Sunday, October 31, 2021

Come Follow Me: D&C 125-128

 Come Follow Me: D&C 125-128

As we approach the last couple months of studying the Doctrine and Covenants for CFM, hopefully we've noticed some important themes that flow through the entire book. A short list of major teachings would include: Jesus as Christ, priesthood, the importance of continuing revelation, Zion and her stakes, and temples. 

D&C 125

In this short section we learn, again, about Zion. The saints were driven from Missouri, and so could not build the center city of Zion in Independence. However, they could build new cities: Nauvoo, Zarahemla, etc., and establish stakes in those cities.

"...let them gather themselves together unto the places which I shall appoint unto them by my servant Joseph...." (vs 2)
The Lord establishes his stakes and calls the saints to gather to them. At one time, the stakes were only in the American west, Utah territory. At that time, the saints had to travel from Europe and elsewhere to dwell in a stake. There wouldn't be a stake formed outside of North America until 1935, in Oahu (now a part of the state of Hawaii).

Today, there are approximately 3500 stakes worldwide. An example of growth can be seen in the South American country of Bolivia. When I was a missionary there over 40 years ago, with a membership of 18,000 members, they received their first 3 stakes (Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, La Paz). Today, there are 33 stakes, and more than 200,000 members.

As the saints are ready to gather, more stakes are created. This section notes that one reason for gathering is "that they may be prepared for that which is in store for a time to come" (vs 2). Zion and her stakes are refuges from the storms of the last days.

D&C 126

This is a short section given to Brigham Young, newly appointed as the president of the Quorum of 12 Apostles. Whereas the 12 were to be a "traveling high council," we find here that the Lord was now able to send others with the 12 to far off places. Brigham's work would be closer to home (Nauvoo), only serving occasionally in missionary work in the Eastern States. Much of this may be due to God's foresight. He would require Brigham close to Joseph, so that the Prophet could transfer knowledge and priesthood keys as needed to the president of the 12. After developing the initial endowment for the Nauvoo temple, a ceremony that lasted around 7 hours, Joseph told Brigham that the endowment was like a rough draft, and needed refinement. Joseph tasked Brigham with the assignment of improving on it, which Brigham set out to do, reducing the endowment down to about 2 1/2 hours in length.

D&C 127

Additional instructions are given for baptisms for the dead. Joseph established there be a "recorder" to write down the important information regarding baptisms, such as the dead person's name, dates, ensure there are witnesses, etc.

The idea of a recorder hearkens back to the importance of preserving records. To this day, the Church members can only speculate on the exact date of the First Vision, or when Joseph received the Melchizedek Priesthood, simply because such wasn't written down. Nephi recognized the importance of obtaining the Brass Plates for his people to remember God on their journeys. Between major battles, Mormon enscribed the spiritual history of his people on gold plates for our benefit today.

Records, whether historical or spiritual, can create important links. They link us to our ancestors in family history. They link us to our children, as we leave behind our journals, photos, videos, and memories. They are a testimony of testimonies, ordinances, covenants, and spiritual events. 

We've been encouraged to leave behind our own record. Whether we write daily in a journal, or only blog the things of most importance to us, it is important to leave a witness. In fact, one of the reasons I blog the scripture study is to leave behind a record of some of the things I've learned, in hopes that someone will read something in it that will inspire and move them toward a closer loving relationship with God and Christ.

"And again, let all the records be had in order, that they may be put in the archives of my holy temple, to be held in remembrance from generation to generation, saith the Lord of Hosts." (vs 9)

I wish more of my ancestors would have left me information regarding their lives. Very few did, and then, only brief snapshots. We need to create records that will be "held in remembrance from generation to generation." These records should be spiritual, but often good description of events, landscapes, history, etc., can enhance a remembrance. What would it be like to find an ancestor's journal, which is written such that it transports you back in time and place?!

And this is a key point of records: to help us remember. In the new book, "Learning of the Jews" (ed Trevan Hatch and Leonard Greenspoon -  I will soon be reviewing the book here), we find that the post-temple Jews learned to "remember" through their stories and holy events. In sharing the Sabbath meal, they don't just reenact Israel's experiencing God at Mt Sinai, they remember actually being there, transported through their ancestors' records to the foot of God's mount.

"That in all your recordings it may be recorded in heaven; whatsoever you bind on earth, may be bound in heaven; whatsoever you loose on earth, may be loosed in heaven..." (vs 7)
May I suggest that this not only applies to records kept for ordinances, but also for all records we create to move forward God's family.

