Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Apostles and Doubt

[Readers desiring to obtain their own hardback copies of volume one of I Know He Lives: How 13 Special Witnesses Came to Know Jesus Christ can find copies on sale here  Softbound copies can be purchased here, on sale. An ebook (Kindle) edition is available on Amazon here, for cheap. The Amazon page also includes the Introduction and first chapter of volume one for free.]


(by Dennis B. Horne)

 

Brothers and sisters, let me give you a caution:

you won’t be of much help to others

if your own faith is not securely in place.

(Elder Neil L. Andersen[1])

  

            Regarding this subject, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught: “Now, the Doubter. I don’t want this to immediately have to get theological, but who do you suppose is the father of doubt? If you had to have an antonym to doubt, wouldn’t it be perilously close to faith? . . . This is a battle for the souls eternally of men and women. This is part of the plan of eternity. And it was not meant for us to come here and to be doubtful, or discouraged, or depressed, or blunted, or muted. We are here to grow and blossom and develop eternally. So, while there are some practical things we can talk about, keep the doctrine in mind and remember who you are.”[2] A strong and beautiful statement of truth.

            “My plea to every Latter-day Saint is: If you do not know it, get a knowledge and testimony in your heart that God lives and that Jesus is the Christ, and that Joseph Smith is a prophet of the true and the living God. There is ample evidence to satisfy any honest investigator; no one needs to say it cannot be demonstrated nor discovered. And then I plead with you to have patience with your problems whatever they are, economic or otherwise; be patient and be faithful, don't be swept off your feet by every wind of doctrine that would lead you hither and thither.” So stated Elder Melvin J. Ballard (grandfather of President Russell M. Ballard), a special witness that had seen and embraced the resurrected Christ and knew whereof he spoke: “I know as I know that I live that God is still with this work; that it is the truth; that the light is in the ship; that the pilot is not asleep. The dogs have barked, but the caravan, the Church of the living God, has gone forward in the past as it shall go in the future grandly on to its destiny. God help us to stay on the ship; God help us to do our part and to keep from everything that would lead us from the main path, which if we continue to travel in shall bring us to glory and exaltation.”[3]

            This chapter is included in this work for two reasons: one is that, sadly, some few academics associated with Brigham Young University have declared that doubt is “good” and should be “celebrated,” and have even labelled doubt a “spiritual gift” that they possess in abundance. Such deceptive doctrines are in stark opposition to the declarations and teachings of the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, who use all their influence to teach the opposite. A second reason is that there are undoubtedly some who do doubt, that could benefit from learning true and undiluted doctrine from these special witnesses who know. They do not doubt, and one purpose of their call to the apostleship is to teach and testify in such as manner as to build faith and eliminate doubt in their hearers and readers. In this they follow the example of the Old Testament prophet Daniel, whose (true) spiritual gift was to dispel doubt: “Forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, . . . and shewing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel. . . . And I have heard of thee, that thou canst make interpretations, and dissolve doubts.” (Daniel 5:12, 16). This prophet’s spiritual gift was to dissolve and dispel doubts for others, not to encourage or celebrate them. Such is also the case with modern prophets and apostles. None of them have ever thought doubt good, nor have they taught as one sorely misled academic at BYU did when he wrote, “Be grateful for your doubts.”[4]

            On the Church website, under the gospel topic of “Answering Gospel Questions,” we find this approved instruction concerning faith and doubt:

 

            Because our perspective and knowledge are limited, we find spiritual truths only if faith is part of our efforts. Faith requires mental and spiritual exertion and is rooted in positive hope, not negative doubt. . . .

            Remember, however, that the term question is not synonymous with the term doubt. Faith and doubt are not different sides of a coin. The Lord and His prophets do not encourage doubt—quite the opposite. Doubt is not spoken of in a positive light in the scriptures. President Thomas S. Monson taught, “Doubt never inspires faith.” That is why the Lord is so adamant that we “doubt not.” He knows that doubting can affect our faith in Him. The Savior taught, “And whosoever shall believe in my name, doubting nothing, unto him will I confirm all my words.” Speaking to those who did not believe in Christ, Moroni admonished, “Doubt not, but be believing.”. . . Doubt does not lead to faith, but seeking learning by study and by faith increases both our knowledge and our faith. . . .

            There is no such thing as doubt-generated faith. By faith, the Apostle Peter walked on water until fear and doubt caused his steps to falter, and he began to sink. Leaders and members in the early days of the Restoration were taught, “Where doubt and uncertainty are there faith is not, nor can it be.”

