to do your work more effectively." However, does it list the gifts of the Spirit as evidence of God's power? No.

"Your power and authority should be evident as you work and teach. Power may be manifest in many things you do, such as:

•Being led by the Spirit to say what the Lord would have you say at just the right moment.
•Receiving guidance about where to go or what to do.
•Having your testimony confirmed by the witness of the Spirit.
•Taking part in ordinances of salvation.
•Giving priesthood blessings if you are an elder.
•Praying with and for the people you work with.
•Expressing love for the Lord, your family, fellow missionaries, and the people you serve."

ALL of these "witnesses" are obtainable from any Christian sect. It is unclear why they should serve as proof that the Elders are called of God.

Note that expecting signs of God's power is not a bad thing. It is not only justifiable but expected that those who come claiming to be true messengers of God carry with them evidences of his power. Korihor did more than simply ask for a sign. He refused to see the evidences already given him. He wanted something extra. How do we know he has had signs? The principle doubt of Korihor is that there will be a Christ. Yet, he knows that others have received of the gifts given by Christ, because he says that they "see a remission of [their sins]. But, behold, it is the effect of a frenzied mind." (Alma 30:16). So we see that he had in fact been exposed to evidence that others' faith was yielding fruit, he simply chose to ignore it.

The Korihor story is nice to mention because it gives us an additional sign of a true messenger not mentioned above. Alma gave him the sign of receiving no earthly benefit for his ministry. This is the sign Alma gave Korihor to evidence that he was a true messenger (see Alma 30:32).

I have seen many who are dwindling in unbelief balk at the signs shown them given by true messengers. Like Korihor, they dismiss them as the "effect[s] of a frenzied mind." Why would you follow a spiritual leader who does not have spiritual experiences? Yet, they expect messengers to withhold their signs and tokens when asked for them, because they are "too sacred to share." The only scripture I know that cautions sharing spiritual signs and tokens simply states to use the guidance of the Holy Ghost. The timbre of that caution is set by the overwhelming train of God's word that warns us against burying our talent in the earth and otherwise neglecting to witness to others. How can you be a witness without bearing your witness? "I know...." how do you know? Peter did not say "ready always to tell the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:" he said to "tell the reason."

Note that rejecting true messengers despite their signs and tokens is nothing new. It happened to Jesus and all the true messengers that ever lived.

1 And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.
 2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
 3 Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
 4 I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.
 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
 6 When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay,
 7 And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.
 8 ¶The neighbours therefore, and they which before had seen him that he was blind, said, Is not this he that sat and begged?
 9 Some said, This is he: others said, He is like him: but he said, I am he.
 10 Therefore said they unto him, How were thine eyes opened?
 11 He answered and said, A man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed mine eyes, and said unto me, Go to the pool of Siloam, and wash: and I went and washed, and I received sight.
 12 Then said they unto him, Where is he? He said, I know not.
 13 ¶They brought to the Pharisees him that aforetime was blind.
 14 And it was the sabbath day when Jesus made the clay, and opened his eyes.
 15 Then again the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. He said unto them, He put clay upon mine eyes, and I washed, and do see.
 16 Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them.
 17 They say unto the blind man again, What sayest thou of him, that he hath opened thine eyes? He said, He is a prophet.
 18 But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind, and received his sight, until they called the parents of him that had received his sight.
 19 And they asked them, saying, Is this your son, who ye say was born blind? how then doth he now see?
 20 His parents answered them and said, We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind:
 21 But by what means he now seeth, we know not; or who hath opened his eyes, we know not: he is of age; ask him: he shall speak for himself.
 22 These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.
 23 Therefore said his parents, He is of age; ask him.
 24 Then again called they the man that was blind, and said unto him, Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner.
 25 He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.
 26 Then said they to him again, What did he to thee? how opened he thine eyes?
 27 He answered them, I have told you already, and ye did not hear: wherefore would ye hear it again? will ye also be his disciples?
 28 Then they reviled him, and said, Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses’ disciples.
 29 We know that God spake unto Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from whence he is.
 30 The man answered and said unto them, Why herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes.
 31 Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth.
 32 Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind.
 33 If this man were not of God, he could do nothing.
 34 They answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out. (John 9)

The leaders of the church in Jesus' day just couldn't accept Jesus as a true messenger. Jesus came among a very religious society. Though he had authority, he did not overthrow the Jewish church. He did not come from the Sanhedrin. He had no authority in the Jewish church. He had no credentials. If Jesus lived today instead of ~2,000 years ago, the equivalent would perhaps be a baptized member of the church without any calling of notice. Remember that he had nothing that would make him desirable.

