Two Churches Only

This post will build on ideas set forth in previous posts entitled, Life and Death, and “Or, Are They All Wrong Together?”.

Nephi was shown in vision that in the last days there would be a great division among all people – “either to the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal, or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds unto their being brought down into captivity, and also into destruction…” (1 Nephi 14:7). Jesus referred to this division using several parables, namely: the wheat and the tares, the wise and the foolish virgins, and the sheep and the goats (divided on his right hand and on his left).

Though we see increasing political division today, the division prophesied of is not strictly political; it is a spiritual matter, split between those on the side of life, and those on the side of death. Ironically, those on the side of death are always split amongst themselves – whether it be politically, religiously, or otherwise. There is only one narrow way that leads to life, while the ways leading to death are nearly infinite (Matthew 7:13-14). Unity is only to be found in the truth; everything else is just chaos.

The angel described this great division using the imagery of two churches, “And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth” (1 Nephi 14:10).

One of the reasons the church of the devil is referred to as the whore of all the earth is because she is indiscriminate in her values. Whereas the church of the Lamb has only one husband (the Lord), the church of the devil subscribes to every idea, philosophy, and practice that leads to death (and there are many).

Those who make up the church of the Lamb are His “saints,” or sanctified ones (1 Nephi 14:12). These are saints by Book of Mormon definition – those who yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit and are changed through the atonement of Christ (Mosiah 3:19). Membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not alone make one a saint. We must literally be transformed by Christ’s atonement from desiring death to desiring life (Mosiah 5:2), otherwise we’re not saints – we’re just ‘ain’ts.’ One can be a member of the Church and still belong to the church of the devil; this division is a lifestyle and a culture, not a title. The great division will take place among all people, including the Church. As has been shown previously, there are many Latter-day Saints who will end up fighting against the work of Zion.

The Gentiles Go Two Ways

As Nephi was taught in vision, everything is about whether or not the Gentiles will harden their hearts. If they don’t, they will be sifted with the wheat; if they do, then with the tares. Latter-day Saints are not yet exempt from being “identified with the gentiles” (D&C 109:60). When the scriptures speak of a great division taking place among the Gentiles, that division happens on all levels. The only difference is that those of the Church will be held to a higher standard; with the greater light comes the greater condemnation (D&C 82:3). The Lord Himself indicates that the destruction and calamities of the last days will begin first upon His own house, and from thence go forth to the rest of the world (D&C 112:25-26).

Speaking of the Church, the Lord said, “For they were set to be a light unto the world, and to be the saviors of men; and inasmuch as they are not the saviors of men, they are as salt that has lost its savor, and is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men” (D&C 103:9-10). We have been given too much to not do anything about it. If we do not become a light unto the world, and saviors of men, we will one day find ourselves cut off from the Lord’s covenant people.

The Savior prophesied the day the Gentiles would sin against His gospel. As you read this statement of the Lord’s carefully, you’ll see how it applies not only to the Gentiles of America, but of the Church as well:

“And thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you: At that day when the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, and shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts above all nations, and above all the people of the whole earth, and shall be filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations; and if they shall do all those things, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, behold, saith the Father, I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them.

“And then will I remember my covenant which I have made unto my people, O house of Israel, and I will bring my gospel unto them. And I will show unto thee, O house of Israel, that the Gentiles shall not have power over you; but I will remember my covenant unto you, O house of Israel, and ye shall come unto the knowledge of the fulness of my gospel.

“But if the Gentiles will repent and return unto me, saith the Father, behold they shall be numbered among my people, O house of Israel. And I will not suffer my people, who are of the house of Israel, to go through among them, and tread them down, saith the Father.

“But if they will not turn unto me, and hearken unto my voice, I will suffer them, yea, I will suffer my people, O house of Israel, that they shall go through among them, and shall tread them down, and they shall be as salt that hath lost its savor, which is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of my people, O house of Israel” (3 Nephi 16:10-15).

Now, there is a positive side to this, which is that the Gentiles have the opportunity to perform the greatest task ever assigned to mankind. The opportunity to be a light to the Gentiles and saviors to the house of Israel will include ministering with miraculous power hardly conceivable to us now. These will be the 144,000 high priests seen by John (Revelation 14:1), the Gentile kings and queens seen by Isaiah (Isaiah 49:21-22), the saviors on Mount Zion mentioned in Obadiah (Obadiah 1:21), and the fulness of the Gentiles spoken of by Lehi and others (1 Nephi 15:13-14, 3 Nephi 16:4, Romans 11:25-26). These will gather in the lost tribes of Israel in the greatest missionary effort the world has ever seen.

The Three Nephites serve as a type of these servants, not only as translated beings, but as being a few of the only surviving Nephites (a covenant people that hardened their hearts). The ratio of the righteous and wicked is never split 50/50; it is always the few and the many.

As Nephi wrote of our day, “I beheld the church of the Lamb of God, and its numbers were few, because of the wickedness and abominations of the whore who sat upon many waters; nevertheless, I beheld that the church of the Lamb, who were the saints of God, were also upon all the face of the earth; and their dominions upon the face of the earth were small, because of the wickedness of the great whore whom I saw” (1 Nephi 14:12; cf. 2 Nephi 28:8). This is always the case in scriptural history (e.g. Noah’s family vs. the world, Abraham’s family vs. Sodom & Gomorrah, Lehi’s family vs. Jerusalem, etc.).

Furthermore, the wicked Nephites and the Three Disciples were both at opposite extremes of the spectrum; one side so filled with life that it could not be taken from them (3 Nephi 28:7), and the other so captive to death that it was celebrated (Moroni 9:9-10). Such is the prophesied division of our day; everyone will essentially end up at one end or the other.

When Will These Things Come to Pass?

The Lord indicates that this great division takes place as the result of a great and marvelous work He will perform. Those who love life and truth will be polarized to one side, while those who harden their hearts and love a lie will be polarized to the other. These things are beginning to happen now, but when the Lord “makes bare” His arm in the eyes of all nations, they will amplify until “the consumption decreed has made a full end of all nations.”

The most notable catalyst to these things will be the arrival of the Lord’s end time servant. He is prophesied to come with a greater portion of the words of Christ, which the Gentiles will summarily reject:

But behold, the life of my servant shall be in my hand; therefore they shall not hurt him, although he shall be marred because of them. Yet I will heal him, for I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil. Therefore it shall come to pass that whosoever will not believe in my words, who am Jesus Christ, which the Father shall cause him to bring forth unto the Gentiles, and shall give unto him power that he shall bring them forth unto the Gentiles, (it shall be done even as Moses said) they shall be cut off from among my people who are of the covenant” (3 Nephi 21:10-11).

As there is an opposition in all things, the outpouring of light in that day will be accompanied by an increase in darkness. We will see both greater truths and greater deceptions; both greater peace and greater war. The increased opposition will propel those who love God further than they could get otherwise. We read of such a precedent among the Nephites:

“And they were lifted up in pride, even to the persecution of many of their brethren. Now this was a great evil, which did cause the more humble part of the people to suffer great persecutions, and to wade through much affliction. Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God” (Helaman 3:34-35; emphasis added).

The opposition and persecution from the wicked will be a catalyst for the righteous to obtain more power with God. As Nephi wrote, “And it came to pass that I beheld that the great mother of abominations did gather together multitudes upon the face of all the earth, among all the nations of the Gentiles, to fight against the Lamb of God. And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, that it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.” (1 Nephi 14:13-14).

Hence, when the Lord’s servant is “marred because of them,” the Lord will heal him (which in Isaiah’s context, refers to being made a translated being). It will be in that day when the prophecy of Joel will be fulfilled, which says, “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions” (Joel 2:28).

To the Right or the Left?

How can we ensure we will ripen with the wheat and not the tares? Considering even the Church will be divided, how can we make certain we are not among the wicked?

The most important thing we can do now is take honest inventory of our own hearts. Do we embrace a culture of life, or a culture of death? Are our individual actions in harmony with life? Do we seek for the welfare of others? Do we love truth? Are we striving to understand greater truth and live accordingly? Are we inquiring of the Lord to learn from Him personally, or are we hardening our hearts by expecting others to do so for us?

One of the most vital indicators is how we approach religion. If religion is the search for truth, revelation and repentance will serve us well. On the other hand, if we view religion as short list of beliefs or creeds, “Mormonism” (so-called) is no different than any other ideology.

Ideology and other forms of dead religion have a fixed set of beliefs. You can study their tenets for a few months and have a comprehensive understanding of the belief system. It’s limited. It’s finite. It has an end. It’s a worldview that teaches you the “right answers” to every circumstance and question, but only offers a shallow understanding of fundamental issues and doctrines. For this reason, an ideologue is very predictable. A conversation with any number of individuals who wholesale subscribe to the same ideology will always be the same; there is no thinking left to be done.

We typically speak of a dead vs. living religion in terms of continuing revelation – and that idea is true enough – however, instead of waiting on continuing revelation from others, we ought to be seeking it ourselves. If our search for truth does not result in continuing revelation, we do not have a living religion. What the restored gospel offers is keys to an infinitely deep wealth of knowledge. If we limit the truths that have been restored to revised bullet points, it is no different than the rest of Christianity.

For example, if the value we find in the plan of salvation (as we commonly refer to our flow chart) is that instead of believing we die and just go to heaven or hell, we actually go some place else and then eventually are sorted into one of three buckets, our religion is just as dead as any other. The value is in understanding why these things are so (for starters, that they act like rungs on a ladder of progression).

Most Christians put God in a box, and many Latter-day Saints just put Him in a slightly bigger one. Revealed truth is not intended to act as a fence, but rather as a gateway to greater understanding and further truth. True principles are infinitely profound; you can always take them deeper. False precepts that are not aligned to the order of heaven will put a dam in truth’s logical and eternal flow. Truth expands into eternity, and fits inside a larger pattern of life and creation. You can see fractals of true principles on infinitely smaller and larger scales. False principles are typically limited to one arbitrary explanation; the question “why,” is usually answered with, “that’s just how God made it.”

Our love for truth over ideology will be a distinguishing factor between the two churches in days to come. We must love truth above all else. If this idea doesn’t make sense, please let me know and I’ll try to find a clearer way to articulate it. There’s an enjoyable block from the Teachings of the Presidents: Joseph Smith manual that’s worth reading here.

To love truth is to love the order of life and creation. It is to have a desire to uphold it, maintain it, and promote it. It is to care for the welfare of others, individually and collectively. No matter how much truth someone possess today, this is what matters most.

There are those now who love life, but have not yet been sanctified in truth to the end that Christ desires. They have drawn lines in the sand and put some limits on God. I believe men like Jordan Peterson fall in this camp. He has extracted greater value and truth from the scriptures than have most Christians. He apparently cares deeply for the life and welfare of others, but currently seems hesitant to accept that most scripture is more than myth. These kinds of people are generally reconciled to the truth they have, and live accordingly. When the Lord sets His hand again, they will be given the opportunity to embrace greater truth, or will find their sacred cows become stumbling blocks.

A love for light and truth will matter more and more in the coming years. Ideology creates the illusion that we possess greater knowledge than we really do. Without being grounded in a genuine knowledge of the truth, we will be swept up in the wave of deception to come.

It’s hard for many of us now to perceive a world like the end of the Nephite civilization. It’s even harder to imagine ourselves being polarized to such a dark extreme. Yet, every historical instance where evil rules, whether it be Sodom, Jerusalem, or Nazi Germany, ordinary people find it surprisingly easy to gradually tolerate and permit greater wickedness. Only those ever vigilant for life and truth can avoid moral decline. As G.K. Chesterson put it, “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” Or, as the Savior put it, “ye must watch and pray always, lest ye be tempted by the devil, and ye be led away captive by him” (3 Nephi 18:15).

Here is a thought provoking quote from a German who experienced the rise of the Nazis:

“If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked—if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

“And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed.” (Milton Sanford Mayer, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-45)

On the same topic, this short clip from Jordan Peterson illustrates this idea:

Of course, these examples are just a sample of all that could be said on this subject. The findings of the Stanford Prison and Milgram Shock experiments are also noteworthy, and worth taking the time to look into.

The little things are the big things.

We want to ensure, above all else, our hearts remain pure through all that is to come. Those on the side of life (who belong to the church of the Lamb) are those who have been sanctified and made pure.

We are sanctified through truth, which is the word of God (John 17:17). As we yield to truth by looking to God in every thought, our hearts will be purified and preserved. The light within us will grow brighter while the Spirit withdraws from the world around us. Truth will be made plainer and clearer to us everyday amidst a nation dwindling in unbelief.

What is unique about the righteous portion in Jesus’ parables? They are full of the Holy Ghost (having been sanctified in truth) and desire the life and welfare of others (see Matthew 25). They love light rather than darkness, truth rather than lies, and life rather than death.

There are only two churches. Though both options will require everything that we have, it is that simple. Light or darkness? Truth or lie? Life or death? Creation or destruction? Love or fear? Good or evil? “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

The Purpose of Prophets

As Latter-day Saints, we love prophets. We love the idea of God speaking to mankind through visions and revelations currently just as He did anciently. We rejoice that the heavens are open, and stand tall on the truth that mankind can know the will of God in any age. However, our unique claim to prophethood has provoked many relevant questions about their role and nature such as: “are prophets infallible?,” “how do we know when they’re speaking as prophets, or are just expressing a personal view/opinion?,” or “if the prophet doesn’t talk about it, is it even necessary for my salvation?” etc.

