Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Apostasy and Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ

Editor's note: This is number 38 in a series of posts by Dennis Horne, sharing quotes from his book, Determining Doctrine: A Reference Guide for Evaluating Doctrinal Truth. You can read the introductory post here. The first part of each post is a new introduction, placing the quotes in context with contemporary issues. The quotes that then follow are from the Determining Doctrine book, which contains many quotes that are not readily available elsewhere or are exclusive to the book.

            A few years ago Brigham Young University sponsored an academic conference to explore and present new research on the Latter-day Saints’ concept of the apostasy of the primitive, or meridian, Church of Jesus Christ. This volume was the result: Standing Apart: Mormon Historical Consciousness and the Concept of Apostasy. I have not read this book (except for a version of the epilogue) and therefore cannot personally speak to it. I have read a review posted by someone at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute at BYU, which included this sentence: “The authors aren’t shy about respectfully challenging claims made by LDS leaders as well as prominent LDS scholars.”

            If this sentence accurately reflects the book’s content, one wonders why BYU would sponsor such a conference that challenged the teachings of its leaders. Be that as it may, I personally have no problem when scholars do legitimate, rigorous and sound research and present/interpret/publish their findings, as long as those findings are in harmony with revelation and how such revelation is interpreted by those who hold the keys. For myself, I have always placed the word of God over the word of scholars that tends to change a lot. If scholars’ findings tell us that we have misunderstood to some extent a long period of time in the past, that is just fine. If we learn that much of enlightening value, more than we knew before, went on during the middle ages, or, that various persons over the centuries received divine knowledge or an occasional gift of the spirit via the light of Christ—that’s fine, no problem. Such knowledge might even have some use somewhere somehow. (I hope these scholars don’t think they now know all about the past.)

            However, if these scholars’ purpose is to reinterpret/weaken the historical narrative of the apostasy and restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ to the point of almost eliminating it (and for some of them it seems it is) then we should take instant strenuous issue and cry foul. Anything that denies the loss of the priesthood, keys, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and temple ordinances after the death of the apostles is false. Likewise, anything that denies that true and pure gospel doctrine and ordinances became corrupted and sullied with the passage of the centuries, is also false and insidious.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Mormon Book Bits #20: Heber J. Grant, Gospel Standards

Editor's note: This is # 20 in a series of posts by Dennis Horne about collectible books. The introduction is here.


The story of a book of wide acceptance and far-reaching significance

On the morning of November 22, 1941, Dr. John A. Widtsoe of the Council of the Twelve and one of the editors of the Era; Elder Richard L. Evans of the First Council of the Seventy and managing editor of the Era; Marba C. Josephson, associate editor of the Era; Dr. G. Homer Durham, compiler; and John Kenneth Orton, business manager of the Era, having previously met in the office of Dr. Widtsoe by appointment, drove to the home of President Heber J. Grant….

The President was seated in the living room by the front window overlooking the valley. He was jovial and in good spirits [for his 85th birthday]….

Greetings having been exchanged, Dr. Widtsoe explained the purpose of the visit, and introduced each member of the official party in the order in which their remarks appear below:

Remarks by Elder John A. Widtsoe: “We are here representing the fifty-three thousand or more subscribers to the Era.

"All who are associated with The Improvement Era recognize that not only were you the practical founder of The Improvement Era, but also through your continuous, vigorous support, The Improvement Era has become an influential and serviceable magazine in the Church. We have felt that the Era would do itself honor to remember and recognize in a special manner your eighty-fifth birthday anniversary. In thinking the matter over we concluded that the Era could perhaps best show its appreciation by compiling for wide public use, throughout the Church and beyond, the essence of your teachings to the people throughout your long official life within the Church. We felt that in your public utterances you have presented the gospel as needed in our day and generation. Joseph Smith the Prophet applied the principles of the gospel to his day; Brigham Young did the same in his day, and your other predecessors in the presidency used the gospel to meet the issues of their days. A compilation of your sermons and writings would, therefore, it seemed to us, be but a continuation of the messages delivered by the presidents of the Church from Joseph Smith to your own time….

Monday, July 18, 2016

Elder Boyd K. Packer on evolution and letters

Editor's note: This is number 37 in a series of posts by Dennis Horne, sharing quotes from his book, Determining Doctrine: A Reference Guide for Evaluating Doctrinal Truth. You can read the introductory post here. The first part of each post is a new introduction, placing the quotes in context with contemporary issues. The quotes that then follow are from the Determining Doctrine book, which contains many quotes that are not readily available elsewhere or are exclusive to the book.

