Chapter 12: Come Back and Feast at the Table of the Lord

During 2016, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter 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 in boldfaced is from the manual, with our comments following.

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter, 2015

“Reach out to the less active and realize the joy that will come to you and those you help.”

From the Life of Howard W. Hunter

The day after Howard W. Hunter became President of the Church, he extended this loving invitation to Church members who were not actively participating:

“To those who have transgressed or been offended, we say, come back. To those who are hurt and struggling and afraid, we say, let us stand with you and dry your tears. To those who are confused and assailed by error on every side, we say, come to the God of all truth and the Church of continuing revelation. Come back. Stand with us. Carry on. Be believing. All is well, and all will be well. Feast at the table laid before you in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and strive to follow the Good Shepherd who has provided it. Have hope, exert faith, receive—and give—charity, the pure love of Christ.”

The question needs to be asked, why are these Latter-day Saints leaving the LDS Church? Many Mormons might assume that their departure has something to do with personal worthiness, somebody in the church hurting them, or possibly a moral failure on their part rather than the discovery that Mormonism was in error. In the last few years especially, we have seen a number of folks becoming “ex”Mormons because of the church’s history being divulged or the teachings shown to be false, things that they didn’t know before. The Gospel Topics Essays have been a great help with this, as admissions such as Joseph Smith’s polygamous ways (having between 30-40 wives) and how he did not translate the Book of Abraham in a traditional method have been earth-shattering to a number of Mormons.

In his first general conference address as President of the Church a few months later, President Hunter said he felt impressed to continue this emphasis. “Come back,” he repeated. “Take literally [the Savior’s] invitation to ‘come, follow me.’ … He is the only sure way; he is the light of the world.”

Often when Mormons leave the church, they seem to gravitate toward atheism or, at best, agnosticism. The question I like to ask is whether or not the person ever had faith in Jesus. He’s not the one who is the reason for their disappointment, yet many want to tear themselves away from anything having to do with religion, including Jesus. As Hunter says, I would say that Jesus is indeed the light of the world, but it should be added that a false version of Jesus is perhaps worse than no Jesus at all. Unfortunately, the bad experience these folks have had with Mormonism has caused them to abandon all hope in Christ.

Grant Palmer, who was once involved with the church’s educational system, explains his take when he discovered problems with the Book of Mormon and the First Vision:

…when it comes to the founding events, I wonder if they are trustworthy as history. The issue of his credibility in differentiating between history and allegory initially filled me with a sense of loss. But I realize that the focus of my worship, as a Mormon, is Jesus Christ. (An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, p. 261).

He also wrote,

Recently the church has reemphasized the importance of centering our worship in Christ. This is apparent at the local level. In many sacrament meetings, the tendency remains to simply mention Jesus’ name and then talk about other matters rather than to discuss him and his ministry. In our Sunday classes, the Gospels are taught for several months once every four years; the lives and teachings of modern prophets are studied each year. . . . I would hope for a greater focus on Jesus Christ in our Sunday meetings. (p. 263).

To Hunter’s words, I would say a person should only want to “come back” if what is being taught in the Mormon Church is true. If a false gospel (Gal. 1:8-9) and a false Jesus (2 Cor. 11:4) continue to be propagated, then this religion should be abandoned at all costs. Truth should be more important than anything else!

Throughout his life, President Hunter helped many Church members return to activity. Relating such an experience from early adulthood, he said:

“My ward bishop assigned me as a ward teacher to a brother who boasted he was the oldest deacon in the Church. Home teaching was ward teaching in those days. His problem was that he loved to play golf on Sunday. It was discouraging to meet month after month with him and his wife and see no apparent progress. But finally, the right word was said to him and it struck a responsive chord. The word was covenant. We asked him, ‘What does the covenant of baptism mean to you?’ His expression changed, and for the first time we saw a serious side to him. Eventually he came to our classes, gave up golf, and took his wife to the temple.”

So because this man gave up golf on Sundays and began to attend the temple, this is supposed to be a success story? Is he being obedient merely for obedience’s sake? Or does He want to do the right thing because of his relationship with Jesus?

What should we do to help those who have lost their way in the wilderness?

Because of what the Master has said about leaving the ninety-nine and going into the wilderness to seek the one that is lost, and because of the invitation of the First Presidency to those who have ceased activity or have been critical to “come back,” we invite you to become involved in saving souls. Reach out to the less active and realize the joy that will come to you and those you help if you and they will take part in extending invitations to come back and feast at the table of the Lord.

The Lord, our Good Shepherd, expects us to be his undershepherds and recover those who are struggling or are lost. We can’t tell you how to do it, but as you become involved and seek inspiration, success will result from efforts in your areas, … stakes, and wards. Some stakes have responded to previous pleadings and have had remarkable success.

Mormonism’s dubious history and false teachings are reasons why this religion ought to be abandoned. It is the job of Christians to help guide the lost to the Shepherd. This is what evangelism is all about. The goal Christian believers ought to have is share truth and help them “feast at the table of the Lord,” which can be found only in the true gospel of Christ.

Our grand objective is to help people return to God’s presence.

Over the years the Church has made some monumental efforts to recover those who are less active. … And all to what end? It is to save the souls of our brothers and sisters and see that they have the ordinances of exaltation.