Though many classes, lectures, and articles have been dedicated to this topic, I actually don’t think it needs to be as complicated as we make it out to be. As with other gospel concepts, this one fits neatly inside a larger pattern of life and creation. When correctly understood, the questions we frequently ask lose their intrigue as they’re replaced by the simplicity of the bigger picture.

This post will hopefully be a chance to reframe and refine our understanding of prophets in light of the Lord’s larger plan of salvation.

Restoring Heaven to Earth

As noted here, all gospel concepts fall into their proper place when viewed through the lens of God trying to restore heaven to earth. In the beginning there was some overlap, as Adam and Eve could dwell in God’s presence. Because of the fall, they were cut off from His presence, and the world was no longer a place fit for the garden of Eden. Since that day, God has sent messengers (in the form of both angels and prophets) to declare His word so that a people might be prepared to again live in His presence.

The first people we have record of who attained such a state of holiness are those of the Zion, the city of Enoch. Enoch declared repentance, and because the people turned to the Lord in perfect faith and humility, they were made pure. The Lord dwelt with them as a result, and when the world became too wicked to hold them, they too were taken from the earth (Moses 7:69).

The second we have record of was the people of Salem, governed by a king named Melchizedek. They too, “wrought righteousness, and obtained heaven, and sought for the city of Enoch which God had before taken” (JST Genesis 14:34). They too ascended into heaven, the world not being prepared to keep them.

When God redeemed Israel from captivity in Egypt, He sought to establish the same thing among them. However, they hardened their hearts and rejected the Lord’s invitation. We read that Moses “sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God; but they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory” (D&C 84:23-24; emphasis added).

The Lord’s highest priority is that His people enter into His rest (or presence; the fulness of His glory). He has sought this from the days of Adam onward, and has never deviated from this goal. This is how He plans to restore heaven to earth; first among individuals, then a people, then the world.

When Alma taught the Nephites, He recounted these same motives from the Lord: “Therefore, whosoever repenteth, and hardeneth not his heart, he shall have claim on mercy through mine Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of his sins; and these shall enter into my rest. And whosoever will harden his heart and will do iniquity, behold, I swear in my wrath that he shall not enter into my rest” (Alma 12:34-35; emphasis added).

Regarding those after the same order of Melchizedek/Enoch, Alma said, “Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God. And now, my brethren, I would that ye should humble yourselves before God, and bring forth fruit meet for repentance, that ye may also enter into that rest” (Alma 13:12-13; cf. D&C 76:57).

This has been the Lord’s continual invitation ever since. He wants Israel to become a holy nation, the same the city of Enoch was. The way back to His presence follows a narrow course, and only by following His voice back to the source will we find it.

Example or Proxy?

The role of messengers, angels or otherwise, is to declare the word of God. It is to bring to the people the words that they cannot obtain from God on their own. If they receive those words, they are prepared for more. These messengers can be both seen and unseen, as the Holy Ghost is essentially conveyed by the ministering of angels (D&C 76:86-88). When they live by every word that proceeds forth from the mouth of God, they are prepared to enter into His rest. “Therefore he sent angels to converse with them, who caused men to behold of his glory” (Alma 12:29).

Obviously, such messengers must first be pure enough themselves to stand in God’s presence. It’s vain to try and bring someone to a point beyond where you are yourself. Once you’ve walked the narrow path, you can declare the way. Joseph Smith said,

“Salvation cannot come without revelation; it is in vain for anyone to minister without it. … No man can be a minister of Jesus Christ except he has the testimony of Jesus; and this is the spirit of prophecy. Whenever salvation has been administered, it has been by testimony. Men of the present time testify of heaven and hell, and have never seen either; and I will say that no man knows these things without this.”

The goal of these messengers (and the goal of any missionary on any level), is to bring others up to the point that they’re at. The same way a father seeks to bring his son up to adulthood, so the role of a prophet is to make other prophets. Hence, it was not enough for Enoch to be a seer; he sought to bring his entire people into the presence of the Lord. It was not sufficient for Moses to have communed with God, the Lord wanted all Israel to be a holy nation.

I believe the relationship between Lehi and Nephi is the perfect prototype for how these things are intended to work.

Lehi received revelation for himself and his family. Nephi prayed to know whether or not it was true, and the Lord softened his heart (1 Nephi 2:16). As Nephi persisted in the truth he had, the Lord revealed things to him directly. When Lehi told his sons that the Lord commanded them to retrieve the brass plates, Nephi knew it came from God. When Lehi shared his vision about the tree of life, Nephi sought to know and see those things for himself. That vision was not on reserve for Lehi alone, and as Nephi experimented on the word presented by his father, he obtained the same fruits.

Laman and Lemuel, on the other hand, did not seek to know for themselves, believing that “the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us” (1 Nephi 15:9). As they continually hardened their hearts, they received a lesser portion of His word, until they eventually knew nothing regarding His will (Alma 12:11; cf. 2 Nephi 28:30).

Laman and Lemuel hardened their hearts in the same manner that the children of Israel did at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Because they would not receive what Moses had, they received a lesser portion of the word (a lesser law). Specifically, they wanted Moses to stay as their go-between before God: “And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:18-19; emphasis added).

The middle-man arrangement proposed by the children of Israel was not what the Lord had in mind for His people. Moses’s primary role as a prophet was to lead them in an exodus from “the world” and into the presence of God. That was Plan A. Instead of becoming prophets and high priests themselves by rising up to the invitation to enter the Lord’s presence, they were content to have someone go on their behalf.

Make no mistake, in neither their day nor ours did God intend for His people to stay at an arm’s length. The reason the higher (Melchizedek) order of the priesthood was restored to the earth was to renew the invitation to Israel to come into the Lord’s immediate presence. In D&C 107, we read:

“The power and authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church—To have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant” (D&C 107:18-19).

Are we, as the covenant people of the Lord, embracing the invitation to flee “the world” and come into the rest of the Lord, that we might enjoy communion with Him? Are we seeking the very thing to which the temple endowment points? Are we following the pattern so that we too may be found true and faithful in all things, and pass through the veil into God’s presence?

Many of us in the Church rejoice at the idea of modern prophets; do we rejoice because we desire to be led into the presence of the Lord, or rather because the pressure of obtaining personal revelation has been “alleviated?” Don’t we frequently hear people dismiss the need to give greater diligence to learning the mysteries of God, assuming that if it was in fact necessary, they’d hear about it at General Conference? Are we outsourcing our need to learn from God directly? Are we depending on the prophet for revelation rather than inquiring of the Lord for ourselves? Do we assume, like Laman and Lemuel, that “the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us?”

From the minutes of a Relief Society address in 1842, we read: “President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel–said the Lord had declared by the Prophet, that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church–that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls–applied it to the present state of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall–that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves…” (TPJS p. 238).

I get slightly concerned when I hear catchphrases like “follow the prophet,” because I believe it reinforces a wrong idea. For one, it’s not a phrase or concept to be found anywhere in the scriptures. We certainly “give heed” to the words of the prophets and apostles (D&C 1:14), but to say we “follow the prophet,” I’m afraid overstates the case (at least it seems many take this to an extreme). The emphasis ought not be on the messenger, but on the message. Nephi didn’t follow Lehi, he followed the Lord (1 Nephi 2:16-20). Laman and Lemuel did follow Lehi because they didn’t go and inquire for themselves.

We are each expected, like Nephi, to go and learn these things for ourselves. Men like Lehi are sent to declare the word of God – to shine light on the path – but none of us are exempt from going and doing the exact same thing ourselves. We must live the way the prophets live; we must know the things the prophets know. “…for 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…” (TPJS p. 150).

When the Spirit fell on two men in the Israelite camp who went about prophesying, a young man ran to Moses expecting he would be outraged and would put a stop to what was happening. His response? “Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!” (Numbers 11:29).

Dealing with Falliability

There’s a joke that Catholics say the Pope is infallible, but they don’t actually believe it – and that Mormons say the President of the Church is fallible, but they don’t actually believe it.

People spend far too much time trying to dissect what’s opinion and what’s doctrine so they can know what to lean on. The truth is, you shouldn’t be “leaning” on any of it until the Lord has revealed or confirmed it to you himself. Brigham Young and Orson Pratt disagreed on a variety of doctrinal issues. How do you know who to trust? You seek the Spirit of revelation, like Joseph Smith did, and humble yourself so that the Lord can reveal it to you directly. It’s the Lehi-Nephi model.

Brigham Young counseled, “I have often said to the Latter-day Saints – ‘Live so that you will know where I teach you the truth or not.’ Suppose you are careless and unconcerned, and give way to the spirit of the world, and I am led, likewise, to preach the things of this world and to accept things that are NOT of God, how easy it would be for me to lead you astray! But I say to you, live so that you will know for yourselves where I tell the truth or not. That is the way we want all Saints to live” (JD: 18:248).

From J. Rueben Clark: “We can tell when the speakers are moved upon by the Holy Ghost only when we, ourselves, are moved upon by the Holy Ghost. In a way, this completely shifts the responsibility from them to us to determine when they so speak” (CN-7/31/54).

One important principle to note is that leadership positions in the Church do not magically change a person. Just as a missionary or bishop being set-apart does not guarantee they will exercise power in their assignments, so the same applies to every calling in the church, apostleship included. Being called and set-apart is an invitation to the individual to rise up and become what the calling requires of them.

In D&C 107, we read, “And again, the duty of the President of the office of the High Priesthood is to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses—Behold, here is wisdom; yea, to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God which he bestows upon the head of the church” (D&C 107:91-92). It is the responsibility of the Presiding High Priest to preside over the Church like Moses did (like a prophet, seer, and revelator).

When Joseph called twelve apostles, they were all charged to seek the face of Christ, and were assured that their ordination was incomplete until Christ Himself laid hands on the them. The following conference, Joseph in turn sustained them as “prophets, seers, and revelators,” although none of them had necessarily attained those things yet. His sustaining vote (and ours) is an acknowledgment to God and the Church that we are going to assist them in their efforts to become what their callings require of them.

It should be no concern to our faith if those called to any position in the Church should stumble. There came a time when even Lehi complained against the Lord for want of food (1 Nephi 16:20). Though I’m sure those who put their trust in Lehi were shaken by his weakness, Nephi had properly been inquiring of the Lord for himself all along. He knew, independent of his father, that the Lord would provide for them if they exercised faith.

Seeking to support his father in the responsibilities of his calling, Nephi fashioned tools for hunting and asked him, “Whither shall I go to obtain food?” This inspired Lehi enough to inquire of the Lord on his behalf (1 Nephi 16:23-24). Having spoken many things “in the energy of my soul,” his family humbled themselves before God, and were chastened by Him as He saw fit.

We see this attitude reflected in George Q. Cannon’s words: “Do not, brethren, put your trust in man though he be a bishop; an apostle, or a president; if you do, they will fail you at some time or place, they will do wrong or seem to, and your support be gone; but if we lean on God, He never will fail us. When men and women depend on God alone, and trust in Him alone, their faith will not be shaken if the highest in the Church should step aside” (“Need For Personal Testimonies,” 2/15/1891).

The only reason we spend any time trying to draw careful lines around what’s “opinion,” “policy,” or “doctrine,” etc., is because we are hardening our hearts by not inquiring of the Lord ourselves. He has promised, “If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you” (1 Nephi 15:11). Because Nephi inquired of the Lord for himself, he could explain to his brothers the things his father taught. Because he had the same vision, he even picked up on things Lehi didn’t notice (1 Nephi 15:27). The only one who could truly sustain and support Lehi at any point in their journey (including Lehi’s own hour of weakness) was the son who didn’t rely on his father’s faith, but rather used it as a catalyst to develop his own.

Now, as a final thought on fallibility, it’s important to note that the Lord allows those he calls in any capacity to apostatize or walk away from their ordained path. This is not something uncommon in scriptural history, or even the history of our dispensation – nor is it unprecedented for someone to apostatize while maintaining their calling (Isaiah 28:7; Jeremiah 23). Though I do believe such characters will eventually come to naught, the Lord makes no indication that He will intervene to prevent them from using their agency. As He told the Nephites, “if it be not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return” (3 Nephi 27:11). He allows them to have “joy” in their works for a season; He allows them to test and try His people, but “by and by” something that is contrary to truth will die (see King Noah &co; cf. Mosiah 12:10). Even Judas was permitted to remain among the twelve up until the very moment He gave Christ into the hands of Rome.

This isn’t something that should be of great concern. If we are continuing to lean upon and inquire of the Lord for ourselves, He will direct our paths. There is a profound quote from Ezra Taft Benson on the subject of fallibility:

“Six of the original twelve apostles selected by Joseph Smith were excommunicated. The three witnesses to the Book of Mormon left the Church. Three of Joseph Smith’s counselors fell–one even helped plot the Prophet’s death. A natural question that might arise would be, if the Lord knew in advance that these men would fall, as he undoubtedly did, why did he have his prophet call them to such high office? The answer is, to fill the Lord’s purposes. For even the Master followed the will of the Father by selecting Judas. President George Q. Cannon suggested an explanation, too, when he stated, ‘Perhaps it is His own design that faults and weaknesses should appear in high places IN ORDER THAT HIS SAINTS MAY LEARN TO TRUST IN HIM and NOT in ANY man or men.’ And this would parallel [Nephi’s] warning: ‘put not your trust in the arm of flesh’ (2 Nephi 4:35)… It is from WITHIN the church that the greatest hindrance comes. And so, it seems, it has been.