            Evolution has long been a hotly debated and emotional issue—even in the LDS Church where it shouldn’t be. Nothing said here will resolve that debate. However, in this blog series the purpose is to teach how Mormon doctrine is determined and settled. By learning to do so, one can navigate the sometimes complicated nuances of Mormon history and teachings.

Basically, the below quotations amount to an apostle clarifying a question involving a private letter from a president of the Church that has caused confusion with some. The lesson to be learned is to be careful and cautious about determining doctrine; always remembering to examine the channel that delivers it and the source from which it comes. In this case the source seems credible at first glance, but the method of delivery is not definitive.

On a side note, I have noticed that most in the world and even some in the Church have falsely declared the debate over with finality, the issue resolved—victorious for evolution. Those so pronouncing do not speak for the Church and do not determine its doctrine.

On the other hand, I have noticed that the Ensign magazine reprinted the document on “The Origin of Man” in the February 2002 number. Keeping in mind that the Ensign itself has its own complexities as a channel and source of doctrine, the document included this introduction: “In the early 1900s, questions concerning the Creation of the earth and the theories of evolution became the subject of much public discussion. In the midst of these controversies, the First Presidency issued the following in 1909, which expresses the Church’s doctrinal position on these matters. A reprinting of this important First Presidency statement will be helpful as members of the Church study the Old Testament this year.”

Friday, July 15, 2016

Mormon Book Bits #19: Franklin D. Richards, Autobiography of Franklin D. Richards (Assistant to the Council of the Twelve Apostles)

Editor's note: This is # 19 in a series of posts by Dennis Horne about collectible books. The introduction is here.

            This work, copyrighted and published in 1974, is evidently a personal endeavor of Elder Richards, since no publisher’s name is indicated. From the content it is safe to assume that it was printed in Salt Lake City, Utah. Its extreme rarity presupposes that it was written for family and close friends only, as does its inclusion of strictly personal and family items such as patriarchal blessings, setting-apart blessings, etc.

            The book (406 pages) covers his early life and business career in some detail, but most of it is meant to give a recounting of the years Elder Richards served as a General Authority, with a chapter for each year of service. This writing pattern assures the reader of an unusual view of the intense laborious life followed by such men living “in the harness.” It contains a few “nuggets” that make it a worthwhile find for those very few that do. For instance, he tells of an administration received as a child: “The power of the priesthood was dramatically demonstrated to me when as a boy of nine I was stricken with rheumatic fever and was in bed for several months and necessarily out of school. The doctors told my parents that I probably would not live to be eighteen years of age. I was administered to by the elders of the Church, and through faith and the power of the priesthood my health was restored” (7).

            Another comes from an experience received as a General Authority. A close friend and his family had died in a plane crash: “Elder Howard Hunter of the Quorum of the Twelve and I spoke at the funeral. It was a humbling experience to look down from the pulpit over the four caskets and contemplate what had happened…. As I was talking, I clearly understood why John was taken. The spirit manifested to me that he was needed to carry on missionary work in the spirit world. I knew this to be true and bore testimony to this effect. The spirit of the Lord was abundantly present and His comforting influence was felt” (198).

            Because the author reviews his work as an Assistant to the Twelve in so much detail each year, the book conveys a sense of perspective but also of repetition; however, the comments regarding his occasional interactions with senior Church leaders help make the book a decent, but not great, autobiography.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Theory of Evolution and the Origin of Man

Editor's note: This is number 36 in a series of posts by Dennis Horne, sharing quotes from his book, Determining Doctrine: A Reference Guide for Evaluating Doctrinal Truth. You can read the introductory post here. The first part of each post is a new introduction, placing the quotes in context with contemporary issues. The quotes that then follow are from the Determining Doctrine book, which contains many quotes that are not readily available elsewhere or are exclusive to the book.

The following material is excerpted from two sources, a Deseret [Morning] News article and a Brigham Young University information packet on the subject of the origin of man. The packet was compiled by BYU administrators to provide students with statements giving the official position of the Church on that subject, as well as guidance in determining such official positions and statements. The contents of the packet were approved by the BYU Board of Trustees, which includes the First Presidency. As quoted from Determining Doctrine:

Deseret News:

            A packet of LDS Church declarations on evolution was compiled at Brigham Young University this month to avoid confusion in the classroom about the church’s official position….

            Only statements made by the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can be considered official, [William] Evenson said. Evenson, Provost Bruce Hafen and Robert Millet, dean of religious education, compiled the 10-page packet. Hafen asked Evenson to head the project.

