During 2012, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.
There is ample opportunity for every member to participate in the work of the Lord.
The responsibility for the conduct of this work does not devolve alone upon [the President of the Church], nor upon his counselors, nor upon the quorum of the Apostles; but it devolves also upon every man and woman who has been baptized by the servants of God and become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. … We cannot shift the responsibility if we would; our Father has placed it upon our shoulders, and we must round them up and help to carry it off triumphant.
I believe in you, my brethren and sisters. I have confidence in your faith and in your integrity. … Each of you also [is] responsible to [the Lord] for the promotion of this work, as are those who preside over you. I cannot say, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” I cannot shift the responsibility … , but standing in the ranks of the children of our Father I must bear my portion, I must carry that part of the load that the Lord places upon me, and if I shirk, then I realize that I forfeit the blessing that would come to me by obedience to the commandments of our Father.
How anxious we should be to go about doing good. It is a slothful servant who waits until he is commanded in all things. [See D&C 58:26–27.] Our Heavenly Father expects us to magnify our calling, no matter where it may be, no matter how humble our lot in life may be.
It is not necessary that a man should be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, or the Presidency of the Church, in order to obtain the greatest blessings in the kingdom of our Heavenly Father. These are but offices required in the Church, and there are many faithful and devoted men worthy to fill these offices whose time and talents are needed throughout the Church. … Remember that in the ranks and throughout the Church there is ample opportunity for every man and for every woman to do something for the blessing of their fellows and for the advancement of the work of the Lord.
As is true with any church, the membership comprises the best evangelists to deliver the message of the organization. Based on what was said earlier in the manual, I imagine that the church is pushing its people to not “shift the responsibility” to the missionaries, which from a bystander’s point of view is typically what happens in any evangelism encounter is originated by the Latter-day Saint. After all, when is the last time someone besides a missionary tried to share the LDS gospel with you in an overt way (assuming the reader is a Christian who did not initiate the discussion). Speaking on behalf of myself and, I know, many Christians around the globe, may I say that I look forward to potentially having more Latter-day Saints introduce the topic of the gospel, allowing for a healthy dialogue on issues of spiritual importance.
There is a disposition on the part of some who hold the priesthood and of some who hold positions in the Church, to neglect sacrament meetings and other important duties, and to confine their labors to some special calling. They may be officers and teachers in the Sunday School, and when they perform their Sabbath school labor, consider that sufficient; or, they may be [Young Men or Young Women], or Primary, or genealogical, or welfare workers, or have some other such assignment, and if they discharge their obligations in that regard they consider their whole duty done.
Much as we love and bless all such for the great service they render, we are obliged to remind ourselves that it is required of all of us to live by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of our Father in heaven [see D&C 84:44]. Generally speaking, special assignments do not relieve us of our other obligations; and special meetings do not usually replace or supersede the general meetings of the Church. And quite beyond our special obligations and assignments, we are expected to conduct ourselves day by day as Latter-day Saints in the broadest meaning of the term, so that if we see distress or want, or need of advice and counsel on any occasion, we should forthwith act as servants of the Lord in very deed.
The responsibilities for many members within the Mormon Church are many. This is an organization good at getting its people involved in different activities within its church. Thus, I’m sure many Latter-day Saints must get burned out and look for a break. What a better time to find relief than on a Sunday? Skipping the sacrament or priesthood meetings must be a big temptation and easily rationalized in many Mormons’ minds. (This is certainly why this particular section was pulled back into circulation by the correlated church curriculum committee.) Of course, there is the biblical principle of not neglecting the meeting together of believers, even though Christians are also prone to burn out. The Christian might be involved with many outside ministries or even ministries within a church, but to say that this can replace genuine Christian fellowship is faulty thinking.
And then there are those who accept nominal membership in the Church but who seem to feel themselves exempt from rendering any kind of service. But sooner or later they find themselves uneasy in their hearts, and doubtful in their thoughts, as we all do when we fail to do what we know to be our full duty. A man who is living in accordance with the gospel of Jesus Christ is never in doubt about its success; but the man who neglects his duty, who fails to keep his covenants, loses the Spirit of the Lord, and then he begins to wonder what will become of Zion. …
The “jack Mormon,” as a nominal Latter-day Saint is called, is being addressed in this paragraph. These folks will often defend Joseph Smith to the grave and yet not take the effort to do everything the church requires to attain exaltation, or eternal life in the truest sense of the word. Such a man “neglects his duty,” “fails to keep the covenants,” and “loses the Spirit of the Lord.”
