Sunday, December 21, 2014

"She's gonna poke my eyes out!"

The teacher in my Elder's Quorum mentioned this today and I had to go look it up and I thought it was pretty good.

So you may know the parable of the unjust judge found in Luke:
1 And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;
2 Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man:
3 And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.
4 And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man;
5 Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.
6 And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith.
7 And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?
8 I tell you that he will avenge them speedily.
 That part in verse five that reads "lest by her continual coming she weary me" is apparently very different if you read the original Greek. The word that is translated in the King James Version as "she weary me" is ὑπωπιάζῃ which literally means "to strike under the eye" (i.e. to give someone a black eye). As the teacher pointed out (in a former life he was a classics major) the connotation of the word ὑπωπιάζῃ is sort of what the Greek equivalent of WWF fighters do to each other by trying to gouge each other's eyes out.

So perhaps a better rendering of verse five might be:
5 Yet because this widow keeps getting in my face, I will avenge her, or else one of these days she's gonna come here and poke my eyes out.
I think the Bible is a tad bit more interesting if you learn a little Greek.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Stories from My Mission: A Tool in the Hand of God

My worst companion on my mission was my last companion. Of all of my companions he was the most difficult, the strangest, the most worrisome, and the only one that I felt should not be a missionary.

I had already been in my last area with two different companions. While it was unusual to have three different companions in a single area I had had three companions in my previous three areas so getting a third companion was not unexpected. I had two transfers left and while my mission president usually did not put missionaries into an area for only two transfers it did happen. So I was sort of halfway expecting to be transferred to a new area for my last two transfers since my current companion, Elder Larson, had only been there for one transfer.

But on the morning of transfers we went to the mission office (it was only a short bus ride away from my area) to find out who was being transferred. We walked through the door and the office elders quickly told my companion that he was going to be transferred instead of me. I asked who my new companion would be and all anyone would tell me was, "Elder Tanner, I'm so, so, so sorry." I think someone even gave me a hug of condolence. I finally had to corner one of the APs and get him to tell me who my new companion would be (he was a little surprised that no one had warned told me yet).

He told me my new companion's name, but it was a missionary I had never heard of before. I went out to talk to a few other elders who had also come in to find out where they were going and who their new companions would be. There was one Elder who asked my who my new companion would be and I told him. He looked at me and said, "What did you do to be put with him?" We talked some more and he asked me about some of my other companions. I listed them off to him and at each one he winced at the name. At the end he looked at me and said, "Does President hate you? Why would he keep putting you with so many bad Elders?"

Despite my apparent legendary list of "bad companions" according to everyone I talked to this last one would be the one to top them all. About this time Elder Dacoli, who was a friend of mine, arrived. Elder Dacoli and I had never been companions but we had been in the same zone a few times, and we had worked together occasionally and we even had one very special spiritual experience together. Elder Dacoli was the nicest, most Christlike person I have ever had the pleasure to know in my life. Preciously when he had asked me who my companions were he would always have something good to say about them, even for the ones who were quite insufferable. I am sure that Elder Dacoli could find something good to say about each and every person he ever met. Which is why when I told Elder Dacoli who my new companion was his response surprised me.

I mentioned who my new companion was and all he said was, "Oh. Well Elder, good luck." That was perhaps the most damning thing I could have ever imagined Elder Dacoli to say. He didn't even offer to say anything positive about this Elder. I began to wonder what I was getting myself into.

I don't have the time or energy to compress the next six weeks into a single blog post, but I'll give you the highlights. I'll call my companion Elder A.

On his very first day in the area I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because I had learned from so many of my previous companions that to have charity and to not criticize or judge were critical for being a good missionary and also a good person in general. So my initial thought while walking around with Elder A was to give him an opportunity to show me who he was before I made any judgements.

Because I had been in the area for three months I knew it pretty well and I could have just gone where ever I wanted without telling Elder A and he would have had no idea. But I was committed to making this a good companionship so I would stop occasionally and talk to him and explain to him where we needed go and why. We had one set appointment with the rest of the afternoon free. He seemed resistant to going to our appointment, but he eventually consented. Unfortunately the person we were looking for wasn't there so we had to turn to finding people.

I consulted a map of the area and decided to go to a particular neighborhood where I had never been before. I told this to Elder A and he immediately questioned why we were going there. I said that I had been in almost every other neighborhood but this was one I had never before visited and I felt that we needed to go there. He said that we shouldn't go there. We discussed it for a while until finally he asked which direction we needed to go to get there. I pointed north, down the street and he promptly started walking south, in the opposite direction. I had to hurry up to catch up with him. I asked him where he was going and he said, "I don't think we should go that way."

I tried to reason with him but it really didn't work. I got him to turn at the next block, but every time I indicated which direction we needed to turn he would go the exact opposite direction. After a while I stopped talking to him and tried to subtly get him to go in the direction we needed to go. After a few twists and turns (I knew the area very well and had a good mental map) I knew we were back on track and he had no idea we were headed in the direction I had originally planned to go.

When we finally got to the particular street that I had felt we needed to go to Elder A looked down the street and said, "Now that you have wasted our time getting us here, now what?" I indicated a house on the corner and he promptly went to the one on the opposite corner (which actually wasn't a house, it was a small shop and after a brief and awkward conversation with the person working there we moved on). I got him to move down the street stopping occasionally to talk to people. There was one person who was not interested and I said good day to them by my companion persisted and tried to set a time to come back to talk to them. Awkwardness ensued (we never saw them again).

As we moved down the street it turned into a minor battle, with Elder A throwing himself at every person who showed no interest and curtly ending conversations with every person who showed a grain of interest. There was one young man sitting outside his house plucking on a guitar. We approached and I introduced myself. I gave a brief rundown of who we were and the message we were sharing. At that moment the young man said the words that every missionary dreams of hearing on a first encounter, "Hey, that sounds really interesting I would like to learn more about your message. We can talk right now because I have time, and maybe you can come back some other time and we can talk some more."

Elder A heard those words and promptly said, "Well it's been good talking to you but we need to move along." and walked off. My jaw dropped down into the street. I ran after my companion and caught up with him at the end of the block. I asked him what he was doing and he said, "He obviously wasn't interested." To which I replied, "He told us he was interested."

For the next six weeks this same scene played itself out over and over. If I said we needed to go one way he would go the other. If I thought someone was progressing he would disagree. Elder A contradicted me in every way possible. It got to the point that members were approaching me and asking if the mission president knew about Elder A. I told them he did. I knew the mission president knew about him because I did something I had never done before. I requested a transfer, but the mission president turned me down.

It was about this time that I was talking to one of the APs. We had gone to high school together so he was willing to give out more information than normal. He said that the decision to put me with Elder A was made at his first meeting with the mission president after he became an AP. He said that they stood there with a map of the mission, with all the missionary pictures and started matching up companions. When they had nearly finished they had three or four Elders whose pictures were left at the bottom of the board and they didn't know what to do with them. For some of them they just stuck them off in their own area and hoped they didn't do anything stupid.

But for Elder A they had a hard time because they had to find someone to be his companion who would not get mad and hit him in the face (something that apparently happened before). They finally decided to give him to me because they knew I wouldn't hit him, and fortunately I didn't prove them wrong.

After six weeks I couldn't stand it any more and asked my mission president for a transfer. He just told me that I only had to survive six more weeks and then I could go home. I really didn't appreciate hearing that. It was one moment when I really didn't feel like sustaining my priesthood leader.

That evening Elder A and I were back on the street with me doing our usual, not telling him where we were going and hoping he wouldn't suddenly decide to do something stupid. There was a less active member I had been trying to find for a while and I wanted to stop by his house. As soon as Elder A figured out that we were going in a specific direction he began his standard practice of taking random turns and trying to steer us away from where ever I wanted to go. Eventually I got us to the right street (we only had to circle the block two or three times before I got him close enough to turn down the right street).

About half way down the block Elder A realized that we were getting to where I wanted to go and promptly went to the opposite side of the street. I walked up to the house to clap only to realize that my companion was standing 40 feet away down the street. I went back to try to get him to just cross the street but the harder I tried the worse it got.

Finally something in me snapped and I did something I have never done with anyone since. I got confrontational. I looked at Elder A and demanded to know what he was doing. He waffled behind some excuses that he didn't think we should be here or he didn't think it was worth trying to find this person, but I didn't let it go like I had before. I kept pressing and demanding to know why he was so resistant to crossing the street. I told him that he didn't even have to talk, just cross the street. He continued to refuse and then asked why I was getting upset.

I really didn't want to do this in the middle of the street, but I really didn't have any other option. I told him bluntly and directly, "Elder, you are destroying the work in this area. You are an active impediment to the work of the Lord." Elder A responded by saying that I was destroying the work just as much and began to list of ever minor infraction I had ever committed, including wasting time walking long distances only to find that the people we were looking for were not home. He listed every personality flaw that he thought I had (or the ones he had enough mental wherewithal to know about).

