Monday, January 30, 2012

Latter-day Doctrine

In General Conference this past October (2011), Elder M. Russell Ballard spoke on "The Importance of a Name," stressing the Lord's desire that we use His divinely appointed name for His church: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (see D&C 115:4). Elder Ballard then explained that each "word [of that name] is clarifying and indispensable" and elucidated on the meaning of all nine words. Regarding the phrase, "of Latter-day," Elder Ballard declared that "Of Latter-day explains that it is the same Church as the Church that Jesus Christ established during His mortal ministry but restored in these latter days. We know there was a falling away, or an apostasy, necessitating the Restoration of His true and complete Church in our time."

As a man slightly obsessed with words and their meanings, I love Elder Ballard's approach to thinking about and using the Church's name. But this phrase, in particular, deserves a more thorough explication. Of Latter-day signifies much more than the relative temporal position of the restored Church to its primitive precedent. The words latter days or, occasionally, latter times, are associated with a number of significant events and promises throughout the scripture, and when we describe ourselves as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or simply as Latter-day Saints), we implicitly recommit ourselves to following the doctrines and participating in the works associated with that phrase.

When we describe ourselves as Latter-day Saints, we reaffirm our belief in an expanded canon of scripture that includes both the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Lehi taught that the writings of Joseph's descendants "and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah, shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to the knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants" (see also JST Gen. 50:31). This restoration of plain gospel truths lost to or corrupted in the Bible through centuries of translation and transmission helps to explain Jeremiah's promise that "in the latter days [we] shall fully understand" his teachings (a footnote in the LDS version of the Bible offers this alternative translation; see also Jer. 23:20). A Latter-day Saint studies from the sticks of Judah and Joseph to obtain a more full or complete understanding of the gospel.

When we describe ourselves as Latter-day Saints, we declare our commitment to preach the gospel as  missionaries and to extend the blessings of its ordinances as patrons of the temple. Nephi taught his brothers regarding "the covenant which should be fulfilled in the latter days; which covenant the Lord made to our father Abraham, saying: In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed" (1 Ne. 15:18). Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are the seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:29) and are responsible for bringing the blessings of gospel ordinances to all peoples. A Latter-day Saint fulfills this covenantal obligation by performing work for the dead in temples and by opening their mouths to share the gospel so that the Lord's promises to the Jews, Gentiles, and Lamanites can be fulfilled in these last days (see 3 Ne. 16:7; JST Gen. 50:25; 1 Ne. 15:13; Hel. 15:12; Hosea 3:5)

When we describe ourselves as Latter-day Saints, we confirm our faith in the promised Second Coming of the Savior and in the events He has prophesied will precede that day. The tenth article of faith affirms that "[w]e believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will receive its paradisiacal glory" (AF 10). Each one of these events is associated with the latter days in scripture (see 1 Ne. 15:19; Daniel 10:14; Deut. 4:30; JST Gen. 14:34; and Ezek. 38:8, 16). Paul warned that during the run up to these events, "in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to false doctrines" (1 Tim. 4:1; see also Deut. 31:29). But Daniel's promise regarding "the latter days" is also sure: in those days "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 for ever" (Dan. 2:28, 45). A Latter-day Saint prepares for the spiritual and physical perils to come while exercising faith in the divine destiny of God's earthly kingdom.

When you or I self-identify as a Latter-day Saint, we are doing more than describing our position relative to members of Christ's primitive church. We are also affirming our belief in the doctrine of the latter days, as revealed in scripture.

  • I believe in and study from the Book of Mormon and the Bible. 
  • I seek to fulfill my obligations to bless all the kindreds of the earth through temple and missionary work. 
  • I look forward with faith to Christ's Second Coming and associated events.

I am a Latter-day Saint.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Prophetic Promises Regarding the Book of Mormon

Most members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will begin a year-long study of the Book of Mormon this year. As President Ezra Taft Benson famously noted, study of that book is associated with a number of inspiring promises:

“Let us not remain under condemnation [see D&C 84:85], with its scourge and judgment, by treating lightly this great and marvelous gift the Lord has given to us. Rather, let us win the promises associated with treasuring it up in our hearts.”[1]

“Concerning this record the Prophet Joseph Smith said . . . ‘a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book.’” (BoM Introduction)

“Parents who [read and talk about the Book of Mormon with their children] faithfully will be blessed to recognize early signals of spiritual growth in or challenges with their children and be better prepared to receive inspiration to strengthen and help those children.”[2]

“Regular reading of and talking about the Book of Mormon invite the power to resist temptation and to produce feelings of love within our families.”[3]

“Youth of all ages, even infants, can and do respond to the distinctive spirit of the Book of Mormon. Children may not understand all of the words and stories, but they certainly can feel the ‘familiar spirit’ described by Isaiah.”[4]

“I bear witness that parents who consistently read and talk about the Book of Mormon with their children, who share testimony spontaneously, and who invite children as gospel learners to act and not merely to be acted upon will be blessed with eyes that can see afar off (Moses 6:27) and with ears that can hear the sound of the trumpet (Ezekiel 33:2-16). The spiritual discernment and inspiration you will receive from the combination of these three holy habits will enable you to stand as watchmen on the tower for your families—‘watching . . . with all perserverance” (Ephesians 6:18)—to the blessing of your immediate family and your future posterity. I so promise and testify in the sacred name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.”[5]