D&C 128

Joseph shares more thoughts regarding baptisms for the dead, especially regarding the importance of properly recording the events and ordinances. In doing so, he expands our understanding on a passage in the Book of Revelation:

"And further, I want you to remember that John the Revelator was contemplating this very subject in relation to the dead, when he declared, as you will find recorded in Revelation 20:12And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works." (vs 6)
People, all people, will be judged out of the books written here on earth. This includes official ordinance records, journals, history books, blogs, newspapers, etc. What we record here on earth will be remembered in heaven. This is especially true in the Internet Age. How easy it is to search on a topic and have dozens, if not hundreds, of documents and books immediately made available. On a similar note, the things we write on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, etc., will be among the books with which we are judged. When those things are opened in the last day, will the Lord note that we spent more time sharing our testimonies and knowledge with others, or that we primarily shared funny cat videos? Just what ARE we individually recording and sealing up in heaven?

In verse 14, we read:

"the keys of the kingdom, which consist in the key of knowledge." (vs 14)

There is a priesthood key, a key of knowledge, which is found in the ordinances and covenants of the temple. This key is so important that the Prophet Joseph noted,

"...these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation." (vs 15)
What are we doing to seek the "key of knowledge"? This key includes the mysteries of godliness (D&C 84) - what we need to know to be like God. It is inherent in records, as we are to "learn from the best books" (D&C 88). As it is, God knows all things. To be like God means to know all things. What are we doing in this life to begin to know what God knows? The ordinances and covenants are necessary for exaltation. However, without the key of knowledge, those ordinances are limited. This doesn't mean we must know all things now. It does mean that we need to seriously engage in learning to know, even as God knows. We develop the habits of learning and growing, so that we can learn and grow up to be like our Heavenly Parents.

"Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received? A voice of gladness! A voice of mercy from heaven; and a voice of truth out of the earth...." (vs 19)
What do we hear? The key of knowledge. The voice of gladness is the voice that shares the good news that Jesus is Christ. The voice of mercy from heaven is revelation, beginning with God's merciful appearance to the boy Joseph Smith in 1820. The voice of truth out of the earth is the Book of Mormon. 

These and a long list of other events noted by Joseph, detail many of the events that gave him and the Church ever greater knowledge. Whether from heavenly revelations or from a book, the Lord presents us with this special key. Today, we have billions of books and papers within our easy reach: Religion, history, science, social development, medical, music, art, math, languages, spiritual, economics, political, etc. There is no reason any of us cannot learn something new, which we can then use to move forth the kingdom of God. We have been blessed with an amazing key of knowledge in our day.

"Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory!" (vs 22)
Today, while so blessed with thousands of stakes, hundreds of temples, and the key of knowledge at our fingertips, we also face many challenges. People are confused as to their eternal (or mortal) identity. They don't know what to believe, as fake news floods in from all sides. With Pres Nelson, we need to seek "pure truth, pure doctrine of Christ, and pure revelation" (Oct 2021 General Conference). We can rejoice in the truths we've received, and move forward with courage, because even in our weakness, God will help us to bring to pass his great work.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Come Follow Me: D&C 124

 Come Follow Me: D&C 124

 In August 1986, I strolled through Nauvoo with my new bride, Ramona. Not many of the restored buildings were there at the time, the restoration project having begun about a decade before. I still remember looking at that big hole at the top of the hill, where the well for the baptismal font was the only visible evidence that a holy building once stood there...

Received in January 1841, this revelation continues the two major concepts of the Restoration: building Zion and building temples.

The Saints were busy draining the swamp they had named "Nauvoo" or "Beautiful." Many still were living in tents or wooden shacks. The area was sectioned off into areas for homes, each with enough space to grow a garden and tend a few animals. Very few brick houses were completed. When we visit Nauvoo today, we see what it was like in 1846, not 1841.


 Pelicans on the Mississippi River at Nauvoo (photo by author)


Yet, again, in their poverty, the Lord commands them to build a temple. Joseph had received divine instruction on baptisms for the dead, and would receive more. While in their poverty, the Lord would allow baptisms for the dead to occur in the Mississippi River. However, He would not allow it for long. 

This would be the fourth temple commanded of the Lord: Kirtland, Far West, Adam-Ondi-Ahman, and now Nauvoo. This temple would be larger and more magnificent than the others. It wouldn't stand long, being destroyed by an arsonist's fire and by a tornado less than a decade later. Still, it would be the place where thousands of Saints would receive their endowment of power, just prior to leaving for the Great Salt Lake.

In the Kirtland Temple, the saints received a partial endowment off power. There, they had a Pentecost of visions, gifts of tongues, and angelic appearances. The leaders experienced having Joseph Smith wash their feet. Many received their washings and anointings (what we call initiatory today). 