I’m not sure to which “monumental efforts” that Hunter is referring, but in this entire series of Teachings of Presidents of the Church, I have never seen a stronger plea by the LDS leadership to get back some of the lost membership, which no doubt has atrophied in these past years. Meanwhile, the convert rate was at its lowest percentage in 2015! The religion grew by only 253,000 converts, more than a 15% drop from the previous year. This is only a 1.5% growth rate. In 1990, the church was growing by more than 4%! To me, this chapter is an admission that many people have left Mormonism, with an encouragement for the laity to do whatever they can to get these people back. And all for what? “To save the souls of our brothers and sisters”? How does Hunter say they will be saved? By doing their ordinances, of course, and keeping the commandments. For those former Mormons who realize that they can never do everything this church requires, what joy there is to realize how “Jesus paid it all” and that salvation comes by grace through faith, not by personal works of righteousness.

While I was serving as a stake president in the Los Angeles area, my counselors and I asked our bishops to carefully select four or five couples who wanted to further their progress in the Church. Some were less active, others new converts—but they were motivated to spiritually progress. We got them together in a stake class and taught them the gospel. Rather than emphasizing the temple, we stressed a better relationship with our Heavenly Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our careful selection process assured success, and the majority of these couples did become active and go to the temple.

All well and good, but the way a person can have “a better relationship with our Heavenly Father and his Son, Jesus Christ” in only by keeping commandments as promised through the covenants. This is what a person does when going to the temple. It’s promised each Sunday in the sacrament service. And yet Latter-day Saints keep tripping and having to ask for repentance, and the cycle just continues. Check out this article to see how LDS scripture says the Mormon gospel is impossible.

Let me share [another] experience. … We had a brother in one of the wards who didn’t attend any meetings. His wife was not a member. She was somewhat hostile, so we could not send home teachers to the home. The bishop approached this brother by telling him that the brother had a relationship with the Savior he needed to expand and enlarge. The brother explained to the bishop the problem with his nonmember wife, so the bishop talked to her, emphasizing the same approach—a relationship with the Lord that needed to be expanded. She still was not receptive but was happy to learn that Latter-day Saints believed in Christ, and consequently dropped some of her defenses.

The question is, which “Christ” do the Latter-day Saints believe in? Check out any one of these articles to see more about the difference:

Success did not come immediately, but those who visited the home kept stressing the couple’s relationship with the Lord. In time she became friendly, and finally consented to come with her husband to the stake class taught by members of the high council. We stressed the covenant one makes at baptism and other covenants. Eventually she became a member of the Church and he became a productive priesthood leader. …

I am impressed by a statement on the title page of the Book of Mormon that describes one of the purposes of that sacred book: “That they [the House of Israel in the latter days] may know the covenants of the Lord.” (Italics added.) That was the emphasis we as a stake presidency felt impressed to make to those less active. We tried to appeal to them on the basis of the importance of the covenants they had made with the Lord; then we taught them the importance of the covenant of baptism and additional covenants that they could make which would unite them as an eternal family.

Notice carefully what Hunger said was stressed: “the covenant one makes at baptism and other covenants.” This is very important. According to Mormonism, the “relationship” one has with Jesus is centered on making and keeping covenants. The goal, then, is to make these people “productive” members. The ideas of justification by faith alone, forgiveness of sins, and grace offered by God are completely missed! It’s all about what the individual/couple needs to do in order to attain this status of eternal family, which is also an impossible goal.

Here are a couple of recommended articles:

The whole purpose of the Church operating smoothly at the local level is to qualify individuals to return to the presence of God. That can only be done by their receiving the ordinances and making covenants in the temple.

Notice the words, “qualify individuals to return to the presence of God.” It’s all about the individual’s efforts. This completely misses the mark when it comes to salvation by faith alone as taught in the Bible.

We are leading toward one objective for each individual member of the Church. That is for all to receive the ordinances of the gospel and make covenants with our Heavenly Father so they may return to his presence. That is our grand objective. The ordinances and covenants are the means to achieving that divine nature that will return us into his presence again. …

According to Hunter, the “grand objective” is to get people to receive the “ordinances of the gospel” (i.e. baptism, confirmation, marriage in the temple, etc.) and “make covenants,” or, in other words, promises that can never be kept. Should this really be the main objective? Seriously? If I were asked what my main objective is as a Christian believer, I think I might quote the Westminster Confession, which was written by Christians hundreds of years ago. It says that the main objective for Christians is to “know God and enjoy Him forever.” I think that’s pretty good, don’t you?  The only way to enter God’s presence is to be forgiven of all sins—past, present, and future. It’s not based on one’s personal efforts.

Check out this article: Forgiveness: A 28 (or more)-step program?

Keep in mind the purpose: to invite all to come unto Christ. …

I testify, my brethren and sisters, to his divinity and power to save those who will come to him with broken hearts and contrite spirits. Through the ordinances and his Holy Spirit, each individual may become clean.

The question is, how does a person become “clean”? In Mormonism, it’s done by keeping commandments. In Christianity, it’s based on what Jesus has done for the individual based on faith alone. The two paths to God are diametrically opposed.

To read other reviews of the Howard W. Hunter manual, click here.