Exquisite—That’s what it was. One of the most meaningful talks I’ve ever listened to was the one Neal A. Maxwell delivered as he was sustained as an apostle, “Notwithstanding My Weakness.” General Conference is an important time for any member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, because we get to sit at the feet of a prophet and listen to the word of God. Like Mary of old, we want to choose “that good part”, and Elder Maxwell certainly helped us to do that. He spoke to anyone with recurring feelings of falling forever short. Maybe to each of us?
I was in the Missionary Training Center, getting ready to go to Argentina for two years to serve my mission. During General Conference, all of us missionaries wanted to take copious notes so that we might remember all of the wonderful ideas in these talks. Recordings were not generally available back then, and we knew that we’d be out of the United States by the time the text was available in the November 1976 Ensign. For Elder Maxwell‘s talk, after taking notes furiously for four or five minutes, wanting to retain quote after great quote, I paused to look around the room. All the other elders and sisters had already stopped trying to take notes and were just sitting there listening, hands and pens at rest, trying just to soak in the spirit of the rapid-fire, beautifully worded, carefully crafted text. It was like the lyrics of a song. I struggled for a bit longer to retain it all on paper, before I, too, gave up note-taking, rested my pen, and just sat and listened. It was an incredible moment for all of us. For weeks afterwards, nearly everyone said that their favorite moment in that General Conference was when they sat and feasted on Elder Maxwell‘s words, hands and fingers exhausted from trying to keep up. It was just sweet. Every time I re-read it, every time I listen to it yet again, I get emotional, just sitting — and remembering…
I invite you to read, watch or listen to the entire address from the October 1976 LDS General Conference. It is simply exquisite. It has something for all of us, and I hope you love it as much as I.
“Why do these Mormons stir up such emotions in people, and why are they not considered Christian by some?” As we approach General Conference next month, authority issues are as relevant today as ever. Interesting questions and answers from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as he spoke at Harvard Law School. Answers below.
Returning to my academic roots in New England, I am reminded today of—and stand with—a marvelous congregational cleric who, a century ago, had a little parish in Springfield, Massachusetts, about equidistant from New Haven and Cambridge, which seems appropriate. He said 100 years ago:
“The loss of respect for religion is the dry rot of social institutions. The idea of God as the Creator and Father of all mankind is to the moral world, what gravitation is in the natural; it holds everything else together and causes it to revolve around a common center. Take this away and any ultimate significance to life falls apart. There is then no such thing as collective humanity, but only separate molecules of men and women drifting in the universe, with no more cohesion and no more meaning than so many grains of sand have meaning for the sea.” [Henry Martyn Field]
Christ Handing the Keys to St Peter (Gesupietrochiave), by Pietro Perugino (1481-82)
We are not considered Christian by some because we are not fourth-century Christians, we are not Nicene Christians, we are not creedal Christians of the brand that arose hundreds of years after Christ. No, when we speak of “restored Christianity”, we speak of the Church as it was in its New Testament purity, not as it became when great councils were called to debate and anguish over what it was they really believed. So if one means Greek-influenced, council-convening, philosophy-flavored Christianity of post-apostolic times, then we are not that kind of Christian. Peter we know, and Paul we know, but Constantine and Athanasius, Athens and Alexandria we do not know. (Actually, we know them, we just don’t follow them.)
Thus, we teach that:
1. God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, are separate and distinct beings[, both divine,] with glorified bodies of flesh and bone. As such, we stand with the historical position that “the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the [New Testament].” [Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Paul F. Achtemeier, ed. (1985), Page 1099]
Studying the New Testament
We take Christ literally at His word—that He “came down from heaven, not to do [his] own will, but the will of him that sent [him].” Of His antagonists, Jesus said they have “hated both me and my Father.” These, along with scores of other references, including His pleading prayers, make clear Jesus’s physical separation from His Father, subordinating Himself to His Father, saying regularly, in one way or another, my Father is greater than I. However, having affirmed the point of Their separate and distinct physical nature, we declare unequivocally that They were indeed “one” in every other conceivable way—in mind and deed, in will and wish and hope, in faith and purpose and intent and love. They are most assuredly much more alike than They are different in all the ways I have just said, but They are separate and distinct beings as all fathers and sons are. In this matter, we differ from traditional creedal Christianity, but we do feel that we agree with the New Testament.