“Now the question arises, WILL WE STICK WITH THE KINGDOM AND CAN WE AVOID BEING DECEIVED?… Brigham Young said: ‘The Adversary presents his principles and arguments in the most approved style, and in the most winning tone, attended with the most graceful attitudes; and he is very careful to ingratiate himself into the favour of the powerful and influential of mankind…Such characters put on the manners of an angel, appearing as nigh like angels of light as they possibly can… The good which they do, they do it to bring to pass an evil purpose’…

“Those of us who think ‘all is well in Zion’ in spite of Book of Mormon warnings might ponder the words of Heber C. Kimball, who said:… ‘the time is coming when we will be mixed up in these now peaceful valleys to that extent that it will be difficult to tell the face of a Saint from the face of an enemy to the people of God. Then, brethren look out for the great sieve, for there will be a great sifting time, and many will fall; for I say unto you there is a test, a Test, a TEST coming.'” (Ezra Taft Benson: God, Family, Country p. 335 – 337)

Conclusion

The presence of a prophet has never relieved our personal responsibility to receive revelation; we must inquire of the Lord for ourselves. Prophets are intended to show the way – to shine light on the path – but we must each learn for ourselves, by revelation, the truths that they declare. Moses, like the prophets before him, sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God. This is the role and goal of any prophet. As stated clearly in the Lectures on Faith:

“…the extent of their knowledge, respecting [God’s] character and glory, will depend upon their diligence and faithfulness in seeking after him, until like Enoch, the brother of Jared, and Moses, they shall obtain faith in God, and power with him to behold him face to face.

“We have now clearly set forth how it is, and how it was, that God became an object of faith for rational beings; and also, upon what foundation the testimony was based, which excited the enquiry and diligent search of the ancient saints, to seek after and obtain a knowledge of the glory of God: and we have seen that it was human testimony, and human testimony only, that excited this enquiry, in the first instance in their minds—it was the credence they gave to the testimony of their fathers—this testimony having aroused their minds to enquire after the knowledge of God, the enquiry frequently terminated, indeed, always terminated, when rightly pursued, in the most glorious discoveries, and eternal certainty” (Lectures on Faith 2:55-56; emphasis added).

The role of a prophet is to make other prophets. Hence Joseph’s creating “the school of the prophets” for the early Elders of this dispensation. Hence the pattern of the Temple endowment today. Hence the building up of Zion, the second coming of the Lord, and the millennial day wherein He reigns personally upon the earth. Hence at the day, all shall know Him from the least to the greatest (Jeremiah 31:34).

If or when a leader is not fulfilling their role, whether it be a bishop, a stake president, or an apostle, it should not be something that causes us to stumble. As was suggested by Elder Cannon, the very reason the Lord allows such people to occupy those roles is to teach us not to idolize the men who fill them. Whether God’s children are in a position like Nephi’s, with a prophet to declare the path in righteousness, or like Samuel’s, in a day with “no open vision” (1 Samuel 3:1), the responsibility is the same. As we humble ourselves before God, He will soften our hearts and reveal the truth to us personally (1 Nephi 2:16).

Should we begin to live as the prophets live, and seek to know all the prophets know, we would become a holy nation and a kingdom of priests; we would rise to accept the invitation our ancestors rejected and enter into the Lord’s rest.

Reframing Everything

If there was only one thing I could share with the world, and I could inscribe it in the hearts of every person alive, I think it would be this: The gospel isn’t about dying and going to heaven; it’s about bringing heaven down to earth.

That single paradigm shift will begin to open the scriptures in new ways.

Everything that seems arbitrary and unconnected about the gospel begins to fall into place. The ideas of priesthood, commandments, agency, degrees of glory, a temple, the justice of God, sealing power, the gathering of Israel, Zion, the second coming, the need for an atonement, exaltation, and many others all naturally fit together when understood properly.

Truly, nothing about the gospel is arbitrary; every concept is the natural extension of another. When understood properly, you will see that it all fits together inside a beautiful mosaic.

I can’t help but smile when people suggest Joseph changed his doctrine over time. Obviously certain truths were revealed to him line upon line, but everything he taught from New York to Nauvoo is beautifully consistent. These concepts only seem random or contradictory if you can’t see the larger pattern that they all fit into.

By reframing our understanding of the gospel in this way (namely, that Christ is trying to bring heaven down to earth), we allow the Spirit to reveal the doctrines of the gospel to us in greater clarity.

For too long, Christians have been asking the wrong questions. “How do I get to heaven?,” is not nearly as important as “how do I become heavenly?” The gospel isn’t a matter of securing a train ticket to a pleasant destination; it’s about fundamentally transforming who we are. When our hearts are inclined towards life and love, heaven will be the natural by-product.

As Ezra Taft Benson said on one occasion, “The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of the people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature . . . Christ changes men, and changed men can change the world.”

The law and commandments are more than an arbitrary list of do’s and dont’s: they’re the essence of heaven itself. The Lord seeks to bless us through the truths and commandments He teaches us; hence it has been said, we are not earning heaven, we are learning heaven. It is a lifestyle – the most optimal lifestyle in existence. There is no reason to debate what boxes you must check before you’re legally (technically) saved from a subterranean torture chamber. Christ offers us a better way, and through His grace and Spirit, can enable us to live it.

Everything functions according to eternal law because God is eternally just.

Because He respects our agency, the Lord will not force something upon us that we do not want (good or bad). Alma the Younger observed, “he that knoweth good and evil, to him it is given according to his desires, whether he desireth good or evil, life or death, joy or remorse of conscience” (Alma 29:5). He will allow us to do whatever we want to do, but He (and His ministers) frequently assume responsibility for the consequences of our actions to provide us an opportunity to repent and live.

Making this paradigm shift also gives us insight into the heart and motive of God. We begin to understand where suffering fits into the picture, and why the world must be cleansed (and its inhabitants be thus made pure) before the millennial day. We understand how and why we must repent of our sins.

In short, I think this shift in our thinking is the most essential one we can make to begin understanding the proper context for gospel truths.

“Or, Are They All Wrong Together?”

When something is created, raw materials are organized to work together in harmony for a greater purpose – like gathering wood, steel, and other materials to build a house.

When something dies, it’s de-created and disorganized – like an an old house that’s been weathered and is decaying. Where its various components worked together in harmony before, they now begin to fall apart.

God is a God of creation.

From the beginning, He has sought to create, order, and organize raw materials into greater and greater creations. He created the earth, and “re-created” it in a greater way on each successive “day.” Gradually, He took the matter at hand and organized it into higher orders of creation.

Because of the fall, death was introduced in the world. Things began decaying and falling apart with time. Even Adam’s own family splintered as Cain and doubtless others left to be on their own. The human family has essentially been divided and disorganized ever since.

When things begin to die and dissolve, they lose their collective sense of unity. This is just as true on a molecular level as it is on a cultural one. As a compound is the combination of various elements, so is a family a combination of various people. The laws of creation apply just the same, because everything in creation consists of some degree of intelligence.

Christ seeks for His people to be Zion: “of one heart and one mind” (Moses 7:18, cf. Mosiah 18:21). He exhorts us, “be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine” (D&C 38:27). As we obey Him, we are organized to work together in harmony for a greater purpose. Paul describes this principle using the analogy of a human body; not every member serves the same function, but they are all organized to work together as vital parts of a greater whole (1 Corinthians 12). They are one in purpose. Thus the Savior prayed, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21, cf. Ephesians 4:11-14). He seeks to create something of us collectively – “a kingdom of priests, a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6) – something after the order of the city of Enoch, where heaven dwelt on earth (Moses 7:69).

As we each individually align ourselves to Christ, we all in turn will be aligned to one another. Just as Christ is the head of the body, so must we all submit to Him so that He can use us together in harmony.

As we humble ourselves before Him, we increase in light, and knowledge of the truth. As we increase in light, we are re-created (or “born again”) in a higher way – first individually, then collectively. However, the same thing is true in the other direction. When we harden our hearts, we lose light, and our knowledge of the truth is obscured (Alma 12:9-11). As a result, we begin to fall apart – first collectively, then individually.

Jewish Division

On this wise, Israel was divided, broken up, and scattered (1 Nephi 22:3-5; 2 Nephi 25:14-15; Deut. 4:25-27).

Not only was this the case physically, but spiritually as well, as they divided into various religious parties (among which were the Pharisees and Sadducees). Jacob clearly taught, “the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble” (Jacob 4:14).

Following the initial scattering of Israel, during a period where there was no prophetic voice in Israel, the Jews who remained in the area splintered into dissenting factions and sects. Because they all gradually lost knowledge of the truth, seeds of division were sown. They disagreed on the meaning of the law God had given them, and how to live it. Maybe they spent years arguing in the first century equivalent of Facebook’s comments section. Perhaps people watched as they tried to decide which party they aligned with. Perhaps after picking one, they noticed the faults and hypocrisy of the other – and so it goes.

But who had the truth, the Pharisees or Sadducees? Neither. Though they both felt very strongly that they were right and the other was wrong, neither had retained the full picture. They spent their time passionately arguing about things that didn’t truly understand. When Christ (the living Law) came to dwell among them, they all agreed on one thing: He was a blasphemer whose offenses ought to be punished by death. As the ultimate litmus test, the Truth Himself came to dwell among them – yet none of them recognized it because there was no truth in them.

Only a fraction of the people – those who actually cared about truth in spite of their traditions – recognized Jesus for who He was.

Christian Division

The same thing happened among the gentiles who listed to follow Christ. As the centuries passed, they lost light and truth, which resulted in their increasing division (James 4:1; 1 Corinthians 11:18-19). Following the death of the apostles, there was no prophetic voice in the Church. There was actually such division in Christianity that when Emperor Constantine adopted it as the state religion, He called various church leaders together to debate it out and come to a consensus based on majority vote. That didn’t last, obviously, as people who suffered at the hands of the church’s corrupt practices and teachings began to protest. Most notably among these was Martin Luther, whose critical sparks lit the fire of the Protestant Reformation.

For several hundred more years, Christians were divided on Christianity. Revivalist camps in early America featured preachers of various sects and ideologies trying, quite passionately, to win over converts from one another. People came to listen and decide which party they aligned with. Truly such division was the effect of death, decay, and a gradual loss of light and truth.

When Joseph Smith arrived on the scene, he did something few others did. Sensing his own inadequacy as a youth to reason out who was right and who was wrong, he was impressed by James’ instruction to “ask of God” (James 1:5). And through revelation, by way of a divine visitation, He was informed that they were all wrong.

As the Lord revealed further truth to Joseph in the ensuing years, the various preachers who otherwise fought amongst themselves all took umbrage with Joseph’s claims and revelations. And so the pattern is the same. Those so passionately arguing about theological definitions and technicalities didn’t have the slightest idea of what game they were actually in. The answers to their round-and-round debates had little to do with the picture they had drawn in their heads.

The answer to the division among both the Jews and the Christians was the same: seek the revelation of heaven. Neither the Pharisees nor the Sadducees cared about seeking and obtaining truth from heaven, only to defend and prove their ideology. The same can be said of the Christians. As Catholicism lost light, and in place of truth sold dogma that did more harm than good, Luther and others raised some serious criticisms. We are extremely grateful today that they did so, but there is a reason the Lord appeared to Joseph and not them. Their criticisms of the Church’s beliefs/practices were warranted, but without the complete picture they were just as lost as their Catholic mother. Fortunately, it did foster an environment of questioning and searching for oneself – which would later lead to the restoration.

Seeking Unity in Truth

This principle applies on all levels of truth, religious, political, or otherwise. When we don’t seek truth for ourselves, we lose light. When we lose light, our understanding of revealed truth becomes low resolution or shallow. When its shallow, the truth we’ve received fails to do what it was designed to do. Some serious criticisms are raised – but if they are not raised in the spirit of seeking further light and knowledge from the Lord, they’re just our own flawed ideas.

While there is unity in the Lord’s truth, disharmony always accompanies our own way.

The division is not horizontal, trying to determine “which of all these parties is right,” but rather is vertical, separating those who seek the Lord and His truth from those who do not. This is what Joseph learned on a spring morning in 1820; the competing sects were in fact “all wrong together,” and the Lord had more to reveal to those willing to listen. On this wise was the Lord rejected by the various sects of the Jews, and Joseph Smith by the various sects of Christianity. Those who lose light take many forms as they descend into chaos and disorder; there are a million ways to be wrong, but only one path that leads to life and truth (Matthew 7:13-14).

Moses prophesied that in the last days, it would be those who sought the Lord with all their hearts who would find Him: And the Lord shall scatter you among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen, whither the Lord shall lead you. And there ye shall serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (Deut. 4:27-29).

As has always been the case, if we want to live in harmony we must each submit to the Lord as our head, and let Him lead us wherever He will. We must be willing to lay aside all our preconceived views to learn from Him. If we require God to meet a doctrinal view, a political view, or a social view before we will follow Him, He will not open up to us. If we expect God to affirm our intellectual requirements, or our views on social justice, or our political perspectives – or if God has to prove to us that he is in the image we have made of him – he will not reveal to us His truth.

