Friday, February 28, 2020

President Joseph Fielding Smith Teaches and Testifies about the First Vision

(Part eleven of a series compiled by Dennis B. Horne)

            President Smith was the grandson of Hyrum Smith, brother to the Prophet Joseph Smith. He was and still is considered one of the great expounders of doctrine and interpreters of the scriptures in this dispensation. He became President of the Church with the death of President David O. McKay. He felt a special responsibility and therefore took pleasure in teaching about his forebears and the mission they performed as church leaders. His words reflect that obligation:

            I want to say to all those who are listening at this particular time that I have a testimony that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God, and is, for his work has not ceased, for a righteous man's work does not cease: Joseph Smith was a righteous man when he died; I know that he was called, appointed by our Father in heaven; that he received revelation and guidance from the Son of God that would be of benefit and a blessing to all men if they would receive it.
            Now in what I have to say I wish to direct my remarks to those who are not members of the Church, if there are any such listening. I want them to know that I believe this sincerely and absolutely. That is my faith. I think I can say safely it is my knowledge, by the gift of God, that Joseph Smith in the year 1820 did see the Father and the Son; that the Father introduced his Son; that the Son spoke to him, asked him what he wanted to know, and gave him counsel; told him what to do, with the promise that eventually other light would come and the fulness of the gospel, which was not then upon the face of the earth, would be restored.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Must Accept the First Vision (or they are not Latter-day Saints)

(Part ten of a series compiled by Dennis B. Horne)

            Many Latter-day Saints are not aware of the below teachings that in order to be considered a full, true, and faithful Latter-day Saint, they must, sooner or later, develop a conviction born of the Spirit, that Joseph Smith received a visitation from the Father and the Son. Most missionaries gain this conviction by prayerfully studying and teaching the account from Joseph Smith’s history. Some critics, often referring to themselves as “cultural Mormons,” deny Joseph’s testimony (along with the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the restoration of the priesthood, and other miraculous foundational matters), and desire participation in the “community” the Church provides without believing in it. The reason that doesn’t work is that they also seek to change the community to their way of thinking, or denying, the foundational truth claims of the Church. In reality, you either believe/know, or eventually come to believe/know, or eventually leave. Some (sadly) leave loudly and try to drag others out with them; too bad.
            On a side note, I noticed that one of the listed subjects that may be examined in the forthcoming BYU Church History Symposium on the First Vision (March 2020), is “J. Reuben Clark’s 1938 statement that religious educators must assent to the First Vision as a historical event—context and implications.” This means a scholar may research and talk about the below teachings of President Clark at the symposium—we shall see. But the statement itself, taken from the “call for papers” is not correct. What President Clark actually said was “In all this there are for the Church, and for each and all of its members, two prime things which may not be overlooked, forgotten, shaded, or discarded.” I see that he was not simply talking about “religious educators” but “each and all of its members”—a major difference.
            Whether or not that proves to be the case (that someone presents a paper on the subject), the fact is that President Clark and some other church leaders have taught that this is fundamental to personal faith and testimony. So much so, in fact, that President Clark, speaking for and in behalf of the First Presidency, stated that if you do not gain an inner conviction of Joseph’s First Vision and the restoration of the priesthood, you are “not a Latter-day Saint.” So much for so-called “cultural Mormons” and other dissidents who want to be in the Church community but not of it—President Clark is not gentle in referring to such and his declarations are strong. And you don’t have to attend a symposium or buy a book later to study them:

Sunday, February 23, 2020

President Nelson Expounds on Life With and Without the Book of Mormon

Messages assembled by Dennis B. Horne

            In his “Closing Remarks” of the October 2019 General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson invited members to ask themselves questions about what their life and their world would be like without the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the major events that attended it. One example he gave was this: “Our course of study for next year in Come, Follow Me is the Book of Mormon. You may wish to ponder important questions such as, ‘How would my life be different if my knowledge gained from the Book of Mormon were suddenly taken away?’”
            As it happens, President Nelson has himself asked and answered this very question. It seems he has not asked the membership of the Church to do something he himself has not done, and we might also conclude that he found the exercise so valuable that he felt inspired to invite others to do likewise. Even though Pres. Nelson indicated we could and should come up with our own questions, I would suppose that it could not but help to review and study his insightful questions and answers. He did this in an address to the Church not long before he became its president.
            At the bottom of President Nelson’s General Conference talk The Book of Mormon: What Would Your Life Be Like without It?, is (the below) information that is not found in the talk as delivered (in 2017) and constitutes something of an appendix to his message—counsel that he continues to promote as President of the Church.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Word Selection Sophistry Explained