In his hymn, the Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning, W.W. Phelps included two additional stanzas we do not have in our current hymnbooks. One of the stanzas states:

We'll wash and be wash'd, and with oil be anointed
Withal not omitting the washing of feet:
For he that receiveth his PENNY appointed,
Must surely be clean at the harvest of wheat. 
(see article in Wikipedia)

Now, the Lord would expand the work again. Along with the initiatory, we receive the teachings on baptism for the dead. 

Imagine how excited the poor and struggling saints must have been to receive such revelatory insight as this! Immediately, members rushed to the Mississippi to be baptized for deceased ancestors. Joseph could do the work for his beloved brother, Alvin, who lived long enough to know about and believe in the plates of gold, but not long enough to read the published Book of Mormon. 

In this section, the Lord established a stake of Zion in Nauvoo, which.

"I have planted to be a cornerstone of Zion, which shall be polished with the refinement which is after the similitude of a palace." (vs 2)
Zion's stakes and  temples go hand in hand. Temples cannot be built without the strength of Zion and her stakes. Stakes cannot long endure without a temple at the center.

The Lord commands Joseph to write a proclamation to the nations, telling them that the Restored Church of Jesus Christ was again upon the earth, and would grow to fill the earth. The kings of the world, and the converts from everywhere were to come with their gold and silver to build the temple and establish Zion.

This is an amazing proclamation, given what the saints have just experienced in Missouri. Again, many are still living in tents, are impoverished and struggling, yet they are to proclaim before kings and nations that the gospel is going forth.

Today, a proclamation from the First Presidency and Twelve are easily noticed by national and religious leaders around the world. However, in 1841, most would have thought, "Joseph Smith, who?" Then they would have laughed at the thought of this tiny, crazy religious sect in America would ever expand to be in almost every nation, with hundreds of temples and stakes.

Again, the Lord tells them that baptisms for the dead in the Mississippi River is temporary. They must build a temple and be diligent about the work:

"But behold, at the end of this appointment your baptisms for your dead shall not be acceptable unto me; and if you do not these things at the end of the appointment ye shall be rejected as a church, with your dead, saith the Lord your God." (vs 32)
If we don't do our temple work, we shall be rejected as God's people. And we can only do the work within a temple. This is why the Church has been so diligent in building and announcing so many temples in our day. When I joined the Church in  1975, there were only a handful of temples in the world, and most of those were in the American West, where most Latter-day Saints lived. Under President Gordon B. Hinckley, the Church quickly built the one hundredth temple. Since then, over a hundred more temples have been built or announced. In fact, there are now 265 temples built, announced or under construction, over 65 of them announced since Russell M. Nelson became prophet.

There is a reason for all of this stake and temple building. The Lord explained:

"For therein are the keys of the holy priesthood ordained, that you may receive honor and glory." (vs 34)
The fullness of the Melchizedek and Aaronic priesthoods are found within the temple walls. It is there that the great work of helping Christ save mankind from hell and Outer Darkness occurs, and where families are exalted. It is where the sealing powers seal a husband and wife together in the Patriarchal Priesthood, named this because of the great patriarchs and matriarchs of the Bible: Abraham/Sarah, Isaac/Rebekah, Jacob/Leah/Rachel.

And this all begins with saving our ancestors through baptism for the dead, and this only in the stakes of Zion.

"For it is ordained that in Zion, and in her stakes, and in Jerusalem, those places which I have appointed for refuge, shall be the places for your baptisms for your dead.

"And again, verily I say unto you, how shall your washings be acceptable unto me, except ye perform them in a house which you have built to my name?" (vs 36-37)

The Lord then explained that even ancient Israel had a Tabernacle in the wilderness to perform the temple sacrifices and rites. Interestingly, during the trek west, Brigham Young and the first group stopped occasionally and used tents to perform temple ordinances in the wilderness (Journal of William Clayton).

"For I deign to reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world, things that pertain to the dispensation of the fulness of times.

"And I will show unto my servant Joseph all things pertaining to this house, and the priesthood thereof, and the place whereon it shall be built" (vs 41-42)


 Nauvoo Temple  (photo by author)


We now know that the endowment would be revealed to Joseph Smith, as well as eternal marriage. That said, the Lord continues to reveal "unto my church things which have been kept hid" that he chooses to reveal to us. The temple is a revelatory place. As we take questions, thoughts, and ponderings with us into the temple, the Lord can reveal answers to us, even things hidden "from before the foundation of the world."

"If ye labor with all your might, I will consecrate that spot that it shall be made holy.

"And if my people will hearken unto my voice, and unto the voice of my servants whom I have appointed to lead my people, behold, verily I say unto you, they shall not be moved out of their place.

