Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet

On the internet and in personal conversations, I have been surprised to find how many people seem to view the words of the prophets as mere opinion or as good suggestions. Some of these people discount prophetic words, even conference addresses, because they view that particular prophet's views to be extreme or unqualified by professional background or in violation of a separation of church and state. One blogger even wondered aloud if she could support her leaders and the opponents of the Church simultaneously.

In a monumental address, President Benson once outlined fourteen fundamentals in following the prophet. It has been almost thirty years since that address, but the topic seems worthy of review. I recommend the entire talk to anyone interested in this principle. In brief, however, the fourteen fundamentals are:

First: The prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything.
Second: The living prophet is more vital to us than the Standard Works.
Third: The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.
Fourth: The prophet will never lead the Church astray.
Fifth: The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or diplomas to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time.
Sixth: The prophet does not have to say “Thus saith the Lord” to give us scripture.
Seventh: The prophet tells us what we need to know, not always what we want to know.
Eighth: The Prophet is not limited by men’s reasoning.
Ninth: The prophet can receive revelation on any matter—temporal or spiritual.
Tenth: The prophet may well advise on civic matters.
Eleventh: The two groups who have the greatest difficulty in following the prophet are the proud who are learned and the proud who are rich.
Twelfth: The prophet will not necessarily be popular with the world or the worldly.
Thirteenth: The prophet and his counselors make up the First Presidency—The highest quorum in the Church.
Fourteenth: The prophet and the presidency—the living prophet and the First Presidency—follow them and be blessed—reject them and suffer.

These fourteen fundamentals are very relevant to us today. It is comforting to me to know that, while I can receive a personal witness that a prophet is called of God, I do not need to critically evaluate everything a prophet says. As a prophet, his words are not his opinion or the presentation of one plausible way to do things right. Rather, a prophet speaking as a prophet on any subject is revealing the mind and will of God to us. We can trust absolutely in their prophetic counsel and are guaranteed to be blessed if we obey it.

The only remaining question, then, is when a prophet is speaking as a prophet and when he is not. Joseph Smith taught, "a prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such" (Teachings, 278). The manual Teachings of the Living Prophets published by the Church expounds, "Prophets have the right to personal opinions. Not every word they speak should be thought of as an official interpretation or pronouncement. However, their discourses to the Saints and their official writings should be considered products of their prophetic calling and should be heeded" (21).

Several prophets and apostles have commented that a prophet is a prophet when he delivers a message to us by the power of the Holy Ghost; it is our responsibility to be prepared and worthy to recognize that spirit. President David O. McKay also taught that official church doctrine is found in the standard works, official publications of the Church and general conference addresses after 1954 (Conference Report, October 1954, p. 7). Any time a prophet speaks in conference or in an official publication (such as the Ensign or official statements read in church), he is speaking as a prophet.

This truth will not deter some from preferring to think of the prophet as a wise man, like a grandfather, who shares counsel born of experience that may or may not be correct; or that their situation is an exception to the commandment to follow the prophet. Similar things have happened in every dispensation. Even in Moses' day, when the children of Israel were healed from serpent bites by simply looking at the brass serpent raised on a staff by the prophet, there were people chose not to look.

If we desire exaltation, we must learn to have the faith to follow the prophet. We must choose to look. We must choose to obey and follow even if we disagree. With Christ we must express in true humility, "not my will, but thine be done." As we learn to follow the prophet, the Lord will soften our hearts and help us to understand and to qualify for the blessings He has in store for the faithful. Through His prophets, God will lead us home.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


At the beginning of 1 Nephi, we read of the exodus of Lehi and his family from Jerusalem. Much has been made of these chapters, possibly because they are likely the most read chapters in the Book of Mormon, and rightly so. There are many lessons in these opening pages.

Surely one of the most famous lessons comes after Lehi was commanded to send his sons a considerable distance back to Jerusalem to recover the brass plates. Here we learn that the Lord prepares a way for his commandments to be fulfilled. Here we see faith in action as Nephi remains true when even his prophet-father begins to waver and doubt. Here we see true gratitude as Lehi offers a sacrifice for the return of his sons.