            With the great and spacious building, also known as the internet/social media/news media, filled with those who have left the Church either in heart or in fact, we see substantial sophistry in play. I am defining sophistry here as these people’s efforts to disguise or minimalize their attempts to weaken or destroy faith, to misdirect and confuse, or to act as wolves in sheep’s clothing.
            Below are examples of what I see dissenters, progressives/liberals, activists, Salt Lake Tribune reporters, and others of like ilk attempting to perpetrate, often on unsuspecting readers of blogs and news stories.

Crafty wording

            For some years now, “apostates” have sought to dodge that powerfully meaningful word (or label or state of being), and have come up with a replacement—“faith transition” (begun by a “faith crisis”).
            They do this because transition sounds so much better than apostate. They happily speak of going through a faith transition and proclaim how emotionally hard it is on them, seeking sympathy and support. The fact of the matter is they are apostates who are apostates who are apostates. By apostatizing, we must not forget that they are usually breaking the most solemn covenants, not made with people (even priesthood leaders), but with God. Of course, once apostate, they don’t believe that anymore, but it is still the fact. There are many websites, securely positioned in the great and spacious building or floating in the river of filthy water, filled with pride and worldliness and sin, that employ such language to soften and ease their apostasy in their own minds. Whether a word alteration helps them will be seen at the day of judgment.

Friday, February 21, 2020

President J. Reuben Clark Jr. Teaches and Testifies of the First Vision

(Part nine of a series compiled by Dennis B. Horne)

            When Latter-day Saint historians name those they view as the leading or most prominent and influential of all the men who have served as counselors in the First Presidency, along with names such as Heber C. Kimball, George Q. Cannon, Joseph F. Smith, and Gordon B. Hinckley, President J. Reuben Clark stands with them. So many of his protégé’s have spoken so highly of him: Presidents Lee, Romney, Packer, Monson, and Hinckley to name but a few. He moved directly from high government service to even higher church responsibility. I could take pages extolling his contributions to the work of the Lord in the latter days, but such would steer wide of the purpose of this piece. Suffice it to say that President Clark’s teachings and thoughts and witness place him as one of the foremost figures in the Church:

Testimony as related by Elder Glen L. Rudd:
            About thirty years ago I received a phone call in my office at Welfare Square from Elder Harold B. Lee.  He wanted me to drop everything and come immediately to his office. When I arrived, he introduced me to a very splendid gentleman from England. He was a member of the British cabinet—the solicitor general of Great Britain. He was a man in his early fifties. Brother Lee took this gentleman and me into the First Presidency’s reception room where we were joined by President J. Reuben Clark, Jr. of the First Presidency. President Clark was past ninety ears of age and was having difficulty walking. However, he was in complete control of his faculties. He seated Brother Lee at one end of the large table in this room, and me at the other end. He sat on one side at the middle of the table and asked the gentleman from England to sit directly across from him. I thought to myself, “What will they talk about? I am sure he will ask how the Prime Minister is and how legal matters are going in Great Britain.” I thought that President Clark, being interested in international affairs, might ask about those matters. However, President Clark, without any apologies and without any hesitation, began to bear his testimony of the reality of the First Vision. He told in simple terms how and why Joseph, as a boy, went into the Sacred Grove. He then told what actually happened, how Joseph knelt in prayer and how the power of Satan almost overcame him. Then President Clark told of the light appearing and the appearance of God the Father and the Son. Never once did he apologize or say, “We believe this.” He spoke in absolute facts and in such a manner that the three of us listening were completely captivated by the simplicity in which he told this marvelous experience. At that moment I thought nobody on this earth could deny that testimony. The man from England listened intently. President Clark spoke with great intent. It was a great moment in my life as I listened to a ninety-year old prophet of God tell the magnificent account of one of the greatest events that has ever taken place on this earth. I am sure the man from England never forgot that great experience. I surely have not and quite likely never will.[1]

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Elder Joseph F. Merrill Teaches and Testifies about the First Vision

(Part eight of a series compiled by Dennis B. Horne)