            Elder Jeffrey R. Holland also advocated: “In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited. . . .  When those moments come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes. . . . The size of your faith or the degree of your knowledge is not the issue—it is the integrity you demonstrate toward the faith you do have and the truth you already know.”

 

            Of those who (allegedly) teach and write about the gospel at BYU or anywhere else, President Kimball cautioned them, declaring: “If one cannot accept and teach the program [doctrine] of the Church in an orthodox way without reservations, he should not teach. It would be the part of honor to resign his position. Not only would he be dishonest and deceitful, but he is also actually under condemnation, for the Savior said that it were better that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he be cast into the sea than that he should lead astray doctrinally or betray the cause or give offense, destroying the faith of one of “these little ones” who believe in him. And remember that this means not only the small children, it includes even adults who believe and trust in God.”[5]

            This same academic wrote: “There is profit to be found, and advantage to be gained, even—perhaps especially—in the absence of certainty.” In direct refutation of this false and evil teaching, President Gordon B. Hinckley taught:

 

            There recently spoke in this city a prominent journalist from the East. I did not hear him, but I read the newspaper reports of his remarks. He is quoted as having said, “Certitude is the enemy of religion.” The words attributed to him have stirred within me much reflection. Certitude, which I define as complete and total assurance, is not the enemy of religion. It is of its very essence.

            Certitude is certainty. It is conviction. It is the power of faith that approaches knowledge—yes, that even becomes knowledge. It evokes enthusiasm, and there is no asset comparable to enthusiasm in overcoming opposition, prejudice, and indifference.

            Great buildings were never constructed on uncertain foundations. Great causes were never brought to success by vacillating leaders. The gospel was never expounded to the convincing of others without certainty. Faith, which is of the very essence of personal conviction, has always been, and always must be, at the root of religious practice and endeavor.

            There was no uncertainty in Peter’s mind when the Lord asked him, “Whom say ye that I am?

            “And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:15–16.)

            Nor was there any doubt on the part of Peter when the Lord taught the multitude in Capernaum, declaring himself to be the bread of life. Many of his disciples, who would not accept his teaching, “went back, and walked no more with him.

            “Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?

            “Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.

            “And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” (John 6:66–69.)[6]

 

            Apostles never speak of doubt in a positive way. It is always negative and in keeping with the Lord’s commandment given through Joseph Smith: “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not” (D&C 6:36).

            President Kimball taught:

 

            The Lord has defined truth as being a “knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.” (D&C 93:24.) God’s existence is a reality. Immortality is a reality. These realities will not go away simply because we have different opinions about them. These realities will not be dissolved just because some have doubts about them.

            Opinion? Of course, there is a difference of opinion; but again, opinion cannot change laws or absolute truths. Opinions will never make the earth to be flat, the sun to dim its light, God to die, or the Savior to cease being the Son of God. . . .

            He has given the key. You may know. You need not be in doubt. Follow the prescribed procedures, and you may have an absolute knowledge that these things are absolute truths. The necessary procedure is: study, think, pray, and do. Revelation is the key. God will make it known to you once you have capitulated and have become humble and receptive.[7]

 

            And what was President Kimball’s counsel to those who doubt?—“You have to fight for a testimony. You have to keep fighting!”[8] For some the fight or struggle before the Lord with be short and for others it will be long, perhaps very long, even many years before a testimony comes. But the spiritual law says it will if that law, or spiritual condition, is kept. They are keeping the commandments, repenting, and exercising faith, and most people who lack one of these don’t receive the testimony. President Joseph Fielding Smith explained his view:

 

            Now I am going to say something that maybe I could not prove, but I believe is true, that we have a great many members of this Church who have never received a manifestation through the Holy Ghost. Why? Because they have not made their lives conform to the truth. And the Holy Ghost will not dwell in unclean tabernacles or disobedient tabernacles. The Holy Ghost will not dwell with that person who is unwilling to obey and keep the commandments of God or who violates those commandments willfully. In such a soul the spirit of the Holy Ghost cannot enter. That great gift comes to us only through humility and faith and obedience. Therefore, a great many members of the Church do not have that guidance, Then some cunning, crafty individual will come along teaching that which is not true, and without the guidance which is promised to us through our faithfulness, people are unable to discern and are led astray. It depends on our faithfulness and our obedience to the commandments of the Lord if we have the teachings, the enlightening instruction, that comes from the Holy Ghost.

            When we are disobedient, when our minds are set upon the things of this world rather than on the things of the kingdom of God, we cannot have the manifestations of the Holy Ghost.[9]

 

            Elder Bruce R. McConkie agreed with President Smith:

 

            What about people who say they have prayed for a testimony, but haven’t received one?