Like the Pharisees, we are very tied to titles. Should we be? Is the worth of a message measured by the credentials of the messenger or the source of the message? In other words, what is worth more: The word of God from a no-name, or an opinion from a church president?

We should not be. The implicit (and, more and more, explicit) trust we put in titles is at odds with the fundamentals of our religion. For example, "It is our duty and calling, as ministers of the same salvation and Gospel, to gather every item of truth and reject every error. Whether a truth be found with professed infidels, or with the Universalists, or the Church of Rome, or the Methodists, the Church of England, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the Quakers, the Shakers, or any other of the various and numerous different sects and parties, all of whom have more or less truth, it is the business of the Elders of this Church (Jesus, their Elder Brother, being at their head) to gather up all the truths in the world pertaining to life and salvation, to the Gospel we preach, … to the sciences, and to philosophy, wherever it may be found in every nation, kindred, tongue, and people and bring it to Zion" (Brigham Young, DBY, 248).

I can imagine what would be said today if Jesus (or any other true messenger) were to come to us the same way he did in those days. As you read these accounts, try to imagine what the modern equivalent would be:

"40 Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, said, Of a truth this is the Prophet.
 41 Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee?
 42 Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?
 43 So there was a division among the people because of him.
 44 And some of them would have taken him; but no man laid hands on him.
 45 ¶Then came the officers to the chief priests and Pharisees; and they said unto them, Why have ye not brought him?
 46 The officers answered, Never man spake like this man.
 47 Then answered them the Pharisees, Are ye also deceived?
 48 Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him?
 49 But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed.
 50 Nicodemus saith unto them, (he that came to Jesus by night, being one of them,)
 51 Doth our law judge any man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?
 52 They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet." (John 7:40-52)

"1 And he went out from thence, and came into his own country; and his disciples follow him.
 2 And when the sabbath day was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, From whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given unto him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands?
 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.
 4 But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.
 5 And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them.
 6 And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching." (Mark 6:1-6)

"54 And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?
 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?
 56 And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?
 57 And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house." (Matthew 13:57)

What is the pattern we see here? Jesus delivers a message the Spirit gives him to deliver (the word of God). Some people discern that it is true ("of a truth this is a prophet!"). There is no shortage of people who recognize that there is something unique about this message ("from whence hath this man these things?" "what wisdom is this given unto him"). Yet, what is the predominant response? "Is not this the carpenter's son?" We know this guy. He's not of high birth, he is not a graduate of the Rabbinical schools. He's not in the Sanhedrin. He has no church authority. Don't you know the scriptures say nothing of people from Galilee?

What would the modern equivalent of these retorts be? You are not a general authority. You have no stewardship over us. Don't you know the scriptures say that only those recognized by the church have the authority to preach?

But note that, in both cases, the focus of the discernment is on the messenger, and not the message. We know that it is the Holy Ghost that tells us what is right and what is not. And the Holy Ghost had pricked the hearts of the hearers to recognize that there was truth in this man's message. His message was from God, but he was not received as a true messenger because the people focused on the outward signs and not the signals from God.

Note that among those in unbelief, knowing the messenger is a hindrance to accepting the message. "Oh, Jesus? Yeah, right, he's from my hometown. He is critical of the brethren. He's unorthodox. No way his message is from God." "Oh, Jesus? Yeah, right, he's in my Elder's Quorum. Always making crazy comments in class..." Isn't it funny that we assume that Jesus would have been obviously perfect from a distance to all who looked upon him? Do you think it is possible that those around him in his youth could have had no idea who he was and what experiences he was having with angels, revelation, etc. during that time? Did people who knew Joseph magically flock to him during the time of the First Vision? No, they didn't. Most of his acquaintances thought he was crazy.

Now you might be thinking, "Yeah, but that was Jesus. He didn't need earthly authority, because he was the son of God." I submit that the authority he had (direct authorization and direct revelation) has always been required for a true messenger. Let me elaborate.