In the July 2012 issue of the Ensign magazine, an article on “Covenants with God” overviewing “our most important promises” was featured. It explained how a covenant is a “two way-promise” where the Mormon “promises to keep” the covenants made. In return, God promises us certain blessings in return.” The following paragraph reads: “When we receive these saving ordinances and keep the associated covenants, the Atonement of Jesus Christ becomes effective in our lives, and we can receive the greatest blessing God can give us—eternal life (see D&C 14:7).”
I literally took this magazine out onto the streets of Manti before the Mormon Miracle Pageant in late June, asking those walking to the pageant to help me understand what this article was saying. In fact, a Mormon had told me the previous day how the Atonement of Christ was not based on obedience. So when a 12-year-old boy and his father decided to talk to me, I read the paragraph to them and explained, “If I’m understanding this article correctly, we must first do our part before the atonement of Christ becomes effective. Thus, I am obligated to keep God’s covenant first and then God reaches down to me.” I quoted Moroni 10:32, which says “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind, and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.” Here it says “if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness…then is his grace sufficient for you.” In an “if/then” sentence, what happens first must take place in order for the second part to commence.
The boy, who had recently become an Aaronic priesthood holder, agreed with my interpretation. At this point, the father, who had been silent until this point, stepped in. “You’re reading too much into this,” he said. He took the same position as the Mormon from the previous day, saying that the atonement was available to all, regardless of whether somebody kept the covenants.
At this, I pointed to the magazine and read more. “Because keeping our covenants is essential to our happiness now and to eventually receiving eternal life,” the article continued, “it is important to understand what we have promised our Heavenly Father.” The “keeping” of the covenants—found specifically in “baptism and confirmation,” “the sacrament,” “the oath and covenant of the priesthood,” “the endowment,” and “the sealing”—were crucial elements in order to get the best this religion has to offer. As the article explained on page 25, “The new and everlasting covenant is ‘the sum total of all gospel covenants and obligations’ we’ve made, and the resulting blessings include all that the Father has, including eternal life. As we strive to understand and keep our covenants, we should remember that keeping our covenants is not merely a list of things to do but a commitment to become like the Savior.”
Later, I got into a conversation with another Mormon. He was a recently returned missionary who had converted as an older teenager. He had already read the article and explained that the “Atonement of Jesus Christ” in the article was referring to general salvation, which is the same as resurrection provided to all humans based on Jesus’ work in Gethsemane and, eventually, the cross. I showed him how this could not be what the article was referring to since it said “when we receive these saving ordinances and keep the associated covenants,” then “the Atonement of Jesus Christ becomes effective” and (after it becomes “effective”), “we can receive” eternal life. In other words, general resurrection could not be referenced here if, truly, everyone receives it as a human, regardless of one’s commandment-keeping ways. He looked at the magazine again and shrugged. “I guess you’re right,” he admitted.
Indeed, the hope of the Mormon gospel lays at the feet of each individual. Be obedient and you have a chance. Fail to obey–which every Mormon must agree happens on a regular basis–and there is condemnation. This is why the Mormon cannot “know” beyond a shadow of a doubt that he/she is a forgiven individual. The mantra is, try hard and hope for the best. This is different from the gospel of hope found in Christianity where Jesus paid the price for His people to understand true forgiveness and “know” they have eternal life (1 John 5:13).
While the Mormon language with Christians is too often couched in the same terms while holding different meanings, the Latter-day Saints who plan to share their faith with others need to be honest and not paint their religion to be “just like” the Christians to whom they’re speaking. To make Mormonism sound like it is synonymous with Christianity, and vice versa, is disingenuous. The Mormon needs to understand that what Smith was saying here is accurate; the requirements of Mormonism are more than what any human could possibly observe.
Opposition will not stop the progress of the Church, because it is the work of God, not of man.