I told him that really didn't want to have this discussion in the middle of the street since it would be a very bad idea to have people see two Mormon missionaries arguing in the street. I insisted that we go back to our apartment but he wanted to have it all out there in the middle of the street. After a while I finally convinced him to go back to our apartment.

As soon as we got in I sat down with him and again told him that he was destroying the work of the Lord and was an active impediment to the Church. He again told me that he was no worse than me. I asked him why he contradicted me on every decision and refused to go anywhere I had decided to go.

Finally after six weeks Elder A opened up and began to be honest with me. He said that our mission president had threatened to send him home, and if he was sent home from his mission he would be too embarrassed to go to Church so he would probably just leave the Church. So when our mission president had read him the riot act he had decided that he would strenuously keep the mission rules. Unfortunately in his mind "keeping the mission rules" meant contradicting me. Before he had met me he had apparently overheard one of the Elders in the office talking about me and my previous companion Elder Larson. The office Elder had remarked at our teaching stats, which were unusually low, and was wondering if we were doing any work out in our area.

Elder A took that and assumed that I was the laziest, good for nothing, rule-breaking-est missionary there ever was and came to the conclusion that in order to be a good missionary he needed to contradict every single decision I ever made. He told me that for the last six weeks he had intentionally been making my life difficult because he had it fixed in his mind that I was a bad missionary. All this time I had just been thinking he was stupid. I had no idea that he was malicious as well.

I acknowledged that I was not a perfect person and even accepted some of the things he had listed off as to why I was a "bad missionary", but insisted that minor personality flaws or even just basic human traits did not make me a "bad missionary". I again reiterated the fact that by actively creating disharmony in the companionship he was actively destroying the work of the Lord. I then quoted to him D&C 1:19-23 which reads:
19 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—
20 But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world;
21 That faith also might increase in the earth;
22 That mine everlasting covenant might be established;
23 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.
I emphasized the "weak and simple" and said that I do not have to be a perfect person, nor live up to Elder A's standard of perfection in order to proclaim the gospel. I only had to give all that I am and the Lord would make up the rest.

That night we came to a kind of a truce. He agreed to stop contradicting me in every decision and we both agreed to do the work we needed to do.

In the weeks leading up to this confrontation I had often wondered why this Elder was on a mission. He barely knew the doctrine, he did not get along with other missionaries. His first companion had apparently hated so much that he had to be moved in an emergency transfer (I hear physical violence was involved). Elder A took just about every thought and twisted it around in such a way that it made me wonder just how much lead paint he had licked as a child. I could not understand why he was not sent home. He was confrontational, irrational, had broken just about every mission rule possible without actually breaking any commandments. In my mind it made no sense to keep him there in the mission field.

So I began to pray.

I prayed and asked to know why Elder A was still on a mission and had not been sent home already. The answer came not all at once but through a series of revelatory experiences and through the gift of discernment such that I learned things I could never have learned any other way.

Elder A had grown up in a very poor neighborhood in an especially poor South American country. For the first 10 or 12 years of his life he had lived in a mud hut with a cardboard roof (a kind of very stiff paperboard coated in tar to make it water repellent). When he was an early teen his family had managed to get a free house in a government housing block. It had two rooms and was made of very basic kiln fired building blocks. He never got far in school but his family had joined the Church and he had gone on a mission out of genuine desire to give back to the Lord for what the Lord had given him. His family was too poor to provide any help so the full time Elders in his branch had provided shirts, pants and shoes so that he could go on a mission. Our monthly stipend that we got (at that time was ~550 pesos or ~$200) was more money than he would typically make in six months. He had never felt so rich in his entire life. He had never been able to afford the food he was now eating. He relished in the the sense that he could talk and people would listen to him because his entire life he was poor and no one listens to the poor.

All this power and wealth went a little to his head. When our mission president had told him that he needed to follow the rules or be sent home, he may as well have told Elder A that he would be cast into hell for all eternity because it had the same effect. That's when he became my companion.

Over the next few weeks there were minor incidents where the spirit nudged me and said, "Look. That is why he wasn't sent home." There were little things that happened that may seem minor to our understanding but were great in the sight of God. Because of my personality there are people who I would have a hard time talking to about the gospel. There are people who would have a hard time talking to me about anything for that matter. If there is someone in my area that cannot hear the gospel because their personality does not match mine that is OK because somewhere in the mission there is usually another Elder or Sister who can reach them and, when the time is right, the Lord will rotate those missionaries in and put them in contact with those people.

With Elder A there were people who were very special or very unique who would have a hard time hearing the gospel from any other missionary. But Elder A was just the right person at the right time to contact a few very specific people, people who did not join the Church as far as I know, but in the eternal scheme of things they needed their chance to hear the gospel.

After several weeks of observing and learning I was praying one night about my companion when I got the distinct impression and received a clear answer to my prayer. It said, "He is mine. I will do with him as seemeth me good. He is a tool in my hand and as long as he is here I will use him to do my work. He is not perfect but neither is anyone else. I know my servants and I know how to use all my servants in the way that is best for them. I will do the same for him as I will do for you. For all who will be my servants, I will use. My knowledge is sufficient that I can do my own work, even with the weak and simple things of the earth. Remember,
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:
11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
12 For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
"My servants are my own and I shall not lose them, and they will do my work."

From this I learned to trust in the Lord, because He knows so much more than we do. After that I was perhaps the only one in the entire mission who had anything good to say about Elder A. I began to see him as God saw him and it changed everything I knew about him. There were so many other missionaries who wanted to offer their negative assessment but from that time on I always strived to say only good things about him when talking to other missionaries. I think I had more good to say about him than my mission president (sometimes I wonder if my mission president understood why he never sent Elder A home). I don't know if anyone noticed that I only had good things to say about Elder A but I know that God noticed. And he thanked me for it.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Rabbath Ammon: The City With the Greatest PR Campaign Ever

[Author's Note: When I originally started writing this I intended this to be a lighthearted post about I verse I recently read in the book of Deuteronomy. So if that is all you care about then just skip down to where it says "Original Post". But I just couldn't resist looking up some basic information about the people and places mentioned in that verse. That turned into an even more in depth look at some Biblical history that I was not very familiar with. That in turn lead to more searching and more reading and more ideas.

By the time I decided to stop I was turning a short lighthearted post about a single verse into a Russian Novel. I had 20+ tabs open in my browser and I was trying to figure out how to distill that much information into a single post. After a while I decided that I didn't have to, nor did I want to attempt that. I had unintentionally hit on a very rich subsection of Biblical history that very frequently gets misinterpreted. Some of the topics that I came across in researching that one verse have been used (almost) more than any other part of the Bible as the basis for some of the most fantastical, misguided, insipid, and just plain wrong Biblical exegesis.

My original short post was turning into a post on how a single word in the Bible can be used as the basis for an ever expanding repertoire of tall tales and theological speculation that leads into the truly bizarre. But rather than flesh it all out into a complete post I threw it all away and went back to my original idea of a short, humorous a long boring "Author's Note". I'll provide the links but if you want to go down the rabbit hole and take the blue pill then you will have to do your own research.

A few links to get you started:

One of those links will lead you down a path of pure history, another down a path of linguistics debates, another down a path of speculation and fantasy and the fourth down a path of a combination of all three. I leave it as an exercise to the interested reader to figure out which is which. Now back to my regularly scheduled post.]

----------Original Post----------

Every PR department dreams of coming up with the ultimate ad campaign. One that will work it's way into popular culture and be used cultural icon or even become a standard figure of speech. But of all the PR departments that have ever been there was one that out did them all because they managed to get their star tourist attraction mentioned in the Bible along with a seemingly prophetic endorsement from Moses himself to go see it.

In the book of Deuteronomy Moses (or his ghost writer(s)) is recounting their travels in the wilderness and the various wars fought and victories won, when he mentions one king they fought against and killed, Og king of Bashan. After listing the cities they captured on the far side of the Jordan River he then mentions Og again includes a little tidbit of tourist trivia.
"For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of giants; behold, his bedstead was a bedstead of iron; is it not in Rabbath of the children of Ammon? nine cubits was the length thereof, and four cubits the breadth of it, after the cubit of a man." (Duet. 3:11)
In other words, "Hey look at this guy we killed. He was HUGE! Like HUGE! Like a GIANT! You don't believe he was a giant? Well Mr. Smartypants, you can still go see his bed. It's over in Rabbath Ammon. Just across the Jordan River. It's HUGE! His bed is, I mean. But seriously, you can still go see his bed! Just take a look and measure it out. Only a GIANT would have a bed that big. And we KILLED him! Go us!"

So the people in the city of Rabbath Ammon had something there that was a major tourist attraction that they called Og's bed. We don't know what it really was (some translations say sarcophagus rather than bed) but apparently by the time the parenthetical statement (almost all other translations put it in parentheses, but not the KJV) was inserted in the book of Deuteronomy it was a major tourist attraction. So the PR department of Rabbath Ammon outdid them all and got a shout out for their main tourist attraction put in the Bible with the apparent approval of Moses.


