Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Teaching God's Commandments

Teaching God’s Commandments in the Home
Sacrament Talk given by Bob Sonntag on 10.16.2016, posted with his permission

If the scriptures are adamant about one point, it is that all of us must come unto Christ and be saved. If they say a second thing, it is that there is only one very specific path back to Christ’s presence.
Romans 10 says that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” as preached by a messenger sent by God. If someone is not sent by God, or if they deviate from God’s word, their message cannot produce faith, no matter how zealously it is believed.
In Mosiah 4 we find that the miraculous response to the repentance of King Benjamin’s people came “because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come, according to the words which King Benjamin had spoken unto them.”
Saving faith could only come “according to the words” given by God. Christ said of his commandments given in the Sermon on the Mount:
Whosoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so to  do, he shall in no wise be saved in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach these commandments… the same shall be called great, and shall be saved in the kingdom of heaven. (JST Matthew 5:21)
A study of that sermon suggests why Christ is so particular: the commandments of God exalt you in the act of keeping them. They reveal God’s nature by causing you to emulate his mercy, integrity, and loving kindness.
It sounds simple enough. What goes wrong? A third core message of the scriptures is that we will be presented with “commandments of men” as a counterfeit of the commandments of God. Since most people are actually trying to be good, the best way to lead them astray is to give them a false standard of goodness.
These counterfeits are created when well-meaning teachers think they can improve on God’s commandments by addition, subtraction, or modification (3 Nephi 11:40; D&C 10:68).
In 3 Nephi 18:3, Christ says

But whoso among you shall do more or less than [my commandments] are not built upon my  rock, but are built upon a sandy foundation; and when the rain descends, and the floods come, and the winds blow, and beat upon them, they shall fall, and the gates of hell are ready open to receive them.
Therefore blessed are ye if ye shall keep my commandments, which the Father hath commanded me that I should give unto you.
He then warns us to be watchful and prayerful to make sure we are not led astray by falsehoods.

When we attempt to teach the gospel disconnected from the words God has caused to be written then the difference between God’s commandments and the commandments of men is obscured. The spirit cannot override our neglect of the scriptures and force truth out of our mouths (D&C 11:21-22; Mosiah 1:3-5). The less we ground our teachings in a careful and correct reading of the scriptures, the more our teaching will consist of stock phrases, trite platitudes, sentimental stories, clich├ęs, and folk traditions. Worse yet, we will develop guidelines; standards of dress, speech and behavior; and invented commandments that spring from those traditions rather than from God’s word. At best those things  simply distract us, waste our time, and turn the beautiful simple gospel of Christ into a soul crushing exercise in behavior control. At their worst they actually cause us to break true commandments. Just as  we come to know God through his true commandments, we gain a false and distorted view of him when those commandments are added to or diminished. Since eternal life means to know God, a false understanding of him will thwart our salvation until we abandon it for truth (John 17:3).
D&C 93 contrasts the commandments of God with the traditions of men:

36 The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth. Light and truth forsake that evil one.
27 And no man receiveth a fulness [of truth] unless he keepeth his commandments. He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things…
39…that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.
The most damaging false traditions are those which come to be seen as fundamental, indispensable, essential features of a religion, causing people to disobey God while thinking they are righteous.
[Paragraphs in red cut for time] Orthodox Jews at the time of Jesus were taught that the teachings of their leaders were more important than past prophets, including the head of their dispensation. They were taught that only the rabbis could provide authoritative interpretation of scripture. They were taught that they were to treat the teachings of the rabbis as if God had spoken it, and follow them and be blessed or reject them and suffer. The inevitable result of those beliefs was that they taught for doctrines the commandments of men, developing an invented set of laws they treated as though it were the Torah (Matthew 15:1-9). One such faux-commandment involved a ceremonial washing of the hands before a meal, wherein they recited the following prayer:
“Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with Thy commandments and has commanded us concerning the washing of the hands.”
They knew that we are sanctified by keeping God’s commandments, but, as God’s people almost always do, they invented commandments which could not sanctify. They claimed God commanded them to wash their hands; ask them where God commanded that and they could only point to their traditions.
Latter-day Saint history provides us with numerous examples. I’ve chosen one from the 19thcentury, because if I chose one from the 21st  century we’re uncomfortably close to some steep gullies that are