We must completely humble ourselves and hold nothing back from what the Lord may teach us – because it will likely require us to change. But if we humble ourselves, and are willing to do or change anything He asks of us, He will open up – and His truth will never disappoint.

The central issue is that people are not seeking truth from the Lord, but rather are hardening their hearts against Him. What does that mean, and are we guilty of it?

Hardening Our Hearts

When Lehi taught his family, his children reacted differently.

Nephi desired to know for himself the things his father knew, and by inquiring of the Lord was shown a glorious vision, and was taught by an angel firsthand. Upon returning to his father’s tent, he noticed his brothers had been arguing about what Lehi said:

“And it came to pass that I beheld my brethren, and they were disputing one with another concerning the things which my father had spoken unto them. For he truly spake many great things unto them, which were hard to be understood, save a man should inquire of the Lord; and they being hard in their hearts, therefore they did not look unto the Lord as they ought” (1 Nephi 15:2-3; emphasis added).

As per the pattern, because they didn’t look to the Lord for truth, they didn’t understand it. Because they didn’t understand, they disputed “one with another.” When Nephi asked about what was going on, they responded thus:

“Behold, we cannot understand the words which our father hath spoken concerning the natural branches of the olive tree, and also concerning the Gentiles.
And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord?
And they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.
Behold, I said unto them: How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord? How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts? Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said?—If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you” (1 Nephi 15:7-11; emphasis added).

Here, we learn the scriptural definition of hardening your heart, which is to essentially cut yourself off from God by not inquiring of Him directly. By failing to seek personal revelation, we deny the Spirit the opportunity to teach us.

Hardening our hearts is always linked to spiritual blindness (Alma 12:9-11; cf. 1 Nephi 12:17). When we harden our hearts against the Spirit by rejecting its gentle voice, it has no place in us (2 Nephi 33:2). Whenever we cling to our ideas, traditions, or manmade precepts in favor of the whisperings of the Spirit, we harden our hearts. Whenever we act in a way contrary to what we know is right, we harden our hearts. If we have unrepented sin or guilt that we allow to linger in our lives, it creates a veil of darkness; truth becomes more difficult to perceive because the Spirit has no place in us.

On the other hand, when we humble ourselves and are willing to receive whatever the Lord has to give us, we will be filled with light and truth (Matthew 6:22-23). As we obey His voice, we learn His truth. Jesus taught “If any man will do [God’s] will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17). Similarly, Adam humbly performed sacrifices for “many days” before an angel appeared to teach him its significance (Moses 5:6-7). With the doing comes the understanding.

Modern Division

As we consider the increasingly divided state of the world around us, let us look to God as the source of the truth, and not the arm of flesh (2 Nephi 4:34). Let us consider division for what it is: the fruit of a people losing light.

As will become increasingly the case before the Lord’s Second Coming, we are beginning to see great divisions in the Church (compare 3 Nephi 6:14-15). As was the case with the Nephites, our division is the fruit of hardening our hearts. This began in the Church as early as 1832 when the Lord declared that the whole Church had come under condemnation for treating lightly the things they had received (most notably, the Book of Mormon) (D&C 84:54-58). As noted by President Benson in 1984, this condemnation still rests upon the Church. For as long as such a condemnation remains, we are at risk of losing light and truth (both individually and collectively). Though we retain the scriptures, revelations, and teachings restored through Joseph Smith, our understanding of them has gradually waned over time. As per the pattern, it’s resulted in splintering opinions and perspectives.

If someone does not properly understand the truth, power, and meaning of a doctrine, they will have an easier time questioning its veracity. If said doctrine does not seem to ring true, they will want to replace it with something better (which is not inherently bad), but may be tempted to insert their own opinions, ideas, or ideology (which is dangerous).

For example, if someone does not understand the order of creation, they may conclude that teaching same-sex couples cannot be sealed in eternity is arbitrary, bigoted, and unfair. They may reason that cultures change and evolve, and that this doctrine is likely a manmade tradition in need of being updated (it may not be that extreme, as there are shades of calling things into question – but I digress). In response, there may be those who likewise do not understand the order of creation, but who react to questioning in fear. They double down on the “what” (marriage being between a man and a woman), but without a deeper understanding, still aren’t exactly sure why. They may even be tempted to insert their best guesses or opinions, but without the bigger picture risk missing the mark. The result is an increasingly hostile and polarized division between both parties.

Something should be made absolutely clear: it does not matter what side of an issue we fall on (political, religious, or otherwise), if we do not seek truth directly from the source, we will find ourselves sifted with the tares. The wheat and the tares are not “conservatives and liberals.” Neither the Pharisees nor Sadducees were correct. Neither the Catholics nor the Protestants had the full picture; they were “all wrong together.”

The ability to reason is divine, but wholly inadequate if not given over to the principle of revelation. What we think is far less valuable than God’s voice. The key is to align ourselves to God in thought and deed; then we will find that the doctrines of eternity distill upon our soul like the dews from heaven (D&C 121:45).

The key distinction between the wise and foolish virgins was a matter of who had oil in their lamps. As covenant people who wait upon the Lord’s return, the only hope we have to meet the bridegroom at His coming is to have oil in our lamps – in other words, to take the Spirit as our guide. If we are attuned to the voice of the Spirit, we have nothing to fear. If we harden our hearts by denying its influence in our hearts, it will have no place in us.

The scriptures speak of a time when the latter-day Gentiles who have received the Gospel will begin to harden their hearts against God, and go their own way: “And [the gentiles] shall be a scourge unto the people of this land. Nevertheless, when they shall have received the fulness of my gospel, then if they shall harden their hearts against me I will return their iniquities upon their own heads, saith the Father” (3 Nephi 20:28; cf. 3 Nephi 16:10). The Lord states that such will be “cut off” from among His covenant people (3 Nephi 21:11), having become “as salt that hath lost its savor, which is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of my people” (3 Nephi 16:15; cf. D&C 101:39-40).

Notice the progression of woes (curses) that Nephi declares regarding the latter-day Gentiles in Zion – members of the Church who have received the fulness of the gospel. They walk a path from being “at ease in Zion” (not searching truth for themselves) to ultimately denying the Lord. Each wo represents a step down the staircase of hardening our hearts:

  1. Therefore, wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion!
  2. Wo be unto him that crieth: All is well!
  3. Yea, wo be unto him that hearkeneth unto the precepts of men, and denieth the power of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost!
  4. Yea, wo be unto him that saith: We have received, and we need no more!
  5. And in fine, wo unto all those who tremble, and are angry because of the truth of God! For behold, he that is built upon the rock receiveth it with gladness; and he that is built upon a sandy foundation trembleth lest he shall fall.
  6. Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough! For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have. Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost.
  7. Wo be unto the Gentiles, saith the Lord God of Hosts! For notwithstanding I shall lengthen out mine arm unto them from day to day, they will deny me; nevertheless, I will be merciful unto them, saith the Lord God, if they will repent and come unto me; for mine arm is lengthened out all the day long, saith the Lord God of Hosts.
    (2 Nephi 28:24-32)

This seven-fold wo describes the trajectory of Latter-day Saints who, like Laman and Lemuel, harden their hearts by not inquiring of the Lord for themselves. Like Alma described, “they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell” (Alma 12:11).

Light is receding from the world; as it does, chaos and division will increase (including within the Church). Let us not be among those who harden their hearts in these last days. Let us seek to become one with Christ, as He is one with the Father, that we may be full of light and truth. Should we all take up the attitudes of Nephi, Joseph Smith, and other notable prophets who sought the Lord diligently, we would see the divisions within the Church (and the world) heal.

Conclusion

Moving forward, can we identify ways we’ve been guilty of hardening our hearts? I don’t know that any of us can say we have not hardened our hearts at some point in our lives; we almost have a propensity to continually turn away from God’s way and do things on our own terms. We are still under condemnation for treating lightly the things we have received.

If you have not already, begin to inquire of Him. Set aside time each day to meditate on the things of God. You can start by simply calling His name and letting the Spirit guide your thoughts; it becomes a time to “remember” Christ. It starts a dialogue which allows the Spirit to begin teaching you. When it become a habit, that divine connection will feed and empower you.

Even though many Latter-day Saints will be cut off from among the Lord’s people, the Savior never closes the door to those who repent. They will unite and labor with the remnant of Jacob to build Zion, the New Jerusalem, and the Lord will come to dwell in their midst as He did anciently. He will create of them the people He has always sought to establish:

“But if they will repent and hearken unto my words, and harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them,
And they shall come in unto the covenant and be numbered among this the remnant of Jacob, unto whom I have given this land for their inheritance;
And they shall assist my people, the remnant of Jacob, and also as many of the house of Israel as shall come, that they may build a city, which shall be called the New Jerusalem.
And then shall they assist my people that they may be gathered in, who are scattered upon all the face of the land, in unto the New Jerusalem.
And then shall the power of heaven come down among them; and I also will be in the midst” (3 Nephi 21:22-25).

Life and Death

I want to expand on some of the ideas covered in Seeking the Order of Heaven. This post will make more sense if you’ve read that one first.

Because all of creation is governed by the same law, all of creation follows the same pattern. This is why Alma noted that “all things denote there is a God… the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it… its motion… and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator” (Alma 30:44; emphasis added). The fact that all creation follows a pattern means it follows a law, which law is given by God.

There is an eternal pattern in all things (D&C 52:14). Nothing in the eternities is without its earthly precedent or type. Just as creation here is never ex nihilo (out of nothing), neither is it there. Creation is always the process of taking raw materials and fashioning them after a certain pattern. Whether you’re building a machine, a house, or a business, it is the same: you gather the available resources and organize them to work together. When something is created, it’s organized; when it dies, it’s disorganized back into chaos.

Without getting into more detail than is necessary, God did the same when He created the earth and all things in it. Consequently, Adam and Eve were ordered after a certain pattern, and would have eternally remained so had they not rebelled. As they were created by law, so would they have remained by law. The scriptures describe this concept using the imagery of a tree. While a branch is attached to a living tree, it lives, grows, and brings forth fruit. If the branch is cut off, it immediately begins to decay and will eventually turn to dust.

When Adam and Eve deviated from God, they effectively “cut themselves off” from the tree of life. God informed Adam that he would decay as a result, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19). Raw material is organized by its obedience to God, and disordered by its disobedience.

Because of the fall, this world is a world of death. Everything ultimately dies: People, marriages, organizations, civilizations, nations, etc. As a matter of fact, were it not for God’s direct intervention, the whole earth would ultimately be wasted (D&C 2:3; cf. Malachi 4:5-6). Everything would end in a downward spiral until it had been reduced to its most basic element. Everything.

There are lesser (telestial) orders of creation that we participate in to stay alive. We eat, we take care of our bodies, etc. If we didn’t do these things, we’d atrophy at a faster rate. We’d start losing weight, strength, and basic bodily functions until our bodies were not sufficiently organized to hold our spirits. When we do things like eat, we prevent death for a longer time, though these things are always temporary.

While we’re alive, we also create our “worlds” as we build family, home, work, etc. Just like us, everything we create is subject to atrophy. Just as people can create many things before they die, so can organizations, and civilizations. This is the principle of “they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire” (3 Nephi 27:11). As mentioned earlier, eventually all civilizations and the world itself would expire. Once Adam fell, all creation was cut off from the tree of life, and would continue to fall forever.

As Alma taught his son, “But behold, it was appointed unto man to die—therefore, as they were cut off from the tree of life they should be cut off from the face of the earth—and man became lost forever, yea, they became fallen man. And now, ye see by this that our first parents were cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord; and thus we see they became subjects to follow after their own will.” (Alma 42:6-7)

Cut Off

The imagery of a branch being cut from its mother tree is employed all throughout holy writ. As Lehi taught, “And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever. Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth” (2 Nephi 2:5-6).

As discussed last time, Christ’s is the only name (manner) given whereby we can be reconciled to God and life (John 14:6, 15:5). 2 Nephi 9 is a beautiful chapter about Christ rescuing us a from an endless state of death, and how vital keeping the commandments is to retain life. Jacob is very clear: the wages of sin are death: “Remember, to be carnally-minded is death, and to be spiritually-minded is life eternal” (2 Nephi 9:16, 27-39; cf. Romans 6:23).

Because we have been cut off from the tree of life, we would be endlessly lost were it not for Christ’s redemption (Mosiah 16:4). Fortunately, we have not been left to decay forever, both body and spirit. Through the Word of God, both by revelation and embodiment (John 1:14), we can be reclaimed from death. Hence, Alma said “God did call on men, in the name of his Son” (Alma 12:33).

The covenant God extends through His Word is a lifeline whereby we can be reconciled to Him. However, if those with whom He covenants don’t obey, they are similarly “cut off.”

As the Lord told Nephi, “Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; and inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence” (2 Nephi 4:4). The Lamanites were initially cut off from the Lord’s presence because they removed themselves from His law, covenant, and people. They did not prosper, their lives were not full. In the end, the Nephites were cut off from the same covenant, which resulted in their being permanently cut off from the earth.

Many ancient prophets taught that if the people rejected the name of Christ, they would be cut off before His second coming – both spiritually from His covenant/people, and physically from the earth (1 Nephi 22:19-20). When the Savior appeared to the Nephites following His resurrection, He melded several prophecies together to depict an endtime servant declaring the words (name/way/order) of Christ to the Gentiles, and all disbelievers being cut off:

“For in that day, for my sake shall the Father work a work, which shall be a great and a marvelous work among them; and there shall be among them those who will not believe it, although a man shall declare it unto them. But behold, the life of my servant shall be in my hand; therefore they shall not hurt him, although he shall be marred because of them, yet I will heal him. For I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil.