[Author's End Note: Yes, another boring one that deals with scholarly stuff and actual history. Before you think that Moses was out endorsing tourist attractions in Gentile cities, keep in mind that this was a parenthetical statement that was added much later. So even if Moses had written the book of Deuteronomy he most likely did not insert that little gem.

"Wait!" you say. "What do you mean 'even if Moses had written the book of Deuteronomy'. But Moses did write the book of Deuteronomy! Didn't he? That's why it is called one of the five books of Moses." Weeeeelllllll....There is an idea out there that has some credence to it that says that Moses did not actually write the book of Deuteronomy.

The theory goes something like this. King Josiah (b. 643) and his priests were in the middle of a major religious reform in Jerusalem. Along the way they found what they called "the Book of the Law" which was probably the core legal code laid down by Moses, as preserved by the scribes over the years. Over the next few years little bits of history and introductory material was added, including the parenthetical statement about king Og. This book became the basis of Josiah's religious reforms, but was not part of the original writings of Moses. If this was the case then the book of Deuteronomy may not have been part of the Brass Plates taken by Lehi into the wilderness. So originally there were only the four books of Moses, and not the five that we now have.

In any event, I doubt it that Moses was the one who mentioned Rabbath Ammon's main tourist attraction.]

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Expecting Perfection

I found this little nugget of wisdom in a journal kept by Joseph Smith (written by others) from December 1841 to December 1842. This entry is found on October 29th, 1842.
"[Joseph] said he was but a man and they must not expect him to be perfect; if they expected perfection from him, he should expect it from them, but if they would bear with his infirmities and the infirmities of the brethren, he would likewise bear with their infirmities." [Source]
How often do we demand perfection from our leaders, but we complain and protest when the same is done to us?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

What I Read: LDS Themed Blogs and Books

A while back I was having a conversation on gospel topics with a missionary serving in my ward and he asked me how I learned so much about gospel topics, mostly things that would never be discussed in Sunday School, Seminary or Institute. I think the answer I gave at the time was, "Well I read several books and I follow a few blogs. I also look at the footnotes to find more things to read."

For anyone, such as returned missionaries, who want to go on and learn more about the Church, Church history, the Gospel, and LDS themes in general I thought it would be helpful to provide a list of resources I use, blogs I follow, or books that I have read that I felt were important. If there are others that you have found useful feel free to suggest them in comments (if you have your own LDS themed blog that you want to promote, feel free to leave a link in the comments. I won't consider you narrowly for promoting your own blog long as it is not anti-Mormon, spam, or well, off topic.). There may be some that I have forgotten so I may update this list at some point. I list them now in no particular order.

Blogs I Read

Personal Blogs
  • Mormanity: A blog run by Jeff Lindsay, "an LDS guy in Shanghai. Formerly of Appleton, WI, Jeff writes about the Mormon experience, life in China, and the joys of the Gospel of Jesus Christ." If you read LDS themed stuff long enough you will sooner or later run across Jeff's stuff. I will mention his LDS FAQ later on. Some of his blog posts are personal, or spiritual, but occasionally he posts about LDS apologetics and I find his topics and links very helpful.
  • Studio et Quoque Fide: A blog by Neal Rappleye. He posts about LDS apologetics and keeps people updated on things that are currently being talked about in the field of LDS apologetics. His blog also has several good links, both on the side and in his posts with more material to read.
  • Angels in the Architecture: A blog by Gregory L. Smith. Posts occasionally with quotes and other LDS tidbits. I learned about him when I read a pair of articles he wrote a while back for Mormon Interpreter.
  • Keepapitchinin: A Mormon history blog by Ardis E. Parshall. She post multiple times a day with things from LDS history. She is perhaps one of the best amatuer non-academically trained historians I know of. My sister occasionally posts guest posts to Keepapitchinin. To be honest I don't read everything she posts (I probably only read like 10% of what she posts), but the stuff I read is interesting.
  • Forn Spǫll Fira: A blog by John Gee. He posts about LDS scholarly stuff and apologetics.
  • Warfare and the Book of Mormon: A blog by Morgan Deane. The name of the blog basically tells it all. Morgan is a military historian and offers interesting insights about the Book of Mormon that is not your standard SS/Seminary fare.
  • Speaking Silence: A blog on Patheos by James Faulconer. He teaches Philosophy at BYU, and now that I read his blog I regret never taking a class from him. [A note on Patheos, I hate their interface and it is very difficult to find the RSS feed for his blog. So if you want the RSS feed here is the feedburner link.]
  • Ether's Cave: A blog by Matthew Roper and John Gee. They post about Mormon research, apologetics and things like that. They have a list of what they call "howlers", things that anti-Mormons used to say disproved the Book of Mormon, but have since been shown to be correct.
Non-personal blogs
  • Fair Mormon Blog: This is the blog run by Fair Mormon. Fair Mormon used to be just FAIR (Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research), but they got so tired of explaining what Apologetics is (no that does not mean they are apologizing for the Church, Apologetics means offering a logical, rational, defense of your faith, beliefs or opinions.), so they changed the name from FAIR to just Fair Mormon.
  • Mormon Interpreter: If I had to tell someone who wanted to get into Mormon apologetics and research where was the one place they need to start I would say they need to start with the Mormon Interpreter. They are the intellectual continuation of the work that was started under the old FARMS Foundation. I have been reading the blog and the journal since it started back in 2012. They do good work and provide most of the sources for additional reading that I do. If everything you know about the Church and the scriptures you learned from Sunday School and Seminary then reading the Mormon Interpreter will be like being thrown into the middle of the ocean when all the swim lessons you ever had were in your bathtub when you were 5. For new readers most of the material will be over your head unless you have read extensively about LDS topics in other places.
  • Maxwell Institute Blog: This is the blog of the Maxwell Institute (formerly FARMS, the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies). When I began following the blog a few years ago they always had some very interesting stuff. But a few years back they decided to take the Institute in another direction and they have been doing boring stuff ever since. Still they are the repository of all of the old FARMS articles and data. And that is important.
General Resources

These are general resources and are not updated on a regular basis like a blog. I use them more as a reference and where to find additional reading material.
  • LDS FAQ: This is not to be confused with the official FAQ put out by the Church. The LDS FAQ is run by Jeff Lindsay (who writes on the Mormanity blog). This site contains an incredible amount of references, sources, explanations and at times humor dealing with anti-Mormon attacks on the Church. If anyone has specific questions about Church history, doctrine or practices that are causing them to question their faith this is a great resource for putting those issues into perspective.
  • Joseph Smith's Polygamy: This is a site run by Brian C. Hales. He wrote six books on Joseph Smith and polygamy and if you ever do any reading or research into that topic you will eventually come across his stuff. He is currently the de facto authority on that topic.
  • Fair Mormon: They do all things apologetic and also respond to just about every anti-Mormon attack out there. There is also an associated YouTube channel that contains many presentations by LDS scholars and authors that are very interesting.
    • Fair Mormon Wiki: A sub portion of Fair Mormon is their Wiki. It contains a good place to find interesting topics and also find good sources for questions that arise from anti-Mormon attacks. If I am researching a particular LDS themed topic and I need a place to start sometimes I start here.
  • FARMS Review: No longer being published but the old publications are available online and are very useful.
  • Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: Another FARMS/Maxwell Institute publication. I don't know if they are still publishing, but their archives contain good stuff.

Books that I recommend. There are many, this is just a short list.
People I know about but don't read on a regular basis
  • Daniel Peterson. He has a blog over on Patheos that I occasionally read, but I don't subscribe to it.
  • William Hamblin: He also has a blog over on Patheos but I don't subscribe to it. For both Peterson and Hamblin I do not object to their stuff (hey, I read Mormon Interpreter), it's just that they are the chocolate sundae of Mormon apologetics and I prefer mint cookies and cream. You may like their stuff, but I don't read it every day.
  • Scriptorium Blogorium: A blog by Michaela Stephens. She posts on average every other day with an insight about the scriptures. There are many good things on the internet but I don't always follow all of them. This is one of those things.
  • Ploni Almoni: Mr. So-and-So's Mormon Blog: A blog run by Stephen O. Smoot. It covers apologetics, current topics and other controversies.
Places I Avoid

I know this may seem weird but there are some places that focus on LDS topics, but I try to avoid them like the plague. I will not list them all, but in general I avoid places that have a large number of authors but little or no editorial oversight on content and comments. These blog communities are mentally and spiritually draining so generally I stay away from the "bloggernacle". Again, in no particular order.
  • By Common Consent. Whenever I go read it I come away feeling like the authors are trying to be "edgy" without being heretical. The posts have a tendency to make me upset or contentious or both. The comments even more so. In the end it is just spiritually draining.
  • Wheat and Tares: Same as for BCC above.
  • The Millennial Star: Same as for BCC and WaT above. [Edit: A few comments below state that M* is not all that bad. I may have changed over past few years, but back when I was reading it it fit in with the other blogs on this list. So M* may be different now.]
  • Feminist Mormon Housewives: Same as for BCC, WaT, and M* above.
  • The list goes on. I just tend to avoid those blogs. Some are good and not like BCC, WaT, M*, FMH, others are just more of the same.
  • Anything anti-Mormon (or "pro"-Mormon but with a decidedly faith discouraging bent, written by non-, former-, ex-, anti-, soon-to-be-former-, excommunicated-, should-be-honest-with-themselves-and-just-leave- Mormons...*cough*mormonthink*cough*).
This is not a comprehensive list of everything that is out there. Nor is it a comprehensive list of everything that I read (I have 100+ items in my Feedly reader list), but it is enough to get started for someone who wants to enter the world of LDS scholarship, apologetics, or topics. If you have anything else you want to add, just leave a comment.

