Wednesday, January 16, 2013

D&C Gospel Doctrine lesson 3 - the Apostasy and Restoration

D&C lesson 3 - "I Had Seen a Vision"

The Great Apostasy and the Restoration

What is the Great Apostasy? Apostasy is defined as the abandoning of what one believed in, as a faith. It comes from the Greek words: apo -"away" and stasis - a standing. In other words, to stand away from what one once stood by. An apostate is someone who does more than just stops going to church. It is someone who once strongly believed in a cause, then vehemently opposes it and fights for its destruction. Noted apostates in the Bible include: Cain (Genesis 4:1-16); the people in Noah's day (Genesis 6-8); Tower of Babel (Genesis 11); Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19); Korah, Dathan and Abiram (Numbers 16:1-35); Israel (Isaiah 1, 3, etc.); Hymenaus and Alexander (1 Timothy 1:19, 20); Anti-Christs (1 John 2) and Judah (Matthew 24).

The idea behind the Great Apostasy is a "falling away" of not just a nation, but the entire earth from accepting the fulness of the gospel. They accept portions of it, but reject the vast amount of it. History is full of the terrors of the Dark Ages, "Christian" leaders who were corrupt and the idea that no growth or advancement really occurred in the world for more than a millennium. The plow being used in Christ's day was the same one used a thousand years later.

Not until God prepared the world for the Restoration, did the Light of God instill in the minds of men to question the current situation and seek for a higher truth. This came about in the Reformation, when knowledge, both secular and spiritual came bursting forth on a world which had loitered in shadows for centuries.

The doors were being opened for the Restoration. The printing press was invented. The Bible was being distributed in many languages to the masses. A middle class was forming, taking power from the royalty and religionists of the day to themselves. Literature and new scientific discoveries were leading people from superstition to indepth inquiry into the facts. New worlds were discovered, allowing a nation based upon religious freedom to be established for the first time in history. Such intense growth and change have only been matched in our own day, in preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Biblical Foretelling of the Great Apostasy

The Bible is replete with predictions of a Great Apostasy. Earlier apostasies were shadows and types of the Great one to follow the murders of Christ and his apostles.

Isaiah discusses the apostasies of Israel in his day, but also of the last days. He warns of their changing the ordinances and breaking the everlasting covenant (Isaiah 24:5). In chapter 29, he predicts the falling of a people whose words would later come from the ground (Mormons contend these were the people of the Book of Mormon), but only after an obvious apostasy occurs-

"this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of man....And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel, even all that fight against her and her munition, and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision. It shall even be as when an hungry [man] dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, [he is] faint, and his soul hath appetite: so shall the multitude of all the nations be, that fight against mount Zion. Stay yourselves, and wonder; cry ye out, and cry: they are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink. For the LORD hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered." (Is. 29:7-10).

This is followed by a prediction of the Restoration. More on that in Predictions of a Restoration of the Gospel.

The prophet Amos tells us:

And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord GOD, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day: And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; and I will bring up sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness upon every head; and I will make it as the mourning of an only [son], and the end thereof as a bitter day. Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find [it]. (Amos 8:9-12).

Christ predicts it in his parable of the wheat and tares, where the enemy sows tares among the wheat at night (Matthew 13:25). And in his great prophecy of the last times, the Savior tells us of the following things:

Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here [is] Christ, or there; believe [it] not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if [it were] possible, they shall deceive the very elect. (Matthew 24:23-24).

And the Apostle Paul was very busy predicting the Great Apostasy:

For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. (Acts 20:29-30).

NOW we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and [by] our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for [that day shall not come], except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. (2 Thes 2:1-4).

So, there will be a falling away (in other versions of the Bible, the word apostasy is used) prior to the Second Coming of Christ! Satan will set himself up as a pretender to God's throne, and won't be fully revealed until he is consumed at the Coming of the Lord (2 Thes 2:8).

