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Friday, February 19, 2016

Talk Given in Pinesdale, MT 18 Feb 2016

As spring approaches our frosty clime, I decided it was time to start seriously planning a greenhouse project that has been on my mind for about a year and a half. I have a friend whose father (Jim) is a Montana greenhouse aficionado, and decided to cash in my long-standing invitation to visit to tour his greenhouses and get some tips. I knew Jim lived in Pinesdale, an AUB community, but didn't know much about the AUB beyond what the wikipedia page provided. I soon learned that my recent book has been very popular there. When word got out that I'd be visiting, I was quickly invited to give a talk there. As I was about to decline, the Lord told me what to speak on. The notes to my talk are posted below, and may be of use to others.

From my limited impression of the people of Pinesdale, about 100 of whom I met the other night, all I can say is that they are incredibly kind, hospitable, and teachable people. It has been my experience that the LDS folks I know generally seem very quick to judge or ridicule those practicing or accepting of plural marriage. In the case of those I encountered in an admittedly brief visit to Pinesdale, I have to say that very few LDS I know can hold a candle to them in terms of their respect for God's word as found in scripture, their willingness to let go of false tradition, and their general kindness to outsiders. The LDS could learn a lot about the gospel from the people of Pinesdale. There isn't a snowball's chance in hell that I would ever be allowed to give a talk like this in an LDS chapel, and if I did I'd probably be escorted out of the building on a rail with a letter from Kirton McConkie barring my presence on LDS property.

The talk:

The Impotent Restoration: Hiding Lack of Charismatic Experience with Claims of Authority


Introduction

Joseph Smith’s death occurred without the emergence of any individual or group that demonstrated the fruits of the gospel to a degree that he did. The various organizations founded after the death of Joseph Smith each have competing explanations as to how the authority he possessed passed to them and none of the others. With this authority, we are told, leaders of each organization can dispense ordinances considered essential to salvation. They can seal individuals and families up to eternal life or cut them off from God.

Fruits of Apostasy
Each of these organizations realizes that, in order for their claim to God’s authority to be true, all other organizations’ claims must be false. Nephi predicted the ensuing turf wars. He said:
“For it shall come to pass in that day that the churches which are built up, and not unto the Lord, when the one shall say unto the other: Behold, I, I am the Lord’s; and the others shall say: I, I am the Lord’s; and thus shall every one say that hath built up churches, and not unto the Lord—“ (2 Nephi 28:3.)
Nephi unmistakably indicated that these churches claiming to be the Lord’s would not be built up to the Lord. He gave us other ways of identifying them. These are the fruits of apostasy from the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. We will identify them one by one.

Apostate groups will contend with each other using their own learning, and not revelation from God. Nephi said:
“And they shall contend one with another; and their priests shall contend one with another, and they shall teach with their learning, and deny the Holy Ghost, which giveth utterance.” (2 Nephi 28:4.)
These people will preach anti-scriptural doctrines. Because they cannot appeal to plain scripture readings for support, they either support their doctrines by appealing to the philosophies of men or resort to cherry-picked, out of context proof texting.

Apostate groups will deny miracles, and claim that their authority is real despite a lack of any evidence of God’s power in their ministry. Nephi said:
“And they deny the power of God, the Holy One of Israel; and they say unto the people: Hearken unto us, and hear ye our precept; for behold there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and he hath given his power unto men; Behold, hearken ye unto my precept; if they shall say there is a miracle wrought by the hand of the Lord, believe it not; for this day he is not a God of miracles; he hath done his work.” (2 Nephi 28:5-6.)
Nephi predicted that the groups claiming God’s authority will not only fail to produce the miracles that always co-occurred with true messengers of God, but will also teach others to disbelieve these signs. They will teach that they are not necessary in our day or that they are deceptions from the devil. Nephi said they would tell people that by following them, they would be following God; that their words were recognized by God as his words, even if they didn’t come from him. They would teach that they held the power to save and to damn, and therefore an individual’s allegiance to them determined their salvation. They would distract from the fact that they teach men to follow men instead of God by saying, “he has given his power unto man” or, in modern phrasing, “we are God’s mouthpiece. By following us, you are following God.”

Nephi taught that these groups would not preach the necessity of real repentance. He said:
Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us. And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God. (2 Nephi 28:6-7.)
These people will teach that, while it is important to be obedient to a few outward commandments, God’s commandment to be perfect was not literal. Instead, they teach, everyone makes mistakes, and if you do your best, God will look past that and give you salvation anyway.