perfect for an angry mob to throw a heretic into. This example will help us focus on the role of parents in teaching their children truth.
Here is an excerpt from a letter shared with me by a friend, from her ancestor Gilbert Belnap to his wife Adaline Knight, dated February 25,1856
"Instruct the children in the ways of the Lord and be not too severe in your chastisement of them. Kiss them all for me and teach the little boys to avenge the Blood of the Prophet."
I’m not the most careful reader, but even I noticed that this advice took a left turn somewhere in the middle. Where did Gilbert get this idea to teach his sons vengeance? Shortly after the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, it was thought to be appropriate to cause the saints to enter into a covenant to
promise that [they would] pray and never cease to pray to Almighty God to avenge the blood of the prophets upon this nation, and that [they would] teach the same to [their] children and to [their] children's children unto the third and fourth generation.1
This covenant was thought so important that it was administered in the Saints’ most sacred places, as part of their most sacred ceremonies.
While the wording of the covenant remained the same for 90 years, the saints’ understanding of it evolved, as traditions do. In the decade-or-so between Joseph’s death and Gilbert’s letter the saints came to believe that the covenant didn’t simply mean to pray for God to take vengeance on the nation, but that the saints themselves were responsible for taking vengeance. Gilbert was simply repeating to his sons the version of the gospel that was current among the saints. It was orthodox. It was a fundamental and essential feature of what Gilbert thought Mormonism was. So what could he have done differently?
When he heard over the pulpit that the saints were themselves responsible for vengeance could he have thought back to the wording of the covenant he had made and realize he was now hearing a misinterpretation of those words?
Going back further, when Gilbert was asked to covenant to pray for divine vengeance to rain down upon his enemies, could he have asked himself whether that was the right thing to do?
If he studied his scriptures, he might have read D&C 84, where God informs the saints that they are under condemnation for “treating lightly” the Book of Mormon and failing to do what it taught. Maybe that would have led him to read the book very carefully, where he would read of Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, Enos, and others praying with all their hearts for the salvation of people who wanted them dead. He would read in 3 Nephi 12:
behold I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven
“Pray for”. Not pray against. And certainly don’t seek vengeance (3 Nephi 12:39).

Gilbert would be faced with hard choices. Should he remain orthodox, and prize the words of his leaders over Christ’s own words, and keep the covenant he had made? Or should he instead follow Christ’s instructions, that he might be a Child of his Father in Heaven? Had the saints chosen that second path, D&C 84 says they would have brought forth fruit meet for the kingdom of God (vs. 58). Instead, the violent rhetoric about vengeance and bloodshed only grew more intense and elaborate in the months following Gilbert’s letter. Words were soon tragically matched by action in eruptions of violence so horrific we still haven’t fully processed them as a Church.As Gilbert should have examined his most precious beliefs before passing them on to his children, so we should ours.
We must not expect God to conform to our traditions, no matter how precious they are to us, how  popular, or how orthodox. If our obedience is to the commandments of men, we will only experience a tedious oppressive version of the gospel. Truly seeking God, and leading our children to him, will require setting aside our creeds and seeking truth as little children. As Joseph Smith said:
To all those who are disposed…to set up stakes for the almighty—[you] will come short of the glory of god. To become a joint heir of the heirship of the son [a man] must put away all his traditions. (Smith Diary, August 27, 1843)

Sunday, October 9, 2016


Repentance ought to apply to anyone who is not yet perfect. If it does not, such a person is by definition damned because they are not progressing toward perfection. Repentance does not apply only to unpopular sins.

Unbelief is a condition where an individual rejects or refuses to seek out a particular truth because it clashes with a tradition they hold. This is not the same as willful rebellion, which is disobeying what you know is true.

There are many doctrines taught in absolute plainness in the scriptures. Yet, many don't know about them, and most of those who are informed of them disbelieve.

And now I, Nephi, cannot say more; the Spirit stoppeth mine utterance, and I am left to mourn because of the unbelief, and the wickedness, and the ignorance, and the stiffneckedness of men; for they will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be. (2 Nephi 32:7)
Knowledge is necessary for salvation. A man must come to a certain discrete level of knowledge before he can be saved. The reason men do not search for knowledge, or believe it when it is offered to them, is because of their unbelief.