As a final note. You can see a side-by-side comparison of Isaiah chapters and verses in the Book of Mormon with their corresponding Bible chapter and verses (using the KJV of the Bible) by checking out my other blog, Isaiah in the Book of Mormon.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Stories from My Mission: "La paciencia es la ciencia de la paz."

When I was in the city of Eldorado in Misiones I met a wise old farmer who once shared with me a tidbit of wisdom that has stuck with me ever since.
"La paciencia es la ciencia de la paz."
Literally this means, "Patience is the science of peace." But it has a much better ring to it when you say it in Spanish.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Follow the prophet, for he is in the Lord's Sôd.

I'll try to make this brief. Today in Sunday School our lesson was entitled "God Reveals His Secrets to His Prophets" which dealt with the role of prophets. This is a topic that I have been thinking about a lot recently partially due to the fact that someone whose blog I read regularly has decided to leave the Church and follow after someone he considers to be a prophet of God. Part of the discussion in our Sunday School lesson centered around what it meant to be a prophet and I decided to share something that I had learned over a year ago.

One of the central scriptures in the lesson was Amos 3:7 which reads:
"Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets."
The entire discussion focused on other parts of the scripture until I share something I had learned from an article in the Mormon Interpreter by William Hamblin. The Hebrew word for secret in that verse is sôd (סוד). As Hamblin explains in his article,
"In its broader sense the Hebrew term sôd (סוד) means a confidential discussion, a secret or plan, a circle of confidants, or council. Nearly all scholars now agree that sôd, when used in relationship to God, refers to the heavenly council/sôd of God, which humans may sometimes visit to learn divine mysteries or obtain a prophetic message to deliver to humankind. The celestial members of this council are variously called the “host of heaven” (1 Kings 22:19), “gods” or “sons of God” (Ps. 82:1, 6), or “Holy Ones.” Sôd can refer to either the divine council itself or to the deliberative secret results of that council—that is the secret plans of the council—which a prophet is sometimes permitted to learn or to reveal to humankind. Only those who are part of the divine sôd/council know the sôd/secret plan, and only those who are given explicit permission may reveal that sôd to humankind."
I mentioned this idea to the class (in a much abbreviated form) and said that what sets prophets apart from everyone else, especially from false prophets, is that true prophets are part of the council and counsel of the Lord. Only true prophets can stand in the sôd and know what the Lord has planned for mankind. The prophet Jeremiah mentions the sôd when he denounces the false prophets of Judah who prophesied that Jerusalem would not be destroyed.
"16 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Do not listen to what the [false] prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. 17 They keep saying to those who despise me, ‘The Lord says: You will have peace.’ And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts they say, ‘No harm will come to you.’ 18 But which of them has stood in the council [sôd] of the Lord to see or to hear his word? Who has listened and heard his word?" (Jeremiah 23:16-18 NIV)
Jeremiah could say this because he had stood in the sôd of the Lord and had heard the Lord's sôd, and had been authorized to reveal the sôd to the people. When a prophet is called and allowed into the sôd he and only he is authorized to reveal the sôd to the people of God. There are some who are uncomfortable with the idea that a man will act as the intermediary between God and man, but that is the pattern that has been followed since Adam and will continue until the end of the earth. Not everyone in invited into the sôd of God, but everyone can receive a knowledge of the sôd.

Part of what brought this about and made me mention this in Sunday School (and now on my blog) was something written by the now former LDS blogger I mentioned at the beginning. He was convinced that there should be no intermediary between us and God when it comes to revelation, the priesthood, and our salvation. He felt that we should not be taught to "Follow the Prophet" since that placed a barrier between us and God and turned the prophet into a kind of idol that we were being commanded to worship.

His attitude and conclusions greatly saddened me because he was essentially turning away from the truth due to a misunderstanding. A misunderstanding that is not supported by anything the prophets themselves have said or done. It is like coming to the conclusion that Moses was not a prophet because the children of Israel were worshiping a golden calf. In the Church the counsel we receive from the prophets does not detract from our Christ centered lives, but rather it strengthens it and deepens it because the prophets have stood in the sôd of the Lord and know His sôd. In the Church when we say follow the prophet, we do not mean to follow a man and not follow Christ, but only to give heed to their counsel and teaching of the prophet because they have stood in the sôd of the Lord and can lead us in the way light and salvation.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Chiasmus in Numbers Chapter 8

Today while I was reading in Numbers I noticed a rather interesting chiastic structure in Chapter 8. I noticed it because at the beginning and end of the chapter are four verses of material seemingly unrelated to the rest of the chapter. Even though the four verses at the beginning and the four verses at the end are unrelated to each other, the fact that both of them were there in the chapter, and about the same length made me think, "Well that's unusually symmetric!"

Which immediately made me think, "Wait. Symmetric. This wasn't an accident there's structure to this chapter." And by noticing that structure it prompted me to look for more structure and then uncover a rich chiasmus that I never knew about. I did a cursoury search and I haven't found anyone who lists Numbers 8 as a chiasmus so I hope Biblical scholars haven't missed this rather interesting example of a chiastic structure.

The first four and the last four verses function as bookends to the main structure found in verses 5-22, and tie it in with the rest of the material. This chapter contains several pronunciations by the Lord to Moses as the Lord spoke to Moses from the mercy seat beginning in the last verse of chapter 7. The structure of the chiasmus is used in an intelligent way to not only report what the Lord said, but also to teach the symbolism of it.

Below I give a breakdown of the chiasmus found in Numbers 8. I use letters in brackets to indicate the different chiastic levels. Parallel words or phrases are underlined and important terms are highlighted (if you are reading this in Feedly then you may need to click through and read it on my blog to see the highlights). At the end I will explain why I highlighted certain passages. Verse numbers are preserved.

[Left Bookend]
1 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
2 Speak unto Aaron, and say unto him, When thou lightest the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light over against the candlestick.
3 And Aaron did so; he lighted the lamps thereof over against the candlestick, as the Lord commanded Moses.
4 And this work of the candlestick was of beaten gold, unto the shaft thereof, unto the flowers thereof, was beaten work: according unto the pattern which the Lord had shewed Moses, so he made the candlestick.

[A] 5 ¶And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
[B] 6 Take the Levites from among the children of Israel, and cleanse them.
[C] 7 And thus shalt thou do unto them, to cleanse them:
[D] Sprinkle water of purifying upon them, and let them shave all their flesh, and let them wash their clothes, and so make themselves clean.
[D'] 8 Then let them take a young bullock with his meat offering, even fine flour mingled with oil, and another young bullock shalt thou take for a sin offering.
[E] 9 And thou shalt bring the Levites before the tabernacle of the congregation: and thou shalt gather the whole assembly of the children of Israel together:
[E'] 10 And thou shalt bring the Levites before the Lord: and the children of Israel shall put their hands upon the Levites:
[F] 11 And Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord for an offering of the children of Israel, that they may execute the service of the Lord. 12 And the Levites shall lay their hands upon the heads of the bullocks: and thou shalt offer the one for a sin offering, and the other for a burnt offering, unto the Lord, to make an atonement for the Levites. 13 And thou shalt set the Levites before Aaron, and before his sons, and offer them for an offering unto the Lord.
[G] 14 Thus shalt thou separate the Levites from among the children of Israel:
[H] and the Levites shall be mine.
[I] 15 And after that shall the Levites go in to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation: and thou shalt cleanse them, and offer them for an offering. 16 For they are wholly given unto me from among the children of Israel;
[X] instead of such as open every womb, even instead of the firstborn of all the children of Israel,
[I] have I taken them unto me. 17 For all the firstborn of the children of Israel are mine, both man and beast: on the day that I smote every firstborn in the land of Egypt
[H] I sanctified them for myself.
[G] 18 And I have taken the Levites for all the firstborn of the children of Israel.
[F] 19 And I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and to his sons from among the children of Israel, to do the service of the children of Israel in the tabernacle of the congregation, and to make an atonement for the children of Israel: that there be no plague among the children of Israel, when the children of Israel come nigh unto the sanctuary.
[E] 20 And Moses, and Aaron, and all the congregation of the children of Israel, did to the Levites according unto all that the Lord commanded Moses concerning the Levites,
[E'] so did the children of Israel unto them.
[D] 21 And the Levites were purified, and they washed their clothes;
[D'] and Aaron offered them as an offering before the Lord; and Aaron made an atonement for them
[C] to cleanse them.
[B] 22 And after that went the Levites in to do their service in the tabernacle of the congregation before Aaron, and before his sons:
[A] as the Lord had commanded Moses concerning the Levites, so did they unto them.