“Therefore it shall come to pass that whosoever will not believe in my words, who am Jesus Christ, which the Father shall cause him to bring forth unto the Gentiles, and shall give unto him power that he shall bring them forth unto the Gentiles, (it shall be done even as Moses said) they shall be cut off from among my people who are of the covenant.

“And my people who are a remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles, yea, in the midst of them as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep, who, if he go through both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver. Their hand shall be lifted up upon their adversaries, and all their enemies shall be cut off.

“Yea, wo be unto the Gentiles except they repent; for it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Father,
that I will cut off thy horses out of the midst of thee,
and I will destroy thy chariots;
and I will cut off the cities of thy land,
and throw down all thy strongholds;
and I will cut off witchcrafts out of thy land,
and thou shalt have no more soothsayers;
thy graven images I will also cut off,
and thy standing images out of the midst of thee,
and thou shalt no more worship the works of thy hands;
and I will pluck up thy groves out of the midst of thee;
so will I destroy thy cities.

“And it shall come to pass that all lyings, and deceivings, and envyings, and strifes, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, shall be done away. For it shall come to pass, saith the Father, that at that day whosoever will not repent and come unto my Beloved Son, them will I cut off from among my people, O house of Israel; and I will execute vengeance and fury upon them, even as upon the heathen, such as they have not heard” (3 Nephi 21:9-21).

In any age when God seeks to establish and build a people, He does so by a covenant and law. When the people turn away from the law, they begin to atrophy back into chaos. This happens on an individual level as people begin to lose light, as well collectively when they apostatize and are eventually scattered. It was upon this principle that Israel was broken up and scattered. This is also why Joseph Smith said in his day, “my only trouble at the present time is concerning ourselves, that the Saints will be divided, broken up, and scattered, before we get our salvation secure; for there are so many fools in the world for the devil to operate upon, it gives him the advantage oftentimes” (TPJS p. 331).

It follows the same pattern: creation is to order, death is to disorder.

John the Beloved calls the fate of those who continue to cut themselves off from God “the bottomless pit,” due to the never ending de-creation of its subjects. Isaiah similarly calls it the “pit of dissolution,” and Joseph Smith frequently referred to it as “outer darkness.” Everything outside of the the light and love of God will continue to be disordered and broken down until it’s reached its most primordial state.

Eternal Lives

In contrast to death, decay, and atrophy, salvation through the name of Christ offers eternal life, progression, and increase. Life necessarily implies growth. This means not only are we immune to entropy, but we also continue to grow, learn, and progress beyond what we currently know here.

Furthermore, we increase through an endless posterity. Life begets life. Just as a branch will have smaller branches shoot off of it, and will bear fruit/seed to begin another tree, so will those reconciled to God and life. In this sense, the tree of life is also a family tree wherein light is passed down from father to son generation after generation forever.

Joseph Smith's Kingdom of God: The Council of Fifty and the Mormon  Challenge to American Democratic Politics | Church History | Cambridge Core
Orson Pratt described the Kingdom of God using this diagram

It’s humorous to me that multi-level marketing models and pyramid schemes follow this pattern. It’s actually just a false priesthood. The true order is an eternal family, generation after generation in which you have vested interest.

This is why Abraham introduces himself as “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 1:2). It’s why God’s promises to him included an endless posterity (Genesis 12:2-3; 15:5; 22:17).

Isaiah prophesied Immanuel would be called “Wonderful Counsellor, One Mighty in Valor, a father forever, a Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). You may note the similarities to Abraham; these are the attributes and patterns of a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek/the Son of God/heaven and life itself. This is the pattern of being plugged into the tree of life and bringing forth fruit/life.

The blessing of eternal posterity stands in direct contrast with those who are cut off from the tree of life. As the Lord said to Malachi, “For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch” (Malachi 4:1). Those cut off from the tree are left with neither root (a claim to ancestry) nor branch (posterity). Like a branch loosed from the tree, all they can do is decay into dust.

The order of heaven (or life), always intended for eternal increase. That’s what life does. Hence, Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, male and female. Not only does this teach us something about the image of God (that it is comprised of both male and female), but the eternal nature of mankind.

The scriptures teach that it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). In contrast to the prior days of creation which ended in God’s calling them “good,” the man without the woman was something He deemed “not good.” It was not until He created a female companion for the man that He called it “very good” (Genesis 1:31 [26-31]). Thus we read from Paul, “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:11). The image of God – as well as life and creation – is incomplete in a single, separate state.

Adam and Eve were created according to the order of life, and were thus intended to live forever in their union as “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). God called His creation this day “very good.” This union would have continued on forever (according to the order of creation) had it not been interrupted by the fall and death.

If you’re going to become “a father (or mother) forever” with numberless posterity, you will only do so in the context of marriage. There is no “exaltation” without posterity, and there is no posterity without marriage. Hence the prophet Joseph Smith taught, “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; and in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; and if he does not, he cannot obtain it. He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase” (D&C 131:1-4).

This order of the priesthood is also called the “gospel of Abraham,” whereby we ourselves can obtain the promise that “in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed” (D&C 110:12; cf. D&C 124:58). As the Lord declared through Isaiah, “And as the new heavens and the new earth which I make shall endure before me, says Jehovah, so shall your offspring and name endure” (Isaiah 66:22; cf. Isaiah 44:3; 54:13-14; 56:3-5; 61:9; Ezekiel 37:25-27).

This doctrine is most explicitly and plainly revealed in D&C 132. Those married and living according to the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage become ordered after the image of God; they receive the promise of an endless posterity, and become parents forever. As such an innumerable posterity resembles God’s own, moreover, it constitutes a promise of godhood. As the Lord declared

“And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise… [it] shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.

“Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to this glory. …

“Abraham received all things, whatsoever he received, by revelation and commandment, by my word, saith the Lord, and hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne. Abraham received promises concerning his seed, and of the fruit of his loins—from whose loins ye are, namely, my servant Joseph—which were to continue so long as they were in the world; and as touching Abraham and his seed, out of the world they should continue; both in the world and out of the world should they continue as innumerable as the stars; or, if ye were to count the sand upon the seashore ye could not number them.

“This promise is yours also, because ye are of Abraham, and the promise was made unto Abraham; and by this law is the continuation of the works of my Father, wherein he glorifieth himself. Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham; enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved. But if ye enter not into my law ye cannot receive the promise of my Father, which he made unto Abraham” (D&C 132:19-21, 29-33).

Life continues eternally; as it was before, so shall it be forever. Can anything be plainer than this? Does anything in nature testify to the contrary? Though the wicked will be cut off both root and branch, yet the righteous will continue forever – both root and branch. On what other principle does life operate? There is none.

Seeking the Order of Heaven

What exactly is heaven, and how do we experience it? What is it that makes heaven, heaven?

Certain things affect us in certain ways. There’s a relationship between vibration, sound, frequency, light, and spirit, which influences our thoughts, feelings, and actions. This is an eternal spiritual truth.

Take music for instance. Music is all vibration. Different songs vibrate at different frequencies. They make us feel differently. Next time you’re skipping songs in Spotify, or are changing a playlist because it’s not “the mood,” you’ll be able to identify this principle. Certain songs will clash with the way you feel because you also vibrate at a certain frequency. When the external frequency doesn’t match your own internal frequency, it can feel uncomfortable, like two notes that don’t harmonize. Sometimes, you’ll find a song that seems to match exactly how you feel; that’s a point of harmony or alignment.

Feelings and emotions are captured in music and re-expressed every time the song is played. Have you ever noticed music change your mood, for better or for worse? If you were bothered about something, perhaps certain songs which matched your feelings amplified that bother into out-right anger. Or perhaps, you found something that distracted you, changed your mood, calmed you down, etc.

There’s certain music we say “invites the Spirit.” There’s certain music that does not. I’ve been in situations void of the Spirit where the right music changed the whole ambience and feeling in the the room. I’ve also been in situations where the Spirit was present, but certain music or conversation gradually made it feel more casual, like everything else – or even directly offended the Spirit.

For this reason, listening to certain music on a regular basis will affect not only the way you feel, but the aura all about you.

The Visual Patterns of Audio Frequencies Seen through Vibrating Sand |  Colossal

There have been some fascinating studies about how sound can affect the way something is ordered or organized. The picture to the left here shows grains of sand on a vibrating table, each at a different frequency. When the frequency of the table changed, so did the patterns of sand.

There are some Jewish traditions that maintain God sang creation into existence. I really like that idea. He ordered chaos by the sound of His voice. “Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear” (Genesis 1:9). With this visual above, you can almost imagine it. As God speaks, creation obeys. His voice vibrates, and matter follows suit. We read in the scriptures that all things are governed by law, as it is declared by the Lord (D&C 88:13; cf. D&C 133:21-24, Isaiah 2:3). In this sense, you can visualize how His “word” or voice literally is the law by which all things are governed.

In a similar vein, we have been created and ordered according to a certain vibrational frequency (or law). Now, that doesn’t mean you could accidentally listen to a song that would melt you like Raiders of the Lost Ark, but there is an important principle to be learned here. Because everything is governed by law, there is an order (or pattern) to creation (think of the picture above). When we sin against God’s word, we deviate from that order. Once we’re dislodged from the order we immediately start to decay and atrophy – like a branch cutting itself off from the rest of the tree. That was the effect of the fall, for example (hence they were cut off from the tree of life). That’s why the Savior says “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), and “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). As we align ourselves back to the word of God through Christ, we rejoin the order of creation and life.

The order of creation and the order of Heaven are one and the same.

Because of sin, we are all by default in a state of atrophy and death. Even spiritually, people are born without a knowledge of who they are, or who God is. Hence, we’re all dying. We do things to fight it, like eat, work, take medicine, undergo surgery, etc., but eventually it gets most of us. This is not the state of those who are aligned to the order of creation, hence resurrected and translated beings don’t need any of those things.

There’s a point to all this, I promise.

Our realignment to creation must take place spiritually before it manifests physically. The spiritual portion of this will happen by degrees as we repent and are sanctified by the gift of the Holy Ghost. As we continue to repent, we receive a greater and greater portion of the Spirit. The more Spirit we have, the more life we have (and consequently priesthood power, but that deserves its own post). The less we have, the further we are drifting into chaos and spiritual death.

The Great Search and Quest of Religion

I once woke up to this impression: “As spirit sons and daughters of God, we all crave light.” We want to feel that we are being ordered according to creation. We want to fulfill our purpose, even if we don’t know what the means. Religious or not, we all sense we are in a state of death, and crave life (both physical and spiritual). Not only do people want to live, they want to feel happy and deeply fulfilled.

Thus begins the great search for life. Every religion, ideology, philosophy, social cause, idea, etc., is an attempt to discover and live the order of heaven. Whether or not people even realize it, this is what motivates everything they do. Some people try to find it through various philosophical considerations, meditation, yoga, religious ceremony, or the wisdom of ancient and modern sages. Others through politics, excessive academic achievements, building their own empire/business, or self-development. Others through alcohol, sex, video games, beauty, dieting, food, status, adrenaline, idolizing a celebrity – you name it. Everybody has a religion, and they’re living it.

Unfortunately, none of the things we come up with accord with the order of creation, and will always leave us wanting. We inevitably realize that our “religion” is lacking. It leaves us feeling empty, incomplete, and unfulfilled – which is to realize that we are in a state of atrophy and death (both physical and spiritual). Some people will move on to a new “religion” that they hope will give them what they didn’t have before. Some people will deny that what they have is insufficient for fear of death being the only other option. Some people will unfortunately give up altogether and embrace death.

How do we get heaven on earth? Whether or not they realize it, this is the question everyone asks themselves every morning. The course they choose to pursue throughout the day is their answer back to themselves. I think once most people realize this is the game they’re in, they start aiming higher. But even for all of our best efforts, the world today is evidence that heaven is not on earth; the world is not living after the order of life.

To circle back to the principles outlined above, every religion, idea, and activity has a certain vibration about it. When you accept, internalize, and act out a certain belief system, it has a certain effect on you – the same way music does. The scriptures frequently refer to this effect as the “fruit” an idea bears in your life. Whether it’s a worldview like Marxism or Buddhism, or simply a belief as small as “I must be the best at everything,” it will bear fruit in your life. It will cause you to “vibrate” on a certain frequency. Fruits can be tasted when you internalize and act out a certain belief system firsthand. They can also be observed by noticing them in the lives of others.

If a belief or idea is in accord with the order of creation, it will bring forth life. This is what we’d consider “good fruit.” If it is not in accord with creation, it may stand for a season, but will always result in death. This is what we’d consider bad fruit. As John the Baptist warned, “And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” (Matthew 3:8-10); and as the Savior commented to the Nephites, if someone is “built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire” (3 Nephi 27:11). If a “religion” is not aligned with creation, it will ultimately perish.