Paul specifically tells us when these things will happen, and what wicked things will occur:

THIS know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all [men], as theirs also was. (2 Timothy 3:1-9)

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away [their] ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

John the Beloved receives this counsel to give to one of the 7 remaining churches in Asia (had all the rest apostatized already?):

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. (Revelation 3:15-17).

He predicts that the enemies of God would make "war with the saints" (Rev 13:7) just a few verses before a prediction of the gospel being restored in the last days! (Rev 14:6).

So, a Great Apostasy was predicted for the Last Days. This does not mean that all things were lost, but many plain and precious parts of the everlasting covenant and gospel were removed or replaced. The results of which were evidently described by Paul and others, as they warned of the false preachers, prophets and Christs which would come into the world.

Statements by the the Early Church Fathers and Great Christian Reformers on the Apostasy

The great Reformers of Christianity also saw the destruction of the Church and the need for a restoration:

John Wesley realized that the gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer found:

It does not appear that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost 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;...From this time they almost totally ceased;...The Christians had no more of the Spirit of Christ than the other heathens....This was the real cause why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the Christian Church; because the Christians were turned Heathens again, and had only a dead form left. (Wesley's Works, vol 7, Sermon 89, pp. 26-27).

Wesley's point is interesting to note, when one considers what the early Christian, Justin Martyr, stated to the Jewish priest, Trypho: that the only difference between the Jews and Christians was that the Christians had revelation; and if the day ever came that the Christians were to cease having revelation, they would be no better than the Jews.

The early Church Father Eusebius of Caesarea also spoke on the apostasy that occurred not long before him:

The Church up to that time [the death of the apostles] had remained a pure and uncorrupted virgin, since, if there were any that attempted to corrupt the sound norm of the preaching of salvation, they lay until then concealed in obscure darkness. But when the sacred college of apostles had suffered death in various forms, and the generation of those that had been deemed worthy to hear the inspired wisdom with their own ears had passed away, then the league of godless error took its rise as a result of the folly of heretical teachers, who, because none of the apostles was still living, attempted henceforth, with a bold face, to proclaim, in opposition to the preaching of the truth, the ‘knowledge which is falsely so-called’ (Eusebius [270-340] quoting Hegesippus [110-180] in Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Series 2, 1:164).

For him, he noted the actual attacks which occurred from within the change the early Church by Christian teachers. It was this reason that Paul insisted that prophets and apostles continue until the 2nd Coming of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-14).

Predictions of a Restoration of the Gospel

In predicting the restoration of the gospel, we see both biblical and reformer statements.

Roger Williams put it this way:

There is no regularly constituted church on earth, nor any person authorized to administer any church ordinance; nor can there be until new apostles are sent by the Great Head of the Church for whose coming I am seeking. (Picturesque America, p. 502).

So, he realised that apostles had to be sent anew. Perhaps he recognized the apostle Paul's words on the importance of having apostles:

Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner [stone]; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord (Ephesians 2:19-21).

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we [henceforth] be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, [and] cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive (Ephesians 4:11-14).

Paul stated that apostles and prophets are necessary as the foundation to build the Church of Christ, and are needed until all are unified in faith, are perfected in Christ and know Christ. And why? So we aren't tossed about in the apostasy!

Even the great President, Statesman and Deist, Thomas Jefferson, realised that the Christian Church was severely lacking and awaited the Restoration:

The religion builders have so distorted and deformed the doctrines of Jesus, so muffled them in mysticisms, fancies, and falsehoods, have caricatured them into forms so inconceivable, as to shock reasonable thinkers....Happy in the prospect of a restoration of primitive Christianity, I must leave to younger persons to encounter and lop off the false branches which have been engrafted into it by the mythologists of the middle and modern ages. (Jefferson's Complete Works, vol 7, pp 210, 257).

The Apostle Peter put it this way:

He shall send Jesus Christ, whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. (Acts 3:20-21).

In other words, God would send Christ for his Second Coming, but only after the gospel is restored!

The apostle John saw it this way, after having beholding the apostasy:

And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters. (Revelation 14:6-7).