Joseph taught that "a prophet [is] a prophet only when he [is] acting as such." There is no power in doctrine that does not come from God. Jesus himself cited that the power of his teaching and ministry was derived from direct instruction from heaven. The Father commanded him to say X, and he said X. The Father commanded him to do Y, and he did Y. Jesus, the son of God, did not go about doing whatever he wanted while God ratified and honored it because of Jesus' title/role. Jesus, the son of God, showed us the perfect example of moving ourselves to what God wants done in order to encounter the power of God. The power of God is not found outside of his word. Joseph understood that and was trying to teach it. If Joseph spoke his opinion, it was not God's word. It was only to be heeded when God told him to say it, in which case Joseph would make the mode of reception known: "If anything should have been suggested by us, or any names mentioned, except by commandment, or thus saith the Lord, we do not consider it binding..." (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 136)

We have proven here that if an office holder in the church speaks words that are not given him from God, they are not speaking as a prophet, and "we do not consider it binding." But what if a man from outside the hierarchy speaks words which God gave him? We have proven with the example of the Master that these words are just as binding as if they had been uttered by a man with church office, as Jesus had no church office, and his only authority was the source of his message---the Father. Additionally, we have the examples of Samuel the Lamanite, Alma Sr., John the Baptist, Lehi, and many others to whom God gave a message without first giving them earthly authority through a church. Lest you believe that this was only a thing of the past, I suggest you consider that our canonized scripture says otherwise:

11 Q. What are we to understand by sealing the one hundred and forty-four thousand, out of all the tribes of Israel twelve thousand out of every tribe?
A. We are to understand that those who are sealed are high priests, ordained unto the holy order of God, to administer the everlasting gospel; for they are they who are ordained out of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, by the angels to whom is given power over the nations of the earth, to bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn. (D&C 77:11)

Can anyone receive truth from heaven? John said that "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." (Rev. 19:10) Having a testimony of Jesus is a requirement for baptism in the LDS church. Joseph claimed his testimony of Jesus was what made him a prophet. He also said, "No man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations. The Holy Ghost is a revelator." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 328.) Isn't the reception of the Holy Ghost a matter of course for members of the church? Joseph Smith said, "Salvation cannot come without revelation; it is in vain for anyone to minister without it. No man is a minister of Jesus Christ without being a Prophet. No man can be a minister of Jesus Christ except he has the testimony of Jesus; and this is the spirit of prophecy." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 160.) Wilford Woodruff said, of Brigham Young, "He is a prophet, I am a prophet, you are, and anybody is a prophet who has the testimony of Jesus Christ, for that is the spirit of prophecy" (JD 13:165)

So what if we find ourselves without these gifts, individually and institutionally? What are we to do if we do not have the fruits of the gospel?

The answer is easy, repent! We cannot effect an institutional repentance. However, the scriptures show ample examples of individuals who connected with heaven even in the midst of evil, wickedness, and/or unbelief. These include Abel, Seth, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, John the Baptist, and many others. An individual struggling to connect in the midst of wickedness is the rule, not the exception. We should take to heart the examples we find in those individuals who made it.

What do Abraham, Enoch, Melchizedek, Christ, Nephi (the first), and others from the scriptures all have in common?
  • They received the spirit of Elias, which is the gospel of Abraham, which is faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, from a preacher of righteousness.
  • They sought for further light and truth. This meant seeking the teaching of the Holy Ghost by using, among other things, the scriptures as a Urim and Thummim, and tenaciously following the revelation they received.
  • They received visions, dreams, voices, and visitations. They did what the true messengers said.
  • They received individual, personal ministry from Christ. They did what he said.
  • They received a fullness of the Priesthood from Christ.
  • Having the gospel of Elijah, they exercised the spirit of Elijah, which is to bring people to the church of the firstborn, which is to preach to anyone who will hear them the process of obtaining a redemption from the fall, which is coming into God's presence, where one receives a fullness of the Priesthood from God. This is always associated with a communal group living the laws of God as they have been revealed.
In conclusion, does authority imply truth? Or does truth imply authority? Did Jesus come claiming authority? Did he have priesthood bona fides? Did not so many reject him precisely because he had no priesthood pedigree?

What is the relationship between God's power and God's permission? If there be two people, one who claims God's permission and shows no power, and another who shows God's power yet claims no permission, which of these has God's permission?