[Right Bookend]
23 ¶And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
24 This is it that belongeth unto the Levites: from twenty and five years old and upward they shall go in to wait upon the service of the tabernacle of the congregation:
25 And from the age of fifty years they shall cease waiting upon the service thereof, and shall serve no more:
26 But shall minister with their brethren in the tabernacle of the congregation, to keep the charge, and shall do no service. Thus shalt thou do unto the Levites touching their charge.

By laying it out in this way we see the structure and purpose of the ceremony and the symbolism involved. The Lord explains his reason for having the Levites offered as an offering to Him. They are in place of all the firstborn (i.e. those who would inherit the birthright) of all of Israel. This shows that even though the children of Israel were saved from Egypt they did not lose their birthright. But it took an offering in place of their firstborn to keep their birthright.

Also what is interesting is at the inflection point (marked by [X]) there is a subtle shift in the language. Before the inflection point things are offered, given and done by the people ("Take the Levites", "thus shalt thou do", "Aaron shall offer", "thou shalt set", "Thus shalt thou separate", and "they are wholly given unto me"), but afterwards it is the Lord that takes, gives and does ("have I taken them unto me", "I sanctified them for myself", "I have taken", and "I have given"). This shows the two part structure of covenants, and the covenant people. The Levites are offered, the children of Israel perform acts and offer sacrifices, the priests and high priest (Aaron) offer, set and separate. But in the end it is the Lord who does, sanctifies, cleanses, and gives.

There are many other lessons that can be gleaned from this symbol rich chapter, but I will leave it here for now. Is there any thing that you noticed that is particularly striking? Perhaps some time I will break down [F] and show the correlation between the different offerings and the corresponding verses later on.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Priesthood Authority and the Concept of Stewardship

I met a man once who said that before he did anything he would say "Si Dios quiere" [God willing]. He explained that if he said that and God did not want him to do it then he would instantly be struck down, because God didn't want him to do that. This included every mundane thing he would do such as leaving his house to walk down the street. In every aspect of his life he claimed that he would say "Si Dios quiere" in order to receive validation for all of his actions no matter how mundane they be. You can see the obvious problem with this because it essentially justifies everything he does, no matter how immoral it may be, because if God doesn't strike him down then "God wills it." It essentially turns God into a rubber stamp to validate whatever that man does, be it immoral or just normal mundane life decisions like what to have for breakfast.

The problem with that way of thinking is that it removes the possibility of free will. While there are some Christians who may argue that we do not have moral agency, or the ability to choose right from wrong, this is not true for Latter-day Saints. From an LDS perspective the ability for us to choose is fundamental to our identity. As the Lord told Enoch:
"Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;" (Moses 7:32)

The idea that we are free to choose what we are to do is also reinforced in the Book of Mormon when Samuel the Lamanite stated,
"For behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free." (Helaman 14:30)
This statement is by no means the only one in the Book of Mormon that makes it clear that we can act for ourselves. In more modern revelation we are told,
"All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence. Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light." (D&C 93:30-31)
 In talking about the Constitution of the United States a revelation tells us that it was established,
"That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment." (D&C 101:78)
Whenever members of the Church teach about the Plan of Salvation we mention that before the world was created, we, as spirit children of God, were given the choice to follow God and Jesus Christ or to follow Satan. The crux of Satan's plan, and the reason why we ultimately rejected it, was that it would take away our agency, or ability to choose. As explained in the Book of Moses,
Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down; And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice. (Moses 4:3-4)
Given the strong language surrounding our ability to act (i.e. "otherwise there is no existence") from an LDS perspective we cannot get around that fact that we have our agency and it cannot be taken away. Many if not all members of the Church would acknowledge our ability to choose and act for ourselves and we would never think about applying the unreasonable standard of Divine oversight into all of our decisions as presented by the man I mentioned at the beginning. We may say it is silly for that man to always say, "Si Dios quiere", before he does anything and then expect God to either validate his decision through inaction or express His Divine disagreement by killing him. But what we may not realize is that while we would be repulsed by the thought of applying this standard pf Divine oversight to ourselves, we regularly apply it to the prophet and apostles and sometimes to all the leaders of the Church. Basically we have a modified version of "Si Dios quiere" that only applies to prophets and apostles. We think that if the prophet were to take one step out of line then, "Zap!" he's dead.

This is commonly the image that is brought up whenever anyone quotes Wilford Woodruff when he said,
"I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty." (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham [1946], 212–13.
It seems that whenever this quote is brought up people, both inside and outside the Church, use it as proof that God personally reviews and approves everything every prophet says and if they will say something that is a product of the prophet's culture and limited personal understanding (or something that is "false" as the critics would say), then "Zap!" the prophet dies. This is the idea that if Brigham Young, or Joseph Smith, or any other prophet says something then whatever they said must be taken as absolutely true. No exceptions. Because God reviews each and every single decision, statement and action of the prophets (and apostles), and if anything is found to be out of line then, "Zap!", we have a new prophet.

The problem with this is that it removes all possibility of free will on the part of the prophet or apostle. Unfortunately it is not just critics of the Church who hold this position but also faithful members of the Church who hold this position. We strenuously defend our personal agency but when it comes to Church leaders we sometimes fail to see that they have the same measure of agency and freedom that we do.

So how do we reconcile the fact that Church leaders have their free will and God does not use the "Zap!" method of Divine oversight with the fact that the same Church leaders can speak authoritatively for God and can determine the practices, policies, and administration of the Church? In order to understand how these things can be reconciled we need to understand how priesthood authority is related to the concept of stewardship.

As the Lord explains in one revelation,
"It is wisdom in me; therefore, a commandment I give unto you, that ye shall organize yourselves and appoint every man his stewardship; That every man may give an account unto me of the stewardship which is appointed unto him. For it is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures." (D&C 104:11-14)
In the wisdom of the Lord He does not micromanage all the affairs of His kingdom. He gives stewardships to His servants and they are given the charge and authority necessary to fulfill the task assigned to them. The Lord sets the bounds of His stewardships ("All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it") and expects His servants to make wise decisions regarding the things placed in their charge.

In the Book of Matthew we find the parable of the talents, which is applicable to our current discussion.
"For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.... After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.... For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath." (Matthew 25:14-30)
The lord of the servants did not personally oversee and approve each decision of his servants. As a matter of fact he left them alone and only afterwards did he demand an accounting of them. The Lord uses the same method to govern His Church today. Each Church leader is given his keys, authority and commission in an orderly and clearly defined way and is expected to act in such a way that the kingdom of God is made to increase and be firmly established. As the Lord explains in another modern revelation,
"I, the Lord, have appointed them, and ordained them to be stewards over the revelations and commandments which I have given unto them, and which I shall hereafter give unto them; And an account of this stewardship will I require of them in the day of judgment. Wherefore, I have appointed unto them, and this is their business in the church of God, to manage them and the concerns thereof, yea, the benefits thereof." (D&C 70:3-5)
The pattern that the Lord uses, and has used in all ages of man on the earth, is to give His word (or in same cases His Word) to man, and the revelations and commandments constitute a basic document which set the bounds of the stewardships given to His servants. I should emphasize that all decisions must be kept within the bounds that the Lord has set. We, including the Church leaders, do not choose the content of the revelations nor the conditions of the covenants we are under.

This gives both us and the Church leaders an incredible amount of freedom, and a corresponding amount of responsibility, in what we can do with the kingdom of God. The key to remember here is that the decisions regarding administration of the kingdom should be made by those who hold or are delegated the necessary keys, or power of the priesthood. If there are no specific instructions or prohibitions in the revelations then those who hold and exercise the priesthood keys are free to make decisions according to their wisdom and understanding.

These decisions may range from setting the minimum age at which young men can receive the priesthood, to giving advice about proper and modest attire, to determining how tithing money is to be used. In all these things those who are given these stewardships will be held accountable for their actions ("an account of this stewardship will I require of them in the day of judgment"), but their ability to make decisions, and even mistakes, will not be taken away from them.

Just as God was willing to send us to earth to learn by our own experience to know the good from the evil, and that freedom is not abridged for us, those who are call to be leaders in the Church are not somehow a class apart to which the laws of agency do not apply. They are also free in the sphere or stewardship in which they are placed.