It is interesting to note, that when the angel Moroni first appeared to Joseph Smith and told him of the metal plates containing the record of an ancient american people (what is now the Book of Mormon), Moroni told him that the record contained the "fulness of the gospel."

Ezra Stiles, seventh President of Yale University, 1778-1795, predicted the following:

There are three coetaneous events to take place whose fruition is certain from prophecy, the annihilation of the Pontificate, the reassembling of the Jews, and the fulness of the Gentiles. That liberal and candid disquisition of Christianity, which will most assuredly take place in America, will prepare Europe for the first event, with which the other will be connected, when especially on the return of the twelve tribes to the Holy Land, there will burst forth a degree of evidence hitherto unperceived and of efficacy to convert a world. More than three quarters of mankind yet remain heathen. Heaven put a stop to the propagation of Christianity when the church became corrupted with the adoration of numerous deities and images, because this would have been only exchanging an old for a new idolatry. Nor is Christendom now larger than it was nine centuries ago. The promising prospects of the Propaganda fide at Rome are coming to nothing: and it may be of the divine destiny that all other attempts for gospelizing the nations of the earth shall be fruitless, until the present Christendom itself be recovered to the primitive purity and simplicity. At which time, instead of the Babel confusion of contradicting missionaries, all will harmoniously concur in speaking one language, one holy faith, one apostolick religion to an unconverted world. At this period, and in effecting this great event, we have reason to think that the United States may be of no small influence and consideration.

It was of the Lord to send Joseph into Egypt, to save much people, and to shew forth his praise. It is of the Lord that "a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet," and upon "her head a crown of twelve stars," (not to say thirteen) should "flee into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God" (Rev 12:1,6), and where she might be the repository of Wisdom, and "keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus." It may have been of the Lord that Christianity is to be found in such great purity in this church exiled into the wilderness of America; and that its purest body should be evidently advancing forward, by an augmented natural increase and spiritual edification, into a singular superiority--with the ultimate subserviency to the glory of God, in converting the world. ("The United States Elevated to Glory and Honour", Ezra Stiles, 1783.)

In Isaiah 29, the prophet predicts the bringing forth of a book in the last days, describing it a marvelous work and a wonder. The learned would not read the book because it was sealed, but the unlearned would not have such a problem. And in Ezekiel 37, we read of two books being combined: one is the "stick of Judah", or the Bible. The other is called the "stick of Joseph". What is this stick of Joseph? The only book known to man claimed to have been written by descendants of Joseph, Jacob's son who was sold into Egypt, is the Book of Mormon! No other book qualifies. The New Testament was written by Jews (Judah) not Joseph. So it can't be the book. The Dead Sea Scrolls were also written by Jews. Only the Book of Mormon satisfies both Isaiah's and Ezekiel's prophecies. The Book of Mormon will be discussed further in next week's lesson.

The First Vision

For the early Church, the First Vision did not become an important sign of the Restoration until Joseph Smith wrote the official version in 1838.  There are previous versions, not all of which discuss the Father and Son appearing to Joseph.  Many disbelievers use these other versions to attempt to discredit the Church. The reality is, Joseph described the vision differently at times, because of the need for information. His 1832 example (the earliest) still includes a divine visit.  Joseph had seen a vision!

That later revelations were shared by Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, the Three Witnesses and hundreds at the Kirtland Temple dedication, shows that the visions of Joseph Smith were not a fraud, nor a hallucination. He in fact saw a vision, and went to his death witnessing of the Restoration of the gospel.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Elder Holland's Gen Conf talk on Peter

In the link to Millennial Star, I write about some thoughts I've had in regards to Elder Holland's truly remarkable talk on Peter in the Oct 2012 General Conference.

Hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

D&C Sunday School lesson 2

Lesson 2 - "Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World"

In this lesson, the manual covers basic D&C and BoM scriptures regarding Jesus' many roles, particularly in regards to the atonement and resurrection.

