Sunday, September 20, 2015

Elder Ballard's Sermon to Southern Utah

Elder Ballard taught,
Paul warned the Saints in his own day of the spiritual dangers they faced. To the Galatians he wrote, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. 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.”[6]
I raise my warning voice, as Paul did, that there are those “that trouble you”—people that “pervert the gospel of Christ.” I would be shirking my duty if I did not raise my voice to warn you of the challenges we face today.
I remind you of Jesus’ prophecy regarding the last days in which we now live: “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.”[7] We are saddened when we witness some of the “very elect” deceived as Jesus warned.
Recently I visited a small grove of sequoia trees planted years ago on the BYU campus not far from where this broadcast is originating today in Provo....
Sadly, one of the trees died last year; and the dead tree needed to be cut down, leaving only a stump to remind anyone passing by that a tall, majestic tree once stood there.
The campus Arborist wanted to know what killed the tree, as the sequoia certainly did not die of old age. After an examination, he determined that the tree’s feeding roots had died from a lack of water....
The Arborist discovered that the aquifer that nourished the little grove had shifted as an unintended consequence of the construction of the new Life Sciences Building, just east of the grove.
To me this is a perfect analogy of what happens when stalwart Church members, the “very elect,” those who for all appearances seem to stand tall and erect in the faith, but die spiritually.

Elder Ballard then explained how, in his opinion, it is our negligence of the basics that allow the "very elect" to slip away and forget the fundamentals of the gospel.

He said, "One thing that is constantly on my mind is knowing that individuals who don’t stay focused on the simple doctrine and gospel of Christ will eventually listen to false teachers and self-declared prophets and adopt worldly philosophies."

I couldn't agree more. I wonder if Elder Ballard detects the irony of his words? Let me explain.

Paul's words apply wonderful to the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith. God made very clear in the verses of the Doctrine and Covenants that the restoration came through Joseph Smith. Church materials support this argument. However, church history, for those who study it, provides an interesting story very similar to the story of this tree. Instead of confiding in what Joseph did, and making our mission the fulfillment of God's word through him, we've built what seemed like good projects, like Life Sciences buildings, and accidentally moved the aquifer away from the roots. As a church, have we stayed "focused on the simple doctrine and gospel of Christ"? Have we embraced the restoration through Joseph Smith? Or, are most members today as ignorant to exactly what Joseph taught and what God commanded through him as non-members? Have members listened to "false teachers and self-declared prophets" and replaced God's word with "worldly philosophies"? I suppose we could measure by the liveliness of the tree. Or, as in Jacob 5, what fruits the tree bears.

Earlier in his discourse, Elder Ballard praised the saints of the Utah South area. These are the fruits he mentioned that caused his praise:
-A nationwide polling service found Utah to be the most religious state.
- Three missions
-Six temples with two under construction
-the largest religious university in America
-vibrant institutes of religion programs associated with the great colleges and universities in the area
-an expanding Missionary Training Center in Provo
-Numerous ward, stake, and seminary buildings

I don't think that any of these things are bad things. Yet, I am aware of many people (including scriptural examples like the Israelites and King Noah's people) who were able to produce these fruits without having any connection to the tree of life. In fact, these are all measurements not of how close you are to God, but how much money you have. After all, you can buy anything in this world with money. I would hope that stronger fruits would be miracles, visions, prophecy, revelation, visitations, and other fruits that witness to a person and a group that they are accepted of God.

Elder Ballard said: "There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking questions or investigating our history, doctrine, and practices. The Restoration began when Joseph Smith sought answers to his sincere questions." I'm really happy to read him saying that. He correctly identifies that many leaders (local and otherwise) are persecuting members of the church for the crime of knowing more about church history than they do. That's a shame, and I hope Elder Ballard's words helps smooth this over.

Elder Ballard railed a bit against the tendency for members to use the internet in their searches regarding church history. He said, "It is hard for me to understand why anyone turns to other voices on the internet without first turning to voices of the scriptures or the voices of the living prophets and apostles." It is kind of hard for me to understand why this would be hard for him to understand. The church has a solid track record of intentionally misleading church members on history. Unlike some, I do not believe this has been an intentional effort. Rather, I believe that church leaders have generally been woefully ignorant of church history, simply as a result of having spent their time on other things. Brother Ballard admits that his resource for answering questions are church paid historians and BYU professors: "When I have a question that I cannot answer, I turn to those who can help me. The Church is blessed with trained scholars and those who have devoted a lifetime of study, who have come to know our history and the scriptures. These thoughtful men and women provide context and background so we can better understand our sacred past and our current practices." He is not the first apostle to admit that he didn't know church history. President Packer explained that one reason they have the correlation committee (a paid group of scholars that edit and filter church materials for correctness) is that they fully expect the correlation committee to know more about the gospel and church history than they do.

Now, only a fool would expect a committee of church employees to report the full historical story to their bosses without some sort of pro-current-positions filter in place. So, effectively, the only thing church leaders know about history is what reaffirms the policies and positions they have put into place without knowing church history. Now, all of the sudden, many things make sense: The blatant contradictions between official policy and church history, the glaring omissions in the church's recent "Gospel Topics" essays, the perpetuation of faith promoting rumors that are historically falsifiable, etc.

In that vein, Elder Ballard's point about how we should not be "Viewing podcasts and Internet sites that raise questions and doubt without being intellectually honest and that do not adequately and honestly present the Lord’s perspective" takes on another light: This would necessarily include all official church materials.