In the middle of all of that, we have all read and taken note of Nephi, attempting to recover the brass plates by night, as he says, "And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do" (1 Nephi 4:6). We are often content to consider this statement alone-- and why not? We are reminded here of our daily lives as we seek to be guided by the Spirit, not necessarily knowing where that may lead. We like this idea of being guided by the Spirit, particularly if that is all there is to it.

As I read this chapter again recently, I realized that this verse is not Nephi's complete statement. Including the first phrase of the following verse, the passage reads: "And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do. Nevertheless I went forth..."

The statement Nephi makes is not that he didn't know what to do, but that he had the faith to step into the unknown despite not knowing what to do.

Nephi's example of being anxiously engaged despite obstacles is certainly not a solitary incident in the scriptures. Job declared, "For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet (nevertheless) in my flesh shall I see God" (Job 19:25-26). Alma writes of the widespread apostasy in his second year as chief judge: "Now this was a great trial to those that did stand fast in the faith; nevertheless, they were steadfast and immovable in keeping the commandments of God, and they bore with patience the persecution which was heaped upon them" (Alma 1:25).

The word "nevertheless" becomes a sign of faith in each of these examples. It is a turning point in the expression from sorrow or doubt to steadfastness and optimism.

Later in his life, as Nephi mourns his own wretched weakness in a passage frequently called "Nephi's Psalm," Nephi exclaims, "I am encompassed about, because of the tempations and sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep" (2 Nephi 4:18-20). Nephi goes on to express how blessed he has been and several of the many reasons he has to trust in the Lord.

In each of these scenarios, the faith that is expressed is not newly acquired; rather it is prepared beforehand and ready to lift its possessor in a difficult moment. We could rightly ask ourselves if we are prepared for such a moment. Each of us has faced obstacles as Nephi, Job and the faithful in Alma's time did; and there are more obstacles yet to come. So what's our nevertheless? How have we prepared our minds to be faithful even in the hardest times?

Paramount in examples such as the ones given so far is the example of our Savior, Jesus Christ. While suffering in Gethsemane, he said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt" (Mark 14:36).

Nephi recovered the brass plates, Job endured and was blessed in multiples, Alma had generations of righteous posterity and a prosperous people and Christ was able to complete the atonement at least in part because their faith was ready when the hard times came.

The world is gripped by economic uncertainty, declining moral values and increasing frequency of terminal medical diagnoses. Much of the world is suffering from natural disasters, warfare, disease and starvation. Families are crumbling and our societies are weakening. Each of us is surrounded by challenges that are only getting more complex and difficult.

Nevertheless, as those who have come before us, we can endure if we have faith in Christ.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Why Sacrifice?

The gospel reference True to the Faith teaches that sacrifice is giving up something we value for the sake of something of greater worth. This is a vital practice, law, principle and covenant in the Church. President Gordon B. Hinckley taught, "Without sacrifice there is no true worship of God. … ‘The Father gave his Son, and the Son gave his life,’ and we do not worship unless we give—give of our substance, … our time, … strength, … talent, … faith, … [and] testimonies” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [1997], 565).

It is worth noting here that sacrifice, by definition, must be giving up something we value. The ten percent of annual increase to be paid in tithing each year carries very different values for a rich man and a poor man. Though the dollar amount may be higher for a rich man's contribution, that rich man may value money less than a poor man because he has more of it. So, while the poor man may be missing meals to pay tithing, the rich man, who recovers much of his contribution in his tax return anyway, may hardly notice the transfer of money to the Church.

On the other hand, time for the wealthy man may be much more valuable than for the poor man. Certainly the rich man has more to lose for every hour of work missed than the poor man, for example.

The Church helps each of us to sacrifice things that we value in order to make our worship more true and our blessings more plentiful. She may ask a poor man to donate to fast offering, humanitarian aid and missionary programs in addition to his tithing to reach this objective. Similarly, she may ask the rich man to serve in a time-intensive calling such as a bishopric or as a scoutmaster. One thing the Lord has asked all members to sacrifice is a broken heart and a contrite spirit (D&C 59:8).