A major focus is on D&C 19:16-19

"For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;

But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
 Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men." (D&C 19:16-19)

Here we see that Christ suffered, so that we do not have to.  The one and only condition given here is repentance.  There is no requirement for baptism, ordination, or any other ordinance or covenant.  Here we see the importance of Christ's atonement.  It saves us from spiritual hell and Outer Darkness, and only requires we have faith that Jesus can save us, and humble ourselves enough to repent.

In Alma 36, the prophet tells his son about his conversion story. In it, we find that the young Alma went about attacking the Church, seeking to destroy it.  The Lord sent an angel to command him to stop, or he would be destroyed.  Alma fell into a coma, what some consider a Near Death Experience (NDE), where for three days he dwelt in darkness and "exquisite pain".  So terrible was his experience that he felt the only escape he had was to cease from existing!  Fortunately, he remembered the words of his father regarding the Messiah, and prayed for deliverance.  Immediately, he was taken from the darkness and pain, and into a marvelous light and "exquisite joy".  He notes seeing God on his throne in the distance, and wishes he could be closer.

What causes such a distinct pain, where all our anguished thoughts are filled with the horrors of our sins? 

"Wherefore, I command you again to repent, lest I humble you with my almighty power; and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken, of which in the smallest, yea, even in the least degree you have tasted at the time I withdrew my Spirit." (D&C 19:20)

It seems that when we sin, the Spirit of God is withdrawn from us to some level or another.  When it fully departs, it leaves us empty of any hope or happiness. In a modern contrast, we can think of the Dementors, the wraith-like demons of the Harry Potter series, sucking the joy out of a person.  However, in our case, this misery is caused not by some being sucking the joy out of us, but by the Holy Spirit leaving us alone and empty.  All we can see and feel and know are the sins that have shut us out of God's presence. 

Spirit prison's hell is designed to compel us to be humble so that we will repent (Alma 32).  We are forced to see what we really have become and experience the pain we have caused.  Whether it takes us 3 days like Alma to repent, or a thousand years to repent, the Lord will patiently await as long as he can, as to rescue us from ourselves.

Those who refuse to repent will be sons of Perdition.  They will forever refuse to acknowledge Christ as their Savior, nor accept his salvation from spiritual death and hell.  Such wicked people will be as those who would wish the rocks to fall upon them and hide them from Christ (Alma 12), or prefer to dwell with the wicked in hell than in the presence of a just and holy God (Mormon 9).

The Lord does not want us to suffer.  However, he wants less that we are forever suffering outside of His presence.

"Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;
 For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him." (D&C 18:10-11)

Note that rescuing us from physical (resurrection) and spiritual death (atonement) are just the beginning of the Savior's work.  Those who gain a Telestial glory gain a kingdom of salvation (D&C 76:88), but this is where murderers and others who are compelled to repent will go to.
We find that there is a process we can follow to receive ever greater and greater glory, even until we can stand fully in God's presence and glory with confidence.

"And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace;
 And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness;
And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first." (D&C 93:12-14)

The apostle John saw that even the mortal Christ did not have a fulness of God's glory at first. He had to receive grace for grace, by going from one grace to the next.  We also must do this.  It is a cycle of development, or eternal round (D&C 3:2, 35:1), based upon the "Doctrine of Christ" (2 Ne 31, 3 Ne 11).

As we develop our faith in Christ, repent, and receive ordinances, we receive a greater infusion of the Holy Ghost within us.  The Holy Ghost gives us a greater capacity to believe, recognize our weaknesses, repent, serve, and live a holy life.  As we receive one level of grace or righteousness, then we are ready to move upward to the next level of grace by exercising greater faith, repenting, receiving of ordinances, and receiving a greater infusion of the Holy Spirit.

Eventually, we become holy as Christ is, and receive a fulness of the grace and glory of God.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

D&C Sunday School lesson 1

Unlike the OT, NT or BoM lessons, the D&C Sunday School classes are based on themes, rather than going from point A to point B. I think the thematic design works well, and helps the members find scriptures throughout the D&C that relate to the topic. So, for most of the lessons this year, I will take one or two of the sections used in the lesson and comment on the text itself.

