Friday, February 22, 2013

D&C lesson 8: The Restoration of the Priesthood

Lesson 8: Restoration of the Priesthood

The Aaronic Priesthood was restored to the earth by John the Baptist on May 15, 1829.  Between then and May 1830, the Melchizedek Priesthood was also restored by the ancient apostles Peter, James and John.

The priesthood provides two things: power and authority.  Authority to govern the Church, perform ordinances, and organize is very important.  As important as authority is, however, it is impotent without the power of the priesthood.  President Packer recently stated that we do well on distributing the authority, but need to improve on distributing the true powers of heaven.  He also notes in his discussion on priesthood,

"I include the sisters because it is crucial for everyone to understand what is expected of the brethren. Unless we enlist the attention of the mothers and daughters and sisters—who have influence on their husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers—we cannot progress. The priesthood will lose great power if the sisters are neglected." (Ensign, April 2010, The Power of the Priesthood)

This power is not only for the men, but also for the women of the Church.  Why? Because of the ordinances and covenants attached to the priesthood.

The Aaronic Priesthood provides the outward ordinances, holding the keys of repentance, baptism and the ministering of angels (D&C 13). The greater Priesthood of Melchizedek holds even greater power and promise:

"And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.

Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.
And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;
For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.
 Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God;
 But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory. (D&C 84:19-24)

While the Aaronic Priesthood gives the power to have angels minister to a person and to have a remission of sins, the Melchizedek Priesthood holds the power to bring people into the presence of God, to have His mystery revealed to them, and to become not only cleansed of sin, but purified to a divine state!

Moses' goal at Sinai was to take Israel to the top of the mountain, where each one of them would see God personally.  They refused to go, fearing God's wrath and reluctant to give up their sinful ways.  God gave them the lesser priesthood as a preparatory power, to prepare them for the greater opportunities. If mankind was not ready to converse with God, perhaps they could be prepared to converse with angels.

The Melchizedek Priesthood, however, contains the power, primarily through the ordinances, of being in the presence of the members of the Godhead.

First, the Gift of the Holy Ghost is confirmed upon a person, giving that person access to the third member of the Godhead.  In the temple ordinances, which set us apart from the world both figuratively and literally, we learn to walk through the Cosmos and all of Creation, in a journey to return back into the full presence and glory of God.  This is not a journey that is accomplished alone.  It is a journey for both Adam and Eve, husband and wife, who share the power, authority and blessings of the Melchizedek Priesthood within the temple. In the marriage sealing, husband and wife both receive together the Patriarchal Priesthood, the greatest role in the Melchizedek Priesthood.  Husband and wife are promised that as they are faithful to God, they will receive blessings in time and eternity, to stand in God's presence and be like Him.

This is the purpose of the priesthood in our day: to prepare a people to stand in the presence of God and be holy.  Through the ordinances the priesthood provides, men and women can enjoy the greatest blessings and opportunities of God in heaven.  These promises begin with baptism and find the climax as the believers enter into the Celestial Room of the temple, symbolic of the day when they literally will walk into the Celestial Kingdom and into the presence of God the Father and Jesus Christ.

Monday, February 11, 2013

D&C Lesson 7: “The First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel”

D&C Lesson 7: “The First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel”

In Article #4 of the Articles of Faith, we read,

We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

This statement is important enough for the Savior to declare it to be the "doctrine of Christ" (3 Nephi 11).  Let's look at these one at a time first.


In the Lectures on Faith, we learn,

Faith, being the first principle in revealed religion, and the foundation of all righteousness,  necessarily claims the first place in a course of lectures which are designed to unfold to the understanding the doctrine of Jesus Christ.

Here we find that faith is not only the first principle, but it is the foundation for all righteousness.  We cannot be fully righteous without first having faith in Jesus Christ!
The Lectures on Faith teach that faith is the "moving cause" in all action both temporal and spiritual.  Before a person goes to off to work, she has faith that her employer will pay her wages at the end of the week.  We exercise faith in termporal things everyday we arise and do the things we do, because we believe our actions will provide a benefit.  That faith is based upon experience, that which we have observed occur in others' lives, and that which happens in our own.

So it is in spiritual things.  We follow Christ because our belief in him creates a moving power or action within us.  It begins the process of the "doctrine of Christ" in our lives, and without faith, repentance, ordinances and the Spirit cannot work.