The opposite of unbelief.

It is quite simple (though not easy) to be faithful. We are told to "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Like Paul, Alma understood the process of being faithful--it does not require some superhuman ability. Instead, you just have to believe something could be true.

But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. (Alma 32:27)

Suspending disbelief long enough to experiment upon the word is all that is necessary to prove all things.

If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. (John 7:17)
A reflection upon the attitude of the Lamanites at one point in the Book of Mormon provides a concise description of the opposite of unbelief:

And thus we see that the Lord began to pour out his Spirit upon the Lamanites, because of their easiness and willingness to believe in his words. (Helaman 6:36)
An easiness and willingness to believe the Lord is the opposite of unbelief. You don't have to know all things or have perfect faith. You just need to recognize that you don't know everything (or much at all) and be willing to believe the Lord, no matter what he tells you.

The brother of Jared is the archetype of the opposite of unbelief. Consider his much-read but poorly-utilized story:

 4 And I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea.
5 Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this. We know that thou art able to show forth great power, which looks small unto the understanding of men.
 6 And it came to pass that when the brother of Jared had said these words, behold, the Lord stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger. And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord; and it was as the finger of a man, like unto flesh and blood; and the brother of Jared fell down before the Lord, for he was struck with fear.
 7 And the Lord saw that the brother of Jared had fallen to the earth; and the Lord said unto him: Arise, why hast thou fallen?
 8 And he saith unto the Lord: I saw the finger of the Lord, and I feared lest he should smite me; for I knew not that the Lord had flesh and blood. 9 And the Lord said unto him: Because of thy faith thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger. Sawest thou more than this?
 10 And he answered: Nay; Lord, show thyself unto me.
 11 And the Lord said unto him: Believest thou the words which I shall speak? 12 And he answered: Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie. 13 And when he had said these words, behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you.
 14 Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters. (Ether 3)

Notice how the key to what the brother of Jared received was his willingness to believe what God would (future tense) speak? Yes, the brother of Jared believed the things he had been told before. However, the key was his willingness to believe what God had not yet told him. What is the difference between what God has told us and what he will tell us? If we are reconciled to God (not the case in willfull rebellion) we already believe what he has told us. We do not believe what he has not yet told us. If we did, we would already be doing it, and we would not need him to tell us about it. When we make the baptismal covenant, we promise God that we will obey both the commandments we know and the commandments we do not yet know. Few enough people keep that covenant that it is the gateway to redemption from the fall.

Once you sincerely transition to trusting God, there is nothing that can derail you from salvation. Redemption from the fall requires believing God. Believing God means to be willing to accept anything from God as true, without reservation. (See Ether 3:11-13).

The brother of Jared's decision to believe whatever God would reveal to him is magnificently simple. He was merely willing to believe things that contradicted his preconceived notions. That is all it takes.

A great example of this is given in the story of Nephi praying on the tower. When he stops praying, he notices that a large group had gathered. The account suggests that most (if not all) of these people were wicked. Nephi calls them to repentance, then gives them a prophetic sign as evidence of the validity of his message. He says that their governor had been murdered.

1 Behold, now it came to pass that when Nephi had spoken these words, certain men who were among them ran to the judgment-seat; yea, even there were five who went, and they said among themselves, as they went:
 2 Behold, now we will know of a surety whether this man be a prophet and God hath commanded him to prophesy such marvelous things unto us. Behold, we do not believe that he hath; yea, we do not believe that he is a prophet; nevertheless, if this thing which he has said concerning the chief judge be true, that he be dead, then will we believe that the other words which he has spoken are true.
 3 And it came to pass that they ran in their might, and came in unto the judgment-seat; and behold, the chief judge had fallen to the earth, and did lie in his blood.
 4 And now behold, when they saw this they were astonished exceedingly, insomuch that they fell to the earth; for they had not believed the words which Nephi had spoken concerning the chief judge.
 5 But now, when they saw they believed, and fear came upon them lest all the judgments which Nephi had spoken should come upon the people; therefore they did quake, and had fallen to the earth. (Helaman 9)
These men were the same that Helaman had just called to repentance. They were not reconciled to God. They did not recognize Nephi as a true messenger. And yet, at least five of them suspended their disbelief enough to experiment upon his word. They did not believe him, but they thought they would test his word just in case. Those five recognized that they were wrong, and they repented.