Quite frequently the imagery of the Church as a bride and our Savior as the Bridegroom is used to explain the relation between Christ and His Church. In this sense we, as members of the Church, covenant to hearken to Christ and keep His commandments as He hearkens to the Father. This relationship is reflected in the structure of the priesthood. None of us access the things of God by ourselves, not even the commandments, covenants, ordinances or revelations, but are dependent on another, be it priesthood leader or angel we are all dependent on an intermediary. This method is not an accident because as Alma taught,
"These ordinances were given after this manner, that thereby the people might look forward on the Son of God, it being a type of his order, or it being his order, and this that they might look forward to him for a remission of their sins, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord." (Alma 13:16)
It is done in this way to show unto us our weaknesses that we may learn that we are dependent on Christ for our salvation.

Now there may be some who would feel uncomfortable knowing that their Church leaders do not actually operate under the "Zap!" system of Divine oversight, or that their Church leaders may say something that is not 100% historically correct, or is informed by the biases and prejudices of their day. But God does not choose perfect people to be His prophets, but He does choose those who will do what is asked of them. If we are concerned that the prophets and apostles may tell us to do things to our detriment, then we should realize that this is precisely why we need to have faith in God. There are ways to judge whether or not a prophet is a true prophet or not, and we should seek our own confirmation (God is not interested in having blind followers), but ultimately we must choose to follow God and His stewards.

Now God does not leave his servants entirely to themselves. He does offer counsel (His name is "Man of Counsel" after all, not "Man of 'I make mindless, free-will-deprived, automatons out of my prophets'") and provide direction but everything else is left up to the stewards to decide. This means that sometimes God will correct his servants, but He will decide when, how and what needs to be corrected.

So what is there for us to do? How are we to live our lives? What will all this look like with each member of the Church having dominion over their own stewardship? Well, it will look, function and work exactly like it does not, but without the perception that Church leaders somehow lose their free will when they become Church leaders. God does not operate under the "Zap!" system, but He does counsel His servants in all they do. And for everyone, whether or not we are a Church leader or "just a member" we are all given the same charge,
"Behold, this is your work, to keep my commandments, yea, with all your might, mind and strength." (D&C 11:20)
[End note: I am well enough aware that this will not answer every question someone may have in regards to priesthood authority, and I am sure that some will judge it to be woefully inadequet, but it will answer some questions. There are other things to consider, such as priesthood keys and how they work, charity, both for other Church members and for Church leaders, especially for Church leaders. I find that most of the problems that critics of the Church, both within and without, have with Church leaders stems from uncharitable feelings towards Church leaders or a failure to humbly consider that we are all in this together and that they too are called to make mistakes so that they can learn by their own experience. This does not mean that whatever they do is good and above reproach, but if there is to be reproof, it needs to be done charitably and with tenderness.]

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Reapplying the Basics

When I was finishing up my undergrad degree I was part of a group of physics majors that had spent several years doing our homework together and studying for every test. One night someone observed that in all of our physics classes that we had taken we had learned nothing new since taking the first four introductory classes.

After some point we had not been taught any new physics. Our classes simply consisted of learning new ways of applying the same basic principles to ever more complex problems. Even today with my research I am not using a different set of basic principles. I am just applying the same basic principles to extremely complex situations.

To someone who is just starting their education it can be hard to see that the more complex problems are simply a different manifestation of the same basic principles and not a complete change of basis. Sometimes those who get too deep into the complex problems lose sight of the basic principles and are surprised when basic principles suddenly pop out of complex problems.

In my experience, both in my own personal gospel education and observing others who struggle with problems, the two things that cause more problems than anything else is either forgetting basic principles when confronted with a difficult problem or failing to see that the things that we don't understand can be solved by applying basic principles. On the one side if the fault of "knowing too much" and on the other the fault of "not knowing enough".

We can get too obsessed with complex that we lose sight of the basics and dismiss them, and we can fail to see how basic principles apply to complex situations and judge them to be inadequate and dismiss them.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Keys of the Priesthood Held In the Church


Almost four years ago I wrote a post about the keys of the priesthood. Since then the post has generated a bit of traffic to my blog. But ever since the talk given by Elder Oaks in the last conference I have noticed a significant increase in visits to that post. I have continued to think about what I wrote and prompted by the increase in visitors and also by the lesson that I had in my Elder's Quorum meeting last week I thought I should expand on what I wrote several years ago.

If we are to understand priesthood keys perhaps a good place to start is what is a priesthood key. Then we must know what priesthood keys we have in the Church and finally we can look into how the keys are held and used, including who holds them and how that impacts the individual members of the Church. I will also address the question of whether or not the Church has all the priesthood keys and if not which ones we do not have and what that means for us as members.

What are Priesthood Keys?

Priesthood keys are the power, or ability, and authority to perform certain actions using the priesthood. Without the keys no actions using the priesthood can be done. All things technically can be done by the Melchizedek priesthood but without an enumeration of powers which are allowed (i.e. keys) then nothing can be done. The keys effectively enumerate what priesthood holders are allowed to do. Additionally the one who holds the keys can determine how these powers are to be used. In some cases the powers are very general, but in others the powers are specific.

In order for anyone to do anything by the power of the priesthood then the priesthood keys need to be operative. That is, there needs to be a priesthood holder somewhere who holds the keys and allows the corresponding powers to be used in order for the keys to work. As pointed out in the recent General Conference talk given by Elder Oaks those who act under the authority of the priesthood, that is, under the authority of the priesthood keys, do not necessarily have to hold the priesthood. The ability to perform a work through the priesthood needs to originate with those who have the keys but once he who holds the keys allows it then any who are commissioned may do the work whether they have the priesthood or not. As an example, the priesthood key that controls the preaching of the gospel can be exercised by any man or woman called of God to preach the gospel. There is no restriction on who can be commissioned to preach the gospel as long as they do so under the direction (that is, in the manner proscribed by) of the one who holds the keys.

There are some restrictions on the powers associated with the individual priesthood keys and this is inherent to the power associated with that key. For example, the power to baptize is a priesthood key given to the Aaronic Priesthood. While this power can be given widely it is by its nature restricted to those who men who hold the priesthood and are of the office of a priest. This means that those who hold the key of baptism can authorize any priesthood holder to baptize but they cannot authorize a non-priesthood holder to baptize. They do not have the authority to change that any more than a police officer can appoint a judge to the bench.

While many men in the Church are given the priesthood they can do nothing with it if it is not allowed by those who hold the corresponding keys. Those priesthood holders who hold the keys can commission those with the priesthood to perform the actions that are restricted to priesthood holders and they can commission anyone and everyone else to act under the power of the priesthood regardless of whether they hold the priesthood or even if they are a baptized member of the Church.

The Listed Keys

There are a few priesthood keys that are explicitly mentioned in the Doctrine and Covenants. I will give a listing of them below. This list is by no means exhaustive for reasons I will explain in the next section.

The Keys of the Aaronic Priesthood (D&C 13 and D&C 107:20)
  • Ministering of angels
  • Ministering of the gospel of repentance
  • Administer baptism by immersion for the remission of sins
  • Administer in outward ordinances
  • Administer the letter of the gospel
The Keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood (D&C 107:18-19)

  • The sealing and binding power (D&C 128:14, D&C 110:13-16)
  • The keys of the kingdom (D&C 81:2)
  • Spiritual blessings
  • The privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven
  • To have the heavens opened
  • To commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn
  • To enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant
  • The keys of the Book of Mormon (D&C 27:5)
  • The keys of Elias, which are the keys of the restoration of all things (D&C 27:6, D&C 110:12)
  • The keys of the gathering of Israel (D&C 110:11)
  • The key of knowledge

Some of these are just different names for the same thing. While there is a definite difference in some of these keys, and as such they required different prophets to return to restore the keys (see D&C 110), there are others that are simply different aspects of the same power and authority. Before we even try to break down the keys categorically we should first seek a healthy dose of divine inspiration and understanding. In the end I think the distinction between the different keys will be less important than the actual working of the keys.

Keys Not Mentioned

There are a few keys that are not mentioned but are mentioned in passing in the Doctrine and Covenants as having been received from specific people yet what those keys are was not spelled out in the Doctrine and Covenants. I am not enough of a scholar of the writings of Joseph Smith to know if he added a few more keys to the list of priesthood keys that we know he received. If anyone has any information on that that they are willing to share with me I would be greatly appreciative.

In D&C 128:21 Joseph Smith mentions Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and "divers angels" as declaring their keys yet unlike Moses, Elias, and Elijah the powers associated with their keys are not explicitly given. If we are to know what those particular powers were we must either find out if Joseph Smith wrote anything else about the keys of Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and the others, and failing that it is up to the current President of the Church, who holds the keys of "receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven", to explain those things. Anything anyone else says, while possibly informative, is still just their own understanding (even if it is inspired and true, it is not authoritative).