            I don’t know why, except in principle, that somewhere along the line [a person] hasn’t fully complied with the law. I had a man come to me, and he was the president of his Seventies quorum…and he said “I have been active in the Church all my life; I have read the Book of Mormon; I have prayed about it and asked the Lord whether it is true—and I don’t know whether it is true or not.”  He said, “I don’t get any feeling about this,” and he asked “why?”

            I don’t know why in the sense of being able to pinpoint any specific thing, but I do know the general principle which is that it is just absolutely, immutably decreed, that if someone really abides the law, they do get the witness.

            I have a letter on my desk now that if I was sufficiently diligent I ought to answer it. It came to President [Joseph Fielding] Smith and he sent it up to me to answer. It’s a very well written letter and this fellow is not in the Church (but he once was) and he explains intelligently that the promise is that if you join the Church you get the gift of the Holy Ghost and you’ll have power to do this and this; and why is it that we don’t have the power to do it? Why is it we don’t exercise this power?

            The reason we don’t exercise the power to the extent we ought to is because we just don’t live the law; that’s all.  If people do live the law fully, they will have the power and they will get the witness.

            But the thing we have to remember in these situations is that everybody isn’t at the same level of spirituality.  Some people have a small degree of spirituality, and some people have a large degree of spirituality. The talent of spirituality that people have is what they’ve inherited from preexistence. You have the degree of spirituality that you earned in preexistence. . . . It’s just a pure matter of preexistence.  But anybody . . . has sufficient spiritual information, so that if they will, they can know that the work is true. . . .

            So maybe if someone doesn’t seem to get the witness like they ought to get, they are lacking in some spiritual talent; I don’t know. But regardless of that, it’s possible—it’s expected, as a matter of fact—that they so live that they can get the witness. . . .[10]

 

            And President Kimball agreed with Brothers Smith and McConkie, likewise teaching:

 

            The Lord is at the helm, brothers and sisters, and he will continue to be there, and his work will go forward. The important question is whether we, as individuals, will be going in that same direction. It's up to us. This is a gospel of individual work. I wish our Latter-day Saints could become more valiant. As I read the seventy-sixth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the great vision given to the Prophet Joseph Smith, I remember that the Lord says to that terrestrial degree of glory may go those who are not valiant in the testimony, which means that many of us who have received baptism by proper authority, many who have received other ordinances, even temple blessings, will not reach the celestial kingdom of glory unless we live the commandments and are valiant. . . .

            I remember a great people of long ago who belonged to the Church of our Lord, who became so righteous as a group that they were translated into heaven. And I wonder why other groups have not been taken. The only conclusion that I can reach is that whole groups have not been sufficiently righteous. We buried a righteous man yesterday. If all of the people in this Church were as righteous as he was, perhaps there might be further translations. But we are not living the commandments of the Lord as well as we know. Many of us are not valiant.[11]

 

            Brother Kimball also gave an example of what he meant by the difference between valiant people with vibrant living testimonies, and those who have arrived at their belief some other way:

 

            In a high council testimony meeting some time ago I heard one of their number say: ‘I am happy in the work and have made research and this Church and its doctrines satisfy me better than anything I have found.’ Then another arose and with deep feeling declared: ‘This is the work of God, I know it. It is the Lord's eternal plan of exaltation. I know that Jesus lives and is the Redeemer.’ I was uplifted by his sureness. And I went to the revelations of the Lord to see how it is that some are so sure while others are passive or have doubts. . . .

            I often came home distressed by the expressions of critical people who took issue with those who had borne their testimonies with such fervor and sureness. “Why does Sister Blank say she knows that Jesus is the Christ? How can she know? Why does Brother Doe declare with such definiteness that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God and that this is the Church and kingdom of God? I doubt if they know any more about it than I do.” Then I refer these who would rationalize to Colossians 2:8: ‘Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.’”[12]

 

            We can rest assured that testimony and valiance as disciples of Christ are intertwined.

 

Unresolved Doubt can lead to Apostasy

            Latter-day Saints don’t usually remain in one spiritual position for long. It may look like they do, but they are usually moving in one direction or another. Those who are not valiant; not willing to fight and struggle and strive for, obtain, and keep inner conviction of gospel truths, usually end up leaving the church one way or another. Some leave it quietly and simply begin living after the manner of the world. Others leave loudly and want to cause as much ruckus and get as much publicity as they can, and take as many other people out of the Church with them as they can. Some make it their purpose in life to cause others to doubt and follow their path.

            Of this latter group, which is as loud and wicked today as ever, President Kimball said: “In our own Society, the murderer who kills the body is hunted, imprisoned, and executed, but the character who kills the soul by implanting doubt and shattering faith is permitted not only to go free but also is often retained in high places. . . . And so we admonish the leaders in stakes, wards, and missions to be ever vigilant to see that no incorrect doctrines are promulgated in their classes or congregations. Wolves will come in sheep's clothing and will deceive the very elect, if that were possible. And we warn again those who write or preach or otherwise teach subversive doctrines, that their punishment is sure for their ‘worm dieth not.’”[13]

            Further explanation comes from Elder Petersen:

 

            Often I have asked myself why it is that some people apostatize from the truth. I have never believed that a person falls away suddenly, all at once, any more than a person who has been righteous and honest all his life would go out and suddenly rob a bank. There is some preparatory work done in advance. There is some “softening-up” process which leads to the apostate condition. Big sins generally are preceded by little ones, and I believe that this is true with respect to people who fall away from the truth.

            Seeds are sown, seeds of doubt, disbelief, distrust, disrespect. These seeds are watered; they are nurtured, and finally they become fully developed until they produce their evil fruit. . . .

            There are the seeds that are sown by some of our teachers and preachers within our own organization who like to advance some new doctrine, or some new interpretation, or some speculative theory, or advance something that is sensational, because to advance the sensational seems to feed their ego inasmuch as they become the center of a discussion.

            Most of our teachers and preachers are wonderful. They teach the truth; they bring about conversions in the minds and hearts of those who listen to them. But there are these few teachers who sow seeds of doubt by speculative and unsound doctrines, and as they do so they “soften up,” to use the army expression, some of their hearers who might later be taken over by the apostate teachers who come among them.

            I do believe most positively that if we bring false teachings into our classes or sermons we do our people a great disservice, for we confuse their minds, we make them doubt the truth when it is given to them, and we “soften them up” for the attacks of apostate teachers who come among them.[14]

 

            Elder Richard G. Scott, a man of great love and compassion, sought to help those mired in doubt: “I wish I could replace your doubt with my certainty, but I can’t give it to you. I can provide an invitation: Please, decide now to repent and change your life. I promise you, in the name of the Lord, that He will help you. He will be there in every time of need. He gave His life so that you can change your life. I promise you, that you’ll feel His love, strength, and support. Trust Him completely. He is not going to make any mistakes. He knows what He is doing. Please, decide now to change your life. Be obedient to His teachings, and He will bless you.”[15]

 

Apostolic Solutions for Doubt

            Doubt must be replaced by faith and testimony. A testimony is gained by exercising faith until the law is fulfilled and the blessing granted. Doubt is usually not dissolved by scholarship or academia, but by hearing the world of God from someone preaching by the power of the Holy Ghost. One should never allow a scholar to come between them and God, or between them and God’s prophet. No scholar, whether a believer or unbeliever, knows enough. As President Hinckley said of himself. “I am happy that my faith has not been shaken by the writings of critics who never seem to recognize that knowledge of things divine comes by the power of the Spirit and not of the wisdom of men.”[16] Science and scholarship are sorely limited when it comes to the things of the Spirit of God. Said Elder Petersen:

 

            Then I remembered that we do not receive a testimony from scientific research, nor from argument. I remembered that the only way we get a testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon is in the way President Grant received it, in a way that I received it, and as a million other Latter-day Saints have received it—the way explained by Mormon when he said:

            And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. (Moroni 10:4.)

            With all the fervor of my soul I thank the Almighty that he has given to me a testimony of that book. And what is the testimony? That the Book of Mormon is true, that it is the word of God, a new volume of scripture for this modern world. And I testify to you and all others who listen that if they will but read the Book of Mormon prayerfully with a sincere heart and ask God for a testimony of it, they will receive it, as so many of the others of us have, and this is my testimony, . . .[17]

 

            President Benson supported and sustained this thinking as it related to the Book of Mormon: “We are not required to prove that the Book of Mormon is true or is an authentic record through external evidencesthough there are many. It never has been the case, nor is it so now, that the studies of the learned will prove the Book of Mormon true or false. The origin, preparation, translation, and verification of the truth of the Book of Mormon have all been retained in the hands of the Lord, and the Lord makes no mistakes.”[18]

            Of course, the devil will be there, trying to interfere. President Romney knew this well: “I know that God lives. Through my own experiences I have come to know of his Spirit and his power. I know also that Satan lives. I have detected his spirit and felt of his powernot to the extent as did the Prophet Joseph, but in like experience.”[19] “Many may fall away,” noted Elder Melvin J. Ballard, “and lose the faith, but those who stand true and faithful shall be victorious, and they shall be the recipients of all these great things.”[20]

            We conclude with three prophetic declarations of solution for all doubters anywhere. Elder Richards testified, “I don’t know why we should hesitate to raise our voices in testimony. To me it is the marvelous work and a wonder spoken of, it is the greatest movement in all this world. When everything else passes away like the dream of a night’s vision, this church, this kingdom, will go on to its decreed destiny, and that is my witness and testimony to you.”[21]

            And President Gordon B. Hinckley, a great dissolver of doubt of a recent former generation, bore this witness: “To all within the sound of my voice who may have doubts, I repeat the words given Thomas as he felt the wounded hands of the Lord: “Be not faithless, but believing.” Believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the greatest figure of time and eternity. Believe that his matchless life reached back before the world was formed. Believe that he was the Creator of the earth on which we live. Believe that he was Jehovah of the Old Testament, that he was the Messiah of the New Testament, that he died and was resurrected, that he visited these western continents and taught the people here, that he ushered in this final gospel dispensation, and that he lives, the living Son of the living God, our Savior and our Redeemer.”[22]

            And finally, we feel and rejoice in the truth of the powerful message of President Russell M. Nelson, given to the Church in the April 2021 general conference: “Choose to believe in Jesus Christ. If you have doubts about God the Father and His Beloved Son or the validity of the Restoration or the veracity of Joseph Smith’s divine calling as a prophet, choose to believe and stay faithful. Take your questions to the Lord and to other faithful sources. Study with the desire to believe rather than with the hope that you can find a flaw in the fabric of a prophet’s life or a discrepancy in the scriptures. Stop increasing your doubts by rehearsing them with other doubters. Allow the Lord to lead you on your journey of spiritual discovery.”[23] Amen!

 



[1] “Joseph Smith,” Ensign, October 2014.

[2] Special Broadcast with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and the Executive Committee of the Church Board of Education, November 1, 2018.

[3] Conference Report, April 1936, 53.

[4] As of this writing, October 2020, a few of those working at (and leading) the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU are the greatest offenders, promoting doubt, publishing works that cast suspicion on whether the gold plates were real and also publishing the views of critics, and creating and posting videos where weak and watered down and false “doctrine” is taught. One hopes that one day these people will be removed and replaced by men and women of strong faith and testimony, with unquestioned loyalty to God, His gospel, and His leaders. To have Elder Maxwell’s name attached to such an institution is tragic and fixable. Elder Renlund cautioned the BYU faculty: “Christlike attributes come to us as we serve God and our fellowman. The gospel purpose is to produce people of perfect character whose actions are motivated by the pure love of Christ. To help Him, you cannot lead students off target by sowing seeds of doubt or behaving in ways that are self-serving. Your collective consistency in creating and conveying Christlike attributes is essential to positively influence Brigham Young University students and propagate that influence into the future” (“Creating and Conveying a Christlike Culture: More Than a Job,” University Conference, August 26, 2019).

[5] Conference Report, April 1948, 108-09.

[6] “Faith, the Essence of True Religion,” Ensign, October 1981.

[7] “Absolute Truth,” Ensign, September 1978.

[8] “President Kimball Speaks Out on Testimony,” New Era, August 1981.

[9] “We Are Here to Be Tried, Tested, Proved,” BYU Speeches, October 25, 1961.

[10] Bruce R. McConkie, “Teach by the Spirit,” University of Utah Institute Lecture transcript, unpublished, May 20, 1968, n.p.

[11] Conference Report, April 1951, 105.

[12] Conference Report, October 1944, 42.

[13] Conference Report, April 1948, 111.

[14] Conference Report, April 1953, 84.

[15] “Finding the Way Back,” Ensign, April 1990.

[16] “My Testimony,” Ensign, October 1993.

[17] Conference Report, April 1957, 111.

[18] “The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants,” Ensign, April 1987.

[19] “Satan: the Great Deceiver,” Ensign, April 1971.

[20] Conference Report, October 1924, 32.

[21] “Prophecy,” Ensign, April 1974.

[22] “Be Not Faithless,” Ensign, April 1978.

[23] “Christ Is Risen; Faith in Him Will Move Mountains,” General Conference, April 2021: https://abn.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2021/04/49nelson?lang=eng

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