A Mormon Introduction to Mormonism
My name is Revan Filiaexdeus. I’m a former chairperson for the Hampton Institute and an activist with the Zion movement. I am also a self-identifying Mormon and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, without adjectives. This paper is adapted from a discussion I began with members of the Community of Christ (formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). This paper is an invitation to all who identify as Mormon, regardless of organizational affiliation or belief.
For those readers who may not be intimately familiar with Mormonism, Mormon belief, and Mormon culture, go ahead and discard that image of a white-shirted-and-black-tied missionary that’s sure to be buzzing around your head at the first mention of the word “Mormon”, thanks to South Park and the hit Broadway musical The Book of Mormon. Even among the “peculiar people” that Mormons are, I am peculiar. I am a hitchhiker, a spiritual and religious unitarian, an activist, an anarchist, and an author.
Still, none of this makes me any less Mormon.
We Mormons truly are a peculiar people. We have been aware of this since the beginning and have used that term to refer to ourselves many times throughout the ages. These days, Mormon is as much a cultural affiliation as it is a religious identification, much in the same way that Richard Dawkins even as a militant atheist can refer to himself as a “cultural Christian”, the obvious oxymormon notwithstanding.
Each of the Restoration congregations identify our beginnings with a man named Joseph Smith, Jr. and with the Church of Christ he founded in Palmyra, NY in 1829. We believe that this Church is the only true Church of Christ from which many branches have descended, in that we have the fullness of the Good News of the Kingdom of God - commonly called by it’s Greek name, the Gospel - that Catholics, Protestants, and other faithful possess only in part.
In our beginnings in Palmyra / Manchester, NY 1829, we recognized only three really basic things: that God was with us as Father, Son, and Spirit; that the Book of Mormon was the revealed word of God; and that Joseph Smith, Jr. was called as a prophet of God in these latter days. We had a hope that God would reveal to us more truth in time and continue to lead us individually and as a Church through Joseph.
Because of this common beginning, in this discussion I am going to use the terms Restorationist, Latter Day Saint, and Mormon interchangeably, all with the same meaning: a believer in these three very simple principles. Anything else you believe in addition to it does not make you any more or less Mormon.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no singular “Mormon Church”, in the sense that a church is a human organization. I have been, at various times, a member of the Salt Lake City-based Church that is the most easily recognizable face of the Mormon community, as well as of the Community of Christ and various Restoration Branches. During my time living in Jackson County, MO, I became intimately familiar with the true breadth of belief, devotion, and dialogue among people that call themselves "Mormon" or "Saint" or "Restorationist".
Since then, I've encountered such exciting things as Reform Mormonism - perhaps the freest-thinking and most left-wing of any Mormon organization - and the Apostolic United Brethren, a currently practicing and transparent polygamist organization very different from the infamous FLDS Church.
What does it truly mean to be a Mormon, Restorationist, a Latter Day Saint? I have come to understand it just as Joseph Smith, Jr. put it, that "truth is Mormonism; God is the author of it".
What, then, is Mormonism? Again, from Joseph Smith: "Mormonism is the pure doctrine of Jesus Christ, of which I am not ashamed".
And from the Book of Mormon, the book of 3 Nephi 11:30-41:
30 Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.
31 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, I will declare unto you my doctrine.
32 And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.
33 And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.
34 And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned.
35 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.
36 And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one.
37 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.
38 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.
39 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
40 And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.
41 Therefore, go forth unto this people, and declare the words which I have spoken, unto the ends of the earth.
Brother Joseph summed up this bit eloquently in these sentences: "The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it ... one of the grand fundamentals of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may."
In my own words, I sum up essential Mormonism as the whole and complete truth of Jesus Christ as revealed to us in whatever way He chooses, in whatever ways we understand. The Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith are appendages of our faith, because they both endlessly testified of Him, His atonement, and His resurrection.
The Mormons of Joseph Smith’s day were absolutely radical. We rejected all worldly authority that seemed to oppose God’s will. Our lives were continually sought as we fled first from New York to Ohio, and then to Missouri, Illinois, and eventually the territory that would become the state of Utah. Most early Mormons, including Joseph Smith and his family, were extremely poor and joined the Church with little more than a hope that God’s will would see them through. By-and-by, the very fact that the Church survived until Joseph’s death and beyond would seem as a miracle to those witnessing it.
We believed in the fundamental principles of the United States Constitution as being ordained and blessed by God Himself, and to violate any of the essential liberties promised to all Americans is to violate God’s will. We believed in things like communal living, in the destruction of poverty through free will charity, in accepting anyone and everyone into our fold who were in need. We believed that we could look beyond a book of scripture, move beyond our differences, and each speak to God for ourselves; to hear His will individually and collectively, and each of us say, “Yes! I am Zion!”
Unfortunately, many of us have lost this sense of radicalism.
Like many Christians of other flavors - admittedly, this is not only a Christian problem, but something that has plagued all religion from time immemorial - we have fought amongst ourselves over points of doctrine. We have not remembered the words of Christ, that “no one can do a good work in My name and then curse me ... whoever is not against us is for us”, yet those words are exactly what I call all of us Mormons to remember now.
A Vision of Zion
The essential work of promulgating the Gospel not only in an evangelistic sense to the world, but among ourselves, we all call Zion. Since the days that the Mormons first stepped into Jackson County, Missouri, the ancient Biblical term Zion has been applied to every Mormon work, from the most grandiose temple to sewing the smallest seed of faith. We understand Zion in various ways and certainly our understanding of Zion has changed over time. At it’s core, Zion is the “pure in heart” and wherever the pure in heart live. It is from whence the Redeemer and the Law comes.
During my time in Jackson County, identified repeatedly by Joseph Smith and other Mormon prophets as “the center-place of Zion”, I experienced what it means to be Mormon. I truly believe, and even do say, that God has spoken many things to me of the children of the Restoration. But I do not give you my own words, I give you the words of scripture: "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!"
From the Doctrine and Covenants, a uniquely Mormon book of scripture, "... Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself."
I urge all members of every Restoration congregation, every administration of the Church that calls itself Mormon, every brother and sister that calls themselves Latter Day Saints, to remember that unity is an essential principle of the Celestial Kingdom.
Again from the Doctrine and Covenants: “Behold, this I have given unto you as a parable, and it is even as I AM. I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.”
Further, the Book of Moses tells us that “the Lord called His people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind.”
Why else would God have allowed such seeming "division" among His Restoration children, if it were not for the sanctification and building up of Zion according to Celestial Law?
Weak Things Made Strong
I invite us all to a new understanding: we are told, in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, that “God uses the foolish and weak things of the world to shame what the world considers wise and strong”. Is not the same true of us? Was not Brother Joseph chosen at the age of fourteen, a barely literate New York farmer, to be the herald of a new dispensation of power and authority?
Could not the very same be done unto us today, that God chooses the weak things among us to shame what we have thought strong and bring us unto a powerful repentance to, even as it is written in the book of Ether, “make weak things strong” unto us?
The Many Faces of Mormonism
In 1844, the prophet Joseph Smith, Jr. was martyred in Carthage, Illinois while in jail for the destruction of a slanderous press in the purely Mormon city of Nauvoo, IL. The crisis that followed was known as the Succession Crisis and split the Mormon community into a plethora of ideologies and factions.
The majority of the Latter Day Saints followed the majority of the Twelve Apostles and Brigham Young far beyond the American frontier into what was then Mexican land. These Saints founded the State of Deseret, now called Utah, upon a blank salt plain with nothing more than what they brought from the east and an immense will to manifest Zion wherever they were. This group of Rocky Mountain Saints formed the largest denomination of the Mormon Church, called now have the immense financial and logistical resources to “redeem Zion” as it is written in our scriptures, with Jackson County as it's centerplace. They were the least and poorest of Americans, yet on this harsh salt plain amidst the Rocky Mountains, they flourished.
Those who stayed behind to guard the center-place of Zion were called the Reorganizers. These brethren and sistren were led by Joseph Smith’s first and dearest wife, Emma Smith, and later their son Joseph Smith III. They are now called the Community of Christ and do daily and continually fulfill this Celestial Law, to "lift up an ensign of peace, and make a proclamation of peace unto the ends of the earth". To this end, they have built a temple to peace near the land in Independence, Missouri which was dedicated by Joseph Smith, Jr. himself as the site of a future temple. Each day in this temple, a prayer goes up to God for a conflicted area of the world, that peace would reign, even the peace of Christ.
Our brothers and sisters which call themselves "Fundamentalist", following the doctrines of plural marriage, are no less our brothers and sisters in the faith! Some, like those who have followed Warren Jeffs, who admitted that he was not and never was a prophet, have gone astray. Yet many, like the Apostolic United Brethren, I have seen live good and chaste lives.
There are many Saints which can be called left-wing. Among them is the historical “Church of Zion” founded in 1870 in Salt Lake City by William S. Godbe. A core supporter of Utah’s Liberal Party and a critic of Brigham Young’s control over the secular and political lives of the Saints, his enduring legacy is Utah Magazine, now called the Salt Lake Tribune. Other left-wing Saint organizations include “Reform Mormonism”; the “United Order Family of Christ”, founded for gay Mormon young men; and the “Restoration Church of Jesus Christ”, the first explicitly LGBTAQ+ Mormon organization.
Remember our fellow Saints which are stewards of the Temple Lot. These brothers and sisters call themselves the “Church of Christ (Temple Lot)” and were an exemplary model of communication between the many Mormon organisations until the failure of their attempt to build the prophesied temple upon the lot for which they are named. Many other sects come from them, most of them becoming schismatic due to a variety of claimed visions and prophecies and the attitudes of members various towards them.
Remember the Ridgonite Saints, who followed Sidney Rigdon’s claim to succession of Joseph Smith’s mantle. He was first counselor to Joseph Smith while the latter was alive, and claimed to receive a vision from God which sustained Rigdon as leader of the Church. Today they are based mostly in Pennsylvania.
Remember the Cutlerite and Bickertonite Saints who come also from the flock of Sidney Rigdon.
Remember the Strangite Saints, who went to Voree, Wisconsin with James Strang to once again establish Zion.
Remember the work that God did in Africa through Billy Johnson to convince our Brighamite brethren that perhaps Brigham Young was wrong in his attitude towards non-whites. Billy Johnson is, among Mormons, an interesting character. Born in 1934, he was raised as a Roman Catholic and was given a Book of Mormon by a friend in 1964. At that time, there was only a very small Mormon presence in Africa; mostly expatriates from the United States. After coming to a personal conviction of the Book of Mormon’s truth, he taught the Book of Mormon in Nigeria and Ghana, all without the sanction of any existing Mormon organisation; though, he did make brief contact with some Reorganized brethren who were upon the continent. Johnson’s movement flourished, though it was unfortunately the policy of the Brighamite organization at the time to exclude blacks from the priesthood, though this was not an official Church teaching.
Probably due to Johnson’s influence, President Spencer W. Kimball prayed unto God concerning the inclusion of other races in the priesthood and in 1978, he and his people were formally accepted into the Brighamite organization of the Church, with the priesthood opened to all men regardless of race.
Remember also Saints such as myself, who do always entreat all of us to unity and fellowship: a Mormon, a Restoration Sister or Brother, and a Latter Day Saint with neither adjective nor creed.
Remember that, if truth will come from whence it may, God places truth around us in all places, and does not speak solely through His appointed General Authorities. In all of these, truth is found mingled with the doctrines of men even as it was in Israel in Christ’s day. Yet, I and many others still have faith that God will send us “one mighty and strong” to restore God’s Restoration unto the proper and undivided order, of one Zionite heart and mind, that we were always meant to be. And if you, my fellow Mormons, believe that the one mighty and strong has come, then set your house in order and be Zion in all it’s glory and fullness.
I could go on and on, even continue to entreat you until Christ comes to remember all of our brethren and sistren which are Latter Day Saints, yet the message is the self-same and clear: be not divided, but united in Christ's cause. Take upon ye the name of Christ and not of a man. Remember that God told Joseph Smith in the First Vision that all the creeds were abominable unto Him because they followed the words of men and not of God. Remember that Joseph Smith declared nothing as doctrine except it came by the mouth and word of God.
“Remove the Book of Mormon and the revelations and we have no religion”, says Joseph Smith. We Mormons believe the words of this Nephite Record, that Jesus came truly to visit His lost sheep on the American continent. As recounted in 3 Nephi, remember that Christ had appointed Apostles in Jerusalem and Apostles in America! Does this constitute two churches? Never! We are told through the vision of Lehi that there are “only two churches, one of God and one of the Devil”.
If, two thousand years ago, Christ could establish many administrations of the one Church, and even call multiple groups of twelve apostles each of which were appointed and legitimate, why, then, my Restorationist brothers and sisters, do we still continually fight over who is Joseph Smith's true successor?