Unbelief occurs when we prefer our traditions over new truth. 

Traditions fuel unbelief.

For behold, had the mighty works been shown unto them which have been shown unto you, yea, unto them who have dwindled in unbelief because of the traditions of their fathers, ye can see of yourselves that they never would again have dwindled in unbelief.(Helaman 15:15) 
But how do we recognize traditions? No one intentionally accepts false tradition. If teachings came with a label defining them as tradition or truth, it would be much easier to navigate mortality. Sometimes new truth replaces false traditions, and sometimes it replaces lesser truth. In both cases, the individual must decide between what they had previously accepted as true, and what God wants them to have now.

Whenever new truth comes from God, the recipient must decide whether they will consider the possibility that the new teaching is correct. Most people will reject it. It is human nature to be closed-minded.

Jesus' ministry provides a typical example of the process. At one point in the gospels, Jesus "marvelled because of their unbelief" (Mark 6:6) What was the dialogue that preceded his marveling?

And he went out from thence, and came into his own country; and his disciples follow him. 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? 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. 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. And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them. (Mark 6:1-5)

The crowds were offended at what Jesus was teaching. It seemed wrong to them because it contradicted what they held to be true. Instead of considering the possibility that what they were hearing was true--a process that would unlock their minds to rationally consider the abundant evidence--they dismissed Jesus out of hand. They lightly treated the things they received (see D&C 84:54-56). Condemnation was and is the result of unbelief, because you can't progress to the point you could had you received the new truth.

How do you know if you are an unbeliever?

Is there anything off limits? Is there anything that would be impossible for God to ask you to do? Is there anything that, if God commanded you to do it, you would reject out of hand? If so, you are in unbelief.

We cannot put anything off limits to God. He can command anything he wishes of us, and we must be prepared to be true and faithful to everything he teaches us, no matter how offensive it may be to our carnal minds.

Here are three quotes from Joseph Smith on the topic of limiting what we will accept from God (setting up stakes):

  1. "To all those who are disposed to say to set up stakes for the almighty— will come short of the glory of god. To become a joint heir of the heirship of the son he must put away all his traditions. Men will set up stakes and say thus far will we go and no farther, did Abraham when called upon to offer his son, did the Saviour, no..." 
  2. "The mystery power and glory of the preisthood is so great and glorious that the angels desired to understand it and cannot: why, because of the tradition of them and their fathers in setting up stakes and not coming up to the mark in their probationary state."
  3. "I cannot believe in any of the creeds of the different denominations, because they all have some things in them I cannot subscribe to though all of them have some thruth. but I want to come up into the presence of God & learn all things but the creeds set up stakes, & say hitherto shalt thou come, & no further.—which I cannot subscribe to."

Sometimes it is hard to be honest with ourselves. Sometimes, we like to think that we would do anything God would command us to do.

One way to detect unbelief even when we are good at deceiving ourselves is to look at our works, or rather God's work in and through us.

Have you been baptized by fire? Do you do works of righteousness? Do you see the miracles of the scriptures in your own life in undiluted form?

If not, there are only two possible reasons: Willful rebellion and unbelief. If the former, you will recognize things in your life that contradict what God has revealed to you. If the latter, you might not notice the problem except by the lack of God's power in your life. (Note: it is not unusual to be in both at the same time).

  • "And I would exhort you, my beloved brethren, that ye remember that he is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that all these gifts of which I have spoken, which are spiritual, never will be done away, even as long as the world shall stand, only according to the unbelief of the children of men." (Moroni 10:19)
  • "And there were no gifts from the Lord, and the Holy Ghost did not come upon any, because of their wickedness and unbelief." (Mormon 1:14)
  • "And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust." (Mormon 9:20)
  • "Behold I say unto you, Nay; for 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)

Unbelief is far more prevalent than we'd like to think. How many people have experienced what the brother of Jared did? Yet, we are told plainly that if we have not, it is because of unbelief!