So powerful is faith that God used faith to frame the worlds and all his creations. 

Had it not been for the principle of faith, the worlds would had never been framed, neither would man have been formed of the dust. It is the principle by which Jehovah works, and through which he exercises power over all temporal as well as eternal things.  Take this principle or attribute - for it is an attribute - from the Deity, and he would cease to exist.

Faith being so important for the creation of the worlds, how important then is it for us to develop faith in regards to our own salvation?


Once we develop a faith in Christ, we will recognize our weaknesses and sins.  We will want to follow him, as faith is a "moving cause."

Repentance is the actions needed to realign ourselves with Christ and his will.  It requires humility and a willingness to change.  Without repentance, we remain stagnant and unable to develop faith in Christ.  The Lord warned us about the importance of repentance:

Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.

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.
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 19:15-20)

We only suffer for the things we refuse to repent of.  Yet, the suffering is so intense that we would suffer even as Christ did.  For Alma the Younger, we learn that his suffering lasted 3 days, with a pain that was so "exquisite", he wished to stop existing entirely.  Only when he exercised faith in Christ and repented, was he rescued from the intense and racking pain, and was filled with joy as exquisite as was his pain a moment before (Alma 36).  Those who absolutely refuse to ever repent will be sons of Perdition.  There is no salvation for them, because they would rather suffer the intense pains of hell than to beg forgiveness of the Lord.

The best time to repent is now.  Still, even in the Spirit World, the Lord will open the door of salvation to any who believe and repent.

Baptism and other Ordinances

Many churches do not believe that baptism or other outward ordinances are necessary for salvation.  They are right.  A basic salvation in the Telestial Kingdom only requires faith and repentance, and it seems that repentance and redemption come at the last moment.

And again, we saw the glory of the telestial, which glory is that of the lesser, even as the glory of the stars differs from that of the glory of the moon in the firmament.

These are they who received not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus.
These are they who deny not the Holy Spirit.
These are they who are thrust down to hell (in Spirit Prison - until they repent and are redeemed at the last).
These are they who shall not be redeemed from the devil until the last resurrection, until the Lord, even Christ the Lamb, shall have finished his work....
 And also the telestial receive it of the administering of angels who are appointed to minister for them, or who are appointed to be ministering spirits for them; for they shall be heirs of salvation. (D&C 76:81-88)

However, salvation in a Celestial Glory DOES require baptism.  It is the gate that opens to God's full kingdom and glory. Baptism, the Sacrament (Holy Supper), and other ordinances of salvation are necessary for us, not only because of the covenants made, but also because of what the ordinances reveal to us.

And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.

Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.
And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;
For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live. (D&C 84:19-22)

The ordinances of baptism, the Sacrament, priesthood ordination, temple endowment and sealings, all reveal to us the "power of godliness."  We receive the key to the knowledge of God as we receive ordinances and make the covenants eternally connected to those ordinances.  In the instance of baptism, it opens the gate to heaven, so we can return back into God's presence and know him.

Gift of the Holy Ghost
  While we receive this gift officially through an ordinance of laying on of hands by those in authority, it is significant to see how it works.  No one lays his hands upon the person and says, "I bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost."  Instead, the gift is received by commandment: "Receive the Holy Ghost!"

It is then our responsibility to actually receive the gift and accept it.  The Holy Ghost can be a constant companion, but only when we are ready to have Him as a constant companion.  Until then, he will come and go, as we are ready to receive him or not.

Note that after baptism, the Holy Ghost is received. He is a member of the Godhead.  We now have communication with a member of the Godhead, as the mystery of godliness is revealed to us.

The Holy Ghost's main calling is twofold: to witness of the Father and Son, and to sanctify us (Mosiah 4:1-4).

A Pattern to Live By

 It isn't that we gain faith once, or repent once, or receive an ordinance once, and then we are finished. Instead, we have been given a pattern by which we should live our lives.  It becomes a process:

1. Gain faith in Christ to a certain level
2. Realize we have weaknesses to overcome and Repent
3. Receive the ordinances necessary to move forward at this level of faith
4. Have the Holy Ghost sanctify us to a new level of faith and righteousness
5. Rinse and repeat

 This is a process or pattern established by Jesus.