Christ taught us to test prophets – and by extension, religions, ideas, and practices, by their fruit (Matthew 7:15-20). What kind of spirit is about them? What kind of fruit is born in the lives of those who embrace their ideas? What kind of vibration do they carry? Is it the Spirit of life? Do you experience a sensation of pure light? Does it enlarge your soul? Does it cause your heart to burn within you (Luke 24:32, 3 Nephi 11:3, D&C 9:8)? Is it a vibration of heavenly peace? Does it bring you into harmony with creation? Does it fill you with love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Galatians 5:22-24)? Does it urge you to set in order your own life? Does it inspire you to turn outward and desire the well being of others? Does it enlighten your understanding? Do their ideas expand into eternity, or are they finite and limited? In other words, do they fit inside a larger pattern of life and creation? Do you see fractals of those principles on smaller and larger scales, or are they limited to one arbitrary explanation? Therein lies the difference between life and death, creation and decay.

Good fruit is the essence of heaven, life, and creation. It is a feeling and vibration of the highest order and frequency. It’s unparalleled by anything else this world has to offer.

Knowing how to identify it is one thing – but at this point we’re still left to wonder how we get into our lives, and eventually into the world. Every form of religion and ideology is an attempt to discover the order of heaven. While almost every religion/ideology has fragments of light and truth (which is what usually draws in its adherents), almost all have failed to establish the order of heaven here upon the earth in its fulness.

The Superiority of the Name of Christ

Throughout history, God has worked through a select portion of the human family to establish the order of heaven on earth. It began with Adam, though many of his children turned against him. It continued down through Seth, to Enoch, to Noah, to Melchizedek, to Abraham, to Israel (skipping a few generations). With each passing generation, more and more of the family of Adam drifted away from this call and invitation. The family of Israel delayed this invitation for several hundred years before receiving the law from God through Moses. The Jews today revere the law as the word of God, and blueprint to the order of heaven. Unfortunately, they failed to rise up and keep it. Because they would not adhere to light and law, they were disorganized and scattered. God promised that in a future day, He would write His law upon their very hearts, and that the order of heaven would be established in all the world:

“But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:33-34).

“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:26-28).

“And the Lord thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers. And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live” (Deuteronomy 30:5-6).

These changes were to be brought about by a future Messiah-king who would gather and restore Israel, and elevate them to their intended glory as heaven-on-earth, the light of the world. From thence, the law would go forth, and eventually cover all the earth (Isaiah 2:3, Isaiah 11:9).

Jesus is called “the Word” (John 1:14) because he perfectly embodied the word of God. He’s similarly called “the law” (3 Nephi 15:9) because He perfectly embodied the law of God. If ever there was a living person who lived the order of heaven on earth, it was Jesus Christ. For this reason, we can be reconciled to the word of God through Christ. He is exactly what He said He was: “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). No man or woman will align themselves back to God, heaven, or the tree of life, except by Him. There is no other way than the way Christ showed: by living the law of God. Because He suffered more than any person can or will suffer, descending below all things, His victory in keeping the law caused Him to rise above all things. He then became the law and the end to which we look – the very object of our faith. No longer was the order of heaven just a written law, but now a living person. Because He suffered the cosmic price to redeem all creation, all creation becomes subject to Him. He commands us to love God with all our hearts, and to keep His commandments (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; cf. John 14:15). As we obey Him we are filled with His light, which is a frequency in tune with all life and creation.

To believe Jesus is the Messiah is to believe that He is the way, truth, and life. It is to believe that His way, His life, and His teachings highlight the order of heaven. It means, after considering all of the various ways listed above people attempt to get heaven on earth, we accept that His example and teachings are the only path that will lead us to life. His “name” (a Hebrew idea meaning his manner, mode of being, etc.) is the only name whereby we can be reconciled to creation. He is the great prototype of heaven on earth (John 3:13), and in order for any of us to experience heaven here we must live the way He showed. In essence, we must be like Him. Now, while no person will ever amount to being all that Christ was, there is a way we can perfectly aligned to creation in Christ, and this by obedience to His voice. As we do so, He promises to change our very natures, the vibration of our beings, into something inclined towards living the law of heaven. We gradually begin to feel life flowing back into us, as our state of being grows into harmony with creation.

The process of being grafted back into the tree of life is the process of becoming one with Christ. He is the vine, we are the branches. As we “abide” in Him by aligning ourselves to His will and command, we bring forth good fruit (John 15:5, cf. John 5:24-30). For this reason, Christ prayed to the Father that His disciples would become one with Him: “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:17-21).

The essence of the Savior’s mission was to reconcile all who would come to Him to God and life. Whether or not we realize it, our deepest need is for the joy that comes from being in a state of oneness with God. The dissatisfaction and insufficiency we sense in everything else is evidence enough that we are not fulfilling our deepest purpose or desires; the things our soul craves and thirsts. The Savior promised, “whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).

All of these ideas and concepts fit together to form a beautiful mosaic. What’s even greater: these are more than just ideas or abstract concepts, they are real. Incorporating these things into your life will actually yield the fruits of life – at first spiritually, and eventually physically.

How Do We Align Ourselves to His Order?

So how do we obtain these things? The order of heaven is the order, manner, and pattern of the Son of God. Another scripture labels Jesus as a “priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 5:6), which is another way of expressing the same idea. This is an order Christ invites His followers to participate in – this is where heaven can be had on earth. Little (if anything) is understood about the order of Melchizedek by mainstream Christianity. Apart from three verses that make reference to Melchizedek in the Bible, the true nature of this order is otherwise shrouded in mystery. Perhaps more would have been preserved by the early Christian church had they not suffered persecution at the hands of Rome, a pagan distortion of Christ’s doctrine, and an internal corruption among their own ranks.

Loss of a knowledge regarding the order of Christ resulted in the atrophy of the early Christian church. Though they did not dwindle in numbers, they strayed from the extraordinary power that came from living after the manner of Christ. Reformer John Wesley (1703-1791), founder of the Methodist sect observed,

“It does not appear that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit were common in the Church for more than two or three centuries. We seldom hear of them after that fatal period when the emperor Constantine called himself a Christian and, from a vain imagination of promoting the Christian cause, heaped riches and power and honor on the Christians in general, but in particular on the Christian clergy. From this time, the extraordinary gifts almost totally ceased; very few instances of the kind were found. The cause of this was not (as has been vulgarly supposed) ‘because there was no more occasion for them,’ because all the world had become Christian. This is a miserable mistake; not a twentieth part of the world was then even nominally Christian. The real cause was that the love of many, almost all Christians, so called, had grown cold. The Christians had no more the Spirit of Christ than the other heathens. The Son of Man, when He came to examine His Church, could hardly find faith on the earth. This was the real cause why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit were no longer to be found in the Christian Church: because the Christians were turned heathens again, and had only a dead form left.” (Sermon 89, “The More Excellent Way”)

As they slowly turned away from Christ’s order, they lost the divine power that comes from living it. With no power, they degenerated in knowledge regarding the fulness of His gospel. Without a knowledge of the fulness to pass on to future generations, Christianity at large was left with a partial picture regarding Christ’s mission and ministry. Because neither Jew nor Gentile kept God’s law, what came of their religions was death and atrophy. They gradually lost the truths and divine power God intended for them to have. For over a thousand years, history moved on, and the world remained seemingly unredeemed; Jews and Christians alike had failed to rise up to God’s invitation to bring down heaven on earth.

In an opportune season, when Christians of early America were seeking a return to original Christianity, God responded to their faith by calling a prophet to restore lost knowledge of Christ’s gospel – especially the Holy Order. The revelations that came through Joseph Smith largely expanded on these things. If you want to learn more about that, I highly suggest reading the series linked here.

Through Joseph Smith, the order of Christ was revealed anew, and God restored the covenant from which the world had strayed. The invitation to enter in and participate in this Holy Order has been renewed. You will not find the knowledge or the spiritual power of Christ’s gospel anywhere else. By accepting the invitation God has restored, and by learning and living the pattern of Christ revealed anew, you will be filled with life and light. You will begin to bring forth the good fruit of the tree of life in a way otherwise impossible. I invite and implore you to accept the invitation Christ has renewed in our day. Your soul will be enlarged. You will be filled with a greater love for God, others, and all creation. Your mind will be expanded and enlightened. You will see and understand existence with greater clarity. You will feel your own spirit renewed by the very essence of the universe – by Life itself. You will bring forth good fruit.

Now as a quick sidenote, I’m not saying that other forms of Christianity (or even other religions) won’t ever do any of these things for you – but what we’re after is the order of heaven in its purity. Inasmuch as a religion or idea contains truth, it will have this uplifting effect. However, inasmuch as truths and principles are not ordered to fit inside the larger pattern of creation, they are limited. What the restored Gospel has to offer is the pure word of Christ, which is capable of totally and completely aligning you to the order of heaven, and filling you with eternal life in every sense; it is the entire map as opposed to a distorted one.

Test These Things

I urge you to employ the test of Christ for yourself. If Joseph Smith was a false prophet, his ideas, teachings, and practices will produce evil fruit as you begin to believe them. They will produce death and damnation, and drag you downward rather than heavenward. Observe the fruits of this “restored” gospel in the lives of those who actually live it. Read the Book of Mormon with the intention of identifying the spirit about it. Like music, or other ideas, what kind of “vibration” does it carry? Is it high and holy? Is it pure? Is it light? What kind of effect does it have in your life as you act out what it says? Does it cause you to love more? To have greater faith and trust in God? Does it motivate you to be a better person? Does it bring you closer to God?

I assure you any honest seeker of light and truth will sense about it the spirit of life, creation, and heaven – the Spirit of Christ.

American Historian Richard Bushman once commented that a religion that works must be taken seriously. I love that sentiment, because not only is the restored Gospel true, but it works. It works as much today as any time it was upon the earth in generations past. It brings forth life, good fruit, and all of the blessings, gifts, and miracles had among the ancients.

I can tell you from my own experience, and the experience of many others, that it truly offers access to life, light, clarity, purpose, faith, love, and heaven itself to anyone who will try it. As the Savior organized His church among the Nephites in the Americas, he counseled them, “if it so be that the church is built upon my gospel then will the Father show forth his own works in it” (3 Nephi 27:10). The same is true for us today; inasmuch as we are built upon Christ’s gospel, as its been restored in its purity, the Father will show forth His works in us. The signs and gifts that followed those who believed Christ’s pure gospel in His day accompany all those who believe it in our day (Mark 16:15-18). Not only will we be filled with new life, love, and purity as we live after the order of heaven, but we will experience miracles, revelations, visions, dreams, healing, divine visitations, and every form of spiritual power available to those in harmony with the light and truth of God. Any person who today abides the law that is kept in heaven will receive, here and now, the spirit and blessings of heaven in their life, even though they are surrounded by a world of sin and evil.

Conclusion

To get back to where we started, what is heaven? Simply put, it is to live after the eternal order of the universe. It is to obey the word and law of God, as does the rest of creation. There’s a Christian worship song that captures this sentiment that I enjoy:

It is to live in harmony with the holiest and highest vibrations. It is to live after the order of Christ; to be full of grace and truth, as He was. It’s to be connected to the source of life, no longer to decay. It is to find fulfillment, satisfaction and joy. It is such an attainment for which every living person seeks, but only few find (Matthew 7:13-14). Though many religions, belief systems, ideologies, etc. strive to achieve heaven on earth, it is only to be found in the pure word and order of Jesus Christ. The word of God is law, and it is truth. Truth is reality (Jacob 4:13). If we live according to anything other than truth, or things as they really are, it will result in spiritual death.

Whatever it is you seek, the pure, restored, gospel of Jesus Christ will give it to you, and more.

God bless.

Understanding Melchizedek Priesthood

A friend of mine recently authored a number of essays on the Melchizedek priesthood. In my mind, they are absolutely required reading for Latter-day Saints. Before we can establish Zion, we must understand this order of the priesthood. The priesthood after the order of Melchizedek has also been called the priesthood after the order of Enoch (D&C 76:57). These were both spiritual giants who established Zion among their respective people (JST Genesis 14:33-34). Their “order,” or in other words, their manner, pattern, culture, attitude, mode of being, etc., is the essence of Zion. It is the order of heaven itself.

It’s additionally referred to as the Order after the Son of God, not only because Christ is the exemplar of this order, but because all who live after this order become “sons of God” in their own right. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12). The Hebrew idea of a “name” also implies the concept of an order or likeness. When we act “in the name of Jesus Christ,” we’re told that what we’re doing should reflect exactly what Christ Himself would do if He were there. When we give blessings, bear testimony, pray, or take upon ourselves His name, what we’re doing ought to reflect His way of doing things. By believing in His name, we exercise faith that His example, manner, or “order” is the order of heaven, and that which will bring Zion upon the earth. We trust that His manner really is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). And as John bears witness, to those who believed on His name He gave power to become “the sons of God” – the title belonging to citizens of heaven (Job 1:6, 2:1).

Through the Temple endowment we are all invited to participate in this Holy Order, whereby we are invited into heaven. Men and women alike have a role to play in the priesthood after the order of Melchizedek, though they fulfill separate functions. For a better understanding of this topic, I highly recommend reading the series linked below. God bless.

The Holy Order

Three Degrees of Melchizedek Priesthood and The Holy Order

Three Degrees of Melchizedek Priesthood and the Holy Order: Part II

Melchizedek Priesthood and the Holy Order Part III: The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood

Melchizedek Priesthood and the Holy Order Part IV: The Keys of the Priesthood

How Do We Build Zion?

The Calling of the Priesthood

The Great Calling of the Priesthood: Coming Clean From the Blood and Sins of this Generation

The Patterns of Coming Clean From the Blood and Sins of Others

What Does it Mean to Magnify Your Calling?