In addition to the keys alluded to, there are a few keys that we know of that we know that the Church does not have. As Elder Oaks mentioned in his talk of priesthood keys, "At general conference many years ago, President Spencer W. Kimball reminded us that there are other priesthood keys that have not been given to man on the earth, including the keys of creation and resurrection." I might add to this the keys of Eternal Life, and the keys of Adam. Far from being a problem for the Church this is part of the pattern of heaven where all things are revealed in their season, line upon line, until we come to a perfect understanding. Any of claim that the Church is deficient or apostate due to the loss of keys indicates a severe lack of understanding regarding priesthood keys.

There is one more key that I wish to mention briefly here and will devote an entire section to it below, and that is the key of the Patriarchal priesthood. This priesthood, among other things, is mentioned in the Book of Abraham in the first four verses. It seems that this priesthood key was the key given to Adam. It is not clear that this key is in operation in the Church today for reasons which I will explain below.

Practical Explanation of Keys

Now that we have laid the ground work I think a practical explanation of priesthood keys is in order. I don't know how my Elder's Quorum President, Stake President and Bishop feel about being mentioned by name on my blog so I will just refer to them "my Bishop", "my Stake President" and "my Elder's Quorum President".

In my ward (and all other wards in the Church) there are three key people (hehe, pun) who hold all the local priesthood keys, my Stake President, my Bishop and my Elder's Quorum President. My Stake President is the local president of the High Priesthood and as such holds all the keys given to him by the general authority who set him apart. Just what keys were given to him depends on what keys the President of the Church was willing to delegate to the general authorities, who would in turn delegate to the Stake President. For example, I don't think my Stake President was given the keys of the Book of Mormon, yet he was given the keys of the kingdom* (*for the area of the world known as the Durham, North Carolina Stake). He also was not given the keys of sealing, but as presiding High Priest he was given the keys of the Aaronic priesthood.

If President Monson wanted to delegate, say, the keys of the Book of Mormon to Stake Presidents then he could do that, though I see no evidence of that having been done in an active way (see the section on passive vs. active use of keys below for further discussion on this). So some keys, particularly the keys of the kingdom were given to my Stake President to hold and to exercise within the bounds of his Stake. It is his stewardship in the Kingdom. As the presiding High Priest he has the keys to call, ordain and set apart Bishops. There was a time when Bishops had to be called, ordained and set apart by a general authority, that is that aspect of the keys of the kingdom were not delegated to stake presidents, but as the Church grew it became impractical for general authorities to ordain all Bishops so that power was delegated to the local presiding High Priest (though Bishops must still be approved by a general authority). The prerogative to extend that power or key rests solely on the President of the Church. He can extend that decision making ability and he can rescind it.

Because my Stake President has the keys of the kingdom that means that he can personally run every part of the Church, or he can choose to delegate that power to others. The extent that he delegates or keeps that power is up to him. It would be wise to delegate that power to others, but it technically is not required. As previously mentioned there are some powers that he cannot delegate to just anyone, but there are others that he can. What ever power he delegates carries with it the full power of the priesthood regardless of whether or not the person receiving the power holds the priesthood.

My Bishop receives his keys from the Stake President and as Bishop holds the keys of the Aaronic priesthood listed above. This means that he sets the terms for all the outward ordinances of the gospel. As an example I once had to miss sacrament meeting for another meeting with my Stake President. Because I still felt a desire to partake of the sacrament I approached my Bishop and asked if I could have that done outside of Church. As the holder of the keys he could determine when and where the sacrament would be administered. He quite rightly explained that he felt that he could not authorize me partaking of the sacrament just for having missed it for a meeting with the Stake President. He explained that he did not want to provide an exception to the rule because he did not want anyone to get the idea that they could miss sacrament meeting and then just take it later. But what he did do was authorize me to go over the sacramental covenants in my mind and reaffirm them. That act, because it was authorized by one who held the keys, was of as much efficacy as if I had partaken of the sacrament during sacrament meeting. The key is it was authorized (as a side note, if anyone tries to abuse this power then He who holds all the keys will not take kindly to it).

My Elder's Quorum President holds the keys of the kingdom pertaining to my part in the quorum. These keys he receives from the Stake President, not the Bishop. The Bishop only holds the keys of the Aaronic priesthood an as such cannot give or rescind the keys associated with the Melchizedek priesthood. Only my Elder's Quorum President has the authority to exercise the relevant priesthood keys. He has the authority to extend those powers to his quorum or restrict them. Because I am an active member of the Elder's quorum I have access to the keys of the priesthood if I were not an active member then my access to the power of the priesthood keys would be restricted. Because my Elder's Quorum President holds the keys of the kingdom I am allowed to give priesthood blessings to my family. I cannot give them by virtue of my being the father and husband in the home.

The keys of the priesthood delegated to the local Church leaders do not include the patriarchal keys, nor were they conferred on me when I got married. I was sealed by the sealing power but I was not given the patriarchal keys. So my ability to give priesthood blessings to my family is entirely predicated on the fact that my Elder's Quorum President (or Stake President if I were a high priest) holds the keys of the kingdom as part of his stewardship. Generally the exercise of the keys governing priesthood blessings is not restricted, except for disfellowshiping or excommunication, but in theory it could be restricted. This means that my Elder's Quorum President could restrict the members of his quorum in giving priesthood blessings either entirely or without his express permission. But because he doesn't want to get a phone call every time one of his elders needs to give a blessing that power or key is delegated passively to his quorum.

This brings us to the concept of passive vs. active use of priesthood keys.

Passive vs. Active Use of Keys

Some priesthood keys are held actively while others are held passively. I could also phrase it as the keys are held tightly vs. loosely. Keys that are held actively are restricted to certain people. In some instances those keys are only delegated personally by the one who holds the keys. The keys of the sealing power are one example of this. They are only delegated from the Church president to individual sealers, and even then the power to use them is only given to temple presidents. In this case is anyone wanted to use the sealing power they would actively need to seek out someone who held those keys and get them to actively take part in the use of those keys. This is why I refer to it as the active use of the keys. If anything is to be done with the keys then the one who holds them must act.

On the other hand there are some priesthood keys that are held passively. The power to give priesthood blessings is a priesthood key that is help passively by either the Elder's Quorum President or Stake President. It is passive in the sense that they do not need to do anything or even be aware of the fact that the key is operative in order for priesthood holders to exercise it. It is possible for them to change the key from being passive to being active, or change it from loose control to tight control. If this were to happen then all the members of an Elder's quorum or a Stake would need to seek out the permission of whomever held the keys in order to give a blessing. But generally we do not do this in the Church.

Then there are keys which are mixed. For example, the keys of "receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" are passive and are held loosely by local leaders. As long as my Elder's Quorum President is still breathing that key is still operative for me. I can receive whatever revelation God is willing to give me. My Elder's Quorum President does not even have to be aware of the fact that he holds that key for me to allow it to be operative. Just like other keys he can restrict it or actively extend it. This includes the keys of enjoying the "presence of God the Father, and Jesus". In the temple this is possible but in order for it to happen my Elder's Quorum President, or Stake President depending, needs to hold those keys. They can restrict them or even extend them (to you Elder's Quorum Presidents and Stake Presidents, think of that! You can extend the power to others to see God and Jesus Christ! Granted you can only do that as long as the power is held passively by the Church President. If he chooses to restrict it then there is nothing you can do, but as far as I know he has not done that.). But without any restriction on that key then it remains operative to the individual members and they can enjoy that blessing while attending the temple.

But these keys are mixed, which means that while the ability to receive the mysteries of the kingdom is passive and open to anyone who has the gift of the Holy Ghost, they cannot teach those things understood by the Spirit as authoritative without the express permission of the presiding High Priest. In almost all cases the presiding High Priest holds that particular power very tightly but there are a few instances where it has been delegated to others. So while you or I could receive all sorts of understanding and revelation, if it is not taught by the presiding High Priest then we do not have the authority to teach it as doctrine and in many cases we cannot teach it at all (see D&C 28:2-7 and  D&C 43).

Another example of a mixed key is the key of baptism. In the wards the key is held tightly, and is actively delegated. Anyone looking to baptize their eight year old child must first receive the permission of the Bishop. On the other had missionaries are under no such restriction except when their Mission President instructs them otherwise. Missionaries have the power to do many things, from baptizing and giving the Holy Ghost, to organizing branches and districts and all of this is held loosely. Generally the Mission President will restrict these powers to some degree but the control is loose and missionaries have passive access to many of the keys normally held by Bishops and Elder's Quorum Presidents. So while some keys are tightly held in the wards the missionaries are given loose control of the same keys.

The Keys of the Patriarchal Priesthood

Now I wish to address one final priesthood key that is occasionally mentioned in the Church but is at best poorly understood. What is perhaps so interesting about this particular key is that many men assume they have it even though I know of no evidence to indicate that the men in the Church hold this key. I certainly have never received this key through the laying on of hands. The key I am referring to I shall call the Patriarchal key of the Patriarchal priesthood.