And in that day that they shall exercise faith in me, saith the Lord, even as the brother of Jared did, that they may become sanctified in me, then will I manifest unto them the things which the brother of Jared saw, even to the unfolding unto them all my revelations, saith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of the heavens and of the earth, and all things that in them are.....Behold, when ye shall rend that veil of unbelief which doth cause you to remain in your awful state of wickedness, and hardness of heart, and blindness of mind, then shall the great and marvelous things which have been hid up from the foundation of the world from you—yea, when ye shall call upon the Father in my name, with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, then shall ye know that the Father hath remembered the covenant which he made unto your fathers, O house of Israel. (Ether 4:7,15)

How do you repent of unbelief?

Jesus taught that "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." (Mark 9:23). If you find yourself setting up stakes for God, setting aside certain things as not possible, then you are in unbelief. The solution to this problem is to cry out to God, who will help your unbelief (see Mark 9:24).

Fundamentally, unbelief is a manifestation of distrust in God. If you trusted God absolutely, you would not have reason to doubt anything that comes from him, or to consider certain things as off limits to him.

6 Behold, they do not desire that the Lord their God, who hath created them, should rule and reign over them; notwithstanding his great goodness and his mercy towards them, they do set at naught his counsels, and they will not that he should be their guide.
7 O how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are less than the dust of the earth. (Helaman 12)

God's character can be learned by our own experiences with him and by the experiences of others, either that we know personally or that we can learn of in the scriptures. Experience with God is the cure for distrust in God. Those who pay attention to his hand in their lives cannot deny his goodness, mercy, and wisdom. God is love. Anything he does with you is motivated by love for you. Because of his absolute knowledge (and in contrast to anyone else), you can trust that anything he does with you is in your best interest.

As we come to know God, we also come to recognize our own nothingness, ignorance, insufficiency, and instability. Coming to recognize this is a key in breaking through the veil of unbelief (see Ether 4:15). You have to have a tenacity in keeping God's commandments: both what he has revealed and what he will reveal. That sounds deceivingly simple. Really, it is to come to the a seemingly contradictory point where you are resolute in clinging to your understanding of what is right in the face of sin while easily letting go of your deepest convictions when God presents you with something better. In short, you have to be willing to replace tradition with revelation.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

A Parable and Analogy About Rebaptism Into the LDS Church

The parable of the radioactive food

There was once a land comprised of steep, rocky slopes with the exception of one valley. The valley was small but contained sufficient fertile land to support enough farms to feed the people. It also featured a large lake, adjacent to which was a nuclear power plant supplying power to the people. For a while, existence in that land was idyllic. Those in the mountains and in the plain alike enjoyed the necessities and comforts of life. One day, the plant's containment tanks developed a significant leak. For some reason, very few seemed to notice. Some left the valley for the safety of the hills. Most went on living their lives in blissful ignorance. With each passing day, the output of the plant declined* as the leak at the plant continued. Soon, people living in the valley started developing cancer and dying. As the radiation levels increased, more and more people started to become aware of the problem at the plant. Many moved, but others remained in apathy, wondering what difference it could make after a lifetime of exposure. Eventually, the radiation reached a point where anyone from the hills who wandered into the valley would die. This posed a problem. The population had relied upon the food grown in the valley for so long that they had forgotten how to cultivate food for themselves. It was so easy to grow food in the lush, irrigated valley compared to the mountainous terrain that surrounded it. Not really having a choice, they learned to grow food in the mountains. After all, what was the point of surviving on contaminated food for a day if it would kill you in a week?

The analogy of boy scouts

The Boy Scouts of America is an organization that exists independently of the LDS church. The fact that the LDS church chose to adopt Boy Scouts as the official program for young men does not change the fact that the BSA is an independent organization. All of the ranks of the Boy Scouts are attainable to those in and out of the LDS church, because the rules governing rank are set by BSA, not LDS. One who attains rank in BSA within the LDS church can continue BSA outside of the LDS church. 


I was not excommunicated for sin. I was excommunicated because, according to my stake president, I quoted several general authorities who contradicted scripture. (For a transcript of the trial, see here).