The Church has pushed its members to sacrifice worldly things for the greater blessings of full activity in the Church. For the earliest Saints, this meant conversion despite the persecution of mobs. In the next generation came leaving civilization for a trek across the prairie and starting new settlements in the West. Soon came the end of polygamy (not particularly worldly, but a difficulty at the time that even led to the excommunication of a member of the First Presidency), then the emphasis on tithing, then enforcement of the Word of Wisdom. Currently, the Church's emphasis on chastity issues provides a significant opportunity for the members of the Church to sacrifice the things of the world around them for the greater blessings of God. Additional sub-emphases, including missionary service for men, temple attendance, daily scripture study and a long list of others have been brought up from time to time as well. Sacrificing in these ways helps each of us to become more unified Saints and more worthy of a life with God.

The blessings of sacrifice to the individual and to the Church are tremendous. Secular studies on religion show that high demand of church members increases attendance, growth, donations, health and marital stability while reducing free-riding and juvenile delinquency (all sources cited in Iannaccone's Introduction to the Economics of Religion, 1998, pp. 8-9). If that short-but-action-packed list isn't enough, countless, less measurable blessings remain including humility, sociality and perspective.

In short, sacrifice is a gospel practice and covenant that assists in the perfecting of the Saints. The Church has always encouraged sacrifice from its members to motivate true worship, full conversion and individual health and happiness. Living the law of sacrifice brings tremendous blessings upon the Church and the individual.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Three Quotes on Covenants

What is the new and everlasting covenant? I regret to say that there are some members of the Church who are misled and misinformed in regard to what the new and everlasting covenant really is. The new and everlasting covenant is the sum total of all gospel covenants and obligations... marriage is not the new and everlasting covenant. - President Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:156

Keeping covenants is a measure of those outside of the Church as well as those inside. Occasionally we find an individual who is seeking to hold high office in business, in education, or in government. Such a person may claim to be worthy of trust, may insist that he or she would not cheat the public, or misrepresent them, or mislead them, or break faith with them. In assessing the sincerity of these expressions, the integrity of the person concerned, we may ask ourselves, What does that individual do with a private trust? A good measure is to determine how he keeps covenants relating to his family. - Elder Boyd K. Packer, The Holy Temple, 167

The ordinances of the endowment embody certain obligations on the part of the individual, such as covenant and promise to observe the law of strict virtue and chastity, to be charitable, benevolent, tolerant and pure; to devote both talent and material means to the spread of truth and the uplifting of the race; to maintain devotion to the cause of truth; and to seek in every way to contribute to the great preparation that the earth may be made ready to receive her King, -- the Lord Jesus Christ. With the taking of each covenant and the assuming of each obligation a promised blessing is pronounced, contingent upon the faithful observance of the conditions. - Elder James E. Talmage, The House of the Lord, 100

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Equality Among Men

During the sixth creative period, God "created man in [his] own image, in the image of [his] Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them" (Moses 1:27). The Family: A Proclamation to the World confirms, "All human beings-- male and female-- are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny."

It is by virtue of our shared heritage as the creations of God that the Founding Fathers could correctly declare as self-evident, "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights". True equality, then, lifts us up to the high station of divine offspring, for "the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ;" (Romans 8:16-17).

Modern concepts of equality often disregard the divine nature of our equality. Through an evolutionary process, equality in the public square has adopted a negative connotation. No longer are people equal because they have the same divine nature and therefore great intrinsic worth; rather they are equal because they are no better than you are, their opinions no more valid than our own. Freedoms belonging to humanity are perverted to be freedom to do whatever we want-- because no one view of what people should be allowed to do is better than any other.

Further still, the man who God created and gave dominion over all things is now considered no better than any other animal by radical environmentalist movements, who seek to extend the equality and rights of man to the animal kingdom also. Well did philosopher Phillippe Beneton comment, "But since every right implies a corresponding obligation, it remains to convince cats of the rights of mice, lions of those of gazelles, and leeches of the rights of man." He goes on, "Nature, invoked at the beginning against convention, has itself become a mere convention. The logic, or one logic, of modern equality has done its work in at once inflating and ruining the rights of man. The modern world has lost its way, the victim of a particular version of equality: equality by default" (Equality by Default, 13).