Nephi taught that the leaders of these groups would go through great measures to hide their sins from their followers. He said:
“Yea, and there shall be many which…shall seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord; and their works shall be in the dark.” (2 Nephi 28:9.)
For some reason, it seems that each of these organizations has their fair share of secret abominations. It is not my task today to enumerate these, but they exist, they are abominable, and God will judge those responsible in due time.

All of these behaviors are quite uniform across all such organizations. Nephi said, “And the blood of the saints shall cry from the ground against them. Yea, they have all gone out of the way; they have become corrupted.” (2 Nephi 28:10-11.)

This is all quite serious. The Lord said,
“…all those who preach false doctrines, and all those who commit whoredoms, and pervert the right way of the Lord, wo, wo, wo be unto them, saith the Lord God Almighty, for they shall be thrust down to hell! Wo unto them that turn aside the just for a thing of naught and revile against that which is good, and say that it is of no worth! For the day shall come that the Lord God will speedily visit the inhabitants of the earth; and in that day that they are fully ripe in iniquity they shall perish.” (2 Nephi 28:15-16.)

How the Fruit Turns Bitter

How is it that despite the number of organizations claiming to carry the calling of Joseph Smith, the works of every one demonstrate the fruits of apostasy? Nephi said it is
“Because of pride, and because of false teachers, and false doctrine, their churches have become corrupted, and their churches are lifted up; because of pride they are puffed up. They rob the poor because of their fine sanctuaries; they rob the poor because of their fine clothing; and they persecute the meek and the poor in heart, because in their pride they are puffed up. They wear stiff necks and high heads; yea, and because of pride, and wickedness, and abominations, and whoredoms, they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men.” (2 Nephi 28:13).

Let’s break this apart. One cause is a lack of humility. What we see in the history of each organization is a repeated pattern of denying sins committed and claiming more divine favor than is manifested by the gifts of the Spirit. No matter how much an individual or a group denies their sins, they cannot obtain the favor of God until they actually repent. The first step of repentance is humbly recognizing one’s fallen and sinful state before God. What keeps us from recognizing our true position from God? Our inflated sense of worthiness comes from mistakenly considering our obedience to false tradition and commandments of men with obedience to God. If we can’t tell the difference between the two, we are in real peril. The Pharisees were filled with a sense of self worth before God. Yet, Jesus thought very poorly of them. We must, like children, approach God and ask him to show us our false traditions. If we do not, we will be very surprised in the judgment day to realize that our perception of what it meant to be worthy was actually abominable to God.

Another cause for apostasy from the fruits of the restoration is neglect of the poor. This was a terrible problem in Joseph’s day, and the covetousness has only gotten worse since then. One cannot approach Zion without overcoming poverty in their own lives and in the lives of others in their circle of influence. An overfocus on fine clothing and buildings exacerbates the problem.

Another cause is sin. Sin must be repented of, both individually and collectively. In a way, each of these organizations has set a snare for their leaders by entrusting them with far too much: Too much doctrinal control, too much financial control, and too much spiritual control. Doctrinal control tempts men to replace the doctrines of God with the commandments of men. Too much financial control tempts men to misspend or outright steal money. Too much spiritual control leads to abuses across a broad range of situations both emotional and physical.

There is Another Way

I ask a simple question: What ought we to be seeking? Should we hearken to the claims of men who say they can trace their authority back to Joseph Smith? Is this the pattern we are given in scripture?

Jesus said “the tree is known by his fruit” (Matthew 12:33). In the book of Abraham we read:
1 I, Abraham, saw that it was needful for me to obtain another place of residence; [That was a pleasant euphemism—they were trying to kill him!]
 2 And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers. [Abraham compared the fruits of the gospel in his own life and in the lives of his parents to the fruits of the gospel he read about in the scriptures. He concluded that, since the fruits were different, the gospel underlying them was different as well.]
 (Abraham 1:1-2)

God has promised that certain signs shall follow all those who believe.

…In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; 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)

He said:
“Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am;” (D&C 93:1)

Nephi taught that
“if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel.” (2 Nephi 31:13)

Mormon said, “…it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.” (Moroni 7:37)

These charismatic experiences were not and are not optional! Joseph Smith said, “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.” (Quoted in Hyrum Andrus, “Joseph Smith's Idea of the Gospel”.)

Paul said, “My preaching was not with enticing words…But in demonstration of…power.” (1 Corinthians 2:4) He said, “Through mighty signs and wonders…I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.” (Romans 15:19) The display of God’s power is the pattern in scripture, not the claim to it absent any fruits to prove it.