The Open Canon Continues: President Thomas S. Monson
2. Next, we also differ from fourth and fifth century Christianity by declaring that the scriptural canon is not closed, that the heavens are open with revelatory experience, and that God meant what He said when He promised Moses, “My works are without end, and…my words…never cease.” We believe that God loves all His children and that He would never leave them for long without the instrumentality of prophets and apostles, authorized agents of His guidance and direction. The Book of Mormon and other canonized scripture, as well as the role of living oracles, witnesses to the fact that God continues to speak. We agree enthusiastically with the insightful Protestant scholar who inquired, “On what biblical or historical grounds has the inspiration of God been limited to the written documents that the church now calls its Bible? …If the Spirit inspired only the written documents of the first century, does that mean that the same Spirit does not speak today…about matters that are of significant concern?” [Lee M. McDonald, The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon, rev. ed. (1995), Pages 255-56.]
3. Lastly, for today, we are unique in the modern Christian world regarding one matter which a prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called our “most distinguishing feature.”
Peter, James and John Confirm the Keys to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery
That is, divine priesthood authority to provide the saving sacraments—the ordinances—of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The holy priesthood, which has been restored to the earth by those who held it anciently, signals the return of divine authorization. It is different from all other man-made powers and authorities on the face of the earth. Without it, there could be a church in name only, and it would be a church lacking in authority to administer in the things of God. This restoration of priesthood authority eases centuries of questions and anguish among those who knew certain ordinances and sacraments were essential but lived with the doubt as to who had the right to administer them. Breaking ecclesiastically with his more famous brother, John, over the latter’s decision to ordain without any divine authority to do so, Charles Wesley wrote:
How easily are bishops made
By man or woman’s whim: Wesley his hands on Coke hath laid, But who laid hands on him?
[Quoted in C. Beaufort Moss, The Divisions of Christendom: A Retrospect (n.d., “no date”), Page 22.]
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we can answer the question of “who laid hands on him” all the way back to Christ Himself. The return of such authority is truly “the most distinguishing feature” of our faith.
Thank you for your courteous attendance. I will be pleased to devote the remaining time to your questions. I leave my love, my witness, and a personal blessing on every one of you for whatever righteous need you may have, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
I think that’s pretty clear, don’t you? Again, from Elder Holland:
Clearly, acting with divine authority requires more than mere social contract. It cannot be generated by theological training or a commission from the congregation. No, in the authorized work of God, there has to be power greater than that already possessed by the people in the pews or in the streets or in the seminaries—a fact that many honest religious seekers had known and openly acknowledged for generations leading up to the Restoration.
It is true that some few in that day did not want their ministers to claim special sacramental authority, but most people longed for priesthood sanctioned by God and were frustrated as to where they might go to find such.
Clarity can be wonderful, huh? And it’s all for free. Just as Christ used His priesthood power freely to bless others without charge and taught everyone to do likewise, today we use His priesthood power freely to bless others. (Avoiding “priestcraft”; see in New Testament Matthew 10:8, Acts 8:9-18 (especially Verse 18), 1 Peter 5:2, or in Book of Mormon 2 Nephi 26:29, Alma 1:12, Helaman 7:5, 3 Nephi 16:10.) God has designed it so that we use his priesthood only to bless others; for example, I cannot use the priesthood to give myself a blessing.
Through me, my sons also have this authority to bless their own families and to carry on the work of righteousness as God would do himself if He were here counseling and coaching us. I have learned for myself that true strength comes from magnifying the priesthood. Clearly, that makes me peculiar. I also know that everyone has the blessings of this authority available to them.
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1. Watch or listen to Elder Holland at Harvard Law School below. Or read.
2. The priesthood of God isn’t for some and not for others — It’s for any of us, for all of us. It applies equally to people of any gender, in any country, of any position in life. For example, watch how Sheri Dew answers the great question: “In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, what do women get?”
3. Why is authority important? An 18-year-old learns one reason.
Have you ever felt the delight of rebirth from restoring a garden, breathing new life into the soil with the work of your hands? I’ve found that digging a hole in the yard can be a great stress reliever. Whether the result be a vegetable garden, flower garden, water garden, or rock garden, the creative act of re-awakening a previously well-tended plot grows plenty of comfort and joy.
The same sense of recovering something of worth may come from restoring a chair or a desk. Furniture restoration not only reclaims the beauty of an old furniture friend, it can add to the elegance of your home, and the joy of revival can be just as satisfying as for a restored garden.
Have you had the joy of restoring the trust of a friend? A renewed confidence is more poignant if, as a headstrong loved one, I have turned myself from unruly ways, returning from an unwise path of my own obstinate will, back to the path of submitting to the will of another—And by so doing, discovering that he was always the wiser. While a recalcitrant, I treasured my errant ways, blindly unaware of my short-sightedness, until I rebuilt the foundation of the original shared trust that I had dismantled. The reawakened trust is especially sweet when for years my friend has invited me to return to his wiser ways.