And I, John (the Apostle), saw that he (Christ) 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)

As with Jesus, we must proceed from grace to grace, receiving grace for grace.  As we develop a level of faith and repentance, we then receive an ordinance/covenant to that level. Then, the Holy Ghost sanctifies us to that new level of grace.  In this pattern, we can develop perfection over time through Christ, and receive a fulness, even as he did.


Lectures on Faith:

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

D&C Lesson 6: “I Will Tell You in Your Mind and in Your Heart, by the Holy Ghost”

Lesson 6: “I Will Tell You in Your Mind and in Your Heart, by the Holy Ghost”

Lessons 5 and 6 both discuss D&C 6-8, which I discussed primarily in lesson 5.  In this lesson, we'll discuss the revelation given to Joseph Smith's brother, Hyrum in section 11.

In many of the early revelations, the Lord opened them with the following teaching:

"A great and marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men.

Behold, I am God; give heed to my word, which is quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, to the dividing asunder of both joints and marrow; therefore give heed unto my word.
Behold, the field is white already to harvest; therefore, whoso desireth to reap let him thrust in his sickle with his might, and reap while the day lasts, that he may treasure up for his soul everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God.
Yea, whosoever will thrust in his sickle and reap, the same is called of God." D&C 11:1-4

The early teachings of the Church were establishing the basics of the gospel.  For Oliver (in sections 6-8), it was to teach him (and us) the proper forms of receiving revelation from God.  For many, it was to let them know that the most important thing they could do is to preach the gospel of Christ to the world.

Yet, even as the Lord says to "thrust in [one's] sickle", he will give Hyrum some important guidance in regards to preparation and the focus of his own calling. 

"Therefore, if you will ask of me you shall receive; if you will knock it shall be opened unto you.

Now, as you have asked, behold, I say unto you, keep my commandments, and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion." D&C 11:5-6

We are to ask, so that the Lord can open doors to us.  Hyrum asked the Lord through Joseph, which was a very common practice in the earliest days of the Church.  Believers saw that Joseph saw angels and God, and could receive revelations for individuals.  Others were infants when it came to receiving revelation.  Here, it seems the Lord is telling Hyrum that he should ask and knock for himself in the future.  In this instance, however, since he asked through Joseph, he was told 2 key things: keep the commandments and to bring forth Zion.

Missionary work is one part of bringing forth Zion.  Hyrum's life will have moments of missionary work in it, but much of the work he will do will be towards the members of the Church, and especially as a counselor and guide to his younger brother, Joseph.  He would become the Patriarch of the Church after the death of Joseph Smith, Sr., and Assistent President after Oliver Cowdery's excommunication.  His focus would be to build Zion, whether in Kirtland Ohio, Independence Missouri, or Nauvoo Illinois.  He would be Joseph's closest ally and colleague, being with him in Liberty and Carthage Jails.  He would support Joseph in life, even as other leaders (Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, etc) fell away from the Church, and he would be with Joseph in death, as their bodies were prepared for burial together.

"Seek not for riches but for wisdom; and, behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich." (v 7)

This revelation was given in May 1829, while the Book of Mormon was still being translated.  It is possible the Aaronic Priesthood had not been restored to Joseph and Oliver by John the Baptist yet. The Melchizedek Priesthood's restoration by Peter, James and John was still a month away. 

Could Hyrum have imagined the mysteries that would come forth: the priesthood, the gift of the Holy Ghost, understanding of the Godhead, the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, the establishment of the Quorum of 12 Apostles, establishing a literal Zion in Missouri, temples, eternal marriage, baptism for the dead, the three degrees of glory, the premortal existence, man's ability to become gods through Christ, and so many other amazing mysteries!

"Behold, thou hast a gift, or thou shalt have a gift if thou wilt desire of me in faith, with an honest heart, believing in the power of Jesus Christ, or in my power which speaketh unto thee;
 For, behold, it is I that speak; behold, I am the light which shineth in darkness, and by my power I give these words unto thee.
 And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit.
 Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy;
And then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining unto things of righteousness, in faith believing in me that you shall receive."  (vv10-14)

What would this gift be that Hyrum would receive?  He was commanded to "seek wisdom" and then he would have the Spirit, "which shall enlighten your mind".  This is very important for someone who would become the Patriarch of the Church.  A patriarch's responsibility is to receive revelation for the individual.  As Joseph was receiving a personal revelation for Hyrum in D&C 11, so Hyrum would receive personal revelations for the members in Nauvoo.
Interestingly, while his younger brother, Samuel Harrison Smith, would leave a year later on a mission to spread the Book of Mormon around, while Hyrum was told to wait.  It was important that he first gain the word of God. 