“I offer a challenge to members of the Church throughout the world and to our friends everywhere to read or reread the Book of Mormon. . . . Without reservation I promise you that if each of you will observe this simple program, regardless of how many times you previously may have read the Book of Mormon, there will come into your lives and your homes an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord, a strengthened resolution to walk in obedience to His commandments, and a stronger testimony of the living reality of the Son of God.”[6]

“The effect of the Book of Mormon on your character, power, and courage to be a witness for God is certain. The doctrine and the valiant examples in that book will lift, guide, and embolden you.”[7]

“Every missionary who is proclaiming the name and gospel of Jesus Christ will be blessed by daily feasting from the Book of Mormon.”[8]

“Parents who struggle to get a witness of the Savior into the heart of a child will be helped as they seek for a way to bring the words and the spirit of the Book of Mormon into the home and all the lives in their family. That has proven true for us.”[9]

“Prayerful study of the Book of Mormon will build faith in God the Father, in His Beloved Son, and in His gospel. It will build your faith in God’s prophets, ancient and modern. It can draw you closer to God than any other book. It can change a life for the better.”[10]

“[The Book of Mormon] can help with personal problems in a very real way. Do you want to get rid of a bad habit? Do you want to improve relationships in your family? Do you want to increase your spiritual capacity? Read the Book of Mormon!”[11]

“It is not just that the Book of Mormon teaches us truth, though it indeed does that. It is not just that the Book of Mormon bears testimony of Christ, though it indeed does that. But there is something more. There is a power in the book which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book. You will find greater power to resist temptation. You will find the power to avoid deception. You will find the power to stay on the strait and narrow path. The scriptures are called ‘the words of life’ (D&C 84:85), and nowhere is that more true than it is of the Book of Mormon. When you begin to hunger and thirst after those words, you will find life in greater and greater abundance.”[12]

“There is another reason why we should read the Book of Mormon: By doing so we will fill and refresh our minds with a constant flow of that ‘water’ which Jesus said would be in us ‘a well of water springing up into everlasting life’ (John 4:14).”[13]

“If we would avoid adopting the evils of the world, we must pursue a course which will daily feed our minds with and call them back to the things of the Spirit. I know of no better way to do this than by daily reading the Book of Mormon.”[14]

“I am persuaded, my brothers and sisters, that it is irrational to hope to escape the lusts of the world without substituting for them as the subjects of our thoughts the things of the Spirit, and I know that the things of the Spirit are taught with mighty power in the Book of Mormon. I believe with all my heart, for example, that if our young people could come out of our homes thoroughly acquainted with the life of Nephi, imbued with the spirit of his courage and love of truth, they would choose the right when the choice is placed before them.”[15]

“If our young folks become familiar with the teachings of the Book of Mormon, they will not only be inspired by the examples of Nephi, the 2,000 sons of Helaman (see Alma 53), and other great Book of Mormon characters to choose the right, they will also be so schooled in the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ that they will be able to know and understand what is right.”[16]

“I feel certain that if, in our homes, parents will read from the Book of Mormon prayerfully and regularly, both by themselves and with their children, the spirit of that great book will come to permeate our homes and all who dwell therein. The spirit of reverence will increase; mutual respect and consideration for each other will grow. The spirit of contention will depart. Parents will counsel their children in greater love and wisdom. Children will be more responsive and submissive to the counsel of their parents. Righteousness will increase. Faith, hope, and charity—the pure love of Christ—will abound in our homes and lives, bringing in their wake peace, joy, and happiness.”[17]

If you know of other prophetic promises regarding the Book of Mormon, please share in the comments, and I will add your contribution to the list (as I update it periodically).

[1] President Ezra Taft Benson, “The Book of Mormon: Keystone of Our Religion,” Ensign 16.11 (November 1986): 5-7.
[2] Elder David A. Bednar, “Watching with All Perseverance,” Ensign 40.5 (May 2010): 41.
[3] Elder David A. Bednar, “Watching with All Perseverance,” Ensign 40.5 (May 2010): 41.
[4] Elder David A. Bednar, “Watching with All Perseverance,” Ensign 40.5 (May 2010): 42.
[5] Elder David A. Bednar, “Watching with All Perseverance,” Ensign 40.5 (May 2010): 43.
[6] President Gordon B. Hinckley, “A Testimony Vibrant and True,” Ensign 35.8 (August 2005). 
[7] President Henry B. Eyring, “A Witness,” Ensign 41.11 (November 2011), 69.
[8] President Henory B. Eyring, “A Witness,” Ensign 41.11 (November 2011), 69.
[9] President Henry B. Eyring, “A Witness,” Ensign 41.11 (November 2011), 69.
[10] President Henry B. Eyring, “A Witness,” Ensign 41.11 (November 2011), 70.
[11] Elder Russell M. Nelson, “A Testimony of the Book of Mormon,” Ensign 29.11 (November 1999), 71.
[12] President Ezra Taft Benson, “The Book of Mormon: Keystone of Our Religion,” Ensign 16.11 (November 1986): 5-7.
[13] President Marion G. Romney, “The Book of Mormon,” Ensign 10.5 (May 1980): 65.
[14] President Marion G. Romney, “The Book of Mormon,” Ensign 10.5 (May 1980): 65.
[15] President Marion G. Romney, “The Book of Mormon,” Ensign 10.5 (May 1980): 66.
[16] President Marion G. Romney, “The Book of Mormon,” Ensign 10.5 (May 1980): 66.
[17] President Marion G. Romney, “The Book of Mormon,” Ensign 10.5 (May 1980): 67.