The fastest growing religion today is Islam. Should this faith be considered a “work of God, not of man,” merely because it grows faster than any other religion? I hardly think so. And what about the growth of Mormonism? In 1990, the church grew by 330,000 converts, a most impressive number. In fact, throughout the 1990s, the church gained an annual average of 300,000 converts, which was typically around a 4 percent clip. However, the 300,000 annual growth mark has not been attained in the 21st century, despite the fact that the church kept getting bigger and sending out more missionaries. In 2011, the church grew by 280,000, less than two percent, and this has been true fro the past decade. See this
My question is, if “opposition will not stop the progress of the Church,” why is Mormonism growing at a much slower rate? Why is the Mormon Church having problems with people leaving the church? According to one report in 2012:
“But recent studies tell a different story—different because whereas LDS Church records count anyone who has ever been baptized, demographers and pollsters count only those who currently identify themselves as Mormon. Those are the parameters for the landmark Trinity College American Religious Identification Survey: a two-decade project that has produced the largest and most accurate database of self-reported religious identification ever compiled, with 100,000 randomly sampled participants. According to Rick Phillips and Ryan Cragun, the authors of a study of Mormons based on ARIS data, self-identified adult Mormons make up not 2% but rather 1.4% of the adult US population—that’s about 4.4 million LDS adults. Phillips and Cragun also place LDS growth rates not at 30% but at 16%—a rate on par with general US population growth. “Despite a large missionary force and a persistent emphasis on growth,” Phillips and Cragun write, ‘Mormons are actually treading water with respect to their per capita presence in the U.S.’ In fact, additional studies by Cragun and Phillips show that retention rates of young people (young men especially) raised Mormon have dropped substantially in the last decade: from 92.6% in the 1970s–2000s to 64.4% from 2000–2010. Rising rates of disaffiliation go a long way towards explaining the gap between LDS Church records and the ARIS population estimates.” See this
Marlin Jensen, a general authority who recently left his position as Church Historian and Recorder, addressed a religious studies class late last fall at Utah State University. (“Mormonism Seiged by the Modern Age,” 1/30/12). Answering a student’s question about whether or not he knew that members were leaving in droves, he said he was “aware” of the situation. “And I’m speaking of the 15 men that are above me in the hierarchy of the church. They really do know and they really care.” Although this was not a public confession, there was apparently a tape recorder capturing his words. Jensen also said that “not since a famous troublespot in Mormon history, the 1837 failure of a church bank in Kirtland, Ohio, have so many left the church.” Mormon scholar Terryl Givens explained, “I definitely get the sense that this is a real crisis. It is an epidemic.”
I believe that the technology talked about earlier in this chapter has stymied the growth of this church because the damning information is so much more readily available than it was even 15 or 20 years ago. I believe people are not only leaving the ranks of the church in droves but are staying away from converting, as so many more did in pre-Internet days.
The Church began with only six members. It has grown day by day in spite of the opposition of the adversary. But for the powerful arm of righteousness, but for the watchcare of our Heavenly Father, this Church would have been crushed like a shell long ago. However, the Lord has said that he would safeguard us, and has promised us protection if we will honor him and keep his commandments.
It is true that the church has grown and today has 14.5 million members. But once more, the Mormon must not believe that, somehow, truth should ever be associated with growth numbers.
The growth of this Church has not come because it was popular. It has been in spite of the opposition of the wise men of the world; it has been in spite of the opposition of religious teachers, and it has continued to gather here and there choice spirits who have lived in such a way that they could comprehend the truth.
The opposition to the teachings of the Mormon Church has kept a very crafty church from exploding in its numbers. It is the wolf in sheep’s clothing, as described by Jesus in Matthew 7. Despite the fact that it is not politically correct to call Mormonism a “cult” and even though some Christians seem to have no problem with the false teachings of the Mormon Church (e.g., Texas pastor Joel Olsteen or former Fuller Seminary president Richard J. Mouw), the LDS movement is in direct opposition to the biblical message as preached in Christianity. In fact, I believe that if it was not for the vocal opposition of Christians in churches and parachurch organizations all over the world, the Mormon Church could easily be double its current size. For example, type a word such as “Mormonism” into Google and you will undoubtedly see Chrsitian sites such as www.mrm.org, www.utlm.org, or www.carm.org in the Top 10 list of hits. In fact, the Internet is full of reasons why not to join the LDS Church. There are many literary publications and books, as well, that explain Mormonism is not the same as Christianity.
This is God’s work. It is not the work of any man. No man or set of men could have carried it forward and made it successful in the face of the opposition of the world. Many times they [who oppose the work] have felt that the end of the Church had come, and each time by the majesty of his power, the Lord has lifted it up, and it has gone forward from city to city, from village to village, from nation to nation.
I know that there are many problems and there will be greater problems as the days come and go, but the same Father in heaven that led the Children of Israel, that saved Daniel and the three Hebrew children from destruction, the same Heavenly Father that preserved our forebears that came into [the Salt Lake Valley and established them here, and blessed them and made it possible in the poverty of the people to have this great [Salt Lake] temple and other great temples, … that same Father, your Father and mine, is ready to pour out his blessings upon us today.
I agree that “there are many problems,” which is the fact that Mormonism preaches another gospel (Gal. 1:8), as this religion denies or distorts every fundamental teaching of the historic Christian church. Based on the plain reading of the Bible, Mormonism should not be associated in any way as a Christian religion.