"Wait a little longer, until you shall have my word, my rock, my church, and my gospel, that you may know of a surety my doctrine." (v 16)

Not only would he wait for the Book of Mormon to be published in May 1830, but also the creation of the formal church on April 6, 1830, and the establishment of the priesthood and basic ordinances (see D&C 20).

"Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed; then, if you desire, you shall have my Spirit and my word, yea, the power of God unto the convincing of men.

But now hold your peace; study my word which hath gone forth among the children of men, and also study my word which shall come forth among the children of men, or that which is now translating, yea, until you have obtained all which I shall grant unto the children of men in this generation, and then shall all things be added thereto." (vv 21-22)

Hyrum's responsibility was to study the word which already had "gone forth among the children of men" or the Bible, and to also to study that word which was to come forth soon, the Book of Mormon.  Even though the "field is white, ready for harvest", the workers were not ready.  They needed to know the Bible and Book of Mormon, in order to know what things they preached.  This is a key reason why the Church today focuses so much training on the youth of the Church: seminary, institute, youth programs, etc.  All of the preparation is to ensure they are ready to go forth into the world and cry repentance.

"But verily, verily, I say unto you, that as many as receive me, to them will I give power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on my name. Amen" (v 30)

Hyrum could not imagine in May of 1829 just what this last statement and promise really meant.  His understanding then would mean that people could become sons of God, but not in the literal sense. They would be in heaven as servants of God, singing hymns to him eternally.  By 1844 at the end of his life, he would know that being a "son of God" was a literal thing.  One would, through Christ, become a literal son and heir of all God has.  The son of God would become part of the divine council and be a king and a priest unto God and Christ forever. 

Hyrum's door to heavenly wisdom and mysteries was just opening.

Monday, February 04, 2013

D&C lesson 5: This is the Spirit of Revelation

Lesson 5 focuses on sections 6, 8, 9 of the D&C, which explain several things about receiving revelation. Some of our more familiar scriptures are found in sections 8 and 9 regarding receiving revelation, for example.  Here, we will focus on some background.

Oliver Cowdery was a schoolteacher, who had heard of Joseph Smith.  Oliver believed in personal revelation, because he received it by using a divining rod. It is believed that he would ask "yes/no" type questions.  In doing so, the rod would point up for "yes", and down for "no." 

This rod was also known as a "rod of nature" or the "gift of Aaron."  In the revelations we find that the Lord approved of Oliver using the divining rod as a method to receive revelation.  The ability to receive revelation (at the time via the rod) was the gift the Lord had given him.  From what we read in the sections, it seems Oliver used the rod to determine if Joseph was truly a prophet of God.  The rod also seems to be the source of revelation to send him to Joseph and work as his scribe.

This brings the scriptures into a new context regarding the gift Oliver had:

"Behold thou hast a gift, and blessed art thou because of thy gift. Remember it is sacred and cometh from above—

And if thou wilt inquire, thou shalt know mysteries which are great and marvelous; therefore thou shalt exercise thy gift, that thou mayest find out mysteries, that thou mayest bring many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, convince them of the error of their ways.
Make not thy gift known unto any save it be those who are of thy faith. Trifle not with sacred things.
If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, which is the greatest of all the gifts of God; for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation.
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, blessed art thou for what thou hast done; for thou hast inquired of me, and behold, as often as thou hast inquired thou hast received instruction of my Spirit. If it had not been so, thou wouldst not have come to the place where thou art at this time." D&C 6:10-14

Just as Aaron, the brother of Moses, received power from God via two rods: the staff of Moses and the budding rod, so Oliver would also have this great gift.

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.

Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?
And now, behold, you have received a witness; for if I have told you things which no man knoweth have you not received a witness?
And, behold, I grant unto you a gift, if you desire of me, to translate, even as my servant Joseph." D&C 6:22-25
Here, the Lord showed Oliver another way to receive revelation, through the Spirit speaking peace to his mind and heart.  Oliver was then granted the gift of translation.  However, Oliver was used to the idea of just asking a question and having his divining rod give a quick reply of yes/no.  Translation through any means is a much more difficult and complex process.  As we read in D&C 9, it required working it out in one's mind until one found a probable answer, and then asking if it is right (the yes/no question).  Oliver skipped the first part.  And it may be he did not understand how the Spirit works on the higher level of speaking to the mind and heart, as the Lord also had to explain this to him:

"Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
 But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.
 Now, if you had known this you could have translated; nevertheless, it is not expedient that you should translate now." D&C 9:7-10

We should not be surprised that the Lord allows mankind to use props that can assist them in knowing God.  Joseph Smith used both the Urim and Thummim and his seer stone in a hat.  Moses and Aaron used his staff.  Jesus once used clay to heal a blind man's eyes. 

It is likely that Oliver used his divining rod less and less, as he learned to receive revelation without it, just as Joseph learned to receive revelations without his seer stone and the Urim and Thummim.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

D&C lesson 4: Remember the New Covenant, Even the Book of Mormon

Out of all the revelations given in the last days, the Book of Mormon is the most important.  Many see the Book of Mormon as simply a rip off of Isaiah, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, and Solomon Spaulding.  However, there are so many intricate things within the book that continually reveals itself in new and important ways to us.

First, the Book of Mormon teaches us that God still speaks to mankind.  The heavens are open!  Revelation still occurs.  This is a big part of the "new covenant" of the Book of Mormon - God speaking to man in all times and places.In Alma 29:8, we read that God gives to all nations and peoples the amount of truth they are ready to receive.  But if people do not believe God can speak with them or send new prophets, then they severely limit the truth God wishes to give them.

Second, the Book of Mormon teaches us the "doctrine of Christ".  In 2 Ne 31 and 3 Ne 11.  The doctrine of Christ is that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are "one God" or one in all things, and we are to learn to be one with them and each other.  It is a process.  We develop a level of faith in Christ.  We recognize our sins and repent.  We receive baptism or other ordinance, as it is through the ordinances that the "mysteries of  godliness" are revealed (D"&C 84:19-21). Finally, we receive the Holy Ghost, which sanctifies us to a higher level of righteousness.  Then we repeat the process, growing in faith and righteousness, until we become one with the Godhead.

Third, it warns us of secret combinations and the enemies of God. Those groups or organizations or people who seek to get gain by any means are the enemies of God.  They can include secret signs and oaths, and involve getting gain by using violence or other criminal means.  When such combinations take control of government, the righteous become the enemies of the state, or are punished for their testimony of Christ; while the wicked are viewed as popular and good by society.

Fourth, the Book of Mormon defines and shows the pathway to a personal theophany, or visitation of God to the individual.  From Lehi's seeing God on his throne in 1 Nephi 1, to the Vision of the Tree of Life, to Alma's suffering in hell and then being redeemed into the presence of God's throne, to the Brother of Jared seeing the finger of God, we see the purpose of the Book of Mormon: to show us how to become like Christ, so we can return into the presence of God.  Today, Latter-day Saints practice the theophany in the temple endowment, as the temple and Book of Mormon are closely linked by this new covenant and purpose.

There are other purposes to the Book of Mormon, but these are definitely the most important concepts.  Without the Book of Mormon, there would be no second witness of Christ and his divinity. There would be no understanding of modern revelation.  We would not understand fully the process to become one with the Godhead, and we would not understand the importance to enter into the presence of the Lord.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Revelations in Context - a new Church site on History of the D&C

I want to make everyone aware of a great new site, brought to us by the Church's historians.  It gives context to the revelations and teachings in the Doctrine and Covenants, entitled "Revelations In Context". It
contains information that you will not see in many of the older LDS history books.  For instance, it mentions the divining rod that Oliver Cowdery used to receive revelations, making him a modern day Aaron (who had a budding rod, as well as Moses' staff as objects of God's power).  It will tie into the Joseph Smith Papers Project, which is opening up a lot of great stuff for members and non-members alike.  One thing we will all learn is that history is messy, and we often prefer ours nice and sanitized. Yet, in sanitizing history, we miss out on how God really works with imperfect people.  Joseph Smith was imperfect, yet God used him to accomplish many amazing things in just a few short years.  I hope you enjoy the Church's new site, and use it frequently!