Is it not possible that each who seek God and rightly proclaim themselves the true heir of the Church of Christ, of the Church of Latter Day Saints, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are utterly and entirely correct?
It is even as Brother Paul of Tarsus wrote, "there are many administrations but one Lord".
I leave these thoughts with you, brothers and sisters until Christ shall come again.
Amy Estep is a Pastor and High Priest serving a Community of Christ congregation in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.
I really wish you would have been here on Easter. I’d be more or less giving the same message in the sermon as this interview! Haha.
I grew up RLDS. My mother was a multigenerational member. When we met my father, he converted, and by the time I came along he had already been an ordained member for some time. I have never been the questioning type. Of course, I have had questions, but never in a testimony shaking way. In my early youth, I largely took my belief in Jesus Christ for granted.
My faith in Jesus Christ became real to me through the experience that shaped my testimony. As a seventh grade student, I was aware of what a testimony was but couldn’t pin it down to detail. I knew one thing for certain: I didn’t have one but both needed and desperately wanted one. One day, I found myself riding the school bus home and was suddenly overcome with the urgent need to pray. I began to cry and pray for my father.
When my mother picks me up from my bus stop, she calmly tells me that my father had been in a car accident only moments earlier. His accident would have been at the same time I was actively praying for him. After talking about that with my father, he related a similar earthshaking experience: surrounded by driving rain and the sound of crashing metal, he heard a voice telling him to get out of his car. When he and the police examined the wreckage of his vehicle, the driver’s seat was through the passenger window.
I’ve never thought of leaving my Restoration heritage. Like I said, I have certainly had questions but none that have shaken me enough to consider leaving. I love the Community of Christ. Truth be told, I have only recently understood the full impact of the First Vision, Joseph Smith, and the early Restoration.
I am extraordinarily passionate about what the Restoration stands for. Our Enduring Principles, Basic Beliefs, and main mission to share Christ with others are all driving forces in my life. Our Church may be sometimes behind the time in our collective progression, but I am very glad for the place we have arrived at today.
As a kid, I remember hearing about Zion. Things were different growing up in the time in Church history that I did. I was taught that Zion was equivalent to the Promised Land. It was peace on Earth, perfection, this beautiful place.
As I have grown older, I feel like Zion is not so broad as to cover the whole Earth but can be manifested individually in our lives. We all can grow Zion wherever we are at with whatever we have access to. While these days in the Community of Christ we don’t necessarily present things in a “this is how you get to Zion” sort of way, the pursuit of simple principles such as the abolition of poverty serve to create Zionic conditions. By pursuing these missions, we will build Zion just by simply doing.
Many of our visions of Zion and communities of Zionic expression may be different from one another, but we can certainly live to live in harmony with one another.
Noah came before the flood. I have come before the fire. - Joseph Smith, Jr.
by Revan Filiaexdeus
A version of this paper was circulated on reddit.com/r/communityofchrist in 2013. Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures come from the Inspired Version of the Bible and the Book of Mormon / Doctrine and Covenants editions of the Community of Christ.
As I was reading the book of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon, I was endowed with a certain bit of insight as to the covenants that God makes with man, and man makes with God. It is the wide-held view of Christendom, regardless of the denominational affiliation, that God is a God of covenants. That is, we who are called and chosen to be His people do indeed affirm to be His people. This affirmation is an agreement: we agree to do something, and God will do something in return.
The Community of Christ affirms that it is a divinely-ordained Church, established by God and not by man, the ministries and operations of which are called to fulfill the covenant between the Community and Christ: actively and generously support the ministries of the church, which was divinely established to restore Christ’s covenant of peace, even the Zion of your hopes (D&C 164:3b).
In the early days of the Restoration, the Church was defined through a revelation given to Joseph Smith: Behold, this is my doctrine: whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church; whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church (D&C 3:16a-b). This Church is defined as the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I the Lord am well pleased (D&C 1:5e partial).
Therefore, according to the Restoration of the Gospel given through Joseph Smith, God’s covenant people in these days consist of all those who turn from their sins and come unto God. It is no more or less complicated than that.
Despite all of the innovations of the Restoration which have served to be more of a dividing than a uniting factor, Joseph Smith, Jr. as the Prophet of the Restoration never gave more or less than this. In a vision given in February of 1832, Joseph records and, now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him, that he lives (D&C 76:3g). He said also that the fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it (History of the Church 3:30, Utah-LDS).
With this understanding in my mind, I read the first several verses in the third chapter of the Book of Mosiah. After King Benjamin’s beautiful speech in the second chapter, he asks the assembly of people if they believe the words that he said to them, concerning the coming of Christ and the need for repentance - the fullness of the Gospel.
The people respond, also we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually (Mosiah 3:3). We know, as His saints, that if God is good, then we must have His spirit with us in order to work good works. This is the heart of repentance, that the Spirit of God comes upon a person to wrought the very same mighty change that the people before King Benjamin experience. And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams (Acts 2:17), the pouring out of which began at Pentecost as recorded in the book of Acts, and was poured out on Jew and Gentile alike, for God is no respecter of persons.
In the fourth verse of the third chapter of Mosiah, it is recorded that the people have great views of that which is to come...and has brought us to this great knowledge (Mosiah 3:4-5 partial). And it is because of this that they are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will (Mosiah 3:6 partial).
I notice a pattern here: the Spirit falls upon people, they receive knowledge, and they enter into a covenant with God.
It is the same with Adam: the Spirit of God enters him to give him life, he receives the knowledge of good and evil, and his covenant with God begins the plan of salvation.
It is the same with the Assembly of Israel and Moses: the Spirit falls upon them at the mount, they receive the Law, and they choose to be a select nation.
It is the same with the New Covenant that Christ established: the Spirit falls upon Christ at his baptism and endures with them in the flesh, they receive the fullness of the good news of the Kingdom of God, and choose to fulfill the Great Commission given them.
It is the same with the Restoration: the Spirit of God fell upon Joseph in the first vision, he received knowledge in the way of the Book of Mormon, and the Church was organized as the latter-day administration of the covenant people.
It will always be the same, for this is the eternal gospel: receive God unto you, learn the things He has to tell you, and forge your own covenant with God!
In Jesus Christ’s name I write, amen!
Community of Christ offical web-page on the covenant between the Church and God: http://www.cofchrist.org/theology/covenant.asp
by Revan Filiaexdeus
If you or someone you know has been affected by Teen Challenge, please contact us. We would love to publish your story
My legal name is William Donovan Saunders. I prefer to be called and am published under the name Revan Filiaexdeus. During 2016, I was a member of the Teen Challenge program in Dublin, Georgia, United States and am now taking the opportunity, two years later, to write about my experience.
For those unfamiliar, Teen Challenge is a religiously oriented program that is self described as”To offer life transformation to individuals through Christ-centered programs”. Members of these programs live a communal lifestyle, work jobs, and are limited in both contact with the outside world and their own families. People staying at the Teen Challenge centers are called students. The organisation is officially associated with the Assemblies of God, a charismatic Pentecostal denomination with membership primarily in the Western, developed world.
The reason for my own participation in the program was as an alternative to jail because of crimes committed in the State of Florida, a bargain struck with the courts by my lawyer.
Thesis #1: Teen Challenge presents it’s own history and doctrine in a religious and mythopoeic fashion.
While a so-called “student”, I was taught that Teen Challenge was a divinely ordained organisation started in 1960 by David Wilkerson, a divinely inspired preacher. Required reading was a book authored by Wilkerson, for which he himself claimed divine inspiration.
Interestingly, I see strong parallels between this organisation and the claims of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which I am a member, which teaches that our Church is divinely ordained, was started in 1844 by Joseph Smith, Jr. who was a divinely inspired prophet and presented the divinely revealed Book of Mormon as a primary evidence of his own prophethood and the Church’s authenticity. But more on that subject later.
During my year long experience, I and other students were exposed to this narrative and only this narrative. It was reinforced six days a week during Bible study classes and Sunday worship services. Access to religious material was restricted, and students caught in possession of non-approved material were punished by either further restricting access to our families, public shaming, and extra work.
The characterisation of student is, I believe, inappropriate. Classes taught at Teen Challenge were over approved materials only; deviation from the material was not allowed, and any discussion in contrarian directions was shut down. There is no exposure to academic topics or objective material of any sort.
Interestingly, this exact approach is used by the Church of Scientology affiliated organisation NARCONON, which shares further similarities with Teen Challenge described below.
Thesis #2: I was not allowed to practice my religion.
This is, perhaps, of all the issues with my Teen Challenge, my biggest issue. I am a faithful member in good standing of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I also self-identify as Jewish because of Ashkenazi heritage on my mother’s side.
My very first day in Teen Challenge, I was presented with a stack of papers I had to sign in order to participate in the program. One of these was a waiver of civil rights, including but not limited to a person’s First Amendment rights. I wrote by hand, in very strong terms and bold letters, that I was LDS and refuse to convert to another religion, surrender my beliefs, not practice my beliefs, or in any way shape form or fashion be anything except for a Latter Day Saint.
Dan Williams, the then program director of the Dublin Camp, himself a graduate of both the Teen Challenge “discipleship program” and seminary took particular issue with this. I was called into his office where I was alone with him and another staff member. I was asked to explain my beliefs. While I worked to calmly explain what we believed, I was frequently interrupted, told I was wrong, and flat out told that I could not be a Mormon at Teen Challenge.
For the remainder of the year, this individual made it clear that he had no interest in my recovery and healing or furthering along the path of Christian discipleship. For twelve months, he made active attempts to deconvert me, to challenge my faith at every turn, and in short ridicule me for being LDS. By contrast, if I ever spoke positively of my beliefs, I was reprimanded.
One instance that remains seared in my mind is being only a few months into the program. Williams gave a speech in our assembly building where various services and other ritual-esque things were held, and publicly attacked LDS belief without naming me. It was clear that he was trying to publicly shame me. It did not work.
Curiously, staff maintained a general ignorance as to what, precisely, my beliefs as a Latter Day Saint were. When I was given the opportunity to teach classes or give devotional talks - despite my apparently heterodox position - I would frequently quote the words of Joseph Smith and other sources of LDS scripture without naming the source. These admonitions were met with frequent exclamations of “amens” and “hallelujah!”
Despite these injunctions, I made the active choice to practice my religion. Over the course of the year, I acquired four copies of the Book of Mormon and kept them hidden in various locations throughout campus. I would wake up in the middle of the night and slip away during my free time just to be able to read a few verses of this treasured scripture, which I knew would be confiscated if discovered. Additionally, I was able to share my beliefs with one other student who will remain unnamed for safety reasons. He and I have stayed in contact after our Teen Challenge experience and he has made the active choice to be baptized and join the LDS Church.
Additionally, I was told by another staff member responsible for the teaching of these courses that I could not simultaneously be Christian and Jewish. During class time, he would often make it a point to poke at my Judaism. It was neither fun loving nor humourous; I can only characterize it as blatant anti-semitism.
In another instance, the primary preacher of the program David Kincaid found several objects with Stars of David and other Jewish markings and threw them at me while I worked at the Teen Challenge-run thrift store.
Thesis #3: My family and I were actively lied to about what services the program offered.
Prior to entry, I was told that I would have access to counseling by qualified professionals, that there would be medical staff on hand at all times for any issues, and that I would be given an environment in which to focus on my own healing.
None of the staff at Teen Challenge in Dublin, GA possessed qualifying degrees of any sort or even rudimentary training. The program had no certifications outside of its own internal certification. It was, pure and simply, a religious indoctrination camp.
I was at no time counseled as a part of the program. I did experience counseling due to the voluntary effort by one single staff member, Tim Emery. Our counseling sessions were friendly in nature, but not therapeutic. At no time during the year did I ever see any student have access to counseling as we were told.
There were also no qualified medical professionals. Our medical services were limited to a small selection of over the counter drugs for common ailments.
Further, the majority of my time was spent either working without pay or in “class” listening to rhetoric. This is not an environment conducive to self reflection and healing like the program offered.
Finally, upon informing my legal team about the true nature of where I had been placed, they agreed that the program had been wholly mischaracterized.
Thesis #4: I was denied psychiatric care.
From my third month to approximately my fifth month of the experience, I suffered three to five panic attacks every day. They were debilitating in nature and physically painful. Having been previously diagnosed with both clinical depression and chronic anxiety by no less than three qualified psychiatric professionals in the State of Florida, I had an active prescription for the drug Remeron (mirtazipine). When I sought both professional counseling and access to my prescription, I was denied both. David Kincaid, the Dublin center’s pastor, told me that all I needed to do was pray, and my ailments would be cured. I had to involve my family and become very vocal and insistent to all staff members just to eventually have access to my prescription. After sixty days of continuous suffering, three separate doctor’s appointment, and an appointment with a psychiatrist - all of which easily confirmed by previous diagnoses - and about $500 of out-of-pocket medical expenses, I was finally allowed access to my prescription.