As modern equality flattens the societal structure and trivializes relationships, God's equality demands order and substantive relationships. Clearly, He has established eternal truths that must be honored, despite popular opinions of relevantism or scientism. He "esteemeth all flesh in one" (1 Ne. 17:35) and commands that we should "not esteem one flesh above another" (Mosiah 23:7) on account of our natural, substantive equality, but surely that does not discount the eternal order He has established.

The differences between equality by nature and what Mr. Beneton calls 'equality by default' can be subtle, but their implications are tremendous. We should make an effort to consciously remember our natural equality in our daily actions; to remember that we are all children of God. I have been pleasantly surprised at how drastic the behavioral change can be when we consider others children of God rather than equal because they are no better or worse than myself.

In my daily walk, it helps to change the favorite primary song to say: "They are a child of God and He has sent them here; has given them an earthly home and parents kind and dear. Lead us, guide us, walk beside us, help us find the way. Teach us all that we must do to live with thee someday."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Intelligence: A Speculation

With my apologies for diverting away from the core principles of the gospel, I spoke this week with a highly educated person on the subject of chemistry. He reminded me of the construction and scope of atoms. In brief, if a person were to model the nucleus of an atom with his fists clenched together, the nearest electron would be about four miles away with nothing, not even air, in between. He went on to say that chemists now believe that even if you were to travel that four miles, and even if you knew where the electron would be, the electron would be gone. That is to say that there is some evidence that electrons are only an idea-- that we are simply the composition of ideas.

This is an abstract, philosophical idea that I initially considered absurd. I'm still not sure I believe it. But what if it were? Whose idea would we be? And what are the terms of that changed existence?

Again, I found this idea hard to believe. But it led me to consider statements the Lord has made about intelligences. There is no evidence that people were 'intelligences' prior to their life in the spirit world, despite the frequent mention of that idea in priesthood meetings worldwide. At best, we can refer to Abraham chapter 3, where the Lord refers to the intelligences of the premortal world but clarifies in the same or following verse that those to whom he was referring were indeed spirits.

Regardless of the form of the people in the premortal meeting mentioned in Abraham, the Lord was referring to them, to many of us, as intelligences. In Doctrine and Covenants 93, the Lord says that the "glory of God is intelligence, or in other words, light and truth." Is that us? Are we the glory of God?

If so, then intelligence would not only refer to our pre-spirit, premortal condition, but it would refer to each of us all of the time. It wouldn't be that we were intelligence, but rather that we are, and we bring glory to God inasmuch as we choose to live a life of light and truth.

I'm not sure how things play out with the chemistry. Perhaps we are a piece of some intelligence, or perhaps that analysis is thinking too much. Thoughts?

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Truth is a knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come (D&C 93:24). Truth is eternal and "abideth forever" (D&C 1:39). Truth does not change with public perception nor is it relative or different for each individual. We learn of truth through the Holy Ghost (John 15:26).

There are at least three different categories of truth: physical truth, moral truth and spiritual truth. Physical truths rely on proven facts. These truths are found through a search for data and raw knowledge. These kinds of truths, often scientific in nature, carry no guarantee to benefit society. Knowledge of the structure of atoms, for example, can be used for good or for evil.

Moral truth follows intuition and conscience. It is governed by what is just and carries an honorable, enlightened desire to improve society. With the help of moral truth, logic directs human behavior and knowledge of physical truths is complemented by learning.

Spiritual truths are those which come by personal revelation. A society guided by spiritual truth is permeated by love and righteousness and faith in God. To knowledge of physical truth and the learning of moral truths spiritual truth adds the organized, clear vision of wisdom.

Truth, in all instances, makes us free (John 8:32). Victor Ludlow has stated: "Truth does not just free us from damning bondages of ignorance, fear, and sin, but it also frees us toward favorable liberties of health, opportunity, and service" (22). When we live according to truth, we are happier; or, in other words, when we obey the commandments of God we are blessed (D&C 130:20-21). As we live a higher law-- or follow a greater truth-- we are more blessed, more liberated and more enlightened.

See also:
"Principles and Practices of the Restored Gospel" by Victor Ludlow