If you really are on the straight and narrow path, you will have them. If you don’t have them, you are either lax in your obedience to what God has shown you, or you have been deceived into substituting the commandments of God with the traditions of men.

We get so caught up with priesthood and a little authority that we think we have, that we completely miss the plain, simple gifts that we definitely lack. Where are the miracles? Where are the angels? Where are the individuals being admitted into God’s presence? These are not the mysteries, they are the fundamentals. They are noticeably absent from claims to authority in groups that claim to follow what Joseph restored. Could it be that the reason for this has something to do with how easy it is to fake or redefine authority, when charismatic experiences either happen or they don’t?

If an organization does not offer me these basic witnesses, why on earth would I align myself to it? Can you find a more literal fulfillment of the Savior’s warning about the blind following the blind? Why on earth would you trust a man or men to lead you to where they themselves have never been, to experiences they’ve never had?

As for the priesthood, the only priesthood I care about it the one described in JST Gen 14. Speaking of Melchezidek, the record says:
27 And thus, having been approved of God, he was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch,
 28 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;
 29 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.

How does this priesthood come? It does not come by man. It does not come through a church. It does not come from your father. It comes from God, by his own voice. How can you know whether or not you have it?

 30 For God having sworn unto Enoch and unto his seed with an oath by himself; that every one being ordained after this order and calling should have power, by faith, to break mountains, to divide the seas, to dry up waters, to turn them out of their course;
 31 To put at defiance the armies of nations, to divide the earth, to break every band, to stand in the presence of God; to do all things according to his will, according to his command, subdue principalities and powers; and this by the will of the Son of God which was from before the foundation of the world.
 32 And men having this faith, coming up unto this order of God, were translated and taken up into heaven. (JST Gen 14)

If a man has not had these experiences, there are only two possibilities: Either he does not possess the fullness of the priesthood, or God is a liar.

I submit that our lack of the fruits of the restoration has everything to do with our lack of focus on what yields those fruit. Obedience to men or the commandments of men never brings about the fruits of yielding our hearts to God—only actually focusing on God can do that.

It doesn’t matter what priesthood some man told you you have. It doesn’t matter what ordinances you think you have received. It doesn’t matter what commandments some man said are essential to salvation. It is astonishing to note in the scriptures how often what men think matters to God is actually abominable to him. What can all the ordinances, priesthood, and commandments in the world give you if it has not given you access to God? Isn’t it dangerous to think that, somehow, these things which have been powerless to give you access to God in this life, will suddenly become effectual in the next?

If we lack these fruits, as groups and as individuals, it is a sign that we need to repent. The most important fruit of the restoration to each of us is not supposed authority without the fruits that have always accompanied true servants from the foundation of the world. Instead, the most important fruit of the restoration is the knowledge that God speaks to men and women—not leaders, but regular men and regular women. If you don’t believe that God will speak to you, personally, and teach you, personally, what his will is for you as an individual, how can you ever come to the point where the ancients did by following that same pattern? How can you ever expect to have similar experiences to Joseph Smith if you don’t do what Joseph Smith did?

You need to have your own first vision. You need to ask God what he wants you to do, you need to be willing to listen to whatever he says, and you need to do it. God has given us the conditions for every miracle we’ve talked about. If we don’t have those miracles in our lives, it means we lack the conditions he has appointed to receive them. We don’t have faith, we don’t believe in him, we aren’t forsaking our sins, we aren’t calling on his name, we aren’t obeying his voice. That’s a stiff charge to some, mostly because of how readily we consider our obedience to men and false tradition to be obedience to God. When we strip out all the nonsense, it becomes clear that very little of what we do is actually what God has asked us to do. Most of it is filler from false tradition or the commandments of some man or men who claims to have authority.


The fruit of the restoration is the testimony that there is a path back to the presence of the father, and it is a path we are meant to walk and meant to finish in this life. The fruit of the restoration is to recognize that if we do not possess the gifts God has promised to the faithful, it is a sign of our need for sore repentance, repentance which likely includes removing the idols of false tradition and blind leaders from our lives. We must communicate with God ourselves, and quit outsourcing our salvation to a third party. It doesn’t work like that—it never has, and it never will. The restoration teaches us that God will answer a lowly nobody, a wretch such as you and a wretch such as I. It teaches us that you don’t need an intercessor between you and God other than Jesus Christ himself, and that Jesus is willing and anxious to communicate with you directly—even face to face—if you will simply believe him, seek him, and do what he tells you to do.