"But if they will not hearken to my voice, nor unto the voice of these men whom I have appointed, they shall not be blest, because they pollute mine holy grounds, and mine holy ordinances, and charters, and my holy words which I give unto them." (vs 44-46)

Diligence in our labors allows God to consecrate and make things holy, whether it is a temple site or an individual. Even after all the trials the saints have gone through, the Lord again must remind them to be holy and hearken unto the prophet's voice. Those who are disobedient "pollute mine holy grounds," the ordinances and everything else God makes holy. The holiness of the people determines whether someone or something is sacred or desecrated.

The Lord then explains that when the righteous diligently serve God, but the enemy spoils their efforts, Christ still accepts their sacrifice. He also stated that the wicked who sought to stop the work of God would one day be judged for those evil things. The righteous, who had been forced out of Missouri, would be blessed for their efforts.

So it is with us today. We begin a work that we feel the Lord wants us to accomplish, but then something gets in the way and stops our work. The Lord appreciates our efforts and consecrates those good works we've done. Whether it is a single parent trying to raise children in righteousness, while having the ex spouse attacking the gospel when the children visit; or having to end a mission early because of Covid or government overthrow; etc, the Lord accepts our diligent efforts regardless of the final outcome.

The section then discusses the building of the Nauvoo House, a boarding house for weary travelers. The moneys for this would come from selling stocks. The eventually hoped for profits would go to bless the poor, sick and needy. 

The Lord counsels many to pay into the stock for the Nauvoo House, and then gives special counsel to William Law. He is Joseph's second counselor in the First Presidency. William would be faithful for these first few years, wavering when he learns of plural marriage and is heavily chastised for adultery. At that point, he would become one of the major enemies of Joseph and the Church, creating a secret combination that would seek to assassinate Joseph. He would print the Nauvoo Expositor paper, which would condemn Joseph and the Church. The destruction of the printing press and paper would lead to Joseph's arrest and death.

Joseph's other counselor, Sidney, moved to Cincinnati, hoping to find safety from the mobs. He is commanded of the Lord to return to Nauvoo, but refuses to do so. In saving his mortal life, he lost his chance at exaltation.

Of the four members of the First Presidency, only Joseph's assistant president, his brother Hyrum, would remain faithful and diligent in all things. Hyrum would also be called as Patriarch of the Church, filling the space formerly held by his deceased father, Joseph Smith Sr.

With the death of David W Patten in Missouri, a new president of the Quorum of Twelve was needed. Brigham Young was the next in seniority, and was called formally into this position in this revelation.

"I give unto you my servant Brigham Young to be a president over the Twelve traveling council;

"Which Twelve hold the keys to open up the authority of my kingdom upon the four corners of the earth, and after that to send my word to every creature.

"They are Heber C. Kimball, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, Orson Hyde, William Smith, John Taylor, John E. Page, Wilford Woodruff, Willard Richards, George A. Smith." (vs 127-129)

This is a key note in the public revelations of the Church to establish that the Twelve Apostles held "the keys to open up the authority of my kingdom" not just in some places, but "upon the four corners of the earth." Because of this and other statements regarding the Twelve, Brigham Young would establish after Joseph's death that the keys of the kingdom were retained with the Twelve Apostles. 

While Brigham would be a very rough-around-the-edges leader, he would be the person needed to bring the Saints to the Salt Lake Valley six years later, keeping them intact as a people. He would be the one to build new temples out west, while the other branches of Mormonism coming out of Nauvoo would not build temples or perform baptisms for the dead, nor endow the saints with power from on high.





Sunday, October 17, 2021

Come Follow Me: D&C 121-123

 Come Follow Me: D&C 121-123

 The hope of building strong stakes of Zion in Far West and Adam-Ondi-Ahman was short-lived. Both places were considered sacred by the Lord, and a temple was planned for each of the cities, however the persecution they left behind in Kirtland and Jackson county soon followed them. 


Far West temple site

Skirmishes occurred. David W. Patton, the president of the Twelve was killed in a battle. A massacre happened at Haun's Mill (situated between Far West and Adam-Ondi-Ahman) that killed over a dozen members and wounded many more. Fights broke out at county polling places, where members sought to cast their votes. 

Joseph would call for all the saints to gather at Far West for protection. Sadly, he was betrayed by some of his closest friends, like W.W. Phelps, and fell into the hands of his enemies. The order was made for Joseph and the others to be shot the next day. General Alexander Doniphan refused to obey the order, saving their lives. Joseph, Hyrum, Sidney, Parley P. Pratt and others were led away to prison. Most of them stayed at Liberty Jail, while Parley and others were imprisoned in Richmond. They would be in prison from 4-6 months.