A Primer to Understanding Women and the Priesthood

What is Priesthood Power?

Catalog of Blessings

There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”

D&C 130:20-21

One principle of the gospel that should give us faith and confidence in the Lord’s goodness is that He works by eternal law, and is no respecter of persons. Consequently, any of the blessings, miracles, or revelations that we read about in the scriptures are just as accessible to us as they were anciently. All blessings are obtained by the fulfillment of certain laws and conditions. If we learn and fulfill the conditions, we will have a right to the same blessings. Furthermore, God does not love Enoch, Moses, or Nephi more than He loves you or me, and anything He was willing to do for them, He is willing to do for us.

As the Lord told Moroni, “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” (Ether 4:7).

What is the key phrase on which these blessings hinge? “Faith… even as the brother of Jared.” Notice it is not predicated on what calling you hold, your marital status, age, occupation, or anything else. All these things may be affected by whether or not you exercise great faith, but the only condition upon which these blessings flow is having the same degree of faith that the brother of Jared had. The individual circumstances of our lives will vary from person to person, depending on the course the Lord takes to get us there – but when we fulfill the law, we will receive the blessing as did Enoch, Moses, Mahonri, and many others.

This principle of equal privilege is made clear in the Lectures on Faith:

“But it is equally as necessary that men should have the idea that he is a God who changes not, in order to have faith in him, as it is to have the idea that he is gracious and long suffering. For without the idea of unchangeableness in the character of the Deity, doubt would take the place of faith. But with the idea that he changes not, faith lays hold upon the excellencies in his character with unshaken confidence, believing he is the same yesterday, today and forever, and that his course is one eternal round.

“But it is also necessary that men should have an idea that he is no respecter of persons; for with the idea of all the other excellencies in his character, and this one wanting, men could not exercise faith in him, because if he were a respecter of persons, they could not tell what their privileges were, nor how far they were authorized to exercise faith in him, or whether they were authorized to do it at all, but all must be confusion; but no sooner are the minds of men made acquainted with the truth on this point, that he is no respecter of persons, than they see that they have authority by faith to lay hold on eternal life the richest boon of heaven, because God is no respecter of persons, and that every man in every nation has an equal privilege.”
(Lectures on Faith 3:21, 23)

Should we find ourselves in need, pleading with God for certain blessings or revelations, it’s our duty and privilege to seek out what the Lord has done for His people in times past, and by meeting the same requirements, reap the same blessings.

There is a price associated with every blessing. When the Savior instructs us to ask, seek, and knock (Matt. 7:7-8), He is doing more than suggesting we make passive wishes to a genie. He is inviting us into a process whereby our desires lead us to become the kind of person who can receive what we’re asking for. For example, those who seek the blessing of making their calling and election sure must first learn the conditions upon which that blessing is given. Upon studying what those conditions are, they will learn that they must have unconditional faith; an unrelenting obedience to everything God reveals to them. What they then are truly seeking is to become the kind of person willing to serve God at all hazards, no matter the cost. Their prayers will not be fleeting wishes for a place in God’s kingdom, but rather for humility, faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity. They will ask the Lord to take them through whatever kinds of experiences are necessary to obtain those things, and will willingly submit to whatever He asks of them. They will seek His grace for strength, perspective, and understanding. They will knock by humbly petitioning the Lord for that grace, and learning the laws whereby they obtain it.

When viewed in this light, the scriptures become a catalog of blessings. God blesses His children by eternal law. If we will therefore study out the price associated with each blessing, we will be empowered to obtain them. Whether we seek divine for intervention for physical protection of our families (like Helaman and the stripling warriors), to reclaim wayward children (like Alma, Mosiah, or Lehi), to heal sickness and disease, to entertain angels, or to obtain revelation and personal guidance—all these blessings and more have conditions that can be discovered by studying the experiences of others.

From Bruce R. McConkie:

“Unless we enjoy the same gifts and work the same miracles that marked the lives of those who have gone before, we are not the Lord’s people. The Lord our King is the same yesterday, today, and forever. A soul is just as precious in his sight now as it ever was. He is no respecter of persons, and anytime any of us exercise the same faith that moved the ancients in their pursuit of righteousness, we will enjoy the same gifts and blessings that attended their ministries.

“It is an eternal law that ‘these signs shall follow them that believe.’ (Mark 16:17.) They ‘never will be done away, even as long as the world shall stand, only according to the unbelief of the children of men.’ (Moro. 10:19.) At any moment when we have the faith of the ancients, we shall also enjoy the same gifts and blessings that they possessed.

“I think the proper course for us to pursue is to turn to the holy scriptures and learn what the Lord has done for the people of his church in days of old. The more we know about the way an unchangeable God has operated in days past, the greater surety we will have that he will repeat himself in days present.

“The faith-promoting stories in the scriptures will accomplish their purpose if we will let them, and that purpose is to create faith in our hearts so that we will trust in the same Lord who blessed our forebears and thereby inherit the same blessings that he poured out upon them.” (McConkie, The How and Why of Faith-promoting Stories, 1978)

Spiritual Rebirth, Part 2: Our Generation

Before moving on to being born of the Spirit, I want to address just one more pertinent example from our history that relates to being born of water. I’ve recently been meditating on an idea expressed by psychologist Jordan B. Peterson, which is essentially that there is a narrative world (which always follows a story or divine plot), and an objective world (the world as it is), and that there are beautiful moments where we see the two worlds touch. In other words, there are times when anyone can sense God’s hand in their lives, or throughout history. Christ Himself was the literal living embodiment of God’s will in our physical world (hence John called Him “the Word”). He was the perfect intersection of Heaven and Earth.

As we read the Book of Mormon, we see another example of these two worlds touching in the founding of America. Though many Christians sense America’s divine significance, this historical happening is not generally considered scriptural. However, Nephi’s heavenly messenger offers a scriptural perspective that is difficult to unsee. As we consider Nephi’s vision, compare the scriptural patterns about baptism we reviewed previously with what happened in actual history:

“And the angel said unto me: Behold the formation of a church which is most abominable above all other churches, which slayeth the saints of God, yea, and tortureth them and bindeth them down, and yoketh them with a yoke of iron, and bringeth them down into captivity. And it came to pass that I beheld this great and abominable church; and I saw the devil that he was the founder of it. And I also saw gold, and silver, and silks, and scarlets, and fine-twined linen, and all manner of precious clothing; and I saw many harlots. And the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold the gold, and the silver, and the silks, and the scarlets, and the fine-twined linen, and the precious clothing, and the harlots, are the desires of this great and abominable church. And also for the praise of the world do they destroy the saints of God, and bring them down into captivity.” (1 Nephi 13:5-8)

What happened in the case of Noah, Moses, and Jesus? Before they took the stage, wickedness prevailed. There was a foreign “church,” or entity, which opposed and oppressed the saints of God (the covenant body of God’s family). In the case of Moses and Jesus, it brought them “down into captivity,” both literally and spiritually. Egypt enslaved Israel, and the Greeks and Romans exercised political power over them. In both instances, Israel adopted many of their customs, beliefs, and traditions, which were always built on manmade philosophies and material desires. In Moses’s case, the Israelites had become so stained by Egypt’s influence that God had to literally wait for that entire generation to die before bringing their children into the promised land.

What happened to the early Church of Christ? It was opposed and oppressed by the Gentiles (i.e. Rome). It brought Christians “down into captivity” both literally and spiritually. Followers of Christ were persecuted and killed by the Roman Empire, and simultaneously adopted many of their customs, beliefs, and traditions. The Church that was once opposed by Rome later took its name, and shared its identity. Despite Christ’s insistence that “my kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), by the twelfth century the authority of the kings and emperor’s bowed to that of the Pope’s, and the Roman Church exercised power over all secular nations. Those who opposed its rule were made enemies it sought to destroy. Even among the Protestant reformation, the philosophies, beliefs, and behaviors belonging to this “church” were still ever present. Anybody can study the history for themselves; it wasn’t a pretty time.

Baptism in the Atlantic

Plymouth Colony - HISTORY

“And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren [the Lamanites] by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land. And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.” (1 Nephi 13:12)

There’s a man (presumably Columbus) wrought upon by the Spirit of God, who paves the way out of captivity. He sets a symbolic precedent for those who come after him – “other Gentiles” likewise wrought upon by the Spirit. By the inspiration of God, they physically flee the rule of the “most abominable” church, and seek for a fresh start in a new land. Just as in the case of Noah and Moses, they went forth out of captivity by means of water. They were completely sealed off from the wicked by water.

Emanuel Leutze | Washington Crossing the Delaware | American | The  Metropolitan Museum of Art

“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity did humble themselves before the Lord; and the power of the Lord was with them. And I beheld that their mother Gentiles were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them. And I beheld that the power of God was with them, and also that the wrath of God was upon all those that were gathered together against them to battle. And I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles that had gone out of captivity were delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations.” (1 Nephi 13:16-19)

Consider this vignette from history as symbol for our generation. As they humbled themselves before the Lord, they were given power to come out of captivity from their oppressors. When we humble ourselves by obeying the promptings of the Spirit, it will put us at odds with spiritual “Babylon,” but the Lord will empower us just as he empowered them.

A Covenant to be Added Upon

“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld that they did prosper in the land; and I beheld a book, and it was carried forth among them. And the angel said unto me: Knowest thou the meaning of the book? And I said unto him: I know not. And he said: Behold it proceedeth out of the mouth of a Jew. And I, Nephi, beheld it; and he said unto me: The book that thou beholdest is a record of the Jews, which contains the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; and it also containeth many of the prophecies of the holy prophets; and it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many; nevertheless, they contain the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; wherefore, they are of great worth unto the Gentiles.” (1 Nephi 13:20-23)

What symbol is being communicated here? The book that contains the covenants of the Lord (the Bible) can be likened to the Spirit of God that wrought upon the Gentiles to “flee Babylon.” Early colonialists in North America were largely protestant Christians, seeking for religious freedom in a new world. The Spirit that inspired them to flee was the same Spirit inspiring the reformation taking place in Europe (that’s not to say that Columbus’ inspiration was the Bible per se – only that by zooming out we see the patterns of a bigger picture). It was what they read in the Bible that inspired them to repent, or turn away from the false traditions of the Roman Church.

“Wherefore, these things go forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles, according to the truth which is in God. And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.” (1 Nephi 13:25-26)

“And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men. Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God.” (1 Nephi 13:27-28)

Though there was corruption to the Biblical text, I believe the emphasis of this symbol is the covenants which were neglected and distorted by the Roman church (Isaiah 24:5), thus robbing them of their status as “covenant people.” It was the corruption of the gospel by false ideas and manmade philosophies that deprived later generations of the plain and precious parts of Christ’s gospel; namely, the covenants of the Lord. Remember, this is a vision communicating spiritual truths and patterns that pertain to our day. The Bible in some sense represents the religion and covenant had by Gentiles, which had been corrupted.

Restoring the Covenant

“And it came to pass that the angel of the Lord spake unto me, saying: Behold, saith the Lamb of God, after I have visited the remnant of the house of Israel—and this remnant of whom I speak is the seed of thy father—wherefore, after I have visited them in judgment, and smitten them by the hand of the Gentiles, and after the Gentiles do stumble exceedingly, because of the most plain and precious parts of the gospel of the Lamb which have been kept back by that abominable church, which is the mother of harlots, saith the Lamb—I will be merciful unto the Gentiles in that day, insomuch that I will bring forth unto them, in mine own power, much of my gospel, which shall be plain and precious, saith the Lamb.” (1 Nephi 13:34)

After the Gentiles have stumbled – that is to say, after the missing covenants and truths have left people feeling spiritually unsatisfied, causing them to add false traditions and manmade ideas – Christ mercifully brings forth much of His gospel (not all). He does this by His own power, as opposed to man’s. His gospel was not to be restored through intense study or reformation, but by revelation.

While this was certainly an event in our recent history, I believe we gain more from this account by understanding the symbol first. To those who have abandoned Babylon and sought the Lord on their own, there has likely been some stumbling along the way. The Israelites were not immediately a mighty nation after leaving Egypt; they spent many years in the wilderness, wandering. They built idols, made mistakes, and stumbled because of the influence Egypt had had on them. Similarly, the angel who invited Lehi to begin the journey in his dream led him to “a dark and dreary waste” (1 Nephi 8:5-7). This pattern shows up in other stories as well (like the Lion King). When you flee a tyrannical empire, no matter how bad, you enter a wilderness. You stumble along the way. Simba woke up in the desert, and turned to Timon and Pumba’s hakuna matata lifestyle. For years, he stumbled, shirking all responsibility. It took an external force to get him back on track. Hence, when the Gentiles flee Babylon’s influence and come to America, they stumble. They’re trying to figure things out on their own. Their various interpretations are all lacking, still tainted by Babylon’s influence.

Enter stage right, a prophet; one sent by God. The Lord brought forth much of His gospel to redirect the now-freed Gentiles back towards Him. The Book of Mormon comes forth to renew and restore the lost covenant to the Gentiles. In connection with this covenant, the Lord restores the correct power and means whereby men can be baptized. As the Book of Mormon makes clear, America is a land bound by covenant, only to be inherited by covenant people. Just as the Israelites transitioned from the wilderness to the promised land through the Jordan river, so the Gentiles inherit the promised land by renewing their status as covenant people through baptism.