Section One

A Voice of Warning
This section was written in November 1831, 1 1/2 years after the Church was officially organized. It is a proclamation, not just to the members, but to "ye people from afar; and ye that are upon the islands of the sea, listen together."

Imagine, a church of just a few hundred people, with just a few congregations in New York and Pennsylvania, coming forth with a proclamation to people throughout the world.  Missionary work was just beginning.  The members had yet to gather to Kirtland, or to open the great proselyting mission in England (still several years ahead). For a Church which now has millions of members worldwide, and is living in the "Mormon Moment" (2012-13), this proclamation may not seem so profound.  But for the little church in the woods to call the world to repentance was definitely a foreshadow of what was to come.

This section states that the Lord's servants will go forth with the gospel of repentance to all the earth!  We can see that this prophecy has come to pass, and now with the recent changes to the missionary age (18 for men, 19 for women), we will soon double the numbers of missionaries out in the world from 55,000 to over 100,000.

The Lord's message is not one of sweetness, but is a voice of warning.  Great destruction will come upon the earth, and only the humble who turn to God will ever hope to escape it.  When we consider the technological advances in warfare since Joseph Smith's day, we can already see how the last 2 centuries have been filled with carnage and death.  The American Civil War had more American casualties than WWI and WWII combined.  The technologies developed between 1831 and 1860 included the telegraph, railroad, gatling gun, repeating rifle, etc.  Robert E. Lee developed new strategies of war, which allowed an outnumbered South to last years in battle.  Sherman and Grant's final strategy of total destruction of any who opposed them, as Sherman marched to the Sea burning Atlanta and many other cities, and Grant laid siege to a starving Vicksburg Mississippi, are strategies still used in genocidal warfare today.

Hitler slew millions, as did Stalin and Mao Tse Tung.  With the introduction of technology, even a jet airliner can be a weapon of mass destruction, as we saw on 9/11.  Still, the threats increase, as radical nations and groups gain access to more and more potent weaponry.  The Lord's warning in D&C 1 is more true today than it ever was.

"Prepare ye, prepare ye for that which is to come, for the Lord is nigh;

And the anger of the Lord is kindled, and his sword is bathed in heaven, and it shall fall upon the inhabitants of the earth" (D&C 1:12-13).

And it seems it falls more than once.  When it states "for the Lord is nigh", does this only mean that the 2nd Coming is near? And what does that mean?  For Christ to have created the earth 4.5 billion years ago means that the term "nigh" could mean centuries. Or even millennia.  Or does it mean that the Lord is near in another way, such as he is watching over the earth and we cannot hide our sins from him?  Or does it mean that each of us will die, and will face him at that time?  Perhaps it means all of these.

Voice of the Servants

"And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people" (vs 4).

Here we get some interesting phrases.  The term "servants" is in addition or separate from "prophets and apostles."  We note that it is the "voice" of the servants and the "words" of the prophets and apostles. This could mean the voice of living servants (whether prophets, apostles, missionaries, etc), or the written words of ancient and perhaps modern prophets and apostles.  Note that when this revelation came out, there was no Quorum of 12 apostles.  Joseph and Oliver were ordained and called apostles, but in a somewhat different sense than we understand the quorum of apostles we have today.

If the "prophets and apostles" include Joseph and the other leaders of the early Church (or for us, our prophets and apostles today), then who do the "servants" include?  Are they only the missionaries? Or could they also include those of other churches who seek to serve Christ and preach the Bible throughout the world, as well?

"For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant;

 They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.
Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments;
And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world; and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets" (vv 15-18)

The people of the earth have strayed from God's ordinances and broken the covenant.  By Joseph's day, the ordinances of old had been altered or ended.  Infants were being baptized. The Protestant world did not recognize priesthood authority as established in the Bible.  There was no laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.  No temple existed upon the earth.  They had traded Jesus' celestial covenant for something less.