            “The goal is not to achieve some kind of balance among the views that have been expressed, but to give students of this subject the full range of official views so they can judge for themselves the different positions they encounter,” Evenson said.

            The packet includes First Presidency declarations from 1909, 1910, 1925, excerpts from a 1932 First Presidency meeting and a brief article from the “Encyclopedia of Mormonism” published this year.

            “The church has said a lot more about the origin of man than evolution,” Evenson said....

Monday, July 11, 2016

Mormon Book Bits #18: Hyrum M. Smith and Janne M. Sjodahl, Doctrine and Covenants Commentary

Editor's note: This is # 18 in a series of posts by Dennis Horne about collectible books. The introduction is here.

 Doctrine and Covenants Commentary is one of few official LDS Church produced and approved books. It contains the text of the scriptural book, The Doctrine and Covenants, and also some commentary. The first edition (1919) carried the name of Elder Hyrum M. Smith, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and a son of President Joseph F. Smith (also European Mission president at the time much of the work was done) as author of the introduction and explanatory notes; however, most of the actual writing was performed by Janne M. Sjodahl (editor at the time of the mission periodical Millennial Star), with others also assisting in various capacities—Orson F. Whitney, Joseph Fielding Smith, John E. Cottam, George F. Richards Jr., and Junius F. Wells. From the available historical evidence, it would seem that Janne Sjodahl had the original idea to write it and got Hyrum M. Smith’s permission and cooperation; then Sjodahl wrote it and Hyrum Smith approved it (along with other church authorities at headquarters in Salt Lake City).
         
            Elder George F. Richards, also of the Twelve, succeeded Elder Smith as president of the mission when the work was well underway (August 1916) but had little to do with it. George F. Richards Jr. remembered: “That project had been proceeding before we came in to the mission. Brother Sjodahl was living at mission headquarters working in the printers office (the business office at headquarters) and in his room. Of course then all of his conversions of thought and extensions and additions and his proof sheets could and were presented to Brother Hyrum Smith right there. … They may have been sent back to the Church for others to approve, they probably were. Anyway, all of his work was directly under the immediate sponsorship of President Hyrum M. Smith. When we got there that influence no longer prevailed. Father [Elder George F. Richards] didn’t have anything to do with what Brother Sjodahl was doing on his record. I don’t think Father was shown the proofs, he could have been; maybe he saw them, but I don’t think he did. But Brother Cottam and I got everything to proofread and then the material was sent back to Salt Lake, looked over and approved by certain other of the authorities, and then sent back. Then Brother Sjodahl was at liberty to set it up and print it. That’s the way it was done all the time we were there. Then when he’d get it all set up, I’d have to put his forms in the press, get them to working. A good bit of that first volume I printed. I couldn’t say just how much, but I imagine half of it anyway” (George F. Richards Jr. interview, as cited in Dale C. Mauritsen, A Symbol of New Directions: George Franklin Richards and the Mormon Church, 1861-1950 [BYU doctoral dissertation, 1982], 177-78).

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Hugh Nibley’s Perspective on Historical Sciences and Mormonism

Editor's note: This is number 35 in a series of posts by Dennis Horne, sharing quotes from his book, Determining Doctrine: A Reference Guide for Evaluating Doctrinal Truth. You can read the introductory post here. The first part of each post is a new introduction, placing the quotes in context with contemporary issues. The quotes that then follow are from the Determining Doctrine book, which contains many quotes that are not readily available elsewhere or are exclusive to the book.

            Former (deceased) BYU Professor Hugh W. Nibley was asked to contribute to a 1965 Instructor magazine series of articles called “I Believe” on science and religion. To make a long story short, his contribution was not published (but was decades later included in the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley.) After the piece was rejected, he sent a follow-up letter to the editor, complaining about the rejection and further justifying his reasoning and arguments—all to no avail. Nibley was not used to having his articles rejected by any publication and for a Mormon periodical to do so was extra annoying to him.

            Be that as it may, his thoughts on the subject, while being a little dated as far as current scientific thought is concerned, still offer some salient points to ponder about the uses and abuses some people make of science—especially anti-Mormons and atheists. Nibley’s basic arguments are as cogent and relevant today as they were when he first wrote them in 1965. We should always remember that the historical sciences are not exact sciences and that insofar as they are used or manipulated to weaken faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, they or their purveyors are suspect. All the answers simply aren’t in and pointing fingers of scorn and mockery at people of faith doesn’t alter that reality.

            From Determining Doctrine: