Friday, July 21, 2017

Special Witnesses of Jesus Christ, and Doubt

            A few years ago, I learned of a newer blog on a fairly prominent LDS-oriented website that was seeking authors to make occasional contributions. The purpose was to defend the Church, using logic and reason, against the critics ill-conceived charges. (Parenthetically I will state here that my experience is that most critics don’t really know LDS doctrine or history.) I offered my services and they were accepted—until the editing and pre-publication/posting process began. That is when I learned that the blog would not be as straightforward and direct as I had assumed it would be; further, the site's ultimate owners meant to exercise strong censorship control over all content.

            When I write, I say what needs to be said even if that points out flaws or errors or falsehoods in a prominent LDS academic’s publicly-shared reasoning. It seems this site wasn’t ready for that and feared they would lose readership. So as fast as I was accepted I was dropped with none of my pieces being posted there. At first I was annoyed with the hypocrisy, but as time passed I found that the site didn’t achieve the popularity and wider audience it had sought, so the whole experience really became little more to me than a learning experience.

            Then last year I wrote another book, this one being on the subject of Special Witnesses of Jesus Christ. As I researched and studied the lives and teachings of a strong sampling of these Apostolic special witnesses, I realized that I had found marvelous support for the main thesis of some of the pieces I had prepared for that other website: that “doubt” is just plain bad, with no redeeming value whatever. I found that these apostles believed and taught, without exception, that doubt is the enemy. (Not necessarily doubters, but doubt itself.) I constantly ran into quotations from the apostles on the subject of doubt, all used in a negative sense. The apostles teach and engender faith in Jesus and His gospel, not doubt—and that is just how it is, without exception. They do not cease to love or help those struggling with doubt to believe, but they also do not coddle or entertain doubt themselves. When they are called they are charged to purge all doubt from themselves until they have acquired a special witness (see D&C 107:23). This witness is a sure knowledge of the reality that Jesus lives today as a resurrected being that guides His Church. There is no doubt to be found in their pure, revealed, knowledge. That is why their testimonies are so valuable and powerful.

            In my book, I Know He Lives: How 13 Special Witnesses Came to Know Jesus Christ, I include a section found in the Introduction, sharing my findings and conclusions about how the prophets and apostles view doubt. In particular, I found President Spencer W. Kimball’s words and experience to be very direct and instructive. While he never doubted the truth of the gospel and that God and Jesus live, he did experience some difficult days after his call to the Quorum of the Twelve where he doubted the source of his call; whether it was from God or from men. After a week of mental and spiritual torture during which he sought God in mighty faith and prayer, he was given to know his call was divine. Jesus himself appeared to Spencer and told him, “I have called you to be my witness to the world. Doubt not, but be of good cheer.” This counsel reminds us of similar wording in the revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith: “Look unto me in every thought, doubt not, fear not” (D&C 6:36). Thereafter President Kimball would say, “I know without question that God lives and have a feeling of sorrow for those people in the world who live in the gray area of doubt, who do not have such an assurance.” Of course, for most of us the assurance comes from the Holy Spirit, not a personal visitation from Jesus—but the commandment from God is still the same—doubt not.

            In fact, everywhere I looked I found that the apostles were single-mindedly intent on bearing and sharing their special witness with the Church and the world to the best of their ability and had little patience for doubt, especially those who revel in it for sport or to make a living. If someone doubted, they saw their responsibility being to assist to dissolve that persons doubt and replace it with faith. Thereafter, if that person was able to set aside the error they had internalized by accepting modern society’s version of morality, and to humbly ask God in faith for confirmation of the apostles’ witness, they could receive it and replace the doubt with conviction. Dissolving doubt is a spiritual gift possessed by special witnesses (and others) and many do indeed believe on their words (D&C 42:14). Sadly, many others do not. But that is the sifting long prophesied of, and it is taking place in our midst now.

            Every time I hear of someone proclaiming why they left the Church, I take a closer look at what is actually going on. If they are leaving because they have a problem with the Lord and His Church’s position on homosexual behavior and marriage, I generally find that these people have obtained their own personal position on the issue from the world (modern society) and often it contradicts or opposes the Lord’s. Because, in general, throughout the world, most people’s lives are generally not in harmony with the ten commandments or basic Christian teachings of morality and what is right and wrong. I say to myself: “If you are going to get your morals, your conscience, your sense of what is right and wrong and good and bad, from those with no correct knowledge of such, then you get what you deserve—a loss of your exaltation.” That may sound harsh, but after years of people being taught correctly to follow the prophets, if they are going to leave the Church because of public or political opinion and morality (really immorality), or because of misinterpreted or misunderstood church history, then what can be said for them? Not real smart.

This is another reason why it is so obvious to me that these critics and their followers don’t understand actual Church doctrine and history. They never learned the truths of the gospel properly. When you compare the truth to their mistaken (even fictionalized) version of it, they started learning it wrong long before they left. If God sees things one way, and modern society sees things another way, you have to choose—with the consequences determining your place in the next life for all eternity. Disbelief and doubt never had the power to alter eternal truth and consequences. One can disbelieve with all their heart, might, mind, and strength, but it only changes their kingdom in the resurrection.

            But these publicity seeking individuals are not the only ones promoting doubt. Sadly, for some inexplicable reason, some LDS academics who should know better are also publicly promoting or celebrating doubt. That they do such is offensive to me. They should know better. As Latter-day Saints, we need the gift of discernment, something available to anyone possessing the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Some time ago, I found myself perusing a generally fine and largely productive website, Mormon Scholars Testify, and read these words as the start of a testimony posted thereon: “If I have a spiritual gift it is perhaps an immense capacity for doubt.” I was shocked and disappointed, and my opinion didn’t improve as I finished the piece; no spiritual witness of affirmation came. Despite countless hours looking, I have been unable to find any scriptural or general authority support for the existence of such a supposed spiritual gift or capacity. On the contrary, everything I find contradicts it. The spiritual gift named in the scriptures is the opposite of this, to dissolve doubt (see Daniel 5:12).

            Then I happened on another testimony found on the same site, that began like this: “I begin with my conclusion: I know that God lives, that He is a personal Being, that Jesus Christ is His Only Begotten Son, that the gospel taught by Jesus was taken from the earth and restored through the instrumentality of Joseph Smith, whom God called and sent His angels to instruct and empower.” This time I was thrilled; spiritual confirmation came; strength of conviction was present and accounted for.

            While I suppose we should not judge the depth of the convictions of others, surely we have a right, even an obligation, to discern the power of a testimony. Pointing out such things angers the disciples of the doubters, but such is of little moment.

To be clear: Let us not equate doubt about core gospel truths with uncertainty about how God deals with His children, for we all possess that; not even Nephi, who saw great visions and was blessed with great heavenly knowledge, knew everything; but it is our responsibility to throw off the deceptions of the world and obtain a testimony from the Holy Spirit.

I also recently came upon the testimony of James E. Talmage as found on this same website. This was interesting to me because my own book on Special Witnesses of Jesus Christ contains a chapter on Elder Talmage; one in which I have printed a previously unpublished autobiographical sketch found in his papers stored at BYU library’s special collections. In only a few pages, he reviewed some life history, including some discussion of how he gained his testimony. It seems that though he was indeed born with a testimony, that the time came that, as a young man, he questioned the gospel/Church. His conclusion: “I was seeking a way out if by any chance the claims should prove to me to be unsound. After months of such inquiry I found myself in possession of an assurance beyond all question that I was in solemn fact a member of the Church of Jesus Christ; and since that time I have never wasted an hour in doubt or further questioning. I was convinced once for all, and this knowledge is so fully an integral part of my being that without it I would not be myself.”

Elder Talmage’s lesson is insightful: make your investigation, get your testimony and then do not waste time in doubt or further questioning. All of us must indeed test the claims of the Church through study and prayer, but once God has spoken by His Spirit, move forward and don’t subject yourself to the foolish fad of having a “faith-crisis” which seems all the rage in some circles; it won’t do any good. 

            So I have prepared a book (that will be released in September 2017) meant to place the special witnesses of 13 specially selected (deceased) apostles before the Saints. Therein, I say this: “In this context, with so many, especially among academics and liberal or activist online voices—even among some supposedly faithful members—expressing their opinion that somehow there is something good or beneficial to be found in doubting, I offer the apostolic declarations quoted in this book as irrefutable refutation.” And they do indeed come together in complete unity and spiritual strength to refute the misbegotten notion that we should be grateful for doubt.

            I will not stand idly by and remain silent as critics proclaim that we must have a faith crisis and eagerly entertain doubts about the gospel and go inactive or apostatize and post on anti-Mormon websites and the like. Let the prophets’ and apostles’ special witnesses be heard and believed, and let doubt be abolished!

            Note: readers may wish to see this just published item on Mormon Interpreter.

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