Religions were springing up everywhere, mostly based upon protesting some belief or practice in the church they broke off of.  Each of them focused on different concepts and creeds that created God in their own image and belief, rather than seeking the fulness of the gospel through living prophets and apostles.  With these new religions came the seed for a modern day Babylon.  Many of today's Christian religions ignore the importance of obedience and covenants.  They see no harm in people sinning, as long as they profess Christ. There are even some churches today that claim to be Christian, but do not require belief in the Messiah-ship of Christ.  For them, he was a good teacher, who preached love, or whatever their version of "love" is supposed to be.

For this reason, Joseph Smith was called to preach the celestial covenant to the world.  And "others" were also given commandments to preach from the Bible.  Some of these may be LDS, but many may also be good Christian believers who preach the Terrestrial covenant (like the Mosaic law) to the inhabitants of the earth.  I think that Mother Theresa is one example of the "others" called of God.

That Faith Also Might Increase

"The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh—

But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world;
 That faith also might increase in the earth;
That mine everlasting covenant might be established;
 That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers." (vv 19-23)

When this revelation was given, perhaps the weakest church in all the world was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  It teaches a powerful message that each person may have the Holy Ghost to guide them in their spiritual education, so that they do not have to give or receive counsel from man's philosophy (aka "arm of flesh"). 

Every person speaking in the name of the Lord means they witness of Christ through the Holy Ghost. As Nephi taught, "angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost" (2 Ne 32:32-33), and we can speak with the tongue of angels as we learn to speak that language through receiving the Holy Ghost.

God wants all people to be prophets.  This means we become worthy through receiving the everlasting covenants and ordinances to receive the Holy Ghost, and then learn to listen, live and speak by His power. Today, however, most people (including many LDS) speak with the tongue of Babylon and witnessing of Babylon's form of salvation.  It is the relying upon the arm of flesh and counsel of men, who only know what Babylon has to offer, which they preach.

The Weak Things

"Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.

And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known;
And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed;
And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent;
And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time. (vv 24-28)

God speaks through our weaknesses.  So we should expect mistakes and errors to creep in on occasion. This is even true for Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and Thomas S. Monson.  When we find the occasional mistake or mistaken belief by a Church leader, we simply need to know that the Lord will correct it in his own time with continuing revelation.  At the same time, we can be comforted in knowing that these mistakes will not prevent us from the greatest blessings of God through his everlasting covenant in Christ, as long as we are humble and willing to repent.

Amazingly, the Church has grown rapidly, even though most of our missionaries are 19 year old kids!  Can you think of anyone more prone to errors to send out to preach the gospel?  Yet, this error prone group continue yearly to baptize hundreds of thousands of people.  Why? Because the fundamentals and the core doctrine are correct.  Because the Holy Ghost can teach us greater "knowledge from time to time."

Only True and Living Church

"And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually." (v 30)

Recently, at the 2012 IUPUI Mormon Conference in Indianapolis, professor Phillip Barlow noted that the current Mormon Moment is bringing the Church "out of obscurity and out of darkness", but there are many members who would prefer we remain obscure and in the dark... There's a lot for each of us to think about in that statement.

I also wonder if we interpret the phrase "only true and living church....with which I, the Lord, am well pleased" correctly?  First, was this true only in Joseph's day, or has it changed since then? Are there other churches today that the Lord is well pleased with?  Second, is he still well pleased with us?  Finally, are there any churches that are true and/or living that the Lord is "somewhat pleased" with?

For me, the word "true" means it contains truth.  Given the previously passages that note weakness and error even in our church, we cannot assume this means a perfect knowledge of truth.  The word "living" means to breathe and grow - are there other churches that breathe and grow, as well?

It is important that we do not take the words we read for granted.  Perhaps with this very first section of the D&C, we can appreciate more the great and marvelous work the restoration of the gospel was through an imperfect and weak man, like Joseph Smith; and that perhaps there are others called throughout the world to help prepare people along the way, so they will be ready for the everlasting covenant when the missionaries teach them about it.