Sunday, March 14, 2010

Is It Me or Is It the Spirit?

I watched an excellent devotional address by Elder David A. Bednar on the "me or the Spirit" question this week. In his introduction he commented that this was one of the most frequent questions members of the Church ask him worldwide. Certainly, there have been times in my own life where I have wondered that very thing and have hesitated to some degree in hopes of receiving that clarification before moving forward.

Elder Bednar's answer was a little bit of a surprise, but a comfort at the same time. His answer to this question was quit worrying about it! Stop fussing, stop analyzing and stop worrying about it. In doing this he corrected what he called a cultural departure from doctrine and went on to say that if we are good boys and girls, keep our covenants and keep the commandments, it doesn't matter if it is us or the spirit. Many times when it is the spirit, we won't recognize it at the time; and it is okay to be doing good without the prodding of spiritual promptings. The bulk of his talk was spent on three incredible stories illustrating these points.

The scripture that came to mind while listening to his talk were these from the Doctrine and Covenants:

For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward. But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with a doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned. (D&C 58:26-29)

So we know this stuff. I've heard these verses several times in church classes, conference talks and seminary/religion classes. Why do so many of us hesitate, then? Elder Bednar commented that he has observed members and missionaries who were "paralyzed" by this question. Why? Why is this question one of the most frequently asked to Elder Bednar worldwide? Do we simply not have the faith to act on our own? Or are we misapplying scriptures like, "If ye have not the spirit, ye shall not teach"?

This was a timely reminder for me. My wife and I have been thinking and praying about moving to a new area to be closer to her family and give me the opportunity to go to graduate school. We have stood at the crossroads of this decision uncertain of what to do for a period of weeks. It felt almost liberating to hear again that God trusts us to make good decisions. The idea that we can decide and move forward, trusting that he won't allow us to go too far down a bad path unwarned, was comforting and exciting all at once. I know what I will choose to do!

Perhaps the more subtle point of Elder Bednar's talk was that often the spirit is guiding us without us realizing that the spirit is guiding us. While I puzzle at how I could have forgotten my agency in the first place, I take comfort in the knowledge that by pressing forward and making good choices, I will be led home to that God who is my Creator, the Father of my spirit and the architect of the Plan of Happiness.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mutinous, Adulterous Apostasy

Sometimes when discussing apostasy, I have found that we tend to discuss the symptoms or results of apostasy as though they were the causes. These typically external symptoms may include persecutions, changed scriptures, increasing philosophical influence or a host of others. Noel Reynolds has commented that this is kind of like coming upon a car wreck and determining that the twisted metal and broken glass caused the accident. The causes of apostasy are not the external results, rather the internal conflicts.

Leaning for a moment on the expertise of Reynolds (which has been seconded by Stephen Robinson, the BYU professor and well-known author of Believing Christ), we learn that the Greek term apostasia, from which the word "apostasy" comes, means rebellion. It often references a military rebellion or mutiny. The word "apostasy" references such a mutiny in the church. Consider the mutinous nature of apostasy in the experience of Alma the Younger. An angel declares to him:

Alma, arise and stand forth, for why persecutest thou the church of God? For the Lord hath said: This is my church, and I will establish it; and nothing shall overthrow it, save it is the transgression of my people (Mosiah 27:13).

The Lord clearly states in this verse that no external force can overthrow His church. This is confirmed by a statement of Joseph Smith so famous it has been given a title by which to reference it, The Standard of Truth. It declares:

No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done. (HC 4:540, p. 9)

Apostasy is not the result of external forces, rather internal conflicts or transgressions. While apostasy is tied to obedience, or rather disobedience, it is particularly closely tied to keeping covenants. Consider this warning given to Moses:

You are going to rest with your fathers, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. On that day I will become angry with them and forsake them. (Deut 31:16)

Leaning again on the teachings of Reynolds, we learn of this verse that "the word used here is apostasion, meaning 'little rebellion' or 'little apostasy,' and specifically indicates divorce, or breaking of the marriage covenant. The Lord repeatedly likened his covenant with Israel to the covenant of marriage, and apostasy from that covenant was likened to adultery." We cannot be adulterous against a relationship in which we have no part. Thus, the rebels at the roots of apostasy must have always been members of the church, perhaps sometimes leaders as we saw in the days of Kirtland, seeking for power or glory or justification of sin. Such was certainly the case for Lucifer, the first apostate, who rebelled against the plan of God to gain glory for himself.