The adding of the Book of Mormon to the Bible is a symbolic representation of the gift of the Holy Ghost being added to the Spirit which initially leads people to repent. The Gentiles who left Europe were wrought upon by the Spirit; those who accept the covenant after doing so are added upon by the gift of the Holy Ghost. By adding/restoring a purer covenant, there is a greater degree of Spirit to be dispensed.

“And blessed are they who shall seek to bring forth my Zion at that day, for they shall have the gift and the power of the Holy Ghost; and if they endure unto the end they shall be lifted up at the last day, and shall be saved in the everlasting kingdom of the Lamb; and whoso shall publish peace, yea, tidings of great joy, how beautiful upon the mountains shall they be.” (1 Nephi 13:37)

The Test of Our Generation

In the past, the Lord called the Israelites out of Egypt to bring forth Zion; to be a Kingdom of Priests. By keeping the covenant the Lord had made with them, they would effectively establish heaven on earth, and be a light to the nations. We have been tasked with the same responsibility and burden. Unfortunately, they broke their covenant and did not rise up to their privileges. Their failure culminated in rejecting the Son of God, which resulted in their losing the kingdom, and the Lord seeking another people to do His work:

“Verily, I say unto you, I am the stone, and those wicked ones reject me. I am the head of the corner. These Jews shall fall upon me, and shall be broken. And the kingdom of God shall be taken from them, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof; (meaning the Gentiles.) Wherefore, on whomsoever this stone shall fall, it shall grind him to powder. And when the Lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, he will destroy those miserable, wicked men, and will let again his vineyard unto other husbandmen, even in the last days, who shall render him the fruits in their seasons. And then understood they the parable which he spake unto them, that the Gentiles should be destroyed also, when the Lord should descend out of heaven to reign in his vineyard, which is the earth and the inhabitants thereof.” (JST Matthew 21:51-56)

“On whomsoever this stone shall fall, it shall grind him to powder.” This time around, it is us. By being given the gospel and covenant of the Lord, we have inherited a heavy burden to either rise up and do what the Israelites could not, or we will be ground to powder and suffer the same covenant curses the ancients did. This land is a covenant land, and is only promised to those enter into and honor said convent with the landlord. None else have any right to it, and will eventually lose it.

“And the time cometh that he shall manifest himself unto all nations, both unto the Jews and also unto the Gentiles; and after he has manifested himself unto the Jews and also unto the Gentiles, then he shall manifest himself unto the Gentiles and also unto the Jews, and the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. And it shall come to pass, that if the Gentiles shall hearken unto the Lamb of God in that day that he shall manifest himself unto them in word, and also in power, in very deed, unto the taking away of their stumbling blocks—and harden not their hearts against the Lamb of God, they shall be numbered among the seed of thy father; yea, they shall be numbered among the house of Israel; and they shall be a blessed people upon the promised land forever; they shall be no more brought down into captivity; and the house of Israel shall no more be confounded.” (1 Nephi 13:42-14:2)

This is the test of our generation. The Gentiles on this land have been offered the covenant; whether they acknowledge it or not, its impact is universal. All Americans, both within the Church and without, must either rise up to the terms of the covenant or be swept off. Merely accepting the covenant and being numbered among the house of Israel is not enough. We must, by the grace of Christ, do what the Israelites could not. Even the small handful of Gentiles who have accepted the Lord’s offer are at risk of going one of two ways (see D&C 103; 112:23-26; 3 Nephi 16:10). In many respects, the covenant Gentiles are not a distant reflection of the United States. Our course as a nation has had a direct impact on the course of the members of the Church – perhaps most clearly seen today in BYU’s recent efforts to promote Marxist and Post-Modernist ideologies as gospel. Many who have gone before us were given a covenant from the Lord. Their legacy was not in their covenant status, but in how they carried the responsibility of God’s law. In the parable of the Ten Virgins, all were called to the wedding, but only those with oil in their lamps were able to enter.

What are we going to do with what we’ve been given? How can we ensure we have oil in our lamps, or in others words, “have taken the Holy Spirit” for our guide (D&C 45:57)? What must we do to “seek to bring forth” Zion, that we might have the gift and power of the Holy Ghost?


Spiritual Rebirth, Part 1: Born of Water

There are many natural and mythological motifs representing the idea of being born again: the sunrise, new moon, spring, lotus flower, phoenix, and butterfly, just to name a few. They all highlight the idea of the old thing completely dying in order to bring about the new. In the scriptures, we see the same concept taught throughout. Central to Christ’s doctrine is the idea that we must undergo a spiritual rebirth in order to enter the kingdom of God. As He told Nicodemus: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” When Nicodemus inquires as to what this means, Christ clarifies: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:3-5).

What does it truly mean to be born of water and of the Spirit, and how do these two elements work together in the process of spiritual rebirth? This requisite rebirth taught by Christ has both physical (outward) and spiritual (inward) components. In this post I’m just going to cover the former (being born of water) and will treat the latter in the following post.

Is there more to baptism than a public symbol of belief, or stamp on our celestial passport? There are some who contend that being “born of water” in this context has reference to physical birth alone, and that Jesus was drawing a distinction between being born of water as natural birth, and being born of the Spirit as being born again. The truth is that both elements (water and spirit) are present in both births; the first with a mother’s womb water and the spirit of the new child, the second with the water of baptism and reception of the Holy Ghost. This duality is littered throughout the New Testament (e.g. Matt. 3:11, 16; Acts 2:38), though made clearest in the Book of Mormon.

Jesus said He needed to be baptized to, in His own words, “fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). He frequently invited us to follow Him, and His example. He told the apostles, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16). Of course, if they don’t believe, baptism isn’t even going to be in the question. If they do believe, the Lord expects them to acknowledge that belief and acceptance through baptism. Why? A thoughtful desire without earthly action can and often does fade away. We are spiritual beings having a physical experience. We sin in the body. We keep the commandments in the body. This is why God Himself had to be made flesh in order to work out the atonement on our behalf. There is a reason He could not pardon us from sin without paying the price in the body; eternal laws had to be complied in the physical world. Baptism by water is required for the same reasons.

Considering all this, we might ask: What is baptism, and what does it accomplish?

In order to answer that question, we’ll take a bit of a detour.

The Family of God

The story begins in Genesis with the family of God. Adam was a son of God (Luke 3:38) – a member of God’s own family. He and Eve personally knew God (face to face) before the fall. Lucifer (another son of God) had rebelled against the Father and was cut off from His family. He became “Satan” – an adversary, or “one who opposed.” He tempted Adam and Even to likewise rebel against God by disobeying Him. Upon partaking of the fruit of knowledge, they were cut off from their intimate association with God, and were sent into a fallen, broken, telestial world. 

Because the Father could not bear to lose His children, He sent angels (also sons of God) to teach them the plan of redemption whereby they could choose to repent and return to His family. It would require the sacrifice of another son – His Only Begotten – but through His infinite atonement and  intercession on Adam’s behalf there could be a way back. As Adam exercised faith in this plan, he gained the hope and knowledge that “in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God” (Moses 5:10). Though he cut himself off from God’s family by his rebellion, Christ paid the price necessary to graft him back in.

Adam and Eve in turn taught their sons and daughters the plan of redemption, whereby they could also be grafted back into God’s family. Unfortunately, Satan was not finished. He went among the family of Adam saying, “ I am also a son of God… believe it not” (Moses 5:13). And this has been the battle ever since: God on the one hand trying to restore His children back into His family, and Satan trying to keep them cut off from His presence. 

In those days there was no “church” or institution, only a family. The priesthood was essentially the proper order of that family. Adam was alive for over 900 years, and presided over several generations, each generation being organized father-to-son according to the priesthood. The lineage we read in Genesis (from Adam to Seth to Enos and so on) traces the right of presidency (i.e. the standing “father” of the whole family).  Those who turned away from God, in essence, had to break away from the family.

It was all a family matter. 

Baptism in the Flood

Eventually, the entirety of this family turned away except for Noah, his wife, and his children. Almost all humanity had arrived at a point of no return, where wicked traditions would prevent future generations from ever being able to get above it. The earth was baptized, as it were. The waters of the flood completely separated Noah’s family from life in the old world, and gave them a chance to leave the world behind and restart life in God’s family. Peter connected this imagery to baptism when he said Noah’s family was “saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also” (1 Peter 3:20-21, NIV).

How should we interpret the Genesis flood account? - Common-questions -  BioLogos

It was an abandoning of the old world and lifestyle to begin something new; the two worlds being completely separated by water. This watery gate between the old and new harkens back to the womb water of physical brith – our pre-mortal and mortal lives being completely separated by water.

As being born also constitutes entering into a family, rebirth symbolizes a renewal of the family of God on the earth, organized according to the priesthood.

Baptism in the Red Sea

In the ensuing generations, almost all turned away again. Abraham “sought for the blessings of the fathers,” (or to be a part of God’s family) his own fathers having turned away. Under the hand of Noah’s son Shem (renamed Melchizedek), he was adopted back into the family tree.This is why the Lord would say that through him and his family (in other words, his priesthood) all the world would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3, Abraham 2:8-11). From then on out, the Bible follows the story of only Abraham’s family. 

It’s still a family matter.

Moses Parting the Red Sea

After 400 years as slaves in Egypt, likely due to iniquity, God raised up Moses to lead the family out of bondage so they could return to the close association with God they were intended to have. So what did God do? After freeing them from slavery, He led them through the Red Sea to be completely separated from their old lives in Egypt. Hence Paul’s comment that they were all “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1). It was a total turning away from Egypt, and a returning to their covenant heritage; the two worlds being completely separated by water. It constituted a renewal of their covenant status as “God’s people.”

Baptism in the Jordan River

When the next generation entered the promised land, they crossed through the Jordan River, completely leaving behind their lives in the wilderness. Moses reiterated the law for them (which became the book of Deuteronomy), and they in turn renewed their covenant with Jehovah. It was a new beginning as God’s covenant family. 

It is no coincidence that many years later, John baptized Jesus in this same river. A baptism at this location would have echoed back to those same commitments Israel had made to be God’s covenant family before crossing into the promised land.

Video: The special symbolism behind the place where Jesus Christ was  baptized | Book of Mormon Central

Jesus affirmed the importance of baptism when He told John He must obey the ordinance to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Nephi observed, “wherein the Lamb of God did fulfill all righteousness in being baptized by water? Know ye not that he was holy? But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments” (2 Nephi 31:6-7). By being baptized here, Jesus demonstrated His willingness to submit to God in covenant as a member of His family. Hence why after His baptism, the voice of Father was heard saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

He repeatedly invites us to follow His example. “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father? And the Father said: Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son” (2 Nephi 31:10-11). While the ordinance of baptism did not begin here with Christ, He is the perfect example, and His baptism shows the way we must go in order to be saved.

Rebirth into Family

As being born also constitutes entering into a family, through baptism we enter into the covenant family of God. Our identity changes. Not only do we “put on Christ” as Paul says (Galatians 3:27), but we are numbered with the house of Israel (3 Nephi 30:2). As many (if not most) people are descendants of the lost tribes of Israel, baptism (after the order of the priesthood) is a renewal and reclamation of their lost identity, comparable to Abraham’s case mentioned above. Abraham was a descendant of Noah but his fathers turned away from the family line. When Abraham was initiated into the priesthood, he rejoined God’s covenant family.

Nephi emphasizes this idea when elaborating on the words of Isaiah: “Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters [also: lineage, line, loins] of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism…” (1 Nephi 20:1). Nephi highlights the Hebrew words “out of the waters” as a play on words to signify covenant status, either by birth or baptism.

Religion, when it exists in it’s true form, always exists as a community/family of believers. Community is required; the gospel of Jesus Christ cannot accomplish its full end in isolation.

As Alma asked his converts, “as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized?” (Mosiah 18:8-10).

If we don’t have a community then we cannot be willing to mourn for those that mourn. We cannot comfort those that stand in need of comfort. We cannot stand as a witness to one another of God at all times and in all places. We cannot bear one another’s burdens that they may be light, as is required by the gospel and by the covenant of baptism. Paul said there is only “one faith” and it is in the “one Lord” whom we worship, and it requires “one baptism” to be included in the body of believers (Ephesians 4:5). The unity of this “one” family was lost during the great apostasy, and the world needed its restoration.

The gospel is all about restoring God’s family, or people. Individuals are rarely baptized in isolation, as being joined to God’s family is about serving among a community of believers.

New Life in Death

Baptism by water is the sign God has asked for to show our repentance and faith in Christ. Paul declared that to be baptized is to “put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). By participating in this symbolic act which God has ordained (i.e. ordinance), we show God our willingness to enter into covenant and obey His commandments.

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” (Romans 6:1-6)

It requires completely leaving the old world and lifestyle behind and, passing through a watery gate, entering into new life in Christ. In order for baptism to have the desired spiritual effect, it must be done with a repentant heart. Baptism isn’t a magic spell that will change you against your will. However, it is true that “in the ordinances [of the priesthood], the power of Godliness is made manifest” (D&C 84:20). If we comply with the pattern by willingly and totally dying to our old life, will, and desires, baptism will open a channel to heaven for us – allowing us to receive the Holy Ghost.

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know 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” (2 Nephi 31:13).

This added blessing will give us new life, new strength, a change of heart, and spiritual gifts.

More will be said on this topic in an upcoming post.