My topic in this post is restoring a faith that has fizzled. Since Father Adam and Mother Eve, God has established His teachings among us. Because He loves us and because we are prone to wander, God gave us guidelines of good, better, best. And because we are prone to wander, we all have strayed from those guidelines, even when we know better. Each time a person strays, he or she may return through repentance. Each time a people strays, God always has sent someone to teach and persuade society yet again. That’s what He did with the Childrenof Israel, with the peoplein Christ’s day, and with the people who lived long after Christ. Watch how one person explains that he noticed a period of falling away (length: 2:04).
So what did God do? Even when I notice a broken chair or a disregarded plot of ground, I may choose to do nothing but simply to continue to neglect it. But when it comes to truth, God chose to restore the teachings that we had chosen to neglect. He sees our unyielding self, misguided intents, resistant societies—And He continues to see something of worth in us and sends someone to recover it. Watch as someone explains how she learned this for herself (length: 1:27).
I have learned for myself the beauty and elegance of these truths that God has restored, truths that have allowed me to rebuild my trust in Him. I have renewed and strengthened my faith, so that no matter what happens, despite pain and trials and difficulties, I can be safe and secure. As I become a person that Heavenly Father may trust, as He rebuilds me into the simple beauty of a finished chair, I should not be surprised that, as did Harry T. Burleigh, I find “a religious security as old as creation, older than hope, deeper than grief, more tender than tears.” I know these things are true, that the faith that God has restored is true. Everyone on earth may know these truths for themselves, directly from God. And that’s why I’m a Mormon.
The Simple Beauty Of A Finished Chair
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1. Harry T. Burleigh, the pioneering African-American singer/composer, published in 1916 the song Deep River, which speaks both of emancipation from physical captivity and of an assurance of spiritual relief. It was the first (and would prove to be the most popular) of Burleigh’s published vocal arrangements. He regarded these songs as “prayers” that proclaim “a religious security as old as creation, older than hope, deeper than grief, more tender than tears.” (See The Crisis, Page 29.) Watch Paul Robeson sing Deep River in 1940:
2. Not all moments in time are alike. Some moments are more pregnant with meaning than others. It’s a rare experience to see God eye to eye. Such was the experience of Joseph Smith. Elder Neal A. Maxwell tells of the experience of Professor Arthur Henry King’s response, after he read it, to the prophet Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision. Brother King said: (By the way, this is the quintessential Englishman, with bowler hat and many degrees, and this is how he reacted to the First Vision.)
“When I was first brought to read Joseph Smith’s story, I was deeply impressed. I wasn’t inclined to be impressed; as a stylistician, I have spent my life being disinclined to be impressed. So when I read his story, I thought to myself: This is an extraordinary thing. This is an astonishingly matter-of-fact and cool account. This man is not trying to persuade me of anything. He doesn’t feel the need to. He is stating what happened to him, and he is stating it not enthusiastically, but in a quite matter-of-fact way. He is not trying to make me cry or feel ecstatic. That struck me, and that began to build my testimony, for I could see that this man was telling the truth. And his was not the prose of someone who was trying to work it out and make it nice. It is the prose of someone who is trying to tell it as it is, who is bending all his faculties to expressing the truth and not thinking about anything else. And above all, though writing about Joseph Smith, not thinking about Joseph Smith, not thinking about the effect he is going to have on others, not posturing, not posing, but just being himself.” (1991 CES Old Testament Symposium.)
All of us may know for ourselves that God has restored the fulness of the gospel to us through the prophet Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon isn’t just a popular musical; it’s a book that changes lives every day. Will yours change?
3. Come, Thou Fount Of Every Blessing, traditional American hymn, arrangement by Mack Wilberg, sung by Mormon Tabernacle Choir:
4. Watch how God prepared to restore the unchanged gospel of Jesus Christ through Joseph Smith’s search for truth. (Length: 19:18.) Read also in Joseph’s own words.
5. Watch a motion picture about the life and legacy of Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Length: 1:02:04.)
6. Watch, listen, or read President Boyd K. Packer’s entire address regarding these restored eternal truths, entitled, “The Standard of Truth Has Been Erected”. (Length: 16:37.)
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WebCredits—List of web resources used in this post but not explicitly credited above:
Photo, family restores garden—www. watergardengems.com/index/index.php/about-us/our-testimonials
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