His work is progressive, we must be active if we would keep pace with it. Every passing year, since the organization of the Church, has seen it grow stronger than the year before. Today the prospect of continual success is better than ever before. More people are learning the truth about us, and our attitude towards them. The prejudice due to ignorance is being overcome, as the light is disseminated among the masses. …
When Smith used the word “prejudice,” what exactly did he mean? It’s akin to those who use the word “intolerant” to address anyone who disagrees with their point of view. Truth is “prejudiced.” It’s also “intolerant.” Yes, truth is very narrow, for either gravity exists or doesn’t exist, with no inbetween. If Mormonism is true, it should be able to stand the test when scrutinized. If not, it will be shown for what it is. I believe that ignorance ought to be overcome. When it is, truth-seeking folks don’t seem to be as attracted to Mormonism. The church will only grow if it can continue its mantra of praying about the Book of Mormon, thereby getting people to trust in their desire to want this religion to be true rather than believing the facts. Thus, it is imperative for Christians to disseminate the light until every Mormon hears and has a chance to decide for him or herself.
It should be evident to all, and it will be some day, that the opposition to this work would have overcome it long ago if it had not been divine. Let all the world know that it cannot be overthrown, for “it is the power of God unto salvation unto all those who believe.” [See Romans 1:16.]
This statement (cited by Smith and recited by the church in its manual) is just as silly as if had been cited by a Muslim. After all, there have been many who have opposed Islam, but it still is a major religion that thrives. If his point is accurate, this should apply to any and every religion. Yet, like Mormonism, Islam is growing. Just as the Mormon wouldn’t accept the idea that Islam is true, so should rational people reject Mormonism because it will not lead anyone into a relationship with the God of the Bible.
God adjusts conditions in the world so that His work can spread throughout the earth.
[God] has determined that the message that was proclaimed by his servants in ages past, renewed and promulgated by his servants in the latter days, shall be heard, and by the power of his might he will level the conditions of this world and humble the children of men until they are repentant and willing to listen. The truths that we are teaching, that is, the truths that God required us to teach in the world, are finding their way.
This is both not true in Smith’s day as well as today as well. As said previously, the teachings of Mormonism are in direct contradiction to the historic Christian faith.
The Lord revealed to one of his prophets that at the coming forth of the Book of Mormon he would commence his work among the nations for the restoration of his people. [See 2 Nephi 30:3–8; 3 Nephi 21:1–14; 29:1–2.] When we realize with what speed the gospel of Jesus Christ may be disseminated now as compared with the year 1830, we can see that the Lord has set his hand and the opportunity to know is offered to men. It will not be long now, until in every part of this world the gospel may be heard through the servants of the Lord proclaiming it in power. Our Heavenly Father will adjust conditions in the world so that the gospel may be preached.
The Savior said this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come! [See Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:31.] The Lord would not require an impossibility. He is removing the obstructions, and the gospel “shall be preached.”
Technology is a wonderful tool, used for both good and bad. Yet no matter how excited a Mormon might get in reading these paragraphs, he must wonder why it has resulted in growth rates much less than just a few decades ago.
Zion will be redeemed, and the world, which now misunderstands the work of “Mormonism,” will live to know that it is the power of God unto salvation to those who will keep the commandments of our Father. My testimony is that the work grows apace, and that the children of men are receiving “Mormonism” in their souls; that it is the work of our Father. We may be puny and weak of ourselves, but if we will be virtuous and pure in our lives, if we will do what we know to be right, men and women will be raised to continue the work of the Lord, until our Father’s work will have been done in the way that He desires. Those who misunderstand us now will know us better. Those who believe we have selfish motives will be undeceived, and our brothers and sisters of the world, who desire the truth and wish to know what the Lord wants of them, will be pricked in their hearts and accept the Gospel. Zion will rise and shine, and will become the glory of the whole earth, the Lord God of Israel has so decreed.
Smith reports that “men are receiving ‘Mormonism’ in their souls.” However, Mormonism requires a full buy-in to the “impossible gospel.” As explained earlier, it’s by keeping the covenants and, ultimately, the commandment, which have been set up by the interpretation of LDS Church by the Mormon leadership. Because sinful humans are covenant-breakers–and I don’t care which church you attend–a Latter-day Saint can never know if he or she has done enough to please the God of Mormonism. In addition, as a Christian, I don’t want prospective converts to look for a religion to fill the void in their hearts. Rather, only Jesus can satisfy the hunger every soul who “desires the truth and wishes to know what the Lord wants of them.” Redemption is available, but not through this religion that teaches the onus is on my back to satisfy God’s justice. Please understand, it can only be found in a true relationship with Jesus Christ.
To read more reviews from the George Albert Smith manual, click here.