I never received access to the professional outside counseling I asked for.
Thesis #5: I was frequently overworked without pay.
Teen Challenge charges each of its students a “tuition” to be present and participate in the program. Regardless of whether full, partial, or no tuition is paid, each student is required to work a job. We had little to no choice in our places of work. Throughout the year, I was required to do farm work, yard work, warehouse labor without the presence of a representative union in OSHA-violating conditions, a car wash, and manage a thrift store.
With minimum wage at $7.25 and given a very conservative estimate of forty hours a week, I generated over $15,000 of income for Teen Challenge in addition to full tuition paid.
For several months during the middle of my experience, I worked upwards of sixty hours a week.
Thesis #6: I was kept in unsanitary conditions
For the entirety of the year, I was forced to sleep in bed bugs. Though every single one of us, myself included, frequently protested we never saw any alleviation of this problem. We were given insecticide available at any hardware store to treat the problem ourselves with; this provided little to no solution.
I find it interesting the organization refused to have professional insect treatment provided given the sheer amount of money we generated.
My own bed was so infested that it had to be burned. Upon leaving the camp, I had to disinfect both myself and all of my belongings.
Thesis #7: The organization stole from me.
During the first month of my experience, I had a book confiscated from me. It was a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, which had been gifted to me by my father nearly a decade earlier. It was a source of great comfort to be able to read. The organization promised me it would be stored for safekeeping and would receive it upon “graduating”.
I never got it back. Interestingly enough, they did return my earring - also confiscated - but not my book.
Thesis #8: I was encouraged to participate in abuse of fellow students.
I worked in the kitchen for several months. The program director frequently admonished my fellow cook and I to feed the rest of the students as little as possible. This is tantamount to abuse.
Additionally, both I and others were encouraged to ignore students who were currently receiving “discipline” for any number of infractions.
Thesis #9: Staff frequently exhibited behavior antithetical to the very message they were presenting.
On numerous occasions, staff challenged students to fights, hurled swear words at them. How is this conducive to the “discipleship” mission that TC claims?
I would like to make my message very clear. I got nothing out of my time at Teen Challenge. It was a “get-out-of-jail-free” card for which I am very thankful to God and to God alone. My time there was absolutely miserable and was more characteristic of something between a concentration/re-education camp and a jail.
My story is one of many among people who have been through TC. I stand with those people to call for a thorough independent review of the global program by a disinterested third party in the interests of the welfare of any and all who participate in it.
I am also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am a devout practicing Jewish-Mormon. I refuse the theological claims of Teen Challenge, deny that David Wilkerson was ever inspired beyond his own imagination, and challenge Teen Challenge to recognize the nature of it’s own teachings.
It is said that through language, human beings can approach the truth but never grasp it; and that, conversely, it is possible for them to know the truth through its reflection in beauty.
Editorial by Revan Filiaexdeus
This is an extraordinarily Gnostic thought. As a student and practitioner of gnosis - of which I cannot say much, save for only the history and present form that gnostic practice has taken - I have encountered this very thought in the writings and teachings of the ultimate gnostic teacher Jesus, as well as his legitimate successors Mary Magdalene and Valentinus.
What is truth? That famous adage was uttered by Pontius Pilate (John 18:38) at the Roman trial of Jesus. Jesus stood silent in reply.
That silence itself is a profound lesson. It echoes the sentiment of the writer of 1 Kings, who recorded in 1 Kings 19 the epic experience of the prophet Elijah. Elijah found God's presence ultimately not in the fearsome wonders that Hebrew history has been known for, but the very stillest silence.
The ultimate lesson of this, I think, is that we can find truth when we still our minds and let go of notions and mind frames. Truth is available to us if we would but listen to the Spirit of Truth which is upon all the Earth, available to us.
The Gospel of Truth, authored by the gnostic bishop Valentinus and later added to by his students, recalls a gnostic vision of creation, concerning beauty and truth:
Inasmuch as the entirety had searched for the one from whom they had emanated, and the entirety was inside of him -- the inconceivable uncontained, who is superior to all thought - ignorance of the Father caused agitation and fear. And the agitation grew dense like a fog, so that no one could see.
Thus error found strength and labored at her matter in emptiness. Without having learned to know the truth, she took up residence in a modeled form (a material body), preparing by means of the power, in beauty, a substitute for the truth.
Now to the inconceivable uncontained this was not humiliating; for the agitation and fear and the modeled form (material body) of deception were as nothing, whereas established truth is unchangeable, imperturbable, and cannot be beautified.
For this reason despise error since she has no root. She dwelt in a fog as regards the Father, preparing, while she dwelt there, products and forgetfulnesses and fears, so that by them she might beguile those of the middle and take them captive. (16:31-17:36)
It is interesting that error is referred to as "she", a counterpoint to Holy Wisdom spoken of in the canoncial Proverbs 8. Jesus also refers to Wisdom as a real, female divine personage in Luke 7:35.
For the gnostic, there are children of error and children of wisdom, or as John puts it in the Biblical Gospel and Epistles that bear his name, the children of light and the children of darkness.
Living in this fallen world of error, holy and divine gnosis - knowledge - can save us. It is up to us to take the faith given to us, and use this to advance along the divine gnostic path, to first see true beauty, and realize that itself is broken, but therein lies true form, and Truth itself.
"I am the life, truth, and the way," Jesus says in John 16. Remember it's great context in the whole chapter. The Apostles are asking Him the way to the next world, where He is going. Jesus, before declaring this, tells them, "You know the way...." and after it, "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father."
In the same Gospel, Jesus declares in John 14, "Whoever believes in me will do these works and greater."
John punctuates these thoughts with his first epistle, 1 John 3:2 - "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."
We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
This is a challenge that is heresy to the religion that has made an idol of the Master Teacher - that we can walk the same path as Jesus, do things He did and even greater things, and even become like Him.
Can we accept this challenge?
That is ultimate truth.
by Steven Boston
You have received downloads of information from your higher-self. This information is a type of metadata that is intuitive. What is missing is a logical language based narrative. Your higher-self is trying to give it to you. Sometimes it will be an especially strong feeling of 'AHA' while you watch a movie. That is because the movie allows you have a logical explanation for something you needed to be explained to you.
Another way your higher-self will explain it to you will be coincidences and synchronicities. Maybe it will be seeing 11:11 or 12:34 or some other number pattern.
Some of us get "thought lectures." These will appear as if we are talking to our selves in our head, yet it's obvious we aren't generating the thoughts. Depending on the download, you will get this imaginary conversation where you will imagine you are telling someone something you are trying to work out in your head yet you are understanding it for the first time as you 'explain it."
Common themes you will start to comprehend or "KNOW" for the first time is that 'you are divine'. 'You create your own reality.' 'You are here to learn lessons.' 'You need to stop behaviors that cause you and those you love harm.' 'You are eternal.' ' You have been lied to all your life.'
One thing that you can depend upon. You get information as you are ready for it. If you are still heavily immersed in ideological deceptions, you will try your best to shoehorn the new information into your existing belief system. The hardest thing you can accomplish is unlearning what you have learned that is inaccurate and has been used to brainwash and manipulate you.
Seek first the Kingdom of SOURCE and everything else will be added to you.
ACCOMPLISHING SPIRITUAL MIRACLES
I know you want to become enlightened, awake and to ascend. You may not have the tools need to accomplish something so esoteric. What I am about to teach you is easy for manifesting money or material things. What you want to do is to use these tools to help you achieve the spiritual reality you want for yourself. Patience, peace, love and a forgiving heart are much harder to accomplish than a car and a house. So focus on the ethical you, the righteous loving you.
You have to be able to know how you want yourself to be. Saying to yourself I want to be a better person is not enough. Here are the seven keys to achieving the new you.
1) VISION: When you can "SEE" in your mind's eye exactly what you are trying to manifest you have done the hardest part. The easiest way to do it is to write it down as if it was already a reality. since time is an illusion and the future possibilities are reality unmanifested, by accurately and specifically detailing a future possibility you bring awareness and future together which causes it becomes manifest.
2) DESIRE: When you DESIRE something, you give whatever that thing or characteristic is energy. “Rael” magic happens when you combine VISION with DESIRE. Without desire, it is a wish and wishes don't come true unless one can envision them and you truly desire it. The basic principle is, you can have anything you want, you just can't have everything you want.
3) KNOWLEDGE: Vision and desire are not enough. The next step is to learn everything you can about what it is you are trying to manifest in your life. I recommend a spiritual practice you can be consistent in.
4) EFFORT: The energy to manifest your reality comes from your personal effort to make it so. In this case, you actually do whatever you must to accomplish your objective. If you are not ready to put your entire life's effort into it then you don't really want it in the first place. So, if you have to post 1,000 resumes to get the job you want, you post 1,000 resumes. The effort you put into achieving your miracle is what makes the knowledge, desire, and vision turn into reality.
5) FAITH: This is an essential part of manifesting reality. Faith is not belief, it is a knowing. To achieve a doubtless state about the reality you are manifesting is to be as certain it will come to pass as you are certain the sun will rise in the east tomorrow morning. In this case, there is no straining or effort, it is EXPECTATION. Expect it and it will happen. So as you learn and apply your personal effort, EXPECT it.
6) INTENTION: This is the most important part. To intend something is to fix your mind and your will/ spirit to making this VISION you DESIRE which you are an EXPERT and EXPECT to happen. That is why you cheerfully put all your EFFORT into it because you are confident the time and effort are WORTH IT. "Intention" is a focused form of mental energy and can literally change your life as you make your dreams into reality.
7) HABIT: Last but not least, The six mentioned before must be done habitually and constantly. You don't just desire and intend one day. You do it every day until it is a reality. Then you do everything to maintain your reality. It must become a habit to do all six all the time or it like a cloud that shaded you yesterday but is no longer here. To not be habitual is to just be wishful. To be habitual is to give the reality you desire inertia to bring it into form.
Common Institutes of the Restoration is an ongoing series of papers written and researched by Revan Filiaexdeus addressing topics important to the Latter Day Saint community.
Let us establish some common ground on which we can all agree. Without fail, the word of scripture is useful for exhortation and all manner of doctrine. Within the Restoration, we have some agreement and disagreement on what scripture consists of.
Scripture, for a concise definition, is inspired writing. Whatsoever is spoken by a holder of Priesthood “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation (D&C 68:4).”
Sixty five of the sixty six books of the King James Bible were identified by Joseph Smith as being legitimate scripture. The single exception to this is the Song of Solomon, otherwise known as the Song of Songs or Canticles. According to the Inspired Version, this book is not inspired scripture and exists on the level of Apocrypha or Deuterocanon (LDS D&C 91); such books are useful for those who are well established in the Gospel, but are not useful for establishing doctrine.
The whole of the Restoration began with the careful, Spirit-led examination of scripture. His First Vision is the result of a faithful response to a Biblical exhortation: “if any man lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not and it shall be given him.” Throughout his life, Joseph Smith continued to teach out of the Bible and study it himself. He made inspired corrections where necessary and embraced wholeheartedly the truth he found in both the existing text and the carefully edited Inspired Version.
Unique among the claims of Christendom, Restoration believers state that the Bible is not a closed canon but is a living document open to examination today. It’s claims are equally valid in these days as they were in the days of the writing of both the Old and New Testaments. Unlike Protestant reformers, Catholic doctors, and Orthodox fathers, the truths of the Restoration are divined from the Bible not by speculation or theology, but by holy and divine revelation. This revelation is open to each and every one of us, and increases as our measure of Priesthood increases.
The fact that Restoration truths can be found within the Bible yet escape notice by the religious men of both Joseph Smith’s day and our own is proof that such men have an eye not single to the glory of God, but to their own doctrine. All of the Restoration truths can be proven out of the Bible alone. A correct understanding of linguistics is essential and will reveal all.
Therefore, I submit the Bible as one part of the common scriptural ground between all Restoration believers.
KJV, NSRV, or IV?
Quiet debate continues on in the Restoration as to which translation of the Bible should be used. For reasons of posterity, I encourage the active use of the King James Version. The scope of scholarship and ease of accessibility with other resources such as a Strong’s Concordance is vaster with the KJV than with any other translation. I also humbly encourage all Saints to make key use of the Joseph Smith translation, or the Inspired Version as it is othewise called. Of the Inspired Version, Elder Bruce R. McConkie called it a “marvelously inspired work” and said it “is a thousand times over the best Bible now existing on earth.” The first complete Inspired Version was published by the Community of Christ in the mid 19th century. Later, through valuable exchange of manuscript, the LDS Church has embraced it more fully through the use of the JST footnotes.