            Elder Joseph F. Merrill of the Quorum of the Twelve (1868-1952), known of by few in the Church today, was the son of another slightly-better-known Apostle, Elder Marriner W. Merrill. His teachings are included here because he used much of his time in three General Conference talks over three years to teach and testify about the First Vision; seemingly he felt inspired to do so and there is much of worth in his words:

            Mormonism, as the world generally calls the religious faith taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is noted for many characteristic teachings, one of which is that Joseph Smith was divinely called, beginning with a most wonderful and glorious vision. Relative to this matter a basic and fundamental question that every member of the Church may rightfully ask, as well as every honest investigator, is "Did Joseph Smith really see God?"
            As I view it, this is perhaps the most natural and logical question that can be asked concerning the origin of Mormonism. It is one that might well challenge the attention of every person who believes in God and in life beyond the grave, whether he is a Mormon or non-Mormon.
            All informed Latter-day Saints know the story of the first vision as related by Joseph Smith. He was a member of a sincerely religious family but belonged to no church. Though he was only fourteen years old at the time, this fact of non-church membership worried him. As a means of helping him to solve his problem, he read the Bible with deep interest, for he wanted to know which of the contending churches was the right one to join. He therefore resolved to heed the injunction of James (James 1:5-6) and so went into the woods and prayed that God would give him wisdom that he might know what to do. In answer to the boy's simple prayer, he related that he was enveloped in a pillar of brilliant light which descended from above. Looking up he beheld two personages standing above him whose brightness and glory defied all description. One of them, calling him by name and pointing to the other said, 'This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!" and then Joseph heard the voice of Jesus Christ, the Son, and received instruction from him.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Teachings and Testimony about the First Vision Given at The 100 Year Centennial General Conference Commemoration

(Part seven of a series compiled by Dennis B. Horne)

            The April 1920 General Conference became a 100-year anniversary commemoration of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s First Vision. Most of the conference speakers referenced it one way or another. President Heber J. Grant, only a year into his administration, began by sharing his own feelings, and other speakers followed his example. These remarks were given in a day when most spoke extemporaneously for various lengths of time. Not all comments were equally insightful, but I have tried to select some of the more interesting excerpts—and some are powerful witnesses indeed (see for example, Elder Melvin J. Ballard’s remarks). Apostolic and prophetic commentary of spiritual things can enlarge understanding and perspective:

            The Latter-day Saints were driven from city to city, county to county, state to state, and finally beyond the confines of the United States to the Rocky Mountains, then Mexican territory. They could have had immunity, they could have dwelt in peace, had they renounced their faith; but our fathers and our mothers had received the witness of the Holy Spirit and they knew that Jesus was the Savior, they knew that Joseph Smith was in very deed a prophet of God. The Lord Almighty had implanted in their hearts a knowledge that God did, one hundred years ago this spring, appear to a boy; that he did speak to that boy; and that when the boy asked of our Father in Heaven, "Which of all the religious denominations in the world is the true Church of Christ?" in answer to that question our God and our Father pointed to the Savior of the world and said: "This is my beloved Son, hear Him." The Savior of the world told that boy to join none of the sects, that they had all gone astray, that they were teaching for doctrine the ideas and the commandments of men, and that they did not have the true Church of Christ. When that boy returned from that wonderful and marvelous vision, the greatest event in all the history of the world, excepting only the birth and death of the Savior, his mother saw that there was something strange about his appearance and asked him some questions; and he simply answered, m substance, and said to his mother (who was a Presbyterian): "Mother, there is one thing I know now, and that is that the Presbyterian church is not the Church of Christ."
            When he related his vision to ministers and others the boy was ridiculed.

Friday, February 7, 2020

President Heber J. Grant’s Audio Address to the 1938 Deseret Sunday School Union Meeting