Since my excommunication, I've had two LDS friends ask me if I will seek rebaptism into the LDS church. There are no blessings available to people in the LDS church that are not available to those outside of the LDS church. Take baptism, for example. Joseph Smith received the Aaronic Priesthood before the LDS church existed. Given that it existed anciently and modernly outside of the LDS church, who is to say that it can only exist within the LDS church, even if the LDS church chooses to use and propagate it? Has God ever said it can only exist within the LDS church? If Aaronic Priesthood exists independent to the LDS church, doesn't baptism, for the same reasons?

Meanwhile, the false traditions in the LDS church are so strong, numerous, and harmful that the vast majority will never be able to overcome them and will be choked off from God's redemption. Those who do overcome the traditions will be disfellowshipped, silenced, and excommunicated.

Given these facts, why would anyone who has been kicked out want to go back? Would it have any significance to God?

*Note: I realize power output at a nuclear power plant is not related to the containment tanks.

Monday, October 3, 2016

One Who Brings Zion Must Be Redundant

True messengers must avoid priestcraft. However, it is not enough to avoid priestcraft. One must also avoid idolatry. Certain practices encourage idolatry, while others discourage it. Regardless to the response of others, true messengers must no only avoid control, they must also actively seek to make themselves redundant.

Every true messenger's goal is to bring individuals to Christ and to make themselves redundant. You cannot do the former without accomplishing the latter, because if others need you in order for them to access God, they do not yet know him themselves. Once you being to attempt to access God yourself, you do not rely on anyone else to get to him (though you can still benefit from additional light and truth through them).

John the Baptist's greatest hope was for his disciples to leave him and follow Christ. There were, of course, many who did not do that. There will always be those content with less than they could have. True messengers may very well have to maintain their flock of people who do not have the valiance to meet or exceed what they have obtained, or perhaps can't overcome the speed of acquisition in the messenger.

True messengers don't rejoice in having a following. They hate it. They would much rather encounter someone with more light than they have than less light. Their joy stems from what someone becomes, not the fact that they are feeding them. They do not rejoice in feeding people, but in seeing them progress. In terms of their joy, the focus is completely on the recipient, not the giving. This is exactly the attitude of God. This is why the Good Shepard gives his life for the sheep, unlike the hireling. This is why God denominates his glory in the improvement made possible in the lives of others. This is why his work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality of man. This is why he does what he does instead of resting on what he already achieved for himself.

As long as you rely upon another to access God, you are an idolator. Being an idolator has consequences. In the best case, the messenger you idolize is true. Even then, you are limiting yourself to the light and truth this man possesses, instead of the light and truth God possesses. In fact, according to God, you are limited to telestial glory.

Why was Moses able to surpass Jethro in light and truth? While he was willing to listen to Jethro, he did not limit himself to what Jethro said. He recognized what Jethro said as one potential source of light and truth among many. He did not make Jethro his intermediary with God. While Moses managed to avoid idolization of Jethro, but the followers of Moses failed to avoid idolization of Moses: even those who were faithful to his teachings (Joshua and Caleb) failed to surpass him in knowledge and power.

We avoid idolization of a true messenger by scrutinizing everything they say or do. The point is not to judge the person, but rather to filter what they offer by asking God directly about it.

A good litmus test is to catalog what portions of a person's ministry you disbelieve. If you have encountered a significant quantity of material from a messenger, and have not detected any mistakes, chances are you are idolizing them. If you automatically parrot anything a particular person posts or says, chances are you are idolizing them. If you do more to hear or visit a particular preacher than you do to others making equal claims of inspiration, chances are you are idolizing them.

A true messenger seeks to be redundant. Even Christ's ultimate goal is to be redundant. When he finishes his work, those the father has given him will be joint or co-heirs. They will have just as much power with God and knowledge as Christ himself has. They will no longer be subordinate to him or rely upon him for salvation.

When Zion comes, all will have a knowledge of God.

"Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion." (Isaiah 52:8, Mosiah 12:22, 3 Nephi 16:18, 3 Nephi 20:32, Mosiah 15:29).

"Until all shall know me, who remain, even from the least unto the greatest, and shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, and shall see eye to eye..." (Doctrine and Covenants 84:98).

"And now, it came to pass that after Abinadi had spoken these words he stretched forth his hand and said: The time shall come when all shall see the salvation of the Lord; when every nation, kindred, tongue, and people shall see eye to eye and shall confess before God that his judgments are just." (Mosiah 16:1).