Many other Restoration traditions continue to use the NSRV as a sort of easy reading Bible. This is acceptable, as is the use of other translations, with careful examination in light of revealed latter day truth.
Therefore, I submit that the Inspired Version of the Bible is the most correct for the use of doctrine without excluding the use of other translations for study.
Commandments, Doctrine, Covenants
In addition to the Bible, many things were revealed to Brother Joseph relative to the building up of the Church of Christ in these latter days. Directly prior to Brother Joseph’s martyrdom at Carthage, an edition of the Doctrine and Covenants was released. This is known as the 1844 D&C. It is from this edition that most Restoration traditions draw their own publications of the D&C from. A notable exception is the so-called Hendrickite tradition, or the Church of Christ (Temple Lot), which chooses to use the Book of Commandments published in 1833 by W.W. Phelps.
If we recognize Joseph Smith as an authentic prophet of God, we can recognize his inspiration and know whether or not it is true for ourselves in the same manner as the Book of Mormon (Moroni 10:3-5). Therefore, I humbly suggest that the expansion of revelation offered in the D&C versus the wording offered in the Book of Commandments more accurately represents the original revelation, whereas the version in the Book of Commandments is a lesser and abridged version.
That being said, I acknowledge wholly the right of the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) and related traditions to continue their use of the Book of Commandments and accept their covenants with the Lord made through those true revelations.
Therefore, I submit that the 1844 Doctrine and Covenants forms the basic working version of the D&C that all Restoration believers can agree upon. Any so-called Restoration tradition which rejects either the D&C or the Book of Commandments cannot accurately be said to be a part of the Restoration.
Book of Mormon
Brother Joseph called the Book of Mormon the “cornerstone of our religion” and “the most correct of any book on this earth”. Without the Book of Mormon, there is no Restoration and no Restored Gospel. “Take away the Book of Mormon and the revelations, and where is our religion? We have none.”
Suffice it to say for now, I do not believe that any Restoration children will deny the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as a book of scripture. Some among the more liberal schools of thought in the Restoration have sought an explanation of the Book of Mormon apart from the golden plates story; that is, we can have the Book and it’s record as a testimony of Jesus Christ without needing to believe that Joseph translated the record, or even that there was a record.
That is a well and good concept, but if we may treat the Book as a work of fiction, then why do we base our life and religion around it? Surely there are many fine fictional books that will suffice. I myself have seen Christ and embraced Gospel truth in Lord of the Rings, for instance; many vital concepts relating to the creation of the universe were explained to me by the Holy Spirit through the use of Tolkien’s Ainulindale in The Silmarillion.
In word and in deed, I refute this argument with every fiber of my being. Therefore I offer up the following arguments for the authenticity of the golden plates, of Moroni, and of the Book.
The Gathering of Israel
The Book of Mormon predicts that, when it comes forth, Israel shall begin to be gathered. I quote the whole of 3 Nephi 29 (LDS Edition):
And now behold, I say unto you that when the Lord shall see fit, in his wisdom, that these sayings shall come unto the Gentiles according to his word, then ye may know that the covenant which the Father hath made with the children of Israel, concerning their restoration to the lands of their inheritance, is already beginning to be fulfilled.
And ye may know that the words of the Lord, which have been spoken by the holy prophets, shall all be fulfilled; and ye need not say that the Lord delays his coming unto the children of Israel.
And ye need not imagine in your hearts that the words which have been spoken are vain, for behold, the Lord will remember his covenant which he hath made unto his people of the house of Israel.
And when ye shall see these sayings coming forth among you, then ye need not any longer spurn at the doings of the Lord, for the sword of his justice is in his right hand; and behold, at that day, if ye shall spurn at his doings he will cause that it shall soon overtake you.
Wo unto him that spurneth at the doings of the Lord; yea, wo unto him that shall deny the Christ and his works!
Yea, wo unto him that shall deny the revelations of the Lord, and that shall say the Lord no longer worketh by revelation, or by prophecy, or by gifts, or by tongues, or by healings, or by the power of the Holy Ghost!
Yea, and wo unto him that shall say at that day, to get gain, that there can be no miracle wrought by Jesus Christ; for he that doeth this shall become like unto the son of perdition, for whom there was no mercy, according to the word of Christ!
Yea, and ye need not any longer hiss, nor spurn, nor make game of the Jews, nor any of the remnant of the house of Israel; for behold, the Lord remembereth his covenant unto them, and he will do unto them according to that which he hath sworn.
Therefore ye need not suppose that ye can turn the right hand of the Lord unto the left, that he may not execute judgment unto the fulfilling of the covenant which he hath made unto the house of Israel.
This was a bold claim for it’s time and is coincidental to a general rise in Jewish consciousness. I submit that this is wholly the work of Heavenly Father throughout the Earth.
The Jewish Diaspora had endured since 70 AD with the destruction of Herod’s Temple and the sacking of Jerusalem under Titus, who was later to become Emperor of Rome. In the many centuries in between this event and the great refounding of the State of Israel in 1948, Jewish pogroms were officially sanctioned in essentially every nation Jews were to be found.
The only reprieve from such bitter persecution came in the 1770’s with the Jewish Enlightenment. Called the Haskalah in Hebrew, the school rose primarily in Europe as a move to attempt to integrate the thus-far segregated communities into the rest of Western society without loss of essential Jewish identity and cultural norms. This idea largely morphed into Jewish nationalism, called Zionism. The name Zionism was chosen because of the many great Biblical yearnings for Zion, in reference to the “original Zion” of the Bible in Jerusalem, later called the City of David.
The single origin beginnings of Zionism, if there is to be such a thing, came with Judah Leib Pinsker’s publication Auto-Emancipation in 1882. The pamphlet came in the wake of the horrific Odessa Pogrom in Russia, merely one in a long series of pogroms. It urged the formation of a national Jewish state and discusses the brutal origins of anti-semitism. Pinsker later helped found Hovevei Zion, an organization dedicated to the realization of these ideals.
In the middle of this almost century of developing Jewish consciousness, the Book of Mormon comes forth in 1829 and the restoration of the Church by the holy Priesthood a year later on April 6, 1830.
Curiously, the fires of the Burned Over District so familiar to Joseph Smith and the other early Saints in New York did not remain in the United States; they burned across the Atlantic Ocean in Britain. In 1808, the London Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews - or more familiarly called the Jewish Society - was founded. In 1825, only a few short years before the Restoration, the Plymouth Brethren was founded in England with the explicit belief of the regathering of the Jews to Israel.
In 1837, the first LDS missionaries came to Liverpool, England. In 1838, the Crown established a British Consulate in Jerusalem, the same year that Joseph Smith received a revelation in Far West calling an Apostolic mission to Britain. In 1840, the first intentions were announced by the British government for the restoration of Israel and in 1841-42, the first practical plans were drawn up by prominent Zionist Moses Montefiore and Charles Henry Churchill, the British diplomat then present in Damascus.
Yet another century will pass before the State of Israel is founded again in 1948, in the terrifying wake of the Holocaust.
Says Mormon (Mormon 3:17-22):
Therefore I write unto you, Gentiles, and also unto you, house of Israel, when the work shall commence, that ye shall be about to prepare to return to the land of your inheritance;
Yea, behold, I write unto all the ends of the earth; yea, unto you, twelve tribes of Israel, who shall be judged according to your works by the twelve whom Jesus chose to be his disciples in the land of Jerusalem.
And I write also unto the remnant of this people, who shall also be judged by the twelve whom Jesus chose in this land; and they shall be judged by the other twelve whom Jesus chose in the land of Jerusalem.
And these things doth the Spirit manifest unto me; therefore I write unto you all. And for this cause I write unto you, that ye may know that ye must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, yea, every soul who belongs to the whole human family of Adam; and ye must stand to be judged of your works, whether they be good or evil;
And also that ye may believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, which ye shall have among you; and also that the Jews, the covenant people of the Lord, shall have other witness besides him whom they saw and heard, that Jesus, whom they slew, was the very Christ and the very God.
And I would that I could persuade all ye ends of the earth to repent and prepare to stand before the judgment-seat of Christ.
This great regathering of Israel is preparatory to the acceptance of the Gospel by Israel and the judgement of the Last Day thereafter.
Shall we mock this up to mere coincidence? The matters of history are interesting. I see the hand of God working in separate but intricately connected spheres. “Yea, whoever will thrust in his sickle and reap, the same is called of God (LDS D&C 11:28).” In Britain and throughout the Hebrew People of Europe, Heavenly Father found those willing to thrust in their sickles and reap - and thus extended to them the call to do so. The delicate guidance of God between the Restoration and these seemingly unrelated events is of supreme importance.
The fact that such a book as the Book of Mormon declares the regathering of Israel in such an improbable and hostile time is stark evidence of it’s actual, literal truth.
Now we turn to the matter of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon: Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, David Whitmer, Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer Sr., John Whitmer, Hiram Page, Joseph Smith Sr., Hyrum Smith, and Samuel Harrison Smith. To count Brother Joseph among them - for his testimony is included in every copy of the Book of Mormon since the original printing - makes twelve.
Let us examine each of their stories.
Oliver Cowdery experienced many of the early things of the Restoration. He was Joseph’s scribe, the first to be baptized in this dispensation, and claimed to have communication with such angelic ministers as those who restored the Priesthood. He was called the Second Elder of the Church. In 1838, Cowdery was excommunicated for his failure to appear to a Church council. He disagreed personally with Joseph on many issues, including the matter of polygamy and the Law of Consecration. Later, he was personally threatened by the secretive Danites that arose within the Church - without knowledge or consent of Brother Joseph - as a result of Sidney Rigdon’s so-called Salt Sermon. He had every reason to deny his testimony of the Book of Mormon, even later joining a Methodist congregation. Yet in 1848, Cowdery returned humbly to the Church - perhaps waiting patiently for the death of Joseph Smith? - to be rebaptized. Though he intended to go west to Utah, he later passed away of tuberculosis in the Midwest. His last words were to his son: “Jacob, I want you to remember what I am saying to you. I am a dying man, and what would it profit me to tell you a lie? I know that this Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God. My eyes saw, my ears heard, and my understanding was touched, and I know that whereof I testify is true. It was no dream, no vain imagination of the mind - it was real.”
Martin Harris was also one of the original three witnesses. In 1837, he was excommunicated in Kirtland for his attempt to reorganize the Church in the wake of the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society. This attempt was soundly outside of the organization of the Priesthood; others were excommunicated along side him for their participation in the attempt. Between 1837 and 1851, Harris remained in Kirtland and affiliated with various claims to leadership - including that of David Whitmer - in the succession crisis. He went to England during this time, reportedly saying of his testimony: “Do you know that is the sun shining on us? Because as sure as you know that, I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, and that he translated that book by the power of God.” In 1870, he received assistance from other Saints to move to Salt Lake City, Utah and was baptized. On his deathbed, he said: “The Book of Mormon is no fake. I know what I know. I have seen what I have seen and I have heard what I have heard. I have seen the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon is written. An angel appeared to me and others and testified to the truthfulness of the record, and had I been willing to have perjured myself and sworn falsely to the testimony I now bear I could have been a rich man, but I could not have testified other than I have done and am now doing for these things are true.”
Like the other two original witnesses, David Whitmer had a falling out with Joseph Smith and was eventually run out of Missouri by the Danites alongside Oliver Cowdery. In the secession crisis, he would found a “Church of Christ” with beliefs similar to the early Kirtland-era Church; he himself was president and it never experienced much membership. Cowdery contracted tuberculosis while on his way to convince David Whitmer to join him in going west to Utah. Whitmer was often called the “most interviewed” witness and said succinctly: "It having been represented by one John Murphy, of Polo, Caldwell County, Mo., that I, in a conversation with him last summer, denied my testimony as one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon. To the end, therefore, that he may understand me now, if he did not then; and that the world may know the truth, I wish now, standing as it were, in the very sunset of life, and in the fear of God, once for all to make this public statement: That I have never at any time denied that testimony or any part thereof, which has so long since been published with that Book, as one of the three witnesses. Those who know me best, well know that I have always adhered to that testimony. And that no man may be misled or doubt my present views in regard to the same, I do again affirm the truth of all of my statements, as then made and published. He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear; it was no delusion!” David Whitmer eventually had his testimony inscribed upon his gravestone.
These Three Witnesses had every reason to deny their testimonies. Yet none ever did, despite the many personal conflicts with Brother Joseph and the Priesthood authority of the Church. All of them stressed the spiritual nature of their witness, that they had actually communicated with God.