Modern revelation confirms this approach of covenant-breaking as apostasy. The first section of the Doctrine and Covenants says, referring to those who will be cut off because of their refusal to heed to the word of God and his prophets:

they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant; They seek not the Lord to establish righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall. (D&C 1:15-16)

Straying from the covenants and ordinances of God is the cause of apostasy. It cannot occur by external force, but it can happen to individuals or large groups when they stop striving to heed the words of God and His prophets. This is what happened in the ancient church (see Galatians 1:6-8, 2 Cor 11:13-15, 2 Tim 1:15, 3 John 1:9-10, Revelation 2-3, 1 Cor. 1:11-13). This is how apostasy happens today.

With General Conference fast approaching, the next few weeks may be an ideal time to consider our willingness to heed the words of God and His prophet. Are we keeping the covenants we have made at baptism, when we we ordained to the priesthood, when we were married or at other times?

I agree with Noel Reynolds:

As individuals, we must carefully keep our covenants, or we will lose the guidance of the Spirit, and fall into apostasy ourselves. Further we must teach this lesson to our children. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has said, the Church is never more than one generation away from extinction. In each new generation-- each individual member, needs to be converted, to make a covenant of obedience to the Father, and to grow in faithfulness in his service.

In summary, apostasy is mutiny or rebellion that results from the disobedience of church members to the commandments and covenants of God. We can be safe from individual or widespread apostasy as we heed the words of the prophets, keep our covenants and strive to be obedient to God's commands.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Prophets on the Power of the Scriptures

I was reading a talk today by President Benson called, "The Power of the Word." I was impressed by the several prophetic quotes he used, although they are only a small portion of a much larger teaching on this subject. I have included those quotes below with only a short commentary from me at the end. These are powerful quotes from God's prophets; I'm sure there is much we can learn from their counsel. The quotes:

Whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction.  Nephi (1 Ne. 15:24)

(Interesting here that Nephi says the temptations and fiery darts of the adversary are intended to blind people, perhaps through pride, rather than immediately destroy them. Then once we are blind, we are led to destruction. But back to the quotes...)

From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make the wise unto salvation.  Paul (2 Tim. 3:15)

We are convinced that our members are hungry for the gospel, undiluted, with its abundant truths and insights... There are those who have seemed to forget that the most powerful weapons the Lord has given us against all that is evil are His own declarations, the plain simple doctrines of salvation as found in the scriptures. President Harold B. Lee, 1 Oct. 1970

I am convinced that each of us, at least some time in our lives, must discover the scriptures for ourselves-- and not just discover them once, but rediscover them again and again... The Lord is not trifling with us when he gives us these things, for 'unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.' Access to these things means responsibility for them. We must study the scriptures according to the Lord's commandment; and we must let them govern our lives. President Spencer W. Kimball, Sept. 1976

We are so wound up in programs and statistics and trends, in properties, lands and mammon, and in achieving goals that will highlight the excellence of our work, that we have 'omitted the weightier matters of the law.'... However talented men may be in administrative matters; however eloquent they may be in expressing their views; however learned they may be in the worldly things--they will be denied the sweet whisperings of the Spirit that might have been theirs unless they pay the price of studying, pondering, and praying about the scriptures. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, Apr. 1982

Often we spend great effort in trying to increase the activity levels in our stakes. We work diligently to raise the percentages of those attending sacrament meetings. We labor to get a higher percentage of our young men on missions. We strive to improve the numbers of those marrying in the temple. All of these are commendable efforts and important to the growth of the kingdom. But when individual members and families immerse themselves in the scriptures regularly and consistently, these other areas of activity will automatically come. Testimonies will increase. Commitment will be strengthened. Families will be fortified. Personal revelation will flow.  President Ezra Taft Benson, May 1986

I told the Brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.  The Prophet Joseph Smith

There are so many motivations for scripture reading in these quotes. Protection against temptation, coming nearer to God and salvation for ourselves and others are three primary motivators, though even these huge blessings are not a complete summary of what comes from scripture study. It is remarkable how, in light of such enormous blessings given to those who study the scriptures, we sometimes allow even the most trivial cost of time or convenience to divert our path or blind our view.

It seems that if we were always aware of these blessings that we would rather miss a few moments of air than a day of scripture study. If so, what can you or I do to remember these blessings that will also help us be faithful in our daily scripture study?