Throughout history, the question of who has brought Zion has the same answer as who has made themselves redundant. Moses did not train his people to access God themselves (though he tried). His people failed to achieve Zion. Joseph Smith failed to train his people to access God themselves. His people failed to achieve Zion because they did not learn to access God themselves.

Zion will consist of those who have their own independent knowledge of God. It will be brought by someone who has managed to make themselves redundant.

If the Book of Mormon Were a Choose Your Own Adventure: A Profile of Current LDS

The story of Lehi's departure from Jerusalem is the first in the Book of Mormon. The very first narrative verse in the Book reads:

For it came to pass in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah, (my father, Lehi, having dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days); and in that same year there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed. (1 Nephi 1:4)

This is our opportunity to liken this story unto ourselves.

This verse says that Lehi heard of prophets teaching that the Jews had turned away from God, needed to repent, and that if they did not, God would destroy them. However, how would he have recognized them as such? That they were not the duly appointed religious leaders is evident from the fact that when Lehi later pronounces the same message, the people try to kill him (1 Nephi 1:18-20).

Decision Point 1

So, if you became aware of random people--people with no LDS leadership credentials--claiming to have a message from God, what would you do? Would you listen to them, as Lehi did, or would you ignore them?

If Lehi had ignored them, what would have happened? Lehi's life would have gone on as it had to that point. Nothing would have changed. He would have been very comfortable...until he died in the invasion of Jerusalem just a few years afterward. And thereafter he would be in hell as a result of ignoring messengers that God had sent to preach repentance. God never offers a blessing without their being a penalty for rejecting it. The Book of Mormon would have been very short if this had been the case.

Decision Point 2

So, assuming you bother to actually listen to the random people claiming to have a message from God. Once you realize they are teaching things that, if true, require serious modifications to what you currently understand as true, how do you react?

This situation is very common in the scriptures. It happens whenever God mercifully sends true messengers to correct false traditions that have crept into the worship of his children. It happened when Jesus came among the Jews. He showed the falseness of several of the most prized traditions of the Pharisees. They killed him for it.

What would your reaction be if you were Lehi? Would your first response be to shut your ears and run? Would you turn off the podcast, shut the book, etc., and forget you had ever heard of it? Or, would you follow God's instructions in Moroni 10:5, and ask him if it is true, realizing that any attempt from God to increase your understanding of truth will necessarily involve challenging your preconceptions of what is true?

Lehi's first reaction was to pray about it, assuming it could be true:

Wherefore it came to pass that my father, Lehi, as he went forth prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people. (1 Nephi 1:5)
Because of his decision, instead of being promptly destroyed, he had a vision in which God confirmed to him the message he had heard. He was shown the wickedness of the people, suggesting that, until now, he had not recognized the behavior of those around him (and himself) as wicked. He also saw a vision of the Savior, showing that when we encounter a higher degree of truth than what we possess, we also receive experiences with God superior to those we have had in the past.

 6 And it came to pass as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly.
 7 And it came to pass that he returned to his own house at Jerusalem; and he cast himself upon his bed, being overcome with the Spirit and the things which he had seen.
 8 And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God.
 9 And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day.
 10 And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament.
 11 And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read.
 12 And it came to pass that as he read, he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.
 13 And he read, saying: Wo, wo, unto Jerusalem, for I have seen thine abominations! Yea, and many things did my father read concerning Jerusalem—that it should be destroyed, and the inhabitants thereof; many should perish by the sword, and many should be carried away captive into Babylon.
 14 And it came to pass that when my father had read and seen many great and marvelous things, he did exclaim many things unto the Lord; such as: Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty! Thy throne is high in the heavens, and thy power, and goodness, and mercy are over all the inhabitants of the earth; and, because thou art merciful, thou wilt not suffer those who come unto thee that they shall perish!
 15 And after this manner was the language of my father in the praising of his God; for his soul did rejoice, and his whole heart was filled, because of the things which he had seen, yea, which the Lord had shown unto him. (1 Nephi 1)
If Lehi had rejected God's word through the messengers, he would have stayed in his spiritually stagnant state until Jerusalem was destroyed. He would have been very comfortable in his beliefs, not having any clue that it was possible for a normal person to have a vision of Christ, or to hear God's voice, as he did after he was willing to ask God in sincerity whether the message was true.

Decision Point 3

After receiving a knowledge of these things, Lehi decided to go out and preach what he had seen to others.

 18 Therefore, I would that ye should know, that after the Lord had shown so many marvelous things unto my father, Lehi, yea, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, behold he went forth among the people, and began to prophesy and to declare unto them concerning the things which he had both seen and heard.
 19 And it came to pass that the Jews did mock him because of the things which he testified of them; for he truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations; and he testified that the things which he saw and heard, and also the things which he read in the book, manifested plainly of the coming of a Messiah, and also the redemption of the world.
 20 And when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out, and stoned, and slain; and they also sought his life, that they might take it away. But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance. (1 Nephi 1)

Now, most LDS I know won't even go out and preach what they currently have, a gospel that isn't very offensive or hard to live.  Lehi knew quite well what kind of people he was dealing with. He knew they were wicked. He also knew how they would react to this message. He went out and preached anyway. His friends and relations would have thought he was bonkers or worse. His professional and familial relationships would have greatly suffered. He did it anyway.

What would have happened if he had not? Note that the reason he was blessed to flee to a promised land was because he had gone out and preached these things to the point that the people wanted to kill him. If he had not done this, in spite of his having received true messengers and received visions from heaven, he still would have died with the others in Jerusalem.

The spectrum of LDS: Where do you fall?

1. Prophets have come among you with a message from God. (Here and here). Have you bothered to read the words they say they have been commanded to write? If not, and they are right, you are headed for temporal and spiritual destruction.

2. Assuming you have diligently listened to their message, what has been your reaction? Have you put it down, or have you sincerely taken it to God, with a willingness to listen to him even if you are wrong? If not, and they are right, you are headed for temporal and spiritual destruction, and you are losing out on greater encounters with God that are predicated upon your obedience to his word.

3. Assuming you have listened to the message, asked God sincerely, and learned it is true, what have you done about it? Have you remained anonymous publicly, protecting your worldly associations? Or, have you laid it all on the line, fulfilling your duty to warn others (D&C 88:81)? If not, in spite of any positive benefit you may have received thus far, you are still preventing God from blessing you with everything he has in mind, and you will be held accountable for your lack of charity towards those who have not yet been persuaded of the message that has changed your life. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13). "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love." (1 John 4:18).


When I think of my LDS friends, I think of Gollum from the Lord of the Rings. They have what they consider to be precious, yet they have no idea of the power of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. They have never lived it, despite being in possession of it for (in most cases) their whole lives. They tenaciously reject anyone who suggests that their traditions are false, and therefore cut themselves off from the teachings that would draw them closer to Christ and show them the magnitude of the blessings they have access to. They incessantly spin in fruitless effort in fawning adulation of a few principles and people that not only lack the power to save them, but also prevent them from living the commandments that will bring them to God.

Deep down inside, you know there is something more to the gospel. You know that there is a reason that your experiences are so different and lackluster compared to those in the scriptures. You know there is a reason that you struggle to get yourself to read the scriptures, go to church, home teach, go to the temple, etc.

Wherefore, do not spend money for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy. Hearken diligently unto me, and remember the words which I have spoken; and come unto the Holy One of Israel, and feast upon that which perisheth not, neither can be corrupted, and let your soul delight in fatness. (2 Nephi 9:51)
The reason is that you are not on the path that leads back to God. Instead, you are on the hamster wheel of the commandments of men. No matter what you put into the system you have, you will only get out what you already have. The best you can hope for is a valid temple recommend and talks featuring the philosophies of men mingled with (an every decreasing quantity of) scripture. Promises of eventually encountering God and reductive comparisons assuring you that your inexperience is the same as the experiences of those in the scriptures will never satisfy those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

 33 Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you. 34 Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely; 35 Yea, come unto me and bring forth works of righteousness, and ye shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire— 36 For behold, the time is at hand that whosoever bringeth forth not good fruit, or whosoever doeth not the works of righteousness, the same have cause to wail and mourn. (Alma 5)