Generally speaking the patriarchal priesthood is like all the other keys of the priesthood except that it extends the power of the priesthood out of the Church and into the home. "But wait!" you may reply. "Don't we teach that the priesthood should be in the home?" Well, yes we do, but the difference is that the priesthood should be in the home to bless those members of the family who are also members of the Church. This is part of the passive keys that I talked about above. The ability to bless the sick and to give blessings of counsel and comfort are all done by the priesthood, and as such need the authority of priesthood keys to be operative, yet there is no special authority given to the father or any other priesthood holder in the family that gives them additional authority or power in the family.

In a General Conference talk given in 2005 Elder Oaks told a story about how he thought that holding the priesthood mean that he had authority in his family, including authority over his mother. He relates his experience like this:
"My father died when I was seven. I was the oldest of three small children our widowed mother struggled to raise. When I was ordained a deacon, she said how pleased she was to have a priesthood holder in the home. But Mother continued to direct the family, including calling on which one of us would pray when we knelt together each morning. I was puzzled. I had been taught that the priesthood presided in the family. There must be something I didn't know about how that principle worked."
Elder Oaks then went on to explain how the priesthood, and priesthood keys operate differently in the Church than they do in the family.

"When my father died, my mother presided over our family. She had no priesthood office, but as the surviving parent in her marriage she had become the governing officer in her family. At the same time, she was always totally respectful of the priesthood authority of our bishop and other Church leaders. She presided over her family, but they presided over the Church...." 
"There are many similarities and some differences in the way priesthood authority functions in the family and in the Church. If we fail to recognize and honor the differences, we encounter difficulties.
"One important difference between its function in the Church and in the family is the fact that all priesthood authority in the Church functions under the direction of the one who holds the appropriate priesthood keys. In contrast, the authority that presides in the family—whether father or single-parent mother—functions in family matters without the need to get authorization from anyone holding priesthood keys...." 
"However, priesthood keys are necessary to authorize the ordaining or setting apart of family members. This is because the organization the Lord has made responsible for the performance and recording of priesthood ordinances is the Church, not the family."
The keys of the priesthood, and hence all the power and authority of the priesthood, that is the power to act, direct, counsel, and bless, only are operative in the Church according to the rules, laws, policies and procedures of the Church. The authority to direct the family is not derived from the priesthood, nor does the priesthood or priesthood keys give additional authority to any priesthood holders in the home. While the priesthood keys may contain the authority to seal a family for eternity, it does not have the power to give the father or any other priesthood holder additional authority than that which they have by virtue of being the father.

There is a mistaken idea among some Church members that because the hold the priesthood, and because we teach that the priesthood should preside in the home, they have additional power and authority given to them not available to other fathers. This idea is patently false. Neither I nor any other priesthood holder I know has ever had hands laid upon their head and given the keys of the patriarchal priesthood (if you have, well let me know! But make sure you have the priesthood through the proper channels!). The idea that because men have the priesthood they have an additional measure of authority in their family is something that I call "Big Man" priesthood.

The image that comes to my mind when I refer to the Big Man priesthood is the family of someone I once knew. One time his family came to visit our ward and instantly I could tell that his father practiced the doctrine of Big Man priesthood. He sat in the middle of his large family, flanked by his priesthood holding sons. While the father was there his family moved together as a unit under his direction. I suspected that he considered himself to be like the patriarchs of old who commanded their children, and he could do it because he had the priesthood.

While it is admirable and desirable for a father to direct and keep his children in the way of truth, he should never conflate the power and authority derived through the keys of the priesthood with the innate authority he has as father to his children. The keys of the priesthood that are operative in the Church only extend to matters dealing with the Church, its ordinances, and spiritual blessings, and does not provide additional authority to a father in his family.

Passing the Keys

The final item I feel I should address is how priesthood keys are transmitted, and whether or not the previous key holder continues to hold the keys. All keys, as are all callings, blessings and gifts in the Church, are given by the key holder laying his hands on the head of the one receiving the keys. Generally specific keys are not mentioned when this is done, but rather a blanket statement of "All the keys, authority, privilege and power pertaining to this office and calling". If specific keys are given, such as when a temple sealer or temple president is set apart, then those keys would be specifically mentioned.

It should be noted that when keys are passed to another priesthood holder they are not given up by the one passing them, though their ability to exercise those keys may fall dormant. For example, when a Stake President sets apart a Bishop all the keys of the Aaronic priesthood for that ward pass to the Bishop and the Stake President will no longer exercise those keys, but he will not relinquish them. The Bishop can exercise those keys and administer the outward ordinances for the ward or empower others to do so. The Stake President still holds those same keys but they are dormant, which means he does not exercise them while the Bishop is still acting as Bishop. This is done because the Lord and the Church respects the stewardships of those who are given the keys and also so that there is order and not confusion in how things are done.

So while the priesthood holder who is currently authorized to hold the keys may use them that does not mean that the one who gave them the keys has lost them. This also means that the one who gave the keys can revoke them because they still hold them, even if they are dormant. What this means is that a Stake President can release a Bishop, but to call a new one he still needs permission from a higher authority. So there may be a situation where there is no Bishop and they can't call a new one, but the ward will still function since High Priests can function as Bishops, hence the High Priest group leader in the ward will act as the Bishop without being set apart and given the keys, but the scriptures make it clear that they should be set apart to do this. So the High Priest group leader acting as Bishop should only be temporary.

For the most part someone who holds the keys to a certain calling cannot pass those keys onto another priesthood holder. Hence a Bishop cannot ordain another Bishop, a Stake President cannot set apart another Stake President etc. This is because their keys do not come by virtue of their office but are given to them temporarily. Also when they are released they no longer hold the keys. Hence a Bishop who is released will remain a Bishop in his priesthood, but he will hold no keys. If he is called again to be a Bishop he must be set apart and given the keys but does not need to be ordained again.

But in the case of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the First Quorum of the Seventy as a group each one forms a body that holds all the keys that the others do. Thus an unanimous decision by the First Presidency can be taken to ordain another Apostle. If there is no First Presidency then the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles can ordain other Apostles. If there is no Quorum of the Twelve Apostles then the First Quorum of the Seventy can ordain Apostles. The decisions of these quorums must be unanimous, so no single member can ordain another to a position in the quorum nor give them the keys. These three quorums hold all of the keys given to the Church, though the President of the Church is the only one who can exercise, delegate or restrict the keys at any given time.

There is also a curious case where technically the counselors in the First Presidency do not have to be Apostles, which means that when the President dies and the First Presidency is dissolved the remaining members of the First Presidency no longer hold any priesthood keys, unless they are Apostles. If they are not Apostles and are just High Priests then on the death of the Church President they no longer can use the priesthood keys, nor can they join the Apostles in ordaining new Apostles or organizing a new First Presidency. This is an important point to know in order to understand some episodes in Church history.

So to sum up, local Church leaders cannot pass keys to someone of equal authority (i.e. Bishop to Bishop), only to those who are under them in authority (Stake President to Bishop). General Authorities cannot individually pass keys to another but only when the decision is made unanimously as a quorum. Also a a quorum they all hold the same keys that the other quorums hold. When keys are delegated to another they do not give them up, but they no longer will use them (hence the whole point of delegation).


When I started writing this I did not intend it to become so long, but I just kept writing and it turned into this. There were a few things that motivated me to write this (no I will not link to them since they are a bit contentious or apostate), and it is also something that Elder Oaks recently addressed in General Conference. So while this part is labeled "Conclusion" in this section I will now explain what priesthood keys are and it (hopefully) will now make sense. It just takes a lot of preparation and background to set it up. So here goes.

Priesthood keys are the authority from God to do certain things (see list above). For any given point in time and any one place there is always one person and only one person authorized to use the keys since all things must be done in order. Others may hold the keys but they act under the direction of the one who uses them. All keys can be delegated and those keys can be used generally by either the priesthood or all members (passive keys) while other keys are held tightly and require the permission of the one who holds the keys (active keys). Whether or not a certain key is passive or active depends on the decision of the key holder since he is the steward of those keys.

Some keys are restricted to priesthood holders since they involve the ordinances of the Church, while others have no such restriction. When someone is given a commission through the priesthood keys their actions, work and calling carry with it the full weight of priesthood authority even if they do not hold the priesthood. This means that both women and men can act with the authority of the priesthood, but neither women nor men can do so without permission from the one who holds the keys.

The Church is authorized through the keys to do many things (see list above) but there are a few things that we do not hold the keys for, such as resurrection and eternal life. We also should not confuse priesthood keys with familial authority. The Church may seal families but it does not give authority to family members in their respective positions in the family.

There is no divine authority outside of the priesthood. Without the keys of the priesthood we cannot do the work of God. We must have the keys and they must be exercised in the proper manner under the direction and authority of the one who holds the keys.

Let me know what you think.