Much of the Whitmer family served as members of the Eight Witnesses. Most of them were excommunicated en-masse in Jackson County in 1838. Exceptions are Christian Whitmer, who remained faithful to the Church his entire life, moving to Jackson County and dying in 1835 in Far West as an Elder and a member of the High Council there. Peter Whitmer, Jr. also was one of the missionaries who helped to convert Sidney Rigdon and his congregation in addition to being one of the Eight Witnesses. He died of tuberculosis in Liberty, Missouri having never denied his testimony.
Jacob Whitmer, the older brother of David, was baptized only five days after the organization of the Church in April 1830. He also served on Far West’s High Council, and was excommunicated in 1838 with the rest of his family. He settled near Richmond, Missouri, not once denying his testimony of the Book of Mormon.
John Whitmer was excommunicated during the struggle over the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society. Despite this, he continued to live at Far West when the majority of the Church had moved on to Nauvoo. He joined David Whitmer’s “Church of Christ” after Brother Joseph’s death, maintaining his testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon alongside David.
Hiram Page was excommunicated with the Whitmers in 1838. Prior to this, he had endured several harsh beatings by non-Mormons during the strife of the Jackson County period. He too joined David Whitmer’s Church. He died in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, having never denied his testimony.
Joseph Smith, Sr. remained entirely faithful, dying in Nauvoo, Illinois in 1840. His testimony of the Book of Mormon remained his entire life.
Hyrum Smith was killed with Brother Joseph in Carthage. Alongside his testimony included in the Book, he later wrote and stressed that he had actually handled the physical plates. He said after Joseph Smith’s death: “As to the Book of Mormon, it would be doing injustice to myself, and to the work of God of the last days, to say that I could know a thing to be true in 1830, and know the same thing to be false in 1847.” Of him, his son testified: “I knew my father to be true and faithful to his testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon until the very last. Whenever he had an opportunity to bear his testimony to this effect, he would always do so, and seemed to rejoice exceedingly in having been privileged to see the plates.”
Samuel H. Smith, alongside being a witness to the plates, was one of the original six organizers of the Church. To Phineas Young, he said, “Yes [I am one of the witnesses]. I know the book to be a revelation from God, translated by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost, and that my brother Joseph Smith, Jr., is a Prophet, Seer and Revelator.”
Now why should it be that so many witnesses to so many great and marvelous things should somewhat apostasize, later to be restored? Is it not to be remembered that Elijah, the greatest of Old Testament prophets, ran from God into the desert and even refused the command of God though he conversed with angels (1 Kings 19)? And Jonah too ran from God. Moses tried to refuse God (Exodus 4:10), not to mention that all twelve New Testament apostles deserted Jesus, though they knew they had the Living God in the Flesh among them (Mark 14:50)! If such things happen in dispensations pass, why should we expect that the human condition should have changed in this great and last dispensation of the fullness of times? In this age, as in every age, we must wholly depend on the atonement of Jesus Christ and His grace to transform us. Sometimes this is a rocky process, as it was for the witnesses.
All of the Eight Witnesses are on record - some of them multiple records - as having said that they handed the physical plates, having been shown them by Joseph Smith. All of the Three Witnesses stressed that they had really had a visitation from Moroni and had been shown the plates. With ample reason to deny their testimony and undermine the credibility of Joseph Smith, not a single one of them denied their testimony.
And of course, we have the witness of Joseph Smith himself who repeated it countless times throughout his life and finally sealed such a testimony with his own blood.
I wish to return to the Hebrews, my own people. The Book of Mormon, like the Bible, is a Hebrew book written by Hebrews and largely for Hebrews. It must be recognized, however, that the Hebrew nature of the Book of Mormon is somewhat different than that of the Bible. The Book claims to be written originally in “Reformed Egyptian”, explained in 1 Nephi as Hebrew language written in an Egyptian script. Many such excellent books have been written on the subject. A simple search engine query will turn out many of the finer ones. I do not intent to repeat their arguments here. Instead, I leave you with the testimony of Sammi Hanna, who translated the Book of Mormon into Arabic, a closely related Semetic language.
The many Semetic features of the Book of Mormon, had they been written intentionally into the Book of Mormon by a fraudulent Joseph Smith, would certainly have been used as evidence to support the Book’s truthfulness. Yet little mention is made of it beyond the pages of the Book itself. It has taken tremendous modern scholarship to discover these things.
Speaking of Joseph Smith’s supposed authorship of the Book, many such theories have been proposed. I have heard them from those who claim to be Restoration children and also from those who would make themselves our marked enemies. With the Joseph Smith Papers project anyone can view Joseph’s primary documents and attest to the discord of his own handwriting. Emma said of Joseph: Joseph Smith could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter; let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, and was present during the translation of the plates, and had cognizance of things as they transpired, it is marvelous to me, 'a marvel and a wonder,' as much so as to anyone else.
Yet with all of this, it remains soundly that the Book of Mormon issues a unique challenge to each of its readers. Such a challenge is familiar to all Restoration children (Moroni 10:3-6, LDS edition):
Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
And whatsoever thing is good is just and true; wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is.
Can a house divided against itself stand? I ask with the words of Christ, can Satan cast out demons (Matthew 12:26)? Can anything testify of Jesus Christ and be a work of Satan, or of men? Can anything lead to such profound good as has the Book of Mormon and be a lie?
With the words of the Apostle James, “Every good and perfect thing is from above (James 1:17)”.
The Book of Mormon does not ask for blind faith. It never has and never will. If we acknowledge the reality of God and our ability to interact with Him, He Himself will tell us whether or not this Book is true or not. There is no danger in doing so if this Book is false, for the God of Heaven will bear you up and tell you it is false. But if it is true, then there is extreme danger; to ascertain such a witness is to be bound to action.
I testify, alongside the Holy Ghost, Joseph Smith, and the Three and Eight Witnesses that this Book of Mormon is true. It’s events actually happened. It is a book of real scripture that God uses as a vital instrument in these latter days.
In 1844, the year of Joseph Smith’s death, Soren Kierkegaard pens in his Philosophical Fragments: “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom, which emerges when the spirit wants to posit the synthesis and freedom looks down into possibility, laying hold of finiteness to support itself. Freedom succumbs in this dizziness. Further than this, psychology cannot and will not go. In that very moment everything is changed, and freedom, when it again rises, sees that it is guilty. Between these two moments lies the leap, which no science has explained and which no science will explain.”.
Therefore, friends, take a leap of faith. Let the challenge of the Book seize hold upon you.
The Book of Moses
The Book of Moses is a unique product of the Restoration. Among the LDS Church, it is included in the Pearl of Great Price while in many of the so-called “Prairie Saint” traditions it is included as the Inspired Version of Genesis and may therefore be treated as an extension of the JST.
As with the Book of Mormon, the truth of the Book of Moses may be discovered through both spiritual witness and rational examination. The Moses material is extraordinarily similar in many ways to another ancient Biblical work for which many extant copies now exist: the Book of Enoch. In ancient times, the Book of Enoch was influential on the development of the Deuterocanonical works and played an essential role in Jewish mysticism. Quoted in the New Testament Epistle of Jude (Jude 1:14-16), the Book of Enoch was preserved in Ethiopia and rediscovered by modern scholarship in the late 18th century.
The first available English edition did not appear until the 1820s. There is no evidence to suggest that the Book of Enoch was utilized or ever read by Joseph Smith. An 1835 revelation to Joseph Smith (LDS D&C 107:57) says: “These things were all written in the book of Enoch, and are to be testified of in due time.” Given the relation of physical records to the revelations received by Joseph Smith (the golden plates for the Book of Mormon, the Bible itself for the Inspired Version, and the Egyptian facsimiles for the Book of Abraham), it is likely Joseph would have mentioned having obtained a record of the Book of Enoch should this D&C refer to the now-extant Book of Enoch. More modern revelation has told us that this revelation affirms the authenticity of an “original” Book of Enoch of which the current Book is likely a corrupted and devolved copy.
That being said, the Book of Enoch as we have it bears many similarities to the Book of Moses. The LDS apologetics blog Strong Reasons identifies many of them: in both books, Enochs has many visions of people’s deeds, generations, and all things; Enoch speaks of the premortal existence; Enoch is given the right to God’s throne (i.e. - exaltation); Enoch quotes from the written record of Adam; the return of the city of Zion from the heavens; and many, many other similarities. Perhaps most important among these is that the Book of Enoch predicts it’s own restoration in the latter days: And I will leave a righteous man (Noah), a member of your tribe, together with all his house, who will act in accordance with my will. And from their seed will arise a generation, the last of many, and very rapacious. And I shall raise up for that generation someone who will reveal to them the books in your handwriting and those of your fathers, by means of which the guardians of the earth will show themselves to the faithful men. And they will be recounted to that generation, and they will be glorified in the end more than at the first (2 Enoch 35:1-3).
And thus says the Book of Moses: “And in a day when the children of men shall esteem my words as naught and take many of them from the book which thou shalt write, behold, I will raise up another like unto thee; and they shall be had again among the children of men–among as many as shall believe (Moses 1:41, RLDS D&C 22:24)”.
I, therefore, submit that the Book of Moses is an authentic record of God profitable for doctrine. It represents the true restoration of the most ancient records of Adam and Enoch here in the latter days.
Common Ground and Further Scripture
Therefore, I propose that the common ground between all Restoration children is the story of the First Vision. As for scripture, it is the Inspired Version of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the 1844 Doctrine and Covenants.
Much more Restoration scripture exists. Many Restoration branches have embraced revelations to their own leaders as being authentic revelation of God and placed in their edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. There is also the Book of Abraham, the Apocrypha, the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and Lectures on Faith. These five resources are useful for the strengthening of our common ground and I will treat them as such.
In a later essay, I will treat this subject more closely and sensitively than it is here. However, suffice it to say here that the revelations to various Restoration traditions may be regarded as authentic. The end of polygamy given to Lorenzo Snow and Wilford Woodruff were authentic. Likewise, the command to Granville Hendrick to return to Zion to take care of the Temple Lot property was also authentic, as was the command of God to Joseph Smith III to look after the Prarie Saints who were not willing to be united to their brethren. Suffice it to say that these “denominational D&C” - for lack of any better terms - represent solemn covenants between authentic branches of the Restored Church and God. Let any man who has eyes to see and ears to hear see and hear, for no man can do a good work in His name and then curse him (KJV Mark 9:38-41). These may yet be found useful to the exhortation of the entire Restored Church under the direction and inspiration of Almighty God.
Many Restoration traditions have rejected the Book of Abraham for various reasons, while the LDS Church has embraced it wholeheartedly since 1880. I offer my own solemn testimony that it is a true and authentic record of God, reliable for doctrine and inspired. Such a testimony can be obtained through study and prayer by anyone, though not easily. Many such fine resources defending the Book of Abraham exist and I will not quote them at length here; I instead only cite them and gently encourage all readers to discover the Book of Abraham in a new way. It must also be noted that as the Book of Moses bears great similarity to the Book of Enoch, the Book of Abraham has many similarities with the equally ancient record the Testament of Abraham.
In 1833 in Kirtland, Joseph received the revelation now recognized as LDS D&C 91. This recognized the books of the Apocrypha recognized by Catholic and Orthodox traditions as being not useful for doctrine, but useful for those who read them under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They are defined as mixed truth, having interpolations of men alongside authentic revelation and therefore must be read under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit for anyone to have any worth extracted from them. In the spirit of this revelation, prominent LDS scholar Hugh Nibley has sought Restoration truths in many Apocryphal books, including so-called Gnostic texts from the first few centuries AD. In that same spirit, I submit that the Restoration belief in an open canon of scripture allows us to use these books in a supporting way; that is, we seek our common scripture for the establishment of doctrine, and where we find support for authentic Restoration truth in Apocryphal books, let it be so!
Many of the things revealed to Brother Joseph were never canonized in any book of scripture and thus occupy a place in faith similar to the Hadith for Muslims. One such of these sayings sets the tone for our approach of these materials: “If I revealed all that has been made known to me, scarcely a man on this stand would stay with me.” Knowing this, I am profoundly thankful for the things that Brother Joseph did reveal, divisive though they may be. I submit that these sayings of Joseph Smith largely preserved by various Restoration traditions as matters of history may be regarded as authentic revelation. Whatever an Elder says under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is scripture (LDS D&C 68:4). As it is with our many great modern Apostles and Prophets, let it be so with Joseph Smith.
Finally, we have the Lectures on Faith which were included in the early editions of the Doctrine and Covenants. Widely utilized by Restoration scholarship, I propose that these writings are inspired and thus profitable for the support of doctrine found in scripture.
General Method of Appeal
Having established common ground in the Restoration, I outline the general method of appeal that will be made for all further work in the Common Institutes of the Restoration. Generally, the appeal will follow this:
The Biblical source is drawn from as many texts as possibly, with priority given to the Inspired Version reading where one exists. I seek to establish all Restoration truth from the Bible, exactly as Joseph did. The Restoration source are those scriptures previously established as common ground: the Book of Mormon, the 1844 D&C, and Book of Moses. The Further source represents all that was treated in the last section: the other D&C, Apocrypha, Book of Abraham, teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the Lectures on Faith. In addition, the Further source contains the inspired counsel given to modern day Apostles, Prophets, Seers, and Revelators.
A further delineation:
From the top down, each source of material supersedes the authority of the one below it; that is, if there seems to be an apparent conflict between the words of Christ and the words of an Apostle, then the words of Christ supersedes the latter.
Direct and primary experience of God concerns anointed Saints who have proper Priesthood authority given to them (if it is traceable back to Jesus Christ through Peter, James, and John and Joseph Smith) and thus communicate regularly with God. This is not to say that those without Priesthood cannot communicate with God; I, as an investigator of five years, had regular conversation with God without the Priesthood. However, God gives attention to His nation of kings and priests because He has chosen and anointed us to be the light of the world. These are they who have received personally of the doctrine of Christ, who have entered the Kingdom, who have received the baptisms of water and fire.
Our direct experience of God will not contradict the revelation given to inspired Priesthood authority; the so-called experiences and revelation of such individuals as Otto Fetting, Arnold Potter, James Strang, and Alpheus Cutler may all be rejected on the grounds that it soundly contradicts the teaching of Joseph Smith. We Saints believe in a Living God whom does not exist only in the hazy past of scripture, but speaks to us here and today.
The seminal and founding event of the Restoration is the First Vision and represents an authentically answered prayer which was prayed in faith and with real intent to obey should the prayer be answered. The various experiences of Saints in Joseph Smith’s lifetime fulfill the First Vision in their own lives. While they did not expect God the Father and Jesus Christ to appear before them in this life as they did Joseph, each Saint had their own experience of God and this is no less true today. I myself have many irrevocable and irrefutable proofs of not only God’s existence, but a certainty of knowledge of His compassion and love for us. Moroni’s words are my words: “Behold, I say unto you, nay [miracles have not ceased], nor have angels ceased to minister unto the children of men (LDS Moroni 7:29).” The great truth of the First Vision is that God does answer prayer, and He will answer every Saint’s prayer.
Therefore, the ultimate authority for the faith of the Restoration lies in our own direct and primary experience of God. I submit also the words of Christ, so that you might know that these things are true: “But be not ye called Rabbi; for one is your master, which is Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no one your creator upon the earth, or your heavenly Father; for one is your creator and heavenly Father, even he who is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters; for one is your master, even he whom your heavenly Father sent, which is Christ; for he hath sent him among you that ye might have life. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased of him; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted of him (IV Matthew 23:5-9)”.
To this end, we have established the Voices of the Restoration as an essential part of the Common Institutes of the Restoration. Many primary experiences of God have been had in all branches of the Restored Church - many too sacred to discuss freely - and it is my utmost desire that we lay ourselves bare before each other and before God and tell of the many great and precious things which He has done for us.
Second to this are the authentic records which we have of the words of Christ in times past. As direct experience is the word of Christ to us today, so do the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and 3 Nephi as well as the direct revelation of the Doctrine and Covenants represent the word of Christ to us in time past. Given that Jesus Christ is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:12), we counsel all Restoration believers to remember that His word is final in all matters. These words cover almost every existing subject we would want to know about and are wholly profitable so far as they are translated correctly.
Apostles and prophets come next in authority, having the keys of revelation for the whole Church. In another essay, we will gently treat the subject of the leadership of the Restoration and the relationship various Quorums of Priesthood authority have to one another.
As for the supremacy of James, Peter, and John in the order of Apostleship, I point us to scripture: they were called the pillars of the Church by Paul (Galatians 2:9) and they were also the ones to confer Melchizedek authority upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. As for James being first, I cite Saying 12 of the Gospel of Thomas: The disciples said to Jesus, "We are aware that you will depart from us. Who will be our leader?" Jesus said to him, "No matter where you come it is to James the Just that you shall go, for whose sake heaven and earth have come to exist." This verse alone would not be particularly interesting by itself; many books of the Deuterocanon stress one early Church figure over another. However, I find it supremely interesting that it is the Epistle of James that caused Joseph Smith sufficient spiritual woe to go into the woods near his home, resulting in the First Vision! I will let such speak for itself.
A few writers of the early Church have proven reliable for their defense of many beliefs now regarded as essential Restoration truth (notably exaltation, salvation for the dead and premortal existence). Eminent among them are Irenaeus, Polycarp, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen of Alexandria. They represent the best of Church doctrine before the fullness of the Apostasy had set in. Therefore, we will draw from their writings from time to time to defend that which is already found in scripture.
In some rare instances, there is a matter so specific that it is not treated by any reliable source. Therefore, the best of our most rigorous academic methods must be applied to ascertain truth regarding the matter. Where scholarship does not exist, the consensus of the Church may suffice. Where it is not an important enough matter for the Church regard, let it be relegated to the realm of personal philosophy and opinion.
Those sources lower on the scale should seek to establish the veracity of the higher authority and agreement should run in the bottom-up direction, seeking to conform all things of the Restoration to Jesus Christ.
Let everything be established according to scripture. First, from the Bible, for it is our oldest source and it would be of great use to be able to prove the pure Restored Gospel to other Christians out of the Bible; then from the Book of Mormon, the most correct book on Earth; also from the 1844 Doctrine and Covenants; and also from the great wealth of treasures of knowledge which have been given to us in these latter days.
It is with great pleasure, our beloved brethren and sisteren, that we present all the material of the Common Institutes of the Restoration.
The Foundation of Doctrine
Until now, we have discussed the Gospel in a very general sense. We have touched on something of the way by which man embraces the Gospel; that is, embracing Jesus Christ and His Atonement by way of repentance, baptism, and endurance. Yet now, let us make very clear the doctrine of Jesus Christ, that all who are found in it might be uplifted and all who are outside of it might be gently assured of their error, that they might repent and be restored unto life.
God the Father and His Son told Joseph Smith in that grove to join none of the other churches of his day, for all of their creeds were abominable. But why is that? What was it about the creeds of the day that made them abominable? I myself, even as a Restoration Saint, have read the Athanasian, Nicene, and Apostolic Creeds and have found some truth in them. Yet vital points are left out entirely, when the answers have been clearly in the Bible the whole time.
Let us look to the letter of Hebrews (Inspired Version, 6:1-2):
Therefore not leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God.Of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, and of the resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And we will go on unto perfection if God permit.
The King James reading differs only slightly, with the admonition of the author being primarily towards those who have already received such basic foundational doctrine and thus must progress upwards towards progression. Joseph Smith writing under inspiration felt that such verbiage could be misleading, and thus asks us to not leave such things that are clearly foundational doctrine.
Here we have seven vital points that comprise the doctrine of Christ:
These form a sort of progression in and of itself. Before anything, we must choose to repent from all of our dead works. This includes sin and also our previous religious efforts at making ourselves clean before God. We accept that we are sinful, and must have God cleanse us; we cannot do this alone, and our previous efforts to do so are dead. God will activate within us the faith which He has given to all men (Romans 12:3), that we might have a great hope of our own cleansing. This includes not faith in an abstract concept of God, but in Jesus Christ as God, for only He is worthy to save and His name is the only name by which salvation comes (LDS Alma 38:9). To have faith in any deity but He who saves is to still participate in a dead work. Thus, having this faith, we submit to the baptisms of fire and of water, that we might be made clean. Having been made clean, we may receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the authority of the holy Priesthood, all of which comes by the laying on of hands. The very mention of the laying on of hands necessitates the Priesthood, for only those who have a gift may give a gift through the laying on of hands; merely touching someone with intent is not enough. Armed with these great gifts, we may have an excellent hope of our celestial resurrection from the dead and facing the “pleasing bar of the great Jehovah, the Eternal Judge of both quick and dead (LDS Moroni 10:34).” All of these are necessary for our perfection, which is to be made like He is, for only He is perfect.
No creed offers such a clear view of the doctrine of Christ. Only the Bible contained it, yet those who read it did so without sincere heart and real intent (Moroni 10:4) and, like the sects of Judaism during New Testament times, their minds were closed because of their apostate condition (2 Corinthians 3:14). If only they would have recognized their apostasy as such; instead, for more than a thousand years, the sects of Christendom said in the pride of their hearts that their blindness was sight and so their sin was counted against them (John 9:41).
It took a mischievous but well meaning boy in upper New York to confess the profound ignorance of Christendom and ask God to reveal what really was truth. The very God that answered him told him not only were all creeds and the churches that believed in them abominable, but the true faith should be revealed in due time.
From the dust came the Book of Mormon, and we read in 3 Nephi 11 this pure doctrine also (emphasis added):
Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, I will declare unto you my doctrine.
And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.
And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.
And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.
And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one.
And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.
And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.
Therefore, go forth unto this people, and declare the words which I have spoken, unto the ends of the earth.
In similar intent to the Inspired Version, the Book of Mormon provides a detailed expansion of what is found in Hebrews, but the points are the same. If we may embrace them in a comparison side by side:
Bible: Book of Mormon
Repent from dead works : Repent, “shall be saved”
Faith towards God : Belief in Christ
Baptisms : Water baptism, receive Holy Ghost
Laying on of hands : Testimony of Holy Ghost; going forth to declare words of Christ with Priesthood power
Resurrection of the dead : Inherit Kingdom of God
Eternal judgement : Become as little child
Go up onto perfection : Not damned; can eternally progress
This is the doctrine of Jesus Christ. This is the doctrine of the Restoration. This is the foundation upon which the Church of Christ must be built. All who are built upon such a foundation belong to His Church. Any who claim Christ without His doctrine are not His. The whole of this doctrine is preserved as the fourth Article of Faith. No other Church but the Restored Church has such a doctrine, such a Biblical foundation.
Now, this doctrine did not originate with Christ, but with the Father (John 7:16) because of Himself, Christ does nothing (John 5:19).
Throughout the scriptures, some consistent imagery is invoked with this idea of sound doctrine being the foundation for all believers on which to build. Jesus speaks of this foundation in his parables (Luke 6:46-49):
And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?
Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like:
He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock.
But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.
The Lukan version is somewhat more expository than Matthew’s. In Luke’s account, Jesus tells us very clearly that even if a man recognizes Him as Lord, to not build upon the sure and strong foundation of the simple doctrine of Jesus Christ is to suffer the collapse of all that is built upon it. It is also interesting to note that here Jesus says the foundation was “founded upon a rock”. What is that rock (Matthew 16:13-18, emphasis added)?
When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?
And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.
He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Here Jesus asks one of his chief Apostles for a personal testimony of who Jesus Christ is. The mere assertions of others are not enough. Simon Peter obtains his testimony of whom Jesus Christ is not by “flesh and blood” - that is, no man tells him, including Jesus Christ Himself - but rather the Father tells him! The rock is revelation from the Father. It is that rock upon which the foundation is build, upon which the Church is constructed on top of that foundation, that the gates of hell may not prevail against.
But if the rock is misidentified, if the Church is built not on the solid foundation even if the rock is present, then the gates of hell may prevail against it.
So we see that there must be a firm rock of revelation from the Father. It is exactly as Moroni proclaimed long ago (Moroni 9:7-9):
And again I speak unto you who deny the revelations of God, and say that they are done away, that there are no revelations, nor prophecies, nor gifts, nor healing, nor speaking with tongues, and the interpretation of tongues;
Behold I say unto you, he that denieth these things knoweth not the gospel of Christ; yea, he has not read the scriptures; if so, he does not understand them.
For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing?
Now this firm foundation built upon the rock has a seal. Let us examine once more the conversation between Jesus and Peter. If we have the solid foundation build upon the rock, then we have the keys of the Kingdom, and the authority to bind and seal. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 2:19 that we who have the true foundation are known by God and we have departed from our sin. That is what separates us from the world. The Father in Heaven knows us personally because we have chosen His way and not any other, and accordingly, He has given us strength and power and authority to overcome.
Key to this foundation are the Apostles and Prophets (Ephesians 2:20), without which the ordinances to build the foundation could not take place. Just as we would not accept the well meaning but untrained handiwork of a man claiming to be a carpenter, yet without the use of tools, so too should we not accept the claims of any who say they may help us build this solid foundation if they have not the proper authority. As Moroni says, there is in God “no variableness neither shadow of changing”. That is what allows the keys of Peter to be available to us all here today, and that is what allows us to have Apostles and Prophets today just as they were in the days of the New Testament.