Introduced by Dennis B. Horne

            As far as I know, audio recordings of addresses given by President Heber J. Grant are rare. They are also a treat, for several reasons. Not only do you get to hear his voice but you get a flavor of his personality not so easily discernable in his written words. And best of all, his speeches were not written down and read as most are today. They were extemporaneous, vigorous, and from the heart. Today we are not used to hearing the prophet of the Lord speak in this old-time oratorical style. Today the addresses given by the prophets and apostles are written well in advance so that they can be translated into many other languages, and also to ensure that nothing wrong is accidentally said. (Critics gleefully latch onto misstatements and make a mountain of a mole-hill out of them, trying to weaken faith. As President Hinckley said, “Our critics at home and abroad are watching us. In an effort to find fault, they listen to every word we say, hoping to entrap us. We may stumble now and again. But the work will not be materially hindered. We will stand up where we fell and go forward.”)
            After listening to President Grant preach with the fire he did, I can’t help but feel sorry for the poor apostate who crossed him; they would soon be a miserable puddle on the floor. When Pres. Grant goes after an apostate in this speech, he isn’t tactful and diplomatic, except in withholding the man’s name (Frank J. Cannon).
            I assume one reason for the volume and vigor of the speaking style is that there were no amplifiers in that day, and speakers had to be sure the person sitting in the back of the Tabernacle heard them as clearly as those at the front, despite the exceptionally fine acoustics of the building.
            In order to assist listeners with understanding the content of this address, I make the following historical observations.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Present and Past Church Leaders Teach and Testify of the First Vision

(Part six of a series compiled by Dennis B. Horne)

            A selection of teachings and testimony about the First Vision from various Church leaders as given over the decades:

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:
            One concluding thought: Joseph Smith’s 19th-century frontier environment was aflame with competing crowds of Christian witnesses. But in the tumult they created, these exuberant revivalists were, ironically, obscuring the very Savior young Joseph so earnestly sought. Battling what he called “darkness and confusion,” he retreated to the solitude of a grove of trees where he saw and heard a more glorious witness of the Savior’s centrality to the gospel than anything we have mentioned here this morning. With a gift of sight unimagined and unanticipated, Joseph beheld in vision his Heavenly Father, the great God of the universe, and Jesus Christ, His perfect Only Begotten Son. Then the Father set the example we have been applauding this morning: He pointed to Jesus, saying: “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!”
9 No greater expression of Jesus’s divine identity, His primacy in the plan of salvation, and His standing in the eyes of God could ever exceed that short seven-word declaration.
            Commotion and confusion? Crowds and contention? There is plenty of all that in our world. Indeed, skeptics and the faithful still contend over this vision and virtually all else I have referred to today. In case you may be striving to see more clearly and to find meaning in the midst of a multitude of opinions, I point you toward that same Jesus and bear apostolic witness of Joseph Smith’s experience, coming as it did some 1,800 years after our blind friend received his sight on the ancient Jericho Road. I testify with these two and a host of others down through time that surely the most thrilling sight and sound in life is that of Jesus not only passing by10 but His coming to us, stopping beside us, and making His abode with us.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Some Facts and Thoughts about Church Manuals

            The last few weeks have seen some dissenters express anger at a minor mistake in the new printed version of the “Come, Follow Me” manual on the Book of Mormon, which is being studied in Sunday School classes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this year. (One critic called it a “dumpster fire” and another confused “inerrancy” with loyalty.) While these little ruckuses come and go and are nothing more than a tempest in a teapot, they do unfortunately provide critics and activists with a temporary platform to express their anger to a larger audience. Some even proclaim their faithfulness in their critical posts—!?!?!?.
            Therefore, it seemed to me that it might be a worthwhile time to share some quotations about Church Correlation and Curriculum writing from a book I compiled years ago called Determining Doctrine, which has an entire chapter on the subject. These quotations from the First Presidency and apostles and prophets might help give some readers a broader perspective, and also an improved viewpoint from which to evaluate the dissenters’ criticisms:

President Boyd K. Packer:
            The Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is the Correlation Committee, with the President of the Twelve and the two senior members acting as the executive committee. (“All-Church Coordinating Council Meeting,” 18 May 1993, 3.)

The First Presidency:
            The Evaluation Division of the Correlation Department is responsible for the review and evaluation of all proposed activities, programs, policies, procedures, practices, plans, terminology, and other materials intended for use throughout the Church to ensure that they are consistent with doctrine and with approved policy and procedure. These materials include, but are not limited to handbooks, course materials, supplements, notices, magazine articles, seminar materials, internet, and audiovisual materials. The responsibility of the Correlation Department has been expanded to include content review of general Church communications utilizing electronic and digital technologies. All of these items, prepared by the general Church departments and organizations and intended for use throughout the Church, are without exception to be submitted for review and evaluation.
(Note: this quotation is not in my Determining Doctrine compilation but is newer.)