Sunday, August 27, 2017

Instead of restoring the restoration, live it

There is a prevalent idea among those from Mormon traditions that any progress towards Zion must rest on the foundation of the so-called restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith. In other words, it must pick up where he left off.

In order for this to be the case, one must believe that:

  • Joseph Smith's mission revealed truths required for salvation.
  • Joseph Smith's mission uniquely revealed truths required for salvation.
  • Joseph Smith never taught anything that was false.
  • History has adequately preserved those truths that Joseph Smith revealed.
  • God will not reveal the same saving truths he taught through Joseph through anyone else.
Rather than provide an exhaustive answer to each question, we will provide just a brief example or counterexample for each question.

Did Joseph Smith's mission reveal truths required for salvation?

Yes. The truths in the Book of Mormon supplement those in the Bible, including those that were originally in the Bible but subsequently removed. The topic of repentance, for instance, is more clearly set forth in the Book of Mormon than the Bible, as was made very apparent to me when I was putting together the material for the first half of Seek Ye This Jesus.

Did Joseph Smith's mission uniquely reveal truths required for salvation?

To prove that Joseph Smith uniquely revealed truths required for salvation, we would have to show that no one in the world has attained similar experiences with God as Joseph Smith, except through knowing and applying what he taught. To prove this wrong, all you need is one person who has experienced similar things without ever having heard of Joseph Smith. There are many. Sadhu Sundar Selveraj is one such person who is alive today.

Did Joseph Smith ever teach anything that was false?

We could try to parse through some theological teachings here and use scripture to try to disprove them. Instead of that, let's see if we can find just one revelation that failed. Here is one that is unconditional and has a time limit so that we can definitely say that it failed to come to pass:

1 A revelation of Jesus Christ unto his servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and six elders, as they united their hearts and lifted their voices on high.
2 Yea, the word of the Lord concerning his church, established in the last days for the restoration of his people, as he has spoken by the mouth of his prophets, and for the gathering of his saints to stand upon Mount Zion, which shall be the city of New Jerusalem.
3 Which city shall be built, beginning at the temple lot, which is appointed by the finger of the Lord, in the western boundaries of the State of Missouri, and dedicated by the hand of Joseph Smith, Jun., and others with whom the Lord was well pleased.
4 Verily, this is the word of the Lord, and that the city New Jerusalem shall be built by the gathering of the saints, beginning at this place, even the place of the temple, which temple shall be reared in this generation.
5 For verily this generation shall not pass away until an house shall be built unto the Lord, and a cloud shall rest upon it, which cloud shall even the glory of the Lord, which shall fill his house.”
31…which house shall be built unto the Lord in this generation, upon the ‘consecrated spot as I have appointed.’” (D&C Section 84)

Has history adequately preserved those truths that Joseph Smith revealed?

In order to prove that history adequately prove this, we would have to know everything Joseph Smith revealed and then show that it is available today. That is obviously not possible. We can, however, recall just how much meddling we know took place. During the life of Joseph Smith, there was extensive modification of texts between when they were received and when they were printed. Oliver Cowdery and others who were charged with printing the revelations made changes that were not sanctioned by Joseph Smith (see Teaching for Doctrines the Commandments of Men pp. 160-162), and Joseph himself made changes subsequent to receiving the revelations

And since then? We know for a fact that the Doctrine and Covenants was extensively changed. If you want to see the extent of these changes, you can view a copy of Woodford's 1974 dissertation at BYU. We also know that Brigham Young and Willard Richards intentionally modified the History of the Church. In this environment, it is very difficult to make a case that the body of doctrine attributed to Joseph Smith actually came from him.

Will God reveal the same saving truths he taught through Joseph through anyone else?

Joseph taught both that anyone can know what he knows and that God would reveal it directly to them:
“God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 149).
The Book of Mormon goes farther, indicated that God will reveal to anyone things beyond what even Joseph knew:
22 Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed.... (Alma 26)

Discussion

You cannot build on another foundation without inheriting all the defects of that foundation. This is why the Protestant churches are just as incapable of leading one to salvation as the Catholic church: a dead tree cannot produce a living branch, no matter how pure the intentions of that branch.

You can't put new wine in old bottles.
21 No man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment: else the new piece that filled it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse.
22 And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles.
(Mark 2)
The Book of Mormon is a cleanly packaged packet of light and truth. It can stand on its own without bringing with it any of the defects of the movement begun by Joseph Smith, just as the Bible can be used without bringing any baggage along from the Catholic church. God has ordained it to be the tool to convert the remnant of Israel, a task that is still unfulfilled. It can and will do this without any connection to the LDS church or any other branch derived from Joseph Smith's movement.

The Lord taught that you cannot go beyond a telestial level of glory while you depend on a man as a mediator of the gospel.

98 And the glory of the telestial is one, even as the glory of the stars is one; for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world;
99 For these are they who are of Paul, and of Apollos, and of Cephas.
100 These are they who say they are some of one and some of another—some of Christ and some of John, and some of Moses, and some of Elias, and some of Esaias, and some of Isaiah, and some of Enoch;
101 But received not the gospel, neither the testimony of Jesus, neither the prophets, neither the everlasting covenant. (D&C 76)

Ironically, if you believe in the D&C as canon, you must also challenge the D&C as canon or face telestial damnation. Given D&C 76:98-101, and assuming that God actually said it, what does it mean if "This generation shall have my word through you?" (D&C 5:10) It is ideal for a group of people to have their interactions with God filtered through a mediator? Is it a blessing to have a mediator with God, or a curse? Should you accept everything Joseph purportedly taught as if he actually said it? Should you accept everything he really did teach, knowing that at least some of what he said was false? Should you accept the D&C as scripture, given that it includes many alterations and additions by men, some contemporary?

Conclusion

Joseph's mission was not to dispense all the truth required to bring mankind to the second coming of Christ. His mission was to demonstrate the possibility interacting with God by doing so himself, and to bring forth the Book of Mormon.

There is a difference between using someone as a resource and using them as a gateway. Joseph himself said:
".....when men come out and build upon other men's foundations, they do it on their own responsibility, without: authority from God; and when the floods come and the winds blow, their foundations will be found to be sand, and their whole fabric will crumble to dust."


Instead of committing the telestially-damning sin of making him a mediator between us and God, we should instead follow his example by achieving our own personal connection with God and making sure we read and live the gospel as taught in the Book of Mormon and the Bible.