It must be clearly understood that it is God who builds this foundation, and not us (Psalm 127:1). We cannot embrace the ordinances ourselves. We cannot convince God to let us into the Kingdom simply because we have gotten wet and someone has touched us with their hands. Without authority, without the experience of those who have received it themselves, there can be no true foundation built.
A final note on this clear doctrine. While the doctrine of the Church of Christ is set, the covenants that may be taken out between God and His people are not. This is what was meant by the Prophet when he said “the fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it”. These basic facts are why we leave our dead works, have faith towards God, embrace our baptisms, receive authority through the laying on of hands, and have a hope of resurrection and judgement.
The appendages of which Joseph Smith speaks are what we call covenants.
So long as the Church remains the Church by way of the pure doctrine, it is the Church indeed. It does not matter that one branch of the Church in the mountains has embraced wholeheartedly the work for the dead, while another on the Prairie has let it be. I ask only of doctrine, where is the pure doctrine? If the foundation is purely built upon the solid rock of revelation, sealed with the true leaving of sin and being known by God, then we may call ourselves the house of God and God’s building (1 Timothy 3:15, 1 Corinthians 3:9).
Let us arrive at a working definition of Saint.
A Saint is one whom is being sanctified, being perfected. Mere belief does not make a Saint, nor does belonging to an organization. Saints are made (aka sanctified) by the reception of the Holy Ghost (LDS 3 Nephi 27:20) and the Atonement of Jesus Christ (LDS Mosiah 3:19). There are many who say they are Saints who are not; there are many who say they are not Saints who are!
A Saint is someone for whom the Gospel is the rule of life, who is a member of His Church, who uses the Priesthood power in that eternal and unchangeable Priesthood of Christ. A Saint is one for whom the ordinances are real, for whom the Restoration is a revealed and realized revelatory fact, for whom the Atonement is power. A Saint receives and gives mercy and expects judgement and righteously judges if they do so themselves. A Saint never stops progressign but exemplifies the meaning of eternal progression.
All these things - many though they seem, though they consist only of the essential life of a Saint - are applicable to the Saints of the New Testament, with which Latter Day Saints have the utmost and complete inheritance, brotherhood and fellowship.
Let us reclaim this term Latter Day Saint. I prefer it to Brighamite, Josephite, etc.. and prefer it to Christian or Mormon. It is that which God called us as a people through Joseph Smith (D&C 115). Therefore, I would that all of us in the Restored Church should embrace this name as a title of distinguishing, humble honor.
To make it clear: a Latter Day Saint is fundamentally no different from a New Testament Saint, an Old Testament Saint, a Book of Mormon Saint, or a Saint during Joseph Smith’s lifetime. These things are achievable for those for whom the person and work of Jesus Christ is real and not theological. But we have got to do it His way, and not our own.
Sainthood is a gift from God. It is not to be earned, only received. We can walk worthy of Sainthood (Ephesians 4:1) but we can never deserve it. The power and ability of a Saint is numerous if we are willing to receive it. Saints act righteously and those acts are an eternal clothing (Revelation 19:8, 2 Corinthians 5:2-4).
Saints fear God and lack nothing (Psalm 34:9).
Saints are the inheritance of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:18).
Saints of God are His Church (LDS 1 Nephi 14:12,14, RLDS 1908 1 Nephi 3:226) Whomever is a member of His Restored Church, the olive tree, is a Saint. Whomever is a Saint is a branch of that same olive tree.
Saints give themselves to God and also to His authorities on this Earth (2 Corinthians 7:5).
Saints labor to meet their own needs and the needs of each other. This is the communal lifestyle of the Saints (2 Corinthians 9:12).
Saints are called excellent ones; all of God’s delight is in us (Psalm 16:3)
“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.” - Psalm 52:8
The great olive tree discourse of the Book of Jacob in the Book of Mormon offers a wealth of insight into the Church of Jesus Christ and it’s Restoration. I will not quote at length the fifth chapter of the Book of Jacob; rather, we encourage every Saint to be familiar with it. Looking into the subject under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we have found many references scattered throughout scripture to the use of the olive tree as a sign and symbol of the faithful. It is with great humility that I present my findings to all children of the Restoration.
To put it plainly, we wish to present the Restoration symbolically as a great tree and there is but one Church of which the Restoration is many branches of this great tree. The word of God is the good seed of Jesus Christ who is the perfect and just farmer. The seed was planted in these latter days by Joseph Smith, Jr. - assistant gardener (1 Corinthians 3:9) - and the tree grows as it is fertilized by Apostles and Prophets both ancient and modern (LDS D&C 86:2). It is watered by the Priesthood, breathed upon by the Holy Spirit, and given warmth by God the Father (Hebrews 12:29).
Of this seed the prophet Alma speaks (LDS Alma 16:17):
And there was no inequality among them; the Lord did pour out his Spirit on all the face of the land to prepare the minds of the children of men, or to prepare their hearts to receive the word which should be taught among them at the time of his coming—
That they might not be hardened against the word, that they might not be unbelieving, and go on to destruction, but that they might receive the word with joy, and as a branch be grafted into the true vine, that they might enter into the rest of the Lord their God.
The word of God is that which exalts us and begins our great progression towards immortality and eternal life (John 10:35, Moses 1:39). Consider also the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8) in which Jesus says plainly to the Apostles “the seed is the word of God.” Receiving this word makes us the family of Jesus Christ (Luke 8:21). Those truly sent by God are sent with this word (John 8:34) and those who do not receive the word do not receive God (John 8:47). Those filled with the Holy Ghost speak the word of God (Acts 4:31, D&C 68:1-4) and the Church grows in measure by the growth of the reception of the word (Acts 6:7, 12:24, 19:20). The “ears to hear” of which Jesus frequently speaks throughout the Gospel accounts comes by receiving the word of God (Romans 10:17). The word of God comes from those whom God has chosen as apostles (1 Thessalonians 2:13). The word of God empowers us to overcome Satan (1 John 2:14).
But what precisely is the word of God? What is the valuable seed we must embrace to be counted members of His Church? It is the Spirit of God (Ephesians 6:17)! To receive the baptisms of water and fire and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost by Priesthood authority - to embrace such is to receive the word of God. There is none other way (John 3:5). The word of God is Jesus Christ Himself (Revelation 19:13). Therefore to receive the Spirit and His companionship is to receive of Jesus Christ Himself.
To receive the word, the Spirit, Jesus Christ is to become born again (1 Peter 1:23). Let us understand something about being born again. John says that whoever loves is born of God (1 John 4:7) because God is love (1 John 4:8). Let us engage in a thought experiment of two men: one of these men is a faithful Latter Day Saint who has received endowments and made temple marriage covenants, yet each day on his way to work passes the homeless man by. He holds grudges and is unforgiving in character despite the fact that he takes the sacrament and receives callings. Now there is another man who has heard neither of Joseph Smith nor of the Book of Mormon, yet he withholds nothing from those who ask of him; he holds neither grudge nor hate in his heart. Who, then, is a member of the Kingdom of God? Who is truly born of Jesus Christ?
Let us understand this about the seed. The seed must be planted and rooted in Jesus Christ Himself (Colossians 2:7). In other words, we must be planted and rooted in love (Ephesians 3:17). The vital truth of the Restoration is that we received first not doctrine but Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith did not attain understanding and salvation by theology or speculation; it came by the First Vision, the reception of Christ Himself.
Therefore understand, all of my Restoration family, this is why I said in MY PREVIOUS ESSAY that the direct experience of Jesus Christ is the supreme authority in the life of the believer. Jesus is alive today; merely believing things about Him in the past, no matter how true those things are, will not bring salvation.
It is this and this alone that gives life. Examine yourself thoroughly! In whom are you rooted? Are you rooted in Mormon theology, or Jesus Christ? Are you rooted in Reorganized doctrine, or in the Christ of whom your Reorganization bears it’s name? Are you rooted in a hope of a future temple, or in the Christ whose Church you are called? In whom are you rooted, dear family?
Those that receive the word and yet do not become rooted in Him are destined to never produce fruit or otherwise ill fruit (Matthew 13:19-22). Joseph Smith understood this. It was to him that the great Olive Leaf revelation was given, “And above all things, clothe yourselves with the bond of charity, as with a mantle, which is the bond of perfectness and peace (LDS D&C 88:125).”
To all who have the ears to hear, hear! If you pursue peace, if you pursue perfection in the Gospel it is love and love alone that will accomplish this. The reception of this word - this rebirth, this rooting in Jesus Christ, this total and whole embrace of love - is called the first ordinance of the Gospel (Article of Faith 1:4, Hebrews 6:1-2).
The True Vine
Now understand this: if the root is holy, so are the branches (Romans 11:16). If we need any more proof from scripture of this, let us hear from the Messiah in John 15 (emphasis added):
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.
If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.
These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full
This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.
Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.
Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
These things I command you, that ye love one another.
If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.
If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.
But all these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me.
If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin.
He that hateth me hateth my Father also.
If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.
But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.
But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:
And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.
John wraps up beautifully all of the scattered references to the Spirit and the word of God, it’s role in our rebirth, and the essential place of love here in this chapter. There are several promises here: comfort by the Holy Spirit, approval before God because we abide in Jesus Christ, a true and lasting witness of Christ by that same Spirit, persecution, to be hated by the world, and to be burned if we do not produce good fruit.
The Apostles and Prophets of the Restoration taught that the Restored Church is spiritual Israel because we have received the word of God (Romans 9:6). Paul spoke of these things in the Epistle to the Romans (11:17-36). I urge a careful reading by the Spirit of God (emphasis added):
And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:
For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.
As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the father's sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen
It is this abiding in Christ, the true vine, becoming a part of the olive tree, with which Joseph Smith was obsessed. He did not find the Christ of which Paul spoke in Methodism, Presbyterianism, Episcopalianism, indeed not any -ism at all (and the same remains true for Mormonism today; better a Latter Day Saint of any tradition than a cultural Mormon or Prairie Saint). Rather, Joseph sought to abide in the true vine and it is this that led him to the Epistle of James and ultimately to the First Vision.
Having found satisfaction in abiding in the true vine by receiving the first principles of the Gospel just as any Restoration child today would, Joseph continued the Gospel work until his death and martyrdom. He, and all who would fight the spiritual war with him, continued to grow the olive tree and allow the Spirit to continue to breathe life into them, to be watered by the holy Priesthood, to be fed pure spiritual food by Jesus Christ, to have the pure light shined upon them by our Heavenly Father.
Now let us turn to the words of Nephi concerning spiritual and Hebrew Israel (LDS 1 Nephi 10:12-14):
Yea, even my father spake much concerning the Gentiles, and also concerning the house of Israel, that they should be compared like unto an olive tree, whose branches should be broken off and should be scattered upon all the face of the earth.
Wherefore, he said it must needs be that we should be led with one accord into the land of promise, unto the fulfilling of the word of the Lord, that we should be scattered upon all the face of the earth.
And after the house of Israel should be scattered they should be gathered together again; or, in fine, after the Gentiles had received the fulness of the Gospel, the natural branches of the olive tree, or the remnants of the house of Israel, should be grafted in, or come to the knowledge of the true Messiah, their Lord and their Redeemer.
The Restoration began with this hope. In the words of the Book of Mormon, Brother Joseph saw what must needs be done. He saw the day of the gathering of Israel:
Behold, I say unto you, Yea; they shall be remembered again among the house of Israel; they shall be grafted in, being a natural branch of the olive tree, into the true olive tree.
Brother Joseph saw also that it should not come until the Gentiles had received the fulness of the Gospel. With no “true tree” - only natural branches - to be grafted into, it was clear what must be done: a complete and total Restoration of the Gospel. This Restoration became the olive tree of which we are all members, if we abide in Christ and in His pure doctrine. Yet even in Joseph’s day, the olive tree remained immature, for much growth was needed.
The Growth of Branches and Fruit
A tree cannot grow fruit without branches. Branches cannot be grown without a strong and sturdy trunk which is fed by strong and sturdy roots. Until the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, only the trunk had been growing. It was necessary for the olive tree to grow a strong root system and a thick and sturdy trunk before building its branches. That thick and sturdy trunk was the beginning of the Restoration, and remains the Restoration. To be a branch of the Restoration means we must abide in the trunk, which is fed by the roots.
Now, I say unto you: if we have all the elements of the olive tree, shall we not be considered true branches? Let us have once more primer, clearly and simply:
There is an element here which has purposely been left unaddressed until this moment. Recall the Parable of the Sower and the qualities of soil. The quality of the soil can be changed, as is abundantly clear by the word of the husbandsmen in Jacob 5:5, 27-38, and other verses.
It’s quite interesting to see how the Book of Mormon interacts with this Parable. In Alma (LDS 36:12), the prophet describes his conversion:
But I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins.
The choice of words used for the translation is astounding; Alma says his soul was “harrowed”. What does that mean? Does that have a context that the 19th century Saints would have understood a little better? It does indeed: a harrow is an agricultural tool used for the breaking up of soil so that seeds might be planted and thus grow. Alma is an ancient example of the process of the Parable, by which the Messiah finds us as hard, packed ground and must continually break us before the seed can even be planted.
Remember that the acceptable sacrifice is a broken and a contrite spirit.
Thus it is also that we examine the history of the early Restored Church and see that the intense persecution of the Saints was no accident. God purposed this; it is written all over the Doctrine and Covenants. The Saints were refined by conflict and fire that their ground might be harrowed, that the pure seed of the word of God which was planted in them might grow up and bear much excellent fruit. We see this today also in the many conversion stories of modern Saints who relate an intense period of brokenness out of which they found themselves called to the Gospel. The author of this essay can attest to such events in his own conversion.
Let us return to an earlier point from Romans (11:18):
Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.
In other words, the root supports the tree. Christ supports the Restoration; the Restoration supports the branches. The branches can claim neither to support the root, for the root can endure even if half the tree be cut down. Ask any arborist: a branch can be wholly cut off without affecting the tree negatively; in fact, sometimes the removal of a branch is beneficial for the whole tree, as is related also in Jacob 5. But, if the root is taken, all of the branches will die.
Any branch which seeks to separate the root from the tree must be broken off so that the rest of the branches, indeed the whole tree, may remain healthy and alive. The removed branch receives only what it wants: separation from the root.
Examples of broken off branches abound in the early history of the Restoration. Consider the so-called “Pure Church of Christ” organized by Wycam Clark, or perhaps any one of the “Churches of Christ” of Ezra Booth, Warren Parrish, or William Chubby. All of these are defunct. A more example of a broken branch is the FLDS Church whose “prophet” is now permanently incarcerated for child abuse; such things cannot be the fruit of a tree abiding in the pure root.
But what of grafted in branches? We have two excellent examples here in the latter days. Let us consider the congregation of Sidney Rigdon, which was baptized into the Restored Church when they obtained a knowledge and testimony of the truthfulness of the work. Such is possible even today, if any congregation is willing to receive the Restoration.
Consider also the Latter Day Saint congregations in Ghana organized by Joseph W.B. Johnson, a powerful instrument in the hands of the Lord. Johnson had obtained a copy of the Book of Mormon and took up Moroni’s Promise, learning for himself that the Book was the authentic word of God. He worked hard to spread the Restored Gospel to his countrymen, independent of any other Restoration authority. The work of these Ghana Saints - despite the fact that the Priesthood was restricted to them by the LDS Church, but not by the RLDS Church - led directly to the reception of Official Declaration 2, a principle known to the RLDS Church as early as the mid 19th century. It was even said by the Brethren at the time that the reception of OD2 involved an experience too sacred to speak of outside of the temple.
Johnson and others were baptized in 1978 following the revelation, and Johnson became Ghana’s first stake Patriarch. To those that believe that God does not work outside of a particular institution or organization, the Ghana Saints are a perfect and supreme example.
The grafting in of the descendants of Lehi - those Native Americans whom possess Nephite or Lamanite blood - is also promised (1 Nephi 15:16):
Behold, I say unto you, Yea; they shall be remembered again among the house of Israel; they shall be grafted in, being a natural branch of the olive tree, into the true olive tree.
The Restored Church as the Olive Tree
Now let us somewhat leave our metaphor and speak more plainly. I am wholly proposing that the Restored Church exists wherever the fulfillment of the olive tree criteria exists. If you, as an organization or an individual, have received the pure seed from a proper Apostolic (aka Priesthood) authority, have been nourished by Jesus Christ Himself - and not a theology of Him - have been fed by and abide in Love, and have been harrowed so that the seed might take strong root, then I cannot deny that you are a Saint. We humbly ask for your testimony so that we might learn what the Lord has done for you.
Some may bring out the argument of the difference of Priesthood authority versus Priesthood keys, that the Priesthood cannot exist without the Church structure. On the contrary, the Church cannot exist without the Priesthood structure! Remember that the Priesthood was restored in 1829, yet the Church was not organized until 1830 (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg 271). This fact alone tells us that it is possible for the Priesthood to exist without the Church organization. Yet it is not possible for the Church to exist without Priesthood; were that true, so would be Methodism, Presbyterianism, Catholicism, and every other flavor under the sun.
Let us hear something of Paul out of the Inspired Version (1 Corinthians 11:19):
For there must be also divisions among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.
Is this not true of the Church today? Factions in the restored Church blossomed after Brother Joseph’s death, some of them remaining true branches and some of them not. This factionalization was based wholly on whom we do and do not approve of. One says, “I am of Brigham Young!” while another says “I am of Sidney Rigdon!” and still yet another declares “I am of Joseph Smith III!”, and on it goes. Yet there is a difference between factionalization and branching. Paul speaks to us further earlier in the Epistle:
For ye are yet carnal; for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul, and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one; and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are laborers together with God; ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building.
If we seek to divide the olive tree, we are carnal. Who then is Brigham Young? Who then is Sidney Rigdon? Who then is Granville Hendrick? Who then is Joseph Smith III?
Therefore now hear this parable: a tree that is dug up will die quickly, but maintain it’s appearance of greenery for a while. But with time, without good ground and root, the inner rot becomes wholly evident even though the raw structure of the tree may endure without root. A branch may be broken off, but the root cannot be moved (Proverbs 12:3). Do you understand? Let he who has ears to ear, let him hear.
Again, let us go to the prophet Daniel and examine closely his great vision:
And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.
Section 24 of the 1844 edition of the D&C (65 of the LDS) tells us that this prophecy concerns the latter days and the dispensation of the fullness of times. The Restored Church is the Kingdom of God on this Earth; this is that Kingdom everlasting of which Jesus Christ is King and of which Daniel saw to be, at once, everlasting and yet shattered into pieces.
Must the prophecy be stated clearly? Brother Joseph knew what was to come, for it was told to him clearly: the Restoration would break into many pieces. These pieces are what we have thus far called branches of the olive tree, and so long as a branch abides in the tree, it must be considered a part of the tree!
We ask only what the Apostles have asked:
That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.
What is schism? In the Greek, it is σχίσμα, literally meaning a tear or a rend. Though the Church may be shattered into pieces that the scripture might be fulfilled, we need not tear or rend against one another because I am of one piece and you are of another!
And again, let us hear the Apostle:
If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body.
The State of the Restored Church
Why was this prophecy given, that the Church of Jesus Christ restored upon the Earth - the very Kingdom of God on Earth preparatory to His second coming - should be shattered into many pieces? It is so we might have a more clear and full view of He whose Body we are.
Consider the revelation given to Joseph Smith concerning the centerplace of Zion (D&C 27 in the 1844 edition, 57 in the LDS version):
Hearken, O ye elders of my church, saith the Lord your God, who have assembled yourselves together, according to my commandments, in this land, which is the land of Missouri, which is the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the saints.
Wherefore, this is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion.
And thus saith the Lord your God, if you will receive wisdom here is wisdom. Behold, the place which is now called Independence is the center place; and a spot for the temple is lying westward, upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse.
Shall the word of God go out and return void? It is clear to us that God has not abandoned His purpose for this place. On the original temple lot site, at least four different Restoration branches exist. Upon the site itself stands the meetinghouse of the Church of Christ (Temple Lot), who followed Granville Hendrick’s inspired counsel to return to Jackson County for the explicit purpose of taking care of the Temple Lot.
The failed lawsuit of the RLDS against the Temple Lotters in the 1890’s is ample proof that it is certainly not God’s will for anyone except the Temple Lotters to have stewardship over this site. Yet it is equally true that God does not will for the work to be undertaken by them alone, as shown by the failure of Otto Fetting to build the temple despite his supposed revelations.
According to Joseph Smith’s Plat of the City of Zion, there will be twenty four temples upon this site. This grand effort may not happen until the Millennium. However the promised temple upon the site of which the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) is steward will most certainly be built. It will take a cooperation of the most supreme effort between all Restoration Children to complete this project. The LDS Church currently based in Salt Lake City has the resources to build this temple; the Temple Lot Church has the Temple Lot itself. The Temple should also serve the uses of worship for those who would enter into such Temple covenants out of the Community of Christ and other Restoration branches.
For the word of God will not return void. For the Messiah says (John 10:16):
And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
Does not the prophet Nephi echo the words of Christ? (LDS 1 Nephi 13:41, RLDS 1908 1 Nephi 3:194):
And they must come according to the words which shall be established by the mouth of the Lamb; and the words of the Lamb shall be made known in the records of thy seed, as well as in the records of the twelve apostles of the Lamb; wherefore they both shall be established in one; for there is one God and one Shepherd over all the earth.
The Unity of the Restored Church
It is with these scriptures that we ask a bold question of all Restoration children. Jesus certainly ordained twelve Apostles in Jerusalem - Peter, James, John, and the others - and set up the order of the Church among them, with the fullness of the pure doctrine of Christ and the ordinances and power of the holy Priesthood. Yet among the Nephites Jesus did exactly the same, ordained Nephi, Timothy, Jonas, and others to the holy Apostleship (LDS 3 Nephi 19:4, RLDS 1908 3 Nephi 9:4). To them also He left His pure doctrine and the ordinances and power of the holy Priesthood, with all the same rights and responsibility as the Church in Jerusalem.
Are we to believe that Jesus set up two separate Churches? To think so is ridiculous. Rather, it is just as Jesus said: he came to His other sheep, and there is one fold and one shepherd.
Our God does not change and is no respecter of persons. What occurred two thousand years ago most certainly occurred with the death of Joseph Smith! The Church Restored fractured to fulfill the prophecy of Daniel without unbecoming one fold and one shepherd. Could it not be that the Priesthood leadership of each of the Restoration Churches who have not departed from the foundation of pure doctrine - which shall be duly addressed in the next essay - are perfectly valid, just as Peter was as valid as Nephi?
The claims of each branch, when carefully examined, do not contradict one another. President Thomas S. Monson is said to be the only man on Earth who possesses all of the authority and keys of the Priesthood with full ability to exercise them. This is true, for there is no other Church on Earth which has the fullness of the temple ordinances available.
Yet it is so that even within the LDS Church there are those Saints who do not embrace the fullness of the ordinances. Some do not feel called to keep a celestial law, so they make terrestrial or telestial covenants. But it is true that all who have the seed planted in them - that is, to be born again, to receive of the word, to enter into the baptisms of water and fire as we have previously discussed - may inherit celestial glory (LDS D&C 76:51, section 92 in the 1844 version) and Zion cannot be built up unless it is by celestial law (LDS D&C 105:5, section 104 in 1844 version). So it is that many in the Community of Christ will inherit the celestial kingdom if they obey this scripture and are baptized according to the order of Priesthood, for whatever is holy must come by the holy Priesthood (2 Chronicles 5:11). Yet they do not desire exaltation and shall not receive it, for they have not made such covenants. This is according to scripture; it is not for us to determine anyone’s individual salvation.
Let us also consider the Millenium. The great work of building Zion in the Restored Church as a cooperative effort is preparatory to the Millennium. There are a great many things we do not know about the Millennium; but we do know that it is the resurrection unto celestial glory, and that there is still yet to be much work done in the Millennium - even more than there is to do now! Could we not consider that all who make celestial covenants in this life may make further celestial covenants, should they so desire them?
Brother Brigham Young was correct when he said that Joseph Smith had no successor (Journal of Discourses 8:69). As Brother Brigham tends the flock, so too did all who were willing to seize hold of the iron rod and keep to the pure doctrine which was taught them through the Apostles and Prophets. Such continues even today with all who possess the holy Priesthood authority and keys, and also keep to the pure root and trunk of the olive tree.
I would like to hear the end of the matter from Mosiah (LDS 25:22, RLDS 1908 11:100):
And thus, notwithstanding there being many churches they were all one church, yea, even the church of God; for there was nothing preached in all the churches except it were repentance and faith in God.
And from Paul, our champion of unity (1 Corinthians 1:10):
Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
The whole Restored Church - the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, without adjectives - has the Restored Gospel. No branch may say it possesses the roots.
Ahmed Nait-Djoudi is a faithful Muslim and self-employed citizen of Algeria. He has studied at Université Mouloud Mammeri de Tizi Ouzou. Fluent in Arabic, German, English, and Algerian, he resides in Tizi Ouzou, Algeria.